Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Poetry: Dylan Thomas

Ears in the Turrets Hear

Ears in the turrets hear
Hands grumble on the door,
Eyes in the gables see
The fingers at the locks.
Shall I unbolt or stay
Alone till the day I die
Unseen by stranger-eyes
In this white house?
Hands, hold you poison or grapes?

Beyond this island bound
By a thin sea of flesh
And a bone coast,
The land lies out of sound
And the hills out of mind.
No birds or flying fish
Disturbs this island’s rest.

Ears in this island hear
The wind pass like a fire,
Eyes in this island see
Ships anchor off the bay.
Shall I run to the ships
With the wind in my hair,
Or stay till the day I die
And welcome no sailor?
Ships, hold you poison or grapes?

Hands grumble on the door,
Ships anchor off the bay,
Rain beats the sand and slates.
Shall I let in the stranger,
Shall I welcome the sailor,
Or stay till the day I die?

Hands of the stranger and holds of the ships,
Hold you poison or grapes?

Dylan Thomas

World AIDS Day Monday

Tomorrow the world will mark a day set aside to raise awareness of the epidemic AIDS has been. It will be time again for responsible leadership to draw attention to the easily available ways that the killing illness can be avoided.

In this country, responsible adults will be silenced by the occupied White House in its campaign to enable right wing religious organizations that refuse to acknowledge prevention that does not set abstinence as its major tenet. A celebration last July made a point of showing the harm done.

NAIROBI, Kenya -- On July 5, Beatrice Were, the founder of Uganda's National Community of Women Living with HIV and AIDS, stood before hundreds of other HIV-positive women in Nairobi's vaulted city hall and denounced the Bush administration's AIDS policies.

Like many in attendance, Were contracted HIV from her husband, a common occurrence in a region where women make up the majority of new infections and marriage is a primary risk factor. For those like her, the White House's AIDS prevention mantra -- which prescribes abstinence and marital fidelity, with condoms only for "high risk" groups like prostitutes and truck drivers -- is a sick joke.

"We are now seeing a shift in recent years to abstinence only," she said. "We are expected to abstain when we are young girls and to be faithful when we are married to men who rape us, who are not necessarily faithful to us, who batter us." The women in the audience, several waiting to share their own stories of marital rape, applauded.

Were exhorted her audience to "denounce programs that are not evidence-based, that view AIDS as a moral issue, that undermine the issues that affect us, women's rights. I want to be very clear -- the abstinence-only business, women must say no!" Again, there were hollers and applause.

There were lots of voices like Were's in Nairobi last week, where the YWCA sponsored a massive international conference on women and HIV. Yet they rarely seem to break through in the United States, where the conventional wisdom holds that the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is a bright spot in an otherwise execrable presidency, one that only the ideologically blinkered refuse to credit. Nick Kristof seems to repeat this notion in The New York Times every other week, and Bono affirmed it when he insisted on putting Bush on one of the 20 different covers that graced Vanity Fair's special Africa issue. "USA TODAY's Susan Page just got off the telephone with Bono. She says President Bush can count the rock star as a fan today," the newspaper's blog reported in late May. "The Grammy winner was singing the praises of the American president for his announcement today that he would propose spending an additional $30 billion over five years to fight AIDS in Africa, doubling the U.S. commitment."

For many toiling in the trenches of the pandemic, though, opinions about PEPFAR are far more ambivalent. It's a moral conundrum: how do you weigh lives saved by treatment against lives lost through policies that sabotage prevention?

In less than two months the bizarre figures who have stamped out rationality in the U.S. executive branch will leave. The responsible adults will return. They will face a huge barrier in the personnel implanted in this government by the departing bottomfeeders.

We can celebrate a return to respect for intelligence while taking the lesson learned, that indulging the deficient to the point of giving them power can be fatal.

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Another Thorn in the Crown

Another addition to the list of disgraces here, this morning. Dallas has amassed quite a record as the home of the assassination of President Kennedy, the home of the tv show that lauded greed and ruthlessness, the location of that church related SMU that overrode its church's laws to give a home to the papers of the worst president ever - papers that the public is denied access to - and now the home of the only successful verdict this occupied White House managed in prosecuting Muslim charity. This morning the city has a new thorn in its crown. An editorial in the local paper praises the verdict twelve members of this community reached in a trial that was always questionable.

The Dallas Morning News coverage that I read always gave the prosecution side of the trial that I attended. When I saw the paper's presentation of the events of the days I was there those events did not have the same character that I had witnessed as an observer. It's no wonder that the editorial's view was skewed.

The closing day particularly was memorable. Prosecution once again brought up the use of evidence in a Treasury Department document that had been put in after Hamas had been labelled terrorist by executive order. That evidence was an essential part of the prosecution case, and it established that other organizations than those named by the Treasury were to be treated as terrorist organizations. That notation appeared in a footnote in the instructions sent to Holy Land Foundation, but the version in which it appeared actually came out after the HLF had closed down in 2001.

The organizations that HLF contributed to are zakat committees. The prosecution called, and prosecuted them as, terrorist organizations. Never were they officially designated terrorist by our government. In his closing remarks, however, prosecutor Jacks insisted that he hadn't heard the defense prove its points, and that jurors should depend on their memories rather than evidence.

From my attendance at the trial, I felt that the whole case against Holy Land Foundation turned on the prosecution's insistence on facts that it did not prove, and that if the jury had considered evidence carefully as the previous, hung, jury had that there was no case against Holy Land Foundation.

The editorial finding showed me that editors, like the public, had been sadly misinformed.

Last week's guilty verdicts in the Holy Land Foundation terrorist fundraising trial were a welcome conclusion to a long and hard-fought case. As reporting earlier in this decade by this newspaper's Steve McGonigle showed, the Richardson-based Islamic charity, once the largest of its kind in the nation, secretly funneled money to the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas and sought to cover up the connection.

The government's victory over five leaders of the now-defunct HLF means real progress in shutting off the financial lifeline that sustains Mideast terrorists.
“We have to look back as a community and reassess our moral compass,” Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a Phoenix physician and moderate Muslim leader, told us after the verdict.

Precisely. The government got the HLF defendants by clarifying its case. This should be a clarifying moment for others, too.

Odd that a prosecution wrapped up this 'clarified' case by contending the jury should ignore evidence. Prosecutor Jacks insisted that freedom of speech did not apply here, either, as it 'showed a state of mind'.

By his words, the paper that printed the opinion it had reached should have had no right to print that opinion either.

I would rather all the misinformation in the world be given me than that I be told the newspaper and American citizens can't express their state of mind. Mine is very downhearted this morning. I am free to tell you that because the U.S. Department of Justice has not prevailed over the constitution outside of the Federal courtroom where the HLF was tried, at least not so far.

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Cutting The Cost Of Health Care

Much of the ink and electrons spilled on the issue of health care in the United States has focused on a single-payer plan which would, in effect, replace insurance companies with the federal government in order to extend coverage to all Americans. I admit I'm in favor of such a plan, but this article in the Washington Post reminded me that more is involved in the health care issue, much more.

What the article makes clear is that we are paying too much for health care, and we aren't getting our money's worth. And that finding has been underscored by leaders in charge of delivering that health care.

"We're not getting what we pay for," says Denis Cortese, president and chief executive of the Mayo Clinic. "It's just that simple."

"Our health-care system is fraught with waste," says Gary Kaplan, chairman of Seattle's cutting-edge Virginia Mason Medical Center. As much as half of the $2.3 trillion spent today does nothing to improve health, he says.

Not only is American health care inefficient and wasteful, says Kaiser Permanente chief executive George Halvorson, much of it is dangerous.

Now, just to put those comments in perspective, here are some of the numbers provided by the article:

The United States today devotes 16 percent of its gross domestic product to medical care, more per capita than any other nation in the world. Yet numerous measures indicate the country lags in overall health: It ranks 29th in infant mortality, 48th in life expectancy and 19th out of 19 industrialized nations in preventable deaths.

Those are pretty damning statistics, given the amount of money we pour into health care each year. So, what's going on?

Well, Americans, always in love with technological innovation, are paying for expensive diagnostic tests which aren't always necessary, such as the MRI (magnetic-resonance imaging). The MRI is a marvelous technique for getting a more complete picture of a spine (for example) than a simple x-ray, but it's also very expensive and not always needed, especially at the beginning of treatment. The article uses the example of StarBucks coffee pourers with back pain. Chances are these employees had not been doing heavy lifting when they noticed the pain, nor had they had any kind of frank incident immediately preceding the onset of the pain. Instead of rushing them over to the local MRI shop, they were given two weeks of physical therapy, a much less expensive procedure. In most cases, the employees were able to return to work and the back pain dissipated.

