Monday, December 31, 2007

How Canny!

Remember that vile anti-immigrant ad Tom Tancredo had made for his since aborted presidential campaign, the one that equated undocumented workers with terrorists? Here's a reminder, a post I put up on November 13, 2007. He never had to run that ad (or pay to run it) because the press fell all over themselves reporting on its contents, pointing people to the campaign web site to view it for themselves, even running it during network television as a bit of "news" from the campaign trail. All that publicity, and he never had to pay a dime for it.

Well, at least one current candidate decided to try that dandy little ploy out for himself, and it looks like he's going to be just as successful. From the Los Angeles Times:

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee aired a negative ad campaign against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to a room full of reporters and camera crews in Iowa today -- then announced he had pulled it from paid airwaves.

The ad, which Huckabee unveiled in front of a banner that said, "Enough is Enough," questioned Romney's record on immigration, tax reform, crime fighting and healthcare. But Huckabee, who only Saturday denounced political attack ads, said that he hoped the negative ad produced by his own campaign would not be aired publicly.
[Emphasis added]

After showing the ad to about a hundred members of the press, Gov. Huckabee then got all serious (or seriously coy) and suggested that the negativity in campaigns was wrong and he didn't want to be a part of it.

Well, then, why show the damned thing to anyone, much less the journalists assigned to cover your campaign?

That's not a hard question to answer at all, as the fact that at least one article in a major US newspaper gave a pretty good description of what was in it. For free. And I'm certain that some other outlets will put out the story as well.

The man is obviously a quick study: he's already learned how to play the press for suckers.

[Note: Atrios has another take on the incident, one well worth reading.]


Not Many Chances Left to Get It Right

The quality of inevitability in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto seems to be having the side effect of diminishing its meaning. I think we need to avoid the bathos of mourning, and recognize that Pakistan is of such primary importance for enemies of this country that they cannot tolerate a moderate influence. As Diane said Sunday, What is not debateable is that this administration's foreign policy has been a disaster for the US and for the world.

This from me who usually mocks attempts to tout the GWOT. But I do recognize that the focal point of unadulterated hatred of the west, and of civilization in general, is in those tribal areas we have thrown money to Musharraf to control. And needless to say, our money, which has been unwisely directed with insensitivity to Pakistan's realities, has been wasted for our purposes.

The murder of Bhutto was not just an attempt to derail Pakistani democracy, or prevent an enlightened Muslim woman from taking power. It was a counterattack, apparently by the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda, against a U.S.-backed transition from direct to indirect military rule in Pakistan by brokering a forced marriage of “moderates.”

According to last July’s National Intelligence Estimate on the al Qaeda threat, bin Laden has re-established his sanctuary in the Pakistani tribal agencies. According to a report by the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, the suicide bombers for Pakistan and Afghanistan are trained in these agencies.

Most global terrorist plots since 9/11 can be traced back to these areas. And Pakistan’s military regime, not Iran, has been the main source of rogue nuclear proliferation. It is therefore the U.S. partnership with military rulers in Pakistan that has been and is the problem, not the solution.
An interim of emergency rule and the postponement of national elections may now be inevitable. But if the military re-imposes martial law, further guts Pakistan’s judiciary and legal system, and blocks democratization, Pakistan’s people will resist.
For the first time in the history of Pakistan, respect for the military as an institution has plummeted. The vacuum of authority and legitimacy created by military rule will provide the Taliban and al Qaeda the opportunity they seek.

The Bush administration’s nightmare scenario—the convergence of terrorism and nuclear weapons—is happening right now, and in Pakistan, not in Iraq or Iran. Yet as recently as Dec. 11, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen, speaking to the House Armed Services Committee with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, hardly mentioned Pakistan, and characterized Afghanistan as second in priority to Iraq.

Ignorance has gotten us into deep, deep danger. Ignoring a security briefing prior to 9-11 typifies the attitude of the occupied White House. It is aggressively ignorant, thinking is not appreciated, and knowledgeability in world affairs is described as effete 'nuance'. Working with disparate elements, in the world and domestically, is impossible from this group of war criminals, as impossible as their giving respect to views that are different from their own.

It is imperative that we work for new, intelligent, leadership. Please act; you can start with signing Wexler's petition to impeach. Go to and sign now. Please inform your friends, too.

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Things To Leave Behind In A New Year

Leaving 2007 with a sigh of relief, I am ready to see a few things forever in the past, never to return again. With my usual optimism, I think this has happened.

Any remaining vestiges of credibility for this administration have disappeared. No longer are we treated to those holdouts from the 2000 campaign, waiting for a return to compassion, to rational economic policy, to respect for the constitution, to law-abiding behavior and the Rule of Law. This may be the end of respectability for the entire GOP, and it has the gloss of rationality that in the past was allowed to rhetoric in support of the right. The lies have totally engulfed the entire right wing.

Greed/crass materialism has lost fortunes for those who followed it blindly, and protection of the public interest has become a goal once again for our economic engines. The losses at all levels that has resulted from de-regulation of financial corporations in the sub-prime debacle are mounting, and have hit hard at the monetary adventurers from homeowner to investment groups, and are not through shaking out the ill-advised investors.

Refusal of scientific truths has revealed how large a disservice unreality is to our world, and to the well-being of us all. Not recognizing global warming does not make it go away. Our world is shattering at the edges, and the damage is coming home to us all. Monster fires in the dried-out West are leaving no doubts among the firefighters, butterfly populations retreating in higher and higher locales to escape the heat, shrinking ice and polar life, among other factors, do not allow the zealots to ignore them any longer.

The fiction of threats to our ‘entitlement’ programs such as Social Security and Medicare won’t fly as even bombast in the fact of war costs mounting for America in the hands of the war criminals in power. The continuing vetoes directed against public interest have starkly revealed the neo-con supreme disdain for the public, and its complete blindness to uses of the public’s money to any ends but its own. War profiteering has been revealed for the industry that it has become, from inadequate weaponry and services for the troops in no-bid contracting, to the concentration of huge excess in private militias operating in luxury while our troops battle in the open to make the world safe for privateering. Health care for those wounded in our wars has also been shown to be another area the profiteers have cut back deeply to fill their own pockets.

Disregard of constitutional government has been embraced by the right wing, revealing its complete lawlessness in destroying the rights of the ‘accused’ who have yet even to be charged in our country’s shameful lawless prison at Guantanamo, withwinger assertions that torture is acceptable behavior for them if they just pass on fears large enough to desensitize a credulous public. Vaunting the Rule of Law has forever tainted the right wing, by their short-sighted and counterproductive behavior.

These are a few of the major turning points we have passed this year. That will be, I think, a historic collection that we have gained from. At the present time, it’s pretty depressing to realize so much control has been taken from our country by sheerly criminal elements. Too much attention has been forced on our public, though, for it ever to acquiesce to such crimes. As its protective coloring has been stripped away, the right wing has shown itself ever more as rotten and festering.

Your observations are appreciated, and if you feel I have failed to highlight a really great event in turning out the wingers who have too long destroyed the most valuable benefits of this country, please chime in in comments. Also, any means you have found that is successful in overthrowing the criminals are solicited.

I am working early in the campaigns for progressives that I am in the right area to help. I am a volunteer again to put Dr. Glenn Melançon into a seat in the House of Representatives that will begin to work for humane and intelligent congressional action. For the Senate, candidates are still coming forward so I am going to make that decision later. In the presidential race, I am inclined to support John Edwards, but haven’t made the choice finally yet.

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Times Like This, Please

Last Thursday, I commented on a series of editorials published by the Los Angeles Times on American values and their use as a measuring rod in the 2008 election. Today the last of the series appears, and it is as strong an indictment of the Bush administration as I've seen in the mainstream press.

From our exploration of these distinctly American principles, we have compiled a set of ideas that frame our view of the election. We support a compassionate immigration policy that welcomes new arrivals and extends this nation's diversity. We champion a woman's right to choose to have an abortion and deplore an overbearing state that presumes to impose capital punishment. We demand a government that is respectful of science and intelligent in its protection of the environment. We call for new leadership in education and new commitment to alleviating poverty, as well as sensible approaches to taxes and spending. We are dismayed at the erosion of liberty presided over by the present administration, which has spent these last seven years weakening the nation's security, piling on debt, smirking over global warming and sowing divisiveness for political gain.

The Bush administration soon will be consigned to history, and not a moment too soon. The end of this cynical, mean-spirited presidency provides the opportunity for a renewal of generosity and hope, for a widening of political and cultural horizons, for a return to strength tempered by humility, for an era of decency and mutual respect rather than the blunt exercise of force. ...

