Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday Poetry: Langston Hughes


Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear.

I have as much right
As the other fellow has
To stand
On my two feet
And own the land.

I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I'm dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow's bread.

Is a strong seed
In a great need.

I live here, too.
I want freedom
Just as you.

--Langston Hughes

The Unimportant People

This has been a really interesting weekend. The Stewart/Colbert Rally for Sanity appears to have been a resounding success, although the MSM might dispute that, as I predicted yesterday. Lots of people turned out to just chill, something I think is a wise thing to do, even in these perilous times. Will it make a difference on Tuesday? It's hard to tell, although it may get more people to the voting booths, and that's always a good thing in a democracy.

It was also an interesting weekend from the standpoint of what's up at Watching America. Much of the world's press is watching the American midterm elections closely, probably guided by the predictions of the American press with respect to an anticipated blood bath for the Democrats. While I'm not so certain that the results are going to be quite so drastic, there was some really good analysis done by the press in watchful nations.

I was especially drawn to this article from the Guyana Chronicle because it seemed to match what many of us have been saying for a long time. Confirmation is always nice, but during times like these, it also saves sanity. The thesis of the opinion piece is that President Obama and his Democratic colleagues in Congress picked the wrong side the last two years, and are giving every indication of doing the same for the next two years. Yes, it's the same side that the Republicans are taking, but that's the whole point: they're all wrong.

THERE are consequences for politicians when they ignore their base. In the case of the U.S, the ruling Democrats led by President Obama are set to suffer a humiliating defeat for ignoring the working and middle classes who turned out in record numbers to elect them to office. Instead of rewarding the working classes, the Democrats rewarded the wealthy class who had supported the Republicans and who got the country into a financial hole. The bulk of the Democrats plan to stay home come election day on November 2 and Obama is appealing to them to come out and rescue him. Even Guyanese, many among those who voted for Obama two years ago, plan to stay home. This is the pitfall of ignoring the people who voted you into office. [Emphasis added]


The tragic part is that both Obama and the Democrats in the 111th Congress blew an opportunity to right the Ship of State and to reinstitute what Robert Reich called the "Basic Bargain" in his latest book, Aftershock. That bargain is an agreement that the economy only works when all segments get the benefits, not just the top 10%. By bailing out the banksters and the miscreants on Wall Street and the corporate board rooms to the detriment of workers, all this administration did was reinforce the problems which will continue to plague this nation for at least another decade unless some drastic action is taken.

People like Paul Krugman and Duncan Black have been screaming (shrilly, alas) for months about what needed to be done to put people back to work with a stimulus that dealt with infrastructure and increased employment, but nobody in the Obama White House was interested. Unless the Dow was moving upward, government spending was useless.

As a result, many Americans are so frustrated that they've bought into the insane inanities of the like of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin. The progressives that worked their backsides off to get Obama elected to lead a Democratic Congress into the 21st Century are dispirited because their leaders have dismissed them as "fucking retards."

And now, we're about to hand the keys of this asylum over to the crazies who brought us to this pass.

I've already voted by mail, and I hope that everyone else will make the effort, but I have to tell you, I have a certain amount of sympathy for those who just throw their hands up in disgust and who stay home on Tuesday.


Sunday Funnies

(Political cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (October 29, 2010) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bonus Critter Blogging: Gelada Monkeys

(Photograph by Michael Nichols and published at National Geographic.)

Much Ado

The Stewart/Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity taking place today in Washington, DC is driving the pundits mad, madder than, well, a herd of March Hares escaped from Alice's Tea Party. The "center-left" editorial board of the Los Angeles Times remarked on that phenomenon in an editorial in this morning's edition, and, ironically, for the most part, the editorial got it right.

If cable comedian Jon Stewart gets more people to show up at his rally in Washington on Saturday than Fox News host Glenn Beck attracted to his event in August, does that make him a bigger deal? Will Stewart energize young, urban liberals the way Beck and other right-wing pundits have inspired elderly conservatives? And should anybody outside the relatively narrow fan base of these TV entertainers really care? ...

Crowds are coming to the Mall for a wide variety of reasons — some because they're tired of seeing Hitler mustaches drawn on posters of Obama, some because they want to express their opposition to Beck and his audience, and some, no doubt, because online mogul Arianna Huffington is providing free transportation — but we suspect most are coming simply because they want to be entertained. All in all, it's a broad group, and not the kind of coalition that makes for a sustainable political movement.

What an interesting conclusion. Of course, Messrs Stewart and Colbert made no pretense of building a sustainable political movement when they announced the rally. In fact, both went out of their way to disclaim any such intent. And, given the leaks with respect to the people appearing on stage with Stewart and Colbert, it appears that they were serious about that, if only about that.

I have several friends in DC for the party, and I sure wish I could have figured out a way to join them. I'll have to settle for second hand reports from them and from the media. I'm sure there will be plenty of that, especially from the media.

I have a few predictions on the event. First of all, and ultimately the most important from my point of view, my friends will have a wonderful time, as will most of those in attendance.

There will be between 60,000 and 70,000 attendees. The media will report "thousands" or "approximately 20,000" people in attendance.

The average age of the attendees will be 43.5 years. The media will report the average age as "20-something."

There will be signage, lots and lots of signage. Some of those signs will be rude, but most will be good humored. The rude signs will get all the air time.

There probably won't be any giant puppets, which will be a shame. The media will still run stock footage of the giant puppets.

The only people carrying guns will be the Capitol and Park Police.

Glenn Beck will cry.

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Cat Blogging

One For The Money

Turns out that this has been the most expensive mid-term election in history. Candidates have spent gazillions of dollars for a chance to win jobs that will pay six figures at most. Of course, the money spent is probably seen as an investment for the next job, the one after Congress or the governor's mansion, but the figure is staggering in light of the lousy economy, the high unemployment rate, and the increasing homelessness rate.

California, of course, is a pretty good example of the campaign spending frenzy. Meg Whitman, she of eBay fame, has poured over $140 million of her own money into her quest for the governorship. Steve Poizner, her opponent in the Republican primary, spent nearly $25 million of his own fortune in the losing cause. Jerry Brown, who doesn't have nearly the personal wealth of his competitor, has still managed to spend $25 million, most donated from the various unions in the state. California is the "Golden State" in more ways than I had thought before this election season.

Steve Lopez took snarky aim at the money being poured into the campaign in latest column for the Los Angeles Times. He toted up the numbers and, with some help from his readers, suggested some of the ways all that money could have been better spent in a state with profound budget problems.

Together, Poizner, Brown and Whitman have spent enough on their campaigns to cover a huge chunk of the recent state budget cuts, say the $10 million slashed from community clinics, the $6.4 million from services to low-income seniors, the $25 million from economic development, the $132 million from services for seriously emotionally disturbed students, the $18 million from drug treatment and $22 million from Medi-Cal.

He also pointed out that for $140 million, Meg Whitman could have sent two medium Domino's pizzas to each California household or 4 tacos to every resident. At least people would have gotten a meal out of the deal, something too many of them can't count on right now. She might have been doing better in the polls right now than she is if she had spent her money in this fashion.

The point of all this is that only rich people, or people willing to be bought, can afford to run for public office. Is it any wonder that the interests of the majority of Americans are being totally ignored? It seems to me that this election go-round makes a pretty good case for public financing of elections.

And Meg Whitman? Steve Lopez's concluding remarks have a bitter irony to them:

It ain't over yet. But if Whitman loses next week, all she will have taught us is that the economy is so bad, you can't buy a job.

Not even for $141 million.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mental Health Day

(Copped from Marcellina at The Practice Room.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Just Stay Home"

Yesterday, I posted on both parties' efforts to get their supporters out to vote next Tuesday. GOTV is an important part of any campaign and one that is traditionally difficult, especially during midterm elections. Today, the NY Times has an article on the flip side of that coin: vote suppression. Some elements are busy trying to intimidate voters into just staying home on election day.

Tea Party members have started challenging voter registration applications and have announced plans to question individual voters at the polls whom they suspect of being ineligible.

In response, liberal groups and voting rights advocates are sounding an alarm, claiming that such strategies are scare tactics intended to suppress minority and poor voters.

