Saturday, April 30, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Northern Spotted Owl

(Photograph by Michael Nichols, National Geographic, and published in National Geographic.)

And In Other News ...

We really do live in interesting times.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has signed bills approving 11 new special license plates, including one to commemorate the "tea party" and send donations toward the movement.

Yup, a plate with a Gadsden flag and "Don't Tread On Me". I rarely object to these specialty plates. California has lots of them, some of which are quite attractive. The car owner pays a bit more, but it's for a good cause, right?

So, is the Tea Party a "good cause," worthy of the donation each plate sale brings in? Apparently the state of Arizona thinks so.

What's next? A state hand gun?


Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

Unsurprising News

As many of you know, I don't drive anymore. I don't own a car and I rely almost entirely on public transportation. I still have been watching the amazing rise in gasoline prices, usually from the window on a bus I ride each morning. Right now, cheap gas in the San Gabriel Valley is going for around $4.219 for regular unleaded along the bus route. The prices for gasoline are even higher in other areas, especially if the station is close to a freeway on ramp and if the station carries the logo of one of the larger brands such as Exxon.

I had assumed that the gasoline price hikes could be linked to the rise in the price of the barrel of crude oil powered by speculators. It turns out, according to this article in the Los Angeles Times that this is only one part of the price equation.

Exxon Mobil Corp. earned nearly $11 billion in the first three months of the year, a rollicking 69% increase over its performance for the same period last year. That's on sales of $114 billion.

It's the same story for the other big oil companies. Royal Dutch Shell turned a profit of $6.3 billion in the first quarter, and BP — despite lingering costs from the Gulf Coast oil spill — made $7.1 billion.

What they aren't making is fuel, at least not in normal quantities. And that's a key factor in their reinvigorated financial performance. ...

"This is a page torn right out of the handbook of gouge-onomics," said Charles Langley, senior gasoline analyst at the Utility Consumers' Action Network in San Diego. "We call it the law of supply and demand: They supply less product and demand more money for it."

Oil makes up about two-thirds of the cost of a gallon of gas, so expensive oil always turns into expensive fuel. But as for-profit entities, refiners use a variety of means to ensure that they keep as much of that windfall as possible.

The nation's refineries are operating at about 81% of their production capacity, Energy Department statistics show. That compares with a 20-year historic average of about 89% for this time of year, according to department records.

But wait: there's more.

Oil company refineries are shipping a lot of the output out of the country, much of it as diesel for South America. Oil companies, claiming that because the US is still not back economically and therefore not using as much fuel, argue that they need to expand their markets. So, there's less gasoline available for Americans for several reasons. The price hikes, and by extension profits, will obviously continue throughout the summer, thereby hobbling the economic recovery for the rest of us even further.

The invisible hand of the market has flipped us off yet again.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Of Dogs, Ponies, And Show Trials

Military justice is governed by rules somewhat different than civilian justice. For example, in military cases, the jury is comprised of military officers rather than civilians culled from a pool of citizens from the area of the trial. This is a significant difference. Those officers not only know each other, but also know that their superior officers will be watching the result of the trial and that could affect the futures of the "jurors."

Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for the military commissions in Guantanamo Bay, points out the problems of military trials when the chain of command, reaching up to the White House and the Attorney General, gets involved in his opinion piece in today's Los Angeles Times. He uses the cases of Pvt. Bradley Manning and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as an example on how simple justice can be betrayed.

"Command influence is the mortal enemy of military justice."

Robinson O. Everett, former chief judge of what is now the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, wrote those powerful words in 1986. They underscore the importance of banning the power inherent in command from military courtrooms. Congress wrote such a ban into the Uniform Code of Military Justice more than 60 year ago, recognizing that true justice requires the unbiased application of the law to the facts on scales that are not tipped by the fingers of extrajudicial forces.
[Emphasis added]

Exactly so. And this justice must be accorded to all defendants, even those accused of committing the most heinous of crimes. This is elementary, or should be to anyone who ever successfully completed a middle school civics class. It is especially important in military commission cases because those extrajudicial forces include the chain of command suggested above.

In the cases of Pvt. Manning and Khalid Shaik Mohammed, however, the alleged legal scholars in that chain of command have already spoken and made clear the results that are expected in each case.

This past weekend, President Obama, during a fund-raising trip to California, said of Pvt Manning, "He broke the law." Not "He has been charged with breaking the law," but that he did it and needs to be punished.

Attorney General Eric Holder has been quoted as saying with respect to the case of Khalid Shaik Mohammed that "Failure is not an option."

Surely such comments from the Commander in Chief and his chief legal officer constitute "extrajudicial forces" weighing on members of the tribunals trying each of the defendants and just as surely will have an effect on the outcome of each trial.

I fear the American experiment is failing.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Clean Cups!

I know, I know. Linking to a New York Times article this late in the month is a real drag. The "pay per view" scheme of the Grey Lady only allows for 20 articles to be read before a subscription is required, assuming one is playing by the rules. It's a pretty good article, though, and for all sorts of reasons.

