Monday, June 30, 2008

In Your Face Convictions

There has been an appalling amount of innocence in convicted criminals brought out in Project Innocence testing, something that has made our courts seem like a very faulty cog in the wheels of justice.

Have seen several recently uncovered huge mistakes that have put innocent people in jail, and as Avedon mentioned recently, it's impossible to forgive some one when you've been part of establishing their guilt. I see this tragedy working itself out nearby here in North TX, in a case that has been unraveling.

Just a few paragraphs into the Star-Telegram story, the woman knew something was terribly wrong. A man named Lester Leroy Bower Jr. was on Death Row for the 1983 massacre of four men in a Sherman airplane hangar, she read that morning in 1989. But the woman, who asked to be identified by the pseudonym "Pearl," had reason to believe that Bower wasn’t the killer at all — that it was her ex-boyfriend and three others who had committed the crime.

The woman showed the story to her sister, the one person she had told of her suspicions about the old boyfriend.

"They’re going to put that guy to death for that," she remembers her sister saying.

"Yeah, I know," Pearl replied.

"But he didn’t do it?"

"No," Pearl said.

"You’ve got to do something," the sister said.
"There’s no way there is actual innocence here," (Grayson County prosecutor Karla) Hackett said, citing the large amount of circumstantial evidence against Bower. "DNA is not going to make all that go away. It’s another delaying tactic. It’s normal. We expect it. There’s four dead men, and all the evidence points straight to Lester Leroy Bower Jr."

The wife of victim Philip Good says she is also convinced the right man was convicted. Marlene Bushard, who has since remarried and is living in Arizona, said her husband would have turned 30 the day after his death. He left an infant son, Curtis Good, who is now 25.
Bower did not testify during his capital murder trial in April 1984. Grayson County jurors deliberated less that two hours before convicting him on four counts of capital murder, and the next day he was sentenced to die. Bower, now 60, says he can understand how the jury reached its verdict, how his own account could be considered suspect because of the lies he told to investigators.

But the new witness has no reason to lie, he says.

"OK, don’t believe me," Bower said recently in prison. "Don’t believe anything I say. I’m not the one who has come forward and finally told exactly what happened out there."

The tragedy here has extended to all the parties, and the conviction is obviously flawed deeply and quite likely to be wrong. The incidence of false convictions has made our courts' methods, and its personnel, more than suspect.

Recently, talkleft posted on a wrongful conviction in a Lubbock, TX crime, a conviction that can't be undone because its victim has died.

The DA who prosecuted the case is now a judge. This is the closest he's going to come to apologizing:

"There's not a whole lot you can say to the point of someone's life being taken, knowing that probably wouldn't have happened but for the fact that he was convicted," Darnell said.

Like the one working its way out here - the accusers are as damaged as the wrongfully convicted. Establishing some one as guilty when it takes twisting evidence, and later being proved wrong, is self destruction as surely as are the more violent crimes.

The present Dallas AG has opened his files to Project Innocence workers, who are mostly volunteers. This needs to be done throughout the legal system.

Prosecution has been persecution too many times. A good hard look at how we elect judges in TX, and how they qualify for appointments elsewhere, is badly needed.

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Opportunity Knocks

I recommend knocking back, if the (engine) knock of opportunity is being presented by the right wing.

Admittedly, I'm not a member of the audience for the American Idol variety of shows, which I understand are an economical way of creating television shows without huge budgets to hire actual actors. This is an opportunity in itself, the television industry's use of innate qualities of the audience that wants to be a star, to save on budgets. Seeing the competition gimmick used by a presidential campaign, offering a $300 million prize to the first in your block to invent a better mousetrap, oh, 'xcuse me, battery, to solve high gas prices, now there is the ultimate use of Merkin individualism imagery.

Earlier this weekend, I got a similar gag reflex at Wall Street Report's Maria Bartelomo describing the stock market dive as another 'opportunity'. Well, how could any investor who's just lost his kids' college education not be inspired, here you are, on a golden platter, your chance to go out and buy, say, GM, really, really cheap? Go on, I dare you. Loser. It would be un-Merkin to stop now while you're not but just a few decades of hard work behind.

Not so long ago, to be exact, just before March of 2003, I listened to Gen. Colin Powell representing this worst administration ever, before Congress calling the Iraq frame-up a 'great opportunity' that we couldn't afford to pass up. The opportunity was not for the Merkin people, though his statement didn't point that out. It was a great opportunity for the war criminals in the White House, to use false information to get this country into a quagmire, and they went for it in a very big way. A great opportunity, as long as they continue to get by with throwing away our treasure, and our security, for their gain of a war of their choice.

The White House cabal tried to get Merkins to throw away Social Security in exchange for the great opportunity to invest their earned old-age security in the stock market. Oh, yes, that stock market, now having the worst June since 1930.

Giving opportunity a bad name should be one achievement chalked up to this executive branch, and it isn't a surprise that McCain would continue to jump on it. An energy plan depending on awarding the winner of a big contest, that is carnival barker politics brought to a new precipice.

John McCain's (R) call for a $300 million prize for better automotive battery is still making waves. The latest to raise a voice are the people who are already offering some prize money for cleaner cars: the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE. Of course, the AXP is a much smaller prize purse ($10m) and is for an entire car and production plans. Don Foley, the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE's executive director, has issued the following statement: We commend Senator McCain for recognizing that great innovations can arise from the spirit of competition. But creating a new battery is only part of a broader challenge to solve our country's energy crisis and dependence on foreign oil. We must also look seriously at developing new vehicles, especially those that are production capable. There's no single path to energy independence; we need to explore many different technologies, fuels and vehicles before the American public can determine the most practical, environmentally-friendly and energy conscious solution for the future. We commend all public and private sector efforts to bring attention to these issues, including those by our title sponsor Progressive, and we look forward to being a part of the solution.

So, it's not really a put down - the AXP wouldn't dare - but it does bolster the general criticisms that have been issued in response to McCain's idea that it just isn't well thought out.

In order to further the Great Race, let me suggest that competitions could be offered to Merkins for their solutions to the gas prices that are putting a hammerlock on the economy, (ignore that man behind the curtain) such as:

Free food for a year if you originate a recipe that can feed a family of four for a week using the least expensive ingredients, that your kids will eat!

Free public transportation for a year to the inventor of a self-propelled wagon that can go to a place (presumably of business) at least fifteen miles distant using only the power of the commuters aboard. No animals or humans may be harmed in the process.

A year in a climate that remains at 75F (capitalist degrees) forever, to the solar panel inventor using the least expensive elements, must be obtained legally, which utilize all natural ingredients. A bonus to anyone who makes same out of plastic bags from the grocery store.

Well, you get the idea. Get those Merkin ingenues a'workin', fokes, we have us a campaign to whup up. Rev up the tambourines, and march to your local dump/recycling station for materials. Stop whining about rational, sound policies, those just don't have the appeal we need to get out the votes in the land of Merkin Idyll.

Or you can start going door to door and try to get this country on the right track. The prize is a healthy country run by actual public servants in office, who honor their oaths of office. Stranger things have happened.

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Military Hubris

The Pentagon has gone to war again, this time with an agency of the federal government, according to this article in the Washington Post. In terms reminiscent of Lily Tomlin's character Ernestine the Telephone Lady, the Pentagon has essentially told the EPA that it will clean up its Superfund sites when it's damned good and ready.

The Defense Department, the nation's biggest polluter, is resisting orders from the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up Fort Meade and two other military bases where the EPA says dumped chemicals pose "imminent and substantial" dangers to public health and the environment.

The Pentagon has also declined to sign agreements required by law that cover 12 other military sites on the Superfund list of the most polluted places in the country. The contracts would spell out a remediation plan, set schedules, and allow the EPA to oversee the work and assess penalties if milestones are missed. ...

Under executive branch policy, the EPA will not sue the Pentagon, as it would a private polluter. Although the law gives final say to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson in cleanup disputes with other federal agencies, the Pentagon refuses to recognize that provision. Military officials wrote to the Justice Department last month to challenge EPA's authority to issue the orders and asked the Office of Management and Budget to intervene.

The move by the Pentagon is significant (and rather testosterone laden) because of the 1,255 sites identified under the Superfund law, the Pentagon owns 129, the most of any organization. The sites are mostly bases, many of which are located near urban centers. Ground water is affected by the military's pollution, and for that reason, the EPA wants those sites cleaned up, and now.

Why the delay and the fight? Well, it can't be money, because the Pentagon gets a huge budget every year. Maybe they could just hold off on buying one new fighter jet. That should more than offset the cost of cleaning up Fort Meade.

