Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

It's About Time, Damn It!

Do yourself a favor: go read the entire opinion piece by George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley. He nails it in one.

Writing in passionate language which is more than faintly reminiscent of our Declaration of Independence, Prof. Turley indicts Barack Obama for continuing and even escalating the assault on our civil liberties initiated by the Bush administration, an assault which as a candidate our current president so decried.

Protecting individual rights and liberties — apart from the right to be tax-free — seems barely relevant to candidates or voters. One man is primarily responsible for the disappearance of civil liberties from the national debate, and he is Barack Obama. While many are reluctant to admit it, Obama has proved a disaster not just for specific civil liberties but the civil liberties cause in the United States. [Emphasis added]

And here is the Bill of Particulars Prof. Turley offers:

President Obama not only retained the controversial Bush policies, he expanded on them. The earliest, and most startling, move came quickly. Soon after his election, various military and political figures reported that Obama reportedly promised Bush officials in private that no one would be investigated or prosecuted for torture. ...

Obama failed to close Guantanamo Bay as promised. He continued warrantless surveillance and military tribunals that denied defendants basic rights. He asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens he views as terrorists. His administration has fought to block dozens of public-interest lawsuits challenging privacy violations and presidential abuses.

Either Candidate Obama was just kidding during his campaign or the glories of the Unitary Executive mantle he inherited from George W. Bush corrupted him. It doesn't matter which; the results would have been the same under either explanation. What does matter is that the president is once again the candidate, and he is expecting those of us who worked to elect him the first time will forgive and forget, mostly the latter.

Jonathan Turley hasn't forgotten, nor should the rest of us.

And now the president

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Who Could Have Predicted?

Sometimes the universe is kind, giving a little relief by providing news that makes me smile. This article did just that. Here's the grin inducement section:

In another change of tactics precipitated by the new Nogales border fence, smugglers appear to be making narcotics hand-offs from Mexico to the U.S. through the bars of the barrier, authorities say.

Lt. Gerry Castillo of the Santa Cruz County Metro Task Force said his office is looking into a case that began in July when investigators discovered a number of oddly shaped bundles of marijuana during a seizure at an undisclosed location.

He said the investigators at first thought the 48 pounds of marijuana that had been wrapped in thin tubular packages might be "tunnel bundles." However, upon closer examination, they discovered that the bundles were not dirty.

That's when investigators decided that the packages had likely been passed through the fence, which features interconnected, concrete-filled steel tubes with an approximately 4-inch open space between them.
[Emphasis added]

It didn't take the pot smugglers long to find a way get through the new fence near Nogales, Arizona. Completed this summer, the 2.8 mile stretch of border fence cost the taxpayer $11.6-million. While it may be keeping those awful Mexicans out, job one for the fence being built along our southern border, it obviously is not deterring the drug flow, which is the other reason for its existence.

Gee, maybe there's a cheaper alternative to pot smuggling than a fence which costs about $5 million per mile. Like maybe we could decriminalize marijuana, regulate it the way we do alcohol and tobacco, and tax it.

You think?


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What's Next, Duelling Preachers?

Michele Bachmann has been retooling her campaign. She has decided to add her personal "spiritual ally" to her campaign team.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, looking to boost her flagging presidential campaign, has turned to a longtime spiritual ally, Twin Cities Rev. Mac Hammond, to lead her outreach with the nation's evangelical community. ...

Hammond preaches "prosperity gospel," which teaches that financial riches are the will of God for faithful Christians. He told his congregation that Bachmann has invited him to be chairman of a national faith and family council, but that he is still considering the "possible legal ramifications." He told the congregation he has been Bachmann's personal minister for some time.

Hammond said he has to be careful about his support for her because "the political opposition she faces is very poisonous." But, he said, he and his wife, Lynne, plan to travel with the campaign to "talk about the vital importance of the church rising up to take this nation back."

Rev. Hammond got his congregation into a little trouble a couple of years ago by endorsing Bachmann from the pulpit, something not allowed by churches who want to keep their tax exempt status. The IRS swooped down and audited the church. He's being being a little more careful this time, making it clear that this is his personal work and doesn't involve his church.

Bachmann's campaign has lost a lot of steam, especially with the entrance of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is not only another Tea Party Darling, but also another conservative Christian who reminds everyone constantly of that fact. He's already making the rounds to the right evangelical leaders and speaking at religious colleges. Michele is getting right on that track herself, presumably with Rev. Hammond at her side.

So, Michele has a couple of new bases covered. The first, of course, is the Religious Reich which is an important part of the GOP base. The second, in many respects an offshoot of the first, is the "people are rich because they deserve to be" wing of the party (e.g., the Tea Partiers) which doesn't believe the rich should have to pay taxes commensurate with their wealth.

While I don't think it's going to work, it should provide some very interesting campaign stunts from Bachmann's camp, and you know how much I enjoy that.

I might have to go out and buy some more popcorn.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Requiescat In Pacem

Another hero is gone. Kenya's Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Price, has died from cancer.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Africa's first female Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai, has died of cancer, it was announced Monday by the environmental group she founded. ...

Maathai won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her environmental and social activism. In 1977, she founded the Green Belt Movement, a women's environmental organization that challenged unbridled development in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and planted more than 30 million trees.

The U.S.-educated activist was also the first Kenyan woman to receive a doctorate, from the University of Nairobi in 1971.

Ms. Maathai did her work under difficult circumstances under Daniel Arap Moi's harsh regime. The simple act of planting trees resulted in beatings and arrests, yet she continued the fight to stop the destruction of the forests by commercial interests and to educate Kenyans and Africans on the importance of protecting the environment.

I offer the following poem by Dylan Thomas as a tribute to Ms. Maathai. May she rest in peace.

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.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Sigh Of Relief

It's official: grocery workers have approved the negotiated contract with the big three market chains in Southern California. There will be no strike, no store closings. That's a relief for me personally and for the economy in this region. I won't have to rely on friends or public transportation to do my shopping at those stores unaffected by a strike. More than 50,000 workers will not be out of work for a potentially extended period of time (the last strike lasted 141 days), and in a state with an unemployment rate of 12%, that's a big deal. This weekend the union voted and the results were celebrated immediately.

The Los Angeles Times still hasn't posted the terms of the contract, but it does indicate the main sticking point:

A sticking point dealt with healthcare funding: how much each side would have to pay to ensure that a healthcare trust fund covering workers would be economically viable for the long term.

Under the complicated deal, according to people familiar with the negotiations, workers will pay $7 a week for individual coverage and $15 a week for a family starting next April. The grocers had said these premiums were necessary to help offset rising medical costs.

Yes, the workers got a modest raise, but the healthcare coverage was the problem. The figures quoted above (and I am assuming they are accurate) probably appear modest to most people, but it's a big deal in an industry where most workers don't work 40 hour weeks. And that's just the "insurance premium" part. There will no doubt still be copays and deductibles. At least access to healthcare is there.

A lot of drama could have been avoided if this country had a viable public health plan, but, hey, that would be too socialistic.

So we are left with the uncertainties with every contract renewal. Fortunately, the grocery workers had a union which pushed to protect them on this issue and the issues of pay and pensions, workplace safety, and fair treatment. For that the grocery workers at unionized stores should be grateful, and so should we.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Carl Sandburg

A Million Young Work Men

A million young workmen straight and strong lay stiff on the grass and roads,
And the million are now under soil and their rottening flesh will in the years feed roots of blood-red roses.
Yes, this million of young workmen slaughtered one another and never saw their red hands.
And oh, it would have been a great job of killing and a new and beautiful thing under the sun if the million knew why they hacked and tore each other to death.
The kings are grinning, the Kaiser and the czar—they are alive riding in leather-seated motor cars, and they have their women and roses for ease, and they eat fresh-poached eggs for breakfast, new butter on toast, sitting in tall water-tight houses reading the news of war.
I dreamed a million ghosts of the young workmen rose in their shirts all soaked in crimson … and yelled:
God damn the grinning kings, God damn the kaiser and the czar.