Americans also love newness, assuming that the latest drug or treatment regimen is necessarily the best drug or regimen, yet that is frequently not the case. Many older generation hypertension drugs are just as effective as the latest generation and are almost always far less expensive. Yet as soon as a new drug is approved for use by the FDA and touted by the pharmaceutical company in ads appearing on television and in newspapers, patients rush to their doctors demanding the new drug, and in too many cases the doctor simply reaches for his prescription pad.

What's the answer?

Well, if the federal government really is going to get involved, then a way to control these costs has to emerge and be used. One such way, comparative effectiveness research, is something Tom Daschle, President-Elect Obama's choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services, is in favor of, as are many others involved in providing health care coverage, especially employers:

The members of [Helen]Darling's group [National Business Group on Health] are in the vanguard of a movement toward comparative effectiveness research, which evaluates various drugs, devices and treatments and publicizes which work best and at what cost. Ideally, doctors and patients armed with that data could make more rational decisions -- such as whether to choose a more expensive, but therapeutically equivalent, medication.

If the research is done honestly, and not just to drive down benefits to the patient, then it has to be a useful tool. That might just be enough to break up some of the unholy alliances in the delivery system, among them those between PHARMA and physicians and hospitals, and it might foreclose the unethical practice of doctors referring patients to diagnostic centers in which they have a financial interest.

The money saved could then be directed towards wellness practice, which should be just as much a part of medical care as treatment.

By the way, this is the kind of article which actually advances the rational discourse on one of the biggest issues the new administration will face. I hope that the Washington Post continues in this vein.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bonus Critter Blogging: Sierra Nevada Salamander

(Photograph by Duncan Parks and published at National Geographic.)

The Art Of Listening

Much of the world has a lot of advice for President Elect Obama when it comes to foreign policy issues, as this week's foray to Watching America will attest. One of the pieces I most appreciated came from Rami Khouri in Lebanon's Daily Star, which should come as no surprise.

Mr. Khouri is clearly optimistic that President Obama will be able to turn around American foreign policy to the point that the US will once again be a welcome partner in world affairs. He bases that optimism on two recently published studies on how the US should deal with Iran and its nuclear ambitions. The fact the studies were published, Mr. Khouri makes clear, is itself the sign that better days are ahead:

Here enters the best of American political culture - the free flow of ideas based on quality scholarship, and a willingness to assess in public every aspect of a national or foreign policy issue. In recent weeks the US has witnessed a veritable gusher of studies and recommendations on Iran that mostly echo what many in the Middle East have been saying for years: Engage the Iranians through normal diplomatic channels, treat them with basic respect, abide by the same rules of law and international conventions that you want them to comply with, and negotiate mutually beneficial relationships based on equal rights for all, rather than the primacy of American or Israeli interests in the Middle East.

The first study comes from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The helpful synopsis which precedes the terse report by Karim Sadjadpour sets forth his recommendations:

The next U.S. president should:

Focus initially on areas where the United States and Iran share common interests, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than issues with little or no common interest, like the nuclear issue or the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

Refrain from any grand overtures to Tehran which risk redeeming Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s policies and enhancing his bid for reelection in June of 2009.

Deal with those who hold power in Iran, namely Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Avoid rhetoric that threatens violence. This only empowers Tehran’s hard-liners and paints the United States as the aggressor.

Maintain a multilateral approach. Tehran is highly adept at exploiting rifts in the international community.

Resist attempts by spoilers within Iran to torpedo a diplomatic breakthrough.

Pursue “secret” or “private” discussions—proven to have a greater success rate.

Support policies that facilitate, rather than impede, Iran’s modernization and reintegration in the global economy.

The second study is a product of the Iran Study Group led by Thomas Pickering and James F. Dobbins, both former US ambassadors with plenty of experience in this part of the world. Their report is published here (in Google's html replacement for the pdf file). The report contains "Five Key Steps the United States Should Take to Implement an Effective Diplomatic Strategy with Iran":

1.Replace calls for regime change with a long-term strategy.

2.Support human rights through effective, international means.

3.Allow Iran a place at the table – alongside other key states – in shaping the future of Iraq, Afghanistan and the region.

4.Address the nuclear issue within the context of a broader U.S. - Iran opening.

5.Re-energize the Arab-Israeli peace process and act as an honest broker in that process.

The important part of both studies is that they are documents about the real-world situation in Iran and the Middle East based on facts as they are by people who have studied the area and actually know things about it, not "cooked" intelligence reports that are being disseminated by neocons interested in inventing a new reality, one which bears little if any resemblance to the old, for purposes of American aggrandizement and imperialism. Both studies also make clear that any real progress for peace and stability in the Middle East will depend not on any American threat of military intervention but rather on sincere American diplomatic efforts.

Dealing with Iran in a forthright and honest manner is important for reasons beyond the Middle East, however. Our relationship with Russia has deteriorated over the past several years to the point that is more than a little reminiscent of the Cold War era, and, let's face it, neither country can afford another arms race. Yet that scenario is unfolding because of the Bush administration's insistence on a "missile defense system" placed on Russia's borders to protect our NATO allies from attacks from (yes, you guessed it) Iran. Remove Iran from the Axis Of Evil, and the excuse for the unnecessary expense of that inane defense system and the unnecessary agida from another Cold War are removed.

The trick, as Rami Khouri reminds us, is that President Obama will have to be willing to listen to the experts, all of them, and to hear what they have to say. Hopefully Mr. Obama has developed that talent to go along with his many others.

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This Land Is My Land

That border fence your dollars are building to keep out those illeguls will have cost you a lot even if the next administration gets in and acts like responsible adults. The boondoggle that border officials are describing as a 'speed bump', that innumerable tunnels are now bypassing, may be killed soon. But the insanity continues unabated now.

As Rio Grande Valley property owners gird for hearings that will determine how much the government pays for the land it takes to build the border fence, some are struggling to find a key witness — an appraiser.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is trying to complete 670 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. It will not meet its end-of-year deadline, but has promised to have all sections under contract by then.

Some landowners in the Rio Grande Valley, where the project has been delayed by litigation, hope that a new administration will rethink the controversial project. Earlier this month Customs and Border Protection announced it was putting off three fence sections totaling about 14 miles in the Valley to further study their impact on Rio Grande floodwaters.

Richard Schell, another attorney representing border fence property owners, said he usually turned to the firm of Robinson, Duffy & Barnard LLP in Harlingen for appraisals involving litigation, but the government had them sewn up. So far the firm has been included on the government's witness list in only one case in Cameron County. No one from the firm returned calls for comment.

If appraisal work for these cases costs more than $10,000, Schell said one client would have to forego the outside expert and testify to the value himself.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen extended the deadline for naming experts by a month for a group of cases, including those handled by Villegas and Schell. They are scheduled to go to trial in March if Hanen opts for jury trials rather than a court-appointed land commission to determine compensation.

Bud Campana, a Brownsville appraiser not handling any border fence cases, said he was approached by a landowner this summer but was not comfortable with the job.

"The problem with these appraisals is it's a unique circumstance," Campana said. A big part of an appraisal is comparing the property to the sales of similarly affected pieces of land. But there is still nothing to compare the fence to, he said.

Some of the properties are further complicated by issues involving hunting leases, access to the Rio Grande and the value of land accessible — but in a more limited fashion — on the Mexican side of the fence.

"Based on what I've seen and generally heard I think it's a shame the way some property owners have been run over and treated," Campana said.

Once upon a time this was supposed to 'protect' the residents of this country. Now that the Department of Homeland Security has taken it in hand, it has become an affliction and denial of homeowner rights.

The insane idea of putting fence along the stretch of border that runs from Texas all the way to the Pacific Ocean has already entailed any number of disputes, one of them the proposed division of the campus of the University of Texas at Brownsville by that fence. That DHS idea has been shot down, but not before it went to court and cost us taxpayers to defend the ridiculous plans DHS was proposing.

The adult oversight of competent officials would be a welcome change, especially in the matter of trying to fence in vast spaces of land instead of providing legal channels for jobseekers and employers to use.

As I have said previously, Fence This:

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Making Cents of Dollars

It's always going to bring a snarl from me to hear the business reporters pinning fault for the poor economy on consumers' holding back on spending. Black Friday was the occasion for a new spate of conjecture about what it will take to get those meanspirited consumers to open up their pockets... ignoring that there's nothing in those pockets when they are opened. Hint: lack of salary means loss of consumption. When eight years of right wing reverse Robin Hood policies prevail, there is a loss of buying power by the consumers. Somehow that logic escapes financial planners for the corporate section.

