Thursday, November 30, 2006

Saving Face

The Iraq Study Group report is finished and will be officially released next week. Almost from the start information on the proceedings was leaked to the press, so it comes as no surprise that the conclusions of the group have also been made available. If what is being reported is accurate, the President will be urged to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq (although to where is not clear, and no timetable is being proposed) and to engage in diplomacy with countries in the region (including Syria and Iran) to help stop the current carnage. For the most part, the report appears to be steering a safe middle course between the current policy (we're staying) and the desires of the Democrats (we're leaving). From the NY Times:

As described by the people involved in the deliberations, the bulk of the report by the Baker-Hamilton group focused on a recommendation that the United States devise a far more aggressive diplomatic initiative in the Middle East than Mr. Bush has been willing to try so far, including direct engagement with Iran and Syria. Initially, those contacts might be part of a regional conference on Iraq or broader Middle East peace issues, like the Israeli-Palestinian situation, but they would ultimately involve direct, high-level talks with Tehran and Damascus.

Mr. Bush has rejected such contacts until now, and he has also rejected withdrawal, declaring in Riga, Latvia, on Tuesday that while he will show flexibility, “there’s one thing I’m not going to do: I’m not going to pull the troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.”

Commission members have said in recent days that they had to navigate around such declarations, or, as one said, “We had to move the national debate from whether to stay the course to how do we start down the path out.”

...The report also would offer military commanders — and therefore the president — great flexibility to determine the timing and phasing of the pullback of the combat brigades.

Throughout the debates, Mr. Baker, who served as secretary of state under Mr. Bush’s father and was the central figure in developing the strategy to win the 2000 Florida recount for Mr. Bush, was highly reluctant to allow a timetable for withdrawal to be included in the report, participants said.

Mr. Baker cited what Mr. Bush had also called a danger: that any firm deadline would be an invitation to insurgents and sectarian groups to bide their time until the last American troops were withdrawn, then seek to overthrow the government. But Democrats on the commission also suspected that Mr. Baker was reluctant to embarrass the president by embracing a strategy Mr. Bush had repeatedly rejected.
[Emphasis added]

In other words, the report has been shaped by a desire not to make the President angry or to look bad. I suppose an argument can be made that riling Mr. Bush up would only serve to make him dig his heels in further. After all, even in the midst of all the leaks on the group's proceedings that pretty much made it clear that a troop pullback and talks with Iran and Syria were going to be proposed, Mr. Bush made it a point wherever he was to insist that the US was not going to leave until the mission was accomplished and that he was not going to talk to either country until they buckled down to US demands on other issues.

However, the group was formed at the request of Congress to come up recommendations for getting the US out of this mess, not to save a stubborn, immature, and apparently stupid man's feelings. A just and effective foreign policy should not be run on the basis of keeping the President happy or looking good.

Apparently it is going to be up to the next Congress to find a way to force the President to do the just and honorable thing.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Durn Immigrunts

Living in North Texas, of course there's long been an issue with immigrants workers. Growing up, I knew that in one part of town the people were named Jorge and Consuela, and they worked in the mill. Friends have complained they can't make it paying even minimum wage and hiring workers who expect benefits and time off - they're competing with the contractors who don't. Another time I'll spend more time talking about the problems and the advantages of a mixed culture like that.

I had to laugh, though, to find references to the Middle East's problem with immigrants in an article at CNN today, one I hadn't really noticed before. King Abdullah of Jordan, it seems, is much more under pressure about this problem than we are.

Moderate Arabs want the Bush administration to devote more diplomatic energy on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has been stagnant since 2000.

Abdullah pledged "all possible support to the Palestinians so they can regain their rights," though he warned that his country would not accept a deal that causes an influx of Palestinians.

"Jordan will not accept an unjust settlement of the issue, nor will Jordan accept any settlement that comes at its expense," Abdullah told lawmakers, who applauded vigorously.

He was referring to fears of a settlement that would cause thousands of Palestinians to settle in the kingdom, upsetting the country's delicate demographic balance.

Roughly half of Jordan's 5.5 million population consists of Palestinian families who fled, or were driven out of, their homes in the 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars.

The king recognizes the importance of Iraq, diplomats said. Jordan and other moderate Arabs are concerned that growing Shiite influence in Iran, Syria and Lebanon will help hard-line Iran dominate the region and give rise to more extremism.

It's driving the redneck elements here crazy that there are signs in Spanish, and they hear Spanish spoken in public places. Imagine if there were radical religious communities coming in from south of the border, envisioning a return to some golden age when they ruled the world and everyone in the courthouse gang was answerable to them.

I admit I was amused at the reactions of some of my more racist friends and family when it was announced they are now in the minority.

White people make up less than 50% of the population of the 100 largest cities in the United States for the first time in history, census data show.

While they are a majority in 52 of the 100 largest cities, they make up only 44% of the total population of those cities.

In 1990, non-Hispanic whites were the majority population in 70 of the 100 largest US cities, making up 52% of the total.

Hispanics are the fastest growing urban group in the US, according to the census - increasing at a rate of 72% in the 20 fastest-growing cities, compared to 5% for whites.

Overall, US cities gained 3.8 million Hispanic residents, an increase of 43% on 1990.
[This article dated Monday, 30 April, 2001.]

Of course, I married into a Sephardic (Hispanic) Jewish family, so my children are part of that majority/minority syndrome in a very odd way. It was never threatening to me that our society had elements other than the Northern European variety, I suppose. But if there had been so much influence of the religion would I have been so sanguine about it? Can't say for sure.

With the issue in mind that in the Middle East there also are problems of integration into an existing society of elements from other places, I read Ahmadinejad's letter to the American people in rather a wry fashion, then.

In Wednesday's letter, he said, "we, like you, are aggrieved by the ever-worsening pain and misery of the Palestinian people" and accused the Bush administration of disregarding public opinion by remaining "in the forefront of supporting the trampling of the rights of the Palestinian people."

"What has blind support for the Zionists by the U.S. administration brought for the American people?," Ahmadinejad asked. "It is regrettable that for the U.S. administration, the interests of these occupiers supersedes the interests of the American people and of the other nations of the world."

He urged Americans to support the right of the Palestinians to live in their own homeland.

Do I detect the subtle note of not just Yankee Go Home, but "Palestinians, Go Home" and perhaps a soupcon of "Iraqis Go Home", breaking through the pan-Arabian gloss of this missive. I have my suspicions.

The exodus of Iraqis in the face of sectarian violence heaped on top of invasion goes on;

A few months after reports indicated that Iraqi university professors and academics were fleeing the country because of violence and kidnappings, new media reports say that the middle class in Iraq also wants to leave.
The New York Times reported last week that more and more middle class Iraqis seem to be " doing everything they can to leave the country."

In the last 10 months, the state has issued new passports to 1.85 million Iraqis, 7 percent of the population and a quarter of the country's estimated middle class. The school system offers another clue: Since 2004, the Ministry of Education has issued 39,554 letters permitting parents to take their children's academic records abroad. The number of such letters issued in 2005 was double that in 2004, according to the director of the ministry's examination department. Iraqi officials and international organizations put the number of Iraqis in Jordan at close to a million. Syrian cities also have growing Iraqi populations.

The reason for the exodus, the Times writes, is the wave of sectarian violence that has engulfed Iraq since the Feb. 22 bombing of the revered Shiite Askariya Shrine in Samarra. Most frightening for most Iraqis was the sense that their government was doing almost nothing to stop the fighting, and in fact may have helped, as soldiers from Shiite-dominated ministries have been accused of participated in the sectarian killings.

With an immigration problem like this, even the Cretin in Chief should be able to enlist the neighboring Arab world in negotiations to bring peace in his war. It would take an incredible level of incompetence to make the Arab world prefer his continued disgrace to solving their economic and social crisis brought about by his delusions. Hopefully his handlers will hold onto him long enough to keep the Arab world from meltdown. Let's hope his handlers will prove up to the job, with the assistance of responsible Arab powers.

Another Test

The GOP leadership of the current Congress has made it clear that it won't be dealing with certain issues, preferring to leave the mess for the Democratically led 110th Congress to clean up. The federal budget is one of those messes, and now we learn that the supplemental military bill (funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) is another.