--Carl Sandburg

They Get It

Watching America was filled with interesting and timely articles from the world press. I had some difficulty trying to decide just which article to concentrate on this week. I finally settled on this one from Egypt's Al-Ahram Weekly because it is a prime example of just how closely the US is watched by people from other countries and cultures with respect to our ideals and how well we live up to them.

Amin Shalabi, who is identified as managing director of the Egyptian Council of Foreign Affairs, wrote of the deep significance of 9/11 to the world at large and to the US in particular. The event is as important as the fall of the Soviet Union to foreign affairs matters as well as to how the US does business as the lone superpower in the world. It also, however, is a sharp demarcation in American domestic matters.

...The immediate response of the US president to the post-11 September world was unequivocal. Other countries had to chose: either they sided with the US or they sided with terrorism. There could be no in-between. Under Bush, "either you're with us or you're against us" became the foremost American criterion for friendship and enmity.

In tandem with this major shift in the US foreign policy outlook was a no less significant shift in attitude towards what had been seen as the very essence of the American system and way of life. In a country that once prided itself for a broad range of constitutional guarantees for individual, political and civic freedoms, a rush of emergency laws and security measures began to chip away at these liberties. Not only did government authorities acquire increasing powers to search, eavesdrop, detain and arrest without warrant, military tribunals were created to try civilians suspected of terrorist activities and intelligence agencies were authorised to carry out secret assassinations. ...
[Emphasis added]

Most of the article details the foreign policy issues as they relate to Europe, Russian, China, and the Middle East. Mr. Shalabi's prose is a bit dense as if he were writing for an official foreign affairs journal rather than a weekly newspaper, but his conclusions are well thought out and easy to follow.

It is his comments on US domestic policy, which are essentially limited to the part quoted above, which most struck me. Mr. Shalabi is an Egyptian, an official of sorts, a citizen of a nation which went through a revolution this Spring and Summer as the Egyptians finally threw off the oppressive government of Hosni Mubarak. It would be strange, perhaps even impossible, for that recent history not to have had some impact in the formulation of this article.

And so I can't help thinking that while we stood idly by, our hands in our pockets, and allowed our government to shred our constitutional rights, others, like the Egyptians, put their lives on the line to try to get some of those rights for themselves.

And I'm ashamed.

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Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Ted Rall and published 9/21/11 by the Los Angeles Times. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Grasshopper

(Photograph by Lisa Armstrong, My Shot, and published by National Geographic.)

Geezer Invasion

20,000 elders are in Los Angeles attending the annual AARP conference, and they are not happy, now should they be. The two pillars of their security, Social Security and Medicare, are under attack by national politicians who have decided to reduce the federal budget deficit by paring the two programs. From the White House, to the Super Committee, to Congress as a whole, to those campaigning for 2012, all seem to consider these two "entitlement programs" (which we geezers have freakin' paid for over our working years) fair game. And the uncertainty over what will happen is weighing heavily on those who rely on the programs.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Brown and other seniors, gathered in downtown Los Angeles this week for the annual conference of the AARP, expressed fear and anxiety about aging when Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are under attack both in Washington and on the campaign trail. More than 20,000 seniors are attending workshops, speeches and concerts during the three-day conference, which has taken over the Convention Center, L.A. Live and the Staples Center. The sessions end Saturday afternoon. ...

Seniors are increasingly relying on Social Security and Medicare to finance their retirement and healthcare, AARP chief executive officer A. Barry Rand told a packed house of seniors at the Nokia Theater on Thursday.

"If these benefits are cut, as many political leaders now propose, it would force millions of older Americans and their families out of the middle class, closer to the dangers of poverty," he said. "We are all fighting and we must all fight to make sure that doesn't happen."

The AARP, a powerful lobby for seniors that also offers insurance and other services to them, issued a statement against Obama's deficit reduction plan, saying that it opposes any proposals that would raise costs or cut Medicare benefits. But the organization praised Obama for not suggesting the eligibility age be raised.

Now, I'm not a huge fan of AARP. I quit the organization when it backed the deeply flawed prescription drug plan known as Medicare Part D. As the article reminds us, AARP had a horse in that race because of its various insurance plans, which is how the group makes most of its money. That said, however, I think their stance on the current issue is solid and their education efforts at this conference extremely important and hopefully effective in getting the elders to start pushing back and pushing back hard.

Elders vote, and they are an important voting bloc in all states, not just the retirement havens of Florida and Arizona. The latest members of this bloc, us Baby Boomers, don't have the luxury of the pension plans our parents had which provided decent health care and a good income after retirement. For many of us, Social Security is the mainstay, supplemented by IRAs and 401ks which are affected disproportionately by the stock market. Medicare provides us with the only health access we can afford. Mess with those programs and we hit the bottom.

So, I find myself cheering on AARP this weekend. I just hope somebody has been smart enough to draft a petition which has been circulated at the conference and which can be sent home with the attendees letting our national leaders know just how unhappy we geezers are.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

Alien Invasion

In my opinion, gutless is bad but heartless is worse. I may be unhappy with the roll-over modus operandi of President Obama, but I am appalled at the right wing stances of the current crop of Republicans who are running to replace him. Last night's GOP debate was particularly painful when it came to the issue of immigration.

Of course, at this point in the race, the candidates are busy trying to knock the leaders from their positions. Romney is getting walloped for his Massachusetts health care plan. Perry is getting nailed for his stand on Social Security and, now, for his comments on allowing the children of illegal immigrants access to Texas universities under that state's version of the Dream Act. It is that latter issue that set my teeth on edge primarily because of the cutesy framing employed by the other candidates.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Romney wasted no time slamming Perry. “It's an argument I just can't follow,” he said. “I don't see how it is that a state like Texas -- to go to the University of Texas, if you're an illegal alien, you get an in-state tuition discount. You know how much that is? It's $22,000 a year. Four years of college ... almost a $100,000 discount, if you're an illegal alien, to go to University of Texas. If you're a United States citizen from any one of the other 49 states, you have to pay $100,000 more. That doesn't make sense to me.” ...

Earlier, Michele Bachmann staked out a hard-line stance on immigration. ...

And she directed her final barb directly at Perry, her rival for "tea party" support: “And here’s the other thing I would do: I would not allow taxpayer-funded benefits for illegal aliens or for their children.”
[Emphasis added]

There was a time when the use of the term "alien" was acceptable as a descriptor for one not a citizen of this country. Even as a technical term, however, it was loaded with an ugly connotation that went far beyond the sense of "foreign" into the realm of "not quite human." Gradually the term began losing its currency among the rational as new terms evolved. While I prefer "undocumented" as a replacement, I am not particularly offended by "illegal immigrant" as the designation for those who come to this country without formal permission.

Neither of those new terms has the cachet that the Right Wing apparently demands of its representatives. It would prefer the "not quite human" designation, especially for those who traverse our southern border. I guess Canadians get a free pass, probably because their skin tones more closely match the preferred color.

Many of my friends have been groaning about the number of debates in such a short time frame (and the debates will keep coming until the first primary sorts things out or one of the top contenders gets caught with a significant wardrobe malfunction). Me, I'm perfectly happy to let the Republicans point out the flaws in each of their candidates, especially since the Democrats haven't done such a hot job in doing so.

Besides, I still have plenty of popcorn.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Heart Hurt

When it comes to the unemployment numbers in this country, the news has been dreadful for an awfully long time. No part of the country and no sector of the work force has been immune from the problem. The country is just not working the way it ought to be in every sense of the phrase. That isn't particularly new news, but this article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune still shocked me. Military veterans are being particularly hard hit.