Seems like a simple enough equation to me, but somehow that relationship continually misses the followers of Ayn Rand who seem to be dominating our corporate realm at the moment. Gloom prevails, what to do, what to do when the American shopper disappears?

Good sense may be returning out of sheer desperation to policy makers. (However, I have gained over the past eight years a growing confidence in the power of obstinance (pigheadedness) on the part of those who are wealthy by the accident of birth.)

While calling it consumer confidence, yesterday the Gallup Poll showed a measure of common knowledge about the state of our economy that I thought worth a good look. Record levels of negative readings are being swept in by polling. It can be labeled as mere opinion by those reporting it, but the public at large is up against the wall and that is showing up in the statistics. Jobs and salaries are disappearing, and this is how it appears to business planners.

... the late October/November readings on this measure (Economic Confidence) since 1992 punctuate just how negative consumer attitudes are today compared with past holiday retail seasons. Public confidence about the economy is more negative today than at any other time since the trend was established in 1992.

Entitled "Americans In No Mood To Shop", what the Gallup Poll report shows almost inadvertently is that reality is trickling up from the former working class. Their perception is from the scene of the crime, where jobs and salaries are being obliterated.

From a business publication,, I extracted the following fact, with advice:

Starting Salaries Decline

A study finds some new hires are making up to $10,000 less than a month ago.
"While overall median salaries might be slightly lower in a few professions, keep in mind that many new job openings are filled by professionals who are still getting a personal salary increase to go along with greater responsibilities and opportunities to grow," Jobfox CEO Rob McGovern said in a statement.

He said job-seekers should focus on finding a better job, rather than a better salary, since salary increases tend to catch up eventually.

What the business world has been interpreting as a great market for employers, free to pick and choose among the desperate while paying them less, is a vast wasteland of disappearing customers. While the employers are shuttling jobs overseas where the wage costs are less, they need to be looking for ways to get by with less, as well.

Your standard of living is about to trickle up from your consumers. It will feel really desperate. It isn't a lack of 'confidence', which is how you like to describe it. It's a lack of the means to support yourself. Coming soon to a bank account nearer to you, fewer numerical figures in front of the decimal point.

Can you hear me now?


Today the line about buying is that merchants are stressed because they ordered for a season that isn't materializing, so are making their deepest cuts now. Ergo, you must go out and spend now, while it's such a sacrifice. This from Wall Street Journal Report expert of the morning, Dana Telsey, CEO of Telsey Advisors. Thank heavens, I have the Word so that my bank will loan me the money to get in over my head and those of all my descendants for about seven generations! Now don't tell anyone that I gave you this excellent advice free of charge.

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The Yellowstone Yellow Dog

Isn't it interesting that after eight long years of unmitigated disaster the mainstream press is breaking its back trying to report on just how awful a president George W. Bush has been? A good example of how hard news media are working at this newly found outrage is this editorial in the Los Angeles Times.

Observing the actions of the Bush administration over the years, you'd think the Wyoming snowmobile industry was the economic glue holding the country together. National Park Service managers have pressed relentlessly to allow as many of the noisy, polluting recreational machines into Yellowstone National Park as possible, no matter what the public wanted (public comments were overwhelmingly against it), what park preservation laws stated or what the agency's own scientific research found. ...

After a federal judge in Washington ruled in September that the 540 snowmobiles a day sought by the Park Service was too high a number, the agency's staff issued an environmental report agreeing that so many machines would bring about "major adverse impacts" to Yellowstone. While the staff worked on a new long-term plan, expected to take a couple of years, Yellowstone Supt. Suzanne Lewis announced that the temporary limit would be set at 318 a day.

Well, that limit lasted only a few months. Winter was coming, so the park's superintendent, in a really creative reading of a second judge's opinion on the issue (which actually upheld the first decision, but, hey, when has reality ever stopped a Bushie?) suddenly changed the figure to 720 noisy, air-polluting, and environmentally damaging machines a day, a figure we'll be stuck with until at least January 20, 2009.

Here's the editorialist's response:

These shenanigans deserve early reversal by the new administration. It's not that a month or so of too many snowmobiles will cause irreparable damage. It's that President Bush, who could be using his last days in office to leave a legacy or two worth recalling with pleasure, seems bent instead on wreaking as much environmental damage as possible, and making sure that what we remember most is his administration's disdain for the law, science and the public, as long as industry lobbies were satisfied.

The outrage and disgust are palpable, and rightly so.

It would have been nice if such outrage and disgust had been demonstrated more frequently the past eight years, say, after the Downing Street memos were released showing how the intelligence leading up to the Iraq War wasn't only just cooked, but boiled, fricasseed, sauteed, and then deep-fat fried.

Or maybe when the President invoked his personal belief system to shut down stem cell research, setting back potential therapies for spinal injuries, diabetes, Alzheimer's and a host of other debilitating conditions for years.

Or even after a hurricane destroyed a major American city and thousands lost their homes and livelihoods because Dear Leader preferred playing golf to monitoring the situation closely so that the federal government could move swiftly to ameliorate the damage, which is what the government is supposed to do.

No, it was only after public opinion made it clear that we'd been hornswoggled right from the start by this band of criminals that the press suddenly found its generative organs. And, miracle of miracles, it's just in time for them to keep a sharp eye on the new President, you know, "That One."


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Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday Catblogging

Gramsci is enjoying health food status. All the rors family cats are rescue variety, and all look pretty pleased with their homelife. Of course, Rorschach did Gramsci the indignity of a long move from Austin, TX, last year but it looks like all have survived, settled in, and vegged out. Yeh, never could stay away from the pun/wordplay.


It May Not Look Like You Succeeded

Since I'm not out there at the shops getting the freebie's for showing up before a decent hour - to shop for a couple of dollars off - I saw a really nice item. Having myself been at events that seemed sparsely attended, when it should have drawn a crowd, especially candidate meeting parties, sometimes a body gets discouraged.

Sometimes there's an effect you didn't expect, it seems.

Despite the possibilities created by the Web, calling people to action still depends on people putting their bodies -- not just their mouse-clicks -- on the line, says Hale, the Seton Hall professor.

"All of the stuff you can do online ultimately has to show up in the real world," Hale says. "I don't see the Internet as a substitute [for social activism] but as a complement to it."

Paul Loeb, author of "The Soul of a Citizen,'' a book that examines the psychology of social activism, also says online activism can be powerful but limited. He tells a story from his book to make his point.

He says a friend took her kids to a protest against nuclear testing in front of the White House during the early 1960s. But she became dejected because only a few people joined her demonstration and then it rained.

Years later, the same woman attended a major march against nuclear testing. Benjamin Spock, the best-selling author and pediatrician who opposed the Vietnam War, was a featured speaker. He told marchers that he was inspired to join the march after seeing a small group of women huddled with their kids in the rain while marching in front of the White House years earlier.

"I thought that if those women were out there," Spock said, "their cause must be really important.

I remember the embarrassment of having a long list of folks who said they'd show up, and trying to stall while waiting for them to get there. I remember finding out those loyal supporters who said they'd bring lots of friends along never invited anybody at all, and then they ducked out, themselves. I remember the hosts who asked for donations from the candidate to cover their measly refreshments.

Then there are the passersby at the demos who make the "Get a job" remarks. I even have a tape of The Kid demonstrating on Key Bridge when Reagan closed down the government, and car passengers yelling at him that he's a bum. A newsperson came out for the fun of it, which is why it's on tape.

Don't stay home, though. You'll be glad you did something, even when what you did may not show up when you'd like it to. That snoop on the other end of the tapped line might just get a kick from his/her own conscience.


A commenter at Eschaton this a.m. told me this is a message of hope everyone could use.

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The Smell Test: Epic Fail

The Los Angeles Times has a disturbing article about the fact that one-quarter of California state legislators hold outside jobs or business interests. Some even sit on committees which oversee the very industries the legislators are part of in their "other" jobs, and it's all perfectly legal.

California's full-time lawmakers are the highest paid in the nation, earning $150,000 a year including salary and expenses (those in leadership posts make more). The salary is justified, lawmakers often say, because it enables them to live and support their families without outside income.

Yet 30 of the state's 120 legislators own businesses or hold other outside jobs, according to their most recent statements of economic interest, and some earn more income away from the Capitol than from the public payroll. They own such enterprises as car dealerships, farms, insurance companies, a plastics firm and a real estate appraisal firm. They work in law, agriculture, health insurance and other medical fields.

Some have routinely voted on legislation that affects their private income. Several lawmakers sit on committees that oversee legislation governing their professions or industries.

State law does not prohibit the practice: legislators are allowed to vote on bills which affect their profession or industry as long as the legislation is general in scope and doesn't affect any particular company. In other words, the owner of an insurance agency can vote (and has done so in several cases) on a bill to expand health care coverage by the state.