In St. Paul, organizers from the Tea Party and related groups announced this week that they were offering a $500 reward for anyone who turned in someone who was successfully prosecuted for voter fraud.

The group is also organizing volunteer “surveillance squads” to photograph and videotape what it suspects are irregularities, and in some cases to follow buses that take voters to the polls.

And it's not just the Tea Partiers who are engaged in the voter suppression efforts. More traditional party activists on the right are also smearing anyone remotely related to voter registration drives in order to keep poor and minority people from getting engaged in this basic part of the democratic process, as the article makes clear.

Is voter fraud that rampant?

Of course not. The days of the Chicago Machine's "vote early and often" have long past. While voter registration lists are outdated, complicated further by the turmoil caused by the current foreclosure mess, actual voter fraud is actually minuscule:

While many states have voter registration records riddled with names of dead people, out-of-date addresses and other erroneous information, there is little evidence that such errors lead to fraudulent votes, many experts note.

A report by the public-integrity section of the Justice Department found that from October 2002 to September 2005, the department charged 95 people with “election fraud”; 55 were convicted.

Among those, fewer than 20 people were convicted of casting fraudulent ballots, and only 5 were convicted of registration fraud. Most of the rest were charged with other voting violations, including a scheme meant to help Republicans by blocking the phone lines used by two voting groups that were arranging rides to get voters to the polls.
[Emphasis added]

55 convictions of voter fraud over three years nation-wide doesn't even qualify as a drop in the election bucket. No, the groups we're talking about here aren't interested in the fraud aspect; they're objecting to the participation of those who aren't rich enough or white enough to qualify for citizenship in their Aryan Utopia.

And that is horrifically shameful.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Just one more week until the midterm elections. Finally the end of silly season is just about here. Candidates and their supporters (named and unnamed) now face the daunting task of moving voters from their couches to the voting booth because, at least for the present, the number of ballots cast for candidates determines the winner rather than the number of dollars raised by campaigns.

This has been an unusual campaign season for any number of reasons, not the least of which has been the emergence of the Tea Party as a "grassroots" movement. Given the last two years, the Republican Party rightfully assumed that they could pretty much take over Congress, especially with the US Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case. Oddly enough, that dream was shattered by people who for years had aligned themselves with that party but who decided this time they weren't just going to do so. As this article in the Los Angeles Times suggests, the monolithic party organization as a means for getting out the vote isn't quite in play for the GOP this time around.

With the campaign in its final week, well-funded conservative groups have shifted their focus from the airwaves to voters' phone lines, front doors and mailboxes — part of a get-out-the-vote effort that could tip the scales in tight races across the country.

But the push to get the nation's conservative voters to the polls is fractured and untested, with some "tea party" activists refusing to cooperate with more mainstream Republicans, in contrast to the unified and well-organized parallel effort by unions and Democrats, according to key players on both sides. ...

"There is a sense now that Republicans may not be able to capitalize on the backlash against [President] Obama and the Democrats because they lack the well-organized voter ID and get-out-the-vote effort that they have had in the past," said Lawrence Jacobs, a University of Minnesota political scientist who has been comparing the ground game of both parties. There is enormous variation now state to state, he said. ...

For the GOP, this year's patchwork approach is a dramatic departure from the last decade, when a single well-organized entity — the Republican National Committee — ran sophisticated voter mobilization programs that were years in the making. But the RNC has faltered in funding and organization recently, and outside groups have stepped up efforts, many of them starting only recently.
[Emphasis added]

After years of catering to the Religious Reich, the GOP now finds itself in the unenviable position of having to cater to the wacky right. Instead of "walk over" wins in Nevada and Delaware, one race is too close to call, and the other will indeed be a walk over, but for the Democrats. Will Republicans a fraction to the left of Attila the Hun hold their noses and vote for candidates who don't have a clue? I don't think so.

But it all comes down to getting the people to the polls.

The Democrats just might pull this off, with victory being declared after losing only a handful of House seats and one or two Senate seats.

One can only hope.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Roger Warner had an interesting opinion column in yesterday's Sacramento Bee having to do with a "terrorism" trial here in California. In it he skewers the Justice Department and federal officials for going forward on a case in which the prosecution is even more inept than the defendants.

The U.S. Justice Department made a breakthrough of sorts when it launched a terrorism court case in Sacramento three years ago. Until then, terrorism had been a scary business. Now, we're looking at farce.

The court case, known as USA v. Harrison U. Jack et. al., accuses a military veteran named Harrison Jack and U.S. citizens of Hmong tribal descent of planning to overthrow the government of the Hmong's original home country, Laos, in Southeast Asia. ...

The joke is that the more information that has emerged about this case, the more it looks as though the government should be on trial instead of the defendants. The naive defendants, who are staunchly pro-American, never shot off anything more dangerous than their mouths. According to wiretap transcripts, they talked and talked – initially, about bringing democracy and free elections to one of the last communist regimes in the world.

They got in trouble when a government undercover agent entered the picture, lied to them about non-existent CIA connections, and tried to talk them into buying Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, mines, anti-tank weapons and more. He also offered them mercenaries who had been trained in the U.S. special operations forces. Forget free elections! With his help, he said, the defendants could take over Laos, a country the size of California. To "prove" his sincerity, the undercover man rented an RV, stocked it with real and phony weapons and took the defendants through it one by one – filmed by hidden video cameras.

It looks to be a fine case of entrapment, one that should never have been brought once the facts were looked at by a savvy prosecutor, yet here we are, three years later, and the case continues to proceed. The patience of the federal judge hearing the case is wearing thin, so much so that he has taken to needling the latest prosecutor assigned to the case (number three) by asking which specific laws the defendants are alleged to have violated. That's a question no lawyer wants to hear because it signals the judge's assessment of the case. The prosecutor couldn't immediately answer the judge, which sends an even worse signal.

The case is complicated, unnecessarily so. The prosecution has released 85,000 pieces of "evidence", which means that the defense attorneys, their paralegals and staff have spent hours going through all of this material trying to determine just what the prosecution has, if anything. The kicker, as Mr. Warner points out, is that these are public defenders, which means that we are paying for not only the prosecution but also the defense. At this point, the costs of the case have to be hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars.

Why this madness?

The case of Harrison Jack is a pure government boondoogle. It is also an example of a post-9/11 terrorism genre based on what are called pre-emptive arrests. In pre-emptive cases, defendants can get indicted for talking about, or conspiring to commit, terrorist acts, even if they never lifted a finger to hurt anyone. The targets of these cases can be hostile to America, like al-Qaida, or ethnic groups who are loyal to America, as the Hmong proved during the Vietnam War era.

The biggest problem with pre-emptive cases, it turns out, is that everyone involved in the law enforcement community has powerful incentives to bring them. Investigators get promotions for the indictments they bring, not for the convictions. Federal prosecutors get credit from their superiors in Washington for having "A" level or national security cases, even if the cases are weak. The incentives have created an institutional enthusiasm for creating these cases – and a reluctance to give them up, even if they are flawed.
[Emphasis added]

If this didn't involve the lives of citizens being ruined and if it weren't costing us an arm and both legs, this would indeed be funny. Instead, it's just unforgivably outrageous.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Poetry: Marilyn Hacker

Morning News

Spring wafts up the smell of bus exhaust, of bread
and fried potatoes, tips green on the branches,
but it's old news: arrogance, ignorance, war.
A cinder-block wall shared by two houses
is new rubble. On one side was a kitchen
sink and a cupboard, on the other was
a bed, a bookshelf, three framed photographs.

Glass is shattered across the photographs;
two half-circles of
hardened pocket-bread
sit on the cupboard. There provisionally was
shelter, a plastic truck under the branches
of a fig-tree. A knife flashed in the kitchen,
merely dicing garlic. Engines of war
move inexorably towards certain houses

while citizens sit safe in other houses
reading the newspaper, whose photographs
give sanitized excuses for the war.
There are innumerable kinds of bread
brought up from bakeries, baked in the kitchen:
the date, the latitude, tell which one was
dropped by a child beneath the bloodied branches.

