Friday, October 27, 2006

Local Musings

Deep in DeLay Country, a Backlash Takes Shape
In Houston, Texas, a Republican state legislator finds that party discipline has a cost: Are voters turning on the hard-liners?
Josh Harkinson October 24 , 2006
Until recently, few people in Houston would have called Martha Wong conservative. She was the first Asian American elected to the city council in this blue-collar town and was a champion of immigrant workers; once in office, she fought for hiring more Chinese-speaking police officers, funding low-income housing, and preserving the bus system. Urban voters sent the Republican to the state Legislature in 2002, believing she was a political moderate. But they were in for a surprise: The next year, Wong voted to ax $1 billion in health funding for the poor—booting 180,000 low-income children off the state’s health insurance rolls—and for a law requiring abortion providers to tell women that the procedure could cause breast cancer, a claim that has been found to have no basis in science. Now, voters’ disappointment is making for one of the hardest-fought election campaigns in Texas—and a potential bellwether for the nation.
Running the best-funded House challenge in the state, Democrat Ellen Cohen has won the backing of former GOP activists and groups such as the Houston Police Officers Union that had previously endorsed Wong. “Like the Spanish Civil War, this may be the race that people look at to see if Democrats can break through” in Texas, says Rice University political science professor Bob Stein. “At the rate Cohen is going, I think she has much better than a chance of winning.” Although initial polls put Cohen neck-and-neck with Wong, earlier this month they showed Cohen pulling away with a 6 to 7 percent lead.
Wong’s district, like many in Texas, clearly leans to the right—but less as a matter of disposition than of design. Wong represents professors from two major universities, doctors from one of the nation’s most important medical centers, and one of the largest Jewish and gay populations in the state. Even so, in 2001 Republicans managed to fashion a conservative majority via redistricting; 53 percent of voters in a redrawn District 134 supported Wong in the 2002 election. Republicans that year won the Texas Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, and quickly set about implementing a hardcore conservative agenda: parental consent laws on abortion, a ban on gay marriage, a one-third cut in property taxes (which the state comptroller predicted would eventually “leave a huge hole in state revenues”). Moderate Republicans who resisted the push were ousted; those, like Wong, who went with the program were rewarded with committee posts.
As Wong climbed the rungs of power at the state Capitol, however, she seemed to cast aside many groups that define her district. For example, environmentalists have been drawing attention to extraordinarily high ozone levels in the part of Houston that Wong represents, yet Wong voted against five separate clean air measures. Schools are a big issue in the highly educated district, yet Wong, a former elementary school principal, opposed a bipartisan proposal to raise teacher salaries. Wong acknowledges that voters in her district are independent-minded yet in an interview couldn’t cite a single instance in which she’d voted against her party. The closest she came was on a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage: She supported defining marriage as a union “between a man and a woman” but opposed a ban on civil unions. “Since voting either for or against the bill would have put me in conflict with my beliefs,” she wrote in a statement, “I abstained.”
“We might as well have a mannequin in the chair,” says Jeffrey Dorrell, a precinct chair in Wong’s district for more than a decade. Dorrell supported Wong over a more conservative Republican in the 2002 primary and then watched with chagrin as she scrambled once in office to demonstrate GOP bona fides. Dorrell, who is gay, is so angry about Wong’s stance on the marriage amendment—which was opposed by nearly 60 percent of District 134 voters—that he has resigned his post with the party and is organizing “Republicans for Cohen.”
Stein, the Rice professor, sees Wong’s predicament as a sign of backlash against the GOP’s approach to governing. “In many ways it was Tom DeLay’s legacy,” he says. (DeLay’s hometown, Sugar Land, is not far from District 134.) “He brought a very hard ideological discipline to the party—to get the redistricting, to get the congressional seats. It’s masterful; you kind of have to sit back and admire it. Not since the days of [turn-of-the-century U.S. House Speaker] Joe Cannon has a congressional leader really shown so much influence all the way down to the local level, but the legacy of it is a lack of comity, of getting along. The sense of loyalty to some core issues has just made life really hard, and the Republicans are finding out now it’s just hard to govern. Martha is just the tip of the iceberg on this.” Indeed, Wong has worked hard to reposition herself as the kind of moderate voters thought they had elected: One of her campaign spots claimed that she “helped the truly needy gain access to government healthcare programs like Medicaid, Medicare and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.” Never mind that, as the Houston Chronicle pointed out, the ad in fact “touted programs she voted to cut.”
