Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bonus Critter Blogging: Javan Rhino

(Photographer unknown, but picture published at the American Association of Zoo Keepers, Inc. website.)

Sane Foreign Policy

A strange feature of this country's ongoing diplomatic failures has been and will be the 'embargo' of Cuba. In the Cold War days, communism was seen as insidious and bound to damage us by its existence so close to the shores of America. Fidel was especially dangerous. He even smoked good cigars.

I've known several Cuban expatriates, one delivered my kids. All knew, as returning Iraqis have found, that their property now belonged to others. They had no illusions that they would simply step back into what they had left if they returned, and had gotten on with their lives. Not so the U.S.

Today I found a really good discussion of the future for our policy with regard to Cuba, courtesy of Eugene Robinson.

For nearly five decades, the United States has pursued a policy toward Cuba that could be described as incredibly stupid.

It could also be called childish and counterproductive -- and, since the demise of the Soviet Union, even insane. Absent the threat of communist expansionism, the refusal by successive American presidents to engage with Cuba has not even a fig leaf's worth of rationale to cover its naked illogic. Other than providing Fidel Castro with a convenient antagonist to help whip up nationalist fervor on the island -- and prolong his rule -- the U.S. trade embargo and other sanctions have accomplished nothing.

Now, with Fidel ailing and retired, and his brother Raúl acting large and in charge, the United States has its best opportunity in years to influence the course of events on the island. George W. Bush, as one might have expected, won't do the right thing. It will be up to the next president.

Raúl Castro is 76, and since assuming the presidency he has acted as if he knows he doesn't have much time to waste. In short order, he has repealed the prohibition against Cubans buying computers, cellphones and other consumer goods -- items that Fidel feared might facilitate sedition or promote counterrevolutionary comfort and lassitude.

It's true that these measures are largely symbolic -- on an average salary of about $17 a month, most Cubans can't dream of buying computers, and, in any event, the Cuban government still strictly controls access to the Internet. Likewise, any Cuban who owns a cellphone can't use it without paying the astronomical rates demanded by the government cellphone monopoly.

But at the same time, Raúl has encouraged the first stirrings of debate in the government-controlled media (which are the only media) -- something Fidel never would have allowed. Rumors that the government will soon permit widespread private ownership of automobiles, and perhaps even allow an above-board private market in real estate, seem much less implausible than they would have just six months ago.

The fact that our 'embargo' hasn't done what it was intended to, which is remove Fidel, has been ignored for the years it has been in effect. We have had the depths of insanity in the present worst administration ever. It is to be hoped that the reaction to this depth will be a birth of sanity in all areas and this is one that cries out for it.

I have always suspected that anything that we ban will be shipped from somewhere else into Cuba, anyway, if they can afford it.

I suppose this post will be banned in Miami.


For those of you who expected from the title that this would be about what I often talk about, N.Korea, that country that has been refusing to truckle to the government that ended promising negotiations the Clinton era had produced by announcing it was part of the axis of evil - we are right to give North Koreans food assistance. It should be directed to the starving people though, not to the government that gives them over to starvation.

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More Republican Obstruction

In yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune, Phyllis Kahn (a Democratic member of the Minnesota House of Representatives) reported on what happened to a bill dealing with stem cell research.

Last year, when a bill on stem-cell research began moving through the Legislature, Gov. Tim Pawlenty sent lawmakers a letter saying that such research "offers tremendous opportunities to improve human health and well-being by addressing serious diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer's. As a matter of public policy, stem-cell research deserves careful consideration and bipartisan support." ...

Unfortunately, the bill did not gain bipartisan support; only three of 71 Republicans in the Legislature joined Democrats in voting for the bill. And on the Friday before Memorial Day, Pawlenty vetoed it.

In his veto message, the governor said he "supports stem cell research that is consistent with sound ethical and moral standards." He objected to the sanctioned use of "embryonic stem cells" that "destroy live embryos" and pointed to a November 2007 study by the University of Wisconsin and Kyoto University in Japan about the development of induced-pluripotent stem (iPS) cells from individual adult stem cells, as a means to move forward with non-embryonic stem cell research.
[Emphasis added]

What happened in the last year to change Gov. Pawlenty's mind? Yes, there have been some breakthroughs on non-embryonic stem cell research, but, as Ms. Kahn points out, that research depended in large part on the embryonic cell research that not only preceded it, but which the same researchers continued exploring. Furthermore, scientists at this point do not believe iPS holds the same promise as embryonic stem cells because of the potential danger involved:

Furthermore, scientists have serious doubt that iPS cells will replace embryonic stem cells in human therapies. To make these iPS cells, scientists use retroviruses to transfer the reprogramming genes into the cells. Currently, these retroviruses are believed to be potentially cancer-causing viruses. Unfortunately, undereducated opponents of embryonic stem cell research applaud this first discovery and ignore the later more cautious discussion of its limits and dangers.

There appears to be more than just some "good news research" involved in the 180 Gov. Pawlenty did, especially given the timing of the veto. Gov. Pawlenty has been mentioned as a possible running mate for Sen. John McCain. He didn't attend the McCain barbecue, perhaps because he wasn't invited, but the veto was a good way to prove his bona fides to the national party on the issue, and a way to tell Sen. McCain that he was still out there.

If that is the case, then the governor should be ashamed of himself for putting his political aspirations ahead of the kind of research which would affect millions of people.

But then, he's a Republican. I guess we can't expect too much, even on critical issues such as this.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Catblogging

Francis is a 5 year old male, now available at Tabby's Place in NJ, reachable from NY or Philly.

Francis is a sweet boy, although a little shy at first. Once he gets used to you he's always ready for just a little more attention. He gets very enthusiastic when you pet him, too, and will writhe about, purring and occasionally flipping over, to express his happiness.

We know Francis gets along well with other cats even some of the rowdiest felines. Because of this, we think Francis would do well in many home situations. We hope one of them might be yours!


It's Victory! So Let's Come Home

How encouraging, since we started out to defeat al Qaeda and now that's done, the war is over - right? Nice work, fellas. No more need to kill off their people. We can bring the troops back here and get to work rebuilding the infrastructure and putting the schools back into functioning order, educate a generation of ex-GI's and put the taxes on their improved incomes to work fighting pollution and the fossil fuel dominance - right? According to CIA chief honcho Hayden, they're defeated.

Less than a year after his agency warned of new threats from a resurgent al-Qaeda, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden now portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Wonderfully, candidate McCain declared victory November 25, 2007. We can swing with that.

On Sunday, McCain told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that “we’ve succeeded militarily” in Iraq.

Besides, there's protesting in Sadr City at the hints during a conference being conducted on Iraq's future - hints that we are extending our conquest. Not only have we succeeded militarily, al Qaeda is defeated - we're being told to Get Out.

In one of the largest demonstrations, several thousand people took to the streets in the Baghdad district of Sadr City, a bastion of Sadr's Mehdi Army militia. They held up pictures of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki dressed as Saddam Hussein.

In the Kadhimiya district in northwest Baghdad, hundreds of demonstrators with raised fists marched behind a banner asking the United Nations to "stand with the Iraqi people against this security deal between the government and the occupation."

The United States, which invaded in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein, now has 155,000 troops in Iraq.

It is negotiating with Iraq on an agreement aimed at giving a legal basis to U.S. troops after December 31, when their United Nations' mandate expires. Sadr's followers see it as a surrender of Iraq's sovereignty to an occupying force.

Sadr, backed by a militia estimated to number tens of thousands and popular among Iraq's Shi'ite poor, has called for protests to continue until the government agrees to hold a referendum on the U.S. presence.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the biggest Shi'ite group in Maliki's government, also criticized the planned agreement on a troop extension.

In a statement on his website, he said there was a "national consensus to reject many points raised by the American side as they infringe national sovereignty." (Emphasis added.)

In a government acting in the interests of this country, these would be adequate grounds for pulling out and leaving the Iraqis to put back together their world that we have effectively ground into pulp. The bubble around the occupied White House won't let this end goal seep into the considerations of the war criminals, though.

Everything this cabal has thrown away, all the treasures built up over the eight previous years in which President Clinton pulled out of the last morass the GoPervs made, should be repaid. It should come out of the fortunes they have amassed at our expense, the net worth of the Carlyle, and other, corporate bodies they have promoted.

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While You Were Watching Dogs and Ponies

It's always fascinating to see what's missed when there's a major event sucking all attention to it as Scott McClellan's Tell-All is doing right now. Don't rush to check if the war is over. Instead, it's the override of the occupied White House veto.