Or is it manpower? Well, that's possible. After all, we have a huge contingent of soldiers currently engaged in Iraq. Sending a division home just wouldn't be prudent, or so we are told. Maybe they could contract the work out, say to some subsidiary of Halliburton, although that would mean one fewer fighter jet and one fewer Abrams tank.

In all probability, however, the real reason is that the people at the Pentagon just like to fight, it's their mission, after all. "We're the military. We don't have to care."


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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sunday Poetry: Tarek Eltayeb

My Grandmother’s Advice

My grandmother’s advice when I was small
Was the following:
“Eat well to grow strong.”
And I grew strong
“Drink lots of water.
Don’t stay out late; don’t smoke:
You’ll live longer that way.”
I stayed out late and I smoked
And have yet to die

Yet once in the autumn of my life
I sat in front of the television
And saw heavy boots
Crushing the world
I heard the endless tally
Of those who had just climbed to heaven
Each one madly racing to the grave
From that day on
I could hardly sleep

On a different channel
I took in the very same things
In another language
And then in yet another
My eyes devoured them
My entire face was flashing lights—
I did not sleep

The commercials that broke up the news
Advised me to buy
Something sweet for my stomach
Something refreshing for my mood
But how, how could I possibly sleep?

I grew old at the end of autumn
Older than I’d ever hoped:
I realized that these tiny giants
Were setting out to plow the earth
To dig up its treasures
To till the cosmos
And bless us with the news
Of fresh and heavy boots
That would crush the world

I cannot sleep:
Absurd—so much to eat here
Alongside so much hunger
Absurd—so much to drink here
Alongside so much thirst
And so much news
Both here and there

No-one wants to understand the news
The faces cram themselves against the storefront windows
They hang there like pendulums
Still seeking
Boots fit for a live broadcast

Tarek Eltayeb

[Vienna; March 28th, 2005]

(Published at Poets Against The War.)

Facts For Libruls Only

Maybe I've had an up close and personal enough encounter with energy concerns that I have acquaintance with the fines soon coming to polluters of the environment? Having before retirement worked with a company that had a technology for capturing (sequestering) emissions from coal in energy production, I do know that an expense that is in the works for energy plants will be fines for air pollution... but how is that a surprise to the TX Governor's Competitive Council?

The plan that Council has recommended would shift to coal-powered plants for energy, but without any consideration for cleaning up the coal burning process. That leaves me open-mouthed, and it has the same effect on editorial writers at the Dallas Morning News.

A draft of the 2008 Texas State Energy Plan argues that adding "large amounts" of coal-fired power to the grid would be an effective way to reduce electricity prices. At the same time, the council denounces carbon dioxide regulations that would make coal a costly proposition.

Relying on pollution-intensive Texas lignite to power the state's future is not just environmentally irresponsible, it's also a foolhardy approach.

There is little doubt that Congress soon will put a price on carbon. Texas already spews more greenhouse gases than any other state, and emissions regulations will be expensive for polluters. Instead of preparing for life after climate change legislation, the Competitiveness Council is digging in, trying to wish away what officials deem Draconian measures.
Right now, the state's energy plan depends on wishful thinking and convincing Congress to forgo carbon regulations. The council declares that Washington needs a Texas perspective in the climate change debate.

Apparently, Texas needs a reality check.

The problem the right wing has with the real world is growing, and spreading. Acknowledging the facts increasingly is relegated to the libruls. I think a real sense of relief is descending on the GoPervs in realizing they are about to have the burden of dealing with that real world - where facts have a librul bias - soon be taken away from them. It certainly is a relief to those of us who haven't rejected reality.

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Crazy Talk

Gov Freudenthal (D-Wyoming) made a nice reference to McCain's one-legged stool stance with regard to energy this morning on Meet The Press. Putting all their public faith into drilling areas now off limits is the right wing's total answer to high gas prices, and it is easily shown to be a false premise. Of course, McShame started off proposing a summer vacation from gas tax, but when was the last time you heard anything more about that? All crazy talk. Neither tactic would solve the problem, but are their only tactics.

Another instance of insanity was the jaw-dropping injunction the cretin in chief made in his State of the Union Address, to 'Go Shopping'. His administration put their faith in deluded consumerism, while denying the consumer any actual support, to keep the economy afloat. A one-legged stool indeed, this tactic is a total obvious failure.

The financial reporter is a breed I seldom give credence, as they have - as a class - generally hidden the fundamentals of the economy behind a gloss in order to encourage the consumer confidence that is the basis of our economy in present times. Without baseless faith, the consumer wouldn't have driven up our national figures for individual debt to the point of crisis. Without constant hiding of facts, the consumer would not be so confident of their safety in massive retreat from solid planning, and solid financial practices. Deprived of good sense, the American consumer has fallen into the present credit crisis, and can't get up.

This morning, the WaPo financial columnist Michelle Singletary reports on a conversation with Democratic candidate Obama, and in this report shows the kind of reality based economy we can look forward to. Incidentally, McCain didn't respond to inquiries, though her invitation remains open.

Obama ticked off a list of his proposed economic fixes: another stimulus package, a universal health-care plan and tax cuts for the middle class.

When discussing consumer debt, Obama had a story to tell that was similar in some respects to that of many people in the country:

Until a few years ago, the candidate and his wife, Michelle, were deep in debt. Together, they were carrying $120,000 in student loans they had taken on to pay for law school.
Were he to become president, Obama said he would initiate reforms to address "the whole debt industry that has really got people in a financial hole they never dig themselves out of."

I believe that when Obama talks about his family's situation, he gets that we must move away from an economy driven by debt-laden consumers.

The concept of the public as weak-minded and easily led into mistaking lies for truth is slipping away, and leaving the right wing without legs to stand on, or put on their stools. Those lies have made the sad situation we're in, and those who've taken the bait and acted on them are in deep trouble. Pretty hard to vote for the fraud perpetrators when you've lost your home and are unable to meet credit card payments, and can't pay for the gas to get to the job that doesn't pay enough to put the overpriced food on your family.

The one leg on that stool isn't tempting voters to climb up and try to balance on it. Should they fall, they can't pay the bill to fix whatever it is they break.

Jay Ackroyd posted a moment in the life of the McCain campaign that shows the basic detachment of the candidate, this morning at Eschaton.

WICKSOL: When was the last time you pumped your own gas and how much did it cost?

MCCAIN: Oh, I don’t remember. Now there’s Secret Service protection. But I’ve done it for many, many years. I don’t recall and frankly, I don’t see how it matters.

The consumer is the device the right wing wants to use to keep their country afloat, and not only do they not see that that requires support for the consumer's well-being - these wingers don't have any connection to that strapped consumer.

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A Botched Investigation And Its Cost

Today's Los Angeles Times has a lengthy article on the FBI investigation into the anthrax attack launched shortly after 9/11. The Justice Department has just agreed to pay $5.82 million to the primary (and apparently the only) suspect in the case, Steven J. Hatfill, who brought a case against the department for its violation of his privacy. The reason for the cave by Justice? It became clear as the case progressed that after nearly six years of dogging Mr. Hatfill they had exactly zero evidence against him.

...dozens of interviews by the Los Angeles Times and a review of newly available court documents reveal a flawed investigation marked by abnormal tactics and internal dissent.

Behind the scenes, FBI agents chafed at their supervisors' obsession with Hatfill, who in 2002 was publicly identified by then-Atty. Gen. John D. Ashcroft as "a person of interest." The preoccupation with Hatfill persisted for years, long after investigators failed to turn up any evidence linking him to the mailings. Other potential suspects and leads were ignored or given insufficient attention, investigators said.

The investigation, and that term really doesn't seem appropriate given the shoddy nature of the FBI's handling of the case, was marred almost from the start with then Attorney General Ashcroft's identification of Hatfill, and it went downhill from there.

When Hatfill, now 54, landed a government-funded university job, the Department of Justice forced his dismissal. Ashcroft and FBI officials testified in the lawsuit that they knew of no precedent for such intervention.

Investigators also questioned orders from their bosses to share confidential information with political leaders, a departure from normal procedure. The security of information within the probe was so lax that FBI agents found news helicopters racing them to the scenes of searches. One exasperated agent called the leaks to the media "ridiculous."

When an official proposed using lie-detector tests to find the source of the leaks, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III dismissed the idea, saying it would be "bad for morale," according to testimony by one of the lead agents on the case.