It deals with the fallout from the latest WikiLeaks release, this time of documents concerning the prisoners held at the Guantanamo Bay Gulag. In the mad government scramble after the release, all sorts of truly bizarre rules have been imposed.

Anyone surfing the Internet this week is free to read leaked documents about the prisoners held by the American military at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to print them out or e-mail them to friends.

Except, that is, for the lawyers who represent the prisoners.

On Monday, hours after WikiLeaks, The New York Times and other news organizations began publishing the documents online, the Justice Department informed Guantánamo defense lawyers that the documents remained legally classified even after they were made public.

Because the lawyers have security clearances, they are obligated to treat the readily available files “in accordance with all relevant security precautions and safeguards” — handling them, for example, only in secure government facilities, said the notice from the department’s Court Security Office.
[Emphasis added]

Just as silly is the fact that because the government deems those documents to still be classified, the lawyers are precluded from discussing them publicly, even though the public now has complete access to them (assuming, of course, they subscribe to the NYT).

Now, after all the published WikiLeaks in the past year, some of which are ongoing, you'd think the government might have figured out a way to respond in ways which are not quite so prima facie silly, but, alas, you would be wrong. Apparently the government feels its system of secret-keeping is far more important than anything else.

Lewis Carroll would be so proud.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

They Got It Right This Time

I've knocked the "center left" editorial board of the Los Angeles Times for their editorials which don't quite hit the mark, usually because of the timidity of the board when it comes to revealing the truth. Not this time, however. This editorial nailed it, both in terms of analysis and conclusions.

The subject is health insurance premiums and the lack of authority to regulate them by any state agency in California, including the Insurance Commission. The state can regulate car insurance and homeowner's insurance rates, but health care insurance companies have gotten away scott free for all these years. Now, under the new federal healthcare law, the health insurers have a greatly enlarged pool of potential customers, and it's time to give the state's Insurance Commissioner the power to make sure insurers aren't going to gouge their customers.

The insurers, however, don't like the idea. They point to the continued rise in health care costs and to another provision of the new federal law, the one that mandates that 80% of premiums must be spent on actual health care provision. The editorial addresses both issues.

The fundamental problem with the current system, though, is that insurers and healthcare providers have a shared incentive to raise premiums. Providers want insurers to pay more to offset stingy Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. And the new federal caps on overhead mean that the easiest way for insurers to increase revenue is to promise more to doctors and hospitals,which would justify proportionally higher administrative expenses and profits.

That is the whole point. In order to get costs under control there has to be some kind of mechanism which provides both insurers and providers with an incentive to hold costs down. Given the new captive market for insurers (and, by extension, providers), the power to regulate premium hikes is essential. As the editorial points out, it worked for the auto insurance industry, one of the healthiest and most competitive markets in the state.

A bill has been introduced the California legislature which would give the state regulatory agencies that power, and it's a bill that has fallen short in the past. This time it needs to make it through the process.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

The First Open Primary

An editorial in today's Los Angeles Times reminds me that California will soon get its first trial at the open primary system passed by voters. Jane Harmon has resigned her congressional seat to take a job elsewhere (yes, my eyebrow is raised), and so a special election is coming up which will be run under the provisions of the new law.

Here's how it works:

... Under this system, the traditional partisan primary — in which voters of each party selected their candidates in separate primaries and the winners then faced off against each other in a general election — has been abolished. From now on, all candidates, regardless of party, will compete in a first-round election. Voters will then choose between the two top vote-getters in a runoff.

The hope, of course, is that we would get away from the lockstep of the two party system, giving independents and lesser parties a better shot. There's another potential upside under the new system as well:

One of the original selling points of the open primary was that theoretically it would discourage candidates from drifting toward the extremes of their parties in order to win the primary and then ride the partisan division in their district to victory in the general election. That's partly at work here. For Janice Hahn and Debra Bowen, the leading Democratic contenders in this race, there's no incentive to match Marcy Winograd's more-liberal liberalism to win votes when they can just as easily find support in the Democratic center or even from moderate Republicans or independents who might back them in this round or the next.

Clearly the "center-left" editorial board likes that part the best because it moves the battle into the center where the board is more comfortable. It should come as no surprise that the Times has already endorsed Janice Hahn.

But the open primary law has opened things up in this special election. Candidates of all stripes have filed, and voters will be given a better set of choices, meaningful choices, to make.

What will be more interesting, however, will be the first election held after the redistricting is completed. Voters also passed a proposition which took redistricting away from the politicians in the legislature and gave it to a citizen commission. If that commission does its job fairly, district lines will not be drawn to protect incumbents but to reflect more sanely the geography and natural boundaries of the state. That should give us some real races.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday Poetry: William Butler Yeats

An Irish Airman Forsees His Death

I KNOW that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My county is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

--William Butler Yeats

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (April 21, 2011) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Squid

(Photograph by NobleJoanie from one of her recent diving expeditions.)

Texas Two Step

Paul Whitefield's snarky little opinion blog post really does deserve some attention, more attention than it gets being buried deep in the electronic edition of the Los Angeles Times. In this little gem, Mr. Whitefield skewers the hypocrisy of Texas Governor Rick Perry, he of the "good hair," when it comes to the role of the federal government.

