Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Megalara Garuda Wasp

(Image courtesy Lynn Kimsey and Michael Ohl and published by National Geographic. Click on link to learn more about this "King of Wasps.")

Why We Can't Have Nice Things

There are times I wish I could go back in time to grab the country's founders by their necks and to shake them until their eyes spun. This is one of those times. Their idea of a "Senate" to offset the whimsy of the House just hasn't worked out of late.

The Senate has more Democrats than Republicans. That doesn't mean much, and hasn't for quite some time. The Republicans seem to always get their way, whether they have the majority or not. Case in point: the recent vote on getting rid of government tax breaks for oil companies whose profits are through the roof once again. Paul Whitefield had some rather brief but certainly pertinent comments on on the process.

As Time staff writers Lisa Mascaro and Christi Parsons reported Thursday: “The Senate blocked an effort to end billions of dollars in tax breaks for the oil industry, brushing aside President Obama's argument that the five big oil companies were doing ‘just fine’ while consumers were struggling with painfully high gasoline prices.”

Of course, on Capitol Hill, "consumers" are those people who need to be pandered to whenever an election rolls around. Big oil companies, on the other hand, are "providers" -- of lots of campaign contributions.

So I guess that’s how we got to this “free market,” the one in which oil companies are free to charge whatever they want for gasoline, Congress is free to keep giving tax breaks to an industry making huge profits, and you and I are free to walk, or bike, or scrimp on other things so we can put 87-octane into old Bessie.
[Emphasis added]

That article by Mascaro and Parsons to which Whitefield refers is also illuminating.

The measure to kill the industry tax preferences failed on a 51-47 procedural vote Thursday. It needed 60 votes to overcome a Republican-led filibuster that was supported by some Democrats from oil-rich states. [Emphasis added]

Because, of course, the "consumers" in oil-rich states aren't getting gouged by the oil companies, and aren't being affected by the slash-and-burn cutting of other federal programs (such as education, food stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, student loans, and so on) so that we can get our deficit under control rather than ending these billion dollar giveaways to the big five oil companies.

The "providers," also known as the "1%" or "our owners," wouldn't have it any other way. And our senators are only too happy to comply.

I swear, one of these days I'm gonna take a hostage.

Labels: , ,

Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

How Unsurprising

So, it looks like Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican nominee for president this November. He's gotten endorsements from the Old Guard (George H.W. Bush) and the New Guard (Marco Rubio). He's also raking in the money from a totally expected source: Wall Street.

Let there be no doubt where Wall Street's political loyalties lie: Of all the money the securities and investment industry has poured into the 2012 presidential contest so far -- to the candidates and the super PACs behind them -- an unambiguous 92 percent has gone to the GOP, according to a new Center for Responsive Politics analysis.

And in so doing, the securities and investment industry is betting hard on the candidacy of one of its own: Mitt Romney.

Between his campaign committee and a monster super PAC supporting his candidacy, Romney has benefited from about 72% percent of the near $33 million Wall Street has contributed through February.
[Emphasis added]

Bundlers and individual donors alike have been throwing every penny they can in Romney's direction, and when they get maxed out, they can rely on Citizens United to allow them to throw a whole bunch more.

Wall Street seems to have found an even more welcoming receptacle for its largesse in Restore Our Future, a super PAC founded by a manager of Romney's 2008 presidential campaign, which is spending millions in an auxiliary effort to propel Romney to the Republican presidential nomination and eventually into the White House.

Wealthy executives and corporations in securities and investment have contributed about $16.5 million to Restore Our Future -- more than twice the amount they have sent to his campaign. Such donors are taking advantage of a new political landscape that was reshaped by recent federal court decisions, such as the 2010 Supreme Court-decided Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which allows more money from more sources to fund hard-hitting political advertisements.
[Emphasis added]

President Obama: are you paying attention?

All that love you showered on the banksters doesn't seem to be reciprocated. I hope you aren't too surprised. I know I'm not, and I'm just a dirty hippy.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I Actually Didn't Expect This

After months of speechifying by Catholic Bishops, fundagelicals, congressional Republicans and campaigning Republicans, apparently the public is growing weary of the intrusion of religion into politics.

Americans are increasingly uneasy with the mingling of religion and politics, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center, in the midst of a campaign season punctuated by tussles over the role of faith in the public square.

Back in 2001, when Pew first asked the question, just 12 percent of Americans complained that their politicians talked too much about religion.

That number has risen steadily ever since and hit a record high in the new poll: 38 percent of Americans, including 24 percent of Republicans, now say their political leaders are overdoing it with their expressions of faith and prayer.

And more Americans than ever, 54 percent, believe churches should keep out of politics. That's up from 43 percent in 1996, according to the Pew Research Center.
[Emphasis added]

And as to the claim that President Obama and the Democrats (godless heathens all) are engaged in a war against religion (which is defined as Christianity) and religious liberty (which is defined as being free to be a Christian), another poll is also enlightening:

Among the public overall, 23 percent describe the Obama administration as unfriendly to religion, up from 17 percent in 2009. But another recent poll suggests the "war on religion" argument isn't gaining traction with most adults.

A national survey conducted this month by the Public Religion Research Institute found a majority of Americans, 56 percent, do not believe religious liberty is under siege.
[Emphasis added]

I admit to being a little surprised. Either I've become too cynical or people are finally waking up.

Either way, I'm delighted at the trend.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Family Budget

It has always struck me as ludicrous that the Pentagon budget is always the last to be slashed or even minimally lowered during difficult economic times. We can expect attacks on social programs, like free lunches for poor children or Medicaid, but the Pentagon ... well, it's simply too important to touch. It's even harder these days because we seem to be caught up in the idea of perpetual war and it would be unpatriotic to undercut our troops. Jets that won't fly, tanks that are too unwieldy for the modern battlefield: no matter. We need them.

It's especially disconcerting when the expenditures on weaponry are for the benefit of another nation.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is pushing for congressional funding to ship more Iron Dome missile defense systems to Israel.

“The Department of Defense has been in conversations with ... Israel about U.S. support for the acquisition of additional Iron Dome systems and intends to request an appropriate level of funding from Congress to support such acquisitions based on Israeli requirements and production capacity," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement released Tuesday.

DOD had set aside more than $200 million to help Israel purchase and field the Iron Dome system in fiscal 2012. Israel already has three Iron Dome systems deployed in the country.

They have been key in deterring counter short-range rocket and mortar attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip, according to Little.
[Emphasis added]

Yes, I know: these are defensive systems intended to protect Israel from incoming missiles. And I do admit that I find funding such systems a bit more palatable then assisting Israel buy more rockets and jet fighters. That said, I still find it hard to swallow that we're spending hundreds of millions of dollars to prop up a nation that by all outward signs is still not serious about solving the biggest problem in the Middle East right now as it spreads its "settlements" into Palestinian territory and locks down other parts of that land.

From the looks of things, however, it appears that Israel will get this further assistance and the vote will truly be bipartisan:

“Iron Dome is a game changer,” said Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.). “The threats Israel faces from incoming, indiscriminate terrorist rocket attacks are countered by this cutting edge anti-missile system. Iron Dome is fundamentally shifting political, diplomatic and military realities on the ground."

Berman, a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has pushed a number of pro-Israeli measures, including an extension of an Israeli loan guarantee program and further sanctions against Iran, along with more funding for Iron Dome systems.

