Thursday, May 31, 2012

A War Criminal Is Convicted And Sentenced

Last month Charles Taylor was convicted on war crime charges by an international court sitting in Sierra Leone. His sentence was handed down by that court on Wednesday:

Judges at an international war crimes court have sentenced former Liberian President Charles Taylor to 50 years in prison following his landmark conviction for supporting rebels in Sierra Leone who murdered and mutilated thousands during their country's brutal civil war in return for blood diamonds.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone found Taylor guilty last month on 11 charges of aiding and abetting the rebels who went on a bloody rampage during the decade-long war that ended in 2002 with more than 50,000 dead.

In effect, the court has given the 64-year-old Taylor a life sentence. The Los Angeles Times had an article last month which details some of those charges and the effects of Taylor's complicity.

Taylor armed and supported militias, traded arms for "blood diamonds" in Sierra Leone, and allegedly used child soldiers in the 1989-96 Liberian civil war, which killed some 200,000 people. ...

Taylor, in exchange for diamonds, facilitated huge arms shipments to the rebels and offered financial support, training and a base in the Liberian capital, Monrovia.

Imagine that: a guy is tried and convicted of war crimes for facilitating a war in another country in which hundreds of thousands are killed, maimed, raped for personal aggrandizement and increased wealth. And he will actually go to prison.

Of course, none of this has any relevance to our country. I mean, oil and rare earth minerals are different than diamonds, and crazy militias are different than mercenaries and private contractors with connections to the White House. Water boarding and forcing prisoners to stand naked for hours are totally unlike rape and the terrorizing of innocents. Furthermore, our new high tech weaponry is surgically precise, not like lopping off limbs indiscriminately, which is just savagery.

Most importantly, we are not Africans. We are Americans, the beacon of hope and freedom for the rest of the world.

Excuse me while I weep.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Not So New News

I'm posting David Horsey's cartoon and comments not because it contains a startling new revelation but because it points to a serious problem affecting far too many people in our nation.

A couple of weeks ago, JPMorgan Chase & Co. revealed losses on risky investments that, thus far, total more than $2 billion. It seems that, even after the near-death experience of the 2008 global financial meltdown, hotshot investment bankers at JPMorgan were rolling the dice and betting enormous amounts of other people’s money on high-risk ventures.

Then, after Facebook’s first public stock offering fell far short of expectations, it was revealed that Morgan Stanley, the bank that managed the IPO, had quietly warned big investors that buying into Facebook might not be such a great idea. More modest investors, as always, were left out of the loop. ...

In years long gone, this sort of behavior would not have mattered quite so much to the public at large. Wall Street was a place for men in striped suits with money to spare; it was not a place for the typical working man. But, over the last couple of decades, the financial lives of the majority of Americans have become enmeshed with the ups and downs of the market.

Many have bought into mutual funds, an affordable and supposedly reliable way for the small investor to reap a little profit from the bigger investment game. Many have also become investors, whether they like it or not, as pension plans have been replaced by 401(k) schemes. This change seemed like a sensible step considering the trajectory of the stock market in the 20th century.
[Emphasis added]

And that's the point. The Wall Street banksters are walking away with no penalties, while the rest of us are suffering more than just bloody noses. It is one thing to acknowledge that Wall Street is a crazy casino, it is another to acknowledge that we are being forced to bet in that tilted venue with no recourse, at least no recourse that looks reasonably forthcoming.

Horsey's conclusion captures our dilemma nicely.

It is as if the U.S. financial system is a churning ocean on which the captains of finance rove in their treasure ships while the rest of us are left to drift in tiny vessels, surrounded by sharks, with no oars or compasses or clues about how to find safe harbor.


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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Granny Bird Award: Alan Simpson

This edition of the Granny Bird Award (given from time to time to those who go out of their way to damage elders' rights and benefits) goes to former Senator Alan Simpson for his work on the bipartisan "cat food commission" and his comments thereafter explaining why Social Security is a socialist plot which was never intended to serve the interests of elders. I could have given him the award months ago, and probably should have, but I was holding off to see how far he could shove his foot in his mouth before someone in the press finally called him on his mendacity.

Michael Hiltzig did just that in a recent column in the Business Section of the Los Angeles Times.

Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), who has long been the go-to guy for obnoxiously know-nothing takes on Social Security, this week uncorked yet another spectacularly misinformed "factoid" about the program's history.

In a letter to Max Richtman, a former Senate staffer who now heads the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, Simpson asserted that Social Security's creators did not design it to be a retirement program. The letter dated Friday was obtained and made public by ABC News.

Simpson wrote in his unbelieveably rude and ignorant letter to Richtman: "You know damn well that the system was never created as a 'retirement' -- it was an 'income supplement' to take care of folks working in CCC camps and who lost everything in the Great Depression."

It's hard to know what to think of Simpson's version of history, but the term "sheer fantasy" comes to mind. ...
[Emphasis added]

Hiltzig then proceeds to demolish Simpson's assertion by nailing down the actual history of the legislation and the express intentions behind it. It's clear that Simpson's allegations don't even merit the designation of "truthy", much less truth, but that certainly hasn't stopped Simpson from flapping his gums on the issue.

The man is a liar, and his lies go to the very heart of a program that is keeping a lot of us alive and eating. He is, to be polite, an arrant knave whose head is so far up his netherparts that major surgery would be required to restore any vision to him. Ironically, this is from a man who after three terms in the Senate retired with a cushy government pension and the best health care plan the American taxpayers can provide.

But here's the scary part, and Hiltzig nails it:

Alan Simpson obviously has a problem with the facts, and with the basic concept of civility in public discourse. Yet he's been held up by President Obama as a paragon of bipartisan policy-making. So here's a question for the president: Does Alan Simpson speak for him on Social Security? [Emphasis added]

It is the question that should also be posed to Nancy Pelosi, the Minority Leader of the House who has suggested that the catfood commission's suggestions (no report ever issued) must be considered, and to every senator and representative in Congress. Apparently the Democrats have taken this as a fall-back position given the GOP's drive to completely demolish the system in favor of a Wall Street privatized version of retirement funding.


Call, fax, write, email your congress critters and scream long and hard about this travesty. If the funding of the trust fund is such a concern remind them that the easiest, quickest, and smartest solution is raising the payroll deduction cap so that those who make more than $110,000 per year can pay a few bucks more to ensure that their parents and they themselves have a guaranteed income upon retirement.

Do it.


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Monday, May 28, 2012

In Memoriam

I suppose it's a little odd that I grieve my late brother on Memorial Day rather than on his birthday, or the date of his death or funeral. After all, he did not die in battle, at least not directly. I believe that his multiple tours of duty in Viet Nam did contribute to his death, but I have no direct proof of that. You see, my brother died of complications of early-onset Alzheimer's and his doctors did speculate that the chemical exposure he had during those years certainly could have had an effect, especially with respect to the speed of his decline. My mother, who was his legal guardian at the time of his death refused an autopsy because of her own religious beliefs, so we can't know.

I do know, however, that his experience at war did affect the last years of his life profoundly. He had enlisted in the Sea Bees in the hopes that he wouldn't get sent into the battle zone. Foolish young man that he was, he didn't realize that construction would be required even on the battle field. He and his unit spent a great deal of time building, and rebuilding, and rebuilding Da Nang's air strip. And he did so without all the accouterments of battle. His main protection was a side-arm, either a .45 or a 9 mm semi-automatic. That isn't much in a war.