A sitting legislator defends the system by noting California's term limits law:

... Legislators need to keep businesses so they have something to return to when they leave office, said Assemblyman Bill Maze (R-Visalia).

"You don't have any kind of retirement [benefit] with the Legislature," said Maze, owner of a farming enterprise and a property-inspection business.

Oh, please!

More often than not, after serving two terms in the Assembly, a termed out legislator runs for the State Senate, or for Insurance Commissioner, or even Governor. It's not like these hardy public servants put in their time and go away.

Even if they did, however, two terms is a long enough time to commit all sorts of lucrative mischief. Grateful clients have all sorts of ways to reward favorable votes by their captive legislator, including steering more business to that legislator's company. It's not difficult to see where that legislator's loyalty is going to lie.

California needs to change this system, even if the change involves nothing more than mandatory recusals when a bill affecting the legislator's personal business interests are involved. That's the very least we should demand of our lawmakers.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thursday Birdblogging

Turkey, as we know it.

What did you expect? A slaughterhouse scene out of the Growing Misadventures of The Gubernatress?

We were having a discussion on Saturday about the value of seeing what happens to put the bird on your table, and I admit that although I have personally been charged with the execution part of the process, as well as the growing, feeding, cooking and eating, I do believe that slaughter of any animal should not be thrown at children unprepared as it happens on a news show.

I have an aversion to guns, but I don't think that is something I can impose on anyone else.

If you are some one who wants others to attract positive attention, particularly admiration and, say, voters, your choices speak loudly about how you value them. The Gubernatress obviously is not interested in those sensitive types. She would probably call them 'squeamish' - if she were being polite.

I have a friend who grows cattle for food, but he thinks they are nicer than a lot of people. Really, not everyone who participates in farming, hunting and general food production is a clod.

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That Oldtime Job

The figures of growing unemployment truly do not tell the whole story, and it isn't just admitting the facts that reality-based people are doing among themselves. At Salon this morning, I found a good picture here;

Back in the 1990s, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recognized that in a changing economy, in which outsourcing, self-employment, and contracting were becoming more commonplace, the traditional methods of measuring unemployment and job growth might not accurately portray the economic situation. And it knew its methodology had some quirks—the unemployment rate doesn't account for people who have given up looking for jobs, or who have taken themselves out of the work force. So since 1994, the BLS has been compiling alternative measures of labor underutilization. There are many different varieties of labor underutilization. There are marginally attached workers: "persons who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the recent past." There are discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached crowd, who have "given a job-market related reason for not looking currently for a job." There are people who work part-time because they can't find—or their employer can't provide—full-time work. There are people who have left the work force entirely. Neither the unemployment rate nor the payroll jobs figure captures the plight of many of these folks.

And the alternative labor underutilization measures show a lot of stress. The data on people not in the work force show the number of people not looking for work because they're discouraged about finding jobs has risen from 276,000 in September 2007 to 467,000 in September 2008—up 70 percent. The percentage of people unemployed for more than 15 weeks stood at 2.3 percent in September 2008, up from 1.6 percent in September 2007, a rise of nearly 45 percent. But the most troublesome is the U6. The U6 is sort of the summa of job angst, a shorthand tally for the aggregate of job-related frustration. (Moneybox covered some of this terrain back in 2004.) To compile the U6, the BLS takes the number of unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus all of those employed part-time for economic reasons, and then calculates that total as a percentage of the sum of the entire civilian labor force plus marginally attached workers.

The U6 in September rose to 11 percent, its highest level since the data series started in 1994 and significantly higher than it was in the last recession, in 2001.

Those 'good Americans' holding down three jobs are not playing with figures, they are desperately trying to support themselves or, in too many cases, their families. The right wing mantra that if only we just would put out the effort we would all be rich is observably, demonstrably, wrong. Given living wages, the workers in the U.S. would even be buying stuff and making an functional economic system that would support even other working people.

While being wrong would be a spur to reality-based adults, to the wingers it is a spur to repeat loudly and often the same lie. That lie keeps appearing in media accounts about the economy, while simple truths are still waiting their turn.

A special place is hopefully waiting in any hell there might be for the business reporters who keep insisting that Americans are refusing to buy the country out of its economic crisis because they are waiting for prices to go down before they spend their great reserve funds. Instead, they are spending themselves ever deeper into debt because without those mythical reserve funds they are forced to use credit to keep body and soul together, in that oldtime job, with the newfangled salary.

There is an old image of the U.S. as the land of plenty, and we need to get that back for everyone who contributes. It's overdue that that plenty should not be reserved for those who take from the rest of us.


A deserved tribute to President Lyndon B. Johnson:

On the night her father signed the 1964 act, coincidentally her 17th birthday, Luci Turpin recalls him telling her, "As a result of the courageous act of this Congress, many men and women who have stood up for this bill and helped it to become law will not be returning here just because of their courageous act.

"And many men and women will be coming to Congress who otherwise would not be able to get here because of the courage of this Congress."

And a special thanks to Sen. Ralph W. Yarborough, who gave that vote to his country, knowing it would end his career.

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Our Ms. Brooks: Pardoning Turkeys

Rosa Brooks' Thanksgiving column is a timely one. Written with her usual snark, this one also includes more than a little acid. The subject is that of presidential pardons, and Ms. Brooks urges President Bush to pardon all the feathered turkeys he'd like, but not the foul ones in his administration.

It's those turkeys in your own administration you shouldn't pardon. The ones who were so determined to make human beings squawk that they treated the federal criminal code like one of Grandma's outmoded recipe books. Who saw nothing wrong with holding detainees in conditions worse than those prevailing at most commercial turkey farms. Who betrayed the millions of Americans who used to give thanks every year for living in a country that didn't rely on torture or secret prisons.

I'm talking about Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and all those who devised, ordered or carried out your administration's policies of "extraordinary rendition," "enhanced interrogation" and "black sites." ...

But using your pardon power in this way would be a huge mistake, Mr. President. Because there's a big catch: You can't issue a pardon without tacitly admitting that "offenses against the United States" have been committed. And do you really want to do that? Do you really want to admit that members of your administration -- probably acting on your instructions -- committed crimes against the United States, and follow that with removing the perpetrators of those crimes, maybe including yourself, from the criminal justice system?

Not a great legacy, Mr. President.

I think it highly unlikely that Mr. Bush will heed Ms. Brooks' advice. Although he had been one of the stingiest presidents of all time when it comes to pardons, he has notably picked up the pace the last few months, as if to prepare us for the big ones that will come right up to the hour Barack Obama takes the oath of office. Protecting his friends and himself from prosecution for destroying any semblance of constitutional governance has to be high on his meager lame-duck to-do list.

That said, I don't think his pardons should necessarily end the question of just what happened to this country under his watch. There is absolutely no reason why Congress cannot go ahead with the investigations into the various actions taken by the administration the last eight years, from the embrace of torture and kidnapping as useful tools in contravention of US law and international treaties to which we are signatory, to the egregious violations of the Bill of Rights when it comes to domestic spying, to the rank corruption within the various federal agencies which enabled cronies to enrich themselves and their patrons under the aegis of government regulations.

The Justice Department might be foreclosed from prosecuting, but at least we will finally know the depths to which this administration went in order to cripple us. Then, perhaps, we will be better prepared the next time a would-be tyrant emerges.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Heartbreak of Denial

There was a heartbreaking story in today's NY Times today. A study has established that because of a government policy, hundreds of thousands of people died needlessly.

A new study by Harvard researchers estimates that the South African government would have prevented the premature deaths of 365,000 people earlier this decade if it had provided antiretroviral drugs to AIDS patients and widely administered drugs to help prevent pregnant women from infecting their babies.

The Harvard study concluded that the policies grew out of President Thabo Mbeki’s denial of the well-established scientific consensus about the viral cause of AIDS and the essential role of antiretroviral drugs in treating it.

How could this happen? And why did it? Thabo Mbeki is no fool. He was a well-respected leader at a time when South Africa needed him. What happened? Well, he succumbed to ideology over science, as the article makes clear.

Mr. Ramatlhodi [a senior ANC party member now running the party’s 2009 election campaign] himself acknowledged in a recent interview that in 2001 he sent a 22-page letter, drafted by Mr. Mbeki’s office, to another of Mr. Mbeki’s most credible critics, Prof. Malegapuru Makgoba, an immunologist who was one of South Africa’s leading scientists. The letter accused Professor Makgoba of defending Western science and its racist ideas about Africans at the expense of Mr. Mbeki. [Emphasis added]

Mr. Mbeki fell for the science deniers' allegations that it was all a nasty Western plot to portray black South Africans as sex-crazed like all primitive blacks are. HIV didn't cause AIDS, and besides, beet juice would take care of everything.