Rep. Berman has lots of friends from the other side of the aisle rushing to join him in pushing for that additional funding. Unfortunately, no such cooperation appears to be imminent for additional funding for such programs as WIC, school lunches, Medicaid and the like. I guess our welfare isn't quite as important.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dumping Grounds

Did you ever notice how Superfund sites are rarely located in places like Beverly Hills? Usually, the contaminated landfills are situated in less wealthy areas, places that don't have enough money and political clout to make NIMBY work for local residents. Upstate New York has a few of those nasty sites, one of which is located on a Mohawk reservation.

The rural landscape, with houses scattered among fields and trees and along the river, is part of ancestral tribal homelands that once extended 125 miles south to the Mohawk River. The reservation, about 21 square miles on the U.S. and Canadian sides of the St. Lawrence, is home to about 16,000 people.

Immediately upstream is a shuttered General Motors factory, now a federal Superfund site where tons of toxic waste have been removed. Tons more remain, including the 12-acre landfill that has been capped with a layer of clay and grass and declared safe, no longer a threat.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls — considered probable carcinogens — are the main contaminant, dumped as sludge after use as electrical equipment coolants. Studies 20 years ago documented higher than normal PCB levels in the breast milk of Akwesasne nursing mothers and more recently in adolescents; the toxins persist in human tissue for years. High levels have been found in St. Lawrence River turtles and fish, which the state cautions against eating.
[Emphasis added]

That landfill is located on the Mohawk land, ironically in an area once used for vegetable gardens. Instead of hauling the sludge away, the EPA decided on a cover-up, literally. Some of the residents and their supporters find that a less than satisfactory response.

The federal government says it has eliminated the "immediate exposure pathways" of contaminants leaking into the river and groundwater. After river dredging, groundwater containment and waste removal, the cleanup agreement calls for leaving the landfill as it is. Monitoring and other cleanup work continue.

"We believe that the 12-acre landfill has been contained and that it does not pose a threat to public health and the environment," said EPA's Enck.

But Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and Environment at the State University at Albany, said the landfill poses a health threat because of PCB air contamination.

"In fact landfills are not secure," Carpenter said. "PCBs volatilize and escape into the air. I'd be very much in favor of digging it up. It should be moved totally away from the reservation." ...

Thompson [one of the residents] believes cancer, diabetes, thyroid disease and other ailments have afflicted generations of people who lived on the reservation. While there are no definitive cancer studies proving the PCBs have caused illness at Akwesasne, Carpenter said recent research has shown a strong relationship between PCBs and low thyroid hormones, adult diabetes and heart disease.

But, hey! They're just Native Americans in rural New York. No big deal, eh?

The EPA should be ashamed.

Labels: ,

Monday, March 26, 2012

It's Complicated

David Horsey's recent cartoon and column pretty well captures a significant strand in the Trayvon Martin tragedy: that of the racism African Americans, especially young men, still endure.

Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old kid walking back to his father's house after buying a package of Skittles at a convenience store. George Zimmerman was an overzealous block watch volunteer carrying a gun. Zimmerman may have been carrying something else around with him: an attitude about black kids and where they belonged. ...

Zimmerman considered Martin a suspicious character -- at least that's what he was telling the 911 dispatcher he had on the line. He also told the dispatcher that "these ... always get away," according to a recording of the call that has been released. Then he took off running after Martin and uttered to the dispatcher a word that some listeners heard to be a racial epithet.

Martin, of course, was African American and, even though this gated neighborhood in Sanford, Fla., happened to be where his dad lived, in Zimmerman's eyes, he did not belong there.

Yes, even after electing a Black man President of the United States, our society still is wracked by racism. And, yes, it is hard to imagine this scenario playing out as it did without that racism being part of the equation. When an alleged journalist can go on national television and suggest that a young Black man wearing a hoodie is just asking to be a target, we may feign outrage at the blatant racism of the statement, but we also need to admit that the statement is sadly true.

And so, once again, our nation is revisiting one of the most painful aspects of our culture. We were due, and it is a subject that needs to be acknowledged and openly discussed. All sides need to be part of the conversation, and all sides need to listen closely to what is being said and what is not being said if we are to move beyond this morass, however glacially, into a more open society where the content of one's character really is more important than the color of one's skin or the shape of one's eyes.

But, as I suggested at the top, racism is only one part of the story. The other significant part is the Florida law which allowed George Zimmerman to walk around his neighborhood playing cop with a gun strapped to his thigh. The law enabled the racism to move beyond crude epithets to a deadly outcome, something which opponents of the law warned would happen. Now, even proponents of the law are beginning to realize that maybe that law just isn't working out as it should.

Opinions about so-called "stand your ground" legislation — at the center of the Trayvon Martin killing in Sanford, Fla. — are as vastly different as the cases in which it has been invoked since Florida in 2005 became the first state to adopt such a statute. But now, even defenders of "stand your ground" laws say they may need tweaking to clarify the stew of interpretations that critics say are letting people like George Zimmerman, who shot the unarmed 17-year-old, get away with murder. ...

Few dispute the right of people to defend themselves inside their homes. The problem comes when both parties have a right to be where an assault has occurred, as in the Martin case, said Jacksonville, Fla., defense attorney Eric Friday, who lobbied for "stand your ground." "You fall back on who was the aggressor," he said.

That forces prosecutors "to prove the person is not reasonable" when someone opens fire, said Sam Hoover, an attorney at the Legal Community Against Violence in San Francisco, which opposes the laws. "It makes it hard in cases, including the Trayvon Martin case, to arrest the individual who killed him."
[Emphasis added]

As I pointed out in an earlier post on this story, anyone with two functioning brain cells could have predicted that the law would bring forth a tragedy like this one. Tweaking it by giving the local constabulary the power to arrest the last man standing isn't going to change anything. Yes, at least George Zimmerman would not be walking around a free man while he awaited trial on the issues, but Trayvon Martin would still be dead. That's as warped a view of justice as I can imagine.

Contrary to the opinion of the all-sanctified holy NRA, the Second Amendment is not about the right to walk around town wearing a gun to shoot anyone who looks threatening, hoodie or not. It's time that organization and its bought-and-paid-for politicians are brought to heel. It's time to repeal this type of law and others like it. It is enabling legislation of the worst kind.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Emily Dickinson

Success Is Counted Sweetest

SUCCESS is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple host
Who took the flag to-day
Can tell the definition,
So clear, of victory,

As he, defeated, dying,
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Break, agonized and clear.

--Emily Dickinson

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (March 21, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Desert Tortoise

(Photo and caption by Linda Hines and published at National Geographic.)

Corporate Scum

Now here's a story to warm the cockles of your heart. Or not.

A former California food company owner pleaded guilty Thursday to racketeering in a national tomato price-fixing plot.

Frederick Scott Salyer, 56, was charged with bribing purchasing managers to buy tomato products from his company, Monterey-based SK Foods. Prosecutors say he fixed prices and rigged bids for the sale of tomato products to McCain Foods USA Inc., ConAgra Foods Inc. and Kraft Foods Inc. ...

Slayer was accused of being at the center of price-fixing ring that helped SK Foods capture 14 percent of the processed tomato market and rise to the second largest tomato processor in the state before investigators raided the company in 2008.

A bribe here, a bribe there, and suddenly the price of canned tomatoes and tomato sauce and paste went up. And up.

It's hard to blame Obama for this one.

Labels: ,

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

(As a favor to the neighbor who usually does it, I took the food down to the feral cats who live behind our apartment building's parking lot. This is essentially what greeted me.)

Things That Make You Go Really?

There was an interesting little article in yesterday's Sacramento Bee on some non-traditional treatments for Alzheimer's Disease.

...Two new scientific studies in the past couple of months have shown some benefit in helping brain functioning amid Alzheimer's: one on meditation, the other on rosemary oil aromatherapy.