......we have considered the enduring words of America's founders alongside the positions of its current leaders. So it seems fitting to close with Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and staunch advocate of freedom. It was Jefferson who remarked in a letter in 1796 that "timid men ... prefer the calm of despotism to the boisterous sea of liberty."

And indeed, one characteristic of the Bush administration has been its wearying appeal to the weak, to those who are threatened by energetic political expression and instead take refuge in the slow forfeit of their rights; to those too timid to trust that hateful speech is best rebutted by more speech, not by squelching dissent; to those so unnerved by terrorism that they would condone torture. We live in a nation that once had the confidence to defend the speech and association rights of American communists even as it fought their sponsors and supporters abroad. Yet that same nation now flinches at the threat posed by a high school student who displays a banner that reads, nonsensically, "BONG HiTS 4 JESUS."
[Emphasis added]

That has to leave a mark, at least one hopes so as Election 2008 moves into full gear this week. My only regret is that it wasn't published December 31, 2003.

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sunday Poetry: Elizabeth Alexander

Vernal Observations

The forsythia cascades quiver

No breeze blowing any where else?

Gazing, again, ah the blossoms

A goldfinch constructing her nest!

Elizabeth Alexander

What A Coincidence

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto has pushed Pakistan even closer to chaos than it was when President Pervez Musharraf declared a national emergency, suspended the Constitution, and jailed most of his nation's Supreme Court. As I noted earlier today, the US meddling in Pakistan played a large part in the current unrest in Pakistan. Now, with conditions rapidly deteriorating, comes news that the US will try to "fix" the situation in the only way the current administration knows how. It's planning on sending troops into Pakistan.

There are several possible justifications which are being floated for such a move. First, Al Qaeda and the Taliban are gaining strength inside of Pakistan, and the Pakistani military either can't or won't do anything to curb that strength. Second (and closely allied with the first), Pakistan has a full blown nuclear weapon system which can deliver those weapons in several different ways. Nobody (especially India) wants those weapons in the hands of extremists.

Amazingly, very little has been said about the plans to send in the military in the US press. Journalists outside of the US, however, haven't been so reticent. The different "takes" on the plan are pretty reflective of each of the justifications.

The first article is from Pakistan's The Nation and was published December 27, 2007. It is based in part on a rather ambigous reference to a Washington Post article, but, given the language of the Nation piece, I think it safe to assume that this is the article alluded to. In my opinion, this reflects the "official" US view.

EARLY next year, US special forces are expected to vastly expand their presence in Pakistan, as part of an effort to train and support indigenous counter-insurgency forces and clandestine counter-terrorism units, according to American defence officials involved with the planning, reports Washington Post.

These Pakistan-centric operations will mark a shift for the US military and for US-Pakistan relations. In the aftermath of Sept 11, the US used Pakistani bases to stage movements into Afghanistan. Yet once the US deposed the Taliban government and established its main operating base at Bagram, north of Kabul, US forces left Pakistan almost entirely. Since then, Pakistan has restricted US involvement in cross-border military operations as well as paramilitary operations on its soil.
[Emphasis added]

The second article was published December 28, 2007 in the UK's Guardian and might very well be a more accurate representation of the thinking in Washington.

The Pentagon is working on a series of contingency plans to prevent Pakistan's nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of Islamist radicals and insisted today that the arsenal was safe in spite of the upheaval in the aftermath of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. ...

The US administration has spent $100 million (£50 million) over the last six years on improving the security of Pakistan's nuclear programme.
One of the contingency plans would involve US special forces, working in conjunction with Pakistan's military and intelligence services, to spirit away any weapons at imminent risk.
[Emphasis added]

Since Pakistan has apparently agreed to the entrance of special forces inside its borders, I suppose the actual reason is unimportant. What is important, however, is the fact that American troops will be positioned in yet another country as a means to correct a defective foreign policy. Whether their presence will prevent all hell from breaking loose is debateable. What is not debateable is that this administration's foreign policy has been a disaster for the US and for the world.

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Injustice Is UnAmerican

A particularly galling crime has gone on for six years now at Guantanamo, and today a major force in seeking to end this injustice publishes his plea to end it, Thomas B. Wilner. I'm exerpting some of his op-ed here, and support him totally.

The Supreme Court heard arguments this month in cases brought by detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. Media reports noted the complicated legal issues involved, such as whether the Constitution extends beyond sovereign U.S. territory, whether foreigners are entitled to constitutional protections and whether habeas corpus would have been available in a place like Guantanamo some 250 years ago under British rule.

Those are all interesting legal questions. But what is at stake here is far less complicated and more fundamental -- the question of whether our government can throw people in prison without giving them a fair chance to defend themselves.

Throughout the civilized world, the right not to be imprisoned without a fair hearing -- one that provides notice of the charges and the opportunity to rebut them before a neutral decision maker -- is fundamental. It is the hallmark of the rule of law.

More than 300 prisoners remain at Guantanamo. Most have been there almost six years. We now know that the great majority were not captured on any battlefield. They were not even captured by U.S. forces. Rather, as the National Journal reported last year after an exhaustive study into government records, many were simply "innocent, wrongly seized noncombatants" who were "handed over by reward-seeking Pakistanis and Afghan warlords" in exchange for bounties.

All these prisoners have asked for is a fair hearing, one in which they have the chance to learn the charges against them and to rebut the accusations before a neutral decision maker. The Supreme Court ruled 3 1/2 years ago that they had that right under the statute giving any prisoner in government custody the right to a fair hearing before a federal court
What all this means is that as they approach the end of their sixth year of imprisonment, these men have been denied even one fair hearing.

If we observed this conduct by any other country, we would be appalled. We would say, rightly, that you can't jail people without giving them a chance to defend themselves. There is and can be no acceptable legal excuse or explanation for denying people a fair hearing.

The writer was head of the team that won that Supreme Court decision. He speaks with knowledge as well as with righteousness. We are all shamed by the country's record in this case, by our letting this crime be committed.

It is time to end the reign of injustice and the administration that commits these crimes.

Impeachment is called for.

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Anger At Crimes Against This Country

An excellent post yesterday at Information Clearing House, this was posted expressing some feelings we all share, and I'm putting it up here to share with you.

I’m angry for a very good set of reasons, and I’m angry because I care about my country just the way conservatives claim to. I’m angry, in short, because I’m a patriot and defender of the ideas that America is supposed to stand for. And what I really want to know is why those on the right aren’t equally outraged?

I was a teenager when Nixon was being Nixon, destroying democracy at home, napalming civilians in Vietnam, conducting secret wars in Laos and Cambodia, employing racism to win elections. At that age I knew enough to dislike what I saw (and what I learned of what Nixon and McCarthy had done to innocent Americans even earlier, before I was born, in order to serve their political ambitions), but I didn’t know enough yet to feel genuine rage at what regressives were doing to my country and to the world.

I began to experience those feelings in my twenties, first as truly sociopathically insane gun laws in this country helped to claim the life of John Lennon, and then as Ronald Reagan began to systematically turn his back on the poor and the middle-class in order to further enrich the country’s already wealthy economic elites. I also felt deep shame and outrage that America - the country that had supported if not literally created every two-bit dictator in Latin America, ‘our backyard’, (and well beyond) for a century - began to murder Nicaraguan peasants in order to halt their struggle to free themselves from the economic and political tyranny of one of those Washington-run caudillo clients, the sickening Somoza regime.

Then I watched in disgust as Newt Gingrich and his merry band of infantile hypocrites impeached a president for lying about a consensual sexual affair, while they were themselves all doing worse, like dumping a wife while she was lying in her hospital bed recovering from cancer surgery, or fathering children with a mistress, or carrying on many years-long affairs.

All of this was truly noxious. Nothing to that point had prepared me, however, for the regressive politics of our time. And they have turned me very angry indeed.

Regressives like to call people like me Bush-haters, and so it is important to address that claim before proceeding, because the entire intent of hurling that label at the president’s critics is to undermine their credibility. If you simply hate the man, they imply, you’re not rational, and your critiques can be dismissed. But it isn’t that simple - not by a long shot. First, it should be noted that the regressive right is far wider a phenomenon than just one person. It currently includes an entire executive branch administration, almost (and, just a year ago, more than) half of Congress, a majority of the Supreme Court and probably a majority of the lower federal courts, a biased-to-the-point-of-being-a-joke mainstream media, and tons of lobbyists, think tanks and profitable industries.

But as to George W. Bush, himself, I suspect it’s quite fair to say that most Americans and even most progressives did not originally despise or loathe him. I didn’t. I certainly didn’t admire the guy, nor did I think he was remotely prepared to be president of the United States. (Nor, by the way, was I particularly impressed with Al Gore in 2000.) Bush campaigned as a center-right pragmatist (a “compassionate conservative”, in his words), much as his father had been, and I expected that’s how he would govern if elected. You know, more embarrassing most of the time than truly destructive.

