Thursday, May 31, 2007

Thursday Birdblogging

FeralLiberal's cat Pippin got into some trouble with a nesting tree swallow, pictured below in a more tranquil moment, and I really appreciate his lending us these pictures for our Thursday bird moments.

The pictures are at

From my birder friends at Cornell; 'Cool fact: Tree Swallows are the only swallows that make substantial use of vegetable food such as seeds and berries. They favor bayberries. Eating berries when insects aren't available helps these swallows withstand bad weather, especially during their early spring return to the breeding range.'

Bayberries are a great candle ingredient, too. I will give up bayberry candles though, if it will help sustain the tree swallows.


The Cost of Paralysis

The atrocities committed in Darfur are at last being addressed by this country's government. The cretin in chief has called for European countries to join him in asking the U.N. to impose more sanctions. During the past six years of his term, the deaths and destruction have piled up in Darfur (as they have in other places such as Iraq), while this government waited out one Friedman after another. Now, there is not much inclination of the U.N. to go along with the U.S. posturing.

The refugee crisis in the Sudan area is being joined by crises throughout the Middle East as well.

From Darfur, a renewed fear is mounting. When the West finally begins to look, will Sudan's government have eliminated the ones who could have borne witness to their crimes?

Sudan's government recently agreed to let in 3,000 UN peacekeepers, a fraction of the 22,000 mandated by the Security Council last August. The deployment could still take months and villagers here fear the government will want to get rid of all witnesses to atrocities before peacekeepers move in.

"We need them to come as fast as possible, because we're all in danger," Ibrahim said.

Aid workers and UN personnel say the burial site is just one of three dozen mass graves around Mukjar, a town at ground zero of the Darfur calamity, holding evidence at the heart of the international community's case against Sudanese leaders for war atrocities.

Ibrahim and others interviewed insisted their full names be withheld because they fear reprisals. It is difficult to independently verify their accounts, but they cited dates and victims' names and drew maps of grave sites. Ibrahim named nine of the people buried in the grave he showed to the reporter.

Some of what the witnesses say matches up with what a prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, has documented: at least 51 cases of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes in the Mukjar area -- mass executions, torture and rapes of civilians.
The prosecutor says most of the killings were done by the Sudanese army and the janjaweed, Arab militiamen backed by the Sudanese government. Their war on Darfur rebels, which turned against all black African villagers, has become the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 200,000 dead and 2.5 million made homeless.

While I am glad that the country has finally been brought into a semblance of caring about the mounting genocide, I cannot do other than regret it has been so poorly led, and its objections so delayed. The State of Texas has required divestement by businesses that hold Sudan-based investments. I am proud of the state for that.

The International Criminal Court has indicted two war criminals in the Sudanese government. This country has stated that we hope they will be given up by Sudan, while not mentioning that the U.S. refuses to recognize the ICC.

Our stature internationally is so low, that there has been very little mention of this. No other nation would expect Sudan to take seriously a country that has instituted torture as part of its 'war on terrorism' - and of course, it's probably over the heads of most of the U.S. media.

When decency prevails again in the government of the U.S., perhaps we can have a positive effect and lead other nations in a campaign for a return to decency in the world. For now, all the C-i-C's posturing evokes vague snickers, and certainly no cooperation.

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And The Hits Just Keep Coming

Today's Los Angeles Times contains an article which is frightening in its implications. It now appears that the "Saturday Night Massacre" over at the Department of Justice was just one part of a massive and concerted effort by the GOP to control elections via voter suppression.

The article deals specifically with former US Attorney for Minnesota, Tom Heffelfinger, who served in that position from 1991 until he resigned in 2004 for reasons not connected with the current investigation. Mr. Heffelfinger is described as an award winning "tough Republican prosecutor," so it came as quite a surprise to people who know him that his name appeared on the list of US attorneys targeted for firing. The reason for his inclusion on that infamous list? He actively tried to protect the voting rights of Native Americans in the state.

At a time when GOP activists wanted U.S. attorneys to concentrate on pursuing voter fraud cases, Heffelfinger's office was expressing deep concern about the effect of a state directive that could have the effect of discouraging Indians in Minnesota from casting ballots.

Citing requirements in a new state election law, Republican Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer directed that tribal ID cards could not be used for voter identification by Native Americans living off reservations. Heffelfinger and his staff feared that the ruling could result in discrimination against Indian voters. Many do not have driver's licenses or forms of identification other than the tribes' photo IDs. ...

The issue was politically sensitive because the Indian vote can be pivotal in close elections in Minnesota. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area has one of the largest urban Native American populations in the United States. Its members turn out in relatively large numbers and are predominantly Democratic. ...

"I have come to the conclusion that his expressed concern for Indian voting rights is at least part of the reason that Tom Heffelfinger was placed on the list to be fired," said Joseph D. Rich, former head of the voting section of the Justice Department's civil rights division. Rich, who retired in 2005 after 37 years as a career department lawyer — 24 of them in Republican administrations — was closely involved in the Minnesota ID issue.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Rich has some pretty good evidence for his conclusion:

... Rich says, that he got an Oct. 19, 2004, e-mail from an assistant U.S. attorney in Minnesota named Rob Lewis, informing him about possible voter discrimination against Indians. ...

After reviewing the matter, Rich recommended opening an investigation.

In response, he said, Bradley Schlozman, a political appointee in the department, told Rich "not to do anything without his approval" because of the "special sensitivity of this matter."

Rich responded by suggesting that more information be gathered from voting officials in the Twin Cities area, which includes Minnesota's two most populous counties.

A message came back from another Republican official in the department, Hans von Spakovsky, saying Rich should not contact the county officials but should instead deal only with the secretary of state's office. ...

The orders from Schlozman and Von Spakovsky, who wielded unusual power in the civil rights division, effectively ended any department inquiry, Rich said.
[Emphasis added]

This story certainly fits with the rest of the stories that have emerged over the past several months, fits so well that it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the DOJ was used as part of a conspiracy to subvert the voting process. The question then becomes, what is Congress going to do about it?

Calling for a no-confidence vote in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is not enough, nor is his resignation or impeachment.

Crimes have been committed. Prosecutions are warranted.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Late On Torture

The only faction in the U.S. that the cretin in chief has not yet disappointed is the sadists. In its adherence to barbaric as well as ineffective and counterproductive methods of treating our often unjustly detained prisoners, this White House is unique in our history.

As the Bush administration completes secret new rules governing interrogations, a group of experts advising the intelligence agencies argue that the harsh techniques used since the 2001 terrorist attacks are outmoded, amateurish and unreliable.

The psychologists and other specialists, commissioned by the Intelligence Science Board, make the case that more than five years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush administration has yet to create an elite corps of interrogators trained to glean secrets from terror suspects.

While billions are spent each year to upgrade satellites and other high-tech spy machinery, the experts say, interrogation methods — possibly the most important source of information on groups like al-Qaida — are a hodgepodge that date from the 1950s, or are modeled on old Soviet practices.

Some of the study participants argue that interrogation should be restructured using lessons from many fields, including the tricks of veteran homicide detectives, the persuasive techniques of sophisticated marketing and models from American history.

The science board critique comes as ethical concerns about harsh interrogations are being voiced by current and former government officials. The top commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, this month sent a letter to troops warning that “expedient methods” using force violated American values.

In a blistering lecture delivered last month, a former adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called “immoral” some interrogation tactics used by the CIA and the Pentagon.

But in meetings with intelligence officials and in a 325-page initial report completed in December, the researchers have pressed a more practical critique: There is little evidence, they say, that harsh methods produce the best intelligence.

The Bush administration is nearing completion of a long-delayed executive order that will set new rules for interrogations by the CIA. The order is expected to ban the harshest techniques used in the past, including the simulated drowning tactic known as water-boarding, but to authorize some methods that go beyond those allowed in the military by the Army Field Manual.(emphasis added)

As Andrew Sullivan notes in a chilling discourse today at the Daily Dish, "Once you start torturing, it has a life of its own."

What might have started as an innocent soul is darkened and eventually destroyed by exercising cruelty. It is not healthy for this country to have anyone in power in our government who regards its citizens, or any human beings, as less than human. This presidency has brought disgrace to the country in many ways, but its use of torture is its total bestialization. There, I had to invent a word to describe the chief cretin's nature.

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Raising The Price Of Citizenship

Even as George Bush pushes the pending immigration bill, accusing those who oppose giving a path to citizenship for those already here of fear mongering (how ironic), his administration announced steep hikes in application fees for citizenship and permanent residency, according to an article in today's Los Angeles Times.

