Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Year of the Rat

It's lovely watching the end coming in 20 days to the worst administration ever. This last year has been full of the rats leaving the sinking ship, and of rats of all sorts. Since everyone seems to be making lists, I started thinking of some monumental rats that this year has brought out. I will leave out the cretin in chief, as rats really are highly intelligent.

These are a top ten of the pack that's slithering away. Please feel free to suggest others that you feel should be mentioned.

1A*+ and in a league beyond comparison to everyday rodentia; Alan Greenspan. Without his decision that he was above the law, and his disregard of the regulations he was put in charge of the Fed to enforce, the whole financial crisis would have been averted. His advice has lost all credibility, as his lack of judgment has become painfully obvious.

The general run of rats, next league down.

2. Bernie Madoff, using his friends to make a gigantic fraud that has cost billions from all his investors. As one of the victims has been Project Innocence, his life in jail is going to be really nasty, we can be sure.

3. Sarah Palin, encouraging her political followers to threaten the safety of president-elect Obama, and claim that her family was being mauled by libruls. Back to watching Russia from her front stoop.

4. CEO's of Citibank, Ameritrust, WaMu, HSBC, Wachovia and the rest of the slew of subprime lenders who rewarded their mortgage officers for placing expensive mortgages, and disregarding ability to repay. Regulators now in charge.

5. Congressional pimps Rep. John Boehner and Sen. Mitch McConnell, leading their winger crew to exert every muscle they could engage to keep the public from being served by the 110th congress, then insisting that the 'Democrat' majority was a do-nothing Congress. They remain in office, but their veto powers have departed, making way for public servants.

6. Senator Liddy Dole, faking her opponent's voice denying the existence of God, to get votes from her winger constituents. A real improvement, she will be staying home for awhile.

7. Torture lobby; Darth Cheney, John Yoo, Alberto Gonzales, David Addington and fellow torture advocates, breaking all laws and dragging this country through the mud for eight years for their personal satisfaction and gain.

8. Erik Prince, who put together the Blackwater mercenaries to murder for profit, will be losing his promoters.

9. Joe Lieberman, winger BFF, dropping the pretense that he is a Democrat, going on the campaign trail with McAyn and Co., and making derogatory remarks about president-elect Obama. He will remain in office, but without the status of WH contact and buds in high office.

10. Karl Rove, a standard for evil deeds, making the lies of the right serve as 'news' as he acts like a reporter for the media. No longer has any claim to insider sources.

This is all I could stand, looks like we're just scratching the surface, doesn't it? If nothing else, this occupied White House has provided rational people with endless vistas of truly rotten people to watch. Every head of every agency qualifies to be on this list as well. I believe I set myself too large a project, even to start naming the departing rats.

These rats have totally overrun the government. It's really amazing that there are so many who were ready to throw aside all standards of decency and join in the scurvy crew.

Twenty more days.

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The End is Near

Here you are! Happy New Year!

Cruising through the multitudes of year's end reminiscences, I came across Balloon Juice's commentary on conservatives' upside down view of the world. All the errors that have brought us to the disasters we are in seem negligible there in upsidedown land, while Democrats do them the favor of occasionally behaving deplorably.

Right up front, let me say, the worst error of the year was Alan Greenspan's decision to ignore the laws he was given to enforce, and wait for the market to self-correct. (My comment at Balloon Juice is number 28. There are some excellent answers there.) He has admitted to being wrong, but the entire world is in financial catastrophe because he followed ideology rather than the rule of law. Hopefully, that lesson has been learned for all times.

In his end of year retrospective, John Hawkins lists the seven biggest political blunders of the year. They are as follows:

7.) Pundits blowing the outcome of the democratic primary in New Hampshire.
6.) Eliot Spitzer
5.) Blagojevich
4.) Rev. Wright
3.) The Edwards affair
2.) Hillary’s sniper fire story
1.) McCain bailing out the financial industry.

So, to recap, five of the seven biggest blunders of the year were committed by Democrats, one was committed by the media (who Hawkins considers a de facto member of the Democratic party), and one by John McCain. One can only imagine how well the Democrats would have done in November had they not made so many mistakes, amirite Mr. Hawkins?

What a weird world view movement conservatives have these days.

We've been having a discussion at The Sideshow about liberal blogs that for years have pointed out the errors of right wing ideology in general, and deregulation specifically. Of course at the cab you have had Diane's and my critique of the use of the U.S. government to fight against public interest in such varied areas as the economy, food safety, abstinence only programs, corporate welfare, health care, and every other area I can think of. We are hardly alone, there are many fine minds that have expressed their warnings about the disasters the ideologists in power were bringing down on us.

Astonishment at the incredible blindness of the right is not enough to express here at year's end. Instead, we need to be resolved that they will be punished for damage done in full knowledge that they were violating their trust, their oath of office, and the laws of this country. Substituting a belief in their higher powers of divination, in contradiction of those who wrote the constitution and the laws, has led to worldwide disaster.

Declaring that 'no one could have anticipated' that breaking our carefully drafted laws would result in catastrophe isn't justifiable. It's not just great material for comics. It is crime, and they will need to be prosecuted.

The Rule of Law demands that crime cannot be allowed to pay off the criminal.

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The Dog Ate His Homework

It cheers me that folks are still talking about RNC Chair candidate Chip Saltsman and his gifts to the people whose votes he needs to reach his goal -- that CD filled with such "hilarious" parodies as "The Magic Negro" and "The Star Spanglish Banner" -- because it means that maybe, just maybe, Americans are beginning to grow up a little when it comes to matters of race and ethnicity. I posted on it last Saturday, and tons of other bloggers across the political spectrum have done likewise.

Tim Rutten, a Los Angeles Times columnist I often disagree with but one I read regularly, provided his take in today's issue. I'm not so sure I buy all of his analysis on why Saltsman's move was such a sad statement of that part of the Republican Party, but his comments on context as important in discussions (or humor) on race are certainly worthwhile considering. Frankly, I much prefer fart jokes to Polack jokes, but I have been known to tell both. That said, however, Mr. Rutten does bring out one part of the story that I hadn't considered: the pathetic excuses Mr. Saltsman and his cronies are using to justify the crude gifts.

What Republican leaders choose to make of Saltsman's sense of the antic is an intramural matter. The defense he has mustered isn't. He is huffing that "liberal Democrats and their allies in the media didn't utter a word about David Ehrenstein's irresponsible column in the Los Angeles Times last March. But now, of course, they're shocked and appalled by its parody on 'The Rush Limbaugh Show.' ... I know that our party leaders should stand up against the media's double standards and refuse to pander to their desire for scandal."

Oh, what would we do without our shibboleths? The liberal media? Double standards? This being a nostalgic season, whatever happened to the Eastern Establishment? Oh, that's right, the Bushes are card-carrying members. Oh, well.

Does Saltsman really believe that Gingrich, current RNC Chairman Mike Duncan and the heads of GOP state committees in places as different as Florida and North Dakota -- all of whom have pronounced themselves appalled by his bad judgment -- are dupes of the liberal media's double standards?

How sad. The best Mr. Saltsman can muster in his own defense is a cross between "but he said it, too, and you didn't complain," and the non-apology ploy, which in this case runs something like "I'm sorry you were offended by my tasteless and racist joke." Children caught red-handed say things like this until they reach some level of maturity and can admit their wrongdoing. Apparently Mr. Saltsman (and his cronies, and Rush Limbaugh) haven't reached all of their developmental milestones.

What is particularly disturbing, however, is that party luminaries such as Newt Gingrich appear to be more appalled at Saltsman's "poor judgement" than his racism. I know, I know: this shouldn't surprise me. But it does. It also saddens me deeply.

When Barack Obama gave his speech on race, declaring it time for a national dialogue on the issue, I'm pretty sure he hadn't planned on something like this. I guess we have to start somewhere. I just wish it hadn't been at this level.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Liebury Going Down, Down

As I knew readers here have been supporting the opponents of locating the worst president ever's liebury at SMU, this looked like good news for us here at the cab.

Susan lives down in bugman territory, the place even Tom DeLay left behind, and is always a treat to read. This one is stellar.

Okay, y'all, figured as much but I hate having to hear it from a foreign country --

As President George W Bush eyes his legacy, his presidential library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, threatens to be a white elephant.

Threatens? Ya think? Oh, apparently they've only raised enough money for a door and a couple of windows.

So far, fundraising has been “very modest”, according to Dan Bartlett, a former senior White House aide and spokesman for the library.

