Friday, August 31, 2007

The Cruelty Jokes Return

Remember 'cruelty jokes';

"Q: Mrs. Brown, can Johnny come out and play?
A: But you know he has no arms and legs.
Q: Yeh, we wanna use him for third base."

And on it goes. Well, I suggest that the present GOPervs were schooled well in these jokes, and use them as the basis for planning health care.

Just last week we learned that the White House is not only strongly resisting a bipartisan congressional effort to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Plan to include 4 million uninsured kids in the U.S., but our “compassionate conservative” president is also forcing states to limit access for children, too.

Bush’s timing couldn’t be much worse. The latest report from the Census Bureau showed that 8.7 million kids are now uninsured. What’s more the increase — 11.7% of kids lack coverage, up from 10.9% in 2005 — is higher than in the adult population.

Since the passage of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997 through 2004, the program succeeded in reducing the percentage of uninsured kids, while the percentage of uninsured adults — not served by any new public insurance plan — has gone up.

But in the last two years, we’re seeing more kids go without insurance. Why? Fewer private-sector employers are providing sufficient coverage. Making the expansion of SCHIP even more critical if we are to keep our kids healthy.

Kathleen Stoll, health policy director for Families USA, said, “Despite SCHIP’s earlier success in decreasing the number of uninsured children, their numbers have risen for the second straight year because of a decline in employer-based coverage. Today census numbers only confirm what state officials and health care advocates have seen first-hand — SCHIP resources must be increased to meet the health care needs of the increasing number of uninsured children.”
New guidelines announced last week by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will require many children to be uninsured for a full year before they have access to government-subsidized coverage. The new rules effectively block New York’s already approved expansion of children’s health insurance and roll back expansions or pending plans in 17 other states and the District of Columbia.

“CMS has promulgated rules that would be devastating to the nation and to the state of New York because they will preclude us from covering every child in the state with health insurance,” said Spitzer, a Democrat who has vowed to take court action if necessary. “It is bad policy. It is a violation of the basic decency that argues in favor of giving kids health insurance."

Health insurance, of course, doesn't equate to health care, but it's the closest this cabal has come. After years of bragging about how successful their industry-friendly approach has been, the 'no arms and legs' approach seems to have become the more attractive one after all.

Today, the Cancer Society has announced that it sees such overwhelming needs for insurance, it will spend its entire $15 million advertising budget to address the consequences of inadequate health coverage.

Census figures released this week show that the number and percentage of people in the United States without health insurance rose last year, to 47 million and 15.8 percent. A 2003 study estimated that one of every 10 cancer patients was uninsured.

Other surveys have found that one of every four families afflicted by cancer, which is projected to kill 560,000 Americans this year, is effectively impoverished by the fight, including one of every five with insurance.

The retreat from public service in the past six years of GOPerv administration may never be totally wiped out. A lack of health services has already been a detriment, and sometimes death, to the impoverished.

As pointed out in 2005, even the possession of insurance doesn't mean a family or individual is protected from the financial consequences of illness.

Medical problems contributed to about half of all bankruptcies, involving 700,000 households in 2001, according to a story published today as a Web Exclusive by the journal Health Affairs. 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 brought the total number of people directly affected by medical bankruptcies to more than two million annually.

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.

The rest of the world is aghast at the indifference of this administration to its citizens, and it's becoming increasingly a source of wonder to U.S. citizens as well. We see states trying to struggle under the load of debt that the neo-cons have heaped on them while requiring them to take up the true weight of public services. In some cases it is leading to lawsuits like New York's.

The next elections will provide a real litmus test of the public's ability to defend itself against further depradations.

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Friday Catblogging

From Reuters on August 27th, and up at Yahoo Zoo slide show in Pictures.

Wardah, a female leopard, holds up her one-month-old cub in a cage at Jordan Zoo, near Amman, August 27, 2007. REUTERS/ Muhammad Hamed (JORDAN)

After all the discussion at Eschaton about kids being taken out on leashes, I thought this looked like a good comment on mothering. And btw, on an ocean voyage as a toddler, I was kept on a leash.

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OK, Here's A Plan

It's Friday, which means there's a new Rosa Brooks column in the Los Angeles Times. This time she responds to the assertion that liberal columnists (like liberal bloggers) only complain and criticize without offering constructive solutions by providing a constructive solution to the quagmire in Iraq.

OK, what exactly should we do in Iraq?

Option One: We keep doing what we're already doing -- the White House approach. Theme song: "Give War a Chance." ...

Option Two: We do something different. Instead of calling up the last few idle reservists -- the middle-school boys and girls in Junior ROTC, maybe -- we withdraw troops. (Go ahead, call it "redeployment" if it makes you feel better).

Want nitty-gritty details on who/what/where/when/how? For those who like to dig their teeth into think tank reports, I recommend "How to Redeploy: Implementing a Responsible Drawdown of U.S. Forces from Iraq." Released this week by the Center for American Progress, the report's lead author is Lawrence Korb, a guy who knows his stuff.

Korb, who served during the Reagan administration as assistant secretary of Defense for manpower, reserve affairs, installations and logistics, recommends redeploying U.S. troops over a period of 10 to 12 months. That time frame allows for the removal of weaponry and sensitive equipment, without the expense and exposure of more extended drawdown periods -- and it gives local and national Iraqi authorities a reasonable opportunity to prepare for our absence.

As troops rotate out at the end of their tours, they would not be replaced; remaining troops would be repositioned from more stable peripheral regions of Iraq and consolidated in Baghdad until only a small number of Marines remain to protect civilian personnel at a downsized U.S. Embassy. Two brigades would also remain for a year in the Kurdish region.

But what about the Iraqis? What happens to them during and after the troop withdrawal? Our Ms. Brooks also dug into some of the other Center For American Progress reports to answer that question:

We long ago squandered any capacity to guarantee a happy ending for the Iraqis. But, as several other recent Center for American Progress reports suggest, there are still steps we can take to minimize the chance that a U.S. withdrawal will make things worse for them.

First, accompany a U.S. troop drawdown with strong support for a robust U.N. presence in Iraq, a move that even Shiite militia leader Muqtada Sadr has indicated he would welcome.

Then, get serious about engaging Iran, Syria and other regional powers in stabilizing Iraq. All have plenty to lose if Iraq falls apart entirely.

Next, recognize that Iraq's fate -- and the continued rise of Islamic extremism and anti-Americanism -- is linked to ongoing Arab-Israeli tensions, and redouble efforts to resolve that long-running conflict.

Finally, welcome fleeing Iraqis into the United States. Stingy quotas and idiotic restrictions on where Iraqis can apply for U.S. visas have meant that only about 200 Iraqis have been resettled in the U.S. over the last 10 months. We need to make refugee resettlement easier, fast.

So, there's a plan, one that looks pretty responsible. Now, if only the Democrats in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail would do the kind of homework Ms. Brooks just did and then promote such a plan, maybe we could finally end the war sensibly.

In the November, 2006 election, the American public made it clear that ending the war was the top priority. It's up to the Democrats to do what they were elected to do.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Murder is Not Committed

Time for me to give the devil his due, eat crow, whatever. (Sorry, crows, that's just a figure of speech, I wouldn't really.) Texas' governor Perry chose not to murder a condemned man. It's a beginning toward civilized conduct, and congratulations to the state for falling short of committing an atrocity.

Hopefully our infamous Texas legislature will take a look at the laws that allowed this to go up to the date of execution before it was stopped gratuitously by a governor not much inclined to take a humane outlook on things. Even this legislature can see that an injustice was committed, and it nearly was fatal.

Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday commuted death row inmate Kenneth Foster’s sentence to life, following a 6-1 recommendation by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

“After carefully considering the facts of this case, along with the recommendations from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, I believe the right and just decision is to commute Foster’s sentence from the death penalty to life imprisonment,” Gov. Perry said. “I am concerned about Texas law that allows capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously, and it is an issue I think the legislature should examine.”

Mr. Foster was the getaway driver in a 1996 armed robbery spree that ended in the murder of a 25-year-old San Antonio man. He contends he had no knowledge a murder was going to occur, and he was not the trigger man. But he was convicted, in the same courtroom as the shooter, under the state’s “law of parties,” which authorizes capital punishment for accomplices who either intended to kill or "should have anticipated" a murder.

The reversal of its 100 years of support for death penalties by the Dallas Morning News has had some influence, I hope. That is a step toward the reforms our 'legal' system needs.

