Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Poetry: William Blake

The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

--William Blake

Calling It Like It Is

I found exactly what I wanted in the first few seconds of my visit to Watching America. The overwhelming majority of the articles dealt with the debt ceiling crisis, which certainly came as no surprise, but one spelled out the source of the crisis in no uncertain terms.

From France's Le Monde:

...In less than a week, if Democrat Barack Obama and the Republican majority in the House of Representatives do not come to an agreement, the U.S. Treasury will be in default of payment, which will cause economic and financial catastrophe, just like an implosion of the eurozone would have done.

It is as if the American system of government is no longer working or working less and less effectively, particularly in relation to this central issue: how to get out of debt. ...

Each day that passes, the Washington psychodrama is making the markets a little more feverish and resulting in a difficult economic climate. The Republicans are responsible for this deadlock. Although they are the party that eroded public finances in recent years, they rejected a courageous compromise proposed by Obama to substantially reduce the deficit by cutting public spending and by increasing taxes on the wealthiest segment of the population.

It was a centrist proposal. But the problem is that the second major American party has become an extremist organization. The Republicans are refusing any tax increases due to ideological fanaticism.
[Emphasis added]

Whether or not one agrees with the proposition that to reduce the deficit spending right now, in this recession, should be cut to the bone, it is clear that revenues also need to be increased. Tax cuts need to be rolled back and tax increases need to be imposed on those who can afford it. Corporations need to pay their fair share. The wealthy need to have their shelters cut, not their taxes. The Republicans, however, are having none of it. NONE of it.

And so we have the impasse. If Michele Bachman is wrong and August 2, 2011 is the outermost date to avoid a financial catastrophe, it is hard to imagine that the problem can be solved in time. For the first time in history, the US will default on its debt.

The conclusion of the editorial points to the least of our troubles at that point:

...the irresponsibility of the Republicans is striking a blow to America's image.

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Tom Toles and published 7/27/11 in the Washington Post. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Granny-Bird

(Proof that the Granny-bird is not only not extinct, but on the comeback trail. Photograph stolen from here after a tip from Moe_Szyslak.)

Local News

I picked up one of the free local newspapers while I was waiting for my burger to be done my way, and was immediately taken with an article about a military veterans group which was going to bicycle half-way across the country in order to publicize the plight of homeless veterans. Here's the online version (which isn't as detailed as the paper version for some reason):

With billions of federal dollars dedicated to ending homelessness among veterans sitting idle, a group of active-duty and former U.S. service members are doing everything they can but sitting idle.

Among aggressive “vet hunting”, which includes scouring homeless camps, overpasses, and parks for homeless veterans, this group has dedicated themselves to a 1,900-mile bicycle ride intended to rally support and federal action in the name of their homeless brothers and sisters.

The ride, beginning Wednesday, July 27 in front of El Monte’s City Hall, will culminate on Wednesday, August 10 in St. Louis, Missouri in front of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. This final stop corresponds with a National Stand Down held in conjunction with the American Veterans (AMVETS) and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The riders include homeless vets staying at a Salvation Army in Bell, former service members who have suffered combat disabilities, and active-duty members part of the non-profit organization, the Vet Hunters.

The riders will have their ride and their mission documented by a film crew, sponsored and narrated by actor Jon Voight.

As I've mentioned before, the greater Los Angeles area has over 8,000 homeless vets, some of whom actually sleep on the sidewalk in front of the Veteran's Administration facilities in Westwood. A goodly number of that 8,000 live here in the San Gabriel Valley, far from the official VA campus, so many of them don't have access to some of the federal programs unless groups such as the Vet Hunters locate them.

The Vet Hunters, whose web site is located here, is an interesting group. It includes not only veterans, but veterans who were or even are homeless. They work to locate vets living under bridges or in out-of-the-way camps and to get them into more stable, if temporary, housing and to hook them up to benefits to which they are entitled. In other words, they're doing the VA's job for them.

The bike ride is intended to get the public's attention on the fact that so many of the men and women who served are living in such deplorable conditions, contrary to all the promises made to them. It's also intended to get the attention of the Veteran's Administration and Congress.

Good on them.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

Equal Time

Because I mentioned Sarah Palin yesterday (scroll down one), I feel compelled to utter a few words about that other Tea Party Diva, Michele Bachman, whose chances at becoming the Republican nominee for president drop markedly if Palin decides to enter the race come September. Michele has been busy campaigning, although she did return to Washington yesterday to speak at the National Press Club. Yes, Michele has not been in Washington during the most tense time for Congress in yarons, according to her home state paper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

With the clock ticking down Wednesday on the debt limit negotiations in Washington, presidential candidate Michele Bachmann announced her entertainment lineup for the Aug. 13 GOP straw poll in Ames, Iowa.

The Minnesota Republican’s campaign team released a program that includes country music singers Richie McDonald and Tim Rushlow, along with Christian artist Charles Billingsley.

The announcement came at the end of a tense day in Washington for House Republicans, who remain divided over a plan by House Speaker John Boehner to raise the debt limit in exchange for sweeping spending cuts.

Bachmann has not participated in any House votes so far this week. But her office said she plans to take part in votes scheduled for Wednesday evening.

Bachmann, one of three House members in the GOP nominating contest, has drawn fire for missing a large number of votes over the past week of her campaign.

By staying away, she managed to appear above the fray, even though her speech to the National Press Club made it clear she sided with her fellow Tea Partiers when it came to raising the debt limit at all, much less before August 2.

"There are indications that the August 2nd deadline might not be accurate," she said, adding that it's even a "flawed assumption" that the ceiling needs to be raised at all.

"I have no doubt that we will not lose the full faith and credit of the United States," she said. "I do believe a result will come."
[Emphasis added]

So, she's at least clear on how she intends to vote on any bill submitted, assuming, of course, that she's in town to cast her vote rather than on the campaign trail in Iowa or other states. It's nice to know what her priorities are, eh?


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Oh, Please

I thought something had been missing the last week to ten days: we hadn't had any mention of Sarah Palin in will-she-or-won't-she terms. Oh, we've had a little news on her bio-pic and its stunning reception by an adoring public, but nothing about her travels or speeches. Well, the drought has ended.

The former Alaska governor will headline a major "tea party" gathering in Iowa in September, just as the Republican nomination fight begins in earnest. Tea Party of America Wednesday announced Palin's participation in the Sept. 3 "Restoring America" event.

