Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dying in Vain

It was inevitable that the ex-Darth would bark over from the dark side about letting go his dream war. The exit from Iraq which should have taken place long years ago, and which has wasted lives and our economy, just hurts him so much.

Naturally,the ex non-warrior loves his war, and speaks out against letting it go to waste.

A milestone is being reached today in Iraq. U.S. troops are pulling out of 15 Iraqi cities. It is the first phase of an overall departure plan that has American soldiers out (for the most part) of the country by the end of 2011.

The Washington Times radio show "America's Morning News" spoke with Dick Cheney, one of the architects of America's involvement in Iraq,

"What he says concerns me: That there is still a continuing problem. One might speculate that insurgents are waiting as soon as they get an opportunity to launch more attacks," said Cheney. "I hope the Iraqis can deal with it. At some point they have to stand on their own, but I would not want to see the U.S. waste all the tremendous sacrifice that has gotten us to this point."

Waste is the very essence of his war, but of course ex-Darth can't acknowledge that all the lives and the packets of money are his waste. If he had ever actually been involved personally in war, he might have had a better sense of the attitude of soldiers. They are fighting to save lives, not destroy them. In fact, in this assymetrical warfare, they were fighting to save Iraqi lives as well.

Only a total inability to revere humanity and/or life could lead to the attitude that more lives should be thrown into a worthless fray for avoidance of his own regret. One of the most completely evil thugs ever to rise to power in the country is well represented in his statements today, that 'waste' is involved in pulling out to avoid more loss of life.

Only war profiteers like Halliburton gained by this war. For a real indication of ex-Darth's loyalties, the formula is what was true of his former maladministration; "Follow the money".

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Constitutions and President(e)s

In the previous maladministration, the constitution was viewed as an annoyance. That made it hard to make a fuss when other presidents in other countries violated their constitutions. In Colombia, President Uribe sought to keep office despite constitutional term limits. While Uribe courted the previous maladministration by participating in its 'drug war', it distinguished itself by building up body count figures to court more U.S. funds by murdering civilians and re-labeling them as the enemy. That was overlooked by the then U.S. maladministration in its big rush to get 'free' market trade going with Colombia despite the atrocities involved.

How embarrassing, now Uribe is visiting the U.S. under Obama while President Zelaya of Honduras is kicked out for seeking to do the same thing Uribe is seeking to do. While we can't officially announce that a coup has happened because then we'd have to cut off all aid to Honduras, our government, along with most of the world, is sternly admonishing the army, Congress, courts and presently installed president of Honduras to take him back.

This would make great comedy material, except that it concerns serious concerns of worldwide emergencies. In June, 2008, riots in Honduras and neighboring countries protested hunger, a problem that is on the increase as the world suffers from the greedy manipulations of deregulated financial industry in the U.S.

Concerned humanitarians of the world still look on the security of a country as the well-being of its people. The Guardian features one expression of those humanitarian aims.

We condemn the military coup and kidnapping of the democratically elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya. On Sunday 28 June, President Manuel Zelaya Rosales was kidnapped, removed from his home by force, rendered incommunicado for several hours and expelled from his country. Soldiers also seized Honduran foreign minister, Patricia Rodas, and the ambassadors of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. The military and coup conspirators are trying to suppress popular demonstrations and news by blanket military presence, curfews and intimidation of reporters.

President Zelaya was working to free his country from decades of hunger and poverty. This military coup is an illegal attempt to use armed force to overturn the course of democracy and social progress chosen by the Honduran people at the polls. We urge every government in the world to demand the restoration of the democratically elected president and to pledge not to recognise the illegal government put in power by a military coup.
Colin Burgon MP, Ken Livingstone, Dr Francisco Dominguez Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, Tony Woodley Unite, Gerry Doherty TSSA, Matt Wrack FBU, Brian Caton POA

While the U.S. lost the right to represent itself as an example to follow, in the last maladministration, it has the opportunity now to represent our basic decency and get out of the process of making world affairs purely a business.

The public interest has not lost out to profit motive in much of the world. The U.S. can turn that around now, by cutting out support for tyrants and leaders who violate their constitutions and undercut their people.

The visit of Uribe would make a great opportunity for just that. We overlooked the attempts of Uribe to overthrow the constitution of Colombia, along with his regime's brutality. We have violated our nation's principles in seeking good relations with regimes that violate their own people's rights, and their interests. What a good time to turn that around, by ending our partnership with Uribe and the pretense of a 'war on drugs' that has failed there and throughout the world.

President Obama can depart from the very bad example set by his predecessor by giving our support to people rather than to big business interests. This would be a major advance back into civilization from the atrocities of the previous regime.

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Sunday Is Free

Well, Sunday Agbata isn't actually free, but at least he's out of jail for the first time in eleven months. I posted on Mr. Agbata's dilemma on June 2 of this year. Arrested by immigration officials after being discovered as a stowaway on a boat from West Africa, Mr. Agbata was ordered deported. Then, for eleven months he sat in jail waiting for that to happen, even though courts have held that no one ordered deported can be held in jail for longer than six months unless there are extraordinary circumstances. Obviously ICE couldn't come up with any extraordinary reason for holding him.

From the Boston Globe:

A federal judge has ordered the release of a Nigerian immigrant who was jailed for 11 months after he was ordered deported, ruling that immigration officials had failed to justify detaining him for so long.

In his ruling issued last week, US District Judge Joseph L. Tauro ordered federal officials to release Sunday Agbata, a 27-year-old former auto factory worker. ...

Tauro wrote that ICE had failed to provide any evidence that Agbata was uncooperative - and had also failed to notify Agbata in writing about his alleged lack of cooperation, as required.

“The government has failed to identify any instance of willful noncompliance,’’ the judge wrote in a four-page decision issued Thursday. “Vague assertions that he refused to cooperate do not justify [Agbata’s] continued detention absent specific information about what more [he] could have done.’’
[Emphasis added]

The reason the government failed to identify an extraordinary reason for the continued detention is that there was none. Mr. Agbata was left moldering in his cell because he just wasn't all that important to ICE. They'd get around to him, sooner or later. It's not that he was lost in a shuffle of paper work. He had lawyers working diligently to provide the information the government wanted, and they contacted the appropriate authorities, updating them as necessary. The response from the government to such updates were always the same: he'd be deported "real soon, now."

Mr. Agbata wasn't a terrorist, or even much of a criminal: the only crime he had committed was trying to sneak into the country so that he could have a better life. It's a crime that hundreds of detainees in jails around the country have committed, many of whom are also just sitting and waiting.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder have some house cleaning to do. Their departments need a little shaking up so that these travesties don't continue.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

That Victory

Free at last, free at last, thank Godalmighty, free at last!

U.S. troops pulled out of Baghdad on Monday, triggering jubilation among Iraqis hopeful that foreign military occupation is ending six years after the invasion to depose Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi soldiers paraded through the streets in their American-made vehicles draped with Iraqi flags and flowers, chanting, dancing and calling the pullout a "victory."

One drove a motorcycle with party streamers on it; another, a Humvee with a garland of plastic roses on the grill.

U.S. combat troops must pull out of Iraq's urban centers by midnight on Tuesday under a bilateral security pact that also requires all troops to leave the country by 2012.

All had left the capital by Monday afternoon, Major-General in Staff, Abboud Qanbar, head of Iraqi security forces in Baghdad, told Reuters.

Another Iraqi official who would not be named, said some units in cities outside Baghdad would leave at the last minute. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said 30 bases remained to be handed over. There are still some 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Addressing military leaders in Baghdad, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said: "Our sovereignty has started and ... we should move forward to build a modern state and enjoy security which has been achieved."

This isn't total freedom yet, for any of the parties to this disastrous war. That will take more time, and more working out handovers. It's a beginning though, and despite the violence that has broken out lately it is what we should have done long ago, second only to never starting the war in the first place.

The costs to all involved are so great, in so many areas, that it's hard to see how we will ever recover. The expense added immeasurably to our country's debts, and deprived this country of any number of programs that we now suffer the lack of. We will have the ill will of the Middle East for generations to come.

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Playing Those Records Backwards

Urban legend prevails in the wingnut realm. The Census is a very feared bugaboo, and declarations by head nutcase Bachman that she will not obey our laws and give the information it requires for government logic are providing fodder for the mills of the survivalists.

Seen as an evil plot, like chlorination, the census struggles on trying to represent our actual composition as a country. In Mother Jones, a conversation on the freakish views that keep people hiding from giving their information covers the issue nicely.

