Monday, January 31, 2011

Things That Make Me Crazy

I'm taking a break from all the world-shaking news this morning, mainly because it involves areas of knowledge I am embarrassingly deficient in. Rather than say something stupid, I've decided to do a little self-educating.

But I do have something to say today, something that has been nagging at me for weeks and that really makes me angry. The American packaging industry is engaged in some very deceptive tactics.

There. I said it.

What provoked me most recently was that I discovered I had gone through a half gallon of ice cream more quickly than I remembered doing in the past. I soon discovered why. No, I hadn't been gorging myself on my favorite comfort food during a time of high stress. Instead, that half gallon container wasn't actually a half gallon, even though it looked like a half gallon. It actually (according to the label in very small print) was only 1.75 quarts. When I pointed that out to someone, he noted that I was lucky. The half gallon of ice cream he gets is actually 1.5 quarts.

I rummaged around the kitchen and discovered that the ice cream industry isn't the only one engaged in the practice. The pound of ground name-brand decaf coffee I buy isn't actually a one pound can: yup, right there on the label it says "12 oz". That would be three-quarters of a pound. I know that if I could find a can of coffee that really was a one pound can, it would be larger, but not significantly so, just as the five pound bag of cat kibble I thought I was buying would be a little larger than the 3.15 pound bag I am actually getting.

Even less significant would be the price for these items over the ones I thought I was buying. I guess inflation is far more complicated than I thought.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Percy Bysshe Shelley

Feelings Of A Republican On The Fall Of Bonaparte

I hated thee, fallen tyrant! I did groan
To think that a most unambitious slave,
Like thou, shouldst dance and revel on the grave
Of Liberty. Thou mightst have built thy throne
Where it had stood even now: thou didst prefer
A frail and bloody pomp which Time has swept
In fragments towards Oblivion. Massacre,
For this I prayed, would on thy sleep have crept,
Treason and Slavery, Rapine, Fear, and Lust,
And stifled thee, their minister. I know
Too late, since thou and France are in the dust,
That Virtue owns a more eternal foe
Than Force or Fraud: old Custom, legal Crime,
And bloody Faith the foulest birth of Time.

--Percy Bysshe Shelley

Down The Drain

My visit to Watching America held a couple of surprises. The main one was that already the world press is examining the tinder box of the Middle East from the standpoint of American foreign policy in that region. Italy's La Stampa was especially harsh in its assessment of what the current turmoil may result in.

Right now the international media focus is on Egypt, but Tunisia, Lebanon, Yemen, and Jordan are also teeming with protests. The instability throughout the region is troubling not only the US, but Israel, for whom a lot of US policy has been shaped. That policy depended on cordial relations with Egypt and Jordan and at least polite relations with Syria and Lebanon. Now, with signs of a shift in power, especially in Egypt, decades old policies appear to be exhausted.

...the White House guarantees "U.S. support to those who demonstrate peacefully for freedom in Tunisia and Egypt." The truth is that, for America, the fall of the regime would mean the loss of the most important ally in the Arab world, with dramatic consequences for the whole picture of the Middle East. If the Muslim Brotherhood were to come to power in Cairo, they would hardly continue to participate in the international isolation of Hamas (who often invokes the "Brothers"). The unsafe position of Abu Mazen would get more and more unsustainable, and the same "cold peace" with Israel would be called into question.

So far, President Obama has been playing his cards close to his chest while he watches events unfold in Cairo. However, as the stakes go up and the violence increases, he's going to be hard pressed to continue the wait-and-see attitude.

The unfortunate part of all of this is that our decades old Middle East policies have effectively locked the current administration into a place from which the president cannot act boldly and may, in fact, be a place from which he cannot act at all without direct US intervention at the worst possible time.

The La Stampa article is pessimistic about the outcome of the various struggles now going on in the Middle East, and rightfully so.


Sunday Funnies

(Political cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (January 26, 2011) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Lions

(Photograph by Beverly Joubert and published at National Geographic.

Say, What?

I had to stop and clean my spectacles this morning because I couldn't believe what I was reading: conservatives making sense on justice reform.

Reduced sentences for drug crimes. More job training and rehabilitation programs for nonviolent offenders. Expanded alternatives to doing hard time.

In the not-too-distant past, conservatives might have derided those concepts as mushy-headed liberalism — the essence of "soft on crime."

Nowadays, these same ideas are central to a strategy being packaged as "conservative criminal justice reform," and have rolled out in right-leaning states around the country in an effort to rein in budget-busting corrections costs.
[Emphasis added]

Yes, that's exactly what I read the first time with smudged and streaked glasses. Now, the conservatives haven't gone all soft on crime, or suddenly had a change of heart when it comes to the inequities built into our justice system. They've finally just realized how incredibly expensive simply locking people away can be.

... with most states suffering from nightmare budget crises, many conservatives have acknowledged that hard-line strategies, while partially contributing to a drop in crime, have also added to fiscal havoc.

Corrections is now the second-fastest growing spending category for states, behind Medicaid, costing $50 billion annually and accounting for 1 of every 14 discretionary dollars, according to the Pew Center on the States.

While I would prefer a more humane analysis of the justice and prison systems, I'll take this as an important first step. And I do think it is a first step, a giant one, because hints of a second step are visible in some of the language being used to justify the shift:

"Maybe we swung that pendulum too far and need to reach a cost-effective middle ground here," said Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which launched the advocacy group last month. "We have to distinguish between those we are afraid of and those we are just mad at." [Emphasis added]

And let's face it, at this point, conservatives are going to have an easier time of it when it comes to such reform than liberals would. Since both sides of the aisle have an interest in the reform, this is one time when some bipartisanship is quite welcome.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

One Thing He Got Right

Although there is ample room for criticism of President Obama's State of the Union address for being too vague and abstract, the president was specific in one area: ending subsidies to the oil industry. An editorial in today's Los Angeles Times noted that suggestion and approved heartily. So do I.

Analysts are expecting a bonanza when Exxon Mobil Corp. announces its fourth-quarter earnings on Monday; the company's stock has jumped by nearly 20% during the last year, and in the first three quarters of 2010, its profit was $21.2 billion — not a bad haul during a worldwide recession. Other oil companies have had similar success, thanks to growing demand in India and China. Yet U.S. taxpayers subsidize this industry to the tune of $4 billion a year.

This kind of largesse toward a hugely profitable business seems bizarre, especially at a time when the federal deficit is reaching alarming proportions, yet efforts to end the tax deductions and credits for companies that don't need them have gone nowhere. That isn't stopping President Obama from trying. In his State of the Union address, he proposed an uptick in federal spending on clean-energy research and development, to be paid for by ending subsidies for oil companies. "I don't know if you've noticed, but they're doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday's energy, let's invest in tomorrow's," Obama said.
[Emphasis added]

President Obama asked the 111th Congress to end the subsidy, but Congress declined. Republicans and "Oil State" Democrats would have none of it. There's even less chance that the 112th Congress will end the subsidies, especially with Republicans in control of the House. The official excuse (delivered to congress critters via fax) will be that ending the subsidies will halt drilling and drive up the cost of gasoline which, in turn, will mean increased prices and (wait for it) lost jobs. And that's a lot of hooey, as the editorial points out.

...A 2007 report by the Joint Economic Committee, which advises Congress on economic matters, found that ending the manufacturing deduction would have a negligible effect on consumer prices. That's because when crude is fetching high prices, as it has for many years and will for many more, companies have ample incentive to drill even without a subsidy — so eliminating it wouldn't cause the kind of supply shortages that push up prices at the pump.