And this wasn't a traditional war. It was our first real experience with what is now called asymmetrical warfare. It wasn't easy to identify the enemy. It often was a villager who had been friendly the day before who led an attack on the men trying to grade for concrete laying. Or, even more horrific, a child carrying a live grenade racing toward them. Sometimes it was US airplanes who missed their targets and dropped munitions dangerously close to them. Some exploded. Some didn't.

He never spoke of any of this to us, not while it was going on, not while he was posted in "safer" locales, not while he ended his 25 year career in California with his family. But the memories surfaced when his Alzheimer's accelerated, making the last two years of his life hell. At first they were nightmares from which he would awaken screaming about being attacked or being bombed. Then the nightmares took over his waking life and he re-enacted them over and over until my mother couldn't restrain him. She finally had to place him in the same Alzheimer's care facility that she had placed my father in just a few years before.

I remember speaking to him by telephone and trying to reassure him that he would not be going to hell for killing that child with the hand grenade, that he would be forgiven, that he was forgiven. After that conversation I cried for hours, even as I am crying right now. That decent young man, who loved children, who had more baby sitting jobs than I ever had, suffered horribly.

And that's what war does to young men, and now young women as well. AP had an astounding article about the veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and what they're bringing home with them:

A staggering 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking compensation for injuries they say are service-related. That is more than double the estimate of 21 percent who filed such claims after the Gulf War in the early 1990s, top government officials told The Associated Press.

This includes amputations, internal injuries, head injuries, and, yes, PTSD. The VA is simply not equipped to deal with those numbers and those numbers will only increase as time goes on. How will we, as a society, deal with that consequence of war? Will we simply forget about them until the next veteran commits suicide or kills someone else? How will their families deal with them now, broken in body and spirit?

This is what war does.

At least my brother's suffering is over. That is cold comfort today.

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Wilfred Owen

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

--Wilfred Owen

Sunday Funnies

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


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Cheetahs

(Photographer unknown but the picture is appended to this AP article in the Washington Post. Click on the link to learn more about the efforts to save this critter and its sibling.)

Things That Make Me Ill

(Editorial cartoon by Kevin Siers / Charlotte Observer (May 25, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

Sometimes I wonder why we even bother. Here we are in the middle of a presidential campaign at a time when our economy is almost as shaky as it was during the last presidential campaign and "our" candidate is consorting with the enemy. Oh, he may be bashing the vulture capitalists at Bain, but that's all for show.

From OpenSecrets:

If President Obama's attacks on Mitt Romney's long career at Bain Capital are a liability, as some Democrats now worry, they don't seem to bother some of Romney's old colleagues: Employees of Bain Capital and Bain & Company have given more than $152,000 to Obama's campaign and the joint fundraising operation he runs with the Democratic National Committee. The analysis accounts for those donors giving $200 or more.

Yesterday [May 21,2012], Obama attacked Romney for his time at Bain, telling reporters that being successful at making money as the head of a firm that takes over other companies -- often dismantling them or laying off workers to return them to profitability -- is different than creating jobs. But data indicates there are at least a handful of Bain Capital employees (and their families) who seem more impressed with the president than he is with their employer: they have given $41,278 to his campaign, and identified at least three who have given a total of $96,400 to a joint fundraising committee operated by the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

Obama has also collected $16,000 from employees of Bain & Company, the consulting firm that started Romney's career and helped spawn Bain Capital.

Yes, that's a drop in the bucket compared to what those folks have given Mitt Romney, but it's still a tidy chunk of change, and I'm not referring to the kind of change I thought we were promised in Obama's first campaign.

Silly me.

I guess that's just our Wall Street Overlords hedging their bets. Sometimes they're real good at that.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

Still Crazy After All These Years

Wouldn't you just hate being a bright young reporter with a major metropolitan newspaper and then being assigned Sarah Palin's Facebook as a beat? Poor Robin Abcarian!

Robin soldiered on, and I am grateful. This story gave me the biggest belly laugh I've had in weeks.

There’s consternation in Palin Nation.

The former Alaska governor surprised many supporters this week when she endorsed Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a political fixture who would seem to represent everything that Palinistas loathe, which can be conveyed in a simple phrase: “the entrenched Washington elite.”

Though she has taken herself out of contention for office, Palin continues to keep herself in the political game as a kind of would-be kingmaker, issuing endorsements in close races between Republicans, not always swaying a race, but almost always generating controversy over how much power she has.

Palin has been pretty successful in her picks (with a few howling exceptions), but this one could be a real test because she picked the incumbent rather than the Tea Party Approved challenger. Apparently her avid followers are not amused.

Expected by many to support Hatch’s first serious challenger, former Utah State Sen. Dan Liljenquist, Palin instead posted a long defense of Hatch on her Facebook page Wednesday.

“Orrin Hatch is part of the one percent,” wrote Palin. “No, not that one percent you’ve heard about. He’s part of the one percent of national politicians who I think should be re-elected.” Invoking President Reagan’s praise of Hatch as “Mr. Balanced Budget,” Palin cited Hatch’s record as a fiscal conservative, his opposition to “Obamacare” and his support of conservative Supreme Court justices as reasons she supports him.

But those words prompted an outcry from many of her supporters, who left scathing comments on her Facebook page.

“Sorry Sarah,” wrote AnnaMarie Stephens. “Nobody needs to be a Senator for life! We’re just so sick of the same ole, same ole.”

“You have disappointed millions of us, who once appreciated your wisdom,” wrote Steve Hatfield. “Your new-found ‘wisdom’ seems to be more of the cronyism that has kept far too many RINOs in office. No thank you and goodbye.” (RINO is the acronym for the derogatory term “Republican in name only.”

As Atrios would say, "Heh, Indeedy."

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Welcome To The Real World

So, it's been a momentous few days for Mark Zuckerberg. Friday's Facebook IPO moved him from mere millionaire to billionaire. Saturday he got married. Monday Facebook's stock dipped. He's still a billionaire (I suspect), but he's lost a chunk of change, more than 99% of the people will make in ten lifetimes.

David Horsey, whose cartoon heads this post, has a few salient comments on the whole affair.

Congratulations to Mark Zuckerberg on his surprise wedding last Saturday. I certainly hope his marriage gets off to a better start than Friday’s initial public offering of shares in his social networking colossus, Facebook.

Wall Street analysts are now saying the opening share price of $38 was too high for investors wary of buying into a business that delivers millions of messages and photos from college drinking parties but produces a comparatively modest revenue stream. As a result, at the close of trading on Tuesday, Facebook's estimated market value had dropped to $85 billion from the $104-billion value set by the IPO.

That means a lot of people lost money, not just Mark Zuckerberg, but hey! that's the market at work. As Horsey points out, "the market" is for suckers, for gamblers, it's one big casino, and nothing points that out more than this Facebook episode. Only the house and its shills win. And that's an historical fact, Jack.

People who were talked out of a pension and into a 401k 15 years ago have, more often than not, seen that nest egg go rotten. Wall Street has become a bigger gamble than Las Vegas, and there aren't even free drinks to soften the blow when you lose. Everybody is in the market these days, but only a few very big players actually get to play. Hedge fund managers, derivatives hawkers and slick guys in suits from banks that are too big to fail place all the bets and roll all the dice. We just stand on the sidelines watching our modest investments take a stomach-churning roller coaster ride. [Emphasis added.}

What is really exceptional about the Facebook debacle is that even some of the major players got screwed, and got screwed royally.

As Facebook shares continued their slide, regulators launched inquiries into whether privileged Wall Street insiders were alerted to the company's weakening financial projections, leading them to shun the stock or dump shares just as buying was opened to the public.

