Monday, April 30, 2012

Drone On

Atrios uses the term "security theater" to refer to government projects allegedly designed to protect us. His most recent post will give you some idea of the term. What these projects do is kind of murky. They are very expensive and very complex and very impressive and, did I mention?, very expensive. The expense is justified because we live in a very dangerous world. The loss of civil liberties which ensues from these projects is justified on the same basis. The problem is that these projects rarely actually result in increased security.

As evidence of my thesis, I offer the use of drones (thankfully, up to this point, as far as we know, unarmed) for patrolling our border with Mexico to keep those dirty brown people from entering our pristine republic and to keep out the nasty drugs that country insists on foisting upon us.

Now, as I noted recently, because of several factors, primarily the US economy, the flow of undocumented workers from Mexico and Latin America has dropped dramatically. That means that the primary justification for the use of the drones at the border has to do with the drug trade. And those expensive little buggers are just not as effective as they have been touted to be.

The mixed results highlight a glaring problem for Homeland Security officials who have spent six years and more than $250 million building the nation's largest fleet of domestic surveillance drones: The nine Predators that help police America's borders have yet to prove very useful in stopping contraband or illegal immigrants.

The border drones require an hour of maintenance for every hour they fly, cost more to operate than anticipated, and are frequently grounded by rain or other bad weather, according to a draft audit of the program last month by the Homeland Security Department's inspector general.

Last year, the unmanned fleet flew barely half the number of flight hours that Customs and Border Protection had scheduled on the northern or southern borders, or over the Caribbean, according to the audit.

And the drones often are unavailable to assist border agents because Homeland Security officials have lent the aircraft to the FBI, Texas Rangers and other government agencies for law enforcement, disaster relief and other uses.
[Emphasis added]

Each drone costs $3,000 an hour to fly, which must pull a huge chunk from the DHS budget for border security, so some adjustments had to be made.

To help pay for the drones, Customs and Border Protection has raided budgets of its manned aircraft. One result: Flight hours were cut by 10% for the P-3 Orion maritime surveillance planes that hunt smuggling ships on the West Coast and in the Caribbean.

The amount of illicit drugs seized in Predator raids is "not impressive," acknowledged Michael Kostelnik, a retired Air Force major general who heads the office that supervises the drones.

Last year, the nine border drones helped find 7,600 pounds of marijuana, valued at $19.3 million. The 14 manned P-3 Orions helped intercept 148,000 pounds of cocaine valued at $2.8 billion.
[Emphasis added]

Presumably the same problems noted for the drones used in patrolling the border also will crop up in the drones all of the local law enforcement agencies are clamoring for, but that doesn't seem to matter. The "eye in the sky" is just what the dictator ordered, so by god, we're gonna have them.

Once again I'm going back to bed to pull the covers over my head. Don't call me until the revolution has been underway for at least ten minutes.

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Gwendolyn Brooks


A riot is the language of the unheard.
—martin luther king

John Cabot, out of Wilma, once a Wycliffe,
all whitebluerose below his golden hair,
wrapped richly in right linen and right wool,
almost forgot his Jaguar and Lake Bluff;
almost forgot Grandtully (which is The
Best Thing That Ever Happened To Scotch); almost
forgot the sculpture at the Richard Gray
and Distelheim; the kidney pie at Maxim’s,
the Grenadine de Boeuf at Maison Henri.

Because the Negroes were coming down the street.

Because the Poor were sweaty and unpretty
(not like Two Dainty Negroes in Winnetka)
and they were coming toward him in rough ranks.
In seas. In windsweep. They were black and loud.
And not detainable. And not discreet.

Gross. Gross. “Que tu es grossier!” John Cabot
itched instantly beneath the nourished white
that told his story of glory to the World.
“Don’t let It touch me! the blackness! Lord!” he whispered
to any handy angel in the sky.
But, in a thrilling announcement, on It drove
and breathed on him: and touched him. In that breath
the fume of pig foot, chitterling and cheap chili,
malign, mocked John. And, in terrific touch, old
averted doubt jerked forward decently,
cried, “Cabot! John! You are a desperate man,
and the desperate die expensively today.”

John Cabot went down in the smoke and fire
and broken glass and blood, and he cried “Lord!
Forgive these nigguhs that know not what they do.”

--Gwendolyn Brooks

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 4/25/2012 in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Click on image to enlarge.)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Lady Bug

(Photo provided by Gary Queener, Lost Ladybug Project / July 31, 2009 and published by the Los Angeles Times. Click on the link to learn more about the role of "citizen scientists" in tracking ladybugs in the US for a Cornell University research project.)

A Bleak Prognostication

David Lazarus had some interesting thoughts on the current state of unions and their probably future. Interesting, yes. Depressing, very.

American Airlines has spent the week trying to persuade a bankruptcy judge to allow it to chuck all its labor contracts and put the squeeze on thousands of union employees.

If things go as expected — that is, a victory for management and not for rank-and-file workers — it will be the latest blow to organized labor and yet another indication that, in the workplace of the future, most of us will be fending for ourselves. ...

"It's not the unions' fault we're in bankruptcy," [AMR lawyer, Jack Gallagher] acknowledged. "But it's not about whose fault it is. It's about the facts of our business."

You could say the demise of organized labor is about the facts of all businesses, as well as a changed political climate that, since the Reagan administration in the 1980s, has emboldened employers in standing up to unions.
[Emphasis added]

I would have placed the onset of the decline a little earlier than Reagan, but his move on the Air Traffic Controllers Union was certainly an important line of demarcation in this country's labor movement.

As Lazarus points out, to some extent unions themselves share in the blame: they became complacent, lazy, and in some cases corrupt. They stopped organizing and started lobbying for power, both with Congress and within the ranks. Also, employers began wising up and extending some benefits to their workers (health care) before the unions could get a toe hold. Why pay union dues if the bosses were going to give most of what you wanted anyway? And then, of course, the economy went into the toilet so that right now most employed workers are more concerned with just keeping a paycheck coming in than in decent pay and working conditions.

With all this, Lazarus opines that unions, both public and private sector, will be gone within a generation. I'm not quite that pessimistic, but I can see his point. As part of his conclusion, Lazarus quotes one of the godfathers of the union movement:

"What can labor do for itself?" union leader Eugene V. Debs asked more than a half-century ago. "The answer is not difficult. Labor can organize, it can unify; it can consolidate its forces. This done, it can demand and command."

Yes, but it will take more than twitter and social media flash mobs. It will take the hard work of educating and organizing and mobilizing. Given the state of workers, whether employed, unemployed, and under-employed, there's no time like the present to restart the movement.

May it be so.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

(OK, it's not a cat. So sue me.)

Lots Wrong With This Picture

I found this bit of news in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. We may be struggling, but CEOs certainly aren't.


