Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bonus Critter Blogging: Elephant

(Photograph by David McNew/Getty Images and published at National Geographic.)

The Germans Get It ...

...but I'm not sure President Obama does.

What amazes and profoundly annoys me is President Barack Obama's insistence on operating under some pie-in-the-sky sense of "bipartisanship" (whatever in the hell that is). He frequently seems to forget that in November, the American electorate resoundingly rejected the principles of the Republican Party as they were manifested the past eight years. He got elected because he promised change, something new, something that was based on the welfare of the country as a whole, rather than the welfare of the have-mores. His handling of the stimulus package certainly doesn't give much evidence that he understands that.

Everything we've seen the last two weeks makes it clear that the GOP, itself in profound disarray, is reduced to hoping that the Obama administration fails, fails miserably, and fails quickly. Republicans have no intention of cooperating with a Democratic program to get the nation back on its feet economically, diplomatically, or morally. They want the red meat of failure, and they will do everything in their power to facilitate that failure. That is their only hope for a return to relevance, especially since they have made it clear that they don't have a clue how to undue the havoc they, with their boy king, have wreaked the past eight (and more) years. Yet President Obama continues to kowtow to them, forcing off the agenda certain portions of the stimulus plan because it offended the sensibilities of the GOP.

I don't get it. Neither does the rest of the world, if this article in Germany's Die Zeit is any indication.

...In order to gain support for his $820 billion economic rescue plan and to win over as many conservative congressional representatives as possible, Barack Obama spent days flattering and beguiling Republicans. On the evening before his inauguration, he threw a banquet for his former opponent, John McCain. He invited well-known conservatives to the White House during the first week of his administration. He sent his closest economic advisors as well as his chief of staff on promotional tours and he visited Congress personally to exchange views with selected Republican senators and representatives.

But flattery got him nowhere. Not a single Republican voted in favor of his economic plan. Even 11 Democrats deserted him. The fact that the bill passed 244 to 188 was due solely to the Democrats’ overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives. That wasn’t the way Obama had expected his first dealings with Congress to go. He had promised to bury the political hatchet and put forth new policies designed to garner broad, bipartisan support. But the old battle lines remained in place on Wednesday with Republicans and Democrats apparently implacably opposed to one another.

And why is that?

Obama’s rescue plan is now bringing up moral issues in Republican ranks. Republicans have believed for years that reducing taxes alone would stimulate the economy. The more money individuals and businesses were allowed to hold on to, the more they would spend and invest and the better off they would be. Theoretically. Tax money used to improve infrastructure, to build new roads and repair schools, for early childhood development and health care, to develop alternative energy sources and public transportation was and still is to them an expression of liberal wastefulness and therefore the work of Satan. [Emphasis added]

That is as clear a description of the GOP mindset as I've seen, right down to the religious metaphor. That much is clear to everyone but President Obama and to certain key members of Congress. What those individuals refuse to understand is that the last election made it clear that a huge majority of this nation recognized the failure of Republican principles and rejected them.

This nation will probably forgive Obama and the Democratic Congress for being too bold in their proposals, but we will never forgive them for being too timid, too tentative, too touchy-feely when it comes to the delicate sensibilities of the troglodytes who are still clinging to trickle-down economics even after the global failure of that theory.

Time to face reality, Mr. Obama. And Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Reid.

As my late father would say, "Time to fish or cut bait." Or, as I am wont to say, "Get outta my way, I got stuff to do."

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Disaster Profits

The record breaking profits of oil companies are continuing in the worst of times. Having created a system that relies on their product partly by undermining competition from mass transportation projects like D.C.'s trolley system, the oil companies have a stranglehold on the U.S. The worst aspect of the situation was experienced all to recently as prices soared to $4 a gallon, and many workers had to go into debt to make the adjustment in their budgets.

While the real estate bubble that burst made a huge mess financially for many, a large proportion of the working population had already become strapped, and many indebted, by jacked-up oil prices that also bled into grocery prices and prices of everything that had to be transported. Trucking companies and truckers were particularly stressed by the huge hikes in the gas essential to their operation.

The maligned American consumer went into debt to keep from going hungry and giving up a job, for the most part. All the grief the consumer is getting now for feckless behavior was greatly forced on him/her by oil prices.

Now it's hard to celebrate when one of the few industries that has kept profits in its operation has more profit to report.

Despite collapsing oil prices in recent months, Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, still managed to set a record for last year as the most profitable American corporation ever.

Exxon earned $45.2 billion in 2008, beating the record it set in 2007 for most profitable corporation, at $40.6 billion. That came despite a fourth quarter in which income fell 33 percent, owing to the steepest drop ever in oil prices, as the economy went into a tailspin.

After riding a tide of swelling earnings in recent years, the once high-flying oil sector is scrambling to adjust to a sharp downturn. Oil consumption is falling in all major developed nations as economies shrink and consumers cut back on spending.

As a result, oil prices have dropped more than 70 percent since peaking above $145 a barrel in July. On Friday, they traded at about $42 a barrel.

Because of its close attention to cost reduction and efficiency, Exxon is weathering the drop in oil prices better than most rivals. As most companies trim spending and scale back some operations, Exxon signaled it would stick with its strategy.

More than any other oil company, managers at Exxon emphasize a strict attention to containing costs, and are disciplined about their investments. As a result, the company manages to extract more dollars than its rivals out of each barrel that it pumps or refines.

The method has served the company well when times were good, and is likely to provide some shelter in a long downturn, analysts said.

The company has more than $30 billion in cash that could provide it with a strategic war chest to make acquisitions, according to analysts. Many have forecast a wave of buyouts in the sector as companies struggle to finance their projects or even to survive.
On Friday, the company signaled that its share buyback program, which totaled $8 billion in the fourth quarter, would be trimmed slightly to $7 billion in the first quarter of 2009.

Exxon pumped about 2.47 million barrels of oil a day in the fourth quarter and produced 9.8 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day. Over all, oil and gas production decreased 3 percent in the fourth quarter, compared with the year-earlier period. (In some countries, Exxon is entitled to fewer barrels of oil when prices rise.)

The company started eight major projects last year, including Thunder Horse, a huge offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why would anyone expect that the huge tax breaks the oil companies have been handed by a congress dominated by right wingers go unmentioned in the company's announcement? The use of public lands without paying taxpayers for leases also just didn't make the cut.

It is past time for the U.S. to end the obscene profits of oil companies that give nothing back to the consumer. Solar and wind energy, clean in so many ways, will be part of a welcome solution to the problems the oil companies have created.

Pollution has damaged the world in several ways, air, land and water pollution are symbolic of the Eat the Poor practices that oil companies find desirable. Humankind will be much better off when the reign of Big Oil is over.

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Courage Comes In Several Varieties

Having never been part of the military, the awards that are given to combatants have never been part of my experience. This morning, though, I see an op-ed that makes me just sad for my country. It seems our military thinks that the only kind of suffering that requires courage is physical.

Many of the wounds of the kind of battle that involves military against civilian populations are mental affliction. The suffering of our troops involves more than physical pain and disabling. Confronted with the injustice they are required to inflict cannot help but hurt their stability, and self-esteem.

When I was in Iraq, the most common wound behind the many Purple Hearts we awarded was the "perforated eardrum," an eardrum punctured by the concussion of a nearby explosion. In the vast majority of cases, no blood was ever shed. Seldom did these Marines ever miss a day of full duty. And yet they were all awarded the coveted medal.

A year later, back at Camp Lejeune, N.C., I was making calls to the families of wounded Marines – a difficult duty even when the wounds are minor. But I noticed during that time that I never once made a call to a family about a Marine's psychological wounds. I never got a casualty report for post-traumatic stress, despite the rising number of veteran suicides. Never once.

Why, I asked myself, if a combat wound is a combat wound no matter how small, shouldn't those people suffering from the "invisible wounds" of post-traumatic stress also receive the Purple Heart? Difficulty of diagnosis is one of the central justifications the Pentagon has given, citing the concern that fakers will tarnish the medal's image. Spilt blood cannot be faked.

But this seems an unconvincing argument not to honor those who actually do suffer from post-traumatic stress. For example, the possibility of fakers has not prevented the Department of Veterans Affairs from awarding disability payments to service members who have received a diagnosis. Why should the military itself be different?

The distinction, I suspect, lies in the deep-seated attitude toward psychological wounds. It is still difficult for many members of the military to truly believe that post-traumatic stress is, in fact, an injury and not the result of a weak or dysfunctional brain. The same culture that demands tough-mindedness also encourages skepticism toward the suggestion that the violence of war can hurt the healthiest of minds.