That bit of information, especially when coupled with the earnings reports which will roll out starting Monday, should be thrown in the faces of the recalcitrant with great regularity by the administration and by the news media, including the Sunday Morning Bobbleheads. It also wouldn't hurt if a few million Americans let their representatives know that such subsidies are contributing to the budget deficit and are obviously unnecessary.

It's about time.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mental Health Morning Off

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Preach It, Sister!

Run, do not walk, to Barbara Ehrenreich's essayin the Los Angeles Times.

I have to admit that I was sorely tempted to throw the rules of Fair Use right out the window to my left by simply reproducing the entire opinion piece right here, but I'd prefer Ms. Ehrenreich got the clicks. Instead, I will just quote her conclusion.

...When a congresswoman can be shot in a parking lot and a professor who falls short of Glenn Beck's standards of political correctness can be, however anonymously, targeted for execution, we have moved well beyond democracy -- to a tyranny of the heavily armed.

Now, to see how she arrived at that conclusion, go read the whole essay. As usual, Barbara Ehrenreich nails it.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Family Feud

Oh, dear! It must be difficult to be a Republican leader right now, what with the squabbling going on in the ranks. I mean, the party is going to have two responses to the president's State of the Union speech: the "official" one by Rep. Ryan and the sorta-kinda unofficial one by Rep. Bachman (Tea Party Hostess extraordinaire).

Nowhere is the problem more pronounced than in the budget slashing arena. Some Republican congress critters want to remove the fat, but others want to go for the bones as well.

Congressional Republicans are grappling with dissent within the party's ranks over the size and scope of proposed reductions as they seek to fulfill a campaign promise to slash the federal budget.

The Republican Party's conservative wing has proposed even deeper and potentially more controversial cuts than the GOP's leaders have prescribed — or believe are politically feasible this year. Prospects for reductions in cancer research or the FBI, for example, are causing consternation within the party and controversy in Washington.

The party's leadership already has scaled back a goal of $100 billion in spending cuts in the current budget year, a figure Republicans promised during last year's midterm election campaign. But conservative Republicans are insisting on cuts nearly twice as deep — reaching to $2.5 trillion over 10 years. Party leaders do not believe such cuts are politically or practically achievable.
[Emphasis added]

Faced with having to do more than just saying "NO!!!11!!" and having to do some real legislating, the Republicans appear to be just a little confusilated. Mitch McConnell's primary goal, that of denying Barack Obama a second term, may have to be tempered a bit. His party might have to propose some practical alternatives to those of the president and the Democrats. The Republicans might have to move to the center a little, which will place them on the president's lap, a place they hardly wish to be.

Of course, the Republicans could also do what the Tea Partiers want them to do, which is not to shrink the government, but to destroy it. That will lose them the center, but also the 2012 election.

Such a dilemma!

I almost feel sorry for them.


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Monday, January 24, 2011

Cutting Costs

The State of the Union speech is coming up, and it will be interesting to hear just what President Obama has to say with respect to deficit reduction, which apparently concerns him more than any other issue. One area that I doubt will get much attention in the speech will be the billions we are spending on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. After all, most of the money being spent on the wars continue to be off-budget, thanks to an overly compliant Congress.

Well, I think we should keep in mind just how much of our national treasure is going to those two wars, and not just in dollars.

In its second-largest deployment since World War II, the Minnesota National Guard will send more than 2,400 troops to Iraq and Kuwait later this year. Members of the First Brigade Combat Team will provide base and convoy security as the United States begins its drawdown of troops in Iraq. ...

This will be the first deployment for about 60 percent of the soldiers, the second deployment for 23 percent and the third deployment for 12 percent. The soldiers come from 29 units in 27 Minnesota communities. The brigade will replace another Guard unit and be responsible for base security and camps in Kuwait. In addition, it will provide protection for daily convoys transporting equipment and troops out of Iraq as well as supplies into Iraq.
[Emphasis added]

Yes, we are drawing down the troops in Iraq, or at least beginning to, which may come as a surprise to many. We still have a sizable contingent in Iraq, and will continue to do so for years, according to the plans currently in place. We continue to rotate troops in and out of Iraq, much the way we rotate troops in and out of Afghanistan, even though the American public is sick to death of both misbegotten wars.

General Petraeus, the wunderkind of surges, is still the boss, and he sees no reason to pull out because ... well, I guess because he believes we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel and we still have some hearts and minds to win from those who survive the precision drone strikes.

So, while the Pentagon has been threatened with budget cuts even from the Tea Partiers, the wars will go on, and the soldiers will have to be housed, fed, supplied with weaponry, and treated for horrific injuries. And the money pipelines to Iraq and Afghanistan will stay wide open.

It really is a mad world.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Funnies

(Political cartoon by Tom Toles and published 1/21/11 by Washington Post. Click on image to enlarge.)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Big Horn Sheep

(Photograph by Trish Carney, My Shot, and published by National Geographic.)

Another Mile Post

The first wave of Boomers are hitting the magical age of 65 this year. While most won't be able to collect regular Social Security yet, all will qualify for Medicare. While that may take some pressure off personal finances, it will transfer that pressure to the federal program. We all know that as one ages, one's medical expenses increases and Medicare bears the brunt of that increase. Some attempts to rein in those costs have been implemented in the 2010 healthcare law, but the federal government would do well to look at other ways to contain the costs of getting old.

One of the scourges of old age is Alzheimer's Disease. We still have a long way to go in untangling the causes of the disease, and perhaps an even longer way to go in finding a cure. However, we are making some positive steps in both directions. The Los Angeles Times editorial board took note of one such step.

...there was some heartening news this week: An advisory committee to the FDA unanimously approved the use of a chemical dye that highlights, on imaging scans, the plaque in the brain that is the telltale sign of encroaching Alzheimer's.

This may not seem like really good news. A test reveals that you'll get a disease that steals your memory and, ultimately, leaves you dysfunctional, and there's little you can do except maybe set aside some money for future caregivers. Not to mention the ethical problems: Could you lose your job if the test results become known? Or your health insurance?

Frankly, I'm of the opinion that knowing is always better than not knowing, especially when it comes to health conditions. Maybe setting aside money for future caregivers seems thin soup to the editorial board, but to those with this horrid disease it's an important first step. Other decisions can be made now, while faculties are still unimpaired, when those decisions can make a huge difference, especially to family members.

As to the ethical considerations that flow from the diagnosis, especially with respect to health insurance and jobs, there are now laws on the books which provide some protection against such forms of discrimination, even if they could stand a little tweaking.

But the editorial makes an important point regarding what we as a nation must do:

According to statistics from the National Institutes of Health, estimated funding for Alzheimer's in fiscal year 2011 is $480 million. For cancer, it's more than $6 billion. Only a small percentage of worthy Alzheimer's research projects receive NIH funding. That should change.

Why, yes. Yes it should. That will happen only if we demand it, and do so very loudly. I'm grateful that the Los Angeles Times started the ball rolling in that regard.

Damned grateful.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

It's About Damned Time

For decades, the Pentagon fought the concept of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, much the same way that it fought the concept that exposing service men and women to Agent Orange resulted in horrific physical disability. The warrior mentality did not allow for such medical diagnoses. Our fighters were expected to tough it out, even years after their active duty when the symptoms were destroying both them and their families. It wasn't until the medical evidence became overwhelming for both exposures that the Pentagon was finally shamed into doing something about them.