Hatfill earned his settlement the hard way: his career was essentially ruined, his name was bandied about as belonging to a terrorist, his home became a magnet for TV cameras and news helicopters, and this went on well into 2006. But even with all the attention paid to Mr. Hatfill, one federal judge who reviewed the FBI investigation (including some classified FBI summaries) concluded that "there 'is not a scintilla of evidence that would indicate that Dr. Hatfill had anything to do with this.'"

That means that all of that time and energy was wasted because somebody was obsessed with Hatfill. It also means that the crime still has not been solved.

"They exhausted a tremendous amount of time and energy on him," said one of the FBI agents involved with the case who spoke to The Times on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.

"I'm still convinced that whatever seemed interesting or worth pursuing was just basically nullified in the months or year following when 'person of interest' came out about Hatfill," he said. Other possibilities got short shrift, he said, because of assumptions within the FBI that "sooner or later they'll have this guy nailed."

Said another investigator: "Particular management people felt, 'He is the right guy. If we only put this amount of energy into him, we'll get to the end of the rainbow.' Did it take energy away? It had to have. Because you can't pull up another hundred agents and say, 'You go work these leads [that] these guys can't because they're just focused on Hatfill.' "

So the real culprit(s) are still out there, and, after six years of ignoring other trails and evidence, will probably remain out there.

It almost looks deliberate, doesn't it?

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Bonus Critter Blogging: Marine Iguana

(Photograph by Rob Stewart/Animals Animals—Earth Scenes and published at National Geographic.)

Folksier Than Thou

Carrying on dialogues seems to be my bent today, so I was intrigued to find the theme of elite/folksy at Mahablog that relates to our heritage of racism in the southern U.S. This time it's those embodying the political manipulation of prejudice that comes out.

Right-wing elitists in particular just love to think of themselves as Men (or Women, as it were) of the People, particularly the People of the Homeland, because these People share their Values and are easily snookered can be flattered into voting for Republican candidates who present themselves as People Just Like Them, and who in turn can be counted on to protect the privileges and prerogatives of the right-wing elitists who don’t see themselves as elitists.

John McCain’s recent mangling of Barack Obama’s famous “bitter” remark is also illustrative:

“We’re going to go to the small towns in Pennsylvania and I’m gonna to tell them I don’t agree with Senator Obama that they cling to their religion and the Constitution because they’re bitter,” said McCain, who might have been referring to the Second Amendment right to bear arms. “I’m gonna tell them they have faith and they have trust and support the Constitution of the United States because they have optimism and hope… That’s what America’s all about.”

A lot of people jumped on the malapropism about the Constitution, but I say look at the next part also — he’s going to small towns in Pennsylvania and (emphasis added) “I am going to tell them that they have faith and they have trust and support the Constitution of the United States because they have optimism and hope and that is the strength of America.” These are people he’s never in his life lived among, but he’s going to tell them what they think? Does anyone beside me think that’s weird?

Shortly after Obama was slammed for the bitter remark I wrote a post called “Elitism for Elites” that most of the people in media screeching about “elitism” were, in fact, elites who had never in their lives enjoyed the true small-town white experience. Yet they stepped all over themselves rushing to a microphone to speak for small-town white folks everywhere.

Being a descendant of 'folks' and at the same time the product of those Eastern Ivy-League schools, like so many of my fellow bloggers I have some confusion about how the two backgrounds relate. The higher ideals I find in the left are so often adopted as their own, while in practice they use the lower ones, by the right wing, adds to that confusion.

I do hope that their association with humane, decent behavior in words will eventually wear off on the wingers, and that they will be infected with it. If anyone develops an appropriate treatment that will create a shortcut to that ideal, please let us know.

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Legislating Morality From the Bench

There are enough reasons to abhor the constitution of the present Supreme Court, which has time and again favored the business community when it has made its decisions. The instance of passing on the death penalty for child abuse has been one I could agree with. Leave it to the editorialistas at WaPo to ruin that.

Today, the Hiatt faction touts their approval of that decision, and cited a dissenting opinion. I am not kidding. As usual, the Hiatts want to see authoritarianism take over the helm in all the branches of government.

Even while concurring with the majority's decision, handed down Wednesday, to strike down the death penalty for child rapists, we join Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s declaration in dissent that "the very worst child rapists -- predators who seek out and inflict serious physical and emotional injury on defenseless young children -- are the epitome of moral depravity."

It is just this kind of moral judgment substituted for the legal one that court action is supposed to provide, that causes so much injustice to be committed. It is no wonder that WaPo would feel more comfortable with self-righteousness than with judicial restraint, and/or judgment.

Avedon had a very telling comment at The SideShow yesterday, which she entered in a shorter version into the WaPo comment section this morning.

Avedon wrote:
"Child rape is an unforgivable offense, but not a capital crime."

One of the nice things about growing up is that you learn there are all sorts of things you can forgive. I forgave the people who sexually assaulted me in childhood a long time ago, and believe me, it feels a lot better than carrying all that hate around.

Of course, if they'd been executed, I'd have had too great a stake in believing it was justified to ever forgive them. Thank God that didn't happen.

It's too often society's indignation that pulls the strings in matters of law, when it should be rational solutions to the problems. Avedon has a rich life, and personal character, which she could have quite possibly never have reached if she'd been victimized by the atmosphere this Supreme Court promotes.

My comment at WaPo grew out of the Sideshow post yesterday as well as my own views, and was more informed because of the discourse:

/jocabel wrote:
That the argument presented in this editorial for the dissent is a condemnation on moral, not legal, grounds is a shame. Capital punishment as an institution assumes that a question of guilt has been concluded without the possibility of doubt. Over and again, the doubt is reinstituted, as convictions are overturned by DNA evidence. Child rape, as Justice Kennedy pointed out, often depends on evidence from children, often relatives of the accused. These sad facts must be taken into account. The moral repugnance of the crime makes the matter all that much more subject to pressures that counterbalance standards of proof. Judicial restraint is much better for our society, especially in dictating the behavior of others, than judicial moralizing. Our Supreme Court is dangerously dysfunctional when it comes to the strict interpretation of the existing constitution. Its majority inclines toward establishing guidelines of conduct for the public rather than determining legal redress for actual offenses.

When our highest court and major newspapers put indignation and morality in the place of the court's role as the refuge of justice, we are not receiving what we can regard as the Rule of Law. The authoritarianism that has been institutionalized by the occupied White House and its courtiers has taken away the kind of reasoning that is needed to render unprejudiced court decisions.

We badly need to return to three branches of government, separate and operating lawfully.

(This post also posted at )

The WaPo editors really, really like Scalito's dissent better. Another citation: Justice Alito, however, noted in his dissent that five of those states enacted such laws over the past few years, suggesting that the pendulum of public opinion is swinging the other way.

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Free Market?

Apparently the concept of a free market only applies if it works to the benefit of business. If it works for the consumer, well, then it's a bad idea. An editorial in today's NY Times gives a good example of this rather twisted rule.

The subject is Medicare and acceptable payments for medical equipment such as walkers and hospital beds. Here's a sampling of the prices Medicare has been paying:

There is little doubt that Medicare has been paying far too much for equipment — including wheelchairs, hospital beds, oxygen concentrators, diabetic test kits, and walkers — under fee schedules based on historical charges. According to federal officials, Medicare currently pays $1,825 for a hospital bed that can be bought online for $754, and $4,023 for a power wheelchair that can be bought online for $2,174.

Sensing that there was something wrong with this picture, Congress decided to do something about it and developed a test program.

To cut costs and reduce fraud in one corner of the sprawling Medicare program, Congress called for competitive bidding on medical equipment that is provided to elderly and disabled Americans and set a sensible schedule for phasing in the program. Demonstration projects were held, the results looked promising, and last year Medicare received competitive bids from companies to supply equipment in 10 metropolitan areas. ...

When Medicare awarded competitively bid contracts to some 325 companies to serve the 10 metropolitan areas, it reduced equipment prices by 26 percent on what it would have paid for the same equipment under the current fee schedule. That means that if the contracts were allowed to proceed, beneficiaries would save 26 percent on their co-payments. Medicare would save $125 million the first year and as much as $1 billion a year if the program went nationwide.

Sounds like a pretty good program, yes? Not only would Medicare costs be cut, but so would the co-payments of the Medicare beneficiaries. Ah, but here's the rub: the equipment suppliers wouldn't make as big a profit as they would under the current fee schedule. Oops!

...... A trade association has sued to stop the program on the grounds that companies were not told what financial standards they had to meet to be deemed eligible, and industry lobbyists have persuaded key members of both parties in Congress to back off.

I guess the concept of competitive bidding is too complicated for today's businesses, or else they've forgotten how that works because it's been so long since the government actually required such a system be used.