Stephen Hemsley, president, CEO

Total compensation: $48,075,614 for the year ended Dec. 31

Salary: $1,300,000

Non-equity incentive pay: $4,940,000

Other compensation: $154,804

Exercised stock options: $28,829,810

Value realized on vesting shares: $12,851,000

Poor Mr. Hemsley's salary has not risen in several years, but his perqs certainly appear to ease some of the pain. I mean, who can live on just $1.3 million a year? And besides, he earned it:

In 2011 UnitedHealth's revenue grew 8 percent to $102 billion, exceeding the $100 billion mark for the first time, and earnings grew 11 percent to $5.1 billion. UnitedHealth also saw growth in enrollment to its various medical plans and now covers 35.6 million people.

The shareholders must be ecstatic.

And you wonder why we can't have single-payer, Medicare-For-All health insurance? Why, that would throw Mr. Hemsley out of work and onto the streets.

I'm retiring to my bed and pulling the covers over my head. Wake me for the revolution.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Just Throw Money At It

(Editorial cartoon by Lee Judge / The Kansas City Star (April 25, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge and then come on back.)

Lots of news since the New York Times article on Sunday revealing the extensive bribery of Mexican officials engaged in by Wal-Mart to get their big box toe hold. Perhaps the most important news to my mind is that once the upper echelon discovered that the federal law against such foreign bribery has some real teeth in it, they started pushing to weaken that law:

A blockbuster New York Times story published this weekend details how the Mexican subsidiary of retail giant Wal-Mart paid $24 million in bribes to Mexican officials — and subsequently top Wal-Mart officials allegedly decided to cover up these offenses.

The details of Wal-Mart’s complicity in bribery are shocking, but there is one important element that the Times did not report.

While Wal-Mart’s largest subsidiary spent millions of dollars systematically bribing Mexican officials, the company back home has been working, through big business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to weaken the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which renders it illegal for corporations to bribe officials in foreign countries. ...

To recap, this episode is an important anecdote about how corruption in America works today. First, a powerful corporation realizes that bribery is a part of its business model in some part of the world. Then, it tries to cover up aforementioned bribery. In case that doesn’t work, the corporation spends big back home to weaken laws against bribery. Finally, if all of that doesn’t work, and intrepid reporters at a place like the New York Times discover the wrongdoing, the corporation’s tactic is to deny that it had any ill intent at all.

See? Easy peasy.

Go read the whole Alternet article.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Back Flow

David Horsey has some interesting comments on the recent Pew report on immigration statistics. Both the report and Mr. Horsey's comments are quite timely because the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing arguments on the immigration issue with respect to Arizona's law on illegal immigrants this week.

According to a report released by the Pew Hispanic Center, the massive wave of Mexicans entering this country illegally is subsiding and a rising counter current of Mexicans returning to their homeland has brought net migration to a statistical equilibrium.

This trend began about five years ago, according to the report, and the number of undocumented Mexican nationals in the U.S. has fallen from 7 million to 6.1 million. At the same time, the number returning – or, as Mitt Romney would put it, “self-deporting” – has jumped significantly.

There are several probable reasons for the reversal of the trend. Horsey mentions one that is often ignored. As contraception became more readily available and its use more acceptable, the number of children born in Mexican families has declined, thus making for a smaller labor pool needing to make the trek. But he also mentions a couple of more that certainly make sense.

Another big element in the immigration shift is that Mexico’s economy is puttering along rather well. There are more jobs south of the border, while the prolonged U.S. economic slump has made employment scarcer to the north. The result is that, for some Mexicans, there is more economic opportunity to be found at home than in places such as Arizona, where they are less and less welcome.

Adding to the incentive for Mexicans to stay put are the heightened dangers along the border, beefed-up border enforcement and a sharp increase in deportations under the Obama administration. (A record high 400,000 people were deported last year alone.)

Does the report make the Supreme Court case moot? Not hardly. The primary issue is whether a state has the power to enact laws regarding immigration or whether that is purely a federal matter. Arizona and its supporters in this will no doubt argue that the federal government has not moved on the issue and therefor have yielded that power. And, to be honest, the states have a legitimate gripe. Congress has avoided the issue for at least a decade. President Obama is now promising to take it up "first thing" after the election, but he made a similar promise four years ago. Republicans don't want any reform which might in any way smack of "amnesty" for the millions of undocumented workers already here or for their children.

And there's another factor complicating the whole matter. Businesses, especially in the agricultural sector, count on immigrant employees (documented or not) to get the work done. The employees work cheap, work under lousy conditions, and don't complain for fear of a visit from ICE. Alabama, which also has passed a very restrictive measure, had crops rotting on the trees and in the fields for lack of workers to harvest. California will face the same problem if the feds don't come up with a reasonable law (and a new "Bracero Program" is not a reasonable law, in my opinion) shortly.

And that means that those businesses will have to raise wages and improve working conditions to attract workers with the requisite papers. Prices for food stuffs, and for garments, and for a host of other products still being made in this country will rise accordingly.

I think this is going to be one of the thorniest problems facing the 113th Congress. Maybe this time our congress critters will actually address it.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Forecast: Nasty Out

(Click on image to enlarge, and then return.)

Yes, I know there's a primary today, but really, the GOP nomination looks to belong to Mitt Romney. He's already campaigning against Obama and being coy about who his running mate is going to be. Obama, who owns the Democratic nomination at this point, is campaigning against Romney. Unless something really untoward happens between now and August, we have our candidates.

So, now what?

Well, David Horsey has a prediction, one that (sadly) I suspect is going to come true.

The neck-and-neck race between President Obama and the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, will be the most expensive campaign in American history. It will be a battle between two robust political organizations. And it is a good bet things are going to get really nasty.

Why, yes, yes it probably will. And there are several reasons for that.

First, as Horsey points out, neither candidate thrills the base of his party. Romney is seen as a flip-flopper who will say anything to get a vote. Obama broke just about every promise he made the last time around, and yet he keeps promising things we liberals know he has no intention of delivering. That means each candidate will be going after that mythical beast known as the "middle."

With excitement about both candidates dampened, the election will be more of a tactical endeavor. Victory will be won in a dozen swing states among the 10% to 15% of the electorate who are not already solidly on one side or the other. Those few voters will be targeted, researched, analyzed and manipulated by two highly sophisticated campaign operations.


But more importantly, there's a new element in the calculus: unlimited campaign funding because of Citizens United:

With stakes this high, money so available, organizations so nimble and polling so evenly split, it is impossible to imagine either side holding back from using every weapon in their arsenals. The heaviest guns are attack ads. Expect them to become more vicious and more distorted with each passing day.

By the end of October, if you are not sickened by the tone of the election, it will mean either that you do not own a television or you are a political consultant for one side or the other who is making a ton of money trying to mix cheap shots and big fibs into a winning formula, however poisonous it may be to American political life.

Yes, again.

Unfortunately, attack ads work. In the past, they weren't hauled out until absolutely necessary because advertising on television is so expensive. Well, that doesn't matter any more. There's no limit to what a candidate can raise (once they formally eschew public financing, which both candidates have done), and there's plenty of money available to both sides as recent required reporting has confirmed. Millions and millions of dollars worth. For those without jobs or without jobs that pay a living wage, that's unbelievable. Sadly, that is the case.

So, we can expect an ugly campaign to get uglier.

