Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday Catblogging

Most of us have long been aware that black cats occasionally are in danger around Halloween from the kind of sadists who are actually only somewhat less dangerous the rest of the year, to all of us. Adoption agencies usually are very reluctant to adopt out black cats in October.

Aside from the Christian accusations there are also old myths that may attribute bad luck to cats. Supposedly, King Charles I of England owned a black cat and the day it died he was arrested. An old sailor's legend said that meeting cats in the shipyard meant an unpleasant voyage of storms or other bad luck. In Babylonian folklore a curled up cat on the hearth is seen as similar to evil serpent.

Often times a cat will exhibit strange actions like seeing something that is unseen or batting at nothing in the air. This coupled with their amazing ability to see well in near darkness has created the myth that cats can see spirits or ghosts, another potentially evil pastime.

During witch trials, cats were often tortured and killed by Christian puritans along with the supposed witches. Some thought that witches had the ability to change shape into a cat, others thought that both cats and witches are evil so they must be in cahoots. Many people also think that witches sacrifice cats during their rituals which is foolish because witchcraft is a very nature-friendly religion. However, due to communal reinforcement, to this day many animal shelters will not allow the adoption of cats around Halloween for fear of their abuse.

However, not every culture thought that black cats were bad luck. The ancient Egyptians treated cats with utmost respect. They were considered kingly animals and to kill one was a capital offence. The ancient Egyptians even went as far as to mummify their cats when they died to preserve them for the afterlife. They had a deity with the head of a cat named Bast to which they dedicated their mummified cats. The ancient Egyptians weren't the only culture who thought cats were special.


Terrorism, Administration Aiming Weapon at Itself

I have listened over the course of a few afternoons in Dallas Federal Court to a complete perversion of our court systems to harass Muslim charities. The trial is one of several attempts by our Justice Department to connect longtime charities with terrorism. Previous ones have all failed.

I was not at all surprised, after this experience, to hear about an ongoing bungling operation in the Middle East, the designation of a group as terrorists for totally political reasons. The group is protected by our military, while it is called terrorist by our occupied White House. This country is a laughing stock throughout the world for the ignorance of its foreign policy.

The MEK, Mujahideen-e Khalq, was designated as terrorist in 1997 in the course of an attempt to initiate warmer political relationships with Iran. They have been used against the government of Iran, and protected as an ally, although their designation as terrorists continues. The situation is as full of ludicrous use of our powers internationally as is the prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation. It looks like one more indication that ignorance in the executive branch has prevented this country from formulating a rational, operative foreign policy.

An episode on Frontline, Showdown With Iran, (10/23/2007) included interviews with longtime active Middle Eastern correspondents and U.S. government officials concerning MEK. The following delineates the problem in its present form, an interview with Alireza Jafarzadeh, Former spokesman, National Council of Resistance - the organization of those resisting the present government in Iran.

The Iranians officials told us that in the meetings in Baghdad they laid out what they said was evidence that the MEK was providing intelligence to the U.S. military. Are they?

The Mujahideen-e Khalq have been providing information about the Iranian regime's operations both in terms of their terrorist operation and their nuclear weapons program in open, public press conferences to the whole world. ...

... What I'm asking is more specific. Are they, to your knowledge, having discussions about intelligence of what Iran is doing inside Iraq?

I think the Mujahideen-e Khalq in Camp Ashraf, to the best of my knowledge, are having discussions about the security of Iraq which directly affects their own situation, their own security in Ashraf, as well as the security of Iraqis, as well as the security of the Americans who are present there. ...

... I'm talking about knowledge of what Iran is doing inside Iraq. Are they discussing that directly with U.S. officials?

I'm not aware of all the details of their discussions. But I know in general the Mujahideen-e Khalq in Camp Ashraf have been meeting with the U.S. military officials, the United States officials in that country dealing with the situation of their own security and dealing with the issue of their own protected rights. ...

... [How do you respond to the allegations that the MEK is a terrorist organization and that it killed American citizens in the 1970s?]

This is absolutely false. Not only the Mujahideen have denied this, they have been very up front saying that those six American servicemen who were killed at the time of the shah some 30 years ago were killed in the hands of some elements who had infiltrated and staged a coup d'etat within the organization at the time that the organization was under tremendous pressure by the shah. And those individuals also killed the Mujahideen-e Khalq members as well as those Americans. So this organization is not responsible for the acts of people who went their own way and killed the members of this organization, and they also condemned it at that time. ...

[Why do you think, then, that the MEK is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizaions?]

... The terrorist designation of the Mujahideen-e Khalq back in 1997, only weeks after [former President Mohammad] Khatami took office as the new moderate president of the Iranian regime, was a clear political move on the part of the State Department, as a goodwill gesture to Tehran. In fact, the Clinton administration officials are on the record ... that the designation was meant to open up relations between the United States and the Khatami government at that time. And there was no justification whatsoever for that designation.

Plus the fact that all the members of the military structure of the Mujahideen-e Khalq, which the [U.S.] Army had in Camp Ashraf in Iraq, were subjected to 16 months of detailed investigation, and not even one single person could be charged with terrorism. So the question is, where are the terrorists? And what is this terrorism charge?

And how in the world is it that this organization that has provided the most valuable information to the whole world about the nuclear weapons program of the Iran regime, about the terror network of the ayatollahs, is getting on the terrorist list? Yet the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, which is the backbone of the terror machine of Tehran, they're not even on that terrorist list? ... That's an irony.

Update, Oct. 25, 2007: On Oct. 25, 2007, the Bush administration announced new unilateral sanctions against Iran. Most notably, the administration named Iran's Revolutionary Guard and its Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics "entitites of proliferation concern" regarding weapons of mass destruction. It also targeted the Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force for "providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations." Washington Post writer and longtime Iran observer Robin Wright called the sanctions "the broadest set of punitive measures imposed on Tehran since the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy" and "the first time the United States has tried to isolate or punish another country's military."

The unilateralism that distinguishes policies the administration has followed have resulted in breakdowns in all areas of government. Abroad, the end of the regime is regarded with relief, and at home much the same. Rational conduct of foreign affairs is the absolute minimum any country can look for from its government. It has been completely lacking in all its operations by the existing one.

The harassment of legitimate organizations is a disgrace, as is the Department of Justice's politicization. They can't be ended soon enough.

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Another Slap-Down

Another federal judge has chastised Justice Department lawyers handling cases against Guantanamo Bay detainees. This time it was U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who is the judge in a habeas corpus case filed by Binyam Mohammed, a Moroccan who had been a resident of Great Britain. The judicial rebuke was a strong one, according to the Washington Post.

A federal judge yesterday questioned the motives of Justice Department lawyers for withdrawing allegations linking a Guantanamo Bay detainee to a "dirty bomb" plot in the United States shortly before they were required to hand over exculpatory evidence to the defense.

"That raises serious questions in this court's mind about whether those allegations were ever true," said U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who is overseeing a lawsuit brought by Binyam Mohammed, 30, a resident of Britain who is challenging his detention at the U.S. military facility in Cuba. Sullivan warned that "someone is going to rue the day those allegations were made" if it turns out that the government had evidence that they were unfounded.
[Emphasis added]

Binyam Mohammad's lawyers have maintained that their client was picked up by the US in 2002 and then shipped to Morocco where he was tortured until he confessed to what his captors wanted, a scenario all too familiar to those following the detention and "trials" of those being held at the Guantanamo prison camp. Mr. Mohammad, however, had the good fortune to be a resident of Great Britain, where the High Court took a hard look at his case, and some of their findings are among the evidence the Justice Department was ordered to hand over.

A day before yesterday's hearing, the United States turned over intelligence documents related to Mohammed that have been the subject of judgments by the British High Court. The British government discovered the documents in its files and declared them potentially exculpatory, but said it preferred they be handed over by the United States because they include classified material from U.S. agencies.

The U.S. government initially resisted, releasing only seven documents, but on Wednesday it turned over the 35 remaining ones. The British court strongly hinted that it would release them if the United States refused to do so.

British officials also told the High Court this week that the "question of possible criminal wrongdoing" in Mohammed's case has been referred to the country's attorney general for investigation. It was unclear from a letter to the British court whether the probe would focus only on the actions of British agents or could also charge U.S. officials.

Hence the sudden back-pedal by the Justice Department, a maneuver department lawyers are getting quite adept at. When forced to turn over evidence, the department quite regularly drops charges which will be deemed ludicrous in light of the evidence. Department officials, naturally have a different spin, a spin Judge Sullivan wasn't buying:

The allegations against Mohammed are now essentially reduced to his having attended terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.

"We have simplified this case to its bare essence," Andrew I. Warden, a Justice Department lawyer, told Sullivan.