What we require of military service should be very much the major consideration for awarding service awards. When we produce veterans wounded deeply in ways that are not physical, we should be ashamed not to honor them. Mental suffering is real, and many of us have experienced it. We need to leave our prejudices aside in evaluating what is worth our respect.

The fear of being recognized for mental suffering is a part of the affliction trauma victims are subject to, and giving them the respect they've earned would be a step toward easing that suffering.

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Reading the editorial page of the Los Angeles Times frequently raises my blood pressure, even when I essentially agree with much of what the editorial board (that august "center left" body) has to say. Too often the last part of the editorial completely dilutes the fairly sensible argument of the first half. Today was one of those days.

The subject was the attempt by Proposition 8 supporters to keep secret the names and addresses of those who contributed to the campaign to suppress gay marriage. This week a federal judge held that the information had to be revealed. Here's the first half of the editorial:

The Political Reform Act of 1974, passed overwhelmingly by California voters during the Watergate era, was meant in part to end secret donations to political campaigns. Californians had reason to worry about such things after oil companies secretly donated $85,000 (which was a lot of campaign money back in the day) to defeat a 1970 public-transit measure.

The intent of the reform act -- to give the voting public full knowledge about who is behind the ever more confusing array of ballot initiatives -- is too important to weaken with special exemptions, even considering the rightful anger of Proposition 8 proponents who say they have been harassed and threatened by opponents since their donations to the same-sex marriage ban were made public. U.S. District Judge Morrison England summed up the matter neatly in his ruling against the proponents, saying: "If there ever needs to be sunshine on a particular issue, it's a ballot measure."

The Proposition 8 committee had sought to forestall the scheduled disclosure of donors who gave from $100 to $999 to the campaign in the last weeks before the vote. It now intends to appeal its case in search of a ruling that might, for example, keep donors' addresses confidential in this and future campaigns. This attempted incursion into open government should be stopped at every legal pass.

It's pretty hard to fault that, well, except for the "rightful anger of Propsition 8 proponents". That phrase really sets up the balance of the editorial in which the editorial board does a rather swift 180.

The committee complains that pro-Proposition 8 businesses were subjected to boycotts and picketing, and that individuals and organizations were threatened by mail and telephone and saw their buildings vandalized.

There are two types of revenge here, and they have to be separated. Boycotts and pickets are venerable aspects of a lively if sometimes messy democratic process; we may not always like them, but they deserve protection. Threats and vandalism are another matter, repugnant and illegal. Advocates of same-sex marriage should be aware that such actions hurt their cause and gain them no new allies. Sadly, some of them are too angry to care about what the public at large thinks of their tactics.

But law enforcement should care. Ordinarily, a threatening phone call is considered a minor offense, but when it is intended to silence speech, it should be seen not as simple harassment but as political intimidation. Those who have been subjected to illegal acts of revenge should contact authorities, who should in turn investigate and, when possible, prosecute. The best way to stop the harassment is not to curb legitimate forms of protest speech or roll back important disclosure requirements, but to show would-be perpetrators that there are consequences to thinking their anger excuses all behaviors.

Those poor, poor donors. All they did was exercise their right to contribute to a campaign they believed in and now they are victims, VICTIMS of harrassment by those evil gay people hellbent for revenge.

Oh, please.

While the editorial does distinguish between protected forms of "revenge" (interesting word choice, yes?), and unlawful forms, the reader is left with the sense that the good guys in the matter are those homophobic bigots who wanted to keep gays where they belong: way, way down on the social ladder with as few rights as possible. That gays might object to that by picketing businesses isn't fair. Free speech is free speech, but only when engaged by the "right" kind of people.

But wait, there's more.

The editorial accepts at face value the claims of personal threats, and suggests police intervention. Fine, make the bigots prove it. Produce phone records or police reports. Hell, call the FBI; chances are they taped some of those calls. If such evidence was produced at the federal district court hearing, then mention it in the editorial. If it wasn't, then mention that. That should take only a minimal amount of leg work. That's what reporters do for the front page.

And newspapers wonder why they're losing subscribers and readers.


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Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Catblogging

Cleocatra doing her throneroom number. So maybe she does have shiny eyes sometimes... no, they're usually green.


The Whole World Still Is Watching

For those of you who weren't around during the Kent State Massacre, and who haven't read on it since then, 'The Whole World Is Watching' dates to that event, when Ohio State National Guardsmen shot rock throwing students to death during protests against the Vietnam War.

At Davos, Switzerland, the Prime Minister of Turkey left in a protest against Israel's war on Palestinian civilians in the Gaza massacre, later stating that the wholesale slaughter of civilians isn't acceptable, and won't be overlooked, by the international community. He is receiving a lot of appreciation for his stance, and his choice of an international forum with world press on hand, to make his protest.

Turkey's PM has received a hero's welcome on his return to Istanbul after he stormed out of a debate about Gaza at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan had reacted angrily when he was refused the chance to respond to Israeli President Shimon Peres' defence of the operation

Thousands of people turned out in the city to greet Mr Erdogan's plane.

He told them Mr Peres' language and tone had been unacceptable, so he acted to stand up for Turkish honour.

"I only know that I have to protect the honour of Turkey and Turkish people," said Mr Erdogan.

"I am not a chief of a tribe. I am the prime minister of Turkey. I have to do what I have to do."

The BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Istanbul said there had been huge anger in Turkey at Israel's operation in Gaza and there now appears to be widespread support for Mr Erdogan's actions in Davos.
He then accused the moderator of not allowing him to speak and said he did not think he would return to Davos.

The stance of the U.S. has supported Israel for the slaughter, on the grounds that continued rocket firing into Israel by Hamas has to be shut down by wholesale massacre. There has been use of bunker busting bombs and white phosphorous, with more than a thousand civilian deaths and uncounted numbers of injuries.

The number of deaths in Israel due to the Hamas-fired Qassam rockets from Gaza had reached 16 in June of 2008, according to the Israel Project, a nongovernmental group.

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Emilio Gutierrez Soto is an unusual kind of victim in the drug wars. A Mexican journalist, Gutierrez wrote several articles exposing the questionable tactics used by the Mexican military in their drive to put down the drug gangs in Mexico. His exposes upset Mexican authorities enough that they began harassing him. When the harassment turned to overt death threats by the military, Mr. Gutierrez and his fifteen year old son made their way to the border, crossed it, and then turned themselves over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to seek political asylum. That turned out to be a mistake.

Gutierrez and his son, Oscar, crossed the border in June and turned themselves over to immigration authorities, saying they feared for their lives if they remained in Mexico.

The reporter said he had been threatened after writing several articles critical of the tactics of the Mexican military, which has been attempting to crack down on drug traffickers. ...

A few months after Gutierrez and his son were placed in custody, the teenager was released to family friends in the U.S. But Gutierrez remained locked up.

His lawyer, Carlos Spector, complained that the reporter had not received a prompt hearing, unlike many illegal border crossers.

After a postponement, the case was scheduled for March, more than eight months after he arrived in the U.S.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Gutierrez has spent the last seven months held in a detention center in Texas, which is indeed a long time, given the speed with which the US has deported most illegals caught up in work place raids. I can't help but wonder why his case was so dramatically different. Did the Mexican government intervene and request the Bush administration keep him on ICE as a way to silence him? It sure looks that way, although, ICE and Department of Homeland Security officials had no comment for the Los Angeles Times reporters covering the story.

Yesterday, without announcement or explanation, Mr. Gutierrez was released from custody. While the good work of Reporters Without Borders and sympathetic articles in US newspapers must have had some effect, I think the new administration has more to do with his release. If I'm right, that's evidence of change I can believe in and welcome.

Good job, Secretary Napolitano, but don't stop there. Grant Mr. Gutierrez asylum. He deserves it.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thursday Birdblogging

A favorite of mine, the
Brown Creeper. I see this bird through my front window, as he hops up the trunk of a hackberry tree just outside. It's a tiny precious bird.

Conservation Status

Widespread and generally abundant, but habitat loss and degradation is considered a threat to the species in some states, including Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Idaho, and Montana.

Other Names

Grimpereau americain, Grimpereau brun (French)
Trepadorcito norteamericano, Trepador americano (Spanish)

Cool Facts

* The Brown Creeper bears an extremely close physical resemblance to the Eurasian Treecreeper and Short-toed Treecreeper, and was at one time considered the same species as the Eurasian Treecreeper. But studies of vocalizations, including experiments in which they do not respond to each other's songs, support recognition of three separate species.

* In Arizona, Brown Creeper nests often have two openings, one which serves as an entrance and the other as an exit. Entrances face downward and exits upward.