Farmers' lobbies, while earning a lot of the credit, are not all that's responsible. Those voters are raising their ugly heads as the election approaches. Those GoPerv legislators who have been fighting against anything at all just to work on their line that the Dems were ineffective have learned that the voters aren't buying it.

Hunger is an issue, as are the foodstuffs we do count on even though most of us are buying them in brightly colored plastics most of the time. Okay, I'm having salad fresh picked from the garden, but I identify with you who don't have a big plot of land to play with.

Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post: "With an overwhelming 82 to 13 vote, the Senate yesterday completed the override of President Bush's veto of a comprehensive farm bill, shrugging off Republican concerns about an embarrassing legislative glitch to make the $307 billion bill the law of the land.

"House GOP leaders continued to grumble that Democrats had violated the Constitution by pressing forward with the veto override after they discovered that a whole section of the bill on trade policy had been inadvertently dropped from the version vetoed Wednesday.

"But Democratic leaders said they had court precedent and constitutional scholars on their side. 'The veto override will have the force of law,' said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) . . .

"Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) were among the 35 Republicans who joined in the most significant legislative rebuff of Bush's presidency.

"'By overturning the president's veto, we are making substantial investments in nutrition programs to help millions of families afford healthy food, in help for farmers hit by disaster and to protect our nation's natural resources,' said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)."

Several readers e-mailed to complain that in yesterday's column I gave Bush too much credit for his veto by focusing on the bill's crop subsidies and not its desperately needed anti-hunger provisions. So for the record, as Alan Bjerga writes for Bloomberg: "Assistance to poor families takes up about 74 percent of the spending authorized under the measure, according to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson. Crop subsidies account for about 16 percent, he said."

While farmers are having a very good year in many areas, the vast Western states are suffering through yet another year of drought, and not everyone can irrigate enough to grow the feed corn used for ethanol at present. When switch grass is more developed as a source for ethanol, the dry areas can share more in that particular boom. Of course, raising the price of fuel and feed has made animal husbandry (word safe for work) more expensive, which is another reason why your hamburger is soaring out of reach. Congress isn't acting just to please the farmers, it also is acting to keep America self-sufficient.

The public is being served and that is regrettably rare enough in recent years to merit applause. It would be heartening if there weren't still so many recidivists in the congress. Without a solid majority of Democrats, this milestone will remain a monadnock on the legislative landscape.

A rebirth of conscience is worth attention - and here we have an echo of the bigtime dog and pony show the media is celebrating in the middle ring.


Mentions of the veto override were carried in the Seattle Times,, and WaPo.

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An Amazing Headline

Now here's a headline that put a little extra crunch in my Corn Flakes: "Republicans block California prison medical plan." It heads a story in today's Los Angeles Times.

The headline is apt and accurate, but I haven't seen that kind of accuracy when it comes to the shenanigans of the GOP in what seems like decades, and certainly not in the last twelve years. For the most part, the allegedly "liberal" mainstream press has given a pass to Republicans when it comes to behavior that effectively cripples the legislative process, focusing instead on the ineptness and weakness of Democrats.

Here's the back story on the article. The Federal Courts in California have held that the state's lack of adequate medical care for prison inmates is unconstitutional and a three judge panel appointed a federal receiver, J. Clark Kelso to rectify the problem. Mr. Kelso has come up with a plan and presented it to the state senate, which was expected to approve it and to come up with a plan to finance it. Republicans refused to go along with the plan claiming that they were tired of a "liberal" federal court telling the state what to do.

Kelso's plan entails renovating existing prison clinics and construction of 10,000 beds in up to seven new facilities for sick and mentally ill inmates.

The bill providing the funding, SB 1665, would have authorized $6.9 billion in debt to be repaid over 25 years, and $100 million from the state's general fund. The plan employs a type of bond that does not need voter approval.

Schwarzenegger, a Republican, had endorsed the receiver's plan. U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, who appointed Kelso, wrote a letter last week urging lawmakers to pass it quickly.

The governor approved of the plan, but his own party members in the senate decided to engage in what could very well be a the kind of game of chicken in which the loser would be the state. Mr. Kelso has made it clear that if the legislature doesn't go along with his plan, he intends to raid the state treasury (a power given to him by the courts) to implement it anyway. That treasury right now is in such sorry shape that the state could very well be bankrupted by the move.

Now, it is understandable that a lot of people are not comfortable with the notion of the federal courts taking over the state's prison system and potentially the state treasury, but the fact is the state deserved it. The state's prison system failed miserably when it came to providing even the most basic of medical care for the inmates.

Apparently the Republicans don't care. The vote in the state senate, cast pretty much along party lines didn't meet the two-thirds approval required for a bill which would go into effect immediately. failed, 23 to 15, on a mostly party-line vote. Only one Democrat, state Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello), voted against it. One Republican, state Sen. Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria), abstained.

So, a good article and an even better headline.

More like this, L.A. Times, and I might consider re-subscribing.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Thursday Birdblogging

George has taken a very nice shot of a baby robin. Another bird that we somewhat overlook, and I have had a juvenile with its spotted breast in my front yard since the beginning of spring.

Populations appear stable or increasing throughout its range. Because the robin forages largely on lawns, it is vulnerable to pesticide poisoning and can be an important indicator of chemical pollution. You can help scientists learn more about this species by participating in the Celebrate Urban Birds! project.
Although the appearance of a robin is considered a harbinger of spring, the American Robin actually spends the winter in much of its breeding range. However, because they spend less time in yards and congregate in large flocks during winter, you're much less likely to see them. The number of robins present in the northern parts of the range varies each year with the local conditions.

Feral Liberal has taken a wonderful shot here of a baby phoebe, a very small bird that on birdwatching trips I have taken is usually greeted with - oh, it's a phoebe - and everyone starts looking for something exciting.

Cool Facts

* In 1804, the Eastern Phoebe became the first banded bird in North America. John James Audubon attached silvered thread to an Eastern Phoebe's leg to track its return in successive years.

* The Eastern Phoebe is a loner, rarely coming in contact with other phoebes. Even members of a mated pair do not spend much time together. They may roost together a bit early in pair formation, but even during egg laying the female frequently chases the male away from her.

* The use of buildings and bridges for nest sites has allowed the Eastern Phoebe to tolerate the landscape changes made by humans and even expand its range. However, it still uses natural nest sites when they are available.


More Lies In Afghanistan War

In the leadup to the permanent campaign, our military keeps pouring out assurances that their expensive wars are going really, really well. The gains in Afghanistan, long touted as proof that it was alright to take away forces for the preferred war on Iraq, are invented anew for low days in the news cycle.

An observer who has declined to kowtow to the worst administration ever keeps writing about what is actually happening. As I have reported before, his experience in wide-ranging travel and reporting in Afghanistan refuted the comfortable message of Victory! being promoted by the warmongers not long ago in a Newshour discussion. Yesterday he had more news for us.

...whatever successes there have been have largely been led from the field, not from Washington. Those working on the ground have worked hard in many cases to reverse or evade policies imposed by the Bush administration.

Nonetheless, no amount of success in Khost amounts to success in Afghanistan. If counter-insurgency success in Khost does not reduce the strength of an insurgency whose leadership and logistical bases are in Pakistan, it shows the failure of the Bush administration to address the challenge of Pakistan. President Karzai (and nearly all Afghans I have spoken to) have argued for years that the factors that turn Afghanistan's innumerable internal problems into a violent insurgency that is increasingly using suicide bombs lie mainly in Pakistan.

In a discussion after we went off the air, Ignatius asked me if the success in Khost could be spread nation-wide if the US took over the entire effort, with its greater COIN expertise. I said, first, I doubt it, because Khost was such a small place with a relatively high level of education (it was called "Little Moscow" under the communists), and, second, the forces for such an expansion are not available, because the U.S. is stuck in a disastrous war in Iraq. It is not the fault of the Americans working in RC/E that the U.S. is in Iraq, but it is the responsibility of the administration, which undermined the chances of success in Afghanistan and Pakistan with an illegal war based on propaganda and ideology, a war that should never have been waged and should never have been authorized.

The same week that Ignatius and I appeared on NewsHour, al-Qaida and some Taliban disrupted an important national celebration in Kabul, killing three people and barely missing President Hamid Karzai. Subsequent investigations showed that this operation was carried out with the complicity of high officials of the ministries of defense and interior who were either complicit with the attackers or corrupt. The attack was planned and financed in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

No amount of road building and police mentoring in Khost will compensate for a failed regional policy and unreliable security forces. The successes in Khost are not so much fake as irrelevant to the larger picture. No amount of mini-successes in isolated show pieces will compensate for the overall strategic failure of this administration.