"That doesn't ring true; it rings hollow," Sullivan said. "The government has never been concerned with acting expeditiously here."


So, for the past six years a young man has been held by the US (with, allegedly, a two year stint in Morocco) for the dastardly deed of attending training camps. Now it seems to me that even if he is guilty of that charge, six years should be enough of a sentence. This administration has made it quite clear that even the innocent will not be released from detention, so at this point, Mr. Mohammad's future doesn't look too bright.

Some justice, eh?

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thursday Birdblogging

The RedTailed Hawk is always an exciting sight, and not uncommon at all here.

They are nice for me, easy to identify by that red tail.


Writing For Profits in Flyover Land

One thing I will always be grateful for is that I never was forced to write for the audience that my local writers consider their 'base'. I was writing for a small paper here for awhile, and had text corrected to make figures relating to racial background changed into figures tracked back to income and location. Six of one, half a dozen of another, in a way, but editorial insistence that news was subject to reader inclinations made my career a short one.

Today I have some pity for Karl Leubsdorf, the Washington Bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News. His column today picks a main reason for the Democrats' increasingly promising polling returns: superior fundraising. Funny, that's the same thing a fundraising letter from the McAyn campaign used as its scarey line. According to my letter, it's that Democrat fundraising machine that is about to make all of us who got this letter lose our rightful place at the trough. We need to send our money in quick, or the left will get into office.

I guess it's just not in backwards press contributors' best interest to tell its readers that the country has experienced a disaster because of rightwing policies. It would be risky indeed to point out that eight years of favoring the rich at the expense of working people has resulted in economic catastrophe.

This time, it's the Democrats who believe they are headed for what could become their party's biggest victory in more than 40 years and the Republicans who are bracing for a potentially devastating defeat.

Though both sides caution that the outcome could yet change, it's clear what has created this situation.

In strictly political terms, Barack Obama and the Democrats have out-performed John McCain and the Republicans. They've raised more money, spent it strategically and created an organization equal, if not superior, to the one Republicans built in 2004.

They've focused laser-like on a half-dozen states that voted Republican in recent years, like Virginia and Colorado, while the McCain campaign made a late play for Pennsylvania and played defense elsewhere in hopes of winning a narrow electoral margin.

Mr. Obama has done his share of negative campaigning, but mostly in paid advertising. The Republicans have done more on the stump. Mr. Obama has also developed and maintained a single rationale for his candidacy, while Mr. McCain has flitted from one approach to another.

Ah, there at the end, our writer dares to point out that there is a touch of substance involved in this successful campaign. Flitting from one approach to another is certainly going to lose you votes. Of course, if your approach had some rational basis to it ... oh, silly me. There is a growing crowd of disappointed readers, a group that you don't want to insult with the facts.

Be very glad you don't depend for a living on pandering to the right wing. They've shown for eight years that the facts are not going to impress them. I will just be comfortable I never had to play up to the element the GOP needs to depend on for votes, or in flyover land for readers. I'm not sure I could think up anything screwy enough for that crowd.

Thank you for your good sense, readers.


It was a bit of a shock to go out to lunch at a place I frequented when I was working in Dallas, getting a bill twice what I had been used to paying. Salaries haven't gone up. Your lunch costs twice what it did a couple of years ago. That's not a hard equation for reality based voters.

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Our Ms. Brooks: Booby Traps

Rosa Brooks' current column takes a look at some of foreign policy "challenges" that the next administration will face, challenges that have been put in place by the current administration.

...every new president is "tested" by national security crises, some predictable, some not. And I'm a lot less worried about the tests "the world" may offer Obama than about the national security booby traps the Bush administration is leaving behind for him.

Start with Iraq. The Dow's gyrations have pushed it off the front pages, but it's still there -- along with nearly 150,000 U.S. troops (compare this to "pre-surge" troop levels of 132,000 to 135,000). And the administration appears to be doing its best to make Obama's planned troop drawdown difficult.

We can't leave behind a stable Iraq without the cooperation of Iraq's neighbors, but this week's cross-border raid by Iraq-based U.S. troops into Syrian territory led Syria to break off high-level diplomatic contacts with U.S. officials -- contacts that had only recently been resumed. Heated negotiations over the future status of U.S. forces in Iraq have further increased tensions with Syria, Iran and the Iraqi government, which fear permanent U.S. military activities in the region. The current impasse in status-of-forces negotiations also threatens to leave U.S. troops in Iraq with no legal basis for their presence when their United Nations mandate expires Dec. 31. Happy New Year, Barack!

Then there's Afghanistan.

The Bush administration followed early military successes with grandiose promises of democracy and prosperity, then mostly ignored Afghanistan for the next six years. Meanwhile, the Taliban reconstituted itself, Al Qaeda leaders slipped away into Pakistan's ungoverned tribal regions, and U.S. troops found themselves playing an increasingly deadly game of Whac-a-Mole against an elusive and ill-defined enemy. According to the latest national intelligence estimate, Afghanistan is now in a possibly irreversible "downward spiral." ...

...after years of Bush administration malfeasance, increasing U.S. troop levels without an accompanying dramatic shift in regional strategy risks turning Afghanistan into another Iraq.

Or worse, because the Afghan booby trap is wired tightly to the Pakistan booby trap. Pakistan is the proud but horrifyingly unstable possessor of a nuclear arsenal. If the escalating conflicts in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions spin out of control, we could end up in another Iraq-like situation -- only with weapons of mass destruction in the mix for real this time.

That's a pretty devastating set of challenges for the next president, presumably Barack Obama, and that list is hardly exhaustive. The nuclear agreement with North Korea is still not firmly nailed down. The Israeli-Palestinian question is even further from resolution than it was when Bush took office. Russia is still resisting the current administration's push for missile defense sites in countries bordering it. Relations with key Latin American countries such as Venezuela are in tatters. The bizarre "Africom" plan to install a military presence in African nations to allegedly do the work of the State Department has many sub-Saharan nations bristling.

Moreover, that's just the foreign policy side of what Obama will be inheriting. Here at home the next president will have a teetering economy, a broken national infrastructure, states about to ask for bailouts, and a home-based "security" system which has openly trashed the Bill of Rights in its massive domestic spying programs.

And he'll have just four years to make substantial improvements in all of these areas lest he receive the blame for the mess the country is in.

It almost looks deliberate, doesn't it?

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008


There are really quite enough unpleasant things hanging around for us to be bothered by without inventing more stereotypes like Joe the Plumber. Here at cabdrollery, we make a bit of fun of the Wise Cabbie who always seems to have the right answer to readers' quandaries. We have fun with it, but somehow there always is a demagogue to make these stereotypes the highest standard, and hang their latest ideology on them.

Yes, I have a really decent plumber, who has been around this little town long enough to be familiar with my nonstandard type of plumbing. He's licensed and doesn't plan to buy out his boss, and if he cares about my taxes he's kept it to himself. Now I'm supposed to think because he might one day be earning a quarter million dollars, he's reason enough to keep an economic disaster going? No, thanks.

I see a lot of Obama's signs in our town, and I am very reassured by knowing that there are many here who want to turn the rascals out of office, no matter what their color may be. It's especially nice to know that stereotypes aren't strong enough to persuade everyone that they have to have their own race in office to be comfortable. Next thing you know my neighbors may even feel safe in New York City... or Philadelphia.

I would like very much to find out that electing Sen. Obama to the presidency will end the unfortunate history of this country of discrimination, much as the election of JFK was the end of bias against catholics in office for much of the country. It really is time we all saw that anyone, of any color, any background or any religion, can do a good job governing if they make that their aim.

Stereotyping has shown it is wrong, altogether. It is past time we stopped promoting the myth that only common folks can command our respect, or see the truth.

Historically speaking, conservatism is a movement organized and funded by society's most powerful members; politically speaking, it lusts for tax cuts and government rollbacks that will benefit those same fortunate folks at the top.

But what it really is, in its own mind, is a crusade on behalf of society's most abject members: the true Americans who are victimized, sneered at and persecuted for their faithfulness.

Who persecutes them? Well, the mainstream media, to begin with, which supposedly chuckles at their unadorned heartland ways from its lofty perches in New York and Washington. Academics, for another, with their fancy rhetoric and their bottomless contempt for the red, white and blue. And the ACLU, for a third, with its unceasing war on Ten Commandments monuments and Nativity scenes.

Then there is "the culture." Who is the butt of every joke you see on TV? Oafish Middle Americans. From sitcoms to Hollywood blockbusters to ads, their customs are disrespected in a thousand ways. Bestselling conservative books remind average citizens, in fantastic detail, the slanders and slights the world heaps upon them.