Spending for the wars has been taken out of the normal budgetary process because of the assumption that the costs are unpredictable and therefore cannot be fixed, which would be required for the annual Pentagon budget. The result is that few members of Congress have been willing to challenge the costs in such a supplemental spending bill lest they be accused as not supporting the troops. The military knows this, so the latest request is going to be filled with items on a wishlist that won't really face much scrutiny. From today's L.A. Times:

The Pentagon is preparing an emergency spending proposal that could be larger and broader than any since the Sept. 11 attacks, covering not only the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but extending to other military operations connected to the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

The spending plans may push the Defense Department into conflict with Democrats as they take control of Capitol Hill in January. Democrats had been planning to limit the emergency "supplemental" spending measures that have funded the wars in favor of the regular federal budget process, which affords greater oversight and congressional control.

...The next request stands to be larger partly because of new rules laid out in an Oct. 25 memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England. Rather than strictly limiting spending to Iraq and Afghanistan costs, the memo said the military services could include costs associated with operations that are part of the larger war on terrorism.

Previously, the military portion of the supplemental spending measures has been used almost exclusively for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. England's memo would allow the military to include a greater number of expenses more loosely tied to the actual wars, such as new military weapons systems and training exercises.

Democrats said a supplemental of $80 billion to $100 billion was more realistic. Both House and Senate aides say they want to push in the opposite direction of the Pentagon, moving money out of the supplemental and into the regular budget.

...According to the England memo, the Pentagon wants to include money in the supplemental to replace equipment destroyed in combat or run down by accelerated wear and tear. More controversially, it also allows the services to replace old equipment with new models — actions historically subject to the normal budget review process.
[Emphasis added]

While including the cost of equipment destroyed or worn out during the war probably is appropriate for such a supplemental bill, including the cost of fancy new weapon systems, many of which have been bounced out of the normal budget requests as being nothing more than gifts to government contractors, certainly is not. These costs should be subject to the same Congressional oversight as the budget requests from other federal agencies.

Whether the Democrats can carry out their promises of fiscal restraint will be the first major test for the new Congress. If they can stand up to the Pentagon on this issue, then they will have gone a long way towards returning balance to the three-part view .of government envisioned by the Constitution

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Lies as Policy

Such a short time ago, that the Cretin in Chief was proclaiming that America must 'stay the course' in Iraq. Subsequently, of course, the C-I-C declared that he had never said any such thing.

Ah, remember those halcyon days of the campaign when the C-I-C proclaimed Rumsfield would be with him until the end of the administration, and that his Secretary of Defense was ever so dependably right. Buh, bye, Rheumy.

Shall we count the ways that the C-I-C proclaimed we must make war on Iraq: WMD, right? (no) well, then bringing democracy, okay that's out, try stabilization. Of course, we're skipping a few stages along the way.

Can any reader presently say that when the C-I-C speaks out on any issue that the tendency is to believe what he says? Unless you're a member of the new Harris poll's 31% that actually claim they see the C-I-C as doing a good job, election results indicate that the majority in this country are onto this C-I-C.

It would seem that since the rest of the world started out with a jaundiced view of w, that fewer even abroad would be inclined to take him at his word.

When the C-I-C proclaimed yesterday in Rika that NATO soldiers need to be committed to more hazardous, read that as deadly, missions, that the thinking men and women representing their populations of other nationalities recognized that the C-I-C's commitment is only there for the purpose of getting his way, and reality is not the core of this administration's policies.

From the International Herald Tribune [for one]; Support for joint military operations with the United States no longer seems unconditional in Central and Eastern European countries. Slovakia, for example, deployed more than 100 non-combat troops in Iraq with an open mandate under a reformist, pro-U.S. government in 2003, only for the current populist Prime Minister Robert Fico to announce a pullout last summer, saying "we don't belong there." Hungary pulled out its 300 non-combat troops from Iraq in 2004, and Bulgaria withdrew a 450-member infantry battalion from the Mideast country in 2005, though it redeployed 120 non-combat soldiers in March.

Moreover, there is no question that the countries of 'old Europe' remain the continent's great powers. While the commitment of the new members is appreciated by the United States, what counts most in serious military conflicts such as the one in Afghanistan is the experience of NATO's established members. "Willingness to help is one thing, and ability is another."

Now we see that this morning NATO has committed its troops to more heated battle, the C-I-C has prevailed ... sorta.

Many of NATO's 26 member nations on Tuesday expressed hope the most dangerous ground mission in the military alliance's 57-year history could yet succeed but several major nations pledged additional help only in cases of emergency. (NATO allies disagree)

A NATO spokesman said three countries had committed more troops and that a majority had agreed to ease restrictions on where and how their forces could fight in Afghanistan.

He declined to name the three countries, but said they were in addition to Canada, Denmark and the Czech Republic, which have already made public pledges to increase troop levels.

France, Germany, Italy and Spain, who sparked a row by refusing calls in September to send troops to the Taliban's southern Afghan heartland, promised to send help to trouble zones outside their areas but only in emergencies.

Okay, does anyone else think that the great persuasive powers of our C-I-C have won the day and now American and British soldiers are going to be relieved of the mounting casualties in Afghanistan and elsewhere by an increased number of cavalier soldiers from other nations? I admit my complete cynicism. What we're viewing is another staged event - the American and British soldiers will still be bearing the major burden next week. NATO leaders who did not accept our 'findings' of WMDs will not find the C-I-C's word when he announces any 'emergency' as more believable than his word has been to date.

Oh, yes, and the violence and bloodshed in Iraq will still be al Quaeda's doing, in the C-I-C's official announcement. While the Saudis and Iran send in help for their friends, Shi'ite and Sunni, who are battling out the supremacy issue in the streets and on the roads of Iraq, our C-I-C makes pronouncements that no one bothers to act on, because they are absurd.

From one advisor, Nawaf Obaid, to the government of Saudi Arabia comes this pronouncement; the Saudi leadership is preparing to substantially revise its Iraq policy. Options now include providing Sunni military leaders (primarily ex-Baathist members of the former Iraqi officer corps, who make up the backbone of the insurgency) with the same types of assistance -- funding, arms and logistical support -- that Iran has been giving to Shiite armed groups for years.

Another possibility includes the establishment of new Sunni brigades to combat the Iranian-backed militias. Finally, Abdullah may decide to strangle Iranian funding of the militias through oil policy. If Saudi Arabia boosted production and cut the price of oil in half, the kingdom could still finance its current spending. But it would be devastating to Iran...

And in general reporting Many leading US media organisations have started calling the Iraq strife a 'civil war' but President George Bush refuses to agree. On Tuesday, he parried suggestions that Iraq had sunk into a civil war, calling the violence there part of an Al Qaida plot to spark divisions between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

We have an elected official representing this country who has proved that his word is worthless. It's not possible for this administration to negotiate with foreign powers, as they are as aware as anyone that tomorrow that word will be meaningless.

The administration of 'regime change' is becoming increasingly persuasive that it is time for that measure here. Hopefully, this Democratic congress will not back down from confronting the Big Lie techniques that the failed regime uses to conduct its affairs of 'state'.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Old Debts

Being heavily in debt, a major holder of our national I.O.U.'s being China, the American public knows that it is being misused, but it's new to the position of debtor. In Latin America this is an old story, with lessons the U.S. might study to its own benefit.

Latin America has a long history of corrupt and indifferent governments, the traditional banana republic being made up of implants from Old Europe who economically, politically, and militarily dominated the indigenous populations who were conquered by the invading Conquistadores.

A history like that makes for schisms that give the ruling class an inclination to look on the populace as basically inferior, and the role of the working class that of support for the rulers. In a tradition of this sort, indebtedness was piled up by the rulers without consideration for the coming generations, especially as rumblings of rebellion grew and inevitable sharing of power arrived. Democracy in Latin America is putting in place the burgeoning population that so long was disserved by its governments.

In Ecuador, yesterday's voting results were again highly favorable for the indigenous population, and the socially progressive forces resoundingly defeated the old line group that has been running up the country's debt.

From Wall Street, the reaction is predictable. Ecuadorian bonds declined.
But among the pessimists who predict that in order to meet the needs of an impoverished people, some predict that the newly elected left-leaning government will honor its debts to keep from upsetting the world's bankers.

JP Morgan said on Monday Ecuador is unlikely to default in 2007 despite pledges of a debt restructuring that Rafael Correa, who leads the vote count of Sunday's presidential elections, made during the campaign.

The bank bucked a wave of negative recommendations on Ecuador's bonds by telling investors to remain "marketweight" on the country's debt. It also said it would be a "better buyer" of the securities if valuations reach the extreme lows seen before the first round of elections.

"Despite the concerning (but still vague) rhetoric on debt restructuring, we do not expect Correa to resort to default in the short term, since oil inflows will allow his administration to install a robust social spending and still service Ecuador's moderate debt burden," JP Morgan wrote in a research note.