Morgan Stanley, which led the Wall Street effort to bring the social network public, came under fire following reports that the bank had told some favored clients that the bank was cutting its revenue estimates for Facebook. The lowered expectations came after the tech giant expressed caution in a public filing about its advertising sales on mobile devices.
[Emphasis added]

Apparently there is a ranking even within the ownership class. What a surprise, eh? The only difference is that some of the big boys are not having any of this crap and have the money and the muscle to get the SEC and other regulatory agencies to move in and have a look-see, something the rest of us don't have.

If it weren't for the fact that a lot of little investors got caught up in this debacle (yes, they were foolish, but it was a safe investment, so they were told), this might be fun to watch.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Kids Are OK

(Illustration by David Gothard / For The Times / May 18, 2012)

Neal Gabler had a rather odd opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times this weekend. It was accompanied by the illustration which heads this post, which sorta kinda gives a clue to Gabler's thesis.

Barack Obama wanted to be a transformational president, and as we head into the general election, he may have gotten his wish — just not the way he or his supporters might have thought.

Obama seems to have transformed the cohort of 18- to 29-year-olds, a whopping 66% of whom preferred him over John McCain, from passionate voters who thought Obama really did offer change they could believe in, into people feeling, in the words of veteran political analyst Charlie Cook, "disappointment and disillusionment." ...

Disillusionment with partisan politics is certainly nothing new. Obama's fall from grace, however, may look like a bigger belly flop because his young supporters saw him standing so much higher than typical politicians. Yet by dashing their hopes, Obama may actually have accomplished something so remarkable that it could turn out to be his legacy: He has redirected young people's energies away from conventional electoral politics and into a different, grass-roots kind of activism. Call it DIY politics.

He cites the Occupy movement as the first example of Do It Yourself politics, and to some extent I would agree. He also points out that the shift involved is more one of consciousness than anything else.

Movements have vectors; they head in a direction. The Occupiers don't have a coherent program or clearly identified leaders or a political dimension even in the way, say, the tea party does. OWS is more just a festival of grievance populated by those (mostly young people) who find no place for themselves in the system, which made the metaphor of their "occupying" the seat of American economic power ironic.

All of this is perhaps best defined as a consciousness — a way of thinking about change rather than a schema for it. That's one reason the Occupiers could collect so many disparate elements. OWS has spoken to a mounting sense among the disaffected that nothing quite works in America and that you can't really fight politics with politics anymore. In fact, you have to forget about traditional institutions, power and systems entirely. Americans typically don't think this way.
[Emphasis added.]

I agree for the most part that OWS has been so successful because it has changed the framing of the issue and the language used to express it. In fact, it's a movement that is as much consciousness raising as a shift in consciousness. However, I sense a little condescension in Gabler's suggestion that the Occupiers are staging a "festival of grievance" and are asserting that it's impossible to "fight politics with politics anymore." I think it just as likely that the consciousness raising will be used within the political arena, if not necessarily within the traditional two-party system.

His argument becomes even weaker when he produces his second bit of evidence for the transformation of today's youth by President Obama, the increase in volunteerism in such programs as AmeriCorps and Teach For America:

The DIY impulse seems to start with the most basic politics of all: individual agency. If it takes hold it will be from the bottom up, translating a way of thinking into a way of doing. Already you can see DIY politics in action, not just in young people camping outside City Hall but in their joining service organizations and NGOs where they can do good and seemingly apolitical — or at least extra-governmental — work. They don't abide endless debate and tit-for-tat strategies that result in gridlock. ...

There is a scathing irony in the fact that some attribute the rise in civic commitment to an "Obama effect," by which they mean Obama has kindled this idealism the way President Kennedy inspired young people to join the Peace Corps. (Of course, many more attribute it to the economy and the lack of jobs for recent grads.) Unfortunately, none of these surveys investigates reasons for increased volunteerism, but the data suggest another possible Obama effect: that he has driven them out of politics and into service.

Many longtime politicos find that outcome troubling. They fret that if young people abandon the system, the system will abandon the public good. Of course, to many of the young, it is the system that has abandoned them. If the polls are accurate, most of them will still vote for Obama but with less enthusiasm than in 2008 and with fewer illusions about what he will accomplish. Instead, they will assume the social burden themselves, opting out of organized politics to "do it themselves" with a politics of one that adds up to millions of ones.

He blithely writes off the lack of jobs for new graduates as a reason for increased volunteerism, and I think he is wrong to do so. I am not suggesting that young people are volunteering more just to pad their resumes. I think it is just as likely that they are doing so to engage in something worthwhile while they search for an opportunity and to keep body and soul together, neither of which is a bad thing. I also think that to the extent that Candidate Obama raised expectations and hopes and then President Obama dashed them, the reaction is far more impressive than one would have expected.

And as bleak as things are right now, the one thing that does keep me hopeful are these young people and what they are doing for whatever reason. I suspect Mr. Gabler and I share that feeling.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Granny Bird Award: NIMBY-ists

This edition of the Granny Bird Award, given from time to time to those who go out of their way to harm the rights of elders, goes to a neighborhood near Hollywood, California, who decided they did not want a board-and-care facility for elders with dementia in their midst because it might depress property values..

On a stretch of leafy Sierra Bonita Avenue near Hollywood, an operator of board-and-care facilities wants to tear down a duplex and construct an 11-bed facility for elderly residents suffering from dementia. In theory, that's fine: According to state law, a city cannot prohibit licensed care facilities that meet the zoning requirements. But in this area, zoning regulations permit single-family homes and duplexes, and the state defines a family as consisting of any number of related members or up to six unrelated people. Because Raya's Paradise, the operator of the facility, wants to go over the six-bed limit, it applied for a zoning variance.

Neighbors weren't pleased. Some complained that 24 facilities for the elderly are already located within a mile of this project. Care facilities mean multiple cars of staff and visitors, parking problems, more trash and — some say — lower property values.

...a city zoning administrator denied the variance, saying it would set a precedent that could start an erosion of "the low-density character and appearance of the area." Gamburd tried again under a different city ordinance and was again denied. His appeal of that ruling is scheduled to be heard Tuesday.
[Emphasis added.]

If Gamburd loses that appeal, he still has one more option: he can build a duplex (two units) which will satisfy the ordinance. It will be more expensive for him, and thus for his residents, but it will have to be tolerated.

It pleases me that the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times has taken up this issue, and I especially liked its conclusion:

This page is generally not sympathetic to NIMBY arguments, and it is particularly troubling that people would disdain living near elderly people in group homes. We all get old — if we're lucky. We should not flinch from sharing with aging neighbors the communities that they helped build. [Emphasis added.]

Exactly so.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Poor Mitt

Mitt Romney must be wondering if Ron Paul's campaign is ever actually going to end. Here's a quarter, Mitt. No.

Ron Paul and his followers are determined to keep their libertarian ideas before the GOP, and they're going to do it by hijacking delegates at state conventions, like the one in Minnesota this weekend.

After years of quiet, relentless organizing, followers of libertarian-leaning GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul have exploded inside the Minnesota Republican Party, becoming its most potent army.

"This is one of the greatest states that I have witnessed, where I have seen the transition, where the enthusiasm's there," the grinning Texas congressman told hundreds of exuberant activists Saturday at the state party's convention in St. Cloud, where he won 12 of 13 open delegate spots to the GOP national convention in Tampa, Fla., in August. The 13th went to former presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann -- and only after a Paul supporter dropped out to let her have that spot.

In Minnesota, more than almost any other state, Paul forces have completed a historic party takeover. They proved their might Saturday, but also firmly established Minnesota as a remote GOP outpost nationally.