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Thursday Birdblogging

Feral Liberal has shared some of his great bird pictures with us today, and yes, those are vultures you see busily cleaning up our world for us. And the heron above just chose a perfect moment to land in his backyard - Feral's backyard and the heron's - so you can experience one of those terrific times when all aerial arts are displayed.

Buzzards/vultures are beneficial for their cleanup skills, and are rather fun to look at too.

I once found a stuffed small vulture that my kids loved putting up on the Xmas tree, in a back place by my request, just to make their friends go 'ewwwww'.

from a vulture fan; "The vulture is the most crucial avian scavenger in the world, and plays a very important part in maintaining the health and beauty of our environment. " at The same site has several varieties of vulture for you to learn about, but I'm sure that Feral's, like my local birds, are turkey vultures.


Who's Your Daddy?

Look, I know we're coming off a full moon, but some lunacy just can't be explained away that easily. From an editorial in today's NY Times:

As the Army’s suicide rate hits record levels in the Iraq war, there’s small wonder practically everyone in Congress wants to deal with the parallel emerging crisis of depressed veterans tempted to take their own lives. Everyone, that is, except Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma. He stands alone in blocking final passage of a suicide prevention bill in fear that the government’s record-keeping on troubled vets might somehow crimp their ability to purchase handguns. ...

The House has unanimously approved a measure mandating the screening of all veterans for suicide risk, but Senator Coburn worries that veterans’ medical data might be appropriated by other agencies to deny that all-encompassing right to wield arms on the domestic front.
[Emphasis added]

Only those whose tin foil hats need to be loosened more than a tad could make the kind of illogical leap implied in Sen. Coburn's stated concerns. It is somewhat troubling to think that one of our senators suffers from that kind of paranoia.

What is more troubling, however, is that it is possible that the good senator from Oklahoma does not really believe that the bill in question is intended to deprive veterans of their Second Amendment rights, that he instead is simply doing the bidding of one of his major campaign donors, the NRA.

Either/or, Senator Coburn's stance is outrageous, not to mention callous and stupid.



Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Brinksmanship Has Always Been Poor Diplomacy

The lack of diplomatic skills that the cabal in the White House seemingly prides itself on is creating a confrontation with Iran that bodes ill. In Britain, as at home, the rashness of threats displays a danger possible to leading into a war that would make no sense, and further erode America's capabilities, its resources, and its place in the world.

The procedure used by the neocons in starting their war on Iraq seems to be repeating itself. In BBC commentary today their World Affairs correspondent. Paul Reynolds, sees a lot of bluster, a lot of chicanery, and ominous potential for cataclysmic mistakes once again by the cretin in chief.

By heightening the rhetoric over Iran's nuclear programme, President Bush has left open the possibility that the United States might in due course abandon diplomacy and turn to military might.

In his speech to the American Legion in Nevada, he said Iran's "active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust".

He also said: "We will confront this danger before it is too late."

Mark Fitzpatrick, nuclear analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London said: "There is a real possibility that President Bush will feel compelled not to allow this problem to pass to his successor.

"The effectiveness and consequences of air strikes would have to be calculated, of course, and they might in the end be felt to be a bad idea, but we should take this seriously.

"Iran is at the moment making a show of co-operating with the International Atomic Energy Agency but is still refusing full co-operation and hopes to spin this out to prevent further sanctions. It has not stopped its nuclear programme."
Running parallel to the nuclear problem is the American claim that Iran is helping Shia militias in Iraq.

Mr Bush said he had ordered US commanders to act against these "murderous activities".
Putting some of the blame on Iran makes it easier for him to argue that the US problems in Iraq are partly due to this external factor and therefore do not amount to a justification of a cut and run approach.

A leader with any qualities of wisdom or concern for his constituency - the U.S. in this case - would be making war less likely, but this is not the way the present resident of the White House conducts his affairs. Unfortunately, his conduct bears directly on our security, and constantly threatens it.

Hopefully, there will be enough restraint on the executive branch to keep it from further forays into world instability. The Congress should be looking for a new Attorney General, and must look for one who will keep the constitution from further damage. That Attorney General also should be questioned on what will be done to an executive who runs amuck and threatens the security of the country.

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An Illegal Occupation

Many of us have maintained that the Iraq War was illegal from the start, and not just because we were lied into it by the Bush administration. The concept of a "pre-emptive war" just simply does not wash in international law. A country cannot be allowed to invade another country just because it "thinks" that country "might" attack. Professor Jack Miles (UC-Irvine), senior fellow for religious affairs with the Pacific Council on International Policy, looks at the legality of our presence in Iraq from a different angle in an interesting op-ed piece published in today's NY Times.

IS America’s presence in Iraq legal? As Republicans and Democrats debate the ethical and practical considerations for and against the withdrawal of the United States forces, this question scarcely comes up. But within a few months, it could, suddenly and with potentially decisive impact.

In May 2003, just weeks after the overthrow of Iraq’s government, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1483 recognized “the Authority” — which was to say “the occupying powers under unified command” — as Iraq’s effective legal government.

In October 2003, it took a further step and mandated that the United States-led multinational force establish security and stability in Iraq. ...

In June 2004, Security Council Resolution 1546 stipulated that “by 30 June 2004, the occupation will end and the Coalition Provisional Authority will cease to exist, and that Iraq will reassert its full sovereignty.” Subsequently, as sovereign Iraq has moved by stages through elections and complex deliberations to the formation of its current government, the United Nations has renewed the mandate for the multinational force at the request of successive Iraqi prime ministers — Ibrahim al-Jaafari in 2005 and Nuri Kamal al-Maliki last year.

The current mandate expires at the end of December. Will it be renewed? In June, the Iraqi Parliament passed a bill requiring that the next renewal should not be made without its advice and consent. Mr. Maliki has not signed the bill and could conceivably veto it. However, given the worsening of his relations with Washington, it seems increasingly likely he will give it his signature and, come December, do as it instructs.

The Iraqi Parliament, for its part, has already passed a nonbinding resolution calling for a timetable for a withdrawal of foreign forces. If it voted in December not to seek a renewal of the mandate, the American troops deployed in Iraq would be there illegally.
[Emphasis added]

As Prof. Miles points out, this probably won't make a bit of difference to the Bush administration, but it could make a difference to the rest of the world, and it most certainly will make a difference to Iraqis. Among the scenarios Prof. Miles suggests possible are a general Shi'ite uprising against the US troops (making the earlier Najaf uprising look minor) and the selection of a different 'patron' to assist in ridding Iraq of the illegal occupying forces. The "new friends" Mr. Maliki (or his successor) could turn to include Syria, Russia, but most probably Iran.

And if it is Iran, we can expect another excellent adventure in "pre-emptive war," this time with the potential of involving the entire Middle East.

Prof. Miles suggests that instead of giving the President another $50 billion to wage this war come September, the Senate join with the Iraqi Parliament and issue a resolution demanding the withdrawal of American troops under a sensible timetable. Without the additional funds, the White House may finally have to give in and start the withdrawal many of our generals feel it's time for.

September 15 looks to be as good a time as any to make it clear to the US Senate just what it is we expect them to do.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Legacy Closes In: A Naming Contest

There isn't much that can be said good about the departed and unlamented pretender to the title of Attorney General, but I find it notable that he's getting a further kick from our Dallas media giant. Splashed across its editorial section today, the Dallas Morning News prints a nice selection of unfriendly parting shots kinda epitomized by William McKenzie's "I thought President Bush had made a good pick ... I was wrong".

From the News' Washington Bureau chief Carl Leubsdorf comes: "...the inadequate and inept....Mr. Gonzales was a yes-man with little background for his job as counsel."

From a selection of editorials all over the country, heads up given to mildest knife wielder of all, Paul Mirengoff; "Often the biggest gavor a president can do for a friend is to not appoint him or her to very high office." (Yes, the split infinitive kind of fits anyone who sympathizes with a supporter of torture and violation of the constitution.)

In all, the News - which has previously editorialized that Gonzales should go - concludes "Top law enforcer should be above politics".

Looks to me as if Gonzales, whom I usually refer to as 'Abu' has earned a place in a political hall of infamy that places him very much below any recently set standard, he's reached the reverse pinacle, wouldn't that be the stalagmite, of rejection.