Modest? In this economy, modest means they're hanging a sign on this sucker down at Mobile Melvin's PreOwned Trailer Emporium and Bait Camp. It'll say "The Dubya Liberry."
And, fortunately, this is all they'll need because the old joke about Dubya's Liberry only having one book appears to be true.

Despite their propagandist function, the libraries provide valuable access to archives that show the president “warts and all”, according to Hufbauer. But after 9/11 Bush signed an executive order granting presidents the right to withhold documents held in the libraries from the public.

So, he's using his library for a big ole safe. He's gonna put stuff in there, but you can't see it. Kinda like his Presidency.
By the way, for you outta staters, Dallas is now a blue city. And that's partly because of Bush. So, I guess it's fitting that they get his liberry.

Long may that Freedom Institute go begging. I believe a lump of coal in its stocking is very appropriate.

Funding an institute to promote the ideology that has given us eight years of disaster would appear to be a thankless task, and not attractive to anyone who has a chance to make it in the real world.

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Post-War Criminal

Lots of signs are showing that as this occupied White House departs, hope for actual freedom is beginning to be seen in the Middle East. The oppression that the war criminals practiced has spawned a huge insurgency against U.S. invasion. As the worst administration in U.S. history leaves, the potential for progress there has been reborn.

In Lebanon, our absence has enabled the sides to weld together a structure of government which is beginning to work.

"The Americans talk, but they actually don't put pressure on Israel to solve problems," Siniora continued. Specifically, he faults Rice for not pushing Israel to withdraw from the disputed border territory known as Shebaa Farms -- a process that might have undercut Hezbollah's rationale for maintaining its military machine.
"Lebanon was meant to go again into the American age" after the withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2005, Mousawi says. "To Hezbollah, this meant the end. They don't want to be part of American hegemony, part of the West." The militia and its poor Shiite supporters felt they were fighting for their existence. (The other side felt the same way, as always happens in the existential conflicts of the Middle East.)

Hezbollah escalated its tactics on May 7, when its fighters seized West Beirut and other areas. The pro-American forces, known as the March 14 movement, were quickly overwhelmed. The heavy fighting ended in just a few hours, and a broad truce was negotiated over the next few days in Qatar with help from France and Turkey.

"No one would have imagined the Americans would have let [Lebanon] go. But they are a superpower, and they said: 'Let it go,' " Mousawi observes. Now, Hezbollah -- along with every other political power in the Middle East -- is wondering how Barack Obama will change the game.

In Darfur, the prospects for an end to massacre is being enabled by the slow, judicial process that the International Criminal Court is pursuing. The maladministration in the U.S. that refused to acknowledge the ICC is leaving, and a progressive White House would do well to reverse that decision. When the U.S. is not run by war criminals, we will have no fear of this much needed institution.

.....genocide is pretty serious, too.

That's something that Obama and his aides understand. Partly for that reason, Sudan fears the Obama administration, and now for the first time in years, there's a real chance of ousting Bashir and ending the rule of his murderous regime.

Several factors are coming together. The leaders in Khartoum feel their government wobbling, particularly after rebels clashed with government soldiers on the outskirts of Khartoum earlier this year.

They know that the International Criminal Court is expected to issue an arrest warrant for Bashir, probably in February, but that no other top leader will be indicted after Bashir.

China, which for years has been Bashir's most important international supporter, now seems to be backing away - just as it eventually abandoned genocidal friends like Slobodan Milosevic and the Khmer Rouge. And an Arab state, Qatar, is now leading a serious diplomatic initiative to try to end the slaughter.

Thus there are growing whispers that key figures in the Sudanese regime may throw Bashir overboard in the coming months.

The other leaders are ruthless and have blood on their hands as well, but some of them have in the past proved more willing to negotiate deals than Bashir has.

Hovering in the background is the risk that the north-south war in Sudan will resume, leading to a slaughter even worse than Darfur. One ominous sign is that Sudan is now stockpiling cash and weapons, apparently so that it can wage war on the south even if Port Sudan is blocked.

Williamson has suggested providing surface-to-air missiles to the separate government of South Sudan. Such weaponry would reduce the chance that Sudan would attack the south.

If Obama and his aides can work with Europe, China and Qatar to keep the heat on - and to make clear that Sudan has no choice but to hand over Bashir once the court issues the arrest warrant - then we just might avert a new war and end the first genocide of the 21st century in the new year.

The past eight years of disaster in the U.S. have been equally bad for the working classes in other countries as well. With an end to Eat the Poor policies, we will gain new standing throughout the world. The end is near, for suffering of the progressives everywhere.

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The Successes Of The Unitard

I tend to marvel at the sheer incompetence of George W. Bush and his administration when I look back at his tenure: Iraq and Afghanistan, Katrina, the economy. However, some of his policies succeeded brilliantly, most notably his drive to nuke civil liberties back to the Stone Age. David O. Savage has a pretty good analysis piece in today's Los Angeles Times which underscores those successes and the strategy behind them.

George W. Bush will end his presidency in retreat, forced to compromise on several fronts. Free-market economics have given way to massive government bailouts, and an assertive, unilateral foreign policy has yielded to one more attuned to world opinion. But in his defense of the war on terrorism, Bush has succeeded in beating back nearly all legal challenges -- including those to some of his most controversial policies.

Among them are a domestic surveillance program to intercept international phone calls, the rounding up of Muslim men for questioning after the Sept. 11 attacks, the holding of suspects in military custody in this country without filing charges, harsh interrogations -- some have called it torture -- of suspects arrested abroad, and the detention of foreign captives at a military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

How did he succeed? Well, he had plenty of help.

Soon after Sept. 11, Bush said that as commander in chief he had the "inherent" power to act boldly in the nation's defense, regardless of whether Congress or the courts agreed. ...

His claim has been much criticized. It also has not been accepted by Congress or endorsed by the Supreme Court. The justices have said the president must act according to the law, not in spite of it.

Nonetheless, Bush's anti-terrorism policies have not been blocked by the courts or Congress. When the Supreme Court struck down Bush's use of special military trials at Guantanamo on grounds that he had no legal basis for creating them, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act to authorize the trials.

When critics claimed the National Security Agency was violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by intercepting calls without a warrant, Congress passed a law to authorize such wiretapping. The same measure also granted legal immunity to telephone companies that had cooperated with the administration.

And not just Congress was complicit: the federal courts, now packed with Bush appointees because Democrats decided to keep their powder dry, have also helped:

When the government is sued, its lawyers can throw up an array of barriers. They can say the officials who carried out the policy have immunity from being sued. They can say the plaintiffs do not have standing to sue or lack enough evidence to show the policy is unconstitutional.

"This is a Catch-22," said Harold Hongju Koh, dean of Yale Law School. "They can say, 'You don't know we did it, so you can't sue.' Or, 'If you know we did it, you can't sue because it's a state secret.' The government makes these procedural arguments in every case, and it means you essentially never get a ruling on the merits."
[Emphasis added]

In other words, the federal courts bought those government arguments and summarily dismissed the law suits before the trial ever proceeded.

Those law suits brought by the ACLU, however, were brought in civil court, and that may give some clue as to where ultimately this country will have to go to right the wrongs done by this administration and to return some sense of justice to this country. Once again, we need independent criminal investigations on these breaches of domestic and international law, and we need prosecutions of those who ripped constitutional guarantees to shreds. Only then will we be safe from the evil-doers who would turn this country into a Beria era dictatorship.

Oh, and Mr. Savage? That bit about "some have called it torture"? That "some" fall into the category of those who signed the various Geneva Conventions which clearly defined waterboarding as torture. Do your homework a little more carefully next time.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Mental Incompetence

Watching the spectacle of the worst administration ever in the throes of leaving, I have to agree with the First Lady, and Condi Rice, that we will appreciate the cretin in chief more when he's gone. In fact, that condition cannot begin too soon.

Increasingly, the sheer inability to govern anything becomes horribly evident.

US President George W. Bush's top women advisers -- wife Laura and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- fought back Sunday against critics who say his presidency was one of the worst ever.

"It's ridiculous," Rice told CBS in an interview recorded Monday. "Generations pretty soon are going to start to thank this president for what he's done. This generation will."

Both Rice and Laura Bush assailed the news media, with the top diplomat repeatedly dismissing "today's headlines" as meaningless to the task of governing and the first lady bluntly calling reporters unfair to her husband.

"Do I think the press is fair? No, absolutely not," Laura Bush told Fox News Channel in an interview also taped Monday and broadcast while the president was set to usher in 2009 on his Texas ranch near this tiny town.

Asked about critics who say her husband's presidency was a failure, Laura Bush replied: "Well, I know it's not. And so I don't really feel like I need to respond to people that view it that way.