It noted that more social spending, and not a debt renegotiation, was the center of the political debate in the run-up to Ecuador's second-round vote. [emphasis added]

"That said, clarity on this front may take time as we await the elaboration of the 2007 budget, and the results from a debt 'audit' being carried out by a commission installed by President Palacio to identify 'illegitimate' debt," JP Morgan added.

Throughout the third world, the legacy of hostile government running up debt for its own interests - that is now left for the rebelling populace to pay - is one the 'civilized' world ignores. JP Morgan is showing a surprisingly intelligent reaction, one that is far ahead of this administration in seeing the responsible character of the socially responsible.

In this neighboring continent, where now the debtridden indigenous population blames our financial realm for visiting the debts on them, it is a sound practice to work with and not against those working classes. The financial realm has much to make up for, from supporting the ruling classes that ran them up, to working to keep those classes in power and to making war on the resurgent popular movements such as the Sandanistas, this country has put itself in a shaky position with the new governments.

There has been a lot of corruption and violence involved in the class struggle, and Sandanistas among others were guilty of much that is totally reprehensible. Unfortunately, in this country the tendency of the majority here has been to condemn the excesses and occasional criminality of the left, and ignore the same by the right wing, 'conservative', element.

While most of us are decent people, we haven't gone the extra mile of becoming informed. The rise of the left in Latin America is the rise of economic and political equality for the working class in that country. It is one we are increasingly part of, as the government here shows its hostility to the interests of the working class - what not so long ago was the 'middle class'.

In Ecuador, today we have yet another new government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Rafael Correa, the leftist nationalist headed to victory in Ecuador's presidential race, already is planning radical changes when he takes office in January.

Such moves would put Correa on a fast track to a confrontation with the country's opposition-controlled Congress -- a body he has referred to as a "sewer" but needs to carry out his reforms.
With 52.3 percent of the ballots counted, Correa had a 67 percent to 33 percent lead over banana tycoon Alvaro Noboa, Ecuador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal said Monday.
Correa said his victory "is a clear message to our traditional political class of the profound changes that our citizens want. This country doesn't need being patched up. It needs a new constitution in tune with the times."

A government in the U.S. that favors the very wealthy cannot make a relationship with the emerging left in Latin America and elsewhere. This country badly needs leadership that is socially responsible, and that can relate to the needs of the working class.

In the meantime, the government that we have is helping elect left leaning governments abroad by showing its dissassociation from popular needs, and its repudiation of its own.


More On the Grounded Imams

On Saturday, I posted on the six Muslim religious leaders who were removed from a U.S. Airways flight because they had made the other passengers "nervous" by their activities. On Monday, several of them, along with other imams, a Jewish rabbi, and several Christian ministers struck back in a wonderfully American fashion: they held a protest. From an AP report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Imams, ministers and a rabbi staged a "pray-in" demonstration Monday at Reagan Washington National Airport and demanded an apology from US Airways for barring six Muslims from a Minneapolis to Phoenix flight last week.

The religious leaders called for an end to racial profiling, saying it was unacceptable in America.

...On Monday, Shahin and a handful of other Muslims bowed down on rugs and prayed in Terminal A near the US Airways ticket counter. Jewish and Christian clergy also said prayers.

After the prayer session, Shahin and other religious leaders boarded a US Airways flight to demonstrate their determination to continue praying and flying.
[Emphasis added]


Here, by the way, is a description of one of the things that unnerved the other passengers:

The imams, who were returning from a religious conference, had prayed on their prayer rugs in the airport before the flight. After they boarded the flight, a passenger, who was alarmed by their activity, passed a note to a flight attendant. The men were taken off the airplane, handcuffed and questioned.

Now, does anyone believe that if a white Christian group had prayed aloud before boarding the flight that they would have been prevented from flying? Even if those prayers involved speaking in tongues, the most that would have elicited would be eye-rolls from the jaded business class flyers. But these were Muslims, and apparently of Middle Eastern background, and when they kept getting up from their seats before take-off, some passengers freaked. Does anyone believe that excited white Christians not seated together burbling over their conference, would have gotten that kind of attention?

Here's the thing. Most Americans haven't a clue about the religion of Islam. All they know is that a bunch of people professing that faith flew planes into buildings and killed about 3,000 Americans. They also know, because they've been told so damned many times, that we are at war with Islamofascists who want to destroy America and eat our puppies. That certainly doesn't excuse their ignorance, but given the American propensity for intentional ignorance when it comes to anything not white-bread American, it does kind of explain the response of the passengers on that flight.

What is doesn't explain is the airline's response. If there were passengers who were nervous about the prayers and the color of the imams, why didn't the airline offer the nervous passengers another flight? Why were the imams removed from the flight and handcuffed? It seems to me that what we have here is an extension of the crime of Driving While Black. Now we have Praying While Muslim.

U.S. Airways is "looking into" the situation, and we're already hearing calls for some clarification from the federal government on guidelines, but those guidelines haven't caught up to the reality on the ground. I suspect that the racial profiling will continue, but maybe the outrageousness of this incident will provoke a more reasonable approach. In that regard, there is a slightly hopeful note mentioned in the story:

The Homeland Security Department's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties said last week that it was investigating the US Airways incident.

Well, now there's an idea.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

While it is true that nothing much has come of the Fitzgerald investigation into White House involvement in revealing what are supposed to be State secrets, the identity of a covert agent, I am still expecting something to come of it. We hear that Rove won't be indicted, but the special investigator isn't the source of that information.

Today, a small event gave another ripple spreading across the pond.

The Supreme Court ruled against The New York Times on Monday, refusing to block the government from reviewing the phone records of two Times reporters in a leak investigation of a terrorism-funding probe.

The one-sentence order came in a First Amendment battle that involves stories written in 2001 by Times reporters Judith Miller and Philip Shenon. The stories revealed the government's plans to freeze the assets of two Islamic charities, the Holy Land Foundation and the Global Relief Foundation.

Like the CIA leak investigation into who in the Bush administration revealed the identity of Valerie Plame, the current Justice Department probe is being conducted by Patrick Fitzgerald, who is prosecuting Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff in the Plame case.

Fitzgerald said the statute of limitations "on certain substantive offenses that the grand jury is investigating" will expire on Dec. 3 and Dec. 13 of this year.

From all that we've been told about Fitzgerald's work, I expect thoroughness. And I still think that the criminals will be brought into court.

I also expect there are pardons waiting for them. If the actual sentences were to occur after the end of this administration, it might be a very good thing.

The jury is in, and I'm still expecting justice.

Camels putting their noses under the Tent.

Look! It's media's time to bring up all its pet projects and try to impress the incoming Democratically run Congress with their promise. So this a.m. I am looking at the Social Security smiley face campaign. That's a smiley face on a pig, as the Cretin in Chief so thoroughly learned in his determination to overturn the system that has offered security to this country's seniors since FDR's administration.

Fun facts that its opponents like to point out about Social Security include the beginnings as a program for those whose life expectancy was lower than the proposed retirement age. Most seniors in the U.S. in the 30's did not live to be 60, so little use was envisioned for the retirement funds, and those funds were measured in pennies actually deducated from income. The initial tax rate was 2.0% of the first $3,000 of the employee's earnings, shared equally between the employee and the employer. The tax rate has been raised several times over the years, beginning in 1950, when it was raised to 3.0%.

Of course, as recently as when I started to work in 1966, those incomes were miniscule, too. I started on Capitol Hill at less than $5,000 per annum. I could live on that easily. Senators made about $30,000 per annum.

The C-I-C was proposing, after his self-styled mandate, to replace seniors' income with 'private savings accounts', which of course, he didn't want referred to as 'privatization'. If that had actually been in effect during the past two years, during which time interest rates were quite low, savings would have stagnated. Only in the past few months have interest rates,the C-I-C's idea of just returns on seniors' money, shown any increase, and at today's rates are lower than 6%. The rate of living increase was higher, especially for energy and gasoline.

So shiver their timbers, obviously the C-I-C was misquoted, he said 'piratization' not 'privatization'.

Today the WaPo editorial board is enjoining the incoming Democratic majority 'can we just talk' about this?

Some Democrats dispute the urgency of the problem, arguing that the notional assets in the Social Security trust fund are sufficient to pay all the benefits promised to retirees for the next 40 years. But a retirement system needs to make credible promises that last longer than that ******************************** Another argument against addressing Social Security is that health care is more pressing. It's true that the budget challenge Social Security presents, which is the result of the retirement of the baby boomers plus rising life expectancy, pales next to the budget challenge Medicare presents, which is the result of those two factors multiplied by galloping inflation in health-care costs.