MJ: Do you think the Census Bureau has been damaged by partisan activity?

KP: It's a complicated question because the partisan activity goes back to 1790. [Laughs.] The first presidential veto, by George Washington, was a veto of Alexander Hamilton's formula for apportioning the House, and the one that Washington preferred was one that Thomas Jefferson produced, and that was one partisan issue. The apportionment formula that Jefferson produced gave an extra seat to Virginia. Everybody knew what that game was. [Laughs.] Look, partisan interest in the census is simply nothing new. Has there been damage over that period? Yes, on and off.

I think the sampling fight, whatever it was, was deeply unfortunate. The actual assertion that the Census Bureau could behave in such a way as to tilt things one way or the other way in the partisan sense, is, on the face of it, a silly charge. It's the same Census Bureau that's considered to be incompetent by some people, and then some of the same people are saying that this incompetent agency is so clever and so Machiavellian that it can design a census for partisan reasons. It just doesn't compute. Now, did [accusations of partisanship] damage the census? Yes, it damaged the idea of sampling. I like to tell the people I interact with who are against sampling, "Next time you want to go to the doctor for a blood test, don't say, 'I want you to take out a little bit,' say, 'Take out all of it!'" How else will you know? When you wake up in the morning and you want to find out whether it's raining, you don't look out every window of your house; you look out one window. There: You sampled. So the idea that we turned the word "sampling" into a dirty word is deeply, deeply damaging, not to the Census Bureau, but the idea of fiscal integrity. Every other number we use to govern society—unemployment numbers, trade statistics, health care, how many people are uninsured—all of those numbers are based on samples.
The whole foreclosure crisis is a major crisis because whole hunks of the country are empty when they should be functioning neighborhoods. There are just a host of problems. And then there are the ones we can't predict. Who knows? Natural disasters, strikes, I can't tell you what's going to happen. I know it's going to be difficult; it's always difficult to do a serious census, especially with today's economic, political, and general cultural circumstances. Let me ask you a question. Let's say there are 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country. What percentage of those people do you think will mail a questionnaire back in?

MJ: Ten?

KP: Whatever it is, it's a low number.

The numbers the government uses to allocate funds are going to be skewed in favor of the stable households, rather than those needing funds more desperately. This is not a help.

The wingnuts are making a hurdle against fair distribution. No surprise there. Increasingly, those who have already suffered from their empowered ideology are scheduled to be hit yet again.

Hopefully there will be responsible reporting on the facts, but more likely, the loudest voices with the most spectacular nonsense will get the attention. From covering the freak show, our pundits increasingly have become part of it. The country is learning the hard way that it is ill served by media babble.

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The Bush-Cheney revisionists are still at it. An op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times, written by John P. Hannah, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who served as Vice President Dick Cheney's national security advisor from 2005-2009, tries to make the case that Bush's invasion of Iraq was a strategic masterpiece, even if the last administration bungled the war badly, and President Obama is screwing up that brilliant strategy by being more concerned with the withdrawal of troops from Iraq than with consolidating our glorious victory.

For all his administration's mistakes in Iraq, Bush clearly understood the imperative of victory once U.S. forces were committed. He knew that removing our troops under fire would have been disastrous. Al Qaeda and Iran would have been emboldened. American credibility throughout the Middle East would have been shattered. Iraq would have descended into chaos, further destabilizing a region vital to U.S. interests.

More positively, Bush also understood that fulfilling our commitment to help Iraq establish a stable democracy could dramatically advance long-term U.S. interests. The Arab Middle East -- the region that provided the ideology, funding, leadership and foot soldiers for the 9/11 attacks -- would get a powerful example of a successful, modernizing democracy. And the United States would secure a strategic foothold in one of the Muslim world's historic centers of political, religious and cultural power. ...

Under Obama, Bush's commitment to winning in Iraq has all but vanished. Convinced from the start that the war was a mistake (a conviction fortified by the Bush team's post-invasion bungling), Obama has for years been the salesman in chief for a narrative of failure: Iraq is seen as a colossal disaster -- a senseless distraction that drained U.S. resources while alienating the rest of the world. While recognizing a vague obligation to help Iraqis forge a better future, Obama's bottom line comes through loud and clear: The war was a strategic blunder, and the sooner the U.S. can wash its hands of it and re-focus on our "real" priorities in the Middle East, the better.
[Emphasis added]

What Mr. Hannah is trying to convince us is that the war itself was not a blunder, merely the execution of the war. The US had every right to invade a country because it was in our national interests to do so. It was a way to "secure a strategic foothold" in the Middle East, a region rich with oil and natural gas. The fact that the last administration lied us into that invasion, and then screwed up militarily, is unimportant to him. The vision was right.

That vision is no less demonic than the German invasion of France in World War II. No country has the right to invade another simply for strategic foothold. All of Mr. Hannah's blather about democratizing Iraq (after a particularly grisly 'regime change') is immoral non-sense used to justify an imperialistic goal: the global control of quickly disappearing natural resources. And the results of the failed policy include a loss of moral stature in the world, an economy that is still swirling down the toilet, over 4,000 dead American soldiers with thousands more grievously wounded, tens of thousands of dead and wounded Iraqis, and the rise of Iran as a dominant force in that region of the world.

I'd rather listen to Dick Cheney's daughter. I can kind of understand her motivation in defending her father. This claptrap, on the other hand, continues the dangerous theme that the US will do whatever it chooses because it can.


[Note: there's a sidebar poll included with the column. Kindly do an old lady a favor and freep it.]

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday Poetry: Ibrahim Nasrallah


When all the birds in the world flap their wings in unison
as one body, when the waters of springs and mountain streams
gather in a dusty palm,
when a human being runs
and trees and the hidden future follow him,
when the world becomes simple
and I can climb onto a table in the office of the daily news
and speak of your love to the elegant shuttered windows,
to the good and bad paintings on the walls,
when I am able to freely place a gentle kiss
on your cheek in public,
when I am able to return with you after midnight
without a police patrol desecrating our bodies
in search of a confession,
when we can run in the streets
without anyone pronouncing us crazy,
when I am able to sing
and share a stranger’s umbrella
and when she in turn may share my loaf of bread,
when you are able to say I love you
without fear of death or imprisonment
and I can open a window in the morning
without being silenced by a bullet,
when I am able to grow older
and the trees are added to your attire
and we can count the drops of rain on each other’s faces
and can sing and love free of weapons,
raids, chronic fear, and disappearances -
another world will begin,
a new homeland will have been readied.
But for now we announce a new beginning with our death,
a new beginning of love.

Ibrahim Nasrallah

Some Get It, And Some Still Don't

In watching the debate over health care, I noticed that I was pretty much focusing only on the "major" national outlets: the NY Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and Boston Globe. I decided to nose around and see what some of the rest of the country was reading about on the issue, and I picked two Midwest papers, Minneapolis's Star Tribune and Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel. I'm from the Midwest, so the selection is biased in that direction.

First up is an opinion piece written by Kenneth Zapp, who is identified as "a professor and department chair in the College of Management at Metropolitan State University" and who identifies himself as an economist. Mr. Zapp took a pretty forceful and forthright stand on the issue.

The public plan (or a cooperative model) is essential because private firms have not served the public interest. One study found that 31 percent of our medical costs cover administrative expenses of the insurance companies. Another (reported in the New Yorker) found that a Texas city had double the national average health care costs because doctors were requiring twice the average number of expensive tests from private clinics they owned. Private drug companies charge significantly higher prices here than in Canada for the same products. ...

Health care is different from traditional market-based interactions for several reasons. First, when our citizens do not have access to needed services, the society suffers the consequences. Emergency room visits are more costly than regular clinic fees. Poor health impedes worker productivity and school children's learning.

Second, the theory of market economics assumes that buyer and seller have similar bargaining power so that they are equally satisfied from a freely entered transaction. This is obviously false in health care: The urgency of need casts the patient in a vulnerable position.

Most important, private firms seek maximized gain (realized in the short-term) while the customer seeks long-term health. We have not yet found a way to reward private firms for this long-term goal. Instead, each profit-seeking firm leverages its influence for the quarterly or annual bottom line regardless of the long-term effects.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Zapp has nailed the problem nicely. Health care should not be subject to the whims of the market place. We've seen what "free markets" have done to the health of our economy in general these past ten months, and they are not going to be of much help when it comes to the health of our people. All those "movers and shakers" are concerned about are profits for their company every three months, profits which determine the size of their bonuses. That's not what health care should be about, even though that has been what it's been all about for decades.