Apply this way of thinking to politics and every part of the conversation comes unmoored from reality, drifting off into an endless metaconversation about who's disrespecting whom.

Last week I mentioned Joe the Plumber, the Ohio everyman whose distaste for Barack Obama's tax plan has made him a staple of John McCain's stump speeches in these final days of the 2008 campaign. What I didn't mention was the dark nimbus of cultural grievance that is sometimes present when conservatives comment on the unassuming Buckeye proletarian.

Apparently it's not enough to agree with the Plumber on tax matters; one must also deplore Joe's rough treatment at the hands of the media mob, which checked up on his plumbing license and such when Joe became a campaign prop. Certain bloggers find this so horrifying they speak of Joe's martyrdom. Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass described Joe's treatment as a decapitation, with the Plumber's severed head impaled on a "media pike." Stock proletarian #2, Tito the Builder, won his own GOP spurs not so much for his thoughts on taxes but for the way he confronted a crowd of reporters at a rally in Virginia and demanded, "Why the hell are you going after Joe the Plumber?"

Can't we judge without these labels forever getting in the way?

I voted for Sen. Obama last week. I feel very confident from what I've seen of the job he's done that our country will be well off in his care.

On the other hand, voting for some one who'd done a rotten job, and had experience that proved he can't do the job - I'd feel a lot better about this country if I knew that he'd not be getting the vote to be our president because he was the right color, the right religion, or the right name for them to check off on their ballot. I look forward to a day when the vote goes to the person who's shown the character, and the ability, to make good government their highest aim. But maybe I'm a dreamer.

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Multiple Personality Disorder

I find myself endlessly fascinated by the international coverage of our election. The rest of the world pays much more attention to our campaign shenanigans than most Americans pay to other countries' national elections. I suspect that is due in large part to the "American Exceptionalism" meme, although the last eight years should have discredited that myth forever.

At any rate, I found a rather perceptive analysis of the current disarray in the Republican Party in The Times of London this morning.

A party that only four years ago appeared so disciplined and dominant as it delivered President Bush a second term is now divided in the face of an anticipated rout that may give Democrats unfettered power across Washington.

Mr Bush's legacy — unfinished wars, a tainted reputation for competence, record high spending, a global economic crisis and the effective nationalisation of the financial system — have shaken loose the ideological cement that once bound the Republican party together.

This has left national security realists at odds with “neocon” hawks over Iraq, fiscal conservatives railing against the bailout of Wall Street, and the Religious right — “theo-cons” — skirmishing with the party leadership over what it regards as a too-timid approach on issues such as abortion, civil partnerships and illegal immigration.

Such fractures in the coalition, apparent in a primary campaign which John McCain won despite securing significantly less than half the vote, have become infected with gangrene during the presidential election.

Threatened with open revolt if he picked the independent Democrat Joe Lieberman as his running-mate, Mr McCain hoped to galvanise his party by choosing Sarah Palin. The result has been a dysfunctional campaign.

That certainly is a nice, tight, and accurate summation of the last eight years, but I think the problems facing Republicans had their roots much further back, at least as far back as Reagan when that presidential campaign and the subsequent administration put into play such tactics as the Southern Strategy and relied more on wishful thinking than actual reality. What we are seeing is the logical conclusion of those startling extremist policies.

And then along came George W. Bush, whose incompetence in business matters had been well-documented but totally ignored by his party and the US press. He was charming, folksy, somebody one could have a beer with. He was also "smart" enough to "select" Dick Cheney as his Vice President, thereby opening the doors to the White House for the Neo-cons to stroll through with their plans for a war, any war, to make the US the sole imperial presence in the world.

We should have seen the disaster coming, and many of us did, but it took Bush and his cohort eight years to bring the country to its knees economically, militarily, and constitutionally. That is the reality that Bush "created."

A pretty sizable chunk of the country has figured all of this out. Any candidate the GOP put up would have had a tough time, but the one the party ultimately decided on (because he wasn't the Mormon) not only was incapable of running a decent campaign, he also isn't charming or folksy. And his selection of a running mate, his nod to the "theo-cons" (a term I find stunningly brilliant), has backfired big time.

It appears, at least at this point, that the genie is refusing to return to the bottle for the GOP, so the wailing will continue long after the election.

Consequences: the Republican Party haz dem.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Now THIS Is What I Call Good News

An emailed "breaking news" report from the Sacramento Bee was waiting for me in my email box when I got home, and this is one time I was glad to see it. It appears that California will break the right kind of record by Friday.

The deadline for reporting pre-election registration is Friday, but preliminary counts already exceed 17 million - higher than the state's previous best of 16.6 million, Nicole Winger, spokeswoman for the secretary of state, said Tuesday.

The soaring rolls are good news for Democrats, who held a lead of nearly 12 percentage points over Republicans in statewide voter registration through Sept. 5, the most recent figures available.

Democrats totaled 43.9 percent of all voters, compared to 32.3 percent for Republicans, the latter representing the lowest GOP percentage in any of the last four presidential elections, the September statistics show.
[Emphasis added]

OK, I'll cop to being thrilled at the successful registration of Democrats over Republicans, and I'll also be admit to being a bit puzzled by the growing number of "independents," who are actually more of the "decline to state" than the true independent stripe. Still, the next statistic really knocked my socks off.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen estimates that 69.8 percent of eligible adults had registered to vote through Sept. 5. ...

That is staggering, given the statistics for the last 16 years at least (my memory ain't so good any further back). More than two-thirds of California citizens who are eligible to vote are registered. Amazing.

I suspect that part of the reason for the increased registration in California is the presidential election choices involved, and another the incredible on-the-ground Obama organization. A third part certainly has to be that scalding-hot issue of Proposition 8 put forward by the Religious Reich and their cohorts to stop the recognition of those rights enjoyed by heterosexuals for forever to homosexuals.

But, I'll tell you what: I think something else is afoot.

I think Americans, all Americans, have finally been roused from their passivity because the disastrous programs of the last 20 years have finally come to fruition. Jobs aren't secure. Being able to afford home heating, rent/mortgage payments, and food is no longer a given, whether one is employed at one or even two jobs. Kids aren't being adequately educated. Families can't afford even basic health care, and when injuries or illnesses hit, there no longer is a safety net.

This may finally be the election when Americans get off their backsides and let the politicos know just how pissed they are at the fact that only the top 3% are doing well, and the rest of us are scuffling just to survive.

A revolution? Well, I wouldn't go that far, but it certainly is an encouraging start. And I daresay that a whole lot of that 3% are feeling really nervous right now.

To which I say, "Good."


Convenient Dumping

Well, now. Here's a great idea: after an individual with an Hispanic surname completes his prison term, deport him to Mexico,even if he's an American citizen. That's what happened to Guillermo Olivares Romero, according to this article in the Los Angeles Times.

Federal authorities have released a Los Angeles man from immigration detention after acknowledging that he is a U.S. citizen.

Guillermo Olivares Romero, 25, was held at an Otay Mesa detention center from Sept. 25 until Oct. 9, when an American Civil Liberties Union attorney presented his birth certificate, school and vaccination records to immigration authorities. He was released that day. ...

Olivares, who has criminal convictions for robbery and forgery, had been deported twice and denied entry into the United States multiple times. Olivares said he and his mother, a legal permanent resident, showed authorities his birth certificate many times.

Immigration authorities had an excuse at the ready: allegedly Mr. Olivares claimed to have been born in Mexico several times. Apparently that trumped the documentation he held stating otherwise. So, whenever he attempted to return, he was turned away, and as a result, lost out on a chance to visit his dying father.

It wasn't until a lawyer showed up armed with the same birth certificate and a few other documents that the feds backed down. Nice, eh?

Lurking in plain view in the article is the implication that because he has a rap sheet and a funny last name, Mr. Olivares doesn't deserve his citizenship. Of course, the fact that he served out his sentence doesn't enter into the equation. Apparently he doesn't get a second chance, and that unlegislated sentence is apparently eternal.



Monday, October 27, 2008

And While We're At It ...

Voter fraud. Vote suppression. Rigged elections. Purged voters' lists. Hacked and hackable voting machines. The accusations are flying hot and heavy from both parties and the tensions are even higher than they were in 2004. Now it's time for a little rational discourse on the issue of vote manipulations, and I was delighted to see some solid proposals made by an expert in today's Los Angeles Times.

Charles Stewart III is a professor of political science at MIT and co-director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project. His op-ed piece notes the charges and counter-charges and comes up with some pretty straightforward proposals to fix things.

So, eight years after the Florida hanging-chad fiasco, we find ourselves in a deep irony. Elections undoubtedly are better-run now. However, a combination of greater media attention to election-system failures, transitional chaos and razor-thin election margins have increased anxieties. Unfortunately, as the recent turn against ACORN has reminded us, it is a small step from attacking shenanigans to creating the impression among partisans that the other guy won by fraudulent means.