Me, I'm seriously considering selling my popcorn futures for antacids. By the truckload.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Covering All The Bases

An amazingly detailed and lengthy primer on how to buy a state government appeared in yesterday's Los Angeles Times. It appears that AT&T has all the bases covered quite successfully.

The Speaker's Cup is the centerpiece of a corporate lobbying strategy so comprehensive and successful that it has rewritten the special-interest playbook in Sacramento. When it comes to state government, AT&T spends more money, in more places, than any other company.

It forges relationships on the putting green, in luxury suites and in Capitol hallways. It gives officials free tickets to Lady Gaga concerts. It takes lawmakers on trips around the globe and all-expenses-paid retreats in wine country. It dispenses millions in political donations and employs an army of lobbyists. It has spent more than $14,000 a day on political advocacy since 2005, when it merged with SBC into its current form.

A handful of labor unions and trade groups have spent more on a combination of lobbying and direct political giving, but state records show that in the last seven years, no single corporation has spent as much trying to influence lawmakers as AT&T. At the same time, a tide of consumer protections has ebbed and the company has been unshackled from the watchful eye of state regulators. ...

Many of the company's victories have come at the California Public Utilities Commission, a five-member panel appointed by the governor that oversees the telecommunications industry. Its members have waved through mergers, limited regulations on cellular service and helped AT&T rebuild itself into a telecom behemoth almost 30 years after it was split apart in the wake of a federal antitrust case.

The rest of AT&T's wins come at the state Capitol, where the company focuses most of its lobbying efforts. There, lawmakers have passed bills that have translated into millions of dollars for the firm's bottom line and stopped dozens of measures that AT&T has opposed.

And all of this money is in addition to campaign contributions, which, of course, are the the staples of corporate influence.

From 1999, when the state began keeping electronic records of lobbying activity, through the end of 2011, AT&T spent more money trying to influence public officials than any other single corporation. In those 13 years, according to records from the California secretary of state, AT&T and its affiliates spent more than $47 million on lobbying — more than twice the figure for the next biggest corporate spender, Edison International, which shelled out about $21.9 million.

In addition, AT&T hands out, on average, more than $1 million in political contributions each year. Every current member of the Legislature has received at least $1,000; chairmen of the committees that oversee the telecommunications industry get far more.

But wait! There's more. AT&T also uses another canny tool: charitable contributions.

Charitable giving has long been entwined with AT&T's political strategy. The firm has given $145,000 to two charter schools in Oakland founded by Gov. Jerry Brown, $50,000 of that since Brown was elected governor. It gives to a range of other groups, and many AT&T representatives serve on their boards. The organizations often back the company's priorities.

And you wonder why your AT&T bill gets higher, more complicated, almost impossible to figure out? All part of the "never give a sucker an even break" approach that the company has refined so well.

The article is long, but well worth the time spent reading it, and I urge you to do so.

And, I must say that even though I grouse a lot about the Times, this is a superb effort in investigative reporting. It exemplifies what our free press should be doing to educate us so we can raise holy hell when our government is subverted by the corporatocracy.

Well done. And more like this, please.

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Dylan Thomas


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

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

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

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

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

--Dylan Thomas

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (April 19, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: River Crab

(Photograph courtesy Hendrik Freitag and published at National Geographic. Click on the link to learn more about these colorful crabs and the possible reasons why they are purple.)

Some Unsurprising News

Some times I just want to crawl back into bed, pull the covers over my head, and stay there until somebody I trust delivers some good news. This is one of those times and involves Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) and her most recent moralizing.

Representative Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) has been attracting a lot of attention on the Web -- in large part because of the comments she made over the weekend in a radio interview that she has "very little tolerance" for people who graduate from college with huge student loans. ...

First of all, Foxx's opinion on student loans does matter -- she's a member of the House's Education and Workforce Committee and chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training. It's not one of the powerhouse committees known for helping its members attract a lot of campaign cash, but since Foxx was named committee chair in January 2011, she has become a magnet for campaign contributions from for-profit universities - a recent hot topic on the Hill. ...

In her first year on the subcommittee, Foxx picked up at least $48,668 from PACs or individuals affiliated with for-profit colleges. We counted 22 companies or trade associations in the for-profit college industry on the list of her top contributors, including: Bridgepoint Education, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, the Apollo Group (which owns the University of Phoenix) and student loan lender NelNet Inc.
[Emphasis added]

So, Congress finally begins to realize what a staggering problem student loans have become and decides to at least talk about it. It lands in Rep. Foxx's committee and suddenly ... only the sound of crickets. The 'for-profit' colleges moved in quickly and Rep. Foxx was one of the recipients of their largess. And then Ms. Foxx has the audacity to diss those students who have that student debt, many because of the scamming done by those for-profit schools.

For a more complete list of contributors to Rep. Foxx, check out this list compiled by Open Secrets.

Finally, Open Secrets has been nominated for a Webby. If you appreciate the critical work they do, please consider taking a moment and voting for them.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

(Once again, thanks to Gimlet for sharing his collection of classic lolcats with us.)

Important Reminders

(Click to enlarge and then return.)

The past few days David Horsey has been running cartoons originally drawn in 2008. This one is particularly appropriate, but the other two (here and here) are equally instructive. Some things haven't changed in four years and are not likely to any time soon.

Unfortunately, the Democrats, including President Obama, apparently haven't discovered this. There are some groups who won't vote for Obama, who didn't vote for Obama in 2008, and who will never vote for Obama. Unless a major collapse of civilization occurs, they also won't vote for a Democrat, any Democrat. Here's Horsey's explanation:

Hard rocker Ted Nugent should write a new tune called "I Can't Keep My Mouth Shut." At one performance, he encouraged the president of the United States to suck on his machine gun. Now, he has issued this final judgment of the Obama administration: “Our president and attorney general, our vice president, Hillary Clinton–-they’re criminals. They’re criminals."

Nugent made the comments at the National Rifle Assn.'s annual convention in St. Louis on Saturday. He also said, “We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November! Any questions?” ...

As a group, moderate-income white males are strongly inclined to vote for any Republican candidate, but this year, Democrats hope to win over some of them by portraying Romney as a creature of Wall Street who likes firing people and would have let the U.S. auto industry drive off a cliff. The flaw in the Democrats' scheme is that they have a candidate problem of their own.

In 2008, Barack Obama was a mega rock star among many voting groups who held lofty, but unrealistic expectations about how he could transform American politics. Yet, his appeal did not extend to blue-collar white guys. They saw Obama as someone alien, as if he were a ukulele player wandering onstage at a Ted Nugent concert.

Not much has changed in the four years since. Obama has a big advantage among female voters, but he is way behind with white men. Romney doesn't excite them, of course -- he looks a bit too much like the guy in the expensive suit who comes in to announce layoffs. But, if Ted Nugent says Mitt is OK, they'll vote for the millionaire over the ukulele player any day of the week.
[Emphasis added]

Pandering to groups who won't vote for them does nothing but dilute the message the Democrats should be bringing to the public. And, no matter what the polls say right now, it just might cost them.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Elder Belle's Blessing: Pat Summitt

(Photo by Patrice Carlton and published at National Geographic).