What do you do when your state is burning?

Texas' Republican Gov. Rick Perry, wanting to avoid any comparisons to Nero, took decisive action: He declared a three-day period, from Friday to Sunday, as Days of Prayer for Rain.

And they call Jerry Brown Gov. Moonbeam?

To be fair, this isn't all Perry has done. With wildfires scorching more than 1.4 million acres of the state, claiming at least two lives and destroying homes and livestock, Perry has asked for federal disaster aid.
[Emphasis added]

What's so unusual about a governor asking for federal aid? Well, Mr. Perry, like most of the Republicans holding the governor's mansions, has gone out of his way to decry the intrusiveness of the federal government when it comes to the individual states. He even hinted that his state might even secede. That secession talk got him a lot of attention a while back, but that was then. This is now. His state needs the kind of help that only the federal government can give.

And that's something that ought to be pointed out on the front page of both the print and electronic editions of a major US paper.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Justice Delayed

The Los Angeles Times editorial board got this one right: the US should release the five Uighurs still being held at Guantanamo Bay into the country. By all accounts, the Uighurs were never enemy combatants and should never have been detained by the US, much less slammed into the prison gulag located so conveniently near to the US, but outside its borders. The government even admits that is the case.

Here's a nice summary of what happened.

The Uighurs' story is a poignant one: They had traveled to Afghanistan, where they joined training camps run by a Uighur separatist group. After the United States launched a military offensive in Afghanistan, they fled to Pakistan, where they were swept up by Pakistani and other coalition forces and brought to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Nine years later, they continue to languish in prison, although they were eventually cleared of being enemy combatants and were approved for resettlement. They sued the United States in hopes of being admitted to this country, where there is a vibrant Uighur community.

The Uighurs won at the trial level, lost at the appellate level on the grounds that the issue was properly that of the legislative and/or executive branches, and lost again at the Supreme Court which refused to hear the case. That means the Uighurs have to rely on either Congress or the President to rectify this horrible mistake.

The editorial accurately notes that it is unlikely that President Obama will issue an executive order releasing the men to the Uighur community in the US which has indicated both a willingness and a desire to take this men in. China, the behemoth which owns so much US debt, wants the men returned to China to stand trial. It's an election year. He'll look weak on security. No Drama Obama is not about to raise any such ripples.

That leaves the Congress, which previously passed a bill forbidding the release of any Guantanamo Bay detainees into the US, as the last hope for the captive Uighurs. Since the government has already admitted that the detention was a gross mistake caused by the Uighurs being in the wrong place at the wrong time, there is no reason to view the men as anti-American terrorists bent on our destruction. And there is at least one very good reason for Congress to rectify this screw-up:

The United States has a moral obligation to accommodate the Uighurs, whom the government acknowledges are victims of mistaken identity. ...

Maybe with a few more editorials and some calls from constituents, Congress could be moved to do the right thing, even if it is election season.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

And In This Corner?

Doyle McManus has a rather simple thesis for his latest column in the Los Angeles Times. Donald Trump may be getting plenty of ink and electrons in connections with his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, but he's not going to get too far.

Here's a not very bold prediction: Donald Trump won't be the Republican presidential nominee next year. He's not a credible national leader. His strategy for restoring American economic vigor boils down to threatening China with a trade war. It's not even clear that he's a conservative; he once backed Barack Obama, and he appears to favor abortion rights. The GOP can do better, and will.

Trump's success so far (some recent polls suggest he's second only to Mitt Romney) is simply a measure of disgust conservative voters have with the current crop of putative candidates. Like the Democrats in the 2008 election, Republicans are looking for real change. They want a leader who will end the gridlock and who will favor broad swaths of the citizenry rather than just the special interest groups who have appeared to have bought the government. Ultimately, Trump will not satisfy enough of the party regulars in that regard.

Less politely, it means that none of the potential candidates now testing the waters — Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, to name the most prominent — has caught fire yet. The GOP voters who told pollsters they would favor Trump listened to that list of names and replied, in effect, "none of the above."

Moreover, a look at the poll numbers shows that Trump's support comes at the expense of potential candidates whose standing has eroded in recent months: former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Gingrich.

In other words, the race for the GOP is still wide open, and, in the McManus view, so is the 2012 election. I suspect he may be right. President Obama has certainly turned out to be someone entirely different than candidate Obama in all sorts of ways. He inherited a plateful of problems, but he has not successfully solved any of them. He also has adopted some of the worst parts of the Bush administration as his own, thereby showing what suckers his base turned out to be.

So, we're apparently in for a real bruising election season, or will be once the Republicans finally get some formally announced candidates.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Much Ado?

When the Supreme Court busted the chops of the school district which disciplined some students for wearing "I Love Boobies" bracelets as part of a breast cancer awareness campaign, I yawned a little. Come on, cut the kids some slack. At least they were thinking about one of the scourges women face.

Today, however, I read an opinion piece by Peggy Orenstein and my face got, well, pink. She suggests, and quite astutely, that this particular "awareness" campaign, while well-intended, really does miss the mark in all sorts of ways.

