Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Poetry: Thomas Lux

A Little Tooth

Your baby grows a tooth, then two,
and four, and five, then she wants some meat
directly from the bone. It's all

over: she'll learn some words, she'll fall
in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet
talker on his way to jail. And you,

your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue
nothing. You did, you loved, your feet
are sore. It's dusk. Your daughter's tall.

by Thomas Lux

(Found at Poets.Org..)

Colossal Failure

There was a very interesting essay last week in the UK Guardian written by Seumas Milne in which he provides a pretty thorough analysis of just what the recent debacle in Georgia means to US foreign policy. Since the end of the cold war, the US pretty much operated under the assumption that it was the only world power and the rest of the world could either get on board or face the consequences. Russia was apparently tired of the attitude.

If there were any doubt that the rules of the international game have changed for good, the events of the past few days should have dispelled it. On Monday, President Bush demanded that Russia's leaders reject their parliament's appeal to recognise the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Within 24 hours, Bush had his response: President Medvedev announced Russia's recognition of the two contested Georgian enclaves. ...

...what is clear is that America's unipolar moment has passed - and the new world order heralded by Bush's father in the dying days of the Soviet Union in 1991 is no more. The days when one power was able to bestride the globe like a colossus, enforcing its will in every continent, challenged only by popular movements for national independence and isolated "rogue states", are now over. For nearly two decades, while Russia sunk into "catastroika" and China built an economic powerhouse, the US has exercised unprecedented and unaccountable global power, arrogating to itself and its allies the right to invade and occupy other countries, untroubled by international law or institutions, sucking ever more states into the orbit of its voracious military alliance.

Now, pumped up with petrodollars, Russia has called a halt to this relentless expansion and demonstrated that the US writ doesn't run in every backyard. And although it has been a regional, not a global, challenge, this object lesson in the new limits of American power has already been absorbed from central Asia to Latin America.
[Emphasis added]

While Mr. Milne quite appropriately points out that Europe (both "old" and "new") hasn't been fully persuaded of the end of the unipolar world, certainly the other regions have noticed. And what they have noticed is that when it came down to crunch time, the US didn't deliver and probably couldn't have. It was simply stretched too thin, especially militarily.

It's not only that the US and its camp followers have trampled on international law and the UN to bring death and destruction to the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the early 1990s, the Pentagon warned that to ensure no global rival emerged, the US would need to "account for the interests of advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership". But when it came to Russia, all that was forgotten in a fog of imperial hubris that has left the US overstretched and unable to prevent the return of a multipolar world. [Emphasis added]

So, are we now facing a new Cold War in which the US and Russia will continue to face off over issues like Georgia, mandating a return to even more excessive military expenditures? Probably not. Neither country can afford it, no matter what the neocons and Pentagon dinosaurs claim. What will happen, it seems to me, is that the next administration will have to re-engage the rest of the world on a more rational basis, one that does not depend on the threats of bombs and missiles. Even more importantly, the US will have to re-learn how to abide by international law rather than flout it.

This multipolar world will demand as much, and, quite frankly, I welcome the shift.


Happy Talk

If your mouth is still hanging open at hearing the new winger Veep choice invoke Hillary in her favor, you haven't been listening. The party of seven years' bad luck has nothing they can say about their basic beliefs that isn't a lie, to get votes. The principles of YOYO (You're On Your Own) have failed. We're in big trouble, and unless you are too rich to care, you can't take anymore of this failure.

My favorite talking point these days is the cry of socialism, that blast from the past the wingers are trying to color anything with that favors public interest. The maladministration has made its modus operandi the denial of anything that benefits the public, anything that promotes the individual - while calling that rugged individualism. The 'whiners' the right sees are citizens who are working to support themselves, and having the rewards of their effort stolen from them. Calling basic support 'socialistic' has become the credo of those who want your work to benefit them, not you.

Socialism, in case you forget, is what Yurop has used to give health care to its citizens, and to provide social systems that keep the needy from starving. That's what the wingers want to avoid here in the U.S., where jobs sent to other countries are encouraged by tax breaks under the existing leadership of the right.

It was great to listen to the Democratic convention, but what is about to occur in St. Paul does not compare. What the Democratic candidates were telling was factual, that this country is in desperate straits - what is about to promote the status quo is not believable. The only way to sell a failed policy is by lying about it.

A woman who wants to end freedom of choice for other women is not another Hillary. Gov. Pawlenty on MTP hailed her 'success with the economy of Alaska', though Alaska is supported not by any gubernatorial policy but by oil revenues. Her "expertise in energy", being promoted by Maria Bartiromo, is total dedication to destruction of the environment for more drilling. The moose and caribou are just more targets for the right wing, like you and me.

A candidate who is likely to say that he will privatize social security, a view that his own campaign disputes, is not interested in individuals' future. McAyn's friends on Wall Street are the only ones that will benefit from giving our future over to shaky investments.

The wellbeing of the country has been seriously damaged by the present occupants of the White House, and their 'friends' in the right wing are desperately trying to keep from acknowledging that. Accusations of inexperience are not scary when we see what the experience of present occupants of high office has wrought, which is disaster. The bugaboo of socialism does not obscure that machinations against the working people in this country has produced economic disaster, as their wages go offshore. The future of this society is being rapidly sold off to the nations we are sending our work and wages to.

Prayer in schools is more important to the wingers than food on your table. We have to remember that, and call what they are trying to sell us Lies, because that's what they're using.

When all else fails, the truth doesn't work for the failures. What the right wing will promote is wrong for all of us, and we have to refute their lies.

As a side note, it was hilarious to hear the panel on This Week agreeing it was a 'windfall' for the Grand Old Perverts that the convention won't have to listen to their infamous last choice fumbling around the podium.

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Not So Fast

The "security" agreement the White House has been pushing in Iraq has apparently had another set-back. Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki has just replaced his country's negotiating team with members of his inner circle, which means the agreement in all likelihood will not be reached before the end of the year, much less before the US election. An article in today's Los Angeles Times details some of the sticking points.

"People gave the impression we were close when Rice was here, but it's not over. We would have a serious problem if we took it to the parliament right now," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the issue.

The official insisted that if U.S. troops remained exempt from Iraqi rule of law, the pact would never get passed by the lawmakers. ...

The sides also are still negotiating a withdrawal date, the official said.

The latest version of the agreement, which was read to The Times by the Maliki confidant, says all U.S. forces will leave Iraq by the end of 2011, unless Iraq requests otherwise. It also says the Americans will withdraw from cities in June 2009, unless the Iraqis ask them to stay.

The new wording is a departure from the White House's insistence on a conditions-based timeline for a pullout. Under the new language, Iraq, not the U.S. military, decides when the troops will leave. U.S. officials have gone back to Washington to consult on the language, the Maliki confidant said.
[Emphasis added]

That the Iraqi government insists on acting like a sovereign nation even while under occupation must really gall the White House. The fact of the matter is, nonetheless, that even the US installed Prime Minister has to go to the Iraqi Parliament for approval of any such agreement and the Parliament has made it clear that it will not approve an agreement which is nothing more than maintaining the status quo.

Iraq made it clear that it would not accept the idea of immunity from Iraqi law for US troops. The US has made it equally clear that no "security" agreement is possible without the immunity. In fact, right from the start, the US negotiators wanted that immunity extended to all sorts of people, something the US press has not really emphasized in its coverage of the talks. The LA Times article at least gives a quiet nod to that extensive immunity:

Some Western and Iraqi officials blame the Americans for sending a team in the spring that demanded more than 50 long-term bases, the ability to launch operations without permission from the Iraqi government and immunity for security contractors and U.S. troops. Their opening stance played into the hands of Shiite lawmakers in Maliki's coalition, who want the Americans to leave, officials said. [Emphasis added]

Yes, you read that right: the immunity would extend to such run-amok contractors as Blackwater. Can you blame the Iraqis for digging their heels in on such an issue?

The UN mandate for the Iraqi occupation runs out in December, and clearly the Bush administration wanted to tie down this agreement before then, leaving at least one positive element in the last bit of presidenting that Mr. Bush still appears to be interested in, his legacy. The Iraqis, however, are fully aware that a new administration will be installed in January, one that might be willing to actually negotiate rather than demand. Unless the current White House occupier is willing to drop the expansive immunity language, his legacy will be missing an entry.

142 days

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bonus Critter Blogging: Aardvark

(Photograph by Beverly Joubert and published at National Geographic.)