I mention all this because it is important to note what has - and what has not - been responsible for my/our anger, and to make clear that attempts to dismiss that anger as some Bush-hating bias or predisposition are false, a ploy to destroy the messenger when one doesn’t care for the message he’s carrying. If Bush had governed like he campaigned I’m sure I would have disliked him, but neither hated him nor his policies, nor experienced the rage that I feel about what he’s done to the country and the world. Frankly, my feelings toward another center-right Bush presidency would have likely been largely the same as my feelings toward the center-right Clinton presidency which preceded it.

But he hasn’t governed anywhere near to how he campaigned, and he wasn’t even elected properly, and I do in fact feel huge anger at the damage done. Moreover, I cannot for the life of me imagine how anyone - even conservatives - could feel differently. Even the wealthy, to whose interests this presidency is so wholly devoted, have to sleep at night. Even they have children who will inherit a broken country existing in an environmentally and politically hostile world, though no doubt they figure that big enough fences, mean enough private armies, and loads of central air conditioning will insulate them from the damage.

I don’t mind that the Bush campaign fought hard to win the 2000 election. That was certainly a legitimate goal for them to pursue. But it nauseates me beyond belief that their agents in the Florida government disenfranchised tens of thousands of African Americans in order to keep them from voting Democratic. And it sickens me that they gathered up a bunch of congressional staffers pretending to be an angry local mob and stormed election canvassers, using pure Gestapo techniques to shut down the most fundamental act of democracy, counting the votes.

I don’t mind that the Bush campaign took the election to the Supreme Court, even though they were simultaneously accusing the Gore folks of being litigious. What disgusts me beyond words is that a regressive majority of the Court anointed Bush president in a sheer act of partisan politics. And that they were so anxious to achieve that end that they repudiated all their own judicial politics previously espoused in case after case - from states’ rights, to equal protection, to judicial restraint. And that they were so conscious of what they were actually doing that they took the unprecedented step of stating that no lasting principles were involved in the matter, that their decision would forever apply to this case and this case only.

Once in office, there was still the possibility that the administration would govern as it had campaigned, as a rather centrist, status quo-style government, perhaps especially tempered from arrogance and overstretch by the knowledge that the country was deeply divided and that Bush had in fact actually lost the popular vote. In fact, though, they did precisely the opposite.

The first order of business, certainly the top priority for the administration, and arguably the only thing they were ever completely seriously about, was their tax restructuring program. It was grim enough that the tax cuts, as under Reagan, where dramatically tilted in favor of the wealthy. But what made them especially disgusting was that - again, as under Reagan - these wholesale revenue reductions were not only not accompanied by expenditure cuts, but in fact were coupled with increased spending. Can you say “voodoo economics”? Bush’s father once had, before he treasonously changed his tune to win the vice presidency (leading to the presidency) for himself. But he was right the first time, before he put personal ambition and transparent insecurity ahead of the national interest. And thus we’ve witnessed the only possible result of the combination of massive revenue cuts and continuing spending increases: astronomical debt, now well over nine trillion dollars in total, and rapidly growing. What I want to know is how can we - especially so-called family-oriented, so-called fiscal conservatives - not be outraged, not be scandalized, not be boiling with anger at the debt we have transferred to our own children, all so that we could avoid paying our own way, like every generation before us has?

I am outraged as well at how the administration polarized the country in the wake of one of the greatest traumas it had ever experienced. Let us leave aside the ample evidence demonstrating that the Bush team was asleep at the wheel before 9/11 - or perhaps far, far worse - a set of facts which is noteworthy in part because progressives did not use them to attack the president and score cheap but easy political points. But the administration did precisely that. It is disgusting - and it fills me with anger - how they used a national security crisis to win partisan political contests. How they scheduled a vote on the Iraq war resolution right before the midterm elections of 2002, thus politicizing the gravest decision a country can make by forcing Democrats to choose between voting their conscience and campaign accusations of being soft on national security.

It boils my blood that these chickenhawks - almost none of whom showed up for duty in Vietnam when it was their turn - could dare to accuse Max Cleland of being weak on national security, a guy who gave three of his four limbs to that very cause on the battlefields of Southeast Asia. How could they run ads morphing his face into Saddam’s or bin Laden’s, when his opponent - of course - took Vietnam deferments, just like Cheney and Ashcroft and the rest? And how could they accuse him of being weak on national defense because he opposed the bureaucratic reshuffling to create the Homeland Security Department, when Bush himself had also opposed it? That is, before Rove politicized it by inserting union-busting language applying to tens of thousands of civil servants covered by the act.

It nauseates me beyond words that this president could use the tragedy of 9/11 to justify invading a country which had nothing to do with that attack whatsoever. It enrages me that those who had the courage to oppose this policy so transparently deceitful (and it truly was - from the proof of the Downing Street Memos, to Colin Powell’s charade at the UN, to the assurances that the US knew where the WMD were, to the rejection of the weapons inspectors’ request to have two more months to finish the job) were labeled as traitors and worse for telling the truth. And that 4,000 Americans and over a million Iraqis have died for these lies.

And speaking of treason, what sort of looking glass have we all fallen through when the government of the United States exposes its own CIA undercover agent in order to punish her spouse for revealing administration lies about the war? When did that cease to be a cause of outrage, especially among our super-patriotic friends on the right?

How is it possible not to be angry looking at the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, and the bungled response of the government before, during and after that tragedy? Indeed, even journalists who had spent so many years licking government boots that their tongues had long ago turned black were moved to outrage at the magnitude of that failure, with the president meanwhile on a stage in San Diego pretending to play guitar at a Republican fundraiser.

I am outraged, as well, by one of the most insane and avoidable tragedies of all human history, the slow-motion holocaust of global warming. How can anyone not be angry at a political movement and a government that puts the short-term profits of one or two industries ahead of the viability of the entire planet? How can anyone not be mortified as we one-twentieth of the world’s population, who generate one-fourth of the greenhouse gases causing the problem, not only do nothing about the problem, but actively block the rest of the world from saving all of us from this folly?

I’m furious because the Bush administration and its ideological allies have shredded the Constitution at every turn, destroying the institutional gift of those they pretend to revere (but only when it’s convenient to upholding their own depredations). This president, who has gotten virtually everything he has ever wanted throughout his life and his presidency, once privately exclaimed in frustration at not getting something he wanted when he wanted it, “It’s just a goddam piece of paper!”, and that is precisely how he has treated America’s founding document. His signing statements - probably over a thousand in count now - completely obliterate the checks and balances principle of the Constitution, its most central idea. His admitted spying on Americans without warrant smashes the Fourth Amendment. His fiasco in Guantánamo and beyond mocks due process and habeas corpus guarantees. His invasion of Iraq against the international law codified in the UN Charter, to which the United States is a signatory, violates the Constitutional requirement to hold such treaties as the highest law of the land. Altogether, Americans have never seen a presidency with such imperial ambitions, and anyone who cares about the Constitution should be furious. A year from now, it is quite possible that Hillary Clinton will be president of the United States (ugh). Would our conservative friends silently countenance, let alone viciously support, such a monarchy in the White House if it belonged to Queen Hillary rather than King George? I think not.

We could go on and on from here. This administration and the movement it fronts at least gets high marks for consistency. Everything they touch turns to stone. There’s Pat Tillman and Terri Schiavo. There’s the politicization of the US Attorneys and the corruption of DeLay and Abramoff. There’s North Korea, Pakistan and the Middle East. There’s the shame of torture and rendition. There’s the wrecking of the American military and of the country’s reputation abroad. There’s Afghanistan and the failure to capture bin Laden. And much, much more. But above all, and driving all, there’s the kleptocracy - the doing of everything in every way to facilitate the looting of the national fisc.

What an unbelievable record of deceit, destruction, hypocrisy, incompetence, treason and greed. What a tragic tale of debt, lost wars, stolen elections, environmental crises, Constitution shredding, national shame and diminished security.

All done by the very most pious amongst us, of course. Merry Christmas, eh? I guess those are our presents, all carefully wrapped in spin, contempt, and preemptive attacks on any of us impertinent enough to say “No thanks, Santa”.

So, yeah, you’re goddam right I’m angry about what’s been done to my country, and what’s been done by my country in my name.

How could anyone who claims to care about America not be?

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (, but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website,

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Managing History

Members of the Bush administration maintained right from the start that they intended to create a new reality. Well, to some extent they have, but it's certainly not one that I think any of us would have chosen. It's also pretty clear that Mr. Bush and his minions, like the Blues Brothers, consider themselves on a mission from God to move the rest of us towards the proper fullfillment of history. The results, as incisively described by Andrew J. Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, in an op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times, are as failure ridden as the attempt to create that new reality.