A Blow to Justice

President Obama requested delay of trials so that justice might be done. One of the trials is the military tribunal of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused in the bombing of the Cole. The judge has refused that presidential request.

The defendant was held in black prisons and then transferred to Gitmo. His attorneys contend, and the CIA admits, that he was tortured, and tapes of his interrogation have been destroyed.

The delay would be for better opportunity to investigate these very disreputable activities, and the judge does this country another disservice by refusing to give justice a change. The defendant is supposed to plead on February 9, either guilty or not guilty. This is not a trial, of course, it is a process that does not fit into the U.S. justice system.

A military judge at Guantanamo Bay Thursday rejected President Barack Obama's request to suspend the trial of a Saudi accused in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, the Pentagon said.

"Judge James Pohl denied the motion" put forward by the prosecution at the request of Obama to suspend the trial for 120 days, said Defense Department spokesman J.D. Gordon, confirming a report by The Washington Post.

The October 2000 attack on the Cole left 17 people dead and injured many more.
He was arrested in 2002, and held in a secret CIA prison before being transfered to the US military base at Guantanamo Bay, southern Cuba.

Following Judge Pohl's decision, the new administration will now have to decide whether to withdraw the charges against Nashiri or not.

The Supreme Court has held that these detainees must be given 'habeas corpus' rights. They have not had the right to know charges or evidence against them, and have been held without charges.

Our country is badly served by the injustices of Gitmo, and it seems there are some members of the military tribunals system that seeks to continue the injustice who fear the light of day. When the president was elected, a good deal of his vote was because he represents a return to the decency and honor of our justice system. That is a threat to those who perpetuate injustice. It must not continue.

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Complete Block On Facts

Included in the stimulus bill originally was a measure to give $200 million for family planning services. The myth that has been spun around this proposal has taken over the media, which has mindlessly repeated accusations from the right wing. President Obama took out the proposal, as it was being used to present the entire stimulus package as liberal wedging of its 'agenda' into the very real emergency of our economic crisis.

The revulsion of many liberal bloggers that has resulted appears to me to be somewhat unrealistic. There are large numbers of the membership of the evangelicals who are unable to see past the 'right to life' mantra that has been propagated by many of its leaders, a mantra that does not allow members to think clearly on the issue. President Obama has been in the black church, which like the southern and other rural churches, has a high proportion of those who cling tenaciously to the myth that life is a touchstone of believers, and that any deviation is betrayal of the church and therefore the community. This is something that has been used by the right wing politicians for eight years, and will take some major enlightenment to unravel. It isn't something that the stimulus bill can take on, and work for the U.S. public. When President Obama removed this as a stumbling block, he did the U.S. working people a large favor.

Reading an article at, I encountered the effective use of the Big Lie that the wingers have so thoroughly developed. As if it were absolute truth, the CNN report says:

Republicans point to appropriations like $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, $20 million for sodding the National Mall, $400 million for climate change research and $200 million for contraception programs as "longstanding liberal spending priorities," according to Pence.

Congressional leaders are now dropping the provision that would have provided $200 million worth of contraceptives to low-income families, according to a senior administration official and a Democratic official on Capitol Hill.

I know, and I can hear readers spluttering, unfortunately futilely, that the right wing has as usual substituted propaganda for the facts. The voluntary family planning services in the stimulus bill were not $200 million worth of contraceptives. In fact, family planning services produce more than $4 in savings for every $1 of assistance to families. This, however, is not reported by media, because it is not an easily phrased, easily presented, glib banner that the left can babble, and expect the press to catch on. It is rational. It is factual. It is thoughtful, even nuanced. For the time being, that is not going to carry a desperately needed rescue package.

It would be nice if the oppositional right wing were interested in the public interest. They have proved for twelve years as the dominant party, and now are insisting in their own internal communications, that this country's survival is not their concern. Even in public the wingers are letting it be known that they are working for the stimulus to fail.

Family planning can be brought along separately, and is not an emergency. While it is infuriating that the right wing has no conscience, and that the media has no capacity for discerning the lies they are being fed, right now we need to save a very threatened economy. If we insist on holding onto every item, just because it is right, we will be doing the public a disservice. That isn't what we do.

For now, family planning will take a back seat. Unlike the wingers, we will not throw baby, and granny, out with the bathwater, though. We can work for rational policies, and President Obama has begun that very activity. Family planning is on the table, not on the coathanger, in this administration.

A return to economic viability has to happen for the country before it can be led back to rational government.

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Our Ms. Brooks: Four Wars Ended

Rosa Brooks' latest column celebrates the fact that President Obama ended four wars in his first week in office: the war on terror, the war on Islam, the war on science and the war on women. Certainly not a bad first week, except I don't think Mr. Obama did end the war on women, not completely, but more on that in a moment. Here's her take:

In his first executive orders, Obama effectively dismantled the elaborate structures that supported the Bush administration's "war on terror." On Jan. 22, he ordered the closure of the Guantanamo prison and a halt to the much-criticized military commission trials. He closed secret CIA prisons, required that the Red Cross have access to detainees and mandated that interrogations of detainees -- whether by the military, the CIA or anyone else -- comply with the rules laid out in the Army Field Manual. ...

The war on Islam is also over. Officially, of course, it never existed. But that's how the "war on terror" looked to many around the world, a misunderstanding fueled by the war in Iraq and the irresponsible rhetoric of many Bush administration officials. ...

Obama also ended the undeclared Bush administration war on science. In his inaugural speech, he promised to "restore science to its rightful place." Reversing years of Bush administration disregard of scientific evidence on global climate change, Obama ordered the Transportation Department to set new fuel-efficiency standards and ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to rethink its Bush-era refusal to allow states such as California to impose anti-pollution standards more stringent than federal ones.

The undeclared war on women? Also over. On Jan. 23, Obama reversed the "Mexico City policy," which prohibited recipients of U.S. foreign-assistance funds from providing abortions or even providing information about abortions. Family planning groups worldwide will no longer have to choose between providing honest information and receiving crucial funding.

As Ms. Brooks pointed out, these weren't just metaphorical wars: the policies of the Bush administration had real world consequences. Many people died or were maimed in their prosecution. President Obama's executive actions, taken so early and so quickly was a dramatic repudiation of the Bush war on humanity. But then the second week began, and one of the first things he did was reopen the war on women by pressuring the congressional Democrats to remove family planning funding (i.e., the provision of contraceptive devices such as condoms) from the stimulus bill.

Women in the rest of the world may have a better chance of staying alive, but the women in this country just took a hit. Why? Because the new president wanted bipartisan support for the bill. Trading women's health and security apparently was the price.

Fat lot of good it did: not one Republican in the House voted for the bill. Obama gave women up for nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada.

Look, Mr. Obama, the GOP wants you to fail. They are willing to sacrifice the entire nation just to watch you fall so they can point, laugh, and gain ground for 2010. The only reason some Republicans told Rush Limbaugh to shut up on the failure issue is that they don't want their strategy revealed too early. And don't give us any of the "canny political move" nonsense, the "See, I tried to reach out to the GOP, but they bit my hand rather than shake it." You got snookered.

Who's going to be the next sacrificial lamb in your brilliant strategy? People of color (Voting Rights Act)? The elderly (Social Security)?

I'm sorry, Ms. Brooks, but President Obama didn't end the war on women. He just declared a truce, a truce that lasted about, what, 36 hours?

Yes, I'm disappointed. I'm also furious.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The New Frontier; Drug Wars

As the wars of the recently rejected occupied White House wind down, the employment situation for mercenaries would appear to be diminishing. Resourceful as ever in inventing ways to get on welfare, your hired warriors have a new field of operations. Violence along the southern border has heated up, and Mexico may be the next occupied state.

While you may have read recently about the gang wars in states as far from the border as Tennessee and the Dakotas, fertile soil is being dug by 'contractors' in the area this country controls nearest to Mexico. They can start there and spread inland like, say, boll weevils, if past experience is an indicator.

Alarmed by spiraling drug violence along their shared border, U.S. and Mexican officials say they foresee an enhanced U.S. role in the battle against powerful cartels, including joint operations that could involve private American contractors or U.S. military and intelligence personnel.

The U.S. and Mexican officials say their cooperation could go beyond the current practice of "sharing intelligence." They say that historical concerns about Mexican sovereignty may be overcome by the challenge in restoring stability to key regions, particularly along the border.

Several officials, interviewed separately and on the condition of anonymity, stressed that specifics about an enhanced U.S. role remain unclear and that the timing is also unclear and will largely depend on the widening violence.