And the horrid part is that Congress, which, I would remind you is in the hands of Democrats, is backing off and cancelling the planned program. So now Medicare will have to keep on paying three times the going rate for hospital beds and two times the going rate for powered wheel chairs.


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Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Catblogging

Maxxine dances for joy, it's her First Natal Celebration, toys follow;

Happy Birfday! Maxxine. Spoiling kitties is what we need to do more of.

Maxxine, as mentioned before, is the feral kitty adopted by WarOnWarOff and I had the pleasure of meeting them when I visited in Austin. She is another cat that was born in the wilds with little hope of a good life, but was noticed by some one caring and rescued, now is well cared for and loved.


Karmina is the other cat, not having a birfday.


Convention Against Torture

Yesterday was the 21st anniversary of the U.N. adoption of the Convention Against Torture in 1987. From that document:

Article 4

1. Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.

2. Each State Party shall make these offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature.


Article 6

1. Upon being satisfied, after an examination of information available to it, that the circumstances so warrant, any State Party in whose territory a person alleged to have committed any offence referred to in article 4 is present shall take him into custody or take other legal measures to ensure his presence. The custody and other legal measures shall be as provided in the law of that State but may be continued only for such time as is necessary to enable any criminal or extradition proceedings to be instituted.

2. Such State shall immediately make a preliminary inquiry into the facts.

3. Any person in custody pursuant to paragraph I of this article shall be assisted in communicating immediately with the nearest appropriate representative of the State of which he is a national, or, if he is a stateless person, with the representative of the State where he usually resides.

4. When a State, pursuant to this article, has taken a person into custody, it shall immediately notify the States referred to in article 5, paragraph 1, of the fact that such person is in custody and of the circumstances which warrant his detention. The State which makes the preliminary inquiry contemplated in paragraph 2 of this article shall promptly report its findings to the said States and shall indicate whether it intends to exercise jurisdiction.

Yesterday, At ACLU Blog:

....on June 24, 2008, 15 veteran interrogators retired from the U.S. military, FBI and CIA released a statement declaring torture and other abusive tactics "ineffective and counterproductive."

All of these June milestones, along with the fact that today is the U.N. International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, make this month, and especially this day, a good time to reflect on the fact that we have yet to hold a single highly-level U.S. official responsible for the torture and abusive techniques that they authorized. Join us in calling on Attorney General Mukasey to appoint an independent prosecutor to ensure that any criminal acts are investigated and prosecuted without partisan interference, and on Congress to investigate how high in the administration crimes of torture and abuse were ordered or authorized.

There are things we can begin, and that we can do, that will be a part of the relentless march to end the atrocities.

Many of us talked about what we had seen when the perpetrators of the pro-torture policies of the worst administration ever, Yoo and Addington appeared, every bit the slime we expected from what they had done. Something had twisted inside them, and their humanity was diminished into a mockery of civilized appearance... like a costume on an animal, not fitting quite right.

This reminds me of a description of the German people after the death camps were discovered. They were forever scarred, twisting away from the truth by whatever means they could, and occasionally furious to be confronted with their complicity.

Of course, in the dock after WWII, those more intimately involved continually claimed that they worked under orders.

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Tale of Two Faces

It's rather wonderful to see the U.S. under the occupied White House throwing out those different strokes for different folks when it's nuclear proliferation they're playing with. It was the best of worlds for India, where our makeshift foreign policy crew is offering to waive any kind of interference and give them assistance in developing nuclear power. The majority party is taking a lot of flak over this association with a discredited U.S.

Hours ahead of the United Progressive Alliance-Left Committee meeting to achieve a breakthrough in the impasse over the Indo-US nuclear deal issue, Communist Party of India General Secretary A B Bardhan said if the Government operationalises the deal, we will not give them any green signal for going ahead.
Insistent on opposition to the deal, the Left parties termed the compromise formula to finalise the safeguards agreement at the IAEA as meaningless.

Bardhan said, "There is no change in our stand. We will hear what the government has to say.”

Special: Indo-US nuclear deal | Full coverage

Left leaders, who are unrelenting in their opposition to the agreement, were of the view that India will have no say when it seeks a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which is dominated by the US.

It's the worst of worlds for North Korea, which has been attacked then courted, subjected to trade sanctions and now given a semblance of relief. Although the N. Korean Dear Leader's simpering rivals that of the cretin in chief, the people are desperate and need some opposition figure with stature to give them a degree of balance, not a quality to be found in this worst administration ever. This morning, an old nuclear facility got blown up for a great scenic background. It provided an unparalleled example of displacement activity.

U.S. Treasury financial sanctions aimed at ending North Korean money laundering, illicit financing activities and weapons proliferation remain in effect despite the easing of other sanctions against Pyongyang, a Treasury spokesman said on Thursday.
The move by the Bush administration to lift some sanctions after North Korea delivered a long-delayed account of its nuclear activities will not restore the country's access to the international banking system, Treasury spokesman John Rankin said.
"Any change in this situation will be a long-term process that depends on North Korea changing its behavior and bringing its domestic anti-money-laundering and counterterrorist financing regime into compliance with international standards," Rankin told Reuters.
North Korea was largely cut off from the international banking system in 2005 when the Treasury named Banco Delta Asia, a small bank in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau, as a primary money laundering concern.
The Treasury accused the bank of circulating counterfeit U.S. currency produced by North Korea, and of knowingly handling transactions by North Korean entities involved in illicit activities, including the narcotics trade and sales of counterfeit cigarettes and other goods.

Of course, the minions are all gathered around cooing about the U.S. version of Dear Leader's progress in foreign relations in D.C. - except for the ejected John Bolton who is still spouting his condemnation for anything he can't manage. The news media dutifully reports that the U.S. is removing N.Korea from the terrorist list and giving it new freedoms to trade for the benefit of its starving populace. Like the actual situation in India, the actuality portrayed by the words the executive branch throws at them have only a vague semblance of the actual situation in the country it has danced a round with.

"What Happened" really needs a Volume Two, someday, perhaps with Christopher Hill as the author, to tell how the war criminals managed to mess up what had been a good working relationship with N. Korea, and warm relations with India, when they took over the White House. A chapter in it might well point out the nuclear hazards that were visited on the world by the administration's dumbshow.

How a welter of poor behavior and worse policies converted our position to last in esteem among nations should make interesting reading, long after the Democrats are in position to restore our relations and position in the world. Hopefully, at that time we will not have another war or two going, that this insane cabal has thrown us into.

Brinksmanship would be too complimentary a description of the blustering face that this regime has shown to the civilized, and not so civilized, world.

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Another Thing He Broke

The numbers continue to drop for George Bush. A recent Times/Bloomberg poll discloses that a huge proportion of Americans blame him for our soured economy.

Three out of four Americans, including large numbers of Republicans, blame President Bush's economic policies for making the country worse off during the last eight years, according to a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll released Wednesday, reflecting a sharp increase in public pessimism during the last year.

Nine percent of respondents said the country's economic condition had improved since Bush became president, compared with 75% who said conditions had worsened. Among Republicans, 42% said the country was worse off, while 26% said it was about the same, and 22% thought economic conditions had improved.

In post polling interviews, there were some pretty telling comments:

Phillip Thies, a registered Republican and clothing-store owner in Cedar, Mich., who was one of those polled, said the president was doing an able job through the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks but "right after that, it was steadily, steadily downhill."

"There has been a lack of leadership and a lack of timeliness of leadership, of not being conscious of the magnitude of the problems," Thies said of Bush in a follow-up interview. "He's always a day late and a dollar short."

Said Lois Coleman, 84, of Floyds Knobs, Ind., who described herself as an independent, "I'm not as well off as I was before he was president and that pertains to all my friends, too, everyone I know."

While I'm a little worried about the 9% who think the economy has improved (I didn't think there were that many super-rich among us), I'm absolutely stunned that that 42% of Republicans admit the economy has worsened under the Bush administration. Mr. Thies, a small business owner, must really feel betrayed.

The obvious discomfort is finally being felt, primarily because of the huge rise in fuel costs and the attendent rise in food and other goods which require transporting to market. Too many Americans, people like Mr. Thies, just naturally assumed that a Republican president would have a handle on at least the economy. Their assumptions were clearly wrong, as wrong as this administration's economic policies.

It's a shame it took eight years for them to open their eyes.

207 Days

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Thursday Birdblogging

This White Heron was flying in the Rockport, TX park where I photographed gulls and skimmers, last week's featured bird.

There are white herons in Florida that are the blue heron's immature form but White Herons are also a separate species.