Here's how the event organizers tout her appearance:

"Governor Palin embodies the spirit of public service that our founders believed was essential to the survival of our liberties and our republic itself," Charlie Gruschow, Tea Party of America's co-founder, said in the release. "We couldn’t be more delighted to have this citizen leader who represents the values that Iowans and Americans hold so dear."

Say, what? "The spirit of public service"? Are we talking about the woman who quit before the end of her term as governor to move on to make millions writing books and making speeches and showing up at Fox News Network as a guest commentator? Who finds reasons to travel around parts of the country in a luxurious bus at key points in Republican campaigning for the presidential nomination and makes sure the media follows her every step? Public service?

The press is once again aflutter with the thought that this time, by God, this time she really will announce her intention to run. Really. After all, Labor Day traditionally starts the get-serious phase for such campaigns.

And if she does surprise me and officially enters the race, the calculus changes in all sorts of ways.

A new Gallup poll shows a wide-open race for the GOP nomination if Palin and Perry, along with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, join the field. Romney leads the pack with 17% support among national respondents, followed closely by Perry at 15% and Palin at 12%.

If the field is limited to those who have formally entered, Romney is a more decided front-runner at 27% support, followed by Bachmann at 18%.

Of course, those numbers can and will change over the next month to six weeks, but what won't change is the press's continued fascination with the woman.

I think I'll add pizza to my popcorn diet.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

All Are Precious In His Sight

The title of this post comes from a children's song:

"Jesus loves the little children,
All the little children of the world.
Black or yellow, red or white,
All are precious in his sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world."

Unfortunately, there are those who don't love all the children of the world, who allow unspeakable things to happen to them if they are too different. Those who are gay or look like they are gay are prime targets for such people.

I was stunned by this article in Mother Jones about the epidemic of suicides among young people in Minnesota, stunned. And not in a good way.

So stunned that I was tempted to reproduce the entire article because once you start reading it you can't stop. I urge you to click on the link and read it. Here's a taste to get you started.

The first was TJ. Then came Samantha, Aaron, Nick, and Kevin. Over the past two years, a total of nine teenagers have committed suicide in a Minnesota school district represented by Rep. Michele Bachmann—the latest in May—and many more students have attempted to take their lives. State public health officials have labeled the area a "suicide contagion area" because of the unusually high death rate.

Some of the victims were gay, or perceived to be by their classmates, and many were reportedly bullied. And the anti-gay activists who are some of the congresswoman's closest allies stand accused of blocking an effective response to the crisis and fostering a climate of intolerance that allowed bullying to flourish. Bachmann, meanwhile, has been uncharacteristically silent on the tragic deaths that have roiled her district—including the high school that she attended. ...

There's no sure way of knowing why any of the kids took their own lives, but gay rights activists quickly honed in on one factor they saw as contributing to an unhealthy climate for at-risk kids. Anoka-Hennepin has a policy on the books known colloquially as "no homo promo," which dates in back to the mid-1990s. Back then, after several emotional school board meetings, the district essentially wiped gay people out of the school health curriculum. There could be no discussion of homosexuality, even with regard to HIV and AIDS, and the school board adopted a formal policy that stated school employees could not teach that homosexuality was a "normal, valid lifestyle."

Later the policy was changed to require school staff to remain neutral on issues of homosexuality if they should come up in class, a change that critics said fostered confusion among teachers and contributed to their inability to address bullying and harassment, or to even ask reasonable questions about some of the issues the kids were struggling with, like sexual orientation. Both policies were put into place at the behest of conservative religious activists who have been among Bachmann's biggest supporters in the district. They include the Minnesota Family Council (MFC), and its local affiliate, the Parents Action League, which has lobbied to put discredited "reparative therapy" materials in schools.

That's the sort of counseling reportedly practiced by Bachmann & Associates, the mental health clinics run by Michele Bachmann's husband, Marcus. The clinics reportedly counsel people on how to "pray away the gay" to become straight. Before entering politics, Bachmann served as the education advisor to the MFC-affiliated Minnesota Family Institute, a relationship she has continued. This spring, she headlined a fundraising dinner for MFC, along with Newt Gingrich.

Bullying the gay away if praying it away doesn't work: hey, these kids are gay (or might be), what's the problem?

The problem is that they are our children and if they are struggling in any fashion with their sexual identity or any other adolescent issue, the peer bullying can be, and clearly is in many cases, devastating, so devastating that suicide is the only option these tormented kids can see. And the school district is doing nothing, NOTHING, to stop it. Neither is Michele Bachman.

May God forgive those committing this evil. Right now, I find that I cannot.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I Am Just Saying

I've been thinking about my little trip to Milwaukee for my mother's funeral. Yes, it was a sad time, but it also had some very positive elements. I got to see things I hadn't seen in over 40 years: robins and cardinals and fire flies and a little league game where the parents of the 11-year-olds playing were noisy but well-behaved. I had frozen custard from Murph's in Waukesha and a fish fry on Friday night. And I got time to spend with my extended family, a key part of my growing-up years.

Now, with the exception of my younger sister (who makes me look like a centrist), my family is fairly conservative, both fiscally and socially. I stayed with a cousin and her husband, along with my sister and brother-in-law, and we engaged in some political talk. I have to tell you, I learned a few things from those two Midwestern conservatives just by listening.

Fred, my cousin's husband is a retired cop (Milwaukee PD) who had to take a disability retirement because of heart problems. He is a real conservative, but he's no dummy. One morning, over coffee, he and I tentatively talked about the economy, tentatively because we are fond of each other. I told Fred that what we need is a jobs program, and he agreed. He did, however, point out where Presidents Bush and Obama really screwed most of us over.

"Instead of giving all that money to the banks and General Motors, the feds should have given each American family $50,000. Yes, they would have paid off some of their debt, but they also would have been able to buy things. Things like washing machines and clothes and a dinner out. That would have meant that Sears would have had to hire another person for the appliance department and maybe the kids wear department. Restaurants could have hired another waiter and dishwasher. And that's just for starters."

Sound familiar?

Later in the morning, his wife Lynn (my cousin) and I sat out on their deck overlooking their beautiful backyard and continued the conversation. She said she'd had it with all the politicians.

"They're all crooked. All they care about is the money they get from the rich people and that means only the rich people get what they want. The middle class just gets screwed, even though we've worked hard and done everything we were told we had to do to be good citizens. I don't trust any of them."