...History, [Bush] insists, "has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty." That direction, the president believes, tends toward peace, democracy and freedom for all humankind. America's purpose, assigned by the Author of Liberty, is to nudge history toward its intended destination. More immediately, America's ostensible aim since 9/11 has been to make the blessings of liberty available to the Islamic world. As democracy spreads there, the threat posed by terrorism will diminish. Such at least has been the assumption underlying Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the two wars begun on Bush's watch.

This strategy of militarized liberation has been fraught with contradictions, not the least of which has been the partnership forged between the United States and Pakistan. Bush has repeatedly declared Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf a valued and trusted ally. Since 9/11, the U.S. has provided Pakistan with at least $10 billion in aid, most of it going to the army. In hopes of ensuring Pakistani cooperation in the global war on terrorism, Washington has ignored that nation's record as perhaps the world's most egregious nuclear weapons proliferator.

Of course, this "valued and trusted ally" came to power in a military coup, and has been busy since then running something less than a democracy, something much less. When President Musharraf suspended the Constitution and jailed uncooperative members of Pakistan's Supreme Court, thereby demonstrating to the rest of the world that his power was getting a little shaky, the US intervened even further and suggested a bewildering "power-sharing agreement" between Pres. Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto. The tragic events of this week showed how well that worked out.

At the beginning of his second term, Bush spoke confidently of the United States sponsoring a global democratic revolution "with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." Ever since that hopeful moment, developments across the greater Middle East -- above all, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and on the West Bank -- have exposed the very real limits of U.S. wisdom and power.

Now the virtual impotence of the U.S. in the face of the crisis enveloping Pakistan -- along with its complicity in creating that crisis -- ought to discredit once and for all any notions of America fixing the world's ills.

Bush dreamed of managing history. It turns out that he cannot even manage Pakistan. Thus does the Author of Liberty mock the pretensions of those who presume to understand his intentions and to interpret his will.

I will be satisfied with just a President in 2009. The current wannabe Messiah-in-Chief certainly hasn't worked out at all.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bonus Critter Blogging: Scallops

(Photo by JohnJS)

Note: I was wrong on the name of the critter, hence the change. See comments.

News We Didn't Get

Today's Boston Globe had an interesting feature article which asked writers and contributors what stories they felt had been underreported during the last year. The entries were interesting, but the one that grabbed me the most was written by novelist Roland Merullo. Here it is in its entirety:

To my mind, poverty in the richest country on earth was the most underreported story of 2007, as it has been for many years now.

It should have been on the front page of every newspaper once a week. Every day, we should hear radio and TV news announcers reminding us that some 35 million people live below the poverty line; that 10 million Americans - 3 million of them children - experience hunger.

We should flip through the cable channels and find preachers exhorting the people in their stadium-sized churches, "Help them! Share with them!" Political figures should be making pickup-truck tours of the dirt roads of New England, where families live behind plastic-covered windows in temperatures that drop to minus-20 degrees.

But we've come to accept it somehow, as if there is nothing we can do or say, as if it's too much of a disgrace even to read about.

It's not like the press in this country didn't have ample opportunity to report on poverty in America. Somehow those figures didn't get much play when SCHIP got vetoed not once, but twice; or when the WIC budget was funded at the same level as last year, with no accounting for the increase in food prices. I guess the press had more important things to report, like the price of a candidate's haircut or the amount of a tip another candidate did (or did not) leave.

If Mr. Merullo could find those figures, surely our ace press corps could find them and maybe even ask the current candidates what they intended to do about it. I guess that's asking too much, however.


Globalization is all about Profits for Industry

While listening to the glowing news from the occupied White House about the booming economy that they see from the viewpoint of servicing only the very wealthy, a view of the other world may just be invisible if you're disinclined to accept criticism. In the world generally, the wage losses of the working people is making life ever more difficult. Without disposable income, the green stuff left over after paying for the basics of living, there haven't been great sales during this supershopper, aka Christmas, season.

Living off the land, our neighbors are facing a precipice in Mexico's farming communities. Right, that's the community that was supposed to be saved by NAFTA creating all those great industries to employ them. Look very hard. Those industries have not materialised, while prices have not proved enough of a boost for the tiny farmsites that prevail in nearby Mexico.

For 15 years, Mexican farmers have feared the day when the last import protections end for the country's ancestral crops of corn and beans.

But as Jan. 1 draws near, farmers say the damage has already been done: Mexico has plunged deeply into a model of globalized agriculture where farmers are ill-prepared to compete, and even people who don't farm for a living are suffering.
"It isn't enough to live on, and besides, we have to plant with mules and a hand plow, because there have not been any programs to provide us a tractor," Lopez said.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. Officials in 1993 said the 15-year transition period would give farmers here a chance to modernize, diversify their crops and begin to export them, or at least find seasonal work at a new wave of factories the trade pact was expected to bring to the Mexican countryside.

None of that happened, says Victor Suarez, the leader of a farm cooperative group that works to start storage silos and direct farm-to-consumer sales of corn tortillas.

"There was no transition period like they promised 15 years ago," Suarez said. "We are not ready (for the trade opening), the only ones who are ready are the 20 big agribusiness corporations."

In fact, Mexico's government has already allowed global market forces to be strongly felt in Mexico. For years, it has allowed more corn imports under lower tariffs than NAFTA requires. This is why the U.S. ethanol boom caused a spike in tortilla prices early this year, which in turn sparked street protests in Mexico.

For a country long used to a highly regulated agricultural market, the "tortilla crisis" was a bitter taste of the power of agribusiness consortiums that allegedly hoarded corn and speculated with prices.

The globalization of our economy has meant a drain of high-tech jobs as well as most of our former manufacturing sector. It has been a cheat as well to other countries' workers, and has revealed itself to be only a ruse to convince our leaders, and voters, that letting businesses set up internationally is going to make them act responsibly toward their workforce. This has proved not to be the case.

It's become increasingly obvious that our corporate representatives are determined to betray their workers, and ignore the need to insure they can afford what they produce. We won't be sorry when they find the profits aren't coming in from a third world world.

Increasingly, finding out they have been cheated is turning Latin America away from the U.S., where their interests have been betrayed.

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How Sausage Is Made

I am just perverse enough to have found an article in today's NY Times hysterically funny.

For months President Bush harangued Democrats in Congress for not moving quickly enough to support the troops and for bogging down military bills with unrelated issues.

And then on Friday, with no warning, a vacationing Mr. Bush announced that he was vetoing a sweeping military policy bill because of an obscure provision that could expose Iraq’s new government to billions of dollars in legal claims dating to Saddam Hussein’s rule. ...

Mr. Bush’s veto surprised and infuriated Democratic lawmakers and even some Republicans, who complained that the White House had failed to raise its concerns earlier.

And it gave Democrats a chance to wield Mr. Bush’s support-the-troops oratory against him, which they did with relish. ...

The veto was an embarrassment for administration officials, who struggled on Friday to explain why they had not acted earlier to object to the provision, Section 1083 of a 1,300-page, $696 billion military authorization bill. It would expand the ability of Americans to seek financial compensation from countries that supported or sponsored terrorist acts, including Libya, Iran and Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

The provision, which was sponsored in the Senate by such left wingers as Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey), John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), was apparently inserted in the bill without public debate. Given that fact and the fact of the bill's sheer bulk (1,300 pages), one could almost understand the failure of the White House to pick up on the provision until after the bill was submitted for signature. And the White House might never have picked up on it but for the vigilance of Iraqi officials in Baghdad who noticed it and complained to the US Ambassador. Yes, Iraqi officials read the bill more closely than the White House staff.

So, it's back to the drawing board for Congress when it comes to funding President Bush's Excellent Adventure. Actually, congressional leaders have promised to re-submit the bill in more acceptable form shortly after the winter recess, because, after all, Congress doesn't want to look like it doesn't support the troops.

I am reminded of a comment Eli made in his post on the recent Paul Krugman column:

The Democrats must remember that the halfway mark between sane and insane is still pretty crazy. Otherwise, the Republicans will get everything they want, simply by always demanding twice as much. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen much evidence that the Democratic leadership realizes that compromising with lunatics is not a winning strategy.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Friday Catblogging II

Emma looks like she's very comfortable in her perch, wonder how she's going to enjoy her new vacation home and South Central MO?



Breathe Deeply While You Still Can

It's the time of year when I do edge up that heater just a tad so my hands aren't cold while I input/key this in. I like the tip of my nose to be pink, don't like that blue tinge. I admit this.