Now, moving southward to Wisconsin, here's what Senator Herb Kohl had to say in his op-ed piece (warning, Sen. Kohl is no Russ Feingold):

As we create a more efficient, higher quality health care system, we must expand coverage to all our citizens. And, again contrary to conventional wisdom, it will save us money to do so. When the uninsured cannot afford to pay the cost for the health care they desperately need, these costs are shifted to those who can pay. Doctors and hospitals do this by charging insurers more for the services provided for patients who have health insurance, and the insurers pass on these shifted costs in the form of higher premiums for consumers and businesses that purchase health insurance, resulting in a "hidden tax" at a cost of roughly $1,000 per family, per year. ...

While our goal is to reduce the growing costs of health care, we're going to make sure that those who like their current health coverage can keep it. Others who are in need of better coverage will have more choices. Ideally, I think health reform should include some type of a public option. After all, millions of seniors are happy with their government-sponsored Medicare coverage.

There are many proposals on the table, and I am confident that we will end up with one that won't undermine current health providers, will not rely on government subsidies and will garner bipartisan support. I believe we can reach consensus on this and all of the critical issues in health reform if we don't get caught up in ideological labels and work together for the good of the country.
[Emphasis added]

I think the old adage needs to be updated: the United States Senate is the last refuge of scoundrels.

What Sen. Kohl is plumping is business as usual, with a little tweaking on the charges made by hospitals and other providers so that the insurance companies can continue to make their profits, only now they will be even bigger profits because doctors and hospitals will be reined in and people will be forced into insurance programs they couldn't afford in the past, and will be able to afford only because the government will pay part of the premiums to the private sector.

The mention of the public option is once again merely an add-on, a token nod to those of us who believe that the soundest and most equitable plan is a single payer system which takes our nation's health out of the clutches of the current market place's profit directive. Medicare, with its faults (and fraud is a problem) is still more efficient and cost effective than private plans.

To those who lament the loss of jobs and income within the private insurance sector I would suggest that the government will be hiring adjusters to handle the new claims and that insurance companies who provide personal injury, automobile, and workers compensation insurance will have a huge section of their payouts removed.

It's time.

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Hostile Takeover of Truth

After the many times I've featured the ignorance of WaPo editorials, may I point out that it's just useless to point out that they're clueless, then continue giving them hits. As a parting gesture to any pretense of dignity, WaPo has fired their redeeming feature, Dan Froomkin. The voice of reason lies bleeding and dead there, and I will not be going there to give them proof of readership anymore.

Many of the rational voices I visit are in accord. The editors at WaPo create dissent by their rampant nonsense but when readers comment - usually giving real information that WaPo ignores - the editors count it as 'popularity'. I am joining the departing horde and recommend you do the same.

...there was also sadness this week, and I'm not talking about the deaths of entertainment icons from the 1970s. I am talking about the WashingtonPost.com website, which has booted out one of the best bloggers on the web.

Dan Froomkin's "White House Watch" column today will be the last one that appears on WashingtonPost.com. Froomkin has expressed interest in possibly moving the column elsewhere and continuing it, and I consider this a test of whether newspapers are (a.) smart enough to realize this is the way to modernize and move into the future of journalism, or (b.) dumb as a bag of hammers. WashingtonPost.com has obviously chosen the (b.) route. Because Froomkin's column is a shining example of how newspapers could migrate from their print business model to the more interactive web-based model they need to be in to survive.

Froomkin was fired, it was announced, because his "ratings" had dropped after Obama was elected. This is utter hogwash. In the first place, his column "White House Watch" (it started as "White House Briefing" but was changed later) was dedicated to putting the executive branch under a microscope and reporting what was there. Of course, the Bush White House was more fertile ground for this, especially towards the end. But Froomkin did not back off from examining Obama's White House, and has been severely critical of Obama's decisions on secrecy and openness and torture and accountability.

The real reason his numbers dropped is that the editors stopped putting a link to his column on their front page. When Froomkin got progressively harder and harder to find, fewer and fewer people found him. In other words, his ratings dropped because they didn't feature him as prominently anymore. This is the new online reality -- your hit count depends on a link on the front page of the site. The more prominent, the higher your hitcount will be.

But dark suspicions have been raised (mostly by his loyal readers) that Froomkin was fired because he dared to contradict one of the very conservative op-ed writers on the Washington Post payroll (the two entities, Washington Post and WashingtonPost.com are supposedly "separate," I should mention). The Washington Post has become a safe haven for such ultra-conservative commentators (they not only have an ex-Bush speechwriter, but they also hired William Kristol after the New York Times got tired of him being so wrong so often). So, in keeping with this conservative bent, Froomkin had to go.

This is pathetic and is an outrage. Anyone who agrees should contact the ombudsman at: ombudsman@washpost.com and let him know how you feel. [I disagree - Ruth]

What is truly pathetic is that the newspaper which a few decades ago brought down an American president is now not even worth reading anymore, because the only thing in it that isn't the equivalent of Fox News is their cartoonist Tom Toles (who is excellent). A bastion of journalism has, quite literally (at least for me) been reduced to a cartoon. Pathetic.

Let's see... bring down a government, sell lots of newspapers... pack the staff with neo-cons in possibly the most liberal city in America, get ready for bankruptcy. No wonder newspapers are in such trouble, if this is the way they plan their business models. (Emphasis added.)

Pathetic is one description for bringing down what used to be a heroic voice for justice, and for digging out the truth as a newspaper is supposed to do. The glory days at WaPo have been brought down, to the use of those actively destroying functional government. Deregulation has been enthroned where public interests used to reign.

This is radical overthrow of the truth, and my response is to leave.

No more hits for WaPo.

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Obstruct 101

The NY Times notes that 21 of President Obama's nominees to government posts still haven't been confirmed, thanks to the "anonymous" holds placed on them by Republicans. Six months into his presidency, Mr. Obama still has key positions unfilled because of the GOP obstructionism.

Most of the stranded nominees have long since had hearings and majority approval by Senate committees and meetings with lawmakers. None of the nominees have been tainted by scandal or had their core competence questioned. And yet, they remain unconfirmed — one for more than three months and several others for more than a month — mainly because of holds, often anonymous and unexplained, by Republican senators.

Holds are effectively a filibuster, requiring 60 votes to overcome. Used legitimately, they can buy time to clear up unanswered questions about a nominee’s qualifications. But the current widespread holds of uncertain duration are obstructionism. Writing in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, Norman Ornstein, a Congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said the mass delays are “damaging the fabric of governance.”

The Republicans, who certainly can't be accused of keeping their powder dry, don't have to offer any reasons for the hold, but it's pretty clear that at this point it's one of the few tools at their disposal to side track the new president's agenda, an agenda on which he won the 2008 election. Here's what the Times offers as the GOP's excuses on a couple of nominees:

...Dawn Johnsen, an impressive nominee for assistant attorney general, has been on hold since mid-March. She has aroused Republican ire for her opposition to torture and her repudiation of extreme views of presidential power.

Robert Groves, the nominee for director of the Census Bureau, has been on hold since mid-May. He has been deemed suspect for his expertise in sampling, a statistical method for adjusting miscounts. Republicans charge that sampling could unfairly tilt the census results. That is highly debatable, but, more to the point, it is a nonissue. Mr. Groves testified at his confirmation hearing that sampling will not be used in the 2010 count. But the hold on Mr. Groves endures, enfeebling the Census Bureau in the critical final months before the count.

In both cases, the nominees, the nominees offer a challenge to power, the kind of power the GOP would like to keep. Ms. Johnsen is opposed to the garbage theory of the "Unitary President". Mr. Groves, even though he made it clear that sampling would not be used in the census this time around, represents a movement which would clean up the census process and make it more accurate. That poses a different kind of danger insofar as the census results affect not only how federal moneys are disbursed but also the number of representatives to the House a state would have. Count too many poor people, or people of color, and the Republicans are in trouble.

As the editorial pointed out, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has begun doing his job by garnering the votes necessary to lift those holds (most recently successfully pushing the confirmation of Harold Koh as legal adviser to the State Department), but he still has 21 to go. That will have to wait until the July 4th recess is over, but it will hopefully be high on his agenda when the Senate returns in two weeks.

The Republicans, who are now apparently eschewing the mantra of "up or down" votes, need to be slapped around a little for their obstructionism. This editorial does a pretty good job of doing just that. Now, I've frequently lamented the demise of a responsible press in this country. In this case, however, the NY Times did its job beautifully.