Does that mean they'll vote for Obama and the Democrats in 2012? Oh, not hardly. What it might mean is that they won't vote at all, and that would be a shame, all things considered. Lynn and Fred are good people, people who are generous and loving, people who opened their home and their hearts to my sister and I when we both really needed it. They are like most of the people in the Midwest and in the rest of the country. Decent folks who have just had a very rude awakening.

I find I can't just write them off as stupid and and deserving of Scott Walker and hard times. What I want for them is what I want for me: a decent life, one lived with dignity and hope for them and for their children and grandchildren. I think both political parties have, however, written them off, just as they have written me off. It's time for us to try to find a way to reach out towards each other on the basis of all that we have in common so that we can restore some semblance of unity on all sorts of levels so that we can confront the inequities.

And then we need to clean house.



Monday, July 25, 2011

An Old-Fashioned Urinating Contest

OK, I'm back to blogging. My trip to Wisconsin, done for the saddest of reasons, actually was a very good visit with my extended family. I'll have more to say about that once I get settled back into my routine. To those of you who helped out with donations for my trip, a big "Thank You". Your kindness and generosity made a big difference.

While I was gone, I didn't spend much time on-line, and I stayed away from most news, the exceptions being television newscasts which were mostly local in nature. I see that the debt ceiling "crisis" is still a focus, although a terrorist attack by a right wing nutter in Norway (Norway? NORWAY?) has gotten plenty of ink and electrons as well.

And, just as important, the GOP race for 2012 continues to provide fodder for my funny bone. Just before I left, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty took a swipe at fellow Minnesotan Michele Bachman, whose campaign is beating his twelve ways to Sunday. Here's what he said about a week ago:

“I really doubt … that the nation will or should put somebody into the Oval Office as president of the United States and commander in chief who lacks substantial executive experience running a large enterprise in or out of government," Pawlenty told CNN. "Maybe they will, but I don’t think so. These are really serious times. And there hasn’t been somebody who went from the U.S. House of Representatives to the presidency I think in over 100 years. And there’s a reason for that."

Michele Bachman waited a whole week before responding, which surprised me, and here's what she had to say:

"These are serious times that require serious solutions, not more of the same. Being right on the issues is critical — it is what the American people demand. Executive experience is not an asset if it simply means bigger and more intrusive government,” Bachmann said.

The fun part of this back-and-forth is that there's a lot of truth on both sides. Bachman really hasn't accomplished much as a congress critter. She's getting a lot of attention now simply because she hopped on the Tea Party wagon early on and has become a rather articulate spokeswoman for those crazies. Pawlenty's tenure as governor was a combination of smoke and mirrors, especially when it comes to budgetary matters and is one of the reasons for this year's state shutdown while the current government tried to nail down a budget which had at least a tenuous connection to reality.

Pawlenty's campaign took note of Bachman's slam and issued a statement which pretty much hits the mark with respect to the quality of the two candidates, but finishes with another slap at the congresswoman:

"The truth is that there is very little difference between Gov. Pawlenty and Congresswoman Bachmann on their issue positions," said Pawlenty spokesman Alex Conant. "The difference is that when Gov. Pawlenty was scoring conservative victories to cut spending, pass market-based health care reform, and transform a supreme court from liberal to conservative, and was elected twice in a very blue state, Congresswoman Bachmann was giving speeches and offering failed amendments, all while struggling mightily to hold onto the most Republican house seat in the state."

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is very quietly gathering a bazillion dollars for his run, just biding his time as the pair from Minnesota continue the family feud.

Time to fire up the popcorn popper. I'm home.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Funnies

Editorial cartoon by Lee Judge / The Kansas City Star (July 22, 2011) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge and enlighten.)


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Highland Cattle

(Photograph by Patrick Kelley and published at National Geographic.)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


[Note: I'm heading off to Milwaukee for a few days, so there probably won't be any posting until after Saturday.]

As the Iowa straw poll looms, the GOP race for the 2012 presidential nomination is beginning to heat up. Tim Pawlenty, stuck near the bottom of the list, has even taken to dissing fellow Minnesotan Michele Bachman to bolster his chances. His claim? She's too inexperienced.

Adding some fire to his rivalry with his home-state colleague, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Tuesday that Michele Bachmann did not have the requisite executive experience to be elected president in 2012. ...

After taking questions from Iowa voters in Marshalltown on Tuesday, Pawlenty directly questioned Bachmann’s credentials -- stating that experience running “a large enterprise under difficult and challenging circumstances with a public component to it and driving it to results” was “a necessary prerequisite” to being president of the United States.

“She doesn’t have it,” Pawlenty said of that experience, speaking to reporters at the Marshalltown Public Library in the midst of his “Road to Results” RV tour through Iowa.

Now, that's kind of an interesting tack. Pawlenty's home state legislature just went through a government shut down because it couldn't come to grips with a budget which would staunch looming deficits caused by Pawlenty's smoke and mirrors budgets during his terms as governor. That's not exactly the kind of experience fiscal conservatives should be looking for.

And the last former governor to reach the White House, George W. Bush had executive experience, yet managed to run the nation's economy into the ground with two unnecessary wars (both financed "off-budget") and tax cuts for the wealthy. He came into power with a budget surplus and magically turned that into a huge deficit. Fiscal conservatives certainly shouldn't want a replay of that kind of experience.

T-Paw just might be better off examining other ways of making his case to the voters in Iowa.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Still Crazy

When last I looked at the Republican candidates for president, I noted the religious elements injected into the campaign. Things haven't changed much since then. Rick Perry feels called to run, so he's had some preachers pray over him. Michele Bachman is still issuing God-talk.

Herman Cain, the pizza magnate who would be king, found a new tack for the issue: religious bigotry:

"If you mess with Israel you're messing with the United States of America," the Georgia businessman laid out plainly in his "Cain Doctrine."

“Option A is, 'Folks, we are not going to allow you to attack Israel,' " the GOP presidential hopeful told the Washington Times.

"If they call my bluff, they already know — they will know — what Option B is," Cain said.

The official religion in Iran just happens to be Islam. Cain took a controversial stance Sunday when he said that he felt communities, like one in Murfreesboro, Tenn., have the right to ban mosques.

"Let's go back to the fundamental issue that the people are basically saying that they are objecting to," Cain said on "Fox News Sunday".

"They are objecting to the fact that Islam is both religion and a set of laws, Sharia law. That's the difference between any one of our other traditional religions where it's just about religious purposes," Cain said.