What to do? To stop attacks on voting machines (and thus remove any taint from Republican victories), states need laws that ensure a clear chain of custody for all machines and ballots before an election, require thorough audits of the machines after an election and make all software open to public scrutiny. Some states, including California, have made progress in this area, but most have not.

To stop attacks on groups like ACORN (and thus remove any taint from the victories of Democrats), states must do a much better job of registering new voters. The best practice in this regard is election-day registration, which puts the business of voter registration back in the hands of election officials, where it belongs, in a setting that is the extreme of convenience for voters. Eight states allow voters to register at the polls. California and other states should adopt this reform.

That's certainly a good start. I'd add paper trails and mandatory audits for those damned machines and the enforcement of election laws already on the books to facilitate voter registration. It's too late to change the angst already engendered by this election, but it should be a congressional priority in 2009 so that by the mid-term elections come along in 2010, a lot of this crap won't once again rise up and bite us.

Voters this time around need to be reminded that their responsibilities as citizens don't end on November 4. That's just the start. Banging on doors in DC (and local offices) and a steady barrage of emails, faxes, and letters needs to be directed at the people who need to be reminded what their jobs are.

Make it so.

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It Is To Laugh ...

... But only if you are given to bitter, sardonic laughter.

The charge by Sen. John McCain and the Republican Party that Democrats are trying to steal the election is a startling, but classic case of hypocritical misdirection. After a decade of purging voter lists, heightened this year by the attempt to remove the right to vote from those whose homes are in foreclosure, and adding unnecessary requirements at the polls such as government issued photo IDs, the Republicans are focusing on faulty registration lists submitted by ACORN, which itself reported the irregularities to government election officials, and claiming Obama is wrecking the fabric of citizen participation.

From today's NY Times.

Senator John McCain warned at the last presidential debate that the Nov. 4 election could be marred by voter fraud and added that Acorn, an organizing group in minority and low-income communities, was “now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” ...

Voting rights advocates say the Republicans’ accusations of fraud (even though party operatives themselves face possible charges of fraud, most notably in California) are part of a deliberate strategy to create confusion among voters, to galvanize the conservative base and to set the table for possible legal challenges of voters at the polls and of the election results.

“There’s always been a struggle, throughout the country’s history, over who could vote, how their votes would be counted,” said Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, “and this is not that different, but it does seem more strategic this year. The same arguments are being made all over the country at the same time.”

Robert F. Bauer, who is general counsel for the Obama campaign and is overseeing its voter protection program, said that what was different this year was “the very aggressive involvement of the top of the ticket in promoting this fear message.” Mr. Bauer said this was intended to create “an ominous atmosphere” to discourage people from voting.

“I don’t recall in recent history,” he added, “a presidential candidate before the fact trying to suggest in a nationally televised debate that the entire electoral system was under assault, the fabric of democracy was at risk.”
[Emphasis added]

You will notice that Sen. McCain has said nothing about the Republican contractor who was arrested in California for registering himself at a childhood address (noted here) and whose employees fraudulently registered voters as Republicans by telling the citizens they were signing a petition to increase penalties for child molesters.

It's clear McCain has nothing, so much nothing that Republicans down the ballot will be affected. All he has left is cheap tricks and disgusting lies. What's next? How about ICE agents in plainly marked windbreakers at the polls in Hispanic neighborhoods. Or maybe uniformed cops in front of the polls in Black neighborhoods. My guess he and his party will do everything they can to keep voters home and away from the polls, because a low turnout means they, not the Democrats, will be able to steal the election once again.

Hopefully, all the registered voters who have been turned off by the Republican way of doing business the last ten years will be so angry at this latest bullshit tactic that they turn out early on election day and refuse to fall for any of this nonsense. It worked in 2006. It will work again.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday Poetry: Hilda Doolittle


O wind, rend open the heat,
Cut apart the heat,
Rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
Through this thick air --
Fruit cannot fall into heat
That presses up and blunts
The points of pears
And rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat --
Plough through it,
Turning it on either side
Of your path.

Hilda "H.D." Doolittle

Conservative Christians For Obama?

It's pretty much agreed that John McCain selected Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate more to woo back the Religious Reich than out of any appreciation for her maverickiness, no matter what he claims. Will it work? Well, the Magic 8 Ball on my desk says, "Probably Not." Too much else has come down the pike in the last several months, and Sen. McCain has not exactly appeared to be the Gallant Knight prepared to slay the multiple dragons now breathing fire upon the land. Is this the election in which the fundagelicals will finally vote in their own economic self interest? Or will they swallow hard, nod to La Palin, and cast their vote for the GOP candidates in the hopes that God will call McCain home, leaving power in the hands of one of their own.

I found an interesting analysis of this issue in German's Die Tageszeitung, via Watching America.

The basic prohibition against abortion, the right to keep and bear arms and godliness in the Christian sense: this triumvirate forms the framework of the conservative worldview that propelled George W. Bush into the White House. In Europe, many Obama supporters believe the election will be a battle of cultures. But many U.S. voters will pragmatically make their decision based on other, more pressing priorities – without having to toss their basic beliefs overboard. ...

The influence of evangelical Christians in the United States has grown constantly in recent years. During the 2004 election, the evangelical vote accounted for more than 40 percent of the Republican total. The central tenet of these Christians – that the Bible must be taken literally and not interpreted for modern times – has worldwide political consequences from stem cell research to Middle Eastern policy. Evangelicals reject the theory of evolution and believe mankind was divinely created according to the biblical account. Serious surveys in the United States show that a majority believes man was created no more than 10,000 years ago.

It would be naïve to assume that people with such fundamental beliefs will be re-oriented toward more up-to-the-minute questions. But one likely scenario is this: the bigger Obama’s margin of victory, the more evident it will be that evangelical voters played a large part in that victory – and the greater the probability that he will have to address their concerns. A presidential election will happen on November 4th, not a cultural war.

The conclusion, then, is that many evangelicals will vote for Obama and immediately press for acknowledgment and gratitude from the new president by way of appointments and laws that favor their point of views.

While I have no doubt that the Christian Right will expect such largess from the next President (whether Obama or McCain), I don't think they should necessarily hold their collective breath if it is Obama. Look, there's no arguing that conservative Christians have been wielding a lot of power the last ten years or so, but I think that power is way out of proportion to their numbers. Yes, they are louder than liberals and, yes, they actually vote, but I think the rest of the country is ready for a move towards the center, perhaps even to the left of center after more than a decade of righter than right governing.

Furthermore, many younger evangelicals do not espouse the same rigid belief systems that the leaders of the last twenty or more years have hammered into the nation's consciousness. Many are less into the rhetoric of creationism and more into preserving the creation and serving the less fortunate of its inhabitants. The guard is changing.

I could be wrong (and it certainly wouldn't be the first time), but I'm optimistic we are about to see the end of the tyranny of the Religious Reich. For that to happen, however, the rest of America has to turn out to vote on November 4.

May it be so.

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Treatment of Youth Funded by Pharma

The Texas Youth Prison system has come under well-deserved criticism after abuse and maltreatment were turned up. Now it seems to get the drugs to mistreat kids, researchers turned to pharmaceutical companies for the funds to study those companies' products.

-Pharmaceutical company money, initially rejected as being ethically questionable, was eventually sought and used by researchers developing a list of preferred psychiatric drugs for children in state care, according to documents reviewed by The Dallas Morning News.

A spot on the since-suspended children's drug plan could have meant millions to pharmaceutical firms. The documents released to The News were collected by the Texas attorney general's office, which is suing a pharmaceutical company accused of trying to influence researchers on a similar adult drug plan.

Citing the pending lawsuit over the adult plan, officials in two state health agencies declined to comment on the Children's Medication Algorithm Project, or CMAP – which was put on indefinite hold in May. The researchers have insisted that pharmaceutical companies never influenced their work.

The CMAP records obtained by The News don't refute this. Nor were the researchers banned from soliciting funding from drug companies.

However, the records reflect a common pattern in state and university medical programs. Unable to get ample government funding, researchers are increasingly forced to rely on drug company money – even when it's their last resort.

When CMAP was started in the late 1990s, researchers were loath to accept pharmaceutical grant funding. At an April 1998 meeting, "it was concluded that we should try to avoid this if possible," according to minutes of a meeting between CMAP researchers.

By June 1999, researchers needed more grant money and had changed their minds. CMAP's director, M. Lynn Crismon, head of the University of Texas College of Pharmacy, wrote to at least 10 drug companies, asking for donations.

"Although we have received grant funding in support of this effort," he wrote, "these amounts fall short of the funds required to complete this important outcomes project."