The cretin in chief has his place in history for the worst appointment ever made, and the resulting worst executive branch ever created. It will look pretty horrible on their resumes. I estimate that the only solution to reward time at the pigs' trough that this cabal made of the public 'service' will be creation of lots of Pepperdine's (sounds like pay per dine) - a whole bunch of thumper thing tanks.

May I suggest some appropriate names (other than Nuremberg): Trough One Founderation? C'Rim En Al College? Crupshun U?

Please join with your suggestion, in comments.

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Soul Healing

This morning, thanks to Doug, a view of the moon from here in the western U.S. - and a gorgeous way to greet the day. What a great sight.

I took some pics, too, which are now being developed, and stepped on my cat in the process. She's forgiven me now.

Great thanks to V for Virginia, who took this wonderful picture on a morning not long ago along the East Coast at sunrise. She knows how much I always love to get out on the beach to feel the mild air, hear the ocean dully roaring and the birds calling, walk in the sand and experience day dawning the way it ought to.

Hope you all get a chance to have these things happen to you some of the time, anyway. But here is as close as I can give you for now.

Wonderful feelings.

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Here's How It's Done

Instead of assiduously keeping its powder dry, the Democrats in the California legislature have moved forward on placing the main issue in America before California voters. From The Sacramento Bee:

After nearly two hours of passionate debate, the California Assembly approved legislation Monday to ask voters whether they support ending the Iraq War and immediately withdrawing troops.

The advisory measure by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata previously passed the Senate, which is expected to concur in amendments Thursday and send the bill to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The governor has not announced whether he will sign Senate Bill 924.

The legislation, designed for the Feb. 5 ballot, would be advisory -- not legally binding.

If placed before voters, however, the measure is likely to be closely watched because it polls voters in the nation's largest state and marks the only statewide referendum on the Iraq War.

Specifically, SB 924 asks whether President Bush should end the U.S. occupation of Iraq and begin the "immediate, complete, safe and orderly withdrawal" of troops.

Monday's Assembly vote was largely along party lines, 43-32, with no Republicans supporting SB 924. Assemblywoman Nicole Parra, D-Hanford, was the only Democrat to oppose it.
[Emphasis added]

A nice, clean vote: no Republicans supporting the idea of democracy in action, one Democrat joining the Republicans in that. No concern that the governor will veto the bill or that there aren't enough votes to override any veto.

The 110th Congress could take a lesson from this.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

You are Paying to Kill our Troops

While the Holy Land Foundation is being prosecuted on suspicion of funding terrorism, the U.S. is giving money directly to the insurgents in Iraq. Yes, that's what I said. The war criminal that is claiming to support the troops is supplying its killers.

Anyone wanting to fund the insurgency? Your tax dollars are right now doing just that. In the traditional way of doing business, contractors giving security to troops and vendors in Iraq have to pay the insurgency to let it operate. The insurgents also accept guns and bombs.

Forget accusations that Iran is supplying those that are shedding our soldiers' blood. We're giving it direct.

Iraq's deadly insurgent groups have financed their war against U.S. troops in part with hundreds of thousands of dollars in U.S. rebuilding funds that they have extorted from Iraqi contractors in Anbar province, Iraqi contractors and politicians say.

The payments, in return for the insurgents' allowing supplies to move and construction work to begin, have taken place since the earliest projects in 2003, they say.

The contractors and politicians warned that a fresh round of rebuilding spurred by the U.S. military's recent alliance with some Anbar tribes – 200 new projects are scheduled – provides another opportunity for militant groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq to siphon off more U.S. money.

"The violence in Iraq has developed a political economy of its own that sustains it and keeps some of these terrorist groups afloat," said Iraq's deputy prime minister, Barham Saleh.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad declined to provide anyone to discuss the allegations. An embassy spokesman, Noah Miller, said in an e-mailed statement that "in terms of contracting practices, we have checks and balances in our contract awarding system to prevent any irregularities from occurring. Each contracted company is responsible for providing security for the project."

Providing that security is the source of the extortion, Iraqi contractors say. A U.S. company with a reconstruction contract hires an Iraqi subcontractor to haul supplies along insurgent-ridden roads. The Iraqi contractor sets his price at up to four times the going rate because he'll be forced to give 50 percent or more to gun-toting insurgents who demand cash payments in exchange for the supply convoys' safe passage.
One Iraqi contractor who is working on a U.S.-funded rebuilding project in the provincial capital of Ramadi said he faced two choices when he wanted to bring in a crane, heavy machinery and workers from Baghdad: either hire a private security company to escort the supplies for up to $6,000 a truck or pay off locals with insurgent connections.

He chose the latter and got $120,000 for a U.S. contract he estimates to be worth no more than $20,000. The contractor asked that specific details of the project not be disclosed for fear he'll be identified and lose the job.

"Insurgents control the roads," he said. "Americans don't control the roads – and everything from Syria and Jordan goes through there."(Emphasis added.)

There is absolutely no excuse for continuing operations that pay for the bombs and bullets to kill our own troops. If anyone had an ounce of sense, they'd have all come home when no WMD's were found. With half an ounce of sense, they'd have come home after Saddam Hussein's capture.

There isn't enough sense in this whole administration even to get an incompetent Attorney General to resign, we had to throw out enough GoPervs to get investigations started. Even then, it took too long to see the writing on the wall. These cretins don't think, they can only react. Let's give them lots and lots to react to.

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Something Else I Did Not Know

Like many Americans, I have been troubled by the deep secrecy surrounding just about everything the current administration does. What is BushCo hiding? And why? Well, I got a kind of answer today in an op-ed piece by Joseph Weisberg in today's NY Times.

How can information that’s a five-minute Google search away be classified? It’s simple. Classified information is not the same thing as secret information.

When I worked in the C.I.A.’s directorate of operations (now called the national clandestine service) in the early ’90s, we were told that information was classified when it involved sources or methods. It seemed logical that sources were classified. These were actual agents who would be put in jeopardy if their identities were revealed.

But practically everything the C.I.A. does could be considered a “method,” so the C.I.A. can decide that almost anything relating to its work is classified. You’d probably want this latitude if you were running an intelligence agency. But one of its unfortunate byproducts is that no one, inside or outside the intelligence community, really knows what classified information is. ...

In the end, then, the classification system serves a perfectly valid purpose. It draws a distinction between the information that the government does, and does not, want to discuss publicly. What ends up classified may seem a bit perverse at times, such as when information in the public domain is ruled off limits for publication. But that’s troubling only if you make the mistake of thinking that classified information is supposed to be secret.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Weisberg uses the US clandestine operations in Afghanistan in the 1980s as an example. The CIA sent weapons to the 'insurgent' factions against the Russian occupiers. Russian troops were being killed with those weapons. The Russian government was undoubtedly aware of our largesse, but neither the US nor Russia wanted to have to confront the issue, so it remained "classified."

I think the administration has simply taken this concept and extended it to White House operations. It isn't necessarily about secrecy, it's about keeping information out of public discussion, whether that discussion takes place in newspapers or at the dinner table. We all know pretty much who attended Vice President Cheney's energy meetings, yet the White House fought bitterly to keep that information out of the public discourse, just as the CIA fought bitterly to keep the dates of Valerie Plame's employment with the CIA out of her book.

And the one thing this administration does not want is a public discussion. About anything. There might be some uncomfortable questions raised, and the administration is having none of that.


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sunday Poetry: Grace Paley


Here I am in the garden laughing
an old woman with heavy breasts
and a nicely mapped face

how did this happen
well that's who I wanted to be

at last a woman
in the old style sitting
stout thighs apart under
a big skirt grandchild sliding
on off my lap a pleasant
summer perspiration

that's my old man across the yard
he's talking to the meter reader
he's telling him the world's sad story
how electricity is oil or uranium
and so forth I tell my grandson
run over to your grandpa ask him
to sit beside me for a minute I
am suddenly exhausted by my desire
to kiss his sweet explaining lips.

Grace Paley

[Note: Grace Paley died this week. For more on this extraordinary woman, visit Hecate.]

Happy Women's Right To Vote Day

On this day in 1920, the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, was finally ratified. It had been a long, bitter struggle, but it finally came. It was the first major step towards equality for women in this country. The struggle is far from over, especially in the economic arena, but that first step was very important.

Yesterday, in Sacramento, a rally was held to commemorate the event. From The Sacramento Bee:

Women from across the state gathered on the west steps of the Capitol on Saturday to hear politicians, activists and community leaders as part of the second annual California Women's Equality Day parade and rally. ...