The Muslim-bashing is always good for a few votes, and Mr. Cain needs all he can get. He's down at the bottom tier of candidates. Iran's a pretty good target as well, especially on Fox, the GOP's chosen venue (at least for now). The bit about Sharia law adds an interesting twist only insofar as it is a handy code for the bigotry involved.

I recommend a small investment in popcorn futures. We still have a year to go in this particular race.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Let Them Know

Further to last night's Sunday Poetry, I have a suggestion for getting our message out to the Democratic Party: let them know that there will be no money sent for the 2012 national campaigns until the Democrats start acting like Democrats.

That's what Christopher Tucker did in response to one of the endless stream of emails and telephone calls from various elements of the national party soliciting donations. Here's his response:

Here's the final revision of the letter I just printed out to Steve Israel, chairman of the DCCC, replying to one of his GIVE US MONEY emails to me.

July 18, 2011

Dear Steve:

I got an email from you the other day. Seems you're "tired" of something. You actually never mention in the body of the email exactly what it is you're "tired of". You DO go into detail about what you want me to do.

"Contribute $20 or more right now to our Emergency Rapid Response Fund to help us send a $100,000 message to Speaker Boehner: We will defeat Republicans who try to slash Social Security and Medicare while protecting tax breaks for multi-millionaires."

Steve, you want to know what I'm tired of?

I am tired of the DCCC, the DSCC, The DLC, and every other group in D.C. with "Democrat" in its name not barging into the Oval Office and telling President Obama to GODDAMN STOP KISSING THE GOP's ASS!

I am tired of waiting for a united Democratic force in D.C. to tell President Obama that Social Security and Medicare are NOT ON ANY GODDAMNED TABLE, ANYWHERE, ANYTIME, FOR ANY REASON!

I am tired of waiting for a united Democratic force in D.C. to tell President Obama to lead, follow or get the goddamned hell out of the way, and let REAL DEMOCRATS lead the country.

That's what I'm tired of.

What you're tired of doesn't mean a fat rat's ass to me.

Because right now, President Obama does not get a penny from me. He doesn't get a second of my time or labor. He DOES NOT GET MY VOTE. Not until I see a united Democratic front and a united Democratic message vigorously and publicly opposing, and fighting against the GOP agenda to destroy the public workers unions, the teachers unions, environmental legislation, and all the other things the GOP supports that are dragging this nation down into Third World status.

I'll contribute to local Democrats here in Massachusetts and here in Boston. But nothing for any other Senator, any other Representative, or President Obama. Not until you and all the other Democratic organizations in D.C. give me a reason to give them and President Obama money.

The ball's in your court Steve. Don't wait too long, though.

Because I'm tired of waiting for all that "change" I was promised a few years ago to happen.


Christopher H. Tucker

I believe that states our case quite nicely. If enough of us send the same message, maybe the Party that is supposed to represent us, not the fat cats, will realize that we can't be taken for granted anymore. Maybe they'll get the hint that while we'll donate what little money we have, will volunteer our time, and will vote for state and local candidates who are more than DINOs, we won't for those at the national level who have sold us down the river.

I urge you to send the same letter every time you get one of those fund raising appeals. Modify it to fit the circumstances, but send it or read it to those making the calls.

Do it.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Marge Piercy

(This time because giving up is not an option.)

The Low Road

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can't walk, can't remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can't stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction.
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

--Marge Piercy

Hobson's Choice

A lot of the articles at Watching America fit nicely with this morning's editorial cartoon. One in particular, however, asks a question that should be considered by all of us, not just Republicans.

From Austria's der Standard:

...A bankrupt United States or a Republican Party co-opted by extremists — which is the greater evil?

Such a decision is about as hard to make as choosing whether you would rather contract plague or cholera. One thing is certain: If the extremists are successful in their takeover bid, those unruly children will replace the somewhat-open-to-compromise John Boehner with the dashing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor as Speaker of the House. In that case, there will be no hope of government ever functioning. Politicians like Michele Bachmann, the ideological Lady Gaga of the tea party movement currently running to be the Republican nominee for president, would then be making the decisions. These are the people who suspect that the United States going into bankruptcy would have no consequences whatsoever.

Clearly the rest of the world is watching the drama playing out in Washington DC and doing so with a bit of anxiety. A default by the US affects all of the major economies at a time when most are very shaky as it is. Further, a paralyzed US government affects security the world over. The world has reason to be nervous.

But we in the US are also caught up in that horrible question. If the right-wing Galtians take over the GOP and force us into default, we will have lost a great deal, and not just in fiscal terms. We will be left, essentially, with just one party, one run not by conservatives or liberals by ideology but by corporate interests. While an argument can be made that we are already, at least we have the option of voting still intact. I'm not so certain that would remain.

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Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (July 14, 2011) and featured at McClatchy DC. As always, click on image to enlarge. There are some details in this one you don't want to miss.)


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Barred Owl

(Photograph by 1Watt Hermit.)


Here's the thing: ultimately, I really don't care what religion a politician holds, or even if s/he holds any religion. That shouldn't enter into the mix in a country which has declared freedom of religion and which has traditionally kept intact the separation of church and state. Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Christian, Rastafarian, Pagan: it shouldn't matter.

It shouldn't, but apparently it now does. I thought that with the election of John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, we could finally put the religious test behind us. I clearly was wrong. Religion is a qualifier. Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and the fundagelicals are unhappy about that. Will that be enough to keep him from the GOP nomination? Probably not, but the mere fact that it is a matter of discussion saddens me.

Somehow, the idea that we are a "Christian Nation" has taken root in our discourse, especially around election time, even though the founders of our nation deliberately refrained from such a position and even spoke against any religious test for holding office. Those founders would be surprised and appalled at the insistence of a particularly noisy sector of the population that not only does one have to be Christian to lead the country, one has to be a particular brand of Christian.

Unfortunately, some politicians, particularly on the right, are buying into that nonsense, dragging their piety credentials on stage at every opportunity. Michele Bachman does so relentlessly, and that's why I wasn't all that unhappy that she got bit on the backside this week.

According to CNN, the church that Michele Bachmann and her husband Marcus had attended for more than a decade, Salem Lutheran in Stillwater, Minn., granted the couple’s request to be released from their membership last month, a week after Bachmann told a national audience that she would run for the Republican presidential nomination.