The uncontrolled and multifurcate branches
of possibility infiltrate houses'
walls, windowframes, ceilings. Where there was
a tower, a town: ash and burnt wires, a graph
on a distant computer screen. Elsewhere, a kitchen
table's setting gapes, where children bred
to branch into new lives were culled for war.

Who wore this starched smocked cotton dress? Who wore
this jersey blazoned for the local branch
of the district soccer team? Who left this black bread
and this flat gold bread in their abandoned houses?
Whose father begged for mercy in the kitchen?
Whose memory will frame the photograph
and use the memory for what it was

never meant for by this girl, that old man, who was
caught on a ball-field, near a window: war,
exhorted through the grief a photograph
revives (or was the team a covert branch
of a banned group; were maps drawn in the kitchen,
a bomb thrust in a hollowed loaf of bread?).
What did the old men pray for in their houses

of prayer, the teachers teach in schoolhouses
between blackouts and blasts, when each word was
flensed by new censure, books exchanged for bread,
both hostage to the happenstance of war?
Sometimes the only schoolroom is a kitchen.
Outside the window, black strokes on a graph
of broken glass, birds line up on bare branches.

"This letter curves, this one spreads its branches
like friends holding hands outside their houses."
Was the lesson stopped by gunfire, was
there panic, silence, does
a torn photograph
still gather children in the teacher's kitchen?
Are they there meticulously learning war-
time lessons with the signs for house, book, bread?

--Marilyn Hacker

(Found at Poets Against War.)

The Right To Know

I went to Watching America yesterday looking for something specific, but had one of those serendipitous moments in which what I found was so much better that I don't even remember what my initial search was for. This article in China's Ifeng explores a concept which we tend to take for granted, that of our right to know just what our government is doing.

We tend to think of the right to know as a peculiarly American ideal, but, as this opinion piece points out, it's a right that all people deserve and one that many governments espouse. President Hu of China listed it first on a list of four basic rights. Now, while the leader of China may just have been paying lip service to that right, at least he acknowledged its importance.

Here in the US, that right is enshrined in the Freedom of Information Act, a law which was enacted during President Lyndon Johnson's administration. The law was obviously not a big hit with members of his administration, especially those working in the Pentagon. It still isn't. It's tough to pry information out of any agency, especially when secrecy is cloaked in "security" needs. Dogged journalists still find ways to get enough information to inform the public if they are tenacious enough. And that is what this article is ultimately about.

...don’t be mistaken — the right to know, as an important democratic principle and a civil right, was not freely given to the people by the Constitution — at least not in England, France or America. ...

America started to legally recognize the people’s right to know when the Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1966 and took effect in 1967. President Lyndon Johnson, the president who signed the law, praised the law, saying that it showed that the United States "values highly the right of the people to know how their government is operating."

The passage of this law created an entirely different situation compared to how this issue was previously handled. ...

The inspiration that I drew from the American federal government and its people’s movement toward the right to know is that in order to gain the trust of its citizens, the government cannot rely solely on its “benevolent policy.” It has to rely on the law. The government has to make sure that there are laws to follow, and the laws must be followed. As for the public, it is not enough that the laws exist. People have to use the laws to counter the government actions and use the laws to protect themselves.
[Emphasis added]

Like any muscle, this right has to be exercised constantly if it is to maintain its usefulness and purpose. Journalists and citizens themselves have to constantly request full information, not just the partial, heavily redacted mess that the government tends to send out until the lawsuits make it too embarrassing not to comply. Only in this way can citizens protect themselves from government over-reaching.

The reason why President Hu put the right to know above the other three rights is not because it is the most important right. It is because in modern, civilized society, without the right to know, people cannot truly have their right to participate, their right to express or their right to oversee the government’s actions. How can you participate when you know nothing? How can you express freely when you are kept in the dark? How can you oversee the government’s actions when you as a citizen don’t even know what the government is doing?


And well said.

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Sunday Funnies

(Political cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 10/17/10 in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Bonus Critter Blogging: Butterfly Egg

(Photograph by Martin Oeggerli, National Geographic and published at National Geographic. Click on the link, and follow the link to the article on insect eggs. Please.)


There's an interesting article in today's Los Angeles Times on a huge solar-thermal site going up in the Mojave desert in California. Groundbreaking for the site is set for Wednesday. When the construction is finished in 2013, the project should generate enough electricity for over 140,000 homes.

Las Vegas-bound travelers nearing the Nevada border rarely take notice of the vast, empty stretch of the Mojave Desert surrounding them. But that may soon change.

On Wednesday, ground is to be broken for a massive solar thermal plant spanning about 3,600 acres and involving 346,000 mirrors, each about the size of a billboard. ...

The installation will be in three phases, each with roughly 116,000 mirrors arranged in circles around a 460-foot-tall "power tower." The mirrors, or heliostats, focus the sun's rays onto the tower. The heat turns fluid inside the tower into steam, powering a turbine.

The plant is expected to produce 370 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 140,000 homes. The power will be sold to Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

The huge project is the first of its kind, and had to jump through a lot of very complicated hoops to get this far. The fact that it has gotten to this stage is a significant sign that just maybe this country is finally willing to give up its dependence on oil. Chevron, one of the investors in the company building the project, certainly must think so. So must the US government, which provided pretty hefty loan guarantees. SCE and PG&E, the two largest private electric companies have already signed contracts to take delivery of the electricity generated once construction is complete.

And after Wednesday, a whole lot of jobs will also be generated in San Bernardino County where right now unemployment is at about 20%. Even after the three year construction is finished, technicians and laborers will be required to keep the project working and the turbines spinning.

But the project is not an unmixed blessing, even if it is a dramatic example of what alternative energy can do for the state, the nation, and the world.

Not everyone is thrilled. Environmentalists fought the project for years, concerned about its effect on the habitat of a rare tortoise. Others see the developer, Oakland-based BrightSource Energy Inc., as just another "Big Solar" corporation chasing down profits on the public dime.

"It's the old centralized robber-baron monopoly model," said Sheila Bowers, an activist with the advocacy group Solar Done Right. "This is the worst way to go about getting clean energy — it's slow, it's remote, it's devastating to the environment, and taxpayers are footing most of the bill." ...

Critics such as Bowers contend that sprawling installations like Ivanpah contribute to harmful greenhouse gas emissions because the mirrors and equipment require heavy manufacturing and construction. And the lengthy transmission lines could be vulnerable to weather, hackers and potentially even terrorists, she said.

"There's a lot of rooftop potential in our cities or suburbs to produce the vast majority of the solar power we need," she said. "That they're choosing the wilderness first is incredibly wrong."

That, unfortunately, is a pretty accurate description of the other side of the coin.

That said, at least we've made some movement on the issue, a movement away from the old paradigm of oil and carbon based fuels. Given the economic system in play at the present and the foreseeable future, it may be the best we can expect, at least for now.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Cat Blogging

Some Unsurprising News

Remember that "virtual border" that the Bush administration promised us? The one that would use high technology to protect us from the human and drug traffickers from Mexico? Well, apparently the primary contractor on the project hasn't been able to make it work after several years and over a billion dollars later, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Department of Homeland Security, positioning itself to cut its losses on a so-called invisible fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, has decided not to exercise a one-year option for Boeing to continue work on the troubled multibillion-dollar project involving high-tech cameras, radar and vibration sensors.

The result, after an investment of more than $1 billion, may be a system with only 53 miles of unreliable coverage along the nearly 2,000-mile border.

Although it is tempting to blame Boeing for the failure so far, the government shares a whole lot of responsibility. The grandiose plans of the Bush administration called for coverage which required a technology that just hadn't been developed yet. Boeing thought it would be a slam dunk, but the project turned out to be far more difficult than they anticipated. High winds along the test section of the fence, along with the inadequate technology, resulted in the fence being able to spot tumbleweeds and vehicles, but not people. In other words, Arizona is no safer now than it was before the fence.

But given that the virtual fence has yet to pass muster even in the 53-mile test area — two sections in Arizona that officials acknowledge won't be fully operational until 2013 — and the government's lack of interest in extending Boeing's contract, most do not expect the department to invest billions more in a project that has continually disappointed.

That 53-mile test area, you will note, is still 3 years away from being operational, which would leave only about 1,947 miles to go. At that rate we would be well into the next century and who knows how many billions of dollars before completion.