Firstly, of course, can anyone give me a direct quote from anyone of any party who disputes the urgency of the problem, or says we shouldn't address Social Security because health care is more pressing? I would be surprised if anyone outside the sequestration of the editorial closet at WaPo would beg to be this obviously specious. Additionally, the 'challenge' Social Security presents has something to do with the fund's having been requisitioned to fight its wars by this administration. Borrowing from the fund has been used before, but this administration adds to that method the accumulating debt for us seniors' grandchildren to pay.

We might say that arguing about funding the war by emergency measures outside of the budget was not so urgent as waging the war, or that we shouldn't spend days on the floor of Congress debating gay marriage since the deficit which is actually an emergency in a sane world would take precedence. But I didn't hear this discussed in the recent blessedly past Congress nor did I hear the urgency of health care raised.

With a little more of a bow to actual benefits as the alternative to taking away Social Security, Sebastian Mallaby suggests the Democrats be reasonable and consider private accounts as an addition to, not a subtraction from, that system. Noting that the party of the very wealthy is going to concentrate on saving the system they have endangered, he argues for a proposal put forward by some one with the interests of the endangered working class at heart.

Judging from the hints flying around Washington , the administration sees how to bridge this divide. Democrats may be allergic to personal Social Security accounts, but they are enthusiastic about other ideas for personal retirement accounts that just don't have "Social Security" in the title. For example, Gene Sperling, a former Clinton adviser, has called for a "Universal 401(k)" that would extend the benefits of 401(k) saving to workers whose companies don't offer such accounts. In Sperling's vision, everyone would get the chance to contribute to an account and receive a government contribution as a match, with the most generous match going to low-income workers. To pay for this program, the government could prune the existing $150 billion patchwork of tax breaks for saving. This patchwork is extraordinarily, scandalously regressive: 90 percent of the tax breaks go to the richest 40 percent of taxpayers.

Sperling is motivated by a desire to help low-income people. As he writes in his book, "The Pro-Growth Progressive," 85 percent of workers in the bottom fifth of the labor force have no access to a company 401(k), nor do 75 percent of Hispanic workers or 60 percent of black workers. Globalization, which has boosted the volatility of family incomes, makes it especially important to help workers build assets that can cushion them against job loss, illness or the financial fallout from divorce. Although the Universal 401(k) would be primarily aimed at retirement security, there could be limited earlier withdrawals at times of misfortune.

Nice, while the free trade policies which encourage our businesses to send your jobs abroad are eliminating job security altogether, your new socially responsible Congress would give you some deductions for trying to protect yourself from its depradations. Wouldn't a sound economy with business encouraged to support the working people it expects to buy their products be far preferable? Even businesses have to notice eventually that not providing our workers the financial resources to 'buy American' is economic policy that doesn't benefit them or the country.

From all of the above, I would say to those of my generation, be warned. The last Congress 'borrowed' from Social Security to pay for the extravagance of its spending. This Congress is going to be pressured to substitute another savings method for the one that has worked so well that our seniors live in comfort. Before letting the camel put its nose under the tent, I want our Congress to decide whether letting the camel into the tent is in the interest of the voters that put them in that tent in the first place.

Does anyone want to look at the workings of Congress toward making our economy a safe one for workers, for consumers, and for seniors' retirement from it? That's the Congress voters chose when they cast their votes in election year 2006. All the advice in the world shouldn't deter this Congress from the task of pulling the country back from disaster, toward a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sunday Poetry: A. E. Housman

A Shropshire Lad XII: When I watch the living meet

When I watch the living meet,
And the moving pageant file
Warm and breathing through the street
Where I lodge a little while,

If the heats of hate and lust
In the house of flesh are strong,
Let me mind the house of dust
Where my sojourn shall be long.

In the nation that is not
Nothing stands that stood before;
There revenges are forgot,
And the hater hates no more;

Lovers lying two and two
Ask not whom they sleep beside,
And the bridegroom all night through
Never turns him to the bride.

(Online text copyright © 2005, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.)

The Sliming Continues

The 110th Congress hasn't even been seated yet and already the "liberal" mainstream media has begun the sliming of the Democratic congressional leadership. I'm sure the press just wants us to be aware that the liberals are just as corrupt, just as venal, and just as devious as the conservatives have been the past twelve years, even though the Democrats have been out of power that whole time.

The latest scurrilous entry comes in today's NY Times in an article by David D. Kirkpatrick titled "As Power Shifts in New Congress, Pork May Linger".

Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, and many Democratic candidates have railed for months against wasteful “special interest earmarks” inserted into bills “in the dark of night.”

The article then proceeds to attack Ms. Pelosi, Sen. Daniel Inouye, Sen. Patty Murray, Rep. Jack Murtha and other Democrats for all the pork barrel projects they pushed through for their own consituents and for those they enabled the Republicans to push through.

First of all, Mr. Kirkpatrick seems to be equating the pork with "special interest earmarks." To my way of thinking, the special interest part of the term refers to those give-aways to corporate lobbyists who have greased the palms of the earmarker in question. Nancy Pelosi has promised to do something about that, such as requiring that the name of the representative inserting the earmark be attached to it, making it part of the record. Certainly some transparency in that regard would be helpful, if only as a shaming device, particularly in the next election. It's only a start, however, and I hope the Democrats go even further, banning earmarks that have not gone through the vetting process of the appropriate committee and which are not introduced just hours before the floor vote.

Now, as to the pork issue: there has always been too much of that in the nation's diet, but there will certainly be less in the next Congress if only because the money just isn't there, thanks to the profligate profiteers of the last six years. Mr. Kirkpatrick at least saw fit to note the following:

Several Democratic appropriators, though, sought to tamp down expectations about how much they could spend. Senator Byron L. Dorgan, the North Dakota Democrat who is expected to become chairman of the energy and water subcommittee, said Democrats were limited by the deficit, the cost of the war in Iraq and their party’s pledges of fiscal restraint. “This is going to be a very rough time,” Mr. Dorgan said.

From your lips, Mr. Dorgan, to the ears of whatever holds this universe together.

Of course, we don't actually know what will happen because the new Congress hasn't convened yet. That's something Mr. Kirkpatrick fails to mention.

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C to Shining C (for Corn)

Having just been on a road trip to the great Midwest, I would like anyone who has never been on one to picture the map of the United States with all that acreage, planted in waving cornstalks. It really is like that.

In Missouri, I was particularly impressed by the billboards featuring fields of corn, with the motto "These Are Missouri Oilfields", with a farmer standing in front of the waving corn. It's a concept that has a great deal of resonance for the American tradition of farming. It's also a concept that offers a whole new view of the sources of conflict in the Middle East. We can outgrow our fixation on other countries' treasures. Literally, we can outgrow it.

Ethically, ethanol makes a lot of sense.

Technology has produced the hybrid car, and GM among others is manufacturing dual use systems that can begin now to use ethanol where it is found. For the auto industry which has been in the dumps, a new utilization of our homegrown fuels is full of promise. Go look at the Chevy Equinox Fuel Cell, if you think the auto industry is hidebound. The surging price of fossil fuels has had the impressive effect of galvanizing what had been a neglected and underestimated use of our own resources.

Of course, the resurgence of the responsible party, the Democratic forces, in this country, is one of the best signs that nature is re-asserting itself as the oil industry takes a fall. No longer devoted to failing wars to keep it in the ascendancy, the oil industry is in the disarray the press was so recently trying to impose on the Democratic party. It is scrambling to stay relevant.

Even Forbes Magazine, while keeping to its pro-business bias, has to admit that thanks to the Republican rout on Election Day, two Midwestern Democrats from the Corn Belt, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, will tackle the legislation as the new chairmen of the respective House and Senate agriculture committees.

The switch more or less guarantees a huge boost to an ethanol industry that is already roaring ahead at full throttle.

"The consensus is that this makes it even more likely that we'll have some aggressive biofuels policies adopted," says Nathanael Green, a biofuels expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. [emphasis added]

Already, ethanol producers benefit from a constellation of government supports, including a tariff on imported ethanol, subsidies for growing corn and blending the fuel, crop insurance and a guaranteed market: The Energy Act of 2005 required refiners to ramp up ethanol use from 2.5 billion gallons last year to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012.

Now, the farm bill may lavish even more on the industry.

"You're going to have Harkin, who is as good of an advocate for the corn industry as anyone could get," says Bill Kovacs, a lobbyist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

With the progressive use of our own resources, which incidentally are totally renewable, the scene has been set in our country for a return to American innovative growth, and an end to the pollution which carbon based fuels have inflicted on our world.