But "everything is on the table," one Mexican official said, including "joint operations."

"I agree with that statement," said a senior U.S. counternarcotics official agrees. "I think the cooperation is unprecedented, and it's yielding unprecedented results."
The number of gangland slayings more than doubled in 2008 from the previous year, to more than 5,700. U.S. officials say they view the violence as a national security threat because routes to transport drugs north could be exploited by terrorists.

Underscoring those concerns are new alarms being sounded, including a report by the U.S. Joint Forces Command that says lack of security puts Mexico and Pakistan at risk of becoming failed states.

That assessment is challenged by senior U.S. and Mexican officials, including Mexico's Interior Minister Fernando Francisco Gómez Mont and Garza.

"Mexico is not even close to becoming a failed state," Garza said. "You can bet there will be more violence, but we need to be supportive of this administration's efforts and build alliances with Mexico, not slip back into a climate where we blame first and think later."

Next month, the Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute, a Washington research organization, will recommend that both governments "establish joint or combined binational law enforcement units capable of quick response to cartel activity."

To deal with issues of mistrust, one analyst suggested, the U.S. government will need to allow Mexican federal law enforcement investigators on U.S. soil, albeit in limited roles.

Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, a political consultant, predicted that "joint operations on both sides of the border will be a key decision made by the Obama and Calderón administrations in the months to come. Otherwise, joint operations will be unacceptable for the Mexicans."

Mexican agents are already being posted in key U.S. agencies, he said.

"We're talking about a transnational threat that doesn't stop on the Mexican side," he added.

Of course, with drug activity becoming the new frontier for hired war personnel, the hope for an end to prohibition by drug laws, greatly diminishing the population inside our U.S. jails and commercially run prisons, is greatly reduced. Blackwater and Co. have shown they have great lobbyists, and even have managed to operate outside the law inside Iraq. The border has always been far removed from that rule of law we like to think the U.S. enjoys. It is under a threat in this operation of being put altogether into the Abandon Hope category if the mercenaries are in charge.

Hopefully we will have a Department of Justice back in operation before long. The return of a law-abiding government would be a good point to start in putting this Drug War back into rational containment.

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Free Trade Isn't

Something I have believed for some time now, that U.S. businesses sending wages abroad should not have the privilege to sell to U.S. salaried consumers, is part of a post by WaPo's Harold Meyerson today. He has discovered that the businesses that have globalized their businesses are using those earnings to lobby against our own domestic industry.

It is not to the advantage of the American worker that his jobs are sent abroad, at any level. When the businesses that keep work, facilities, and tax payment here at home are lobbied against with the funds gained by off-shoring all that business product, they are more than ever disadvantaged. Call it Free Trade, but it's far from free when it comes to our own workers' profits.

Speaking yesterday at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, Cassidy noted how the promises made when the Clinton administration was promoting China's accession to the WTO have been turned on their head. "Claims were made that U.S. exports of goods to China would increase substantially," he recalled, "creating jobs in the higher-paying export sector." Instead, American manufacturers shuttered factories here and opened them in China, while China's undervaluation of its currency guaranteed that U.S. products would not be sold there. Indeed, Cassidy added, U.S. exports to China "consist primarily of raw materials" -- hardly the product of superior U.S. technology and production.

What Cassidy offered yesterday was a more full-throated version of a critique that has begun, tentatively, to emerge from the Obama administration: that the U.S.-China economic relationship is flawed, in part, as Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has said, because China manipulates its currency to make its exports cheaper and ours unsustainably pricey. That's a clear shift in policy, since currency manipulation, which generally has a far greater effect on the price of internationally traded goods than tariffs do, was a wrong that the Bush administration was loath to right. As Thea Lee, the AFL-CIO's chief international economist, has pointed out, the U.S. trade representative's office has for years routinely referred complaints about currency manipulation to the Treasury, which has referred them to the International Monetary Fund, which, according to a report in Monday's Financial Times, has not discussed China's currency policy since 2006.

Such a discussion would be of more than academic interest, since the economic relationship between the United States and China is the linchpin of the global economy -- that is, a central cause of the global economic crisis. China produces and we consume; China takes the proceeds from our consumption and lends it back to us, not so we can produce more -- American multinationals would prefer the Chinese do that -- but so we can take on more debt and continue to consume.
Last week, the House Appropriations Committee voted almost unanimously to require the use of U.S.-made steel in the infrastructure projects included in the stimulus, unless the U.S. industry -- which is running at 43 percent of capacity -- was unable to supply it. You might think that American business, beyond the steel industry, would welcome such language, but, in fact, using Americans' tax dollars to stimulate American production looks like the last thing globalized American business wants. A letter opposing "Buy American" provisions in the stimulus has been signed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and several other such groups.
The only mystery here is why the Chamber and the Roundtable aren't compelled to register as foreign lobbyists. Of all the terms we could use to describe them, "American" certainly does not spring to mind.

The U.S. consumer is fast disappearing, and that is a large part of the economic crisis. Businesses have proliferated to offer their products to a level of salary that has been lowered and/or leveled off, to the detriment of absolutely every business.

The loss of jobs and job returns was for awhile disguised in those figures of 'increased productivity', showing more work for less pay. Not to anyone's surprise who isn't reality-challenged, the disappearing American consumer is resulting in disappearing profits, and disappearing businesses. Even the investor can't avoid any longer the results of throwing out American jobs and salaries. His stocks are disappearing, too, as support for businesses turns out to be not shares but the business itself.

Those rich and richer CEO's aren't self-sustaining. It should have been Economics 101. Instead, the fantasy of Consumer Confidence replaced solid dollars and sense. Buyers are working people earning living wages. Suck.On.That.


A shoutout to the ACLU, today seeking memos from the former occupiers of the White House that gave them bases for encroaching on our freedoms and for torturing in violation of all laws. President Obama's removal of the restriction placed on public information for the past eight years enables us to start correcting the violations of our laws.

In another indication that the ACLU may get its way, the nominee to head the OLC, Dawn Johnsen , has previously indicated she thinks that such memos should generally be released.

Before her nomination, Johnsen wrote in an article for Slate, the Internet magazine , that the central question in the debate was whether OLC could issue "binding legal opinions that in essence tell the president and the executive branch that they need not comply with existing laws — and then not share those opinions and that legal reasoning with Congress or the American people? I would submit that clearly the answer to that question must be no."

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Teenage Mutant Sex Fiends

They're all doing it. Teenagers across the land are slipping out with purloined copies of the Kama Sutra and engaging in sex in greater numbers than ever before. They're also no doubt enjoying it, the randy little beggars.

Except the data seems to suggest otherwise.

While a recent report did show an increase in teenage pregnancy for the first time in more than a decade, statistics paint a different story when it comes to teenagers and sexual activity, according to this NY Times article.

Today, fewer than half of all high school students have had sex: 47.8 percent as of 2007, according to the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, down from 54.1 percent in 1991.

A less recent report suggests that teenagers are also waiting longer to have sex than they did in the past. A 2002 report from the Department of Health and Human Services found that 30 percent of 15- to 17-year-old girls had experienced sex, down from 38 percent in 1995. During the same period, the percentage of sexually experienced boys in that age group dropped to 31 percent from 43 percent.

“There’s no doubt that the public perception is that things are getting worse, and that kids are having sex younger and are much wilder than they ever were,” said Kathleen A. Bogle, an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at La Salle University. “But when you look at the data, that’s not the case.”

Then why the increase in teenage pregnancy?

The latest rise in teenage pregnancy rates is cause for concern. But it very likely reflects changing patterns in contraceptive use rather than a major change in sexual behavior. The reality is that the rate of teenage childbearing has fallen steeply since the late 1950s. The declines aren’t explained by the increasing availability of abortions: teenage abortion rates have also dropped.

“There is a group of kids who engage in sexual behavior, but it’s not really significantly different than previous generations,” said Maria Kefalas, an associate professor of sociology at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and co-author of “Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage” (University of California Press, 2005). “This creeping up of teen pregnancy is not because so many more kids are having sex, but most likely because more kids aren’t using contraception.”
[Emphasis added]

How unsurprising in this day of "abstinence only" sex education where the mention of condoms and birth control pills is forbidden. Twelve years of the Religious Reich left us with that legacy, one that could be erased if certain people in Washington, DC and in the various state legislatures around the country showed any common sense and common decency.

While their hairstyles are beginning to wear on my last nerve, the kids, eh, they're all right.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reagan Never Said It

From Shaw Kenawe, a really good lesson on twisting facts. She did a post Sunday on a myth that hasn't held water, about Reagan's starving the beast, the government. That was thought up by Reagan budget director David Stockman, and elaborated by Grover Norquist.