This edition of the Elder Belle's Blessing, an award given from time to time to someone who has enhanced the rights or well-being of elders, goes to Pat Summitt, who is stepping down as women's basketball coach at the University of Tennessee after 38 years.

Pat Summitt is stepping aside as Tennessee's women's basketball coach and taking the title of "head coach emeritus" with long-time assistant Holly Warlick being promoted to replace the sport's winningest coach.

Tennessee released a statement Wednesday announcing the move.

The 59-year-old Summitt will report to the athletic director and help the women's program she guided to eight national titles. ...

Her impact reaches beyond wins and losses. Every Lady Vol player who has completed her eligibility at Tennessee has graduated, and 74 former players, assistants, graduate assistants, team managers and directors of basketball operations are currently among the coaching ranks at every level of basketball.
[Emphasis added]

Pat Summitt helped young women reach their potential both both on the court and in the classroom, starting at a time when women's collegiate sports just wasn't considered all that important, at least not important enough to justify scholarships which had up to that point been reserved for men only. She helped create winners and scholars, and did it with style and grace. Anyone who has ever watched her coach saw her dedication and her passion for the sport and for her team. It was written all over her face, especially when she had that icy stare reserved for blown calls by referees or sloppy play by one of her players.

But it isn't just her basketball record that won Coach Summitt this award, not by a long shot.

The move comes less than a year after her diagnosis with early onset dementia-Alzheimer's type.

"I've loved being the head coach at Tennessee for 38 years, but I recognize that the time has come to move into the future and to step into a new role," said Summitt.

"I want to help ensure the stability of the program going forward. I would like to emphasize that I fully intend to continue working as head coach emeritus, mentoring and teaching life skills to our players, and I will continue my active role as a spokesperson in the fight against Alzheimer's through the Pat Summitt Foundation Fund.

Summitt revealed her diagnosis on Aug. 23 after a few months of trying coming to terms with dementia, which had caused her problems with memory loss both on and off the court during the previous season. Alzheimer's is a brain disease that destroys cognitive abilities over time. ...

With the blessing of University of Tennessee, Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, the Hall of Fame coach said she planned to continue coaching as long as possible and that she wanted to show the world that it was still possible to function, even in the face of dementia and Alzheimer's. ...
[Emphasis added]

Her honesty and openness about the disease which struck her at a relatively young age and then her work to raise funds for and awareness about the disease shows what a true champion she is.

Coach Summitt, may whatever stands behinds this universe hold you and your family in a loving embrace and assist you in the challenges which lie ahead.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Lift The Rock ...

...and see what skitters out.

We're finally seeing some MSM reporting on ALEC and its effect on governance in this country. Finally. And it's amazing what a little sunshine can do.

First, from McClatchy DC:

At least 30 bills have been introduced in the Missouri statehouse in recent years that are nearly identical to legislation originally written by a conservative organization whose membership includes some of the country’s largest corporations.

A study released Monday by the liberal group Progress Missouri purported to detail how the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, has “exerted extraordinary and secretive influence in the Missouri legislature and other states.”

Nearly 50 current and former legislators in the Show-Me State have ties to ALEC, including House Speaker Steven Tilley, House Majority Leader Tim Jones and Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer. ...

To encourage attendance at their conferences, where the work drafting model legislation is done, ALEC offers “scholarships” to members to pay for transportation, hotel and meals. In addition to working groups that actually craft the organization’s model legislation, lawmakers are treated to corporate-sponsored events, such as golf tournaments and evening receptions.
[Emphasis added]

So, for a paltry $50, state legislators get invited for an all-expenses paid trip to, say, New Orleans for a weekend of legislative training, golf, and booze. They go home with the bills proposed already written for them. All they have to do is introduce them. Voter suppression bills, anti-environmental regulation bills, anti-union bills, guns-for-everybody-all-the-time bills: all tied up in a neat package for them. No additional effort required.

And then the Trayvon Martin case hit the national consciousness, along with the "Stand Your Ground" law in Florida, a law which has been replicated in many other states. Suddenly people started paying attention.

From an editorial in the New York Times:

A year ago, few people outside the world of state legislatures had heard of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a four-decade-old organization run by right-wing activists and financed by business leaders. The group writes prototypes of state laws to promote corporate and conservative interests and spreads them from one state capital to another.

That was before Trayvon Martin was shot. Here's what happened after:

That was apparently the last straw for several prominent corporations that had been financial supporters of ALEC. In recent weeks, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Intuit, Mars, Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have stopped supporting the group, responding to pressure from activists and consumers who have formed a grass-roots counterweight to corporate treasuries. That pressure is likely to continue as long as state lawmakers are more responsive to the needs of big donors than the public interest. ...

The corporations abandoning ALEC aren’t explicitly citing the Stand Your Ground statutes as the reason for their decision. But many joined the group for narrower reasons, like fighting taxes on soda or snacks, and clearly have little interest in voter ID requirements or the N.R.A.’s vision of a society where anyone can fire a concealed weapon at the slightest hint of a threat.
[Emphasis added]

And ALEC has noticed. From The Nation (via Susie Madrak):

Pressured by watchdog groups, civil rights organizations and a growing national movement for accountable lawmaking, the American Legislative Exchange Council announced Tuesday that it was disbanding the task force that has been responsible for advancing controversial Voter ID and “Stand Your Ground” laws.

ALEC, the shadowy corporate-funded proponent of so-called “model legislation” for passage by pliant state legislatures, announced that it would disband its “Public Safety and Elections” task force. The task force has been the prime vehicle for proposing and advancing what critics describe as voter-suppression and anti-democratic initiatives—not just restrictive Voter ID laws but also plans to limit the ability of citizens to petition for referendums and constitutional changes that favor workers and communities. The task force has also been the source of so-called “Castle Doctrine” and “Stand Your Ground” laws that limit the ability of police and prosecutors to pursue inquiries into shootings of unarmed individuals such as Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

The decision to disband the task force appears to get ALEC out of the business of promoting Voter ID and “Stand Your Ground” laws. That’s a dramatic turn of events, with significant implications for state-based struggles over voting rights an elections, as well as criminal justice policy. But it does not mean that ALEC will stop promoting one-size-fits-all “model legislation” at the state level.
[Emphasis added]

While seeing the scurrying by major corporations and even ALEC itself away from the voter suppression law and "Stand Your Ground Laws" is heartening, the caveat at the end of the above quoted material is important. ALEC will continue facilitating the secret meetings between corporations and state legislators, even if the more flammable subjects are off the table. Unless the media and citizens continue to raise hell over this blatant attempt to run state governments in a mode contrary to the interests of citizens, things will go along as usual.

Like I said, a little sunshine can cure all sorts of evils. That's why a truly free press is important.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I've got Rachel Maddow's new book "Drift" at the top of my list of books to buy. David Horsey has a very helpful review of the book, and it has whet my appetite.

Her book very much reflects the way she comports herself on TV. It is smart and deeply documented. It is entertaining and occasionally whimsical. (In any other book about national security issues, you would not find the word "whoopsie," nor would the word "ally" be rhymed with "schmally" in one phrase.) And, far from being a left-wing screed, it presents a sharply argued commentary that many conservatives could buy into.