Generations of South Africans are dead as a result, including babies who were born with and then died of the virus when retroviral medication would have prevented the deadly outcome.

Sadly, this is only the latest tragedy of science denial. I did a search of just this blog and found that I had posted on some similar situations in which ideology trumped science with disastrous effects. I indicated in that post, it's not just 'underdeveloped' nations who fall prey to such easy thinking. As I noted three years ago, the link between HPV and cervical cancer is undeniable, and yet fundagelicals in this country are still fighting against the administration of the vaccine to pre-teen girls who aren't yet sexually active for fear that the kids will see this as a license to fuck:

In the US, for instance, religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination, despite a survey showing 80 per cent of parents favour vaccinating their daughters. "Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV," says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.

But there is something worse than ideology trumping science, as hard as that might be to imagine at first. Sometimes short-term economic considerations have the same effect. A recent vice presidential nominee suggested that she is still not convinced that there is a link between human activity and global warming. Now, this is a slight improvement: it's only been the last nine months or so that some people in this country have acknowledged the reality of global climate change.

However, in the last eight years the current administration and its financial owners have done everything possible to thwart any meaningful American involvement in the problem and, more importantly, in the solution. To so engage the country might result in shrinking bottome lines for oil companies and their lackeys. Alaska might not get its natural gas pipeline. Coal mine owners might not get their government dole for the next "clean coal" advertisement.

It will take more than a new president with a new vision to turn things around for this country and for this planet. It will take a commitment by the entire world, including those who are uncomfortable with the role science must play. If we cannot make that commitment, then we truly are doomed. Each day the problem is not addressed more species disappear, more complications arise, and more chances for reveral dissipate. The human world, at the very least, will end.

Not with a bang, but a whimper.

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Health Care NOW!

This post by Jason Rosenbaum appeared at the Seminal yesterday. Jason blogs at The Seminal and works with the Health Care for America NOW organization.
Health Care for America Now held a retreat last week. Via Greg Sargent at TPM:

I’m told that dozens of the heaviest hitters from the health care reform world met for a private retreat in Virginia last week and spent two days girding for a major battle with the insurance industry, hashing out specific messaging, discussing organizing goals and planning a major fundraising drive to blanket the airwaves with ads next year.

At the retreat — which was organized by Health Care For America Now, the major umbrella group of unions, reform advocates and providers — the group agreed that they were aiming to start next year with at least $25 million for ads and field organizing, with the hope of raising many millions more.

Lots of elements of health care reform and how to win were discussed, but one of the most important was taking on the opposition. Specifically, if we want to win health care reform, we have to not only prove the insurance industry and the right-wing of this country wrong, we have to make them untrustworthy.

Case in point, as I wrote yesterday, conservatives and the industry will use all their resources to “kill” health care reform to preserve their own interests:

As this debate moves forward, keep a close eye on who’s making arguments. If it’s the insurance or pharmaceutical industry, you can bet their argument helps or protects their bottom line. If it’s conservatives, you can bet it helps their political viability. Don’t ever assume these groups have the public’s interest at heart.

Having arguments is one thing, and yes, reasonable people can disagree on issues like health care. But it’s important that the general public understand who’s pushing arguments like “We can’t afford health care in an economic crisis” or “big government health care is not the solution we need” and why they are pushing those arguments. As conservatives are making clear, they aren’t against health care for ideological reasons so much as for partisan reasons:

Amidst the usual scary phrases like “government takeover,” “Marxist,” and “Obamacare” (what does that even mean?), Pethokoukis comes clean about his real problem with health care reform - people will like it and they’ll like Obama for making it happen. Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute agrees. His message to Republican lawmakers: Blocking Obama’s Health Plan Is Key to the GOP’s Survival.

The country needs to understand why the right-wing is against health care reform. You can help make that happen.

SEIU has put together an online letter writing tool for folks to write letters to the editor to their local paper. All you have to do is input your zip code and write a letter and it will be automatically submitted to all the local papers in your area.

So, please take a moment and write a letter to your local papers. Expose the reasons why conservatives oppose health care reform. Make their arguments untrustworthy. That way, we’ll be able to win quality, affordable health care for all in 2009.


Not Much Reason For Thanksgiving For Everyone

This upcoming holiday celebrates having plenty, and that just isn't the case for entirely too many of us. While some of us have family commitments, the call for help for the desperate is growing really strong. As losses of jobs and homes mount, we can't ignore basic need growing into a very common problem.

The food banks are feeding former contributors, and unemployment bernefits are under seige. This is a year for making a trip to the store for things to give to local charities, if you possibly can.

Still, we have the supply side telling us it's all about psychological stumbles. Too funny, to hear the WSJ Report every week insisting that we are refusing to spend all that money because we lack confidence, and the maladministration telling us we can go borrow now since the bank has been given all our money.

A great irony of contemporary capitalism is that what's good for the U.S. economy is bad for the individual. Americans should save, but the economy is dependent on spending. Personal consumption is 70 percent of our gross domestic product; the rest of the GDP consists of the government and the few people who managed to save and invest, only to lose 40 percent of it now.

Jonesing for new junk helped get us into the current economic crisis. Yet a new credit card campaign seduces shoppers to binge more: "We're a nation of consumers. And there's nothing wrong with that." Oh, yes, there is! The ad continues: "The trouble is there's so much cool stuff. It's easy to get carried away." To the poorhouse, especially with the company charging 11 percent to 19 percent interest, plus 24 percent on cash advances, rates a bookie could love.

This behavior may be changing, despite such seductions. "People feel that they should be conservative. It's the right thing to do even if, personally, they're not feeling the challenges," says consumer business expert Tara Weiner, managing partner of Deloitte's Philadelphia office.

"Part of the problem is emotional," TD Bank economist Joel Naroff says. "An awful lot of people are concerned, and they're scared. People who might be spending are not."
Consumers have lost confidence, plus they're bored, Mr. Hoch found in a recent study. "It's all the same stuff." We've lost the thrill. Mr. Naroff wonders "whether people can stay irrationally depressed for an extended period of time."

Does that just make you weep with regret that you are so emotionally in a bind? Me, neither. But I give the op-ed writer credit, she is telling her readers that shopping 'til you drop was never a good idea, and now is a good time to give it the pass it always deserved.

Spending money for the good of the Unreal Economy has become a lot harder and that may be good practice for getting what we really want eventually. Credit is what makes the financial community go 'round, but that industry happens to be the source of the whole world's present trauma. When I hear that the credit crisis has been solved, I just don't want to jump in the air with glee.

Just think, if you didn't borrow but saved, it would not mean all those interest charges went to support the lenders that are salivating at the thought that you can be advertized into loans that come with economic shackles for the rest of your life.

Good time to take a holiday from all that financial, and emotional, slavery for good. Thanksgiving seems like a good time to start on the road to real freedom.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

That Rainbow Is Actually An Oil Slick

While all the world's attention is turned toward the economic disaster they have achieved, a few splinters from the mainframe of occupied White House policy are busily scurrying about doing all the damage they can. Of course, the oil companies are full of these crossovers. In Iraq, a former manager of oil agreements is busily at work countering them before they can be brought into force.

In the history of the Iraq War, one name is perhaps synonymous with the collapse of the Bush administration's hopes for a post-Saddam world: Retired Lt. General Jay M. Garner. It was Garner who served as the first post-war administrator for Iraq, running the country during the fateful two months immediately following the invasion before being replaced by L. Paul Bremer III.

However, Garner's frustrating tenure in Iraq wasn't entirely wasted. This year, he and a small group of former US military leaders, officials, and lobbyists have quietly used their deep connections in Kurdistan to help Canadian companies access some of the region's richest oil fields.

Though Garner's involvement in these deals has, so far, remained under the US media's radar, the situation presents an embarrassment for the Bush administration. US policy holds that foreign companies should not jump into the Iraqi oil business until after Iraqis figure out how to apportion their petroleum between various regions and the central government. In fact, last year, an American company named Hunt Oil triggered a controversy when it signed a deal to produce oil in the area of Dahuk in Kurdistan. Hunt Oil's CEO is a friend of President Bush and a former member of his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board; congressional investigators discovered that even though the State Department eventually condemned the contract, the administration had long known about the deal and elected not to intervene. Garner has so far evaded a similar outcry because he's acting on behalf of companies in Canada.