... More than one in five modern-day veterans cannot find work. At almost 23 percent, Minnesota's unemployment rate for veterans who have served after the Sept. 11 attacks is the country's third-highest. Only Michigan and Indiana are worse. The state's rate is nearly twice the national average of 11.5 percent and more than three times the state's overall unemployment rate.

What is particularly amazing and heartbreaking about these numbers is that the men and women involved are not unskilled, inexperienced, undereducated. Many have held responsible positions, often as officers, for years. They have overseen and engaged in major construction projects. They have been responsible for obtaining and moving materials and troops over distances. They have overcome obstacles in doing those jobs under daunting and dangerous circumstances. Yet after four, ten, even twenty years they can't find a job when they come home to Minnesota or any other place in the country. That's not exactly the grateful response they expected from their country.

The White House finally noticed at the same time it noticed that no other workers were getting jobs either.

President Obama has made putting veterans to work a cornerstone of his recently announced jobs plan. Obama has proposed tax credits of up to $4,800 for employers who hire vets and up to $9,600 for hiring a wounded vet.

That's a start, but only a start, and even that is under attack by the Republicans who apparently believe that if we just give corporations even bigger tax breaks with no strings attached and repeal all regulations the New Age of Prosperity will roll in like a tidal wave. They also apparently believe that any stimulus provided by the government is a waste of money, that only by stern austerity measures can the economy pick up.

Welcome home, troops.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Say What?

Maybe it's because I have more time now that I'm pretty much retired, but I don't recall our press spending quite this much effort parsing campaign speeches and political assertions for their veracity. I'm noticing a lot of articles and posts with "Fact Check" in their headlines or their lede paragraphs these days, and it hasn't been all one-sided. The Democrats (especially those in the White House) are getting a raft of criticism for bending the truth, but so are Republicans (especially the candidates for the 2012 presidential nomination).

Today I noticed several articles taking issue with the Republicans, primarily those in the 2012 race. One example is this AP article which weighs in on several of the GOP candidates when it comes the President Obama's handling of the current Israeli-Palestine tussle over statehood. It examines several statements by Romney, Perry, and Bachmann in which Obama's alleged backhand to Israel is decried and matches them to the facts:

Yet as the administration fights fiercely on behalf of Israel this week, pressing the Palestinians to abandon their quest for statehood, some of the Republican claims have strayed well beyond reality.


Also today, the Los Angeles Times did a less formal evaluation of Michele Bachmann's latest campaign rhetoric on regulatory overload and government spending and points out where she glosses over the actual facts:

Standing before a row of shiny orange trailers carrying portable solar-powered traffic lights, she said her plans for a smaller government with fewer rules and lower spending would help OMJC Signal Inc. "grow, grow, grow, grow, grow." ...

But OMJC thrives on the kind of road and bridge spending that Obama has promoted as a key remedy to the nation's economic slowdown. As much as 80% of OMJC's revenue comes from government, according to the company's chief executive, Arlen Yost.

"It is government projects primarily that use our products," Yost told Bachmann after showing her how a crane on one of the orange trailers rises to display temporary traffic signals at road construction sites.

In other words, OMJC is doing just fine thanks to government spending, even by the company's own accounting.

Both media sources have nailed it and in doing so have done their readers a great service. That's their job, but it's nice to see them actually doing it.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Latest Scam

While the Republican candidates for the 2012 presidential nomination are all busy claiming to be the best at rolling back Obamacare, it's instructive to note the latest moves by those who will be the prime beneficiaries of any such roll back, the insurance companies. Because profit always come first for these corporations, they have to find new and creative ways to increase incoming cash from policy holders, and Anthem Blue Cross of California has found the latest way to do that.

As David Lazarus notes in his latest column for the Los Angeles Times, the company has decided that paying those pesky credit card fees for premium payments made by the policy holders is a drag, so they've found a way around it.

Anthem announced a few months ago that it planned to stop allowing members to automatically pay their bills by credit card. For those still wanting to use plastic, they could call a service rep each month and give their card number over the phone, although this would entail a $15 "convenience fee."

After I first reported the policy change, for which Anthem repeatedly declined to provide a rationale, many readers speculated that the insurer may be trying to dodge costly credit card processing fees. Some also wondered whether Anthem was trying to make it easier to get rid of members who might miss a payment.

The company said it would reconsider the $15 fee only after I reported that California law says no business "in any sales, service or lease transaction with a consumer may impose a surcharge on a cardholder who elects to use a credit card in lieu of payment by cash, check or similar means."


Well, I think it fair to say that Anthem won't be charging that convenience fee, at least not until they get the state legislature to carve out an exemption for insurance premium payments (don't laugh ... it could happen). The company is still, however, refusing to accept automatic payments from credit cards. If the policy holder fails to convert the automatic payments to their checking accounts, and if the payment isn't made within 31 days, the policy is canceled.

Lazarus details the story of one woman who didn't get the message to make that conversion and whose policy was canceled after more than ten years as a policy holder in good standing. It was restored after she pushed a little and after she gave them her checking account number. The irony is that she was exactly the kind of policy holder that insurance companies should love: she rarely, if ever, filed any claims. That didn't matter: those few pennies in credit card charges each month did.

If, as Mitt Romney and the US Supreme Court assert, corporations are people, entitled to the same rights as individuals, then this is one corporation which isn't a very good citizen. The state's Attorney General might want to look further at this "person" to see if there is some punishment due for such behavior.


Monday, September 19, 2011

When Fear Succeeds

(From Teaching American History and posted, in its entirety, without comment.)

Harry S. Truman
September 22, 1950

[#133;]This is an omnibus bill containing many different legislative proposals with only one thing in common: they are all represented to be "anticommunist." But when the many complicated pieces of the bill are analyzed in detail, a startling result appears.

H.R. 9490 would not hurt the Communists. Instead, it would help them.

It has been claimed over and over that this is an "anticommunist" bill—a "Communist control" bill. But in actual operation the bill would have results exactly the opposite of those intended…

It would help the Communists in their efforts to create dissension and confusion within our borders.

It would help the Communist propagandists throughout the world who are trying to undermine freedom by discrediting as hypocrisy the efforts of the United States on behalf of freedom.

Specifically, some of the principal objections to the bill are as follows:

1. It would aid potential enemies by requiring the publication of a complete list of vital defense plants, laboratories, and other installations.
2. It would require the Department of Justice and its Federal Bureau of Investigation to waste immense amounts of time and energy attempting to carry out its unworkable registration provisions.
3. It would deprive us of the great assistance of many aliens in intelligence matters.
4. It would antagonize friendly governments.
5. It would put the Government of the United States in the thought-control business.
6. It would make it easier for subversive aliens to become naturalized as U.S. citizens.
7. It would give Government officials vast powers to harass all of our citizens in the exercise of their right of free speech.

Legislation with these consequences is not necessary to meet the real dangers which communism presents to our free society. Those dangers are serious and must be met. But this bill would hinder us, not help us, in meeting them. Fortunately, we already have on the books strong laws which give us most of the protection we need from the real dangers of treason, espionage, sabotage, and actions looking to the overthrow of our Government by force and violence. Most of the provisions of this bill have no relation to these real dangers…

The idea of requiring Communist organizations to divulge information about themselves is a simple and attractive one. But it is about as practical as requiring thieves to register with the sheriff. Obviously, no such organization as the Communist Party is likely to register itself voluntarily…

There is no more fundamental axiom of American freedom than the familiar statement: In a free country, we punish men for the crimes they commit, but never for the opinions they have. And the reason this is so fundamental to freedom is not, as many suppose, that it protects the few unorthodox from suppression by the majority. To permit freedom of expression is primarily for the benefit of the majority because it protects criticism, and criticism leads to progress.