It's not a good idea to threaten your health, but it is time for us to develop a little better plan. The idea breaking through about our role in global warming is that we need to reduce, not just maintain, our emissions.

It happened at an academic conclave in San Francisco. A NASA scientist named James Hansen offered a simple, straightforward and mind-blowing bottom line for the planet: 350, as in parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It's a number that may make what happened in Washington and Bali seem quaint and nearly irrelevant. It's the number that may define our future.
It means, Hansen says, that we've gone too far. "The evidence indicates we've aimed too high -- that the safe upper limit for atmospheric CO2is no more than 350 ppm," he said after his presentation. Hansen has reams of paleo-climatic data to support his statements (as do other scientists who presented papers at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco this month). The last time the Earth warmed two or three degrees Celsius -- which is what 450 parts per million implies -- sea levels rose by tens of meters, something that would shake the foundations of the human enterprise should it happen again.

And we're already past 350. Does that mean we're doomed? Not quite. Not any more than your doctor telling you that your cholesterol is way too high means the game is over. Much like the way your body will thin its blood if you give up cheese fries, so the Earth naturally gets rid of some of its CO2each year. We just need to stop putting more in and, over time, the number will fall, perhaps fast enough to avert the worst damage.

That "just," of course, hides the biggest political and economic task we've ever faced: weaning ourselves from coal, gas and oil.

Those solar panels aren't farfetched. They exist, and it's time to get serious about them. As I said in earlier post, it's something I've been planning when I remodel, (pending the outcome of the election, to know if my plans are going to be permanent.) Now it's not just an ideal. It's becoming necessity.

Another factor outside our own personal sphere of functioning is gaining importance, also, and not just because of abstract ideals like democracy and freedom. If we really want to keep from threatening the planet's future, we need to get to work on electing responsible leaders, too. The dismal record our country has racked up in the past seven+ years is not just embarrassment, it is more of a threat even than the wars our occupied White House has waged, against other countries and against the American people.

The planet is threatened. Each of us has benefited from our mother Earth, so we owe her our help now. Did you go change into warmer clothes and/or turn down the thermostat yet?

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Friday Catblogging

My adopted stray; this is Fluffy, now seeming completely recovered, relaxing in his now home. He's getting a little more playful as well, and Cleocatra and he occasionally play chase. So far, no catching, just chasing.


Extreme Violence

One of the more interesting facets of the wall-to-wall coverage of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto is that one of the usually unstated premises about Pakistan and other Muslim countries, that they are riddled with violence and extremely dangerous places, actually got stated and published in a major American newspaper. This premise has long been used to justify US intervention in those countries' internal politics, especially in the last seven years. The theory is that if we bring democracy to those countries, the violence would disappear with the oppressive regime. People who vote don't engage in violent acts. And we prove it by invading those recalcitrant countries who disagree with us.

That usually unstated premise depends on the underlying assumption that the US, which votes its leaders into office, is a safe and peaceful country. Political violence just doesn't happen here. Or does it? That same major American newspaper had another article which seems to give the lie to that underlying assumption:

A rash of attacks on abortion and family planning clinics has struck Albuquerque this month, the first such violence there in nearly a decade.

Two attacks occurred early Tuesday at two buildings belonging to Planned Parenthood of New Mexico, according to Albuquerque police and fire officials. An arson fire damaged a surgery center the organization uses for abortions, and the windows of a Planned Parenthood family planning clinic 12 blocks away were smashed, the officials said. ...

A study issued last year by the Feminist Majority Foundation, which monitors attacks on abortion clinics, concluded that the most serious anti-abortion violence had declined since 1994, when federal legislation gave greater protection to providers and patients. According to the report, 18 percent of clinics experienced severe violence in 2005, compared with 52 percent in 1994.

Still, the report said, many clinics are still targets of extreme violence.
[Emphasis added]

I don't mean to belittle the tragedy of Ms. Bhutto's needless death by an unfair comparison, nor do I wish to equate the destruction of property to the wholesale destruction of a nation. The fact is, however, that this nation is just as prone to violence as any other nation on the planet, and our hypocisy when it comes to how we conduct "foreign policy" needs to be checked.

How ironic that both articles in today's NY Times involved acts of violence against women.

How horribly ironic.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Thursday Birdblogging

One of the birds you can spot just about anywhere in North America where there's any water on a permanent basis, is the spotted sandpiper. I saw one in the Rocky Mountain National Park, and have seen them on Chincoteague, too.

This image comes from the What you will love to learn about them is;

Cool Facts

* The female Spotted Sandpiper is the one who establishes and defends the territory. She arrives at the breeding grounds earlier than the male. In other species of migratory birds, where the male establishes the territory, he arrives earlier.

* The male takes the primary role in parental care, incubating the eggs and taking care of the young. One female may lay eggs for up to four different males at a time.

* The female may store sperm for up to one month. The eggs she lays for one male may be fathered by a different male in a previous mating.

* The function of the teetering motion typical of this species has not been determined. Chicks teeter nearly as soon as they hatch from the egg. The teetering gets faster when the bird is nervous, but stops when the bird is alarmed, aggressive, or courting.


Quagmire: Payments for Protection Aren't Relationships

Great encouragement is taken by our war criminals in the reduction of violence since The Surge, and much is being made of our working with former 'insurgents' in the form of Sunni peacekeeping in Iraq. The fact that they are accepting handouts to make our peace hasn't been made so much of.

The Shi'ite ruling forces are making it clear that this militarization of their former oppressors is not going down all that well, anyway. But now it seems we're losing control of the very program our warmongers were taking such pride in.

In Iraq, it is big news when a Shi'ite leader extols the virtues of Sunni fighters. But that is what happened just a few days ago, on Dec. 21, when Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of Iraq's largest Shi'ite political party, offered some praise for the mostly Sunni volunteers who have been key to this year's dramatic drop in insurgent violence. "They are practicing an honorable role, they are expressing the unity of Iraqis in confronting the enemies of Iraq."

Hakim, however, mentioned them in the same breath as the Shi'ite-dominated Iraqi army and police. And he stressed that the ultimate legitimacy of the so-called "Concerned Local Citizens" (CLC) program hinged on incorporating its members into the government's security forces. Echoing the view of the Iraqi and American governments, Hakim insisted that the program should "not be a substitute for" the Iraqi Army and Police.

But that is precisely the problem. According to the U.S. military, the vast majority of CLCs — about 50,000 out of more than 70,000 — have no interest in joining Iraq's police force of army. They joined the program for the prospect of a steady paycheck in Iraq's moribund economy, and remain mistrustful of the Shi'ite-dominated government and its security forces.
Grigsby is aware that some Iraqi leaders are tempted to treat CLC groups as a way to provide employment to men in their communities. He stressed that it was not designed to be a jobs program. "The intent of the program is not economic development," Grigsby said. "The intent of the program is security." That distinction, though, is lost on many Iraqis.

The Americans say they are already looking ahead to what will happen to CLCs who do not become police or soldiers. On the afternoon of Dec. 23, Ambassador Ryan Crocker emphasized to reporters that the U.S. has already begun a $155 million program designed to provide vocational education and job training to CLCs. But, as with many initiatives in Iraq, the jobs program will, in the end, depend on the Iraqi government. It has pledged $155 million of its own. But Iraq's corrupt and sectarian government has so far been unable to move forward on basic issues like how to share oil revenue. Its willingness and ability to administer a jobs program for Sunni men is questionable to say the least.

So sad that Rent-A-Sunni is not working out for the occupied White House. Although finally the highly placed bumblers have begun to work with the Evil Axis types in order to create a peace which they may find better for getting votes than their wars, it isn't impressing the recent targets they're now making nice with.

The lack of developing relationships has taken a pretty big bite out of the White House efforts to show itself as being in control. It will improve our country's relationships, and standing, mightily when the change coming in 2008 comes about.

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Not So Exceptional

The Los Angeles Times has been running a series of editorials examining what it calls "American Values" and the various presidential candidates' responses to those values. The series, contrary to what I expected, has been a pretty good one. There hasn't been nearly the amount of smarm I anticipated, and the framework works creditably when it comes to raising the issues most of us care deeply about. Today's edition works on the concept of American Exceptionalism and what the next president is going to have to deal with when it comes to relations with the rest of the world.

What intrigued me most in today's editorial was the introduction of a term that, while unwieldy and a bit ugly as far as neologisms go, I think captures the current philosophy of this administration.

Yet American exceptionalism has also stumbled into what the human rights scholar Michael Ignatieff calls "exemptionalism" -- the assertion that the United States, because of its inherent humanitarianism and moral probity, may exempt itself from the common rules that other civilized nations accept. This includes our refusal to sign treaties banning juvenile execution or land mines, and our insistence that the status and interrogation of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay may be determined solely by U.S. presidential executive order.