What Avedon Said

This is about the next U.S. President, and what he said to us.

First, though:
Okay, I am totally out of sorts because Firefox has disappeared my drop-down menu, and I feel like something has been removed, like decapitated. So I am leaning on Avedon for my post today, and luckily I really like what she had to say about Obama's speech, so in case you didn't see it, here.


Video of Barack Obama's speech (MSNBC). Prepared text.

That was pretty much the speech I've been saying he should give, and I believe he made some sales with it. I'm willing to bet that a lot of people saw that speech who hadn't heard him sound like that before. Some of them will be people who just watch network TV and so far all they've heard have been pretty abstract-sounding things that seemed to create more distance rather than reach out to them. This was a different speech - good enough that while I was listening to it I (mostly) forgot all the things about him that piss me off. Obama needed to speak to Democrats and populists, and I think he finally did it.

You see, we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress in this country.

We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage; whether you can put a little extra money away at the end of each month so you can someday watch your child receive her college diploma. We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was President - when the average American family saw its income go up $7,500 instead of down $2,000 like it has under George Bush.

We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500, but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off to look after a sick kid without losing her job - an economy that honors the dignity of work.

That, I think, is the kind of talk that a lot of people were waiting to hear coming out of Obama's own mouth - people who didn't see it on their televisions before.

We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don't tell me that Democrats won't defend this country. Don't tell me that Democrats won't keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans -- Democrats and Republicans - have built, and we are here to restore that legacy.

It's nice to hear him stand up for his party rather than talk only about how good Republicans are.

I don't mean to imply that Obama didn't say some things that irritated me - I'm sick of hearing that preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is such a priority that it deserves so much focus (and, potentially, squandering whatever is to be gained from getting out of Iraq), and I'd like to hear that getting those contractors out of Iraq is important, too, since they now have a larger presence than our troops, and are considerably more expensive as well as destructive. But I also know that this seems to be required political language now, and I know Obama is no peacenick. I wonder if he knows that the "young preacher from Georgia" he evoked probably wouldn't have approved of it.

But what I mean to say is that that was the speech of a winner.

Now, don't get me wrong - I still think there are some people who will never vote for a black man (and some who will never vote for a woman, either), and I don't for a minute think race has nothing to do with why it's so easy for the talking heads to repeat stupid Republican memes. But I also think the talking heads would be repeating stupid Republican memes anyway, and the fact that they have all these "problems" with Obama has less to do with race than that he is, in the end, the Democrat. They're hammering racially divisive angles because it's a way to attack the Democrat, and they're giving McCain a pass because they've always liked McCain and, anyway, he's not the Democrat.

Last night, though, even the talking heads were Obama's. Greg Mitchell reports that outside of the GOP's Associated Press:

With rare exception, nearly all of the top commentators and reporters on the three cable news networks had hailed Obama's speech as something new and powerful, and filled with specifics, and predicted it would have a positive effect on his chances vs. John McCain. This hallelujah chorus included conservatives such as Bill Kristol and Pat Buchanan and the longtime Republican David Gergen, as well as Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams. Buchanan called it the best and most important political convention speech he had ever heard, going back 48 years.

Now: Just stop talking about PUMA - nothing you can say about them is likely to make them feel like supporting Obama, and mostly serves to alienate them further.

Let's make it about the issues that are important to all of us, and pry Overton's Window open for us as wide as we can, and work the issues, every day, not just until November, but every day after, as well. No matter what.

The trip to England was great, and Avedon was just wonderful to put up with me/put me up. Here's one of the great things I got to do because of her - and another figure that impresses, from the Parthenon sculptures in the British museum.

It's sad that so much of this artwork have been destroyed by time. Maybe with my time, I can help preserve something. The U.S. is a good place to start. Sen. Obama's campaign is a hopeful beginning.

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The Mills Of The Gods

Lou Dobbs is just going to love this. An article in the Sacramento Bee confirms that immigrants are being granted citizenship at an increased rate in all parts of California, but especially the area known as the Central Valley.

The Valley's cities are far smaller than San Diego or Los Angeles, which also experienced surges in the thousands of people becoming citizens in 2007. The Los Angeles area alone saw 78,454 new citizens sworn in last year – a 19 percent increase over the year before.

But the rate of growth in naturalizations in the Central Valley in just one year is startling for the inland region – and it helped fuel a 19 percent jump in new citizens throughout California last year. ...

At the southern end of the Central Valley, the Bakersfield area saw the number of new citizens rise from 1,357 in 2006 to 2,576 in 2007 – a leap of 90 percent, according to a Bee analysis of the most recent naturalization data available from USCIS, a branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Bakersfield's jump in naturalizations was the biggest percentage increase of any metropolitan region in the United States. ...

...the Central Valley city of Modesto ranked third, with a 73 percent increase. Fresno was fourth, with 69 percent, followed by Stockton, with 50 percent more new U.S. citizens.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services suggests that there are multiple factors at work:

The failure of immigration reform in Congress, the pending presidential election, a citizenship drive by Latino civil rights groups – and the desire to get applications in before a fee hike in August 2007 could all explain last year's increases, said Sharon Rummery, spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

While I agree that all of these factors enter into the equation, I would also add the disrespect shown immigrants shown by such public figures Lou Dobbs which galvanized those who have been here working, legally or not. And these new citizens? I predict they will vote and will become an important sector of the electorate for many years.

I guess Mr. Dobbs' diatribes actually have had an effect, although I doubt it was the one he intended.


Friday, August 29, 2008

A Few Pictures from That Trip to England

What stones?

Stonehenge and Me. Oh, and the architects had just found a plaque left by Robert Newell, a prominent archeologist who did a lot of studying Stonehenge, and a fellow less know, named Young (hmmmmm) - that left a bunch of unearthed bones found in the 56 Aubrey holes that seem to be connected to burials or ceremonies, [who said cannnibalism?], that went on in the stones, to later archaeologists with the technology to find out more about them. There were some celebrating archaeologists, because the technology is really there to tell them more about those bones.

That raven on top of the upper stone thinks he's very essential. Oh, yes, this is Stonehenge.

The Romans had the intention of staying in good standing with the locals, so they named the hot springs the Sulis springs after the local goddess.

Here I am having my Bath, and that's the new haircut. It's very easy care.

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Friday Cat Blogging

Several cats will pop up when you go to Tabby's Place, an adoption site, and this is Chiquita, a cat you can adopt in one way or another. You can find out about others, too

Tabby’s Place aims to make its adoption process as adopter-friendly as possible. To get started, do one of the following:

* Take a look at our cats online. If you find one or more you like, fill out our online Adoption Application (or use our printable Adoption Application). We will then call you to arrange an in-person visit with your desired cats.
* Visit our cats in person (directions and hours). You may fill out an adoption application upon arrival.


Invisible and Loving It

The war issue, that forgotten crisis that Sen. Barack Obama hit on last night, shows the total lack of judgment that is being touted as 'experience' by McAyn's campaign. It was being messy and getting all nuanced and stuff yesterday while nobody watched.

Funny thing, the foolhardywar we started with/in Iraq was being executed either for or by our buddies, the Shi'ites in the beginning. It hasn't gone at all well for their opposition Sunni party, or for the world - especially for the U.S. That has something to do with the cronyism that is a shady side of politics and is taken to an extreme in so many Middle Eastern countries.

For the war criminals, Shi'ite fronting for the U.S. has meant that our allies gave us lots of rhetorical support, while for the Shi'ites it has meant that they could take our money and keep selling us on what axis of evil types they are keeping out of power. Somehow, the government of Iraq remains dysfunctional while the opposition Sunnis are kept outside the Green Zone.

The arrest of Ali al-Lami -- which happened Wednesday in Baghdad as he left a plane arriving from Lebanon -- reinforced suspicions about Iran's influence within the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government and could open wider investigations into Shi'ite networks, including possible links to Lebanon's Hizballah.

Al-Lami heads a commission responsible for keeping loyalists to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, out of government posts. He has been a target of criticism from Sunni leaders who claim the government wants to limit the overall Sunni voice in political and security issues.

He was arrested by U.S. and Iraqi troops at the airport as he returned with his family from medical treatment in Beirut, said a member of his commission, Qaiser Watout.

U.S. military officials would not confirm the arrest of al-Lami, who has been involved in government affairs since shortly after Hussein's fall in 2003.