It's time for this country to resume its eminence by use of its own resources, physical and mental - and time for a halt to the oil industry and its militarization of the world in service to its moral and economic wasteland.

Corn is a beautiful sight . It has deeply valuable connotations (another good 'C'-word) for our emergence into a renewed, responsible society. The American natives had corn festivals, it's good to celebrate some of the healthy, natural roots of our country's values, and good to return to them.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Bonus Critter Blogging: Snake On A Palm

Note: Thanks to JohnJS for the extraordinary picture.

Religious Bigotry

I try not to read Charles Krauthammer's columns very often. I like to keep my blood pressure within the healthy normal range, and his opinions frequently thwart that goal. However, because I've been so mellowed out by the holiday weekend, probably because I've consumed so much tryptophan-laden turkey, I made an exception and trooped over to his most recent effort in the Washington Post.

I shouldn't have bothered. Mr. Krauthammer still doesn't get it. What ostensibly starts out as a critique of the movie Borat, soon descends into a paean to American religious tolerance, especially when it comes to Jews. I haven't seen the movie, and I probably won't (I rarely go to movies), but from what I've heard from those who have, it is a brilliant demonstration of the kind of bigotry that Americans are capable of if they are comfortable enough or drunk enough. Here's Krauthammer's assessment:

America is the most welcoming, religiously tolerant, philo-Semitic country in the world. No nation since Cyrus the Great's Persia has done more for the Jews. And its reward is to be exposed as latently anti-Semitic by an itinerant Jew looking for laughs and, he solemnly assures us, for the path to the Holocaust? [Emphasis added.]

First, with respect to the "philo-Semitic" aspect, I think Mr. Krauthammer is being more than a little disingenuous. I suspect he is confusing support for Israel, a nation, with attitudes toward Jews in general. Yes, the US has long blindly supported Israel in whatever it does, often to the detriment of our foreign policy, and there are geo-political reasons for that. There are also other factors at play in the support of the nation of Israel, especially amongst the religious reich.

When it comes to Jews, however, I think too many Americans have a different attitude. I mean, when was the last time we elected a Jewish president? We've certainly had and have many politicians who would have been worthy of consideration, among them the late Paul Wellstone (who asserted that he couldn't be president because he was too short and Jewish), and the current senator from Wisconsin, Russell Feingold.

And as to the first part of the emphasized quote, the part about America being "the most welcoming, religiously tolerant" nation in the world, well, it is to laugh. Ironically, during the same time frame of Mr. Krauthammer's column we learned that several Muslim imams were removed from a U.S. Airways flight because they made other passengers "nervous." The incident provoked the newly elected congressman from Minnesota (the first Muslim elected to Congress in US history)to call for a meeting with the airlines' management and that of the airport in question. From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Congressman-elect Keith Ellison wants to meet with executives of US Airways and the Metropolitan Airports Commission to discuss the removal of six Muslim clerics from a flight on Monday.

...The pilot ordered the imams off the flight after their praying, conversation and behavior alarmed several passengers and flight attendants on the Phoenix-bound flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The incident drew national attention. The Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties has said it will review the incident.

..."While some constituents have understood the fears of the passenger who reported the clerics' prayers as suspicious activity, many more have expressed shock and surprise at what they perceive as discrimination," Ellison wrote.

Just how "welcoming" and "religiously tolerant" is that?

No, Mr. Krauthammer, religious bigotry still abounds in this country and I think it is surging right now. I think Borat got it right, if my friends' reports are accurate. I think you need a vision exam.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

Why, yes, I am gorgeous. How perceptive of you to notice.

Bargain Basement Weapons

There was a time when war profiteering was considered treason. Unfortunately, that time is not now, or we'd have some serious trials being held for those contractors who have provided unsafe water and spoiled food to our troops, who have given used trucks and other vehicles a fresh coat of paint and sold them to the government as new, who have 'built' schools and prisons that have fallen down as soon as they opened, and who can't account for billions of dollars of government money.

We can now add to the list contractors who are outfitting the new Iraqi army and police forces with third rate weapons obtained at the bargain basements of Eastern Europe nations who are upgrading their own military with more seviceable weaponry. From the Iraqi Basaer News:

In closed-door meetings, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the General Commander of the Iraqi Armed Forces, complained about American foot-dragging over adequately arming and improving the capabilities of the Iraqi Army. This is the case because the Americans are providing antiquated weapons produced in Eastern Europe, the quality of which is far inferior to the American weapons, and even recent Russian ones. The Americans purchase these Russian weapons from East European countries trying to get rid of them as part of a program to modernize their armaments and harmonize their armies with the other nations in the European Union.

The American companies who won contracts to supply the Iraqi Amy found these old weapons at rock-bottom prices. They are considered little more than scrap metal by experts. This allows them to pocket what's left over from the massive appropriations designated for the creation of the "modern" Iraqi Army. Consequently, neither the new ranks of the Iraqi Army nor those of the police have received anything but old weapons, which are the object of ridicule by average Iraqis. This is in contrast to the Iraqi resistance, militias, and other armed groups confronting the Army, which carry more advanced weapons that in many cases surpass those of even America's coalition partners in Iraq. Observers of Iraqi affairs believe that the American companies and Iraqi politicians, in addition to corrupting the bidding process itself, have found additional opportunities for obtaining ill-gotten wealth in equipping the Iraqi Army.

How shameful is that? And how dangerous? After all, the President has made it clear that our military forces won't be leaving Iraq until its army and police forces can provide adequate security for the country. How can Iraqi forces provide that security when the insurgents and sectarian militias they face are far better equipped? Or is that the point?

The article suggests that the US doesn't really want a strong, viable army in Iraq because it would be dominated by the Shi'a, thus making Iraq nothing more than a satellite of Iran. Isn't it a little late for that kind of worry?

I think it just as likely that the current administration meant it when it said it wouldn't be leaving on Bush's watch, hence the permanent base and the huge bunker called an embassy. There's still the matter of the oil in Iraq, and the oil in Iran.

I hope that somebody in the next Congress decides to take a long, hard look at this latest bit of malfeasance and then moves to do something about it.

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Getting Busy

Yesterday I commented on some of the tactics being used by K Street to make sure it doesn't lose any influence in the new Democratic congress. Most lobbyists have spent the last twelve years working closely with the Republicans to get what they and their clients want, usually leaving Democrats completely out of the loop. Now those lobbyists are faced with a Congress led by the party they shunned.

The first big battle for one of the major industries is over the Medicare Part D program which prevents the federal government from negotiating for the best prices on prescription drugs for seniors. PHARMA has gotten busy, according to an article in today's NY Times.

Hoping to prevent Congress from letting the government negotiate lower drug prices for millions of older Americans on Medicare, the pharmaceutical companies have been recruiting Democratic lobbyists, lining up allies in the Bush administration and Congress, and renewing ties with organizations of patients who depend on brand-name drugs.

Many drug company lobbyists concede that the House is likely to pass a bill intended to drive down drug prices, but they are determined to block such legislation in the Senate. If that strategy fails, they are counting on President Bush to veto any bill that passes. With 49 Republicans in the Senate next year, the industry is confident that it can round up the 34 votes normally needed to uphold a veto.

...The drug industry is anxiously waiting to see details of the Democratic proposal. Lawmakers are weighing several options. At a minimum, Congress could simply repeal the ban on price negotiations, without requiring Medicare officials to do anything. Many House Democrats want to go further. They would direct Medicare officials to negotiate prices for a government-run prescription drug plan, which would compete with dozens of existing private plans.

The government could negotiate prices for all drugs or just for brand-name drugs that have no competition. Alternatively, Congress could require manufacturers to provide a specified discount, so Medicare would get the “best price” available to any private buyer.

The pharmaceutical industry is certainly getting busy, and like most big industries and their lobbyists, it has all sorts of connections with Congress, as is detailed in the article. One of the main leaders for PHARMA is former Congressman Billy Tauzin, who walked into his cushy job shortly after ramming through the current prescription drug plan. Several other former congressmen or staffers are on board with PHARMA or other lobbying firms retained by the industry. The revolving door between Congress and K Street has been whirling pretty effectively, at least so far.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Continuing the Battle

Almost two weeks ago I commented on the post-election flurry of activity on K Street.

Lobbying is not in and of itself dishonorable. It is a way for a particular interest group to get lawmakers' attention on the differing perpsectives on an issue being considered. The dishonorable part comes when money and special benefits like lunch, or trips abroad, or the use of corporate jets get exchanged for votes. Nancy Pelosi has promised to get tough on such practices and to get new House Rules into effect which will put teeth into that promise.