It was a bad idea to begin with, and it's getting to be downright expensive. It's time to shut the project down. Maybe Congress should look into a more sane way to protect out borders and to control immigration.

Heckuva job, George.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Juan Go Bye-Bye

Atrios beat me to the punch on the story of NPR's canning Juan Williams for some comments he made on Bill O'Reilly's television show on the Fox network. I guess I should stay up later than I do.

While Atrios cited the New York Times article, I first read the news this morning in the Los Angeles Times. The quotes will be coming from that article.

Here's some of what Mr. Williams had to say on O'Reilly's show:

"I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot," said Williams, who is African American and has written extensively on the civil rights movement and race in America. "You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous." [Emphasis added]

What an odd thing to say.

I mean, does Mr. Williams get all nervous when an observant Jew boards the plane wearing a yarmulke? Or a Catholic priest with a clerical collar? Does jewelry in the shape of a cross worry him? All of those accessories signal a religious orientation, one that the wearer is openly displaying and presumably identifies with.

Surely Mr. Williams decries racial profiling. Why, then, does he engage in religious profiling? Yes, the terrorist criminals of 9/11 were all Muslim, but they weren't wearing "Muslim garb." In fact, they were all wearing "Western garb," suits, button-down collars, shiny shoes.

Now, the irony of all of this is that Mr. Williams comments came in the context of "political correctness," a favorite topic of Bill O'Reilly. Mr. Williams, presumably to continue making his bones with O'Reilly and Fox (for whom Mr. Williams also works)made it clear that he had no use for that kind of verbal politeness. He feared that it could "lead to some kind of paralysis, where you don't address reality." Of course the reality which Mr. Williams was actually addressing in his comments seems to be his own lack of courage when it comes to boarding airplanes.

I'm sure Mr. Williams will have no problem moving into full-time employment with Fox now that he's lost his gig at National Public Radio. I'm also sure that he and his new colleagues will have a field day over the firing. The viewers will be treated to long discourses on the First Amendment (even though Williams wasn't arrested, detained, or fined for his comments). And during those discourses Shirley Sherrod's name will never come up.

But there is this: Juan Williams won't be on NPR any more.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Healthcare reform was supposed to be the jewel of the first two years of President Obama's first term. It hasn't exactly turned out that way. In fact, the new law is being used by Tea Partiers and Republicans as an example of the "socialist" nightmare electing Obama has brought about and may prove to be a significant element in making Mr. Obama a one-term president. The reason the "reform" is so unpopular with conservatives is the requirement that every American buy health insurance.

Liberals aren't all that thrilled at the new law either, and have been disappointed right from the start that the White House made "partners" of the health insurance industry, getting input from them to the exclusion of those consumer advocates who wanted either a single payer system or, at the very least, a public option. The requirement that everybody have health insurance is fine in theory, but it makes no sense without requiring that the insurance companies justify any premium increase.

Everybody is unhappy with the new law, well, almost everybody. Insurance companies, who made out like bandits, are quite happy with a huge new pool of customers whom they can bilk without any interference.

Jamie Court and Carmen Balber, both of Consumer Watchdog, address the problem of premium hikes in an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times in which they urge the president to take bold action right now and continue that pressure at both the federal and the state levels to keep insurance premiums at a reasonable level.

Health insurance companies have declared war on President Obama's healthcare plan.

They are sending letters to policyholders announcing big premium increases and pointing the finger at the federal healthcare overhaul. Some insurers are refusing to sell individual policies for children because of rules requiring them to take all comers, not just those in perfect health. They are lobbying on Capitol Hill and in statehouses to undermine or eliminate the law's provisions.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius answered insurers' scare tactics by saying she would have "zero tolerance" for such behavior, but the administration's response so far has been limited to words.

It's time the president uses his clout and fights back.

The writers urge the president to order a freeze on premiums until HHS completes the regulatory system which defines the path to "justification" for premium hikes the law requires. That system is supposed to be completed by the end of this year. The freeze would stop the gouging being implemented by the insurance companies right now.

They also urge him to use his position to encourage states to use their regulatory clout to keep premiums in line. They use the example of California's system of mandatory auto insurance and premium regulation passed by the voters in 1988. California drivers saved millions of dollars, and the car insurance companies are still in business, doing quite nicely.

The new law is hardly perfect. For many of us, it's an absolute giveaway to the corporate interests, but it's a start, a first step, however hobbled that first step is without a public option. That start will be lost, however, if the president doesn't take some uncharacteristically bold action right now. The two writers of this op-ed have got it right:

Obama made the mistake of capitulating to the insiders in Washington when he reversed his campaign position and agreed to include a health insurance mandate in his reform law, without a cap on premiums. He now has the opportunity to defuse the ticking time bomb of outrageous health insurance premiums that everyone will be forced to pay, but only if he thinks like an outsider again. That could save policyholders a lot of money, and maybe his presidency as well.

Hopefully somebody in the White House is listening.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

War? What War?

It's hard to believe, but one issue that is not being raised during the current election campaigns is that of the war in Afghanistan. It's as if the war and the ever increasing death toll among American soldiers just doesn't exist. Oh, I realize that what is on most Americans' minds is the lousy economy and their own precarious existence, but how is it that one of the major drags on the economy and the federal budget is simply ignored? Are we just bored with it? Or, even worse, do we just assume that the war is part of the natural order of things?

While our national attention has wandered from the war which has been going on for well over nine years, it still proceeds apace, accompanied by violations of international law when it comes to detention of Afghanistan civilians at the new-and-improved site of the bad-old Bagram prison. I was relieved to see that at least some people are still paying attention, and I was pleased that the Los Angeles Times provided space for one of those people, Rachel Reid (an observer for Human Rights Watch) to remind us just what is being done in our name in her opinion piece.

Ms. Reid sat in on one of the hearings at the military detention center and tells the story of Gul Shah Wazir, known as "Mullah Tractor". In that hearing (which lasted less than an hour), the defendant was asked questions by the three uniformed men of the military commission. He had no lawyer, only a "personal representative" who sat silently by. In other words, just another dog-and-pony show like the ones in Guantanamo Bay until the Supreme Court slapped the military around for the utter denial for due process.

This was a Detainee Review Board, a type of hearing taking place in a new detention facility on the edge of Bagram airfield, north of Kabul. Though the site is physically much improved from the old Bagram prison, this is still a long way from a just process. For the hearings to be minimally fair, the detainees should be able to contest the evidence against them and have access to a lawyer. Instead, a detainee faces a three-member U.S. military panel, which tries to determine whether he is an insurgent and whether he would continue to pose a threat if released.

Now, the process might be necessary on the kind of battlefield the US finds itself, but there is no reason why even minimal steps toward making that process fair haven't been made. Ms. Reid offers a couple of rational suggestions:

It's quite possible that there is some highly incriminating intelligence on Wazir. But because it's classified, Wazir probably will never know what keeps him behind bars, nor will he ever be able to challenge the evidence. He's waiting for the panel's decision. If he remains in U.S. detention, this process will be repeated once every six months, until he is released or transferred to Afghan custody.

The Pentagon recently has tried hard to improve its detention policy in Afghanistan. It should take two more achievable steps. The first is to give detainees access to legal counsel, an internationally recognized right. The second is to decrease classification levels.

This process has already begun, driven by the desire of the United States to stop being a jailer in Afghanistan and to hand over detention to the Afghan government. To do this, it recognizes that it will have to start providing evidence that will stand up in Afghan courts and stop relying on intelligence kept behind closed doors.

In other words, the US military and the federal government need to quit hiding behind the "terror" and "state secrets" facade and start complying with our Constitution and international law with respect to basic human rights, among them due process. That will happen only when enough citizens of this country see what this kind of "justice" is costing us in terms of money and lives. And that will happen only if our free press does its job in informing us.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Tempest In A Crock Pot

File this post under "Howler." I don't remember the last time I laughed loudly enough to scare my cats under the bed. Here's the skinny:

Campbell Soup Co., the Camden, N.J., food giant, has been fighting a grass-roots boycott of its products after its Canadian subsidiary rolled out a line of soups certified as halal, meaning they're prepared according to Islamic dietary laws. ...