* The white form of the Great Blue Heron, known as the "great white heron," is found nearly exclusively in shallow marine waters along the coast of very southern Florida, the Yucatan Peninsula, and in the Caribbean. Where the dark and white forms overlap in Florida, intermediate birds known as "Wurdemann's herons" can be found. They have the bodies of a Great Blue Heron, but the white head and neck of the great white heron.

From John James Audubon: These Herons are sedate, quiet, and perhaps even less animated than the A. Herodias. They walk majestically, with firmness and great elegance. Unlike the species just named, they flock at their feeding grounds, sometimes a hundred or more being seen together; and what is still more remarkable is, that they betake themselves to the mud-flats or sand-bars at a distance from the keys on which they roost and breed. They seem, in so far as I could judge, to be diurnal, an opinion corroborated by the testimony of Mr. EGAN, a person of great judgment, sagacity and integrity. While on these banks, they stand motionless, rarely moving towards their prey, but waiting until it comes near, when they strike it and swallow it alive, or when large beat it on the water, or shake it violently, biting it severely all the while. They never leave their feeding grounds until driven off by the tide, remaining until the water reaches their body. So wary are they, that although they may return to roost on the same keys, they rarely alight on trees to which they have resorted before, and if repeatedly disturbed they do not return, for many weeks at least. When roosting, they generally stand on one foot, the other being drawn up, and, unlike the Ibises, are never seen lying flat on trees, where, however, they draw in their long neck, and place their head under their wing.

I was often surprised to see that while a flock was resting by day in the position just described, one or more stood with outstretched necks, keenly eyeing all around, now and then suddenly starting at the sight of a Porpoise or Shark in chase of some fish. The appearance of a man or a boat, seemed to distract them; and yet I was told that nobody ever goes in pursuit of them. If surprised, they leave their perch with a rough croaking sound, and fly directly to a great distance, but never inland.


Keeping Our Heads Above Water

While listening to us lefties venting about Obama today, I ran into a comment at Dave Neiwert's post, Orcinus, that reminded me that we can take too much comfort from the rational minds we surround ourselves with. Mostly, I stay with leftwing blogs, although I make sure to read the Dallas Morning News to keep in touch with what goes on out there. I see some reflection of rightwing thought in other blogs. I also listen to House debate and only when it's completely little black lies do I turn it off - which with the energy falsifications is rather more often the past few days.

Today Dave reminds me that there is a large bloc of those who treasure up their violence and throw it out in hopes it will make them fearsome. They are all around us, they just don't usually make it too plain because people will avoid them. Oh, people like us, who are not the majority in some circles.

The crazies and Obama
Saturday, June 14, 2008
-- by Dave
If there is a President Obama come next Jan. 20, normal folks better brace for what the right-wing crazies have in mind. Because it's becoming clear that they are winding themselves up now for a fresh spate of violence if Obama wins.

You can find the signs in the things they're saying now, both on Internet forums and in the things they say when they think no one is listening. For instance, read some of the details emerging from that militia bust in Pennsylvania that the media have been studiously ignoring. To wit:

Bradley T. Kahle, 60, of Troutville, was one of five people arrested in last weekend's sweep. He told undercover agents he hoped Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama would be killed if they were elected president, and that he would shoot judicial and law enforcement officials if he became terminally ill, according to an affidavit of probable cause made public Tuesday.

"Kahle said words to the effect of, that 'if Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama, get elected, hopefully they will get assassinated, if not they will disarm the country and we will have a civil war,'" the affidavit stated.

The same man also told authorities he planned to visit Pittsburgh so he could get on top of a high rise and start shooting black people. And of course, the judge let him go on bail. Would I be crazy to suspect that if he were a Muslim talking about shooting white people from a high rise and hoping John McCain would get killed, no judge on earth would let him go?

You remember these people from the jeers at those who were labeled brainiacs, the back of the gym during the pep rallies, in the parking lot when they were supposed to be in class. I know, I know, then they got control of the executive branch.

The past eight years probably made them feel like they had been empowered. They are going to be very, very bitter.

This is not going to be easy.

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Life Isn't Retroactive

The Supreme Court hasn't made that many decisions I feel strongly able to support, but in the decision yesterday to rescind death penalties for child rape, I totally agree. There is no going back on death. Convictions for all sorts of crime, even child rape, and even murder, have increasingly been overturned on grounds of DNA evidence. It happened in Collin County, suburban Dallas, yesterday.

A court threw out the conviction of a man infamously known as "Ashley's Killer" on Wednesday, weeks after prosecutors surprised defense attorneys with news of another suspect in the 1993 child slaying.

The Court of Criminal Appeal in Austin, as expected, set aside the guilty verdict and death sentence given to Michael Blair, upholding a lower-court ruling made last month.

The ruling comes less than a month after prosecutors acknowledged that DNA evidence does not implicate Blair and shows that another man, now deceased, is a plausible suspect in the girl's death.
Blair was convicted largely on the strength of since-discredited testimony about hair and fibers found in his car, on a stuffed animal and on the girl's body that all allegedly matched, court records show. At the time of the slaying, Blair was on parole after serving only 18 months of a 10-year sentence for burglary and indecency with a child.

Subsequent testing was performed on male DNA found on the Plano girl's shoes and shirt, as well as on tissue taken from the victim's fingernails and hair. All of these DNA tests excluded Blair as the contributor, court records show.

The man was guilty of crimes but his death would have been an irreversible unjust punishment. We have to remember when judging anyone that there are pressures in the justice system, and in Dallas our former prosecutors were building a reputation very important to them, of being able to get convictions. We will never know all the ways they achieved those convictions, but we do know that many were wrongful ones.

Justice Kennedy also wrote that capital punishment for child rape presented specific problems, including the “special risks of unreliable testimony” by children and the fact that the crime often occurs within families. Families might be inclined to “shield the perpetrator from discovery” when the penalty is death, he said, leading to an increase in the problem of under-reporting of these crimes.

This is hardly the first time this blogger has discussed the death penalty. It is also far from the first time a death penalty has turned out to be a miscarriage of justice.

Capital punishment has been thoroughly discredited as findings increase that convictions are too often erroneous. Taking a life on the evidence of witnesses has too often been a tragedy carrying faults of a system to a conclusion that defies, instead of effects, justice.

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Our Ms. Brooks: On Madam Flip-Flop

Rosa Brooks' column in today's Los Angeles Times examines the changed philosophy of Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice. She starts by reminding us of an article Ms. Rice wrote for Foreign Affairs back in 2000:

The article was brash, bold and widely seen as a Bush campaign manifesto. In it, Rice made the case for a hard-nosed U.S. foreign policy, one that would keep our national interests front and center and not be led astray by mushy globalist or humanitarian instincts or a foolish yearning for ideological purity.

That was then, and to be fair, pre-9/11.

And now? Well, Ms. Rice has just written another article for Foreign Affairs.

Analyzing the root causes of terrorism, Rice at times sounds like she wandered into the wrong political party. "In the broader Middle East," she asserts, for too long the U.S. "supported authoritarian regimes," but this "produced false stability ... there were virtually no legitimate channels for political expression." No wonder, then, "that Al Qaeda found the troubled souls to prey on and exploit as its foot soldiers. ... Our theory of victory, therefore, must be to offer people a democratic path to advance their interests peacefully -- to develop their talents, to redress injustices and to live in freedom and dignity. In this sense, the fight against terrorism is a kind of global counterinsurgency: The center of gravity is not the enemies we fight but the societies they are trying to radicalize." ...

Say, what?

Ms. Rice, after 8.5 years has finally come around to what the DFHs were saying at least 7 years ago. For a brilliant woman, she sure is a slow learner, eh? Not nearly as slow as her bosses are, however, as Rosa Brooks points out.

...Rice's latest essay has been almost universally ignored. No one seems to care much, one way or the other, about the secretary of State's foreign policy philosophy.

Maybe that's just Bush administration fatigue. Or maybe it really doesn't matter what Rice says. The philosophy she articulated in 2000 made no difference, and her revised one won't matter either. With Bush and Dick Cheney at the helm, Bush foreign policy will be what it's always been: morally bankrupt, intellectually incoherent and incompetently executed. And we're stuck with it for another seven months.
[Emphasis added]



Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Refining Information = Disinformation

The right wing mantra about refineries is a farce, of course, like most of their pronouncements. As I have pointed out previously, Shell for one has bought up refineries and shut them down.

In April 2007, a little information leaked out. I found it in an excellent comment at Watching the Watchers, that stated; That added production from new leases on the OCS would bring short term relief from high gas prices is a claim that McCain explicitly made just last week, saying that opening up drilling in the OCS "would be very helpful in the short term in resolving our energy crisis."