Maddow's core thesis is that in the decades since the end of the war in Vietnam, there has been a steady and dramatic shift in the way the United States goes to war. There was a time when Congress stepped up to its constitutional responsibility to say when the country would send troops into battle. Once engaged, the entire country took part. Now, Maddow writes, the president can churn up a war anytime he wants, Congress rolls over, and only a tiny fraction of Americans do the fighting while the rest blithely carry on with their normal lives. ...

The best thing Maddow does is resist portraying the drift to unfettered war power as a conspiracy concocted by an evil cabal. These choices were made by intelligent men and women who seemed to truly believe they had the best interests of the country in mind. These very smart, patriotic people promoted really foolish policies because they were guided by poor information, blinded by ideology or driven by political expediency. With rare exceptions, they were not motivated by actual wickedness. (For pure wickedness, check out Maddow's chapters covering the misdeeds and greed of private contractors in the Balkans and Iraq.)

Rachel Maddow is wise enough to recognize that, even at the highest levels of government, human folly explains far more than any conspiracy theory. It's really all about "whoopsie" moments on a disturbingly grand scale.
[Emphasis added]

Now, I have to admit that my tinfoil chapeau vibrated madly at this conclusion by Horsey (and presumably by Maddow). I think that especially during the Bush administration there was almost a total overlap with the administration and the private contractors (e.g., Cheney and Halliburton). The Pentagon's private contractors then, as now, seemed to have a direct line to the White House and to many in Congress. Still, the more innocent argument does have merit.

My other concern was expressed perfectly by Florence at Ruminations, an elder blog that I visit daily.

...This is a great, important, well researched, and well written book that I just could not read. That's not exactly accurate--I read the prologue, the first chapter, and the epilogue in detail. The problem was all the chapters in between. I just couldn't take the return in excruciating detail of Grenada, Iran-Contra, and Oliver North, from there we move on to Kuwait, Halliburton, and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, followed by Bosnia, leading inexorably to Afghanistan and Iraq. It was like nails on a chalkboard for 7 of 9 chapters. Don't get me wrong, Maddow nails it completely in the description of our not so slow drift toward the replacement of our Constitutionally designed plan that going to war should be a difficult thing to do to our current state of perpetual war which can be initiated unilaterally by the President. It's just that I lived through all of it and I just get mad all over reading about it. [Emphasis added]

Florence still thought the book was worth the price. I'm off to Vroman's later this week and I'll let you know what I think sometime soon.

[Note: Ordinarily I would give the link to Amazon for the book, but I intentionally didn't this time because I'm mad at Amazon for being a supporter of ALEC. I intend to bus it over to my independent book store in Pasadena for all purchases until Amazon retracts that support. I urge you to avoid Amazon for the same reason.]

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Not Quite Right

(Editorial cartoon by Ted Rall and published 4/15/12 by the Sacramento Bee. Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

Ted Rall's cartoon accompanied this editorial in the Bee on the pepper spraying incident at UC-Davis. Frankly, I think Rall got it more right than editorialist did. I generally agree with the paper, but not this time.

Protests on college and university campuses – including civil disobedience, disruption and, sometimes, violence – are not uncommon. In the current confluence of student and faculty concerns about the direction of the public higher education – and nationwide protests about inequality and economic change – wise university administrators prepare appropriately.

They reach out to students and faculty. They set clear guidelines for time, manner and place of protests. They prepare for demonstrations – including training and planning for students affairs staff and campus police. They meet with protesters to attempt to defuse situations. They prepare for the unexpected – what if a crowd gets out of control?

The editorial has it right, up to this point. The problem is that there were no "wise administrators," no guidelines to govern both the student protesters and the campus police. UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi did none of these things. And the Bee thinks she needs to change how she runs things. Keep that in mind.

The first action item has to be the Police Department. Police Chief Annette Spicuzza clearly has no authority over her subordinates, does not adequately express police concerns to administrators, does not attend key police operations briefings and has not established standards and protocols Californians should expect in a professional campus police department. The department needs a new chief. Katehi should say so, and get a search going.

Katehi also needs to take a hard look at her leadership team.

OK, so not only should Officer Pike lose his job, so should his boss, Police Chief Annette Spicuzza. But that apparently is as far as the Bee is willing to go, even after it details the failures by the school administrative leaders all the way up to the top. Katehi and her immediate subordinates get a mulligan, a do-over, even though nothing before the incident and nothing since the incident gives any evidence that the most basic issue, the First Amendment, has any meaning to the administrators.

I don't see any incentive for the UC-Davis administration or any other college administration to change under this scenario. In fact, this probably is the best example of what's wrong in this country and why the students sat down in that area of the campus to begin with: if you're rich enough or powerful enough, you can do whatever you want to whomever you want.

And people wonder just what the Occupy movement is all about.

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Robert Frost

A Prayer in Spring

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.

--Robert Frost

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Kevin Siers / The Charlotte Observer (April 12, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Lion

(Photograph by Tim Laman, National Geographic and published at National Geographic. Now tell me that doesn't look like your kitteh at various times of the day and night!)

Born Too Late

David Horsey has nailed it, both graphically and verbally.

Rep. Allen West, one of the loosest cannons in the Republican arsenal, believes there are about 80 members of the Communist Party in the United States Congress.

Tuesday night at a town hall meeting in Jensen Beach, Fla., one of West’s constituents asked him how many “card-carrying Marxists or international socialists” there were in Congress. Without hesitation, Allen responded, “I believe there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party.”

He went on to identify them as the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group within the Democratic caucus that wants to end corporate welfare for oil, gas and coal companies, rebuild the country’s infrastructure, expedite an end to the war in Afghanistan and eliminate tax cuts for the top 2% of Americans while extending tax relief for the middle class. Now, that may not sound like communism to you, but to West, such scary ideas apparently reek of Bolshevism. (Note to Rep. West: solid majorities of voters tell pollsters they support every one of those proposals -- the commies have already won!) ...

What makes West’s comment notable is how it is only a tiny stretch beyond the rhetoric being employed by many more prominent Republicans. Policy proposals like healthcare mandates, cap-and-trade and immigration reform that were once being touted by Republicans -- radical lefties such as Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and George W. Bush -- are now branded as treacherous schemes to create a godless, socialist America. Throughout the primary campaign, GOP presidential candidates from Michele Bachmann to Rick Santorum have talked as if the 2012 election is the nation’s last chance to save the United States from becoming a clone of the Soviet Union.

These days, Republican town hall meetings often take on the tone of John Birch Society gatherings. Alarmed citizens stand up to speak of dark conspiracies and Democratic Party schemes to destroy the Constitution. Apparently, the meeting where West made his remarks ran along those lines. And, when the man stood up to ask about the percentage of card-carrying commies in the Congress, West first said, “That’s a good question.”

It's pretty hard to add much to that assessment, other than to note that Sarah Palin believes Rep. West would make an excellent choice as a candidate for Vice President.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

"LOL! My human just discovered the hairball I horked into one of his slippers overnight."