That's why I was cheered by this sensible change by the military.

Screening soldiers for mental health issues before deploying them to Iraq helps reduce psychiatric or behavioral problems by more than three-quarters, according to a study published online Tuesday in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The study was conducted by Army Maj. Christopher Warner and four colleagues, who looked at a total of 21,031 U.S. Army soldiers in six brigades sent off to the same area in Iraq – three whose members were screened before being deployed, and three brigades whose members went before the screening procedures were put in place in 2007. ...

Out of the 10,678 soldiers in the three screened brigades, 819 were sent for more evaluation, and 74 of those soldiers were not cleared to deploy. Ninety-six were allowed to deploy but with conditions attached.

On the whole, the researchers found that over six-month periods, psychiatric or behavioral problems among the screened brigades serving in Iraq were 78% lower, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors were 50% lower.

The simple screening had the effect of improving the efficiency of the brigades sent to war, which is, I suppose, a pretty good idea. Some of our personnel have been sent into battle zones for extended periods multiple times. That's bound to take its psychic toll.

Since this screening has been so effective, maybe now would be a good time to initiate a comparable screening program for each and every service member coming off the battle field. Catching the effects of the stress of war and defusing some of it before the soldiers reach home would do not only them and their families a great service, it would also serve the interests of the communities to which they are returning.

Is the military ready to enter the 21st Century?

I guess it's too soon to tell.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Some Not-So-Bad News

As dismal as the employment numbers are in California, there is one sector that appears to be picking up: green jobs. Although the most current data is from 2008, that data did show some badly needed growth.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Employers offering jobs in fields such as solar power generation, electric vehicle development, environmental consultation and more added 5,000 jobs in 2008. About 174,000 Californians were working in eco-friendly fields by early 2009, compared with 111,000 in 1995, said nonprofit research group Next 10. ...

The so-called green workforce expanded 3% from January 2008 to January 2009 -– three times the growth of overall employment around the state. Standouts include the energy-generation sector, which includes renewable-energy efforts such as wind and hydropower.

"There's very few business sectors that can employ people across every region, especially in a state as big as California," said entrepreneur F. Noel Perry, who founded Next 10. "Green is providing a very solid foundation for future growth."

Perry credited state policies -- such as renewable-energy mandates and incentives for energy efficiency -- for supporting the "green economy."
[Emphasis added]

While some sectors lagged (the retrofitting of buildings for energy efficiency got hit by the real estate down-swing), there was measurable growth in most, which means there were new jobs and hiring.

Key to the growth were the various policies of Arnold Schwarzenegger which emphasized green growth. Yes, he did do some things right, as did the state legislature. What would have helped further (and not just in California) were similar policies and incentives on the federal level. Since one of the current mantras of the GOP is to end "job-killing" programs, perhaps Republican leaders can be persuaded to go positive by finding the money to grow jobs by funding research and development for the next generation of alternative energy sources and energy efficiency and by funding job training for workers in the new industries.

I am not holding my breath.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Civil But Truthy Debate

House leaders have promised a more civil debate with respect to the drive to repeal the health care law passed in the 111th Congress. That's certainly a welcome development. An even better change would be not only a more civil debate but also a more honest debate. That appears to be asking for too much.

This article presented a little "fact checking" on the primary assertions made by Republicans in their drive to roll back some of the provisions of "ObamaCare." Here are a couple of key points:

What about Republican assertions that studies show hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk?

They are quite misleading. As outlined by the nonpartisan, one study by the conservative National Federation of Independent Business that an estimated 1.6 million jobs would be lost did not analyze the new law. Instead, it examined an alternative that did not exempt small businesses from the mandate.

And a second report by the Congressional Budget Office does not indicate that 650,000 jobs will be lost, as Republicans have claimed. The CBO concluded that the new law might prompt many Americans, including those approaching retirement, to stop working because they would no longer need a job to get health insurance, a key benefit of the law.

What about the law's effect on the budget deficit?

The CBO, which lawmakers from both parties rely on to assess the effects of legislation, now estimates that the law would bring down the deficit over the next decade by more than $200 billion.

That is possible because the authors of the legislation offset the cost of expanding coverage to 32 million Americans over the next decade with more than $500 billion in cuts to federal Medicare spending and more than $400 billion in new taxes and fees.

In other words, the Republicans have once again been pulling "facts" from their nether parts to make their arguments. I find it quite refreshing that the press saw fit to call them on this dishonorable tactic. I wish they would do so more often.

I suppose that's asking too much as well.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Well, Duh

[Note: I not only overslept this morning, which is a rarity, my dial-up is borked and will remain borked until AT&T gets the phone lines in our area cleaned up. In all likelihood, posting will be later in the morning the rest of the week.]

The House of Representatives is about to open a challenge to Obamacare. Republican leaders will introduce a bill to repeal the bill in its entirety, as they promised. A full repeal, of course, hasn't a chance. The Democrats still hold the Senate and the President still has a veto pen, but the Republicans didn't want to pass up a chance at a little theater for the benefit of folks back home.

Not to be outdone, the Administration offered its own entry into the games.

As many as 129 million Americans under age 65 have medical problems that are red flags for health insurers, according to an analysis that marks the government's first attempt to quantify the number of people at risk of being rejected by insurance companies or paying more for coverage. ...

The study found that one-fifth to one-half of non-elderly people in the United States have ailments that trigger rejection or higher prices in the individual insurance market. They range from cancer to chronic illnesses such as heart disease, asthma and high blood pressure.

Well, duh.

The study, which was issued shortly before the debate in the House, certainly didn't provide anything new. Most people are aware that people from 55 to 64 to have health problems of one sort another. That awareness becomes most acute when individuals with any chronic condition try to get an individual policy and are either rejected by an insurance company or face huge monthly premiums. The new healthcare law tried to remedy both by requiring that insurance companies not deny coverage for preexisting conditions and not charge individuals more for such a policy. Unfortunately, that provision doesn't take effect until 2014 for all but children.

Republicans and insurance companies immediately cried foul at the release of the study, claiming that the timing of the release was a clear political ploy to offset the move to repeal the underlying bill. Both parties accused the president of playing politics.

Republicans immediately disparaged the analysis as "public relations." An insurance industry spokesman acknowledged that sick people can have trouble buying insurance on their own but said the analysis overstates the problem.

Well, duh.

So, after the House passes the bill to repeal Obamacare, and the Senate throws it out, the House will move on to the next step: dismantling the bill, piece by piece, starting with the individual mandate requiring every American to buy health insurance. That will make the Republican's Tea Party backers happy. Of course, it will not make insurance companies happy as they lose a huge chunk of guaranteed business, much of it from younger people without chronic health problems who won't cost the insurer much, if anything.

In any event, this little tempest in a teapot will take up a lot of time, energy, oxygen, and electrons.

Meanwhile, the really important issues, like joblessness, won't get addressed.

Well, duh.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Extreme Gratitude

Thank you.

That looks pretty weak for the way I feel right now: the generous outpouring of support, both financial and emotional, was incredible. While I expected some financial support and sympathy, I didn't dream of the extent of both that would come pouring my way from friends, acquaintances, and strangers.