Last week, a federal judge stopped a Pennsylvania school from suspending two girls from school for wearing breast cancer fundraising bracelets that proclaimed "I ♥ Boobies!" with a nod to their 1st Amendment rights.

Well, score one for free speech.

And zero for breast cancer. ...

Let me be clear here: Young women should touch their breasts. Not out of fear but because they live in a world that continually encourages them to act sexy without understanding their sexuality, to care more about being desirable than about their own desires. Kittenish cancer campaigns reinforce that message, simultaneously pathologizing and fetishizing women's breasts at the expense of the bodies, hearts and minds attached to them. In that way, they actually suppress discussion of real cancer, rendering its sufferers — those of us whom all this is supposed to be for — invisible.

The feminist critique hits the mark, but more importantly, it also shows how even something as devastating as breast cancer can be trivialized by reducing women to walking breasts.

So, what does it take to educate young people, especially young women, and to energize them about breast cancer awareness? Peggy Orenstein has some pretty damned good suggestions:

There's so much young people could do to show they care about breast cancer: They could organize childcare or meals for mothers of small children going through treatment. They could volunteer in cancer resource centers. They could hold fundraisers for affected families whose mothers can no longer work. They could spearhead projects on potential carcinogens in beauty products (which, to be fair, is something "I ♥ Boobies," in the wake of criticism of its mission, has now begun to emphasize). All of that would take effort and time, but it would be more meaningful to women with cancer and, I imagine, to teenagers themselves. Because, among other things, the idea that you are taking action merely by wearing a titillating bracelet is not a great life lesson.

Preach it, Sister!


Monday, April 18, 2011

I've Tried. I've Really Tried.

I've tried to ignore Sarah Palin and her antics for a while now. She gets more than her share of adoring coverage by the mainstream press, so shining another light, no matter how critical, seems a bit like taking coals to Newcastle. That said, I found that Meghan Daum's latest column does deserve a little explicating, even if it does have to do with the former governor of Alaska and former candidate for Vice President.

Meghan Daum is what the Los Angeles Times considers a "liberal" columnist. While she is no Rosa Brooks, she also is no Jonah Goldberg and she usually does come to the right conclusions after muddying the water with her poorly executed snark. In this case, she really does do a good job in noting how gingerly she and the rest of the press have treated Palin since her rather remarkable entrance on the national political stage. Her reasons and her excuses don't clear her and her colleagues from their rather shoddy reportage, but they do explain at least partially why the Thrilla from Wasilla too often gets a pass by the press.

Here is one of the key points Daum makes:

And that's not the only reason why we can't bring ourselves to take the gloves off with Palin. It's impossible not to feel like we're punching shamefully below our weight, which everyone knows is against the rules. Palin lacks the intellectual, analytical and rhetorical skills to have a competent discussion about policy or much else. She is handicapped not only by a lack of education, experience and curiosity about the world (wearing a Star of David in Israel doesn't count), but by a speaking style that often collapses under the weight of disjointed, undiagrammable sentences. She is, in terms of the political arena, easily outclassed.

In other words, Meghan Daum and her colleagues don't want to be seen as bullies, as "smarty-pants" duelling with an unarmed adversary. I don't think that's a particularly good reason for not laying out Palin's defects when they become so glaringly obvious, but I certainly understand the fear. After all, the Right's Wurlitzer continues to churn out the crap about the "liberal media," and showing one of the darlings of the Right as wilfully ignorant would certainly play into that mantra.

It would be nice, not to mention appropriate, if our press showed a bit more courage in doing the job it is paid to do, however. Some honest fact checking after one of her speeches is not hitting below the belt. Neither is an analysis of one of her tortured assertions about government or the current president.

It's about time at least one member of that press admitted that they really haven't been doing the job for whatever reason. It's past time for the press to do something about it.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Hilda Doolittle

Stars Wheel in Purple

Stars wheel in purple, yours is not so rare
as Hesperus, nor yet so great a star
as bright Aldeboran or Sirius,
nor yet the stained and brilliant one of War;

stars turn in purple, glorious to the sight;
yours is not gracious as the Pleiads are
nor as Orion's sapphires, luminous;

yet disenchanted, cold, imperious face,
when all the others blighted, reel and fall,
your star, steel-set, keeps lone and frigid tryst
to freighted ships, baffled in wind and blast.


Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Jim Morin / Miami Herald (April 12, 2011) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Japanese Macaques

(Photograph by Patrick Shyu, My Shot, and published at National Geographic. Click on the link to see just where these macaques are chillin'.)

Pardon My Snicker

Oh, those silly Republicans. They pass Ryan's budget in the House on a strictly partisan vote and now they're gearing up for the next big battle, the one over raising the US debt limit. Except maybe they can't, at least according to Jon Healey in the latest post on his opinion blog.

The fiscal 2012 budget resolution proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) drew the support of all 235 Republicans present and voting Friday, as well as the opposition from all 193 Democrats in attendance. That means 235 members of the House GOP are now on record in favor of slowing the growth of domestic discretionary spending and Medicaid, shrinking the deficit gradually through fiscal 2015, and sharply reducing federal spending as a percentage of the economy over the long term.