Under the Bush administration, exemptionalism has veered into the dangerous assertion of an expanded right to preventive war, a rash reaction to the 9/11 attacks that led directly to the unilateral invasion of Iraq and to our current inability to muster international consensus on issues from Darfur to Kosovo and, most crucially, to punish Iran for its nuclear intransigence.

Of course, more than our "inherent humanitarianism and moral probity" lies at the root of this exemptionalism: being the sole super-power with the biggest and most expensive military in the world is a large part of it. We attack another nation which has displeased us simply because we can. We use torture on those we have kidnapped and imprisoned because we can. And that, unfortunately, has led to the loss of any respect other nations might have had for us, and that is why we suffer from "an inability to muster international consensus."

And here's the irony: this exemptionalism also operates domestically and will, if unchecked, destroy those elements in our nation which made us exceptional to begin with. Our rights to free speech and privacy have been systematically whittled away by the spurious promise of security. Our tradition of welcoming the stranger to our land has been replaced by walls at the border. Our vibrant economy in which all participated and all benefitted has been replaced by a narrow and mean-spirited corporatocracy in which only those who have, get.

Yes, the next president will have a full plate of problems in January, 2009. Hopefully in the next 11 months the candidates will be prodded by the public and by the press into announcing how they would each address each of them.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Dark Skin Looks Illegal

Happy Kwanzaa. Today, FAIR, a group that promotes expulsion of undocumented workers, will release a report that claims costs of services are underestimated, and benefits are overestimated. Something tells me their 'statistics' will be as accurate as those the tobacco lobbyists in Texas used to fight a recent tax on cigarettes, which have just been refuted by actual returns.

Wonderful world view indeed, that designates late-comers to this country as 'illegals'. I will repeat what I said on Eschaton discussing this issue this morning. We took the land from its native population, without their permission, which makes us all illegals. The border closing on the southern border eliminates new population that is much closer to the native one than the European immigrants are.

And as GWPDA noted, much of the population growth in Arizona is immigrating in from our American northlands, New York and Wisconsin, for instance. The arrivals aren't used to seeing so much brown skin around them, and react with fear.

With this in mind, today's WaPo editorial on Arizona's new anti-immigrant law is jawdropping.

THE NEW ground zero in the debate over illegal immigration is Arizona, where the nation's toughest and potentially most far-reaching crackdown on undocumented workers and their employers is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1. The Arizona law, passed resoundingly by the state legislature after Congress failed to enact immigration reform last summer, penalizes companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants by suspending their business licenses for up to 10 days; on a second offense, the business license would be revoked -- what Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) has called a corporate "death penalty." Thus the Arizona law may become a test case for how much pain a state is willing to endure, and inflict, in the name of ridding itself of a population that contributes enormously to its economic growth and prosperity.

Illegal immigrants have flocked to Arizona for years to fill jobs that native-born people don't want. While the state's unemployment rate remains low, undocumented employees comprise an estimated 9 to 12 percent of the state's 3 million workers. Companies in agriculture, construction and service industries rely heavily on illegal immigrants, and any successful attempt to drive them out will have economic repercussions that may be severe.

In construction alone, Judith Gans of the University of Arizona has estimated that a 15 percent cut in the state's immigrant workforce would result in direct losses of about 56,000 jobs and some $6.6 billion in economic output. The direct loss to state tax revenue would be approximately $270 million. The study, and others like it, including in Texas, refute the arguments that illegal immigrants are an overall burden on state economies because of the education, health care and other services they require; in fact they contribute heavily to economic growth. [Emphasis added.]

The last statement that 'illegals' contribute to economic growth, is accurate, at least. But that the illegal immigrant community is only taking jobs native born Americans don't want is only partially true. Construction companies that pay less and attract undocumented laborers are putting a very real strain on traditional, high waged, construction companies. Cleaning companies with the same modus operandi have almost completely eliminated traditional, well paid, janitorial staff.

The need to send in officials to raid illegal employees is effort diverted from eliminating abusive employers. A living wage and health care would improve the work environment for all Americans, documented or not. It would also eliminate the need some of our population feels to chuck out people they fear.

Although an attitude toward undocumented Americans that feels they contribute to crime has motivated a lot of the bad feelings toward them, the statistics simply fail to bear out that fear.

Amnesty may be a dirty word to the ignorant, but it would be the wisest solution to our problems with an existing valuable resource.

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A Difficult Choice

Medical breakthroughs in the treatment of cancer seldom come without a high price tag, but it's pretty hard to justify denying a particular treatment for that horrible disease by saying it's "too expensive" or that it's "too new" or that it only works for rare forms of the disease. That is just the sort of dilemma an article in today's NY Times confronts.

Medical centers are rushing to turn nuclear particle accelerators, formerly used only for exotic physics research, into the latest weapons against cancer.

Some experts say the push reflects the best and worst of the nation’s market-based health care system, which tends to pursue the latest, most expensive treatments — without much evidence of improved health — even as soaring costs add to the nation’s economic burden.
[Emphasis added]

Is proton therapy simply an expensive fad? Well, apparently not. Traditional radiation therapy tends to be like the scatter shot of a shot gun shell: the x-rays used attack healthy tissue surrounding the tumor as well as the tumor itself. Proton therapy, on the other hand, is far more precise and most of the beam can be guided to the tumor itself. So what's the problem? Well, first of all there's the expense. Building a center to house one of the devices and the device itself tends to cost in the $100 million range. That's just the initial investment. To cover that kind of expense, the therapy has to be used and used a lot. Then there's the efficacy of the treatment.

Once hospitals have made such a huge investment, experts like Dr. Zietman say, doctors will be under pressure to guide patients toward proton therapy when a less costly alternative might suffice. ...

Dr. Zietman said that while protons were vital in treating certain rare tumors, they were little better than the latest X-ray technology in dealing with prostate cancer, the common disease that many proton centers are counting on for business.

“You can scarcely tell the difference between them except in price,” he said. Medicare pays about $50,000 to treat prostate cancer with protons, almost twice as much as with X-rays. ...

An economic analysis by researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia found that proton treatment would be cost-effective for only a small subset of prostate cancer patients.
[Emphasis added]

And that's the dilemma. The new therapy is much more effective than traditional radiation therapy for spinal, head, and child tumors, but those are rare. Does the cost-effective analysis then mean we shouldn't have the new technology? That hardly seems fair to those who would get the benefit of the treatment.

Unfortunately, like new prescription medicines that are only marginally an improvement over the last generation's offering, doctor's too often feel compelled to use the latest formulation, especially if their patients are demanding it.

Limiting the number of such centers might be the answer. For example, Southern California has such a center at Loma Linda. Does it also need one at Hungtington Memorial, County-USC, and Cedars-Sinai? If the treatment is limited to just those tumors it works on, will there still be waiting lists?

I'm not sure. Like I suggested, it's a dilemma, a difficult choice.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

One Way I Don't Celebrate Any Holiday

Merry Holiday of your choice, and hopefully you celebrated in some way really nice.

I didn't go for a cold swim, but somebody did. This is a German ceremony, and it's really, really cold.

from BBC, Day in Pictures. at


A New Age

As someone who's the other side of 60, I'm always glad to see stuff that doesn't refer to us elders as "still sharp as ever," or looking twenty years younger, or as disposable dinosaurs. Look, gravity hit several decades ago. I've thickened more than my skin in those decades, but I haven't gotten all stupid. I'd like to hear some news that my contributions are worthwhile, even at my advanced age. Here's some of that good news stuff I don't get to see all that often. It's from a recent editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Last week, President Bush signed a bill championed by U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., that raised the age limit for commercial pilots from 60 to 65, effective immediately. The law had been opposed by Northwest Airlines and its pilots, but supported by the national airline pilots group as well as some other airlines. The bill passed in part because of provisions requiring that older pilots renew a first-class medical certificate and do a flight check every six months. They also have to continue participation in Federal Aviation Administration pilot training and qualification programs.

The bill raises larger questions about the validity of mandatory retirement ages. Current state law requires police and fire employees to retire at 65, while private employers can impose retirement at age 70.

Arbitrary mandatory retirement ages lump people into crude groupings instead of assessing them as individuals. With our improved diagnostics, advanced medical technologies and increased life spans, it seems wasteful to force anyone to leave the workforce before their time.

Amen to that! I hope to keep practicing law after I turn 65 for several years at least. I happen to enjoy it, and I don't see my mental faculties heading south all that much in the next 3+ years (assuming the familial strain of Alzheimer's doesn't take its toll). Quite a few attorneys in the field I practice are over 65, including several well over the age of 70. Younger attorneys learn the hard way when they try to take advantage of us: we have a whole helluva lot more experience and most of us don't feel compelled to be nice. We don't have to.