We can and we will prevent espionage, sabotage, or other actions endangering our national security. But we would betray our finest traditions if we attempted, as this bill would attempt, to curb the simple expression of opinion. This we should never do, no matter how distasteful the opinion may be to the vast majority of our people. The course proposed by this bill would delight the Communists, for it would make a mockery of the Bill of Rights and of our claims to stand for freedom in the world…

We need not fear the expression of ideas—we do need to fear their suppression.

Our position in the vanguard of freedom rests largely on our demonstration that the free expression of opinion, coupled with government by popular consent, leads to national strength and human advancement. Let us not, in cowering and foolish fear, throw away the ideals which are the fundamental basis of our free society…

I do not undertake lightly the responsibility of differing with the majority in both Houses of Congress who have voted for this bill. We are all Americans; we all wish to safeguard and preserve our constitutional liberties against internal and external enemies. But I cannot approve this legislation, which instead of accomplishing its avowed purpose would actually interfere with our liberties and help the Communists against whom the bill was aimed.

This is a time when we must marshal all of our resources and all the moral strength of our free system in self-defense against the threat of Communist aggression. We will fail in this, and we will destroy all that we seek to preserve, if we sacrifice the liberties of our citizens in a misguided attempt to achieve national security…

No considerations of expediency can justify the enactment of such a bill as this, a bill which would so greatly weaken our liberties and give aid and comfort to those who would destroy us. I have, therefore, no alternative but to return this bill without my approval, and I earnestly request the Congress to reconsider its action.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Marge Piercy

(This time in support of the United Food and Commercial Workers. For more information, go here.)

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

Lighten Up

I decided I needed a break from all the dismal news. It didn't take long for me to find something that made me grin. Sy Rosen did it with his op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times. He decided that what we elders need is our own perfumes, one geared dispel the usual bigotry on what "old people" smell like. After all, young tweens have Justin and hip women have Katy and Jennifer. We're entitled to some Sy.

It got me thinking that we seniors should have our own scents. These perfumes could help dispel some serious prejudices and stereotypes about older people. And, best of all, we can offer a senior discount.

He's come up with several possibilities, all worthy, but here's the one I liked best.

Power: When we worked, people valued our opinions and were a little intimidated by us. Now, they roll their eyes when we talk. With the combination of the scents of the lion, jaguar and alligator, we will regain that lost power. To that we also added hair follicles from Bill O'Reilly and Alec Baldwin, replicating their complete scents. This potent mixture says, "I am still powerful — and a little crazy."


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Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Kevin Siers / The Charlotte Observer (September 13, 2011) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Burchell's Zebra

(Photograph by Chris Johns, National Geographic, and published at National Geographic.

Michael Does The Numbers

Gov. Rick Perry, one of the leading contenders for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, has made some pretty outrageous claims about Social Security. It's a Ponzi scheme (no, if you want the correct term, it's more like a tontine and perfectly legal). It's unconstitutional (no, the US Supreme Court determined that it was not when the program was challenged shortly after its inception). Those two were easy to knock down

His third claim is that the federal government should not be involved in such a program, that the issue is more properly a matter for the states. In support of this claim, he points to the successful retirement program in Galveston, Texas for public employees. It is this last claim that Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzig examined in his latest column. Once again, Michael does the numbers for us. His conclusion is that Perry's claim is nonsense.

The Galveston program is basically a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan. You get out of it what you put in, along with the employer's match and investment gains on the total.

That means the greatest benefits flow to the best-paid employees, such as the county managers who established the plan. Social Security, by contrast, steers proportionately larger benefits to moderate- and low-paid workers. ...

If the employee makes $75,000 a year every year of his/her employment (and how many people do?), the plan works, at least for a while if the stock market doesn't go south. But there are still some catches to this program.

Moreover, Gornto's projected payout lasts only 20 years. After that, the worker receives nothing. Social Security, by contrast, pays for life. ...

Unlike Social Security recipients, Galveston retirees don't have inflation protection. (Inflation has been quiescent over the last few years, so there haven't been cost-of-living increases for Social Security lately, but plainly that's not a permanent condition.)

It is not all that unusual for Americans to live beyond the age of 85. What happens then? Are the shiftless dead beat elders thrust out into the streets to fend for themselves? And, presuming the economy does pick up at least a little steam, we can expect some rise in inflation. Even now prices for fuel and food are rising, which means it is possible Social Security recipients will get a COLA raise within a year or two. Retirees in the Galveston program will not.

These are just two of the issues which Hiltzig raises and dispenses with by actually using a calculator to check the numbers. The whole column is worth a close reading because it shows just how dishonest Perry's claims are and just how the retirees in the Galveston plan got ripped off.

Most of the candidates are in California this weekend for the state Republican convention. If any of them read the Los Angeles Times, they might find some pretty good ammunition to use against Gov. Perry in the future. The rest of us will have the same ammunition.

Nicely done, Michael. And thank you.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging: Special Edition

A beautiful kitteh, yes?

Well, he's just one of the pets being featured in a contest to raise money for an animal shelter which does fine work. Do yourself, Jeffraham Prestonian, and Trademark Dave a favor and click on over to vote and to make a contribution.


Michele, Michele, Michele

Poor Michele Bachmann: she keeps tripping over her own tongue, as the New York Times points out at great lengths this morning.

In the pugilism of this week’s Republican presidential debate, Representative Michele Bachmann seemed to have landed a clean blow against Gov. Rick Perry over an order he issued requiring Texas schoolgirls to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus.

But then in follow-up interviews, Mrs. Bachmann suggested the vaccine was linked to “mental retardation.”

There is absolutely no evidence that the vaccine causes retardation, of course. It seems some distraught mother tearfully made that claim to Bachmann after the debate, and Michele used the quote during cable news interviews, thereby wiping out the rather nifty blow she had landed during the debate. And that's a shame, because Rick Perry and his crony capitalism is a really valid subject for exploration and, yes, exploitation.

I decided to check out the issue and headed over to see what Open Secrets, a site run by the Center for Responsive Politics, for more information, which it had. The brief blurb directed readers to this column written for and posted at the CNN site.

Written by the officials from the Center for Responsive Politics, the column traces the campaign contributions to Gov. Perry received directly and indirectly from the pharmaceutical industry.

On Monday night at the CNN/Tea Party Republican Debate in Tampa, Florida, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas suggested that he couldn't be bought for a campaign contribution of $5,000. That raises the question: Is there a price at which Perry's loyalty is for sale? ...

Merck has given $28,500 to Perry's gubernatorial campaigns since January 2001, according to a new report by Texans for Public Justice, a political watchdog group, which uses data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

And since January 2006, Merck has given an additional $377,500 to the Republican Governors Association, which, in turn, was one of the largest backers of Perry's own campaigns. Notably, Perry also served as the chairman of the governors association from 2007 until last month, when Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell succeeded him, so that Perry could pursue his presidential run. ...

In fact, three other pharmaceutical companies have given more money to Perry than Merck and substantially more money to the Republican Governors Association than Merck.

The absence of attention-grabbing headlines does not signify that these companies expect nothing in exchange for their investments. To the contrary, it is their fiduciary obligation to return a profit to their shareholders. Bankrolling politicians -- Republican and Democrat -- is just another tool to help them meet their goals and, in so doing, bolster their profits. If anything, money spent on political donations and lobbying holds more sway when it is unexamined.

Perry's ties to Merck have made it into the sunlight, and people are now considering his actions in light of their past ties. ...

Is this an example of "crony capitalism?" That's not for the Center for Responsive Politics to decide. It's the public's job to decide if the money outweighed the merits in this policy decision, but it needs to have all of the facts in hand to do so.

Keep in mind that all of this, at least so far, is perfectly legal, even if it is slimy and ethically questionable. It's how campaigns are financed and future employment secured after the "public service" is completed. And it's not just limited to Republicans, which should explain the current morass the nation is in.