By late that year, CMAP budgets included pledges for $10,000 a year from Wyeth and Pfizer, an $80,000 one-time grant from Forest Laboratories, and $70,000 from Eli Lilly. While a few of the line items seem to limit the grant to CMAP's "patient and family education" program, others are listed as unrestricted CMAP "research gifts."

When, in 2006, questions surfaced about drug company connections to the adult drug plan, however, CMAP researchers were again cautious about drug company money.

And as recently as this spring, Dr. Crismon assured top state health officials there was no pharmaceutical link to CMAP, saying that any drug company money was used for a patient and family education study unrelated to CMAP.

The incredible malfunction of TX government continues to amaze. Anyone with any relative caught up in this system ought to take the time, and trouble, to extract them. Our legal system is needed to correct this system from top to bottom.

The state has shown over and over again that it does not qualify to run any system, much less one that has troubled youth in its charge.

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Happy Days Make Them Crazy

The polling news looks better all the time, and it's tempting to revel in it. Guess that's what brings out the ugliness on the right that we're seeing. Tom Toles' cartoon showing McAyn returning to primal mud is all too appropriate. The kind of seething we are seeing on the right sounds a lot like the vibrato of defeat.

US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has accused his Republican rival John McCain of negative campaigning 10 days before polling day.

Mr Obama, appearing in Nevada, said the "ugly phone calls, the misleading mail and TV ads, the careless, outrageous comments" were preventing "change".

Mr McCain accused Mr Obama in New Mexico of starting a victory lap before winning the election.

The two men are focusing on vital states in the west of the country.

Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado were all Republican at the last election but could prove crucial if the vote is tight on 4 November.

All the main national opinion polls suggest Barack Obama has a strong lead.

Dallas news this morning reported some one advising people at a voting place to vote Straight Democratic ticket, then for Obama, if they wanted their vote to count. Of course, doing that would disqualify the vote. The advice came from some one in a car that was covered with McAyn bumper stickers. These right wingers are all trash, proving it over and over again. They're losing because they really hate democracy. We are winning because we want to do what's right.

Can I relax and enjoy it soon? It's been a long time coming. The disaster that this country has experienced over the past eight years should be enough cure for any future tendency to turn it back over to the crooks again. As Dr. Krugman notes, the rightwing candidate's incomprehension stands out.

Mr. McCain seems spectacularly unable to talk about economics as if it matters. He has attempted to pin the blame for the crisis on his pet grievance, Congressional budget earmarks — which leaves economists scratching their heads in puzzlement.
The McCain campaign’s response to its falling chances of victory has been telling: rather than trying to make the case that Mr. McCain really is better qualified to deal with the economic crisis, the campaign has been doing all it can to trivialize things again. Mr. Obama consorts with ’60s radicals! He’s a socialist! He doesn’t love America! Judging from the polls, it doesn’t seem to be working.

Just not getting it makes a pretty good sumnation of the right. They had an ideology rather than an idea, it proved wrong. Now they're getting ugly.

The ugliness is just another sign of the character we've been governed by for those eight dark years. We can hope it will fade out quickly and thoroughly ... and the horse they rode in on. We're ready for some happy days again.

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The NEW New World Order

Professor Andrew Bacevich of Boston University and author of "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism" has an interesting op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times. He notes that in the midst of the election campaign and the economic crisis, most folks failed to note the dramatic reversal of the Bush Administration when it came to North Korea. This Stalinist country went from one part of the Axis of Evil with whom the US would never negotiate to a country which successfully negotiated its removal from the State Department list of countries who harbor terrorists. How could this have happened under the cocky self-assurance of George W. Bush?

The professor's thesis is that the country's zeitgeist in 2001 is not the zeitgeist of 2008, and the country which once embraced its role as the leader of the unipolar world (the "Age of Triumphalism") is now sick of the responsibilities that role entailed. As a result, the nation's leaders don't have the backing of the people in carrying on that role:

The reality is that when it comes to statecraft, policies devised in Washington frequently express not so much the carefully calculated intentions of the nation's leaders as the people's frame of mind.

Following 9/11, "the people's frame of mind" was pretty clear, and Prof. Bacevich notes that President Bush was fully aware of it.

His presidency began with the Age of American Triumphalism at its zenith. When Bush entered office in 2001, America's status as sole superpower was self-evident and seemingly irrefutable. As the indispensable nation, the United States presided over a unipolar order. The emery board of globalization was sanding away the world's rough edges and gradually remaking it in America's own image. Commentators vied to find the appropriate historical analogy. The consensus: America was the new Rome, only more so.

Bush's response to 9/11 reflected this widespread sense of assurance and entitlement. The Bush doctrine of preventive war, the president's impatient, with-us-or-against-us attitude, his disdain for international opinion and international law, his confidence that American military power, once unleashed, would quickly bring evildoers to justice or justice to evildoers -- and above all his conviction that the people of the Islamic world thirsted for freedom American-style -- all of these made explicit precepts that had been germinating during the post-Cold War decade of the 1990s. Bush was merely expressing in a crude vernacular -- "Bring 'em on!" -- ideas and attitudes to which the majority of Americans already subscribed.

Today those ideas and attitudes have become the equivalent of an oversized SUV: They no longer sell. Not least among Bush's errors in judgment has been his failure to appreciate just how ephemeral the Age of Triumphalism would prove to be.

Eight years is a pretty short time frame, yet so much happened in those eight years that I think more was at work than the notorious short attention span of Americans. The kinds of sacrifices that the citizenry were asked to make turned out to be pretty drastic.

We were asked to send our sons and daughters off to fight two wars, both of them still ongoing and going poorly seven years later. We were asked to submit to long lines and body searches at airports, some of us were even on "no fly" lists for no known reason which prevented boarding flights altogether. Our rights to privacy were shredded by warrantless searches and spying on our telephone and electronic communications. We've had to endure the opprobrium of the rest of the world for our government's open disdain of the Geneva Conventions and its insistence that torture of those being detained without charges was necessary for our "security."

And then we watched as our economy weakened, faltered, and then failed. That symbol of American success, home ownership, turned into the nightmare of foreclosure for millions of Americans. Jobs were lost and unemployment figures were jiggered to hide the true numbers of Americans unemployed and underemployed. Basic medical treatment became out of reach for millions of those who couldn't afford even the medicine to sustain them. Retirees and soon-to-be-retirees watched their savings evaporate and then watched as this government bailed out businesses "too big to fail," whose executives walked away with multi-million dollar golden parachutes.

In the last year, especially in the last three months, Americans clearly had had enough of being "The New Rome," and understandably so. Prof. Bacevich's conclusion looks to be accurate, but it fails to fully note the deep-seated reasons for the shift in temperament.

Having discovered that being the new Rome entails burdens as well as privileges, Americans have opted out. Although Bush's wars continue in Iraq and Afghanistan, Joe the Plumber's interest in liberating the greater Middle East or courting a showdown even with a figure as vile as Kim Jong Il is close to zero. Americans are no longer in the mood to chase after distant evildoers. They care about jobs, affordable energy, decent healthcare and restoring their 401(k) accounts. Fix what's broken abroad? No thanks; not until we've fixed what's broken at home. This defines the new normalcy.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bonus Critter Blogging: Sea Moth

(Photograph by David Doubilet and published at National Geographic.)

Sister Sarah's New Clothes

Gov. Sarah Palin is still making plenty of headlines, and not just in the US. During my weekly trip to Watching America I found two articles on the vice presidential nominee's shopping spree. The first was in Germany's Handelsblatt. The article was notable only for its appearance in a foreign paper and was merely a re-hashing of the Politico and NY Times stories.

The second, in the Middle East Times, had a bit more substance to it. It also had the niftier headline: "Oops...She Did It Again."

U.S. presidential contender John McCain must be kicking himself these days. After the initial novelty wore off, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has become more of a liability than an asset. The votes the McCain campaign hoped to pick up thanks to the down to earth "real America" image Palin projected did not materialize. Not only that, but a good number of Republicans are giving the McCain-Palin ticket serious second thoughts. ...

According to reports in the "elitist media," where "gotcha journalism" is practiced, the woman who has been on the campaign trail since she was picked as McCain's running mate, saying how much the two would change Washington, has been on a wild spending spree.

As the country faces a near recession, and as she toured the country praising the "real America," Palin and her family is reported to have spent $150,000 on clothes. ...

The New York Times reported that more than $130,000 of the charges used to outfit Palin and her family were initially footed by Jeff Larson, a prominent Republican consultant in St. Paul whose firm has been tied to the onslaught of negative robocalls from McCain's campaign on Obama.