But Garner's deal-making is not without risks. In the spring of 2007, Iraq's cabinet began working on an oil law to govern the country's oil reserves, which are the third largest in the world. Ever since then, however, Iraq's Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish factions have been locked in a contentious struggle over the proposal. According to several observers, including a State Department official familiar with the matter, Garner's efforts to help his Canadian employers preempt the oil law have undermined the already fragile possibility of a cohesive Iraq—which was, of course, what Garner was originally sent to Iraq in 2003 to achieve. Referring to Garner and his colleagues, the official says, "It's unfortunate that they are working for a company that is just adding fuel to the fire in disagreements between Baghdad and Erbil, but there's not much we can do about it."
When the Iraqi constitution was written, the sections relating to oil were, predictably, some of the most hotly contested, and they remain riddled with ambiguities. The Kurds successfully pushed for language limiting the central government's authority to current oil fields, as opposed to as-yet-unexplored ones. It's also unclear who has the power to actually award contracts; that was one of the matters left for the long-awaited oil law. Now, as a State Department legal adviser who worked on the draft told me, the ambiguities have "come home to roost."

What is clear is that each move by foreign companies into Kurdistan adds fresh discord to Iraq's volatile debate over federalism and oil. A poll released in August 2007 by a Washington, DC-based consulting firm found that more than 60 percent of Iraqis want their oil to be developed by the Iraqi state rather than foreign companies. More than 70 percent complained about a lack of transparency where proposed oil laws are concerned.

Baghdad has denounced most of the oil contracts signed by the KRG as "illegal," and has blacklisted the companies involved from future bids. In September, Iraq's oil minister, Hussein al-Shahristani, threatened that the oil law might never pass if Kurdistan doesn't cancel the contracts.

A stalemate on the oil law could be disastrous—not least for the Bush administration. That's why, the State Department official told me, Washington's policy is plain: "We do not support any company signing a deal before an oil law is in place."

The agreement the maladministration has been trying to put into place to keep President Obama's hands tied may just be unraveled by one of its own kind. The ironies growing out of this group of criminals all trying to get the most out of the U.S. treasury and all of its attendant troughs just grow and grow.

The primacy of greed and heedlessness of consequences that has characterized the maladministation is rife in its many former participants. The damage they can do has been displayed at large lately. The individuals running up their separate damages are going to be manifesting their misdeeds for some time to come.

The circular firing squad should give us some great reading sometime soon. If there's any solar energy for the light left to read by, that is.

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Going Home

A spot of good news (sorta kinda): Salim Ahmed Hamdan will soon be going home. From today's Washington Post:

The U.S. military has decided to transfer Osama bin Laden's former driver from custody at Guantanamo Bay to his home in Yemen, ending the seven-year saga of a man the Bush administration considered a dangerous terrorist but whom a military jury found to be a low-level aide.

Salim Ahmed Hamdan is expected to arrive within 48 hours in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, where he will serve out the rest of his military commission sentence, which is set to expire Dec. 27, two government officials said. The Pentagon's decision to send Hamdan home narrowly avoids what could have been a sticky diplomatic situation, as Bush administration officials had long contended they could hold Hamdan indefinitely.

A couple of things struck me by this news. The first is that the decision was made by "the U.S. military," i.e., "the Pentagon," and not by the President of the United States or by civilian administration officials. Is that who is running the show? Yes, Mr. Hamdan was held and tried by the military, but only after the civilian Congress gave them the authority to do so, as the civilian Supreme Court demanded.

The second has to do with the ongoing assertion that this country can detain individuals indefinitely without charge. That assertion, like the concept of the Unitary President, will have to be stomped into nothingness if we are ever going to return to our constitutional way of life. Apparently the Pentagon isn't going to give up without a fight.

Hamdan's attorneys were poised to fight the assertion that their client could be held indefinitely, a case that probably would have brought Hamdan back to the Supreme Court to challenge his detention. Instead, he will serve out the remaining month of his sentence in a Yemeni prison before being released to his wife and two young children, one of whom has never met him. Hamdan is about 40.

"Legally, we absolutely have a right to hold enemy combatants, but politically is he the guy we want to fight all the way to the Supreme Court about?" said a defense official familiar with the release negotiations. "I think we came to the conclusion that, no, he wasn't. This is a win for everyone."

"Legally"? "We absolutely have a right"?

Pardon me, but this isn't Argentina or the Soviet Union in the mid-Twentieth Century. In its earlier holdings involving Hamdan and Boumediene, the Supreme Court made it clear that habeas corpus is still an "absolute" right in this nation. The Global War On Terror is merely a politically palatable euphemism, and not a statement of fact.

What is fact is that the Pentagon didn't want to risk another slap-down by the Court, nor did it want to risk a showdown with the new President, who has already made it clear that Guantanamo Bay is going to be closed and the detainees brought to American soil.

Morons, but very, very dangerous ones.

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Prosecution Got a Conviction in Holy Land FoundationTrial

The prosecution succeeded, and that is the only way I can lead off on this embarrassing report. A jury of twelve Dallas residents believed a prosecution that I also witnessed, and handed down a conviction on all counts - of Muslim charities being directly supportive of Hamas after that group was declared a terrorist operation. I cannot say the defendants, including the Holy Land Foundation itself, were found guilty.

As I have reported, the courtroom procedure included allowing witnesses to testify without being identified because they were Israeli agents, allowing hearsay testimony in addition to both testimony and redirect that ranged into the territory of phantasmagorical, and a prosecution wrap-up that told jurors that they should rely on their memories instead of testimony and evidence, and that freedom of speech wasn't allowed if that speech showed bad feelings. Demonstrations against Israeli occupation were the main focus of the U.S. prosecution.

There will be an appeal, and recent overturning of a similar case in which the prosecution was allowed tactics that also ran into the unconstitutional range makes the prospects somewhat promising.

As I have previously reported, the local reports often gave prosecution contentions without balancing defense arguments, so I will give the al Jazeera report which contains both sides.

A US court has convicted a Muslim charity and five of its former leaders of all 108 charges in the largest "terrorism" financing trial in US history.

The Texas jury reached its verdict on Monday after eight days of deliberations over whether the former Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, once the largest US Muslim charity, had given money to the Palestinian group Hamas.

The charity, which was shut down seven years ago, was accused of giving more than $12m to support Hamas, which was designated a "terrorist organisation" in 1995 by the US government.

The hour-long verdict, following a seven-week trial, came after a first trial ended in October 2007 with one man acquitted on 31 charges but jurors unable to agree on verdicts for others.
Al Jazeera's Tom Ackerman, reporting from Dallas, Texas, where the court case took place, said a former US state department official testified that he was never told that Hamas directed the US charity during intelligence briefings.

But an unidentified Israeli witness told the court that the aid was funnelled through Hamas channels.

Lydia Gonzalez of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the defendants did not get a fair trial.

"When you're supposed to be able to face your accusers fully and against secret evidence and secret witness, I think that leads to reasonable doubt."

Muslim groups say the prosecution has made American Muslims more hesitant to fulfil their religious obligation of helping the needy and the foundation's defenders accuse the government of selectively prosecuting the charity.

"The same charities that these guys gave to the American Red Cross is still giving to, the USAID is still giving to," Mustafaa Carroll of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said.

The matters on trial in this courtroom were never about U.S. terrorism, but centered around Hamas activities against Israel. A major point the prosecution attempted to make was that zakat committees, which are the main instrument of administering charity in the Middle East, are controlled by Hamas, and therefore all charity benefited that group.

While I could definitely see that Hamas was shown resolutely not to accept Israeli occupation, I never saw any reason shown by prosecution that charitable operations in the U.S. conducted by Holy Land Foundation were a concern of the U.S. Department of Justice. That the Muslim religion demands charity and that zakat committees are the instrument of delivery appeared to be proven: that U.N., worldwide, and U.S. charitable efforts have and do deliver assistance through those means was proven as well.

Without going back over details minutely, I must say I saw no concern with justice in the courtroom that I observed; rather the efforts were concerned with making a connection between charity in the Middle East and terrorists. The aspects that I saw proven were familial and social relationships among the many groups, and that some members of the communities had Hamas connections. For the most part, the prosecution's constant attempt to blur a connection between the need for charity in occupied communities and hatred for Israel depended on very slim pickings of occasional statements of very bad feelings toward the occupiers. I was embarrassed for this country, and horrified that the jurors affirmed the prosecutors' feelings.

If all the millions spent on this mockery of a trial had gone into, say, actual charitable activities that showed the U.S. character as generous rather than undermining generosity, I would feel much more secure.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Turkeys Gobble Up History

This has been a post-election spectacle of many ambitious pontificators trying to revive their reputations by re-invention of history. Lincoln gets the axe from the right wing and some other critics, with the contention he didn't really set the slaves free, he just recruited potential troops from black people in the South.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt didn't revive the U.S. economy with the New Deal, he misapplied our national treasury that should have been put into CITI, I mean, the banks of the day. George Will has insisted on this point of view and I love on the subject:

As Nobel-laureate Paul Krugman wrote recently in the New York Times, “There’s a whole intellectual industry, mainly operating out of right-wing think tanks, devoted to propagating the idea that F.D.R. actually made the Depression worse. So it’s important to know that most of what you hear along those lines is based on deliberate misrepresentation of the facts. The New Deal brought real relief to most Americans.”