The Bush administration will announce increases in immigration application fees today that will double the cost of citizenship and almost triple the cost of becoming a permanent resident.

The new fees, reflecting an average 66% increase, led immigrant advocates and some members of Congress to criticize them as a "wall" that could bar poorer immigrants from citizenship. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials countered that the increases were essential to help the overloaded agency reduce its backlog and speed service. ...

Under the increases, which cover almost all immigration benefits, the cost of bringing a foreign fiance or fiancee will jump to $455 from $170. The price tag for a green card, or permanent resident visa, will rise to $930 from $325, and the cost of citizenship papers will increase to $675 from $330.

This agency is years behind in its processing of the paper work, and its systems, in this day of computer technology, are still primarily paper based. Why hasn't it been able to keep up with the work it is charged to perform? Well, a while back, Congress decided to take the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency out of the normal budget process and make it "user-funded," which means the only source of revenue for the agency comes from the fees charged for the applications.

The new fees are supposed to generate the funds for the following upgrades at the agency:

...the additional funds would raise annual revenue to $2.3 billion, which would be used to hire about 1,500 immigration officers, buy computers, improve training and cut by one-fifth the processing of their top four "products": applications for green cards or to renew them, petitions for businesses to bring foreign workers, and citizenship applications.

The agency also will use the additional funds to build or renovate 39 facilities nationwide.

Rather than revisit how this agency raises funds for its operations, the administration has decided to simply raise the price for legal status. That certainly makes the "amnesty" being proposed by Mr. Bush for those workers already here illegally a rather hollow promise. Many of them will be unable to afford legal status.

See? The anti-immigrant forces really shouldn't have been so upset by the new bill. Mr. Bush has it covered.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Brazil's Government Breaks Down Barriers

While in the U.S. the various legislatures try to use the methods of punitive prescription of cancer treatment to threaten children about sex, (see Diane's post just below this), in Brazil a progressive leader is showing common sense and uncommon benevolence.

President da Silva is putting together a program to give access to birth control to the less affluent, so that women of all economic levels can hold sway over reproduction, and thereby their avenue to economic health.

That the Pope just plowed indifferently through the South American continent declaring that women's bodies belong to the religious authorities, this is more applaudable than usual.

Just weeks after Pope Benedict XVI denounced government-backed contraception in a visit to Brazil, the president unveiled a program Monday to provide cheap birth control pills at 10,000 drug stores across the country.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the plan will give poor Brazilians "the same right that the wealthy have to plan the number of children they want."

Brazil already hands out free condoms and birth control pills at government-run pharmacies. But many poor people in Latin America's largest country don't go to those pharmacies, so Silva's administration decided to offer the pills at drastically reduced prices at private drug stores, said Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao.

The price for a year's supply of birth control pills under the new program would be $2.40, and anyone - rich or poor - can buy the pills by simply showing a government-issued identification card that almost all Brazilians carry.
Faria said the program could reduce the 800,000 illegal abortions that Brazilian women have each year. About 4,000 women die from the back-office procedures annually, making it the fourth leading cause of maternal death in Brazil after hypertension, hemorrhages and infections.

The concern for women's rights is another branch of concern for health and well-being. When a family is not forced to grow beyond its means, those means can be applied to caring for, and educating itself. In a country like Brazil, where income is low, this is particularly acute on the part of the leadership.

In the U.S., the rightwingers who insist that women should be forced to carry children to term once they are conceived, no matter what the circumstances, such good sense and concern would be welcome. For those who think that caring for the health of young women should be subordinated to righteous indignation that they might commit follies if they were protected from fatal disease, it would be a return to the kind of sanity we need so badly.

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Say, What?

I'm trying to decide how red-faced embarrassed I should be after reading this editorial in today's Los Angeles Times. The editorialist suggests that maybe state legislatures shouldn't rush to require the Gardisil vaccination of all middle school women.

WHEN LOBBYISTS for major drug companies embark on major pushes with politicians, the results are seldom laudable. Though there is reason to hope that a new Merck vaccine, Gardasil, will significantly reduce the incidence of cervical cancer, lawmakers nationwide moved with unseemly haste to require inoculations for all young girls. Their rush seems especially precipitous in light of a new study that has raised questions about how effective the vaccine ultimately will prove.

In drug trials, Gardasil has been shown to be safe and effective at halting the two strains of human papilloma virus that most commonly cause cervical cancer. Key to the vaccine's effectiveness is administering it before a woman is exposed to the virus, which is spread through sexual intercourse. This explains the valid interest in providing the vaccine to prepubescent girls despite the cost of more than $300 per vaccination. ...

...Now, after all the early hoopla, it has become less clear that Gardasil will succeed in nearly eliminating HPV. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that blocking the two primary HPV strains might create an opportunity for other strains to flourish, so that the overall reduction in cancers would be relatively small. In addition, safety in the general population over time often differs from experimental safety — as the Merck painkiller Vioxx tragically illustrated.
[Emphasis added]

Now, I had assumed that Merck, the drug company behind Gardisil, was quite actively promoting the drug to legislators. That's what PHARMA does. In this case, however, I had hoped that those same legislators would be savvy enough to look behind the lobbying to the product itself and its incredible benefits. What about this situation has caused the editorialist to get his shorts in a bunch? Is it the high cost of the vaccine, a cost that if not underwritten by the states would put the vaccine out of reach of all but the financially comfortable and/or the insured? A list of questions posed suggests the reason:

Public health officials have not yet grappled with complex issues surrounding Gardasil. If the vaccine prevents only a couple of virus strains, how best to make patients aware that they lack full protection? Given the high cost, is the public getting the best preventive-medicine bang for its buck? Is it right to use schools to force the issue when, unlike polio, the disease cannot be caught through casual contact? [Emphasis added]

The first question is a red herring. Do we halt vaccinations of one kind of hepatitis because we don't have a vaccine for the other kinds? Of course not. Any time we can stop a disease we should do so, even if we can't prevent other related diseases.

The second question, that of the high cost factor, is only slightly more legitimate. The high cost is unconscionable. Let the legislators bring some pressure to bear on Merck, forcing a lower cost on this and other drugs. We've been screaming about this for yarons.

It's the last question, however, which is the give-away: the idea that middle school girls might be having sex, because that's exactly what the question is really about, and what I suspect is really bothering the editorialist.

Oh, I'm red-faced, all right: but not with embarrassment.

I'm angry.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Grave Misdeeds

Having just seen the cretin in chief desecrate the graves of our heroes buried there by his presence, I take comfort in recalling that it was desecration that the Cemetery was set up to effect.

The original grounds belonged to Mrs. Robert E. Lee, and the Custis-Lee mansion that now is the high point was her home. When Robert E. Lee became the General leading the Southern army in the Civil War, the mansion and grounds were confiscated by the Union. Soldiers were housed there, and later an infirmary set up. In command of the garrison there was a former West Point classmate of Robert E. Lee, who resented his leaving their country and helping in setting up a seceeded nation from its parts. That former classmate, Brig. Gen. Meigs, wanted to make sure that the beloved house would never be able to be occupied by the Robert E. Lee family again. Burying war dead on the grounds insured this end.

After the war, the Supreme Court declared the confiscation illegal and returned it to Custis Lee, the oldest son of the Robert E. Lee family, who in turn sold it back to the U.S. government for $150,000.

These honored dead, being dead, don't mind that they were laid there for revenge on one of this country's great generals, who probably made a bad choice in fighting for the South but did it out of loyalty, not for profit.

Perhaps a purification ceremony could be arranged for the great spirits that were polluted today by evil spirits.

Coincidentally, I roomed with an 'intern' who had helped research a guide book to D.C. who told me this tale long ago.

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As American As Apple Pie

I believe what makes this country so different from other democracies is the sheer brilliance of the US Constitution, especially those first ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights. I know that to many in the current administration the Constitution is simply a quaint piece of parchment, too 9/10 to have much relevance, but that document is what defines liberty for this nation. When new military recruits take their oath, they swear to defend that Constitution. That's how important it is.

That's why I found this article in today's NY Times to be a fitting reminder of the centrality of the Constitution to our national lives.

Every Sunday for more than two years, rain or shine, they have shown up here, nodded politely to each other across Savannah Road, and stood motionless for 45 minutes like sentinels. They differ in politics but share a faith in the power of silence.

On one side of the street, Jeff Broderick stands alone while he holds a sign. “Their only plan is to cut and run again. It never ever works,” the sign says.