The propaganda war has been thoroughly exposed, and it is time to end this misapplication of American's very hard earned money. If the truth won't support their arguments, they need to stop digging. Calling it victory or staying the course or nation building or bringing democracy to the Middle East is not going to make these wars work.

With a new administration we have a chance to pull something out of this deranged quagmire. They will need a lot of support.


Yet another reason America needs liberal Dems in high offices:

Local news reporting that 10% of this summer's employees at Six Flags are over 50, at $7 an hour. Taking away jobs from teens is happening everywhere.

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Permanent Campaigning

I watched Scotty McClellan this a.m. talking about wanting to influence the campaign by publishing his book "What Happened" - which maintains that the worst administration ever was ruined by losing its original effort to Unify in the permanent campaign. I am laughing humorlessly, so he wants to ... campaign. Okay, I don't have to beat that on the head any more than that, do I? But I'm not going to look at this revelation of his experience as being totally occasioned by need of the book's dollar returns. I'd be surprised if the White House desertion of his mom's campaign for governor in Texas wasn't part of the motivation, but motivation for John Dean was pretty mixed as well.

This nightmare for America beat Gore because of the impeachment of Clinton, I have concluded. The impeachment which was the result of a politicizing Ken Starr finally finding a tiny shred that had nothing to do with what he was in his office to uncover, and had nothing to do with administering the country. With that shred, he embarrassed the president who had given this country a halcyonic era into lying. And then the GoPervs, led by Newt while he was involved in an affair, impeached the country. Maybe you may argue with that interpretation, but it was the country disserved by voting on political cynicism for impeachment of a good president who served his country well. Serving the country well has been the farthest from the wingers' intentions ever since. The impeachment did serve as a crowbar to pry the religious right wing into the GoPerv camp which took them over the top with vote counts.

Using their majority in Congress which was enabled by the impeachment, the GoPervs shut out all opposition and spent like drunken sailors, with apologies to drunken sailors. The treasury was turned into a right wing ATM.

They put political hacks into positions of responsibility, turning departments of the government into campaign offices. The constitution became a laughing matter, the rights of American citizens laughed at, all of this decency and law "quaint". They took us into war and paid for it by borrowing. In carrying out the war they used torture and ended habeas corpus, the basic right of anyone to defend him/her self. The reputation of the U.S. in the world was destroyed by their activities. The rule of law was ended, and the judiciary has been so stuffed with political hacks that the necessity for reform is overwhelming.

While doing so they ended any ethics barrier by disabling the committee in Congress which has held members to basic standards of behavior, enabling their worst element to take money directly and carry on far worse behavior than their impeached president.

None of this did the country any good. Back to Scotty, wanting to effect the campaign. Then he went on to point out that McCain had also begun to talk about change.

The words of the party of the right have been shown to be meaningless. Belaboring the point I was making yesterday, anyone who takes this party of powerhappy thieves at its word, is literally crazy.

I will give Scotty the benefit of the doubt, as he is now confirming what the DFHs have been saying since before 2000 - the right can't be trusted. Maybe he will regain his soul and become the latest John Dean. I would love him to testify truthfully, either in impeachment proceedings or at the Hague.

As clear evidence of lying from the start, all anyone needs is the cretin in chief's own words in the beginning:

I have set and I will continue to set a tone that seeks to unify not divide," Bush told supporters celebrating his landslide re-election."I will work to include, not exclude.

This country needs badly to gain back control of its government. The Democrats aren't perfect, but they keep working for the public interest. More like Scotty's change of heart will be forthcoming. The press can't continue to accept lies anymore.

Good for you, everyone who finds out that the truth will out, and they have to tell it.


Got to give a special mention for GoPerversion to Mickey Levy, Chief Economist at the Bank of America, speaking at the National Governors' Association meeting on Foreclosures and Housing yesterday, ""the current rate of homeownership is too high" considering the underlying fundamentals. He later said he didn't mean to sound as if he were against motherhood, applie pie, homeownership and that kind of stuff. He barely avoided saying Touchy, Feely.

These are sick people.

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Embarrassed Again

Apparently Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown has decided he doesn't want to be George Bush's poodle. Yesterday Britain indicated it would approve the draft treaty which would ban the use of cluster bombs, according to the NY Times.

The draft of a treaty to ban cluster munitions was adopted by a group of 111 nations on Wednesday in Dublin after Britain dropped its longstanding opposition to any limitations on the weapons.

The sudden shift by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is under pressure to combat his Labor Party’s declining political fortunes, created fresh pressures on the United States, which had counted Britain as one of its staunchest allies in opposing the ban.

The treaty, hammered out in two weeks of talks in Dublin, had been under negotiation since February 2007. The nations accepting the treaty are scheduled to gather again in Oslo in early December to sign the pact, which would ban the use, production and sale of cluster munitions.

The Bush administration has refused to take part in the treaty negotiations, claiming that this horrific munition is a necessary part of the US arsenal because it saves lives (those of American soldiers and their allies), an argument that insults the intelligence of every human being outside the White House. Here's a list of the company Mr. Bush has chosen to keep on the issue:

... the United States has been joined in its outright opposition to the ban, and in its boycott of the Dublin conference, by a group of military powers that includes China, Russia, Israel, India, Pakistan and Brazil. [Emphasis added]

The US used cluster bombs in 2003 when it invaded Iraq, and supplied Israel with the infernal munition, which it then used against Lebanon. China and Russia clearly fear a cluster bomb gap with the US, and the other three countries apparently enjoy their position in Mr. Bush's back pocket.

Civilized countries, on the other hand, want the cluster bombs banned because of their devastating effect on civilians. Not all of the "bomblets" detonate at once, which means that kids playing with the discovered left-overs have had their hands and legs blown off.

The one bright spot in the negotiations boycotted by the White House is that the US did have an unofficial presence at the conference, one that will no doubt be slimed by BushCo. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) spoke to the conferees in Dublin:

He told the conference that “anyone who has seen the indiscriminate devastation cluster weapons cause across a wide area must recognize the unacceptable threat they pose to civilians.”

He added: “As I have said many times, among the first tasks of our next president will be to reintroduce America to the world. We need to reject the ‘us versus them’ unilateralist approach that has so diminished our image and our leadership.”

Exactly so, Sen. Leahy.

237 days.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Environmental = Votes (Remember "No Nation Building"?)

The world has entirely won on the Global Climate change issue, for now. It's so obvious, this isn't going to last past the 20th of January, 2009, if another winger gets into office. While McCain kept his maverickness in play as long as he took stands like environmentalism, his catering to the right wing has won out.

The environmental legislation the wingers are hanging their stars on isn't at all what we need. After the past 7+ years, remedial work is needed.

Politico reports on the divide between John McCain and other Republicans on climate change:

By contrast, the debate on a bipartisan climate change bill sponsored by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.) offers McCain a chance to stake out a position different from the president's and see if his party will follow. The catch is that many Republicans are uncomfortable with McCain's talk of a cap-and-trade program for reducing carbon emissions.

"John McCain was into climate change before it was cool," [Sen. Lindsey] Graham said. "But that's the one issue where the majority of the conference may go the other way.".

Conservatives hope that McCain will back a more market-based approach rather than the government mandates on carbon emissions that are part of the central Senate proposal.

"We're starting to see a coming together on energy," said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). "Hopefully, he can help us find a position between Warner-Lieberman and where we are as conservatives."
And of course there's likely to be input from James Inhofe and pals that will discourage any climate action whatsoever. Fun times on the Hill in the next few weeks.

There is no doubt that the wingers are not warding off the end of the world, it would be contrary to their beliefs. With the vote for McCain depending on their support, the balance is very much against the world. And the world can't wait.

As recently as July 2007, the administration submitted a report to the United Nations that omitted any discussion of how global warming will affect wildfires, heat waves, agriculture or snowpack.

Moss, who led the U.S. Climate Change Science Program coordination office during both the Clinton and Bush administrations, praised the program for producing the analysis, which is part of a long-delayed series of official climate reports. "At the same time," he added, "we all need to be looking at how the administration now intends to use the results of this information, because it really is worrisome."

The researchers said that of 1,598 animal species examined in more than 800 studies, nearly 60 percent were found to have been affected by climate change.

In addition, the number and frequency of forest fires and insect outbreaks are "increasing in the interior West, the Southwest, and Alaska," while "precipitation, stream flow, and stream temperatures are increasing in most of the continental United States" and snowpack is declining in the West.