I expected having to go to some friends to borrow a huge chunk of the $2,000 I need to hand to my landlord tomorrow when the banks open. That won't be necessary. I received well over $2,000 from over a hundred donors. I will be able to pacify the landlord and pay the utility bills and feed me and the cats the rest of the month and pay next month's rent.

Heh. And I'll be able to pay for a certified copy of my birth certificate so that I can file for early Social Security, which should ease things immensely once that benefit kicks in.

So, thanks to all of you: those who are in pretty much the straits I'm in and couldn't kick in cash but who wanted to let me know that they were pulling for me; those who spread the word by posting a comment in each thread at Eschaton on Saturday linking to my request for help; those who gave me some badly needed advice on landlord-tenant law and the vagaries of PayPal; those who posted a link on their own blogs and those with keys who posted links on Eschaton; and those who donated via PayPal.

Oh, and one more thing: not everyone who donated agreed with my political views. I got donations from conservatives (some from other countries) and from people who considered my politics somewhat right-of-center.

This whole episode taught me many things, among them the fact that I'm not a good money manager and that I wait until things reach a crisis point before taking positive steps. The biggest lesson, however, is that most people are decent and caring at least some of the time. That gives me hope, something I've been lacking for a while.

So, again: thank you.

Substantive blogging will return tomorrow.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Populist Manifesto No. 1

Poets, come out of your closets,
Open your windows, open your doors,
You have been holed-up too long
in your closed worlds.
Come down, come down
from your Russian Hills and Telegraph Hills,
your Beacon Hills and your Chapel Hills,
your Mount Analogues and Montparnasses,
down from your foothills and mountains,
out of your teepees and domes.
The trees are still falling
and we’ll to the woods no more.
No time now for sitting in them
As man burns down his own house
to roast his pig
No more chanting Hare Krishna
while Rome burns.
San Francisco’s burning,
Mayakovsky’s Moscow’s burning
the fossil-fuels of life.
Night & the Horse approaches
eating light, heat & power,
and the clouds have trousers.
No time now for the artist to hide
above, beyond, behind the scenes,
indifferent, paring his fingernails,
refining himself out of existence.
No time now for our little literary games,
no time now for our paranoias & hypochondrias,
no time now for fear & loathing,
time now only for light & love.
We have seen the best minds of our generation
destroyed by boredom at poetry readings.
Poetry isn’t a secret society,
It isn’t a temple either.
Secret words & chants won’t do any longer.
The hour of oming is over,
the time of keening come,
a time for keening & rejoicing
over the coming end
of industrial civilization
which is bad for earth & Man.
Time now to face outward
in the full lotus position
with eyes wide open,
Time now to open your mouths
with a new open speech,
time now to communicate with all sentient beings,
All you ‘Poets of the Cities’
hung in museums including myself,
All you poet’s poets writing poetry
about poetry,
All you poetry workshop poets
in the boondock heart of America,
All you housebroken Ezra Pounds,
All you far-out freaked-out cut-up poets,
All you pre-stressed Concrete poets,
All you cunnilingual poets,
All you pay-toilet poets groaning with graffiti,
All you A-train swingers who never swing on birches,
All you masters of the sawmill haiku in the Siberias of America,
All you eyeless unrealists,
All you self-occulting supersurrealists,
All you bedroom visionaries and closet agitpropagators,
All you Groucho Marxist poets
and leisure-class Comrades
who lie around all day and talk about the workingclass proletariat,
All you Catholic anarchists of poetry,
All you Black Mountaineers of poetry,
All you Boston Brahims and Bolinas bucolics,
All you den mothers of poetry,
All you zen brothers of poetry,
All you suicide lovers of poetry,
All you hairy professors of poesie,
All you poetry reviewers
drinking the blood of the poet,
All you Poetry Police -
Where are Whitman’s wild children,
where the great voices speaking out
with a sense of sweetness and sublimity,
where the great’new vision,
the great world-view,
the high prophetic song
of the immense earth
and all that sings in it
And our relations to it -
Poets, descend
to the street of the world once more
And open your minds & eyes
with the old visual delight,
Clear your throat and speak up,
Poetry is dead, long live poetry
with terrible eyes and buffalo strength.
Don’t wait for the Revolution
or it’ll happen without you,
Stop mumbling and speak out
with a new wide-open poetry
with a new commonsensual ‘public surface’
with other subjective levels
or other subversive levels,
a tuning fork in the inner ear
to strike below the surface.
Of your own sweet Self still sing
yet utter ‘the word en-masse -
Poetry the common carrier
for the transportation of the public
to higher places
than other wheels can carry it.
Poetry still falls from the skies
into our streets still open.
They haven’t put up the barricades, yet,
the streets still alive with faces,
lovely men & women still walking there,
still lovely creatures everywhere,
in the eyes of all the secret of all
still buried there,
Whitman’s wild children still sleeping there,
Awake and walk in the open air.

--Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Sunday Funnies

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

Now would probably be a good time for a serious discusson of gun control. I am not holding my breath, but I still think a contact or two or twelve with our elected officials is in order.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Vampire Flying Frog

(Photograph courtesy Jodi Rowley, Australian Museum and published at National Geographic. Click on the link to discover the reason for this critter's name.)

Help Needed

I find myself in deep financial trouble. My hours have been cut once again, which means I'm done, ruined, forked, at least for the short term while I try to find another source of income. It appears, given the current job market and my age, that the other source will have to be early Social Security.

I thought, even before my job situation became more tenuous, things were going to be tight, so I cut back my expenses to the bone. I've even canceled my health insurance, praying that I wouldn't have any untoward accident or condition arise that would cost me more than $1,400 a month (my premium). So far I've been lucky in that respect, and I qualify for Medicare on August 1.

The short term, however, is disastrous. Last night I received my 3-day notice from the landlord. I will be out of cash and homeless very shortly if I don't come up with enough cash to show my landlord that I'm not a total flake. I need to raise $2,000 by Monday/Tuesday.

Please help if you can by clicking on the "Donate" button. If you don't like using PayPal, please email me at and I'll give you other options. If you can't help right now with a donation to the care and feeding of a harmless old woman and her two cats, but you know someone who can, please alert them to my dilemma.



Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging

Dollars And Sense

It's always good news when a state decides to take a positive step towards solving a problem before things get totally out of hand. Minnesota has just taken such a positive step with respect to the devastating costs of Alzheimer's.

The number of Minnesotans with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia will swell from 88,000 now to 198,000 in the next 30 years, with the prospect that state coffers, families and employers could be overwhelmed by the stress and costs of care, according to a report that will be delivered to the Legislature on Thursday. ...

With average annual medical costs for an Alzheimer’s patient running about $33,000 — triple that of similar people without dementia — cutting expenses even by $5,000 per patient could save $44 million a year.

The report (which can be found here) combines common sense and innovation in its proposals to cut the financial and personal burdens of living with Alzheimer's.

The report’s first proposal: Train and encourage doctors to detect Alzheimer’s disease early — something often resisted both by doctors and families — which could save the state an average of $10,000 per patient a year.

“There is no cure, but with early detection, treatment can slow the decline by 12 to 18 months for more than half of patients,” said Michelle Barclay , a vice president at the state Alzheimer’s Association, which helped staff the 20-member group appointed by the Legislature in 2009. The group met for 15 months and involved about 100 others to develop the report. ...

Other recommendations include: Require cognitive screening for all Minnesotans 65 and older in state-paid health programs; create a “dementia clearinghouse website” with information for families and professionals; adopt a state “gold standard” for dementia care, and reinstate a geriatrics medical education program at the University of Minnesota.