On the other side, Patricia Kirby Gibler stands shoulder to shoulder with dozens of others, staring toward Mr. Broderick and silently holding small cardboard posters with black numbers. One poster states, “3,415 American Dead.” Another reads, “70,023 Iraqi Dead.” ...

Supporters of both sides in the debate over the war in Iraq have gathered here every week since September 2004 at the busiest intersection of this tranquil shore town of about 3,000 residents. In January, an additional group began congregating in silence on a third corner, their signs calling for the president’s impeachment.

Both sides of this debate are exercising their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly over an issue that is wracking this nation. Today, when politicans pull out all the stops to posture and speechify about the glorious sacrifices made by those who served, the silent protest on Savannah Road seems to me to be a more fitting memorial.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sunday Poetry: Marge Piercy

(A timely reprise)

The Low Road

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can't walk, can't remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can't stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction.
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

Marge Piercy

[Go visit PaxAmericana.]

Exceptional Behavior

Earlier today, I concluded a post with, "Feh! A pox on both their houses," (here) when reacting to the behavior of both parties in Congress. I may have been a little premature. Shortly thereafter I came across this article in the Washington Post. It's about a Texas state legislator willing to risk his health, perhaps even his life, to do the right thing.

Against his doctor's advice, a stooped and feeble state Sen. Mario Gallegos Jr. (D) arrives at the Texas Capitol each day, just to make sure his chamber does not take up a bill that would require voters to produce identification at the polls.

And when the rigors of the job start to wear on Gallegos, whose body is trying to reject a liver transplanted four months ago, he retires to a hospital-style bed -- donated by a Republican colleague -- in a room next to the Senate chamber.

Gallegos is putting his health at risk to block a measure he and others say could prevent many minorities and the elderly from taking part in elections in Texas.

The Republicans pushing the voter ID bill say illegal immigrants are voting in Texas elections and must be stopped. But Democrats say thousands of legal residents would lose the right to vote because they lack proper identification. Opponents of the measure -- including Gallegos, a Mexican American -- say minorities, the elderly and the poor are less likely than others to have driver's licenses or other documents.

Most of Gallegos's Houston-area constituents are black or Hispanic, and about a quarter of them live in poverty. About one in five speak little or no English.
[Emphasis added]

Voter identification measures are just one of the tactics used by the GOP to keep "the wrong kind of people" (i.e., black, brown, poor, elderly) from voting because so many of them vote Democratic. The requirement of "official" identification is actually intended to intimidate these vulnerable citizens to the point where they won't even show up at the polls.

Mr. Gallegos represents a district filled with those "wrong kind of people" and is having none of that. His dedication to his constituents and to democratic principles is astounding in light of his poor health. He may be "stooped," but there clearly is nothing wrong with his spine.

Good on you, Mr. Gallegos. I'll be pulling for you in your health battle.

And to those Democrats in Washington? Here's a quarter: get a clue.


EPA Pollutes Environment

In an executive branch of government distinguished for its resistance to common sense, the EPA is carving out for itself a niche of total obscurantism. Having been recently ordered by the Supreme Court to start enforcing the laws it was created to enforce, the EPA stalls still in protecting the environment.

The damage to the environment is being rivalled for high place in EPA idiocies by its program of research into environment's effects on the world's life forms.

Scientists say the Bush administration is developing a chemical testing program that favors the chemical industry when it comes to judging whether certain substances in the environment might cause cancer, infertility, or harm to babies in the womb.

What's billed as one of the most comprehensive screening programs ever to check whether chemicals can disrupt human hormones, scientists say, may instead prove to be a misleading $76 million waste. Federal officials defend the program, which aims to identify so-called "endocrine disruptors." They say that no tests can cover everything, and that the process of setting up the program has been open and transparent.

The critics agree that much is known about the tests – and, they say, the publicly available information is precisely what causes their concern. They say the Environmental Protection Agency has:
• Allowed lab tests, using rodents, that are so badly designed, they're almost certain to miss harmful chemicals. For instance, the EPA favors using a breed of rat that is relatively insensitive to several known hormone-disrupting chemicals. And the EPA plans to allow those rats to be fed chow that could mask the effect of some chemicals.

• Failed to guarantee that tests will be conducted on prenatal exposure to chemicals. Last week, a group of 200 scientists signed a declaration warning that exposure to chemicals in the womb may make babies more likely to develop diabetes, obesity, attention deficit disorder and infertility. The group urged action from governments around the world.

• Demanded the wrong dosage range, also raising the odds that harmful effects will be missed.

• Said it might allow chemical companies to tailor certain aspects of the tests.
"If your objective is not to find anything, that's the perfect way to do it," said Fred vom Saal, a developmental biologist at the University of Missouri. The National Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, says the EPA is bending to special interests. "There certainly is industry influence," said Dr. Sarah anssen, a reproductive biologist with the group in San Francisco. "What really is driving [the decisions] is the industry focus of the administration. That's why the EPA listens to them."

EPA officials respond that they have developed the program – called the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program – in an open manner to protect it from special interests. "You're always going to find people that think their issue is not given appropriate attention," said EPA biologist James Kariya, a coordinator of the screening program. "But if anything, this program has been very transparent, very open."
"We need to put traditional toxicology on the back burner and find a better approach," said Theo Colborn, a zoologist with the University of Florida and president of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, an independent research group.

Dr. Colborn was one of the first scientists to recognize that chemicals leaching into the environment were disrupting hormones in wildlife. "The assays that the EPA has proposed are still based on high doses."

Counter to what one might expect, hormones can have unexpected effects at lower doses, recent studies have found.

"Endocrine disruptors affect the endocrine system," said Wade Welshons, a biologist at the University of Missouri. And in that system, he said, "the lowest levels are the ones that are the most important."

For example, scientists have found that while high neonatal doses of the former anti-miscarriage drug DES cause weight loss in mice, low doses cause obesity later in life. Rat experiments on DEHP, a phthalate found in plastics and other consumer products, show that low doses suppress an enzyme needed for proper development of the male brain. High doses stimulate the enzyme.

Dr. Welshons says that even the well-known drug tamoxifen, given to treat certain breast tumors, is known to have opposite effects at different levels in the body. When a woman first starts taking tamoxifen and levels in the body are still low, the drug can actually cause a tumor to "flare," or grow. Only when levels build does tamoxifen slow tumor growth.

The doses to be tested under the EPA program are too high if the goal is to detect chemicals that interfere with hormones, say Dr. Welshons and other scientists. The EPA program will miss many low-dose effects, he said.

"You can't start from the top and go down," Dr. Welshons said. "You have to start from the bottom and go up."
For instance, when the EPA solicited a white paper on which strain of animal to use, they went to a toxicologist who works for a company that does testing for the chemical industry.

"The livelihood of their company is completely dependent on ... good relationships with the chemical companies," said Missouri's Dr. Welshons.

Researchers disappointed with the screening program say they anticipate legal battles over any decisions unfavorable to the chemical industry.

"Once the tests are in place, there will be a whole new fight about which chemicals will be covered," said Dr. Ted Schettler, a physician with the Science and Environmental Health Network, and former member of a committee advising the EPA on the screening program.

And as far as research goes, the public will have to rely on individual scientists' work to discover whether chemicals are harmful.

Once again, the interests of the public are subordinate to the interests of industries that the executive branch was created to regulate, not promote. Our health is once again disposable to the cretin in chief and his toadies.

My apologies to toads for the slight.

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Well, Boo Hoo

Yesterday, I complained about Democrats who were more concerned about their own political future than the country's best interests (here). Today, I discovered that the Republicans have a similar problem. From today's Los Angeles Times:

The roiling congressional debate over a plan to legalize undocumented immigrants has rekindled a bitter fight in the Republican Party over the best strategy to restore the GOP to political dominance — with each side accusing the other of following a course that would destroy the party for decades. ...

At issue are not just different approaches to immigration but competing visions for how to rebuild and maintain a base of loyal Republican voters.

Many Republican strategists and Bush allies blame election defeats last year in part on the loss of Latino voters after a flurry of anti-illegal immigration ads that strategists say exploited ethnic stereotypes. They say Republicans cannot hope to win a national majority without substantial support from the fast-growing Latino voting bloc.

"I believe that not to play this card right would be the destruction of our party," said Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), the Cuban-born general chairman of the Republican National Committee, who helped write Senate legislation creating a path to citizenship for most of the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. "Hispanics make up about 13% of our country and by 2020 will be closer to 20%. It is a demographic trend that one cannot overlook."