There's nothing mystical or magical about age 65 as a retirement age. It was selected originally because that's when full benefit Social Security kicked in. That's not the case anymore, starting with my age group. I have to work a while longer for that full benefit. Also, it was assumed, as the editorial points out, that at that age retirement plans would kick in. Well, employer-funder retirement plans are rare outside of government service. The most folks have these days is a 401k, which, given the current economy in the country, is not something we can really count on.

Mandatory retirement ages just don't make sense anymore. Sure, there are some jobs that it's likely older folks can't perform, but that judgment should be made on a case by case basis. And when, as in the bill recently signed into law, there are safeguards in place, there's no harm and there just might be plenty of benefit.


Corporate Predictions Going Up In Smoke

Sure, I had to pick this topic because of the possibilities for the Title. But isn't it great that all the industry's predictions of failure just puffed off into the air from which they were created in the Texas legislature's tax on cigarettes.

People didn't stop smoking, which is the down side, but more than that, higher prices didn't mean state coffers were disappointed. My property taxes are ludicrously high, still, but I am just as glad that they aren't confiscatory yet, for me.

Budget experts predicted that adding the $1-per-pack tax – on top of the previous 41-cent tax – would boost revenues to $1.004 billion for fiscal 2007. But the cigarette tax brought in $1.248 billion in the fiscal year, which included eight months of the higher tobacco tax.

The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids had projected that Texas retailers would sell 339 million fewer cigarette packs as a result of the $1 tax increase. That projection was off by about 78 million packs.

"Obviously, we would love to see those (consumption) numbers go down even more. But what's important is that we know what it takes to continue to drive those numbers down – a fully funded anti-tobacco program," said James Gray, spokesman for the American Cancer Society in Texas.

If December cigarette sales produce the monthly average of tax revenue – $121.8 million – Texas will raise $1.46 billion in the first 12 months of the $1.41-a-pack tax.

"With any tax increase, you expect a drop in taxable consumption, and the drop was less than what we expected," said R.J. DeSilva, spokesman for Texas Comptroller Susan Combs.

DeSilva said some smokers have not yet changed their habits, but the comptroller's office expects cigarette smoking to start declining over the next few months. Revenue experts predicted that the tax will raise $340 million less next year than it did in the first 12 months.

Predictions by industry quite accountably always show that disaster looms if you don't serve their interests, as you readers have no doubt noticed.

Paid scientists routinely dispute global warming for their employers the oil companies, and are usually cited by the paid representatives of those same oil companies. How convenient.

The public needs representation, and reputable scientists usually give truths, which offsets to a large degree the lies that the hired experts present.

Expert testimony always reminds me of a court case I worked on, in which an expert witness changed his facts and his testimony after being made a higher offer by the opposing side. The absurdity of this was that his previous testimony (with facts) were part of the records, and the expert admitted that he was being paid by the plaintiffs he'd testified against previously. The judge chuckled.

Fortunately for Texas, our legislature which is not usually known to act rationally in this case needed to cut taxes for homeowners. That made it possible for enough of the legislators to notice that experts hired by the tobacco industry were predicting highly dubious results of the tax they had found most convenient to invent, a "sin tax".

Too bad our children's health, and our health, doesn't have strong enough advocacy yet. In its next session, maybe the 110th Congress will develop as good judgment as, say, the Texas lege.

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Step Off, Mr. Grinch!

A California appeals court issued a rather remarkable decision yesterday, giving people fortunate enough to have health insurance a rather nice present, according to an article in today's Los Angeles Times. Here's the lede:

California health insurers have a duty to check the accuracy of applications for coverage before issuing policies -- and should not wait until patients run up big medical bills, a state appeals court ruled Monday.

The court also said insurers could not cancel a medical policy unless they showed that the policyholder willfully misrepresented his health or that the company had investigated the application before it issued coverage.

The unanimous decision by a panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana is the latest blow to California insurance companies and the way they handle policy cancellations after patients get sick and amass major medical claims.

The decision will allow a case involving cancellation of a policy several months after the policy holder was in a car cash and was seriously injured to proceed to a jury trial. Given the language of the appellate decision, the insurance company, in this case Blue Shield, has an almost insurmountable burden of proof. Given the facts in the case, that is as it should be.

"These facts raise the specter that Blue Shield does not immediately rescind health care contracts upon learning of potential grounds for rescission, but waits until after the claims submitted under that contract exceed the monthly premiums being collected," the court wrote.

A health plan, the court went on, "may not adopt a 'wait and see' attitude after learning of facts justifying rescission." The court said companies could not continue to "collect premiums while keeping open its rescission option if the subscriber later experiences a serious accident or illness that generates large medical expenses."

Merry Christmas.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

What You Will See In The Sky

This morning, I went out for a few things like the feral cat and the paper, and this is what I saw. Tonight it will be just a tiny bit past full, but wonderful if you can see it.

Wishing peace and fullness to everyone, from Ruth and from Diane.

This image from


Some Hopeful News (For A Change)

Every once in a great while, I read a story that gives me hope that we haven't completely lost all control over our lives to the corporatocracy. An article in today's Boston Globe gave me just that feeling.

UMass Memorial Medical Center last week adopted some of the strictest conflict of interest rules in the country, in effect sharply limiting the close ties between many doctors and the makers of drugs and medical devices.

The policy should significantly reduce conversations and meetings between physicians and salespeople, and therefore presumably reduce the appearance of influence over what drugs doctors prescribe for patients.

It prohibits doctors and other clinical staff from eating meals paid for by companies; bans all gifts, from candy to medical journals; stops drug companies from giving money directly to individual physicians and departments for educational programs; and places a complete ban on doctors joining company "speakers bureaus" to give talks about products. ...

Sales people will no longer be able to give free drug samples directly to the physician; they must be delivered to the hospital pharmacy. This new rule will probably cut down on much of the contact between doctors and sales people, because most doctors agree to see company representatives because of the free samples, which they can dole out to patients. The samples allow a company to get a patient started on their drug and increases the chances they will use it long-term. The doctor will be able to request samples from the pharmacy.
[Emphasis added]

It doesn't take an advanced degree in quantum physics to understand the connection between pricey perks and frequent scripts. And it isn't hard to understand doctors who feel loyalty to those companies that are providing free samples of the newest meds so that they can dispense them to their patients, but it's unethical and it's wrong. A physician's first loyalty should be to his or her patient, not some corporate benefactor.

UMass Memorial Medical Center has taken an important step in cutting down on this smelly PHARMA policy. It may mean fewer trips to Steam Boat Springs for an educational program, but it will mean doctors will be looking at new drugs and new medical devices to see if they actually are the right choice for their patients.

Maybe Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid would be interested in examining such an approach when it comes to lobbyists and members of Congress.

Or maybe not.

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Disaster for Meat Eaters Has Arrived

That great new excuse for advance planning, the "Who Could Have Anticipated" phrase, is popping up in meal planning. The occupied White House that tore up food safety on assumption of office in 2001 by instituting 'voluntary' inspection is discovering that no, left to its own devices industries do not take extraordinary precautions to insure their products are safe. As I have pointed out in earlier posts, we are not being protected because the laws are not in industry's interests.

When it comes to your family's meals, you need to know that the inspection of their food you assumed laws had instituted is no longer on the table.

For beef lovers, 2007 will go down as another year of eating dangerously.

Since the spring, meat suppliers have recalled more than 30 million pounds of ground beef contaminated with the potentially lethal bacteria E. coli O157:H7, including the 21.7 million pounds recalled by New Jersey-based Topps Meat in September.

Topps Meat's 21.7 million-pound recall led some safety advocates to question the USDA inspection system, which relies heavily on industry reporting.

After three relatively quiet years, the 20 recalls this year have raised new doubts about whether the beef industry's attempts to keep the pathogen out of ground beef, and the government's oversight of those efforts, are working.

Agriculture Department officials, who oversee the safety of pork, beef and poultry, say they did not recognize that anything was seriously amiss with the beef supply until the Topps recall hit.

Microbiologists say the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in the environment is highly variable, and no one can say with certainty what caused the spike in outbreaks. In several instances this year, however, USDA officials missed red flags and were slow to correct longstanding deficiencies in the way they monitor beef processors' efforts to contain the pathogen.

USDA officials did not learn that Topps had begun testing its ground beef less frequently until the recall. Recurring sanitation problems at a United Food Group plant in Vernon, Calif., that later recalled 75,000 pounds of ground beef did not trigger further enforcement actions because the agency had not told inspectors what to do about repeat violations. The recall was eventually expanded to 5.7 million pounds. Critics said the agency missed an opportunity to strengthen its early-warning system by not keeping track of every instance when a plant found the dangerous strain of E. coli in raw ground beef.

