Wednesday, February 28, 2007

'Civilized' Prison Conditions

The public is getting a brief glimpse into the conditions under which Jose Padilla and presumably other detainees have been forced to live. Padilla, an American citizen who was initially held in a military brig until the US Supreme Court began looking into his case, is the subject of a current competency hearing in federal court. From today's NY Times:

The brig’s technical director, Sanford E. Seymour, also said that Mr. Padilla, an American citizen who was designated an enemy combatant in 2002, sometimes slept on a steel bunk without a mattress, that the windows in his 80-square-foot cell were blackened and that brig employees covered up their nametags around him.

He was allowed a few visits with an Imam, but there were times when Padilla's Koran was taken from him. He came to believe (one wonders how) that a flu shot he was given was actually an injection of LSD.

Both government and defense experts have examined Mr. Padilla, and as is usually the case, come up with different conclusions. The conditions under which he was examined are somewhat suspect for both sides.

“I’m not sure that any of us know what happened at the brig, but I know that something there put the fear into Mr. Padilla,” said Patricia Zapf, a forensic psychologist who examined him. “Mr. Padilla is an anxiety-ridden, broken individual who is incapacitated by that anxiety.”

But the Bureau of Prisons psychologist, Dr. Buigas, disagreed with the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. He said Dr. Zapf’s testing was invalidated by the fact that Mr. Padilla was handcuffed during the tests, a condition imposed on Dr. Zapf by prison officials. ...

Prosecution lawyers scoffed at the idea the Mr. Padilla was mentally incompetent, saying that his jailers had never reported any psychiatric problems and that he had comported himself well during court hearings.
[Emphasis added]

This is what we have been reduced to.


Picking out a few good places.

In Wasington D.C., Hanes Point sculpture; Awakening Man. Too much fun for anyone, and this picture taken last fall was an experience.


Making the World Safe for Torture

It is increasingly the assumption of the cretin in chief here that his use of force to invade another country gives him the right to usurp the powers of the other branches of government here in the U.S. The Justice Department has been put under the control of a minion who continually asserts that the constitutional divisions of power are not applicable because we have declared war. That despite the fact that war under the U.S. constitution requires it be declared by Congress.

Reading what I have just written sounds far different from the way the executive branch asserts its claims, of course. However, when the facts are presented this harshly, it points up that this country is seriously astray. It is not in the interests of the E.B. to use correct terminology, since it is in violation of our laws.

Now I am reading an exercise in twisted logic written by proponents of the unauthorized use of force by the U.S. in Europe;

The United States has used extraordinary renditions as part of the war on terrorism, but the continuing value of this tactic, particularly in Europe, is questionable. One of the primary European objections to the concept of a "war" on terrorism is the fear that U.S. forces will treat Europe as a battlefield. Although this fear is specious -- international law has long provided that, even in wartime, a nation cannot pursue its enemies into the territory of friendly countries without their express permission -- extraordinary rendition gets uncomfortably close to U.S. military operations on European streets.
.......elaborate Status of Forces Agreements are negotiated before the troops of one state are stationed in another. These agreements usually narrow the jurisdictional immunities to be enjoyed by American troops stationed abroad, although under the NATO Status of Forces Agreements, to which Italy and the United States are both parties, America retains primary jurisdiction over offenses committed by individuals on duty -- as would have been the case here.
[emphasis added]

Gets pretty tortured when you try, as the writers do, to establish that it's okay to kidnap people in other countries and torture them because our government wants to get incorrect information - all that can be obtained through torture. We are using the NATO compact to prove we can arrest and torture 'suspects' - who are no longer allowed to contest their arrest - on the streets in other countries? What sort of country are we?

Of course, members of the Reagan administration are intimately connected to attempts to invade sovereign nations such as Nicaragua. It must be hard to consider your own career as legitimate when you have violated international codes of conduct. It must be a lot easier to live with yourself if you can try to establish that by violating the laws you are protecting innocent citizens.

The innocent citizens have shown that they are fed up with this use of usurped powers to delegitimatize our rightful government.

It's time that the Rule of Law be re-asserted in this country, and that the illegitimate use of power be prosecuted. If these war criminals are allowed to continue unchecked, our government is no longer legitimate.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Popeyed Bill

California has long been called the land of fruits and nuts. It appears we may now add the phrase "and spinach" to the appellation. From an editorial in today's Los Angeles Times:

IT'S OK IF YOU DON'T WANT TO eat your vegetables — but don't even think about insulting them. If a bill recently introduced in Sacramento becomes law, libeling a legume in California could get very expensive. ...

Last week, Assemblywoman Audra Strickland (R-Thousand Oaks) introduced AB 698, which would allow growers to sue those who abuse their asparagus — or their spinach, or broccoli or any other "perishable agricultural product." The bill states that the disparagement could be disseminated to the public "in any manner." So any food-purity fanatic with a blog and a distaste for genetically modified crops or E. coli in his spinach could get an unpleasant notice from a lawyer.

Food libel laws started springing up after CBS' "60 Minutes" aired an episode in 1989 about the chemical Alar, thought to be a carcinogen, being sprayed on apple trees. Now 13 states have such laws, which got their first court test in 1996, when Texas cattle ranchers used the state's agricultural libel law to sue talk-show host Oprah Winfrey because she aired an episode critical of practices thought to increase the risk of mad cow disease. They lost the case. That didn't discourage Strickland, who introduced her bill after the state's growers were hit hard by an E. coli outbreak last fall traced to California bagged spinach.
[Emphasis added]

Apparently Ms. Strickland doesn't have enough to do in Sacramento.


He Invented It

That Al Gore's documentary won the Oscar is not going to get in the way of global warming being recognized as disastrous for the earth, is it? An Inconvenient Truth is not just a great achievement for a person we admire as a praiseworthy liberal who got cheated out of the presidency. It isn't just about the issue of the day, which even the Cretin in Chief has latched onto - since he got only ridicule trying to swim against the tide.

I am sure Al Gore doesn't mean to stand for global warming - he wants us to act.

Sad to say, we're closer to electing Al Gore president than actually giving a real effort to ending the pollution of our world and the danger we are to this planet.

And here comes Richard Cohen on the coattails of the movie;

Jimmy Carter said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that he thought Gore ought to run and had told Gore so insistently. "He almost told me the last time I called, 'Don't call me anymore,' " Carter said. What Gore told me was something similar: "I think there are other ways to serve."

We'll see. After all, Gore -- the son of a senator himself -- was raised for the presidency. But for the moment at least, he is showing all the irritating signs of a man at peace with himself. He abandoned Washington for Nashville. He has made a bundle in his investments, and he has set out to show that there is life after a failed candidacy, a purposeful life in which a man can do some good. His movie and his speeches are -- to paraphrase what Clausewitz said about war -- a continuation of politics by other means. He cannot make war but he can still make a difference.

I know -- and so does Gore -- that all this will change if he enters the race. Maybe that ol' devil of uncertainty will come creeping out of his skin, and maybe he will become shrill, and maybe he will somehow throw his voice so that it seems to be coming from outside his body.

Note that 'shrill' is even used in this piece as it would be on the internets, as a compliment. Al Gore has become the cool news, and jumping on cool news has desperately inconsequential pundits fighting for this latest echo of real wisdom.

Has it all been Al Gore's accomplishment, this wake-up call we are all hearing about, the danger we are posing our earth? I think not. Despite the obvious result of his championing it, that he will be accused of claiming to be the inventor of global warming, he has taken a public stand and courageously gone on with it.

New ways to promote saving this planet have emerged in recent days, as well.

Arizona is joining California and three other western states to bypass the Bush administration and begin their own regional pact aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions that result in smog and are linked to global warming.

The governors of California, Arizona, Oregon, New Mexico and Washington announced Monday they were forming the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative.

The program looks for ways above and beyond federal standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Four of the governors are Democrats including Arizona's Janet Napolitano and one a Republican, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California.

At the Arizona Legislature, Napolitano supports state bills which restricts the use of leaf blowers during high-smog days and requires construction trucks to be covered and secured.

The disgrace that our national government has become extends farther than just its fight against science, its use by the Cretin in Chief to attack the public interest in every way he can. But the benefit has been that state government is taking up a cause we cannot ignore.

Now even our suborned federal government has a post up trying to take credit for actions that it has fought so hard against. Gotta love it.

From EPA's Climate Change;

As with any field of scientific study, there are uncertainties associated with the science of climate change. This does not imply that scientists do not have confidence in many aspects of climate science. Some aspects of the science are known with virtual certainty1, because they are based on well-known physical laws and documented trends. Current understanding of many other aspects of climate change ranges from “likely” to “uncertain.”

