Thursday, January 31, 2008

Thursday Birdblogging

FeralLiberal made a few cardinals very happy in a recent snow. They returned the favor by being very photogenic.

If you have snow/ice/sleet keeping the birds from their usual food source, you might try hanging up a pine cone rolled in peanut butter, then birdseed, grass seed, or the like, where its off the ground but where they can reach it. And since I love to watch them, I usually hang a creation like this outside my windows.

On the first anniversary of Molly Ivins' death,
Her last piece, opposing the Bush Administration's Iraq surge, ran on January 11th, and like so much of Ivins' work, ended with an optimistic call to action. "We are the people who run this county," she said. "We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to stop this war. Raise hell."


More Molly Ivins tribute in my earlier post, below.


Trying to Put the U.S. Beyond Repair

First, a tribute to Molly Ivins, lost to us a year ago today. July of 2006 she wrote, "The Suicide of Capitalism" for the Texas Observer:

It seems to me that we’ve seen enough evidence over the years that the capitalist system is not going to be destroyed by an outside challenger like communism—it will be destroyed by its own internal greed. Greed is the greatest danger as we develop an increasingly winner-take-all system. And voices like The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page encourage this mentality by insisting that any form of regulation is bad. But for whom?

It is so discouraging to watch this country become less and less fair—“justice for all” seems like an embarrassingly archaic tag. Republicans have rigged the “lottery of life” in this country in ways we don’t even know about yet. The new bankruptcy law is unfair, and the new college loan rules are worse. The system has been stacked so that large corporations have an inside track over small businesses in getting government contracts. We won’t see the full consequences of this mean and careless legislation for years, but it’s starting to affect us already.

Look around you, did she call it or what? And her bete noire, w, is well on then way to destroying a lot more than the economy.

(Thanks to racymind.wordpress for reminding me of the date in Molly Ivins adoration.)

Can we last out the next 354 days - which seems to be just enough time for the occupied White House to screw up everything so badly in addition to its failures of the past 7 years - that no successor will be able to save this country from disaster?

In Afghanistan, it seems we're after the only measures that have proven up to keeping our justifiable war from failure.

Several groups of the U.S. foreign policy establishment have released reports calling for major changes in strategy on Afghanistan (I am a member of the Afghanistan Study Group, the first mentioned). From a media advisory (links added):

Three independent reports have concluded this month that a major new effort is needed to succeed in Afghanistan. These reports – by the Afghanistan Study Group, established by the Center for the Study of the Presidency following the Iraq Study Group; the Strategic Advisors Group of the Atlantic Council of the United States; and the National Defense University – concur that without prompt actions by the U.S. and its allies, the mission in Afghanistan may fail – causing severe consequences to U.S. strategic interests worldwide, including the war on terrorism and the future of NATO. The U.S. cannot afford to let Afghanistan continue to be the neglected, or forgotten, war.
Besides the well-known dispute over aerial poppy eradication and eradication in areas where farmers have no alternative livelihoods (but are said to be "greedy and corrupt"), the US is now pressing the Afghan government to use the Afghan National Army to provide security for eradication operations. Sources in the Afghan government who do not wish to be named state that this will make the ANA fight the people and destroy its morale. Morale is already falling, since mullahs who conduct funeral services for fallen ANA soldiers risk assassination. But the Bush administration is apparently determined to wreck its one partial success story in Afghanistan before leaving office.

Of course, the possibility of making use of Afghanistan's uniquely suitable conditions for growing poppies to give that resource to painkiller manufacturers can't be brought into play by the administration, as it interferes with their posture with the rightwingers who have the hots for drug eradication programs.

It's not just in Afghanistan that the surge is on to make an impossible situation for the next White House resident.

George W. Bush can lap the Middle East, the planet, the solar system and America's Iraq is still never going to get up and walk away. Not even in 2018 or 2028. Don't forget, it's a corpse. (In fact, unlike the politicians and the media, recent opinion polls show that the American people generally have not forgotten this.)

In the meantime, the military in Iraq is preparing for something other than a simple victory lap, just in case the President's surge luck doesn't quite extend to 2009. Former brigadier general and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle Eastern Affairs Mark Kimmitt, for instance, recently suggested that there was "only a mild chance" that surge security gains would prove permanent: "[I]f I had to put a number to it, maybe it's three in 10, maybe it's 50-50, if we play our cards right."
So, here's a simple reality check: The whole discussion of, and argument about, "success" in Iraq is, in fact, obscene. Given what has already happened to that country—and will continue to happen as long as the U.S. remains an occupying power there—the very category of "success" is an obscenity. If violence actually does stay down there, that may be a modest godsend for Iraqis, but it can hardly be considered a sign of American "success."

Every now and then, history comes in handy. In a previous moment, when the neocons and their allied pundits were feeling particularly triumphant, they began touting Bush's America as the planet's new Rome (only more so). That talk evaporated once Iraq went into full-scale insurgency mode (and Afghanistan followed). But perhaps Rome does remain a touchstone of a sort for administration Iraqi policies.

What comes to mind is the Roman historian Tacitus' description of the Roman way of war. He put his version of it into the mouth of Calgacus, a British chieftain who opposed the Romans, and it went, in part, like this:

"They have plundered the world, stripping naked the land in their hunger, they loot even the ocean: they are driven by greed, if their enemy be rich; by ambition, if poor; neither the wealth of the east nor the west can satisfy them: they are the only people who behold wealth and indigence with equal passion to dominate. They ravage, they slaughter, they seize by false pretenses, and all of this they hail as the construction of empire. And when in their wake nothing remains but a desert, they call that peace."

Folks, it's obscene. We're doing victory laps around, and dancing upon, a corpse. (Emphasis added.)

Again the war criminals are showing that they cannot wrap their minds around concepts like peace and prosperity because those great goals of political gains get in the way. The troops they extol they inflict with unimaginable trauma and deny the bare benefits of economic support like the GI Bill and the 'stimulus' package.

The damage inflicted on this country pales in comparison with that the war criminals have inflicted on Iraq and Afghanistan, and are trying to extend to Iran. It is a horrible burden that the next President will have to bear. The sooner it begins, the better for us all.

To take a leaf from Diane's book; 354 days to go.

Labels: , , , ,

Still Under Siege

Here we are, nearing the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, and we finally have a woman running for President. It sounds like women are finally breaking through the ancient barriers. Sounds like...but perhaps not quite yet. This disquieting article from today's Los Angeles Times makes that clear.

One of the nation's few late-term abortion doctors was ordered Wednesday to turn over about 2,000 patient medical records to a Kansas grand jury investigating his practice.

Abortion opponents hope that the records will lead to further criminal charges against Dr. George Tiller, who already is facing 19 misdemeanor counts stemming from late-second and third-trimester abortions at his clinic in Wichita.

Tiller's lawyers say he scrupulously follows the law. They plan to ask the Kansas Supreme Court to overturn a state district court judge's ruling that Tiller begin handing over files as early as today.

"It's an unprecedented encroachment upon a woman's right to privacy," attorney Dan Monnat said.
[Emphasis added]

Dr. Tiller, you will recall, had been charged with multiple felony counts under the prior Kansas Attorney General in a case that wound up with that state's Supreme Court ordering the release of 60 patient's charts to the Grand Jury after all identifying and irrelevant details were redacted by an independent lawyer. That case is still pending.

Now the Kansas Grand Jury wants more blood.

The grand jury investigating possible additional charges against Tiller is demanding the medical records of every patient who sought or obtained an abortion after her 21st week of pregnancy, or midway through the second trimester. The panel wants records dating back to July 1, 2003.

The grand jury also has subpoenaed the names and addresses of Tiller's employees and of physicians who have worked with him.

How's that for rank intimidation by the anti-abortion crusaders, who, by the way, provided the grand jury with photos of pregnant women entering Tiller's office and also posted those pictures online with the faces blurred. Women who have gone to Dr. Tiller during one of the most trying times in their lives are now being forced to relive those times, their privacy (one of the key bases for the Roe v Wade decision 35 years ago) shredded by folks who have supported the bombing of clinics and the shooting of doctors.

"Even thinking about the possibility of anti-choice extremists identifying me has caused my partner and I great distress," one woman wrote.

Still think we've come a long way, baby?