"And I think history will judge and we'll see later," she said.
Rice defended Bush's Middle East policies, notably the talks revived in November 2007 at a conference in Annapolis, Maryland -- negotiations which failed to yield a hoped-for agreement before 2009 and have yet to resolve any of the core issues.

We don't need to wait, we see the greatness already. This is the absolute bottom, and there is no direction to go except up.

There is a real advantage in having seen the occupied White House commit one disaster after another, indeed. We have material enough for several textbooks on the way to destroy a prosperous, well-constructed, solidly performing country. We have the ultimate proof of George Santayana's adage that "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

The price for all these great benefits is one that the country will be paying, and suffering from, for some time to come.

Does anyone else occasionally remember the parents' excuse for avoiding helping their son, in "Rebel Without A Cause"? They often looked at a totally messed up household and trilled "We'll all look back on this in ten years and laugh." That has stayed with me, and the dysfunctional executive branch seems to have adopted it as their creed lately.

The redemption of the constant stumblings has been too hard to face. What we have leaving the highest offices is a whole segment of our government that is in shock, and unable to face the reality of how complete a failure they have brought about. The entire ideology they held to has been irrevocably disproved. That ideology is the one on which they were going to base their foundation, the Freedom Institute, at SMU. How daunting it would be to face that your future plans had been completely shown up as absurd. They are choosing the opposite course, to refuse to accept the obvious.

The constant revisions, the claim that invading Iraq was caused by Clinton's administration, the imitation of a triumph that infuriated an Iraqi news reporter to the point of pitching his shoes at him, the wincing smirk, these are just part of mounting evidence that the departing national catastrophe has lost all hold on reality. This happens in events so stunning that a person can't deal with them. Treatment will be difficult, but I am confident it will be necessary make life bearable around this psychotic cabal.

The treatment that the government will need is real, thorough, revision, especially the rooting out of the remaining ideologists the psychotic administration just past has installed where the nation's business can be damaged. Our actual 'homeland security' depends on eliminating the remnants of the past executive branch that has so eminently served the country only in showing what really, really doesn't work.

Like Diane - and as she was cited by Glenn Greenwald in his treatise on crime and punishment - I look forward to the prosecution of the crimes against the U.S. that have run rampant for eight years now. Without consequences, crime is encouraged and will repeat itself. The leftover criminals in this White House, that President Ford pardoned for crimes under Nixon, are the proof that crime must be punished to be prevented from recurring.

As a nation we need to contemplate the lessons of this severe distress the country suffers from the emotional instability of its leadership. It might be good to establish minimum standards of mental competence for the office of president. If that can be accomplished, we will indeed have a legacy of this White House that is worth having.

Another gem of observation that the departing maladministration has proved is this from Aldous Huxley: At least two thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity, idealism, dogmatism and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious or political idols.

I would guess Huxley underestimated the percentage, perhaps because he lived before the full gamut of what he feared was in office from 2001 to 2009.

Twenty-two more days.

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Peripheral Damage

A report that is being posted throughout media outlets this morning concerns what happens to youths who are given sex education slanted toward abstinence. The incidence of use of protection is quite naturally higher among those who are given information about prevention.

There were no statistics in the study for actual pregnancies and contraction of disease. As I recently reported, in Dallas, rising AIDs occurrence is leading the City Council to reconsider its prevention of public health workers' distributing condoms.

The sadly recidivist trend in winger circles is damaging children affected in more than just their homes. When community attitudes force schools to shutter down education, in many fields, the future of this country is damaged as well.

The study is the latest to raise questions about programs that focus on encouraging abstinence until marriage. The findings also reignite the debate about the effectiveness of abstinence-focused sexual education just as lawmakers are about to reconsider the more than $176 million in annual funding for such programs.

Rosenbaum analyzed data collected by the federal government's National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which gathered detailed information from a representative sample of about 11,000 students in grades seven through 12 in 1995, 1996 and 2001.

Rosenbaum focused on about 3,400 students who had not had sex or taken a virginity pledge in 1995. She compared 289 students who were 17 years old on average in 1996, when they took a virginity pledge, with 645 who did not take a pledge but were otherwise similar. She based that judgment on about 100 variables, including their attitudes and their parents' attitudes about sex and their perception of their friends' attitudes about sex and birth control.

By 2001, Rosenbaum found, 82 percent of those who had taken a pledge had retracted their promises, and there was no significant difference in the proportion of students in both groups who had engaged in any type of sexual activity, including giving or receiving oral sex, vaginal intercourse, the age at which they first had sex, or their number of sexual partners.

There is a tragic difference between the parenting that informs children of facts and that that seeks to indoctrinate children in a particular religious pattern. The adolescent stage for all children includes resistance to whatever background they are familiar with. When they have been given rational patterns to follow, they will find their way to facts that will help them make decisions they will benefit from. When all they have been given is prejudice, of any sort, they start from so far behind that they may have any amount of trouble finding out what works for them.

Caring for children demands intelligence, and hopefully studies of the sort reported here will help guide parents away from the doctrinaire approach that damages their own family.

My direct experience with parents who put their religion above their children in importance do deep and lasting damage - particularly to 'family values'.

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Well, Duh

Gov. David Paterson of New York got some good news yesterday, according to this NY Times article. Part of the Obama stimulus package being contemplated includes money to the states for their Medicaid program.

In what would be a major boost to Gov. David A. Paterson’s efforts to close the largest deficit in state history, New York could gain as much as $5 billion in extra Medicaid financing as part of the stimulus package being drawn up by Congressional leaders and President-elect Barack Obama, Senator Charles E. Schumer said on Sunday.

The $5 billion would represent roughly one-third of the combined budget gap that Mr. Paterson must close for the balance of the fiscal year that ends on March 31 and the following fiscal year. Mr. Schumer, who is a lead negotiator of the package, said that the program as currently drafted would provide states with a total of $80 billion to $100 billion in additional help for Medicaid, apportioned according to existing formulas.

That is indeed good news for New York and the other 49 states, all of whom are having a difficult time balancing their budgets because of dropping revenues and the drying up of the bond markets. Medicaid programs are a substantial part of any state budget, and with unemployment rising and access to health insurance diminishing, costs to the states were eating up even more of state funds. Unfortunately, states have responded to the crisis by cutting services to the recipients and cutting payment rates to the providers, thereby effectively squeezing out segments of people who need health care and segments of providers who will simply refuse to provide it under the program.

The boost to the federal funding flowing to the states for the program is, however, nothing more than a temporary fix. It may staunch the bleeding now, but it's not going to cure the underlying problem. Sooner or later this country is going to have to face up to the need for a single payer program which will provide universal health care access. States would be able to return to the business of providing infrastructure and education. Employers would have a huge cost removed without worrying about whether their employees will be too sick to come to work on a regular basis. And Americans will all be able to get the health care they need when they need it.

This temporary fix may be needed to get us over the hump during these perilous times, but a plan is needed to keep us from being in this kind of downside in the future.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sunday Poetry: Elizabeth Alexander


I get off the IRT in front of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture after riding an early
Amtrak from Philly to get a hair cut at what used to be the Harlem "Y" barbershop. It gets me in at ten to
ten. Waiting, I eat fish cakes at the Pam Pam and listen to the ladies call out orders: bacon-biscuit twice,
scrambled scrambled fried, over easy, grits, country sausage on the side. Hugh is late. He shampoos me,
says "I can't remember, Girlfriend, are you tender-headed?" From the chair I notice the mural behind me
in the mirror. I know those overlapped sepia shadows, a Renaissance rainforest, Aaron Douglas! Hugh tells
me he didn't use primer and the chlorine eats the colors every day. He clips and combs and I tell him how
my favorite Douglas is called "Building More Stately Mansions," and he tells me how fly I'd look in a Salt 'n'
Pepa 'do, how he trained in Japan.
Clip clip, clip clip. I imagine a whoosh each time my hair lands on the floor and the noises of small brown
mammals. I remember, my father! He used to get his hair cut here, learned to swim in the caustic water,
played pool and basketball. He cuts his own hair now. My grandfather worked seventy-five years in
Harlem building more stately mansions. I was born two blocks away and then we moved.
None of that seems to relate to today. This is not my turf, despite the other grandfather and great-aunt who
sewed hearts back into black chests after Saturday night stabbings on this exact corner, the great-uncle who
made a mosaic down the street, both grandmothers. What am I always listening for in Harlem? A voice
that says, "This is your place, too," as faintly as the shadows in the mural? The accents are unfamiliar; all
my New York kin are dead. I never knew Fats Waller but what do I do with knowing he used to play with a
ham and a bottle of gin atop his piano; never went to Olivia's House of Beauty but I know Olivia, who lives
in St. Thomas, now, and who exactly am I, anyway, finding myself in these ghostly, Douglas shadows while
real ghosts walk around me, talk about my stuff in the subway, yell at me not to butt the line, beg me, beg
me, for my money?
What is black culture? I read the writing on the wall on the side of the "Y" as I always have: "Harlem Plays
the Best Ball in the World." I look in the mirror and see my face in the mural with a new haircut. I am a
New York girl; I am a New York woman; I am a flygirl with a new hair cut in New York City in a mural
that is dying every day.