I am frequently embarrassed by the depths of my naivete, and this is one of those times. Today's Washington Post indicates that K Street has no intention of losing its yank in Congress, and the lobbying industry has not only come up with new ways to get their way, they have found the pols to play along.

The Democrats' takeover of Congress this month has turned official Washington upside down.

Labor and environmental representatives, once also-rans in congressional influence, are meeting frequently with Capitol Hill's incoming Democratic leaders. Corporations that once boasted about their Republican ties are busily hiring Democratic lobbyists. And industries worried about reprisals from the new Democrats-in-charge, especially the pharmaceutical industry, are sending out woe-is-me memos and hoping their GOP connections will protect them in the crunch.

...In addition, in a move that is raising ethical questions, some Democratic lobbyists are planning to take congressional staff jobs, attracted by the chance to wield real clout.
[Emphasis added]

How canny is that? If the appointment calendars are closed to lobbyists, then placing someone on the inside should get the job done just as effectively at a lower cost, since these one-time lobbyists are obviously taking a cut in pay.

Despite this focus on gaining access to authority, Democratic congressional leaders have expressed disdain for their predecessors' fealty to "special interests." That is why they are planning an elaborate assault on lobbyists during their first week in session. Through changes in laws and in House rules, Democrats hope to ban lobbyist-provided gifts and travel to lawmakers and to create an Office of Public Integrity to oversee the disclosures that lobbyists must make about clients and fees.

All well and good, but I suggest the ethical concerns be broadened to include this latest end-around and any future attempts to circumvent the news laws and rules.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

And This Is Surprising, how?

We've just gone through an election season in which the GOP (including its President and Vice-President) tried to convince the electorate that Democrats couldn't be trusted on security issues. Fortunately, the electorate didn't buy into this nonsense because we now have a report that substantiates just how bogus the claim that Republicans are better at national security actually is. From the Washington Post:

Private consultants hired by the Department of Homeland Security have found widespread problems with its contracting operation, including nearly three dozen contract files that could not be located.

Files that could be found often lacked basic documentation required under federal rules, such as evidence that the department negotiated the best prices for taxpayers, according to a copy of the consultants' report obtained by The Washington Post.

...The assessment underscores complaints by department auditors and outside experts that procurement officials persistently neglected contracting responsibilities as they spent billions of dollars after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- much of it on security systems that do not work as planned.
[Emphasis added]

The first thing in the article that set my teeth on edge that of the 72 contracts that the auditors requested for sampling, more than thirty couldn't be located. How does one "lose" that many contract files? But wait, there's more:

The consultants sharply criticized an array of contracting procedures. Of the 72 contract files reviewed, only 14 were deemed to be in "excellent" shape. Those files contained evidence that the contracts were awarded with adequate competition and represented the best deal for taxpayers

Forty-seven files met only "minimum" standards and showed little evidence of fair and reasonable pricing or supervision by contracting officials.

Eleven files were deemed to be "seriously inadequate," with key documents missing or incomplete and little evidence that the contracts were competitively awarded or prices were justified.

The consultants said some information in the files "seems to be just enough to 'get by.' "
[Emphasis added.]

And this is supposed to feel more secure?

Heckuva job, Mr. Chertoff.


A Fitting Farewell

Senator George F. Allen, who lost his seat in the last election, has decided to promote one last bill. From today's NY Times:

As a last little gift to America, Senator George Allen, who was narrowly defeated by James Webb this month, has introduced what may be his final piece of legislation: a bill that would allow the carrying of concealed weapons in national parks.

...Senator Allen’s bill is, of course, being cheered by the gun lobby, which sees it not as an assault on public safety but as a way of nationalizing the armed paranoia that the National Rifle Association and its cohorts stand for.
[Emphasis added]

While it is doubtful that the bill has a chance in the final weeks of this lame duck session, the fact that Sen. Allen even introduced it is very interesting (not to mention laughable). Did he draw the short straw when it came to the GOP offering a bone to the gun lobby, thereby ensuring continuing campaign contributions for 2008? Was it his way to show his middle finger to those who elected his opponent? Or, and more likely, was this simply a way to show his bona fides as a conservative for his next campaign?

Whatever the reason, the bill stinks. If citizens want to feel safer in national parks, there are other, better ways to accomplish this, like increasing the funding for the parks so that they can be adequately staffed and policed. Like churches and schools, the parks are not the place for an armed citizenry, Second Amendment misinterpretations aside.

Heckuva job, Macaca.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Whatever Became Of Unions?

It is no accident that the minimum wage hasn't risen for entirely too long. The primary force for pro-labor legislation, unions, has been in decline for the past twenty years. As manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas, our economy has turned into a service economy, and established unions haven't seen fit to to do anything about either situation. That's one of the reasons why the AFL-CIO suffered such a disasterous split this past year. Fortunately, the union movement is now showing signs of resurgence, and it is no accident that the resurgance is found in the service sector. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU)is one of the few unions regularly in the news as it forces new contracts for previously non-organized sectors.

The latest success for the SEIU comes out of Houston. From the LA Times:

In a major step for labor in this right-to-work city, striking janitors reached an agreement with five major cleaning companies Monday on a contract that guarantees the workers higher wages, more work hours and medical benefits.

About 1,700 janitors walked off the job Oct. 23 after talks broke down, and have staged high-profile demonstrations in a city unaccustomed to noisy displays of civil disobedience.

Strikers dragged garbage cans and trash bags into a busy intersection, then handcuffed themselves to each other and the cans. In another action, they pushed trash bins, mop buckets and brooms through downtown Houston during rush hour.

The janitors make an average of $5.15 an hour, half the wage of their counterparts in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

The contract is a first for the 5,300 Houston janitors who affiliated with the Service Employees International Union last year. Under the agreement, pay for SEIU janitors will increase to $6.25 an hour on Jan. 1. That will go up to $7.25 an hour in 2008, and $7.75 in 2009.

The settlement also guarantees more work hours for janitors who have largely been limited to four hours a night. The workers will be covered by health insurance starting Jan. 1, 2009, and will get vacation time and six paid holidays a year.
[Emphasis added]

Let there be no mistake, the increase in wages and benefits is meager by most standards, but the fact is that is a gigantic leap for workers in this sector, who to a large extent are immigrants working a second or third job for their families. They are very similar to the workers the SEIU successfully represented in Los Angeles recently: hotel workers, janitors, cemetary workers, and now security service workers.

I think this bodes well for labor in this country. Instead of spending money on lobbyists and entertaining politicians, the SEIU is concentrating on organizing and negotiating new contracts. I think progressives, and those politicians wrapping themselves in a liberal mantle, would do well to pay attention to this union and those like it that are breathing new life into labor rights.

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We are facing a regime in power that violates our laws in its treatment of opponents, and that condones use of torture. This administration violates the laws because it sees them as hindering its ability to conduct its operations, which include unprovoked war and ferreting out 'the terrorists' it has denominated its enemies. I see parallels in the increasingly blatant persecution of its opponents by w's friend Putin, with whom he recently conducted a cozy little chat which ignored the Russian state's authoritarian, and murderous, conduct of its affairs.

I admit to being bothered that enemies of the state in Russia are dying in really shadey killings. The latest, a poisoned Russian spy Litvinenko who was investigating evidence in the recent murder inside Russia of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. This follows not too many years after the poisoning of anti-Russian dissident and later successful candidate for president of the Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko.

What is our country's reaction? Has anyone heard or seen one? During the recent trip to see five minutes of Vietnam our leader met with Putin, Russia's increasingly iron curtain style leader, en famille, in a friendly little chat while Air Force One refilled in his country. Needless to say, 'seeing his soul in his eyes' has characterized our country's erstwhile president as sympatico with and showing total approval for the KGB character who has kept free elections from being held in the provinces, and presides over an increasingly repressive government.

"The general political climate among the Russian elites has become immensely depressing in recent times," according to the prominent Moscow journalist Mikhail Rostovskii. He insists that the authorities, who have "only instincts but no strategies," are involved in ludicrous endeavors, such as the cancellation of the holiday celebrating the October (Bolshevik) Revolution, meaningless or dangerous undertakings, such as the decision to abandon the election of provincial governors, or even stupid actions, such as the destruction of Yukos.7 The authors of a report produced by Stanislav Belkovsky's Council on National Strategy accuses the state of "lacking a strategy and goals." The report focuses on the Kremlin's chaotic economic policy.8 Even Expert, a probusiness weekly, which is usually friendly toward the Kremlin, declared on the eve of the new year in an editorial with the sarcastic title, "We Do Not Rebel against the Authorities," that the current persecution of one company after another (for instance, the mobile telephone firm Vympelkom and the bank Russian Standards) "puts in doubt the survival of the country."9

These policies remind me awfully of the very ones this country's leadership condemned rather than condoned during the Cold War, when the U.S. still strictly supported the Geneva conventions and a Rule of Law. A president breaking laws and proclaiming that he had a philosophy such as the unitary executive theory which allowed him to violate the Constitution he had sworn to uphold would not have been tolerated.