Labels: ,

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Public Information Under Attack

The following is an action item for anyone who doesn't want to give the power to the occupied White House to keep its illegal behavior locked away from the public forever:

George W. Bush Foundation tries to bypass church law to build presidential library at Southern Methodist University

January 30, 2008
For immediate release

In a conference call held on January 9, 2008, the eleven active United Methodist bishops in the South Central Jurisdiction were asked to issue an interpretation of United Methodist church law that would circumvent a vote by lay and clergy delegates and permit the immediate establishment of a partisan Bush institute at Southern Methodist University (SMU) along with the planned Bush presidential library. The request to the bishops came from the George W. Bush Foundation.

The controversial institute, dedicated to promoting the domestic and international views of George W. Bush, would not be under the supervision of SMU and would hire without regard to university policy. No other university with a presidential library has permitted such an institute on its campus.

Bishop Kenneth W. Hicks of Little Rock, Arkansas, said, “My reason, conscience, and experience tell me that the bishops do not have authority to circumvent the right of the 290 delegates to the Jurisdictional Conference to vote on a 99-year proposal for land use of this nature. I encourage my fellow bishops to honor the voting rights of the Jurisdictional delegates.”

The South Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church owns SMU and has the final say about the use of university property. In addition to the Bush presidential library, the Bush Foundation is seeking to establish at the university a controversial partisan institute devoted to “promoting the views of George W. Bush on international and domestic matters,” as stated by Marvin Bush, the president’s brother. The Foundation acknowledges that the institute would not be under the supervision of the university and that hiring would be without regard to university policy.

In the conference call, the eleven active bishops were asked to interpret church law to declare that the decision of the Mission Council, a 21-member interim body which approved the use of SMU land for the institute after heavy lobbying in March, 2007, is final. This would permit the Bush Foundation to avoid submitting the matter to the 290 Jurisdictional Conference delegates meeting in Dallas in July, 2008, where the outcome of such a vote is in doubt.

The delegates represent 1.83 million United Methodists living in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Louisiana. If a majority vote against leasing university property for a partisan Bush institute, it cannot be built at SMU. The Foundation hopes to rely on the bishops’ interpretation in order to break ground for the institute before the delegates meet this summer.

However, Reverend David Severe, Director of Mission and Administration for the South Central Jurisdiction, wrote to an SMU professor on October 6, 2007, that “All actions taken by the Mission Council interim the Jurisdictional Conference must be ratified by the next Jurisdictional Conference session.”

He cited church law from the 2004 Jurisdictional Journal: “The Council shall be subject to the following and specific limitations of authority: All actions taken by The Council shall be valid and in full effect within the South Central Jurisdiction until the next regular session of the (Jurisdictional) Conference.... The chairperson of the Council shall submit to each regular quadrennial meeting of the Conference a written report of all actions taken by the Council during the quadrennium.”

“To not protect their right to vote on the use of land by the George W. Bush Foundation is a violation of the democratic and open processes of our church,” said Bishop Hicks. “I am worried that the disenfranchisement of Jurisdictional Conference delegates will undermine our ministry together as a church.”

“I can understand why the George W. Bush Foundation does not want the Jurisdictional Conference to vote on this issue," said Andrew Weaver, a United Methodist pastor and graduate of SMU. "In recent months, colleagues and I have spoken to dozens of delegates who are increasingly questioning the wisdom of placing a partisan think tank on the grounds of a United Methodist institution. The George W. Bush Foundation wants to prevent the vote because it fears the outcome. It appears that the Bush Foundation has no respect for the laws and procedures of the president's own denomination."

"The placement of a partisan institute to promote the policies of George W. Bush at Southern Methodist University would be a tragedy," said retired Bishop C. Joseph Sprague of London, Ohio. "The policies of the Bush administration are in direct conflict with the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church on issues of war and peace, civil liberties and human rights, care for the environment, and health care. Our United Methodist identity and its moral authority would be seriously compromised were it to be identified with the policies of George W. Bush in this way."

Schubert M. Ogden, University Distinguished Professor of Theology Emeritus at Southern Methodist University, observes: “While the wisdom of establishing a library and a museum is debatable, establishing a partisan think-tank will unquestionably damage the integrity and the reputation of SMU. The partisan mission of the proposed institute is profoundly incompatible with SMU's own mission as a university and could be made a part of it only by damaging it and soiling its good-standing in the academic community. In any case, The United Methodist Church has the right to an open, honest debate on the issue, and the elected delegates to the South Central Jurisdiction should in no way be deprived of their legal right to vote.”

George Henson, who teaches Spanish at SMU, stated, "It does not surprise me that the Bush Foundation is attempting to circumvent United Methodist law in order to place the Bush library and institute at SMU. A highly partisan think tank like the one planned for SMU, which exists completely outside the purview of normal academic controls and practices, is bad enough. The fact that United Methodist bishops are being asked to collaborate with Bush's representatives to circumvent the approval process is disgraceful. I am worried about the message this sends to our students."
(Emphasis added.)

I am able to contact my Methodist Bishop. If you want to act on this offense against the Rule of Law, and against scholarship in addition to educational institutions, Start passing this on and protesting. More info below.

Links to information on the SMU Bush project:

We need your help to build a legal and educational campaign fund. Given the most recent actions by the George W. Bush Foundation, we need to secure funding for lawyers to help us, as well as to educate the church about this issue. Contributions can be sent to Rev. Robert Weathers, 2420 Willington Avenue, Fort Worth, Texas 76110. Rev. Weathers is a highly regarded member of the Central Texas Conference and a former District Superintendent. Please made checks out to “Protect SMU Fund.”

Labels: , ,

Those Magical Beans

I'm continuing my newfound archaic term binge. Beancounters is the derisive way the accounting department of a business was referred to sometime back, in my youth. Assuming no one exciting enough to notice would ever deal with the money, we sailed on towards glamor fields.

The Revenge of the Beancounters is upon us.

The economy almost stalled in the final quarter of last year with a growth rate of just 0.6 percent, culminating its worst year since 2002.

The Commerce Department's report on the gross domestic product, released Wednesday, showed an economy that had deteriorated considerably during the October-to-December quarter as worsening problems in the housing market and harder-to-get credit made individuals and businesses more cautious in their spending. Fears of a recession have grown.

For all of 2007, the economy grew by just 2.2 percent, the weakest performance in five years, when the country was struggling to recover from the 2001 recession. The housing collapse dealt the economy its biggest blow last year. Builders slashed spending on housing projects by 16.9 percent on an annualized basis, the most in 25 years.

The fourth-quarter's performance was much weaker — half the pace — than economists were expecting. They were forecasting growth to clock in a 1.2 percent pace.
Consumers whose spending is critical to the economy's well-being tightened their belts.

See, you might have thought that you weren't buying up all those precious goodies because you couldn't afford them, but it's all in your mind. You're cautious because you 'fear' recession, you tightened your belt. No way did you barely make it from one payday to the next without feeding your kids gruel and hitching a ride since your car doesn't run on the fumes you can afford.

The economics writers are carefully taught that times are not hard, no, it's about self-fulfilling prophecies and consumer confidence.

The clever accounting that sold houses at far above any value they reasonably could represent, to buyers whose incomes were far below that traditional level that could justify the expense, at interest rates that were only affordable for the limited time the buyers were supposed to rampage through getting the next ludicrous loan - that is the beancounters' way of printing valueless money. In the ARM world, value has disappeared, and the investors who were sold that fiction are now holding not the cow but the magical beans (Jack and the Beanstalk for the M.B.A.).

I really expected that the Dr. Strangelove persona was going to pop out from behind the occupied White House puppet at the SOTU Monday, and we'd hear "Go Shopping!!" once again. The 'stimulus' plan seems to have served as an adequate substitute, so the Go Shopping concept is understood for now.

When the Democratic administration to come is in place, our financial planners will be able to start reviving our economy by such sound economic practices as; ending war on Iraq, eliminating tax breaks for corporations to offshore jobs and income, ending income inequalities, discouraging exorbitant corporate welfare, regulating financial manipulation of investments, and returning services to our wounded veterans, retirees and dispossessed. The scam of consumer confidence games needs to end before serious efforts will begin.

Business and individual spending is not done because of hope for the economy, but out of actual performance by that economy that gives them the means to spend.

It's called earnings.

Labels: , ,


The headline to this article in today's NY Times caught me by surprise: "Mukasey Offers View On Waterboarding." Wow! Did the NY Times scoop all the other major outlets, all of whom note the Attorney General's continuing refusal to state his opinion on the legality of the "harsh interrogation technique?" Well, not exactly. Here is what Michael Mukasey actually said in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee:

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said Tuesday that the harsh C.I.A. interrogation technique known as waterboarding was not clearly illegal, and suggested that it could be used against terrorism suspects once again if requested by the White House.