Elizabeth Alexander

(Note: Elizabeth Alexander will be reading a poem composed for the occasion at Barack Obama's inauguration.)

Hard Times

There's no question about it, we're all feeling the pinch of the economic disaster, and it appears that things are going to get worse before they get better. For some, the shoes have already dropped. Out of a job, out of a home, many are living in their cars (if they have one) or out on the street. What's especially difficult about this downturn is that there no longer is any kind of safety net, the kind that would ease the pinch. Welfare is gone, for all intents and purposes, and even if it weren't, states are in such a financial bind that they couldn't fund the programs decently.

That's where the charitable organizations (religious and secular) traditionally step up. Unfortunately, these groups are also feeling the pinch. Foundations which typically provide a large portion of the funding necessary for day to day operations are notifying groups that they can't promise much in the coming months. Donations from sympathetic individual supporters are way down because the discretionary funds are now being spent on heating costs or food. In some instances, according to some friends who help run a local food bank, previous donors are now showing up as clients. Without the revenue stream, that food bank may have to close and my friends will be out of their jobs.

Now, we can kvetch about the government and the crisis brought on by the lawless capitalism fostered in this country (and Ruth and I are always happy to join in the kvetching, as you've probably noticed), but there comes a time for action, and this is one of those times. My friends at the food bank tell me that if 15% of the people living in the general area that it serves would give a few bucks and a few items of nonperishable goods each week, it would go a long way towards ameliorating the problem while the next administration tries to put together programs to get the nation back on its feet and back to work.

That's just one tiny operation in a suburb of Los Angeles. Organizations across the country are making the same kind of requests so that they can continue serving those who desperately need their help. Many are religious in nature, but I don't think that should deter any of us. Regular readers know that both Ruth and I constantly carp about the dismantling of the wall between church and state, and both of us stand by our opinions in that regard. Neither of us, however, would denigrate the good work these religious groups do as they practice their faith in concrete and meaningful ways.

I discovered one such group while nosing around the web on the issue, the Asheville Buncombe County Christian Ministry. It's composed of over 250 area churches ranging from the Southern Baptists to the UCC to the Quakers. The organization runs programs for homeless veterans and for homeless women and children. It operates an urgent care medical center, food bank, and clothing bank. It provides job counseling for those who could work if a job were available. And, according to its donation page it has a pretty impressive track record with respect to how donations are used:

According to the auditors, we maintained one of the highest returns on our donors' investment since 95 cents of every dollar went into direct services with only a nickel being spent on general management and fund-raising. This does not account for the in-kind support from volunteer time and materials like food and medicines which generates $4 for every $1 given.

Now, while the Asheville Buncombe County Christian Ministry may be so geographically or philosophically distant from you that you're not terribly interested in giving up what few coins you have to this particular charity, I hope that as good, caring liberals you'll search out an organization closer to you and send them what you can.

It's the best we can do right now, and if enough of us do it, it might just be enough.

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P.U. Awards

This has so many gems for readers, I just had to post it here for you.

Announcing: P.U.-litzer Prizes for 2008

By Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon

Now in their 17th year, the P.U.-litzer Prizes recognize some of the nation’s stinkiest media performances. As the judges for these annual awards, we do our best to identify the most deserving recipients of this unwelcome plaudit.

Announcing the P.U.-litzers Prizes for 2008:

This award sparked fierce competition, but the cinch came on the day Obama swept the Potomac Primary in February -- when Chris Matthews spoke of “the feeling most people get when they hear Barack Obama’s speech. My, I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don’t have that too often.”

In August, a teaser for the “O’Reilly Factor” program
said: “Obama bombarded by personal attacks. Are they legit? Ann Coulter comments.”

UPSIDE DOWN “ELITIST” AWARD -- New York Times columnist David Brooks
For months, high-paid Beltway journalists competed with each other in advising candidate Obama on how to mingle with working class folks. Ubiquitous pundit Brooks won the prize for his wisdom on reaching “less educated people, downscale people,” offered on MSNBC in June: “Obama’s problem is he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who could go into an Applebee’s salad bar and people think he fits in naturally there. And so he’s had to change to try to be more like that Applebee’s guy.” It would indeed be hard for Obama to fit in naturally at an Applebee’s salad bar. Applebee’s restaurants don’t have salad bars.

GUTTER BALL PUNDITRY AWARD -- Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s “Hardball”
In program after program during the spring, Matthews repeatedly questioned whether Obama could connect with “regular” voters -- “regular” meaning voters who are white or “who actually do know how to bowl.” He once said of Obama: “This gets very ethnic, but the fact that he’s good at basketball doesn’t surprise anybody. But the fact that he’s that terrible at bowling does make you wonder.”

STRAIGHT SKINNY PRIZE -- Wall Street Journal reporter Amy Chozick
In August, the Journal’s Chozick went beyond the standard elitist charge to offer yet another reason that average voters might be wary of Obama. Below the headline “Too Fit to Be President?” she wrote of
Obama: “Despite his visits to waffle houses, ice-cream parlors and greasy-spoon diners around the country, his slim physique might have some Americans wondering whether he is truly like them.” Chozick
asked: “In a nation in which 66 percent of the voting-age population is overweight and 32 percent is obese, could Sen. Obama’s skinniness be a liability?” To support her argument, she quoted Hillary Clinton supporters. One said: “He needs to put some meat on his bones.” Another, prodded by Chozick, wrote on a Yahoo bulletin board: “I won’t vote for any beanpole guy.”

“OUR CENTER-RIGHT NATION” AWARD -- Newsweek editor Jon Meacham
With Democrats in the process of winning big in 2008 as they had in 2006, a media chorus erupted warning Democratic politicians away from their promises of change. Behind the warnings was the repeated claim that America is essentially a conservative country. In an election-eve Newsweek cover story with the sub-headline “America remains a center-right nation -- a fact that a President Obama would forget at his peril,” Meacham argued that the liberalism of even repeatedly re-elected FDR offended voters. And the editor claimed that a leftward trend in election results and issues polling means little -- as would Obama’s victory after months of charges that he stood for radical change. Evidence seemed to lose out to journalists’ fears that campaign promises might actually be kept.

BAILOUT BLUSTER AWARD -- Pundit David Brooks
On Sept. 30, just after the House defeated the $700 billion Wall Street bailout measure, Brooks’ column in the New York Times denounced the balking House members for their failure to heed “the collected expertise of the Treasury and Fed.” But a week later, after the House approved a bailout -- and with the credit crunch unabated and stock market still plunging -- Brooks wrote: “At these moments, central bankers and Treasury officials leap in to try to make the traders feel better. Officials pretend they’re coming up with policy responses, but much of what they do is political theater.” Now he tells us.

In late November, corporate media outlets began to credit Barack Obama with making supposedly non-ideological Cabinet picks. The New York Times front page reported that his choices “suggest that Mr. Obama is planning to govern from the center-right of his party, surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues.” Conservative Times columnist David Brooks praised the picks as “not ideological” and the economic nominees as “moderate and thoughtful Democrats.” USA Today reported that Obama’s selections had “records that display more pragmatism than ideology.” In mediaspeak, if you thought invading Iraq and signing the NAFTA trade pact were good ideas, you’re a pragmatist. If not, you’re an ideologue.

The Times op-ed page marked the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion in March by choosing “nine experts on military and foreign affairs” to write on “the one aspect of the war that most surprised them or that they wish they had considered in the prewar debate.” None of the experts selected had opposed the invasion. That kind of exclusion made possible a bizarre claim by Times correspondent John Burns in the same day’s paper: “Only the most prescient could have guessed ... that the toll would include tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, as well as nearly 4,000 American troops; or that America’s financial costs by some recent estimates, would rise above $650 billion by 2008.” Those who’d warned of such disastrous results were not only prescient, but were routinely excluded from mainstream coverage.