The key to tempering this money mill's effect on our political system begins with actually having all of the facts on hand. I don't imagine too many voters take time to comb the internet for the information provided in this case by the Center for Responsive Politics, but they do read the newspapers and they do watch televised debates (or at least the news program summaries). That means our press has to do its job. It also means that candidates and their staffs have to do theirs as well.

So, Michele, get with the program. Let your staff do the research and then, please-please-please, stay on message. That could be your greatest gift to your supporters and to your nation. It might not seem as interesting as inflammatory comments on the relationship of vaccines and horrific side effects, but it will be a refreshing start on changing the role of money in politics.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Things That Make You Go "Ouch!"

When I saw the headline crawl across the top of my screen I immediately clicked on it because it looked so wrong. Pat Robertson, one of the long time leaders of the Religious Reich and a former GOP candidate for president, told his followers that it's OK to divorce a spouse with Alzheimer's.

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson told his "700 Club" viewers that divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer's is justifiable because the disease is "a kind of death."

During the portion of the show where the one-time Republican presidential candidate takes questions from viewers, Robertson was asked what advice a man should give to a friend who began seeing another woman after his wife started suffering from the incurable neurological disorder.

"I know it sounds cruel, but if he's going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her," Robertson said. ...

Terry Meeuwsen, Robertson's co-host, asked him about couples' marriage vows to take care of each other "for better or for worse" and "in sickness and in health."

"If you respect that vow, you say 'til death do us part,'" Robertson said during the Tuesday broadcast. "This is a kind of death."

My first response was one of outrage because it sounded so cold and unfeeling, like something Newt Gingrich would do and say when a sick spouse became inconvenient. No, Pat, people with Alzheimer's, at whatever stage, are not walking, breathing corpses, suitable for throwing away.

Now, as most of you know, I have a horse in this race. My father and brother both died of complications from this horrible disease and I have been diagnosed with the early markers. My mother was the primary care-giver for both my dad and brother. She told me that it broke her heart when she went to see my father on their sixtieth wedding anniversary and he didn't have a clue as to who she was and what she was doing there at his bedside. Yet that didn't stop her from going to see him every day when she could no longer care for him at home and I don't think she ever considered divorcing him so she could start over even after she secured his care. That was simply out of the question. He was her husband and she loved him.

As conservative a Christian as my mother was, she would have been both appalled and outraged by Rev. Robertson's suggestion, even as I was upon reading this short blurb. But the issue isn't really all that easy once the sexist and faux "ethics" employed by Mr. Robertson's clearly hypocritical answer are stripped away.

My mother was in many respects one of the lucky victims. My father had a good pension, one that guaranteed a good health insurance policy to supplement Medicare. Their mortgage had long been paid off before he required custodial care. She could afford to get him the care he needed around the clock. Most families, especially these days, aren't so fortunate. The economic cost of this disease, like most catastrophic illnesses, is horrendous. I can easily imagine a scenario in which divorcing the Alzheimer's patient might be necessary for the surviving spouse to ensure both decent medical care via Medicaid for the patient and to avoid total economic collapse for the family.

This country's health care system, even under the new-and-improved plan of Obama care, doesn't even come close to dealing with issues like these. It could, of course, but it doesn't. And that's to our shame and the shame of our owners.

And it doesn't excuse Rev. Robertson's tone-deaf, cold, and hypocritical stance. I hope I'm around when he tries to explain that clunker to St. Peter. In the meantime, I'm going to go wash the bitter tears from my face so that I can start the day without taking hostages.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Curious Case

I found this article to be a real head-scratcher. What was this guy thinking?

Bradley Johnson, a mathematics teacher in the Poway Unified School District, had displayed banners in his classrooms for two decades that he saw as celebrating the religious heritage of America, including "In God We Trust," "God Bless America," and "God Shed His Grace on Thee."

But after he transferred to a new school, a new principal in 2007 ordered the banners taken down.

The size of the banners — some 7 feet wide by 2 feet high — made them "a promotion of a particular viewpoint," Principal Dawn Kastner is quoted as saying in the court's 40-page opinion.

First of all, this is a math teacher, so the banners aren't exactly promoting the classroom's subject matter. Second of all, this is a public school, not a private Christian school. Third of all, 7 foot by 2 feet? Did said teacher leave himself any room to write sample problems on the board?

Mr. Johnson sued the school district, claiming that his First Amendment free speech rights had been violated and that he had been singled out for his Christian beliefs. He won at the trial level, but the three-judge appeals court panel reversed for a very sensible reason:

In its decision, the court ruled that [trial court Judge] Benitez confused overall restrictions placed on a government agency when it tries to regulate free speech of private citizens with the more expansive right of a governmental agency to set rules for workplace speech.

Exactly right: this is a case involving the separation of church and state at its heart, not a free speech case. The public school is a government function and is not a forum for proselytizing. Mr. Johnson does not have unlimited free speech rights while acting in his capacity as a government employee.

Of course, I'm reasonably certain that's not the end of the story and that we can expect further appeals. Still, it was nice to see a little judicial common sense at any level.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I didn't watch the GOP debate last night, nor did I listen to it on the radio. I spent the evening lying down with an ice pack on my face after being struck by a flying can of garbanzo beans. That said (and that's all I'm going to say about that accident for a while), I did scan lots of articles this morning from the various media outlets and those assessments were pretty much of a piece.

One of the handiest summaries came from Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times. He provides succinct comments in each of several categories, including winner, survivor, comeback, disappointment, and loser. It is that last category I was particularly struck by:

Biggest loser: The Republican Party as a big-tent organization that can appeal to the center. If the tea party gets the kind of candidate it demands, the GOP will face trouble in the general election. Fed-bashing, immigrant-bashing and uninsured-patient-bashing won't win a majority.

I'd like to think McManus is correct, but I fear that his California connection is showing. In 2010, we saw California reject Republicans all the way down the ballot for just those positions McManus decries. I would remind him, however, that most of the rest of the country felt differently, which is why the Tea Party is doing so well these days that it can call a debate in partnership with CNN.

Unless the mood of the country changes dramatically over the next ten months, which would require some positive changes in the economy, I think a majority of the electorate will shift to the hard right and will line up behind candidates such as Rick Perry.

Obviously I would love to be proven wrong.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Where's Michele?

Thankfully, the national griefathon is over, at least for this year. The news outlets are filled with recaps of yesterday's events and people's responses to those events, but that was to be expected. Now we get to move on, just in time for the next Republican debate.

Tonight's debate is in Florida, which the pundits are busy telling us is a Very Important State when it comes to the race for president. There will be another debate in that state this month and there are strong hints that the Florida Primary will be held early in 2012, giving us another benchmark for serious Republican candidates to reach for.

Michele Bachmann certainly buys into the importance of Florida, and she has been busy trying to recapture her stature as a candidate, something seriously compromised by the entrance of Rick Perry to the race on the very day of her big victory in Iowa. She didn't do well at the California debate last week, primarily because the moderators focused almost completely on Perry and Mitt Romney as the two real contenders. Michele has her work cut out for her, and she knows it.

An article in today's New York Times underscores the difficulties Bachmann is facing, and does so in some rather subtle ways. Here's the first clue:

Mrs. Bachmann won the first important test of the Republican race in a straw poll in Iowa last month, but she has been upstaged ever since by the entrance of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas into the race.

Notice the honorific? It's Mrs. Bachmann, not Ms. Bachmann. That's an interesting style tag, one I've not seen in the past couple of decades. While I do not know this as a fact, I do admit that it is entirely possible that Bachmann has made it clear that she prefers the "traditional" designation for a married woman. She is, after all, in a very traditional marriage, as she herself has noted. Is that something the New York Times editor takes into consideration without comment? Should it be?