The part about "short term" gas price relief is patently ridiculous as many commentators have pointed out.

The information about refineries was taken from CNN, and follows.

"Everyone is quick to say "look at these refiners, they're driving up the price,'" said Phil Flynn Flynn, senior market analyst at Alaron Trading in Chicago. "But if I wanted to build a refinery tomorrow, I couldn't do it."

And then there's the public's newfound concern over global warming and its supposed commitment to do something about it. President Bush himself has called for a 20 percent reduction in gasoline use over the next 10 years.

"What refining executive in their right fiscal mind would say, gee, we need to add refining capacity right now," said Drevna at the refiners' association.

While refinery capacity may not be growing as fast as demand, it is growing.

For example, Drevna noted that expansion projects at the nation's existing refineries have had the effect of adding the equivalent of a brand new refinery every year. That increase came despite mandates for cleaner gasoline and diesel fuel, which take longer to make.

And the future looks even brighter.

"There is a tremendous amount of expansion," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, speaking of projects at existing facilities. "We will have a solid increase in North American refining capacity, but not for another two years."

Kloza said much of the expansion would come along the Gulf of Mexico and in the Midwest, an ideal spot to process heavy crude from Canada's emerging oil sand deposits.

The only place that might not see more capacity is the West Coast, said Kloza, where there is little refinery expansion planned, leaving the region more dependent on expensive imports.
Energy companies prominent in Fortune 500

Overseas expansion is moving even more quickly, with $300 billion slated for refining projects over the next 20 years in places like India, the Caribbean, Mexico, the Middle East, Africa, and the Asia-Pacific region.

"I think there'll be a concern that the world added too much capacity and refining will go in the dumpster again," said Kloza.

Much of the international capacity will feed surging demand in the developed world. But some will also supply the United States and Europe.

"Partly what's going on here is part of a broader trend in manufacturing, and that is the movement of it offshore," said AAA's Sundstrom. "With it go environmental issues, tax structure, legal liabilities."

The misrepresentations the right wing keeps persistently using have the purpose of undermining the public interest, and their use of it is with full knowledge that it is wrong.

The selling of our lands to oil companies has not one good reason except that the administration depends on oil revenues for their livelihood.

I do believe that if the war criminals invested in solar energy, they would be trying to put it out to make their assets more valuable.

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Some Help for Species, and for Beautification

Life forms that need the Everglades. Of course, we all do.

The Everglades is an expansive marsh that I have had the privilege to visit a few times, full of tropical life and especially great birds. The efforts to save it from development have been going on for decades, with some effect. Now it will be enlarged by donation of lands that have been devoted to sugar production. This is such a grand development, I hope along with everyone that it works out.

Species have diminished because of growing areas of development, and in Texas, a lot of wildlife is being displaced. We need to keep areas available for the natural residents, and some of us keep underbrush uncut for nesting of such birds as can tolerate close quarters with us. I have a nesting brown thrush that I was overjoyed to see from the kitchen window yesterday, and have been hearing birdsong of many sorts that I can't identify - being miserable at it. The Everglades is a place that many species can live, and it's heartening that we can leave it for them.

One of America's key ecosystems, the Everglades in Florida, is to be greatly expanded after a landmark deal between the state and a major sugar company.

The US Sugar Corp has tentatively agreed to sell its 800sq km (300sq miles) of land in the Everglades to state authorities for $1.75bn (£890m).

The land, currently used for growing sugar cane, will be turned back into its natural state of swampy marshland.

However, sugar producers are concerned the move will cost up to 2,000 jobs.

'Missing link'

The deal proposes that after six more years of production, US Sugar will close down and its plantations will be turned over to the state in Florida's biggest ever land acquisition.

Environmentalists have welcomed the news, calling it the largest ecological restoration project in the history of the United States.

Sugar cane is a crop that is grown in a lot of areas, and doesn't need a threatened wetland for its production. Relatives of mine in Costa Rica grew sugarcane, and a part of its cultivation there was a yearly burn. (Burning cane was used as part of the soft porn film "Sweet Sugar", filmed on a cousin's finca.) The smoke from burning cane invades our atmosphere here in Texas every year, and creates pollution levels that usually rate a few days of warning to stay indoors if you can. Although the burning wasn't employed here, it was never an essential crop, and sugar can come from other sources as well.

The use of land to enrich our country's environment cannot be adequately praised, so I'll just say Right On.

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Onward Christian Soldiers

According to this article in today's NY Times, the military continues to shove religion down the throats of its soldiers, especially at the Naval Academy and West Point.

Three years after a scandal at the Air Force Academy over the evangelizing of cadets by Christian staff and faculty members, students and staff at West Point and the Naval Academy are complaining that their schools, too, have pushed religion on cadets and midshipmen.

At the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., nine midshipmen recently asked the American Civil Liberties Union to petition the school to abolish daily prayer at weekday lunch, where attendance is mandatory. The midshipmen and the A.C.L.U. assert that the practice is unconstitutional, based in large part on a 2004 appellate court ruling against a similar prayer at the Virginia Military Institute. The civil liberties group has threatened legal action if the policy is not changed. ...

In interviews at West Point, seven cadets, two officers and a former chaplain said that religion, especially evangelical Christianity, was a constant at the academy. They said that until recently, cadets who did not attend religious services during basic training were sometimes referred to as “heathens.” They said mandatory banquets begin with prayer, including a reading from the Bible at a recent gala.

While the evangelical atmosphere at the two academies isn't as pervasive as it was at the Air Force Academy, it is clearly woven into the daily lives of students. Prayer at lunch at which attendance is mandatory puts each student in the position of either bowing his/her head or sticking out as a rebel (not a desired leadership quality).

Look, the oath all members of the military take is to the Constitution, not Jesus, Yahweh, or Allah. The Constitution makes it clear that there was to be a clear separation between the state and religion of any kind. What is so hard about that to understand?

Apparently a great deal. Hopefully the ACLU will take the military leaders at the academies to school on the issue.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What Alterman and Zornick Said

Thanks to The Sideshow, I ran across this from Alterman and Zornick, and thought it ought to be passed on. So here is an excellent rundown of McCain flipflops. The whole post is worth a read, but on the long side, so I excerpt here from "Loving John McCain" at The Nation.

Flip-Flop Free Pass

It is a challenge to find an issue on which McCain has stood his ground in the face of opposition from his party's extremist establishment. "How about abortion?" you ask. Well, speaking to the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle in August 1999, McCain explained, "Certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America" to be subject to "illegal and dangerous operations." And McCain today? "I do not support Roe v. Wade--it should be overturned." McCain says he favors a rape and incest exception for abortion prohibitions, but his party's platform refuses to allow for any such exceptions. If the candidate plans on fighting to get this restrictive party plank changed, however, he has kept that information secret so far. What's more, McCain has voted for every one of Bush's judicial appointments, all of whom oppose a woman's right to choose. What about gay marriage? In 2006 McCain was one of only seven Republican senators to vote against the Federal Marriage Amendment; two years later he told Chris Matthews, "I think gay marriages should be allowed" when states decide to legalize gay unions. Today McCain not only opposes gay marriage but favors denying benefits to unmarried couples, period.

McCain's addiction to politically convenient flip-floppery is even evident regarding the issue with which his "maverick" reputation is most closely associated--political reform. Recall that much of McCain's reputation as a reformer derives from the partnership he forged with Democratic Senator Russ Feingold to try to reform the nation's campaign finance laws. He did so, he said at the time, out of a sense of remorse over his involvement with the "Keating Five," when he helped himself to free flights on Charles Keating's jets and asked regulators to go easy on the corrupt financier during a period when his wife happened to be Keating's investment partner. McCain received an Ethics Committee reprimand, and he has consistently pointed to his regret over his role in the scandal as his primary motivation for his commitment to the issue, over the objection of many in his party.

That's the theory anyway. And it is one so widely accepted by McCain's fans in the mainstream media that many do not feel an obligation to examine McCain's behavior anymore to determine whether he bothers adhering to the laws he wrote. Time managing editor Richard Stengel, for instance, explains that "McCain is so pure on this issue, ever since the Keating Five when he saw the light.... McCain has toed the line about lobbyists, about campaign fundraising."