Mr. Mukasey’s statement came in a letter delivered Tuesday night to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has scheduled for Wednesday its first oversight hearing for the new attorney general. The conclusions of the letter are likely to be a focus of severe questioning by Senate Democrats who have described waterboarding, which creates the sensation of drowning, as torture.

“If this were an easy question, I would not be reluctant to offer my views,” Mr. Mukasey wrote to Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who heads the committee.

“But with respect, I believe it is not an easy question,” he said. “There are some circumstances where current law would appear clearly to prohibit the use of waterboarding. Other circumstances would present a far closer question.”
[Emphasis added]

My reading of this definitive answer is "Maybe; but, then again, maybe not."

Is the nation's top lawyer is resorting to an age-old lawyer's trick, that of waffling? Well, maybe; but, then again, maybe not. It's not exactly in the same class as an answer to the standard client's question of "We're going to win this case, right?" No lawyer I know would ever give a definitive answer to that question unless both the judge and the jury had been bribed far in advance of the verdict, and even then it might be dicey.

No, Mr. Mukasey's stance is a little different, although he is waffling. What he is attempting to do is keep his boss and his boss's friends out of any future jail time. The problem is that Mr. Mukasey has forgotten that his real client is not the President of the United States, but rather the people of the United States. His answer, which continues to be a non-answer is shameful, just as his evasion of the question was shameful during his confirmation hearings. It apparently didn't matter then. The question is whether it will matter now.

Of course, Congress could answer the question for him in a clear and forthright manner. They could pass a law that clearly states that the technique of waterboarding is torture and unlawful.

I don't see that happening in this Congress, much to our shame.

355 days.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

DNA Proof of Injustice Too Much for Chief Justice

On the frontier of better things for the state of Texas, TX Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson joins forces with the Dallas Morning News to seek real justice.

In the face of repeated cases that saw convictions overturned when DNA evidence proved the verdicts were wrong, Chief Justice Jefferson is calling for oversight of the system. A commission to review the process in the cases that were decided incorrectly, and take a closer look at the kind of proceedings that can be reformed to correct our system has his support. Legislation has been introduced to institute this commission, introduced by TX Senator Rodney Ellis.

Even one wrongful conviction should be a shocking aberration in our system of justice, which is based on the principle that "it is better that the guilty go free than the innocent be jailed." These 30 cases come from the small subset of convictions in which genetic evidence has been preserved by the state and therefore raise the deeply troubling – and largely untestable – possibility of a proportionate number of erroneous convictions in which no DNA testing is possible.
Further, no one should fear the "soft on crime" label for supporting a commission of the sort I have in mind. Every wrongful conviction leaves the true criminal unpunished and free to commit other crimes, while undermining our faith in the justice system, which is so essential to an orderly society.

The commission's findings and recommendations would benefit both sides of the criminal bar and promote public confidence in the swift and sure enforcement of our laws. Understanding the causes of wrongful convictions will not only allow defense attorneys to defend innocent clients more effectively, but it will also give prosecutors renewed confidence that their public service enhances public safety.

The strengthening of our justice system is in the interest of everyone, not just those who have been wrongly charged or convicted.

The justice system can be improved even more by eliminating the death penalty altogether. Even DNA is not 100% proof of wrongdoing.

The News has moved into the forrefront of civilization in its stand against the death penalty. The increase in forces humanizing our justice system is very appropriate for Texas.

Labels: ,

SOTU (Some Obvious Truckling Untruths)

If you are like me, listening to the cretin in chief makes your flesh crawl, and even in print his lies are sickmaking. IOW, no, I didn't subject myself to the SOTU.

I did go read WaPo on the subject, which is puzzling. While the newsroom did a fact check, which is excellent, the editorial board took the low road.

THE FINAL State of the Union address of a presidency always has an unavoidable undertone of wistfulness. No matter how convincingly the president pledges to work until the last hour of the last day, the end is already visible on the horizon; most of his achievements and failures have been etched for history's judgment. President Bush's speech last night was necessarily tailored to fit that reality: There were no major new initiatives. Still, the president's advisers said he had decided to offer a forward-looking program, not a reflective valedictory -- a wise choice, because an honest assessment of the past seven years would have been a tale of opportunities lost and enterprises bungled.
Justifiably promoting the improvement in security in Iraq, he reiterated the administration's plan to "return on success," withdrawing troops this year while trying to preserve and extend the fragile stability that has been achieved. He also restated his hope to help Israelis and Palestinians reach a peace settlement by the end of the year. Curiously, however, the president did not mention North Korea -- though there, too, the administration has hoped to complete a landmark deal on disarmament in the coming months.

The vast whitewash over facts is mindboggling, so let's give you some of the comments, which do bother to point out reality. Of course, I couldn't let the lies go unanswered.

My comment:
jocabel wrote:
Characterizing the disaster that has been the occupied White House's record as 'missed opportunities' is nothing short of false. No opportunity to betray the public interest has been missed. No opportunity to serve corporate interests at the expense of public well-being and safety has been lost.

This has been an unashamedly crony serving administration, and its policies have gone a long way toward destroying the nation it has betrayed.

Now a few others;

cpwash wrote:
"Return on Success (in Iraq)"

You've got to be kidding. He'll leave the place a mess. Kirkuck is still simmering. The Sunni are now well armed for the upcoming civil war. And, the Turks are still conducting cross border raids into Iraq. Down South, there are two Shiite tribes, each with their own street armies. Womens rights have been propelled back 1000 years. Christians are now persecuted in-country. There are still over two million refugees that have fled the country. Killings, assassinations, and kidnappings occur daily.

Need I go on?

daniel3715 wrote:
The biggest disaster in the history of our country speaks, and the Wa Po acts as though he was just an ordinary guy.

Shame, shame, shame.

If it was a Democrat, you would be calling for his scalp.

GeorgeSimian wrote:
President Bush has spent more time out of his office than any president before him. He obviously hates his job. And he sucks at it.

We can expect more of the same for his last year. Filling as many appointed positions as possible with loyal Bushies who aren't good at whatever they're supposed to do. More blaming Democrats for the mess that he got us into. More lies. More telling us that we're winning in Iraq and that everything looks great and that the American people just don't understand that reality isn't what really happens.

cdierd1944 wrote:
You fail to mention, as is noted elsewhere in the WAPO, that the President told numerous lies again. How can we have confidence in a man who has no concern for truth. He starts with his desired outcome and then tailors the facts to fit the outcome he wants. What a disasterous 7 years we have endured.

Speranza wrote:
This is what you have to say about a man who has trashed the reputation of the US and destroyed its values? You don't mention the 100,000 plus dead Iraqis and the several million people who have led lives of fear and desperation because - yes because of -- Bush's lies, aggression and stupidity. This editorial is a pathetic free-pass for a man who means pratically none of what he says and hates to think. Do you think this should go un-noted. Where's the context? And shame upon shame, you've fallen for his spin on Iraq. Well, we get what we deserve and so long as you can forget the murderous impact Bush has had on US interests, we may as wel be living in Soviet Russia, or Pol Pot's Cambodia. Imagine if Bush were President of China and China had just done what Bush had done. What would you be saying then? The WAPO's indulgence and glossing over of this man's evil acts reflects badly on a newspaper of record.

While there are others worth reading, this would get really too long if I put up all of them. So many of the internet WaPo readers are worth the time to read, it belies reason that the editor in chief is so trivial and so constantly wrong.

Apologies to all of you who think that WaPo revels in the mere numbers of those who read it online, and uses those numbers to attract advertising. There is something to that view, but I am delighted there are enough of us taking the time to stick pins in those balloons Fred Hiatt keeps sending up for his corporate sponsors, trying to act like a respectable news commentator. The truth is always appropriate, and giving the lie to liars is an honorable activity.

Thank you, all you fellow commenters who insist on shouting out the truths that are available even at WaPo, in the news pages.

Labels: ,

Counting The Votes

Many California voting officials are complaining right now, primarily because Secretary of State Debra Bowen decertified their precious electronic voting machines as being unreliable and insecure. While her decision really didn't leave local voter registrars much time to shift to optical-scan systems, Ms. Bowen really didn't have much choice. The whole dust-up is being examined by the Los Angeles Times in a two-part series, the first of which appeared yesterday.

In a series of controversial decisions last year, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen decertified the vast majority of electronic voting machines in the state, arguing that they were vulnerable to tampering and have defects that could corrupt vote counts.

As a result of her order, about a third of California counties are scrambling to prepare for the Feb. 5 presidential primary, printing millions of paper ballots, acquiring new optical scanners and pressing into service optical scanners normally used to count absentee ballots. ...