...conservatives and many opinion leaders argue that backing the immigration bill is a dangerous course because it angers the GOP's mostly white base, as well as swing voters open to the message of national security and law enforcement.

Some argue that new citizens may be more likely to vote Democratic, so strategically it makes little sense to increase their numbers. ...
[Emphasis added]

So, there you have it. It's all about elections, not the future of 12 million people here and working hard under the most difficult of circumstances. It's not about finding a way to get our crops picked and processed before they rot, it's about a way to keep the Democrats from getting new voters. It's not even about homeland security and viable borders, it's about long term political power.

And at the very core of the dispute, lies a nasty fact: the "GOP's mostly white base" has to be kept happy and secure in their racism.


A pox on both their houses.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Bonus Critter Blogging: Walrus

(Photograph by Bill Curtsinger and published by National Geographic)

Blog Pimp For Peace

Like the majority of Americans, I actually expected the 110th Congress to put a collar on the president and to yank hard on the leash so that the illegal and unconscionable war in Iraq could be ended. Too many Americans, allies, and Iraqis have died for whatever the raison du jour might be at any given moment. One would have been too many.

And then on Thursday that Democratic-led Congress let us all down. The mood at my favorite gathering spot, Eschaton, was a mix of outrage and heartbreak. We all spewed invective at the cowardly Democrats who obviously were more concerned about their political future than about the lives of thousands of American service personnel and Iraqi citizens. We had expected better.

Finally, one of the regulars rather forcefully suggested that perhaps the country would be better served if we stopped passively relying on others to end the war and started actively doing something ourselves to accomplish that end. NTodd, the pantsless one, was right.

Not only was he right, he's set up a blog with others to explore ways in which we can do something about it. PaxAmericana not only contains posts with ideas and resources, it also has a creditable blog roll of links to different groups already in existence who will welcome new-comers.

It's time we all took responsibility for this war being fought in our name and with our tax dollars. PaxAmericana is a good place to start the journey.

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Shocking, But Not Surprising

Byron Halsey has escaped the death sentence because the Innocence Project looked into his case, got the DNA evidence examined, and convinced the right people that Mr. Halsey was innocent. He, along with 200 others, was lucky, not only because the Innocence Project was around at the right time, but also because he was charged with a crime in which DNA evidence was a crucial element.

The UK's Times Online took a look at the statistics involving the 201 wrongfully convicted men that the Innocence Project helped and came up with some pretty shocking findings:

Of the 201 now exonerated, 120 were black and 15 had spent time on death row. Together, they had served 2,496 years. ...

One of the most striking statistics from the cases, which demonstrates a distinct bias against African-American men, involves sexual assaults.

Nationally, only 12 per cent of sexual assaults are between a victim of one race and an attacker of another – yet 64 per cent of those exonerated were black men convicted of raping white women.

In the cases, 28 per cent were convicted of murder. Overall, three quarters were the result of inaccurate identifications at police lineups.

The statistics were based only on the 201 men exonerated with the assistance of the Innocence Project. There's no telling how many other black and brown men are sitting on death row, or rotting away in cells under long sentences who don't belong there, or who have been wrongfully executed because of miscarriages of justice.

This is unacceptable.


South/North, USA/Iraq Invasion

It's probably unfortunate that the claims of the cretin in chief to Texas heritage are so totally false. Had he grown up as I did, in the retained memories of the Civil War, he might have had better understanding of the eternal legacies of invasion. He might also have seen that setting two factions against each other would result.

For those of you who didn't have family stories, proudly told, of underage kids who lied about their age to go shoot Yankees, of relatives who wouldn't allow a Yankee on the land, all the lore of leftover hatred, being invaded is still unforgiven in the South. Sure, we associate now with the Northeasterners and go to those Ivy League schools happily. It is necessary however to think of them not as damnYankees but as the NorthEast.

In my small hometown, there was a race riot concerning those fearsome black people who were politely called Negroes in my youth. A usual circumstance for those days, a black man reportedly raped a white woman. He was pulled from a cell in the courthouse/jail, lynched, burned and dragged through town. The black business sectiion of town was burned down, and has never been rebuilt. The story of this atrocity was told with pride when I was growing up, because it was necessary in the old southern belief to restrain 'uppity niggers'. Pardon me but that was the kind of language used. If you don't have this kind of background in inter-racial prejudice, congratulations. But because of it, I fear I have a capacity to understand how the Sunni-Shiite conflict will play out.

There was a much greater difference in black population and white population of the old south than there is between Sunni and Shiite, and I have heard it told that the feelings were relatively amicable between them before our invasion. I have also heard that aside from the occasional rebellious runaway type, relations between white slaveowners and black slaves were pretty amicable too. As some one who has 'gotten along' with a totally abusive boss on occasion, I am well aware of the kind of amicability that actually prevailed.

From the inability to work out their differences, the south and north in this country fell into a destructive, scarring, war. It was a tragedy and the rabble rousers on both sides are probably the most to blame.

In our present civil war, that we have brought to Iraq, the rabble rousers here and there, and most especially in the White House, are again to blame.

The South lost the war in 1865, but it has won since then in so many ways that I don't need to point them out here. The black population of the south was the greatest victim, and suffered economic and educational retribution from that day to this. Of course racism can't all be blamed on the North's action to end slavery, either. The NorthEast, however, also suffered, and has had its institutions and standards pulled down ever since.

If the cretin in chief had grown up in Texas he would have had the experience of seeing the effects of undying resentment. He would have known what he was creating. Whether that would have made any difference I can't say. From seeing the amount of intelligence he was given showing what the effects would be of disrupting Iraq's stability, possibly not.

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Business As Usual

I find it highly embarrassing that this country refuses to take part in any international efforts towards reducing green house emissions. We never signed on to the Kyoto Accord. The then Republican controlled Congress argued that to do so would affect our economy too much, by which it meant big business would have to spend money to clean up its act. That excuse has been hauled out again, this time with respect to a German proposal that is intended to carry on after the Kyoto Accord expires in 2012. From today's NY Times:

The United States has rejected Germany’s proposal for deep long-term cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, setting the stage for a battle that will pit President Bush against his European allies at next month’s meeting of the world’s richest countries.

In unusually harsh language, Bush administration negotiators took issue with the German draft of the communiqué for the meeting of the Group of 8 industrialized nations, complaining that the proposal “crosses multiple red lines in terms of what we simply cannot agree to.” ...

The United States has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol because of concerns about damage to the American economy. Bush administration officials have also balked because China and India are not part of it.

The push back by the Bush administration over the German proposal has left many European diplomats furious. “The United States, on this issue, is virtually isolated,” one European diplomat said on condition of anonymity under diplomatic rules, and then added, “with the exception of other big polluters.”

The US provides between 20 and 25% of all greenhouse gases. The other major polluters at this point are India and China, the new Asian powerhouses. The argument from the White House appears to boil down to "if they aren't going to play by the rules, then neither are we."

Apparently it hasn't occurred to the Bush administration that signing on to the German proposal just might put give the US the kind of leverage that would compel the other major polluters to fall into line. Is this an admission by Mr. Bush that he is incapable of providing the leadership necessary to prevent a global catastrophe?

Apparently it also hasn't occurred to the Bush administration that the US has long been a leader in technological innovation, and has the brain power to provide ways to cap the emissions we are spewing. Is this an admission by Mr. Bush that he has no confidence in the nation's capacity to find answers short of military thuggery?


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Friday, May 25, 2007

L.A.'s Public Transit Mess

Los Angeles continues to treat public transportation as a red-haired stepchild. The Metropolitan Transit Authority, the region's main public transportation governing body met last night in a public session to discuss the astounding fare hikes being proposed. Everyone present knew that the proposed hikes were outrageous, and put forth just so a "compromise" set of numbers could be generated to stave off the financial disaster which really is just around the corner. That's exactly what happened.

First, some background. Because of a federal consent decree, there have been no fare hikes for the past ten years, and the MTA has been forced to buy more and newer buses to improve service. The federal court ruling, while necessary, did put the MTA system in quite a hole, one which the MTA did nothing to dig itself out of.

Here's the Los Angeles Times summary of the results from last night's meeting, along with a chart that shows what the new fares look like.

Los Angeles County transit leaders Thursday approved the first across-the-board fare increase in more than a decade, despite emotional testimony from hundreds of bus riders who said they could not afford steep price hikes.

The new fares — which apply to both bus and rail service — are less than the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's staff had sought but will still increase the amount riders pay significantly over the next two years. The cost of the monthly pass will gradually rise from $52 to $75 by July 1, 2009. The popular day pass will rise from $3 to $6 over the same period.