In fact, McCain's devotion to remaining within his much-proclaimed ethical guidelines is a far murkier matter. It's not just his close friendship and professional relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman, revealed by the New York Times, that causes so many titters--it's that McCain flew on the private jet of Iseman's client Lowell Paxson and repeatedly carried out legislative favors on his behalf. Paxson wasn't the only client of Iseman's who appeared to get special attention from McCain; the Times documented other instances where legislation introduced by McCain dovetailed with key priorities of other companies, in the telecommunications and cruise ship industries, represented by Iseman's firm--all of which contributed tens of thousands of dollars to his presidential campaign.

No less significant, candidate McCain has taken advantage of loopholes in the laws he has written and lax enforcement by an understaffed Federal Election Commission (FEC) to subvert the intended purposes of the laws. The old John McCain championed legislation that would require presidential candidates to pay the actual cost of flying on corporate jets and to pay charter rates when using such jets rather than cheaper first-class fares. The purpose was to try to reduce the power of jet-wielding lobbyists and enforce a sense of fairness. But how did McCain behave when the issue arose in his campaign? A New York Times investigation recently revealed that he availed himself of a jet owned by a company headed by his wife. He was able to do this without technically breaking the law only because the law makes a specific exception for planes owned by a candidate or his family (or by a privately held company they control). The FEC has sought to close this loophole, but its new rules have been prevented from going into effect, as the White House has refused--until recently--to appoint a sufficient number of commissioners to allow their approval. So while McCain may be technically within the letter of the outdated law, he is purposely undermining its spirit. What's more, these financial shenanigans are hardly consistent with the response he gave when asked by a reporter whether he planned to rely on his wife's wealth to help out with the campaign. "I have never thought about it," he told the Arizona Republic. "I would never do such a thing."

Such actions are of a piece with a campaign that is dominated by lobbyists to a degree unmatched by any other candidate for President this year. McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm whose clients have included Verizon and SBC Telecommunications. His chief political adviser, Charles Black Jr., was until recently chair of one of Washington's most powerful private lobbies, BKSH and Associates, whose clients include AT&T, Alcoa, JPMorgan and US Airways--not to mention a string of dictators with shady human rights records, from Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. In addition, his top economic adviser, former Senator Phil Gramm--who wrote the McCain campaign's banking policy--was, until April 18, registered as a lobbyist for UBS, the international banking giant deeply involved in the subprime housing market crisis. And on down the line in the McCain campaign it goes, with almost all the top positions occupied by the very people whose influence he claims to want to curb. And yet, despite a series of forced resignations over embarrassing conflicts of interest, the media narrative continues untouched by truth. Writing in the Washington Post in May, longtime editor David Ignatius praised McCain because he "has actually fought the kind of bipartisan battles that Obama talks about--from campaign finance to climate change to rules against torture--and he has the political scars to prove it."

In early June, Times reporter Charlie Savage revealed another crucial McCain flip-flop: as recently as January, McCain said he opposed George W. Bush's unconstitutional wiretaps on American citizens, explaining, "I don't think the President has the right to disobey any law." But as with so many of McCain's more moderate positions, that was then. Today, according to his top adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain has decided that "neither the Administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and the trial lawyers, understand were constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001."

The intransigency the press persistently ignores is going over the top, more every day. I await the meltdown, sure to happen in Obama/McCain debates.

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Dawn of Reason Has Broken For Sure

Increasingly, signs of intelligent life emerge. I think everyone with tolerant, thinking natures have been saddened by the past decade, with the right wing casting off all restraints to forge to a majority by instigating class warfare. The intensity of their desires for power and of their exercise of it for self-enrichment is very reminiscent of the priests and the pharoahs of biblical times, who used the names of their gods to enslave their followers and accumulate wealth.

Polls showing Americans see that we are on the wrong track are encouraging. Today, a poll showing tolerance for other religions, despite all the anti-'islamofascist' cant by the wingers, shows that we are on an upward path from the past two presidential terms of divisive propaganda.

Most Americans say they are absolutely sure about standards of right and wrong – and are just as sure that no one religion holds an exclusive franchise on the truth.
The researchers also said the results indicate that it's wrong to assume that Americans can be pigeonholed on the basis of religion. There is a wide diversity of beliefs and behaviors, even among people who say they belong to the same religious group, said John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum with a long history of studying faith-related polls.

"I was stunned by just how diverse it was," he said. "The diversity goes all the way down."
Depending on the question, from a third to half of those who said they belong to Evangelical churches took religious and political positions generally associated with the religious right. If those results are accurate, 10 to 15 percent of voting-age Americans would be in that group.

Other questions indicated potential majorities for some Democratic policy positions, the researchers said. Large majorities of most religious traditions said that the government should do more to help needy Americans, even if it means going deeper into debt, that stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost, and that diplomacy rather than military strength is the best way to ensure peace.

Hot-button issues that have strong Republican support did not fare as well. A slim majority, 51 percent, said that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 50 percent said that homosexuality should be accepted by society. (Emphasis added.)

Having up close and personal ties with a psychotic who chooses prolife stances over family and reason, I tend to associate religion with that element. I commented to that effect while introducing the article cited above, this morning at Eschaton. The following conversation was produced:

"Ruth: me, I have a lot of trouble with abortion. I never, even as a ten year old, well before Roe v Wade, saw that as an easy one. And part of that emerges from a life lived mostly making love to people I care a lot about, where a child conceived therein would be of deep significance to me. I wind up in favor of choice precisely, rather than in spite of, the fact that I find the issue complex in a way that some do not; I conclude, every time I think of it, that the only possible stance is to allow the complexities to be resolved, as best as possible, by a woman acting as an autonomous agent, doing the best she can as the owner of the uterus in question.

I have no problem with people who want to live 'pro life'. I do have a problem when they arrogate to themselves the right to assume that their answer should be universally applied to lives they have no relationship to or knowledge of whatever. And abortion will continue whether or not it's legal. Ban it, and the rich and well-connected will go back to getting therapeutic D&Cs for dysmenorrhoea, and the poor will get coat hangers shoved up their uteri, and sometimes die, horribly, as a consequence.
ProfWombat | 06.24.08 - 9:11 am | "

From me (Ruth): That prolife stance taken as a political position is the one I encounter, and it is totally twisted against the actual woman facing the actual decision, which includes me and most women at one time or another.

A real prolife feeling would have to include a respect for actual life, which can be a pretty rotten prospect for a fetus in a wrong place at a wrong time for a wrong reason.

ProfW followed with a reminder that real prolife belief would include rejection of killing.

There is a positive appeal of goodness that has for much of mankind's history been associated with religion, and the false ones that depend on hate try to latch onto the goodness and turn it to the ends of evil. We see that in the dark side of the right wing, and especially in the Cheney appeal to the worst nature in their followers.

There is a commandment that anticipated that: 7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. That's from Exodus 20. A lot of Sunday Schools teach that as 'not taking the name of the Lord in vain', and apply it to cussing to keep those little fellas from using rough language, but it means much, much more. It refers to kinds of manipulation that seek power from the misuse of language that should help and benefit us all.

Eventually, lies disprove themselves. It's happening now, like dawn after a storm, and the discrediting of such mantras as that - our society is damaged by tolerance, diversity is undermining our strength, war is right as a way to impose our ideals on others, individual rights are in the way of peace through war, and that the rich will take care of us all if we just take all the laws out of their way - is being done by the takeovers those evils have produced. Seeing the idols of the right topple is satisfying, but it isn't an end, with the pre-eminence of reason tied up forever.

We relaxed after Nixon left, but the evil didn't. They kept working and won power which they've used to take us into the hideous hole they've dug. We have to fill in the hole, and that will take some time. Then we have to take away their shovels - the powers of high office.

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Any Excuse Will Do

The administration's chops got busted by the federal courts once again, and once again the case involved Guantanamo Bay and the bogus military hearings. From an article in today's NY Times:

In the first civilian judicial review of the government’s evidence for holding any of the Guantánamo Bay detainees, a federal appeals court has ordered that one of them be released or given a new military hearing.

The ruling, made known Monday in a notice from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, overturned a Pentagon tribunal’s decision in the case of one of 17 Guantánamo detainees who are ethnic Uighurs, a Muslim minority from western China. ...

By law, the appeals court has the power to review Pentagon hearings known as combatant status review tribunals, one of which found Mr. Parhat to be an enemy combatant. At those hearings, detainees are not permitted lawyers, cannot see all the evidence against them and face hurdles in trying to present their own evidence.
[Emphasis added]

Some due process, eh?

The panel's decision is unavailable presently because it deals with "classified" information. A redacted version will be published, presumably in the near future, but just what the decision was based on will probably be difficult to discern unless the panel explicitly condemns the procedure of those combatant status review tribunals. It certainly can do so, given how those show trials are set up. If in fact that is the basis for the decision, then the system itself has been thoroughly undercut right from the beginning.