No, the report doesn't have the sex appeal of the announcement of a medical breakthrough in treatment or cure, but we all know that such a breakthrough is still far down the road. The report does provide, however, some practical suggestions which will bring not only cost savings to the state but also relief to the family care givers who are too often exhausted and ground down by the burdens of Alzheimer's in a loved one.

This is an important first step, and the Minnesota state legislature will hopefully implement the suggested proposals now, before the costs are insurmountable. Other states and the federal government would also do well to study the report and to initiate some of the proposals for the same reasons.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

That Woman

At the risk of angering my lefty friends for giving Sarah Palin any attention whatsoever, I have a few comments about her enduring popularity, provoked mainly by Doyle McManus's latest offering.

McManus, who I think is mostly a tepid liberal, suggests in his column that La Palin's most current bizarre comments have finally done in any chance she might have had to gain the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. He was referencing, of course, her outrageous claim that the attacks by the media and lefty bloggers on the dangerous rhetoric of the far right constituted a "blood libel" and a far more dangerous rhetoric.

Here's what he concludes on her chances for the presidential nomination:

...the Arizona shootings and their aftermath will probably be remembered as the end of Palin's chances of being taken seriously as a Republican presidential candidate. She had an opportunity to rise to an occasion, and she whiffed. ...

In surveys of Republican voters, Palin still ranks as one of the four top choices for the 2012 presidential nomination, along with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. But the most important numbers aren't going her way. In an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll last month, 50% of respondents said they had an unfavorable view of Palin; that's huge. Only 20% said they had negative feelings toward Romney. A year earlier, Palin's negative rating was 40%. Her principal accomplishment over the past year, it seems, has been to alienate more voters.

Now, McManus seems to be assuming that Sarah Palin keeps herself the center of attention in order to gain that nomination, and I'm not so certain that is her intention. She has made millions of dollars since the 2008 election in speaker's fees, books, a reality show, and a post at Fox. Why on earth would anyone give up such a cushy life for the unending pressures and relatively low pay of the presidency? I think she is enjoying her new status too much to give any of it up. This is a woman, after all, who walked away from her governor's job to cash in on her notoriety.

Like Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Anne Coulter, Michelle Malkin, she is making a lot of money by saying outrageous things. She also knows that the more outrageous she is, the more attention she will get from the rest of us and the more money she will make. It's a formula that, sadly, works only too well in our culture.

But assuming that I'm wrong, which is certainly possible, and that Ms. Palin really is positioning herself for a run for the presidency, why aren't the GOP regulars clamping down on her? Probably because right now she is a very handy tool. She is keeping the basest base all fired up, and that basest base was instrumental in taking the House for them in 2010. Why would they want to cut off a good thing? There will be plenty of time for that as the primary season opens.

So, under either scenario, Sarah Palin will be with us, probably as close to center stage as she can manage, for at least another eighteen months.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ho Hum

Lots of more dramatic news out there right now, but there's also some unexciting news which will also have a direct impact on people in California. Health insurance rates will be going up for Blue Shield of California customers.

The three increases announced by the insurer, the last of which would go into effect March 1, would collectively raise rates 30% on average for people who buy coverage individually. That's a much higher jump than in the premiums for group insurance policies and a significantly larger increase than the overall rate of healthcare inflation.

Why the huge jump? The editorial points out that even Blue Shield admits that the new health care law's expanded coverage accounts for only a tiny fraction of the increase. Other forces are at work:

...the company said, the main factors are increased fees for doctors and other care providers and the growing demand for treatment by the company's customers. What that reflects, though, is that Blue Shield is attracting fewer healthy customers for its individual plans, leaving fewer people to shoulder the rising burdens.

The individual mandate was supposed to stop the cycle, but that really hasn't kicked in yet, and may not for a longer period expected, given the current court challenges. What is interesting is that the insurer seems to be offended by its customers actually expecting to use their policy for health care.

The huge increase has prompted the California Insurance Commissioner to take a hard look at the premium hike, but here's the rub: all he can do is look. He can't block the hike if the math justifying the rate increase has been done properly. California insurers finally figured that out with the Anthem Blue Cross fiasco of last year.

Here is where the editorial actually gets it right:

...A recently enacted state law instructs the insurance commissioner to determine whether premiums for individual health coverage are reasonable, but doesn't give him the power to block or modify rates that don't meet that standard. The only limit is the federal requirement that insurers spend at least 80% of the premium dollars they collect on medical costs. That's no substitute for the commissioner being able to block unreasonable rates, and the Legislature should give him that authority. [Emphasis added]

Of course, all of this could have been avoided by real health care delivery legislation, say Medicare For All, or even a shot at a Medicare buy-in plan for the non-billionaires among us. That kind of thinking was eschewed right from the start, however, so we're stuck with the half-vast plan we got. The most we can hope for is the slow pace of incrementalism.

I'm too old for that.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Acceptable Violence

Right now this nation is appalled at the violence wreaked Saturday in Tucson by Jared Loughner. We may have different opinions as to what caused Mr. Loughner's murderous behavior and we may have different solutions to the problem, but even the minimally rational among us agree that this kind of violence is unacceptable.

Other kinds of violence, however, doesn't set off our national alarms. In fact, articles like this one evoke a far more positive response. High tech war toys get respect.

The massive Global Observer built by AeroVironment Inc. of Monrovia is capable of flying for days at a stratosphere-skimming 65,000 feet, out of range of most antiaircraft missiles. The plane is built to survey 280,000 square miles — an area larger than Afghanistan — at a single glance. That would give the Pentagon an "unblinking eye" over the war zone and offer a cheaper and more effective alternative to spy satellites watching from outer space.

The estimated $30-million robotic aircraft is one of three revolutionary drones being tested in coming weeks at Edwards Air Force Base.

Another is the bat-winged X-47B drone built by Northrop Grumman Corp., which could carry laser-guided bombs and be launched from an aircraft carrier. The third is Boeing Co.'s Phantom Ray drone that could slip behind enemy lines to knock out radar installations, clearing the way for fighters and bombers.

These aircraft would represent a major technological advance over the Predator and Reaper drones that the Obama administration has deployed as a central element of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan. Unlike most of the current fleet of more than 7,000 drones, the new remotely piloted planes will have jet engines and the ability to evade enemy radar.

All sorts of benefits are touted for this set of next-generation weapons. They don't require on-board pilots, so American casualties will be reduced. They will cost less to operate than the current models. They are more lethal. And, not to ignore an important facet right now, these programs are providing tens of thousands of jobs in the Southern California aerospace industry.

So, what's the beef?

Well, these new weapons systems are being developed based on the underlying assumption that they will be used, that they will have to be used. We will always be at war, some place, some how, for some reason. And some are honest enough to make that assumption explicit:

"We are looking at the next generation of unmanned systems," said Phil Finnegan, an aerospace expert with Teal Group, a research firm. "As the U.S. looks at potential future conflicts, there needs to be more capable systems."

Our priorities are clear. Some kinds of violence are perfectly acceptable, even worthy. We can spend billions on pilotless drones which can evade radar on their way to deliver laser guided bombs, but we don't have the money to provide decent health care (including mental health care) for the country. Violence by a lone gunman is an atrocity, but institutional mayhem is just fine.