The halal soups, designated with a special label, are available only in Canada. The company has no plans to offer a similar line in the United States, said John Faulkner, a company spokesman.

That boycott is being led by Pam Geller, the libertoonian blogger at Atlas Shrugs. (I could have posted a link, but I really didn't think it worth the effort.) She claims to object not to the halal designation but rather to Campbell's use of the halal certifying group ISNA, a group she claims is linked to Hamas, the Holy Land Foundation, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

ISNA has denied any ties to Hamas or to officials of a defunct charity called Holy Land Foundation, who were convicted in the conspiracy case. It has specifically condemned religious extremism and violence. In the wake of the conspiracy trial, Jewish and Protestant organizations issued statements in support of ISNA. ...

Boycotting a company is, in my opinion, a perfectly legitimate political action, one that I have participated in several times in my life time. Generally, however, boycotts are based on facts about the company that justify the action, something of which Ms. Geller is apparently unaware if in fact she really only has it in for ISNA as a terrorist-supporting organization. Whether her motives are pure or not, however, her followers appear to have joyfully leaped into rank Islamaphobia.

Here's the kicker, however, the punchline, if you will:

Faulkner said Campbell hasn't noticed any effect on its sales since the boycott began.

Heckuva job, Pammy.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Poetry: Walt Whitman

I Hear America Singing

I HEAR America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics--each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat--the deckhand
singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench--the hatter singing as
he stands;
The wood-cutter's song--the ploughboy's, on his way in the morning,
or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother--or of the young wife at work--or
of the girl sewing or washing--Each singing what belongs to
her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day--At night, the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.

--Walt Whitman

Free Base Politics

My mood (in case you haven't noticed) has been quite foul. I must have carried that over into my visit yesterday to Watching America. Not much there looked terribly interesting, so I just clicked on one entry that looked mildly amusing. Matt Gurney's column in Canada's National Post was exactly that. His take on the New York gubernatorial race hit the target.

Clearly, Paladino, a long-shot candidate catapulted into the GOP nomination by Tea Party support, is a candidate in need of a bit of an image overhaul. So, of course, he decided to apologize for his anti-gay comments, which to believe him, weren’t anti-gay at all, just … oh, forget it. Here’s what he said: “I sincerely apologize for any comment that may have offended the gay and lesbian community or their family members. Any reference to branding an entire community based on a small representation of them is wrong.”

You know … for a guy campaigning on the mad-as-hell ticket, someone who wants to throw the bums out and change how politics is done … he sure does apologize like a life-long political hack. It would be nice if all this reformist outrage could have helped Paladino think this one through: If you meant what you say, have the courage to defend your remarks and let the voters judge you on your views and your guts, and if you think a remark should be apologized for, have the courage to do a proper job of it.
[Emphasis in the original]

Gurney's conclusion was right on the mark as well:

Mind you, considering that this guy is running in one of the more liberal states in the union on a far-right ticket and is stumbling all over his anti-gay, racist, homophobic and sexist behaviour, the final apology he might have to reluctantly give might be to the justifiably frustrated right-wing voters who turned to him for change and got God’s gift to the Democrats instead.

Now, I'm not sure Paladino will do any apologizing if he loses, and I certainly do hope he loses, because that just doesn't happen to be his style. That style is what made him so attractive to the rabid right. The thing is, I don't think the rabid right is going to be any happier even if Paladino does win. The New York legislature will simply ignore him and carry on the way it always does. The last two governors learned that pretty quickly.

So then what? Those Tea Partiers with the serious anger will get even angrier, and I suspect that is what is going to happen no matter who wins these elections. Frank Rich thinks so as well. His latest column deals directly with this issue, and his analysis is perhaps the most sensible one out there.

Don’t expect the extremism and violence in our politics to subside magically after Election Day — no matter what the results. If Tea Party candidates triumph, they’ll be emboldened. If they lose, the anger and bitterness will grow. The only development that can change this equation is a decisive rescue from our prolonged economic crisis. Not for the first time in history — and not just American history — fear itself is at the root of a rabid outbreak of populist rage against government, minorities and conspiratorial “elites.” [Emphasis added]


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Sunday Funnies

(Political cartoon by Tom Toles and published 10/15/10 in the Washington Post. Click on image to enlarge.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bonus Critter Blogging: Cockroach

(Photograph by Darlyne A. Murawski and published at National Geographic.)

Mad As Hell

Lots of ink and electrons being spilled on the Tea Party and its chosen candidates this election cycle. Just about every major newspaper I scanned this morning has at least one article on the Tea Party, and most had more than one still being listed on their sites. The one that grabbed me, however, is from the Boston Globe which deals with the Delaware senatorial race between Christine O'Donnell and Chris Coons.

Coons holds a lead of about 18 points, but the election is still a couple of weeks away and voter turnout may be the key. The irony is that Mike Castle, the man O'Donnell defeated in the GOP primary, would have won the election for Joe Biden's old seat and still holds a lead over Coons in a hypothetical race. That doesn't bother O'Donnell's supporters in the least. They are out for vengeance:

But even if she cannot beat Coons, many supporters say they would rather lose the election with a candidate they like.

“We defeated a RINO and that’s a start,’’ added Skip Neubeck, 61, a retired engineer, using slang for “Republican in Name Only,’’ a scornful term for moderates.

“Castle would have won; yes, I know,’’ said Bill Ward, 62, of Bear, Del., an O’Donnell supporter and retired construction worker. “This is about sending the people in Congress a message.’’

To the GOP establishment, however, this was supposed to be about sending Republicans to Congress and controlling the agenda. Many in the party are still trying to fathom O’Donnell’s stunning rise: from being belittled by Tom Ross, the state’s GOP chairman, as someone who “could not be elected dog catcher’’ before the primary to becoming their standard-bearer after it.

“This was so destructive from a political perspective,’’ said Delaware Republican political strategist Don Mell, a Castle friend and supporter. “You’ve got to be pretty angry to burn down your own house.’’
[Emphasis added]

Now, the candidates with Tea Party support are all pretty much from the fringes (birthers, tenthers, war re-enactors, anti-Education department, anti-Medicare and anti-Social Security, anti-Civil Rights Act, anti-federal government), and nearly all of them are rookies in the political arena, which has made for some pretty hilarious gaffes on the campaign trail. Still, I have to admit that I understand the anger fueling their supporters who indeed are perfectly willing to burn down their own house.

We liberals are getting the same message from the Democratic Party that the Tea Partiers are getting from the Republican Party. We too are being told to hold our noses and vote for corporatist Democrats or, AIEEEEE!, the Republicans will be back in business and this time they're even crazier! We've been called "fucking retards" and idiots for wanting real health care reform and for demanding the end of corporate welfare to the banksters who triggered our economic collapse and are now stealing our homes. The promises made in 2008 have all been broken. We still have "Don't Ask Don't Tell," Guantanamo Bay Military Commissions, and State Secrets. We are still being lied to, and our president has seen the allure of an imperial presidency and likes it.

Fortunately for the Democratic Party, we liberals haven't gotten angry enough and energized enough to start our own version of the Tea Party. At least not yet. And that's a real shame. It's also unfortunate for the nation. The corporatists will still continue to hold the real power the first Wednesday in November, regardless of the election's outcome.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Cat Blogging

Intended Consequences

Tim Rutten's latest column is (as usual) well worth the read. He points out that following the money in this election cycle has become difficult, if not downright impossible.

To an extent not seen in generations, companies and wealthy investors with a naked economic interest in influencing election results are pouring money into races.

Big money's reassertion of its interests is the result of two recent game-changing events. One was the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which overturned provisions of the bipartisan McCain-Feingold campaign finance act that prohibited corporations and unions from making supposedly independent, third-party expenditures to influence the outcome of electoral contests.

The other was emendation of the tax code to allow creation of so-called 501(c)(4) political action committees to which donors can contribute anonymously. Such organizations are supposed to make less than half of their expenditures for political purposes. But the definition of "educational" activity is extremely squishy, and organizations are able to lump a lot of things that look like blatant politicking under that umbrella.
[Emphasis added]

Rutten does a nice job in sussing out the results of these two "game-changing events," but he then makes a rather curious statement:

The law of unintended consequences operates as surely in politics as it does everywhere else, and the drafters of legislation establishing 501(c)(4) organizations may have thought they were promoting philanthropy as surely as the five conservative justices on the Roberts court who struck down that crucial provision of McCain-Feingold believed they were upholding the 1st Amendment.