Well done, folks. Oh, and more like this, please.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bonus Critter Blogging: Orangutan

(Photograph by Tim Laman and published at National Geographic.)

Right Wing Terrorism

Homeland Defense Secretary Janet Napolitano shouldn't have caved so quickly when conservatives howled at the DHS report that cited the danger potential from right wing extremists. Events since that report have proven that the report's thesis was valid. Now, we know that, but I was still surprised that people in other countries were watching America that closely when it came to the issue. I guess I shouldn't have been. One opinion piece in The Netherlands's Elsevier expressed essentially the same conclusion I've just described. It also contains a pretty solid analysis on why we've seen such a dramatic up-tick of right wing terrorism this year.

Since the inauguration of President Barack Obama on January 20 this year, ethnic relations may have improved on average, but there is currently more danger than before from the violent extremism of the right. After the attack on the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City in April 1995, in which 168 were murdered, it had diminished. However, since late 2008, extremism from the right is making itself heard very clearly, once again. ...

To account for the phenomenon, four reasons are mentioned, namely: the election of a black president; the economic crisis; the growing number of completely disillusioned war veterans back from Iraq and Afghanistan; and, finally, the fear that this government will be addressing the virtually unregulated possession of weapons. That last reason is based in conspiracy theory, because - however desperately needed - there are no plans to strongly restrict the possession of guns.

Guns have been the weapons of choice in the most recent barrage of attacks, and certainly the almost unlimited access to guns for just about anyone who seeks them is part of the problem. That said, even I have to admit that the violence would not necessarily be halted if all gun and ammunition sales were severely limited or even banned. The atmosphere right now is so charged with hatred that those who would strike would find the means to do so. Explosives, poisons, even chemicals could ostensibly be put into play.

The other three elements mentioned by Rik Kuethe, the author of the opinion piece, certainly are an accurate description of the elements in this deadly calculus, but I think Mr. Kuethe has overlooked one other very important element: the increasing virulence of the extreme right wing leaders with access to public forums such as talk radio and the Internet. One such right winger finally stepped over the line enough that he managed to get arrested twice this month. From a June 24, 2009 post at Think Progress:

Today, FBI agents went to the New Jersey home of white supremacist blogger/radio host Hal Turner and arrested him “on a federal complaint filed in Chicago alleging that he made Internet postings threatening to assault and murder three federal appeals court judges in Chicago in retaliation for their recent ruling upholding handgun bans in Chicago and a suburb,” according to a statement released by the Justice Department. ...

Turner is already in trouble with the law. Earlier this month, he turned himself in to the Connecticut State Police on charges of “inciting violence” against three state officials. He urged his audience to “take up arms” because he was reportedly “angry over legislation that would have given lay members of Roman Catholic churches in Connecticut more control over their parish’s finances.” Turner’s next court appearance in this case is on July 14.

Mr. Turner represents an extreme case because he has been so explicit in his threats and the urgings to his audience to take up arms against those whose opinion or actions they despise. A kook? Absolutely, and a dangerous one.

Equally as dangerous, however, are those with a more sophisticated approach, those who use code words or phrases to get their message across. Those who refer to abortion as "murder" and the doctors who perform the procedure as "murderers" are in reality calling on their supporters to do something about these criminals. In a society which finds capital punishment acceptable, the message is clear, and that message is coming from our radios and televisions with increasing regularity.

What we need to realize is that this kind of hate-filled incitement to violence is not speech protected by the First Amendment and never has been. In most jurisdictions, it's illegal, and rightfully so. Until we face that fact and do something about defanging the violence mongers, I fear the attacks will continue and will increase in frequency and severity.

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Reality Based Financing

While it is diverting to listen to born-again fiscally responsible wingnuts piping up on the floor of the House to insist social programs are going to break the bank, it's actually happening among the leaders. Working its way through obscure official channels rather than in the dog and pony shows the freakish right wing keeps throwing, Pay-Go legislation is being put in place to give actual underpinnings to our national government.

After the 'throw money at rich folks' approach the wingers employed over eight years in total power over spending, this works back toward sound finances. Soundness is much needed, as those burned by our catastrophic behavior in world finance are beginning to look at replacing the almighty dollar with a currency not subject to winger whimsy.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers grilled White House Budget Director Peter Orszag at a hearing Thursday over the administration’s flexibility on a new pay-as-you-go law that would allow for trillions of dollars in exemptions.

The administration is asking lawmakers to pass legislation that would require any new federal program to be paid for either by cutting spending or raising taxes. But the White House has agreed to exempt a few big-ticket items that have added to the nation’s budget deficit.

During the House Budget Committee hearing, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) noted the exemptions will cost more than $3 trillion over 10 years. Policies that won’t be subject to pay-go restrictions under Obama’s bill include the extension of middle-class tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration, funds to keep the Alternative Minimum Tax from hitting middle-income Americans and Medicare payments to physicians.

“If we don’t extend a number of these [exemptions], we could see an increase in the reduction of the deficit,” said Becerra, the vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

Orszag said items were exempted because neither lawmakers nor the White House have come up with ways to pay for them. Those policies also have broad support from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

But Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) suggested lawmakers consider letting more of the tax cuts, championed by President George W. Bush, expire, and not just the ones for those Americans making more than $200,000.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who has called on the House to take up the bill in July, said the pay-go law is necessary to stem the increase in debt.

“By reducing the amount of money spent on interest payments on the debt, we will be better able to make investments in areas that make our economy strong, such as healthcare, energy and education,” he said.

The measure has less support in the Senate; though Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has backed it, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), whose Senate Budget Committee would mark up any pay-go bill, has criticized the measure for exempting expensive items.

But Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have pledged not to consider any new tax bills from the Senate unless the upper chamber takes up pay-go legislation. The House leaders’ pay-go promise came in response to the $3.6 trillion budget resolution, which called for discretionary spending levels higher than Blue Dog Democrats wanted.

Reality won't get much attention in the media, but reality bites when the actual practice is profligacy. Returning to sound finances is overdue. When our society suffers real losses as it has in school spending, infrastructure, and collapse of our health system, we are required to get hold of the process of spending again.

The slow, steady progress of return to sanity is being accomplished by leadership while the opposition scurries about trying to light the fires faster than they can be put out.

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Home invasion robberies are among the more violent of crimes committed in this country. When such crimes are coupled with an extremist political agenda, the crime is somehow even more horrifying, as the people of Arivaca, Arizona discovered May 30 when such an invasion resulted in the murder of a father and his ten year old daughter and the wounding of his wife. From the NY Times:

The killings, last month, have terrified this small town near the Mexican border, in part because the authorities have now tied them to what they describe as a rogue group engaged in citizen border patrols.

The three people arrested in the crime include the leader of Minutemen American Defense, a Washington State-based offshoot of the Minutemen movement, in which citizens roam the border looking for people crossing into the country illegally. Former members describe the group’s leader, Shawna Forde, 41, as having anti-immigrant sentiments that are extreme, at times frightening, even to people accustomed to hard-line views on border policing.

The authorities say that the three suspects were after money and drugs that they intended to use to finance vigilantism, and that members of the group may have been involved in at least one other home invasion, in California.
[Emphasis added]

The acronym for this group certainly fits, especially given the tactics adopted by Ms Forde and her cohort. Just how crazy these people are was underscored by some of the people who quickly grew disenchanted with the group, among them Ms. Forde's half-brother.

Merrill Metzger, who worked for the group for six months just as it was getting started in 2007, said Ms. Forde had often traveled from Washington to Arizona with weapons. In March, while stopping over at his home in Redding, Calif., she presented a plan for the group to undertake, Mr. Metzger, her half-brother, said in a telephone interview.

“She was sitting here talking about how she was going to start an underground militia and rob drug dealers,” he said.

Mr. Metzger quit the group, alarmed, he said, by a number of things, including Ms. Forde’s demand for extreme loyalty, right down to the choice of cuisine.

“I had to take an oath, and part of the oath was that I couldn’t eat Mexican food,” he said. “That’s when red flags went up all over for me. That seemed like prejudice.”

"Seemed like prejudice." You think?

The DHS report about the threat to the nation from right wing terrorists doesn't look so bad anymore. In fact, Republican caviling aside, it looks to have been right on the money. I'll be interested to hear Tom Tancredo's and Lou Dobbs's response to this story, although I won't hold my breath that either man will even mention it.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Catblogging


Barn cats are especially useful to have, tho this one isn't as friendly as some of mine have been.