For all those conservatives who believe Ronald Reagan said government is the problem. Think again.

I'd like to hear from my conservative friends what they think of this.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Republicans love to invoke Reagan, but if he’s watching right now, the Gipper is probably “smacking himself on the forehead, rolling his eyes and wondering who in the world these clowns are,” speculates former GOP Congressman (and longtime Reagan backer) Mickey Edwards in the LA Times. Today’s would-be Reaganites believe all government “is the problem,” and that small government is inherently better than big. “This is all errant nonsense,” writes Edwards, “wrong in every conceivable way.”

“In America, government is us,” Edwards reasons. What matters isn’t the size of government, but the limits of its powers. Bush Republicans obviously don’t get this, but Reagan did. In his famous inaugural, he said that “in the present crisis…government is the problem.” But he went on to say, “Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it’s not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work.” A sentiment echoed by Obama in his address.

Reagan wouldn't recognize this GOP

The Gipper may be the patron saint of Limbaugh and Coulter, but he'd be amazed at what's been done in his name.

"The Republican Party that is in such disrepute today is not the party of Reagan. It is the party of Rush Limbaugh, of Ann Coulter, of Newt Gingrich, of George W. Bush, of Karl Rove. It is not a conservative party." - Mickey Edwards

By Mickey Edwards

January 24, 2009

In my mind's eye, I can see Ronald Reagan, wearing wings and a Stetson, perched on a cloud and watching all the goings-on down here in his old earthly home. Laughing, rolling his eyes and whacking his forehead over the absurdities he sees, he's watching his old political party as it twists itself into ever more complex knots, punctuated only by pauses to invoke the Gipper's name. It's been said that God would be amazed by what his followers ascribe to him; believe me, Reagan would be similarly amazed by what his most fervent admirers cite in their desire to be seen as true-blue Reaganites.On the premise that simple is best, many Republicans have reduced their operating philosophy to two essentials: First, government is bad (it's "the problem"); second, big government is the worst and small government is better (although because government itself is bad, it may be assumed that small government is only marginally preferable). This is all errant nonsense. It is wrong in every conceivable way and violative of the Constitution, American exceptionalism, freedom, conservatism, Reaganism and common sense.

In America, government is ... us. What is "exceptional" about America is the depth of its commitment to the principle of self-government; we elect the government, we replace it or its members when they displease us, and by our threats or support, we help steer what government does.A shocker: The Constitution, which we love for the limits it places on government power, not only constrains government, it empowers it. Limited government is not no government. And limited government is not "small" government. Simply building roads, maintaining a military, operating courts, delivering the mail and doing other things specifically mandated by the Constitution for America's 300 million people make it impossible to keep government "small." It is boundaries that protect freedom. Small governments can be oppressive, and large ones can diminish freedoms. It is the boundaries, not the numbers, that matter.What would Reagan think of this? Wasn't it he who warned that government is the problem? Well, permit me. I directed the joint House-Senate policy advisory committees for the Reagan presidential campaign. I was part of his congressional steering committee. I sat with him in his hotel room in Manchester, N.H., the night he won that state's all-important primary. I knew him before he was governor of California and before I was a member of Congress. Let me introduce you to Ronald Reagan.

Reagan, who spent 16 years in government, actually said this:"In the present crisis," referring specifically to the high taxes and high levels of federal spending that had marked the Carter administration, "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." He then went on to say: "Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it's not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work." Government, he said, "must provide opportunity." He was not rejecting government, he was calling -- as Barack Obama did Tuesday -- for better management of government, for wiser decisions.

The rampant mythology that the right wing worships is generally about as valid as their tax cut demands. Having failed for eight years and leading this country into a financial disaster isn't in the reckoning when the party of hackery gets spouting. Reality based thinking sorts are not in their reckoning, since we don't qualify for the idiocracy.

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Accessories to Crimes

There was discussion this a.m. at Eschaton comments about a certain op-ed that I refuse to read, but I will attach a link for you. Dick Cohen wants us to forget the crimes against the country. It seems that is his absolution of himself, and a way for wiping his slate clean for supporting the war, and the war criminals in the occupied White House.

Thanks, Hecate, for excerpting the relevant excuse from Cohen's drivel.

At the same time, we have to be respectful of those who were in that Sept. 11 frame of mind, who thought they were saving lives -- and maybe were -- and who, in any case, were doing what the nation and its leaders wanted. It is imperative that our intelligence agents not have to fear that a sincere effort will result in their being hauled before some congressional committee or a grand jury. We want the finest people in these jobs -- not time-stampers who take no chances.

The best suggestion for how to proceed comes from David Cole of Georgetown Law School. Writing in the Jan. 15 New York Review of Books, he proposed that either the president or Congress appoint a blue-ribbon commission, arm it with subpoena power, and turn it loose to find out what went wrong, what (if anything) went right and to report not only to Congress but to us. We were the ones, remember, who just wanted to be kept safe. So, it is important, as well as fair, not to punish those who did what we wanted done -- back when we lived, scared to death, in a place called the Past.

The wave of commentators blaming the public has astonished those of us who have been rejecting their bleating for years. We did not live, scared to death, in the past and are not accepting blame now. We posted on the willingness of paid op-ed creators to accept propaganda, and rejected it.

As Avedon Carol cast off Frank Rich's claim that we the people made our present crisis by buying and now have to make sacrifices to pay for it, we leftie bloggers reject the blame for war after having inveighed against it for eight years. As she said; buster, we didn't do it.

The columnists who kept showing up on panels on major media news shows, telling us that we should believe the liars in that occupied White House and follow them over the cliff, are now saying we believed and followed them. They only seem to read each other, so you can see how they would be so massively deceived. Those of us with perfectly good and clear intelligence have rejected them and their bablings, and if the Rich's and Cohen's had read authorities like Dr. Krugman and Juan Cole and leftie blogs like this, they might have learned what was right and true rather than followed bad advice like their own.

No, we are not to blame, and you are, and the country is in big trouble because of mindless followers of the horrendously bad leadership in power before January 20th of 2009. If we link to these babbling lightweights, it is for the most part to point out how ludicrous their concepts are.

The thinking people in the media audience are not responsible for the war crimes or the economic crisis, however comfortable the intellectually bankrupt pundits wish it were so. Again, from Avedon Carol; It was your job to warn people about what was going on when their leaders lied and the newspapers - your newspaper - kept carrying ridiculous stories about how the stock market could never ever fall again, greedy people could be relied upon to stay honest and responsible even when they knew no one was looking over their shoulders, and money grows on trees.

Without the internets, true, there would have been a distinct lack of real information. And assuming readers have no resources but our press would indeed lead commentators to blame the readers for believing them. That was not the case, and it is increasingly not the case.

One final laugh line from a Dallas Morning News editorial;

If financial and corporate elites don't start looking out for the common good instead of arrogantly protecting their privileges, the public will lose confidence in the system – and who knows where the resulting populist backlash will end?

These editorialists are still clinging to a disproved concept, that those CEO's are looking after the common good. That is the only wisp of defense left for the deregulation stampede they brought on, and that they haven't yet seen for the accessory of choice for crimes against the public.

We on the left did not drink the koolaid. Blaming us for your op-ed mistakes doesn't work.

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The Wheels On The Bus

Yesterday, Atrios made a good point about one of the problems in getting adequate funding for mass transportation projects: "I was thinking yesterday that part of the problem is that we don't really have the equivalent of the highway building industry to lobby for money. Freight companies throw some weight around, but their interests aren't exactly aligned with those of commuter rail advocates."

True enough. The people who rely on commuter rail and public transportation tend not to be wealthy enough to hire lobbyists. Still, some money in the proposed stimulus package is set aside for mass transit projects, even if it's not nearly enough. That money, however, is designated for new projects, i.e., those that will create jobs to build new lines and stations and to manufacture new, more fuel efficient locomotives, carriages, and buses.

At the moment, unfortunately, most public transportation authorities are facing deeper problems. They are running out of money to keep the existing services operating. Today's Los Angeles Times points to those problems and their roots:

The dramatic spike in gas prices that began in 2005 sent Americans flocking to trains, buses and subways, a trend that appears to have held up even as gas prices have dipped. But 2009 could be a year of crisis for the agencies that run them -- a time of more riders but much less money.

Some new funding could come as part of House Democrats' proposed $825-billion stimulus package, which, in its current form, sets aside $9 billion for public transportation. But all of that money would be used for new capital projects, not operating costs. And it is operating budgets -- the money agencies need to run the systems they have now -- that are getting hammered. ...