The site goes on to tell you how you can do the job it's been denying you ought to do for the past six, or maybe five and three-quarter, years.

Well, the truth of our situation has become too evident for even the recidivists to deny, and the ice shelves of Antartica are sloughing off at a rate even GOP high-placed idiots can't avoid acknowledging.

The Oscar for using whatever publicity he could garner to achieve something desperately needed is a new one. Al Gore earned it. And yes, he Invented It.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Getting Out The Vote

Low voter turnout is one of the more embarrassing aspects of our democracy. One state, however, has been working hard to change that. Minnesota, which leads the US in voter turnout, has put into place several techniques for making it easier to vote, including election-day registration. Now, a new proposal has been submitted to the Minnesota legislature to improve turn-out figures even more. From yesterday's Star Tribune:

Anyone eligible to vote who has a driver's license or a state ID card would be automatically registered under a controversial proposal emerging at the Capitol that would give Minnesota the most expansive voter registration law in the nation.

Granting automatic voting status to drivers, a step that no other state has taken, would put on the voting rolls as many as 500,000 people who are not registered now.

Amazingly, the state's Republicans are opposed to the proposal.

"We already have probably the most liberal voting laws in the nation and the highest turnout and no problems with being too restrictive," said state Republican Party chairman Ron Carey. "Our focus should be on education and security and integrity. Quality, not quantity, should be the goal." [Emphasis added]

Huh? The "quality" of a vote is more important? Or is it the "quality" of the voter Mr. Carey is concerned about? The state official responsible for the elections had the appropriate response.

Ritchie brushed aside those criticisms, saying his proposal would streamline election records and help county election officials save money. Making sure everyone eligible to vote does so tops his agenda, he said.

"It is absolutely true that I believe every eligible citizen should have no barriers at all in their way," Ritchie said. "The argument that some citizens are not worthy enough or not smart enough is as un-American as I can imagine."

Mr. Ritchie pointed out that Minnesota drivers' licenses already note the non-citizenship status of the holder, and his proposal also would include safeguards against minors, incarcerated felons, and other ineligible to vote being registered. He's even found a way to re-register voters who move:

Ritchie also is pushing for automatic re-registration for voters who change addresses, by linking to U.S. Postal Service databases. In all, about a half-dozen proposals that would broaden access to voting are coming before the Legislature.

And the result of making it easier for Minnesotans to vote is astounding. Check out these figures:

In the 2004 presidential election, Minnesota led the nation with a turnout of 77.7 percent. In the 2006 midterm election, turnout was 59.5 percent, still tops in the country. Some 292,000 voters, 13 percent of the total, registered on Election Day.

Other states would do well to consider those proposals already implemented and those under consideration in Minnesota. Those proposals have obviously been successful


Vigilantism in High Places

A lot of posters carried Seymour Hersh's NYT article about behind-the-scenes efforts to get this country into war with Iran. I refer readers to the excellent presentation at correntewire.

Hopefully, like the vampires they resemble, these bloodsuckers will creep back into the shadows as the light of exposure hits them. And indeed, everything about war with Iran is so irrational and inimical to American interests that it would seem such a step would be impossible to inflict on us.

There are players of varying degrees of involvement in the grand scheme, reminiscent of the Iran-Contra wackiness that had Ollie North with his clandestine operation inside the Costa Rican border waging war on the Nicaraguan government. For kicking the U.S. illegals out, Costa Rican president, Oscar Arias, famously received a Nobel Peace Prize. That should be comment enough on the world's disdain for the not at all excellent adventures of our paramilitary aspiring infiltrators.

From Hersh:

The Pentagon consultant also told me that “there was a sense at the senior-ranks level that Negroponte wasn’t fully on board with the more adventurous clandestine initiatives.”

It was also true, he said, that Negroponte “had problems with this Rube Goldberg policy contraption for fixing the Middle East.”

When some one known for his participation in illegal warfare is given pause by the plans of the Darth Cheneys, I can see another opportunity for a Nobel Peace Prize by prevention of this war against sovereignty in Iran.

Dan Froomkin pointed out yesterday that the White House is backtracking from its exposee of last week that attempted to show Iran's complicity in attacks on U.S. troops inside Iraq;

A Rogue Briefer? Hardly

The official Bush administration position on its earlier, unsubstantiated charges of direct Iranian government involvement in the shipping of explosive devices to Iraqi militants is that the anonymous military briefers in Baghdad on Sunday went too far.

But that's baloney.

Consider a few facts:

1) The briefing was being carefully monitored by the White House -- which had postponed it twice previously. National security adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters on February 2: "The truth is, quite frankly, we thought the briefing overstated. And we sent it back to get it narrowed and focused on the facts."
Can any part of what the administration says about Iran's involvement in Iraq be taken at face value? Given recent history, certainly not without independent verification.

Great, we have in place in the highest places of government another group of rogue warriors out to take over parts of the world that they can't control.

Whether the Congress can keep a bright enough light on the irresponsible operations of the war crowd is becoming a matter of survival and we need such skills just to keep this country out of danger. Public awareness is growing, and the recent demonstrations nationwide are helpful. Whether fear of rejection by Congress and the public is enough to keep the lawless element that has taken over our government is doubtful, however. If they are left in place for two more years, we may be in more trouble than we can get back out of. The world has no patience left with our misuse of military powers.

There is a Nobel Peace Prize in your future if you can lead the effort to remove the vigilantes before they can get us into another war, members of the 110th. A Nobel Peace Prize winner, Rigoberta Menchú, is running for President of Guatemala. Another is again serving in Costa Rica.

Waging war should be a matter of protecting the U.S. For the cretin in chief and his crew, it has become a threat to the U.S. and to the rest of the world.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sunday Poetry Blogging


Joseph Chamberlain 2003

Speaking out is to discover one's soul.
Moving on is simply the process of coordinating thought and action to be the same.
Yet often times we have to speak our personal truth before moving on.

This has an audible aspect.


Political Hiring, Political Firing

The fall-out from the forced resignations of eight US attorneys by the Justice Department continues. The administration is running out of excuses, according to this article in today's NY Times.

Internal Justice Department performance reports for six of the eight United States attorneys who have been dismissed in recent months rated them “well regarded,” “capable” or “very competent,” a review of the evaluations shows.

...Over all, the evaluations, which were obtained from officials authorized to have them, appear to raise new questions about the rationale for the dismissals provided by senior Justice Department officials. The officials have repeatedly cited poor job performance to explain their decisions to oust the eight prosecutors, all of them Republicans appointed by President Bush in his first term.

All eight US attorneys resigned, although it soon became clear that the resignations were forced. If there had been only one or two resignations, the issue probably would never have been noticed, but eight? Then, as news of the "resignations" surfaced, Justice Department officials justified the firings by claiming poor performance on the part of the US attorneys involved. The performance reviews released to the NY Times certainly seem to rebut that contention, although officials are offering new, weak excuses.

In response, a senior Justice Department official said the reviews, which focused on management practices within each United States attorney’s office, did not provide a broad or complete picture of the prosecutors’ performance.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of personnel information, said, “The reviews don’t take into account whether the U.S. attorneys carried out departmental priorities.”

Referring to the 94 United States attorney’s districts, the official said, “You can’t have 94 different sets of priorities,” suggesting that the dismissed prosecutors had failed to follow priorities set by the Justice Department in Washington.

However, each case report included a statement that each of the ousted prosecutors had established strategic goals set by the Justice Department in high priority areas like counterterrorism, narcotics and gun violence.
[Emphasis added]

US attorneys are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. As the article pointed out, all eight US attorneys forced to retire were Republican and had been appointed By President Bush in his first term. One is left wondering just why they had to go, especially with the kind of performance reviews each received.

Were they handling cases effectively that the administration didn't want coming to fruition? Ms. Lam of San Diego, one of the eight, had, after all, successfully investigated and secured the conviction of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham for bribery. Was there another Republican in her sites?

Or was it a matter of eight other people successfully buying the positions with hefty campaign contributions or work on behalf of the White House? The appointee for the vacant Arkansas slot certainly had the right connections with the White House, although the article makes it clear that he has since withdrawn his name from consideration.

These are the kinds of questions the committee chaired by Sen. Charles Schumer will hopefully be asking in the current hearings. Although the US attorney position is a political appointment, the cases handled by those people deal with serious matters for the nation. They shouldn't be fired for doing their jobs, or for not having the bought-and-paid-for connections.