Hi, my name is Barn/Outside Cats. I am a , Domestic Short Hair / Domestic Medium Hair cat. My coloring is other. I am currently in Mount Rainier, MD. If you want to adopt me, please contact Alley Cat Rescue. You can find me with the ID 126281.
Name Barn/Outside Cats
ID 126281
Species Cat
Breed Domestic Short Hair / Domestic Medium Hair
Color Other
Pattern None
Gender Unknown
Altered Altered
Age Unknown
Zipcode In 20712
Date Posted Tuesday May 19th, 2009
Contact Alley Cat Rescue
Description We are always in need of people with Barns, Stables or other such enclosures to take Barn Cats. These cats are not friendly with people and just want to keep to themselves. They will all be spayed/neutered and vaccinated. They need shelter, food, water, and vet care as needed. They don't want to be your friends! However, they may want to get close and personal with some rodents you may have running around..


Today Is Barely In Time

With an atmosphere of muted hysteria prevailing after the death of a few star ‘personalities’, I am more aware than usual of our neglect of the issues that are urgent, and will be eclipsed. Today the congress has the opportunity to make vital decisions on the future of the planet.

The energy bill that is at the forefront gives our legislative branch the opportunity and duty, along with the hazards, of giving life to alternative energy production for our business community.

From the malfeasance of the oil companies to date, we can easily see how poor performance can endanger the entire world. In its attempts to counter scientific observation of climate change with its self-centered created counter-arguments, Big Oil has shown a profit motive set against the value and quality of life. Such juxtaposition is overwhelming in its indifference to life, and its enormity.

The influence of the lobby that promotes an interest in fossil fuels so dangerous to civilization can only be a detriment to negotiations. Sadly, it will be a major influence, particularly on the salacious legislators who have embraced it as their abiding interest. Under the influence of that lobby, some members of Congress will fight for their BFFs against the world and its life forms.

The Waxman-Markey climate change bill is now scheduled for a vote in the House by the end of the week, and online there has been much gnashing of teeth andpressing of keyboards over the last-minute deals Waxman and Markey have cut in hopes of securing passage.

Of course, the last-minute dealing is all Democrat-to-Democrat action. The Republicans see the whole thing as fatally flawed. “Waxman-Markey is a 1201-page economic suicide note,” says Ianin Murray at National Review. “Those Members of the House who vote for it are voting for long-term economic decline and for turning the United States into a second-rate economy.”
David Roberts takes a more psychological approach to Waxman-Maxwey acceptance:

The green world is grappling with these unpleasant facts right now, fluctuating between rage (kill it!), dread (we’re screwed), and resignation (it’s better than nothing). Or maybe that’s just me.

Writing at Grist, Roberts says he is “reasonably optimistic, despite the flaws in Waxman-Markey, that history is on our side, and that the arguments happening today in Congress will soon be seen as peculiar and archaic.”

At risk in the influence peddling of everyday legislation happens to be the air we breathe, of course.

The process that subjects matters of such import on the lives of the entire world to grappling for power by deeply flawed individuals, with their constituencies, has seldom been exposed as so dangerous. While it’s a topic that is a bit large to throw into a discussion of energy legislating, the depths of political influence are raw and bleeding when our life on the planet becomes a matter for jostling among moneyed interests and their minions.

Today the White House may be able to get a vote, and that is none too soon.

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Post Platonic Retreat

Ever wonder what the architects of the disastrous administration of George W. Bush administration are doing these days? Well, one of them, John R. Bolton, is currently a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (no surprise there). He also penned this op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times, the contents of which are also not surprising.

Mr. Bolton's subject is President Obama's foolish policy with respect to Iran, foolish in Mr. Bolton's eyes because the president has determined that "negotiation" is inferior to what the neocons found to be so useful in foreign policy -- missiles and bombs.

But it is the president's underlying policies that are wrong, not just his rhetoric. Saying that he does not want the "debate" inside Iran to be about the United States is disingenuous at best. Obama's real objective is to launch negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, in the belief that he can talk Iran out of its 20-year effort to acquire deliverable nuclear weapons. He said it during the 2008 campaign, during his inaugural address and repeatedly thereafter.

Viewed in the light of this near-religious obsession with negotiation, Obama's reticence is entirely understandable: He does not want to jeopardize the chance to sit with the likes of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

In fact, everything we know about the regime indicates that Iran, and the Revolutionary Guard in particular, will never voluntarily give up its nuclear program, so Obama's policy is doomed to failure. (Inevitably, of course, if negotiations start, Obama would change the definition of success to include accepting a "peaceful" Iranian uranium- enrichment program, which means Tehran would retain its "breakout" capability to quickly produce nuclear weapons -- but exploring this further Obama failure has to wait for another day.)

Accordingly, it is Obama's policy errors, not his rhetorical ones, that should be opposed. Rhetoric itself is not policy but only the adjunct of policy, albeit often an important one. Obama's reticence reflects his larger misjudgment -- the dangerous misconception that there is a negotiated solution to Iran's nuclear threat that can satisfy both Iran and the United States. ...

Obama's policy, and that of the United States, should be the overthrow of the Islamic revolution of 1979. The massive resistance to the June 12 elections is just another fact supporting that conclusion. ...

...Obama wants negotiations with Tehran, not regime change. Given that the Revolutionary Guard and the hard-line mullahs -- and not the people -- are increasingly likely to be the short-term winners of the current Battle for Iran, supporters of regime change must now make longer-term plans.
[Emphasis added]

"Overthrow," "regime change": where have we heard that before? Iraq, maybe?

Here's what we got from that approach to the world: thousands of dead and wounded American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded Iraqis later, we're still mired in Iraq. Our economy is in shambles, and we're stuck with an off-budget war paid for on the national credit card that will take a generation to pay off. Our military, stretched beyond its capacity, will take nearly that long to fully recover, even with the recruitment of thirty-somethings to fill the gaps left by a war we're stuck with for at least another couple of years. All because some cowboys in Washington were looking for an excuse to get their war on.

We've seen what "regime change" costs. It's time to see what real diplomacy can accomplish.

[Note: the article has a side bar poll on the issue, one that is crudely phrased. A little "freeping" is still in order.]

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thursday Birdblogging

Varied Thrush

From San Antonio's Audubon Society;

I have seen that this bird is decreasing in number.

This Varied Thrush male was discovered by Mike Creese at Avenue A in Brackenridge Park on November 8, 2004. Martin Reid graciously gave permission to use this photo and has a couple more here (from Ruth - site had expired). Great bird for our area and many have already flocked to see it.

About Varied Thrush;

A large, robin-like thrush of the Pacific Northwest, the Varied Thrush is a characteristic bird of the mature, dark coniferous forests. Wandering individuals turn up regularly far from home, wintering around feeders in the midwestern states.


Up In Smoke

If you are facing an economic meltdown, what do you do? In cases coming to light now, many desperate people lit up the car. Insurance companies are paying on arson, as the times get worse.

Of course, there are a few signs that the fire was intentional, I see. Having removed all your valuables first is a major one. That was true of house fires as well, I have learned from a little reading on the topic. The family pets being out is yet another indicator.

Pressed by the current financial environment car owners render to deceptive tricks to get more money. According to the reports from the Associated Press a growing number of people are torching, sinking or ditching their vehicles and then reporting them stolen to cash in on the insurance.

A number of SUVs were found ablaze in the Nevada desert. Cars were dumped in a Miami canal and a BMW was discovered buried in a field in Texas. Besides, some people deliberately parked their vehicles in the path of a hurricane.

You may well be asking yourself by now exactly why I'm researching burning cars. Actually, I had to file an insurance claim when a truck backed into me, and came on this development of lighting the jalopy, while I was working on that.

Wednesday at the Clay Fire Department, a special seminar was held to help investigators learn how to spot arson.

Two cars were burned at the seminar; one to show what an accidental car fire looks like, and one that was a car arson.

To make a determination between the two, the investigators there were instructed to look for specific clues, like where the fire started on the car, what was missing from the vehicle and the background information -- for instance, if the car owner had any financial or insurance problems.

Investigators say any one of those clues would typically point to fraud.

“In the state of New York, there are some signs of an increase of vehicle arsons, and it's concerning for law enforcement and the industry -- and we pay, in New York State, another $350 a year per person because of fraud investigations,” says State Police auto theft investigator Peter Kontos.