My first response to that was to scratch my head in puzzlement. Could the authors of the article really be suggesting that "woo-woo" medicine might have a place in treating this disease, things that doctors should be considering? The answer is yes. Unfortunately, they didn't provide a link to either study or give much information about the two. Also, unfortunately, I didn't have time to hit the Google to track the two studies down, although I will hopefully be able to do so later today. If I find them, I'll post an update.

In any event, here's the brief conclusion on the use of meditation by Alzheimer's patients:

Early findings showed a surprising, substantial increase in cerebral blood flow in the patients' prefrontal, superior frontal and superior parietal cortices, and also better cognitive function in the group that performed regular meditation. [Emphasis added]

And here's the finding on rosemary oil aromatherapy:

Results indicate for the first time in human subjects that concentration of 1,8- cineole in the blood is related to an individual's cognitive performance – with higher concentrations resulting in improved performance. Both speed and accuracy were improved in the study in cognitive functioning. [Emphasis added]

Now, without knowing more than the article provided, and without further studies testing the hypotheses, I'm not about to rush out and take a meditation class and to purchase a rosemary oil aromatherapy machine. Still, the findings of these two studies are interesting and do deserve a further look-see.

As the article states in its conclusion, the brain is one complicated organ:

...The brain is a complex organism, with many complex mechanisms that lead to optimum functioning. Early trials show that aromatherapy and meditation improve blood supply and enhance cognitive skills. Ongoing data are showing us that we have much power to help treat Alzheimer's integratively, keeping in mind that environment, exercise, health, lifestyle, meditation, music and smells can be all be beneficial in improving brain function.

It's pretty hard to argue with that.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Money Money Money Money

David Horsey has a pretty perceptive analysis of Mitt Romney's win in Illinois this week:

Tuesday night in the Illinois primary, Mitt Romney won his most convincing victory so far and demonstrated, once again, the power of money in politics.

Romney's critics have carped that he has had to buy his wins; that the endless stream of negative TV ads he has been able to put up have made it an unfair contest. One of Romney's spinners had a pretty good answer to that: It's like a losing basketball team complaining how unfair it is that the guys on the other side are too tall.

In the end, money almost always wins in politics. ...

Indeed, and that's why both parties are going to great lengths to procure plenty of it. President Obama, who doesn't have a primary challenger, has been out raising the Republican candidates and hasn't had to spend much during this part of the year. Romney, who has been assiduously planning this campaign for several years, has the money and the organization in place to raise more and to hit the ground running in the key states he needs to wrap up the nomination quickly. His three opponents? Eh, not so much, and it showed in Illinois.

Illinois was a good test for the Republican field. It isn't anyone's home state. It isn't a deep-red Southern state. It is a big state with a diverse population that looks a lot like the country as a whole. Rick Santorum gave it his best shot, finally getting a virtual two-man match-up, since Newt Gingrich did not compete and Ron Paul has faded to an afterthought. And Romney hammered Santorum with his money machine. ...

The big question that remains at this halfway point in the primary season is whether Romney can win the nomination outright once every state has had its say. All the chatter about a brokered convention may just be the wishful thinking of Santorum fans and political reporters hoping for something interesting to do when they head to Tampa, Fla., for the GOP gathering at the end of the summer. Still, poll tracking done by Real Clear Politics indicates the support for each of the candidates is firming up. If so, that means the delegate split will continue, making it harder for Romney to pull away and win it all by June.

Mr. Horsey didn't mention a couple of things which also play into the GOP campaign right now. The first, of course, is voter turn out, which has been amazingly low in each contest so far. That has to be worrisome for the GOP because it seems to show that voters are just not all that excited about any of the candidates. Romney's organization may have been able to get out the vote at key moments, giving him his roughly two-to-one lead in delegates, but there's still a lot of country cover.

Second, Mr. Romney continues to wander off script and to utter the kind of statements that turn off voters. "Corporations are people." "I like firing people.""I have friends who are [NASCAR] [NFL] [other pro sports teams] owners." Now that failing seems to be spreading to key members of his staff:

From Greg Sargent at the Washington Post, via Atrios:

Think Progress flags an amazing exchange on CNN, in which Eric Fehrnstrom, a top adviser to Mitt Romney, seems to confirm that the conservative positions Romney has been forced to take during the primary won’t be a big deal because he can simply erase them once he becomes the GOP nominee: ...

Here’s the exchange:

HOST: Is there a concern that Santorum and Gingrich might force the governor to tack so far to the right it would hurt him with moderate voters in the general election?

FEHRNSTROM: Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.

Hoo, boy! That's a real clanker! One worthy of his boss.

And not only the Democrats pounced on that statement with glee; so did Rick Santorum. Mitt, Mr. Flip Flop, still has a rough road to the convention. David Horsey may be right that money is what matters, but if Romney gets the nomination, it may very well be that the GOP has given up all hope for the White House in November and will instead concentrate on down-ballot elections.

Popcorn futures are rising. You might want to buy now while you still can.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For

A couple of weeks ago, I posted on the veto of a Minnesota state legislature bill to expand the zone of the permissible use of deadly force from just the home to anywhere a citizen "felt threatened." I lauded Governor Dayton's veto of the bill, noting that police groups hated it as much as gun control people did. It was a bill designed to make our society armed and dangerous.

The tragic death of Trayvon Martin, shot by a self-proclaimed "neighborhood watch captain", brings that point home with deadly clarity. Florida has such a law, which the local police department relied on when it refused to arrest George Zimmerman, the man who shot the seventeen-year-old Martin. Now, some of the legislators who pushed the Florida bill are scrambling for cover.

The authors of Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law say the killer of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin probably should be arrested and doesn't deserve immunity under the statute.

The comments from the Republican lawmakers came the same day state Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Democrat, urged the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators to call for the law to be repealed, amended or subject to legislative hearings. ...

But the lawmakers who crafted the legislation in 2005 - former Sen. Durell Peaden and current state Rep. Dennis Baxley - said the law doesn't need to be changed. They believe it has been misapplied in the shooting death of Trayvon by a Sanford crime-watch captain, George Zimmerman.

Their argument is that Zimmerman doesn't qualify for the protection because he wasn't confronted by Martin. Zimmerman was the one doing the confronting, and did so even after the police department explicitly told him to back off when he called to report a suspicious Black man wandering around the gated neighborhood.

Oh, please.

Anyone with two working brain cells could have foreseen that some nutter cop-wannabe with a racist view of the world would use the law to go hunting down strangers of the wrong color who wandered into their neighborhood. It was precisely this kind of foreseeable consequence that so worried police officials in Minnesota. Such a law moves the impulse to shoot-to-kill from last to first place in self-defense options.

And the result of such a law is the death of a young man guilty only of walking while Black.

There are times when I actually hate being right.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

And The Hits Just Keep Coming

Elders in Minnesota got some rather disturbing news in the mail recently. The premiums on their long term health care policies have gone up, some by as much as 90%.

Premiums are soaring by 20 to 90 percent for thousands of Minnesotans who carry long-term care insurance, and many older people are struggling to figure out what to do. ...

The unforeseen premium increases have caused a rash of calls to state regulators and advocates from worried or irate older Minnesotans.

But the effect could go much further. It could dampen a new three-year effort by state agencies to convince more people to finance their own long-term care in old age. About 7 percent of nursing home residents have long-term care insurance. But about two-thirds are covered by Medicaid, which spends $3.5 billion a year on long-term care in Minnesota and whose rising costs present growing budget problems for the state.