Old Times Soon Forgotten

The State of Virginia is taking a step that I think shows that we the people have indeed come 'a long way, baby'. In passing a resolution that apologizes for slavery and its practices, Virginia does more than make a meaningless gesture. The attitude change that condemns what was once common practice, and defended as part of a way of life, is one that should be commemorated.

The resolution was introduced as Virginia begins its celebration of the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, where the first Africans arrived in 1619. Richmond, home to a popular boulevard lined with statues of Confederate heroes, later became another point of arrival for Africans and a slave-trade hub.

The resolution says government-sanctioned slavery "ranks as the most horrendous of all depredations of human rights and violations of our founding ideals in our nation's history, and the abolition of slavery was followed by systematic discrimination, enforced segregation, and other insidious institutions and practices toward Americans of African descent that were rooted in racism, racial bias, and racial misunderstanding.">[emphasis added]

In Virginia, black voter turnout was suppressed with a poll tax and literacy tests before those practices were struck down by federal courts, and state leaders responded to federally ordered school desegregation with a "Massive Resistance" movement in the 1950s and early '60s.

The apology is the latest in a series of strides Virginia has made in overcoming its segregationist past. Virginia was the first state to elect a black governor -- L. Douglas Wilder in 1989 -- and the Legislature took a step toward atoning for Massive Resistance in 2004 by creating a scholarship fund for blacks whose schools were shut down between 1954 and 1964.

This has particular meaning to me, as I attended Hampton High School in Hampton, VA, where segregation was ended by one lonely soul during my junior year, 1960-61. That lonely child was the son of the president of Hampton Institute (now Hampton University). And HHS was the place that many dislocated white students from the closed Princess Anne High School attended to avoid losing years from their education.

I can honestly say that I never thought what all my elders were doing was wrong. I accepted their reasons, that involved racial inferiority. I had attended elementary school with Mexican Americans in a Texas where most schools were segregated but ours were not. I never thought about the fact that although my society said we were smarter than that race, too, I knew it not to be a fact. As I never personally was in a position that required a choice, I never remember that I really questioned those beliefs. Later, in college, I made a good friend who was spending her Senior Year in the North, (incredibly condescending thought) from Hampton Institute.

I am very glad to see the State of Virginia making a statement that it is wrong to treat another race as an inferior one. It speaks to the heart of people who aren't involved in racial choices but whose attitudes will be improved by making the stance of enlightenment public. It makes a difference that will be felt by a world at large. Making public statements of ignorance emboldens the recidivists of the world, as we experienced when Lester Maddox stood with a pistol and armed his employees with ax handles, threatening violence to any black person who came to his Pickrick restaurant to eat. When candidate George Allen demeaned his opponent's representative as 'Macaca', it ended his race for the Senate, instead of providing a rallying cry for Virginia's racists. These are better times for all of us.

Thank heavens, those days of racism triumphant are times soon forgotten (a line taken from "Dixie") and we are glad to step into the future.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Bonus Critter Blogging: Sheep

Dolly, the cloned sheep.

Rest in peace, sweet being.

Coiba Wildlife Refuge

Off of Panama, to the West, is a former prison island about the size of Manhattan. It's now Coiba Wildlife Refuge. Just thought with all the storms around it would be fun to think about the tropics, and aqua blue water, and trash free sand beaches. Enjoy.


Undoing the Unthinkable

The denial of the writ of habeas corpus to the US held detainees at Guantanamo Bay and other prisons outside of the US has outraged those of us who believe in the principles of basic human rights. Indefinite detentions smack of Stalinist gulags, not the purported beacon of liberty that the US has boastfully claimed for its role in the world for two centuries. On Wednesday, I noted a federal appeals court decision which upheld a provision of the Military Commissions Act allowing for the denial of habeas corpus to those non-citizens detained outside the US.

Canada had also passed a comparable law for open-ended detention, but, according to an article in today's NY Times, its highest court struck down that law.

Canada’s highest court on Friday unanimously struck down a law that allows the Canadian government to detain foreign-born terrorism suspects indefinitely using secret evidence and without charges while their deportations are being reviewed.

“The overarching principle of fundamental justice that applies here is this: before the state can detain people for significant periods of time, it must accord them a fair judicial process,” Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in the ruling.
[Emphasis added]

Fundamental justice: the least that a civilized, democratic society can offer. Open-ended detentions, secret and unknowable charges, hidden evidence, none of this is acceptable in a "fair judicial process." How refreshing! The Chief Justice went further, however:

Much of the judgment provides a blueprint for Parliament on how to make security certificates fit with Canada’s charter of rights and freedoms. As part of that, one of the court’s suggestions seems to be adopted from Britain, whose legal system provided the basis of Canada’s. After the House of Lords struck down a similar law in 2004, Britain adopted a system that allows security-cleared lawyers to attend the hearings, review the evidence and represent the accused.

Hopefully the Canadian Parliament will do a better job of following the blueprint suggested in the decision than the US Congress did after the US Supreme Court issued its decision in the Hamdan case. We got the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Maybe Canada can show the US the proper way to proceed.

I certainly hope so. The NY Times article contains the following quote which suggests what should undergird any such bill:

Dalia Hashad, the United States program director for Amnesty International, said the Canadian decision should serve as “a wake-up call that reminds us that civilized people follow a simple and basic rule of law, that indefinite detention is under no circumstances acceptable.”

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Spitting on Soldiers

With its usual displacement activity tendencies, the maladministration has reacted to Walter Reed revelations with a coat of nice fresh paintover. Pictures on all the news stories are of dedicated workers plastering, painting, repapering the premises of the infamous Building 18.

Contrary to their obvious great hopes, the story continues. While the discussion of who is at fault, VA or Army or those lower tier soldiers who didn't get the mold, roaches and rats taken care of before the bad publicity, the treatment of wounded soldiers remains the issue.

The suffering is personal and eats away at individuals' lives. I have several friends who have had incredibly negative reactions to their own disabilities. It has been stated a number of times that the review personnel are dedicated to saving the government money by refusing claims unless they are totally unable to. As Barndog at Eschaton has experienced, and as a friend in my office experienced until recently, the support dictated for those ex-soldiers with disabling conditions is fought tooth and nail when they go into hearings. Doctors' statements of disability are ignored, and judges with no medical background routinely rule against awarding the 'troops' we are 'supporting' the means to survive when they are unable to work.

This has been told to the reporters who worked on the story at Walter Reed over and over. Today WaPo used the materials they encountered to editorialize that the system is deliberately working against the former soldier.

Post reporters found that the stresses on outpatients at Walter Reed included not only their physical recovery, dank rooms or long waits but also the difficulty they have in getting fair disability compensation. Army review boards searched for reasons to deny maimed soldiers disability funds, often blaming "preexisting conditions," not wartime service, for physical and mental disorders. In one instance, a review board claimed that a middle-aged soldier's poorly healed broken foot was the result of "late-life atrophy," not a severe car wreck in Iraq. There's no excuse for the Army to try so hard to deny disability compensation to wounded soldiers. After sacrificing their health, they should get the benefit of the doubt in such decisions. After all, improperly denying compensation can bankrupt soldiers and their families for years.

After we asked, a Defense Department spokesman told us in an e-mail that the Disability Evaluation System will be improved "across the board" and that the Pentagon will ensure that it is a "full and fair due process with regard to disability evaluation and compensation." Even if the Defense Department weren't so committed, it might soon have little choice in the matter. Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) plan to introduce legislation next week that would require the secretary of defense to review the Disability Evaluation System as well as address some of the other problems The Post uncovered. Either way, veterans too seriously wounded to return to active duty should get the benefits they deserve without having to beg for them.

The misery of all this mistreatment by the system is felt by individuals who served in the military, attempting to serve their country. Although the maladministration has warped their intentions in this Iraqi war and the Vietnam war, they have earned our gratitude, not neglect.

This rotten treatment is the new spitting on soldiers. If they'd stayed out of the line of fire, those grunts would not be clogging up the system. And we'd have had to reinstitute the draft. This attitude traces to the White House, its detestation of the wage earners, and especially of those who are having a struggle making it.

Watching the moral reprobates in this administration squirm is not a new experience. Their being forced to mend it is fervently hoped for.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Facts Can Be So Unfair

The Washington Post ran a two-part series on conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center this past week. Mentioned in those articles were such things as a soldier with a broken neck was assigned a room in which there was black mold and a hole in the ceiling above the shower. The army responded yesterday, according to an article in today's Washington Post:

The Army's surgeon general yesterday criticized stories in The Washington Post disclosing problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, saying the series unfairly characterized the living conditions and care for soldiers recuperating from wounds at the hospital's facilities.