The attitude of My Way or the Highway has become entrenched in the right wing, and is only going to be expelled when its congressional delegation is. The influence on McCain makes very evident that the world can't survive another administration of this ilk.

The world is very busy trying to offset the damage the war criminals have done. It may not stand by and wait if the damages continue.

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Under the Bounded Main

Somehow the urgings of the right wing that the U.S. charge ahead full bore (pun intended) with oil drilling on the American landscape ignore the largest estimated source of oil, the continental shelf. The rest of the world is fully engaged in wrestling over rights to that very source. As usual, our occupied White House goes after its own dubious ends while telling us it's going to protect us.

For the moment, I won't get into why we should do away altogether with all this damage to our environment, and switch to grass based fuel. Let's look at why we are hanging behind everyone else at the present conference on the application of the U.N. Law of the Sea, which the U.S. Senate has refused to ratify. And incidentally, the World Wildlife Foundation is on the record supporting that ratification, and yes, that is a hint.

The claim to possession of the Arctic underwater resources was brought into focus when Russia claimed to be the head honcho, and went on a dive to put up its flag. Wakeup calls should have sounded here, but didn't. Maybe our press couldn't transcribe GoPerv bumper stickers under 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Denmark will today launch an effort to calm the scramble for the Arctic, bringing together the five coastal nations competing for what are believed to be the largest unclaimed reserves of oil and gas left on the planet.

The gathering in Greenland begins in the shadow of a new "oil shock" as soaring prices force governments to reassess their energy policies and heat up already feverish interest in who owns the seabed beneath the Arctic Ocean. The issue has already been pushed to the fore as rising temperatures melt ever larger sections of the polar ice sheet and scientists warn that climate change could result in sea ice cover disappearing altogether within a generation.

The Danes hope the meeting will see all parties agree to a UN-brokered solution rather than a free-for-all over possible oil riches and commercially valuable sea routes such as the recently thawed North West Passage.

So far the race for the Arctic has been limited to posturing, with Russia deploying an experimental submarine to plant a flag on the seabed close to the magnetic pole, while Denmark has pinned its colours to the frozen Hans Island and Canada has conducted military exercises further into the frozen north than ever before. Both Norway and the US are thought to be considering their own challenge for sovereignty under the UN Law of the Seas convention, meant to govern territorial claims over the continental shelf.

The argument over who owns the Arctic has come down to a technical squabble over which country is best connected to one of several undersea mountain ranges that extend towards the North Pole. Under the 1982 UN convention, coastal states own the seabed beyond existing 200 nautical mile zones if it is part of a continental shelf of shallower waters.

The retraction of the ice sheet is proceeding ever more rapidly, of curse, making the exploration ever less prohibitively expensive. Some oil companies, such as Shamrock, almost went bankrupt not so long ago in drilling unproductive wells on our continental shelf. Most drilling is chancy and expensive, and many expensive drilling project turn up 'dry', a fact that oil companies have used to exact large subsidies from the U.S. government.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a 1982 pact establishing guidelines for ocean security and regulation, is presently up for debate in the United States Senate. But so far, a concerted push from President Bush and military officials has not been enough to secure the necessary votes for ratification. Despite a growing list of treaty advocates, which includes powerful shipping and environmental lobbies as well as influential military leaders, a core group of conservative senators are intent on holding up ratification.

The treaty was brought up for debate in 2004 and sailed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with a unanimous vote of approval. However, the issue was never voted on because then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) declined to bring the matter to a floor vote.

Although the treaty kicked off its wave of support with an encouraging 17-4 committee vote, it may be doomed to the same fate for months to come. Opposition to the treaty from far-right conservatives has prompted fears that the treaty would bind the US to support an over-expansion of United Nations authority. In addition, presumptive Republican nominee for President John McCain has announced that he is withdrawing support for the treaty in its present form.

The Northwest passage has become ever more accessible, and has led to a conflict between the U.S. and Canada over rites of passage (the punning instinct is out of hand) and you will recall that shipping is a major source of trade.

Further, the treaty calls for pollution controls as well as control by international law. Now you see the problem for the right wing. There is no sovereignty allowed to the U.S. recidivists. They would answer to laws, laws that couldn't be ignored as they are under the worst administration ever.

All this public interest is sinking the Law of the Sea for the usual subjects. Responsibility for interests that aren't answerable to polluting, abusive, industry is anathema to the right wing. They can't leave office soon enough.

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Some Good News, For A Change

Will wonders never cease: the US Supreme Court handed down two decisions on workplace discrimination yesterday and got both decisions right. Not only that, but the decisions were not 5-4 squeakers. One was decided 7-2 and the other 6-3. From the NY Times:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that employees are protected from retaliation when they complain about discrimination in the workplace, adopting a broad interpretation of workers’ rights under two federal civil rights laws.

By decisions of 7 to 2 in one case and 6 to 3 in the other, the court found that the two statutes afford protection from retaliation even though Congress did not explicitly say so.

The decisions are significant both as a practical matter and as evidence of a new tone and direction from the court this year, following a term in which there were sharp divisions and an abrupt conservative turn.

In both cases, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented, which comes as no surprise. However, this time around, Justice Samuel Alito, joined the majority in both cases, and wrote the majority opinion in one. Last year, he wrote the majority opinion in the Ledbetter v Goodyear case in which tight time limits were placed on plaintiffs seeking to file pay-discrimination cases, thereby making it much more difficult for workers to get such cases heard. Chief Justice Roberts, voted with the majority in one case, but dissented in the other.

Each of the two cases involved retaliation for reporting discrimination, so the decisions are significant. Retaliation is usually much easier to prove than the underlying discrimination. Interestingly, one case involved age discrimination (the other racial discrimination), so elder law has been given a boost by this Court.

One of the cases began as a lawsuit by a clerk for the United States Postal Service in Puerto Rico. The plaintiff, Myrna Gómez-Pérez, 45 at the time, complained that she had been denied a transfer to a different office because of age discrimination. Her lawsuit alleged that as a result of her complaint, she became the target of retaliatory actions by her supervisors.

The other case was brought by a former assistant manager of a Cracker Barrel restaurant, a black man named Hedrick G. Humphries. Mr. Humphries had complained that a white assistant manager had been motivated by racial discrimination in dismissing a black employee. In his lawsuit, Mr. Humphries claimed that he then lost his own job in retaliation for his complaint.

All in all, not a bad day at the highest court in the land.

May they continue.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

When You Pay For Gas, Think Enron

Listening to Washington Journal this morning I heard a rather riveting explanation for the high price of the gas you're putting in your car. I must admit I hadn't seen that oil speculation had been taken offshore, too. I found a rather good explanation and give it to you below.

The fiction that high prices are the fault of supply and demand, a fiction promoted by your thieving oilmen which includes the occupied White House, is a ruse to pressure congress to drill in ANWR.

The Commodities Futures Trading Commission, which regulates the trading of contracts for future delivery of oil — called futures — believes big pension funds and other institutional investors may accentuate a trend but are not the cause of high prices.

"If the fundamentals weren't strong, you couldn't play on the margin [speculate] in any event," said Frank Verrastro, director of energy programs for the policy research group Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Others, including U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., believe the so-called Enron Loophole is to blame. This is a legislative loophole won by the now-defunct energy giant in 2000 that removed from regulation the electronic trading of oil futures by large traders.

Some experts believe oil traders are pushing trades into less regulated overseas markets where they can build up higher concentrations in their investments and escape direct scrutiny by U.S. regulators.

These big positions can move markets. Exhibit 1 is the spectacular 2006 crash of Amaranth Advisers, a hedge fund that pooled investments from ultra-wealthy investors to take huge positions in futures contracts for natural gas. In doing so, it drove up the price for Americans of heating and cooling their homes.

Last summer, federal regulators, well after the fact, accused Amaranth of manipulating prices and fined it almost $300 million.

Q: What's being done about this loophole?

A: A farm bill passed by the Senate last week by a veto-proof margin includes a provision to close this loophole and bring greater record keeping and scrutiny to electronic trading of oil futures.

Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton want the loophole closed. A top adviser to GOP candidate John McCain said the candidate has no position on the issue.

The Enron Loophole came to be thanks to the efforts in 2000 by Texas GOP Sen. Phil Gramm, who today is McCain's closest economic adviser and close personal friend. Gramm's wife, Wendy, was once the top U.S. commodities regulator and an Enron's board member.(Emphasis added.)