And it's not just Minnesota which is being hit. Across the nation, premiums for the policies that pay for nursing home/rehabilitation hospital stays and for at-home health care givers are going up as well. Most of these costs are not covered by Medicare, which leaves elders with few options. They can either find a way to pay the increased premiums or they can spend their life savings down to zero and then hope to qualify for Medicaid. State governments are beginning to panic.

Is this just another example of health insurance companies making a grab for more dollars? Sadly, mostly not.

Insurers say higher premiums became necessary because people are living longer and fewer than expected are dropping their policies. At the same time, extraordinarily low interest rates mean insurance companies are earning less on investments that back the policies. For the most part, state regulators have agreed.

Some elders, using a little creative thinking, have changed the terms of the policy by lowering the number of years the policies would pay for the covered costs, say, from six years to two. Others are cutting back on other expenditures to pay the higher premiums. In both cases, the problem is being delayed, not solved.

The solution to this problem is going to be very difficult. Nursing homes cost at least $5,000 a month, much of which is not covered by traditional Medicare Parts A and B. A way to include more coverage of these expenses has to be found, and reducing payroll contributions is just not going to help matters. Costs themselves have to be contained at the provider level, something the ACA hopes to address, but whether the new law makes it through the Supreme Court challenge remains to be seen. Long term health care insurers are going to have to find ways to serve their customers better and more efficiently than they have. And the economy has to grow so that the premium investments yield more than they have the past five years.

Of course, other nations have found ways to solve this problem, primarily through a single-payer system or through nationalized health care. Apparently those options are still way off the table.

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 19, 2012

Shocking, But Not Surprising

(Editorial cartoon by Jim Morin / Miami Herald (March 14, 2012)and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)

Over the past week, more information on the soldier charged with gunning down 16 Afghanistan civilians has emerged:

The soldier suspected of shooting 16 Afghan civilians has been identified as Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a U.S. official confirmed Friday. ...

A 38-year-old father of two, he'd served in the Army for 11 years. He had been deployed to Iraq three times and was on his fourth deployment, this time to Afghanistan.

Bales grew up in the Midwest and joined the Army after the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, Browne said. He was injured during a previous tour in Iraq when the vehicle in which he was riding was hit by an improvised explosive device, the lawyer said. He suffered a concussive head injury and a wound that caused him to lose part of his foot.
[Emphasis added]

Now, given these facts and the fact that like all soldiers he had been trained to kill, his actions, while deplorable, are not all that surprising. Clearly he had been over-deployed. He probably was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his own injuries and from witnessing the injuries and deaths of his own troops. What is surprising is that more such incidents don't occur, or at least are not reported.

It is hard not to find some sympathy for Staff Sergeant Bales and for his family. What a horrible end to a lengthy career, and yet there are those who are outraged at the notion of cutting him any slack:

Talk like that infuriates Fred Wellman, a retired Army lieutenant colonel from Fredericksburg, Va., who did three tours in Iraq. He said comments like those of Bales' neighbors and his attorney simply feed into the notion of "the broken veteran."

Wellman does not deny that 10 years of war have severely strained the service. But while others might see Bales as a wounded soul, Wellman sees a man who sneaked off base to commit his alleged crimes, then had the presence of mind to "lawyer up" as soon as he was caught.

"That may play well with certain circles of the civilian community, which doesn't understand our lives," Wellman said. "But he's going to be tried by a military court ... and chances are three or four of those guys had things happen to them, may have had three or four tours, may have lost people, may have been blown up. And NONE of them snapped and killed 16 people." He added: "It's just too easy, and a lot of us, we're not buying it."

Oh, please. That's a pretty easy stance for a retired officer to take. The mere fact that the lieutenant colonel used the word "snapped" kind of undercuts his argument, yes?

Others, however, have managed to pinpoint what the real problem is, one that we will be facing for years, perhaps decades:

Benjamin Busch, a Marine veteran of two tours of Iraq, wrote last week on the website The Daily Beast that he and his comrades are afraid to admit that Bales "lost his mind in war," because that "allows for the possibility that any one of us could go insane at any time, and that every veteran poisoned by their combat experience could be on edge for life." ...

The killings sent Thomas L. Amerson, a retired Navy captain from Ledyard, Conn., back to the history books to explore other stains on America's military history, including the 1968 massacre of Vietnamese civilians at the village of My Lai. Too often, he argued, Americans absolve the leaders who start the wars and "invest the full responsibility in the combatants themselves and the families that support them."

"These actions in Iraq and Afghanistan have been more than a clash of combatants; they have been a clash of cultures, ideologies, and religions that has blurred the lines of right and wrong," Amerson wrote in an email to The Associated Press.
[Emphasis added]

I don't know what justice will look like in Staff Sergeant Bales' case, but I hope it is tempered with mercy. I also hope that the case puts more pressure on the military to take the steps necessary to ensure that before deploying an already injured soldier for the fourth time he is thoroughly checked out, more thoroughly than Bales was.

Finally, I hope this country gets to the point where it can finally acknowledge that war is simply not healthy for human beings, that it is the sign of failure that impedes our growth as species. And I hope that realization comes sooner rather than later.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Denise Levertov


Brilliant, this day – a young virtuoso of a day.
Morning shadow cut by sharpest scissors,
deft hands. And every prodigy of green –
whether it's ferns or lichens or needles
or impatient points of buds on spindly bushes –
greener than ever before. And the way the conifers
hold new cones to the light for the blessing,
a festive right, and sing the oceanic chant the wind
transcribes for them!
A day that shines in the cold
like a first-prize brass band swinging along
the street
of a coal-dusty village, wholly at odds
with the claims of reasonable gloom.

--Denise Levertov

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Tom Toles and published March 16, 2012 by the Washington Post. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Aye-Aye

(Photograph by Dani Jeske/Animals Animals-Earth Scenes and published at National Geographic. Click on link to learn more about this small primate.)


A lot of ink has been spilled and a lot of electrons sacrificed on the twin brouhahas of Rush Limbaugh's over-the-top spewage and Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury moralizing. It's always nice when both sides are outraged on the same basic issue because it shows that there still are points of agreement, even if folks refuse to acknowledge them. Conservatives and Liberals alike have suddenly discovered the First Amendment right to free speech and have deplored censorship. This is a good thing, in my opinion, and it does give me some hope.

Like some other elder liberals, I'm a First Amendment absolutist. I believe the free exchange of ideas, even of the most odious sort, is essential to a free society. In the marketplace of ideas, the bad stuff ultimately gets seen for what it is: bad stuff. With censorship, which, by the way, means government censorship, that doesn't happen.

Today's Sacramento Bee has a pretty good editorial on the issue, even if it's conclusion is surprisingly weak.

Strong opinions often stretch the tolerance of Americans to embrace free speech, even among people who would normally call themselves supporters of the First Amendment. Yet two acts of speech the past several weeks – each very different from one another – have demonstrated why we must embrace the right of all Americans to speak their minds, and how to respond to speech we deem to be offensive. ...

to get Limbaugh off the air in Sacramento and other cities. Limbaugh's supporters, in turn, have accused MoveOn of attempting to "censor" the conservative radio host.

Allegations of censorship have also arisen as many newspapers nationwide have weighed whether or not to run Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury strip this week. The series, which concludes today, uses graphic imagery to mock a Texas law requiring women to have an ultrasound before getting an abortion.

Some papers have chosen to run the controversial series on the comics pages, or move it to the opinion pages (as The Bee did). Other newspapers have decided not to run it, resulting in some readers accusing them of censoring Trudeau. ...

In free countries, newspapers and broadcast outlets have the right to determine what kind of opinions they do or do not want to publish or air.

Declining to disseminate a certain opinion does not constitute censorship.