About 120 people attended Wednesday's seminar. Organizers hope investigators will now have all the tools necessary to properly spot car arsons.

Fire investigators say cars intentionally set on fire tend to burn faster and longer because an accelerant is typically used. Accidental fires are usually caused by a catalytic converter.

This is certainly a step beyond refinancing the house, which I understand no longer exists, to make it possible to go on spending more than you have coming in. As my own accident was relatively minor, I am pretty sanguine about it.

The innovation so prized by our financial institutions comes out in innumerable ways. Self-financing by lighter is yet another estimable invention, wouldn't you say? It's not going to rock the world economy just yet, though it's sure to be unwelcome news to insurance companies. The atmospehre toward insurance companies isn't exactly going to mitigate that inclination to cheat them, after the 'innovation' shown toward our pocketbooks.

My insurance company isn't that AIG that I kinda own, anyway.

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Stop Gap Stop Loss

President Obama's net network is flooding Congress and the airwaves with the health insurance and health access horror stories submitted by citizens. David Lazarus, business columnist for the Los Angeles Times has one (actually, two) to add to the pile:

The state's Major Risk Medical Insurance Program is meant to serve as a last resort for the up to 400,000 Californians who have been rejected for health coverage by private insurers because of medical problems.

But it's not easy to get into. It's not comprehensive. And it's not cheap.

Los Angeles residents Susan and Stephen Perry recently turned to the program after being shown the door by money-minded private insurers.

Susan, 62, a freelance writer, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a digestive disorder, four years ago. Stephen, 58, a part-time teacher and a poet, has Type 2 diabetes.

"We're spending all our retirement cash," Susan told me. "But this is the only insurance we could get."

The program is clearly well intended. But it shows just how bad our healthcare system is for those who fall into the cracks -- and how the pursuit of even limited coverage can wipe out a family financially.

The Perrys had been covered by insurance offered by PEN American Center, an organization of writers and artists, until they received notice recently that their combined monthly premium would soon top $2,000.

So they went shopping for coverage among private insurers and discovered that their business wasn't wanted -- by anyone.

That left only the Major Risk Medical Insurance Program, which charges the Perrys $1,746.29 a month for coverage provided by Blue Shield of California. That's almost $21,000 a year.

For that, they enjoy a relatively low $500 annual deductible. But they also face an annual cap of $75,000 in payouts. God forbid if one of them suffers an expensive illness or injury. ...

The Major Risk Medical Insurance Program, or MRMIP -- pronounced "Mister Mip" -- is essentially catastrophic health insurance that doesn't cover catastrophes.

It's last-ditch insurance that's intended to safeguard hundreds of thousands of Californians turned away by private insurers but that lacks the funds to cover more than 7,100 people at any given time.
[Emphasis added]

The $75,000 annual cap may look generous, but expensive procedures such as cancer treatment can cost well over $100,000. So would hospitalization for a heart attack, or, more likely in Mr. Perry's case, treatment for one of the dreaded "-opathies" that accompany diabetes: retinopathy, neuropathy, nephropathy. About the only "catastrophies" that are covered by MRMIP are such things as a badly shattered bone that requires surgery and a hospital stay. For that, the Perrys are paying over $20,000 a year.

The California program is a laudable try, but it is simply inadequate. It has been underfunded in the past, and probably is going to be one of the projects that will be cut even further by the mad slashers in the Schwarzenegger administration given the job of cutting state services to punish the electorate for not passing the budget proposals recently put before them.

If ever a story illustrated the need for a single payer system that would cover all the people, regardless of pre-existing conditions, the Perrys' story is it. A copy of the article should be faxed/emailed/mailed to people like Max Baucus and Dianne Feinstein, people who have free and total coverage themselves, but apparently think it would be "too expensive" to offer the same to us common folks.

Do it.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

March Against Wrongful Convictions

The State of Texas has actively joined in efforts to clear wrongfully convicted persons by letting DNA evidence be examined to determine accuracy of the convictions in Dallas County. On June 27, it will participate in Freedom March held this year in honor of freeing wrongfully convicted prisoners. At the website, you can determine if your state has organized an event, and join in.

From the website:

Today, Freedom Marchers have a new agenda. It is awareness for wrongful convictions and an end to the archaic practice of putting our nation’s offenders to death. On June 27, 2009 at 10 am C.S.T., it is our dream to see every State Capitol in the nation filled with the cries of concerned citizens; a unified voice for freedom. The members of www.RayeofHope.org are organizing a nationwide March for Freedom--www.FreedomMarchUSA.org--and to date, the response has been overwhelming. However, volunteers and coordinators are needed in every state in the nation to make this March for Freedom a success.

Shall we continue to lock away people who could possibly be innocent? Clearly, many of those who are in prison are mothers. How many children are being raised without a parent due to wrongful convictions? Shall we continue to put to death those who may have been wrongfully convicted? Nationwide coverage is needed to bring attention to this injustice. Ask yourself, as a society, are we to stand by, quietly thinking "someone else" will bring awareness to wrongful convictions?

Do your part to effect change for a better America. Volunteer! Don’t let another innocent person’s blood be spilled or years of a life stolen by a justice system that continues to put political agendas above the lives of our nation’s people.

On June 27, 2009 marchers will walk approximately one mile to their state capitols with signs containing statistics and the names of those who have been wrongfully convicted. Once marchers reach their capitol steps, there will be educational speeches and booths handing out information on wrongful convictions.

In its recent decision to keep DNA out of the hands of defense teams seeking to determine the accuracy of convictions, the Roberts' coathanger court offended the very principle of freedom. The Supremes should be a particular object of contempt for their offenses against our country and its most precious principles.

(h/t Talkleft)

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Dealing With The Enemy

There was a campaign for the presidency not so long ago, when now-President Obama was constantly harassed by opponents for his commitment to dealing with the powers that are not friendly to us. Looming particularly large in his sites was the presidency of Iranian Ahmadinejad, who has been loony enough to declare he had a halo on when he spoke at the U.N., and who was ominously claiming the right of his country to own nuclear weapons.

The previous maladministration 'dealt' with Iran by declaring it a member of the Axis of Evil and cutting off the entire nation from any kind of statesmanship. Rightwingers during the campaign expressed indignation that President Obama entertained thoughts of upgrading from that diplomatic failure and acting like a functional adult.

The recent pretense of an election in Iran brought protesters out into the open by declaring a victory for their nutcase, with an obviously manipulated vote. Once again voices on the right shouted that the president should operate at the playground taunt level, and make a lot of noise - although even our wingnuts didn't pretend that that would work out very well with the administration in power in Iran.

Last night on PBS' Newshour, appearing for unknown reasons as the spokesperson of his party, the nutcase Lindsey Graham declared that President Obama was hoping that he would be working with the other nutcase, Ahmadinejad. Graham rather remarkably implied that tactics from the White House were intended to enable that worst case scenario. As usual, the media hostess, Judy
Woodruff, let that slide without any slight attempt to allow factual presentation.

The irresponsibility from the right is hardly unprecedented, and has made this into the disaster for this country that it continues to be. Where there might have been some ability to work with this other, inimical, government before, the previous maladministration isolated the U.S. from it and the rest of the Middle East. Now forces that linger on in D.C. fighting against any functional government want to pit the President against their fellow nutcase in Iran in continuation of the hostilities the previous maladministration felt comfortable with. Just the thing we need, more disastrous posturing.

Commenting at CNN.com this morning, Roland S. Martin makes the point that these seething critics are displaying their ignorance of history as well as inability to comprehend or to conduct diplomacy.

Critics of President Obama, mostly Republicans, have seethed that he has not been more forceful in ripping the theocratic leadership in Iran for their brutal handling of protesters angry with what they see as a stolen election.

In Tuesday's press conference, the president toughened his talk, saying, "The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings and imprisonments of the last few days."

Still, Obama's measured and calm approach has been right on target, while his critics have been totally off base.
We are seeing a remarkable amount of courage in Iran. The people there are tired of being treated like children, and are putting their lives on the line to demand change in the country.

Instead of inflaming tensions, the United States should continue to issue tempered comments, and allow the people in the streets to drive this issue. This should not become a U.S. vs. Iran discussion.

If the focus remains on those demanding change in the streets of Iran, especially if the beatings and oppression continues -- remember Selma, Alabama, and Bloody Sunday? -- then those who are silent in Iran will be silent no more, and other countries will begin to weigh in on the brutality.