The Bachmanns had approached their pastor and verbally made the request “a few weeks before the church council granted the request,” said Joel Hochmuth, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the governing body for the church.

Bachmann had apparently been distancing herself from the church for some time. Hochmuth said the couple had not been worshiping with the congregation in more than two years.

Why the breakup? Well, one of the tenets of this particular denomination is that that the Pope is the Antichrist. Initially, Bachman denied that her church held any such stand, but she soon discovered that it did, and that meant her political career just might be jeopardized if enough people realized that. So she split. So much for brand loyalty.

What her church and what she herself believes is actually none of my business, but it becomes my business when she and other candidates continually shove it in my face with smug superiority. It also becomes my business when candidates make it clear that those religious beliefs will become national policy.

So this time I'm actually glad that the Los Angeles Times made an issue of her religious beliefs. I don't expect it will make much difference in the long run, but at least we got past the truthy stage for a brief moment.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

This is Barnabas, Freki's master.

Science Disconnect

Earlier this month, I noted the Obama administration's backtracking on the promise to review the drug laws. In an opinion piece written for the Los Angeles Times, Stephen Gutwillig and Bill Piper also excoriate the administration's sudden push against state medical marijuana laws, noting its deliberate disconnect from the science of the issue. Gutwillig is the Drug Policy Alliance's California state director; Piper is the group's national affairs director.

The administration's disconnect from science is shocking. A federally commissioned study by the Institute of Medicine more than a decade ago determined that nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety "all can be mitigated by marijuana." The esteemed medical journal the Lancet Neurology reports that marijuana's active components "inhibit pain in virtually every experimental pain paradigm." The National Cancer Institute, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, notes that marijuana may help with nausea, loss of appetite, pain and insomnia. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia, home to 90 million Americans, have adopted laws allowing the medical use of marijuana to treat AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and other ailments. The federal government itself cultivates and supplies marijuana to a handful of patients through its "compassionate-use investigative new drug program," which was established in 1978 but closed to new patients in 1992.

Marijuana use, like any drug, certainly carries risks. When it comes to policy, however, these risks should be weighed against the harms associated with current marijuana laws. It is notable that every comprehensive, objective government commission that has examined marijuana throughout the past 100 years has concluded that criminalization of adult marijuana use does more harm than marijuana use itself. Moreover, the risks associated with marijuana use are demonstrably far less than those associated with Oxycontin, methamphetamine, morphine and other drugs currently available for medical use. It defies not just science but common sense for the Obama administration to be so aggressively anti-marijuana, especially for medical use.
[Emphasis added]

By refusing to acknowledge the science it promised to honor, the Obama administration callously cuts out what is an important tool in treatment which in the long run is cheaper and safer for people suffering from various illnesses and the treatment for those illnesses. The states with medical marijuana laws have agreed to police the distribution of the drug and to regulate its usage. Why the administration is being so callous at this point is a mystery, unless, of course, it is more swayed by pharmaceuticals who will lose some money on prescription drugs which have more serious side effects or by those with a vested interest in continuing the ridiculous War On Drugs than by the science available.

For whatever reason, the administration is wrong in this.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ain't Nobody Happy

Whether viewed as eleven dimensional chess or simply a kabuki dance, the current stalemate on raising the debt limit makes it clear that there is no adult in charge in Washington.

The Democrats can't seem to get their president's attention on the fact that cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security would be political suicide for them and for him come 2012.

The Republicans, facing the same quandary, also can't seem to get the freshman Tea Party contingent in the House on board with any kind of deal short of a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget (probably cast with a no-new-taxes clause).

Both sides are in disarray.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued a political warning that the party risked losing the next election if Republicans persisted on their current path.

So far, such warnings have had little impact in the House of Representatives, where many members of the Republican majority, particularly newly elected "tea party" conservatives, have vowed to let the government default on its bills rather than vote for any debt ceiling increase. House GOP leaders have said they will vote for an increase only if it is accompanied by a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, deep cuts to Medicare, or other spending restrictions that President Obama has rejected. ...

The Republican disarray contrasts with a tradition of GOP unity and discipline, having the effect of making Democrats appear nearly unified. But many Democrats are as anxious about where the White House is headed with debt negotiations.

Beleaguered liberals are perturbed by Obama's eagerness to cut a deal even it means changes to entitlement programs.

"It shows a willingness to throw us under the bus, politically speaking," said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

In the mean time, the clock is ticking and we are drawing ominously close to defaulting on our debt.

There is no logical reason for tying raising the debt ceiling to reducing the budget deficit, but the GOP made a big deal out of it, tying the two issues together tightly in an attempt to make Obama and the Democrats look bad in time for the 2012 elections. However, GOP congressional leaders didn't reckon on the recalcitrance among members of their own caucus when it came to making a deal.

But the Democrats are hardly blameless in this drama. They acceded to the idea of deficit cuts without even a murmur that, given the current joblessness, cutting spending was not good for the economy. And the leader of their party, Barack Obama, seemed perfectly willing to give up as much as possible to make nice with the opposition, regardless of the cost.

Well, we elected them all, so we deserve what we've gotten. I'll tell you what, though: when those social security checks don't come out, there are going to be a lot of recipients who will be furious, not to mention devastated. And I'll be one of them.


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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Things That Make You Go "Wow!"

I don't have much this morning. The news I scanned was pretty much the same bilge we get day after day, with the notable exception of the "fake Democrats" being whupped soundly in Wisconsin primaries as part of the recall efforts. What I do have, however, is pretty dramatic.

The Nation printed an insightful essay on the changing face of war by Barbara Ehrenreich. I urge you to read what Professor Ehrenreich has to say. It's lengthy, and it's not beach reading, so be prepared to spend some time reading and digesting her analysis.

What I found fascinating was the last section of the essay, the one in which she deals with the latest phase of war-making. With computerization and drones, more and more of the human element is being reduced. Her closing comments (which I will not provide here because it might spoil the fun) contain just the hint of optimism for humanity.

Go. Read.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Lady Weeps

I spent spent a long time trying to unpack a comment made by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell regarding our civilian justice system. Here's a description of his comment:

The top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, says the Casey Anthony trial is proof that American courts aren't proper venues for trials of suspected terrorists.

Say, what?

Yes, it is difficult to get a conviction in a criminal trial. The government has to present enough evidence to convince a jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Apparently Mitch McConnell thinks that's a bad thing, a flaw. Now that is bad enough, but it gets worse. He thinks foreigners don't deserve constitutional protections.