"I'm not sure it was an accurate representation," Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, chief of the Army Medical Command, told reporters during a news conference. "It was a one-sided representation."

...Until now, the Army had not challenged any aspect of the Post series. Army and Defense Department leaders have promised to eliminate squalid conditions in Building 18, a former hotel outside the Walter Reed gate where 76 wounded soldiers live as outpatients. They have also promised to address bureaucratic problems in the handling of wounded soldiers.
[Emphasis added]

One-sided or not, if any civilian medical center contained the "squalid conditions" described in the WP articles, the local authorities would have shut down the place and accrediting agencies would be yanking tickets so fast hospital administrators would have to be treated for whiplash.

The real kicker in today's article, however, came after the news conference:

Asked to elaborate on his comments after the news conference at the facility, Kiley said he does not dispute the facts in the Post stories. "It's not the accuracy I question, it's the characterization," he said. [Emphasis added]


Letting the public know that wounded Iraq War veterans have been placed in "squalid conditions" is one-sided? Well, if that side is labeled "Truth," I suppose Lt.Gen.Kiley's assessment might hold water. Disclosing the truth of the shabby treatment wounded soldiers face when they come home might make some Pentagon and administration officials uncomfortable or even embarrassed, but it happens to be the function of the press in this country. And if the disclosure of the truth results in the mold being scrubbed away with bleach and the room re-painted, then the press has done its job.

This time the Washington Post nailed it, beautifully so.

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Pay Now Or Pay Later

Health insurance is something of a luxury for the majority of Americans, unlike the situation I was accustomed to when raising a family. Back in the good old days, working folks got insurance through their employer, catastrophic coverage was there if dreadful things happened, and the insurance covered the costs. Children were secure, and when you visited the doctor the insurance paid a good portion of the cost.

You are intelligent, so you know where this is going.

The total number of people directly affected by medical bankruptcies in the U.S. has risen to more than two million annually, according to an article published online today in the journal Health Affairs.Medical problems contributed to about half of all bankruptcies, involving 700,000 households in 2001, the authors report. Families with children were especially hard hit; about 700,000 children lived in families that declared bankruptcy in the aftermath of serious medical problems.
Another 600,000 spouses, elderly parents and other dependents were affected.

Three-Quarters Were Insured

Surprisingly, most of those bankrupted by medical problems had health insurance. More than three-quarters were insured at the start of the bankrupting illness. Among those with private insurance, however, one-third had lost coverage -- at least temporarily -- by the time they filed for bankruptcy.

Often illness led to job loss and with it the loss of health insurance. Out-of-pocket medical costs (for co-payments, deductibles and uncovered services) averaged $13,460 for those with private insurance at the onset of their illness versus $10,893 for the uninsured.

The highest costs -- averaging $18,005 -- were incurred by those who initially had private coverage but lost it in the course of their illness. Many families were bankrupted by medical expenses well below the catastrophic thresholds of high deductible plans that are increasingly popular with employers. The authors comment that even their own coverage from Harvard leaves them at risk for out-of-pocket costs above levels that often led to medical bankruptcy.

In many cases, high medical bills coincided with a loss of income as illness forced breadwinners to lose time from work.

If you haven't been too scared to keep on reading, now be really afraid. A person I know who has had several encounters with cancer treatment just went through another 'procedure', and found out his insurance requires that he go to the absolute worst place in D.C. to get treatment. What he just went through was torture. And lots of it is going to come out of pocket. Recommendation; go check out what your insurance covers now, not just what it costs. But more importantly, this country is lagging behind the world at large and leaving its citizens prey to the health industry. The health industry is handing you on to the financial community, where you max out the credit cards trying to stay afloat. When you can't pay even the interest on them, then what? As I mentioned, be really afraid.

If serious work isn't done to provide health care to this country's residents, we are looking at a real disaster as its population ages. Where do the indigent go when they have lost everything? Public services, just in case you didn't guess. Losing everything in bankruptcy means that you depend on your government. State and Federal agencies provide meals, housing, transportation, the things that you can't pay for anymore when every penny has gone to, say, hospital bills.

Our public services are at the breaking point as it is. With a population of boomers reaching their 60's, this is only going to go downhill.

This maladministration is shortsighted in many ways. If the country is totally bankrupted, they won't accept the blame though. It will be our fault for failing to save for old age (while paying the soaring costs of day-to-day living), and being basically profligate. Unless you are rich, in which case you're one of the base.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Thursday Birding

This picture is being shown thanks to the Old Man From Scene 24. Bluebirds are lovely, aren't they? It's a little early for this bird to show up yet in North Texas yet.


A Reagan Legacy

One of the unfortunate hallmarks of Ronald Reagan's stint as governor of California was that he effectively gutted the state's mental hospitals, which meant that thousands of mentally ill people were just turned out into the streets with no access to the health care so necessary for their conditions. He had promised to fund community mental health care clinics to replace the hospitals, but then he rather cavalierly refused to deliver on that promise. The result was those same thousands of mentally ill people got into all sorts of trouble, much of it criminal in nature.

Now, another Republican governor is trying to cope with the wretched overcrowded conditions in the state's prisons. His first solution, sending thousands of prison inmates to facilities in other states, has already been nixed by a federal judge. In today's Los Angeles Times, columnist Steve Lopez describes one step towards easing some of that overcrowing which is being introduced in the state legislature this week.

California's prisons are jammed with thousands of mentally ill inmates who didn't get help before their incarceration and aren't likely to get much while locked up. Not only is that like a chapter out of the Dark Ages, but the high rate of repeat crimes among parolees is costing taxpayers a fortune.

Tomorrow, state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, will introduce a bill that calls for a complete overhaul of mental health care behind bars, with the goal of putting a big dent in both the overcrowding problem and the high recidivism rates.

"I would argue very strongly that it's the missing element of corrections reform," Steinberg said. How can you talk about getting a handle on overcrowding, he asks, without doing something about the fact that an estimated 20%-25% of the state's 170,000 inmates are bipolar, schizophrenic, clinically depressed or otherwise afflicted?

...If the governor can find $10.9 billion for his prison reform plan, the senator argued, the state should be able to shift funds or find additional revenue to pay for a mental health overhaul that could deliver long-term savings.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Steinberg's plan won't solve the immediate problem of overcrowding, but once the staffing and financing parts are worked out, the long term effects should ease some of the pressure on the prison system and should save the state hundreds of millions of dollars. Governor Schwartzenegger has indicated he's interested in the proposal, although I suspect he's not going to be happy about the financing required. Hopefully the Democratic-led legislature will persuade him the money will be well-spent.


Are We Coming to Our Centses?

With great pleasure I announce that finally I have found a commentator who is facing the issue of our flatline wage situation honestly. In WaPo, Harold Meyerson gives a really telling analysis of the effect of globalisation on U.S. wage scales.

The debate begins at the familiar flash point of trade -- more particularly, with the realization of business elites and their political champions that the nation's free-trade policies have become threatened by growing public anxiety over our economic future. While corporate profits soar, individual wages stagnate, held at least partly in check by the brave new fact of offshoring -- that millions of Americans' jobs can be performed at a fraction of the cost in developing nations near and far. November's elections, in which voters sent to Congress a freshman class composed almost entirely of free-trade skeptics, rang alarm bells on both Wall Street and K Street.
As call centers relocate to India, the Rubinauts call for extending trade adjustment assistance to service as well as manufacturing workers. They call for a universal health-care system delinking insurance from employment, so that U.S. companies can compete globally without having to be the only corporations in an advanced economy that cover their workers' medical costs. They call for improving our education system so that American workers can be more competitive.
Free-trade skeptics such as I believe that these domestic reforms, while overdue, are not enough. We argue that there need to be rules for the global economy that protect workers no less than investors, that global minimum wage standards, say, are no less necessary in a global economy than national minimum wage standards are in a national economy.

The 110th Congress chose to make a raise in the minimum wage one of its major priorities. I applaud that choice, and see great encouragement for the U.S. working public. While most of us are working above that standard, choosing to reward labor instead of regarding it as a threat to the business community takes the tack that will strengthen the country's economy once again.

The business sector has responded to the 'threat' of raising minimum wage by declaring that businesses will be 'forced' to trim away workers. Naturally, this has not been the effect in communities where minimum wages have been raised. In actuality, the purchasing power created by better wages has been more to spend, and more money going into the businesses there.