Now state GOP activists will march to the national convention firmly backing Paul rather than presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
[Emphasis added]

More traditional GOP activists were both stunned and angry at the outcome. Many of them have ruled the state party for decades, but recently they haven't done so well. Money ran out and the party was given an eviction notice for non-payment of rent due on their state offices. The party was ripe for the picking and the Pauliacs stepped right in.

What I found somewhat surprising is that the Tea Partiers didn't have any success this time around.

Paul power comes from a sharply different place than the Tea Party movement, which the GOP welcomed just a few years ago. Tea Party members and the libertarian-minded sound similar when they talk of less spending and a dramatically reduced government, but beyond that, they part ways. Libertarians preach less intrusion in private life, question all federal income taxes and want to leave moral issues up to states.

The change also marks a clear split from when state Republicans made "family values" the passport for party entry. Instead of evangelizing about religious principles, Paul disciples cheer for a scaled-back foreign policy and the freedom to drink raw milk and grow hemp.
[Emphasis added]

Does that mean President Obama will have no trouble in Minnesota? Not hardly. The state which elected Sen. Franken and Gov. Dayton in extremely close races also elected Michele Bachmann and will probably re-elect her.

It does mean, however, that there are still a lot of people unwilling to just fall in line behind Mitt Romney, and the convention is less than three months away. He'll have to keep tacking to the right on economic issues and tax issues and figure out a way to satisfy the social conservatives without offending everyone else.

And there's still more primaries and state conventions ahead.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Poetry: John Donne

No Man Is An Island

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

--John Donne

Sunday Funnies

(Political cartoon by David Horsey and published 5/18/12 by the Los Angeles Times. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Bees

(Photograph by Dino Martins and published at National Geographic. Click on link to learn a fact I at least did not know about bees.)

Because They Can

One of the constitutional anomalies which really annoys me is the status of Washington DC when it comes to representation. Residents of the nation's capital have no senator and only have one representative who has little actual power. For years there have been efforts to change that, but it always falls through because the Republicans want too much to sign off on the deal. As a result, we get scenarios like this playing out on a regular basis.

Rep. Trent Franks’s district in suburban Phoenix is two time zones away from Washington, a fact not lost on D.C. leaders as the Arizona Republican presided Thursday over the latest in a long series of attempts to control social issues in the nation’s capital.

At issue this time was his bill, with 193 co-sponsors, to ban all abortions in the District beyond 20 weeks, except to save the life of the mother.

Adding insult to injury, from the point of view of local officials, was that Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s lone, nonvoting member of Congress — sitting in the front row of a subcommittee hearing room — was not allowed to speak.

Presiding over the hearing, Franks, who frequently cites the U.S. Constitution, said Congress has the authority to “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” in the District. He also described late-term abortions as “inhumane” and “torturous,” and he called them “the greatest human rights atrocity in the United States today.”
[Emphasis added]

There are all sorts of things wrong with this picture. First of all, that Del. Holmes was not allowed to speak was a travesty. Yes, the rules mandate that the minority party gets only one speaker in a subcommittee hearing, and a resident of DC who'd had an abortion at 21 weeks testified. Still, representatives are usually allowed to speak on matters concerning their district without running afoul of the rule. Rep. Franks was not having any of that nonsense. The most he was willing to do was to allow Del. Holmes to sit on the dais with the other committee members, but only if she kept her mouth shut.

Second, Rep. Franks and the GOP have taken to micromanaging affairs in DC, especially on social issues, much to the dismay of the Mayor and City Council. It's the troglodytes' way of scoring points with their basest base without any harm being done to their own district.

Norton and other District leaders have clashed repeatedly with Hill Republicans over abortion, particularly over the policy that prevents the city from spending its own money to pay for abortions for low-income women.

Franks’s bill would go further. It would bar all abortions after 20 weeks, regardless of who pays. The bill is based on model legislation prepared by the National Right to Life Committee, versions of which have become law in six states.
[Emphasis added]

And this time around, Franks is going to get away with it, even if the bill goes nowhere in the Senate. He got his soundbites, he got his posturing. All the District and its women got was a thorough dissing.

Just one more reason to vote in November: we need to take back the House and hold the Senate.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

(Thanks to 1Watt Hermit for providing the picture.)

Vested Interests

(Editorial cartoon by Jim Morin / Miami Herald (May 16, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

So, JP Morgan Chase has lost $2 billion (maybe $3 billion) on risky derivatives. Wall Street (and White House)darling Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan, admits that the bank was stupid for making these kinds of investments and he is unhappy with the traders involved. He even said he welcomed an investigation. He did not say, however, that regulations against banks making these kinds of foolish gambles should be in place.

Some voices in Congress suggest just the opposite, but only a few. Most are maintaining the position that we should see how this plays out. Frankly, in light of this report from Open Secrets, I am a little surprised.

When Wall Street giant JPMorgan Chase announced this week that it had lost an estimated $2 billion (now upped to $3 billion) on risky trades, Republican and Democratic members of Congress rushed to make their political cases: Either this was something that more regulation couldn't have prevented, or this was exactly what stronger government rules could have thwarted.

None of them, however, mentioned whether they had a financial stake in JPMorgan Chase.

Usually, the money-in-politics conversation is about how much money a company has invested in a politician via campaign donations. In this case, while JPMorgan Chase has plenty invested, it also goes the other way: at least 38 members of Congress owned shares in the bank.

The article (as usual) has a couple of handy charts which sets forth the reported investments by members of the Senate and the House. A couple are eye-raisers, but most are fairly small in the grand scheme of things. Still, as shareholders, the value of their shares is affected by the situation. You'd think the congress critters involved would be a little more exercised than this. They aren't, probably because they intend to make it up when it comes time for 'campaign contributions.'

There was one entry that did more than raise my eyebrows, however. In fact, I got a bit of whiplash from seeing it:

President Obama doesn't own any stock in JPMorgan, but he is a client -- on his most recent financial disclosure form, filed this week, the president reported having two checking accounts there, one worth between $500,000 and $1 million.

That's a checking account.


We really are fucked.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mother's Milk

(This is the post I intended to put up yesterday, an intention foiled by problems with my telephone. Another nice young man from AT&T came by yesterday afternoon and actually fixed things. I am happy.)

David Horsey has done it again: he has managed to set exactly the right tone for his cartoon and has done a marvelous job in excoriating our current electoral system.

If money is the mother’s milk of politics, then America’s big corporations are Big Mama and Big Baby is the Republican Party suckling at the enormous bosom of business. Democrats, meanwhile, are abandoned brats scrounging for nourishment wherever they can find it.

During the long decades the Democrats held a solid majority in Congress, campaign donations from the corporate world were spread around among incumbents in both parties – not evenly, but at least the D's got their share. Since the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 1994, however, corporate dollars have increasingly flowed in one direction.

This happened, in part, because Republican leaders like Tom “The Hammer” DeLay instituted a program to punish corporate lobbyists who were too bipartisan with their donations. Even more significantly, the evolution of the GOP into a militantly anti-tax and anti-regulation party has made Republican policy goals and the political aims of big corporations indistinguishable.

Now, in 2012, the discrepancy in campaign contributions is stark. Where once big business favored the GOP by 2 to 1, a survey by the Center for Responsive Politics has found Republicans enjoying a 7-1 advantage in some sectors. Energy companies, in particular, are giving heavily to Republican candidates, but so are financial institutions, insurance companies, real estate firms and agribusiness.
[Emphasis added.]

What I especially appreciated about the column was Horsey's recognition that the corporations have pretty much owned the Congress for decades. That comes as no surprise to most of us, but it's nice to see someone in the mainstream media come right out and say it.