Described as “the longest-serving foreign correspondent in New York Times history,” Burns seemed less a skeptical reporter than a channeler of Henry Kissinger when he offered his world view to PBS’ Charlie Rose in April: “The United States and its predominant economic, political and military power in the world have been the single greatest force for stability in the world, such as it is now, certainly since the Second World War. If the outcome in Iraq were to destroy the credibility of American power, to destroy America’s willingness to use its power in the world to achieve good, to fight back against totalitarianism, authoritarianism, gross human rights abuses, it would be a very dark day.”


Jeff Cohen, author of “Cable News Confidential,” is director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College and the founder of the media watch group FAIR. Norman Solomon, author of “War Made Easy,” is a columnist on media and politics.

Applause is called for, and delivered.

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A Just Decision

Sometimes there is a person who makes those annual silly contests for Person of the Year worth our while. In 2008, Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins has turned around an errant justice system, and in naming him their Texan of the Year, the Dallas Morning News has made a great choice.

Mr. Watkins has trained a spotlight on the flaws in the system, and two years after becoming the state's first black district attorney, he is suddenly the new face of Texas jurisprudence.

For his efforts to reform an imperfect criminal justice system and for his willingness to stake out politically precarious territory somewhere between "hug a thug" and "convict at all costs," Mr. Watkins is the 2008 Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year.

In his own words, DA Watkins tells us a lot about what has made him seek to open a badly run justice system to review, resulting in overturning convictions on DNA evidence, a process that has freed 19 innocent men to date.

This is about progress. In order to have progress, we have to talk about failures of the system. And to be absolutely honest with you, I don't think that [former District Attorney Henry] Wade was a bad person. I just think that he was a product of his environment. As a result of that, we had all these bad things that were done. ... In order for us to move past it, we've got to deal with it. There are going to be some hurt feelings as a result of that. But at the end of the day, it's the right thing to do."

"With power, there comes a lot of responsibility. I think a lot of times, in the past, we've had individuals who have misused it. I just hope that as I go along in this job that I will always have a respect for it and never get into the position of misusing what's been given to me."

"I'm surprised that people who are intelligent and who have been in this field for a long time don't even want to give any credibility to that thought [that an innocent man has been executed]. It's obvious that that's happened."

"On some of our more serious cases ... I just kind of sit down there and listen, and then I go back to talk to the jury [after the trial]. Without a doubt everyone that I've talked to, they all say that we believe in what you're doing because when you ask us to convict someone and take their freedom, we've seen the other side of it. You've used your resources to ensure that no one's wrongly convicted. We believe that you would only ask if it's absolutely necessary. So, we have a lot of credibility with the citizens."

"Politics is the greatest equalizer. You can come from the most meager existence and make a difference. That's the good thing about this country. I saw that was my entree into being in a position of making a positive impact on where I live."

We are very fortunate that in Dallas' 2006 election, Craig Watkins won the office he holds, and that he has used to benefit the city in a very big way. It is a hopeful sign that by turning political offices back into the right place for public servants, an informed electorate can turn back the many years of crimes by elected officials. Hopefully, that can begin to happen on a national level on January 20th.

Voters for a return of justice have earned the right to be proud.

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You GO, Girl!

I moseyed over to one of my senator's web sites yesterday afternoon. I generally check to see what Barbara Boxer is up to because it always cheers me up. This time was no exception. I found a letter she'd sent to the incoming Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. John Kerry. After congratulating him on the chairmanship, she had a request for him. Here's some of that letter:

I write today to raise an issue of the utmost significance -- the Administration’s use of torture against detainees held in U.S. custody. Despite widespread condemnation from Members of Congress, policy experts, and human rights advocates, Vice President Richard Cheney stated in a recent interview with ABC News that the torture policies used against detainees were appropriate and admitted that he played a role in their authorization. In fact, when asked if any of the tactics -- including waterboarding -- went too far, he responded with a curt “I don’t.”

I find Vice President Cheney’s response deplorable, particularly in light of a recent report released by the Senate Armed Services Committee following an eighteen-month investigation. In sum, the bipartisan report found that “senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.” The report, led by Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, concluded that “those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.” I fully support Chairman Levin’s proposal for an outside Commission with subpoena power to investigate this matter further.

In light of this report and Vice President Cheney’s admission that torture was approved at the highest levels, I ask that you hold a hearing on the use of torture and its impact on U.S. moral standing in the world. The last eight years have been a dark chapter for U.S. global leadership and have left a deep stain on our moral authority. Now is the time to send a clear and unequivocal sign that we completely reject torture, that we respect the rule of law, and that America will once again lead on human rights through the power of our example.
[Emphasis added]

Both are excellent ideas, but I'm not certain that they go far enough. I fired off an email to her asking her to take the next logical step, to demand an independent prosecutor be appointed to conduct that investigation. The important thing, however, is that one of our senators is willing to move in this direction. Keep in mind, moreover, that Sen. Boxer is coming up for re-election in 2010, a fact that was noted by another California blogger, D-Day:

This is one step away from the needed call for an independent prosecutor to investigate Bush's war crimes, but it's as close as any Senator has been willing to go. This suggests that Boxer considers an investigation of this nature to not only be the right thing to do in a democracy, but not electorally damaging whatsoever. She should be supported in this belief and encouraged to go even further. I know that Senator Boxer has begun asking for contributions to her re-election campaign. Maybe a series of contributions of $9.12, signaling support for a "9/12" torture commission and an independent prosecutor, along with emails and letters explaining this, would relay the message? [Emphasis added]

And that's a pretty good idea as well.

Take it and run, folks. It's our turn.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bonus Critter Blogging: Aardvark

(Published at the Detroit Free Press. Special thanks to DWD for the tip.)

Just Some Good Ol' Boy Humor

You'd think that after losing big in a presidential election year, the GOP would stop, take stock of what went wrong, and start figuring out ways to reach voters who turned their backs on Republicans. You would, however, be wrong. Instead, the GOP leadership has decided to play to their base, their base-base, if this article from The Hill is any indication.

RNC candidate Chip Saltsman’s Christmas greeting to committee members includes a music CD with lyrics from a song called “Barack the Magic Negro,” first played on Rush Limbaugh’s popular radio show. ...

The CD, called “We Hate the USA,” lampoons liberals with such songs as “John Edwards’ Poverty Tour,” “Wright place, wrong pastor,” “Love Client #9,” “Ivory and Ebony” and “The Star Spanglish banner.”

Several of the track titles, including “Barack the Magic Negro,” are written in bold font.

Now that's a dandy Christmas present, isn't it?

I can just see droves of Hispanic Americans and African Americans surging to the GOP's side in 2010.


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Crime Scene Economics

Watching the economy collapse is providing lessons that might never have been learned among business writers. Some of them are pretty diverting, such as hearing Rebecca Jarvis this morning on the Today Show telling us glibly that "there are too many retailers". Nothing about, say, too few jobs, or too little salaries. Next, I suspect we'll hear that we should Go Shopping.

Today cruising through some of the local geniuses, I did find a little jewel. A former employee of Ken Lay (think Enron) has concluded that government did it, in the cloakroom, with laws. The article is by Houston Chronicle's Loren Steffy. I won't post all of it here, but just in case you wonder, no, he doesn't talk about the need for independent regulators and law enforcement, such as has just been proved by our economic disaster.

A few weeks ago, I had lunch with Robert Bradley, a free market scholar and founder of the Houston-based Institute for Energy Research. Bradley, a former speech writer for Ken Lay at Enron, recently published Capitalism at Work, which looks at the role of business and government.

Bradley laments what he calls a "cluster of errors" by companies, especially on Wall Street, that dragged the global economy into recession.

The problem, Bradley argues, isn’t that capitalism failed us, it’s that we failed capitalism.

"The recession is bringing us back to basics," he said. "All we’ve learned from all this is that long-term value is key."

We knew that, of course. But in recent years, soaring prices for everything from commodities to housing have caused us to forget that good investing and good business are about patience and perseverance, rather than instant rewards.

"The present situation seems to present a paradox of capitalism whereby instead of good companies driving out bad, we have bad companies driving out, or certainly hurting, good," Bradley said. "The very best corporations are getting tugged down by the sins of so many others."

Rather than building profitable businesses on sound practices, companies resorted to gimmicks and relied on government policy. The problem isn’t that government did too little to protect us from crisis, it’s that it did too much to help create the crisis, Bradley said.

For example, it slashed interest rates, which encouraged a home-buying binge and inflated housing prices. That fed demand for subprime mortgages and risky debt instruments that Wall Street peddled to investors.
The answer may be that bonuses and incentives changed so that executives and employees lost sight of what was good for their firms. In a recent article in Portfolio, Michael Lewis, author of Liar’s Poker, the classic tale of Wall Street excess in the 1980s, traces the problem to the decision by many investment banks to convert from partnerships to public corporations.