While Meyerson is dwelling mostly on the effect of Free Trade on U.S. wages, this is a good beginning. I hope he will encounter Rep. Barney Frank's comments that I posted here recently, and last night at Correntewire ;

(FRANK):When you refuse to raise the minimum wage, so inflation erodes it, when you have an active policy of breaking labor unions, when you have a tax policy that favors people at the high end, you are reinforcing those tendencies.

And so, what we have is a national policy which takes advantage of factors that are keeping real wages depressed and keeping productivity way ahead of wages so that all of the increase — as Alan Greenspan said two years ago, and apparently is still the case, virtually all of the increased wealth in this society that comes from increased productivity goes to the owners of capital.

Because they have been given very special and one-sided treatment by the cretin in chief, the corporate sector has come to regard itself as the sole object of government. Naturally, that sector wants to have all the advantages, as that will create its idea of a 'strong economy'. Increasingly, though, the GOP is becoming aware that the public votes, and it is not accepting the lies.

A strong economy results from working people making a living, and having the money to spend on that living. Without that factor, so neglected for the past ten years of GOP rein, the economy has depended on the American worker stretching increasingly farther to support itself. Finally, we have reached a negative level of savings. American households have had to go into increasing amounts of debt to support this GOP economy. The last time that happened was the Depression.

The threat to a strong economy is not from the working wage earner. It is from the unbalanced policies of a maladministration that throws all of its resources to the corporate sector.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Second Anniversary

Today is cab drollery's second anniversary. My first post was a rather timid consideration of the oddity of the James Gannon-White House access. It was the biggest story in the liberal blogworld at the time, and I found myself somewhat bewildered by the whole thing. Little did I know that there would be even more bewildering and devastating news to come over the next two years.

Yesterday I posted on the consequences of the Democrats failure to filibuster the nominations of two men to the Supreme Court whose ideologies were sure to cause problems to our democracies for many years to come. The Democrats gave up without a fight.

Today a story in the NY Times details another consequence of the Democrats failure to fight hard in the last Congress.

A divided federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld a new law stripping federal judges of authority to review foreign prisoners’ challenges to their detention at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The Supreme Court previously ruled twice that federal statutes empowered the courts to consider Guantánamo prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions challenging the grounds for their detention. In response to those rulings, Congress twice rewrote law to limit the detainees’ avenues of appeal. The most recent rewriting was at issue in Tuesday’s 2-to-1 decision.

That law, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, was signed by President Bush last October. Its enactment followed the Supreme Court’s rejection of his administration’s earlier arguments that the right of habeas corpus — the fundamental right, centuries old, to ask a judge for release from unjust imprisonment — did not apply to foreigners being held outside the United States as enemy combatants.

...Two of the three appeals court judges, citing Supreme Court and other historical precedent, held that the right of habeas corpus did not extend to foreign citizens detained outside the United States.
[Emphasis added]

The practical effect of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 is that the administration is free to detain anyone not a US citizen in prisons located outside the US such as Guantanamo Bay or secret prisons in Europe and the Middle East and deprive that person of even the most basic of rights, habeas corpus. That individual can be held forever, should the US decide to do so.

The Democrats, now in the majority in Congress, have promised to undo that provision, but they are unlikely to succeed because they don't have the kind of majority which will override a sure veto. Unless and until the Democrats have that kind of majority and/or a Democratic President, those detainees will have to sit and rot in those off-shore prisons or be tried in the kangaroo processes outlined elsewhere in that abominable act.

The next two years promise to be even rockier than the last two.

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Your Jobs Are Just a Negotiating Point (Yawn)

It is increasingly threatening to the longterm wellbeing of the country that it is represented in too many ways by unelected, and politically motivated, representatives of the White House. Our elected representatives are newly empowered, and a return to sanity by voters has occasioned a lot of startling revelations about how badly the executive branch has strayed from its constitutional powers, and conduct of constitutional duties.

Valentine's Day hearings before the House Ways and Means Committee in which the executive branch was represented by Trade Representative Susan Schwab brought out a stark contrast between the popularly elected representatives' need to protect American jobs and the economy and the administration's wish to have powers to negotiate without hindrance by those concerns.

During a February 14 hearing, Democratic members of the Ways and Means Committee, joined by some Republicans, expressed frustration over what they perceive as the administration’s inability to address the growing U.S. trade deficit and unfair competition from other countries.
Experts say that language on such labor standards as the right to associate and to bargain collectively, prohibitions on child labor and forced labor, and employment nondiscrimination is likely to be included in any legislation to renew trade promotion authority.
Schwab said that current and future presidents will need TPA to negotiate regional and bilateral agreements because few countries will negotiate with the United States without it.

A few days prior to her appearance before the committee, she said that failure to renew TPA would “signal to the world that the United States has lost faith in Doha.”

But at the hearings she reacted coolly to the idea of a one-year extension of TPA supported by the U.S. business community. She said any extension should accommodate not only a possible Doha deal but also other types of future trade agreements.

As in the statements by Secretary of State Rice citing administration 'gains' in negotiations on Darfur, this administration seems increasingly to look for trophies to hold up rather than actual benefits.

While the U.S. trade gap grows exponentially, this administration works for the elimination of barriers to trade, claiming that the losses in jobs domestically is really just a result of other factors such as oil prices. (Of course, it does nothing to diminish those record revenue producing oil prices.)

Our trade gap is of course astonishing;

............ in the United States , imports exceeded exports last year by $617.6 billion, a record gap equal to 5.3 percent of gross domestic product. The U.S. trade deficit , which swelled to $66.1 billion in September, has grown further in the first nine months of this year compared with the same period in 2004.

South Korea, by contrast, ran a $29.4 billion trade surplus last year, or 4.3 percent of its GDP, and even that paled by comparison with Japan's $132 billion surplus or the $100 billion-plus surplus China is expected to post this year.

The mountain of U.S. bonds that foreigners are accumulating means the United States is going deeper into debt to fund its import binge, to the tune of about $3 trillion as of this year.
I think there's pretty broad agreement among economists on both the right and left about what ought to be done. First of all, the U.S. needs to increase its savings--and since we've never succeeded at getting individual Americans to save more (though IRA's and so forth), that basically means reducing DISsaving. And the biggest dissaver of all is the U.S. government, through its budget deficit.

This is a government by cynical manipulation that has nothing to do with the public's interests. The danger of a worldwide collapse means nothing to the representatives of corporate interests.

I am tempted to think that a monumental failure of this magnitude would be a final blow to any hopes members of this abusive executive branch might have for a future in government. Unfortunately, the blindness of the voters in casting almost a majority in 2000, and a definite majority of votes in 2004 is sobering. Without media's keeping their failures constantly under review, the public can forget that the people who made these missteps are dangerous to our country.

The threat to their jobs and to the global economy are mounting. Their defensiveness is mounting. Their service of the public interest is falling.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

While Democrats Kept Their Powder Dry

Liberals spent a lot of time and energy during the last Congress trying to get the Democrats to grow a spine, particularly when it came to the Supreme Court appointments. Congressional Democrats ignored us, and now we have Sam Alito as an associate justice and John Roberts as Chief Justice, both replacing conservatives who tended toward moderate positions. An article in today's LA Times explains just what this will mean for who knows how many years.

It has been two decades in the making, but this is the year Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court's most outspoken dissenter, could emerge as a leader of a new conservative majority.

Between now and late June, the court is set to hand down decisions in four areas of law — race, religion, abortion regulation and campaign finance — where Scalia's views may now represent the majority.

The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, himself a conservative, usually refrained from asking Justice Scalia to write major opinions for fear of losing the support of Justice Kennedy and Justice O'Connor. The new Chief Justice has no such qualms. As a result, we can expect some pretty reactionary and revisionist opinions from the US Supreme Court in the near future at least. Here's an abbreviated list of subjects the Court will be addressing:

For example, Scalia has scorned the notion of a strict separation of church and state, saying the 1st Amendment was intended only to bar the government from supporting an official national religion. In his first year on the court, he defended the teaching of creationism in the public schools, and he has voted regularly since then to allow the government to promote religion in general.

On Feb. 28, the court will hear a challenge to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. A Wisconsin group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation and three taxpayers sued, casting the program as unconstitutional propaganda for religion.

The justices will hear the Bush administration's claim that taxpayers lack the legal standing to challenge how the president and his advisors conduct affairs. A Supreme Court assent could make it much harder for critics to legally challenge government programs that promote religion.