In Cleveland, ridership increased for the sixth consecutive year in 2008. But like every major public transit system in the country, Cleveland's relies on both fares and tax revenue for funding -- and county sales taxes, a key component of the budget, have plummeted in the stalled economy ...

The situation is particularly dire in California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, facing a $41-billion state budget shortfall, has proposed eliminating grants to local transit agencies for the current fiscal year and the next -- a move that would save $559 million, according to H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the state Department of Finance.

In Los Angeles, the transit system has avoided major service cuts, said Marc Littman, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman. But the elimination of the state subsidy -- which provides nearly 16% of the MTA operating budget -- along with shrinking sales-tax revenue, means tough choices lay ahead.

What most people, especially those who don't use public transportation, fail to realize is that fares are not the main source of funding. Local taxes and state and federal subsidies provide the bulk of the monies needed to run public transportation systems. So, while increased ridership is a signal that people are finally willing to be weaned from their automobiles, that increased ridership is not really helping all that much in keeping the buses and trains operating. In some cases, the increased ridership is actually putting additional pressure on the budgets because additional vehicles have been required to keep up, which means increased labor costs in addition to increased capital outlays.

The crunch here is that the local governments are seeing the primary funding sources, usually a combination of sales taxes and property taxes, dry up, and states are having their own budgetary problems, which means state grants to public transportation are being slashed or, as in the case of California, cut out altogether. Existing systems are running out of the money needed to keep the buses rolling today.

Simply raising fares and cutting services isn't going to help. All that will do is drive people back to their automobiles. What will help, at least at this point, is federal funding for existing services to cover the operating costs shortfall. The trick is to convince Congress and the President that if we really do want to become energy independent, if we really do want to cut carbon emissions, then we have to consider local public transportation systems as part of the puzzle, and a significant one.

After all, if people can't get to the jobs created by the stimulus package, then that stimulus package just isn't going to work.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Greening Up

It was good to know that President Obama realizes the urgency of changing to behavior that will help the climate to recover from the damages the past eight years continued and enhanced. The urgency of the situation has been the subject of increasing announcements of the scientific community.

New investment in energy infrastructure to improve and modernize the delivery grid coupled with an expansive plan for ending our reliance on carbon based fuels, especially coal, is imperative now -- not at some point in the future. America must develop solar, wind, and nuclear power on a scale large enough to eliminate any possibility of new coal fired plants coming on line until (and if) carbon sequestration, so-called "clean coal" becomes an viable option. For all the talk of "clean coal" it does not yet exist, consequently coal remains by far the dirtiest carbon fuel and the greatest contributor to greenhouse gases. Even worse, there's enough of it left in the ground to turn the Earth into Venus if we burn it all.

Indications are that infrastructure and sustainable production initiatives will be a significant part of the economic stimulus plan President Obama will introduce. At that point the question becomes, will Congress and the American people give our new President and his administration the support necessary to embark on the path to a long term sustainable future not only for ourselves, but the world?

The urgency of this can not be overstated. Seemingly every day now, a new scientific study or paper is published (peer reviewed) with ever more alarming results as climate forcing mechanisms kick in far sooner than previously anticipated. Scenarios predicting an ice-free North Pole by 2025 have been fed into the shredder as the lack of ice-cover and subsequent loss of solar reflectivity lead to faster ever accelerating melting. The consensus now has the top of the world ice-free by 2015.

Acting in concert with his own stated priorities, President Obama announced green measures Friday, in removing the maladministration's restrictions on state environment measures for gasoline. Today he revealed further green action.

"The days of Washington dragging its heels are over," Obama said. "My administration will not deny facts; we will be guided by them. We cannot afford to pass the buck or push the burden onto the states."

Senator Clinton will take the next step this afternoon at the State Department with the naming of a representative to worldwide conferences we have previously treated with inattention.

She is expected to name Washington, D.C., lawyer and climate change and environmental expert Todd Stern. Stern served in a variety of positions during the Clinton administration, including the President's Coordinator for Climate Change. Stern was the chief negotiator at the 1997 Kyoto climate change talks.

In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee two weeks ago, Clinton promised senators that the Obama administration will take the lead at U.N. climate change negotiations scheduled for December in Copehangen.

"We will have a climate change envoy negotiator, because we want to elevate it," she said, "and we want to have one person who will lead our international efforts.

The return of a worldview to this country is welcome, and the coordination of our efforts to work toward a viable environment is overdue. The past irresponsibility has worked against this country in more ways than just in befouling the air and land. It has lessened the respect for this country that we should command by our promotion of scientific truths.

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Border Fence Sells Faulty Theory

Your homeland security continues to leak from all sorts of holes and now it's about giving big grants to low-crime areas. The counties along the border have some urban areas and some vast empty spaces. Under the policy of the maladministration now kicked out, the government has sent them equal amounts to fight border crime.

If this makes no sense to you, welcome to the club. Increasingly, the occupied White House past shows that 'sense' is not the sort of virtue it can appreciate. Forging on into nonsensical, the main concept behind many of its operations seems to be affronting rationality.

The first batch of the $16.2 million awarded, more than $5 million, was given in 2005 to a loose coalition of sheriffs who split the take evenly, regardless of crime rates. The rest was given out in grants to several counties. And several million dollars more are in the pipeline.

Presidio County, whose sheriff and four deputies cover 3,856 square miles of West Texas and protect about 1,000 people, received $336,875 to fight the one crime, an aggravated assault, that occurred in the county in 2006.

But in the Rio Grande Valley’s urban Hidalgo County, across the river from the sites of several deadly Mexican shootouts, got about the same amount, spread over three years, for its more than 250 deputies to fight 7,160 violent crimes.

"I expressed my displeasure at the time," Sheriff Lupe Trevino said. "But that’s the way it goes. We used the money the best way we could, and you do what you have to."

The Associated Press obtained a county-by-county breakdown of state spending on border crime in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

According to spending records, several departments, including Presidio County, bought night-vision goggles, radar units and radios, along with heavy-duty four-wheel-drive trucks and other off-road vehicles. They put some money in their overtime budgets.

Hudspeth County, with a population of about 3,300 and 41 crimes in 2006, spent $22,300 on a Ford Mustang GT outfitted as a police car.

Misplaced resources?

The sheriffs say they need the money to match the equipment and budgets of larger departments in Texas. The state says that the money will be used to prevent crimes and that even trespassing and vandalism in sleepy counties could be signs of Mexican organized crime seeping across the Rio Grande.

But critics say some of that money was misdirected.

"This shouldn’t be border socialism," said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense in Washington. "It has to be based on need."

Gotta love Mr. Ellis' definition of socialism. The last I heard, socialism to the wingers was about giving on the basis of need, not of earnings. Sorry, there I go being rational, not the sort of concept that rates with the wingnuts.

Any possible relationship between fighting crime and taxpayer funds has been finally obliterated by this latest fillip. The sheriffs' offices can join Wall Street's CEOs and go to the spa if they don't have those pesky drug wars acting out in their streets.

It's all a mockery to the wingers. They talk the talk about fiscal responsibility, but they can't walk the walk since they appear to have not the slightest idea what it means. A road map might be a good use of the funds, so the DHS could figure out where the border goes through populated areas ... oh, why make sense now? We have a new President, that's going to be his job.

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On The Backs Of The Poor And The Vulnerable

California still doesn't have a budget and will run out of cash within just a few weeks. The Democratic led state legislature, working with the governor, is now signalling that a potential deal is getting closer. Again. This time, however, the deal is one designed to be more palatable to the Republicans because it imposes draconian cuts on social services. That's right: the budget is going to be balanced on the backs of the poor, the vulnerable, and (of course) school children. Here are some of the highlights of the proposal:

One of the provisions both parties have supported in the state Capitol would reduce the maximum monthly grant for low-income blind and disabled Californians. Individual grants would drop from $907 to $870, while couples would see their monthly checks drop from $1,579 to $1,524, according to the state Department of Finance. Those grants were supposed to increase this year and again next year to account for inflation. ...

Both political parties have endorsed a plan to save $107 million through 3% reductions in payments to programs that help Californians live with cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy and mental retardation. These programs, delivered through 21 regional centers, assisted 230,000 people last year, said Bob Baldo, executive director of the Assn. of Regional Center Agencies.

They provide diagnosis and early intervention for infants and toddlers with signs of development disabilities. These centers also provide rides for adults with developmental disabilities to day programs, provide them places to live and line up employment for them. ...