In a partnership, individuals are responsible for the losses of the firm, making them more wary of risk. In a corporation, risk is borne by investors. Gambling is always easier with other people’s money. (Emphasis added.)

The point about CEO bonuses is apt, even though Bradley ignored much of the need for laws to protect investors from bad information, and actual regulators. As I said here previously, we are expecting firms' executives to work for profits for the firm, but that has not been rewarded as much as the short-term gains that trigger the big money bonuses. Sometimes those can come at the expense of overall health, as in the case of excessive SUV production in the face of inevitably rising gasoline costs.

The public interest has been revived in the coming administration, and a return to actual representation of our laws will be a real change. I am hopeful that oversight can be a saving grace for the country's business as well.

When we can see even the free marketeers admitting that their ideas were wrong, oh sorry, that the people they expected to use their ideas to do the right thing failed, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

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Another Nation Weighs In

As President Bush's administration finally winds down, our European allies continue to call for the closure of Guantanamo Bay. From Norway's Dagsavisen:

The U.S. secretary of defence has ordered plans for the closing of the prison camp at Guantanamo. We could not ask for better news to end 2008. Hundreds of people have been deported to the “camp of shame," torture has been used during interrogation, and the sentencing has been done at military tribunals exempt from ordinary legal principles. ...

American intelligence has probably ruined the chances of convictions through an open, free trial, when “confessions” are produced by means characterised as torture. An American court will probably dismiss many of the cases and demand the detainees released.

There is no way around the justice system for American authorities. The world simply does not have confidence in reasons for keeping someone locked up on the island. We do not know how true American claims are about the danger these people pose. Trust can only be restored by putting the prisoners on public trial.

That is the price to pay for the human rights violations this prison camp at Guantanamo has represented since 2002.

This editorial puts an appropriate focus on the dilemma that will face Barack Obama on January 20, 2008. For six long years we have been told that those detained at Gitmo represent the most dangerous terrorists of all and to release even one of them will imperil the US. Unfortunately, after the treatment these men have received at our hands, that may be true in more cases than we'd like, but that is indeed the price we will have to pay for our egregiously foul behavior.

Is there any way to mitigate the damage we've caused? Perhaps, at least to some extent. Freeing these men is a good start, but only the first step. We must also help to heal the wounds we've caused by the torture and mistreatment we inflicted. Wherever those released go, they must have access to the kind of treatment programs which will enable them to pick up the pieces of their lives and return to some semblance of normalcy.

Just as important, however, we will have to openly and unequivocally admit that what this country did to human beings, no matter the putative reason, was wrong, horribly wrong. Such an acknowledgment will be an indication to the world that we are ready to return to the world of laws and civilized behavior and would constitute the best kind of apology to those we have harmed.

Finally, to show that our confession of wrongdoing and our apology for that wrongdoing are sincere, we must thoroughly investigate how we got to the point that made such crimes as kidnapping and waterboarding acceptable, and then we must prosecute those who so blithely led us in that direction. True justice demands no less.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Friday Catblogging

Christmas Pippin.

More Christmas Pippin.

Please note that collected wine corks make wonderful garland. With wooden beads.

from FeralLiberal. Cozy. Thanks, FeralL.


Abandoning Fido and Fluffy

The increasing burden of simply supporting themselves has become a desperate plight for many pets. As they are faced with the choice of feeding their families or handling pets' expenses, families have been taking their pets to shelters - and shelters are full up.

In a Virginia Beach program a spokesperson reported; "The program received 18 applications within its first week. Some of those people have never experienced hardship until now, and therefore, neither have their pets, McNally said."

The rescue of animals has always been sadly necessary. Even in a nearby decreasingly rural area, abandoned animals turn up all too often. A friend, Martha, took on abandoned animals that came to her family's farm, until she now has around 300 dogs. She has turned that farm into a no-kill shelter that is supported by donations, which include bequests for permanent residents. Martha told me in a phone conversation this morning that the requests she has been getting have increased by about 30%, and just this week she found two puppies had been put over the fence into her care. She is getting about 15 calls a week from people who have had to move, increasingly those reporting that they have lost their homes.

Another friend on a large farm has constant 'donated' pets, which have even included a potbellied pig that she fortunately found another home - not the breakfast table.

Those who keep their pets are getting some help, too.

Animal lovers are marshaling forces in hopes of minimizing the number of pets that go hungry or land in shelters because their owners can no longer afford to feed them.

Free pet-food pantries are being established in cities and towns across the nation by volunteers concerned about the recession's effect on pets. And the long lines of pet owners showing up by the thousands for free kibble are growing more diverse each week. Lower-income people are now joined by middle-class folks pummeled by the economy: white-collar workers recently laid off; elderly people who had been receiving regular cash from relatives who can't afford that anymore; military spouses unable to find work to earn some discretionary income; students who've lost their part-time jobs; high-earners with high debt who are dramatically downshifting.
Most pet owners discover the whereabouts of local pet food banks by contacting animal shelters, traditional food banks or other social service organizations. But many who newly need help have little or no familiarity with social-service networks and aren't sure where to turn. McCaslin has posted contact numbers for nearly 30 pet food banks across the nation on her website (, an action she took after being contacted by hundreds of needy pet owners.

The occupied White House attitude toward the needy has resulted in economic disaster for most Americans. We need to make sure that pets aren't condemned to die for Eat the Poor policies in the executive branch.

No worries, my cat Fluffy is staying with me.

25 more days.

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Dumping The Poor

As the individual states come to grips with the economic disasters the nation is facing, state, and consequently local budgets, get slashed. Among the earliest programs cut are public services, things that directly affect the poor. An article in today's Washington Post points out that one program currently being gutted at the state level is Medicaid, the program that provides health care coverage for the poor.

With revenue falling at the same time that more people are losing their jobs and private health coverage, states already have pared their programs and many are looking at deeper cuts for the coming year. Already, 19 states ... have lowered payments to hospitals and nursing homes, eliminated coverage for some treatments, and forced some recipients out of the insurance program completely.

Many are halting payments for health-care services not required by the federal government, such as physical therapy, eyeglasses, hearing aids and hospice care. A few states are requiring poor patients to chip in more toward their care.

It's not just the "frills" like hospice care that are getting the ax. People are being completely dropped from the program at a time when even more people are without health care coverage. How's this for an ugly example:

...Florida's Medicaid officials have just handed the governor and legislature a blueprint for a 10 percent reduction; it would eliminate coverage for 7,800 18- and 19-year-olds and 6,800 pregnant women.

California, still without a viable plan to cut its own red ink, is making the same kind of Draconian cuts, because the legislature is unable to come up with a budget that would actually increase revenue by raising taxes on those who could afford it, something Republican legislators continue to block because they can.

All of the states are looking to the federal government for assistance, and the incoming Obama administration acknowledges that health care, especially for the poor, has to be configured into any recovery package. Congress is considering boosting the federal share of Medicaid by close to $100 billion over the next two years, which would in fact take some of the pressure off the states.

Such moves, however, are nothing more than bandaids hiding symptoms. A single-payer national health plan looks to be the only answer at this point, but few in Congress seem to have the courage to admit that.

And that's a shame, a real shame. Our founding document, the US Constitution, opens with these words:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. [Emphasis added]

Perhaps we should forward these words to the President Elect and to members of Congress, reminding them that their power stems from that document, the purpose of which was laid out clearly in those words.

It couldn't hurt.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Supertrain Lives!

Admittedly, I love trains. I have ridden in private berths and in standard passenger cars, taken a fall colors route, and an overnight ride from Providence, RI to D.C. with the kids so they could have the experience. When I worked in Dallas I took DART rail into the city almost daily. When I travel, I want to see the country and clear the highways.

When I was in the Big Bend area, seeing an actual passenger train arrive and let off passengers in Alpine, TX, was a thrill. What good sense it makes, to arrive at a gorgeous natural area without having to drive through the congestion in cities, and not polluting our air any further.

There is no hell like trying to drive from North Texas through Dallas or Fort Worth to reach the areas south of here. We really need to take a look at alternate transportation just for travel around the state.

Hearing talk about returning Texas to rail service makes me just deliriously happy.

Could high-speed trains be back in Texas' future?

Visions of bullet trains – like the ones that danced in the heads of Dallas City Council members who toured China earlier this year – may seem a bit dreamy for the Lone Star State.