It would appear that we have slipped from this country's former moral leadership and I see chillingly significant that this president claims a firm companionship with a leader whose lawlessness is increasingly apparent.

'Pragmatic' behavior is the description increasingly applied to violation of basic standards of universally approved decency. Making war on an unoffending country, which prevents us from fully prosecuting the war on al Quaeda, seems to be the ultimate pragmatic act. It is also the most counterproductive one undertaken by any American government in my lifetime.

In Afghanistan, where the war began , NATO and U.S. forces are struggling to cope with a resurgent Taliban whose guerrillas have killed some two dozen western troops, including two U.S. soldiers in a suicide bombing in Kabul Friday, since Sep. 1.

NATO's U.S. commander, Gen. James L. Jones, admitted Thursday that the alliance was going through a "difficult period" and needs as many as 2,500 more troops, as well as additional aircraft, to bolster ongoing operations in southern Afghanistan, significant parts of which have reportedly fallen under the effective -- if not yet permanent -- control of the Taliban.

The government of neighbouring Pakistan, meanwhile, has agreed to withdraw its troops from northern Waziristan, effectively returning full control of the region -- as it did in southern Waziristan last year -- to tribal militias dominated by close allies of the Taliban.

As you will note, I point to the Cretin in Chief's identification with the ruthless leadership of Putin as symptomatic of his disregard for our own laws. I admit I am not a student of psychology or pathology. However, I do think that our C-i-C is not fit to lead a free country, and has proved it.

This congress is going to need to deal with the leadership realistically, and it seems that one role forced on our elected congressional representatives will be to prevent the Constitution, and the rule of law, from being overthrown by the practices of this administration.

I hope you will give them your complete support. This country has reached a new low and hopefully can only go upward. It is in peril of going downwards.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

One Down, Many To Go

Well, it's been a typical Monday, filled with too many telephone calls from stupid people that were hardly offset by the few calls I got from smart people, a deadline I've known about for weeks, but finally faced up to, and a jackass who flipped me off because I snookered him into letting me into a lane of traffic I intended to make a left turn from (I am not the ideal person to share a road with, I admit that). Combine that kind of day with temperatures in the 90s (it's almost Thanksgiving, for cryin' out loud!) and the discovery when I got home that the workers renovating the apartment next door were once again cutting and grinding granite counter tops in front of my apartment, which meant I couldn't open any windows because of the noise and the dust, and you have the recipe for meltdown.

I was in desperate need of some cheering up, so I went to a reliable source for that, Molly Ivins. It worked. Her November 16, 2006 column considered the departure of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and included some really memorable Rumsfeldian words of wisdom.

Meanwhile, let us bid farewell and adieu to Brother Donald Rumsfeld, who is so full of wisdom he does not seem to be able to apply it. As a parting gift, here are some of his classic quotes:

1. "If you develop rules, never have more than 10."

2. "Don't think of yourself as indispensable or infallible. As Charles De Gaulle said, the cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men."

3. "Needless to say, the president is correct. Whatever it was he said."

4. "I don't do quagmires."

5. "I don't do diplomacy."

6. "I don't do foreign policy."

7. "I don't do predictions."

8. "I don't do numbers."

9. "I don't do book reviews."

10. "Don't divide the world into 'them' and 'us.' Avoid infatuation with or resentment of the press, the Congress, rivals or opponents. Accept them as facts. They have their jobs, and you have yours."

11. "Don't say, 'The White House wants.' Buildings can't want."

12. "If I know the answer, I'll tell you the answer. And if I don't, I'll just respond cleverly."

13. "I believe what I said yesterday. I don't know what I said, but I know what I think, and, well, I assume it's what I said."

I suppose an argument can be made that in light of current realities, these quotes are enormously depressing because they represent a man who for nearly six years has been in charge of the world's greatest military and who has managed to destroy that military and helped to destroy the American image abroad. Today, however, especially knowing that he is on his way out, I just laughed and laughed and laughed.


Drive a Stake In It

Attorney Generalissimo Betito Gonzales refuses to give up. He continues to demand that the Congress pass the NSA wire tap law or the terrorists will win. He implied as much to the cadets at the Air Force Academy at a speech Saturday. From an AP report:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales contended Saturday that some critics of the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program were defining freedom in a way that poses a "grave threat" to U.S. security.

Gonzales was the second administration official in two days to attack a federal judge's ruling last August that the program was unconstitutional. Vice President Dick Cheney on Friday called the ruling "an indefensible act of judicial overreaching."

Gonzales told about 400 cadets from the Air Force Academy's political science and law classes that some see the program as on the verge of stifling freedom rather that protecting the country.

"But this view is shortsighted," he said. "Its definition of freedom - one utterly divorced from civic responsibility - is superficial and is itself a grave threat to the liberty and security of the American people."

..."We believe the president has the authority under the authorization of military force and inherent authority of the constitution to engage in this sort of program, but we want to supplement that authority," he said.

The administration has maintained that its warrantless surveillance program focuses on international calls involving suspected terrorists, and dismisses charges that it is illegal because it bypasses federal law requiring a judge-issued warrant for such eavesdropping.

...Speaking to the cadets, Gonzales dismissed as "myth" the charge that civil liberties were being sacrificed in the fight against terrorism. He defended the Patriot Act and the handling of detainees at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
[Emphasis added]

That is some of most tortured logic I've seen since the last time his boss justified the invasion of Iraq. I'll tell you what is divorced from civic responsibility, illegally wiretapping phones without a judicially issued warrant in violation of the Fourth and First Amendment of the US Constitution. That is a true attack on the liberty and safety of the American people.

And if the president already has the authority to ignore the Constitution by virtue of the Authorization of Military Force Act, why is this latest bill necessary? Could it be that the bill, which has a retroactive provision, is required to save the current administration from a raft of trials for high crimes and misdemeanors? If they truly believe that the president has the inherent authority to engage in such activity, why is such a supplement required? Don't they believe hard enough?

No, the bill stinks and Betito and his co-conspirators know it. The reason it stinks is so self-evident that Betito inadvertently let slip the best reason to defeat the bill:

"To achieve victory at the cost of eroding civil liberties would not really be a victory. We cannot change the core identity of our nation and claim success," said Gonzales

Exactly, you corrupt moron.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sunday Poetry: T. S. Eliot

From Ash Wednesday (1930)


Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

The Poor Suffer Most

It was the statement on BBC just now, during the noon news I see on PBS here, that the global conference on environment just ending concluded that the poorest on the planet suffer the most from climate change, that I thought ought to be a matter of serious concern from our enlightened posters and commenters here. The illustration the BBC report used was the Massai of Kenya. These people have always been of particular interest to me, as I acquired during the 60's a tall ebony sculpture of a Massai herder, and learned that the culture is devoted to cattleherding, the men perpetually exchange the cattle for goods of other types, they stay constantly on the alert for raids by rivals and hunting lions. The men are very tall, and ritually drink the cattle's blood to give them strength.

As drought plagues the region the Massai inhabit for the fifth year, like areas of North Dakota, conditions are impossible for the cultivation of those herds.

From recent visitors John and Shirley Waters:
Visiting Nairobi this time we were shocked by the weather – yes it was very warm and sunny fine for tourists but the locals are praying for rain. Kenya is suffering from severe draught that has impacted so many things.

In the northern areas of Kenya it is estimated that over 3 million people are starving due to the lack of rain. The school in Nairobi has been on mains water for about a year but now they have to fill water tanks when there is water available in the pipes.

The cost of food has risen by between 20 – 50% and this has made a big impact on the school’s budget and feeding programme. Everywhere is very dry and dusty and water is scarce. The animals are dying in the game parks and the Massai now bring their cattle into Nairobi to find food. Each day we saw lots of very thin scraggy cattle eating whatever they could from the grass verges along the sides on the roads.

The concerned nations of the world that have taken the responsibility for their own actions in adding to global warming by pollution of the air have taken on some of the burden of alleviating suffering like this.

Under our present lack of responsible leadership, the U.S. continues in adding to the suffering of these and other victims of climate changes. Yesterday a worldwide conference on the Climate concluded in Nairobi. The U.S. was not part of it.