Michael Greenberger, who was the CSpan guest this a.m., said that banks and big investors are not just buying futures, but they are hoarding the gas as well. He explained that they would prefer not to sell an appreciating asset, gasoline, for a depreciating one, the U.S. dollar. Recently, I find, the same testimony was given in an NPR interview. He will be testifying before a Senate committee later and I will be fascinated by the effect of his testimony.

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Republican Lies

Exceptional information from Fred Hiatt today. He knows that the right wing is lying. It must be possible he's begun to read the news section of WaPo and has noticed his pets are losing the public. Wouldn't it be lovely if the war, unconstitutional government, subversion of public interest had made that happen? But no, it's taking money directly out of their pockets that makes the difference.

Having started with the premise that it might make sense to raise taxes on the rich -(now that you've recovered from your fainting spell and back to the text) - and in making that point, has to present this DFH information. the costs of war mount, it's worth considering the arguments against paying for even a piece of them. Harmful to jobs and economic growth? Those who are lucky enough to have been asked to pay this extra tax constitute a minuscule fraction of American taxpayers, three-tenths of 1 percent. They would have had to ante up, on average, an additional $8,770 in taxes, according to calculations by Citizens for Tax Justice. As a result of the Bush tax cuts, this group has reaped an average savings of $126,690. Hard to see how asking these folks to give just a smidgen of that back, to finance the educations of those who might otherwise have no way of joining their ranks, would cripple the economy.

One particularly specious argument against this provision was that it would hammer small businesses that are the engine of economic growth, since many small businesses pay taxes at the individual income tax rate. House Republicans, inveighing against the measure, contended that it was a massive tax increase on small businesses because 82 percent of returns in this bracket contain small-business income.

As the Brookings Institution's William G. Gale showed in dispensing with this claim several years ago, only 1.3 percent of taxpayers with small-business income fell into the group taxed at the top marginal rate of 35 percent, which applies to incomes of more than $357,700. Furthermore, small-business earnings accounted for only one-third of income for taxpayers in that bracket. Especially at the highest income levels, these are not necessarily small-business owners but wealthy individuals who may do some consulting or real estate investing on the side.

These sorts of ad hoc tax hikes to finance ad hoc costs are not the optimal way to construct tax policy.

As usual, comments are derisive because all of us who knew how wrong the editorial section of WaPo was in supporting the right wing, and especially the war criminals, have known this and more - some of it by reading the news section.

E.g., this comment:

lensch wrote:
Sweden has alomost double the tax rate of the US and in 1995 - 2005 they had a higher per capita GDP growth. Spain has a 50% higher tax rate and 50% higher growth. Japan has a lower tax rate than the US and their growth was less tha half ours. The notion that higher tax inhibit growth is a myth.
5/27/2008 8:22:07 AM

and a little farther on (earlier):

wanderer3764 wrote:
Holy Smokes! Fed Hiatt just wrote that specious, ludicrous arguments are central to the rethuglican position on taxes!

Who knows, maybe he will come to understand that specious, ludicrous arguments are central to rethuglacan and WaPo arguments for why we are now in Iraq and why we must stay!
5/27/2008 6:49:38 AM

And of course, mine:

jocabel wrote:
The lowering of taxes on the rich has produced a dreadful economy, so arguing that increasing them would mean an end to healthy economy is not rational. Businesses and the wealthiest avoid taxes by many devices like depreciation on their purchases and personal use of business 'equipment' such as vehicles. That we can pay for the war that is creating huge profits for war profiteers by taxing some of those profits is kind of cute, but avoids the question of why not stop making idiots of ourselves and end the Pentagon's giveaway programs, and the biggest of those is the war.
5/27/2008 5:59:49 AM

Nice gesture, Fred Hiatt, you're beginning to see the light. I suspect, though, that having seen the voters rejecting the party of war criminals even in 'solidly Republican' districts, this gesture is appeasement. We all know that appeasement isn't tough, and will never win.

Facts have a liberal bias, and sometimes even the most resolutely ignorant have to admit to them, for whatever the reason.

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Party Fratricide

Think the Democrats are facing intraparty divisiveness because Sen. Clinton won't drop out? Well, the GOP is facing some of the same, if the primary campaign for California's 4th Congressional District is any indication. The seat became open when the incumbent (John Doolittle) announced his retirement amidst an FBI investigation. The two GOP candidates, Tom McClintock and Doug Ose have been going for each other's throat almost since Doolittle's announcement. From today's Los Angeles Times.

The whiff of political fratricide has added heat to a GOP primary campaign already defined by personal attacks in political ads and mailers, with McClintock accusing Ose of being a free-spending "Washington, D.C., liberal" and Ose dismissing McClintock as a carpetbagging "L.A. politician."

The political rhetoric also underscores how that even in Northern California's 4th Congressional District, one of the most conservative in the state, Republicans are campaigning to clean up their own party as much as anything else. ...

Ose, a wealthy real estate developer who represented the neighboring Sacramento district from 1999 to 2006, has used close to $1.5 million of his own fortune to flood the airwaves and mailboxes with ads deriding McClintock as a hypocrite for collecting a government paycheck for two decades while he preached against the ills of big government.

"For 22 years, Tom McClintock has been representing Los Angeles in the Legislature, but now terms limits are forcing him out, so he's shopping for a new job," one of Ose's more cheeky television ads says.

Ose also is quick to remind voters that McClintock is registered to vote in Thousand Oaks -- though he lives in Elk Grove, near Sacramento -- and can't even cast a ballot for himself in the primary. ...

McClintock also points out that Ose lives outside the 4th Congressional District-- he recently rented a room inside the lines -- and has fired at Ose for accepting $600,000 in federal subsidies to his family's farming interests.

Ose has returned the favor by blasting McClintock for "ripping off taxpayers" by accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax-free per diem payments from the state, as reported by The Times in March.

The $170-a-day payments are meant to help lawmakers pay their additional living expenses while attending eight-month legislative session far from their homes. But McClintock and his family live year-round in a home just 14 miles from the Capitol.

What is so ironic about this GOP battle is that both McClintock and Ose are far-right conservatives and take identical stances on abortion, immigration, and government spending (unless the government is spending money on them or their friends).

In the mean time, lurking in the background, the Democratic candidate, Charley Brown, waits for the outcome of the GOP primary race (coming up in June). Hopefully he's taking plenty of notes so that when the campaign starts in earnest he can use some of the charges and counter-chargers against the GOP winner. He's got an uphill fight because of the conservative tilt in the district: 47% are registered Republican, 31% Democrat. Still, the Republican candidates are doing everything they can to destroy each other, and Brown almost beat Doolittle the last go-round. This might be a fun race to watch.

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Monday, May 26, 2008


(Kindly get comfortable. I'm wound up.)

A lot of verbiage will be launched into the atmosphere today about patriotism, about the last full measure of devotion, about courage, and about love of country. And perhaps that's fitting. Today we honor those women and men who died in military service to their country. In my morning prayers today I included my older brother, career Navy, who died not during the Viet Nam War, but surely as a result of it. The official cause of death was "Early Onset Alzheimer's", but it was complicated by whatever physical and emotional exposures he had while in service with the Sea Bees during several tours of duty in Viet Nam. His terrified screams during the last months of his life testified to that. While I always disagreed with his decision to enlist back then, and while I really disagreed with his politics thereafter (he turned into a bona fide "ditto-head"), I always respected his stance. It was honest and it was heart-felt. And, most importantly, he acted on his beliefs.

It was those honest beliefs coupled with his willingness to put his life on the line which allowed me to continue my unabated love for that wrong-headed knucklehead. In that respect, he really was an American patriot. He felt it to be his obligation to do more than state his beliefs. He acted on them. And he did so knowing that, at least in this country, that was important.

In today's Boston Globe, James Carroll has an op-ed piece reminding me that as an American I have more obligations than to vote and to serve on a jury, which is what reminded me of my brother's bothersome stance. I'm going to quote more than is allowed under "fair use" because what Mr. Carroll has to say is important, and I suspect not everyone will click through. The column has to do with Americans, like my brother in many respects, who felt that they needed to do more than talk or write about what is going on in this nation now.

TOMORROW a number of the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay will finally get their day in court - although, alas, not literally. Thirty-five Americans who were arrested at the US Supreme Court last January during a demonstration protesting the illegal detention center will go on trial in Washington. They are charged with "causing a harangue." Instead of entering their own names, each defendant will enter the name of a prisoner held at Guantanamo. Father Bill Pickard, a Catholic priest from Pennsylvania, will identify himself as Faruq Ali Ahmed. "He cannot do it himself," Pickard says, "so I am called by my faith, my respect for the rule of law, and my conscience to do it for him."