But the U.S. command said a suspected senior leader of Iran-backed Special Groups militias was detained at the airport on allegations of planning the June 24 bombing of a municipal building in Sadr City, a Shi'ite district in the capital. Two U.S. soldiers and two State Department employees died in the blast, along with six Iraqis.
Iraqi Shi'ite parties that dominate the government maintain close ties to Iran, where many key figures spent years in exile during Hussein's rule. U.S. officials long have maintained that Iran's Revolutionary Guards, through its Quds Force, arms and trains Shi'ite extremists -- a charge Iran denies.

The money we are pouring into our war in the total mystery of Iraq is as usual doing this country, and the cause of peace, more harm than good. Of course, the Shi'ites can always be linked to Iran when they don't do what we intended. What our government functionaries seem unable to do is influence any of the various factions to work with us. As al-Maliki has definitively shown, any alliance with the war criminals of the U.S. if death to political gains in Iraq.

It's always amusing to see the freepers, quoted here, blaming Iran for the vicissitudes of our shifting 'allies'. The influence of Iran seems to have come as a shock to the supporters of our idiotic war.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Thursday Birdblogging

This is the Least Tern, a bird I used to see regularly when I lived in Santa Barabara, California and would take frequent trips up the coast. I believe this critter is still on the endangered list.

The photograph is by Dan Guravich and is published at National Geographic, which has more information on this little beauty.

Get Offa My Lawn!

Here's an article from today's NY Times that could have been very helpful. Could have been if it hadn't been loaded with patronizing condescension and insulting snideness. But it was, and I'm steamed.

Look, at 62 I know that my eyes aren't as sharp, my fingers not as nimble, and my memory not as faultless as it was at 32. That's part of the deal. On the other hand, I have plenty of experience with the common sense that comes with that experience, and a certain amount of wisdom, all of which seems like a pretty fair trade-off. I also know that because of history, I'm a member of a class that is expanding pretty rapidly in this country so that businesses are finally paying attention. They're developing products which take into account the physical changes that accompany aging, and for that I am grateful.

I'm also grateful for product reviews that provide me with good information on products that can be very helpful. Unfortunately, too many of them are written like Eric Taub's. Here's a taste:

Here is what you have to look forward to as you enter your 60s and 70s: deciphering conversations at cocktail parties becomes difficult; you cannot remember where you put your keys; and your grandchildren think you are a computer klutz.

Fortunately, technologies are appearing that can remedy some of these shortcomings, helping those in their 60s maintain their youthful self-images.

“The new market is old age,” said Joseph F. Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at M.I.T. “Baby boomers provide a perpetually youthful market.” They are, says Mr. Coughlin, himself a spry 47, “looking for technology to stay independent, engaged, well and vital.”
[Emphasis added]

It used to be that the phrase "a spry" would be attached to a number like "80." But 47? Oh, please. And a "youthful self-image"? Look, any time I think of myself as still being in my 30's I need only look in the mirror or try to run the last block to the bus stop on a day I'm running late to disabuse myself of that misconception. Fortunately, I don't engage in that kind of self-deception very often. Like I said, I'm 62, not 32, and if Mr. Taub is 32, I'm damned grateful to be 62.

Look, I like the ideas behind the products being reviewed. I appreciate knowing there are cell phones available with larger buttons, larger type on the screens, and the capacity for increasing volume and for plugging in hearing aids. That's helpful. As are pill dispensers which signal when a medication is available and should be taken.

The irony is that many of these products are useful to all sorts of people, regardless of age. Cell phones with larger buttons can be helpful for little kids who have one for emergencies and who sometimes have trouble with the coordination necessary to hit those tiny buttons. The real difference, it seems to me, is the marketing angle, at least for many of these products, which is just fine with me.

Hey, I didn't just start misplacing my keys. I've been doing it on a fairly regular basis all my life, as have most people I know. A device which locates those keys for me sounds terrific. And keyless entries which depend on such great new technology as a fingerprint instead of a series of number to open the front door also appeals to me, as it would to most people.

But then I have to hear about such products in this fashion:

...several lock manufacturers offer keyless home entry locks that use fingerprint recognition technology to open a door. Available from such companies as Kwikset and 1Touch, the units, which start at around $200, can authorize 50 or more users depending on the model.

If you can remember all 50 users, this may be one product you do not need yet.



Our Ms. Brooks: A Dose Of Reality

Rosa Brooks' column in today's Los Angeles Times nicely expresses what a lot of us who've been around for more than 30 years have been thinking. No politician, no mere human being, is going to single-handedly turn this country around, and to expect Barack Obama to do so is a curious amalgam of magical thinking and sheer laziness.

He's not the messiah. Get over it, Democrats.

Get over it for the obvious, pragmatic reason: If you want a Democrat in the White House, you've got to stop fretting about your nominee's lack of magical powers and just work to get him elected. Because, as [Hillary] Clinton reminded Democrats on Tuesday night, this election is about more than any particular candidate: It's about "that mom struggling with cancer while raising her kids ... that boy and his mom surviving on the minimum wage ... [and] all the people in this country who feel invisible." It's not about Clinton -- or Obama either.

But get over it for another reason too. Democrats, of all people, should remember that political transformation comes primarily from broad-based social movements, not from transcendent individuals. Neither King nor Lyndon Johnson magically brought civil rights to African Americans. Moving speeches and civil rights legislation were important -- but those speeches wouldn't have made much difference, and that legislation would never have been possible, had it not been for the thousands of people, black and white, who spoke out, organized, signed petitions and joined protest marches (sometimes risking their livelihoods and their lives to do so).

You want a transformative political leader? In Obama, you may have one, but don't expect him to do that transforming all by himself. Obama's good, but no one's that good. For Obama to shepherd in real change -- economic, social or in foreign policy, whatever "change" means to you -- he needs robust, supportive social and political movements to tap into.

So if Democrats want real "change," they need to get out there and organize, give Obama solid backing and not go all wishy-washy when he makes mistakes. And they need to stop griping that his speeches alone don't transform the political landscape. That's their job.
[Emphasis added]

So, it's time we get back to reality. It's time we work hard to get our nominee for the White House elected and to get the down-ticket candidates elected as well. And that's just the start of the process. We need to put real pressure on those we elect, reminding them of what they promised us when they asked for our money and our time in getting out the vote. We need to warm up the phone lines, the fax lines, and the email tubes, and on a regular basis.

But even that isn't enough. We have to find ways to concretely support those groups who are already in place fighting for the change we want, whether it's Code Pink fighting hard to end the war in Iraq, or immigrant groups demanding fair treatment of those whose only crime is that they came uninvited by anyone but Emma Lazarus to work hard for their family's future, or people like Candace Gorman who are attempting to end the nightmare that is Guantanamo Bay. Money always helps, but when any of those groups call for a "meeting" on Main Street or a "gathering" in Washington, DC, we have to find a way to be there in huge numbers, so huge that we who truly want change can no longer be ignored.

This isn't Exxon's country, or Halliburton's, or MBNA's. It's ours. We've let them trash it long enough. It's time we took it back.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Nice Try, But No Cigar

Tim Rutten's column in today's Los Angeles Times looked like he was going to get it right with respect to the issue of abortion/choice.

Every four years, an astonishing array of conservative commentators and Republican campaign strategists suddenly discover an intimate concern for Catholic consciences and an overriding preoccupation with the Roman church's sacramental and liturgical norms.

Last time around, for example, you couldn't toss a dart at the average Op-Ed page without hitting a right-wing columnist with a firm opinion on whether the Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry, ought to be denied Communion because he's pro-choice. You could virtually feel the hunger for a good old-fashioned auto-da-fé and hear Karl Rove in the background disappointedly whispering, "Are you certain they don't burn people at the stake anymore?"

For a time, it looked as if war and recession would push "values issues" back into perspective in this election cycle, but abortion is too large a wedge issue to abandon casually. In the last few weeks, commentators began a campaign over the Democrats' failure to invite to Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput to their convention. Chaput was one of the handful of bishops who argued that Kerry and other pro-choice Catholic politicians should be denied Communion. More recently, Chaput's book, "Render Unto Caesar," argues that Catholics may not vote for pro-choice candidates. Under the circumstances, the Democrats' snub was graceless but understandable.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Rutten seems to get it that the whole anti-choice campaign is simply a cynical, manipulative strategy used by the far right of American politics. Or does he?