It was also nice to see Horsey refer to Open Secrets, an invaluable tool for understanding just how easy it is to buy a congress critter. More people need to visit that site and to learn the harsh lessons presented.

Finally, I have to applaud loudly at his conclusion that the GOP right now is simply an extension of the corporate owners, a wholly-owned subsidiary, if you will. I do admit to being a little shocked at the disparity this cycle, especially since President Obama has pretty much given them everything they've wanted and the Democrats in Congress have gone along with the program. I guess they figured this would be much cleaner.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Large Glass of Whine, No Cheese

My telephone is once again working, although the nice tech who came out to fix it this morning has no idea why it is or why it wasn't working in the first place. In any event, I was without a phone and internet service for about 20 hours. I was not happy.

Admittedly, that is probably a minor annoyance in the grand scheme of things, but those minor annoyances have a habit of mounting up, of distracting one from the proper enjoyment of life, even if that life involves a lot of battles. And I've been noticing that those annoyances have in fact been mounting up. After the telephone incident, I went to the market for a few essentials. It turned out to be a major production, especially when I got home.

Packaging: the guys who dream up this stuff should be tried for crimes against humanity.

Now I'm old, but I do still shop. My hips and knees are fine, but my fingers, eh, not so much. It's harder for me to do fine manipulation than it was even five years ago. I understand "child proofing" such things as aspirin and drugs, but for someone with arthritic fingers and no children, I'd like to be able to open a container of a pain reliever without having to line up arrows (which are NOT real visible to someone with presbyopia) and then prying the cap upward away from the container, only to find a piece of foil superglued to the container. Would it hurt for the market people to have a section for products clearly labeled "Non Child Proof"?

And some items, designed specifically for elders and/or those with serious health problems to assist in weight gain or maintenance, i.e., people in a weakened condition, should come in containers which will open without the use of pliers, screwdrivers, and hacksaws. Yet they aren't.

But it's not just health products which are difficult. Packaging experts have found ways to stymy opening something as omnipresent as cereal. Surely even healthy, young, vibrant thirty-somethings must get annoyed at trying to open the wax paper bag inside the box of Kellogg's whatever. It has been heat sealed to keep freshness in, at least that's the theory. Look, that cereal is gonna have a bunch of milk poured on it. It's going to get soggy. Many of us want it to get soggy. Let us get into the damned cereal without having to wrestle the damned bag to the floor.

OK. I feel better.

Now, back to the real battles.


Mental Health Day

(My phone service keeps cutting out, and since I am on dial-up, posting is real iffy today.)


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Grown-Up

(Editorial cartoon by Kevin Siers / The Charlotte Observer (May 14, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)

No comment is offered because no comment is necessary.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Money Walks

Doyle McManus had a pretty good column up this weekend on the money being spent for campaign advertising by groups not officially part of a particular candidate's campaign. He concentrated not so much on the super PACs unleashed by Citizen's United, but on a specific variant of those groups:

The television commercial is designed to spark outrage. "Billions of taxpayer dollars spent on green energy went to jobs in foreign countries," it intones. "The Obama administration admitted the truth — that $2.3 billion of tax credits went overseas, while millions of Americans can't find a job…. American taxpayers are paying to send their own jobs to foreign countries."

But the widely broadcast anti-Obama ad, paid for by a conservative group called Americans for Prosperity, is highly misleading — a slick pastiche of untruths, half-truths and exaggerations. And it's a prime example of what's gone wrong with political advertising.

Who put up the $6.1 million to air the Americans for Prosperity commercial? None of your business. ...

That's the problem with the independent committees gearing up to flood the airwaves with "issue ads." Because their backers get to remain largely anonymous, they don't seem to feel much duty to stick to the truth.

... It doesn't have to answer to voters or run for reelection; its constituents are the unnamed donors that paid for the ad.

Americans for Prosperity has declared itself a tax-exempt "social welfare organization" under the Internal Revenue code, which means its official purpose is to educate the public about civic issues. The group carefully skirts the line by not advocating explicitly for a candidate as it chastises Obama. Because of that, it can call itself a social welfare organization and get away with not divulging its donors. ...

This isn't about partisanship, though. Obama's campaign advertising has stepped over the line too. His campaign recently ran a commercial accusing Romney of sending U.S. jobs overseas when he was an executive at Bain Capital, but two of the ad's three examples occurred after Romney left the firm.

The difference is that when a candidate's campaign makes a spurious charge, voters can call him on it. When an independent committee makes a spurious charge, who you gonna call?

It wouldn't be tough to solve the problem. Congress could pass a law requiring groups that wage political campaigns to identify their donors (although so far, Republicans have blocked Democrats' efforts to do that). Or the Internal Revenue Service could crack down and yank the tax-exempt status of groups that are political action committees in flimsy disguise. But the IRS moves slowly, at least on an issue as sensitive as this.
[Emphasis added.]

Keep in mind that this just one part of the campaign spending going on right now, six months before the election. The more regulated super PACs are out in force as well right now. Open Secrets has a tally up, along with a very nifty 'interactive' chart showing just who is spending on both sides of the aisle and for what. The sums are staggering:

Expenditures by super PACS were expected to hit the $100 million mark today [May 10], further proof that outside spending will far outstrip anything seen in previous election cycles.

Here's one way to look at how much more is being spent in the 2012 cycle: A single super PAC, the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future, has already spent more -- $44.5 million -- than all outside groups combined had spent by this point in 2008. That 2008 number, about $30.9 million, is roughly one-quarter of this cycle's overall outside spending total of $122.7 million.

And the $100 million spent just by super PACs this cycle is already $30 million more than the entire sum of all outside spending in the 2004 election, the year that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth 527 organization made a splash with its attacks on Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. ...

In past election cycles, there might be signs that a big spending push was coming, or that a campaign might be gearing up its fundraising operation, or the power of a traditional PAC could be seen by the cash it had on hand, [Bob]Biersack [of the Center for Responsive Politics] said. But the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision and other cases removed limits on how much can be contributed to an outside spending group, and by what source. Now, a group can have a sudden impact on a race because of a single large check from a company or union treasury, or an individual. The coming months won't be defined so much by the cash super PACs currently have on hand -- but rather, what money may materialize without warning, Biersack said.
[Emphasis added]

In other words, we can expect as much as half a billion dollars being expended on the campaign this time around. That's a lot of money, and most folks have no idea where it's coming from.

Our elections have become bidding wars.

That's not a good sign.

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Langston Hughes

(For all who have been marginalized.)

Will V-Day Be Me-Day Too?

Over There,
World War II.

Dear Fellow Americans,
I write this letter
Hoping times will be better
When this war
Is through.
I'm a Tan-skinned Yank
Driving a tank.

I wear a U. S. uniform.
I've done the enemy much harm,
I've driven back
The Germans and the Japs,
From Burma to the Rhine.
On every battle line,
I've dropped defeat
Into the Fascists' laps.

I am a Negro American
Out to defend my land
Army, Navy, Air Corps--
I am there.
I take munitions through,
I fight--or stevedore, too.
I face death the same as you do

I've seen my buddy lying
Where he fell.
I've watched him dying
I promised him that I would try
To make our land a land
Where his son could be a man--
And there'd be no Jim Crow birds
Left in our sky.

So this is what I want to know:
When we see Victory's glow,
Will you still let old Jim Crow
Hold me back?
When all those foreign folks who've waited--
Italians, Chinese, Danes--are liberated.
Will I still be ill-fated
Because I'm black?

Here in my own, my native land,
Will the Jim Crow laws still stand?
Will Dixie lynch me still
When I return?
Or will you comrades in arms
From the factories and the farms,
Have learned what this war
Was fought for us to learn?