If the GOP maintains pressure on its moderates, Stein and other consultants believe Republican-leaning legislative districts in Houston and the Dallas area—where middle-class voters see the GOP focus on cutting taxes as a drain on basic services such as schools—could become vulnerable to Democrats in 2008. Indeed, Democrats say the main obstacle to taking on the races is psychological. “The biggest challenge that I think Democrats have is that there are too many people in too many places who don’t realize that it is altogether possible for a Democrat to win,” says Gerry Birnberg, chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party.
Democrats will also ride a major demographic wave in coming years. In 2004 Texas joined Democratic-controlled Hawaii, New Mexico, and California as one of the few U.S. states in which minorities outnumber whites. The state’s Hispanic population typically votes Democratic 3-to-1, and the Asian population is also becoming a political force. In 2004 the House’s second-ranking Republican, Appropriations Committee Chair Talmadge Heflin, was ousted from a suburban district he had controlled for 22 years; it had been transformed from a haven of white flight into a neighborhood of taquerias and noodle houses—friendly ground for Democratic challenger Hubert Vo, a Vietnamese real estate developer who, like Cohen, ran on a platform of better schools and health care and moderation on social issues. The Vos and Cohens of Texas are crucial to national Democrats: A state House controlled by the party could some day undo Tom DeLay’s controversial electoral map and maybe boot the six Republicans he helped send in 2004 to the U.S. Congress.
To be sure, it’s an uphill battle. Cohen, for one, makes no mention of her party affiliation in her signs or bumper stickers; canvassing recently in an affluent precinct, the candidate rarely mentioned up-front that she was a Democrat. But that’s the kind of caution Texas Democrats have long found necessary. What’s remarkable is seeing GOP candidates doing the same. On several of Wong’s campaign banners, the word “Republican” was recently covered up with red tape.
Josh Harkinson is an Investigative Fellow at Mother Jones.
Complaints Mount at US Fortress in Iraq
by David Phinney

WASHINGTON - Several months before a U.S. construction foreman named John Owen would quit in disgust over what he said was blatant abuse of foreign laborers hired to build the sprawling new U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Rory Mayberry would witness similar events when he flew to Kuwait from his home in Myrtle Creek, Oregon.
The gravelly-voiced, easygoing U.S. Army veteran had previously worked in Iraq for Halliburton and the private security company, Danubia. Missing the action and the big paychecks U.S. contractors draw there, Mayberry snagged a 10,000-dollar a month job with MSDS consulting company.
MSDS is a two-person minority-owned consulting company that assists U.S. State Department managers in Washington with procurement programming. Never before had the firm offered medical services or worked in Iraq, but
First Kuwaiti -- Owen's employer -- hired MSDS on the recommendation of Jim Golden, the State Department contract official overseeing the embassy project. Within days, an agreement worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for medical care was signed.
The 45-year-old Mayberry, a former emergency medical technician in the U.S. Army who worked as a funeral director in Oregon, responded to a help wanted ad placed by MSDS. The plan was that he would work as a medic attending to the construction crews on the work site in Baghdad.
Like Owen, Mayberry immediately sensed things weren't right when he boarded a First Kuwaiti flight on Mar. 15 to Baghdad.
At the airport in Kuwait City, Mayberry said, he saw a person behind a counter hand First Kuwaiti managers a passenger manifest, an envelope of money and a stack of boarding passes to Dubai. The managers then handed out the boarding passes to Mayberry and 50 or so new First Kuwaiti laborers, mostly Filipinos.