But as 2009 nears, this much is true: Talk of such passenger rail service, once thought of as forever dead in Texas, is back in vogue, both in Washington and Austin.

A number of signs point to possible success for rail advocates, who for years have been talking up the merits of so-called multimodal transportation planning, but to a mostly unreceptive audience among Texas transportation policymakers.

This month, the U.S. Department of Transportation called for proposals from states and businesses to develop any of 11 federally designated high-speed rail corridors. Proposals are expected across the country, and two of the specified routes run through Texas. One, the Gulf Coast Corridor, enters the state from the southeast and finds its terminus in Houston.

The other route comes in from the north, and runs through Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and more.

No proposals have been made to develop those corridors yet, but U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters was in New York City in recent weeks to urge investors to consider doing just that. The government's vision is to have private firms partner with state and federal governments to jointly develop the rail lines. Proposals are due by September 2009.

Texas ought to start moving if it wants to take advantage of the federal funds, said Peter LeCody of Texas Rail Advocates, a passenger-rail lobbying group. The federal government is promising an 80-20 match with local or state funds – a nearly unprecedented move for rail, which usually requires a 50 percent contribution from local sources.

"Texas is not on the horizon to take advantage of the recently authorized Railway Safety Act," he said, noting the law that has prompted the federal call for programs. "Other states are already planning for high-speed passenger rail corridors, and some have timetables in place to have intercity passenger rail service as early as 2012. Texas does not."
The Texas Department of Transportation's executive director, Amadeo Saenz, disputed Mr. LeCody's assertions. He said the department is aware of the call for proposals and is working on a plan.

"If any of the other states are out ahead of us, I'd like to know about it," Mr. Saenz said.

If the department has a weak focus on rail, however, it may have good cause. It has never been allowed to spend money it collects from gasoline sales on rail programs. The Texas Constitution forbids it, though lawmakers have managed to find ways to divert about a half-billion dollars of the funds each year to other uses.

Mr. Saenz said he'd like to see that changed.

I heartily agree. Having a source from gas tax would be particularly rational in view of the congestion it could reduce. The Texas legislature isn't much known for its rational behavior, but when it comes to saving taxpayer money it does come under increasing pressures. We can't build enough roads for the traffic in our urban areas. We can reduce traffic, though, by spending on railroad development.

Besides, it would make Atrios so happy.

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Thursday Birdblogging

Thank you monkeyfister, for the Mighty Quill award. Diane and I are honored, and our year is made.

Today's Bird is a Stocking Stuffer for your Christmas, Goodbye Darth Cheney.

For Christmas, we are getting the lovely present of saying A Welcome Goodbye to Cheney, and Jeffraham Prestonian is helping us to celebrate. This is the image of all that is worst about the occupied White House ideology of Eat The Poor, in its own image.

Vultures in reality have a purpose, and are a good thing. Preying on the public has a purpose, too, and it is a really bad thing. Its ends have been served for eight years and the results are catastrophe in every direction. The end can't come soon enough.

Twenty five days until it takes off. The Final Flight of the Buzzard will be a good sight, for everyone.


Some rent money is appreciated if you want Jeffraham Prestonian to photoshop something special for you.

Diane also needs rent and insurance money, and you can click on "Donate": thanks.

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Some Tools

I've been going on and on, here and elsewhere, about how we as citizens can't just expect that after the votes have been counted our jobs are done. NTodd keeps reminding us that this is when the real work starts, and he is absolutely right.

The problem as I see it is that we don't actually know just what it is our Congress critters are up to at any point, and we certainly can't depend on the mainstream press to keep us informed. Fortunately, the internet is filled with all sorts of resources, including emails from groups that have the resources to keep track of things, to blogs which deal with progressive issues, to web sites which carefully analyze each congressional vote.

Some wag at Eschaton yesterday linked to this site over at Congressional Quarterly. It's a dandy. It summarizes how each Congress critter in the 110th Congress voted in terms of acceding to the Unitard's will, party unity, and just showing up to vote. The charts are easy to navigate (the whole page is) and is very informative. Here are the explanatories:

The three principal studies involve:

The frequency with which lawmakers vote with the president when he clearly indicates his preferences (Presidential Support).

The frequency with which they vote with their party, on occasions when a majority of Republicans oppose a majority of Democrats (Party Unity).

And the frequency with which they show up and cast "yea" or "nay" votes (Voting Participation).

OK. I started off by asking for the chart for the Senate, and then I checked out my two Senators:

Barbara Boxer: Presidential Support-30% Party Unity-99% Participation-99%

Dianne Feinstein: Presidential Support-39% Party Unity-91% Participation-99%

No surprises there.

Now for some other Democratic senators:

Daniel Inouye: Presidential Support:46% Party Unity-83% Participation-88%

(No surprise, but certainly disappointing.)

Claire McCaskill: Presidential Support-45% Party Unity-81% Participation-94%

(WTF? I contributed to her campaign!)

Here, however, is the biggie:

Harry Reid: Presidential Support-43% Party Unity-85% Participation-99%

For crying out loud, Harry Reid is the freakin' Senate Majority Leader and he only voted 85% of the time for the Democratic position? And voted 43% to give the GOP President what he wanted? There is something dreadfully wrong with this picture.

Now if you really want to get steamed, check out Joe Lieberman's record. He's listed as an Independent, but because he caucuses with the Democrats, his Party Unity score is configured that way. And the Democratic leadership let him keep his prestigious committee chairmanship. Sweet, eh?

OK, I've done some deep breathing.

Here's what I suggest. Check out your reps, regardless of party, and start targeting them if you are unhappy. Let them know how unhappy you are with their records and advise them you will be shopping elsewhere in the next two to six years if they don't shape up. Then keep at it with every important bill that comes up.

In the coming months, I'll try to locate and post other resources to keep us up to speed. I will, of course, be very grateful for any suggestions, either via comments or an email.

Oh, and Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. May the New Year be better for all of us.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Project Innocence Suffers SEC Neglect

The victims of wrongful conviction have suffered already from our system's failures. It appears they are about to get another hit from the opponents of regulation and law. The demise of Bernard Makoff's ponzi scheme has hit them with huge losses, as Project Innocence was largely funded by JEHT, which has been wiped out.

Panic ensued at the Innocence Project of Texas when a powerful Wall Street investor was arrested this month and accused of swindling investors out of $50 billion.

One of the organizations that had invested with Bernard Madoff was the JEHT Foundation, which funds post-conviction DNA tests for Dallas County inmates who claim they are innocent. Without the funding, the Innocence Project would be faced with trying to raise capital in a bad economy and those seeking tests could face indefinite delays, if the testing could be done at all.

But after a few days of concern, Innocence Project officials realized the money received so far – about $400,000 – was theirs to keep, said the organization's executive director Natalie Roetzel. And while additional money promised for computers, staff and investigations won't make its way to the Innocence Project, Ms. Roetzel said, "I think it's going to turn out OK."

Both Ms. Roetzel and Dallas County First Assistant District Attorney Terri Moore said there probably are enough funds to complete all the DNA testing.

If not, Ms. Roetzel said, they will seek other grants and hold private fundraisers.

"The money should get us through what needs to be tested," said Ms. Moore.
Just before Mr. Madoff's arrest, the JEHT Foundation was in talks with Dallas County to give as much as $15 million to fund programs with the district attorney's office and the probation department.

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said the talks had not advanced to specifics but said the foundation was committed to giving more money.

"That hurt," said Mr. Watkins. "That hurt."

Dallas has the highest number of releases, but Project Innocence has many other places needing its justice healing activities.

In February, DNA testing and a confession by another suspect confirmed that Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, both convicted in the early 1990s for sep­arate child murders in Noxubee County, (Mississippi) were innocent. But during trial, West had testified that multiple marks on the victims’ bodies were bite marks, which he then matched to the men. That testi­mony has been proven false, says Peter Neufeld, Innocence Project co-director.

Large numbers of charitable investments were lost in the Makoff wipe-out. There are lawsuits in the early stages against a number of them. Those entrusted with funds are never supposed to invest in one firm alone, and it appears that this cardinal law was violated by a number of charities whose directors became enamored of Makoff's consistent high returns.

The SEC appears to be among that number. While not supposed to be a charity, it has acted as if it were. It is a recipient of U.S. taxpayer charitable funds, since it is not doing the job it should be earning that amount to do.

You can help Project Innocence continue its work here. It should have been receiving millions to defend the innocent. We, the innocent taxpayers, are losing even more.


Also found this morning that those losing their jobs because of disability are faced with a two-year wait before they can start receiving Medicare. For many that means they are going without treatment, sometimes badly needed. This makes no sense.