(Photo of Curly laughing was snagged from Presto-Change-O. Click on the link to see more photos of Curly and Larry Elvis and Other People's Pets. You'll be glad you did.)

Why I Have Bruises On My Forehead

Six months after the fact, an independent investigation of the circumstances of the pepper spraying of student protesters at UC-Davis has finally been released (sorta-kinda, to comply with state law with respect to state employees): the conclusion is that the leadership of UC-Davis and its police department were woefully misguided in its handling of the situation right from the start.

Well, duh!

From the Sacramento Bee:

But despite weeks of discussion as protests turned violent at some other UC campuses and California cities, UC Davis administrators were woefully unprepared to manage the demonstrations when tents went up on the quad in November.

Instead, they responded with such a lack of communication and decision-making that it represented "systemic and repeated failures" by university leaders.

Well, yes. But, the question is whether that was just woeful ignorance or willful intention. It's clear that cities and other municipalities were in contact with DHS on how to deal with Occupy protesters and that guidelines were issued. Those guidelines somehow failed to consider First Amendment Rights.

Well, duh!

So, who do we look to for this egregious behavior? Just Officer Pike, whose picture and balletic and cavalier pepper spraying was captured on cell phones?

Again, from the Sacramento Bee:

The independent assessment of events leading up to the infamous Nov. 18 pepper-spraying incident at the University of California, Davis, provides a devastating indictment of the leadership of Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi and key vice chancellors – and of the operations of the campus Police Department.

In our reading, Katehi showed either extreme naiveté or incompetence in weighing a response to protesters camping in the Quad. The report of the task force, led by former California Supreme Court Associate Justice Cruz Reynoso, revealed a deeply flawed structure for decisionmaking. Little or no consideration of alternatives. Failing to record and adequately communicate key decisions, so that ambiguity and uncertainty ruled.

You think maybe?

What is so infuriating is that the Faculty Senate ultimately backed down in its confidence vote on Chancellor Katehi, even though the ultimate responsibility was hers. She failed to make clear to the campus police chief just what would be required and what would be tolerated. Her excuse that she feared sexual misconduct by the protesters is both laughable and insulting. She had her orders from somewhere else.

Once again, the owners have succeeded. Nothing to see here: move along, move along.

OK, Watertiger, move over. I need your desk again.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Post Post-Mortem

OK, I find that I'm not quite finished with the whole business of Rick Santorum leaving the presidential nomination race. David Horsey has raised some issues which I thought worth considering.

Horsey looks back at the whole nomination process this election cycle and notes just why Santorum didn't succeed and just why he might next time around.

Santorum is not too extreme for today's Republicans. In a party that is at least 50% composed of Glenn Beck fans, gay-bashers, paranoid conspiracy theorists, Obama birth certificate fantasizers, antiabortion zealots, take-back-America culture warriors and get-religion-into-government theocrats, he is mainstream.

His run in 2012 failed for other reasons ...

Among those reasons listed were the lack of money and adequate campaign staff and organization, the splitting of the social conservative vote with Newt Gingrich remaining in the race, and some weird twists of fate such as the initial declaration of Romney as the winner of Iowa at a time when Santorum was beginning to pick up some steam (Santorum was ultimately declared the winner).

But here is what is perhaps the key reason Santorum didn't make it:

• Romney was willing to say and do anything to win. He allowed his campaign and "super PAC" to carpet the airwaves with ads that made all manner of nasty and bogus allegations against Santorum. Meanwhile, he stretched himself to adopt a newly-minted set of right-wing beliefs to undercut Santorum’s claim to being the only true conservative in the race.

Together, all these factors doomed Santorum’s campaign. Arguably, it might have helped if he had stuck to his appealing, working class economic pitch that contrasted with Romney’s Wall Street insider persona, instead of harping on abortion, birth control and the evils of secularism. Still, being a culture warrior helped him more than it hurt him among Republican voters.
[Emphasis added]

Now, I'm not so sure that 50% of Republican voters are members of the Religious Reich. I agree that more of them turned out to vote than the fiscal conservatives and the corporatists, probably because Romney's credentials on all issues are suspect. He has used the etch-a-sketch too often to be trusted by those who insist on the certainty of government largess. That's probably why the turn-outs during the entire primary season to date were so low.

That said, however, I think Horsey's conclusion is a sound one:

At 53, Santorum is a young man, politically speaking. If Romney loses in November, Santorum could have the inside track for the nomination next time. In 1980, 1988, 2000, 2008 and now this year, the Republican winner turned out to be the man who came in second in the previous round of contested primaries.

So, in the event of an Obama victory, look for Santorum to spend the next couple of years raising money, getting better organized and finding every opportunity to tell his fellow red-blooded conservatives that 2016 will be the year to finally follow their hearts and nominate one of their own.

It could happen.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

So That's That

(Editorial cartoon by Jim Morin / Miami Herald (April 5, 2012)and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

There may not have been a primary yesterday, but there was the kind of news that had virtually the same effect. Rick Santorum has "suspended" his campaign, acknowledging that Romney has the nomination sewn up. I suspect that the polls in Pennsylvania showed Santorum trailing Romney by enough that he finally had to admit that the cause was lost. I also think that his disabled daughter's deteriorating health also played a part in the family decision.

So, yes, Mitt: you are finally there. It's finally over.

Or is it?

Oh, I don't doubt that Romney will be the nominee, but at this point there are still two more opponents hanging around. As I pointed out yesterday, Newt Gingrich keeps saying that he's in for the long haul. He won't be much of a presence at the remaining contests (in fact, he might not even appear on the Utah ballot because the filing fee check from his campaign bounced), but he still wants to keep things conservative.

And Ron Paul? Who knows what he has in mind. He shows up for speaking engagements, gets some votes and a couple of delegates, and then moves on to the next stop on his grand libertarian road trip.

I think Mitt Romney will gradually move back to the center after the last of the Southern primaries, shaking his etch-a-sketch vigorously before he gets to California. While social and fiscal conservatives may not be thrilled by his candidacy (hence the low turn-out throughout most of the primaries), they do want to oust Obama and Romney is their best chance for that. The Tea Partiers don't seem to have the clout in this race, but at this point they seem to be more focused on down ballot candidates (congressional and state races) anyway.

Now the real question in this household is what am I going to do with all this popcorn?


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

When The Frame Doesn't Fit The Picture

(Political cartoon by David Horsey and published 2/20/12 by the Los Angeles Times. Click on image to enlarge and then come back.)

Yes, it's Tuesday, but it's one of those rare Tuesdays when there is no GOP primary. The next one is two weeks away. There's still, however, some news from that race. Newt Gingrich admits that Mitt Romney will undoubtedly be the Republican nominee, but Newt is staying in the race to keep Romney from the etch-a-sketch and to make certain the party platform remains as conservative as Newt wants it to be.

Newt has some ideas on what he wants included in the platform and in the campaign, but he-of-the-grandiose-ideas has not come up with anything new, according to Los Angeles Times columnist Jon Healey.