The department has postponed plans to target inspections at plants that had a record of problems because officials do not know which plants pose the greatest risks.

Similar lapses have surfaced during the seven years since meat processors were required to come up with scientifically based plans to contain and control pathogens. In 2002, USDA officials did not know that the E. coli strain had been detected in ground beef at ConAgra's Greeley, Colo., plant 63 times in the weeks leading up to a massive recall. The agency had been testing for the bacteria in raw ground beef since 1994, but skipped ConAgra's plants under a policy that exempted the largest processors. USDA now tests ground beef at every plant at least once month, while self-testing at plants remains voluntary.

The present practices in regard to regulation recall the days that prompted safety inspections. We are not being protected, we are being sacrificed to the industries that the cretin in chief considers the proper object of government concern. Profits are everything, and the country is hostage to his greed. When any effort is made to put our resources as a nation into those of us who produce them, it is blocked and called anti-American.

There is a growing need to protect the public from those in the highest office. More every day it looks as if many of us won't make it to January 20, 2009 safely.

A government that can't be trusted should be removed.

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Mr. Grassley's War

About six weeks ago, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) decided to look into the financial doings of some churches belonging to the "Prosperity Gospel" branch of Christianity. He's had some mixed responses to his inquiries, according to this article in the NY Times:

Six weeks after Senator Charles E. Grassley asked six well-known evangelistic ministries to provide information on how they spent donors’ money, only two have complied.

The lawyers for one ministry have asked for more time from Mr. Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, who sent letters to the organizations in early November. Three other ministries have not been in recent contact with the committee or have said they will not cooperate.

“This is early in the process,” Mr. Grassley, of Iowa, said in an e-mail message last week. “If the ministries indicate a willingness to cooperate, I’ll be glad to work with them on a rolling production of information. I hope all of the ministries will see that transparency is part of enjoying tax exemption and that they’ll share information in that spirit.
[Emphasis added]

What, is he nuts? Has he suddenly decided to take down Christianity? A Republican?

Well, regardless of the answers to those questions, the senator is at least consistent. He has sent similar letters to other charitable organizations (including the Nature Conservancy) in the past challenging their financial propriety. The government gets to do that sort of thing to tax-exempt organizations.

At least some of the ministries in question this time around are challenging the senator's inquiry on a constitutional basis:

At the outset, some churches, including those outside the inquiry, argued that Mr. Grassley’s inquiry violated the constitutional separation of church and state. ...

Church finances are generally private, because churches do not have to file a 990 form with the Internal Revenue Service as other nonprofits do. ...

To a large extent, those challenging Sen. Grassley are correct: historically, religious organizations have been treated differently than other non-profit organizations based on both the Establishment Clause and the First Amendment. However, the government has always taken the position that if the government extends a benefit (tax-free status), it has the right to monitor that status, especially if the churches are meddling in politics. Usually that monitoring takes the form of an IRS investigation, as it did with the church I attend when a sermon against war was preached during the 2004 election cycle (see here and here).

Here's the problem: if you accept government funding or an exemption that other citizens don't have, you accept government rules, even government intrusion. Accepting tax-exempt status is an invitation to the government to step in at any time.

And here's the solution: give up the tax-exempt status. There's certainly a biblical precedent. Jesus instructed his followers to "Render unto Caesar..." And it would certainly take away any excuse the government might have for meddling in the theology and practices of a church. All the IRS (and members of Congress) could look into is the completeness and honesty of a tax return. There really would be separation of church and state.

I don't expect many religious organizations to agree with me, but that is the only way out of the dilemma.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sunday Poetry: Gerard Rochford

Spemque metumque inter dubiis

(Hover between hope and fear. Virgil)

When darkness covers us the birds go silent.
Every night this time could be the last.

And when the sun goes, how do we survive
that such an emperor can be made so dull,
who has bathed us as if in gold.

Look out for the glint of a brave star.

Keep your eyes on that black sky
where you expect the moon
and her shining armourer.

Come dawn a black -bird sings of love,
the song- thrush joining in,
and a milkman working to feed his young.

Always a heart of hope feathered with fear.

Gerard Rochford

(Poem published at Poem Hunter.)

If We Weren't Spending $150 Million A Day On War

Included in last week's omnibus spending bill was funding for WIC, the Women, Infants and Children program which provides food vouchers and nutritional counseling for pregnant and nursing women, infants and children. The president has signalled that he will sign the bill, so the program will continue, although only at the level of last year. An article in today's Sacramento Bee provides some rather depressing statistics on the program and the people it serves.

California accounts for more than 1 in 8 of WIC recipients nationwide – and demand has nearly tripled since 1990, a trend that county officials say has been fueled by rising food costs. ...

Teri Duarte, director of the Sacramento County WIC program, said the county caseload has grown 30 percent to 29,000 in the past three years.

"We're serving everyone who's eligible, but we couldn't if everyone who is eligible applied," Duarte said. "We're only serving 55 percent of the eligible population." ...

The United States already ranks last among 31 developed countries in terms of the percentage of children and families living in poverty, according to a recent multinational study of household income called the Luxembourg Income Study.

Moreover, the percentage of the severely poor – individuals or families earning less than half of the federally established poverty-line income – grew by 16 percent from 2000 to 2006, according to the Census Bureau.
[Emphasis added]

The WIC program isn't considered an entitlement, merely a program that can be withdrawn at any time. Fortunately, it has enjoyed bipartisan support since its inception. It's considered a valuable supplement to assist in the proper nourishing of children. Unfortunately, it's not popular enough to have merited more money to make up for inflation.

And that means it isn't much of a safety net, especially with the cost of food rising rapidly. Here are the numbers on what the program provides:

Recipients currently receive vouchers for specific foods, averaging about $39 a month in 2007, which they can redeem at contracting grocery stores.

Under the revisions, vouchers for fruits and vegetables will be $6 for children, $8 for women and $10 for fully breast-feeding women.

$39 a month. It's better than nothing, but not by much.

I consider it shameful that this powerful nation, this "exceptional" nation can't find the money to feed its poor children, but can find plenty to blow up another nation's children.


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Another Battle in Iraq's Civil War Aims at American "Gains"

Just in case our feeble excuse for a government thought it was going to hang onto a semblance of ending the battle of Shi'ites and Sunnis, our pet Iraqi autocrats have announced an end to cooperating Sunni militias. Whatever happened to our Dear Leaders' great success in winning hearts and minds? Seems it endangers the puppet government we've set up to run Iraq for us.

Even though the cooperating militias preceded the Surge, it has been claimed as one of General Petraeus' New Approach to ending the violence, and has actually been a successful resistance to al Quaeda, we are told.

I expect in the War Room, spinmeisters are hard at work trying to find a new way to win the war on American intelligence.

Iraq's Shiite-led government declared Saturday that after restive areas are calmed, it will disband Sunni groups battling Islamic extremists because it does not want them to become a separate military force.

The statement from Defense Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Obaidi was the government's most explicit declaration yet of its intent to eventually dismantle the groups backed and funded by the United States as a vital tool for reducing violence.

The militias, more than 70,000 strong and often made up of former insurgents, are known as Awakening Councils, or Concerned Local Citizens.

"We completely, absolutely reject the Awakening becoming a third military organization," Mr. al-Obaidi said at a news conference.

He added that the groups would also not be allowed to have any infrastructure, such as a headquarters building, that would give them long-term legitimacy.

The government has pledged to absorb about a quarter of the men into the predominantly Shiite-controlled security services and military, and provide vocational training so that the rest can find jobs. Integration would let Sunnis regain lost influence in the key defense and interior ministries.

Let's see, now what will the occupied White House have to say about the 'great gains' that it has made being overturned by our pets in power?

Will it be that of course, they meant to do that all along, and that after all, the Sunnis we are presently paying off were formerly shooting our soldiers? I'm betting on that. The unimaginative occupiers of the white House will have no way to repudiate their chosen government in Iraq, since they have no other possible way to keep a hold on the subject nation.

Say that we ought not sending our people to die and spending their future for a faction that fights against us? Then go home and let the Iraqis settle their own disputes. That would require admitting that everything they've done and said in the war on Iraq was a mistake. I wouldn't take any bets on that.

Declare victory and pull back to outlying countries? That would be too intelligent for the cretin in chief.

The warmongers lose again. Sorry to repeat myself but the GoPervs have sewn the wind and are reaping the whirlwind.

What gloss can we expect the liars in high places to put on it? Stay tuned.

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