That certainly is correct. Again, censorship is done by the government, not by the purveyors of marketplace information, in these two cases radio stations and news outlets (print or electronic). Still, in a truly free society, that should not be the end of the discussion. In fact, that is where the discussion gets interesting and where The Bee almost gets it right.

MoveOn has every right to call for Limbaugh's removal from radio stations, but frankly, we'd prefer that this group's membership insist that radio stations provide regular opportunities for listeners to rebut commentary by Limbaugh and other commentators. If they don't, broadcast critics will have a stronger argument for going to Congress on legislation that would require the Federal Communications Commission to reinstate and start enforcing the Fairness Doctrine again. Up until it was dismantled in 1987, this doctrine required the holders of broadcast licenses to present controversial issues and to do so in a manner that, in the FCC's view, was honest, equitable and balanced.

In our view, there shouldn't need to be a law requiring fair comment from broadcasters or any form of media. It's a smart business practice, and should be an ethical obligation.
[Emphasis added]

It may be a smart business practice and an ethical obligation, but it certainly is not observable in modern practice. If it were, Fox Cable News would be out of business, the Sunday "Bobbleheads" would have more women and more actual liberals on their talk shows, and for every Rush Limbaugh diatribe there would be a Rachel Maddow response on the same stations and with the same amount of time allotted.

For those reasons, I sincerely hope that critics of the current system do go to Congress and insist that the Fairness Doctrine be re-instituted. It's one way to ensure that the marketplace of ideas is indeed free and open.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

Pirate Capitalism

Ah, David Horsey to the rescue. After a being visited with a rare bout of insomnia last night, I was in no shape to do any reading, much less any blogging. I went back to bed for a few hours, got a little sleep, and discovered Horsey's latest post in the Los Angeles Times. Horsey moved away from his usual presidential race assignment and picked a current news theme: the fall-out from Greg Smith's revelatory opinion piece on the ethos of Goldman Sachs.

The good news is that $2.15 billion of Goldman Sachs’ market value was wiped out by a disillusioned executive’s very public parting shot at the investment bank’s greed and selfish cynicism.

The bad news is it will probably be a temporary loss and will do little to change the ethical climate at Goldman Sachs or in the larger world of Wall Street. Pirates are a hard bunch to reform. ...

Smith’s revelations are no big surprise to critics of the big banks and financial firms. What is significant is that the criticism comes from an insider who was part of the greed machine.

There are already those who are saying: So what? Isn’t making money the whole purpose of capitalism?

Yes, it is. But there is more than one way to make money. ...

Why yes, yes there is. One can rob banks or steal the copper wiring in vacant homes. One can sell drugs. One can burgle homes. Or, in an atmosphere of unfettered, unregulated capitalism, one can steal money from the very clients who are depending on companies for sensible and sound investments. Goldman Sachs (and, for that matter, MF Global) deal in the last way.

Newt Gingrich called it vulture capitalism as he took a swipe at Mitt Romney and Romney's tour with Bain Capital. Horsey adds a more human touch by calling it "pirate capitalism." For me, both terms work.

It is vulture capitalism that drove the country to the edge of financial disaster in 2008. Back then, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who was disgusted by it all. He insisted that the core purpose of business is to serve customers and the community, not merely make fortunes for Wall Street players who trade in exotic financial schemes that build nothing and create no jobs. [Emphasis added]

Wise choice in friends, Mr. Horsey.


Mental Health Day

(I had a rough night, and right now I've got nothing. Maybe later, certainly in time for Friday Cat Blogging.)


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Deal? What Deal?

Libby Spencer has an appropriately irate post up on the intention of House Republicans to revisit the deal made last year to avoid a government shut-down.

...With the proverbial certainty of death and taxes, it appears the world's most cowardly Speaker in the history of man, is going to cave into his crazy tea party caucus and engineer another hostage taking government shutdown in September. ...

In other words, forget the deal they made the last time. Under the code of "true" conservatives, it was just a bunch of goddamn words.

A government shut-down just before the November election? What, are they crazy?

Apparently so. Even though they agreed to a certain level of cuts to avoid a shutdown (and a default) through 2013, this group now thinks maybe it would be nice to cut even more, the previous deal be damned.

I wonder who sent the blast fax to provoke this frenzy, especially since it's not just congressional Republicans who have decided to go back on their word. Republican legislators at the state level are doing the same thing. In Minnesota, for example, they've decided that the deal they made during that state's shutdown isn't good enough when it comes to the financing of public transportation.

GOP legislators are pushing increased fares for metro buses, light-rail and commuter trains, part of a longstanding effort to shift more of the cost of transit from taxpayers to riders.

Supporters say a 25-cent hike is justified as gasoline prices rise for motorists, but opponents say the increase would violate a deal that broke the state budget impasse last summer. ...

The Metropolitan Council, which oversees Metro Transit, said the proposal to raise fares would break a deal between DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republicans last year that ended the state government shutdown.

"We had agreed we were not going to raise fares during this ... budget cycle," said Judd Schetnan, a lobbyist for the Met Council. "We'd like to abide by that agreement."

That budget deal runs until the end of June 2013. Schetnan said the agency would be willing to consider fare increases after that.
[Emphasis added]

Now, a quarter doesn't seem like a whole lot of money, but it's a significant increase over the already hefty fares. During off-peak hours, the current adult fare is $1.75. During rush hours, it's $2.25. Elders (over 65) get a break during off-peak, but none during rush hours. A chart which summarizes the fares for Minneapolis public transit is available here.

The "reasoning" behind the proposed hikes is that users should have to pay more for the cost of public transportation so that less of the general fund is used. Ironically, the user-fee argument isn't used for drivers. Gasoline taxes hardly cover the cost of repairing and maintaining streets and highways, yet no one seems to be clamoring for higher taxes at the pump. The argument there is that gas is so expensive that they wouldn't dare. Besides, everybody knows that one of the functions of government is to provide and maintain the roads. Apparently public transportation doesn't qualify for that treatment.

Now, given the rising cost of gasoline and the damage it's over-use is causing the environment, you'd think people would try to find ways to tempt people into using public transportation. If nothing else, it would save some wear and tear on the roadways. You would, of course, be wrong. The obvious target here is not the cost of moving people intelligently but those who depend on public transportation, i.e., the poor. It's always safe to target them.

And so, breaking promises comes easily for the Republicans at all levels, especially when it comes to the vulnerable.

Nothing new here, move along, move along.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Game Change?

Well, that Tuesday is finally over. As it turns out, my initial assessment was closer to the results than the pollsters and pundits predicted. I thought Newt Gingrich would do much better and would win one of the two Southern states (he didn't), but I didn't think Romney would do well at all (he didn't). Santorum took both Alabama and Mississippi and while they weren't overwhelming victories, they were victories.

Recent polls and yesterday's exit polls seemed to be indicating that Romney was surging and might very well take both states. Wrong. Either the voters simply punked the pollsters or the "Bradley Effect" has resurfaced. Either/or, the evangelical base turned out for Santorum. And voter turnout, which was light (continuing that trend for this election cycle), was key.

Now the pundits are casting the nomination chase as a two-man race between Romney and Santorum (the strongest not-Romney to date). That gives the whole process the drama news outlets prefer. Voters, eh ... not so much at this point. It's clear by the low turnout figures that Republicans are not all that thrilled by either man: Romney comes across as a wealthy robot and Santorum as a likeable but goofy guy. It's hard to find any presidential attributes in either.