Gingrich continues to hope that his ideas will find their way into not just the party platform – after all, who reads that? – but also into the GOP’s orthodoxy over the long run. He cited four in particular: energy independence, personal Social Security accounts a la Chile, religious liberty and debt repayment.

Here’s hoping he comes up with a better list before he officially drops out of the race, because those are four surprisingly stale ideas.

Healey's right: there's nothing particularly new or surprising about any of them. Healey also does a pretty good job at pointing out the flaws in all of them (and you should read the fairly short column), but I do have some disagreement with his explication of the "religious liberty" aspect.

Gingrich’s point on religious liberty is simple: “The government should not force its values on any religious institution.” But he probably doesn’t intend it to be as grand an idea as it sounds. The government’s values include not discriminating against people on the basis of their race, and there’s no carve-out for church-affiliated hospitals to deny care to blacks or Asians. It’s doubtful that Gingrich would want to give religious institutions carte blanche to ignore U.S. law. Instead, he seems focused on the requirement that employers affiliated with religious institutions include contraceptive coverage in their employee health insurance policies, although the cost would have to be covered by the insurer. [Emphasis added]

Healey is right as far as he goes, but he is being far too charitable to Gingrich. This isn't just about "religious liberty." If it were, the ban on coverage would extend to more than birth control pills. That's why I ran the Horsey cartoon at the top of this post.

This is about the social conservatives (including the Roman Catholic American Bishops and the Religious Reich) and their war on women's rights to control their own body. No contraception, no abortion. Men can have their Viagra or Cialis, because they are the bosses when it comes to sex. Women are just the receptacles, willing or not. Calling this a matter of "religious liberty" is a dodge, an outright lie.

The Democrats need to start pointing this out more forcefully. We don't need to have the true picture forced into such a dishonest and ugly frame. It doesn't fit.

For once it would be nice to see the Democrats take charge of an issue and not back down.

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Monday, April 09, 2012

Granny Bird Award: ALEC

This edition of the Granny Bird Award, given from time to time to people who go out of their way to adversely affect the rights and lives of the elders, goes to the American Legislative Exchange Council, "ALEC," for its unconscionable activities in promoting voter suppression laws in states all over the country. This organization of major corporate and conservative groups is determined to deny the vote to the poor, minorities, and elders and it is working in concert with conservative state legislators to accomplish its mission.

Unfortunately, the rapid spread of these proposals in states as different as Florida and Wisconsin is not occurring by accident. Instead, many of these laws are being drafted and spread through corporate-backed entities such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, as uncovered in a previous Center for American Progress investigative report. Detailed in that report, ALEC charges corporations such as Koch Industries Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and The Coca-Cola Co. a fee and gives them access to members of state legislatures. Under ALEC’s auspices, legislators, corporate representatives, and ALEC officials work together to draft model legislation. As ALEC spokesperson Michael Bowman told NPR, this system is especially effective because “you have legislators who will ask questions much more freely at our meetings because they are not under the eyes of the press, the eyes of the voters.”

The investigative report included for the first time a leaked copy of ALEC’s model Voter ID legislation, which was approved by the ALEC board of directors in late 2009. This model legislation prohibited certain forms of identification, such as student IDs, and has been cited as the legislative model from groups ranging from Tea Party organizations to legislators proposing the actual legislation such as Wisconsin’s Voter ID proposal from Republican state Rep. Stone and Republican state Sen. Joe Leibham.
[Emphasis added]

I urge you to read not only the linked article but also the report to which it refers to see just how this legislation affects us all, including elders in their 80s and 90s who for various reasons (including cost) cannot comply with the new laws. People who have rarely missed voting in an election are suddenly shut out because they cannot provide a birth certificate or because they cannot even get to the government office which issues the "picture ID".

This has nothing to do with voter fraud (which is so rare as to not qualify even as "negligible") and everything to do with keeping people who might vote against the interests of our corporate owners. And who are these corporate owners? Think Progress has a list of those who contributed to the recent ALEC annual meeting.

The list is revealing. It not only includes the "usual suspects" (Koch Brothers) but also some surprises:, Johnson & Johnson, Walgreens. And the linked-to article also lists some other posts which indicate some corporations who have pulled out of the sponsorship list because of consumer outrage, among them Coca Cola, PepsiCo, and Kraft.

And that's the key. We have to get involved and let the corporations know we aren't having any of this anti-American crap. Look at the list and pick out companies you've been spending money at and let them know that you won't be doing so anymore because of their stance on something as basic as voting.

And then let President Obama and Attorney General Holder know that you expect the federal government to enforce the voting rights of all Americans, not just the wealthy.

It's important.

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Sunday, April 08, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Henry Reed


To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And to-day we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For to-day we have naming of parts.

--Henry Reed

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Jim Morin / Miami Herald (April 4, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, April 07, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Titan Triggerfish

(Photo by Enric Sala and published at National Geographic. Click on the link for some interesting comments on interspecies cooperation.)


David Horsey has a timely column up on the "Stand Your Ground" laws that keep popping up all over the country. The NRA certainly has had its way of late (the last twenty years), but has that organization and its adherents finally reached it's limit? Probably not.

To stifle any incipient sense of security, gun-rights advocates have been busy inventing new laws to solve problems that do not exist. The now-controversial "stand your ground" law in Florida is a fine example of this. Before the legislation was passed, nobody had gotten into serious trouble for using a gun to rightfully defend himself in the Sunshine State. Nevertheless, with the urging of the NRA, the Florida Legislature became the first in the nation to pass a law guaranteeing citizens the right to start shooting instead of running if they feel threatened.

Since the law took effect, the number of Florida gun owners killing someone and successfully claiming justifiable homicide has tripled. This means either that a lot of people had been running away before or that quite a few people are now exploiting the law to bump somebody off and then claim self-defense.

Either/or, it's a chilling scenario, one that will become increasingly frosty, especially come August in Tampa when the Republican National Convention comes to town. Convention organizers have already issued rules on what cannot be carried in the area outside the convention hall (where the Secret Service has the final say). Everything from scissors to umbrellas with metal tips are banned. What isn't banned, however, are guns, something a New York Times editorial notes.

Tampa officials wanted to ban handguns outside the convention hall (the Secret Service has undisputed power to ban weapons inside the hall) but came up against the state law, which imposes $100,000 fines on local governments that try to meet such obvious public-safety needs. This lethal parody of gun control should be repealed, like the notorious Stand Your Ground law. But voters cannot expect common sense from the Republican-controlled Legislature, which is on a leash held by the gun lobby. ...

Political leaders mindful of public safety should be able to solve Tampa’s gun control problem. But there’s scant few of them in the statehouse. The scene developing in Tampa is a national embarrassment that spotlights how timorous American politicians are before the gun lobby.

A recipe for disaster? Probably. But as Atrios pointed out, "Republicans have been desperate to create gun heaven, and now they have it. What's the problem? "

Heh, indeedy.

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Friday, April 06, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

Ack!!! Liberals!!!