The rally commemorated ratification in 1920 of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Supporters of all ages came out for the event, sponsored by the California Suffrage Parade Coalition. ...

Dan Collins of Sacramento sat in the hot sun with his three daughters. His wife was at work. "I came because I don't want them to take anything for granted, especially their rights," said Collins.

Many said it was particularly important to urge women to vote because of the upcoming presidential election. They spoke of the influence female candidates have on future generations.

[Kim]Salter [Chair of the event], who estimated about 500 people attended the event, said she was disappointed in the turnout. She attributed it to apathy, lack of time and the feeling many have that their vote doesn't make a difference.
[Emphasis added]

Yes, the turnout was deplorably low, but the event did happen, and younger women were present, brought not only by the mothers, but also their fathers. That's a good thing. Ms. Salter's comments on the reasons for the low turnout were probably accurate, although she left out the part about it being hotter than hell in Sacramento yesterday.

I was especially interested in her comment about "apathy," since that would seem to be a problem with both sexes, not just women. Are fewer women voting? Fewer than men? I checked out the federal government's Elections Assistance Commission website to see. Here's what I found for the 2000 election (the latest for which statistics were posted):

Of the VAP (Voting Age Population) for men, 62.2% registered to vote, and 53.1% of the VAP actually voted.

Of the VAP for women, 64.6% registered to vote, and 56.2% of the VAP actually voted.

Now, the VAP for 2000 is skewed somewhat. The census figures upon which this number is based included everyone, including those ineligable to vote because of non-citizenship status or felony conviction.

That said, however, the numbers are sad: a little more than half of the voting age public voted. Still, more women than men registered and then voted.

While it isn't great news, it certainly was good news. Now the trick is to figure out how to get more women and more men to go out and vote. People died to give us this right. It's the least we can do.

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Confidence Games at High Levels

Confidence games are based on creating an image of respectable or dependable repute that inveigle the victim to give you what you want, usually a matter of theft by deception. This last six+ years has been the ultimate con. While knowing their words were hollow the cretin in chief and his accomplices have lied inconscionably in order to gain their ends, which have been without exception injurious to the safety and wellbeing of the American public.

Listening to the injunctions of the financial 'authorities' being trotted out on one weekend talk show after another, I did hear one voice that I found believable, former Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers, who recommended that no bailout occur of the investing entities, but that regulation of lending to individuals be tightened, and that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac be given much greater leeway to offer loans with much more clarity of language (now known as transparency).

For the most part, the administration sent out defenders of the financial institutions who refused to restrain lending on beyond flimsy bases, and to insist that "injecting liquidity" (newspeak for giving massive amounts of public funds to the offending lenders) would keep the market up. This next week, Secretary Summers warned, any still existing weaknesses will turn up - involving financial institutions unable to make payments on their own loans because their portfolios are worthless.

In the runup to the Great Depression, this kind of confidence game was used to manipulate prices for gain. One example was the Fisk/Gould ruse which is described below.

In August 1869, Gould and Fisk began to buy gold in an attempt to corner the market, hoping that the increase in the price of gold would increase the price of wheat such that western farmers would sell, causing a great amount of shipping of bread stuffs eastward, increasing freight business for the Erie railroad. During this time, Gould used contacts with President Ulysses S. Grant's brother-in-law, Abel Corbin, to try to influence the president and his Secretary General Horace Porter. These speculations in gold culminated in the panic of Black Friday, on September 24, 1869, when the premium over face value on a gold Double Eagle fell from 62% to 35%. Gould made a nominal profit from this operation, but lost it in the subsequent lawsuits. The affair also cost him his reputation.

Though I couldn't find them in the limited amount of time I had for research, there have been rumors of the leading investors in the country colluding to keep bidding up stocks in those wild days, and by pre-arrangement bailing out at its height. Of course, buying up the instantly depreciated stocks was the intention, not the total disaster that was caused. Or so the story goes. I see something of this nature in the collusion of this dishonest executive branch with corporations, and their insistence on false information intended to keep individuals buying up questionably valued stocks.

We are the victims, this is a confidence game. We don't have any reason to believe any lines we are being fed. I suspect there will be a large number of investors who are not fooled, and will not bite.

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A Bad Rap

The 110th Congress went into Summer Recess with an 18% approval rating. An overwhelming number of Americans apparently believe the GOP members of Congress who have called this session the "Do Nothing Congress." Yet, a closer look at the past seven months would belie that assertion, as noted in an opinion piece in today's NY Times.

JUST before Congress adjourned for its August recess, Democrats engaged in a flurry of legislative activity, while Republicans complained about a “do-nothing” Congress’s meager policy accomplishments. Deep partisan differences, narrow majorities and a Republican in the White House have frustrated Democratic ambitions and fueled a toxic atmosphere in both chambers of Congress. The public’s low approval ratings reflect broad discontent with the direction of the country but also displeasure with Congress for failing to reverse course on Iraq and for continuing the bitter partisan warfare. ...

Still, the Democratic Congress’s legislative harvest this year has been bountiful compared with that of its Republican counterpart in 1995. Back then, the Republicans’ Contract With America was stymied by opposition from the Senate and the president. The new Congress has enacted a far-reaching lobbying and ethics reform bill, an increase in the minimum wage, recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, foreign investment rules and a competitiveness package, and has embedded a number of major initiatives and new priorities in continuing and supplemental spending bills. Democrats also made headway on energy, children’s health insurance, college student loans, Head Start, drug safety and a farm bill — though much of this awaits action in the Senate or in conference and faces a possible veto.

During the first seven months of 1995, Congressional oversight of the executive branch increased modestly in the Senate but not at all in the House. But this year Congress, especially the House, has intensified its oversight, following years of inattention and deference by its Republican predecessor.
[Emphasis added]

There have been failures, some of them disasterous, such as the recent FISA law "update," but this Congress has accomplished quite a bit so far, probably because it has been in session many more days than its predecessors. Then why the "do-nothing" label?

As the op-ed piece notes, Congress has done nothing to stop the carnage in Iraq, the issue that matters most to Americans. I think, however, there's more to it. The press hasn't done the Democratic led Congress any favors, focusing more on the political rancor than on the accomplishments. And the Democrats haven't helped their cause by promising to do things if elected and then failing to follow through with the dramatic proposals they promised, such as cleaning up the ethical failures of the last Congress.

Still, if you look carefully at the graphic accompanying the article (which has to be enlarged to read, and therefor too big to include here), the differences between the first seven months in 1995 and the first seven months in 2007 are pretty dramatic.

If nothing else, the first seven months have been a pretty good start. I just hope the next seventeen are as productive.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Bonus Critter Blogging: Moth

(Thanks to JohnJS for another brilliant photo.)

Human Rights: Our Loss of Standing

There was a time when the US could lead on human rights issues. The rest of the world would, at the very least, listen politely. Those days are gone. Now, we find ourselves in the position of having to listen to other nations urging us to clean up our act. The latest bit of urging came from the European Union, whose August 21, 2007 declaration was published in the Netherlands' Nieuwsbank.

The European Union notes with great regret the upcoming execution in the State of Texas which would be the 400th since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. Therefore, the European Union strongly urges Governor Rick Perry to exercise all powers vested in his office to halt all upcoming executions and to consider the introduction of a moratorium in the State of Texas.

The European Union is unreservedly opposed to the use of capital punishment under all circumstances and has consistently called for the universal abolition of this punishment. We believe that elimination of the death penalty is fundamental to the protection of human dignity, and to the progressive development of human rights. We further consider this punishment to be cruel and inhumane. There is no evidence to suggest that the use of the death penalty serves as a deterrent against violent crime and the irreversibility of the punishment means that miscarriages of justice - which are inevitable in all legal systems - cannot be redressed. Consequently, the death penalty has been abolished throughout the European Union. ...

The EU appreciates and values its co-operation with the US on a wide range of human rights concerns around the world. The European Union therefore takes this opportunity to renew its call for a moratorium to be placed on the application of the death penalty, by both the US federal and state authorities, in anticipation of its legal abolition.
[Emphasis added]

The response from Texas Governor Rick Perry's office was swift.

"Texans long ago decided the death penalty is a just and appropriate punishment for the most horrible crimes committed against our citizens.

"While we respect our friends in Europe ... Texans are doing just fine governing Texas."