"The science tells us that we need faster and deeper political progress if we are to avoid the social, economic and humanitarian consequences of unchecked climate change," a joint statement said. "Every country has a part to play in the drive to prevent dangerous climate change."

The 1997 Kyoto pact obliges 35 industrial nations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The United States rejects that accord, with U.S. President George W. Bush contending it would damage the U.S. economy and should have given poorer countries obligations as well.

Scientists attribute at least some of the past century's 0.6 Celsius (1 degree Fahrenheit) rise in global temperatures to the atmospheric accumulation of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, byproducts of power plants, automobiles and other fossil fuel-burning sources. Continued temperature rises could seriously disrupt the climate, they say.

Another innovative approach is being promoted by the World Food Program;
If experts with the World Food Program and the World Bank have their way, future donations for natural disaster victims will no longer depend on the whims of private donors or the political needs of governments, but on agreements with international financial corporations. The plan is to create famine insurance for the Third World.

In other words, the capital markets will jump in where donations tend to be insufficient and an insurance policy will protect against draught-induced malnutrition. High finance instead of alms.

This country has elected new leadership, one committed to principled action instead of the muddled business sycophancy that it has seen in effect for the past six years. Catastrophe looms in many areas, with the threat of increasing resentment against the U.S.'s role in inflicting that catastrophe on the other inhabitants of the globe. We can let our leaders know that we care about the well-being of the world, and the U.S.'s responsibility in damaging it.

Brazil Gets It

Yesterday, I posted on a more adult approach to foreign policy that would actually involve diplomacy. An opinion piece in Brazil's O Globo not only agrees with need for such an approach, it explains why it is necessary.

The best way out of Iraq for the defeated George W. Bush is to speak with his worst enemies. The advice given by Tony Blair was the genuine helping hand of a friend: come to an understanding with Syria and Iran. It is a gesture that would demand considerable political courage, but that could get back some maneuvering room for the American government.

It isn't necessary to like or support the regime of the Ayatollahs in Teheran to recognize that Iran has become the region’s principal power, with direct influence that extends to Herat, Afghanistan and Baghdad, Iraq, passing through a good part of Lebanon, via Hezbullah.

Excluding the noise made by the long-winded President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is barely third in Iranian hierarchy, Iranians are much more cautious than the Americans when dealing with questions involving the Middle East. They are still a good distance from having The Bomb (which the Americans tolerate in the cases of India and Pakistan). What the Iranians want, mainly, is an end to financial and commercial sanctions in exchange for what the Americans most want in Iraq: some kind of stability.

While Iran thinks big and has time on its side (excluding a surprise Israeli attack), Syria is in a desperate situation. The political isolation of Damascus is grave, since the U.N. fingered the Syrian secret service as the principal mastermind of the assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The event, which was carried out in Beirut, led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon after 29 years of occupation.

The Syrians have no oil or a nuclear program to use as a bargaining chip or pay their military expenses, but they are essential in coming to any sort of long-term understanding between Israel and the Arabs. Syrian influence in the Palestinian territories is heavy, and the major radical Palestinian groups fighting Israel, including Hamas, operate out of Damascus. In other words, Syria could contribute greatly to providing a relief in tension between the Arabs and Israelis.

...The Middle East is complicated above all by the fact that no question (the Iraqi conflict, the Arab-Israel conflict, or Islamic radicalism) can be treated in isolation, yet no comprehensive solution is possible without each isolated conflict being resolved. Bush would now need extraordinary political audacity to put the breaks [sic] on his friends and start talking to his enemies. But so far he has shown only the impetuousness of ignorance.
[Emphasis added]

William Waack, the author of this piece, has wisely shown the connections amongst the various problems in that region of the world. The US cannot hope to engender the kind of trust it needs to get the other Middle East countries on board a plan for Iraq until it returns to a more even-handed approach in the Palestine-Israel conflict, which means the end of blind support for everything Israel does. And it is clear that the US will need the assistance of Iraq's neighbors to restore stability to that country, a stability desperately needed by the region.

The trick is to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. So far, the Bush administration has not shown the capacity for such sophisticated diplomacy, although it does have the swagger part down. It is possible that with the resignation of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, the State Department will have a greater role in how we approach the problems in the Middle East, but it may very well take a stronger voice than that of Condaleezza Rice.

It would help if the new Congress understood the interconnections of the Middle East issues, and its members might very well do so. The problem is that if Social Security is the third rail of domestic policy, Israel has that same position in foreign policy. Few, if any, members of Congress will be very aggressive in light of this country's long-standing support of Israel. That means it's up to the president.

At this point, my optimism is a cut below cautious, even if the neocons are losing influence.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Bonus Critter Blogging: Greater Anteater

Regardless of your philosophophical or spiritual persuasion, you must admit that the sheer diversity (and weirdness) of life on the planet is truly a wonder.

Free Market.

Free Market

A lot of confusion is generated by the derivation of "Free Trade" from the original "Free Market" theories such as Milton Friedman's. Pure theory can be lovely and promising. Hence, Prof. Friedman of the University of Chicago's 'monetarist' school of economics, could say on November 1, 1991:

We are being misgoverned in all these areas but not because of bad motives or bad people. The people who run our government are the same kind of people as the people outside it. We mislead ourselves if we think we are going to correct the situation by electing the right people to government. We will elect the right people and when they get to Washington they will do the wrong things. You and I would; I am not saying that there is anything special about them.

The important point is that we in our private lives and they in their governmental lives are all moved by the same incentive: to promote ourown selfinterest. Armen Alchianonce made a very important comment. He said, "You know, there is one thing you can trust everybody to do. You can trust everybody to put his interest above yours." That goes for those of us in the private sector; that goes for people in the government sector. The difference between the two is not in the people; it is not in the incentives. It is in what it is in the selfinterest for different people to do.

In the private economy, so long as we keep a free private market, one party to a deal can only benefit if the other party also benefits. There is no way in which you can satisfy your needs at the expense of somebody else. In the government market, there is another recourse. If you start a program that is a failure and you are in the private market, the only way you can keep it going is by digging into your own pocket. That is your bottom line. However, if you are in the government, you have another recourse. With perfectly good intentions and good will nobody likes to say "I was wrong" you can say, "Oh, the only reason it is a failure is because we haven't done enough. The only reason the drug program is a failure is because we haven't spent enough money on it." And it does not have to be your own money. You have a very different bottom line. If you are persuasive enough, or if you have enough control over power, you can increase spending on your program at the expense of the taxpayer. That is why a private project that is a failure is closed down while a government project that is a failure is expanded.

Of course, he was talking during the Clinton years, to a business audience, and the needling about government power turning people into just the same as their predecessors was meant to imply that Democratic administration was no better at promoting prosperity in the populace than Republicans had been. Althought the Clinton era proved him wrong, doubtless he never noticed, and sailed on into w's era sure that his ideas would be proved right. Au contraire.

We can see the validity of this only if we compare the cretin in chief's supposed principles with what he actually did. Working under the guise of promoting Free Market economics, the last six years under w's administration has ripped up the security of protections of all varieties, undermined the mechanics of government and ignored the judicial branch and its rulings.

The ability of men acting freely to determine their own fates by acting in self-interest, ignores the basic facts of market economy, that in addition to promoting themselves the business entity will undermine the opposing entities. Prof. Friedman, needless to say, never managed a business. He promoted himself by attracting the greatest numbers of admirers, and the businessmen who needed to undermine humane government used him to the fullest.

Look at his earlier postulation in this same speech;

Hong Kong's completely free economy has achieved marvels. Here is a place with no resources except a magnificent harbor, a small piece of land, an island offs peninsula, a population of 500,000 after World War II that has grown to a population close to six million - over ten times as large and at the same time, the standard of life has multiplied more than fourfold. It has been one of the most rapidly growing countries in the world, a remarkable example of what free markets can do if left unrestricted. I may say that Hong Kong is not a place where most of us would want to live. It is not a place where most of the people there want to live. It is very crowded; it is a very small area. If other places would take them, the people would love to go. However, the remarkable thing is that under such adverse circumstances they have done so well.

In addition to economic freedom, Hong Kong has a great deal of human freedom. I have visited many times and I have never seen any evidence of suppression of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, or any other human freedom that we regard as important.

Of course, now Prof. Friedman would probably have chosen the Caymans as the illustration of perfect free market economy, and look how it is prospering by offering a haven for funds which are being kept from taxation in the lands where they originated or to which they are due, as being a product of that country's resources and/or personnel.

Economics is pretty generally dismissed as being a philosophy but hardly a science. However, it is cited by those who can use its philosophers to cement their own gains as absolute science.

Sorry, Prof. Friedman, your 'free' markets have disproved your theories.