Federal Election Commission records showed Larson was reimbursed by the Republican National Committee for charges at Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Macy's, Barneys New York and Atelier New York, a men's clothing store.

Pretty good snark, yes?

Also a rather nice analysis of the whole foolish affair.

In other news on Gov. Palin, Kathleen Parker is keeping up her barrage of disparaging columns. In this one she tries to determine just what Sen. McCain was thinking when he selected his running mate. Her amateur psychological sleuthing is quite revealing:

That men are at a disadvantage when attractive women are present is a fact upon which women have banked for centuries. Ignoring it now profits only fools. McCain spokesmen have said he was attracted to Palin's maverickness, that she reminded him of himself. Recognizing oneself in a member of the opposite sex (or the same sex, as the case may be) is a powerful invitation to bonding. Narcissus fell in love with his own image reflected in the river. In McCain's case, it doesn't hurt that his reflection is spiked with feminine approval.

As my husband observed early on, McCain the mortal couldn't mind having an attractive woman all but singing arias to his greatness. Cameras frequently capture McCain beaming like a gold-starred schoolboy while Palin tells crowds that he is "exactly the kind of man I want as commander in chief."

Now that is pure comedy gold.


A Toast To Brewing

Although the WSJ wannabe editorial staff usually disappoints, today is time for a toast to the Dallas Morning News. The lead editorial calls for an end to prohibition-era restrictions that keep small breweries from making a profit. Breweries, unlike wineries, are not allowed to sell to visitors to their site.

I am a great fan of the fine brews, and personally think it would be nice to encourage them.

Free beer in Texas!

Now, that would be one heck of a rallying cry to attract people – especially college students – to the Lone Star State. But we don't mean it that way. Rather, we call on the Legislature to break the shackles of outdated regulation on brewing in Texas and make it more feasible for our beer makers to join the microbrewery revolution sweeping the country.

As food critic Robb Walsh wrote recently in the Houston Press and Dallas Observer, Texas is home to more beer drinkers than just about any other state but only a tiny handful of small craft breweries. Michigan has 70. New York has 60.

Texas? We have six.

The reason, as Mr. Walsh explained, has to do with Prohibition-era laws making it illegal for breweries to sell their product on site. Unlike the state's wineries, which do a brisk business with visitors to their gift shops, Texas breweries are forbidden to vend directly to customers. If they don't sell their beer through distributors, they can't sell it.

Trouble is, most microbreweries don't make enough beer to engage the interest of distributors or retailers.

So why not change the law?

Bottoms up to that.

Thought it was so much opposed to the public interest that it editorially endorsed Sen. McCain for president, here the News has shown good taste for a change. Salud for the good stand on suds.

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High Time; The Future Is Here

Friday is for Bill Moyers' Journal as well as catblogging, and last night's guest, James Galbraith, was a great choice. He and Moyers talked about the disaster the right wing has visited on this country, and what we will need to do to recover. It is in no way easy, but there are some paths that will need to be taken. Men like these will be coming back into government, which is one of the best pieces of news I know.

We are going to hear a great deal in the next few weeks about the need for a stimulus package. And a lot of people will be talking about how they will be conceding that the government should get involved short term.

But what needs to be stressed is that we've seen a breakdown of an entire system. The consequence of the failure of regulation, of supervision of the banking system over the past eight years, has been to cause a collapse of trust, a poisoning of the well.


JAMES GALBRAITH: Of trust, yes. Banks -


JAMES GALBRAITH: Banks no longer trust each other because they no longer know whether their counterparties are solvent. Customers no longer trust the banking system. Banks no longer trust the people who would like to borrow from them for commercial purposes. This is a poisoned well. It is going to take a fair amount of time for it to be cleaned up.

BILL MOYERS: Fair amount of time? What do you mean?

JAMES GALBRAITH: My feeling is, if it is done correctly, aggressively, effectively, we could begin to work out of it in three years. But it is not a problem that's going to be solved with a six-month program.

BILL MOYERS: What scares you most right now?

JAMES GALBRAITH: Well, a week ago or two weeks ago I would have said the possibility that Phil Gramm might become Secretary of the Treasury.

BILL MOYERS: Your former Texas soul mate, right?

JAMES GALBRAITH: Yes, exactly. Yeah. We have a contest between a philosophy of deregulation, of de-supervision, a philosophy of anything goes. Gramm himself was the architect, a deep architect of the speculative markets that have just collapsed. And an alternative which says that there really has to be a pragmatic approach to these problems. And that's a choice the American public obviously is going to be making in a few days.
BILL MOYERS: You call your book THE PREDATOR STATE, what do you mean predator?

JAMES GALBRAITH: What I mean is the people who took over the government were not interested in reducing the government and having a small government, the conservative principle. They were interested in using these great institutions for private benefit, to place them in the control of their friends and to put them to the use of their clients. They wanted to privatize Social Security. They created a Medicare drug benefit in such a way as to create the maximum profit for pharmaceutical companies.

They used trade agreements to extend patent protections for various interests or to promote the expansion of the corporate agriculture's markets in the third world. A whole range of things that were basically political and clientelistic. That's the predator state.

BILL MOYERS: You call it a corporate republic.

JAMES GALBRAITH: It is a corporate republic.

BILL MOYERS: Which means that the purpose of government is to divert funds from the public sector to the private sector?

JAMES GALBRAITH: I think it's very clear. They also turned over the regulatory apparatus to the regulated industries. They turned over the henhouse to the foxes in every single case. And that is the source of the decline in, the abandonment of environmental responsibility, the source of the collapse of consumer protection, and the source of the collapse of the financial system, all trace back to a common root, which is the failure to maintain a public sector that works in the public interest, that provides discipline and standards, a framework within which the private sector can operate and compete. That's been abandoned.

The hard work has begun, pulling this country out of the worst hole its ever been in. The government's work being done by committed and honest men will soon be returned.

There has been a time when the country was in danger, and it has shown voters what we on the left have known for some time. The war criminals know what they are offering to do is really bad for this country. They will tell any lie to get power, and use that power to squeeze every last drop out of the country, even the lives of its citizens, for personal gain for themselves.

We have learned the hard way, and the path back goes uphill. As long as we have great minds and character in our leaders again, we can get back.

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Return Of The Unitard

As the term of the 43rd President of the United States finally winds down, George W. Bush has managed yet another 'surprise!' for Congress: he's still playing around with his pet goat, the theory of the Unitary President. This time, however, he's gone beyond his favorite tactic, the signing statement. Now, he's taking the position that a bill he signed into law will not be enforced because it is a constitutional infringement on his executive powers. The NY Times has the story (albeit buried, according to the NYT website, on page A16 of the print edition):

The Bush administration has informed Congress that it is bypassing a law intended to forbid political interference with reports to lawmakers by the Department of Homeland Security.

The August 2007 law requires the agency’s chief privacy officer to report each year about Homeland Security activities that affect privacy, and requires that the reports be submitted directly to Congress “without any prior comment or amendment” by superiors at the department or the White House.

But newly disclosed documents show that the Justice Department issued a legal opinion last January questioning the basis for that restriction, and that Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, later advised Congress that the administration would not “apply this provision strictly” because it infringed on the president’s powers.
[Emphasis added]

The Chief Privacy Officer (CPO) is supposed to review Homeland Security's policies for spying on Americans to make certain that those policies do not violate privacy rights guaranteed under the Constitution. The CPO is also required to keep track of complaints filed by citizens for privacy violations. Then, he is supposed to report directly to Congress without any interference by any of his "bosses" at DHS and the White House. In other words, this officer is supposed to be beyond politics, much as each executive agency's Inspector General is supposed to be.

Well, the Bush Administration is not having any of this, and summoned a legal opinion from the Department of Justice for cover. [Note: that opinion is published here in pdf format.] DOJ happily complied and gave the White House the opinion it wanted: the law is an intrusion on executive authority.

The NYT article makes it clear that the administration notified some members of Congress of its position on the issue a while back, and nobody that I know of quacked back until the Times discovered the ploy and began asking questions. Sen. Arlen Specter (R. Penn.), happily responded:

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the move “unconstitutional.” He said Mr. Bush should have vetoed the bill if he did not like the provision, and compared the situation to Mr. Bush’s frequent use of signing statements to reserve a right to bypass newly enacted laws.

“This is a dictatorial, after-the-fact pronouncement by him in line with a lot of other cherry-picking he’s done on the signing statements,” Mr. Specter said in a telephone interview. He added, “To put it differently, I don’t like it worth a damn.”

Now, that's the proper response except for the fact that it was delivered by Old Mr. Reliable who can be counted on to complain loudly just before he caves in to whatever the White House wants. I'm sure the fact that in just three months the next president might very well be a Democrat, and therefore not to be trusted with such awesome authority, has also registered with Sen. Specter.