Since the US Supreme Court lifted the ban on capital punishment some thirty years ago, over a thousand people have been executed. More than a third of those executions were in Texas.

What is it about some Texas governors and former Texas governors when it comes to killing people?


The New Gold Standard; YOU

Interesting to listen this a.m. on Maria Bartiromo's Wall Street report to Angelo Mozilo, now (but probably not for much longer) head of Countrywide, the mortgage firm just bailed out by Bank of America.

His use of the diversionary references to the 'first time buyers' who 'drive the market' was a little too obviously an attempt at ignoring the investors who bought a huge proportion of the subprime mortgages. While the news from the WSJ and Fortune magazine types is all about those with questionable credit who were trying to work up to a house for the first time, they are a proportion of the market that I suspect is a minority.

Investor/buyers were also pressing into unaffordable mortgages. Presenting a couple of income figures that could only qualify for a mortgage through the subprime rate, later to adjust upwards, is only one approach that has led to the present crisis in credit.

Multitudes of potential investors counted on juggling the houses through means of those same mortgages that they didn't qualify for on purely technical grounds. When the mortgage re-adjusted upwards, they were planning to be looking back on a house they'd turned over for a profit before that time came. Falling prices on houses were not going to happen in this investor plans. However, the questionable figures were accepted en masse by mortgagors like Countrywide.

After those mortgages were made, of course, they were sold in groups of mortgages by the lenders to financial investors such as hedge funds who buy into investments and businesses for a profit. Seems those ratings agents who were supposed to provide investors' information were not advising them of any risk to come.

Of course, the future risk would have had to assume that house prices could go down. It is conventional wisdom in market values that no one ever assumes that prices - that is, what consumers will agree to pay - will ever go down.

That makes you the new basis for the American monetary system. You might not see yourself as gold when you look in the mirror. But you are the New Gold Standard. As long as you will pay "market" for consumer goods, prices can keep being valued upwards. You're there with your assumed acceptance of prices, so the financial community keeps on printing the money.

Will you go out and 'keep buying' for that? I think not.

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Privatizing Prisons

Last Friday I posted on California's boneheaded decision on where to place a new prison. In the state's rush to avoid any penalties from a federal law suit dealing with prison overcrowding, California decided to build its new prisons in areas rife with Valley Fever spores. An article in yesterday's Los Angeles Times indicates the state has found another way to ease prison crowding. California has decided to outsource a state function by shipping the inmates to private prisons in other states.

Depending on the outcome of legal challenges, California could be "one of the longtime drivers of growth for the private prison industry," industry analyst Kevin Campbell said.

Until December, the state had not put a medium- or maximum-security prisoner in a private lockup since 1852, when it replaced a private prison ship in San Francisco Bay with California's first public prison, San Quentin.

Private companies say they can build secure prisons faster and cheaper than state governments and are not saddled with the high salaries and pension costs paid by public agencies. ...

The search to find more room for California prisoners -- and pressure from federal judges -- led to a $7.4-billion plan proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and approved by lawmakers in April. It gave the private prison companies the opening they've long sought.

For decades, these companies attempted to win contracts to house convicts in privately owned or leased in-state prisons, only to see their efforts thwarted by the wealthy, politically influential California prison guards union. ...

California is one of at least 30 states that have turned to the private prison industry for help after realizing that they couldn't build enough prisons to keep pace with a flood of new inmates as lawmakers passed ever-tougher sentencing laws.

Over the last decade, the number of inmate beds in private prisons has jumped sixfold to about 112,000 in mid-2006, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Most of the growth was at three major operators -- Corrections Corp., Boca Raton, Fla.-based Geo Group and Houston-based Cornell Cos.

As a result of the push to use private prisons, those three operators have seen their stocks rise dramatically, thereby making prison operation one of the few economic sectors enjoying a boom. And that boom will continue as long as states keep increasing sentences for such nonviolent crimes as drug use and keep coming up with such creative solutions for recidivism as "three-strike" laws.

The problem is that by outsourcing the government function, the state doesn't have much of an oversight into conditions at the private prisons, which means more law suits and more penalties.

I'm beginning to think this yet another example of an Alice In Wonderland tea party.

"Clean cups! Clean cups!"

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Friday Pigblogging

I saw this at, from yesterday's Day in Pictures. It's from the UK, "Two 17-day-old Red River hogs, which are native to west and central Africa, forage for food next to their mother at London Zoo in the UK."


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Disastrous news for those hit by ....disaster

Let them eat cake!

World market prices for wheat are following prices for corn into the stratosphere, as floods in China in addition to a few other places such as Wisconsin, drought in Canada, and weather disasters in almost all of the areas best for wheat crops, make huge inroads into our staple food.

Wheat prices have hit record highs on global commodity markets, bringing the threat of rising bread prices.

Bad weather in key grain growing areas such as Canada and parts of Europe has limited supplies as demand has risen, sparking fears of a supply shortfall.

Surging prices are also expected to have widespread fallout for consumers.

While it will mean higher bread prices, it could also trigger an increase in meat and dairy prices as farmers battle to pass on rising feed costs.

Global wheat stockpiles will slip to their lowest levels in 26 years as a result, official US figures predicted earlier this month.
A World Food Programme spokesman said the increases could mean its budget would not stretch far enough to help those affected by natural disasters.

It's far from ironic that those affected by natural disasters are in trouble from their many disasters. This all reminds me of the outpouring of racial tensions that has made Darfur the poster child for genocide - tensions that are partly due to increasing shortages of food to spread among the several populations of different backgrounds.

A tightening supply of food is very bad news for an already needy world with tensions enough to go around without this latest push.

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Good Snark

Rosa Brooks is back, and in great form. Her column in today's Los Angeles Times would make Molly Ivins proud.

Oh yes. You thought the Bush administration was fresh out of ideas? You thought that with Karl Rove leaving, the administration that brought us the war in Iraq and "Mission Accomplished" had no more tricks up its sleeve?

Think again.

On Wednesday, speaking before a Veterans of Foreign Wars audience, President Bush did something he had previously avoided: He compared the Iraq war with the Vietnam War, agreeing that Vietnam does hold lessons for U.S. policy in Iraq.

Can't argue with that. For most Americans, the lessons of Vietnam were reasonably clear before we invaded Iraq and have been painfully reinforced by the ongoing disaster there:

Don't fight needless wars; don't go blundering around in countries where you don't know the language, history or culture; don't underestimate the power of nationalism, ethnicity and religion to bind together -- or tear apart -- people whose interests otherwise seem to diverge or converge; and, most of all, don't imagine that military force can solve fundamentally political problems.

But the president, who has his own very special set of history books, drew the public's attention to some entirely different lessons from Vietnam. To Bush, the "unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens." ...

Bush went on to assert that "another price to our withdrawal from Vietnam" was the rise of "the enemy we face in today's struggle, those who came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens" on 9/11.

Yup -- it's so obvious! The U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam caused the rise of Al Qaeda -- and, by extension, "our withdrawal from Vietnam" ultimately turned Iraq into "the central front" in "the war on terror."

Our Ms. Brooks then proceeds with the kind of dissection of Bush Logic (which flows from Bush Speak) that would have done Jonathan Swift proud.

I'm thinking of emailing the entire column to every member of the California delegation, just in case any of them were impressed by Mr. Bush's erudite speech yesterday. And if I could figure out a way to get the column to Molly Ivins, I would. She'd approve.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Thursday BirdBloggin

sorry, I was home yesterday and having problems with my home laptop, so today I'm putting up yesterday's bird which thanks bunches to
Feral Liberal for - at

and I wish you that sometime in life you hear the wonderful call of a loon over a quiet lake. Wonderful experience.


Oh, Please

In a rather surprising departure from the Bush administration's policy of total secrecy about everything, the Director of National Security, J. Micahel McConnell gave an interview to the El Paso Times yesterday in which he revealed several details about the government's warrantless wiretapping program. Among those details was a ruling from the FISA court that the program was illegal. From today's Los Angeles Times:

The nation's top intelligence official has confirmed that a federal court did rule the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program was in violation of the law, prompting the mad rush in Congress this month to overhaul key espionage provisions.

In an interview with a Texas newspaper, Director of National Intelligence J. Michael McConnell also disclosed that the number of people in the United States who are under surveillance by the nation's spy services is "100 or less," a figure he said showed that the government was not engaged in widespread spying on Americans.