When I take off my uniform,
Will I be safe from harm--
Or will you do me
As the Germans did the Jews?
When I've helped this world to save,
Shall I still be color's slave?
Or will Victory change
Your antiquated views?

You can't say I didn't fight
To smash the Fascists' might.
You can't say I wasn't with you
in each battle.
As a soldier, and a friend.
When this war comes to an end,
Will you herd me in a Jim Crow car
Like cattle?

Or will you stand up like a man
At home and take your stand
For Democracy?
That's all I ask of you.
When we lay the guns away
To celebrate
Our Victory Day
That's what I want to know.

GI Joe.

--Langston Hughes

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Kevin Siers / The Charlotte Observer (May 7, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Eastern Gray Squirrel

(Photograph by Chris Johns and published at National Geographic.

"You Lie!"

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 5/11/12 by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Click on image to enlarge and then come back.)

I thought about a tamer title for this post ("And I Invented The Internet"), but I'm feeling particularly shrill right now when it comes to Mitt Romney and all things Republican. This yahoo is pushing all of my buttons and wearing on my last nerve, something one shouldn't do with an old lady because we don't fight fair. We don't have to.

In any case, Mike Luckovich's cartoon pretty much captures the whole idea of this post and Romney's campaign. He will say anything, absolutely anything to get a vote, even though it takes very little to establish that the man is lying through his gold trimmed teeth. In this case, it has to do with his assertion that he helped save the American auto industry with his idea in 2008 of a "managed bankruptcy."

Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for him, the internet provides us with a wonderful way to check on such things, and WaPo's Fact Checker went back and looked it up. Romney did indeed call for a managed bankruptcy, but one that did not involve and federal assistance.

As Romney put it, “Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check.” In particular, he called for a “managed bankruptcy.” This is a process in which the company uses the bankruptcy code to discharge its debts, but emerges from the process a leaner, less leveraged company. ...

The problem is that many independent analysts have concluded that taking the approach recommended by Romney would not have worked in late 2008, simply because the credit markets were so frozen that a bankruptcy was not a viable option.

“The circumstances in the global credit markets in November and December 2008 were unlike any the financial markets had seen in decades. U.S. domestic credit markets were frozen in the wake of the Lehman bankruptcy, and international sources of funding were extremely limited,” concluded the bipartisan Congressional Oversight Panel, in a unanimous finding. “Bankruptcy with reorganization of the two auto companies using private DIP [debtor in possession] financing did not appear to be an option by late fall 2008, leaving liquidation of the firms as the more likely course of action absent a government rescue.” ...

Indeed, when Romney reiterated earlier this year that he believed that a managed bankruptcy was viable without government intervention, he was criticized by auto industry insiders.

Mike Jackson, the chief executive of AutoNation, wrote a letter to the the Detroit News saying that Romney was “truly reckless, detached from reality and dishonest… Mitt’s assertion that private financing ‘DIP’ was available in fall of ’08 into ’09 is fantasy. Everyone knows we were in the midst of the greatest financial meltdown since the 1930’s.” And Bob Lutz, former vice chairman at GM, said, “What these people always deliberately forget is there was no money. Nobody had any money.”

Furthermore, while Romney can certainly argue he consistently supported a managed bankruptcy, it is especially odd to also try to take credit for the industry’s more recent success.
[Emphasis added.]

In other words, if Washington had followed Romney's actual advice, there wouldn't have been any recovery for the Big Three. In fact, there wouldn't have been any Big Three. His advice was typical shortsighted Bain philosophy. For him to take credit for that advice at this point is laughable. Worse, it is profoundly dishonest.

Kudos to WaPo for the Pinocchio Award for this blatant lying.

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Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

(Photo copped from Presto Change-o. Click on the link to see more pictures of kittehs, other people's pets, even four-legged chickens in a field.)

A Welcome Shift

No doubt about it: President Obama's announcement that he supports gay marriage and the rights attendant to that is the biggest news of the week so far. While I admit to wishing he had left the crap about "states' rights" out of his speech, I think that his announcement is important and might very well make a difference, a welcome difference.

No, I'm not going to say much more than that, but not because I don't have anything to say. It's just that others have said it so much better than I could. For example, David Horsey has a cartoon and a column that is terrific, especially as it recognizes the risk the president is taking (about which, more in a bit). And Amanda Marcotte has a brilliant analysis of the predictable backlash led by allegedly Christian churches and why it matters. I urge you to read both.

No, what I want to talk about is the shift from talk about the economy and the budget (both of which are important), to what I consider to be a more basic, root issue: civil rights. That is what the whole business of "gay marriage" is about: extending the same protections to same-sex couples that "married" heterosexual couples enjoy, from health insurance coverage, to tax breaks, to probate laws, to visitation rights when one of the two is hospitalized.

Civil rights is an issue that has been ignored for more than a decade as the haves and have-mores have tightened the noose around the necks of the rest of us. We are supposed to sit still as our emails and cell phones calls are surveilled, as drones observe us overhead, as a few of us are targeted for assassination. And if we are superficially "other" (more melanin-enhanced), we can expect lots of police attention.

Take, for example, Maricopa County, Arizona (please). The feds have once again filed a civil right suit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his department.

The Department of Justice sued Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his Phoenix law enforcement department Thursday alleging a pattern of abuse and racism against Latinos, especially immigrants, and asking a federal judge to force the 20-year, often outspoken and brazen sheriff to stop racially profiling Latinos and abusing them in his jails. ...

Among the findings by Justice officials in the suit are that Arpaio allowed and encouraged his deputies to randomly profile Latino motorists and stop them for little reason. ...

Other alleged violations detailed Thursday were not providing language assistance to Spanish speakers in the jails, and Arpaio’s retaliatory actions against local critics, which have included judges, lawyers and community leaders.

As an example of what he called pervasive demeaning behavior against Latinos, Perez said deputies once circulated a picture of a Chihuahua dog in swimwear, with the caption, "A rare photo of a Mexican Navy Seal." ...

It asks a federal judge to "put in place any remedies to correct the violations" by naming an independent monitor to oversee the sheriff’s office, develop reform policies and possibly find Arpaio and other top sheriff’s officials in contempt of court if they do not comply.

Sheriff Joe's behavior over the years has been chronicled, but more for its amusement factor than for its devastating effect on Latinos, both documented (including citizens -- some native-born) and undocumented. Targeted harassment and abuse get downplayed because, oh, I don't know, Joe is so colorful? And little has been done about it.

The DOJ did file a previous civil rights suit against this department, but it settled once Joe promised to behave. Unfortunately, the DOJ didn't provide for any kind of monitoring, so things were back to 'normal' in short order. This time, the relief sought includes a monitor, and any settlement will also require one. If DOJ holds firm, even if Joe decides to fight the issue, there's a good chance things will change.

My point is that the economy isn't the only crucial issue facing the nation, and some leadership from the White House on civil rights is both overdue and welcome. Here's what David Horsey had to say (link above) about the president's announcement on gay marriage:

The president probably lost votes by speaking up for gay marriage, but, at least with half the country, he won new respect. Obama came into office with expectations he would be a transformational president. On this issue, at least, that is what he is becoming.

Now we need him to extend that to the other areas of civil rights.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Tent Keeps Getting Smaller

(Click on image to enlarge, then return.)

On Tuesday, I noted parenthetically that even though Romney appears to have the nomination well in hand, Ron Paul was still hanging around. David Horsey had plenty to say about that issue.