So the dictatorship will continue right up until January 20, 2009, and all the secrets so assiduously hoarded will stay safely away from the light of day.

87 days.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Catblogging

Tomorrow is Adoptathon in McKinney, 12 to 3, at Stacy Road and Highway 720.

One cat at McKinney is America, seen above.

We have to meet! I’m America and I was surrendered by my previous owner because there were too many animals. I was brought in on July 12 and I’m ready to go to my new home and cuddle up with my new family. I am a female Domestic Shorthair with nine years to become my most perfect me. Now, I don’t mean to be boastful, but I truly am the "pick of the litter." I have no allergies or medical problems. I am litter trained and am a quiet, mellow companion. I would do best in a family of adults only where I’m the only cat. I enjoy being brushed and I am friendly and welcoming to all. Stop by for a visit. You’ll be sure to take me home with you!


So Predictable

Who among us leftie libruls is surprised that gasoline is going down in price as the election approaches? We saw it in the last election too, and immediately after the election in 2006, gasoline prices shot back up.

Predictably, the big oil industry output says nothing about the supplies being up long months ago, and the refinery non-production. All those huge revenues they were raking in were used to enrich the executives and make big profits, not put into capacity for production.

The oil industry isn't trying to improve the economy it sucks off of. It's that greedy, self-destructive type Alan Greenspan so believed in, according to his testimony yesterday.

Yesterday, with leaders of Iran and Venezuela forging ahead, OPEC cut oil production to try bringing back its bite of the world's economy.

Though OPEC said it will revisit the cuts in its next meeting on Dec. 17, analysts believe it will be hard to convince the oil producing nations to further slash production.

"The Saudis took a third of the cut off the books," Laughlin said. "But the Saudi minister made pretty clear that this is the cut, and they're not going to get another one in December."

Second cut?: But if the cut wasn't enough to restore the market to equilibrium, Laughlin said we're headed towards oil at $50 a barrel. If oil sinks below $50, he said OPEC will be forced to act and cut production again.

In its statement, the cartel seemed to anticipate continued demand destruction and falling prices through the winter months.

"This slowdown in oil demand is serving to exacerbate the situation in a market which has been over-supplied with crude for some time," the statement said. "Moreover, forecasts indicate that the fall in demand will deepen, despite the approach of winter in the northern hemisphere."

Gasoline: The fall in world oil prices since July has pushed gasoline in the United States, the world's largest oil consumer, from a high of $4.114 a gallon on average to $2.781 a gallon Friday, according to motorist group AAA.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, gasoline consumption for the past four weeks averaged 8.8 million barrels a day, or 4.3% lower than the same period last year.

There is nothing new going on here. After driving the economy into stagflation, skyrocketing prices at a time when salaries and benefits are going through the basement, the oil producers will keep pushing on that envelope. Alone of the oilmen, T. Boone Pickens has made a move into alternative energy. The rest are going, lemming style, off the edge of profit-taking - over which the lenders have just exited.

The role that the oil industry has played in bringing on our economic disaster is being overlooked as attention focuses on banks' dilemma, propping up the lenders at the expense of the salaried worker.

This is a time when we should put energy into developing alternative sources, not relax because cynically the oil crowd has lowered prices for awhile. No new capacity for production was developed from the recent huge profits oil raked in. The oil producers are poised for further advantage to themselves, not any far-seeing policies to encourage an economy they depend on.

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The Value of Government Plates

Now here's a real morale booster for regular citizens: government cars parked illegally may get tickets, but those tickets can safely be ignored, according to this article in the Washington Post.

According to a congressional report scheduled to be released today, federal workers in the District and New York City failed to pay $176,000 in fines for 1,147 tickets issued last year to their U.S. government vehicles.

Leading the way in the District were the Army, Navy and Air Force, whose employees ignored 158 tickets for $28,000 in 2007. Most were racked up by recruiters working at the Armed Forces Recruiting Center near 13th and L streets NW.

In New York, FBI agents set the worst example, accumulating $35,000 in fines and comfortably besting the Department of State ($28,000) and the Marine Corps ($20,000) in unpaid violations.

Almost half of the citations were issued during morning and evening rushes, increasing congestion and creating safety hazards, the report concludes. Other violations included parking on sidewalks, in handicapped zones and in front of fire hydrants and bus stops. Only 6 percent were for expired meters.

Parking in front of fire hydrants or in handicapped zones? Mere technicalities. Nice, eh?

Why aren't the local agencies responsible for parking enforcement doing their job by towing or booting the miscreant vehicles? Well, it seems there's a certain amount of, well, fraternal understanding:

The federal government's blatant disregard of city parking restrictions apparently is not drawing much ire from enforcement agents in the District and New York. And the report provides its take on the reason why: Municipal workers in agencies directly responsible for assessing fines failed to pay thousands of dollars in parking fines of their own.

In the District, city workers ignored $33,000 in penalties assessed to their government vehicles, including $10,000 racked up by the Department of Public Works, which is responsible for assessing the majority of tickets.

And in the Big Apple, where city employees had not paid $491,000 on 2,562 tickets, the New York Police Department had a delinquent balance of $192,000.

So, the lesson is that mere citizens cannot park illegally, but government employees can and do, apparently a lot. Laws don't apply to them. I guess it's a fringe benefit.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thursday Birdblogging

The godwit of all time makes this a wonderful day to birdblog. Welcome home, little bartail E7.

A female Bar-tailed Godwit, a large, streamlined shorebird, has touched down in New Zealand following an epic, 18,000-mile-long (29,000 km) series of flights tracked by satellite, including the longest non-stop flight recorded for a land bird.

The U.S. Geological Survey's Alaska Science Center tracked the odyssey of the bird as part of an ongoing collaborative effort with colleagues in California and New Zealand. The scientists were hoping to better understand potential transmission of avian influenza by migratory birds.

The bird, dubbed "E7" after the tag on its upper leg, was captured along with 15 other godwits in New Zealand in early February 2007. There each bird was fitted with a small, battery-powered satellite transmitter. USGS scientists hoped the transmitters' batteries would last long enough to track the birds' northward migration to Alaska.

E for "extra"?


Outsourcing Government

Texas has gone to great lengths to remove state employees from the state payrolls, replacing them with contracts on the basis of competing bids. This is called outsourcing, and the tendency of contract awards to go to familiar names has been noted throughout the process. Most recently scandals broke out in the youth prison system, where hideous mistreatment of kids was the result of irresponsible outsourcing by our rightwing Texas government.

Now a real boner has occurred, and medicaid fraud cases may never be prosecutable because of it.

A massive computer crash that destroyed hundreds of the state attorney general's confidential documents may prevent scores of Medicaid fraud prosecutions and has revealed serious problems with a newly expanded state outsourcing of computer services.

As much as 50 percent of the Tyler Medicaid fraud division's files were destroyed in July when a server being repaired by a state vendor wouldn't restart. The scope of the damage is in dispute.

In an apparent oversight, the documents lost were not backed up – meaning that evidence crucial to convicting dishonest health-care providers who ripped off the state's health insurance program for the poor may never be recovered. E-mails and other records obtained by The Dallas Morning News indicate some Tyler investigators lost up to 90 percent of their open case files.
There have been other highly publicized problems with big outsourcing pushes by the Health and Human Services Commission – one that created privately run call centers and maintained software to support eligibility screening for public assistance, and another that privatized payroll and hiring at 12 social services agencies.

In 2005, the Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry, building on an earlier outsourcing of state computer services and data backups, approved a measure forcing at least 15 state agencies to join a dozen that already were using an earlier vendor, Northrop Grumman Corp.

A new, expanded outsourcing deal with Team for Texas – the current provider – was struck in November 2006 and took effect in April 2007.

The deal, expected to save the state $153 million by 2013, has attracted little public attention because even though more than 500 state employees lost their jobs, about 40 percent found other state positions and the rest were guaranteed spots with IBM or its subcontractors Unisys, Xerox and Pitney Bowes.

In July, though, state Auditor John Keel criticized the information department for not riding herd on major state agencies. Though agencies were supposed to hand over to IBM their most knowledgeable and experienced computer technicians, many kept those workers by using them to fill other vacancies, Mr. Keel's audit said.

The state's sorry record, one it sent on to D.C. eight years ago, has resulted from domination by the right wing that so despises good government. Cronies are its object, and personal fortunes its most important product. The kind of disasters that constantly result from this 'governing' process are making it hard for even the hardest case to cling to their certitude that libruls are the enemy.

This election won't be the end of rotten government in Texas, yet. It will take more thorough devastation to make that happen, but that seems very close to happening.