Monday, January 10, 2011

That River In Egypt

We're into the third day of hashing over the details of the massacre in Arizona, and things are playing out pretty much the way we thought they would. Plenty of ink and electrons are being spilled by all sides of the complicated debate as to how and why this sort of thing happens. There's plenty of talk, very little of which contains any concrete proposals for minimizing the chances of it happening again. Perhaps it's too early in the process. Everyone is still in shock.

It clearly is not too early, however, for some mostly justified finger pointing:

Democratic members of Congress largely suggested that the shootings might have been sparked by increasingly bitter political rhetoric while Republicans described the suspected shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, as "unstable" and "deranged" without a clear link to politics.

Now, it seems to me that posing this causal argument as "either/or" is not particularly helpful. In fact, it is an oversimplification which moves the discourse away from analysis and towards the assigning of blame without any way to move forward. Yes, the rhetoric from Palin, Beck, Limbaugh, and Angle has clearly been dangerously over the top. And, yes, Jared Loughner gives every indication of being a profoundly "unstable" and "deranged" young man, the kind of individual vulnerable to such violent rhetoric, regardless of his political leanings.

But there is another element to the scenario: a gun. Loughner, who had been rejected by the Army when he tried to enlist, who had been suspended from Pima Community College for his behavior, who had a history of trying to start fights from at least his high school days, was able to purchase a Glock with extended magazines on November 30, just about 6 weeks before the massacre.

Of course, expecting anyone in Congress to consider the issue of easily obtainable firearms clearly not designed for hunting at this time in our history is like expecting to see a transaction tax imposed on Wall Street speculators. The GOP was swept to a majority in the House by the Tea Partiers who want less government control, not more, especially when it comes to their sanctified Second Amendment rights. The NRA continues to be one of the strongest forces in government, both in terms of lobbying and campaign contributions. Few, if any, congress critters want to step into that kind of battle.

So, even though some things beyond increasing Secret Service forces for our elected officials could be done, they won't be done, nor even considered. And we will have to face another horrific drama played out before our eyes, if not sooner by another deranged copycat gunman determined to finish what Mr. Loughner started, certainly later as our economy falters and the rhetoric escalates and another unstable, deranged soul strikes out.

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Dylan Thomas

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

--Dylan Thomas

Second Thoughts

I selected this article for my Sunday post before the tragic shooting in Tucson yesterday. I do my visit to Watching America early on Saturday because my Sundays are usually filled with chores. Ironically, the article from Austria's der Standard deals with the Tea Party, a loosely-knit segment of the American electorate which is being linked to the shooting because of its strong stand on the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms and because some of its chief proponents have pushed the limits of free speech far beyond the usual definition of civil discourse.

Here is the segment I wanted to highlight before the news of the shooting:

Many of the newly elected House Republicans are tea partiers, and they will need time to get acclimatized and to learn the ropes of how Washington operates. There’s obviously a danger that the tea partiers will have to play games in order to accomplish anything. But at the same time, they can’t afford to follow a course of fundamental opposition, because that doesn’t go over with voters. The American political system is set up in such a way that they have to accomplish things for the voters; otherwise, they won’t get re-elected. The tea party candidates will be held to that same standard. Beyond that, the movement is highly splintered in regard to their goals. Some are social conservatives opposed to abortion and fetal research, while others are fiscal conservatives who don’t want big government. [Emphasis added]

My point was going to be that the Tea Partiers were going to learn the lessons liberals are still learning that once in Washington most candidates forget who got them there. The new congress critters need to make their bones not with their constituents but with those who will finance the next election. Oh, they will blow a few kisses to the people back home: they'll read the Constitution before proceeding, they'll issue sound bites about cutting programs which benefit the lazy unemployed, and then they'll pass bills to benefit their donors.

That said, I can't help thinking about Gabriella Giffords and Federal Judge John Roll and the other victims of the shooter who took out at least 18 people (six dead, of whom one was a child, as of 5:00 PM, PST). The shooting took place at a "town hall meeting" the congresswoman had set up. The accused shooter went there, apparently deliberately, to dispense his brand of justice.

Why the link to the Tea Party?

Well, Sarah Palin, the GrandMama of the Tea Party, had targeted Congresswoman Giffords as one who needed to be defeated in the 2010 elections. Palin used a graphic appropriate to the concept of "target": a rifle-sight cross-hairs across a picture of Giffords, a graphic since removed from her Facebook page.

Now, at least at this point, there is no definitive link between the shooter and the Tea Party. He looks to be a seriously deranged young man. But the rhetoric of such as Palin and Glenn Beck, laden as it has been with the language of violence ("Don't retreat, reload") could very well have given the shooter the impetus, the permission he needed to act out his fantasy.

As much as I loathe the corporate interests which created the Tea Party movement, I doubt that the members of that movement had in mind the kind of literal violence that the rhetoric has spawned. But the violence has occurred. People are dead and maimed. And I fear that the violence will continue. Guns are that easy to get.

I also know that the mainstream media will downplay any connection between the right wing rhetoric and the deaths that occurred January 8, 2011, that the shooter will be seen as another Lee Harvey Oswald or Sirhan Sirhan or James Earl Ray: crazy, and therefor irrelevant.

And I fear that the noble experiment known as the United States will end dismally.

Kyrie Eleison


Sunday Funnies

(Political cartoon by Tom Toles and published January 9, 2011 in the Washington Post. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, January 08, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Mosaic Jellyfish

(Photograph by Melissa Fiene, My Shot, and published by National Geographic.)

Shunning Teh Gaii


There's a new GOP homosexual group and they've been invited to a major conservative conference as GUESTS and SPEAKERS!!!


An estimated 10,000 people are expected to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, to hear aspiring presidential candidates and vote in one of the first straw polls of the 2012 cycle.

Among the missing will be the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group and once a sponsor of CPAC; the Heritage Foundation; and the American Family Assn., which opposes same-sex marriage.

The Family Research Council has been disenchanted for several years with CPAC, said Tom McClusky, senior vice president of the group's legislative arm. Among its complaints: A new gay conservative group has been invited for the second year in a row, and CPAC has refused to schedule a panel about traditional marriage.

"Conservatives and homosexuals cannot coexist in a movement predicated on social values," wrote the group's president, Tony Perkins, in an e-mail to supporters. "Organizations whose whole reason for existence is to promote the forced public affirmation of homosexual conduct should not be welcomed at CPAC."

A spokesman for the Heritage Foundation said his group thinks CPAC has strayed from its principles.

"We want to promote economic freedom, a strong national defense and social conservativism. We think these policies are indivisible," said Mike Gonzales, the think tank's vice president for communications. "It's not a boutique. You can't pick one and not the other."

Take that, my gay brothers and sisters. You may be fiscal conservatives, want the government out of your bedrooms and your lives, even libertarian in your leanings, but you just aren't pure enough for a sizeable chunk of the party you have embraced.

You have voted regularly, worked on campaigns, held down jobs and paid your taxes, served on juries, perhaps even served silently in the military, but you don't qualify because you are disgusting in the eyes of the sanctified and their god.

Well, at least you won't have to contend with such as the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Foundation when you try to show that you are entitled to the same basic rights as any other citizen, and that your party ought to recognize that entitlement.

Good luck.

[Note: Robin Abcarian's article is an excellent one. Go read it in its entirety.]