Bowen enlisted a team of eminent computer scientists from top laboratories and universities. They were able to hack into every type of voting machine. "People just don't trust them," Bowen said about the electronic machines. "You only have one chance to get an election right."

The systems in Los Angeles County, which already uses paper ballots, and in Orange County were recertified and do not expect major problems.

The obvious complaint, that of wasted millions of dollars by counties trying to comply with the "Help America Vote Act" of 2002, certainly has some merit. But that federal law, passed in response to the dreadful 2002 Florida re-count, was itself flawed in that certain assumptions were made, among them that electronic voting machine manufacturers would provide reliable, tamper-proof machines that would come with open-source code. The assumption, of course, was soon proved to be wrong, as elections and complaints since 2002 have made clear.

The real complaint coming from local officials, however, is that the optical scan system, coupled with the increase use of absentee ballots will take more time to get accurate results on election night and the following days.

In San Bernardino, a test run of paper ballots in November found that optical scanners could count only 10,000 votes per hour. That means it could take more than 17 hours, starting at 10 p.m., to handle the 175,000 votes expected, said Registrar Kari Verjil.

"We will be working all night," she said.


I mean, why is it absolutely necessary to have full results by 11:00 PM election night? One answer is that the networks want an early report so that they can blast the names of winner and losers, can analyze and re-analyze the trend, and can tout their own brilliance in predicting the winners. I think the media has had more than their share in shaping elections. I don't think they deseve another big chunk.

While I've pretty much always been a fan of instant gratification, this is one area where I'd much prefer the officials got it right, not simply got it done fast. I can wait a week if it means that my vote and every other vote actually got counted. If the local voting officials have to accomplish that by tallying each individual vote by hand, then so be it.

All elections are important, especially this one. It's our right as citizens that the vote counting be done accurately, and voting officials should plan on doing just that rather than whining before the ballots even get to them.

Labels: , ,

Monday, January 28, 2008

You Too 'Eat Lead'

Anyone who went to many, many cowboy movies in their youth knows what it means, but an old and traditional shoot-em-up oath was "Eat lead", an announcement that our Hero was about to shoot the snarling villain.

In 1976, lead began to be phased out in gasoline. It was also banned in paints, because lead had been connected with brain damage in children.

Recently, we rediscovered lead in the environment, by way of imported toys. Yes, kids not only suck and chew toys, they also handle them and put their hands into their mouths. Paint, I find, isn't the only way that lead gets inside the kids, and inside you and me. Visiting the Centers for Disease Control website on the subject, I find that lead is a component in plastics generally. Look around at the things you use to cook, eat and serve food. Ooooops, lotsa plastic.

Paint: Lead may be found in the paint on toys. It was banned in house paint, on products marketed to children, and in dishes or cookware in the United States in 1978; however, it is still widely used in other countries and therefore can still be found on imported toys. It may also be found on older toys made in the United States before the ban.

Plastic: The use of lead in plastics has not been banned. It softens the plastic and makes it more flexible so that it can go back to its original shape. It may also be used in plastic toys to stabilize molecules from heat. When the plastic is exposed to substances such as sunlight, air, and detergents the chemical bond between the lead and plastics breaks down and forms a dust. (Emphasis added.)

The present executive branch full of corporate shills has brought boom times for anyone who wants to ignore protections of the public, of course. Some independent bodies have remained above that element, and continue doing good work. CDC is one.

Another finding about the lead exposure threat has shown that the effects are showing up later in life, and may be part of our aging population's mental challenges. As a member of that older generation, I take this seriously.

Studying delayed effects in people is difficult, because they generally must be followed for a long time. Research with lead is easier, because scientists can measure the amount that has accumulated in the shinbone over decades and get a read on how much lead a person has been exposed to.

Lead in the blood, by contrast, reflects recent exposure. Virtually all Americans have lead in their blood, but the amounts are far lower today than in the past.

The big reason for the drop: the phasing out of lead in gasoline from 1976 to 1991. Because of that and accompanying measures, the average lead level in the blood of American adults fell 30 percent by 1980 and about 80 percent by 1990.
The researchers estimated each person's lifetime dose by scanning their shinbones for lead. Then they gave each one a battery of mental ability tests.

In brief, the scientists found that the higher the lifetime lead dose, the poorer the performance across a wide variety of mental functions, like verbal and visual memory and language ability. From low to high dose, the difference in mental functioning was about the equivalent of aging by two to six years.

We can protect our children if we have information about threats like lead paint, and the media have been very good about the toys that have been imported, and found to be dangerous.

The rest of the information I've been digging up isn't front page, headlined news.

The harmful effects of lead, who knows, maybe one of these days we'll have scientists who proclaim it was really good for us - if we are still in GoPerv dominated times, they'll immediately be put in charge of kids' health.

From my understanding to date, I am going to look more closely at my use of lead content in food prep.

Disclosure: I am not being paid by our petroleum industries, or even George Soros. I am advising you readers to take charge of getting informed, as we cannot depend on this occupied White House to provide basic needs, much less supervision of our manufacturing/importing industries.

The 'eat lead' element is in power, but their End Times is less than a year away.

Diane has been doing a daily countdown, which makes me happier every day.

Labels: , , , ,

Just Mean

It seems to me that the only time the president is interested in budget cutting is when it comes to the poor and vulnerable. Tax cuts for the wealthy and for businesses can't be touched, nor can funding for his vanity wars. But when it comes to a bill for helping out the rest of us, the veto pen is unsheathed and brandished threateningly. An editorial in today's NY Times makes my case.

Five years ago, the United States Commission on Civil Rights examined the government’s centuries-old treaty obligations for the welfare of Native Americans and found Washington spending 50 percent less per capita on their health care than is devoted to felons in prison and the poor on Medicaid.

A bipartisan bill to begin repairing this shameful situation is now on the Senate floor. It takes aim at such long neglected needs as the plight of urban Indians, who account for two-thirds of the nation’s 4.1 million tribal population. Most of the American Indians and Alaska natives living in cities are either ineligible for, or unable to reach, the limited help of the Indian Health Service’s reservation-based programs. During the Bush years the White House has sought to eliminate — not bolster — the severely underfinanced Urban Indian Health Program. ...

The administration insists it wants to improve health care for Native Americans. But it objects to the most basic parts of the Senate measure, including its provisions for better urban health programs and its proposal to provide better access to Medicaid and Medicare. Officials also reject the bill’s proposal to build new clinics because it would require the government to pay construction workers prevailing local wages and benefits.
[Emphasis added]

There you have it: the nation's First Americans rank below felons when it comes to providing health care, and, as we in California have learned, those in prison don't exactly get the kind of health care that, say, Vice-President Cheney gets. For all practical purposes, those who have left the reservations for a better shot at employment or education get zero access to health care. The White House refusal to fund the urban health care programs hardly supports its insistence that it wants to change that scenario.

Here's the kicker, however. The White House doesn't want to pay workers building new clinics the prevailing wages and benefits. That's all of a piece with this administration's priorities. Money can always be found for shiny new Ospreys and tanks that even the military doesn't particularly want, but somehow there just isn't enough to fund health care for the poor or to pay decent wages to those who would build clinics. How surprising.

357 days to go.

Labels: ,

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday Poetry: Leo Yankevich

The July Sun Over Lebanon

She hears bombs raze the nunnery.

She hears F-16s on their way

back to Israel, to reload

new bombs sent from America.

Blinding smoke burns in her eyes

and shrouds the limbs of terrorists,

boys and girls from grammar school

who in the spring first learned to count.

Leo Yankevich

(Published at War Poetry.)

Leaving A Mark

Somebody must have reminded President Bush that the US is engaged in another war because suddenly there is a flurry of activity and agitation over Afghanistan, the forgotten war.

In an AP report this morning, we learn that the US is going to "re-energize" the battle in Afghanistan:

In a shift with profound implications, the Bush administration is attempting to re-energize its terrorism-fighting war efforts in Afghanistan, the original target of a post-Sept. 11 offensive. The U.S. also is refocusing on Pakistan, where a regenerating al-Qaida is posing fresh threats.

It is far from certain that U.S. combat troops will set foot in Pakistan in any substantial numbers. On Friday, Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, said his country opposes any foreign forces on its soil. "The man in the street will not allow this - he will come out and agitate," he said. Musharraf said the U.S. instead should bolster its combat forces in Afghanistan.