What the Metropolitan Transit Authority didn't apparently consider is that fares cannot be the only source of revenue any more than property taxes can be the only source of revenue for schools.

Steve Lopez, one of the LA Times better columnists for local matters, made a couple of quite obvious suggestions in his column this morning lambasting the MTA decision.

...State and federal officials are culprits in the collective failure to support transit, despite the growing social and economic cost of congestion and pollution-related illness. Where's bold, creative leadership when you need it?

Would the option of a few high-speed toll lanes for Los Angeles motorists raise enough money to buy the buses the MTA needs?

Is it time to mandate that large companies offer transit vouchers to employees and eliminate free parking?

Does the efficiency of smaller transit systems in Santa Monica, Culver City and the foothill cities suggest that the MTA should be broken into smaller regional agencies?

Is it time to increase the 18-cent federal gas tax or use more of it to fund transit?

Should developers get bigger incentives for building near transit centers?

It's time for the MTA board and the Southern California Assn. of Governments to lead a discussion on these kinds of solutions and fight for their support here, in Sacramento and Washington. As it is, they're on a slow bus to nowhere.

That's a nice start, Mr. Lopez. Nicely said.

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Catblogging; Fluffy Limps A Little Less

This is the Ultimate in Friday Catblogging;

These are pictures of Fluffy getting surgery (that's Dr. Brakebill doing the cutting and pasting) for his ruptured ligament. Okay, a stray cat that doesn't land on his feet. Gotta love him. Below is the sleepy Fluffy just before surgery. More to come.

And for all you who have been asking about him, Fluffy is rather enjoying not being a stray anymore. But he's a little worried about Cleocatra, and she's just as worried about him.

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Sausage Making

After a good night's rest, I am slightly less depressed over the passage of an Iraq War funding bill that did not contain a time table for withdrawal of US troops, but just slightly. Still, I did manage to find enough energy to look into what else that funding bill contained, and it wasn't a complete disaster. Among the provisions was the hike in the minimum wage. From today's NY Times:

By a vote of 348 to 73, the House approved the measure as part of a deal on Iraq spending. Less than two hours later, the wage increase was approved in the Senate, where it was combined with a bill providing more money for the Iraq war. That vote was 80 to 14.

The measure would raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour from $5.15 in three stages over two years. The bill includes $4.84 billion in tax breaks for small businesses. They have made a case, supported by Republicans and the White House, that the wage increase would be a burden for them.

The raise in the minimum wage was way over-due. The last hike was ten years ago, under President Clinton's tenure. By my calculations, that means that when the new law is fully implemented, full time workers will now be able to earn $15,600 per year. That certainly doesn't keep a family of three out of the poverty level, but at least it provides a national floor on wages.

The bill had some other goodies in it as well. Airlines get to dick around with their pension plans, which ought to make Wall Street happy. Oh, and somebody remembered the Gulf Coast:

The bill includes $6.3 billion more for areas damaged by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, $600 million for health insurance for children in low-income families and $3 billion for aid in farm disasters.

Ironically, it was a Republican who complained about the inclusion of these provisions in the bill, ironic because the GOP slipped in those kinds of "add-ons" on a regular basis in the 109th Congress, often in the dead of night, so that the congress critters could never be certain just what a bill they were voting on contained. Here's yesterday's complaint:

Representative John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio and the House minority leader, criticized the wage provision along with a set of domestic spending measures attached to what was viewed as “must pass legislation.”

“We’ve got a host of issues that don’t deserve to be put on the backs of the military,” Mr. Boehner said. “It’s a sneaky way to do business.”

Why, yes. Yes, it is. If the President doesn't like those provisions (although their inclusion was undoubtedly part of the negotiations with the White House), he can always veto the bill, right? At least the Democrats let the Republicans know about those provisions, something the last Congress wasn't too good about.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Rule of Law would be nice

Thank you Senator Harkin, for your bill introduced yesterday to end the destructive presence of illegal detention at Guantanamo Bay, and the history of torture there. Although the executive branch has maintained it no longer tortures, its pattern of saying whatever will get the war criminals their way, no one believes that.

The statement Senator Harkin made on introduction of his bill pointed out that a minimal number of the detainees in Gitmo were actually taken in battle or have been shown to have ties to any kind of terrorism. Most were actually turned over into our hands by other national entities, for money.

The ACLU today welcomed Senator Tom Harkin's (D-IA) introduction of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility Closure Act of 2007, a bill that would close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The bill cuts off funds for everything except sending charged or sentenced detainees to Fort Leavenworth and transferring the remaining detainees to their home countries or other countries that will not torture or abuse them. The bill would effectively end the practice of indefinite detention without charge or due process for detainees who have been held for as long as five years without charge and without knowing the reason for their detention. It will also provide an incentive for the government to finally charge those detainees the government believes are guilty of crimes against the United States.

The bill requires the president to close the facility within 120 days of enactment. Within that time, detainees will be sent either to the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Ft. Leavenworth, KS, or transferred to another country that will not torture or abuse them. The Secretary of Defense can obtain an additional renewal period of 120 days to hold the detainee if the government is preparing charges and has a logistical need for the additional time.

The extreme good sense of this legal measure to ensure our country returns to the rule of law is welcome, and encouraged.

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Thursday Birding

This is a favorite with Feral Liberal, and for all of you I am citing a website you can go and get all the information about grosbeaks you will ever need;

Also, there is a wonderful series of pictures at

Rose Breasted Grosbeaks are not something I see here in N.TX. and in fact my only sightings were in Maryland, in a thicket area, taking a walk just to bird. But I recommend it highly.


An Example Of What Works

On May 16, I put up a post on the nomination of Michael Baroody to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Mr. Baroody, a lobbyist for the National Association of Manufacturers (the very people Mr. Baroody would be regulating), had an unusual severance package. In today's NY Times we learn that Mr. Baroody has withdrawn his name from consideration, presumably to avoid answering questions about that severance agreement.

A senior lobbyist at the National Association of Manufacturers withdrew his nomination to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission on Wednesday as a growing number of senators questioned both his suitability and a $150,000 departure payment that the association was preparing to give him. ...

Senator Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat who earlier this month put a hold on the nomination, said in an interview Wednesday afternoon that he believed that Mr. Baroody withdrew because he did not want to make public the details of his $150,000 severance package, as several senators had demanded. ...

His nomination began to founder after the disclosure last Wednesday that he would be receiving a $150,000 special payment from the association, and that the severance package was amended by the association in January, shortly after he was identified as the top candidate for the post.

The White House had continued to defend Mr. Baroody publicly. But unlike in the cases of other contentious nominees, it refused to expend any significant political capital by lobbying on his behalf. Nor did President Bush appear to be willing to appoint him during a Congressional recess, as he has other nominees who have run into problems on Capitol Hill.
[Emphasis added]

One new detail that has emerged in the last week is that the severance agreement was amended once the news that Mr. Baroody was the top contender for the job broke. While what that amendment involved isn't known, it apparently caught the White House by surprise, which might explain why the White House uncharacteristically gave up on the nomination.

I think another factor just might be that the White House simply doesn't have enough "political capital" to expend on such a nomination. Bush's numbers in even the most conservative of polls are in the basement. His appointee to the World Bank has just been forced out of the job in disgrace. His Attorney General is fighting for his job. Many of his top aides at the White House and in key cabinet agencies have resigned to spend more time with their families.

Apparently the Democrats in Congress haven't noticed all of that, which is maddening. If they had been paying attention and done the math, maybe they wouldn't have caved in on the Iraq War funding bill; maybe they would have resubmitted the bill with the withdrawal time line, which is what a majority of Americans want, and kept resubmitting it, each time explaining to the country that they support the troops, but it's time to bring them home. If they shift the blame for lack of funding to the man who vetoes the bill which allows for funding, the chances are pretty good that the people who gave them the congressional majority expecting just that kind of behavior would understand and approve.

Pushing back on the little things worked. It just might work on the big things as well, but this crop of Democrats apparently don't have the courage to even try.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

More Cowboy Diplomacy

The Bush administration hasn't changed its preferred modus operandi for the upcoming direct talks with Iran over stabilizing Iraq. An AP report published in today's Sacramento Bee makes that quite clear.

Ships packed with 17,000 sailors and Marines moved into the Persian Gulf on Wednesday as the U.S. Navy staged another show of force off Iran's coast just days before U.S.-Iran talks in Baghdad.