The Republican establishment has to be very nervous and a little embarrassed at this point. People like Haley Barbour endorsed Mitt Romney, but he got creamed in the governor's state. Santorum is a bit of a loose cannon with his social views which, given all the other weirdness from social conservatives in the party, at this point seems to be driving moderates and independents away from the party. This doesn't bode well for down-ticket Republican candidates.

David Horsey, in his review of the Sarah Palin movie made a very perceptive comment that I think applies here:

Sarah Palin had political smarts but no knowledge. She did not know how much she didn’t know. When asked to join the Republican ticket, she immediately said yes with the utter confidence of the clueless. And who can blame her?

The blame for this reckless choice lies with the smart guys, like Steve Schmidt, who thought they were clever enough to transform the presidential campaign. The biggest lesson of “Game Change” is not that Sarah Palin is dumb, it is that all the wise guys who manipulate the chutes and ladders of the American political system only flatter themselves when they think they are so much smarter than everyone else.

The wise guys still haven't learned, at least not yet.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Just Another Tuesday

(Political cartoon by Tom Tomorrow. Click on image to enlarge and then come on back.)

If it's a Tuesday, there's another round of voting for the GOP nomination for president. This time Alabama and Mississippi are the most important places in the world in determining who will be the ultimate winner. I selected Tom Tomorrow's 'toon to lead off this post because I thought it pretty much captured what I thought would be reflective of the outcome. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich would do well, with each man taking a state.

Maybe, but then again maybe not.

But the Deep South base is not as predictable as it once was. National polling companies have found a volatile contest in Alabama and Mississippi, a near toss-up among the three leading candidates. And indeed the primaries represent a rather neat slicing of the Southern electorate at the current moment.

“The base is split all over the place on this,” said Mike Ball, a Republican state legislator in Alabama. ...

A common wish is for some combination of the three current frontrunners, a candidate described by one caller to an Alabama talk radio show as having Mr. Romney’s looks, Mr. Gingrich’s brains and Mr. Santorum’s moral fiber.

“Newt, he’s consistent with his beliefs until he changes his mind,” said Cleveland Poole, the head of the Republican Party in Butler County, Ala. “Santorum seems to be more and more at ease in getting his message out, but his problem is he’s more likable than he is presidential.”

Mr. Poole said he knew some Romney supporters, but they were all in the Republican establishment. “Everybody that I talk to says that they flip-flop back and forth every day,” he said.
[Emphasis added]

My feeling as to Mitt Romney's chances in either deep-south state was pretty much captured by Kevin Sier's March 9, 2012 cartoon. He just wouldn't appeal to voters in Scarlett Red south.

Again, I could be wrong, at least that's what some very recent polling seems to suggest:

In a poll of likely voters in Mississippi's Republican primary, Romney led rival Newt Gingrich, 34% to 32%, which was within the poll's sampling margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points, meaning they were essentially tied. The survey was conducted Saturday and Sunday. And a poll of likely voters in Alabama's primary conducted Friday through Sunday showed Gingrich holding a 2-point lead there -- 34% to 31% -- but again within the poll's sampling error.

Rick Santorum trailed in both polls -- 10 points behind Gingrich in Alabama and 12 points behind Romney in Mississippi.

That surprised me, maybe even shocked me. Apparently President Obama is so hated by voters in both states that they would hold their noses and vote for Romney as somebody who could actually win the election in November. Poor Ugg.

Libby Spencer's theory of a brokered convention at which a white knight is substituted for the current candidates is beginning to seem even more plausible, especially since Michael Steele set up the system for this year's primary/caucus season as a way to fire up the entire party, not just the base.

Maybe, maybe not. We'll see late tonight. I'll tell you one thing, though: I'm still bullish on popcorn futures.


Monday, March 12, 2012

About Damned Time!

No, this isn't a post kvetching about the annual change to Daylight Savings Time (which I loathe with every fiber of my being). It's about hospitals finally recognizing that they can do more for their elder patients.

At least one-third of hospital patients older than 70 leave more frail than when they arrived, and many become too weak to go home. Nursing home care or rehabilitation often are needed, and even then, research suggests more than two-thirds remain weaker a year after being in the hospital.

Elder-care experts challenge the idea that this decline is an inevitable part of growing old. They say conventional hospital care focusing on treating disease rather than preventing frailty contributes to the problem.

"Non-medical people say, 'Grandma went to the hospital with pneumonia ... and she was never the same again," said Dr. Kenneth Covinsky, a geriatrics specialist at University of California at San Francisco. "Pneumonia is a serious illness, but it is treatable" and should not leave patients disabled.

He and other advocates say hospitals need to revamp old-fashioned models of patient care to address the nation's aging population — from getting patients out of bed to offering better food and homey surroundings.
[Emphasis added]

Well, duh!

All patients do better if they are encouraged to get out of bed and do a little walking, even if it is with assistance. Lying in bed facing four white walls and/or a television set for twenty-fours a day is not conducive to healing.

And offering food that is more palatable is also a good thing. What complicates it somewhat for elders is special diets for those with full or partial dentures are sometimes required, but all hospitals have dieticians who should know this and design the elders' food accordingly. And serving foods in cellophane packaging (such as sandwiches or cookies) or cartons (such as milk or juice) may require aides to open them for the elders if arthritic hands and fingers make it difficult.

This is not rocket science, people.

Yes, the improvements may require additional expense, but they aren't nearly as expensive as a stay in a convalescent hospital or nursing home after release from the hospital. Further, judicious use of volunteers trained to work with elders with special needs may diminish some of that expense.

For more tips on hospital care for elders, go visit Ronni Bennett's helpful post on How To Survive A Hospital Say." Once again, she brings the truth.

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Anna Akmahtova

And you, my friends who have been called away

And you, my friends who have been called away,
I have been spared to mourn for you and weep,
Not as a frozen willow over your memory,
But to cry to the world the names of those who sleep.
What names are those!
I slam shut the calendar,
Down on your knees, all!
Blood of my heart,
The people of Leningrad march out in even rows,
The living, the dead : fame can't tell them apart.

-- Anna Akhmatova

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published March 6, 2012 by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Baby Bald Eagle

(Photograph by Robin Eliason / U.S. Forest Service and published by the Los Angeles Times. Click on the link to learn more about why this chick is such good news for California. And, as usual, click on image to enlarge.)

Inured To War?

[Click on image to enlarge and then come back.]

David Horsey's recent cartoon and post is quite depressing for many different reasons. I'm not sure I agree with all of Horsey's opinions on the possibility of war with Iran, but I do admit that is certainly a possibility.

War has become a matter of presidential choice. That’s why we should take seriously what the candidates for president have to say about attacking Iran. They can promise to cut the deficit or bring down gas prices or scuttle Obamacare, but, if they promise war, it’s the one promise we know they can keep. ...

Obama has pushed tough sanctions on Iran. His hard-edged diplomacy has gotten Europeans to line up with him to demand that Iran refrain from building nukes. The president, showing his grimmest face, insists he is not bluffing when he says that military action is a real and ready option if Iran does not comply with the demands of the international community (at least the international community that does not include Russia and China, which, for obvious self-interested reasons, do not approve of military intervention in countries where the governments are corrupt and authoritarian).

Obama’s rhetoric may be more nuanced than the campaign speeches of Santorum and Gingrich – that is why the Republicans attack him for "apologizing" to America’s adversaries -- but the president’s foreign policy is very much in line with the philosophy that has guided U.S. actions in the world since 1945: engagement everywhere on the globe where there is a perceived national interest, backed by military power that is second-to-none and quick to be employed.