And therein lies the rub: Pakistan is not interested in a US military presence in country, which is really not too hard to understand. Musharraf has enough trouble keeping the lid on his country without that kind of unpopular distraction. In fact, President Musharraf made that point quite clear to the US several weeks ago, according to this article in today's NY Times:

... in the unannounced meetings on Jan. 9 with the two American officials — Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, and Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director — Mr. Musharraf rebuffed proposals to expand any American combat presence in Pakistan, either through unilateral covert C.I.A. missions or by joint operations with Pakistani security forces.

Feelings are running high against President Musharraf in Pakistan, but so are feelings against President Bush. In fact, it appears that much of Mr. Musharraf's problems are linked to his relationship with Mr. Bush, a man so despised that he was the subject of one of the more insulting (and delightfully snarky) diatribes I've read in a long time. It was published January 25 in Pakistan's The Nation. Here's a taste:

Bush loves soldiers. But he hates being a soldier himself. He loves the American soldiers who die in the battlefield for the country’s glory. But he hates himself to be a battlefield martyr for the country’s glory. He loves to die in his bed for the country’s sake. ...

Bush is a religious man. He loves Christ. But he does not like Christ’s teachings. Christ, in his Sermon on the Mount, says “If someone hits one of your cheeks, offer him your other cheek as well.” As against the Sermon, Bush believes if anybody has done no harm to you, you must kill him unceremoniously. Innumerable innocent men, women and children are killed by Bush’s bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq just because they had done no harm to Bush. The innocent men, women and children who are still alive in Iraq and Afghanistan must be apprehending that they could be blown out of the world any moment by American bombs.

It is no wonder that President Musharraf wants no part of any US military plans for his country. And so, because Mr. Bush decided to concentrate his Global War On Terror on a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, while totally ignoring a war he started that at least had some tenuous connections, he may leave office with the dubious distinction of being a president who lost two wars.

The op-ed in The Nation finishes with this:

Bush’s tenure is about to expire. It is a good omen for the world peace.


358 days to go.

Labels: , , ,

No More Privacy Illusions

Security as grounds for more intrusion into the networks; raise your hand if you're surprised. Those cyber attacks are such a worry to our war criminals in the executive branch, they've decided to listen in on more conversations to make sure they catch anyone else doing it first.

The latest wiretap is justified by grounds that it's in case the Chinese sources - probably checking on their investment in our government - announce that they're from China and your email is belong to them. From what the NSA has done without any court permission so far, I really don't see how they can be entrusted with this newest violation of our rights to privacy

President Bush signed a directive this month that expands the intelligence community's role in monitoring Internet traffic to protect against a rising number of attacks on federal agencies' computer systems.

The directive, whose content is classified, authorizes the intelligence agencies, in particular the National Security Agency, to monitor the computer networks of all federal agencies -- including ones they have not previously monitored.

Until now, the government's efforts to protect itself from cyber-attacks -- which run the gamut from hackers to organized crime to foreign governments trying to steal sensitive data -- have been piecemeal. Under the new initiative, a task force headed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) will coordinate efforts to identify the source of cyber-attacks against government computer systems. As part of that effort, the Department of Homeland Security will work to protect the systems and the Pentagon will devise strategies for counterattacks against the intruders.
One of the key questions is whether it is necessary to read communications to investigate an intrusion.

Ed Giorgio, a former NSA analyst who is now a security consultant for ODNI, said, "If you're looking inside a DoD system and you see data flows going to China, that ought to set off a red flag. You don't need to scan the content to determine that."

But often, traffic analysis is not enough, some experts said. "Knowing the content -- that a communication is sensitive -- allows proof positive that something bad is going out of that computer," said one cyber-security expert who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the initiative's sensitivity.

Allowing a spy agency to monitor domestic networks is worrisome, said James X. Dempsey, policy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology. "We're concerned that the NSA is claiming such a large role over the security of unclassified systems," he said. "They are a spy agency as well as a communications security agency. They operate in total secrecy. That's not necessary and not the most effective way to protect unclassified systems." (Emphasis added.)

There has been such a loss of faith in our war criminal leaders that of course, this latest wiretapping was not proposed as an actual legal measure. The unitary cretin in chief has stopped even trying to pretend his governing follows that old Rule of Law. A directive has become the new police state method.

That the rightwingers want to know what we are saying is hardly surprising. Now you better not be working in the public interest at those agencies that are supposed to serve the public, like, say Agriculture. Step away from that green piece of meat, it's corporate owned.

We know very well NSA has a few choice telltale words like 'blue', 'rights' and 'Guantanamo' to indicate that they should trace this particular subversive internet communication.

It's time for the prosecution of the occupied White House for issuing illegal edicts and executing illegal acts to begin.

Labels: , ,

Disaster Capitalism

I generally leave the economic posts to Ruth because she knows a lot more about the subject than I do. However, today I read an op-ed piece written by Naomi Klein for the Los Angeles Times that made a whole lot of sense, even to economic dunderheads such as I. Ms. Klein's thesis is that the corporatocracy uses disasters to further its agenda.

...Over the last four years, I have been researching a little-explored area of economic history: the way that crises have paved the way for the march of the right-wing economic revolution across the globe. A crisis hits, panic spreads and the ideologues fill the breach, rapidly reengineering societies in the interests of large corporate players. It's a maneuver I call "disaster capitalism."

Sometimes the enabling national disasters have been physical blows to countries: wars, terrorist attacks, natural disasters. More often they have been economic crises: debt spirals, hyperinflation, currency shocks, recessions. ...

To be sure, desperate countries will generally do what it takes to get a bailout. An atmosphere of panic also frees the hands of politicians to quickly push through radical changes that would otherwise be too unpopular, such as privatization of essential services, weakening of worker protections and free-trade deals. In a crisis, debate and democratic process can be handily dismissed as unaffordable luxuries.

The Bush Administration has used the approach described by Ms. Klein with shameless speed time after time.

Again and again, the Bush administration has seized on crises to break logjams blocking the more radical pieces of its economic agenda. First, a recession provided the excuse for sweeping tax cuts. Next, the "war on terror" ushered in an era of unprecedented military and homeland security privatization. After Hurricane Katrina, the administration handed out tax holidays, rolled back labor standards, closed public housing projects and helped turn New Orleans into a laboratory for charter schools -- all in the name of disaster "reconstruction."

Given this track record, Washington lobbyists had every reason to believe that the current recession fears would provoke a new round of corporate gift-giving. Yet it seems that the public is getting wise to the tactics of disaster capitalism. Sure, the proposed $150-billion economic stimulus package is little more than a dressed-up tax cut, including a new batch of "incentives" to business. But the Democrats nixed the more ambitious GOP attempt to leverage the crisis to lock in the Bush tax cuts and go after Social Security. For the time being, it seems that a crisis created by a dogged refusal to regulate markets will not be "fixed" by giving Wall Street more public money with which to gamble.

Like Ms. Klein, I was sorely disappointed that the Democratic-led Congress shut out the most vulnerable of Americans from the new give-away, yet I think her pointing out what the Democrats did manage to squelch is important. Messing with Social Security and making the tax cuts for the wealthy permanent got taken off the table. The solution proposed is not perfect, and will do little in the long run to stabilize and to grow the economy in ways that benefit all Americans, not just the wealthy. In the mean time, however, progressives have their work cut out for them:

Every crisis is an opportunity; someone will exploit it. The question we face is this: Will the current turmoil become an excuse to transfer yet more public wealth into private hands, to wipe out the last vestiges of the welfare state, all in the name of economic growth? Or will this latest failure of unfettered markets be the catalyst that is needed to revive a spirit of public interest, to get serious about the pressing crises of our time, from gaping inequality to global warming to failing infrastructure?

We are in the midst of a campaign for the next president, for a new administration. Whoever wins in November will still have an economy that is ailing and will be forced, with Congress, to come up with plans that actually do something to halt the slide into a country of the very rich and the very poor. May the next president have the wisdom and the courage to do so.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bonus Critter Blogging: Chimpanzee

(Photo published at The Humane Society of the United States website, which you should visit to see what's going on with animals in research.)

Wait, Maybe Nobody Will Notice

Last week, the U.S. Center For Public Integrity published a study that showed how the current administration quite literally lied us into the Iraq War and how the American media assisted. The report, titled "The War Card: Orchestrated Deception On The Path To War", is available here and the data base upon which is based is located here and is easily searchable.

The report is devastatingly clear as to what was going on in 2003. One would think that the conclusions of that report would rock the country. Unfortunately, one would be wrong. This is not to say that the mainstream media didn't pick it up. A quick Google search indicates that the AP published an article on it January 23 (presumably two days later), which was picked up by Yahoo. On the same day, a NY Times columnist writes about it without breaking down how the 935 lies were distributed amongst White House officials. Again, on the same day, Dan Froomkin had a much more thorough column in the Washington Post.