Through most of the primary season, Ron Paul was overlooked, underestimated and laughed off. There was no scenario by which this ideological renegade could become the nominee of the ideologically dogmatic Republican Party. Yet as the last candidate standing in the way of Mitt Romney's smooth slide to the nomination, he is proving himself capable of ingenious mischief.

Over the weekend, Paul supporters in Maine and Nevada used the Byzantine rules that govern the nominating process to pirate delegates from the inevitable nominee. The caucuses in both those states were won by Romney, but the state party conventions, where the real allocation of delegates takes place, produced a different result. In Maine, Paul walked away with 21 of the state's 24 delegates. In Nevada, Paul supporters will fill 22 of the 25 seats the state will have on the convention floor, although, because of the rules, 20 of those delegates are required to vote for Romney on the first ballot.

Remember when Rick Santorum won his first victory by squeaking by Romney in the Iowa caucuses way back in January? Well, again this weekend, Iowa Republicans continued that process by choosing 13 of the state's 28 delegates. Surprise! Ten of those 13 are Ron Paul backers.

In Idaho's May 15 primary, the Paulistas aim to win enough precinct races to have a majority of delegates to the subsequent state party convention. If they are able to pull that off, they can suspend the rules and take away some or all of the 32 delegates Romney thought he won in Idaho's March 6 caucuses.

If this sounds a bit crazy, it is. Many states employ combinations of caucuses, primaries and conventions to eventually come up with their lists of delegates. The rules are different in each state, and it takes a dedicated cadre of political geeks to keep track of them all. ...

Conventional politics is not what drives this crew. They are not inclined to fall in line behind Romney for the sake of the party. They actually do not care about the party; they care about Paul's ideas.

They know they cannot win the nomination, but even the Paul supporters from Nevada who will be forced to vote for Romney in the first round do not actually care about that little detail. They and quite a few of their compatriots will be on the convention floor where they can demand a voice in the party platform and a prominent speaking slot on the program for their candidate.
[Emphasis added.]

That's a pretty intriguing scenario, and I think it an accurate analysis. The Libertarian wing is feeling its oats right now and making some remarkably astute moves with respect to making sure its ideas make it into the platform and into the campaign.

What I mainly concentrated on Tuesday was the fact that Richard Lugar, 35-year veteran of the Senate was facing a stiff primary and might very well lose. Well, he didn't just lose, he got thrashed by the Tea Party candidate. Lugar was too moderate, he compromised too much, he consorted with the enemy. That was a pretty dramatic win by the Tea Partier, although it might mean that the conservative Democrat candidate might have a shot at winning. While that would add one to the Dem count, I don't imagine it will add much to the Democratic agenda, such as it is. What's now clear, however, is that a whole lot is shaking in the Grand Old Party.

Libby Spencer has a good take on that election.

Sadly, Mr. Lugar, your party no longer has any people of goodwill. What's left of the rank and file conservative Republicans are petty little proudly ignorant sociopaths who care more about punishing the objects of their scorn than they do about the good of our country. They're bumper sticker voters, who don't don't give a flying leap about the effects of policy. Their one burning desire is to oust that blackety black black usurper from their White House.

She also laments that in the general election "our" candidate is probably going to prove to be somewhat to the right of Richard Lugar and wonders when liberals are going to figure out how to get our kind of candidate elected, or even nominated. In my opinion, that will happen only when we develop the kind of strategies that both the Paulistas and the Libertarians have demonstrated over the past couple of years. Paul's supporters worked their magic by studying up on the arcane rules for delegate selection in each state. The Tea Partiers began more than two years ago to take over their party at the local, even the precinct level, by showing up at the meetings in numbers and getting appointed to positions at the party's state level.

As I said in February, 2010 this was a very astute move:

I'll tell you what, though: this is a good strategy on their part, one that we liberals should be paying attention to and emulating. Getting involved in the process at the precinct level is a pretty good way to start getting more liberals elected at the state and local level. And it's also a good way to push the party into a more honestly representative model. Ringing doorbells and making phone calls are important, but being in on the decision making process is just as important, perhaps even more so. It certainly would get our party's Old Guard's attention. That in itself would be an improvement.

We have a lot of hard work ahead of us if we really want to see our party moving to the left rather than to the right. It might be too late for this election cycle, but the next one is just around the corner. We would do well to take some lessons from the folks to the right of us on how to accomplish this.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Granny Bird Award: Abbott Laboratories

Last December, I issued a Granny Bird Award (given from time to time to those who have an adverse effect on the health, welfare, and rights of elders) to those doctors, nursing home operators, and pharmaceutical companies who allow the off-label use of powerful antipsychotic drugs to pacify nursing home patients with dementia.

It now turns out that not only antipsychotic drugs are being used off label for this purpose. And it also turns out that Abbott Laboratories, the current recipient of this award, went out of its way to sell Depakote for such a dangerous off-label use.

Global pharmaceutical giant Abbott Laboratories has agreed to pay federal and state governments $1.6 billion in criminal and civil fines for illegally promoting unapproved uses of its drug Depakote, including to sedate elderly patients in nursing homes, officials announced Monday.

The settlement, which includes an agreement to plead guilty to a criminal misdemeanor, is the second-largest in a string of multimillion-dollar payouts in recent years resulting from stepped-up enforcement by the Justice Department and state investigators against drugmakers that “misbrand” their products. ...

“Not only did Abbott engage in off-label promotion, but it targeted elderly dementia patients and down-played the risks apparent from its own clinical studies,” Tony West, acting associate attorney general, said in a statement. ...

The attorney for Meredith McCoyd, one of four former Abbott sales representatives whose whistleblower lawsuits prompted the investigation, said the company offered nursing homes a second rationale.

“Abbott directed its sales force to get Depakote widely used in nursing homes, principally to neutralize older patients as a substitute for proper staffing,” attorney Reuben Guttman said in a statement. “Abbott essentially preyed on the most helpless patient populations.”
[Emphasis added]

Depakote is a drug which is designed for neurological disorders such as epilepsy, not to pacify dementia patients. Further, the company's own clinical studies showed that such use was dangerous and had disastrous side effects such as dehydration. That didn't stop it from touting the benefits of keeping such difficult patients loaded to save nursing home staffing costs, nor did it stop it from offering some bakshish to pharmacies which service such nursing homes rebates for increasing sales to them.

The fine is a stiff one relatively speaking (you know the old saying, "a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking real money), but don't worry about Abbott Labs. They are doing just fine according to last year's numbers:

Revenue $39 billion
Net Income $5 billion

While it is gratifying to see such a large "fine" levied, I would have been happier with really serious criminal sanctions. I would like to have seen the marketing guru who came up with this scam and all of his superiors right up the line arrested and facing years in prison for fraud and everything else the states and feds could come up with. That's the only way PHARMA will get the message.

But I guess that's asking too much right now.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Poor Dick

It's Tuesday, which means there's a primary going on somewhere. I know, I know, the presidential nominees are in place (although Ron Paul hasn't quite given up), but the down ticket spots are still up for grabs in a lot of places.

One of the most interesting races is in Indiana, where Republican Richard Lugar is facing a stiff primary race for the senate seat he has held for 35 years.

As longtime Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar fights for his political life, he is warning Hoosiers that if his "tea party"-backed opponent wins this week’s primary, it would hand the longtime Republican-held seat to Democrats this fall -- and dampen GOP chances to gain majority control of the Senate.

In an email push, "Forewarn Family & Friends," before Tuesday’s election, the Lugar camp told supporters -- without naming his opponent, Richard Mourdock -- that a loss would sacrifice the seat. Republicans need four seats to win majority control of the Senate. ...