His comments represent an exceedingly rare public description of one of the nation's most closely guarded and controversial espionage operations. Many of the details he described -- such as the deliberations of the special intelligence court and the scope of the surveillance operation -- are usually considered classified. ...

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court's adverse ruling earlier this year delivered a major blow to U.S. spying operations, McConnell said, even as intelligence analysts were expressing growing alarm that the Al Qaeda terrorist network was regrouping.
[Emphasis added]

Well, I suppose that might explain the unseemly haste used to give the government everything it wanted and more in the program. After all, Al Qaeda! was! regrouping!

Still, why is Mr. McConnell now so openly discussing a program that up to this point was so double-super-secret?

But the changes, and the hurried atmosphere in which they were adopted, have prompted many Democrats to express misgivings about the revisions. They have pledged to revisit the issue next month after Congress returns from its August recess. [Emphasis added] that's it. Some Democrats finally got around to actually reading the bill they voted for (probably because enough constituents and bloggers did and let them know about it)and have now decided that perhaps they acted a little precipitously. The administration doesn't want the good work undone, after all.

Mr. McConnell couldn't resist making a comment that I think pretty much makes that clear:

Even as he disclosed new details about the espionage programs, McConnell made criticisms that the public debate has given Al Qaeda and other organizations insight into U.S. eavesdropping operations.

"The fact that we're doing it this way means that some Americans are going to die," he said. But because of the "claim, counterclaim, mistrust, suspicion" surrounding the program, he said, "the only way you could make any progress was to have this debate in an open way."
[Emphasis added]

"Some Americans are going to die."

Like they did 9/11.

Terra terra terra.

That ought to keep the Democrats and all Americans in line.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Today Is My Birthday!

So everyone will know, this is the date I was born, in 1944. That makes me a genuine antique, I believe.

As I usually do, I looked back over the year and saw a few really good things that have happened, and as you who have read this post for awhile know, one of them is the American public giving the majority of its votes to the Democrats. While a lot of criticism is being sent to that Democratic majority, much of what it has done is good, and it is really reassuring to me that the voters have turned toward public interest representation. We need to build on this and return control of the executive branch to Democrats so they can start the hard job of rebuilding justice, and representing the public.

Another really good sign of spreading decency is the Dallas Morning News' changing its 100-year-old stance, and opposing the death penalty. Now I see that the European Union has also called for the State of Texas to end it barbaric practice of executions.

The EU expressed "great regret" at the impending sentence (an execution scheduled for today) and renewed its call to the US to halt judicial killings.

The punishment was "cruel and inhumane", said the EU.

The statement from the Portuguese presidency of the 27-nation bloc said: "The European Union strongly urges Governor Rick Perry to exercise all powers vested in his office to halt all upcoming executions and to consider the introduction of a moratorium in the State of Texas."

It continued: "There is no evidence to suggest that the use of the death penalty serves as a deterrent against violent crime and the irreversibility of the punishment means that miscarriages of justice, which are inevitable in all legal systems, cannot be redressed."

It is always encouraging to see the human race improve a bit. I like to think I help it along a little. It would be very good to think that something improved because of my, and our, efforts to make the world a better place. Celebrate with me, please.

As some of you know. my ex is now in critical condition, which means my kids are going through things you don't want to happen. (Blood clot, [can't give anticoagulants because of recent operation] pneumonia, brain tumor.) If you haven't had a checkup, please do. For everyone's sake.


Oh. My. God.

Apparently the Pentagon is not content with winning hearts and minds. It also is intent on winning souls, primarily with the help of evangelical groups who have been given unprecedented access to the Defense Department. From an editorial in today's Los Angeles Times:

Last week, after an investigation spurred by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Pentagon abruptly announced that it would not be delivering "freedom packages" to our soldiers in Iraq, as it had originally intended.

What were the packages to contain? Not body armor or home-baked cookies. Rather, they held Bibles, proselytizing material in English and Arabic and the apocalyptic computer game "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" (derived from the series of post-Rapture novels), in which "soldiers for Christ" hunt down enemies who look suspiciously like U.N. peacekeepers.

The packages were put together by a fundamentalist Christian ministry called Operation Straight Up, or OSU. Headed by former kickboxer Jonathan Spinks, OSU is an official member of the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program. The group has staged a number of Christian-themed shows at military bases, featuring athletes, strongmen and actor-turned-evangelist Stephen Baldwin. But thanks in part to the support of the Pentagon, Operation Straight Up has now begun focusing on Iraq, where, according to its website (on pages taken down last week), it planned an entertainment tour called the "Military Crusade."
[Emphasis added]

Iraqis and our soldiers there aren't the only targets for this "crusade," however.

Take, for instance, the recent scandal involving Christian Embassy, a group whose expressed purpose is to proselytize to military personnel, diplomats, Capitol Hill staffers and political appointees. In a shocking breach of security, Defense Department officials allowed a Christian Embassy film crew to roam the corridors of the Pentagon unescorted while making a promotional video featuring high-ranking officers and political appointees. (Christian Embassy, which holds prayer meetings weekly at the Pentagon, is so entrenched that Air Force Maj. Gen. John J. Catton Jr. said he'd assumed the organization was a "quasi-federal entity.") [Emphasis added]

How is it that a general can "assume" that a religious organization is a "quasi-federal entity"? Don't we require that our top military leaders have at least a passing familiarity with the US Constitution, especially the First Amendment? Apparently not, especially these days.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Concern for Homeowners, Anyone?

That facing the loss of your home, as well as the investment you've put into it, is a horrible experience I guess is pretty obvious to all of us. For any of you who are in this situation, my sympathies are great. Also, I hope that you can talk to the lender and work out terms that you can meet. Most lenders would much rather continue receiving payments than be left with a house on their hands, especially in times like this when it's hard to sell any home.

The new Federal Reserve Chairman has been trying to keep the mortgage bankers from losing the investment they have in our home lending industry. Hopefully some of the millions pouring in to help out lenders will help individuals in dire straits to hold onto their investment, and their homes, as well.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd urged Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Tuesday to use "all the tools available" so that a spreading credit crisis doesn't undermine the national economy.

Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat who is seeking his party's presidential nomination, met with Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson — two men playing key roles in trying to ensure that problems plaguing the financial markets don't get worse.

While urging policymakers do all they can to ease the credit crunch, the senator told reporters after the closed-door meeting that he did not specifically ask Bernanke to lower a key interest rate called the federal funds rate, which has stood at 5.25 percent for more than a year.

So far the Fed has been reluctant to reduce the funds rate which is the interest rate that banks charge each other on overnight loans and is the central bank's main lever to influence economic activity. A cut in the funds rate would cause commercial banks to lower their prime lending rate charged to many consumers and businesses.

While a lower funds rate could have positive implications, Dodd stressed that he did not want to appear to be putting "political pressure on the Fed."

While it may be a concern to the corporate set that no one be 'putting pressure om the Fed', my concern is that the pressures that are making many people lose their homes be eased. Our leaders in banking and in the congress ought to be taking a close look at the kind of lending that has gotten many borrowers into a situation they can't handle, and ease the terms under which they are losing their homes.

Pouring billions into lenders' pockets ought to have some conditions attached, that easing off on the individual investors get a part of the consideration the lending institutions are receiving.


Dumb And Dumber

Taking a page from President Bush's play-book, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee have decided to dabble in another country's politics. From today's NY Times:

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, after completing a two-day tour of Iraq, said Monday that the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki should be voted from office because it has proved incapable of reaching the political compromises required to end violence there.

The Democratic chairman, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, and the committee’s ranking Republican, Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, who traveled to Iraq together, issued a joint statement that was only slightly more temperate than Mr. Levin’s remarks. They warned that in the view of politicians in Washington, and of the American people, “time has run out” on attempts to forge a political consensus in Baghdad.

Mr. Levin said that in his view, the political stalemate in Iraq could be attributed to Mr. Maliki and other senior Iraqi officials who were unable to operate independently of religious and sectarian leaders.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Levin's comments are a rather unique twist on the idea of "we broke it, we own it," except the people of Iraq are not going to be real happy with the idea of a US senate leader ordering them to fire their government. If anything, those comments might very well have ensured Mr. al-Maliki's government a little breathing room as citizens flock to support it in the face of such outrageous interference.

I guess it was too much to hope for that people in Washington, DC would recognize that everytime the US inserts itself into other nation's elections, the winners are always those who the US wants least in office.