Friday, January 07, 2011

Friday Not-Cat Blogging

Death To Death Panels

Talking about end-of-life issues has never been easy in our culture. We don't like even thinking about death, much less talking about it, especially when that fact of life is imminent. It looked for a brief moment like we might finally have a way to be adults on the issue when an end-of-life discussion with one's primary physician was going to be included as a Medicare benefit, but that was snatched away when the conservatives anxious to derail healthcare reform began shrieking "DEATH PANELS!" and "HEALTH CARE RATIONING!" The provision suddenly disappeared from the final bill.

Then, this past week, it looked like the provision was being resurrected via a regulation, and the shrieking returned. Once again, Brave Sir Robin ran away. And that's a shame. The provision had nothing to do with death panels, and the claim that it would lead to rationing was a red herring.

Issac Bailey of The Myrtle Beach Sun took a commonsense look at the provision (featured at McClatchy DC) and did a particularly good job at debunking the objections to end-of-life discussions.

Among the many practical benefits of such a session with a doctor he noted were these:

It would have helped stem the tide of runaway health care costs, given that a ton of money is wasted on unnecessary, inefficient and ineffective services that are performed when it is hardest to make rational decisions about care. The bulk of Medicare expenses are used at this stage of life.

It would improve the final months of life for severely ill patients and reduce the stress on their family and friends. Numerous studies have shown that end-of-life consultations give a patient a stronger say in the kind of care he receives when things are most dire because once those situations occur, the patient's ability to express his wishes declines rapidly.

Nowhere does it give the government the right to pull the plug unilaterally, but that doesn't seem to matter to those who are determined to halt any kind of meaningful healthcare reform lest their donors not make as much money as they would like.

And as to "rationing healthcare"? Well, as Mr. Bailey points out, we've always had healthcare rationed, just not guided by the wishes of the patient. Anyone who has waited days, if not weeks, for the insurance company to authorize a consultation with a specialist or a diagnostic procedure, or who has fought with that insurance company over their refusal to pay for a scheduled office visit has had to deal with healthcare rationing. Under this provision, the rationing would be defined by the patient who does not wish to spend his or her last hours suffering with the pain and indignity of being wired and entubated and who does not wish to torment his or her family with having to witness that seemingly endless scenario.

But common sense isn't allowed in the debate. Our owners won't allow it, so instead we get spurious arguments based in half-truths or outright lies with emotionally charged language to seal the deal. And we get cowardly politicians backing down from a very sensible, very sensitive, very needed provision.

No, not much change here.

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Unsurprising News, With A Twist

Every once in a while, the editorial board of a major newspaper manages to get it right. Today was was one of those times. The subject is the shiny new House of Representatives, now run by the GOP.

New House Speaker Boehner, he of the manly tears, has promised to return the government to the people. Apparently "the people" is the new euphemism for corporate interests, something that the Tea Partiers who helped elect all these new Republicans might be surprised to learn. And the new House isn't making any bones about what we can expect, starting with Darrell Issa's first moves:

Darrell Issa of California, the new chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has sent out letters to 150 businesses and trade groups, asking them for suggestions on loosening what he called “job-killing” corporate regulations. ...

Mr. Issa did not have to wait long for answers to his query. To cite just a few: Financial companies have protested the new controls on debit-card fees, which were enacted to save small businesses billions of dollars and to lower prices. Manufacturers said they did not like the proposed E.P.A. limits on greenhouse gas emissions, intended to begin addressing global warming. There were even complaints about the cost to business of proposed federal limits on how long truck drivers can be behind the wheel, which would save lives on the highway. ...

The new Republican leaders love to insert the phrase “job-killing” in front of everything they oppose, hoping it might mask their true intentions. Mr. Boehner has been speaker for just one day. But it is already clear that the Republicans’ plan is to serve their corporate donors, above all else.
[Emphasis added]

Now while this conclusion is not particularly surprising to most of us, apparently it is "news" to the New York Times. What is surprising, however, is that today the New York Times and yesterday the Los Angeles Times actually printed it.

I wonder how long this will last.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Clean Cups! Clean Cups!

What would a Tea Party be without clean cups? We're about to find out. All those fresh faces in Congress, many propelled to their new positions by the pseudo-populist Tea Party movement, promised to bring a change in Washington, one that would end the slimy role of special interests and would return the government to the people. If the past few weeks are any indication, that promised change doesn't look likely.

This picture of business-as-usual Washington clashes with the campaign rhetoric of many newcomers, some who were propelled by support from the anti-Washington "tea party" movement. It also muddles the image House Republicans hoped to project as they took the helm this week. In contrast to the public celebration thrown by Democrat Nancy Pelosi when she became speaker four years ago, incoming House Speaker John A. Boehner has tried to strike a subdued and earnest note as he takes up the gavel.

So it raised eyebrows Tuesday when several House freshmen held a fundraiser in a swanky Washington hotel. The event, organized in part by California Rep.-elect Jeff Denham (R-Atwater), stood out as the flashiest celebration of the new Congress. ...

On his campaign website, incoming Arizona Rep. David Schweikert promised he would "be there to represent your interests, not big spending special interests. I will push for common sense reforms in Congress that will reduce the influence of lobbyists and special interests."

Schweikert invited lobbyists to a debt-retirement fundraiser at the National Republican Campaign Committee in early December. The suggested contribution was $500 for an individual, $5,000 for a "benefactor."

The excuses proffered were the usual: campaigns are expensive and the new incumbents have campaign debts to retire and money to raise for the next round. At $5,000 a pop, that shouldn't take long. Then the freshmen can get down to the real work, right?

Well, sorta kinda. It depends on what that "real work" involves and who the beneficiaries of that work will be.

One tea party favorite, Sen.-elect Mike Lee of Utah, hired lobbyist Spencer Stokes as his chief of staff. Lee explained that he and Stokes, who represented software and healthcare interests, shared the goal of more "limited federal government" in the future.

"He is a brilliant man," Lee told "Fox News Sunday" this week. "He understands Utah politics and he understands Washington politics. And I need a man like that to help me in Washington."

So, Tea Partiers, there you have it. Those clean cups which you ordered are being used by your newly elected congress critters to collect money from special interests, who then will have their usual influence.

Lewis Carroll would be so proud.

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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Still Crazy After All These Years

As we enter the third year of President Obama's tenure, Guantanamo Bay is still open and doing business. Nearly 150 "detainees" remain there. At various sites around the world the US is "detaining" many more people for acts they stand accused of but have never been tried for, or who may not have committed any kind of crime but are considered dangerous for what they might do in the future.

Two law professors, Amos N. Guiora and Laurie R. Blank, make a sober assessment of the American ideals of justice and fairness in light of these facts and find that our nation is lacking in both.

Two successive administrations have been incapable of answering what should be the most basic questions: if, how and where to try terrorists. In the meantime, post-9/11 detainees languish in indefinite detention. The result is a fundamental and overwhelming violation of the rights of individuals who are no more than suspects, in either past or (more problematic) future acts.

The Obama administration now intends to issue an executive order establishing indefinite detention without trial for detainees at Guantanamo Bay. This decision will formalize this violation of basic rights. Denying individual accountability will now be official U.S. policy and law.

The claim that granting prisoners the right to file petitions for habeas corpus and receive regular reviews is sufficient is disingenuous. At best, that only addresses detention status. It does not facilitate resolution of individual accountability, the principle that requires that an individual have the opportunity for adjudication of his or her guilt or innocence. It is wrong morally, not to mention legally.