"I don't think a foreigner is entitled to all the protections of the Bill of Rights," McConnell told Fox News. "They should not be in U.S. courts."

So much for the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I think Michael McGough got it right in his brief post on a Los Angeles Times opinion blog:

It's not often that someone comes out in favor of kangaroo courts, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell came close to doing so the other day. McConnell said that the acquittal of Casey Anthony proved that accused terrorists shouldn't receive civilian trials. McConnell and other Republicans prefer that they be tried by military commissions.

Problem is, military commissions -- though different in some respects from civilian trials -- still require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Let me quote: "Before a vote is taken on the findings, the military judge must instruct the commission members 'that the accused must be presumed to be innocent until his guilt is established by legal and competent evidence beyond reasonable doubt.' "

McConnell is going to have look elsewhere for his idea[l] judicial system. Maybe Saudi Arabia?

Where do these guys come from and why are they running my country?

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Shared Sacrifice?

Well, we've managed to find another subset freed from the concept of shared sacrifice: pharmaceutical companies. Big surprise there, eh?

From the Los Angeles Times:

As the president and congressional leaders look for savings as part of a major debt deal, the pharmaceutical industry has stepped up its behind-the-scenes lobbying to kill proposals that it contribute to any compromise.

President Obama this spring said drug makers should offer discounts to low-income seniors who receive government subsidized health coverage through both the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

And with pressure growing to cut federal support for state Medicaid programs and to force seniors on Medicare to pay more for their care, many liberal lawmakers are demanding that pharmaceutical companies chip in more, as well.
[Emphasis added]

The discounts offered to this particular subset of elders (on both Medicaid and Medicare) could result in a savings of $112 billion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That's a significant chunk of change, which even Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles acknowledged. But PHARMA isn't willing to play ball. It also isn't willing to have any public debate about it, preferring instead a tried and true method of getting its way.

...behind the scenes, industry lobbyists have been rallying its allies on Capitol Hill and elsewhere to resist the new demands.

And because PHARMA is a really heavy hitter when it comes campaign donations, the pharmaceuticals are quite happy to leave the sacrificing to the poor and elderly.

Well, at least the Los Angeles Times was good enough to get the word out anyway. It'll at least give Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) some cover as he tries to push for those discounts.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday Poetry: T.S. Eliot

Mr. Mistoffelees

You ought to know Mr. Mistoffelees!
The Original Conjuring Cat--
(There can be no doubt about that).
Please listen to me and don't scoff. All his
Inventions are off his own bat.
There's no such Cat in the metropolis;
He holds all the patent monopolies
For performing suprising illusions
And creating eccentric confusions.
At prestidigitation
And at legerdemain
He'll defy examination
And deceive you again.
The greatest magicians have something to learn
From Mr. Mistoffelees' Conjuring Turn.
Away we go!
And we all say: OH!
Well I never!
Was there ever
A Cat so clever
As Magical Mr. Mistoffelees!

He is quiet and small, he is black
From his ears to the tip of his tail;
He can creep through the tiniest crack,
He can walk on the narrowest rail.
He can pick any card from a pack,
He is equally cunning with dice;
He is always deceiving you into believing
That he's only hunting for mice.
He can play any trick with a cork
Or a spoon and a bit of fish-paste;
If you look for a knife or a fork
And you think it is merely misplaced--
You have seen it one moment, and then it is gawn!
But you'll find it next week lying out on the lawn.

And we all say: OH!
Well I never!
Was there ever
A Cat so clever
As Magical Mr. Mistoffelees!

His manner is vague and aloof,
You would think there was nobody shyer--
But his voice has been heard on the roof
When he was curled up by the fire.
And he's sometimes been heard by the fire
When he was about on the roof--
(At least we all heard that somebody purred)
Which is incontestable proof
Of his singular magical powers:
And I have known the family to call
Him in from the garden for hours,
While he was asleep in the hall.
And not long ago this phenomenal Cat
Produced seven kittens right out of a hat!
And we all said: OH!
Well I never!
Did you ever
Know a Cat so clever
As Magical Mr. Mistoffelees!

--T.S. Eliot

The Exhausted Empire

My 65th birthday is coming up, and I have been pondering what I have witnessed over my life time: the development of vaccines to prevent the scourges of polio, measles, chicken pox, whooping cough; a man walking on the moon and the placement of telescopes in orbit to study the history of the universe; increased rights for women and African Americans.

That's a few of the good things, but there have been some horrors as well: wars fought for no other reason than the enemy had commodities that we desired; the degradation of our air, water, and soil by our unwise use of energy; the depletion of the middle class and marginalization of the poor by the upper classes; the complete destruction of a once vibrant democracy by corporate interests. I watched the nation rise to become an empire. I am now watching that nation and that empire collapse under its own weight. The last decade has been especially hard on my country and on me.

Yesterday, during my usual Saturday visit to Watching America, I came across an opinion piece which really resonated with what I have been thinking about. Published in Germany's die Welt, the essay is titled "America: The Exhausted Empire."

It was clearly written as a warning to Europe that those countries would have to step forward and start assuming responsibility for their security because the US simply could no longer do it all. As such, it is an extremely timely and perceptive piece. What intrigued me the most was the stunning accuracy with which it describes the current state of the United States. Obama said, America will no longer be based on what it wants, but on what is possible. It is a creed that applies far beyond the Hindu Kush and to others as well. Obama’s speech marks not only a change in policy toward Afghanistan, but also in the ambitions of the country most important to global order. The empire is exhausted by a decade of constant war and it wants to scale back its foreign involvement in the face of dwindling financial resources. “America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home,” was the most significant sentence in his address: Instead of rebuilding other countries, it’s time to rebuild U.S. economic strength; that is the basis for America’s role as a global power. Obama’s speech is therefore not only a warning to the Afghan government to get its own house in order, but it applies to Europe as well. The time of the national security free ride is rapidly coming to an end.

America’s power and worldwide influence depend largely on its military capacity to protect sea routes, support its allies and maintain regional balances. To accomplish this role over the past decade, America has reduced social services and expanded military capabilities to a far greater extent than has Europe. The old continent, on the other hand, built an over-the-top wealth-redistribution system while cutting back on military outlays, trusting that U.S. security policy would pull everyone else’s chestnuts out of the fire as it did in the Balkans.