The carrier strike groups led by the USS John C. Stennis and USS Nimitz were joined by the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard and its own strike group, which includes two landing ships carrying 2,100 members of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Aircraft aboard the two carriers and the Bonhomme Richard were to conduct air training while the ships ran submarine, mine and other exercises.

The war games - which culminate in an amphibious landing exercise in Kuwait, just a few miles from Iran - appear to be a clear warning to Tehran, coming just ahead of the Baghdad talks and as the United Nations contemplates tightening sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

"There's a link to both events," said Mustafa Alani of the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center. "The Americans are sending a message to Iran that they are not coming to the negotiating table weak, but with their military at Tehran's doorstep."

Washington is also showing Iran that the U.S. military will act to defeat any Iranian war strategy of closing the straits, which Iran shares with Oman, Alani said.
[Emphasis added]

The first direct talks with Iran in nearly thirty years, talks of great importance with respect to the debacle known as the Iraq War, and Mr. Bush decides to warm the audience up with a show of force. That ought to make the atmosphere conducive to a productive meeting of the minds.

I almost made the mistake of using the word negotiation in the preceding sentence, but I caught myself just in time. This administration doesn't negotiate, not with anybody, least of all with one of the members of the axis of evil. The upcoming meeting is clearly a combination of a dog-and-pony show for the nervous folks back home and a thuggish bit of saber rattling for the folks in the Gulf.

I'm not so sure even the "Great Heartland" is ready for yet another war, but it appears that the folks in the Middle East are not happy either, as noted in the AP report:

America's Gulf Arab allies have grown increasingly uneasy with the U.S. stance against Iran, fearing an outbreak of hostilities could bring Iranian retaliation. All lie within range of Iranian missiles.

The Gulf Cooperation Council, a loose alliance of Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, has called on members not to support any U.S. action against Iran, while Qatar and the Emirates have publicly prohibited the U.S. military from launching strikes on Iran from U.S. bases on their soil.
[Emphasis added]

Apparently Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney aren't worried about that at all. They might, however, want to play closer attention: the price of gasoline is a sore spot right now for the American public. A conflagration in the Middle East might cause some serious damage in this country as well.

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Give Us That Old Time Religious Massacre

Despite its dominant catholicism, Pope Benedict's incredibly ignorant remarks have stirred up storms of protest from Latin America. When he stated that the native population had been just waiting for the conquistadors to come enlighten them, that constituted such a denial of facts that it is being massively rejected.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Pope Benedict XVI's declaration in Brazil that colonial-era evangelization in the New World did not represent "the imposition of a foreign culture" has ignited a firestorm of criticism from indigenous representatives and the governments of Venezuela and Bolivia.

Indigenous groups from Chile to Mexico have condemned the remarks as a revision of a history marked by massacres, enslavement and destruction of native cultures.

For many in Latin America, the incident was reminiscent of provocative comments that the pope made last year about Islam, unleashing a wave of anger across the Muslim world.
The people of the Americas, the pope said, had been "silently longing" for Christ "without realizing it," and willingly received a Holy Spirit "who came to make their cultures fruitful, purifying them."

The pope's analysis didn't mention the widely acknowledged violent side of the conquest.

Credible modern accounts of the conquest include reference to the often barbarous treatment that Spanish and Portuguese overseers inflicted on native populations through colonial times.

The inability of high officials is not peculiar to the Catholic church, we see it breaking out here in the Department of Justice and its hirees. These students of the recidivism inherent in televangelism are trying to follow teachings they have no doubt swalled hook, line and sinker since it's really Hard Work to think for yourself. That they are able to lie without shame is something we watched today at C-Span 3, and can be observed whenever the right wingers start trying to Win One for the Gipper, or whoever they've enshrined in his place at the moment.

Sadly, putting the name of religion on this anarchistic authoritarianism is a complete perversion of the kindness and humanity that most religion was meant to teach. Even more sadly, too many who are not practiced in seeking out the truth accept it as a reasonable substitute.

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Some Good Questions

David Iglesias, one of the US Attorneys fired during the Bush version of the "Saturday Night Massacre," has a timely op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times. The timing of the column is appropriate: Monica Goodling will be testifying on the mass firings today before a congressional committee after being granted immunity.

WHAT HAPPENS in a presidential administration when loyalty, to borrow a phrase from "Star Trek," becomes the "prime directive"? What happens when its all-encompassing fog obscures all other values — such as fealty to the Constitution, the rule of law or simple humanity?

What happens is that terrible decisions are made, repeated and then justified by this shibboleth. That's just one of the lessons that has emerged from the U.S. attorney scandal. ...

What has become clear already is that the "loyalty uber alles" mentality has infected a wide swath of the Bush administration. Simple notions like right and wrong are, in their eyes, matters of allegiance, not conscience. ...

Loyalty is a virtue with limits. That was one of the many hard lessons from Watergate. In that scandal, some of President Nixon's staffers carried their loyalty to the president all the way to federal prison.

All federal prosecutors take a public oath when they assume office. I personally swore in about 30 new federal prosecutors during my tenure as U.S. attorney for New Mexico. The oath is to the U.S. Constitution, not to the president or his Cabinet.
[Emphasis added]

That oath to the U.S. Constitution is comparable to the one taken by all federal officials, including the President and the Vice-President. It's a shame that so few of those officials have taken that oath seriously.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Law Prevails Over Anti-Immigrant Statute

Thank you, Judge Lindsay. In a ruling that keeps the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch from imposing a law on landlords to make them liable for enforcing the laws, Judge Lindsay has acted in a responsible and legally correct manner.

A day before the city planned to start enforcing an ordinance banning apartment rentals to most illegal immigrants, a federal judge put a temporary stop to the plan, ruling that it "conflicts with federal law."

Legal experts said the ruling Monday by U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay signals that the ordinance may face trouble in federal court despite Farmers Branch voters' overwhelming approval of it May 12. Federal courts have issued rulings stopping other cities from implementing similar laws.

Judge Lindsay, in a 20-page ruling granting a temporary restraining order, said Farmers Branch had wrongly used federal laws governing who receives housing subsidies to write its ordinance and had created its own classification system for determining which noncitizens may rent an apartment in the city.

"The court recognizes that illegal immigration is a major problem in this country, and one who asserts otherwise ignores reality," Judge Lindsay wrote. "The court also fully understands the frustration of cities attempting to address a national problem that the federal government should handle; however, such frustration, no matter how great, cannot serve as a basis to pass an ordinance that conflicts with federal law."

The voters of Farmers Branch acted under the leadership of town council members who claim that their property values are lowered by the community of immigrants, despite evidence given to them that immigrant communities discernably upgrade the places that they live. Claims that crime is rampants in immigrant communities has also been proved untrue. It's sad that there are feelings against the later arrivals to this country among those whose ancestors came here earlier.

It's good indeed that the Judge has exercised sound judgment and I hope that the responsible members of Farmers Branch will show their appreciation to him.

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Coordinated Attacks

Before I had even had my first cup of (unleaded) coffee, I read an email from Woody Guthrie's Guitar about a post he has up at Walled-In-Pond on a sneak attack on abortion rights in Missouri. He cites a TruthOut article:

TruthOut.Org has the following: The Missouri Lege is ready to pass and to send on to Gov. Blunt--who has already pledged to sign it--a bill which would impose regulatory language on Mo. abortion clinics that would effectively drive existing abortion providers out of business, and prevent new ones from being established. It would also restrict 'sex education' in schools to programs dominated by the 'abstinence-only' stance. ...

What this illustrates most compellingly is that, when human rights are taken off the national table and relegated to the far less carefully scrutinized Leges in the States, human rights are far more vulnerable to challenge, if not out-right revocation, by the prejudices of the 'majority.'

Woody was wrong only insofar as he implies that the anti-abortion, anti-woman folks have decided to concentrate only on state legislatures. An article in today's NY Times makes it clear that abortion foes are making a concerted effort in every possible forum they can find, from the US Supreme Court on down.

For many years, the political struggle over abortion was often framed as a starkly binary choice: the interest of the woman, advocated by supporters of abortion rights, versus the interest of the fetus, advocated by opponents of abortion.

But last month’s Supreme Court decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act marked a milestone for a different argument advanced by anti-abortion leaders, one they are increasingly making in state legislatures around the country. They say that abortion, as a rule, is not in the best interest of the woman; that women are often misled or ill-informed about its risks to their own physical or emotional health; and that the interests of the pregnant woman and the fetus are, in fact, the same.
[Emphasis added]

In other words, women aren't capable of knowing what's best for them. Men have to step in and take care of all of these messy little problems so that the girls don't have to worry their beautiful little heads about such complicated matters.