Apparently not. The rest of the column is spent discussing the American Catholic's difficulty in teasing out a viable solution to the seemingly intractable theological dilemma. He excoriates House Speaker Pelosi for her muddled response to the question of how she can be a practicing, devout Catholic and still further pro-choice stances in her job and in her party. Now, while Ms. Pelosi's answer deserved his critique, the basis for that critique (and, in fact the rest of the column) seems to be operating on a whole false set of assumptions and presuppositions.

The first is that only Catholics are concerned with the morality of a woman's right to choose. That ignores the fact that the zealots of the Religious Reich have invested a lot of money and effort in stifling a rational discussion of a woman's right to choose.

The second is that only Christians are interested in the "values" discussion of that right and theirs are the only voices that matter. That there are citizens of other faiths or of no faith who might have important things to say about the issue is irrelevant.

The third, and most important, assumption is that the casting of the frame as a "religious" issue is acceptable in a country which was founded on the principle that the government must of necessity be divorced from religion, that there must be a wall between church and state. The whole point of that wall was to keep government from imposing any set of religious beliefs upon the citizenry, yet here we are talking about Catholic and conservative Protestant theology being the litmus test for candidates.

The irony is that Mr. Rutten gave us this as his last paragraph, which indicates that at least one candidate does get it:

It is this older line of Catholic moral reasoning that allows Biden, who has voted to ban late-term and so-called partial-birth abortions, to say he is "prepared to accept" the Catholic Church's teaching that life begins at conception while supporting Roe vs. Wade because, for now, it "is as close as we're going to be able to get as a society" to accommodating all religious views on the issue.

Nice try, Mr. Rutten, and I mean that sincerely. But no cigar. Not this time.

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Watching last night's round of speakers, I was struck by a simple message from Bob Casey, that the Democratic party is about the nation's strength relying on the opportunity for everyone in it. There is a massive failure in our system because of the inability of the right wing to see that. When each of us can reach prosperity, health and enlightenment, the whole nation is improved by each incremental rise to his/her highest possibility. It works, and that's what has been proved over and over as Democrats replace Rethuglican failed regimes over and over.

As Avedon has expressed very well, this convention is going off the balance beam by trying to make this campaign about the individual candidate, Obama. While I think more of him as a candidate than many of you do, I can see that it's going to take a whole lot of dedicated service from a whole lot of realtime public servants to repair the rents in our nation's fabric from all those who have been ripping out their own piece of the pie. The damage is not irreperable, but it is large.

Casey's speech, eagerly anticipated by Pennsylvania delegates, offered one of the harshest critiques of McCain so far this week. Decrying the fact that McCain, he said, wanted to continue Bush's policies for four more years, he repeatedly said "not four more years, four more months." Soon, the crowd was roused to chants of "four more months!"

"The people of Pennsylvania can't afford four more years of Bush-Cheney economics, because you know what, with John McCain, that's exactly what we get."

Saying McCain had voted with Bush 90 percent of the time, he snapped: That's not a maverick, that's a sidekick."

Four more months. That will be hard to repair, but it's a goal worth working for, hard. It's the only one that makes any sense in view of the past nearly eight years.


Congratulations to Senator Clinton for a strength of character, that has developed from so much dedication to the admirably high principles of the Democratic party. She did us proud.

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Some Advice

I have never let the lack of a formal request for advice stop me from issuing it, on any subject at any time. It's one of my less-endearing qualities. So, with that caveat, I herewith offer some advice to Sen. Barack Obama. I am not offering this advice to Sen. McCain, because I do have the good sense to draw the line somewhere. I know that Sen. McCain would not be interested in this advice because it would undercut his latest benefactors, Big Oil.

This article in the NY Times provoked this advice.

...Expansive dreams about renewable energy, like Al Gore’s hope of replacing all fossil fuels in a decade, are bumping up against the reality of a power grid that cannot handle the new demands.

The dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not.

The grid today, according to experts, is a system conceived 100 years ago to let utilities prop each other up, reducing blackouts and sharing power in small regions. It resembles a network of streets, avenues and country roads.

“We need an interstate transmission superhighway system,” said Suedeen G. Kelly, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

While the United States today gets barely 1 percent of its electricity from wind turbines, many experts are starting to think that figure could hit 20 percent.

Achieving that would require moving large amounts of power over long distances, from the windy, lightly populated plains in the middle of the country to the coasts where many people live. Builders are also contemplating immense solar-power stations in the nation’s deserts that would pose the same transmission problems.

The grid’s limitations are putting a damper on such projects already. Gabriel Alonso, chief development officer of Horizon Wind Energy, the company that operates Maple Ridge, said that in parts of Wyoming, a turbine could make 50 percent more electricity than the identical model built in New York or Texas.

My response? So?

I mean, really. What's to stop us from turning that around? Big Oil, which is not going to be so big for too much longer? The Saudi Royal Family, whose BFF is about to leave office? Hell, they've got bigger problems than we do, when it comes right down to it.

As Sen. Ted Kennedy (God love him) said in his speech to the Democratic National Convention, this country can rise to the occasion if some leader will just provide some leadership, some direction. Think about it: his brother suggested we should put a man on the moon at a time when such an idea was only being provided in Buster Crabbe serials at the Saturday Matinee movie theaters. But we did it, and we did it more quickly than anyone, including the Soviets (who, I might add, had a head start because one of their leaders had that kind foresight).

And before JFK, there was FDR. The country was in a depression and the world was about to go up in flames, but FDR's New Deal put this country back to work. My grandparents and parents recovered their self-respect and brought the country back to stability. Then we kicked ass when it came to some loonies who had grandiose ideas of world domination based on "supremacy." And then we helped rebuild the world after the devastation of that war.

Those kinds of things happen under real Democratic leadership. It sure as hell doesn't happen under Republican leadership. What we get from the GOP is the "Contract on America" and "Shrink the Government" until it's the size we can drown in the bath tub. The results from that? Unregulated industry which serves us poisoned food, a government which snoops on its own citizens unconstitutionally, and a culture which shoves a particular brand of religiosity down our throats.

OK. So here's the advice, Mr. Obama.

Face the problem head on and offer a dream of real energy self-sufficiency based on renewable energy sources which are non-polluting. If Al Gore won't serve as Energy Secretary (and who could blame him), at least enlist him as an advisor. Let him counsel you on who to select to serve in that position and what kinds of hard decisions have to be made.

T.Boone Pickens, not the most liberal businessman in the world, has a vested interest in wind power. Fine. He also knows what has to be done in terms of regulatory reform and Congressional action on the nationalizing of the power grid and what kind of costs are really involved. Enlist his help. I'll bet he'll be only too happy to assist. He can make a few more billions while helping out the nation. Hell, I wouldn't even object to a medal for him. It would make more sense than the recent medals handed out by the current administration.

Go to the energy geeks at our universities, places like MIT, which are already trying to crack some of the ice bergs holding up energy storage and transmission. Find out where they are and where they think they could be with a little federal help. I think you'll be surprised at where they are now and where they could be with a few more dollars not handcuffed to religious and corporate dogma.

And then go to the nation and give us that dream and what it will take. Give us a timeline, one that isn't 50, or 25, or even 10 years down the line. Tell us we can do it in 8, because we know we can. And promise that you'll take it to a Congress that will work with that dream if only the electorate will elect that kind of Congress, one with the will to save us from the kind of heating bills the Northeast will be facing this year, and the transportation and food costs all of us will be facing for the next several years if we don't confront the problem now. Show us the obvious: such a dream brought to reality will put a whole helluva lot people back to work in meaningful jobs, jobs which will earn them respect and the rest of the world some breathing space.

Tell us that, over and over again. Back it up with the experts who are just waiting to be asked. We'll listen. And I firmly believe we will respond. We are just that hungry.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Collateral Damage

The news scroll came up on the bottom of the screen here the other night, 76 civilian deaths in U.S. air strikes, in Afghanistan. U.S. disputing the report, insisting that terrorist/insurgent/opposition forces were killed and touting a victory for the 'coalition'. We groaned here.

For a few days the back-and-forth went on, with the Afghanistan information sources reporting civilians killed, U.S. 'intelligence' maintaining it had great news, there were more successes and only 'the enemy' had been butchered. It's happened so many times, we knew here that it was going to play out that our intelligence was on the level that has caused so many innocents to be detained and tortured all over the world. And that's how it went - the U.N. investigated, there were 90 civilians killed. We are destroying any credibility we ever might have had by our continual bungling.