While most of the 40 million Americans covered under Medicare are age 65 and older, nearly 6 million qualify because of severe and permanent disabilities. Unlike older Americans, who typically enroll and become eligible for coverage within months of turning age 65, disabled beneficiaries must wait two years before their coverage takes effect. Many who are in the waiting period face enormous problems. In this study, researchers talked to these individuals in focus groups and through in-depth telephone interviews. Participants reported skipping medications, putting off needed care, feeling depressed and anxious about the future, and believing they were not in control of their own lives. To alleviate their plight, the researchers recommend that Congress eliminate the waiting period, expand Medicaid eligibility, and subsidize COBRA insurance coverage. Beneficiaries also need better, more consistent information regarding their options for accessing health care and coverage.

How do government programs get so screwy? Lobbyists descend on the legislators to bend authorizing legislation as much to their demands, and as little to actual public need, as they can manage.

26 days more.

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Reality Based Stimulus

What a treat to get a sound projection for what works this morning from New Jersey Governor Corzine. With a solid grip on the realities of the situation, he does a down and dirty job of making a plan that can work, and putting it on paper. The states have for the most part had the full weight of support for social services over the past eight years, and the situation is desperate on that level. Many are out of funds for education, infrastructure, and unemployment.

Warning: this is not light reading.

The stimulus should be roughly divided into five categories: infrastructure, countercyclical programs, housing, education block grants and middle-class tax cuts.

· For every billion dollars we spend on infrastructure, we can put upwards of 20,000 people back to work. On one hand, we've learned painful lessons about the need to modernize our bridges and levees. On the other hand, we must think broadly about the idea of infrastructure: How many hours do people waste circling airports because our air-traffic control systems are outdated? We must commit to improving our transportation system, energy grid, Internet technology, ports, public housing and school facilities.

· Unless we also help states shore up their safety-net social programs, the economic impact of the federal stimulus will be negated.

Most states are constitutionally required to balance their budgets. Given the sharp decline in state revenue, we are not able to support, let alone increase, spending to meet growing demands for basic needs such as unemployment insurance, food assistance programs and health care -- including mental-health services to those with developmental disabilities.

Most states are facing cuts to these essential services, reductions that will exact an enormous toll on our most vulnerable citizens and remove money and jobs from the economy just when we need to promote growth. Put another way, even if the federal government dedicates a large sum to infrastructure, cutbacks in state and local safety-net programs would cancel out much of the effect of the stimulus.

Over two years, the federal government should boost its countercyclical spending by at least $250 billion. It can do so by increasing the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages; the federal share of Medicaid costs; and other health-care-related programs such as reimbursement to hospitals for treating the uninsured, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and child-care grants.

Many state unemployment trust funds are already depleted. Rising unemployment rates and reduced revenue over the next few months are likely to trigger major payroll tax increases in 2009. This harm could be partly mitigated by doubling proposed federal funding for state unemployment trust funds under the Unemployment Insurance Modernization Act, which would provide incentives to cover vulnerable low-wage and part-time workers who are often denied benefits.

· Unless we strike at the cause of the meltdown -- the collapse of the housing market -- our economy will continue spiraling downward. The federal recovery package should include funding for state housing mortgage authorities and for programs that help people restructure their mortgages, stay in their homes and find new shelter if evicted.

· If we are to pursue relief and recovery, it's essential that we continue developing a workforce that is able to meet the demands of the 21st-century economy. At least $250 billion in preschool-through-college education block grants would help states meet their school budget obligations; more important, such grants would enable greater strides toward universal early childhood education and fully funded programs for special-needs students -- improving the situation today and laying the foundation for a better tomorrow.

· A sizable middle-class tax cut is key. Over the past decade, median family income has failed to keep pace with inflation, especially given the sharply rising costs of health care and education. Most Americans have lost ground. Relief for the middle class would help our families weather the storm and also boost economic demand.

In 1932, Roosevelt warned against being of "faint heart, fearful of change, sitting tightly on the rooftops in the flood." His words are still prescient today. We must be bold -- $1 trillion bold. America has abundant resources and a generous, ambitious spirit. If we work together, we'll emerge stronger and more prosperous than ever.

That we have to tighten our belts as a society, and get to work, is not a surprise. Eight year of right wing dominance has strained all systems to the breaking point, and economic sphere beyond that point. The diversion of all our national resources into corporate welfare has been a huge theft from the public.

The strictures we are all facing will not be painless. They will be a solid reminder that allowing wingers to ignore and trample on our laws does not make anyone better off. Even business suffers from 'business side' economics as practiced by the crooks who took over the White House in 2001.

That reality-based public servants are here to step in for the real work is heartening. We have many good people stepping up to the plate, and thanks are due to them for taking hold.

For shame, Republican Party for destroying the economy.

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Bankrupt Ideas

The Los Angeles Times editorial board has decided to be polite, because, even as a "center-left" group, civility and understanding is far more important to them than simple justice. In an editorial titled "Is the Bush administration criminally liable for its lawlessness?" the board answers its own question, which would seem to contain the answer in the way it was posed, by stating that "maybe it is but prosecution would be fruitless, so let's move on."

...It's conceivable that individuals in the Bush administration violated criminal law. But if they did so as part of a post- 9/11 response to terrorism, it would be all but impossible to prosecute them successfully.

Besides, the scandal of the Bush administration wasn't a matter of individual, politically motivated violations of law. Rather, it was a systemic failure to take seriously the spirit as well as the letter of this country's commitment to the humane treatment of prisoners or the privacy rights of Americans secured by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

Say what?

Vice President Cheney went on television and proudly boasted that he not only thought waterboarding was an acceptable way to interrogate people, even if it was against international and domestic law, he personally guided the permission to use the technique through the administration decision making process. That's not an admission of an individual violation of law?

Well, says the editorial, Congress let them do it, so that makes a difference.

That's a failure in which Congress must share culpability with the administration. It was the administration that, with the help of compliant legal counsel, rationalized the use of "enhanced" interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, humiliation and the use of dogs to intimidate prisoners of war and suspected terrorists. But, as the vice president argued recently, Congress at first either acquiesced in, or offered muted objections to, the administration's policies. That the failures were collective rather than individual makes them no less appalling, but it does suggest that a criminal prosecution will not remedy them. ...

Oh, please. That's like saying a neighborhood knows who has being burglarizing their homes and still foolishly leave the back doors unlocked, so we can't prosecute the burglar. Yes, the 109th and 110th Congresses proved to be (for the most part) a bunch of spineless wimps who gave the administration everything it wanted lest they be tagged as soft on terrorism (whatever in the hell that is). And yes, Congress took impeachment off the table so that a few bills could be passed, a very few. That doesn't mean that laws weren't broken and rights trampled, for which our justice system provides a remedy.

Prosecution is important for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is that it is a deterrent. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out so passionately in his post in response to Ruth Marcus' suggestion that prosecutions wouldn't be prudent, deterrence is the whole point of prosecutions and convictions:

Punishment for lawbreaking is precisely how we try to ensure that crimes "never happen again." If instead -- as Marcus and so many other urge -- we hold political leaders harmless when they break the law, if we exempt them from punishment under the criminal law, then what possible reason would they have from refraining from breaking the law in the future? A principal reason for imposing punishment on lawbreakers is exactly what Marcus says she wants to achieve: "ensuring that these mistakes are not repeated." By telling political leaders that they will not be punished when they break the law, the exact opposite outcome is achieved: ensuring that this conduct will be repeated. [Emphasis in the original]

Mr. Greenwald also deals deftly with the shoddy excuse that because Congress didn't stop the administration we can't prosecute by suggesting that President Obama appoint an independent prosecutor, ideally Patrick Fitzgerald, who would undertake an investigation that wouldn't have a partisan taint to it:

As a practical reality, the largest barrier to any route to prosecution -- including this one -- is that the Congressional Democratic leadership was complicit, to varying degrees, in the illegal programs. But of all the various ways investigations could be pursued, the appointment of a fearless prosecutor with a proven record of independence (and who is a Republican to boot) would be the most effective.

The Times editorial concludes that " enticing as many find the idea of putting Rumsfeld or Cheney in the dock, neither a show trial nor a truth commission would be the right way to expunge or atone for the abuses of this administration. Thankfully, those who sanctioned them will soon be history."

Yes, thankfully, they will soon be history. They won't be forgotten, nor will their heinous criminal acts, but only if they are brought to justice so that the next administration and all those who follow will be forced to think long and hard about repeating those acts.

It's clearer than ever that the Los Angeles Times is bankrupt in all sorts of ways.


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