Ye gods! What's next? Taking away our right to vote?

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Good Cop/Bad Cop

While President Bush has been offering a somewhat bedraggled olive branch to the congressional Democrats on such issues as immigration, it's pretty clear he has no intention of allowing the congress to tie Iraq War funding to a timeline for withdrawal. The last I heard, the Democrats have caved on this issue and will be offering a bill with no timeline mentioned. Still, however, the president has back-pedaled a little when it comes to Iraq, allowing for direct meetings with Iran on the stabilization of Iraq. Whether those meetings will involve any kind of meaningful dialogue is another matter entirely, but the fact that there will be diplomatic talks at all with the second part of the "axis of evil" is somewhat surprising, given the official stance for the past several years.

Perhaps the slight shift can be attributed to the fact that the president doesn't have the same team of hardliners around him. In fact, the only hardliner remaining is Vice President Dick Cheney, who recently returned from a Middle East tour. It doesn't appear that Mr. Cheney has softened his rhetoric at all, which might mean that the White House is engaging in a little good cop/bad cop routine going into the election season, as suggest in an AP report published in today's Sacramento Bee.

Most of the war hawks who stood with President Bush on Iraq are gone or departing, leaving Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney increasingly without much company in trumpeting steely resolve.

And it is Cheney who stands out as the administration's foreign-policy heavy, as Bush combines his war rhetoric with overtures to Democrats who control Congress.

Bush's top ally in Iraq, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, just paid a farewell U.S. visit. The supportive leaders of Spain and Italy are long gone. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resigned under pressure. World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz - one of the war's original architects - just announced his resignation under an ethics cloud.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who helped frame administration policy on treatment of terror-suspect prisoners and warrantless wiretapping, may soon be out the door. Senate Democrats are seeking a no-confidence vote as early as this week.
In Congress, Democrats who supported the 2002 resolution authorizing military force in Iraq have furiously backpedaled away from those votes.

Only Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice remain from Bush's first-term war council. And Rice is pursuing diplomatic initiatives, focusing more attention on broader Middle East peace issues than on the Iraq war.

That does appear to leave just Dick Cheney to keep the rhetoric heated when it comes to Iraq. The problem is that our 'allies' in the Middle East are making it clear that it's time to shut down the Iraq War, stop the saber rattling at Iran, and do some honest brokering in the Israeli Palestinian problems. Many of the leaders in that region, including Egypt and Jordan gave just that message to Dick Cheney. What remains to be seen is whether he will listen and urge the President to consider a real shift in foreign policy.

My guess is that nothing will change, only the tactics used for domestic consumption. And that's a damned shame.

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Apparently American businesses just took a closer look at the proposed immigration bill and spotted a couple things that they don't much like, according to an article in today's NY Times.

Employers, who helped shape a major immigration bill over the last three months, said on Sunday that they were unhappy with the result because it would not cure the severe labor shortages they foresee in the coming decade.

In addition, employers expressed alarm as they learned that the Senate bill would require them to check a government database to verify that all current and former employees — aliens and citizens alike — were eligible to work in the United States.

The employers' groups note that up until now they had some control over the hiring of foreign workers under employer sponsorship programs, which allowed them to obtain green cards for those potential employees who matched their needs. For example, high tech companies that needed software engineers could identify good job candidates from university programs, and if the candidates were from other countries, the companies could "sponsor" those candidates and obtain the necessary government documentation. Under the proposed bill, the employers aren't part of the process. The "means test" to be used would simply give "points" to those workers with high skills. As the article pointed out, those immigrants who are civil engineers aren't exactly in demand for a company that designs software, nor are MBAs with degrees in international finance. It's not hard to see why business groups are not happy with that part of the bill.

It is the second complaint, however, that is rather telling. Suddenly employers are faced with some very concrete liability for the employing of undocumented workers. Meat processing plants, restaurants, and construction companies who rely on unskilled workers willing to work for less money than Americans are now going to have to verify that all employees (current as well as new) can legally work in this country. That isn't sitting too well with them.

Normally, when both sides of a compromise are unhappy with the results it's a sign that the compromise was a good one. In this case, that doesn't seem to be situation. It now appears that the answer to the question I posed yesterday is that very few but very powerful interests are benefiting from the bill.

While there will obviously be further changes to the bill, it is beginning to look like only one side of the equation is going to have substantial input.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sunday Poetry: Marge Piercy


Missing is a pain
in everyplace
making a toothache
out of a day.
But to miss something
that never was:
the longest guilt
the regret that comes down
like a fine ash
year after year
is the shadow of what
we did not dare.
All the days that go out
like neglected cigarettes,
the days that dribble away.
How often does love strike?
We turn into ghosts
loitering outside doorways
we imagined entering.
In the lovers' room
the floor creaks,
dust sifts from the ceiling,
the golden bed has been hauled away
by the dealer
in unused dreams.

Marge Piercy

A Couple of Wussies Sound Off On Torture

Charles C. Krulak and Joseph P. Hoar co-authored an op-ed piece published in today's Sacramento Bee which deals with the use of torture by the US.

Fear can be a strong motivator. It led Franklin Roosevelt to intern tens of thousands of innocent U.S. citizens during World War II; it led to Sen. Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt, which ruined the lives of hundreds of Americans. And it led the United States to adopt a policy at the highest levels that condoned and even authorized torture of prisoners. ...

The American people are understandably fearful about another attack like the one we sustained on Sept. 11, 2001. But it is the duty of the commander in chief to lead the country away from the grip of fear, not into its grasp.

Regrettably, at last week's Republican presidential debate in South Carolina, several candidates revealed a stunning failure to understand this most basic obligation. Indeed, among the candidates, only Sen. John McCain demonstrated that he understands the close connection between our security and our values as a nation. ...

We don't know what's been gained through this fear-driven program. But we do know the consequences.

As has happened with every other nation that has tried to engage in a little bit of torture -- only for the toughest cases, only when nothing else works -- the abuse spread like wildfire, and every captured prisoner became the key to defusing a potential ticking time bomb.

Our soldiers in Iraq confront real "ticking time bomb" situations every day, in the form of improvised explosive devices, and any degree of "flexibility" about torture at the top drops down the chain of command like a stone -- the rare exception fast becoming the rule. ...

This war will be won or lost not on the battlefield but in the minds of potential supporters who have not yet thrown in their lot with the enemy. If we forfeit our values by signaling that they are negotiable in situations of grave or imminent danger, we drive those undecideds into the arms of the enemy. This way lies defeat, and we are well down the road to it.
[Emphasis added]

Yeah, but what do these guys know?

Well, Charles C. Krulak was commandant of the Marine Corps from 1995 to 1999 and Joseph P. Hoar was commander in chief of U.S. Central Command from 1991 to 1994. I think they have a rather unique bit of experience to add to the discussion. I wonder if anyone in the current administration is listening.



The world is responding to our horror show of a government by cutting down on freedoms. The government of war criminals is spreading.

The Iraq war isn't over, but one thing's already clear: China won.

As the United States has been bleeding popularity and influence around the world, China has been gaining both. That's largely because it has been coming into its own as the first full-blown alternative since the end of the Cold War to Washington's model of free markets and democracy. As the U.S. model has become tarnished, China's has gained new luster.

For authoritarian leaders around the world seeking to maintain their grip on power, China increasingly serves as a blueprint. We're used to thinking of China as an economic miracle, but it's also becoming a political model. Beijing has shown dictators that they don't have to choose between power and profit; they can have both. Today's China demonstrates that a regime can suppress organized opposition and need not establish its legitimacy through elections. It shows that a ruling party can maintain considerable control over information and the Internet without slowing economic growth. And it indicates that a nation's elite can be bought off with comfortable apartments, the chance to make money, and significant advances in personal, non-political freedoms (clothes, entertainment, sex, travel abroad).

This all adds up to a startling new challenge to the future of liberal democracy. And the result is ominous for the cause of freedom around the world.

The Gonzaleses, the Wolfowitzes, the Abramoffs are the supporters and the beneficiaries of this regime, and they have strong motives for supporting it. (see, money, sex, travel and jobs for their kids) If you think there is an accidental association with wiretapping you are being too kind.

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Cui Bono?

One handy measuring rod when assessing proposed legislation is the "Who Benefits?" test. It's the sibling of the after-the-fact test articulated during the Watergate years, "Follow the Money." Both tests are admittedly cynical but, unfortunately, pretty accurate gauges in today's political atmosphere.