They're also on record favoring an increase in the debt ceiling, which currently stands at $14.3 trillion.

Pages 5 and 6 of the budget resolution declare that the "appropriate levels of debt" subject to the debt ceiling are as follows:
[Emphasis added]

At this point, Healey lists the acceptable debt levels contained in the bill by year up to 2021, which stands at a whopping $23,105,000,000,000. And as far as Healey could tell, no amendments were attached to the bill to remove those annual debt ceilings. Apparently none of the Republicans read pages 5 and 6 before voting.

Game over.



Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

Just Plain Good News

I had planned to comment on this news earlier in the week, but things got a little complicated. It still is good news, however, and not just for Californians. The rest of the nation can learn from our mandate just how to wean ourselves from carbon based fuels, especially those fuels we have to import.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Tuesday a mandate that 33% of electricity in California must come from renewable sources by 2020. ...

California had previously required investor-owned utilities such as Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric to generate 20% of their electricity from clean sources by 2010, with a three-year grace period.

The law signed Tuesday will also apply to municipal utilities such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which manage about a quarter of the state’s electricity load.

Energy activists hope the mandate will lead to even more ambitious requirements.
“California can power itself entirely on clean energy resources,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, clean energy advocate with Environment California. “Mandating that the state generate a third of its electricity from renewable energy is a big down payment toward that ultimate goal.”

In many respects California is unique in its ability to take advantage of solar, wind, and wave energy because of its geography and weather. Still, the strong commitment to bringing renewable energy into major play is significant. The voters expect no less, as evidenced by the defeat of the Koch brothers proposition to roll back clean air legislation in the last election.

The really exciting part, however, is that the new law also contains provisions for local initiatives:

The new mandate also requires utilities to draw some of their power from small local projects based near customers –- known as distributed generation. Often situated on rooftops and parking lots, such installations don’t require the long transmission lines necessary for sprawling wind and solar plants in the deserts and mountains.

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry said she will introduce legislation this week to launch a pilot program that would put 75 megawatts of solar on rooftops around the city.

What's not to love about that?

Good news, indeed.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Confounded Facts

Meghan Daum should not be allowed to do snark. She is terrible at it, as her latest column makes clear. Still, she did get things right when it comes to the recent brouhaha over Planned Parenthood.

In the ongoing rancor surrounding federal funding of Planned Parenthood, misinformation has a starring role. There have been, of course, predictable gusts of hot air from pundits like Bill O'Reilly, who asserted last month that "nobody's life is affected by Planned Parenthood," and Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy of "Fox & Friends," who suggested on April 9 that Planned Parenthood's non-abortion-related services were redundant because you can get your blood pressure checked and get a pap smear or a breast exam at Walgreen's. (Blood pressure, yes; the rest, uh-uh.)

Then there are those who deep down must surely know better but who seem to think they have ... a right to waive the facts. When Republican Sen. Jon Kyl wrongly proclaimed on the Senate floor recently that abortions constitute "well over 90% of what Planned Parenthood does," his office responded to the blowback by saying that "his remark was not intended to be a factual statement."

I must admit I was stunned at the Reich's selection of this venerable organization as a target. Planned Parenthood, for crying out loud! This group has done an ocean of good when it comes to contraception and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. As Ms. Daum points out, abortion compromises only 3% of its programs, a fact born out by all the reporting required by Title X for federal funding. Abortion may be the reason given by those trashing Planned Parenthood, but I suspect more is at work.

Meghan Daum suggests that some people are uncomfortable with the idea of planning for a child, but I think it is beyond even that. I think those people want to control sex completely, which is another way of saying that they want to control women completely. If it were merely a concern with "murdering the preborn," the Reich would go out of its way to protect the postborn rather than cut funding to WIC programs. It would go out of its way to make certain prenatal care was given to each and every pregnant woman. It would also make a massive commitment to education.

But it doesn't.

Instead, it spews lies about groups like Planned Parenthood which attempt to provide for the health and safety of women and children. It's what they do, and when caught in the lies, they issue lame excuses like Senator Kyl's.

Evil stuff, this.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

More Flying Pigs


There's something in the air or in the drinking water. An editorial in today's New York Times comes down righteously on the need for more revenue if the federal budget is to actually start trimming the deficit.

Here are two numbers to keep in mind when thinking about the House Republicans’ budget plan: They want to cut spending on government programs over the next decade by $4.3 trillion. And they want to cut tax revenues over the same period by $4.2 trillion.

Government spending needs to be brought under control. But slashing vital services just to pay for more tax cuts is bad public policy and bad economics.

It won’t fix the deficit, no matter what the Republicans claim.

To support this assertion, the editorial cites recent history: Reagan, Clinton, and George W. Bush. Tax cuts for the wealthy did not help the economy. In fact, it hurt the economy and ran up the deficit everyone in the Village of Serious People is so concerned about.

These are the economic facts, which Americans need to hear. The Republicans certainly won’t tell anyone. And, so far, the Democrats haven’t had the political courage to challenge them head-on.

Amen to both accusations.

Now it's up to President Obama to bring these facts home today, to educate the public as to the need to increase revenues by rolling back the tax cuts the GOP is so anxious to protect. Will he do it?