Krugman observed that the true short-comings of the New Deal policies resulted from the fact that they were not bold enough over the short-term:

The truth is that the New Deal wasn’t as successful in the short run as it was in the long run. And the reason for F.D.R.’s limited short-run success, which almost undid his whole program, was the fact that his economic policies were too cautious. (…)

In short, Mr. Obama’s chances of leading a new New Deal depend largely on whether his short-run economic plans are sufficiently bold. Progressives can only hope that he has the necessary audacity.

If the truth hurts, the pontificators who have been consistently wrong throughout the past more than eight years will tell lies. The lies have had much more play on our talk shows than those librul facts. Now that the lies have proved miserably wrong, we have a lot of pundits whose living is threatened. There can be only one solution for the consistently wrong, and that is to create new myths to support their viewpoint.

It would be fatal to the wingers if they couldn't knock down truisms that refute the ideology they're pushing, and which has so totally failed. I can watch with amusement and realize that only the audience that terribly needs to see right wing myths instead of facts will fall for all this.

President-elect Obama has declared his support for measures like FDR's, which gave us consumers where before there had only been desperate unemployed workers. Without consumers, of course, there is no need to build and manufacture, because there will be no return on those efforts. The occupied White House may squirm all it wants into support of failed financial institutions, but it can't avoid the coming real solutions for the real economy.

Now, though, these curmudgeons want to eviscerate your turkey along with Grandma's house. An attempt at stealing Thanksgiving is going too far. Sunday's Dallas Morning News had to print a little fable that makes the Thanksgiving of the pilgrims a triumph of capitalism over socialism.

So, anyway, these people were on the brink of destruction. The Indians tried to help – taught them something about battering their fishsticks in cornmeal or something. Who are the Indians? Um, they were a noble, primitive people who were so noble they didn't even have any concept of land ownership. Which, now that I think of it, confuses the whole "their land was stolen" issue.

Nevermind. Skip the Indians. We'll come back to that later.

Anyway, despite the fish sticks, the Pilgrims were still living on the edge, because they had no self-interest or incentive. If someone worked harder, they didn't get any additional reward. If someone just lazed about, they still got a ration of food.

"Are you making this up?"

Of course I'm not. This time. See this book on Daddy's bookshelf? It's William Bradford's Of Plimouth Plantation. Mr. Bradford was governor of Plymouth Bay Colony, and he said this socialized system "was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much imployment that would have been to their benefite and comforte." So in 1623, Mr. Bradford said, hey – how about everyone just gets a plot of land, and you get to keep whatever you grow, or you can sell it or trade it?

They did.

"This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corne was planted than other waise would have bene by any means the Govr or any other could use," Mr. Bradford wrote a year later between Thanksgiving Day football games.

And that's why Thanksgiving is a celebration of hard work, free enterprise and the abundance people create when they're free to keep the fruits of the labors.

There you go, our feast is turned into a lesson in failed economic policies that rob the poor and give to the rich, as Atrios often says, WHEEEEEE.

There is a big flaw and maybe the author isn't familiar with it, but the background of the Pilgrims is that they tried to create god's kingdom here on earth, and chose as their model the communities that Jesus set up as his own. Without selfish accumulation, the pilgrims thought they would achieve what the ideal of Christianity would achieve. This was long before the term 'solialist' had been added to the lexicon of those who idolize wealth, then known as Mammon.

Indeed, they didn't make it with the original concept of christianity in pracice, for several reasons, but the evils of socialism were not a factor.

William Bradford was a political animal, and in his account awarded himself a First Prize for good rethinking of christian ideals, which Garrison accepts as if it were Newt Gingrich acclaiming success for his Contract with America. In both cases, the politicians themselves had much to do with the failure of the system they proclaimed had proved itself fatally flawed.

A large factor, in the case of the first Thanksgiving feast, ignorance in farming the Massachusetts rocky soil had added materially to the inability of the colony to support itself. The colony did not throw out its ideal of equality but continued to share land, power and access to the things they used. Today, Massachusetts still has a lot of its original leftie character. Gays can marry there, having equality before the law. The state provides public education that is the envy of a lot of the other fifty states. Its elected officials, for instance, congressional representatives Barney Frank and Ted Kennedy, fight determinedly to bring the Rule of Law back to our government. Those are a very few of the reasons the right wing can't celebrate an end of equality as their reason for a Thanksgiving feast.

It's actually rather enjoyable to watch winger pundits shovel down into ever lower depths trying to convince their audience. I have celebrated Schadenfreude a little too much. This one, though, is a jewel. It glosses over the essentially good concept of sharing, and makes it into an evil. As President-elect Obama noted, his sharing in kindergarten will no doubt confirm wingers that he is a practicing communist.

The Thanksgiving feast that we will celebrate on Thursday is a good time to remember that greed is failure, and not just of our pilgrim forefathers' ideals of equality. It is economic failure as well. The maximization of profit at the expense of a fair return for labor has brought our consumer economy to desperate straits.

If you don't have a turkey on your list, because you can't afford one this year, I hope you will realize that we are working to end the trickle-down atrocity the country has suffered. Greed had been idolized for the past eight years, and proved it isn't functional as the basis of an economic system.

Remembering that "as ye do to the least of these my little ones, so do you unto me" isn't just a pretty thought. It is an ideal that works better than its opposite, that has just proved it is a resounding failure.

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A Little Background

The takeover of Citi is so ludicrous a use of taxpayer moneys that it has been greeted with contempt by just about everyone. I have seen so much excellent skewering of it that I just recommend to you that you look around, it's pervasive. That myth of being 'too big to fail' has become laughable as increasingly the absence of consumers for supporting the economy testifies to the real weakness in present economic 'policies'.

As background, I liked a post at Walled-In Pond, and will give it to you here.

The jig is, as they say, up.
This piece, copied here from the Guardian, appeared in the Observer of London in September. It's been reproduced in this month's Harper's. It should be read by everyone with the brain function of an amoeba.

The global financial crisis will see the US falter in the same way the Soviet Union did when the Berlin Wall came down. The era of American dominance is over.

Our gaze might be on the markets melting down, but the upheaval we are experiencing is more than a financial crisis, however large. Here is a historic geopolitical shift, in which the balance of power in the world is being altered irrevocably. The era of American global leadership, reaching back to the Second World War, is over.

You can see it in the way America's dominion has slipped away in its own backyard, with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez taunting and ridiculing the superpower with impunity. Yet the setback of America's standing at the global level is even more striking. With the nationalisation of crucial parts of the financial system, the American free-market creed has self-destructed while countries that retained overall control of markets have been vindicated. In a change as far-reaching in its implications as the fall of the Soviet Union, an entire model of government and the economy has collapsed.

Ever since the end of the Cold War, successive American administrations have lectured other countries on the necessity of sound finance. Indonesia, Thailand, Argentina and several African states endured severe cuts in spending and deep recessions as the price of aid from the International Monetary Fund, which enforced the American orthodoxy. China in particular was hectored relentlessly on the weakness of its banking system. But China's success has been based on its consistent contempt for Western advice and it is not Chinese banks that are currently going bust. How symbolic yesterday that Chinese astronauts take a spacewalk while the US Treasury Secretary is on his knees.

More Nuggets:

The populist rant about greedy banks that is being loudly ventilated in Congress is a distraction from the true causes of the crisis. The dire condition of America's financial markets is the result of American banks operating in a free-for-all environment that these same American legislators created. It is America's political class that, by embracing the dangerously simplistic ideology of deregulation, has responsibility for the present mess
The Iraq War and the credit bubble have fatally undermined America's economic primacy. The US will continue to be the world's largest economy for a while longer, but it will be the new rising powers that, once the crisis is over, buy up what remains intact in the wreckage of America's financial system.
The irony of the post-Cold War period is that the fall of communism was followed by the rise of another utopian ideology. In American and Britain, and to a lesser extent other Western countries, a type of market fundamentalism became the guiding philosophy. The collapse of American power that is underway is the predictable upshot. Like the Soviet collapse, it will have large geopolitical repercussions. An enfeebled economy cannot support America's over-extended military commitments for much longer. Retrenchment is inevitable and it is unlikely to be gradual or well planned. (Emphasis added.)

The article continues, rich (if you will) with insight and interpretation, and it seems to me damn near irrebuttable.