We can no longer afford the role of empire, not if the nation is going to survive as a democracy in which anyone can become president, either of the country as a whole or of a company. We can't afford million dollar missiles fired from drones and world class institutions of higher learning. Hell, we can't even afford decent public schools staffed adequately with trained and competent teachers so they don't burn out within a few years. We can't fight three wars at once and provide decent safety nets for the vulnerable poor and elderly.

Here's the sad part, though. Clemens Wergin, the author of the essay cited, seems to assume that President Obama meant what he said, that he would focus on rebuilding that City on the Hill. I'm not so sure.

Not so sure at all.

During the past week of negotiating an increase in the debt ceiling, the White House made an offer on cutting expenditures which included cuts to Medicare and Social Security. He urged politicians to have the courage to make unpopular decisions, presumably with respect to those programs. Fortunately, this time, Democrats led by Nancy Pelosi refused. But that Obama would even float such a balloon is a signal that he is not interested in nation building, only in giving a boost to the mega-capitalists who already have 90% of the pie.

Sad, indeed.

Well, it was a good 235 year run and fun while it lasted.


Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Jim Morin / Miami Herald (July 8, 2011) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, July 09, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Sweat Bee

(Photograph by Mark W. Moffett, National Geographic and published at National Geographic.)

Nope, No Change Here

The Obama administration has continued the tradition of treating marijuana as a gateway drug, one just as dangerous as heroin, and therefore not worthy of consideration as a viable medical treatment. Apparently more than sixty years of propaganda weighs more heavily than sixty years of hard scientific research.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Marijuana has been approved by California, many other states and the nation's capital to treat a range of illnesses, but in a decision announced Friday the federal government ruled that it has no accepted medical use and should remain classified as a dangerous drug like heroin.

The decision comes almost nine years after medical marijuana supporters asked the government to reclassify cannabis to take into account a growing body of worldwide research that shows its effectiveness in treating certain diseases, such as glaucoma and multiple sclerosis. ...

DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart sent a letter dated June 21 to the organizations that filed a petition for the change. The letter and the documentation that she used to back up her decision were published Friday in the Federal Register. Leonhart said she rejected the request because marijuana “has a high potential for abuse,” “has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” and “lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision.”

This is the third time medical marijuana supporters have had their petition to reclassify marijuana denied, but at least it only took the DEA a couple of months to deny, rather than years. The supporters can now appeal that decision in the courts. While the past two appeals failed, supporters hope that with the growing body of research which substantiates the medical benefits of cannabis the third time will be the charm.

I think the administration fears are bogus. I think they are concerned that with the legalization of commercial growth (with proper safeguards and appropriate regulations) might undercut the oh-so-important War Against Drugs and all that entails. In that respect, they are probably right. If this country allowed legal growth and distribution (and taxation), we wouldn't need that stupid program because the Mexican drug gangs would lose an important source of revenue.


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Friday, July 08, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

An Awakening?

Is it possible that the Beltway Insiders are finally beginning to see that the current Republican Party is more interested in ideology than the nation's welfare? Jamelle Bouie of The Nation seems to think so. Bouie points to David Brooks' July 4 column as evidence.

In that column, Brooks excoriated the Republican party for refusing to consider tax hikes of any kind, even if it means the country defaults on its debts, thereby throwing the US and world economy into chaos. Brooks maintains that a party willing to do that isn't fit to govern.

Bouie finds this to be a hopeful sign, given the way the press has treated the Republicans for at least the last ten years.

...Simply put, this is the first time in American history that a political party has threatened to default on the nation’s debt and sabotage the global economy on the basis of narrow ideological goals. With that said, it’s refreshing to see Brooks—who is close to the apotheosis of a Beltway pundit—finger the GOP for its extremism and economic brinksmanship, rather than treating the whole affair like a particularly interesting game of polo.

I must admit I was shocked by Brooks' conclusions, and this might in fact be a sign that the ideologues have tacked too far to the right even for the pundits, but I am still not totally convinced. As long as the editors, those who decide what gets reported on the front page, continue the ten-year stenographic tradition of reiterating Republican talking points without comment, we really haven't gained anything.

But I would love to be proved wrong.


Thursday, July 07, 2011

President Good Hair?

There's another interesting post on the GOP field for that party's presidential nomination up at the Los Angeles Times. This one takes a look at Texas Governor Rick Perry's chances against Barack Obama in 2012 and reflects on a post by Merrill Matthews at the conservative website Human Events (located here).

Matthews "compares" Perry and Obama and finds Obama's record sorely lacking. Here is a list of Obama's "accomplishments" since taking office according to Matthews:

Matthews continues by highlighting some of Obama's most significant fumbles:

Energy: Gasoline was $1.67 a gallon then. It's now $3.79.

Food: Average cost of a gallon of milk was about $2.65. It's about $3.50 today.

Housing: The median cost of a home was $229,600. Today it's $217,900.

Budget deficit: We fell $438 billion short of balancing the federal budget in 2008. We missed it by $1.4 trillion this year -- nearly four times higher.

U.S. debt: Total federal debt was $10.7 trillion then. It's $14.5 trillion now -- nearly 50% higher.

Unemployment: Then, 7.3% of Americans were unemployed and 9.1% are unemployed today.

As the Times article points out, this isn't too fair because Obama inherited an economic mess from former President Bush. The Wall Street and bank bailouts occurred even before Obama was sworn in. The real estate bubble was already bursting and the economy was swirling downwards. Still, those figures do hold some truth with respect to just how Obama managed the problems he inherited, which was not very well.

Instead of an emphasis on a stimulus package which would have put Americans back to work, which in turn would have increased revenues, Obama chose to continue the bailouts without tying the monies to increased hiring. Instead of scaling back military operations, he increased troop levels in Afghanistan and is currently burning millions of dollars on missiles being fired by drones in Libya.

To use the metaphor favored by Matthews, Obama fumbled the ball handed off to him by Bush.

Will Obama lose to Perry should he become the nominee? It's hard to tell. After all, Governor Perry is a bit of a loon, threatening at one point to pull his state out of the union. And Perry hasn't even entered the GOP race, much less been tested by debates and personal appearances. But it is an intriguing scenario.


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Poor Mitt

We're still a long way from the real tests in the GOP race for the nomination for president, but things are definitely heating up, and not in a nice way for presumed front-runner Mitt Romney. Michele Bachman is getting all the ink and electrons, and she's working hard to keep it that way in places Mitt hasn't spent too much time.