The protesters acted on Jan. 11, the sixth anniversary of the establishment of the US detention center at Guantanamo. They were demanding the restoration of habeas corpus - the right of the prisoners to have their day in court. Wearing orange jumpsuits and hoods, the protesters were decrying torture and degradation. The sleeplessness, waterboarding, insults to Islam. Some of the arrested were in the act of unfurling a banner that said with eloquent simplicity, "Close Guantanamo." They broke the law because, despite widespread repugnance at what the Bush administration is doing in Cuba, the laws and institutions of the United States have so far abetted this criminal indecency. ...

The group that goes on trial tomorrow calls itself "Witness Against Torture." They are average folks from across the country. They could not stand it anymore. They did the only thing left for them to do. They went to Washington and caused a harangue. They purposely represent individuals held in torture cells. And, perhaps, they represent a lot of their fellow citizens, too. Close Guantanamo.
[Emphasis added.]

Guantanamo Bay is an especially painful issue for me because I'm a lawyer. I'm not a high-powered lawyer by any means. I practice within a tiny niche of administrative law that probably wouldn't ring any bells with any brilliant appellate brief, but I am a lawyer. I take that seriously. Even given my limited practice, I remember enough from my law school experience to recognize the serious and perhaps fatal attacks on democracy which this administration has wreaked upon the nation, and it has to stop now.

The 35 patriots who have done exactly what my brother did so many years ago need some comrades, and now is the time to provide them. If you are not sure just what it is you can do, and you're not up to pitchforks and torches, don't sit back. Thanks to the one samizdat that hasn't been taken over (yet) by the folks in charge, there are plenty of places that can give you advice. Here are just a couple.

Pax Americana

Code Pink

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On The Loan Prairie

The urgency of our gas situation is becoming obvious to all levels of society - which does not include gas company executives. Here we in the vast spaces of the West, there is disaster looming for the less affluent population. When I consider that our savings level in the U.S. is nil, or minus, I can really feel the pain around here.

According to the American Bankers Association the level of delinquencies—or people behind on payments—for certain loans recently was the highest in almost 16 years. Where do those already behind get the money to pay double for gas?

Memorial Day is the traditional start of the summer driving season. Hope you're flush this summer.

Gas prices are higher than Willie Nelson on the Fourth of July. American Airlines, pressed hard by high jet fuel prices, shocked flyers last week by announcing plans to start charging for transporting luggage. Every day brings more evidence that life is changing under the petroleum price assault.
Our economy and way of life – especially in sprawling, car-crazy North Texas – depends on a steady and affordable supply of oil. It can't last, because oil is not an infinite resource. We might not be at the end of the cheap oil era yet, but when that day comes, its dawn will look something like what we're living through today.

We must start transitioning to a far less oil-intensive way of life. It can't be done overnight. Complacency is our enemy. Politicians, business leaders and every single one of us should read the signs of the times, and get on with it.

The editorial I cited above is from the Dallas Morning News, which then goes on to call for the transit system to be broadened, the present scheduled construction pushed forward to combat our increasing emergency. As Atrios pointed out this morning, $133+ is the latest high, but this is not the end of the spike in prices.

There is no excuse for fighting back our rail system, here or anywhere. The personal car may be spoiling its owner now, and the air, a situation that cannot be supported any longer.

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The Alice In Wonderland Tea Party

The Department of Homeland Security is a real piece of work. It has an enormous budget and has absorbed all sorts of disparate agencies. It's job is allegedly to keep the United States safe and secure, and to do that job it dispenses millions upon millions of dollars to states to accomplish that mission. Unfortunately, the DHS, especially as led by Michael Chertoff, only sees one threat to our security: Al Qaeda. A fine example of that narrow focus was presented in this article published in today's NY Times.

Juliette N. Kayyem, the Massachusetts homeland security adviser, was in her office in early February when an aide brought her startling news. To qualify for its full allotment of federal money, Massachusetts had to come up with a plan to protect the state from an almost unheard-of threat: improvised explosive devices, known as I.E.D.’s. ...

The demand for plans to guard against improvised explosives is being cited by state and local officials as the latest example that their concerns are not being heard, and that federal officials continue to push them to spend money on a terrorism threat that is often vague. Some $23 billion in domestic security financing has flowed to the states from the federal government since the Sept. 11 attacks, but authorities in many states and cities say they have seen little or no intelligence that Al Qaeda, or any of its potential homegrown offshoots, has concrete plans for an attack.

Now I can well imagine Ms.Kayyem's astonishment. As the article noted, it is far more likely that Massachusetts highways will be the scene of chemical spills than planted explosive devices, but the DHS doesn't consider chemical spills caused by traffic accidents to be particularly important from a safety and security standpoint. That's too much of a local issue. And Al Qaeda wouldn't be involved.

Now, Mr. Chertoff's refusal to allow for "mission creep" would kind of make sense (sort of) if the Department of Homeland Security hadn't sucked FEMA into its portfolio, and if a whole lot of money that used to go to assist state and local police departments in dealing with such issues as drug trafficing and multistate gangs hadn't also been sucked into the DHS budget.

It also would kind of make sense (sort of) if the DHS had some solid information about Al Qaeda plans for another attack and had transmitted that information to the appropriate agencies in the states. Whether Mr. Chertoff has such information is moot, since he hasn't bothered to tell anyone who would need to know anything about such attack plans.

Here's what I suspect this is all about. During a DHS meeting, or (and this is more likely) at the water cooler, somebody remarked about how many of the US troops were killed or injured around Baghdad by I.E.D.s. Mr. Chertoff overheard the conversation, slapped his forehead and said, "Oh, my God! I.E.D.s. That's what they'll do. We'd better put together a program to stop those infernal Al Qaeda operatives, and quick. Somebody get the White House on the phone. I need more money."


239 days.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sunday Poetry: Wilfred Owen

Dulce et Decorum Est

"Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori."

Wilfred Owen

While The Rest Of The World Snickers

Every year, the US State Department issues a report on how the rest of the world measures up on the issue of Human Rights. The last seven years, the rest of the world stood appalled at the hypocrisy of the US in judging other nations on criteria that have been embraced in this country. Torture. Illegal detention of prisoners without charge. Denial of habeas corpus. Denial of due process. Domestic spying.

Evidence of the world's displeasure came in 2001 when the United States was voted off of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (now called the Human Rights Council), a position that we assumed was ours automatically because of our high moral standards. Now the US doesn't even bother showing up each year for the elections in order to avoid the embarrassment of not being voted back on.

An op-ed piece published by Sri Lanka's The Sunday Times May 18, 2008 shows just how deep that displeasure remains.

When the General Assembly meets next week to elect 15 members to the UN Human Rights Council, there will be a notable absentee on the ballot paper: the United States. A country which has persistently taken the moral high ground on human rights issues -- including rule of law, multi-party democracy, humane treatment of prisoners of war and protection of minorities -- the US continues to be challenged for its political hypocrisy and double standards.

The criticism against the US has been particularly virulent under the Bush administration as it rarely practises what it preaches -- or justifies its human rights violations on the grounds of fighting terrorism.

At the UN, most member states are livid that the Bush administration continues to point an accusing finger at countries such as China, Cuba, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Libya and Myanmar, accusing them of gross human rights violations, while the US itself has failed to maintain exemplary standards on human rights issues. ...

The US, after all, is described as "one of the world's greatest human rights defenders." So why is it that it cannot get a seat in the UN's premier human rights body? The strongest political indictment against the US is found in the latest 2008 annual report put out by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) which says that the Bush administration's resistance to scrutiny of its counterterrorism policies and past abuses continues to be a major obstacle to human rights improvement in the United States.

"Despite some efforts in Congress to change practices violating basic human rights, there was no evident progress concerning the treatment of so-called enemy combatants, including those held at Guantanamo Bay, or the use of secret detention facilities."

The study, released in January, also points out that undocumented migrant workers continue to face an increased risk of detention, while other non-citizens are blocked from vindicating their rights in US courts. Additionally, persons convicted of crimes face harsh sentencing policies and in some cases abusive conditions in American prisons.

The catalogue of human rights abuses goes on and on -- as it does with other countries such as China, Cuba, Zimbabwe and Sudan. The crucial difference is that these countries, unlike the US, do not take a holier-than-thou attitude or preach morality to the rest of the world. After all, you cannot cast the first boulder, unless your hands are clean.

That certainly lays it out quite clearly, and the slightly mangled Biblical analogy was a fitting touch. We have lost our moral authority (if such a thing ever existed) and our moral standing in the world.

I am deeply ashamed.