The good news is tempered by the actual effect in Mr. Parhat's case, however.

Its practical consequences for Mr. Parhat, however, are not clear. The administration has said it will not return Uighur detainees to China because of concerns about their treatment at the hands of the Chinese government, which views them as terrorists. A State Department official said Monday that the department had not found a country to accept any of the Guantánamo Uighurs since Albania accepted five of them in 2006.

As a result, said one of Mr. Parhat’s lawyers, Susan Baker Manning, court victory may not mean freedom for him.

So Mr. Parhat will continue to sit in Guantanamo Bay for the foreseeable future, all because the US screwed up, and continues to screw up.


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Monday, June 23, 2008

Disappearing War

The war went away when you weren't looking. That doesn't mean the troops can come home, I'm sorry to say, and that we can start spending the huge losses we're taking on desperate domestic needs. It means the press has lost interest. After all, look at those great shots of swimming pigs and Saudis in costume pinching off little oil for their buddies.

While certain presidential candidates are giving their story of the day about our Victory, otherwise undefined, the death and destruction, and dislocation, continues unabated. Juan Cole persistently presents facts, which persistently are ignored by the media.

Although it is very good news that the number of Iraqis killed in political violence fell in May to 532 according to official sources, the number was twice that in March and April. And,it should be remembered that independent observers
have busted the Pentagon for grossly under-reporting attacks and casualties. If someone shows up dead and they aren't sure exactly why, it isn't counted as political violence, just as an ordinary murder. Attacks per day are measured by whether the mortar shell scratches any US equipment when it explodes. If not, it didn't happen. McClatchy estimated a year and a half ago that attacks were being underestimated by a factor of 10.

By the way, isn't is a little odd that the death rate fell in the month of the Great Mosul Campaign? I conclude that either it can't have been much of a campaign or someone is cooking the death statistics.
American commentators peculiarly lack a social dimension to their analyses. So if PM Nuri al-Maliki sends some troops up to Mosul and the guerrillas there lie low for a while, that is "progress" and "good news." Well, maybe it is, I don't know.

I do know that the apocalypse that the United States has unleashed upon Iraq is
among the greatest catastrophes to befall any country in the past 50 years. It is a much worse disaster over time than the Burmese cyclone or the Mississippi floods.

You won't see it on television very much these days.

Even if it gets better, it won't get better very fast for all those millions wounded, widowed, orphaned, and displaced; as for the 1 million dead, as they say in Arabic, God have mercy on them (Allah yarhamhum). Maybe it will get better sooner for the politicians in the Green Zone. They are the sort of people that the think tanks in Washington seem to care about.

The growing hatred of America throughout the world results from this cavalier treatment of the people the occupied White House claims to be helping out of their former bad conditions. Looking at the horrendous conditions we have brought about there is easy from other countries' news media. Ours has turned that blind eye they keep offering to us.

It's heartening that Americans are turning away in droves from the government viewpoint, that this war is worth our while. We are in the course of throwing out those failed policies. Next we will have to turn out their leftover cronies.

211 days (by my estimate)

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Ongoing Exercise In Irresponsibility

That same North Korea that has not accepted designation yet as a member of the occupied White House's "axis of evil" continues to make its attempts at world domination an exercise in futility. More and more, the axis looks like the one on a hamster wheel, and the administration runs madly around it not even producing energy.

The evil axian nation was gotten to agree to issue an enumeration of its nuclear facilities by the end of 2007. That didn't happen.

North Korea will hand over a long-delayed report of its nuclear activities on June 26 in a step towards disarmament, Kyodo news agency said in a report from Beijing on Monday, citing sources close to six-party talks on the issue.

In response, the United States will begin the process of removing Pyongyang from a list of nations Washington sees as sponsors of terrorism, the report said, a move that would ease trade sanctions.

I distinctly hear the sound of a hamster wheel going whirling madly around, a wheel the worst administration ever is madly trying to make look like progress. Of course, previous pronouncements of the N.Koreans have been a mockery of the U.S., and showed the disdain in which it is held.

The U.S. previously believed that North Korea had received HEU technology from Pakistan, but found, based on its analysis of the North Korean documents, that North Korea tried to develop the technology on its own.

In this regard, in her speech she delivered at the Heritage Foundation last Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "As we’ve gotten deeper into the process, we’ve been troubled by additional information about North Korea’s uranium enrichment capability... And this information has reaffirmed skepticism about dealing with North Korea."

Such skepticism was raised before North Korea makes its nuclear declaration. It will likely remain a bone of contention in connection with the North's future HEU development.

Meanwhile, in the daily briefing last Friday, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, "We have indications that it (North Korea's nuclear declaration) will be soon... I’ll give you one other hint here, is we do not yet have another head of delegation -- meeting scheduled. And presumably, that would be the venue in which the North Koreans would hand over to the Chinese a declaration."

Until an administration that it respects, that can work within the world community, is at the U.S. helm, there will be no real goals reached, and N. Korea's leaders are among the majority of world leaders who show their recognition of this.

Only the totally blind members of the executive branch of the U.S. fail to recognize and act on this reality.

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Time For A New Mining Law

Today's NY Times had an interesting editorial on getting the General Mining Law of 1872 updated to reflect environmental concerns. The House has already passed a bill dealing with the issue, but the Senate hasn't even proposed one, and there's a really sorry reason for that.

Enticed by soaring prices in recent years for gold, silver, copper and uranium, mining companies have been filing claims at a record clip. But the General Mining Law of 1872, which governs them, is as flimsy as ever.

A relic of the boisterous era of Western expansion, the law gives hard-rock mining precedence over all other uses of the public lands, including conservation. It demands no royalties and provides minimal environmental protections. Its legacy, if it can be called that, is a battered landscape of abandoned mines and poisoned streams.

Recent rumblings suggest that mining law reform may be moving from the list of legislative lost causes to reality. Last fall, the House passed a good bill that would require companies to pay royalties, just as oil and coal producers do, strengthen environmental safeguards, give local officials a role in decision-making and allow the interior secretary to veto mines that threaten irreparable harm to the environment.

This leaves matters in the lap of the Senate, where the majority leader, Harry Reid, controls the agenda. Mr. Reid is a miner’s son whose home state of Nevada depends heavily on mining, and it is hard to overstate his lack of enthusiasm for serious reform.
[Emphasis added]

That the Senate Majority leader might have a vested interested in the status quo (or at least his financial backers might) is no excuse for not drafting and passing a bill consistent with the House version. There really is no excuse for mining companies being exempt from paying royalties, nor is there an excuse for the devastation they have wrought. Even conservative local officials want something done so that they can have some input in any future decisions that will directly affect their communities.

If Sen Reid is unwilling to do anything, then maybe we need a new Senate Majority Leader, one who will actually lead in doing the right thing.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sunday Poetry: T.S. Eliot

From Four Quartets

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.

T.S. Eliot

Our Ms. Brooks: Mr. Flip-Flop

I was in a bit of a heat induced funk on Thursday and totally overlooked Rosa Brooks' latest column in the Los Angeles Times. Fortunately, I've recovered. This one is another dandy, even though it was written without the usual Brooks snark.

Her target this week is John McCain and his view that the decision of the US Supreme Court that the Gitmo detainees were entitled to habeas corpus was the worst decision ever in the history of the entire universe. Sen. McCain went even further: his campaign accused Barack Obama of exhibiting a 9/10 mindset because Sen. Obama felt the decision was the right one. Once again, Our Ms. Brooks hit the bull's eye.

...Not too long ago -- before he decided that becoming the Republican presidential nominee required him to cozy up to his party's most demagogic extremists and play politics with 9/11 -- McCain was the champion of a common-sense, values-based approach to terrorism.

It was McCain who refused to sanction torture. It was McCain who said Guantanamo detainees "have rights under various human rights declarations. And one of them is the right not to be detained indefinitely." It was McCain who advocated moving Guantanamo detainees to Kansas' Ft. Leavenworth, where they would come under the certain jurisdiction of federal courts. It was McCain who insisted that we respect the basic rights even of enemies who "don't deserve our sympathy" because "this isn't about who they are. This is about who we are."

What is so astounding about Sen. McCain's flip-flop is that the one part of his resume that is always lurking behind his rhetoric on national security is his military service, during which he was detained by the North Vietnamese and tortured. One would have thought that experience alone would have tempered his attitude on the subject once and for all. But that was then, and this is now, and McCain is running for President.

He's beginning to make Mitt Romney look like a rank amateur.