"Investigations by UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) found convincing evidence, based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, and others, that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, 15 women and 15 men," U.N. Special Envoy to Afghanistan Kai Eide said in a statement."

The U.S. military has launched an investigation into the incident, after saying it was unaware of any civilians killed in what it said was a single air strike in the Shindand district of western Afghanistan on Friday.

Jets had targeted a known Taliban commander and killed 30 militants, the U.S.-led coalition said.

UNAMA sent its human rights team to the Shindand area to investigate, meeting local officials, elders and villagers.

Afghan and foreign soldiers entered the village of Nawabad in Shindand district around midnight on August 21. Operations lasted several hours and air strikes were called in, the villagers told UNAMA.

"The destruction from aerial bombardment was clearly evident with some 7-8 houses having been totally destroyed and serious damage to many others. Local residents were able to confirm the number of casualties, including names, age and gender of the victims," the U.N. statement said.

"This is matter of grave concern to the United Nations, I have repeatedly made clear that the safety and welfare of civilians must be considered above all else during the planning and conduct of all military operations," Eide said.

"The impact of such operations undermines the trust and confidence of the Afghan people in efforts to build a just, peaceful, and law-abiding state."

The dead have been more than what our military likes to call 'collateral damage'. They leave behind bitter, alienated friends and family, and a country that wants us to leave. Our operations are so badly conducted, they are proof in and of themselves that we should not be involved where we are knocking off the innocent and enabling our opponents more every time we commit these atrocities.

We are ignorant and blind, and should have laid groundwork before any of our offensive moves. Having proved over and over again that our intelligence is dysfunctional, we need to give over the militarism and let our allies conduct their own affairs. Do we have any allies left? or have we called in air strikes on them as well?

The ignorance the occupied White House has unleashed on the world will be our shame for some time to come.

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Can You Spare Them Some Help?

While I am terribly hurt by the jobs situation, and that lack of the opportunity for working people to support themselves and their families in any comfort, there is a problem with begging on the streets. Although I did propose that funding for certain programs in MD should be funded by Repugs begging in the streets, since they were creating the problem, I do see that some begging has gone pro.

At a place I worked near the LBJ Freeway, you could observe vans driving up in the early hours and letting out a contingent equipped with signs, lunches, that whole setup, to beg from the commuter traffic. That is the kind of approach that gives the right wing bases for insisting that anyone can work if he/she wants to, and gives them purchase in the public mind.

The professional panhandler, 'spanger', is the subject of this article by Steven Malanga:

Unlike their predecessors in the '70s and '80s, many of these new beggars aren't helpless victims or even homeless. Rather, they belong to a diverse and swelling community of street people who have made panhandling their calling.

Like most countries, America has always had its share of itinerant travelers, vagabonds and hoboes. But panhandling became a more pervasive and disturbing fact of urban life in the 1970s – a byproduct of the explosion in homelessness that resulted from rising drug use and the closing of state-run mental institutions.

By the crack epidemic's late-'80s peak, New York City in particular was home to a massive panhandling presence. The problem soon turned from irritating to alarming, as incidents of aggressive panhandling leading to violent crime began showing up regularly in the headlines.

The escalation – and other cities faced it, too – shouldn't have been surprising.

"If the neighborhood cannot keep a bothersome panhandler from annoying passers-by ... it is even less likely to call the police to identify a potential mugger or to interfere if a mugging actually takes place," wrote political scientist James Q. Wilson.

New York, fed up with the disorder, began to crack down on panhandling in the early '90s. Its success prompted other cities to follow suit – adopting community courts, forcing beggars to register for licenses (which discouraged them) and passing new anti-panhandling laws. These measures helped spark new development and interest in downtown districts across the country.

But over the last several years, the urban resurgence has proved an irresistible draw to a new generation of spangers.

There are a lot of organizations that will help out the really needy, and there are places like the Red Cross to go for help. It isn't actually necessary to beg on the street, and it's something that needs to be stopped for all of our sakes. We need to strengthen social support systems. That will be a lot easier if we aren't fighting the image of elements that want to prey on our generosity.

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ICE Chills Mississippi

The agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted another raid, this time in Laurel, Mississippi, according to this article in today's NY Times.

In another large-scale workplace immigration crackdown, federal officials raided a factory here on Monday, detaining at least 350 workers they said were in the country illegally.

Numerous agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement descended on a factory belonging to Howard Industries Inc., which manufactures electrical transformers, among other products.

As of late Monday afternoon, no criminal charges had been filed, said Barbara Gonzalez, an agency spokeswoman, but she said that dozens of workers had been “identified, fingerprinted, interviewed, photographed and processed for removal from the U.S.” ...

The ICE spokeswoman, Ms. Gonzalez, said the workers would be taken to an ICE detention center to “await the outcome of their cases.” She said 50 would be “released into the community” instead of being sent to the center, for “humanitarian reasons,” including medical difficulties or the need to take care of children.

She said no lawyers were present while the workers were being interrogated. “Everyone will have due process under law,” Ms. Gonzalez said.
[Emphasis added]

Oops...Ms. Gonzalez has fallen through the Looking Glass. No lawyers were present during "interrogation," yet "[e]veryone will have due process under the law"? Were the workers notified that they had a right to have a lawyer present while they were being questioned? Were they given any Miranda rights? Yet they can count on good old fashioned American due process?

Since it's clear that the US government has a rather unusual conception of due process, presumably it has a rather unusual conception of other traditional values, as an immigration rights leader noted quite forcefully:

Bill Chandler, executive director of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, called the Laurel raid a violation of human rights.

“We’re very disturbed at what’s happened,” Mr. Chandler said. “It’s a real contradiction between our proclaimed values of hard work and family in Mississippi and the actions of local law enforcement, and ICE. I think it’s a real affront to our values. They’re creating their own terrorism by going after workers.”



Monday, August 25, 2008

Experience Is What the Right Wing Dreads

When some one with in depth experience with the McAyn record comes along, it is not good for the wingers. As mentioned in my "post the day Biden was selected, he knows the candidate, that candidate, the one that you aren't supposed to listen to. He says all those maverickety things that aren't what he's campaigning on, like privatizing social security and keeping the troops (remember The Troops?) in Iraq for 100, maybe 1000 years.

"I'll say straight up that John McCain is genuinely a friend of mine," Biden said. "I've known John for 35 years. He served our country with extraordinary courage and I know he wants to do right by America, but the harsh, harsh truth is you can't change America when you quote, and these are John's words, 'The most important issues of our day I've been totally in agreement and support with President Bush.'

"That's what he said."

Biden continued: "You can't change America when you supported George Bush's policy 95 percent of the time. You can't change America when you believe, and these are his own words 'that in the Bush Administration we made great progress economically.' You can't change America and make things better for our senior citizens when you signed on to Bush's scheme to privatizing Social Security. . . .

"You can't change America and end the war in Iraq and say, these are his words, 'No one has supported President Bush more than I have.'

"You can't change America, you can't change America when you know your first four years as president will look exactly like the last eight years of Bush's presidency."

Patrick Healy writes in the New York Times: "A task for Mr. Biden, the advisers said, will be to doggedly portray the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona, as a handmaiden for President Bush who would continue his policies. In the words of one adviser, Mr. Biden can be an artful critic because he knows 'chapter and verse' about Mr. McCain's Senate votes and controversial positions after serving with him for two decades."

What the candidate of the right said is what he's trying to run away from. This is the truth, and it hurts the wingers to see what's become of their agendae. Cutting taxes is the solution, but it's the problem because it provably has created disaster. Going to war is their solution, but again, it has created the problem. You most especially can't solve the problem with social security by making it a victim of market conditions, which privatization would.

The solid and thoughtful solutions required to get out of the quagmire are going to require reality based candidates. The right wing has zero, zed, none.

Remember cut and run as a talking point? Now the chosen Iraqi government insists the U.S. forces do just that.

"Last week, U.S. and Iraqi officials said the two sides had agreed tentatively to a schedule which included a broad pullout of combat forces by the end of 2011 with a residual U.S. force remaining behind to continue training and advising the Iraqi security forces.

But al-Maliki's remarks Monday suggested that the Iraqi government is still not satisfied with that arrangement. An aide to the prime minister said Monday that Iraq remained adamant that the last American soldier must leave Iraq by the end of 2011 _ regardless of conditions at the time.