On a more substantive level, the article notes that even though Bachmann wasn't given much of an opportunity to distinguish herself at last week's debate, when she did have the microphone, she didn't use it to do so. She didn't go on the attack when it came to the positions taken by either Romney or Perry. Her own staff noted that reticence and promised that would change this evening.

Her advisers acknowledged that she had a disappointing night Wednesday. She failed to seize opportunities to contrast herself with Mr. Perry, her chief rival for evangelical and Tea Party support, or with Mr. Romney, who at one point said that every candidate deserved to take “a mulligan” or two on bad decisions from the past — a missed opportunity to scold him that presidents do not get mulligans. ...

Mrs. Bachmann’s advisers believe one challenge is that a double-standard applies to female candidates who express aggression. If a man attacks, he is seen as strong. But a woman attacking is perceived as shrill, they say.

And her advisers have a point, one Hillary Clinton would certainly agree with. Women just don't attack. It's unseemly, unladylike. Apparently it still is better to appear weak and lose than to be strong and have a fighting chance at winning. Michele is going to have to overcome that prejudice as well, and, quite frankly, I sincerely hope that she does, starting tonight.

If nothing else, we might have a new epithet in our political lexicon. We'll be able to say that the lady has "brass ovaries."

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Walt Whitman

from When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd


O western orb sailing the heaven,
Now I know what you must have meant as a month since I walk'd,
As I walk'd in silence the transparent shadowy night,
As I saw you had something to tell as you bent to me night after night,
As you droop'd from the sky low down as if to my side, (while the other stars all look'd on,)
As we wander'd together the solemn night, (for something I know not what kept me from sleep,)
As the night advanced, and I saw on the rim of the west how full you were of woe,
As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze in the cool transparent night,
As I watch'd where you pass'd and was lost in the netherward black of the night,
As my soul in its trouble dissatisfied sank, as where you sad orb,
Concluded, dropt in the night, and was gone.

--Walt Whitman

Cui Bono

My visit to Watching America yesterday was a brief one. The pervasive theme of the site was that of 9/11, which is not all that surprising. I had pretty much decided that I was going to ignore this "holiday" today, but one opinion piece changed my mind because it captured my overall feelings rather dramatically.

I am therefore ignoring the rules concerning "fair use" and presenting the column in its entirety and without comment (none is needed).

From Germany's die Tageszeitung:

Ten years have passed since the devastating attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. The policies of the U.S. government at that time took an about-face — suddenly those things became possible in foreign and domestic policy that the conservative strategists would not have been able to carry through without the attacks.

Sept. 11 served as the direct justification for the Afghanistan War and made the rallying of the U.S. public behind the Iraq War possible. President George W. Bush and his vice president, Richard Cheney, surged ahead, suspending the “checks and balances” of the U.S. American government, thereby without encountering appreciable resistance from Congress or the public. New laws emerged; the security branch boomed; significant basic rights were suspended in “the war against terror”; the defense budget doubled.

“Political fear” characterized the Bush government, and his successor, Barack Obama, has not convincingly been able to or wanted to pursue the path back to a nation of law, in spite of big announcements.

Islamophobia and embittered animosity toward migrant communities have become strong internal factors in the U.S. and Europe, right-wing populist parties celebrate election successes, and Germany argues about the theses of one Thilo Sarrazin, which doubtlessly would have been received before Sept. 11 as the unrestrained racist nonsense that they are.

We ask: Who are the great profiteers of 9/11?

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Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Tom Toles, September 8, 2011, and published by the Washington Post. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Blackback Gorilla

(Photograph courtesy Virunga National Park/ICCNN and published at National Geographic.)

Granny Bird Award: Barack Obama

A couple of weeks ago, I issued the First Granny Bird Award to Rick Perry for his outrageous stance on Social Security. At that time, I noted the main prerequisite for the award:

...the Granny Bird will be awarded from time to time to individuals or groups who adversely affect the rights and interests of the elders, especially if they go out of their way to do so.

You will note that there is no requirement that the recipient be a Republican, and the second award makes it clear that the elders have to keep watch over both sides of the aisle when it comes to issues affecting them. This time, the Democrat in Chief is guilty of playing fast and loose with Social Security, a major interest of elders, and he is doing so under the guise of giving average Americans a tax break.

Here's the deal: as part of the the president's job bill, he wants to extend and to increase the payroll tax holiday. By "payroll tax," of course, we are talking about the money which is taken from each check and paid into social security. That is how the safety net gets funded and has worked since the inception of the program. Each paycheck the worker contributes and the employer contributes. It's worked for decades to keep Social Security in the black. Now, however, that money is not flowing the way it was intended. Less money is going in at a time when more people are accessing the fund. In other words, President Obama is engineering a deliberate short-fall.

The White House claims that it's no big deal. The government will make up the difference from the general fund.

Yeah, right. And I'm the Queen of Romania.

Congressional Republicans caught the drift right off:

One of the arguments Republicans make against the tax break is that it drains Social Security revenue at a time when the trust fund is running short.

Normally, money from the payroll tax goes to fund Social Security. Under Obama's plan, money would be transferred from the government's general fund to cover the revenue losses to Social Security, but Republicans argue that is a dangerous game.

"This is robbing Peter to pay Paul," said Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), a leading House conservative. "It's a gimmick."

It is indeed, especially since we have been told that such "entitlements" as Social Security and Medicare are on the table when it comes to deficit reduction. Anybody who thinks the Supercommittee isn't going to find a way to start shredding those two programs needs to have his/her meds adjusted.

Now we are faced with the removal of the one safeguard that kept the system going: the idea that our contributions were untouchable. We are also faced with an even nastier dilemma: if we gripe about the tax holiday it sounds like we don't want average Americans to get a tax break.

Heckuva job, Barack.

Enjoy your award.

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Friday, September 09, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

Patience Is A Virtue

Poor Michele Bachmann. She worked hard in Iowa and got the attention that hard work deserved. She became a contender, but only for a couple of days. The spotlight shifted from the Tea Party Diva to Texas Governor Rick Perry, he of the good hair and penchant for group prayer, just as soon as he declared his candidacy, which was just as soon as the Iowa straw vote was complete. She now finds herself in the group labeled "also running."

Patience, my dear. Those spotlights can be dangerous, not to mention hot. Gov. Perry is discovering that as the press begins focusing on the claims and record of the latest Johnny Come Lately.

For example, there's that comment made by Perry at the recent debate regarding global warming. That put a twist in the knickers of the Los Angeles Times editorial board.

"Well, I do agree that there is — the science is not settled on this," Perry said. "The idea that we would put Americans' economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that's not settled yet, to me, is just nonsense."

Perry went on to compare himself, or those who agree with him, to 17th century astronomer Galileo Galilei, who in Perry's words also "got outvoted for a spell" when he adopted a minority opinion on a scientific issue. It would be far more accurate to compare Perry to Pope Urban VIII, who put Galileo on trial for heresy in 1633 because his conclusions that the Earth revolved around the sun contradicted Scripture. All scientific theories have doubters, but what is remarkable about climate science is the degree of certainty and agreement among researchers. ...

And that seems to sum up Perry's response to any number of threats. In the midst of a punishing drought that is turning his state into a tinderbox, Perry's answer has been to issue proclamations urging people to pray for rain and to slash firefighting budgets. Heaven help us if he wins.

Even though you might be on Perry's side on this issue, it's Perry who's getting the snide jokes, not you, Michele. And it's his record on healthcare reform that's being scrutinized in light of his attacks on Obama care, something you are also passionate about. the 11 years the Republican presidential hopeful has been in office, working Texans increasingly have been priced out of private healthcare while the state's safety net has withered, leaving millions of state residents without medical care. ...

More than a quarter of Texans lack health insurance, the highest rate in the nation, placing a crushing burden on hospitals and doctors who treat patients unable to pay.