OK, at least some mention of the study made it into a couple of major US papers. That's good, right? I might be more impressed if it weren't for the fact that the Netherlands' NRC Handelsblad had an article up two days earlier, one which was more detailed and just as damning as Froomkin's column:

According to a study published yesterday by the U.S. Center for Public Integrity, during two years and in 532 speeches, press conferences, interviews and other public appearances, the case was made that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or that it wanted to make them or acquire them, or that Saddam Hussein maintained links to the Al Qaeda terrorist network. It has now been definitely established that both allegations were untrue.

According to the study, the declarations were “part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.” The United States supported by, among others, Great Britain, invaded Iraq in March 2003.

President Bush made 232 of such statements; the then-Secretary of State Colin Powell made 244. Also, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld (109), White House spokesman Ari Fleischer (109), Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (85), then-National security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (56) and Vice President Cheney (38).

The researchers also point out the “cumulative effect” of these statements, which was “massive” because the media coverage created “an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war. Some journalists — indeed, even some entire news organizations — have since acknowledged that their coverage during those prewar months was far too deferential and uncritical.” And, “... much of this media coverage provided additional, ‘independent’ validation of the Bush administration's false statements about Iraq. ...”

OK, that's bad enough: the US press got scooped by another country's press. Since the issuance of the report, however, there have been a couple of debates amongst the two parties' candidates for president, and both have been 'moderated' by well-known representatives of the US press. Not one question even indirectly alluded to this study and its contents. It's as if the study never happened, or if it did, that it had any relevance.

Meanwhile, more bombs are exploding in Baghdad, more US troops and more Iraqis are dying. Maybe no one will notice, at least anyone who counts.

Labels: ,

If It's All Good, It Must Be Partisan

While it has been touted as a glowingly 'bipartisan' measure that is going to pass because it has support from both sides of the aisle in Congress, the stimulus package that is being proposed in reality is completely partisan. It adopts the Democratic aim of using government to benefit the people. That is as partisan as it gets.

The debacle that the U.S. economy has become was never anything but partisan, GoPervian, abuse of the working class that has made household expenses almost impossible to afford.

The rescue that their abuse has made necessary isn't exactly bipartisan, when it is forced on the occupied White House by the very economic disaster created by partisan, corporate welfare, policies. Only because it can't face another recession is the executive branch leaving behind its wide stance of resistance to benefits for the working class. Coming into the light is hardly bipartisan. It is actually extremely partisan - just not on the usual dark side.

Calling the stimulus package that leaders of both parties have agreed to 'bipartisan' is just an attempt to gloss over the disastrous policies that have led us into economic free-fall. The stimulus is absolutely partisan; it is good policy that benefits the working class.

The Senate is considering making the coming stimulus package more partisan yet, and that may be a very good idea. If the Congress can write a bill more to the left, it may just be able to force the extremists, that favor the very wealthy and corporate welfare, into signing onto that bill or throw away the votes they are going to need to retain any power in government. The more benefits go to the desperate, the more sure they are to be spent, and get into the economy.

If the right wing balks at making a real effort to rescue our working class, it may create the spectacle of stalling government. That would on a temporary basis make greater hardship for not only the working class, but corporate and financial institutions as well. Would that be such a bad thing? I'm inclined to think that letting the right wing bring itself down for the next decade or so might be the best thing for the country that we can hope for.

The U.S. Senate is likely to increase unemployment benefits in the economic stimulus plan agreed to by the House and the Bush administration, said Senator Charles Schumer, chairman of the Joint Economic Committee.

Spending additional money on unemployment benefits and food stamps will generate ``more bang for the buck,'' said Schumer, a New Yorker who is the Senate's No. 3 Democrat. The package of provisions designed to boost economic growth was announced Jan. 24 by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

``The economists tell us that the No. 1 thing to get money into the economy fast is extending unemployment benefits and maybe increasing them by a little bit temporarily,'' Schumer said yesterday in an interview on Bloomberg Television's ``Political Capital with Al Hunt,'' scheduled to air this weekend. ``It's something we'd like to see added in.''

Schumer is among senators looking to make changes to a bipartisan deal that the House and the Bush administration worked out this week to help the U.S. avoid recession. Under that agreement, the Internal Revenue Service will distribute tax-rebate checks to 117 million families earning at least $3,000, give businesses incentives to invest in equipment and allow federally chartered mortgage-finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to buy mortgages of up to $729,750.

That plan is a ``good fundamental foundation to work from,'' Schumer said, adding that Pelosi has known all along that the Senate would make changes.

The vetoes that have been used to keep remedial legislation from helping the U.S. public may just have to be renounced if the stimulus our economy needs is going to get into our hands within a reasonable time period.

We will watch with interest if the lame duck presidency is going down to a totally ignominious end, refusing to work for a solution to the crises it has created. If the need to pitch another tantrum proves too tempting to the worst president ever, that may well be the result.

Of course, prosecution for war crimes is beginning to loom on that horizon. Impeachment is a beginning.

Labels: , , ,

Ignoring The Inspector General

Some government officials aren't even pretending anymore. I guess they figure they've got less than a year to further screw the nation, so they've stepped up their efforts. This article in today's NY Times gives a pretty good example of what I mean.

The Education Department has brushed aside a finding by its own inspector general that a student lender improperly received $34 million in federal subsidies, and is instructing the lender to decide for itself how much money it should pay back.

In a letter sent Friday to the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, a state-owned company that makes and guarantees student loans, the department said it had estimated the overpayment at only $15.1 million, and said in a separate letter that it agreed with only some of the findings of the inspector general. But it told the agency to calculate for itself the amount it thought it had overbilled the government. Any final payment would require the approval of the Education Department.

The agency “must provide a detailed explanation of its plan to identify affected loans and to calculate overpayments,” which would be deducted from future reimbursement requests, wrote Patricia Trubia, a department official, in the letter.

Keith New, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania agency, said it was “very pleased” with the department’s letter, and that it would continue to negotiate with the department over any repayment obligation.

“We could wind up with zero liability,” Mr. New said.
[Emphasis added]

Why, yes, Mr. New, you could, and probably will. But you better act quickly. This offer won't last forever.

I don't know which is worse: ignoring the department's own inspector general or allowing the lender to decide how much of the ill-gotten gains has to be returned. It's like a local district attorney telling a bank robber that while the police caught him in the act of stealing the money, if he'll just give some of the money back, whatever he feels like returning, then he can just go home, no further questions asked.

359 days to go.

Labels: ,

Friday, January 25, 2008

Friday Catblogging

Looking for a cat you can visit online and help out? Tabby's Place is cage-free and offers several choices, but you know why Elderly Hypertensive appealed to me.

No one would guess that Hillary is 18 years old. But, she is one frisky senior citizen. Hillary is a funny kitty who graces the staff and volunteers with her presence each day as a resident of the Community Room. While she’s chronically fearful of feline roommates Franny and Sammie, Hillary relishes human attention and affection with great gusto.

A cat with Hillary’s energy and charm has hope for adoption despite her advanced age and mild hypertension. However, given her age, it is possible that she may develop further medical issues (though we certainly hope not!). Your generous monthly sponsorship of Hillary will help us to provide this feisty, fabulous senior with all the care she needs.


Oh, Please

Some excuses just get overworked to the point that all they can evoke is derisive laughter. Perhaps the most current example of that was an excuse offered by a spokesman for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. What provoked yet another round of "Who could have imagined/anticipated..."? Today's Boston Globe has an update on a story that has been reported for months concerning the backlog of applications for citizenship.

Immigrants in Massachusetts and nationwide could wait 16 to 18 months - more than double the usual period - to become US citizens because of a massive backlog, leaving thousands possibly unable to vote in November.

The backlog is the result of millions of applications for citizenship, green cards, and work permits that swamped immigration offices last summer before hefty fee increases went into effect July 30. ...

Federal immigration officials across the nation are hiring hundreds of staff members, paying overtime, and streamlining bureaucracy to process the applications more quickly. In Boston, officials will add more officers and in March will add an extra day, Saturday, to help break up the backlog in citizenship interviews.

Officials in Massachusetts had hoped the delays would be shorter. But after opening hundreds of applications that came in before the fee increases, a process they finished just recently, they realized the wait could be as long as 18 months, which is also the national average. Before the fee change, the wait here was four to five months, and about six months nationally.