Unintended consequences?

Oh, please.

Either Tim Rutten has become a master at snark (and that certainly is possible) or he is even more naive than I am (and that's saying something). Sure, the money is flowing to Republicans this season, just as it flowed to Democrats the last time around. When it comes to big money, party affiliation is irrelevant, as we have seen the last two years during which the Democrats held the White House and Congress. The banks, Wall Street, and insurance companies made out like the bandits they are. The rest of us are unemployed or underemployed, working more and earning less in terms of actual purchasing power, homeless or one paycheck or medical emergency away from that state.

No, I don't think those consequences were unintended. Our owners got just what they wanted from the people they had purchased.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Another Target

Yesterday I posted on the US government's program targeting an American citizen for assassination. Later in the day, I came across this news on another program targeting US citizens, those dangerous, dangerous terroristic peace activists around the country who have been protesting our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Sept. 24, the FBI raided the Minneapolis homes of five antiwar activists, including three leaders of the Twin Cities peace movement, as part of what it called a probe of "activities concerning the material support of terrorism." The Minneapolis office of an antiwar organization was also raided, protest leaders said. Raids were also conducted on two homes in Chicago.

No one was arrested in any of the raids.

Computers, cell phones and documents were seized. FBI officials said the federal search warrants in Minneapolis were related to an ongoing Joint Terrorism Task Force.
[Emphasis added]

The feds didn't stop there. They issued subpoenas to 14 peace activists requiring them to appear before a Federal Grand Jury in Chicago. All 14 refused to appear, and, at least for now, the feds blinked and cancelled the subpoenas.

Now, I find it really interesting that the federal government has equated antiwar activism and protests against the policies in the Middle East which heavily favor Israel over the Palestinians with "the material support of terrorism." Exercising one's First Amendment rights are now apparently tantamount to terrorist activities, and therefore something to be squashed. The harassment has been stepped up

In other words, we have become our government's enemy.

Some change, that.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Do Unto Others ...

before they do unto you.

I simply cannot understand how allowing our government to get into the assassination business can be justified. At least once before, the CIA and other branches of the security mob had their chops busted when it came to such behavior, and yet here we go again. The Obama administration (the one that was supposed to bring change to the nation) has continued to play loose and fast with the principles of due process and equal protection before the law. The issue this time is a bit narrower, but just as horrific: can the US government target a US citizen for assassination because the government believes that citizen is engaged in terrorist activities.

Sadly, the "center-left" editorial board of the Los Angeles Times seems to think that the government can make citizens targets as long as a court approves the plan.

Should a federal court have any say over whether a U.S. citizen can be targeted for killing by his own government without due process of law? The Obama administration has submitted a lengthy document to a federal court that can be summed up in one disappointing word: No.

... before the government begins targeting its own citizens for assassination far from a combat zone, it should, at the very least, have to explain to a court why such an extraordinary step doesn't violate the Constitution, which promises that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. ...

"At the very least"? I would submit that even that fails the due process test: the target is not present, only the government and the federal judge. How one-sided is that? But the Times goes even further:

We don't underestimate the problems that would be created if the judiciary intervened in the day-to-day national security decisions of the president, the armed forces or the CIA. But that is not what is being proposed here. Assassinating a U.S. citizen away from a battlefield is such a momentous step that the administration should have to justify its reasoning, in secret if necessary, to a court of law. [Emphasis added]

Good God! In secret? Yeah, that's going to guarantee rights mandated by the Constitution.

We already have in place a procedure for dealing with a dangerous miscreant: we arrest him (or have the country in which the miscreant is currently residing arrest him), we engage the extradition mechanism or whatever other mechanism is available under international law to bring the person to this country, and we try him in a court of law with all the protections and rights guaranteed under the Constitution. We don't assassinate because it's quicker and easier.

What is so hard to understand about due process?

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me

I suspect that this article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune was intended to showcase the good works of the local churches with respect to the problems of increased homelessness among families. And there is nothing wrong with such a showcase: providing shelter and transportation to those who've lost their jobs and their homes is indeed a laudable effort, especially with winter approaching. That local religious groups have put together such programs fairly quickly is a testament to the principle of caritas. Still, given the expense involved, one wonders how long the groups can continue to provide this temporary safety net.

Churches are responding to the rise of homelessness in the Twin Cities by aligning with groups such as Families Moving Forward and sheltering families for three to four weeks over the course of a year.

It's a practical approach that takes advantage of churches' cheap, open space and abundant volunteers. But it also has critics, because organizers move families daily between churches and day centers and rotate them to new church shelters every week or two.

Minneapolis-based Families Moving Forward's network of 41 churches and one synagogue includes sites in Eagan, Shoreview and Wayzata. Transportation consumes one-tenth of its budget.

Shelter leaders acknowledged the logistical challenges, but said the model works because families have the day centers as their home bases.

The church networks also remain cheaper than most overnight shelters -- despite the transportation expenses - and foster meaningful interactions between the homeless families and their church hosts.

Ordinarily, these families would look to the municipal and state social services departments for assistance, but no state has been untouched by the economic meltdown. When joblessness rises, tax receipts fall, and governmental budgets start gushing red ink. The states and local governments simply cannot keep up. They can no longer promote the general welfare of their citizens.

The church projects are at best a temporary measure, and one that isn't always the most efficient way to do things, especially when it comes to the costs involved.

Among those concerned with the roving church model of shelter is Monica Nilsson, street outreach director for St. Stephen's Human Services in Minneapolis. She figures it costs up to $1,000 per month to shelter a family with the church model and up to $3,000 per month to place a family in a traditional shelter. Both cost more than vouchers families could use to afford housing.

"What they need is a two-bedroom apartment at $800 a month, which is cheaper than both options," she said.

Ms. Nilsson is, of course, correct. But where do those vouchers come from and who will fund them? As I said earlier, the local governments are stretched beyond their capacity as it is. Sooner or later, the churches will have run through whatever money their members can come up with to help the less fortunate. It's time for the federal government to step up and do the right thing.

First of all, unemployment is the key issue. A new, actually bold program of stimulus spending which will benefit workers rather than bankers needs to be put into place immediately. Our crumbling infrastructure would be a good place to start.

Next, an expansion of federal funding for affordable housing needs to be implemented on an emergency basis. Section 8 eligibility should be tinkered with so that more of the newly homeless can qualify immediately and be placed in those two bedroom apartments.

Finally, the federal share of state social service costs needs to be dramatically increased for the next four years so that state and local social service agencies can do the job they were designed to do.

And where does the federal government get the money for these programs? It borrows it while interest rates are so low as to be nonexistent. As people return to work and began paying taxes, some of those expenditures will be offset. Programs which benefit Wall Street and banks can be slashed, as can the corporate welfare inherent in all the subsidies they've garnered over the years.

It's our turn.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

A Nation Of Hypocrites

Gregory Rodriguez has a provocative column in the Los Angeles Times today. Here's the lede:

If Meg Whitman loses the gubernatorial race because her actions didn't jive with her words on illegal immigration, she could become a sacrificial lamb for the rest of us. Her sin is our sin. Because where illegal immigration is concerned, we are all hypocrites. [Emphasis added]

That's pretty strong, but in a sense he is correct. We all benefit from the low-skill, low paying work these undocumented workers perform. From housekeepers to gardeners, and farm workers to dishwashers, the paperless workers to the jobs that Americans don't/won't do and contribute to the economy in multiple ways.

Here are some of the statistics which Rodriguez cites in his argument:

It should be no surprise that illegal immigration is one of the primary means by which the U.S. economy gains access to low-skilled, low-cost labor. As the share of low-skilled native-born Americans falls — in 1960 half of U.S.-born working-age adults had not completed high school, compared with 8% today — employers have become ever more dependent on illegal immigration as a steady source of cheap labor.