Those costs are passed to the insured. Insurance premiums have risen more quickly in Texas than they have nationally over the last seven years. And when compared with incomes, insurance in Texas is less affordable than in every state but Mississippi, according to the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund.

Of course, Michele, you were never governor of your state and don't have much of a record in Congress, something that nasty has-been Tim Pawlenty kept pointing out, so you don't have that to worry about. In the meantime, it's Rick Perry who's getting the knocks, not you.

Isn't it nice to not have to be constantly answering questions about that damned farm and your husband's "pray the gay away" clinic?

So, be patient. Stick around. The race needs you.

Besides, I have all this popcorn. It would be a shame for it to go to waste, especially in this economy.


Thursday, September 08, 2011

On The Money

Tonight President Obama unveils his jobs plan before Congress. He expects the Hill to join him on a "pivot" from the economy in general to creating jobs in particular. Both are woefully late to the program. Creating jobs and getting Americans back to work should have been at the top of the list of priorities, not the bottom, but our elected officials felt that the banks and Wall Street were much more important than the rest of us. Apparently they've discovered that there ain't any such animal as a jobless recovery in the planet's book of species. Finally.

The shift, coming as it does the week of Labor Day is somewhat fortuitous, but mostly just coincidental, I fear. Labor just isn't as interesting to our owners as it should be. And that certainly is not a new phenomenon, as an excellent column written by Tom Eblen for the Lexington Herald-Leader and featured at McClatchy DC points out. That attitude has resulted in the downward slippage of those of us who work (as opposed to those who own). Mr. Eblen points out that paralleling the decline of the Middle Class has been the decline of unions and the increase in union bashing.

Economic and political forces have hammered working people. Real income for the bottom 80 percent of Americans has been stagnant or falling since the late 1970s. Few paid much attention until the 2008 financial crisis, because the trends were masked by rising personal and government debt.

During these years of middle-class decline, it has been fashionable to bash labor unions. Perhaps that is because people take for granted the things unions fought to make part of the American workplace — the eight-hour work day, overtime pay, the minimum wage, unemployment insurance and safe working conditions. Unions led the fight to end child labor and discrimination against minorities and women. They played a big role in creating Social Security and other government safety-net programs. ...

Unions have plenty of flaws; all institutions do. But they serve an important role in balancing the power of business. Power without balance becomes abusive. We have seen that with business, labor, government and even churches. It is no coincidence that the decline of middle-class income and security over the past three decades has followed the declining influence of organized labor.
[Emphasis added]

And the union bashing has picked up steam even as the unemployment figures continue to be dismal. Newly elected governors in states such as Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan have explicitly targeted public sector unions, aiming to remove even the most minimal of protections fought for in contracts. And no one in government at any level has cried out against the abuses that have ensued. Eblen addresses that factor as well:

The deep economic hole that politicians are debating how to fill was caused mostly by financial speculation, unfunded wars of choice and irresponsible tax cuts. But you hear little talk in Washington about a crackdown on Wall Street, real tax reform or scaling back military adventurism.

That is because wealthy interests have largely taken over both political parties. Democrats still give lip service to the middle class and poor, but the GOP has become a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate America.


Until working people figure out the scam, we're doomed to nothing more than the crumbs from our owners' table, and then only if we show we're suitably grateful. What has worked in the past, banding together so that our power is magnified, will work again, but only if we actually band together. We need to reach that point again, and soon.

Very soon.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Well, Duh

Tonight the candidates for the 2012 Republican nomination will hold another debate, this one with now-front runner Rick Perry in attendance. The debate will take place at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi, California, which is, in some respects quite fitting. I think it safe to say that there will be plenty of references to and accolades for Saint Ronald uttered by the candidates, each of whom will claim his mantle.

One of the ironies is that it will probably be one of the few visits to this state any of these candidates will make. California is not exactly a hot-bed of Republicanism, as the Sacramento Bee points out, and with good reason. the years since George H.W. Bush won California – the last Republican presidential candidate to do so – the party flailed, losing ground to Democrats as Latino registration increased and white, non-Hispanic voters' share of the electorate fell.

The state is now so heavily Democratic that no Republican presidential candidate is expected to campaign seriously here in the general election against President Barack Obama in 2012.

"We could easily see this coming," Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said. "What has been remarkable to me as a nonpartisan pollster is that the Republican Party has never chosen to confront this particular problem. With the Latino advantage to the Democrats, it's really a major uphill battle for the Republicans, and I think that's what's changed over time."
[Emphasis added]

While there are other elements at work, among them a strong union presence which helped Democrats run the table in the November, 2010 election, the increase in Latino voters as immigrants have become citizens and the next generation has reached voting age is a strong index of how the demographics have changed in the state. The Republicans, more interested in immigrant bashing than in expanding the party's influence, fell asleep at the switch.

...the proportion of registered voters who are Latino grew by about 2.3 million, from 10 percent of the state's registered voters in 1992 to 22 percent today, according to the poll. In the 2008 presidential election, those Latinos provided Democrats an advantage of more than nine percentage points.

And that doesn't look to change in California if the current crop of candidates fielded by the GOP for 2012 is any indication. This ain't Reagan's Republican Party any more. It's the Tea Party's. It's also the Koch Brothers, Inc.'s party and that of Wall Street and BofA. Less government, more money for the moneyed: that's the foundation of the GOP these days.

In a state with 12% unemployment and a devastated public education system, the Tea Party and its various iterations don't have much to say, especially to a significant portion of the electorate.

So, Welcome to California, folks. Oh, and dress comfortably. You can expect triple-digit temperatures today.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2011

We Have Always Been At War

There was an absolutely stunning article in yesterday's Washington Post. The main thrust of the article is that sine 9/11 we have entered into a period of perpetual war. War is now the norm, peace a mere anomaly. As a consequence, our country has changed and will continue to change to fit that new norm.

The two sets of buildings tell the story of America’s embrace of endless war in the 10 years since Sept. 11, 2001. In previous decades, the military and the American public viewed war as an aberration and peace as the norm.

Today, radical religious ideologies, new technologies and cheap, powerful weapons have catapulted the world into “a period of persistent conflict,” according to the Pentagon’s last major assessment of global security. “No one should harbor the illusion that the developed world can win this conflict in the near future,” the document concludes.

By this logic, America’s wars are unending and any talk of peace is quixotic or naive. The new view of war and peace has brought about far-reaching changes in agencies such as the CIA, which is increasingly shifting its focus from gathering intelligence to targeting and killing terrorists. Within the military the shift has reshaped Army bases, spurred the creation of new commands and changed what it means to be a warrior.

On the home front, the new thinking has altered long-held views about the effectiveness of military power and the likelihood that peace will ever prevail.

If the article is correct, and I think it may very well be on most levels, then certain key elements of our traditions may have been seriously undermined.

Up until this point, our military has been comprised mostly of "temporary" soldiers, those serving for only a brief two to four year stint. Now, however, with stop-gap measures considered allowable and normal, many more of our soldiers are permanent warriors, rotating in and out of combat zones for years on end. There is no break for a return to civilian status. This in effect isolates our military from the civilian and may be weakening the role of civilian leadership of the military.

Next, because of the nature of this new warfare, the enemy is not a recognizable nation, but a few rogues living or operating inside a country. This means that traditional means of averting war (diplomatic negotiations) are not possible. A specific country may be the site of the new battlefield, but that nation's leaders have no real status either at the beginning or at the end of hostilities.

Further, because of the increasingly sophisticated technology in weapons systems, war appears somehow less lethal. Our unmanned drones take out the enemy with no cost to those operating the drones. This has the effect of somehow suggesting that war is no longer dangerous, at least for our side. The fact that the technology is also improving for our enemies is somehow overlooked. IED's, now harder to spot and more devastating in impact, continue to kill and maim, yet we somehow fail to include that in our assessment. What we must include, however, is the cost of continuing the technological advances: defense budgets become more sacrosanct and less apt to be cut during times of economic stress. This further widens the gap between the civilian and the military.