On campaign finance, Scalia has argued that such laws unconstitutionally infringe on the free-speech rights of donors and candidates. In late April, the court is to hear a new challenge to the part of the McCain-Feingold law that forbids corporation- and union-funded broadcast ads that mention a federal candidate in the month or two before the election. A broad, Scalia-style opinion could cast doubt on most laws on campaign funding.

Scalia also has called for a ban on the use of race as a decision-making factor by government agencies, including public universities and other public schools. Without fail, he has voted against affirmative-action policies, but because of O'Connor, previous court majorities stopped short of outlawing affirmative action.

In December, the justices heard a challenge to the use of racial integration guidelines by school districts in Seattle and Louisville, Ky. A decision on that issue, due soon, gives the court's conservative bloc a chance to broadly reject race-based policies.

Also pending is the challenge to the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act outlawing a midterm abortion procedure. This case does not call into doubt the basic right to abortion set in Roe vs. Wade; but a broad ruling in favor of the ban could trigger more stringent regulation of abortion across the nation.

Scalia has repeatedly called for overturning Roe vs. Wade and letting states decide whether to permit abortion.
[Emphasis added]

I hope the Democratic members of the Gang of Fourteen are happy.


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The Roof is Falling In?

Happy Mardi Gras. That means Fat Tuesday, of course, and it's supposed to be the day you commit all the sins that you need to have forgiven during Lent.

Somehow, I don't think we need a lot more to be forgiven for this year. But letting anyone go for 15 years without power is yet another. I am struck by this story because I had something similar happen to me. Because I have a friend on the town council, I got the work done, and my power back on, because I had some one to turn to. This lady didn't;

Norena, who didn't want her full name used because she is embarrassed by her situation, lives in Cutler Bay, and her home was severely damaged when Hurricane Andre slammed South Miami-Dade in August, 1992.

Like many people after that horrific storm, she had a problem with an unscrupulous contractor, and when the money from the insurance settlement ran out, the contractor did too, leaving her home half-repaired and not up to code, which meant it would not have the electricity connected.

She didn't have the money to complete the work, and she didn't have anyplace else to go.

"It just never got done, and the money was gone, so I couldn't do a lot of things to allow me with Dade county to get my power back on," she said.

So she lived with it. She celebrated the new millennium with one tiny lamp and a single burner. On the 10th anniversary of Andrew in 2002, her neighbors celebrated their recovery; she was still living in the disaster.

Electrical contractor Kent Crook was amazed when he saw how she managed to get a tiny amount of electricity into the house for a Spartan existence.

"She has extension cords running into her house, plugged into a tiny little refrigerator and a cook top, and a lamp or two in front of her house," he marveled.

Somehow, her situation fell through the cracks. Her neighbors never noticed her near-pioneer lifestyle, and County code inspectors never caught the violations which prevented her from connecting up the power.

In Texas, the contractor has a great deal of protection from legal action, because the arbitration system requires that homeowners take the results of a system of mandated arbitration. Here is one story;

Our arbitration was scheduled for 2 days in May in Houston, Texas. When we arrived at the arbitration the arbitrator was joking and talking to Palm Harbor Attorneys (they were on a first name basis) about how he almost missed our case as he didn't have it written down right. He had to hurry and catch a flight from San Antonio.

For $12,000 plus expenses I could at least get the date on my calendar correct.

During our Arbitration the arbitrator fell asleep no less than 4 times and in between his nap he changed our case to 1 day instead of 2. I guess since he had already made is mind up he didn't need 2 days. When he wasn't sleeping he was dipping snuff and gagging over his spit cup. He did a great rendition of a cat hacking up fur balls. He did not listen to our witnesses and he ignored the pure hard facts.

It was truly amazing how he was able to rejuvinate his self when the Palm Harbor witness gave his statment. Now this is a professional witness as he has testified for Palm Harbor in at least 6 other mold cases. The arbitrator actually set up and put his glasses on (this was the first time he had put them on all day) and read the witnesses report.

We had to witnesses that had been to our home and tested our home and he slept through their statments.

When the farce of a arbitration was over, this was on Wednesday the same day that it started he told us that he would have his decision to the AAA on Friday morning. Our evidence book was over 4 inches thick and since he slept through the arbitration one would think that he would need to look over it. Nope he awarded us $19,000 for a $83,000 house and nothing for lawyer fees nor the pain and suffering that we went through for 2 years

The arbitration system was originally based on the overload that our court system suffers from, and was supposed to provide a less expensive means of seeking redress. For many homeowners it has provided no solution and no redress for the harm that's been done them.

In view of the binding arbitration that has been used extensively across Texas in my experience, but evidently in many other places, Good Luck getting resolution of any problems you may have.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Undoing Another Disaster

One of the biggest impediments to moving the country forward is the enormous mess left by the last Congress for the 110th Congress to clean up. The budget is the most obvious item, but that was a case of omission. The last Congress just never got around to doing one of its most important jobs, probably because the GOP was more interested in grand stand maneuvers such as promoting a flag-burning amendment to the US Constitution. There were, however, a whole raft of sins of commission that will have a long lasting effect on our democracy if not addressed.

Most of those sins of commission came in the form of bills passed by the Republican led Congress which essentially gave the President whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it. The most horrifying of those bills inevitably reduced or shredded the civil liberties of citizens in defiance of the Constitution: the dismantling of habeas corpus, the authorization of torture, the invasion of privacy in various parts of the Patriot Act are just a few of the areas in which democracy was attacked.

In today's NY Times, an editorial sets forth another of those egregious bills passed "in the dead of night:"

A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night. So it was with a provision quietly tucked into the enormous defense budget bill at the Bush administration’s behest that makes it easier for a president to override local control of law enforcement and declare martial law.

The provision, signed into law in October, weakens two obscure but important bulwarks of liberty. One is the doctrine that bars military forces, including a federalized National Guard, from engaging in law enforcement. Called posse comitatus, it was enshrined in law after the Civil War to preserve the line between civil government and the military. The other is the Insurrection Act of 1807, which provides the major exemptions to posse comitatus. It essentially limits a president’s use of the military in law enforcement to putting down lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion, where a state is violating federal law or depriving people of constitutional rights.

...Beyond cases of actual insurrection, the president may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or to any “other condition.”
[Emphasis added]

The editorial notes that Sen. Leahy (D-Vt) and Sen. Bond (R-MO) have introduced a bill that would undo this threat of presidential imposition of martial law whenever he feels it necessary and urges its passage. This is, of course, the proper thing to support.

It would have been nice, however, if the mainstream media had paid more attention to this kind of behavior by the administration and the last rubber-stamp Congress the past six years when these sorts of bills were passed. Too many of the front pages and the editorial pages of the nation's press were nothing more than simple repetitions of the official White House line. The press was reduced to nothing more than stenographers. It might have made a difference if Congress had been called on these blatantly undemocratic bills.

Fortunately, the American electorate had a more visible issue to contend with in November, 2006: the Iraq War. They turned out Republicans and turned over the Congress to Democrats, who now must spend as much time undoing the damage of the last Congress as to solving the problems of climate change and alternative energy sources and a host of other issues which have come to the fore.

That the NY Times and other papers of record are finally willing to confront the mess is certainly a welcome sign, and fortunately it's not completely a case of a day late and a dollar short, but it's mighty close to it.

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Unsafe Food And Containers.

I have posted previously about the present administration's cutbacks in food safety inspections. The use of voluntary, rather than mandatory, inspections has resulted in numerous food poisoning cases.

It is also now possible for your children to be poisoned by lead levels being allowed above the accepted level in their school lunch boxes.

In 2005, when government scientists tested 60 soft, vinyl lunchboxes, they found that one in five contained amounts of lead that medical experts consider unsafe -- and several had more than 10 times hazardous levels.

But that's not what they told the public.

Instead, the Consumer Product Safety Commission released a statement that they found "no instances of hazardous levels." And they refused to release their actual test results, citing regulations that protect manufacturers from having their information released to the public.
"I don't think the Consumer Product Safety Commission has lived up to its role to protect kids from lead," said Dr. Bruce Lamphear, a lead poisoning specialist at the Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. "As a public agency, their work should be transparent. And if one is to err on the side of protecting children rather than protecting lunch box makers, then certainly you would want to lower the levels."

This administration is a threat to your health, and to your childrens' health.

The avoidance of any safety standards which might serve the public is an avoidance of its own duty. That ratings of safety are given to products that don't meet those standards is a crime.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sunday Poetry: Emily Dickinson

Success Is Counted Sweetest

SUCCESS is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple host
Who took the flag to-day
Can tell the definition,
So clear, of victory,

As he, defeated, dying,
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Break, agonized and clear.