We'll know by tonight.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

When Pigs Fly

There are certain activities I avoid in order to keep my blood pressure at acceptable levels. Reading a Jonah Goldberg column is pretty high on that list. I made an exception today because I wanted to see just what Mr. Goldberg had to say about the recent Koran burning in Florida. To my utter amazement (not to mention chagrin), Goldberg actually got it right, even with his mutterings about conservatism.

Like Goldberg, I think the First Amendment right to free speech is pretty close to an absolute. Also like Mr. Goldberg, however, I believe that while speech is protected, it is not above criticism, and that is the point of Goldberg's latest offering.

...We're in a different kind of war fought in an age in which news travels the world, uncensored and often distorted, with the speed of a mouse click. And in that context, there's simply no way to spin Jones' idiotic stunt as anything other than morally ugly and tactically unhelpful.

If, as we are so often told, the Muslim world is enduring a civil war between the crazies and the moderates, what good comes from Koran-burning? It offends "good" and "bad" Muslims alike. Moderate Muslims who seek to yank their societies out of the Dark Ages surely winced at Jones' stunt, and jihadists undoubtedly celebrated their propaganda windfall.

No, Pastor Jones is not an accessory to murder. As Goldberg says, those with the blood of the innocent victims on their hands are the murderers. What Pastor Jones did, however, was born of the same bigotry and hatefulness as the Muslim jhadists response, and his idiotic stunt should be decried as "morally ugly and tactically unhelpful."

So, here's one of those rare moments in eternity when I agree with Jonah Goldberg.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Aw, No Fun At All

In one of those Good New/Bad News articles in the Los Angeles Times this morning, I learned that President Obama has kept one promise: he's reined in the CIA a little. The agency is no longer able to kidnap and then beat the crap out of detainees in order to get "information."

...Under Obama, the CIA has killed more people than it has captured, mainly through drone missile strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas. At the same time, it has stopped trying to detain or interrogate suspects caught abroad, except those captured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The CIA is out of the detention and interrogation business," said a U.S. official who is familiar with intelligence operations but was not authorized to speak publicly.

Several factors are behind the change.

Widespread criticism of Bush administration interrogation and detention policies as brutal and degrading led Obama to stop sending suspected terrorists to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Public exposure also forced the CIA to close a network of secret prisons. That left U.S. officials with no obvious place to hold new captives.

In January 2009, Obama ordered the CIA to abide by the interrogation rules of the U.S. Army Field Manual, which guides military interrogators and includes prohibitions on the use of physical force against detainees. Critics warn that Al Qaeda operatives could study the manual, which is available on the Internet, to learn how to resist its techniques, although no evidence has emerged suggesting that has happened.

Of course, this doesn't make some members of Congress very happy. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) believe the CIA has been hamstrung to the nation's detriment by forcing the agency to comply with international law. No surprise there.

And the CIA also is a bit miffed, or at the very least, a little nervous, for all sorts of reasons:

...some CIA officers are spooked by a long-running criminal investigation by a Washington special prosecutor into whether CIA officers broke the law by conducting brutal interrogations of suspected terrorists during the Bush administration.

So, is the nation now in grave danger because the CIA can't torture kidnapped "detainees?"

Not hardly. The CIA is still passing along tips to other countries about would-be terrorists, and once those alleged miscreants have been picked up by, say, Indonesia, the CIA also access to information gleaned by the holding country. US agents can even sit in on the questioning.

There is a downside, however. The CIA has switched its emphasis from torture to outright killing. Instead of kidnapping, the agency has used drones to target those believed to not have the US interests at heart.

What a country.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Poetry: T. S. Eliot

From Four Quartets

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.

--T.S. Eliot

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Tom Toles and published in the Washington Post April 7, 2011. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, April 09, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Hippopotamus

(Photograph by Donna Eaton and published at National Geographic. Click on the link to find out more on freshwater mammals.)


It's taken about a week, but the pundits have finally gotten around to actually looking at that "courageous" budget proposal Rep. Paul Ryan issued. Bloggers (including me) spotted the chicanery early on.

Tim Rutten entered the fray this morning, and mostly got it right, even if belatedly.

The hall of mirrors in which our bitterly partisan politics now play themselves out is a curious place. But even by its distorted standards, the reaction to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan's budget blueprint has been odd, particularly the general reluctance to call it what it plainly is: an attempt to abolish Medicare and gut Medicaid, while further lowering the taxes paid by corporations and wealthy individuals.

Economists already are picking over the plan's dubious statistics, but — as The Times reported Friday — the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has outlined what adoption of this proposal to supplant Medicare with vouchers and private insurance exchanges would mean. The overall cost of healthcare would go up, and retirees' out-of-pocket medical expenses would double — an increase that would push tens of millions of people living on fixed incomes over the financial brink.

The Wall Street Journal tellingly — and correctly — hailed Ryan's proposal for being "as important an advance as the shift from defined-benefit pensions to 401(k)s."