Some sectors are more dependent than others. According to a 2009 study by the Pew Hispanic Center, 40% of the nation's brickmasons, 37% of drywall installers, 28% of dishwashers, 27% of maids and housekeepers, and 21% of parking-lot attendants are undocumented. In California, those percentages are likely to be higher. A 2006 survey by the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that a majority of California's farmworkers have no papers.

Then why the outcry against the illegals? Well, they're here illegally. They depress wages. They take up space in our emergency rooms. They have babies here, thereby increasing the likelihood that they won't be deported. They get a free ride while the rest of us are busting our butts just trying to stay even. And those are just a few of the less inflammatory reasons so many Americans object to the undocumented workers among us.

The problem is that we have all these low skilled jobs and no rational means by which to fill them. The quota of job visas is fixed at 150,000, which, even if that quota involved only low skilled jobs (and not the high skilled technical jobs that employers use world-wide searches for filling), is simply not reasonable in light of the demand for the work.

The answer to the dilemma is admittedly a complex and difficult one, but no one is willing to face the problem head on, especially politicians who have both voters and big business donors to please. Until the nation and its leaders do face the problem and at least try to fix what is clearly broken, we will continue to have nannygates and crudely drafted laws and employer raids.

But hey! We have these lovely strawberries and healthy broccoli at bargain prices, so it's all good.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Poetry: Owen Klein

Nothing Past the Post

"Nothing past the post," he said,
"That land is for my son."
We planted and the crops grew full and heavy,
But only to the post, not past.
The ground beyond lay fallow.
"Where is your son?", I said,
"His land's in need of planting."
He paused and then replied,
"My son is in a killing field,
He'll be back and then we'll plant."
We worked and waited, the old man and I,
And when the son came back,
I helped to put him in the fallow earth.
Hearing once again,
"There'll be nothing past the post,
That land is for my son."

--Owen Klein

(Found at Poets Against War.)

A Matter Of Perspective

There are several reasons I try to go to Watching America at least once a week. I sometimes find information on American policy which hasn't been presented in our own press. I sometimes find news that bears on the US which hasn't been covered by our own press. And, of course, I almost always find articles which reflect just how our nation is viewed by the rest of the world.

It's this last category that was in play this week. Our upcoming election and the current campaigns came for some pretty astute analysis in this opinion piece from Jordan's Addustour. The trope used by Osama Al-Shareef to describe the current state of the US with respect to the election is that of a 'nervous breakdown.' On reflection, I concluded that the metaphor was a good one, although it comes very close to being the real deal and not just a figure of speech.

First, his description of the Republicans:

Extremism has overrun the Republican Party, which is now witnessing an internal coup led by a group of white Christians who are fanatics both religiously and politically and who are known as the tea party. A number of tea party candidates have been able to knock down candidates who are symbols of the Republican Party in the primaries and thereby have won the chance to represent the party in the midterm elections. Among these candidates is Christine O’Donnell, a Christian conservative who admits to practicing sorcery and witchcraft in her youth. Also among them is New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who revealed his racism toward black people specifically. There are others who have shaken the foundations of the Republican Party and gathered around Sarah Palin, who is preparing herself to challenge Obama in the 2012 elections, and other religious conservatives who want to return America to the Lord and the ideals of conservatism which the United States was founded on over 200 years ago.

As a liberal, I found myself chuckling appreciatively at this description, but not for long. Here's what he had to say about the Democrats:

In contrast, the Democratic Party appears defeated as it faces the public’s anger and loss of hope in the promises for change made by President Obama. The liberals and those who voted for Obama are accusing the Obama administration of failing to bring about the changes that were central to the campaign and promised to them by the president. Obama has saved the banks and major corporations that were responsible for the huge economic downturn, while he has failed to do anything to save the average citizen who has lost his job and home and is now trying to gather the scattered pieces of his life that were destroyed by a corrupt and greedy capitalist system.

While Osama al-Shareef nails it with respect to the discontent of liberals over the various broken promises by the administration, he leaves out another focus for that discontent, the Democrats in Congress who, like the president, catered to the whims of the lobbyists and who refused to do the hard work of legislating in the face of upcoming elections.

So, the mental health of the nation is naturally a bit shaky at this point: on the one hand we have the manics waving their tea bags and pitchforks, and on the other we have the depressives who can't figure out just what went wrong. The real question, of course, is whether either half of the national bipolar disorder will actually make it to the polls in a couple of weeks.


Sunday Funnies

(Political cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (October 5, 2010) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, October 09, 2010

Bonus Critter Blogging: Human Children

(Photographs courtesy Kakenya Center and published at National Geographic. Click on the link to learn more about the Kakenya Center For Excellence, a school for girls in Kenya.)

Doing The Job

The Mine Safety and Health Agency (MSHA) conducted a surprise inspection at a Massey Energy Co. mine in West Virginia September 28, and (unsurprisingly) found glaring violations of mine safety regulations. The mine was shut down and Massey Energy (owner/operator of the mine where 29 miners were killed in an explosion in April) can expect another hefty fine.

The company responded uncharacteristically quickly this time: it fired the foreman and two workers responsible for the violations (cutting too deeply into the coal seam without taking the required precautions of shoring up, failing to test the area adequately, and failing to hang "drapes" which would damp the accumulation of gases and dust from the area being worked) and suspended other workers. A spokesman for the company tried to make it clear that such safety violations would not be tolerated.

The director of MSHA wasn't sanguine about the prospects of future compliance absent additional inspections:

"This is a reflection of the problem that we have in this mining industry with some who, regardless of what you do, ignore the mine law," MSHA director Joe Main told The Associated Press. "What we found at Seng Creek, there is absolutely no justification to be operating a mine in this condition."

The job of MSHA is to continue such inspections and to shut down the mines not in compliance with the regulations. Imposing and collecting stiff fines on the companies involved is also part of the equation. MSHA's recent track record with respect to these tasks is hardly noteworthy. Perhaps the in-depth press coverage of the agency's shortcomings after the Long Branch disaster in April has prompted new resolve. We can only hope so.

This time, at least so far, the agency did its job and potentially saved lives. Perhaps Massey Energy and the other mining companies will get the message and start doing theirs.


Friday, October 08, 2010

Friday Cat Blogging

Sucker Punched

Today's Los Angeles Times has a superb article about the rush to fire Shirley Sherrod, the Agriculture Department employee accused of racism for a speech she gave at an NAACP gathering earlier in the year. The article is based on emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the White House and the Ag Dept regarding the issue and provides a timeline for the entire episode.

The ugliness started with a video posted on the internet by Andrew Breitbart, someone the Los Angeles Times in an excess of politeness refers to as a "conservative media entrepreneur." The video has Ms. Sherrod stating she hesitated in giving a white farmer any help. The video, as we now know was devilishly edited and took that statement out of context. The full video, which was available at the time the events began to unfold, shows that Ms. Sherrod's point was that she quickly realized that the difficulties facing individual farmers were not caused by race, but lack of economic opportunity: the haves/havenots dichotomy.

When confronted with the contents of the Breitbart video, Ms. Sherrod made it clear that it was bogus and mentioned the existence of the full version. Unfortunately for her, nobody bothered to pick up the phone to call the NAACP for a rush copy. Complicating matters further, NAACP officials, caught off-guard by the claims in the Breitbart video were themselves distancing themselves from the whole matter.

Within a matter of days, Ms. Sherrod was gone. And then the full video appeared, making all those White House and Ag Dept employees running around with their hair on fire look as foolish and as inept as they feared they would look if they didn't squelch the story by immediately firing Shirley Sherrod.

As it turned out, Sherrod had been falsely accused, and the actions taken by Agriculture Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack and his senior staff became a major embarrassment for the Obama administration, raising questions about its basic competence and its preoccupation with public perceptions.

Mr. Breitbart's mission was accomplished.

Since then, of course, Andy Breitbart's habit of "editing" out what he considers irrelevant has come out and he himself has been discredited. Even mildly responsible conservatives are pedaling furiously away from him. The damage, however, has been done. Ms. Sherrod's career is over, and the administration has shown that it is more concerned with image than substance or justice.

Heckuva job, Andy.

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Thursday, October 07, 2010

We Are Neither Suprised ...

... nor amused.