Betito Got Snubbed

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales traveled to Argentina recently, presumably to shore up support for US policies. He was the highest ranking member of the administration to do so in 2007, but that didn't seem to matter much to the Argentine government. No high-level member of that government agreed to meet with him. In other words, Mr. Gonzales (and by extension, the government he was representing) got snubbed. Argentina's Diario Jornada Argentina noted the snub in a February 14, 2007 op-ed piece.

Gonzales is the name of the Attorney General of the United States, a Latino who has attained a high rank in the Bush Administration.

Gonzales visited Argentina ... though his visit was not sufficiently covered by the press to incite the usual discussion of relations between our country and the United States. His post gives him the rank of a cabinet minister, so he was the most senior visitor to sent to Argentina by the great power this year.

Gonzales is one of those responsible for the irregular conditions under which prisoners accused of terrorism against the United States are held at Guantánamo. This situation has brought about widespread protest on the international level; the U.S. prison in a strange colonial enclave on the island of Cuba (situated in a place made unforgettable by the poetry of Jose Marti ) has served as a space where prisoners have been denied the most basic rights. In the name of the alleged war against terrorism, the U.S. administration has whittled away at the basic rights of its citizens, as well as those of other countries.

In another famous case, almost 20 CIA agents who participated in the kidnapping of a German citizen of Arabic origin [Khaled el-Masri ] are currently being charged in a German court for a crime committed on European soil.

In repudiation for what his presence signifies given the mistreatment meted out to the prisoners at Guantanamo, Alberto Gonzales was not received by any high-level Argentine official. This decision by our Foreign Ministry shows that we are a sovereign nation rather than a subservient republic begging for favors from the strongest. And it was also to let Gonzales know that our country honors the Geneva Conventions with respect to the treatment of prisoners of war.

Little has been said about this story, and it was a decision that few Argentine governments would have made in the past. But given the bellicose and unilateral behavior that the United States has subjected the world to over the past few years, it was a well-deserved decision.
[Emphasis added]

Argentina has not always been so forthright when it comes to human rights, but the Pinochet years are clearly over. This diplomatic response to the US administration's deplorable behavior suggests that at least some of our neighbors in Latin America have had enough of the shoot'em-up foreign policy of George W. Bush.

What is unfortunate is that our press was so reticent about the story. I doubt many of us were even aware of the Gonzales trip, much less the flap. I suppose Anna Nicole Smith's death was more important.

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More Cheney Lies

While I don't agree with everything it says, an op-ed in today's WaPo raises a few questions in respect to the trial, which I prefer to call the Treason Trial, that are valid.

The writer contends that Fitzgerald should be charging others besides Libby. I agree. I think that Dick Cheney should be charged for trying to avoid truth being told by attacks on Wilson which include naming his wife as a covert agent. This is not what the author wants, but she makes points that I agree with such as;

In November 2005 Armitage released Woodward from their confidentiality agreement -- but only to tell Fitzgerald, not the rest of us, how he had learned of Plame's identity.

· Armitage attributed his more than three years of silence to Fitzgerald's request that he not discuss the matter with anyone. But Fitzgerald was not appointed until Dec. 30, 2003, three months after Armitage now says he realized that he was Novak's source.

No suprises that members of the White House staff are lying. But that they are not being prosecuted is a problem for me. The former Reagan staffer, who by being associated with the regime that traded arms to the Contras illegally to overturn the elected government in Central America while illegally occupying Costa Rica, and aided Iranian elements that were fighting for dominance there, is legally challenged anyway. But her contention here is just wrong;

So here are my own personal bills of indictment:

* * *

THIS GRAND JURY CHARGES PATRICK J. FITZERALD with ignoring the fact that there was no basis for a criminal investigation from the day he was appointed, with handling some witnesses with kid gloves and banging on others with a mallet, with engaging in past contretemps with certain individuals that might have influenced his pursuit of their liberty, and with misleading the public in a news conference because . . . well, just because. To wit:

· On Dec. 30, 2003, the day Fitzgerald was appointed special counsel, he should have known (all he had to do was ask the CIA) that Plame was not covert, knowledge that should have stopped the investigation right there. The law prohibiting disclosure of a covert agent's identity requires that the person have a foreign assignment at the time or have had one within five years of the disclosure, that the government be taking affirmative steps to conceal the government relationship, and for the discloser to have actual knowledge of the covert status.

We know that Ms. Plame left her positiion as covert agent after being exposed. This administration continues to assert that she was not covert when that disclosure was made. If that were the case, there would be no case. The Grand Jury would by now have been dismissed if no treason had been committed. However, it has not been.

Some wonder why the WaPo continues to publish incorrect information. If you don't know it by now, this makes controversy that gives Ooomph to the news that results. Also, you can pay the WaPo to publish your incorrect information. Yep, they take money to publish op-eds. I haven't inquired and don't know about this one but I would be surprised if money hadn't changed hands.

And I no longer buy the weekly WaPo that I subscribed to for years. It keeps being sent to me for free. Desperate, fellas?

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bonus Critter Blogging

Safe Space

The Third Branch

The federal judiciary continues to confound this administration by refusing to knuckle under to the theory that 9/11 requires that we throw the US Constitution out the window, that we deny habeas corpus, that we illegally detain people without charge, and that we try them in secret. The latest evidence that the third branch of government is having none of this nonsense comes in the form of a holding by a federal judge in Minneapolis. From yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune:

A federal judge in Minneapolis ruled Friday that the government must provide Mohamed Abdullah Warsame with a more detailed accounting of the terrorism-related allegations he's facing so that he can defend himself at trial.

Warsame, 33, is a former Minneapolis Community College student of Somali descent who has been detained since February 2004 on charges that he lied to federal agents about his activities surrounding an Afghanistan training camp. He stands accused of providing material support to Al-Qaida and of conspiring to support the terrorist network.

U.S. District Judge John Tunheim said the government's failure to provide more information was hindering Warsame's efforts to challenge the charges. Specifically, Warsame wants to know the timing of his alleged actions, the identities of his alleged coconspirators, and the identities of anyone who allegedly died as a result of his activities.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Warsame has been held in solitary confinement for three years without knowing exactly what the government is charging him with. It's impossible for him to prepare a defense to the charges under those circumstances. He can't gather evidence showing what he was doing on particular dates without knowing what those dates are. He can't prove that he did not conspire with other individuals to harm the US without knowing the identities of those individuals. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that this kind of 'hide the salami' tactic violates every principle of fairness there is. If the basic principles underlying the promise of a fair trial is denied to one defendant, they are denied to all.

The "you know what you did and now you're going to pay for it" theory of criminal justice is deplorable. It's also an extension of this government's rationale for illegal wire tapping and email reading: "if you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear." The federal judiciary has been doing its job. Now its time for Congress, another branch of government, to start doing its job by revisiting the various bills passed under the guise of Homeland Security.


Beginnings At Last

Gratitude is due to the congress for its first step in the struggle to extricate our country from the irrational use of military power that the cretin in chief has committed.

It is past time for responsible involvement in planning that has shown nothing but disaster for this country.

Both sides recognized that the House vote, along with a Senate vote scheduled for today, represents the opening salvo in a more protracted struggle. "To me, this is kind of a baby step. It doesn't have teeth," said David J. Rothkopf, author of "Running the World," a book on the making of modern foreign policy. "The real question is going to be whether the Democratic leadership goes further and challenges funding, because that's where Congress historically has been able to show its influence."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her close adviser, Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), are devising a strategy to tie Bush's hands by placing conditions on future funding for the war, such as requiring any units sent to Iraq to meet certain standards for training, equipment and rest between deployments. Because those conditions might be hard to meet, they could slowly constrict Bush's ability to keep up troop levels.
Congress restricted Ronald Reagan from funding the contra rebels in Nicaragua, and the Senate rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty submitted by Bill Clinton. But the tension had not reached the Vietnam War level until yesterday.

This administration has thrown our financial wellbeing away, and our reputation for responsible conduct into severe distress. It is time for the congress to take control.

Listening to Liberian president EllenJohnson-Sirleaf thank us for forgiveness of debts contracted by that country's tinhorn dictators, I am wondering if we won't be looking for relief of that sort ourselves after this regime's depradations.

When the Taylor government plunged Liberia into wars and corruption that destroyed its financial stability along with the security of peace, it took a long time for the country to regain the respect of the world at large. Electing a sound and reputable head of government has accomplished a great deal for Liberia.