"We're hoping that people won't have to wait that long," said Shawn Saucier, spokesman for US Citizenship and Immigration Services. But, he added, "What we're facing is immense."
[Emphasis added]

The federal government announced the upcoming fee increase (more than 50%) a few months before it went into effect. A prudent manager would have anticipated a rush to avoid the increase, but not the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. It is just now hiring additional staff, and only because the stacks of applications have become embarrassingly high and noticeable by just about everyone. For an administration affiliated with a party that claims government needs to be run more like a business, and which has an Ivy League MBA in the top-spot, this screw-up is really amazing, that is, if it actually is a screw-up.

Some people, including the immigrants applying to be citizens and the people who have assisted them, think more is involved here:

Lucy Pineda, founder and director of Everett-based Latinos United in Massachusetts, said she feared the delays were attempts by the Republican administration to thwart would-be Latino voters, who tend to vote Democratic nationally, in the presidential election. "Unfortunately, they're not going to be able to vote," she said. "They're trying to close the doors."

"Unpossible," claims the government spokesman (and here comes the money quote):

But Saucier said it is "absurd" to suggest that the delay is politically motivated, and pointed out that applications for citizenship and other benefits jumped even more than officials had anticipated after the July 30 fee hike, from $400 to $675. [Emphasis added]

Yeah, right.

360 days to go.

Labels: , , ,

Return of The Surge

Where did it go?

Easy enough to find all the candidates' tiffs and claims of great successes you want. The bipartisan moola that is being touted as Just What We Want to end the years of housing boom accompanied by massive defrauding of housing loan recipients, that's east enough to sniff out.

But where did that war in Iraq go?

Refreshingly, the Dallas Morning News featured an op-ed today that discussed The Surge, and found out what you knew all along. It's barely keeping the whitewash from running right off that rusty jalopy that the occupied White House has substituted for a real functioning edition of a government.

The administration and its allies insist that the decline in violence and U.S. casualties is proof we have turned the corner. But as with alleged breakthroughs in the past, this one turns out to be composed mostly of wishful thinking and selective vision.

Even the claim of improved security is a major overstatement. True, American military casualties have dropped sharply over the past year, and many Iraqi neighborhoods are no longer the charnel houses they used to be. But Americans are still dying at the rate of one every day. And violent civilian Iraqi deaths, according to the independent Web site, have averaged about 1,000 a month since September.

That's far lower than in last January, but it's no better than in 2005, and it's well above the levels of 2004 – when Iraq was already in the grip of bloody chaos. To pronounce that reduction a success is like driving your car into a lake and then bragging when you pull it halfway out.

The more sober supporters of the war recognize we have far to go. "Very real progress is anything but stable victory, even in the area where the U.S. and Iraqi surge has been most effective," writes Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The surge, he says, "has not brought lasting stability and security" even to Baghdad.
What has been clear in recent months is what was always clear: Iraqis are not ready to make the compromises needed to create a stable, unified nation. And as long as we stay in Iraq, they don't have to.

One key gauge of success for the administration's strategy is whether Iraqis will be able to take over running their own country. By that measure, it's a failure. Iraqi defense minister Abdul Qadir says the government won't be able to take full responsibility for internal security until 2012 – or to handle outside threats until 2018 or 2020.

What we have achieved in Iraq is not victory but an expensive stalemate that appears to have no end. John McCain, asked how long he is willing to keep American forces in Iraq, replied, "Maybe a hundred years." If that's the goal, we're on the right track.(Emphasis added.)

It's End Times for the cretin in chief, and pictures dominate of him trying to act like a leader. In the Middle East he can get as far away from reality as he has repeatedly shown he really, really likes. Pouring public dollars down the black hole of the financial debacle he's created makes him feel like the emperor he's always pretended to be. Of course, knowing it will all come back in come tax time next year makes that fun for all.

Those deaths and the fortune this administration has lied into their political service just hasn't worked out for them. A media that lay down and begged to be walked on after 9-11 learned the cold hard facts from those like the McClatchy papers that kept doggedly following those truths instead of truthiness.

Its little drama has folded, and the kabuki players are not fooling anyone by posturing - the war is a failure, and so is the 'peace' they've declared.

We are about to elect the leaders who will get us out of the quagmire. There's no choice when it comes to party. Any Democrat will do it for us, and we're getting there soon.

Labels: , ,

Finally, An Admission

While geologists and climate change scientists have been urging the world to look for alternative and clean sources of energy, the multinational oil companies have simply sat back and raked in the money. Finally, the head of one of them has admitted that oil production will soon be unable to meet demand for several reasons. From London's Times:

World demand for oil and gas will outstrip supply within seven years, according to Royal Dutch Shell.

The oil multinational is predicting that conventional supplies will not keep pace with soaring population growth and the rapid pace of economic development.

Jeroen van der Veer, Shell’s chief executive, said in an e-mail to the company’s staff this week that output of conventional oil and gas was close to peaking. He wrote: “Shell estimates that after 2015 supplies of easy-to-access oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand.”

The boss of the world’s second-largest oil company forecast that, regardless of government policy initiatives and investment in renewables, the world would need more nuclear power and unconventional fossil fuels, such as oil sands.

“Using more energy inevitably means emitting more CO2 at a time when climate change has become a critical global issue,” he wrote.

2015: that's just seven years away. For those of us in the US, that means that soon gas at $3 per gallon will be a fond memory. The increased costs of transportation have already shown up at the grocery store cash register and will continue to rise. The price of heating oil and electricity generated by natural gas will also skyrocket. Mr. van der Veer's assessment is at least a decade late, but is chilling nonetheless.

What is equally as chilling is his refusal to look beyond current technology (much of which I firmly believe has been held back by the power of the multinational oil companies). Nuclear power? We still haven't figured out what to do with the nuclear waste or how to secure the facilities from those who would use that waste or the uranium itself for terrorist purposes. Nuclear power generators rely on enormous amounts of water for cooling, water that is in scarce supply in much of the US right now. Oil extracted from sands? When it takes the equivalent of a barrel of oil in energy to extract a barrel of oil, what have we gained?

Mr. van der Veer is apparently taking this message to Davos this week. Hopefully he and the other thinkers at this international gathering come up with some better ideas.

Labels: ,

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Thursday Birdblogging

One of the exciting birds I saw on a boat trip out of Rockport, TX, in the Aransas area, the Roseate Spoonbill is one of the birds that seems almost too fantastic. A flight overhead was a high point of that day.

Unlike most birds, roseate spoonbills are silent and often solitary when they feed. They swish their spoon-shaped bills back and forth in the water to find small invertebrates, fish and crustaceans. During breeding season, the male uses gifts of nesting material to attract the female. Once mated, the pair remains monogamous. Both male and female take turns sitting on the eggs and feeding the young.

Spoonbills eat shrimp, shrimp eat algae, and the algae make their own red and yellow pigments, called carotenoids. Some scientists believe that the pink coloration that roseate spoonbills acquire as they mature is due to their diet of carotenoid-rich organisms like shrimp. The more they eat, the pinker they get.


The Candidates' Positions On Global Warming

Yesterday I complained that journalists weren't doing enough to inform the voters of where each of the candidates stood on various issues and what kind of proposals they had in dealing with those issues. I may have spoken too soon, because I found this AP article this morning.

While the major presidential candidates agree global warming is real, the Republicans are sharply divided over what to do about it - even as they chase votes in Florida, where the predicted risk of rising sea waters and more severe storms is anything but a passing concern. ...

"Climate change is real. It's happening. I believe human beings are contributing to it," former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said during a debate in Iowa when pressed on the issue.

But Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney adamantly oppose a mandatory cap on the greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, that are blamed for the earth's warming. Both have borrowed a page from President Bush's strategy by maintaining that the answer is to free the country from its dependence on foreign oil.

That's in marked contrast to Sen. John McCain, who is battling Giuliani and Romney for the lead in Florida. The Arizona senator has been among Congress' loudest voices for aggressive action, co-sponsoring legislation in 2003 that called for capping greenhouse gases - principally carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels - and frequently chiding the Bush administration for its failure to support mandatory measures to reduce such emissions. ...

...Giuliani has no taste for mandates on carbon emissions, saying they make no sense.

"The best way to deal with it is through energy independence," he argues, calling for building more nuclear power plants, promoting conservation and alternative fuels and more research into capturing carbon dioxide from coal plants. He argues mandates to cap greenhouse gases don't make sense.

"The best way to deal with it is through energy independence," he argues, calling for building more nuclear power plants, promoting conservation and alternative fuels and more research into capturing carbon dioxide from coal plants. He argues mandates to cap greenhouse gases don't make sense.