240 Days.

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With Liberty And Justice For All

"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."

Just a little reminder of how our Constitution starts. As you will recall from your middle school civics class, this document was intended to provide the framework for the nation and its actions. It was also intended to apply to everyone, including, perhaps especially, the government.

This past seven years, the current government has gone to great lengths to destroy the guarantees of that Constitution and has been more successful than our nation's founders would have abided. Our rights to privacy, to a government with checks and balances, to a system which does not allow unlimited government detention, and to fair trials all have been trampled and discarded as inconvenient.

One of the more egregious examples of this anti-constitutionalism is playing out in Guantanamo Bay. The trials of those who have been detained for six and seven years will be starting in less than two weeks. One of those trials involves Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the man who bragged about being the mastermind behind 9/11 and about being the man who personally beheaded Daniel Pearl. If in fact he did these things, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is a monster, one who should be shut away forever. However, under that quaint document we call the Constitution, because he is being held by the United States government and is going to be tried by a United States court (one of questionable jurisdiction), he is entitled to the rights guaranteed by that venerable parchment. Especially him. The Constitution and all of its guarantees must apply to all. No exceptions, because if exceptions are carved out, then the Constitution really is meaningless.

And yet, this government intends to throw all of those guarantees out the window, according to this article in today's Los Angeles Times. It deals with the difficulties facing a Navy Reserve judge advocate general named Prescott L. Prince who has been assigned to defend Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. He is outmanned and outgunned by the prosecutors who have access to all of the evidence against the defendant, most of which is unavailable to Mr. Prince, and some of which was obtained by torture, including water boarding.

Prince has to share a paralegal with another detainee lawyer, and he still hasn't gotten top-secret security clearances for Scott McKay and David Nevin, the two Idaho-based civilian attorneys who, along with Army Lt. Col. Michael Acuff, make up his legal team.

He said he had trouble getting the Pentagon to take him to Guantanamo and, once there, to allow him to see his client. And, he said, all of his requests for discovery material have been denied.

He said he had also been hamstrung by institutional obstacles, including evidentiary rules favorable to the prosecution that will probably allow the use of hearsay and confessions and other evidence obtained through coercion.

Prince said a protective order he had to sign prohibited him from discussing publicly anything his client said to him, even to people who could potentially be corroborating witnesses. And, he said, he is prohibited from taking his notes with him after interviews with Mohammed, making it more difficult to follow up on the information.

And so Mr. Prince is doing the best he can, with an eye towards building grounds for appeals that may take years.

"I think it's the constitutional case of our time," Prince, 53, said in a recent interview in his office, U.S. and Navy flags front and center on his desk. "Because in the 221st year of America, the question is whether the Constitution applies to the government." [Emphasis added]

Godspeed, Mr. Prince. Just remember that there is ample precedent for your view. The advocates at the Nuremberg Trials held the same belief in true justice that you hold.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Bonus Critter Blogging: Badger

(Photo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and published at the Federal Highway Agency website.)

What Not Talking Really Means

Appeasement turns out to be one of the Seven Deadly Sins (apparently Sloth got upgraded to a mere misdemeanor) according to the Republicans. And talking to one's enemies automatically qualifies as Appeasement, according to President Bush and his Mini-Me, Sen. John McCain. One only does traditional diplomacy with one's friends under this theory of foreign policy, the rest of the world gets sanctions, threats, and bombs. We've seen how well that works.

Michael Boyle addressed the Appeasement statements by Bush and McCain in his May 21, 2008 column in the UK column. Two parts of his essay were especially on the mark.

First, it was no accident that the statements came during a Presidential campaign that is beginning to look a little iffy for the GOP.

On the most basic level, this is a classic smear job against the Democrats. Because they are out of ideas and ammunition, the Republican Party is left accusing anyone willing to negotiate with hostile states as essentially being cowards who would bow down to dictators or cosy up to Nazis. The political rationale behind this accusation is to build up a drumbeat of accusations that Senator Obama (and the Democrats generally) are weak on national security, in the hopes that yet another election dominated by fear will turn into a GOP victory. This is why McCain has maintained with a straight face that Obama has been endorsed by Hamas; it is not true, but his only hope lies in smearing Obama until many Americans actually believe it is true. [Emphasis added]

Well, it certainly has worked in the past, especially in 2004. Still, I think there is another element at work here, and Mr. Boyle does a fine job at articulating just what that element is:

The Bush-McCain line on diplomatic negotiations with so-called "rogue states" or hostile groups presumes a world in the which the US is so powerful that it can sit sullenly in a corner until other states come begging to it, having already conceded all of the major points of dispute. This world no longer exists. Due to the Bush Administration's policies, in particular the disastrous war in Iraq, the US has diminished political and economic power, and can no longer assume that the world will be compelled by the sheer force of its will to come around to its position. If McCain assumes that this world still he exists, he is living in a dangerous fantasy and has not taken note of the damage done by the Bush administration to American power and prestige. [Emphasis added]

This alternate view of reality is one that has cropped up more than once in the last seven years. On many occasions, that alternate view is nothing more than lying, e.g. the dangerous WMDs held by Saddam Hussein, in order to justify an action the administration wants to take but knows doesn't have much traction in the current reality. On other occasions, however, that alternate view is one that the administration believes can actually be brought about if the administration simply talks as if it were reality. And that is the "dangerous fantasy" which has gotten us to where we are.

Mr. Boyle concludes with what I think is nothing more than wishful thinking:

As a party, the GOP needs to face up to the hard reality is that it is their policies which has left the US with little option but to grit its teeth and begin talking to its enemies.

At this point in time, Republicans will not and cannot "face up to the hard reality" because it would be an admission that the last seven years have been a dreadful mistake, a mistake they perpetuated at the costs of thousands of lives.

The Democrats need to start hammering this home at every opportunity. The American public just might be receptive to the hard truth as long as their are some strong proposals that would actually work. Leave the catapulting of propaganda to that other bunch of losers.


Criminalizing Work

It's amazing how swift justice can be when it comes to undocumented workers, as nearly 300 of them discovered this week. From today's NY Times:

WATERLOO, Iowa — In temporary courtrooms at a fairgrounds here, 270 illegal immigrants were sentenced this week to five months in prison for working at a meatpacking plant with false documents.

The prosecutions, which ended Friday, signal a sharp escalation in the Bush administration’s crackdown on illegal workers, with prosecutors bringing tough federal criminal charges against most of the immigrants arrested in a May 12 raid. Until now, unauthorized workers have generally been detained by immigration officials for civil violations and rapidly deported. ...

The unusually swift proceedings, in which 297 immigrants pleaded guilty and were sentenced in four days, were criticized by criminal defense lawyers, who warned of violations of due process. Twenty-seven immigrants received probation. ...

Most of the workers were from Guatemala and had come to the US to earn money to support their families. According to the article, they worked under some pretty harsh conditions at the kosher plant.

Since 2004, the plant has faced repeated sanctions for environmental and worker safety violations. It was the focus of a 2006 exposé in The Jewish Daily Forward and a commission of inquiry that year by Conservative Jewish leaders.

In Postville, workers from the plant, still feeling aftershocks from the raid, said conditions there were often harsh. In interviews, they said they were often required to work overtime and night shifts, sometimes up to 14 hours a day, but were not consistently paid for the overtime.

And the penalty for such an employer under the recent ICE raid? Well, that case hasn't been brought yet, and may not because the company has been "cooperating" with the feds in the workers' cases. Only the workers have been charged with the federal criminal offense and shipped off to prison.

That criminal charges requiring hard time were even brought is significant.

The large number of criminal cases was remarkable because immigration violations generally fall under civil statutes. Until now, relatively few immigrants caught in raids have been charged with federal crimes like identity theft or document fraud.

“To my knowledge, the magnitude of these indictments is completely unprecedented,” said Juliet Stumpf, an immigration law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Ore., who was formerly a senior civil rights lawyer at the Justice Department. “It’s the reliance on criminal process here as part of an immigration enforcement action that takes this out of the ordinary, a startling intensification of the criminalization of immigration law.”

So there you have it: working under terrible conditions in order to support your family is a crime if you can't prove your right to work in the the US. Hiring and abusing those workers, eh, not so much. But then, that's how this administration operates.

I suspect that what's really going on here is that the pissant in chief is punishing not only the workers, but a Congress that wouldn't give him what he and his business buddies wanted: a guest worker program. The fact that it throws some red-meat to the Tancredo xenophobes and racists is just icing on the cake. Meanwhile, 270 men and women are going to federal prison for five months before they get deported.