The winner of Tuesday’s open primary would likely face Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly this fall. The congressman’s moderate voting record could appeal to some Republicans and independents, experts say. A similar dynamic was at work in some races during the 2010 election, when tea party-backed candidates Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada lost, allowing Democratic victories.

Lugar's sin? He's a bit of a pragmatist. He's been known to work with those across the aisle on a few occasions to get things done. That's a real no-no as far as the Tea Party ideologues are concerned. His pragmatism and his longevity appear to be working against him this time around, which is (in some respects) a shame.

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a warning to Republicans this week in an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times. He decried the "small tent" attitude of the current party and pointed to the potential consequences. While most the column is typical Ahnuld disingenuous claptrap, he did get one thing right:

Some Republicans today aren't even willing to have conversations about protecting the environment, investing in the infrastructure America needs or improving healthcare. By holding their fingers in their ears when those topics arise, these Republicans aren't just denying themselves a seat at the table; in a state such as California, they also deny a seat to every other Republican.

Indiana is not California, but neither was Delaware and Nevada. If Lugar loses, and he might, it's possible the 'moderate' Democrat will win. And that throws a monkey wrench in the whole GOP national strategy to hold the House and take over the Senate. Lugar is not a heavy weight when it comes to raising campaign funds (see the figures at Open Secrets) because he hasn't had to be, and I'm sure his adversary has been getting plenty of funding.

So, I've got the popcorn popper out and a fresh bag of popcorn. This primary is going to be interesting.

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Monday, May 07, 2012

Without Questions There Are No Answers

Doyle McManus, of the Los Angeles Times Washington DC Bureau, has a pretty decent column up on the use of drones for targeted assassinations. He's a bit more cautious than I would like, but at least he's talking about the issue.

In recent weeks, a parade of top officials has given sober, underpublicized speeches explaining why President Obama not only considers "targeted killing" drone strikes against terrorists legal but has massively expanded their use, even approving a strike against a U.S. citizen, the New Mexico-born Al Qaeda preacher Anwar Awlaki, in Yemen last year.

Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. gave a lecture arguing that the government has a right to kill U.S. citizens who practice terrorism as long as it observes some form of "due process" in its secret decision-making. The chief lawyers of the State Department and Defense Department weighed in as well. ...

The administration should be applauded for lifting the veil of secrecy even slightly on the drone attacks, which for years weren't even officially acknowledged. (Most of them are still officially covert.) Americans have a right to know how their government makes these decisions. The people living in countries that are being bombed are entitled to an explanation too; we're unlikely to win many hearts and minds solely by buzzing them with drones.

But there is still too much that Brennan and his colleagues aren't divulging. The administration hasn't spelled out who makes the decision to approve a drone strike, or how many levels of review such a decision gets. Brennan said Congress exercises oversight of the operations, but there has been no clear explanation of that process either. And the administration hasn't publicly addressed the practice of "signature strikes" — drone attacks against targets whose identities aren't known but who fit the profile of enemy combatants — except to say they are considered "with similar rigor."
[Emphasis added]

OK, Mr. McManus did at least drop a hint (perhaps unintentionally) as to one of the problems I see. We don't know very much about the program because clearly the administration wants it kept from the public and the press has not seen to push the issue. I will admit that the Los Angeles Times has done some decent reporting recently on the issue of drones (e.g., on the their use domestically, see my post here), but as far as I can tell no mainstream media outlet has seen fit to push back after such outrageous comments as Attorney General Holder's comment that such targeted assassinations are "legal" as long as some form of "due process" is used. And in the administration's lexicon, that "due process" involves several layers of government bureaucracy signing off on the attack. No judge, no congressional hearing, just some members of the administration saying, "Yeah, OK, let's get this SOB."

McManus duly notes that most Americans seem to be overwhelmingly in favor of the program. However, since most Americans don't know just what is involved, this is no surprise. Most Americans were in favor of the way we treated detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay until word leaked out on how we, WE AMERICANS, were torturing the crap out of people, many of whom were mistakenly detained. Most Americans didn't see any problem with "water boarding" until it was described in detail. It wasn't until the press did its job that Americans began having second thoughts about the process. Their response was sufficient to cause Candidate Obama to make some promises about torture and Gitmo. Unfortunately, President Obama has forgotten those promises.

Until the press does its job in educating the American public about the program (which this column just barely begins), this administration and the next will feel free to continue it, perhaps even expand it, much as it has expanded the secrecy surrounding so much of "national security."

Doyle McManus's call for more transparency is the right call, but it will only be heard when journalists push hard for that transparency so that the public can also push hard for it once they realize how important that is.

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Sunday, May 06, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Marge Piercy

(Because I needed the pep talk.)

The Low Road

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

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

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

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

--Marge Piercy

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Lee Judge / The Kansas City Star (May 2, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, May 05, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Sea Slug

(Photograph courtesy Ximena Olds, RSMAS and published at National Geographic.)

Gay Gay Go Away

(Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

A lot of ink and electrons were spilled this week over the resignation of openly-gay Richard Grenell as Mitt Romney's foreign police adviser. David Horsey had a few thoughts on the issue.

Richard Grenell had the right resume to be Mitt Romney’s spokesman on foreign policy -- a stint as communications director for four of the George W. Bush administration’s U.N. ambassadors, a degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, his own international PR firm and frequent stints on TV as an expert on international issues. Too bad for him he has a boyfriend.

Grenell was the first openly gay spokesman for a presidential candidate, but he never got to speak. Before he even officially started the job, enraged homophobes in the so-called pro-family community spooked Romney’s campaign staff. The campaign aides tried to stuff Grenell into a metaphorical closet until things blew over. During a major conference call with reporters in which President Obama’s national security policies were dissected, Grenell was forced to sit in silence.
[Emphasis added.]

Since Mr. Grenell's resignation and the flap it engendered, Mitt Romney has gone out of his way to 'splain. He really didn't want Grenell to leave. He tried to talk him out of it. He's disappointed that Grenell is gone.

Yeah, right.

When you have a very competent spokesperson and then diss him by telling him to keep his mouth shut during a conference call with reporters on foreign policy issues lest the base-base get their tighty-whities in a bunch, you can expect him to take a hike because that is the message you sent him.

As Horsey points out, ultra conservative (for his time) Barry Goldwater warned the GOP that caving into the Religious Reich was going to mean trouble for the party in the future:

As far as I know, Richard Grenell’s wrists are firm. I can’t say the same about Romney and his team. Romney is about to become the leader of his party and, perhaps, leader of the Free World. It would be nice to see him man up and tell the medieval wing of his party that it will not dictate to him about whom he hires to run his foreign policy. Instead, as he has for months on the campaign trail, Romney continues to suck up to the anti-gay religious activists, most of whom find his Mormon beliefs repugnant.

Barry Goldwater would not have dumped Ric Grenell; he would have told the carping Bible-thumpers to go to hell. ...

After his retirement from the Senate, Goldwater warned that his party was being taken over by a “bunch of kooks.” Well, the kooks are in charge now, and, apparently, Mitt Romney knows who is boss.

Ordinarily this would give me some satisfaction, but not this time around. You see, Romney's opponent isn't much better on the issue. Obama refuses to endorse gay marriage as a civil rights issue. Most recently, he refused to issue an executive order requiring government contractors to refrain from discrimination based on sexual orientation. He's also pandering to the Religious Reich, even though those people will never vote for him and even though a majority of Americans don't harbor the same anti-gay bigotry.

Tell me again where we get these candidates and why we put up with them. When you've got the answer, pound on my bedroom door and maybe I'll pull the blankets from over my head.

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