(Political cartoon by Ted Rall and published April 4, 2012 by the Los Angeles Times. Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

California's institutions of higher learning, once the crown jewels of the state, have had a rough couple of years. Lack of state funding, rising costs, increased demands for classes which cannot be provided: the University of California, Cal-State, and community colleges have all been hit hard. The latest slap, however, is not financially related. It is politically motivated.

The University of California is a hotbed of leftist faculty and politically correct thinking where many students are receiving a weak and unbalanced education, according to a report by a conservative organization of professors and administrators.

The study by the California Assn. of Scholars repeats objections conservatives have had for decades over what they see as an overwhelmingly liberal academia that stifles dissent. Especially in UC humanities departments, study of classics and rigorous analysis have been replaced by advocacy of a leftist agenda and teaching about the grievances of various minorities, the report says. ...

Robert Anderson, a UC Berkeley economics and math professor who is chairman of the systemwide faculty Senate, said the report "is short on facts, but long on innuendo and anecdotes. The University of California offers tens of thousands of courses each year, the vast majority of which are excellent. A few dozen anecdotes about courses that allegedly have significant flaws does not diminish that fact, much less support the report's sweeping claims."
[Emphasis added]

Exactly. As my science-minded friends keep reminding me, the plural of anecdote is not data.

And it's the (shudder) humanities departments that are at fault?

Oh, please.

Let's just start with literature:

Please tell me how you can teach Lysistrata without mentioning women's role in society, or Antigone when it comes to the double-bind women have always found themselves in. Or some of Shakespeare's sonnets without acknowledging the homoerotic overtones, or all of Walt Whitman, for that matter.

How do you even begin to appreciate that manliest of men and general conservative giant Ernest Hemingway and The Sun Also Rises without discussing the Spanish Civil War and fascism.

And we should exclude Langston Hughes from the American poetry canon why?

Then there's history.

The Civil War was fought for economic reasons. OK, I'm cool with that. And the root of the economic reasons was the use of slaves. Got it?

During World War II, this country detained and sequestered Japanese Americans, many of whom sent sons off to fight for the US, but they still wound up in "camps." We shouldn't talk about that in class?

And that's just off the top of my head, which is about to explode I'm so damned angry. I suppose I could take a walk and cool off, but it's early and dark, and I think a cup of coffee would serve me better. Please feel free to add additional examples in comments.

Oh, and you can find the asshole-ish report the article and Ted Rall's nifty cartoon refer to here. The report itself appears to be in pdf format.

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Thursday, April 05, 2012

Family Values

Earlier in the year, the Obama administration announced that some new rules on immigration would be formulated. On Monday, one new rule was posted for public comment, and the right wing anti-immigrant people went wild. Media Matters details just how crazy things got.

Right-wing media have attacked a proposed Obama administration rule change that would reduce the amount of time required for undocumented immigrants who are immediate relatives of American citizens to apply for residency as "stealth amnesty" by a "lawless regime." But the proposed rule change would allow eligible immigrants to obtain a lawful return visa without a long separation from their families...

The post details the hateful spewings of the usual suspects: Judicial Watch, the Drudge Report, Fox Nation. Go visit the post at Media Matters to view the nonsense crap being "reported" and links to those sources. I decline to post too much of either. I'd rather post a link to the Federal Register which sets forth the actual rule change and rationale behind it.

DHS proposes to change its current process for the filing and adjudication of certain waivers of inadmissibility for qualifying immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, who are physically present in the United States, but must proceed abroad to obtain their immigrant visas. DHS proposes to allow qualifying immediate relatives to apply for a provisional waiver of their inadmissibility for unlawful presence while they are still in the United States and before they leave to attend their immigrant visa interview abroad.

Approving an application for a provisional unlawful presence waiver prior to the immediate relative's immigrant visa interview will allow the DOS consular officer to issue the immigrant visa without delay if there are no other grounds of inadmissibility and if the immediate relative otherwise is eligible to be issued an immigrant visa. The immediate relative would not have to wait abroad during the period when USCIS adjudicates his or her waiver request, but rather could remain in the United States with his or her U.S. citizen spouse or parent during that period. As a result, U.S. citizens' separation from their immediate relatives would be significantly reduced. In addition, given the greater certainty that will result from this process, U.S. citizens and their family members would also be able to better plan for the immediate relative's departure and eventual return to the United States.
[Emphasis added]

In other words, parents and/or spouses who are not here legally are being given a chance to expedite a determination on their status, in some cases, without leaving the country. They still have to go through the process, but will not have to be separated from their families for extended periods of time. This hardly looks like amnesty. What it does do is open a channel for those who have not entered the process because of the length of time and the expense involved an opportunity to make things right.

If the only "crime" involved is over-staying a visa, what's the harm? If the undocumented immigrant is the primary bread-winner for the family, or the only parent of an American born child, a lengthy separation doesn't do anything but punish harshly those left behind. The rule change would keep families intact.

The "family values" folks don't quite see it that way. Apparently only all-American families are valuable in their eyes. That certainly comes as no surprise, especially since it involves people with darker skins or differently shaped eyes.

The rule change has been posted by DHS for the mandatory period for public comment. You might want to wander over to the Federal Register for more information on how to enter your comment in the discussion. You can bet the usual suspects have been sending their minions over.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Is It Over Yet?

(Editorial cartoon by Tom Toles and published by the Washington Post April 3, 2012. Click on image to enlarge, then come back.)

As anticipated, Mitt Romney won in Wisconsin, Maryland, and Washington DC yesterday, pushing his delegate count to about 50% of what is needed to win the GOP nomination for president. Romney is finally where he wanted to be in January: with a commanding lead and with the kind of momentum to carry him easily to his party's nomination at the convention in August. He can now focus on Obama rather than on his Republican opponents and he has made that campaign shift.

Also as anticipated, Rick Santorum is not giving up. He's staying in, at least for the next three weeks. His speech last night pointed out that it's only "half-time," there's still Pennsylvania (April 24) and a few more socially conservative states ahead (in May) which he thinks he can win and which will keep the race alive. The key, of course, is Pennsylvania: Santorum's home state. The problem is that the last time he campaigned for office in Pennsylvania (for re-election to his senate seat), he lost.

There is, nevertheless, a certain air of inevitability at this point. Romney appears to have the nomination locked up. But he has a problem as well, one that I think the Toles cartoon captures nicely. Republican conservatives still aren't thrilled by the etch-a-sketch candidate. His job at this point is to find a running mate who will fire those conservatives up enough to turn out for him in November.

The political pundits at the Los Angeles Times had a twitter-fest in which several issues were discussed including media fatigue with the race and with possible selections for the vice-president's spot.

Now I had thought that Romney would select a Southern conservative, someone such as Florida's Rubio. That would give the ticket both geographical and ideological balance. Rubio might also appeal to the Latino bloc, a group the GOP has pretty much alienated even though there are a lot of very socially conservative Hispanics in this country.

The Times pundits surprised me by suggesting Wisconsin's Paul Ryan might be tapped, an economic conservative whose latest deficit reduction bill has been passed by the House. And, with a hat-tip to my friend Ralphie;, they aren't the only ones who think Ryan is just what the ticket needs.

So, I guess the Republican race really isn't over yet. There's still some popcorn to consume.