The change we desire in Iran will not happen with a press release or a comment by the president of the United States or even a congressional resolution. We must show support, but from a distance. The United States played a direct role in the mess we see in Iran today. It's best that we shut up and allow Iran to determine Iran's fate.

From what they are shouting, and the way they marshal forces against anything the president attempts to do for this country, once again the wingers are trying to damage the government they don't control, in any way they can. Eight years in power showed what their intentions are, and those are not good.

It's too bad the media will not speak out, too, against the right wing's obvious ill intent toward the U.S. that has rejected their ideology. Such obvious mischief against our best interests should be treated like the hostility to the country that it is.

Maybe the entire rightwing could take a hike down or up the Appalachian Trail - the government would be much improved.

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Another Nightmarish Sign

In case anyone needed more evidence that a lot of Americans are going through desperate times, this article from today's Sacramento Bee provides plenty.

About 53.6 percent of Sacramento County's public school students received a subsidized lunch during the 2008-2009 year, up from exactly 50 percent the year before, according to a Bee analysis of recent California Department of Education data. That translates to an extra 5,000 Sacramento County kids taking a free or reduced-price lunch. ...

To get a free or reduced-price lunch, a family must be financially strapped. A household of four, for instance, cannot make more than $39,200 and still get a subsidy.
[Emphasis added]

The figures for Sacramento match those of the state overall. During the 2007-08 school year, 3,118,053 California students or 50.9% of the school population received the subsidized lunch. During the 2008-09 school year, those figures jumped to 3,158,808 or 53.5%.

Two things leap out in these statistics. The first, of course, is that over 50% of the school age children in this state are poor enough to qualify for this program. The second is that this isn't a brand new phenomenon, one that is simply appeared with the change in administrations. It's at least two years old.

This program is about to be stressed further, however.

Most of the lunch costs are paid for by the federal government, but the state reimburses districts 22 cents for every $2.70 free meal. The state announced recently, however, that it dropped its contribution to 6 cents for April and June.

The move by the state comes in the wake of the disastrous budgetary problems California is going through. The school lunch program is one of those "unnecessary" expenses Gov. Schwarzenegger's staff identified, so the state funding has dropped by 70% and may in fact be zeroed out with the next rounds of cuts. That means the local districts have to come up the funds to pay the difference at a time when their own budgets have been slashed with the cuts they've faced from the state.

I'm sure some glib and golden-throated state legislator will find a silver lining in this nightmare, but I can't for the life of me figure out just what that might be.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Not Getting Along

After the years just past of watching media get along by going along with gross injustice, a breath of fresh air is welcome to the point of hysteria. So may I announce I have a new hero.

Judge Leon showed that he is worthy of his office, and of several other offices that desperately need some one worth his/her salt in them.

An exasperated Federal Judge issued a scathing opinion, chastising government prosecutors for insisting that GITMO detainee Abd al Rahim Abdul Rassak was part of the Taliban, when all the evidence against him pointed to his innocence. In a 13-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ordered Rassak’s immediate release.

Rassak is from Syria and was forced by Taliban members to perform menial duties for the group. When Rassak tried to leave, he was brutally tortured for months, accused of being a Western spy and imprisoned for over a year, said Rassak’s lawyer Steven Wax. The Taliban then left the guesthouse and abandoned Rassak.

When Rassak attempted to help the U.S. by providing information about his Taliban torturers, he was taken into custody and transported to GITMO as a suspected terrorist.

Videos of torture and suicide bombings found in the shared al-Qaeda/Taliban safe house, were thought to depict Rassak involved in terrorism. However, once the videos were reviewed, it was discovered that the videos actually showed Rassak being tortured by al-Qaeda members.

Government prosecutors claimed Rassak still owed an allegiance to his Taliban captors, despite being tortured and imprisoned by the group.

Judge Leon rejected government’s arguments of Rassak’s guilt, saying their claims amounted to “taking a position that defies common sense.” To make sure the government understood the seriousness of his opinion, ordering Rassak’s release and his rejection of government claims of the detainee’s guilt, Judge Leon exclaimed in his opinion, “I disagree!”

This is the kind of judge I would have liked to see in Federal Court in Dallas when DOJ prosecutors insisted that freedom of speech didn't apply to the Holy Land Foundation defendants. It's the kind of judge I hope sits on their appeal court. It's the kind of judge I would have liked to see on the Supreme Court yesterday instead of the kind that think it's worth
raping our earth
to save a business some of its legitimate operating costs.

Our court system has been badly eroded by the past maladministration that wanted to end government's role, that of protecting the public. A remaining judge of this calibre is encouraging.

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Inflation Mythology

That former darling of the self-described fiscal conservatives who tipped this world into economic disaster, the Federal Reserve is coming up for grabs. Presently headed by Ben Bernanke, it will be in the unenviable position of the gold ring at the country fair carousel. Anything goes.

Of course, the Fed has been used to fend off disaster, and the policies it has used have been those that would produce immediate results. For long-term policies of choice, your financial mogul horde is going to fight back. For saving their hides, Bernanke is the new punching bag.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke will defend his unprecedented actions to prevent a financial collapse as debate on whether he should be reappointed begins.

Bernanke, whose term expires Jan. 31, faces lawmakers at a hearing this week on steps to aid Bank of America Corp.’s takeover of Merrill Lynch & Co. as Congress increasingly questions the Fed’s interventions. The session comes after a two-day meeting on monetary policy that starts today.

President Barack Obama has said the Fed chief has done an “extraordinary job” without committing to reappoint him. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, in reference to a possible candidacy for Obama economic official Lawrence Summers, told a lawmaker last week it wasn’t “appropriate” to pledge that top advisers weren’t in the running for the job.

“The vultures are circling,” said David M. Jones, a former Fed economist who is president of DMJ Advisors LLC in Denver. Bernanke is “going to be on the defensive,” even after “turning confidence around” since the depths of the crisis, he predicted.

The evil policies that reputedly turned around the economy had an effect that strikes fear in those reputed hearts of the financial kingdom. They distribute wealth outside the inner ring. Worst of all, the general distribution of wealth brings an 'inflationary' effect.

That the inflation bugaboo was the most dreaded of all happenings came through in a reecent Wall Street Journal editorial.

We get worried, however, when Fed Governors begin to say that their days of fighting inflation are over. Fed Vice Chairman Roger Ferguson has been declaring the monetary equivalent of "mission accomplished" wherever he goes, most recently in a November 21 Chicago speech. "Inflation still seems more likely to move lower than to increase," Mr. Ferguson averred, making us wonder what prices he has been watching.

Perhaps none. Mr. Ferguson and Fed Governor Ben Bernanke seem preoccupied instead with productivity growth and what they call "the output gap."

The obsession with inflation by the ghouls at WSJ should be a good indicator that this is an effect we as working and wage-earning consumers should not fear. In inflation, your earning powers are worth more. Your debt shrinks, in real dollars. Toxic holdings even out in value with the 'good' holdings so corporate and investor debts diminish. Homes, savings, corporate real estate, all gain. The only losing factor in this scenario is the debt holder. The pile of gold in the mogul horde swimming pools loses value.

The last thing anyone wishing for economic justice needs to fear is inflation.

The legislators who are considering the next Federal Reserve chairmanship will be warned by financial interests that they have to do the right thing and stop recovery in its tracks before wealth can be allowed to follow value.

In order to continue toward prosperity, that is exactly what needs to happen.

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Some Good News

Sometimes little people get to have a victory against the corporatocracy, and sometimes the media even reports the victory, albeit in buried articles or editorials. Yesterday's Boston Globe editorial notes such a time. In this case, the editorial points to the fact that rather than go through a lengthy trial in which its despicable business practices and complicity in human rights violations would be exposed, Royal Dutch Shell and its subsidiary in Nigeria settled the case brought against them in a US court by Nigerians affected by the rapacity of the multinational oil company.

A HEARTENING human rights precedent was established last week when the Royal Dutch Shell company and its Nigerian subsidiary settled a suit brought in a Manhattan court. The suit charged the company with complicity in the 1995 execution by a Nigerian military regime of nine activists who had been protesting Shell practices on behalf of the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta.