What they have been saying, direct quotes, and what they have actually done, is the best argument against the right.

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Changing Focus

The editorialists at WaPo are struggling, trying to find new ways to support a candidate who isn't giving them much grounds for support. Today's exercise is in diverting the voter from noticing that McAyn says different things at different times on the social security issue.

The candidate says he may be going to raise taxes to supplement the fund which has been so raided by his party, or maybe not. His campaign is contradicting him on this and several other issues, while saying voters should just ignore what the candidate says. This would be the nightmare of any campaign team, to have a loose canon out there in public who can't remember or doesn't want what you all decided on as your candidate's stands on issues.

WaPo tries valiantly to admit to the truths its readers will come across while deriding That Other Guy for thoughtful and workable proposals. I will give you the entire editorial below, and that will save you having to give it the hits you tell me will only make Fred happy that he's stirred up more distaste for his prevarications and gotten statistics to show he's 'popular'.

MAYBE IT'S just not possible to have anything approaching a serious discussion about Social Security in the midst of a presidential campaign. Maybe the best that can be achieved is do-no-harm Social Security detente, in which neither candidate so boxes himself in that his choices in office would be even more constrained by politics. That, at least, is where the 2008 candidates seem to be settling. The last few weeks have featured John McCain putting tax increases on and off the table quicker than a newlywed trying out china patterns, while Barack Obama, having proclaimed himself the truth-teller about making tough choices, proceeded to duck them.

In February, Mr. McCain seemed to be following in the "no new taxes" footsteps of the first President Bush, who lived to rue that pledge. Asked by ABC's George Stephanopoulos if he was a "read my lips" candidate, Mr. McCain obliged: "No new taxes," he said. Then, back on the same show last month, Mr. McCain sounded different -- and, to our ears, much more responsible -- when asked if he would rule out a payroll tax increase as part of a larger Social Security fix: "There is nothing I would take off the table," he said. Naturally, that got him clobbered by anti-tax conservatives. It didn't take long for Mr. McCain's own spokesman to repudiate Mr. McCain. "There is no imaginable circumstance where John McCain would raise payroll taxes," said spokesman Tucker Bounds. "It's absolutely out of the question." Except that it might not be. "Sen. McCain believes you can solve Social Security without raising taxes, but he also believes you can't start a negotiation with an ultimatum," said spokesman Taylor Griffin.

Switch to Mr. Obama, who got some credit from us during the primary campaign for at least acknowledging that dealing with Social Security would entail some difficult choices. Last November, Mr. Obama was saying, on NBC's "Meet the Press" that "we're going to have to make some decisions, and it's not sufficient for us to just finesse the issue because we're worried that, well, we might be attacked for the various options we present." Of course, Mr. Obama was promptly attacked, including by Hillary Clinton, for presenting one option -- an increase in the payroll tax for taxpayers making more than $250,000 a year. Now, Mr. Obama has refined the details of that proposal, and to call his approach finessing would be awfully generous.

As laid out in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by economic advisers Jason Furman and Austan Goolsbee, Mr. Obama's tax increase would not take effect until 2018 -- yes, after both terms of an Obama presidency. One argument for this delay is that raising Social Security taxes now would just allow lawmakers to spend more of the existing surplus on other things; it's not until 2018 that the income from payroll taxes would fall short of paying promised benefits. But surely President Obama could find some way to bring in money sooner without letting Congress fritter it away on other needs.

Meanwhile, under the revised Obama plan, additional Social Security taxes on the top earners would be between 2 and 4 percent. That's only sensible: Soaking the richest taxpayers with the full tax would push marginal tax rates to dangerously high levels. Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has been deliberately obscure about whether the tax would apply to all income (including investment earnings could raise significantly more revenue) and whether those paying more taxes would receive extra benefits (in which case much less of the shortfall would be filled in). What's clear is that, however the Obama plan is crafted, it would not come close to solving the fundamental problem that Social Security revenue will not be able to pay promised benefits. Even assuming that Mr. Obama would tax all income and would not increase benefits, he would make up one-third of the projected 75-year shortfall.

So does Mr. Obama get credit for being brave -- or foolhardy -- enough to put out a tax proposal that is sure to be used against him? Does he get demerits for failing to be more specific, and more honest, about what will be required? Or does it turn out, sadly, that the "textbook Washington campaign" he derided Clinton for running, in which "you don't present tough choices directly to the American people for fear that your answers might not be popular, you might make yourself a target for Republicans in the general election," has something to recommend it after all.

This is as roundabout way to say that a candidate has the right answers as anyone ever came up with. I pity WaPo's hit squad, they have such a flake to try supporting. The pity won't hurt too much though, it's mixed well with schadenfreude.

The worst HiattCo. can come up with is accusing Obama of uppity courage in the face of adversity. The best they can come up with is accepting their own candidate's inconsistencies and coloring them as maverickety, oops, that 'rickety' stuff is an age/ability aspersion, isn't it?

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Hey! Look Over There!

Apparently the FBI and the Justice Department had figured out at least as early as September, 2004 that there were some shady dealings going on in the home mortgage business, according to this story in today's Los Angeles Times.

Long before the mortgage crisis began rocking Main Street and Wall Street, a top FBI official made a chilling, if little-noticed, prediction: The booming mortgage business, fueled by low interest rates and soaring home values, was starting to attract shady operators and billions in losses were possible.

"It has the potential to be an epidemic," Chris Swecker, the FBI official in charge of criminal investigations, told reporters in September 2004. But, he added reassuringly, the FBI was on the case. "We think we can prevent a problem that could have as much impact as the S&L crisis," he said.

So, why didn't the FBI do something about it? Well, there apparently were several reasons. Banks and mortgage companies didn't want to cooperate because they saw the potential for making a whole lot of money in the burgeoning market. More importantly, however, the White House came up with a list of priorities for the FBI and Justice Department and investigating mortgage fraud just wasn't high on that list.

Most observers have declared the mess a gross failure of regulation. To be sure, in the run-up to the crisis, market-oriented federal regulators bragged about their hands-off treatment of banks and other savings institutions and their executives. But it wasn't just regulators who were looking the other way. The FBI and its parent agency, the Justice Department, are supposed to act as the cops on the beat for potentially illegal activities by bankers and others. But they were focused on national security and other priorities, and paid scant attention to white-collar crimes that may have contributed to the lending and securities debacle. ...

But sources familiar with the FBI budget process, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the growing fraud problem, say that he and other FBI criminal investigators sought additional assistance to take on the mortgage scoundrels.

They ended up with fewer resources, rather than more. ...

the tepid response also reflects a broad realignment of law-enforcement priorities at the Justice Department in which mortgage fraud and other white-collar crimes have been subordinated to other Bush administration priorities.

That has reflected, in part, the ramp-up in national security and terrorism investigations after the Sept. 11 attacks. But the administration has also put more support behind efforts against illegal immigration and child pornography.
[Emphasis added]

In other words, experienced investigators were pulled off the white collar crime units and sent over to other units to draft national security letters, peruse our email and telephone records, and go after those pesky illegal immigrants. As a result, our economy is in shambles, people have lost their homes and what investments they put into those homes, neighborhoods are beginning to see the blight that comes with vacant houses, and local governments are being starved by a lack of property taxes.

All because the Deciderer, with the help of his have-more friends, decided there were "more important" things to go after.

Heckuva job, George.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Poetry: T. S. Eliot


THEY are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens,
And along the trampled edges of the street
I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids
Sprouting despondently at area gates.

The brown waves of fog toss up to me
Twisted faces from the bottom of the street,
And tear from a passer-by with muddy skirts
An aimless smile that hovers in the air
And vanishes along the level of the roofs.

T. S. Eliot

Speaking Of That Legacy Thing

Earlier today I mentioned the Bush Legacy and how it will play out in ways we are just beginning to discover. Here's an article from Lebanon's Ya Libnan which provides a more direct illustration.

When Israel attacked Lebanon a couple of years ago, it did so with a green light from the White House. It also did so with something else provided by this country: cluster bombs. As I suspect you all know, this nasty weapon is a bomb comprised of a bunch of little bomblets which disperse when dropped. Not all of them explode at the same time, which means that there are still plenty of those live explosives lying around in Lebanon.