Our cretin in chief made an interesting statement in announcing our forgiveness of Liberia's debts; I am impressed by your confidence, but more importantly, your deep concern for the people of Liberia. And so I pledge our ongoing help to you and your government," he said.

"Thank you very much for setting such a good example for not only the people of Liberia, but for the people around the world, that new democracies have got the capability of doing the hard work necessary to rout out corruption, to improve the lives of the citizens with infrastructure projects that matter," he said.

Johnson-Sirleaf praised Bush for his "strong support" and said Liberia had taken "important first steps" and that she hoped that debt forgiveness would set the stage for more progress.

When we get such a government, that has a deep concern for the U.S. Public and starts doing the 'hard work' necessary to rout out corruption and improve the lives of citizens here, we may regain our place as a reputable nation.

By the time we get the administration replaced by competent and concerned individuals, we may need debt relief as well.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging

A reprise of a sleepy Spike the Cat Avenger

Saturday Night Massacre Redux

The forced departure of seven to ten US Attorneys to make room for new Bush appointees continues to make news. (I posted on the story here and here.) Now we are getting confirmation, according to the NY Times, that the moves were of the base political kind.

A United States attorney in Arkansas who was dismissed from his job last year by the Justice Department was ousted after Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel, intervened on behalf of the man who replaced him, according to Congressional aides briefed on the matter.

Ms. Miers, the aides said, phoned an aide to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales suggesting the appointment of J. Timothy Griffin, a former military and civilian prosecutor who was a political director for the Republican National Committee and a deputy to Karl Rove, the White House political adviser.

Later, the incumbent United States attorney, H. E. Cummins III, was removed without explanation and replaced on an interim basis by Mr. Griffin. Officials at the White House and Justice Department declined to comment on Ms. Miers’s role in the matter.

Paul J. McNulty, the deputy attorney general, said at a hearing last week that Mr. Cummins had done nothing wrong but was removed to make room for Mr. Griffin. It was not known at the time Mr. McNulty testified that Ms. Miers had intervened on Mr. Griffin’s behalf.
[Emphasis added]

This information came out during Senate Committee hearings, led by Sen. Charles Schumer, this past week. We can expect more of this kind of information as the hearings continue, one of the expected benefits of the November, 2006 elections.

One of the other victims of the Justice Department purge, Carol Lam of San Diego, left her post yesterday, but not without getting the last shot:

Another United States attorney asked to resign was Carol C. Lam of San Diego, who departed on Thursday at the request of the Justice Department. Two days earlier, Ms. Lam announced two indictments, including one against a former high-ranking Central Intelligence Agency official, in a corruption inquiry that began with last year’s guilty plea by a former Republican representative, Randy Cunningham, who was sentenced to more than eight years in prison. [Emphasis added]

Sen. Schumer's hearings will hopefully expose this administration's penchant of treating the federal government as a political playground and then it's up to Congress as a whole to stop this cronyism

Sic'em, Chuck!

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The Economy Is Not Strong Until Wages Are

It's always amusing that good news makes the stock market fall, and vice versa. With the U.S. economy becoming scary territory for investors, it's now the currency market taking a dive.

The Dollar dropped to six-week lows against the Euro on Wednesday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said inflation pressures were starting to ease, boosting chances of a US interest rate cut later this year.

He told the Senate Banking Committee that inflation was starting to diminish, even though it will take time to confirm the downtrend. Bernanke's remarks surprised investors who expected him to confirm recent comments from other Fed officials about the upside risks to the inflation outlook. US interest rate futures rose on Bernanke's remarks, increasing the implied chance the Central Bank will cut its benchmark interest rate from the actual 5.25% later this year.

Interestingly, prospects for a lending rate rise are seen by the U.S. stockmarket as unpromising because of our perception that prosperity results from lots of investments, and investors are attracted by lower rates. I personally view the decline of earning power, and thereby expenditure, as ominous.

As I mentioned in a recent post, 'productivity' is the result of workers producing more, (doing more work), for less. Barney Frank brought this out in recent committee questioning, and yesterday he challenged the concept that inflation is the big, bad wolf financial circles try to make of it.

Rep. Frank has used his chairmanship in a lot of excellent ways. Yesterday, he did get Bernanke to admit that wage increases were not necessarily a source of inflation. It is really promising that Frank has the wit and the strength to override the assumptions of the conservative financial heads in government who want to keep wages low - not because it can be proven to strengthen the U.S. financially but because it is a reward that their base likes.

FRANK:(D)o you believe that there is room for wages to go up, at least -- not at least -- to the level of productivity increases without that having an inflationary impact?

BERNANKE: Yes, I do, and I do expect nominal wages to rise.
(FRANK):When you refuse to raise the minimum wage, so inflation erodes it, when you have an active policy of breaking labor unions, when you have a tax policy that favors people at the high end, you are reinforcing those tendencies.

And so, what we have is a national policy which takes advantage of factors that are keeping real wages depressed and keeping productivity way ahead of wages so that all of the increase -- as Alan Greenspan said two years ago, and apparently is still the case, virtually all of the increased wealth in this society that comes from increased productivity goes to the owners of capital.

With powers of comprehension of this depth in power in the country, we may turn around this economy which rests on the backs of the workers, and regain the prosperity that they produce.

Healthy economies do not require the abuse of the public. The Chairman of the Financial Services Committee is aware of the desirability of that approach.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Thursday Birding

My usual view of the Brown Creeper.

Having an old hackberry tree that comes up through the front porch, just outside one of my living room windows, this is how I usually see my brown creepers. Upside down is often the way I see them - not me, but them. They creep up the tree, a little like a woodpecker, and are small, undistinguished, and probably only noticed because they're moving.

Please enjoy this quite small unique bird with me. Creeping is a great way to pop up a hackberry tree.


Sometimes Appearances Matter

The Interior Department is back in the news, although this time it's a couple of alums that are involved, one of whom had transferred to the Justice Department and the other of whom had left government service to become a lobbyist. The AP story appeared in yesterday's Sacramento Bee

Nine months before agreeing to let ConocoPhillips delay a half-billion-dollar pollution cleanup, the government's top environmental prosecutor bought a $1 million vacation home with the company's top lobbyist.

Also in on the Kiawah Island, S.C., house deal was former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles, the highest-ranking Bush administration official targeted for criminal prosecution in the Jack Abramoff corruption probe.

Just before resigning last month, Assistant Attorney General Sue Ellen Wooldridge signed two proposed consent decrees with ConocoPhillips: one giving the company as much as two to three more years to install $525 million in pollution controls at nine refineries and the other dealing with a Superfund toxic waste cleanup.

It wasn't just Mr. Griles and Ms. Wooldridge (who are romantically involved) in on the house deal, and this is where the issue gets hot:

Last April, Wooldridge, ConocoPhillips Vice President Donald R. Duncan and Griles had gone together on a $980,000 home in a gated community at Kiawah Island. Records from the Charleston County Auditor's office obtained by The Associated Press list Duncan as a 50 percent owner of the home and Wooldridge and Griles as 25 percent owners. [Emphasis added]

The Justice Department's top environmental lawyer continued to handle a case involving her two investment partners, and that case is about to end with a sweet deal for the company employing one of those partners. Somebody finally noticed.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said Wednesday night it will open an inquiry and request documents into the real estate transaction and consent agreements.

"There appears to be a breakdown of ethics at the Justice Department, said the committee's chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. "Senior Justice Department officials should not be handling cases that affect their close friends and investment partners."
[Emphasis added]

One would certainly think so, but the parties involved claim there was no problem, no problem at all:

"We object to the suggestion that the real estate transaction involving Don Duncan, which was cleared in advance by the ethics office of the Department of Justice, had any impact whatsoever on the consent decrees entered into by ConocoPhillips or the recent SEC filing amending ConocoPhillips code of ethics," company officials said. ...

As for the vacation home, Stephen W. Grafman, Wooldridge's attorney, said she paid for her share and was told by the Justice Department's ethics office a month before the sale went through "that the purchase was not a problem."

Oh, please! First year law students know better. When it comes to conflicts of interest, not only should impropriety be avoided, so should even the appearance of impropriety.

Paul Light, a professor at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service and an expert on presidential appointees, said Wooldridge's participation in the Kiawah Island partnership and the ConocoPhillips settlement "creates the impression of favoritism, or favors due."

"From an appearance standpoint it's awful, and from a legal standpoint it's questionable," Light said Wednesday. "Political appointees have been indicted for less."

The fact that ConocoPhillips got a break on a slam-dunk case certainly doesn't help Ms. Wooldridge's case, even with the green light from Justice.

Heckuva job, George!

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