The respected author, environmentalist, and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was among the protesters put to death in 1995 after a bogus trial. Shell has agreed to pay $15.5 million to Saro-Wiwa’s son and other relatives of the executed activists, a portion of which will go into a trust for social programs in the region affected by Shell’s oil spills and gas flaring. Now, multinational corporations can no longer count on impunity for human rights abuses and environmental degradation in lands where they extract valuable resources.
[Emphasis added]

As the editorial pointed out, a settlement is not necessarily an admission of guilt by the oil company. In fact, the company is spinning the settlement as a "humanitarian gesture." Here's what the corporate press release had to say about it:

Shell today agreed to settle a court case in New York related to allegations in connection with the Nigerian military government's execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others in 1995, making a humanitarian gesture to set up a trust fund to benefit the Ogoni people. ...

The settlement and other payments together total $15.5 million, which will provide funding for the trust and a compassionate payment to the plaintiffs and the estates they represent in recognition of the tragic turn of events in Ogoni land, even though Shell had no part in the violence that took place. In addition, they cover plaintiffs’ costs and fees.
[Emphasis added]

Oh, please.

Once the US court took jurisdiction in the case, the oil company knew it was in trouble. The trial would have put on display just how these corporations do business, including how they pay off brutal dictators in order to steal the resources that poorer nations have and how they stand back, their hands in their pockets, as those dictators hammer those who dare try to defend their land and livelihoods.

In the grand scheme of things, $15.5 million is a pittance for giants whose quarterly profits set records in the billions each time they are reported. As far as the corporats are concerned, it was money well-spent.

Still, the Globe editorial is right: it set a precedent, one that just might wind up costing such miscreants even more down the road.

Score one for us.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Toxic Legacy

Today Chief Justice Roberts' coathanger court ruled that mine waste can be dumped into an Alaskan lake even though the wastes are poisonous to fish. The previous maladministration had overturned existing Clean Water legislation by giving authority to the Corps of Engineers rather than its gutted version of EPA.

The resulting finding of the Corps was with the Coeur d'Alene Company that holds the rights to the gold mine. The company has concerns only for its operations, and argues that the least expensive way to dispose of wastes is dumping it into the lake.

This contradicts general practice which does not allow destruction of lakes for the purpose of business convenience in handling its byproducts. Only during the previous, war criminal, executive branch's rampant betrayal of public interest, was destroying the environment considered acceptable as business procedure.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday for Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp (CDE.N) by upholding a government permit that will allow the company's Alaska gold mine to deposit rock waste into a lake on federal land.

In a closely watched environmental case, the justices overturned a U.S. appeals court ruling that had invalidated the permit for Coeur's underground Kensington Gold Mine northwest of Juneau.

In 2005, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the company's Alaska unit a permit to put 4.5 million tons of rock waste, or mine tailings, into the lake over a decade.
"The Clean Water Act was intended to halt the practice of using lakes, rivers, and streams as waste dumps," said Tom Waldo, who argued the case. "Today's decision does not achieve these purposes."

The officials said the Bush administration rule giving the Corps of Engineers authority in such matters had reversed thirty years of successful regulation under the Clean Water Act. They urged President Barack Obama to act immediately to repeal the rule.

The preservation of our earth requires the president to overrule the previous maladministration and prevent this atrocity. There is no public interest served in laying waste to the country for convenience of businesses. The profits earned by the mining will well cover the costs of paying the expenses of operation, with gold now at record highs (today $920 an ounce).

The present composition of the Supreme Court is another toxic legacy of the maladministration.

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Left Behind

In the fable of the boy who cried wolf, the lesson is taught that if you tell lies too many times, no one will believe you anymore, even if you have a real problem. It seems the wingers never learned that lesson of childhood. They keep flogging a dead horse they took to slaughter over eight years of dominance, and it no longer will pull their cart.

The public has learned that theirs is not the best health care system in the world, and cutting taxes won't solve our economic ills. The vote should have shown wingers those facts during the last election, but it seems it escaped their tightly closed minds.

Yesterday's poll numbers show that the public has barreled ahead of the right wing, and knows that it is poorly served in our existing health care system. It wants the government involved in giving them a fair return on their tax dollars. What works for the medicare crowd can work for the public at large, and the public is ready for a public program to bring health care into accessibility for us all.

Dr. Paul Krugman marvels in today's column in the NYT that legislators charged with giving the public protections are fighting against the tide.

The Republicans, with a few possible exceptions, have decided to do all they can to make the Obama administration a failure. Their role in the health care debate is purely that of spoilers who keep shouting the old slogans — Government-run health care! Socialism! Europe! — hoping that someone still cares.

The polls suggest that hardly anyone does. Voters, it seems, strongly favor a universal guarantee of coverage, and they mostly accept the idea that higher taxes may be needed to achieve that guarantee. What’s more, they overwhelmingly favor precisely the feature of Democratic plans that Republicans denounce most fiercely as “socialized medicine” — the creation of a public health insurance option that competes with private insurers.

Or to put it another way, in effect voters support the health care plan jointly released by three House committees last week, which relies on a combination of subsidies and regulation to achieve universal coverage, and introduces a public plan to compete with insurers and hold down costs.

Yet it remains all too possible that health care reform will fail, as it has so many times before...the fundamental fact is that we can afford universal health insurance — even those high estimates were less than the $1.8 trillion cost of the Bush tax cuts.

He speculates about motivations, but points out that "they don’t seem able to explain their reasons in public."

There has been much credit given to the now disproven concept that the voters don't want to make the large investment it will take to bring real health care to this country. The public doesn't believe it anymore.

The election made more difference than an ingrained element of recidivists seems able to realize. The voters are moving into a better world, and a better frame of receptivity. The legislators refusing to move onwards with them are being left behind. That can't happen soon enough for all of our best interests.

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More Sausage Making

It's clear that President Obama is working hard on some very difficult issues, the two most important of which are the economy and health care reform. He's also trying to close Guantanamo Bay by finding new homes for the wrongfully detained, and he's facing foreign policy crises he hadn't counted on in Afghanistan (the deaths of civilians in air strikes) and in Iran (where the current seeming instability hadn't been foreseen). It isn't surprising that other issues have been pushed aside because there simply isn't enough time or energy to deal with them. At least, that's the official excuse for not addressing them. The calculus, however, is a bit more complicated than that.

Immigration reform is one issue that will no doubt be as contentious as health care reform. Although the president is giving a nod to it this week, it appears that's about all he is willing to do at the present time, according to this Los Angeles Times article.

Lawmakers will gather at the White House next week for a working session on immigration reform, a meeting that has been highly anticipated by Latino leaders eager for President Obama to honor his campaign promise to put millions of undocumented workers on a "pathway to citizenship." But many Democrats are now concluding that they may well not have the muscle to pass such a controversial measure -- at least not immediately, and possibly not until after the 2010 midterm election.

And even though Obama used a Latino prayer breakfast Friday morning to reiterate his intention to pass some sort of new immigration plan during his presidency, next week's gathering demonstrates how the White House and congressional leaders are trying to strike a careful balance. They are seeking to assuage Latino voters, who are a key constituency, while avoiding specific promises on timing and substance, and while trying not to antagonize independent voters who may have a skeptical view of legalization plans. ...

The White House has downplayed expectations for next week's meeting. According to Latino lawmakers who met with Obama this spring, the president had indicated that he would host a summit with lawmakers and advocacy groups, just as he did with healthcare leaders when he kicked off the debate on that front-burner issue. Instead, the immigration event will be small and private and will include only House and Senate members involved in the immigration debate.

Moreover, the White House is careful to point out that Obama wants to merely begin the debate this year. He is not promising that a plan will be passed this year, although in his campaign he said he would make the issue "a top priority in my first year as president."

Elections do indeed have consequences. Unfortunately in this case, it is the next election and the one after that which the president has chosen to focus on, rather than the one which swept him and the Democratic majority into office. What is so disturbing about the basis for the White House decision is that the imagined resistance is not as deep as the politicos believe:

[Pollster Stanley] Greenberg produced new swing-district polling last summer to counter his earlier surveys -- this time reporting that "a policy and message that focuses on requiring illegal immigrants to become legal expands the Democratic advantage on the immigration issue." He said that pushing a "legal status requirement" is more popular than simply talking about border enforcement.

Even after the polling information was released, however, the president and his staff have decided it would be "safer" to defer the issue. The new time line is an interesting one:

Some strategists believe the most likely time to press the issue will be in 2011, when Obama, once again needing Latino votes to win states such as Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada and perhaps to compete in Texas and Arizona, will be most motivated to lobby nervous Democrats on behalf of a legalization plan.

And that, my friends, is how sausage is made in the nation's capital.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday Poetry: Tarek Eltayeb

My Grandmother’s Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tarek Eltayeb

(Taken from Poets Against the War.)