We will constantly be on a war footing and that will affect every aspect of life. This is not a healthy scenario, but it is one that may be our future, at least in the short term.

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Monday, September 05, 2011

Back To Work

On President Obama's schedule for today is a visit to a Detroit AFL-CIO rally. I wonder just how welcome his presence is going to be. Unemployment still hovers over 8% (12% here in California). After more than two years of bailing out the banks and Wall Street, the president is finally getting around to propose a program to get people back to work. That's nice. What would have been nicer is if he would have worked on getting people back to work before this. He certainly had the opportunity and the means, as economists such as Paul Krugman has been pointing out for the past two-plus years.

What also would have been nice is if the White House had shown some sensitivity to the plight of public sector union members who were getting smashed by the new governors in states such as Wisconsin and Ohio and had spoken out against the actions to bust the unions. Instead, the president was silent.

Unions, and the laborers they represent, have been virtually locked out of the administration. A key portion of the Democratic Party base has been ignored, even actively derided. Now, as the 2012 election season officially kicks off, the president is going to drop by a union event.

Big whoop.

I wonder if President Obama realizes just how important unions and labor are to the party. While huge portions of the nation went red in the November, 2010 elections, California remained blue and decisively so. Key to the victories in this state were the unions who hit the streets long before Labor Day 2010 to register and rally voters against the big business candidates for governor and senator. Barbara Boxer campaigned hard, but Jerry Brown, perhaps wisely because he is not the most exciting of speakers and vote hustlers, stayed silent until Labor Day. By that time, the unions had done much of his work for him. The Democrats ran the table on the Republicans and even picked up a seat in the state legislature, thanks to the union efforts.

Can Obama expect that kind of support and effort from the unions? I don't think so. Several large unions have suggested they might not show up for the national convention, much less help pay for it. That is unheard of in my life time at least. Unions are currently conferring on what they can do to keep their heads above water during the attacks from the right. They know they can't count on the White House, one which is more concerned on giving tax breaks to businesses in the hopes they will hire a few more workers than it is in actually putting a stimulus into place which will actually require higher employment.

So, in just a little over two years the current administration has lost the support of the liberal wing of his party and labor: both key to the energy and funding required to get out the vote and win elections.

This isn't eleven-dimensional chess. It's willful and determined stupidity.

Have a nice Labor Day, Mr. President. And watch out for flying shoes.

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Sunday, September 04, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Langston Hughes


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

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

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

Is a strong seed
In a great need.

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

--Langston Hughes

The Wasted Decade

It's now just one week until the celebration of one of the most crucial dates in American history, and the promos for that celebration are coming fast and furious. Unfortunately for this country, our rulers still don't get it, or (and this is far more likely) refuse to get it. 9/11 didn't just happen because a group of deranged jihadists hate us for our freedoms. It happened because of our imperialist arrogance, something us dirty fucking hippies have been saying for ten years.

Other countries get it, however, as I discovered during my weekly visit to Watching America. Several of the articles noted the effect of the past decade on the world, including the death and destruction in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the disaster extends beyond the tangible. The US response, which led to the responses of other "civilized" nations, has been devastating to the spirit which initially impelled the grand experiment by our founders.

Perhaps the most cogent of those articles came from Sweden's Sydsvenskan.

Few can look back over the past decade and assert that the world has become safer, but nobody can disregard how international law and the most basic human rights have been infringed upon in the name of the so-called War on Terror.

With all of the rhetoric about security and freedom, the war has been launched in violation of international law. People have been imprisoned without trial, summary executions have been carried out and surveillance has been extended at privacy’s expense.


But here is the crucial part, something which our nation and its owners still refuse to acknowledge:

The U.S. chose to ignore terror’s breeding ground: the hopelessness and frustration born of poverty. Islamophobia and oppression are terrorists’ best friends and should be the foremost enemies for those of us who want to see a democratic world at peace.

Had the U.S., in 2001, chosen to withdraw its support for oppressive regimes in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt, given its support to a free Palestine and started to pursue commerce and aid policies that counteracted poverty, the world would be far more secure today.
[Emphasis added]

Yes, again.

That the most volatile region of the world has exploded in the "Arab Spring" should be ample evidence of the thesis advanced. We could have done more than walk hand-in-hand with the House of Saud, but we decided that oil was more important. We could have brought pressure to bear on Hosni Mubarak to loosen his death grip on the poorest of his citizens, but we decided that while he was a ruthless dictator, he was our ruthless dictator and he helped keep Israel afloat in the midst of that nation's most egregious violations of human rights.

Ten years later and we are no safer. In fact, the world has grown more dangerous as the economic disparities widen in all nations, including this one. And, to add to this lethal draught, our own liberty has been shredded to keep us in line: our phones and emails monitored without cause or oversight, our right to speak and assemble freely curtailed, even our access to the voting booth limited.

It was a noble experiment our founders set in motion. I fear that the experiment is over and that we have lost our best and only shot.

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Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Jim Morin / Miami Herald (September 1, 2011) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, September 03, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Giant Panda

(Photograph by Michael Nichols and published at National Geographic. Click on link to learn more about the conservation efforts on behalf of this endangered critter.)

Dick Who?

Former Vice President Dick Cheney is getting a lot of attention these days as he goes from television appearance to radio talk show to interviews pushing his new book which purports to tell us what really went on during the last administration ("Heads will explode"). I have to admit that this latest attempt at historical revisionism does sound intriguing, so much so that I would probably buy and read the book if someone else paid for it. Those who would like to see my head explode are welcome to hit the "Donate" button located here on the upper right of the page and to donate the cash to my Pay Pal account. I promise to use the money to buy the book from Amazon and to pay the sales tax.

Just as intriguing as the book, however, have been Mr. Cheney's comments on today's affairs, especially those relating to the Republican campaigns for the 2012 nomination. Mike Memoli of the Los Angeles Times details some of those comments in his latest column.

First up is Cheney's assessment of one of the "candidates" who still has not announced whether or not she is going to actually run for president.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney suggested Friday that Sarah Palin lacked the "thick skin" needed to serve even in the nation's No. 2 role, the latest critique of a would-be GOP president as part of his book tour.

In an interview with conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham, Cheney said he's "never gotten around the question" of why Palin resigned as governor of Alaska in the middle of her first and only term.

"I've never heard that adequately explained so that I could understand [it]," Cheney said. "I'd still like to know more about that."

Oh, please.

I've used lots of adjectives to describe the former Vice President, but disingenuous is certainly one that I've never uttered, and I don't think it's appropriate at this point. I guess Mr. Cheney is being a gentleman, or maybe just being coy. He isn't quite so coy when it comes to the rest of the candidates, however.

Earlier this week, Cheney sounded lukewarm at best when asked to give his assessment of the field of announced candidates for the GOP nomination.

"We badly need a Ronald Reagan. Now, do we have that yet in the Republican field? I don't know," he told CNBC's Larry Kudlow. "I haven't endorsed anybody yet, and I expect to support the Republican nominee, but they have a lot to show me before I'll be enthusiastic about any one of those candidates."


Mr. Cheney apparently is discovering that this is no longer our daddy's Republican Party. Reagan's name may still be invoked in sanctified tones, but the GOP has moved on (and mostly on to the right). The old guard has, at least at this point, lost control. Money is pouring into the campaign coffers of people like Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul is getting serious attention even when he declaims that FEMA is a waste of taxpayer dollars, and even Newt Gingrich is touting a "new way" to win power.

I doubt that any of the current crop gives a flying fig what Mr. Cheney thinks. His day is past. He's old. He needs a new heart. He should just sell his book and then be quiet.

To which I would add, "and he should not plan on any international travel."

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