It's pretty hard to quarrel with that, especially given the last decade or so. Congress effectively ceded the right to declare war to the White House after 9/11, but even before that presidents have pretty much gotten their way when it comes to initiating armed conflict. It became much easier after the draft was abolished because not everyone had to worry about doing the fighting or sending a loved one to do it. But Horsey carries the argument further:

The truth is, Americans are not a peace-loving people. We pretend otherwise because it seems wrong to admit that the United States is a nation that has mostly benefited from war. We were not like the contented Canadians, who patiently waited for the Mother Country to bestow self-government. We went to war and tossed the British out. Through one war with Mexico and relentless wars with Indian tribes, we became a country that spanned a continent. The Spanish-American War and the First World War marked our arrival on the world stage. And the Second World War left us as one of the two preeminent powers on the planet.

Wars in Korea and Vietnam were not popular, but, by the time of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans had become used to fighting wars with ambiguous results. War is now simply what we do. It is part of our national identity; facing any foe, bearing any burden in the twilight struggle to defend freedom.

Put in less idealistic terms, our country is a national security state built on the vast military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about. Our government and our economy are permanently geared up for war, and very few Americans can remember a time when this was not so. It’s hard to imagine any president resisting the temptation to use this awesome force and even harder to imagine that a majority of Americans would ever elect a man who would.
[Emphasis added]

Yes, we do now live in a "national security state built on the vast military-industrial complex," but I am not so certain that the American public has become inured to the constant state of war we've been in for all these years to the point where we will just shrug our shoulders as the next one begins before the last one ends. It has become too costly, both in terms of our national treasury and in terms of our national psyche. Too much has happened, especially the last four years. Too much has been lost and too many people are tired of being the pack animals for these kinds of whims.

At least I hope so.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, March 09, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

(Photo of Larry Elvis snagged from Presto Change-o. Click on the link for more fine pictures of Larry Elvis, Curly, and other people's kitties.)

Post-Birth Abortion

I've put off writing this post for just about a week because I was completely flummoxed by the whole issue. A fellow Atriot threw out this link to an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics. I've read the article a dozen times and I see the logic and reasoning, but it still seems wrong from the get-go.

I'll warn you now that it's not easy reading, but it is decipherable. Essentially, the authors posit that if a baby is born with disabling conditions which would have been grounds for abortion had the mother known about them, or, if the mother's condition has changed which if the new condition had existed earlier she would have aborted the child, then the new-born could be "aborted".

Here's some of the argument:

Severe abnormalities of the fetus and risks for the physical and/or psychological health of the woman are often cited as valid reasons for abortion. Sometimes the two reasons are connected, such as when a woman claims that a disabled child would represent a risk to her mental health. However, having a child can itself be an unbearable burden for the psychological health of the woman or for her already existing children,[footnote] regardless of the condition of the fetus. This could happen in the case of a woman who loses her partner after she finds out that she is pregnant and therefore feels she will not be able to take care of the possible child by herself.

A serious philosophical problem arises when the same conditions that would have justified abortion become known after birth. In such cases, we need to assess facts in order to decide whether the same arguments that apply to killing a human fetus can also be consistently applied to killing a newborn human. ...

The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.

Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’. We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her. This means that many non-human animals and mentally retarded human individuals are persons, but that all the individuals who are not in the condition of attributing any value to their own existence are not persons. Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life. Indeed, many humans are not considered subjects of a right to life: spare embryos where research on embryo stem cells is permitted, fetuses where abortion is permitted, criminals where capital punishment is legal.

What follows these passages is a closely reasoned argument which attempts to define just what a "person" actually is. Based on the argument, the authors conclude the following:

If a potential person, like a fetus and a newborn, does not become an actual person, like you and us, then there is neither an actual nor a future person who can be harmed, which means that there is no harm at all. So, if you ask one of us if we would have been harmed, had our parents decided to kill us when we were fetuses or newborns, our answer is ‘no’, because they would have harmed someone who does not exist (the ‘us’ whom you are asking the question), which means no one. And if no one is harmed, then no harm occurred.

I was stuck on the whole issue, especially since there really is no way at present to gauge just when consciousness and self-consciousness arises. Further, even though I saw the red-flag when the authors rejected the term "infanticide" in favor of the term "post-birth abortion", I struggled with a way to somehow rebut their arguments completely.

I am still struggling, but I did discern one concept the authors did gloss over, perhaps even ignored: the fact that while in the womb, the fetus affects the physical functioning of the woman who carries it and who must go through the potentially risky procedure of carrying and then delivering the child. In that respect a fetus is not just like a newborn. It is for that reason abortion is not the same as infanticide, no matter what fancy tag replaces the latter. It is also for that reason that I believe the mother has the right to make the decision on aborting the fetus.

That difference, however, does not resolve the issue, especially when the child is born with significant physical abnormalities which will limit the child to an extremely limited existence (days, weeks, months). That issue still needs the kind of examination this article is calling for and which is needed.

I welcome your comments.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, March 08, 2012

International Women's Day

After weeks of women-bashing and women-trashing by the far right in this country, I decided to celebrate International Women's Day by noting one woman who is a true hero and who is considered a treasure by her country: Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi.

The daughter of a Burmese general who fought for democracy in his country, Aung San Suu Kyi carried on that struggle and at great cost. She spent 18 of the last 23 years under house arrest for her efforts because of the brutal military junta, yet she has not wavered one bit in her quest to bring democracy and human rights to her country. After international pressure finally got the junta's attention, she was released from her captivity. Now she is running for parliament, to the absolute jubilation of her fellow citizens.

In just over a year since her release from house arrest, the 66-year-old opposition leader has made the once unthinkable leap into Myanmar’s mainstream, transforming from political prisoner to political campaigner. Now she’s trying to take another big step: from icon to elected official. ...

If the pro-democracy icon wins the April 1 vote, she will become a junior and minority member of parliament, meaning that Suu Kyi’s greatest challenge would be her lack of power to make any real change, at least for the foreseeable future. ...

Even if Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy opposition party win all 48 seats up for grabs they would only have a small minority. The military is guaranteed 25 percent of seats in the 440-seat lower house and the remainder is dominated by the main pro-military party.

No, winning her election is not going to make any kind of sea-change in the here-and-now in Burma, but it will keep the dream alive. That's what real heroes do, they keep the dream alive in the rest of us.

Some observers fear Myanmar’s people will be disappointed in the new parliament when it fails to quickly deliver on their expectations. After years of isolation, Myanmar needs a top-to-bottom overhaul of its economy, education, health and banking systems and a plan to unify the country’s ethnic groups after years of guerrilla warfare with the junta.

But that disappointment is unlikely to dim Suu Kyi’s star among the Burmese people, analysts say.

“They identify her with democracy and freedom and with resistance, and they will continue to do that whether she manages to get into parliament, become prime minister, or not,” said Monique Skidmore, a Myanmar expert at the University of Canberra.
[Emphasis added]

And so, Mother Suu (as you are called by your countrymen), I honor you and wish for you an electoral victory and the years to witness the real victory: the defeat of the Myanmar generals and the restoration of Burma's democracy.


Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Shooting Down The Crazy

Just when I think the crazies are taking over the country, something comes along which gives me just a little hope.

The Minnesota state legislature recently sent a bill to the governor that would have expanded the allowable use of deadly force by citizens. Dubbed "the Castle Law," the measure would have increased the zone of deadly force in self-defense from the home to just about any place a citizen felt threatened. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton vetoed the bill.

The bill expanded the right of self-defense to yards, decks and porches as well as to vehicles, boats, motorhomes and tents. In what supporters called the "stand your ground" provision, the bill stated that the person facing the threat "is not required to retreat." ...