241 days.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging

see more crazy cat pics

Just A Little Sunshine, At Last

As the military tribunals set up to give the Guantanamo detainees "fair trials" continue to gear up, a little bit of good news was announced. The highest court of the land declared that the Constitution was violated during some interviews. Unfortunately for us, the highest court and the Constitution was that of Canada, not the United States, but at least one Supreme Court in one country is beginning to get just what a mockery of justice all of this has been. From an AP report:

Canada's government violated the constitution when it gave American officials the results of interviews conducted with a Canadian detainee at the Guantanamo Bay prison, the nation's top court said Friday.

The high court ruled 9-0 that Omar Khadr has a constitutional right to material directly related to interviews that Canadian intelligence officials conducted with him during his detention.

Khadr's attorneys say they'll use the documents to help defend him against a murder charge before a U.S. tribunal. ...

The court said the Canadian government violated a provision in Canada's bill of rights that requires disclosure of evidence.

The high court said Canada was wrong to interview Khadr in a place where international laws are not followed and that Canada became a participant in a process that violated Canada's international human rights obligations.
[Emphasis added]

Well, it's about damned time somebody noticed and then actually did something about it! I'm not so sure that our Supreme Court is capable of such a decision or of such a description of what is actually going on at Guantanamo Bay.

The decision is by no means perfect, in fact, it has some serious flaws. The review process mandated by the decision still gives the Canadian government some wiggle-room if they feel compelled to engage in some CYA:

The court said a lower court judge will now review the interview material, receive submissions from the parties and "decide which documents fall within the scope of the disclosure obligation."

That could leave the door open for the government to raise objections on some material by citing national security.

Nathan Whitling, Khadr's lawyer, said he was happy with the ruling, but the court's decision limits what they will be able to see.

It still won't be a fair trial by any civilized standard, but at least one defendant will be able to see some of the evidence for the charges brought against him. That is a first. It's only a start, but it is a start.

And it was a unanimous decision, as it should have been.

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Bad Times for Driving Anywhere

O.K. I admit it - I have retired and don't have to drive anywhere - except June 6 - 15, when I will visit friends in Austin TX, Corpus Christi, and then I plan to go onto the Big Bend where I have never been. How I would love to see the Marfa lights.

In France, fishermen are blockading oil refineries. In Britain, lorry drivers are planning a day of action. In the US, the car maker Ford is to cut production of gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles and airlines are jacking up ticket prices. Global concerns about fuel prices are reaching fever pitch and the world's leading energy monitor has issued a disturbing downward revision of the oil industry's ability to keep pace with soaring demand.

Yesterday's warning from the International Energy Agency sent the price of a barrel of oil to a new record for the 13th day in a row. The latest high – $135 for a barrel of light sweet crude – was reached in New York barely five months after the price hit $100. Experts in London and on Wall Street predict that prices will rise to $200, regardless of the protests of consumers and the complaints of politicians. It is simple economics, they say: supply and demand. The former is short, the latter growing.

Consumers are feeling the pinch in almost every area of their daily lives.

If you aren't raising your own veggies, yet, may I suggest this is a good time to start.

The oil companies that bought up refineries and promptly shut them down are now claiming thatthey don't have enough refineries. Anyone remember Enron?


Our Ms. Brooks: McWrong On Iraq

Columnist Rosa Brooks considered something that has puzzled me as well in her latest column. Why, when he has been wrong on the Iraq War since the very beginning, is John McCain polling so well with American voters on the issue? It's clear that Americans now think the war was a mistake, one that we were lied into, and that the administration's prosecution of the war from its inception was one blunder after another. Yet Sen. McCain, who has been and still is President Bush's biggest supporter when it comes to all things Iraq, is considered The Man when it comes to ending the war. Good grief! The Man still hasn't figured out that Al Qaeda is not Iran's idea of a BFF.

McCain seems more than a little confused about who's who in the Middle East, which is maybe why he's so dead-set against the idea of talks with anyone not already a U.S. ally. It's always embarrassing, from a diplomatic perspective, to have no idea who you're talking to.

But back to Iraq. McCain has rarely questioned the overall Bush administration Iraq strategy, and he recently reaffirmed his commitment to maintaining U.S. combat troops there until Iraq becomes "a peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic state." "We will have victory," he promised. But he's never explained how a strategy that's failed so far is going to magically start succeeding in 2009.

Of course, maybe his success -- for the time being -- with the American public has convinced McCain that if you just repeat something long enough and confidently enough, people will start believing it. McCain keeps boasting of his own national security expertise and insisting that Barack Obama, his chief Democratic rival, is naive and "does not understand ... the fundamental elements of national security and warfare" -- even though Obama, unlike the "experienced" McCain, managed to get it right on Iraq from the very beginning.

Whoever becomes the Democratic nominee, and it now looks like it will be Barack Obama, had better start pounding on McCain's miscues on Iraq that began back in November, 2001 with the assertion that Saddam Hussein had WMD that he intended to unleash on the West. If Sen. Obama needs a laundry list of Sen. McCain's delusional approach on the Iraq War, he could do worse than copy the one Ms. Brooks detailed in this column.

But he'd better hurry: the election is less than six months away.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Thursday Birdblogging

The humblest bird there is, such a sweet thing.

Cool Facts

* The House Sparrow was introduced into Brooklyn, New York, in 1851. By 1900 it had spread to the Rocky Mountains. Its spread throughout the West was aided by additional introductions in San Francisco, California, and Salt Lake City, Utah.

* The House Sparrow has been present in North America long enough for evolution to have influenced their morphology. Populations in the north are larger than those in the south, as is generally true for native species (a relationship known as Bergman's Rule).

* Although not a water bird, the House Sparrow can swim if it needs to, such as to escape a predator. Sparrows caught in a trap over a water dish tried to escape by diving into the water and swimming underwater from one part of the trap to another.

* The House Sparrow is a frequent dust bather. It throws soil and dust over its body feathers, just as if it were bathing with water.


G.I. Bill

Thanks, Diane, I am encouraged. The congress seems to be waking up to their job, to guard the public; and the farm bill seems to be moving on over the idjuts in the executive branch. Also, the G.I Bill.

This G.I. Bill gave educations to those who would give up part of their lives to defend this country. Sadly, lives have been shed for political aims instead of our security. Even more, those troops should be rewarded.

G.I. Bill benefits have sent John McCain, John Warner and Jim Webb to college. Oh, sorry I left out the Senator on their names.

This Memorial Day, we think about the more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers dead and the tens of thousands wounded in body and mind in a war based on lies, pushed by a clique of right-wing militarists and their corporate backers.

After 9/11, many Americans signed up for military service, wanting to serve their country and defend it from terrorism. Instead, they were sent to invade Iraq, to serve a right-wing/corporate agenda.

So it’s shocking to look at the congressional vote May 15 on a "Post-9/11 GI Bill" — a World War II-style GI Bill for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Republicans pushed the Iraq war and now refuse to end it. Yet only 32 of them voted for the GI Bill. One hundred and fifty-nine GOP House members, including their entire leadership, voted against the bill, which would substantially increase educational benefits for post-9/11 veterans. The bill is backed by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and every leading veterans organization.
Perhaps the Republicans objected to the fact that the bill also extends unemployment benefits for jobless workers who have used up their current benefits? Or maybe the warhawks didn’t like funding New Orleans levees? We’d like to point out that most veterans are workers, and many are jobless too. And building and repairing levees, and other parts of our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, would provide a lot of good jobs.

President Bush has threatened to veto the bill, especially complaining that the GI benefits would be funded by a tiny tax hike for the rich.

Despite the Republicans, the measure passed the House and is now before the Senate. Veterans are demanding that veteran Sen. John McCain vote for the new GI Bill. McCain, who hopes his military service will propel him into the White House, has wrapped himself in Bush’s disastrous war and economic policies.

A good way to mark Memorial Day would be to get this bill passed and signed into law.

The argument against this G.I. Bill is that it would keep troops from sacrificing their lives for the political gains of the goPerv party.

In fact, one of the central criticisms of the Webb-Hagel bill -- from both the White House and many congressional Republicans -- is that it's too generous, and therefore will encourage service-members to abandon the military in favor of college. Offer a lesser benefit package, the theory goes, and the troops are more likely to stay in their boots. (Supporters of the Webb-Hagel bill, including a number of veterans advocacy groups, say the better benefits will encourage recruitment, therefore nullifying any retention problems that might occur on the other end.)

Give it a break, Senator - those who were able to go to college and have a salary that gives back to this country - especially should pay their debt.

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