One of the changes promised by candidate Barack Obama was a return to transparency in government. His White House, however, hasn't shown much in that regard. The latest evidence of the opacity comes in a rather startling McClatchy DC article posted yesterday.

Government scientists wanted to tell Americans early on how bad the BP oil spill could get, but the White House denied their request to make the worst-case models public, a report by the staff of the national panel investigating the spill said Wednesday.

White House officials denied that they tried to suppress the information.

The allegation was made by unnamed government officials cited in a staff working paper released Wednesday by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. Although not a final report, it could raise questions over whether the Obama administration tried to minimize the extent of the BP oil spill, the worst man-made environmental disaster in U.S. history.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), tasked "to coordinate and review all interagency materials developed in response to the BP oil spill," denied a request to present the worst case scenario as part of a modeling analysis. OMB staff indicated that the denial was based on scientific factors, not public relations.

Yeah, and I'm the Queen of Romania.

The government knew from the start what the worst case scenario was: BP itself listed a potential for 162,000 barrels a day in its drilling permit, yet that figure was withheld during the early weeks of the spill. Instead, the government went along with BP's estimates of 1,000-5,000 per day and little was done early on to force more dramatic action in containing the spill. It was only when it became patently obvious that the spill rate far exceeded the BP figures that the White House started paying attention to the tragedy unfolding.

The staff paper said that underestimating the flow rates "undermined public confidence in the federal government's response" by creating the impression that the government was either incompetent or untrustworthy. The paper said that the loss of trust "fuels public fears." [Emphasis added]

You think maybe?

The whole episode reminds me of the last Gulf tragedy when another president rose to the occasion by stating, "Heckuva job, Brownie."

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Free For All

Today the US Supreme Court will hear arguments in the Snyder v Phelps case. The defendants in the case are the infamous Phelps clan and their Westboro Baptist Church, the people who go to funerals and picket with hateful signs condemning homosexuals. It's what they do, apparently all they do. Mr. Snyder is the father of a man who was killed while serving in the military and who was no homosexual. At issue is the Phelps' right to engage in such a shameful practice as to intrude on people's rights to privacy during a time of deep grief.

As much as I hate everything the Phelps clan stands for, I believe they have the right under the First Amendment to engage in their shameful protests. Either we all have the right to free speech and the right to peaceably assemble, or none of us do. While both rights are not absolute, I believe we ought to vigorously fight against any governmental attempt to curtail those rights and the other rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights.

Tim Ruttin has examines another issue in the case, and what he has to say is, I believe, an important part of the whole dismal equation. He notes that a coalition of news media has weighed in on the issue, particularly the free speech aspect and quotes from their brief before weighing in what could be the solution to the raft of problems caused by the Phelps and their ungodly crusade.

As a consequence, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 21 news organizations — including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and this paper's parent corporation — have joined in a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Westboro.

"Most reasonable people would consider the funeral protests conducted by members of the Westboro Baptist Church to be inexplicable and hateful," the news organizations argue. "But to silence a fringe messenger because of the distastefulness of the message is antithetical to the 1st Amendment's most basic precepts.... This case tests the mettle of even the most ardent free speech advocates because the underlying speech is so repugnant. However, the particular facts of this case should not be used to fashion a 1st Amendment exemption for offensive speech. No less a principle is at stake than the central tenet of the 1st Amendment that the government must remain neutral in the marketplace of ideas."

It's the sound argument but a bloodless one — and to be morally and socially responsible, as well as constitutionally correct, it requires that those advancing it recognize that although government must be neutral, the news media must not be indifferent to the implications of the Snyder family's claims. Do we really want a society that makes no private place for grief? Albert Snyder and his wife are private people dragged into this for no reason other than that their son's sacrifice in the execution of a public duty made them the target of lunatics.

If we're going to argue that they must endure this for the common good, then the news media ought to do the decent and the rational thing and ignore Westboro's future protests. As the Anti-Defamation League pointed out in its analysis of this hate church, its tiny congregation seems to live for little but publicity.

If Albert Snyder and his family must forbear to protect the 1st Amendment, the American media owes it to them to restrain their vulgar impulse toward the bizarre and the sensational.

Now there's an idea whose time has come.

Well said, Mr. Rutten.

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Playing Both Sides

The "center-left" editorial board of the Los Angeles Times surprised me this morning with its latest offering in which Meg Whitman is excoriated not so much for hiring and then firing her undocumented housekeeper, but for not taking a principled stand on the "thorny" issues surrounding immigration reform.

...we can't help believing that Whitman's decision reflects her unwillingness, both personally and as a matter of public policy, to deal with the thorniest aspect of the immigration problem, which is what to do with the 11 million illegal immigrants who are already here (including about 2.5 million in California). In reality, there are only two principled solutions: commit to deporting them all or integrate them into society. Whitman, it seems, can't bring herself to back either approach.

Admittedly, she is in a tough spot. She is fervently pro-business, and California's $36-billion agriculture industry is pushing for a pathway to legalization for its workers. She needs the votes of Latinos, who more than any group in the state favor immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship, and she needs her base, which is equally opposed to such a development.

That may be why Whitman's positions on illegal immigration lack coherence and internal logic. To court the Latino vote, she trumpets her opposition to Proposition 187, a 1994 law that would have prohibited illegal immigrants from accessing most public services, but when called on to take a moral stand on it 16 years ago, she didn't vote. She supports the now infamous SB 1070 in Arizona — but only for Arizona.

This is political expediency, not leadership. ...

The Los Angeles Times has already endorsed Whitman's opponent for governor, so in a sense, the editorial is a justification for that endorsement. However, the editorial also raises a very real issue with respect to not only Ms. Whitman, but also most politicians on the issue who have ducked any kind of meaningful discourse on the very pressing need for immigration reform.

President Obama promised immigration reform during his campaign, but he has yet to deliver. Senate Majority Leader Reid promised immigration reform, but he backed down quickly when he discovered he would have a tough fight for re-election. Proposals for pathways to citizenship for those already here were withdrawn from consideration from both houses as the rhetoric heated up, thereby increasing the raising the heat even further in Congress and the state legislatures.

Meg Whitman serves as the poster child for all the cowards who refuse to face their responsibility for dealing with the issue, which serves to remind all of us that we too have an obligation. We keep electing these yahoos expecting them to do what they promised, yet we fail to follow-up and put their feet to the fire until they do. This certainly doesn't say much for our putative democracy, which, given the fact that we are a nation of immigrants, is tragically sad.


Monday, October 04, 2010

But We Have Dry Powder

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC-Irvine School of Law, assures us that this Supreme Court term will be no different than the last, or the one before that, or the ones before that. The conservatives, led by Chief Justice Roberts, will continue to chip away at the US Constitution and decades of interpretation of that foundational document.

As the Supreme Court begins its new term Monday, its sixth with John G. Roberts Jr. as chief justice, the reality is that this is the most conservative court since the mid-1930s. Since Richard Nixon ran for president in 1968, conservatives have sought to change constitutional law, and they have succeeded in virtually every area.

During the first years of the Roberts court, it has consistently ruled in favor of corporate power, such as in holding that corporations have the 1st Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts in independent political campaigns. For the first time in American history, the high court has struck down laws regulating firearms as violations of the 2nd Amendment and held that the Constitution protects a right of individuals to possess guns. It has dramatically cut back on the rights of criminal defendants, especially as to the exclusion of evidence gained through illegal searches and seizures under the 4th Amendment and the protections of the 5th Amendment's privilege against self-incrimination. It has greatly limited the ability of the government to formulate remedies for the segregation of public schools. It has significantly expanded the power of the government to regulate abortions.

And, absent anything unforeseen, that trend will continue for at least another decade, no matter who is elected president in 2012. We will continue to see 5/4 decisions, with Justice Anthony Kennedy providing the swing vote (and he has voted with the conservative bloc of Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito more than twice as often as he has with the liberal bloc). Complicating matters even further this term is the fact that the newest member of the Court, Justice Sotomayor, will be recusing herself from at least a third of the cases because she participated in those cases at the trial or appellate level.

This is going to be painful to watch and even more painful to live through when it comes to civil liberties and the rights of women and minorities.

I really am going to take to my bed one of these days.