Some environmentalists say they're not surprised by Giuliani's position given his association with one of the most influential law/lobbying firms in Washington that represent energy interests. Giuliani joined Houston-based Bracewell-Giuliani as a partner three years ago. ...

Romney has a similar recipe for dealing with global warming.

"We can dramatically reduce our CO2 emissions by putting ourselves realistically on a course of energy independence," he told New Hampshire voters, adding that he opposes any mandatory, across-the-board carbon limits unless other countries take steps as well.

"It's global warming, not America warming," has been his standard reply when asked for his views on regulating carbon dioxide.

While the bulk of the article concerned the GOP candidates, one paragraph deep within the article was devoted to the Democrats (perhaps because all three of the leaders actually agreed).

The leading Democratic candidates - Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards - have called for a mandatory 80 percent cut in greenhouse gases from 1990 levels by mid-century and have outlined global warming proposals more stringent than Democratic legislation before the Senate.

While it would have been nice to know just what each of those proposals entail, at least the article did lay out where the various candidates stand.

It's a start, and none too soon.

Labels: , ,

Don't Look Now

[Note: This post is actually by Ruth, but she is having some very odd computer problems, so I'm putting it up for her.]

Remember the agreement with North Korea that the occupied White House was touting for a big success not so long ago? As I noted recently, hey, on December when PyongYang was supposed to produce a list of all its nuclear facilities, Nothing Happened. Except when Ms. Perino announced how disappointed we are that nothing was produced, North Korea replied that they had indeed produced a list. If you have noticed, Nothing since has been said.

Surprise, it seems that North Korea did indeed produce that list.

On Jan. 2, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the United States was still "waiting to hear" from the North. Pyongyang responded that the United States had its declaration. After some tail-chasing, it emerged that North Korea had quietly shared an initial declaration with the United States in November. According to media reports, this declaration stated that North Korea had a separated plutonium stockpile of 30 kilograms and denied that it had a uranium enrichment program.

If you are as astonished as I am that a communication of this importance was not taken any notice of, you too have yet to accept that we are in possession of a fully nonfunctional government.

Recently word got out that the cretin in chief is in the process of formulating an agreement with his puppet government in Iraq to establish our U.S. presence for an indeterminate period. Something tells me that agreement is about to join North Korea's list and emails relating to Valerie Plame's outing by the executive branch.

I do indeed wonder what else the worst administration ever is plowing under for us to fall over after they are gone. I know as well as you do that it will not be a nice surprise.

Labels: ,

How Surprising

Apparently the Democrats in Congress still haven't learned anything about how this White House operates. Either that, or they are remarkably good actors. This time they are surprised, nay, shocked! that the White House continues to push a nominee for a senior level Justice Department position after the Senate has refused to confirm several times before. The nominee, Steven G. Bradbury, apparently wrote some legal opinions ("classified", naturally) in support of using torture techniques on detainees. From today's NY Times:

The Justice Department lawyer who wrote a series of classified legal opinions in 2005 authorizing harsh C.I.A. interrogation techniques was renominated by the White House on Wednesday to a senior department post, a move that was seen as a snub to Senate Democrats who have long opposed his appointment. ...

But the earlier nominations stalled in the Senate because of a dispute with the Justice Department over its failure to provide Congress with copies of legal opinions on a variety of terrorism issues. Under Senate rules that place a time limit on nominations, Mr. Bradbury’s earlier nominations expired.

Late last year, Democrats urged the White House to withdraw Mr. Bradbury’s name once and for all and find a new candidate for the post after it was disclosed in news reports in October that he was the author of classified memorandums that gave approval to harsh interrogation techniques, including head slapping, exposure to cold and simulated drowning, even when used in combination.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Bradley's nomination has been rejected several times, primarily because the White House has refused Congress's request for copies of those and other legal opinions having to do with "harsh interrogation techniques," the current euphemism for torture. OK, a proper response. But the current Democratic-led Congress should not feign surprise at the White House renomination of Mr. Bradbury. Mr. Bush knows that sooner or later the Democrats will cave and the nominee will be confirmed. He isn't issuing a "snub" to Congress, he is showing his profound disrespect for them.

In the mean time, all of those congresscritters with hurt feelings are scurrying around trying to put together an economic stimulus plan that Mr. Bush will sign. The White House will get what it wants (including making the tax cuts for the wealthy permanent), which is not necessarily what the people of America need.

But hey!, it's all good because it's bipartisan!

361 days to go.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Asking The Questions

I read the online version of the Sacramento Bee every morning, mainly because as far as I'm concerned, it is the paper of record when it comes to California state politics. That said, however, the Sacramento Bee doesn't ignore national and international news, and, as a McClatchy paper, it does a damned fine job in coverage, especially on its editorial page. Here's today's editorial.

In coming weeks the remaining presidential candidates will be trying to outshine each other in the Golden State.

While they are here, all should be pressed to answer a simple yes or no question: Will they allow California to implement its 2002 law limiting emissions of greenhouse gases from cars and trucks sold in this state?

Why, yes. It would be nice if the candidates were asked that simple question. The candidates should be asked all kinds of "simple questions" so that the voters have some clue as to where each of the candidates stands on issues important to the country. What's so refreshing about The Bee is that it went ahead and actually asked the question of the candidates.

On the Democratic side, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was the first to answer, saying "the EPA has a legal and moral responsibility to allow the states to do their part to help stop global warming. …When I am president, the EPA will get out of the way."

Sen. Barack Obama also said he would overturn the EPA's decision, calling it "yet another example of how this administration has put corporate interests ahead of the public interest."

Sen. Hillary Clinton didn't respond, although during a Jan. 11 visit to California she said she supports "what the state is trying to do to begin to regulate the fuel pipe emissions."

So far, none of the Republican candidates has staked out a clear position on California's law, although it is possible to guess where at least some of them stand.

While campaigning in Michigan, former Gov. Mitt Romney lashed Sen. John McCain for supporting stronger fuel economy standards, saying they would devastate Michigan's economy.

Other GOP candidates – including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas – oppose tougher fuel economy standards. Aside from McCain on the GOP side, only Mike Huckabee has voiced his support for improved fuel efficiency.

This is what a free press is supposed to do: inform the public. It's nice to see that at least one member of that group is willing to do so.

Labels: , ,

Hurry Up, Please: It's Time

Last November, I posted on a "thought crime" bill that had been passed overwhelmingly in the House and was now residing in the Senate awaiting action. The mainstream media has reported very little on the bill, but yesterday an editorial in the Sacramento Bee took the right stand on the bill:

The definitions in the bill are so vague as to sweep up all sorts of activities that Americans would not associate with terrorism. That's why the bill has drawn the opposition of the National Lawyers Guild, the Center for Constitutional Rights and civil liberties groups.

According to the bill, "violent radicalization" is promoting an undefined "extremist belief system." It is using "force or violence" to advance "political, religious or social change."

Of course, force need not involve physical violence. Examples of nonviolent force abound: Blacks in the 1950s staging sit-ins at whites-only restaurants; suffragettes chaining themselves to the White House fence in the 1910s to win the vote; workers striking to win better labor conditions in the 1930s.

And what constitutes homegrown terrorism? According to Harman's bill, it includes planning to "intimidate or coerce" the government or people of the United States to further "political or social objectives." In short, Harman's bill would make civil disobedience in the name of political change "homegrown terrorism."

Even worse, the national commission that would ferret out such activity would have sweeping subpoena and investigative powers to haul individuals and groups in for examination. ...

Harman's bill is labeled as an act to "prevent homegrown terrorism," and undefined "other purposes." This makes her bill eerily similar to the bill creating the House Un-American Activities Committee, which began in 1938 as a vehicle for investigating Nazi propaganda "and certain other propaganda activity."

The abuses of that committee, including its harassment of civil rights groups, are well documented. The Senate should kill Harman's bill and give the $22 million to local law enforcement, protecting the nation's citizens without ensnaring political activities as homegrown terrorism.

Exactly so. I'm glad somebody in the media is paying attention, but it's time for all of us to do so as well. Go read the bill for yourself, here, look at what other bloggers have to say, including Ronni Bennett at Time Goes By (click on the "Keep On Blogging" graphic on the upper left of her blog). Then start calling, writing, faxing, and emailing both of your senators to let them know how you feel about having your civil liberties erased. You might also let those senators who are busy campaigning to be president know how you feel and ask them to take enough time in their campaigns to speak to the issue.

It's time.

Labels: ,