Now, here's the thing: what Sen. Levin said is probably an accurate reflection of what's going on in Iraq: no officials in Iraq can "operate independently of religious and sectarian leaders." We can pin that state of affairs on the chaos we created by invading. Instead of imperiously demanding a change in the Iraqi government, however, Mr. Levin should have stuck to his own job description, and demanded a change in the US government policy in the area.

Withdrawing the US troops so that the Iraqi people could sort out their own country might be a better option.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Hyperactive kids and getting checkups

As the mother of two hyperactive kids, now in their thirties, I guess I have to admit to rather a unique practice. We didn't give the kids dope.

Yeh, ritalin is dope and it does have a behavior/mind altering quality. It is suggested by teachers, who are supposed to be authorities in the subject. Since my son's first grade teacher in Montgomery County, MD, spelled Ameruca as you just saw it, well, you can imagine how much weight I gave to her opinion.

It is convenient to have a child in class who is zoned out. It is less convenient to have a kid who is bouncing off the walls.

So shoot me.

My kids had to learn to deal with their own difficulties. It wasn't easy for them or for me or for their classmates/teachers/administrators. But it happened.

Right now I am posting very short pieces because of a situation I'm having to deal with. Sorry 'bout that. My ex has assisted breathing for pneumonia contracted while having a tumor removed from his brain. Yep, I'm staying offline so the phone can ring if I'm needed.

And I hope that if you don't now get regular checkups for colon cancer, you will start now. Because this started as colon cancer, then went into his lungs, and the latest is the brain tumor. Please get checked. Don't let things go until you are messed up.


Direct Marketing

It will soon be back to school time, and that means buying book bags, pencils, and, according to Karin Klein in an op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times, ritalin. PHARMA makes certain about that last item by advertising its benefits relentlessly in select magazines.

Nearly 2 million children in the United States are diagnosed with ADHD, which is marked by poor concentration, lack of self-control and/or hyperactivity. Besides time off from school, many kids with ADHD get a summer "vacation" from the prescription medications that help them focus in class.

So August has become a prime time to market the idea that a change in drug for the new school year (Concerta to Adderall?) might help the kids focus better, keep them going longer or have fewer side effects. Direct-to-parent marketing of ADHD drugs -- most of which are stimulants -- has grown pervasive over the last few years, despite a United Nations treaty banning most of it. Use of such medications increased by more than 60% from 2001 to 2005, according to the International Narcotics Control Board.

This month's homemaker-targeted magazines, such as Family Circle, Woman's Day and Redbook, feature advertising spreads for Vyvanse, Shire US Inc.'s new entry in the growing stable of ADHD medications. The ads show "Consistent Kevin through the day, even through homework," picturing a well-groomed boy smiling as he wields his pencil through a work sheet, and "Consistent Sarah," who even at 6 p.m. contentedly pecks away at the piano keys. ...

Drug companies would argue that increased production and use of ADHD drugs are the result of better diagnosis and treatment. But the International Narcotics Control Board holds advertising responsible. In a report earlier this year, the board noted that from 2001 -- when the ads first appeared -- to 2005, medical consumption of methylphenidate increased by 64%.
[Emphasis added]

How is it that the drug manufacturers are getting away with this kind of advertising in violation of the UN treaty? Simple. In 2001, when called on this practice, PHARMA told the Justice Department it would fight the treaty by raising the drug corporation's "First Amendment Rights." Predictably, this Justice Department backed down.

As a result, a whole lot of parents are rushing to their pediatricians, advertisements in hand, and demanding a diagnosis and a prescription just in time for school, whether their kids are truly stricken with ADHD or not. Unfortunately, many pediatricians have thrown up their hands and caved in to these parents.

The UN ban on advertising wasn't about depriving kids who need the medication of their ritalin; it was designed to stop the kind of sloppy diagnoses such advertising engenders. It also was designed to keep the drugs, most of which are stimulants, out of unlocked home medicine cabinets where teens looking for an easy high could get at them.

It's about time the FDA and Justice Department revisited the whole issue and took on the pharmaceutical industry.

Maybe in the next administration, eh?


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sunday Poetry: Wilfred Owen

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
-Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,-
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Wilfred Owen

A Clinical Diagnosis

About two weeks ago, I posted on the latest set of administration regulations for enforcing immigration law. It was clear that the punitive aspects of the new regulations were intended to target the migrant worker more than employers, although employers were going to have to come up with some records on their hiring practices, which probably would annoy them.

Well, our neighbors to the south also noticed the new regulations, and one op-ed piece in Columbia's El Tiempo has even suggested a diagnosis for the double think required to understand the new regulations.

While it would be an exaggeration to say that the U.S. economy will be paralyzed if the Bush Administration enforces the set of 26 anti-immigrant reform measures that it announced last week, it is possible that the effect on sectors such as agriculture, construction, the garment industry and housing will be devastating.

The astonishing thing is that although President Bush, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez admit that rigorous enforcement of the reforms would have disastrous consequences, the insist on implementing them. ...

What kind of sadomasochism is it that the Bush Administration now prescribes for us, when they are destined to create labor, economic, bureaucratic, and most importantly, human chaos, by increasing the number of deportations, separations of families and corporate dislocations - all in the name of saving the country from itself?
[Emphasis added]

The article quite properly points out that enforcing the new regulations will require an increase in the number of border guards, an increase in prison space, and, most importantly, the complete cooperation of local police forces who will now be expected to assist in locating, detaining, and handing over miscreant undocumented workers rather than concentrating on their primary role.

And all of this feeds into the growing racism and xenophobia among the less enlightened segments of our citizenry, none of whom would take the jobs that the immigrants, documented or not, take.

Sadomasochism? Perhaps, but I think it more like truly bent delusionary thinking.

[Note: the cartoon accompanied the cited article.]


Unintended Consequences?

Among the major issues facing the 110th Congress that didn't get addressed before the summer recess and which probably won't get addressed this year is that of immigration reform. Conservative stalwarts, led by the likes of Tom "Nuke Mecca" Tancredo, balked at the idea of 'amnesty' for those undocumented workers already here and killed any hope of a reasonable bill's passage. Now, the immigration debate has become more heated, more vitriolic. From today's Sacramento Bee:

Scores of organizations, ranging from mainstream to fringe groups, are marshaling forces in what former House Speaker Newt Gingrich calls "a war here at home" against illegal immigration, which he says is as important as America's conflicts being fought overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While most of the groups register legitimate, widespread concerns about the impact of illegal immigration on jobs, social services and national security, the intense rhetoric is generating fears of an emerging dark side, reflected in what appears to be growing discrimination against Latinos and a surge of xenophobia unseen since the last big wave of immigration in the early 20th century.

"I don't think there's been a time like this in our lifetime," said Doris Meissner, a senior fellow with the Migration Policy Institute and former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. "Even though immigration is always unsettling and somewhat controversial, we haven't had this kind of intensity and widespread, deep-seated anger for almost 100 years."

The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, said the number of "nativist extremist" organizations advocating against illegal immigration has grown from virtually zero just over five years ago to 144, including nine classified as hate groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan supremacists. ...

Instead of subsiding after the collapse of Bush's immigration overhaul in June, the debate over illegal immigration has continued and seemingly escalated. As prospects for congressional action appeared increasingly in doubt this year, all 50 states and more than 75 towns and cities considered -- and in many cases enacted -- immigration restrictions, even though initial court rulings have declared such actions unconstitutional intrusions on federal responsibilities.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Gingrich's comments come as no surprise, especially during this prolonged election season. After several years of relative anonymity, he obviously felt left out of all the fun the rest of the xenophobes (such as Pat Buchanan) were having.

The really troubling aspect of all this, however, is the resurgance of hate groups on the issue. That people are beginning to listen to the KKK and the Aryan Brotherhood does not bode well for a nation built by immigrants.

The 110th Congress didn't get it done, and it looks to me like the Tancredo crowd intended the consequences.



Saturday, August 18, 2007

Bonus Critter Blogging: Giant Panda

(Photo by by Michael Nichols and published in National Geographic.)

A Bit Of Advice From Old Europe

In scanning the international stories at Watching America, I noticed that one of the most popular subjects being covered was the resignation of Karl Rove. Just about every one of those articles exuded undisguised glee at his departure. It's nice to know that I'm in good company.