Like land mines, the remnants of cluster bombs have to be painstakingly cleared by hand. It takes a lot of time and a lot of money to do so. Unfortunately for Lebanese civilians, the money is about to run out:

Donors have failed to come up with a promised $4.7 million needed to fund the program in 2008, according to Dalya Farran of the U.N. Mine Action Coordination Centre (UNMACC).

"A very large number of the clearance teams will be stopping by the end of this month if we don't get funds before that," she said, adding that some donor countries had not kept their promises and others had lost interest two years after the war.

UNMACC has led efforts to clear thousands of unexploded cluster bomblets left over after Israel's war with Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas. Israel fired or dropped most of the munitions in the last 72 hours before an August 14 ceasefire.

Since then 27 civilians have been killed and 234 wounded by unexploded ordnance, mostly cluster munitions, while 13 bomb disposal experts have been killed and 39 wounded, Farran said.

Less than half of the Lebanese strike areas have been fully cleared. The fear now is that once the bomb disposal experts pull out, untrained villagers will try to finish up the job, which just means more death and injuries.

If we were an honorable country, we would pony up the money needed to complete the job right, but I don't believe I've heard anything from Washington about such an expenditure.

Heckuva Legacy, George.

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Which Way Did They Go?

If you never watched westerns back in the day, maybe you don't recognize that line, but it was once traditional when the outlaws went hightailing it, and the posse followed. Presently, it would seem to apply to the 'coalition forces' in the U.S. wars. Alex Thurston wrote a thoughtprovoking post on it, which I am featuring here.

Following closely on the heels of 10 French casualties in Afghanistan and a visit by Sarkozy to Kabul to reaffirm French commitment to the war, we learn via the New York Times that not all French leaders - or Frenchmen - share that sentiment. In late September, the French parliament will debate France’s involvement in Afghanistan and then vote on whether to continue deployment or not.

The vote would take place under new rules requiring parliamentary approval for any deployment overseas that lasts for more than four months; Mr. Fillon will make the Afghan deployment retroactive, even though it began before the constitutional changes.

On Tuesday, the foreign and defense ministers, Bernard Kouchner and Hervé Morin, will testify before a special joint session of the foreign and defense committees of the lower house on France’s Afghanistan policy.

Mr. Sarkozy has strongly defended the need for France to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan alongside its Western allies as part of the fight against terrorism and for the rights of Afghan women. But his promise last April to commit another 700 French troops, bringing the total to nearly 3,000, was not popular.

After the 10 French killed this week, and another 21 wounded – the worst death toll for French forces in an incident since 1983 – French media has lavished attention on Afghanistan, driving Georgia and Russia off the front pages. The dead, wounded and their families have received much coverage, and Mr. Sarkozy presided over an elegant memorial service for the dead on Thursday at the Invalides.

Now I don’t know much about French internal politics, but this move seems to signal an even lower ebb of enthusiasm for the war on the part of our European allies. The Times paints the vote as largely symbolic, saying the legislature will likely approve continued deployment, but American leaders should pay attention to such symbols. Such a public expression of reluctance and doubt about the mission in Afghanistan confirms what I’ve been saying recently - we will not see increased troop commitments from
European countries, and we may even see reductions.

A friend argues that agreements for a timetable in Iraq might even provide political cover for a complete European withdrawal from Afghanistan. He may be right. In any event, the burden remains with us.

The old Cold War bloc is reminding us that swinging wildly doesn't mean getting the other fella to step back. It can throw us into a round that we can't handle, and don't want. There must be some one up there at the occupied White House who can figure this out.

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Skewing a Few Facts

Having determined that democracy is the government of choice of all the world's autocrats, the author of history's sad ending, Francis Fukuyama, capsulizes the appeal of autocracy:

The so-called Beijing Consensus, which mixes authoritarian government with market economics, is popular in many developing countries, and with good reason: Under Beijing's rules, national leaders can just do business and make money, without being hectored about democracy and human rights.

To backtrack a bit, the same author totally ignores the fact that China had agreed to give freedoms a chance as a prerequisite of hosting the games, an agreement the leaders ignored, and concludes that the appeals of democracy are shown in China's lipservice to democratic ideals and throws in a few other questionable examples.

Despite recent authoritarian advances, liberal democracy remains the strongest, most broadly appealing idea out there. Most autocrats, including Putin and Chávez, still feel that they have to conform to the outward rituals of democracy even as they gut its substance. Even China's Hu Jintao felt compelled to talk about democracy in the run-up to Beijing's Olympic Games. And Musharraf proved enough of a democrat to let himself be driven from office by the threat of impeachment.

Democracy has a great appeal for us masses, who expect, and need, government to serve the public interest. The underside that has been so misused by our present autocratic leaders is that the masses can be swayed by lies.

The appeal that Fukuyama sees as autocratic governments' reasons for giving outward appearance of democracy looks more like accession to underlying agreements that are often ignored in the actual daily operations.

The return of actual powers of government into the peoples' hands seems to be about to happen here, and the results appear tied to the economic disasters brought about by the present ruling autocrats. How much greater the events would be if they were an overthrow of the torture and war leanings of the criminal elements, than a rejection of their failure to keep a sound economy.

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More Unsurprising News

Even as an optimist, I know that some of the actions of the current administration will continue to trouble us for years, perhaps even decades. It's what Ruth and I refer to as the Bush Legacy. Today's NY Times has an article which illustrates this point perfectly.

Immigrants seeking asylum in the United States have been disproportionately rejected by judges whom the Bush administration chose using a conservative political litmus test, according to an analysis of Justice Department data.

The analysis suggests that the effects of a patronage-style selection process for immigration judges — used for three years before it was abandoned as illegal — are still being felt by scores of immigrants whose fates are determined by the judges installed in that period.

The data focuses on 16 judges who were vetted for political affiliation before being hired and have since ruled on at least 100 cases each.

Comparison of their records to others in the same cities shows that as a group they ruled against asylum-seekers significantly more often than colleagues who were appointed, as the law requires, under politically neutral rules.

Critics of the politicization of the immigration bench say it is not enough that in 2007 the department stopped using illegal hiring procedures. The fact that many of the politically selected judges remain in power, they say, continues to undermine the perceived fairness of hearings for immigrants fighting deportation.

The article breaks down the numbers contained in that Justice Department analysis, and with one really notable exception (one guy managed to fool the White House test and granted asylum in many more cases than his peers did), the judges issued decisions which followed the ideological line demanded by the White House as guided by Karl Rove.

Because these judgeships fall within the Civil Service rules, the Senate had no say in the appointments. At the same time, however, because of the Civil Service status, the method used by BushCo was soon determined to be illegal and the White House was forced to stop the process. Unfortunately, it was too late to do anything about those already on the bench.

...31 immigration judges had been appointed by the flawed process. The Justice Department did not challenge a list of those judges submitted by The New York Times.

Of that group, 28 remain judges, two left during a probationary period, and one was recently promoted by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey to the Board of Immigration Appeals, the panel that hears appeals of rulings.

You see, once the judges got through the probationary period, they had a lock on the job absent any clear evidence of misconduct because of Civil Service rules. So the 28 still sitting and the one promoted will continue to hear the cases and will continue to routinely deny asylum.

I guess Emma Lazarus hadn't considered that possibility.

149 days.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bonus Critter Blogging: Panther Chameleon

(Photograph by Maria Stenzel and published at National Geographic.)


OK, it's the weekend, which means another visit to Watching America to see what the rest of the world is seeing and saying. The translations and reports were obviously put before the momentous news of Sen. Barack Obama's selection for his running mate (I'm still not sure that under our present primary/caucus system the nominee should get to pick the Vice President, but I'll put that aside for the time being), so that narrowed the subjects down for me somewhat.

The Russian incursion into Georgia is still big news, especially in Europe, and for good reason. What I found surprising is that other regions of the world also felt the sting of that whole disaster keenly and correctly analysed the situation. Perhaps the most poignant was this article in Lebanon's Ya Lignan (which, by the way, is a nifty web site).

In this op-ed piece, the author did a good job in providing some of the back-story to the whole tragedy, and, when he compared what he found to what he knew, he drew the right conclusions:

What is intriguing is that once again the US stood idle while one of its allies was ripped to pieces by another nation. Doesn’t this sound familiar? It should, a few months ago; the 14th of March Movement often rattled the sword, threatening that America would intervene if Hizbollah was to cause trouble in Lebanon or try to overthrow the Lebanese government. Well, the US never came to the rescue when Hizbollah and their allies pounded pro-government parties in Beirut, as they never came to the rescue when Russia pounded Georgian Forces in South Ossetia.