The current example is South Carolina, the state with an unbroken record for selecting the ultimate nominee for the GOP. George W. Bush knew that, and unleashed a vile rumor that John McCain's adopted Bangladeshi daughter was in reality McCain's black daughter. It worked: W took the state. Mitt Romney has yet to spend much time or effort there (yet), but Michele Bachman certainly has, and she's winning converts.

Paul West has a timely article in the Los Angeles Times in which he explores Bachman's increasing status in that state and what that might mean for Romney and for the Republican Party.

This state hasn't been wrong yet. Its presidential primary has an unblemished record of picking the eventual GOP nominee, serving as a Southern firewall for national front-runners who've been able to stop insurgent challengers here every time.

But that firewall may be collapsing; a primary that has reliably served the interests of the Republican establishment for decades may do the opposite next year. ...

Yet if Bachmann or another insurgent wins South Carolina — a distinct possibility — it would reaffirm the "tea party" movement's rightward pull on the GOP, with uncertain consequences for the nomination fight and for Republican chances of defeating President Obama.

South Carolina, whose former governor Mark Sanford is best known for his affair with an Argentinian woman, is intrigued by Bachman because she represents something other than the usual "business-as-usual" Republican. She has chosen to feed their belief that government is the problem and the old boys just haven't addressed it. And Bachman has been working the Tea Party angle right from the start, so she has plenty of credibility with the state's conservative base.

Still, as I said up top, it's early. Rick Perry has yet to make up his mind, and if he decides to run, the Texas governor just might split the Tea Party contingent. Mitt might actually start appearing in the state. The GOP stalwarts, worried that an ultraconservative nominee might wind up giving Obama the edge he needs to win that second term, might start flexing their muscles and loosening their cash valves.

Or, which is also a possibility, South Carolina's unblemished record for selecting the ultimate nominee might fall.

Pass the popcorn.


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Wrong, Just Wrong

Historical revisionism seems to be quite popular these days, particularly among the Tea Party crowd and the candidates seeking Tea Party support. Some of it is nothing more than sloppy and lazy ignorance (see Palin, Sarah and Bachman, Michele), but most of it is deliberately wrong. That's why I was gratified this weekend to find some people willing to rebut this practice.

First off was E.J. Dionne's excellent column prepared for the Fourth of July. In that column he carefully explicated the Declaration of Independence to show how badly the Tea Party and others on the right were interpreting that seminal document for their own political purposes. Our founders were neither anti-tax nor anti-government, just anti-tyranny. The column is worth reading in its entirety and I urge you to do so.

The second attempt to correct the current misinformation comes in a blog post to which I was directed by Prior Aelred. The subject is the arguments used by the right to justify the legal attack on the mandate for insurance in the Obamacare legislation.

Many people who oppose the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”, also known as ‘Obamacare’, say the Founding Fathers wouldn’t have wanted the Government to make health insurance mandatory for private employees.

This is simply not true. In 1798, under 2nd President and Founding Father John Adams, the United States passed a law requiring mandatory health insurance for any private employees working on Maritime vessels. The bill was called “An Act for The Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen”

It’s safe to assume that John Adams, who was the first Vice President of this country, the 2nd President of this Country, one of the Founding Fathers, and was a key negotiator in the peace treaty between the United States and Britain, had a pretty clear idea of what the Founding Fathers would have been alright with.

Handy bit of factual information, that.

I don't imagine either effort will put any kind of damper on the forces more interested in pushing a political agenda than in truth-telling, but both might come in real handy in those dinner table and over-the-fence conversations with the yahoos suckered by the revisionism being spewed.


Monday, July 04, 2011

The Declaration of Independence

(Because it is just as important today as it was last year, and the year before that, and the years before that.)

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.


New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samual Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Requiescat In Pacem: Frances J. Trzcinski

A Refusal To Mourn The Death, By Fire, Of A Child In London

Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness

And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn
Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound
Or sow my salt seed
In the least valley of sackcloth to mourn

The majesty and burning of the child's death.
I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.

Deep with the first dead lies London's daughter,
Robed in the long friends,
The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,
Secret by the unmourning water
Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other.

--Dylan Thomas

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Kevin Siers / The Charlotte Observer (June 27, 2011) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, July 02, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Monitor Lizard

(Photograph courtesy Lutz Obelgonner, WWF, and published at National Geographic.)

The Begging Bowl

On Thursday night I got the news from my sister: my mother, who's in her 90s, was in the ICU and doing poorly. Her kidneys had stopped functioning and her blood pressure was sky high. The prognosis was very, very poor.

By yesterday afternoon, she had been moved from the ICU to a place where they provide "portal" treatment. In other words, she is dying and the medical providers are giving her palliative treatment to keep her as comfortable as possible.

Here's the hard part: my mother resides in Wisconsin. I live in Southern California. I would very much like to be with my mother, if only for her funeral. The problem is that I don't have the money for the plane ticket. I am working about ten hours a week and am sustaining myself with Social Security, which doesn't provide enough for such contingencies.

If you are in a position to help out, please click on the "donate" button on the top right, which will take you to PayPal.

If you can't help monetarily, and I know that most of us are squeezed right now, please send prayers/energy to me and to my family.

Substantive blogging will be sporadic over the next few days.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

Little Yellow Ribbons

Back on June 10 I pointed out the horrifying fact that there are over 8,000 vets living on the streets in the Los Angeles, some of them sleeping next to the fence surrounding the Veteran's Administration facility in Westwood. That facility is a sprawling campus with several buildings not in use at all or leased to outside groups and companies.

Congress apparently got the message. Included in a Senate budget bill for the VA is an amendment which would at least start rolling back this shameful state of affairs. It provides funding for renovating and bringing up to code one of those vacant buildings for use as housing for the homeless vets.

It isn't much, but it's a start, and the first step towards housing the men and women who served.

The renovated Building 209 -- the first of three slated for conversion into housing units -- would have room for only a fraction of the thousands of chronically homeless vets in Los Angeles County. That's why some local advocates are pushing for the VA to move faster. Among other steps, that faction is supporting a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union that would force the VA to provide more permanent, supportive housing at the West Los Angeles campus.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has promised to shepherd the bill through the Senate. With any luck, it will also make its way through the House, even given the Republicans current slash-and-burn tactics when it comes to social welfare programs. They surely wouldn't begrudge housing and treating veterans who have served their country well.

Or would they.

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