The first step, therefore, is to determine that individuals detained post 9/11 deserve their day in court, just like domestic criminals and perpetrators of war crimes. The next step is to implement a mechanism that can do so fairly and effectively. Speedy resolution is, by now, wishful thinking at best.

What is even more shameful is something the authors do not directly address: that indefinite detention is intended to apply even if a detainee is tried and found innocent. If the government cannot prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, they get a do-over by alleging (not proving) that the defendant is too dangerous to the security of these United States to be released, presumably ever.

Andy Worthington, one of the most passionate and tenacious of those determined to point out the hypocrisy and criminal behavior of the US with respect to detainees, has supplied a heartbreaking example of what this indefinite detention actually means to the individual faced with spending the rest of his or her life in hell:

A letter from Guantánamo, by Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif

To Attorney David Remes who dedicated his efforts to work on my dead case. The case that has been buried by its makers under the wreckage of freedom, justice, and the malicious and cursed politics.

Testimony and Consolation

I offer my dead corpse to the coming Yemeni delegation.

They agreed on the torture and agonies that I went through all those years.

They knew that I am innocent and at the same time ill and that I left my country to seek treatment.

This is also a message to the Yemeni people who bear the responsibility of my death in front of God and the responsibility of all of the other Yemenis inside this prison. This prison is a piece of hell that kills everything, the spirit, the body and kicks away all the symptoms of health from them.

A Testimony of Death

A testimony against injustice and against the propagandists of freedom, justice and equality.

Adnan Farhan Abdulatif while in the throes of death.

How's that for an indictment before an international tribunal?

[Note: a special thank you to Moonbootica for directing me to Andy Worthington's post this past weekend.]

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Monday, January 03, 2011

Full Of Sound And Fury

Ah, yes: Congress is returning. On Wednesday, January 5, the 112th Congress will be sworn in and the battles begin anew. It will be a contentious atmosphere: the Republicans, who hold the majority in the House and who made some inroads into the Senate, have promised that much. Their first target is the repeal of "Obamacare."

The repeal effort is part of a multipronged systematic strategy that House Republican leaders say will include trying to cut off money for the law, summoning Obama administration officials to testify at investigative hearings and encouraging state officials to attack the law in court as unconstitutional.

For House Republicans, a repeal vote would also be an important, if largely symbolic, opening salvo against the president, his party and his policy agenda.

“Obamacare didn’t lower costs and does not allow people to keep the care they have if they like it, as the president promised,” said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for Representative Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, the incoming House majority leader. “There will be a straight vote to repeal it prior to the State of the Union,” expected in late January.

Interestingly, the Democrats apparently welcome the challenge after spending the 2010 campaign season distancing themselves from the healthcare bill. And, if Sunday talk show blather is any measure, they seem to actually be developing a message they can take to the public.

Representative Robert E. Andrews, Democrat of New Jersey, challenged the Republicans to bring it on. “We will respond by pointing out the impact of repeal on people’s lives,” Mr. Andrews said. “On women with cancer who could be denied insurance because of a pre-existing condition. On senior citizens who would lose the help they are receiving to pay for prescriptions.”

Democrats argue that repeal would increase the number of uninsured; put insurers back in control of health insurance, allowing them to increase premiums at will; and lead to explosive growth in the federal budget deficit.
[Emphasis added]

The message is a good one: it appeals to the emotions (women with breast cancer, the elders and prescription costs) and it strikes at the very issue the Republicans like to claim as their own (the deficit). Such messaging skill would have served the Democrats better if it had been asserted during the campaigns, but its appearance at any time is always welcome.

The chances of a repeal of the law are virtually nil: the Democrats still control the Senate and the president has the veto pen out already. The problem is that the Republicans don't care. They intend to tie up the House with investigations, questioning of administration officials, and meaningless blather. After all, they promised their tea party supporters they would.

And that means that not much will get done in 2011 and possibly 2012.

Nothing new, eh?

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Sunday, January 02, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Mark McGuire-Schwartz

Obsessive Compulsive in Iraq

He showers excessively
While the bombs drop,
Silently repeating his mantra:
Wash away the war. Wash away
The war. Now, as he shampoos
For the fifth time, he sings the
Words aloud. Wash away the war.
Wash away the war. His uncle
Is missing, and his father
Shouts through the bathroom door.
Come out, Achmed, come out. You
Are using too much hot water.
And soap doesn’t grow on trees.

Olive oil soap does, sort of,
Achmed thinks, as he contorts
Himself to clean the farthest reaches
Of his back.

--Mark McGuire-Schwartz

(Found at Poets Against War.)

Sunday Funnies

(Political cartoon by Jim Morin / Miami Herald (December 30, 2010) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge).


Saturday, January 01, 2011

Bonus Critter Blogging: Oriental Hornet

(Photograph by Blickwinkel, Alamy, and published by National Geographic. Click on the link to learn about this "solar-powered" critter.)

Everything Old Is New Again

Happy Fucking New Year!

Traditionally, New Year's Day is a time of looking forward, a time when we can start fresh. That, of course, is actually unrealistic because the past continues to inform the present and almost inevitably shapes it.

Here's a good example of what I mean: Afghanistan

U.S. and NATO officials have sought to put a positive face on the last 12 months of fighting here, citing significant military gains in the Taliban's southern heartland, a concerted campaign of strikes targeting the insurgents' midlevel field command and the growth of the NATO force to levels at last deemed adequate for the task at hand.

The war in Afghanistan, which should never have been started, is now nearly nine years old. For many of those years, the US pretty much ignored the war because of the war in Iraq, which really should never have been started. Our neglect helped prolong things. As a candidate, Barack Obama made it clear from the get-go that the war in Afghanistan would get placed back on the front burner, and that was one promise he kept.

And the result? Well, the article looks back over the past year and what it finds is really disheartening:

The Taliban made deep inroads in swaths of the country previously regarded as relatively safe — the north, northwest and center — eroding confidence in the West's ability to protect the Afghan populace and hampering aid and reconstruction efforts. Parliamentary elections in September intended as a democratic showpiece devolved into fraud and chaos. Corruption tightened its grip on the government of President Hamid Karzai.

By midsummer, combat casualties among U.S. troops and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization force as a whole had already reached their highest annual levels of the war. On Friday, the American military toll stood just short of a grim milestone: 498 deaths, according to the independent website, more than in the previous two years put together.

Altogether, Western troops suffered more than 700 fatalities in 2010, heightening unease on the part of European governments keenly aware of the war's unpopularity at home. While the NATO allies presented a united front at a conference in November, the Americans — whose troops make up two-thirds of the 150,000-member Western force — privately fretted about the likelihood of the United States shouldering an even larger share of the military burden in coming years.

As violence burgeoned, civilian casualties did too, jumping by 20% in the first 10 months of 2010 compared with the same period in the previous year, according to the United Nations. Most of the 2,412 noncombatant deaths in that period were attributed to the Taliban. But many Afghans, to the frustration of Western military officials, tend to place the overall blame on Western forces, seeing their presence as a magnet for insurgent attacks that kill and injure civilians.


We'll be drawing down some troops this year, just like we promised. The surge worked just as well as it did in Iraq (where we still have troops who are still getting maimed and killed, just as Iraqi are still getting maimed and killed).


By 2014, the Afghan security forces will be able to take over and finish the job. We're paying off the war lords to make certain that happens.

Like I said: Happy Fucking New Year

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