There were a few other noteworthy subjects being covered, however, and one of the articles I found particularly interesting because of the genial and the affectionate tone of the column. Written by Claude Monnier, the piece appeared in the August 14, 2007 edition of Switzerland's Tribune de Geneve and deals with the current unpopularity of the US in the world at large.

But times have changed, as a timely, scientific and massive Pew Foundation poll of 45,000 people around the world shows. People in 47 countries or territories were questioned last spring. ...In a nutshell, the people who have been questioned criticize America for doing whatever it feels like doing - since it has the power to do so - without checking to see what others think and feel. ...

Three things must be said on this subject. Firstly, at the end of the day, all great powers end up declining, crushed under their own weight no matter what their political system; I'm convinced that America has begun this decline, but since the process is so gradual, it could last another hundred years!

Second, great powers become progressively more dangerous in their declining phase than during more stable periods, as they tend to react like ferocious wounded tigers.

Thirdly, that America, since it has a real tradition of being at least to a certain degree a benevolent power - although it's actual virtues shouldn't be exaggerated! - even if it's in the difficult decline phase it should be capable being loved, appreciated and respected again for at least, let us say, another fifty years!

How? … In principle, the recipe is simple. There's a famous saying Anglophone saying, “If you can't lick'em, join'em.” I suggest adapting it a little for the United States: “America, if you can't lick the rest of the world, assume a benevolent leadership position!” Instead of sulking over the Kyoto protocols, take the lead and overdo them a little. What will that cost you? Nothing compared to the political and financial benefits it will reap. Instead of refusing to talk to Syria, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela, hold out your hand to them, entice them, be generous and understanding; the U.S. succeeded doing so with Pakistan, India and even with China.

In brief, don't spend all your time on the defensive, but draw the world behind you in a friendly, dynamic and desirable way. America has all of the intellectual, moral and material means to do so; and George W. Bush won't be around much longer.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Monnier has given us some splendid advice. As dark as these days are, there is no reason why we can't bring some light back into the picture. Even if the 110th Congress continues to ignore the impeachable offenses of this administration, the nightmare as presently constituted can only last another 17 months.

We need to start planting some seeds for the next administration and the next congress. For some ideas on how to do this, I recommend a visit to Pax Americana.


Unjust Society Demands Action

A man went to jail for counteracting the government's illegal acts in May of this year. Lt. Commander Matt Diaz was helping in the defense of detainees at Gitmo, and released the identities of those being held illegally even though the government refused to. Since that time, the government's actions have been declared illegal. Yet Diaz is spending time in jail.

On May 18, Lieutenant Commander Matthew Diaz was sentenced to six months in a Navel brig and removal from the Navy for courageously upholding the constitution of the United States. Apparently this is a very serious crime in America today. Lt. Cmdr. Diaz is actually counting himself lucky, as the 41-year-old officer with 19-years of service to the U.S. Navy faced a possible 14 years in prison.

Diaz was a military attorney assigned to investigate abuses of prisoners at Guantánamo, the legal black hole dungeon that operates outside of domestic and international law according to the Bush administration. Taking this assignment seriously not only some-what predictably ended his military career; it might have landed himself in prison until the year 2021.

On orders from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. had refused to release the names of the prisoners that were being held at Guantánamo. The U.S. continued to stonewall all requests for this information even after a federal court ruled that the names must be turned over.

Diaz took action to uphold the law, knowing the risks involved.
International law attorney Scott Horton, writing for Harpers, points out, “A federal court subsequently ruled that the Navy’s decision to withhold the names was unlawful, and issued an order compelling their disclosure–so the Pentagon’s withholding of the names, and not Diaz’s action, was unlawful.

In the words of one of the greatest Americans of the nineteenth century, Henry David Thoreau, ‘Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.’”

We have a right to be proud of the brave men and women who are fighting to keep this country one of principles that ar acted upon, and adhere to the rule of law. If they go to jail for it, all the more reason for pride.

There are a lot of criminals in the administration, and they belong in jail. Matt Diaz is too good for their company, so I suggest Nuremberg might be more appropriate.

The actions of our war criminals holding high office are violations of all our traditional values, and of the Rule of Law. When violating orders is necessary to uphold our laws, the wrong people are wielding those laws. The power of carrying out the law has been given to criminals. It is time to remove them from the American government, to save us from further crimes.

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Just Say No

A couple of months ago, I blogged on the unusual Alaska-Florida political bridge. Rep. Don Young (Republican-Alaska) inserted an earmark into a bill that would give a Florida county $10 million to build a highway interchange that just happened to nestle against property owned by a campaign contributor. In today's NY Times we learn that the local officials, offended by the smell, declined the congressman's largesse and sent the money back to Washington.

It is not often that a local government tries to turn down $10 million in federal construction money.

But then it is not every day that an Alaska congressman surprises a Florida community with the gift of a highway interchange that just happens to abut the property of a major political fund-raiser.

The money for the interchange was the work of Representative Don Young, the Alaska Republican who was chairman of the transportation committee before the last election.

Officials of Lee County considered the project a low priority, environmental groups opposed it and the Republican congressman from the district never asked for it.

But the interchange, on Interstate 75 at a place called Coconut Road, would be a boon to Daniel J. Aronoff, a Michigan real estate developer with adjacent property who helped raise $40,000 in donations to Mr. Young at a fund-raiser in the region shortly before Mr. Young inserted an earmark for the project in a transportation bill.
[Emphasis added]

The article also suggests that a little research showed that Mr. Young inserted the earmark into the bill after it had been approved by both houses and during the period when all that remained was cleaning up the language in the bill before submitting it to the President for signature.

All things considered, the Lee County officials did the right thing by sending the money back. There appears to be some resurgence of integrity in government, at least at some levels.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

War Criminals Declare Terrorism Retroactive

The element of bad timing increasingly is entering into this war criminal government's prosecutions of its designated terrorists. Yesterday guilty findings occurred in a trail of Jose Padilla - for activities during the Russian occupation of Chechnya. In case you don't immediately realize it, at that time present-day terrorists were our allies, and considered as such.

Defense attorneys said the defendants provided support to what they believed were legitimate charities aiding innocent Muslims "being slaughtered by the tens of thousands" in Bosnia, Chechnya and Kosovo during the 1990s.

There were no discussions of violent acts in the 300,000 wiretapped conversations the government recorded on their telephones between 1993 and 2000, but Frazier mentioned al Qaeda 91 times during his argument, Jayyousi's lawyer, William Swor, said.

He characterized the government's case as "We can't make a case against the defendants so we're going to put al Qaeda on trial. We're going to say 'al Qaeda, al Qaeda, al Qaeda."(Emphasis added.)

Today, the prosecution of Holy Land Foundation in Texas for its 'terrorist' fundings centers around its activities during - would you believe - the time before 911. This week, two Israeli secret agents were allowed to testify against the defendants without revealing their identities. As I pointed out Wednesday, that violates the right of the accused to know who is testifying against them. It also ignores that the testimony comes from agents who are sworn to destroy Hamas.

John Cline, attorney for former Holy Land board chairman Ghassan Elashi, got the Israeli Security Agency agent, who testified under a pseudonym for security reasons, to admit that he could not be sure who exactly was in charge of the Palestinian committees at the times Holy Land is alleged to have sent them millions of dollars.
Throughout his questioning of the agent, Mr. Cline pointed out that none of the charity committees that the Holy Land defendants were charged with funding are listed on U.S. government designated terrorist lists.
Joshua Dratel, attorney for Mohammad El-Mezain, got Avi to admit that he has never taken any college courses on Hamas, has published no articles (the ISA forbids its agents to publish, Avi said) and is not a professor. Avi also testified that he became an expert on the topic of Hamas charitable financing only in 2000 while helping the Israeli government prosecute an activist. (Emphasis added.)

No doubt in venues such as Texas and Florida, it is easier for the government to convince a jury that the people designated as terrorists were part and parcel of the group that flew into the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. This kind of fuzzy thinking seems to be what the politically abusive Department of Justice is counting on to keep destroying our individual liberties, and jailing people who were Muslims before that time for intentions to kill us all. It's not convincing to rational people, like us DFH's, but we're not who the war criminals are counting on to continue with their damage to the Rule of Law.

Israeli secret agents are hardly the sort of witnesses that should be carrying out this government's intelligence - moreover, they show this executive branch's lack of intelligence. What is being done to these figures reeks of kangaroo trials, promotes torture, and is a mockery of the justice system this nation used to have. It is past time to throw out the Inquisition.

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