A steep dip in school spending has been jointly endorsed. Some of the $3.9 billion in cuts to kindergarten-through-12th-grade education would be offset by declining enrollment in some districts, but there will also be many direct effects in the classroom.

The area of school spending that will be hit hardest is funding for textbooks, which would be cut by $417 million. The loss of that money would make some schools unable to update their textbooks, and some districts unable to supply books to every student.

More than $277 million would be cut from a program to fund long overdue maintenance in school buildings, including some scheduled "emergency repairs." Plans by many districts to fix leaky roofs, cracked sidewalks and broken heating systems would have to be put off another year. ...

Both parties have also endorsed cancellation of a 2.94% cost-of-living increase for the state's welfare program. That would mean a family of three receiving the maximum monthly grant of $723 would not receive an extra $21 a month this year.

Noticeably absent from this list is any mention of cuts in such areas as the commissions which tout and allegedly regulate the state's agricultural interests (the avocado growers will be happy about that). Also absent are any cuts in the salaries of appointees to special projects (and Schwarzenegger has just announced several such appointments, all high paying). Nor are there any cuts in legislators salaries, the salaries of their staffs, or any cuts in the salaries of our constitutional officers and their staffs.

The article was silent about any tax hikes, temporary or permanent, or any hikes in user fees. Are they part of the deal that "both parties" are striking? I doubt it, not when the mantra of "both parties" was reiterated throughout the article and state Republican legislators have taken a pledge of no tax increases.

This must be the new bipartisanship the GOP has been touting here in California and in Washington, DC.

So, we'll finally have a budget, and very happy rich people.

The poor and vulnerable? Eh, not so much, but that doesn't seem to matter to either party.

State government, meet bathtub.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Poetry: Elizabeth Alexander

Praise Song for the Day

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Elizabeth Alexander

(This is the text of the poem Ms. Alexander wrote for and recited at the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America, on January 20, 2009.)

Teach The Children Well

It's all over but the shouting, at least that is what the media and Israeli PR flacks would have you believe. Gaza is quiet now. There are no bombs falling on mosques, schools, and houses. There are no tanks rumbling through the streets. It's over.

Or is it.

Mosques, schools, and houses can be rebuilt. Streets can be repaired. Food and medical supplies can be trucked in. Reliable electricity and safe water can be turned back on, sooner or later. The generosity of the rest of the world can see to that.

Unfortunately, more will be needed. Much more. From today's NY Times:

The boys clapped and sang to pulsating music. They played games and shouted. It could have been a group activity at any school in any place, but this was the middle school in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza, near where the United Nations says some 40 people were killed by Israeli mortar fire earlier this month.

Saturday was the first day of school since before the war, and 1,000 homeless people had been removed from the building so that classes could begin.

Even then, normal schoolwork had to wait. A team trained in trauma and group activities was running the assembly, and after the singing and clapping, there was a play devoted to how to handle dangerous materials, like shell parts, still in or near homes. Later, each pupil described what had happened to him and to his friends and family in Israel’s 23-day war aimed at stopping Hamas’s rockets.

“They are not ready to learn yet,” said Asem Bajah, an English teacher, as he watched the singing. “And I am not ready to teach.”
[Emphasis added]

Oh, I think they've already learned. I think they have learned lessons no child should ever have to. That's part of the tragedy of armed conflict, the part conveniently overlooked when governments decide they need to get their war on.

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There they go again

Guaranteed effect on wingers of the SCHIP bill once again in congress is the regular posturing against subsidizing those incomes of what now is claimed to be $83,000. The figure varies with the changing economy, as states have the option given them of giving health insurance to kids who need it. Hint: children need health care no matter how high income their families may be.

Presently the Senate is about to do its usual number of holding public interest legislation for ransom to keep gains from trickling down to needy kids. This round they are the last resort as the veto has been removed from the White House by popular vote.

Republicans appear to have overplayed their hand when blocking the expansion of a children's health care program last year.

They face the likelihood that Democrats in the coming weeks will pass a bill that they dislike even more.

With more Democrats in Congress and President Barack Obama in the White House, GOP lawmakers don't have the numbers or a veto threat to do anything about it.

The Senate planned to begin debate as early as Monday on a bill that would increase spending on the State Children's Health Insurance Program by $31.5 billion over the next 4 1/2 years.

Congress approved a similar bill in late 2007 that former President George W. Bush vetoed. The House fell about 15 votes shy of overriding the veto. But the current legislation contains some important changes.

It is friendlier to states that want to cover children in families with incomes exceeding three times the federal poverty level — $63,600 for a family of four.

Also, the bill calls for covering children of legal immigrants now barred from government-sponsored insurance until they have been in the country at least five years.

The two provisions have angered Senate Republicans, including some who disagreed with Bush and worked closely with Democrats on expanding the program in 2007. Democrats have countered that 90 percent of the bill to be debated in the week ahead is based on legislation that previously had broad bipartisan support in the both the Senate and House.

"It's the 10 percent that represents barbed wire and a heck of a burr underneath our saddles," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

SCHIP was designed to provide health coverage to families with incomes too high to quality for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private insurance. Federal money for the program expires March 31.

When Congress sought to renew the program in late 2007, Bush said it needed to be refocused on the working poor. So he vetoed the first bill that lawmakers sent him. Lawmakers went back to work and agreed to limit federal dollars to health coverage for families earning less than three times the federal poverty level.

But Bush vetoed that bill, too.

Now that income limit is gone in the legislation moving through Congress. States can used SCHIP to cover children of any income level. When they do move higher than three times the poverty level, states will get the payment rates they normally get through Medicaid instead of the rate they get for SCHIP, which is higher.

My heart does not bleed for the wingers who have managed to throw zillions at the highest income earners in the country while diverting any assistance from the working members of the economy. They can rant on about the high incomes of the families whose children can't afford health care, but I am still listening for the removal of obscene tax cuts from the 1% who earn so much more.

An acid test has been passed: doddering George Will thinks we're running loose in the trough he dedicates to the very very rich; A nation in which $350 billion was but the first half of the Troubled Asset Relief Program and in which TARP is distinct from the perhaps $825 billion "stimulus" program, is a nation being taught not to take seriously sums with merely nine digits and two commas. How quickly Will forgets the off-budget trillions the war criminals sent off to war, in bundles that kids in uniforms were given to go out and build a school or something. How quickly Will forgets the Pentagon budget and star wars that has yet to be functional. No, it's those kids that really make rightwing blood boil.

Pity would be forthcoming if I saw any sign that they even see how ironic it is to rage against protecting our kids' health while throwing any amount into the corporate welfare trough. The reasoning that businesses protected from taxes will provide the jobs and income to keep our economy healthy has been disproved for eight years. The cost of neglecting this generation's health is insupportable.

Ordering the kids off their lawn hasn't worked out for the wingers. It isn't their lawn, anyway.

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Obama's Afghanistan

In the first few days of his administration, President Obama acted decisively on issues close to the hearts of his liberal supporters: he banned the use of torture, he delayed the Military Commission "trials," he ordered the closure of Guantanamo Bay, and he ordered a full review of detention policies and procedures currently in place. Was this a "thank you" bouquet for those of us on the left? Perhaps, but I think it was more of an announcement to the rest of the world that his foreign policy would be markedly different from that of his predecessor. To underscore that announcement, he also selected two special envoys: one to the Middle East and one to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Unfortunately, for those on the left who believe that the war in Afghanistan (which has been prosecuted longer than the one in Iraq, something we tend to forget) is just as wrong-headed as the one in Iraq, there will be no dramatic change. Candidate Obama promised to shift forces from Iraq to Afghanistan in order to more effectively fight that war. President Obama has made it clear, special envoy or not, that he intends to keep that campaign promise as well. In that regard, he is making the same mistake that President Bush made, namely that the Global War on Terror must be prosecuted as a shooting war. That just might turn out to be his first and most tragic mistake as President.

Former Senator George McGovern had an interesting op-ed piece in, of all places, the Washington Post on Thursday, January 22, 2009. In this column, Sen. McGovern (a World War II veteran) urges President Obama to forget about "winning" in Afghanistan, using history as part of the analysis.

It is logical to conclude that our massive military dominance and supposedly good motives should let us work our will in Afghanistan. But logic does not always prevail in South Asia. With belligerent Afghan warlords sitting atop each mountain glowering at one another, the one factor that could unite them is the invasion of their country by a foreign power, whether British, Russian or American.