We all know how well that's worked out, but it does fix this plan firmly in the line of initiatives that, over the past 30 years, have dramatically increased social and economic inequality.
[Emphasis added]

Now, if these same pundits would just come out and acknowledge that this was the entire point of Mr. Ryan's express desires, that it is a feature and not a bug, perhaps the public would get the education it so desperately needs.

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Friday, April 08, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

Nothing To See Here, Move Along

For months now the Tea Partiers have held the federal budget process hostage to their insistence that expenditures be slashed to the bone. OK, we knew that when the 112th Congress took their seats, there would be a return to the shrink-the-government cries of the last Republican onslaught. "Fiscal responsibility" is the new iteration of that desire. It turns out, however, that there's much more involved.

For weeks, Republicans have insisted on reductions in federal spending. Conservative House members also have pushed for Republican policy priorities only indirectly related to the spending debate.

"This debate used to be about saving money," Reid said earlier in the day. "That is no longer the case. The 'tea party' is trying to push through its extreme social agenda — issues that have nothing to do with funding the government." ...

Yet the dispute over the size of the spending cuts receded as Republicans made a play to include their top policy priorities, which have been an strong undercurrent throughout the debate, in the budget package.

Boehner is fighting to retain provisions that were included in House-passed bill in February. Those provisions would restrict abortion services and limit the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate pollutants.

Well, what a surprise!

The current proposals gratuitously tacked on to the budget bills have absolutely nothing to do with fiscal responsibility. What they have to do with is cutting women's reproductive rights and the health of post born citizens.

Five separate provisions related to family planning and abortion were being pursued by the Republicans, including one that would prevent federal funding for Planned Parenthood, a long-sought goal for many socially conservative lawmakers.

The GOP proposed a new abortion-related provision to give states greater control over federal family planning funds under the Title X program.

Longstanding federal law already prohibits federal funds from being used for abortion, except in rare cases. The proposed change would allow governors or local officials to steer funds away from Planned Parenthood or other healthcare providers that also offer abortion services.

Why, it's almost as if the Republicans want to shut the government down. It worked so well for them the last time.

I'm getting close to the point of wanting to take a hostage, or a dozen.

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Oh, Really?

Yesterday, I pointed out some of the fine print in Rep. Ryan's "courageous" plan to balance the budget. Today, Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times looks at some of that fine print.

McManus manages to talk out of both sides of his mouth, but at least he does recognize that Ryan's program is defective insofar as it proposes all sorts of deep cuts, especially when it comes to taxes. That's why it takes so long for Ryan's proposed plan to bring the budget into balance. In the mean time, however, Ryan's plan does accomplish what conservatives have long dreamed of: the end of Medicare.

Ryan has opted for low taxes. On that count, he's the most orthodox of conservative Republicans. He doesn't just want to keep George W. Bush's tax cuts for upper-income taxpayers forever; he also wants to cut the top individual tax rate from 35% to 25%, paid for by — well, he doesn't say. He'd repeal an upper-income surtax in Obama's healthcare law. And he'd lower the corporate tax rate (a goal Obama shares).

The one thing he doesn't propose is increasing any taxes to help close the deficit. (That's one reason his budget doesn't bring revenues and outlays into balance until at least 2030.) He believes in the supply-side article of faith: Lower taxes will solve every economic ill.

With no increases in tax revenue on the table, Ryan balances the budget with exactly one tool: deep cuts in domestic spending (though he spares the defense budget).

And, of course, one convenient source for those deep cuts is Medicare. The irony isn't lost on McManus:

...he also takes aim at Medicare, the health insurance program that covers everyone who reaches the age of 65. It's here that Ryan has been praised for his courage at taking on one of the third rails of American politics — although almost everyone who has ever looked at the federal budget (including Obama and Ryan) agreed long ago that the deficit can't be mastered without controlling the growth in Medicare costs.

This presents a potential dilemma for Ryan and his Republican colleagues, who spent much of last year denouncing Obama for trying to reduce future Medicare spending in his healthcare law. Now they have to explain why it's right for Republicans to squeeze Medicare when it was wrong for Democrats to do it. (Short answer: Obama did it to help pay for "Obamacare"; the GOP's doing it to cut the deficit, a nobler cause in its view.)

Hey! It's a conservative's wet dream: lower taxes for the wealthy and no safety net for the poor. It just has to be packaged right.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, Mr. Ryan and his cohort have the packaging part well in hand, thanks to a White House anxious to claim the right-of-center and Democrats who seem to enjoy being beaten and beaten up.

What a country.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

We Have To Destroy The Village To Save It

[Note: I promised regular blogging today, and here it is. I still could use some financial help (scroll down to see the problem), so if you are so inclined, please hit the Donate button. Thank you.]

They're not even pretending anymore. The Republicans are finally getting their chance to roll back the safety net provided by FDR and LBJ, and they are doing so with a vengeance. The excuse? We can't afford to take care of our elders, poor, and vulnerable.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Republicans are betting that a high-profile fight over government spending will swing budget-minded voters their way in the 2012 campaign.

But the largest savings in their plan would come from slashing popular programs that cover about 100 million Americans.

The GOP proposal would phase out direct payments to doctors and hospitals under Medicare, scale back the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled, and throw out government insurance subsidies that the new healthcare law is to make available to millions of Americans starting in 2014.