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Negative Party

Yesterday I spent many hours watching the Justice Department prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation. It comes at a time when the power of hate is waning visibly, and the coming election is giving everyone hope for empowerment of those middle class working citizens who have been subjected to discrimination, and outright robbery, for eight years. It seems like a blast from the past to sit in Dallas Federal Court listening to an FBI agent and a Treasury Department terrorism agent talk about charity to Muslims who live in the Middle East as if it constitutes a threat to our security.

Monday I listened to a prisoner seeking government leniency testify that Gaza residents were all sympathetic to suicide bombing, even while pointing out that he himself knew giving to Hamas means that the donations reach the needy but giving to Fatah means the casinos grow bigger. The court allowed the prisoner, under redirect, to testify to new thoughts regarding feelings and beliefs of those not on trial, despite court rules against new territory on redirect and against such 'hearsay' testimony. The courtroom was a little more orderly in procedures yesterday, as the witnesses and testimony seemed not quite so strained to produce.

I won't go on at great length in this post, as I want to make a larger observation at a later date. However, it was amusing during the lengthy questioning of FBI agent Laura Burns yesterday, that over and over she responded to defense questions about records of donations going to orphans that 'that's what it says'. When questioned about records of donations going to other entities, she usually answered 'correct' and 'yes'. The defense attorney even asked if it mattered to her, that donations from the Holy Land Foundation were given to orphans. She insisted that she only cared about relevance to HLF ties to Hamas. Her responses, sadly, belied that testimony over the course of the afternoon.

The government case against HLF forms a last ditch attempt to discourage Muslim charity. That is every bit as disreputable as it sounds.

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Our Ms. Brooks: Which Real America?

Rosa Brooks' column in today's Los Angeles Times takes a look at the current McCain-Palin strategy in the closing days of the campaign, and what she sees is the natural culmination of the GOP view that it is possible to create reality.

Now that reality has little, if any, relationship to the one the rest of us live in, but that certainly hasn't stopped Republicans, especially the last eight years. Everything from "the Iraqis will greet us as liberators," to "the fundamentals of the economy are strong" betrays a world view that suggests that if we act as if something were true it will magically become true. An important corollary to this world view is that if a lie is repeated often enough, it takes on a truth of its own (cf. Colbert's "truthiness").

Ms. Brooks zeroes in on the McCain-Palin campaign because it is such a clear expression of that world view:

The GOP code isn't hard to crack: There's the America that might vote for Obama (a suspect America populated by people with liberal notions, big-city ways and, no doubt, dark skin), and then there's the "real" America, where people live in small towns, believe in God and country, and are ... well ... white.

The divisive GOP rhetoric we've been hearing lately is hardly new. But with each passing year, the "real" America of GOP mythmaking bears less and less resemblance to the America most Americans live in.

About 80% of Americans live in metropolitan areas, not small towns. A third of us are ethnic and racial minorities, but that's changing: Already,nearly 45% of children under 5 are minorities. Although 88%of us believe in God, 70% think that religions other than our own are equally valid routes to truth. And while 59% of us think that wearing an American flag pin is a decent way to show patriotism, even more of us (66%) think that protesting U.S. policies we oppose is a good way to show patriotism. These days, more than half of us say we prefer the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.

...McCain and Palin look at America and see what they wish was there, rather than what's actually there: an America in which they'll be greeted as liberators and rightful heirs to the mantle of leadership. America, after all, has been led by white Anglo-Saxons for the last two-plus centuries and, for the last 40 years, mostly by Republicans. For that to change is almost unthinkable. And so Team McCain just edits out the inconvenient America that doesn't seem likely to vote GOP. That America's not real. It just can't be.
[Emphasis added]

Of course, that doesn't matter to McCain-Palin, nor to most Republicans. They are counting on that segment of Americans who also want to believe in that fantasy (the base-base) to understand the code and to vote against "That One", even though "That One" offers so much more to the real America.

Lew Carroll was prescient.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

You Have Debt, Not Credit

Anyone besides me who winces every time the occupied White House announces that it is making the world safe again, for loans? The whole emphasis of the $700 Billion Bailout is on getting banks out of the hole they've dug so we can start getting into debt again.

Salaries and savings are the forgotten value system, since your financial community makes money on getting money and lending out that money rather than enabling us to support ourselves. The financial institutions are not interested in your saving up to buy what you need, and making a decent wage. In the past eight years, the salary has become an antique, instead it's just making that loan that is the whole ballgame. Those quaint actuarial tables, anyone remember them? You put a certain amount down, and you had a certain salary, you qualified for a loan. It's that 'qualify' aspect that kept our economy healthy. Its demise has been the death of our economic rational behavior, meaning financial houses pushed past the line in the dirt and became fantasy land. Our economy became the dirt.

It isn't just in mortgage loans, now in the spotlight, though, that we have gotten deep in the hole. Credit card debt is now the last resort for overstretched consumers. Naturally, it is being pitched at us all as the perfect answer to any temporary need. If you already have shown you're susceptible, you're special game.

Singling out even struggling American consumers like Ms. Jerez is one of the overlooked causes of the debt boom and the resulting crisis, which threatens to choke the global economy.

Using techniques that grew more sophisticated over the last decade, businesses comb through an array of sources, including bank and court records, to create detailed profiles of the financial lives of more than 100 million Americans.

They then sell that information as marketing leads to banks, credit card issuers and mortgage brokers, who fiercely compete to find untapped customers — even those who would normally have trouble qualifying for the credit they were being pitched.

These tailor-made offers land in mailboxes, or are sold over the phone by telemarketers, just ahead of the next big financial step in consumers’ lives, creating the appearance of almost irresistible serendipity.

These leads, which typically cost a few cents for each household profile, are often called “trigger lists” in the industry. One company, First American, sells a list of consumers to lenders called a “farming kit.”

This marketplace for personal data has been a crucial factor in powering the unrivaled lending machine in the United States. European countries, by contrast, have far stricter laws limiting the sale of personal information. Those countries also have far lower per-capita debt levels.

The companies that sell and use such data say they are simply providing a service to people who are likely to need it. But privacy advocates say that buying data dossiers on consumers gives banks an unfair advantage.

“They get people who they know are in trouble, they know are desperate, and they aggressively market a product to them which is not in their best interest,” said Jim Campen, executive director of the Americans for Fairness in Lending, an advocacy group that fights abusive credit and lending practices. “It’s the wrong product at the wrong time.”

With this activity making fortunes for CEO's who are getting the whole world in over its head, it is past time to stop. We are about to get rid of the wildly unrealistic administration that has brought us to ruin. Attention to jobs for Americans, domestic building of infrastructure and industry, and solid financial practice is overdue.

When the present irresponsibility has proved itself as big a disaster as it has, a complete reversal of the loan/debt culture should be a first push for the coming administration. A living wage would make a great start.

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Taking Evasive Action

Today's NY Times notes that charges against five Guantanamo Bay detainees have been dropped by the government, which comes shortly after the dropping of charges against six others.

The dismissed charges included those against a detainee accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” inside the United States, accusations that drew international attention in 2002. The dismissal was a retreat by the government facing an aggressive defense in the case.

It came in the same week that administration lawyers changed course in another highly publicized terrorism case, abandoning efforts to prove that six other Guantánamo detainees took part in a 2001 plan to bomb the United States Embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. The moves appeared to be fresh indications of a long pattern of the administration’s making sharp changes in its legal strategy as it encounters resistance to its detention policies.
[Emphasis added]

A victory for the detainees? Not hardly. The man in charge of the Gitmo prosecutions maintains that the government has plenty of evidence to convict the detainees and plans to refile charges. In the mean time, all eleven men are still being detained.

So, then, what's the deal? The deal is suggested by the portions I have bolded above. The attorneys for the detainees have mounted a spirited defense, much of it centered in the accusations that the defendants were tortured, or that information which provided the bases for the charges were obtained through the torture of others. The government apparently doesn't want to or cannot rebut those arguments in court, so prosecutors have fallen back to regroup. Because they believe they can hold the detainees forever, with or without charges, they feel they have the time to cook up some new charges for the defense to deal with.

For several years, the Bush administration has shifted its legal approach at pivotal moments in legal confrontations over its detention policy — transferring detainees on the eve of hearings and abandoning legal arguments.

“Every time they get near a court they try and figure out a way to avoid court review or evade a decision that has come down,” said Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has coordinated detainees’ cases.

The strategy has worked well in the past, but, in the face of the Supreme Court's decision in Boumediene v. Bush, which held that the detainees are entitled to habeas corpus hearings, that strategy itself might have to be reworked.

And the current administration, which has decided to keep Gitmo in operation until the next one takes over January 20, 2009, has given the prosecutors at least another three months to do so.

90 days.

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