I have long believed that we middle-class Murkins alive today lived more luxuriously, and better--no matter our individual status--than any members of our class since it emerged in the 16th century. However, the middle class has always been target of the elites and oligarchs who rightly recognized it as a far greater threat to their own perqs and prerogatives than the groaning, oppressed peasants. As such, they have sought the myriad ways to bring down the middle-class, to weaken it and to strip it of its economic power. Economic depression has been just about infallible in that regard.

If you don't go over to Woody's post and take a look at the cartoon he used, you will be missing out on a treat.


And there is going to be no end to it until January 20, 2009. We are in deep, deep doodoo, folks. President Bush said Monday that the first step toward economic recovery is to stabilize the financial system - and that the government may step in to help financial institutions again the way it did with Citigroup. An appropriate label for this news would be Highway Robbery.

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Hard, But Not Impossible

January 20,2009, the date of President Elect Obama's inauguration, is only 57 days away, so the press has already begun telling us what a hard time the new president will have keeping his campaign promises. One of those promises, to close Guantanamo Bay and bring the detainees to the US for prompt and proper judicial handling, was the subject of this article in today's Los Angeles Times.

President-elect Barack Obama's vow to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, cheered human rights organizations and civil libertarians, but could force the new administration to consider a step those groups would abhor.

Some Obama advisors predict that his administration may have to decide whether to ask Congress to pass legislation allowing a number of detainees to be held indefinitely without trial. But civil libertarians think that even a limited version of such a proposal would be as much at odds with U.S. judicial custom as the offshore prison.

The debate suggests that the decision to close Guantanamo may be the easy part for Obama. Much harder will be sorting out the legal complexities of holding, prosecuting, transferring or releasing the roughly 250 prisoners.

Obama has never embraced an indefinite detention law, and his supporters think he will take steps to avoid that outcome. However, sharp divisions have emerged among Obama allies on how to proceed. The civil libertarians, legal scholars and lawyers who were united in condemning the Bush administration's policies differ on what to do with the prisoners at Guantanamo.

Obviously, each of the cases will have to be rigorously examined. Those cases which have not been tainted by evidence secured by torture or by other dubious means can proceed to trial in a civilian court. The detainees should be charged with the appropriate crime, and then should be allowed all of the rights of any other defendant before the bar, including access to all of the evidence the prosecution is holding, especially exculpatory evidence. That is the easy part of the process.

The hard part comes with the rest of the cases. What do we do with those men who can't be tried because the evidence for the nebulous charges is tainted and can't be used? Presumably (although there is no way to be certain), this class of detainees contains those who intended to harm the US in some fashion, but the evidence to prove that will be excluded.

And what do we do with those detainees who were erroneously picked up, who had done nothing wrong, nor did they harbor any particularly ill-feelings toward the US at the time? After six or seven years of detention, "intensive" interrogations, and poor treatment, it's likely that they harbor some pretty serious ill-feelings towards us now, and understandably so. They may not have been "terrorists" before, but chances are more than a few of them are willing to embrace that role now.

Finally, what do we do with those innocents who can't be returned to their home countries for fear that they will be subject to torture and/or death by their own governments once they reach home?

The article suggests that President Obama will have to ask Congress for a new law, one that allows for the indefinite detention without charge of these prisoners. I do not see the necessity for such an unconstitutional law, not for any of these prisoners.

Those in the last class who cannot safely return home should be relocated, either here in the US or in other nations that can be counted on to treat them more humanely than we have. Homes for the Uighers have already been found here in the US, now it is just a matter for the appellate court to order them released.

The other two classes, as risky as it may be, should also be released, either here or abroad. If we indeed believe in the rule of law as expressed in our most precious national document, we have to release them, knowing and facing the consequences which will be traced back to the last seven years in Guantanamo.

Ultimately, it is not about who they are. It's about who we are, or at least say we are.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Poetry: Thomas Lux

Torn Shades

How, in the first place, did
they get torn-pulled down hard
too many times: to hide a blow,
or sex, or a man
in stained pajamas? The tear blade-shaped,
serrated, in tatters. And once,
in a house flatside to a gas station,
as snow fell at a speed and angle you could lean on,
two small hands (a patch of throat, a whip
of hair across her face)-
two small hands
parting a torn shade
to welcome a wedge of gray sunlight into that room.

Thomas Lux

Ideal Scenario

While watching the unfolding of the Obama era in America, the rest of the world has not forgotten the horrors of the Bush era. Watching America continues to publish more than a few international articles on the Bush administration, including this one from Germany's Neues Deutschland. Written by Olaf Standke and headlined as "Cheney In The Dock", the article expresses a wish that the first trial of the International Crimes Commission had involved Dick Cheney.

...A grand jury in Texas alleges the Vice-President is complicit in the abuse of prisoners incarcerated in privately run prisons. It also alleges that Cheney summarily used the power of his office to prevent an investigation of the charges. Small wonder: Cheney is reported to have invested $85 million in companies who realize most of their profits from the private prison industry.

The accusation is appropriate for the White House’s second in command who, since September 11, 2001, has been accorded presidential privileges. The former CEO of the Halliburton energy services company has been more successful than anyone else in maximizing profits from dirty political deals. He and his team laid the policy strategy as well as the legal basis for a number of crimes. The keyword list is long and includes not only the Iraq war, Guantanamo and CIA torture, but also the savaging of political opponents to the point that their livelihoods are endangered. In addition, he is responsible for the creation of “Washington insider” energy, environmental and financial policies geared toward big profits.

Why, yes: that is a pretty fair summation, but far from complete. What is unfortunate is that while many Americans have been keeping track and would love to see Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush and the rest of his cohorts in the dock, our Democratic-led 110th Congress didn't have the time or the inclination for such a "divisive" policy. Democrats in an earlier Congress stood silent as a president was impeached for a blowjob, but they didn't have the guts to impeach those who were responsible for the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands and the death of the one thing that made America exceptional: her Constitution.

Now, as his term winds down, President Bush has the opportunity to "pardon" all those who assisted him the last eight years. One congressman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), has decided that enough is enough and has introduced a House Resolution which both urges the current president not to engage in pre-emptive pardons and urges Congress to fully investigate all of the wrongdoings of the last eight years.

If you think he's got the right idea, go on over to Democrats.Com and sign the petition which will be sent to your House member and both Senators asking them to sign on to Rep. Nadler's resolution. Our active participation worked earlier this month, and it will work now.

Do it.

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Had Enough?

The meeting of the American-Pacific Economic Conference in Peru yesterday was not pushed into action by the financial crisis. Waiting for the next administration in the U.S. became the order of the day.

Worldwide action to stop the continuing disaster shows sound fundamentals, at last. The IMF, and World Bank, will be reformed because with other economic policy theaters they have acted to divert funds intended to shore up weaker countries into over-arching financial industries rather than fight poverty and hunger. The results are more than disgrace, they are fatal to the financial community as well. Proof has been irrevocably supplied, that robbing the poor to give to the rich makes everyone poorer. Starvation has trickled up, rather than wealth trickling down.

This at last is wisdom free from political posturing. A statement by Canada's PM Harper and Mexico's President Calderon indicates that the group refuses to be pushed into action that would carry out the continuing maladministration's failed economic ideology.

...Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada and President Felipe Calderón of Mexico blamed the United States for starting the crisis and called for better banking regulations.

"Our closest neighbor and largest trading partner is the epicenter of the financial earthquake and global slowdown," Harper said in a speech to business leaders.

Calderon said structural problems in the global economy were allowed to fester before spiraling out of control.

"This wasn't caused by developing countries," he said.

APEC members said they strongly supported recommendations made last week in Washington by the Group of 20 nations. Nine of APEC's members belong to the Group of 20.

The Group of 20 agreed to strive for a deal on key farm and manufactured goods trade issues in the Doha round by the end of the year. It also pushed for government spending or tax incentives to spur economies and tougher oversight of the financial industry.

Pascal Lamy, the World Trade Organization's director general, will chair a meeting of senior trade officials in Geneva on Sunday to assess the chances of reaching a deal.

But even if progress were made in Geneva on nagging disputes, Bush is a lame-duck president and Obama's stamp would be needed on any final pact.

Like all financial reporters, this writer prefers to coddle the criminals' whose misappropriation of funds has brought on the disaster we are muddling through until they are out of office. Lame duck status is not the main reason the APEC ministers refuse to self-destruct further by carrying out failed directives. The occupied White House's blind insistence on throwing the world's money into the financial sector having failed is the reason for putting off action until the adults are control.


At The Sideshow, Avedon has a collection of reality-based posts titled All That Glitters that detail the crimes that have brought disaster to the entire world's economic status.

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