On its surface, the proposed "bipartisan" and "compromise" immigration bill looks to be an enormous first step in dealing with the millions of illegal immigrants currently in the country. As is usually the case, however, the devil is in the details. A close examination of the legislation makes it clear that the bulk of the benefits promised by the bill does not flow to the poor, unskilled workers from Mexico and Latin America looking for work in the US to support their families. An article in today's NY Times makes that quite clear.

To become full legal residents, under a compromise Senate leaders announced Thursday, ... immigrants would have to pay a total of $5,000 in fines, more than 14 times the typical weekly earnings on the streets here, return to their home countries at least once, and wait as long as eight years. During the wait, they would have limited possibilities to bring other family members. ...

The compromise Senate bill proposes an initiative to give legal status to an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. It also portends a major shift in the priorities and values of American immigration for the future. It would gradually change a system based primarily on family ties, in place since 1965, into one that favors high-skilled and highly educated workers who want to become permanent residents.

In the future, low-skilled workers ... would largely be channeled to a vast new temporary program, where they would be allowed to work in the United States for three stints of two years each, broken up by one-year stays in their homeland.

... a slowly increasing number of permanent visas would be approved through a merit system, based on points granted for English language proficiency (an acute hurdle for the men waiting for work here, as none spoke English), level of education and job skills, among other factors.

Siblings and adult children of legal immigrants will no longer be able to apply for visas, and visas for parents of United States citizens will be limited to 40,000 a year.
[Emphasis added]

In other words, the poor huddled masses are no longer welcome. We want other nations' cream for our coffee. President Bush, speaking yesterday in his weekly Saturday radio address, made that clear:

"...this legislation will transform our immigration system so that future immigration decisions are focused on admitting immigrants who have the skills, education, and English proficiency that will help America compete in a global economy."

So, the poor and unskilled get the privilege of working in this century's version of the bracero program, while those who will help the multinational corporations' bottom line will get preference.

Sorry, Senator Kennedy, I think you've sold out on this one.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Bonus Critter Blogging: Eastern Flying Squirrel

(Photo from Encarta)

He Should Have Brought A Sweater

John Negroponte, the current Secretary of the Office of Hemispheric Affairs, received a chilly reception in Ecuador. The former Ambassador to Honduras (1981-1985) and more recently, Ambassador to Iraq, is currently making a tour of Latin America plumping for various trade agreements.

After nearly seven years of ignoring this part of the world, the Bush administration has decided it's time to pay attention, primarily because of the rise of populist and anti-American leaders such as Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. While the attention is long over-due, it appears that the administration seems to think that just showing up will get the US its way, and that does not appear to be the case, especially in Ecuador. This article in Ecuador's El Comercio cites multiple reasons for the icy reception provided Mr. Negroponte.

Correa immediately issued a formal welcome to the visitors. His words left a sense that his government would distance itself from certain policies of the White House, which supposedly violates Ecuadorian sovereignty. Without mentioning it directly, the President referred to the friction over the U.S. Southern Command's decision to remove the headquarters for the UNITAS naval exercises from Ecuador. ...

Before the press left the room, the President hinted - while reiterating the interest of his government in extending the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act - that he would express his doubts over the trade and anti-drug policies of the United States. ...

...he said that he didn't understand how it is that despite the fact that his country is the most effective in seizing narcotics, annual U.S. financial aid has dropped from $40 million to $7 million. ...

... [Foreign Minister María Fernanda] Espinosa said she expressed to the visitors that, "Ecuador doesn't agree in the format and contents of the [U.S.-backed] Free Trade Agreement, but we do believe in creating predictable commercial accords of mutual benefit. We are inclined to initiate talks with the United States on this, and by all means, the result will be very different from what the U.S. was negotiating before."

That position represented a rejection of the objective of Negroponte's tour, which is to open channels of dialogue on the subject of trade. This was even more true, when the Correa government announced that it is studying the option of joining the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean, now comprised of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua. [The Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean is a rival trade deal championed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is a close ally of Ecuadorian President Correa].

The current administration has screwed up the military, national security, the economy, and civil liberties. Its foreign policy has fared no better, especially in Latin America. The days of US hegemony in the region are long gone: previously key partners are no longer having any part of it.

If it didn't affect us so directly, it would be fun to watch.

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Preakness Time

AP photo

The upcoming Preakness in Maryland has to remind any racing fan of that horrible moment when Barbaro's leg broke. As we all experienced over the following months, breaking a leg for a horse is often fatal.

The racing horse of our day is bred for speed, not for durability. His/her spindly legs break often. Usually the result is putting the horse down, sometimes right there on the track.

Although gains have been made, and equine medicine improved, by the intensive and expensive treatment given to Barbaro, the breeding and the conformation of our racehorses should be improved. A horse should be bred for strength and durability as well as just speed.

A year ago, Barbaro broke from the gate before the bell, and had to be brought back and reloaded. If that had been used as the reason for pulling him out, declaring he was off his stride, and the race forfeited, the racing world would be a better place.

Today his rider of that day writes about his experience of the broken leg and the battling racehorse, but he doesn't deal with the underlying mistakes.

I have a stray cat, he adopted me and he's ruptured a ligament, the surgery will be expensive, and friends are helping me. Barry from Alaska, ql from ny, woody, and others have chipped in. We take care of our friends and I will be posting pics of Fluffy when he's back on Tuesday. Thanks.

We need to be responsible in breeding as well. Our companions should be able to count on us to care about their lives, and about their health. The animals we don't breed for a reason should also be spayed or neutered.


Muzzling The Watchdogs

In 1978, Congress passed the Inspector General Act. The law mandated that federal agencies would have an internal watchdogs to ensure that they were run efficiently and with due respect for law. Inspector Generals are supposed to be politically neutral and independent. However, under the current administration, Inspector Generals who are too independent and who do their jobs too well have themselves become targets for investigations.

Clark Kent Ervin, former inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security and someone who found himself on the receiving end of one of those punitive investigations, has a pretty good op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times. He not only details the problems Inspector Generals are currently facing, he also suggests how Congress could fix the problem, once and for all.

STUART W. BOWEN JR.'S job is to investigate alleged waste, fraud and mismanagement of the U.S. tax dollars being used to rebuild Iraq. He's done that job so well that he is himself under investigation.

This is no surprise to me. Since assuming the post of special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction in 2004, Bowen has issued one damning report after another documenting the misuse of billions of dollars that should have been used to restore Iraq's economy and civil society. In doing so, he has embarrassed the Bush administration and its allies in Congress. Embarrassing them has proved to be something that an inspector general does only at his peril. ...

Like the eight U.S. attorneys whose firings have captured the attention of Congress, several inspectors general have recently drawn the administration's fire for putting principle before politics. (The head of the General Services Administration went so far as to call its inspector general a "terrorist.") So now is a good time for Congress to consider changes in the law to make it easier for principle to prevail.

To start, inspectors general should be appointed to a fixed term, removable only for cause. At present, they serve at the "pleasure of the president," meaning they can be fired for any reason at any time. The scandal at the Justice Department shows why such subjective evaluation is ill-suited for officials who are supposed to be apolitical in the discharge of their duties.

Additionally, inspectors general should submit their budget requests directly to congressional appropriators. Currently, the approval of the White House and the head of the agency are required first — which means that an independent and aggressive inspector general is more likely to get budget cuts than increases.

Next, we need to change the leadership of the committee that investigates wrongdoing by inspectors general. The head of that committee is the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, which is part of the executive office of the president. For the last few years, the occupant of that post has been Clay Johnson III, a longtime friend and aide to President Bush.

Simply put, the White House should not be in charge of investigating officials who are supposed to be independent of it. During my time as inspector general at the Homeland Security Department, Johnson vigorously urged my counterparts and me to sign a statement of principles that, while innocuous in its particulars, had the overall effect of discouraging us from investigating or reporting anything that the administration might deem embarrassing.

Finally, Congress should eliminate the legal provisions that allow the heads of certain agencies (the Homeland Security, Justice and Treasury departments, for instance) to block inspector general investigations into sensitive matters on national security grounds. Agency heads can use this as an excuse to protect themselves and the administration from simple embarrassment.
[Emphasis added]

Inspector Generals and the reports they issue have played an important role in keeping federal agencies in check, no matter which party holds the White House. Naturally, under the Bush administration, the position has been undercut, especially in the last year when it became obvious that the American electorate had had enough of the Republican way of doing things. Mr. Ervin's suggestions should be seriously considered by the 110th Congress with an eye to a new, improved Inspector General law.