The British learned this lesson the hard way, as did the Soviet Union. Are we the next superpower to go down in flames because we expended our fortune and the lives of a generation in search of some kind of illusory victory over the forces of terrorism? Sen. McGovern certainly thinks that a probable outcome, so he urges a real change in approach:

I have believed for some time that military power is no solution to terrorism. The hatred of U.S. policies in the Middle East -- our occupation of Iraq, our backing for repressive regimes such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, our support of Israel -- that drives the terrorist impulse against us would better be resolved by ending our military presence throughout the arc of conflict. This means a prudent, carefully directed withdrawal of our troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and elsewhere. We also need to close down the imposing U.S. military bases in this section of the globe, which do so little to expand our security and so much to stoke local resentment. ...

So let me suggest a truly audacious hope for your administration: How about a five-year time-out on war -- unless, of course, there is a genuine threat to the nation?

During that interval, we could work with the U.N. World Food Program, plus the overseas arms of the churches, synagogues, mosques and other volunteer agencies to provide a nutritious lunch every day for every school-age child in Afghanistan and other poor countries. Such a program is now underway in several countries approved by Congress and the United Nations, under the auspices of the George McGovern-Robert Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Act. (Forgive the self-serving title.) Although the measure remains painfully underfunded, with the help of other countries, we are reaching millions of children. We could supplement these efforts with nutritional packages for low-income pregnant and nursing mothers and their infants from birth through the age of 5, as is done here at home by WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

Too expensive a plan during a period of economic difficulty? An extended war in Afghanistan, and it would be extended by all accounts, will be far more expensive, as Iraq should have taught us. Hundreds of billions of dollars expended to fight in Afghanistan will undo every bit of good that President Obama hoped to accomplish with the various changes announced the first few days he was in office. We will, instead, continue to read of civilian casualties caused by errant bombs and murky intelligence (like this one in today's Los Angeles Times).

We don't need another War Time President. We need a President strong enough and wise enough to bring peace to that part of the world. And that means we need to make it clear to President Obama that the war in Afghanistan is not the answer to the question of terrorism.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bonus Critter Blogging: Lemur

(Photograph by Jeff Pachoud/AFP/Getty Images and published at National Geographic.)

Interview on Guantanamo Testimonials Project

At The Talking Dog, there is the following interview, which you can continue at that website;

Dr. Almerindo Ojeda is a Professor of Linguistics at the University of California at Davis, and the Director of that university's Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas and in particular, the Guantanamo Testimonials Project, which has compiled hundreds of statements of various kinds from those involved with or affected by Guantanamo Bay, including detainees, soldiers, attorneys and others; a number of those statements are interviews from this blog. On January 22, 2009, I had the privilege of interviewing Professor Ojeda by e-mail exchange.

The Talking Dog: The first question (to which my own answer is "across the street from the WTC"... and still the same answer on weekdays when I go to work in downtown Manhattan) is... Where were you on 11 September 2001?

Almerindo Ojeda: I was walking towards the Peet's Coffee in my
hometown of Davis, California. I walk there almost every morning (two
miles each direction) to think things over, plan the day, do a little exercise and, of course, have my morning espresso. As soon as I arrived to Peet's that day, I found my wife. She had driven to Peet's and proceded to give me the shocking news. By then, both towers had been hit. We jumped into the car and drove back home. No morning espresso that day...

The Talking Dog: As a professional in linguistics, what was
your source of interest in the area of human rights in the Americas? What was your interest in focusing on Guantanamo in particular?

Almerindo Ojeda: None as a linguist. But I am a human being
before I am a linguist. To answer your question, I got interested in doing something about human rights as soon as the worthiness of torture began to be debated in polite company in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. I had some experience, to be sure, with human rights violations. Even if only indirect ones. I was born and raised in Peru, which had its own human rights nightmare in the 1980s and 1990s. At this time, a brutal insurgency movement (the Shining Path) provoked the Peruvian Armed Forces into a savage response. After the insurgency was quelched, an old Philosophy professor of mine got appointed to head the
truth commission charged with investigating the human rights violations
of those decades. That appointment was profoundly inspiring for me. I also lived through the Central American wars of the 1980s. During these wars, a good friend of mine was murdered in Salvador. His name was Ignacio Martín Baró. He was one of the six Jesuits whose murder led
to the end of the conflict. That too, left a mark. Having said that, I must admit that giving testimony is a verbal act--so testimonies are familiar territory for a linguist. I must also admit that I am enjoying the linguistic specimens of Guantanamo propaganda I am collecting. Take for example the noun 'detainee,' which suggests a minor inconvenience, like being detained in traffic. Or the verb 'captured.' It describes what happens to fugitives, possibly of justice, and hence to criminals. Or the locution 'total voluntary fasting'. It's Guantanamese for 'hunger strike'. It places the discussion in a religious (if not fundamentalist) context. Or 'reservation,' which is Guantanamese for 'interrogation.' It makes it sound like you are about to go to a restaurant. The list is endless. DoD manuals instruct Guantanamo personnel to refer to suicides as 'self-harm' incidents--an understatement that places suicides in the same category as biting your nails or slapping your forehead.

Interestingly, language is not entirely pliable, and sometimes fights back. Guantanamo personnel speak of 'going to reservation,' a phrase which we would never use for making good on a reservation made at a restaurant (and betrays the attempt to veil the reference to interrogations, which are something one would 'go to').

The rest is at The Talking Dog.

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Taking off the Blinders

With the testimony of Eric Holder insisting that torture is a crime, the wingers are obviously feeling a chill. Living up to his justifiably dreadful reputation, GOP head John Cornyn is putting a hold on the Holder nomination for Attorney General. That will not be enough to head off the inevitable.

The call for a return to Rule of Law necessarily includes enforcing the law. Without carrying out the laws, this country cannot redeem its honor that had gone missing for the past eight years.

As President Barack Obama reverses some of ex-President George W. Bush’s most controversial “war on terror” policies, a consensus seems to be building among Democratic congressional leaders that further investigations are needed into Bush’s use of torture and other potential crimes.

On Wednesday – the first working day of the Obama administration – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would support funding and staff for additional fact-finding by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which last month released a report tracing abuse of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib to Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002, decision to exclude terror suspects from Geneva Convention protections.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, who issued that report, echoed Reid’s comments, saying “there needs to be an accounting of torture in this country.” Levin, D-Michigan, also said he intends to encourage the Justice Department and incoming Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate torture practices that took place while Bush was in office.

Two other key Democrats joined in this growing chorus of lawmakers saying that serious investigations should be conducted.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, a former federal prosecutor and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a floor speech, “As the President looks forward and charts a new course, must someone not also look back, to take an accounting of where we are, what was done, and what must now be repaired.”

Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters: "Looking at what has been done is necessary.”

On Jan. 18, two days before Obama’s inauguration, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed support for House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers’s plan to create a blue-ribbon panel of outside experts to probe the “broad range” of policies pursued by the Bush administration “under claims of unreviewable war powers.”

In an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, Pelosi specifically endorsed a probe into the politicization of the Justice Department, but didn’t spell out a position on Conyers's plan to examine the Bush administration’s torture and rendition policies, which could prove embarrassing to Pelosi and other Democratic leaders who were briefed by the CIA about these tactics.

Still, when Wallace cited Obama’s apparent unwillingness to investigate the Bush administration, Pelosi responded: “I think that we have to learn from the past, and we cannot let the politicizing of the — for example, the Justice Department, to go unreviewed. Past is prologue. We learn from it. And my views on the subject — I don't think that Mr. Obama and Mr. Conyers are that far apart.”

The emerging consensus among top congressional Democrats for some form of investigation into Bush’s controversial policies has surprised some progressives who had written off the leadership long ago for blocking impeachment hearings and other proposals for holding Bush and his subordinates accountable.
Additional evidence about the Bush administration’s actions is expected to become available in the coming weeks as the Obama administration loosens the secrecy that has surrounded Bush’s “war on terror,” a phrase that Obama and his team have effectively dropped from Washington’s lexicon.

Obama’s aides have indicated that there soon may be a “public airing” of secret Justice Department legal opinions and other documents that provided the underpinning for the Bush administration’s brutal interrogation policies.

Levin also indicated that he expects to release the full Armed Services Committee report – covering an 18-month investigation – in about two or three weeks. Levin added that he would ask the Senate Intelligence Committee to conduct its own investigation of torture as implemented by the CIA.

The information the country should have has been withheld for good reason; the occupied White House was full of criminals, and committed crimes.

The wars that we and the Middle East have had waged against us, against moral standards, and against rational bases, call for more than just a return to reality. They have sacrificed lives needlessly, torn up the countries where they were waged, and violated our country's principles. The waste is not over. There should never be a clean slate for crimes against mankind, and that would include the wars of the maladministration.

Reckoning is overdue.

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