That would force seniors to pay more for their healthcare and would likely make states cut back their Medicaid programs, the Congressional Budget Office concluded. ...

That could mean that senior citizens, the disabled and the poor will pay more, even as Washington pays less.

As one who is about to qualify for Medicare, I am both disgusted and worried. For years now I have been "prepaying" my Medicare premiums via tax deductions, so I am also more than a little resentful that Paul Ryan has decided to wipe all of that and my future security out. What really outrages me, however, is some rather interesting parts of the bill that apparently is going to make the rest of America feel better about his plan:

At the same time, Ryan's plan would permanently extend tax cuts signed into law by President George W. Bush.

It lowers the top tax rate for individuals and businesses from 35% to 25% and simplifies the tax code by eliminating unspecified loopholes, tax breaks and tax brackets.

See, it's all very simple. I, and the rest of the elders, will lose our benefits so that the wealthy can get all of theirs and more. Voila! Budgetary problems solved.

Stinks, don't it?

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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

More Help Needed

Damn! I didn't want to have to come back and plead for more monetary assistance, but I lost my gamble on going without health insurance until I qualified for Medicare. The doctors' offices have been patient. The pharmacies, unfortunately, were not.

In any event, while one kind friend helped with the rent and living expenses last month, my office had to cut my hours even further (it's just not busy enough to justify my existence even as an independent contractor), which put me back in the hole.

It's down to the basics right now: food and shelter for me and the cats.

If you have a few extra dollars and you can throw them my way, I'd appreciate it.

If you can't help our right now monetarily, please throw some energy at the feds to ensure my first Social Security check shows up on April 13.


And regular posting returns tomorrow.


Monday, April 04, 2011

Deep Breathing Space

No real posting today, and maybe not tomorrow.

While I'm taking a break, however, you shouldn't.

Go see what PZ Myers has to say.

He just freakin' nails it, and with a passion and eloquence I wish I could summon.

(Special thanks to Chris Tucker, who provided the link.)

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Dylan Thomas

The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman's lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather's wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover's tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

--Dylan Thomas

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Lee Judge / The Kansas City Star (March 31, 2011) and featured by McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, April 02, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Muskrat

(Photograph by Danny Brown and published by National Geographic as part of its series on freshwater life.)

At Glacial Speed

The Los Angeles Times carried a report yesterday on a Gallup poll which seems to indicate that the American public is waking up a little.

More Americans back public employee unions than governors seeking to balance strained budgets by demanding givebacks, including a curb on bargaining rights, according to a Gallup poll released Friday.

The poll, which showed that 48% agree with public employee unions compared with 39% who back the governors, marks somewhat of a leveling of the political playing field on an issue that the GOP has pushed, most noticeably in the Midwest. The issue has also played well into the overall national Republican posture of being fiscally conservative and pro-business.

The numbers aren't staggering, but it does show a shift in opinions which, if it continues to hold, may mean trouble for those Republican governors who sailed into office promising parsimonious budgets balanced on the backs of working people. The governor of Wisconsin faces the loss of the Republican majority in the state senate via current recall efforts, and may himself face recall next January.

The news out of Wisconsin is that recall workers have reported enough signatures in one district to hold a recall election and did so 30 days earlier than the time allotted. Other recall efforts in the state report encouraging results in their drives as well. As a result of those efforts, even the brash Majority Leader of the state senate admits that if the vote on Gov. Walker's bill to effectively root out state employee unions were held today it would not have the votes to pass.

This is good news for working people, and speaking of "news", the Gallup Poll had something to say about that as well:

The poll also found that 28% of Americans said they followed the news about the union battles closely and 32% said they followed it somewhat closely. That represents a typical response to a major news story, according to Gallup.

Again, the numbers aren't staggering, but it does show what happens when the press does its job: people are moved.

I am guardedly optimistic on both aspects.

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Friday, April 01, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

Comic Relief

Ah...the silly season is upon us. Election 2012 is beginning to heat up a little, even if no Republican has formally entered the fray for the presidential nomination. While the GOP candidates have been a little shy about actually declaring their intentions, thereby requiring them to start filing reports on political donations they've received, they certainly have not been shy about lambasting their presumed opponent, Barack Obama. One of them, Rand Paul, Tea Party darling and a brand new senator, has taken it a step further: he has managed to insult a potential competitor, thereby breaking St. Ronald of Reagan's 11th Commandment.

A dinner that was supposed to be lighthearted and humorous turned a tad serious when freshman Sen. Rand Paul got a bit personal at the expense of former Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"I was happy to see that Newt Gingrich has staked out a position on the war; a position or two, or maybe three," Paul said Wednesday at the Congressional Correspondents' Dinner. "I don't know. He may have more war positions than he's had wives."

Ooooo...that's gotta leave a mark!

Apparently Sen. R. Paul hasn't paid any attention to his father. Either that, or he's as tone deaf as his father. Regardless, Andrew Malcolm, whose Los Angeles Times blog contains the story is clearly appalled:

With friends like these, who needs Democrats?


It's always nice to start the day with a chuckle.