It is however of importance to mention that Secretary Rice called on Russian Forces to immediately stop their progression into Georgia. How hypocritical coming from a country that traveled across the World to invade another sovereign Nation and propagate the Neoconservative agenda throughout the Middle East. With scores of dead civilians and a devastated Iraq, with a growing insurgence and terrorism becoming as popular as YouTube videos of George Bush’s illiteracy, how can the US regain it's composure?

The US will not "regain it's [sic] composure" under this administration, and perhaps even the next or any time soon. The effect of our foreign policy for the last nearly 8 years is so fully entrenched that it may take decades to weed out the influences of the neocons and their bastards. We will continue to talk tall in terms of "let's you and him fight" and then we will take our seats on the sideline while hundreds, thousands, and hundreds of thousands die.

And our response will be ... wait, let me recall the phrase ... yes, that's it:

"You screwed up. You trusted us."

Kyrie eleison.


A Record and Expectations

The appeal to those working class white guys that Biden brings to the ticket makes this a good choice in my eyes. To call statements like this racist ignores that there are issues of race in voters' choices.

I have been told by people I have seen for years operating without bias in their daily lives, that they are scared by Obama. They are getting fed this view by an element they despise, that seems to be not only dominant but now in complete charge of the party of the right.

An appeal to fear has the kind of effect that subliminal advertising is known for, creating a need without actually speaking any persuasive argument. Like a picture of inviting food, it makes the viewer want something, and this seems politically to be a closed circle. That fearful, hesitating, person is the voter that Biden brings a more comfortable prospect. He's wickedly bright, and confident. From Eugene Robinson comes analysis of Biden's appeal that hits chord for me.

No, Joe Biden isn't exactly a new face to complement the new politics that Barack Obama promises. But tell me if you agree that most Democrats, having nervously checked the text message that arrived from the Obama campaign at three in the morning, are breathing signs of relief.

Tim Kaine would have been new politics, all right -- so new that he hasn't even finished one term as governor of Virginia. He would have reinforced Obama's "negative" of having scant experience. Evan Bayh? Not exactly Mr. Excitement. Chet Edwards? Please. And besides, through no fault of the Texas congressman (blame goes to the former North Carolina senator), this year the GOP would have loved to run against any ticket that included the name Edwards.

Hillary Clinton? It just wasn't going to happen. She knew it, he knew it, and we should have known it too.

Joe Biden gives Obama experience, gravitas, gray hair -- and, perhaps most important, a sharp-tongued pugnacity. He'll have Obama's back. He's fiercely smart, and he knows it. (Should I add that he's "articulate" and "clean"?) All in all, I think, probably the choice that does the Democratic ticket the most good and the least harm.

What I won't see, that I'd like to see, is Sen. Biden debate McCain. While Obama has the acuteness to make that a scene worth watching, Sen. Biden has the age and years in politics to throw the straight talk poseur right under his own bus. No one will call Biden uppity when he talks back to that industrial strength image, the POW, that has steered the right wing around the issues of a real campaign.

As Atrios says, too, the man isn't rich. He earned his way every inch of his career. The voters are aware of his record, and know he can be relied on, even when it means admitting mistakes. Choosing orange juice instead of coffee, knowing what arugula is, gives no grounds, however spuriously, to call Biden out of touch.

Oh, but we're talking about the Serious people - never mind.

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You Don't Have To Be House Shopping. This Hurts.

Just as your government and media neglect to mention that job increases need to rise by a percentage equal to the increase in population, so they're expecting that you will forget that that has to be added to increase in housing starts. As much as the population increases each year needs to be added to the figure - 2.9% - to appreciate how much of a squeeze that means for those seeking homes. Now remember the law of supply and demand? Supposedly that's how much additional price your new home buyers are going to need to ante up for their homes.

A downturn in new starts doesn't mean that that many fewer are buying houses, but that there is so much downward pressure on prices that builders can't afford to build. Without building homes, the companies doing the building also can't hire contractors like plumbers, airconditioning/heating suppliers, gardeners/landscapers, all the industries associated with building homes. Then you can throw in the furniture, appliance, curtain and carpet manufacturers. On the heap, toss some real estate businesses. You are by now seeing immense loss of income, and to that you can mix in the businesses not selling to the workers in those industries.

Got the picture? A large segment of the total economy is affected, which means that income and profits are significantly down over that large segment. When is that going to change? It's not soon.

Construction of homes and apartments fell in July to the lowest level in more than 17 years, but some economists said the drop could aid the slumping housing sector by helping reduce a glut of unsold properties.

The Commerce Department on Tuesday said builders broke ground on 965,000 housing units on an annualized basis, down from a pace of 1.08 million in June and the weakest showing since March 1991.

The report showed that July construction of single-family homes fell by 2.9 percent from the previous month to a pace of 641,000. That was the lowest since January 1991, when the economy also was in distress.

Construction of apartments and other multifamily dwellings also fell sharply, after a large jump in June due to a change in New York City’s building codes. That change, which went into effect July 1, gave a rare lift to overall housing construction in June.

Economists said the drop could help reduce the glut of unsold homes, a step toward turning around the slumping real estate market. Homebuilders are competing with foreclosed homes selling at steep price discounts.

“Slower starts means less adds to inventory,” said Adam York, an economic analyst at Wachovia Corp. “We have too much supply on the market.”
Housing permits in July fell to a rate of 937,000, a 17.7 percent drop from June, but still above analysts’ expectations of 925,000. Permits are considered a reliable sign of future activity.

“The correction in the housing market has yet to find its bottom,” Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said in a speech Tuesday.

New home construction last month was down a steep 39.2 percent compared with July 2007, illustrating how much ground the housing market has lost in the past year.

These are dismally large numbers. That kind of shock is happening to any number of families, and it's happening to you, too. I had to pay U.S. Airways for water with my dinner on my flight here, and I had to pay for almost $2 pounds when I got to London. Lucky that the exchange rate is down a bit.

Of course, if your business writer threw all this information into their reporting, the panic would send all his/her readers into shock. Advertisers would complain to the editor that consumers would start saving for the future instead of spending themselves into oblivion, and the business writer would be out on the streets.

Let me repeat. The housing starts in the U.S. are down 39.2% in one year. Now, go shopping.

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Remember back in 2006 when the news hit that three Guantanamo Bay detainees had committed suicide on the same night? If so, then you will also probably remember the response from our government, that the three men were "engaging in 'asymmetric warfare' against the United States."

Fortunately, those deaths raised enough of an uproar that the military couldn't just leave it with that chilling assessment. An investigation into the suicides and how they could have happened was ordered, and the Washington Post has obtained a copy of that report via a Freedom of Information Act request.

While the report and the article raise some important policy questions, what scalded my innards was a suicide note left by one of what this administration likes to call "suiciders."

"I am informing you that I gave away the precious thing that I have in which it became very cheap, which is my own self, to lift up the oppression that is upon us through the American Government," wrote Ali Abdullah Ahmed Naser al-Sullami, of Yemen, a 26-year-old detainee who had been on one of the longest hunger strikes at Guantanamo, ultimately earning him forced feedings through a tube. In a note neatly folded into his shirt pocket, Sullami wrote: "I did not like the tube in my mouth, now go ahead and accept the rope in my neck."

26 years old.

And here's the really tragic part of Mr. Sullami's story: he was not going to be prosecuted but he was never going to be released by the US.

The military's Criminal Investigation Task Force had decided years earlier that Sullami, who was arrested near his college in Pakistan in March 2002 and was turned over to U.S. authorities on May 2, 2002, in Afghanistan, was not someone they could prosecute.

"Although many of the individuals apprehended during the raid have strong connections to al Qaeda, there is no credible information to suggest Ahmed received terrorist related training or is a member of the al Qaeda network," investigators wrote in a previously "secret" document.

After four years, during at least two of which Mr. Sullami protested his captivity with a hunger strike, Mr. Sullami finally gave in. It's not hard to understand why, at least not hard for anyone with even a scintilla of compassion.

Rest in peace, young man.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday Catblogging

el has kitties! Very new ones, born this week, these are very early pictures. They were a bit of a quandary to the mom, also. But we are all glad to greet the new kittehs.

And thanks, Jeffraham, for helping recover the pictures after they went away last night!