The bill also required Minnesota to recognize a weapons permit issued by any state, even those with no criminal background checks or training requirements. It would have made it harder for police to temporarily remove guns from volatile domestic situations.

Governor Dayton refused to sign the bill for all sorts of reasons, as well he should have.

The governor rejected the measure, saying Minnesota citizens facing threats already have the legal authority to defend themselves and their families. He also cited strong opposition by organizations representing police officers, chiefs of police and county sheriffs.

Peace officers feared that their own lives would be jeopardized by the law as homeowners felt free to shoot into their own backyard while a police chase was underway. They also feared that the law would prohibit them from removing guns from a home where a domestic dispute looked to turn violent at any moment.

A legislator who voted against the bill correctly assessed just how dangerous the proposed law could turn out to be:

"Whether it's a kid that enters your yard, or a neighbor having a conflict with another neighbor, or a road-rage incident, this bill broadly expands the use of self defense," said Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul. "I think it's reckless, wrong and unneeded."

Perhaps the most salient objection to the law was expressed by a gun-control advocate:

"We are certainly glad that he vetoed the bill," said Joan Peterson, a board member of Protect Minnesota. "This seemed like a bill that was going to allow people to shoot someone as a first impulse rather than as your last impulse." [Emphasis added]

Contrary to the philosophy of the NRA, which supported the bill (no surprise there), a heavily armed citizenry does not make for a civil society. We've seen how well that idea works out time and time again.

Gov. Dayton will take plenty of heat for his veto when he comes up for re-election, but he made the right call. How refreshing.


Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Finally, Too Far?

I've held off on commenting here on Rush Limbaugh's latest outrageous, over-the-top, disgusting episode. I wasn't merely being cautious, waiting to see how it would all play out. It was also a matter of seeing how well other bloggers and even some Beltway pundits covered the issue. Very few of even the most rabid conservatives have actually defended Limbaugh. Yes, some issued rather tepid comments ("inappropriate" comes to mind), but many expressed outright outrage. I didn't expect that.

I also didn't expect his sponsors to walk away (the last I checked, twelve have done so), nor did I expect any local stations to cancel Limbaugh's show (one has) over the nasty insults he directed towards Ms. Fluke. And I certainly didn't expect Rush to actually apologize for his behavior. Yet all of this has happened. The furor was that great.

How did it come to this point? For years, Limbaugh has been deriding women, gays, people of color, Muslims, and any other group that is not white, male, privileged, and suffering from testosterone poisoning. In the past, when his transgression was serious enough to cause some poor Republican to object, Rush has raised such a clamor within the party faithful that it was the Republican who had to apologize.

I think the times have begun to change, and I think David Horsey's cartoon and column really expressed well what is going on.

I’d like to state right here that I try to be mostly wry and analytical when I’m writing about the world of politics, so here’s my wry analysis: The childless, four-times-married Rush Limbaugh is a loathsome, misogynistic pig. ...

Limbaugh has led the way in destroying civility in politics. It’s bad enough that his overbearing pseudo-patriotism has been emulated by other right-wing radio and TV commentators; worse is the fact he has become the oracle of the dominant wing of the Republican Party. Gone are the days when William F. Buckley spoke for conservatism in an eloquent, reasoned voice or when Ronald Reagan could share a drink and trade jokes with Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill. It is now cool for conservatives to talk trash and act like 14-year-old louts harassing the gay kid in class. ...

Rush Limbaugh puts the vile in juvenile. He puts the men in mendacity. He puts the repugnant in Republican. He is an arrogant thug. He is what’s wrong with American politics.

Why, yes. Yes, that gets it nicely. Except like Joe McCarthy he finally went just a little too far at a time when the 99% are beginning to feel their oats and are willing to march, write, email, and boycott.

So, is Limbaugh finished? I doubt it. Things will simmer down a little and even if he loses this radio gig, he'll still make plenty of money in speaking engagements and will no doubt be invited to appear on Fox. But now it will be different.

At least I hope so.


Monday, March 05, 2012

The Next Round

Well, here we go again. Tomorrow is "Super Tuesday," a day in which ten states hold primaries or caucuses and an eleventh begins its caucus procedure. Dan Balz has a rather nice analysis of the GOP nomination race for tomorrow.

The Republican presidential campaign arrives at a potentially pivotal moment Tuesday, with contests in 10 states that should provide the most definitive clues to date about the possible length of the race and whether anybody has a genuine chance of preventing Mitt Romney from winning the GOP nomination. ...

Although there are primaries and caucuses all over the country on Super Tuesday, much of the attention is focused on Ohio, a critical general-election swing state and the most contested of the primaries that day. There, Romney and Santorum are engaged in a rematch of their closely fought battle a week earlier in Michigan.

Balz makes it clear that it is unlikely that one candidate will sweep all of the states, especially given the different states' rules for the distribution of delegates, but he does raise some very salient points as to what each of the candidates must do tomorrow.

Romney needs to emerge as the overall winner if he hopes to prove he is the genuine front-runner. Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, wants to show that the GOP race is a two-person contest and that he has the political appeal to win. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich needs a victory in Georgia to justify continuing his candidacy. Paul needs a breakthrough that has eluded him all year.

Balz also points out which states each of the candidates wants to do well in, and gives very solid reasons for it all. In fact, the article is so helpful that I may just keep it along side the computer on Tuesday night.

Hopefully, this Tuesday night I will be a bit more sensible and not stay glued to the computer screen well past my bed time. Besides, I'm getting low on popcorn, and this promises to be a long slog.


Sunday, March 04, 2012

Sunday Poetry: ee cummings

i sing of Olaf glad and big

i sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelovéd colonel (trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but-though an host of overjoyed
noncoms (first knocking on the head
him) do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments-
Olaf (being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds, without getting annoyed
"I will not kiss your fucking flag"

straightaway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)

but-though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation's blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skillfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat-
Olaf (upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
"there is some shit I will not eat"

our president,being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died

Christ (of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see;and Olaf,too

preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me:more blond than you

--ee cummings

Sunday Funnies

Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (February 28, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Alpacas

(Photograph by Joseph Rescinito, My Shot, and published at National Geographic. Click on image to enlarge.)

Things That Make You Go Wow!

(Computer rendering by raad studio of future Lowline park in the unused trolley terminal beneath Delancey Street in New York's Lower East Side. Click on image to enlarge.)

OK, time to take a few deep breaths and look at humans making the impossible possible, rather than the other way around.

One of the downsides to dense urban living is the lack of "green space" such as parks, even trees and grass. Some visionaries have found a way around that problem in a very creative way and then invented and developed a way to make it happen.

Delancey Underground visionaries Dan Barasch and James Ramsey are working with the MTA and local communities in Manhattan’s Lower East Side to transform the former Williamsburg trolley terminal (out of commission since 1948) into the world’s first underground park.

To build the park, the team has invented a new technology called a “remote skylight.”

The remote skylight uses “a system of optics to gather sunlight, concentrate it, and reflect it below ground, where it is dispersed by a solar distributor dish embedded in the ceiling. The light irrigated underground will carry the necessary wavelengths to support photosynthesis — meaning we can grow plants, trees, and grasses underground. The cables block harmful UV rays that cause sunburn, so you can leave the SPF-45 at home.”

As the computer-generated graphic heading this post shows, the results will be lovely. The new park will provide a nice respite for locals and will use an existing structure long out of use to do so. It's thrilling to see innovation and creative thinking at work here. The post also contains information on how people can help bring this plan to fruition. Check it out.

Note: Thanks to Brooklyn Girl for the tip on this story and for the link to a really interesting web site.


Friday, March 02, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

(Because that's how I'm feeling right now.)