"Everyone was told to tell customs and security that they were flying to Dubai," Mayberry said in an interview. Once the group passed the guards, they went upstairs and waited by the McDonald's for First Kuwaiti staff to unlock a door -- Gate 26 -- that led to an unmarked, ageing white 52-seat jet.
"All the workers had their passports taken away by First Kuwaiti," Mayberry claimed, and while he knew the plane was bound for Baghdad, he's not so sure the others were aware of their destination. The Asian laborers began asking questions about why they were flying north and the jet wasn't flying east over the ocean, he said. "I think they thought they were going to work in Dubai."
One former First Kuwaiti supervisor acknowledged that the company holds passports of many workers in Iraq -- a violation of U.S. contracting.
"All of the passports are kept in the offices," said one company insider who requested anonymity for fear of financial and personal retribution. As for distributing Dubai boarding passes for Baghdad flights, "It's because of the travel bans," he explained.
Mayberry believes that migrant workers from the Philippines, India and Nepal are especially vulnerable to employers like First Kuwaiti because their countries have little or no diplomatic presence in Iraq.
"If you don't have your passport or an embassy to go to, what you do to get out of a bad situation?" he asked. "How can they go to the U.S. State Department for help if First Kuwaiti is building their embassy?"
Owen had already been working at the embassy site since late November when Mayberry arrived. The two never crossed paths, but both share similar complaints about management of the project and brutal treatment of the laborers that, at times, numbered as many as 2,500. Most are from the Philippines, India, and Pakistan. Others are from Egypt and Turkey.
The number of workers with injuries and ailments stunned Mayberry. He went to work immediately after and stayed busy around the clock for days.
Four days later, First Kuwaiti pulled him off the job after he requested an investigation of two patients who had died before he arrived from what he suspected was medical malpractice. Mayberry also recommended that the health clinics be shut down because of unsanitary conditions and mismanagement.
"There hadn't been any follow up on medical care. People were walking around intoxicated on pain relievers with unwrapped wounds and there were a lot of infections," he recalled. "The idea that there was any hygiene seemed ridiculous. I'm not sure they were even bathing."
In reports made available to the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Army and First Kuwaiti, Mayberry listed dozens of concerns about the clinics, which he found lacking in hot water, disinfectant, hand washing stations, properly supplied ambulances, and communication equipment. Mayberry also complained that workers' medical records were in total disarray or nonexistent, the beds were dirty, and the support staff hired by First Kuwaiti was poorly trained.
The handling of prescription drugs especially bothered him. Many of the drugs that originated from Iraq and Kuwait were unsecured, disorganised and unintelligibly labeled, he said in one memo. He found that the medical staff frequently misdiagnosed patients. Prescription pain killers were being handed out "like a candy store... and then people were sent back to work."
Mayberry warned that the practice could cause addiction and safety hazards. "Some were on the construction site climbing scaffolding 30 feet off the ground. I told First Kuwaiti that you don't give painkillers to people who are running machinery and working on heavy construction and they said 'that's how we do it'."
The sloppy handling of drugs may have led to the two deaths, Mayberry speculates. One worker, age 25, died in his room. The second, in his mid-30s, died at the clinic because of heart failure. Both deaths may be "medical homicide", Mayberry says, because the patients may have been negligently prescribed improper drug treatment.
If the State Department investigated, Mayberry knows nothing of the outcome. Two State Department officials with project oversight responsibilities did not return phone calls or emails inquiring about Mayberry's allegations. The reports may have been ignored, not because of his complaints, but because Mayberry is a terrible speller, a problem compounded by an Arabic translation programme loaded on his computer, he says.
Owen's account of his seven months on the job paints a similar picture to Mayberry's. Health and safety measures were essentially non-existent, he says. Not once did he witness a safety meeting. Once an Egyptian worker fell and broke his back and was sent home. No one ever heard from him again. "The accident might not have happened if there was a safety programme and he had known how to use a safety harness," Owen said.
State Department officials supervising the project are aware of many such events, but apparently did nothing, he said. Once when 17 workers climbed the wall of the construction site to escape, a State Department official helped round them up and put them in "virtual lockdown", Owen said.
Just before he resigned, hundreds of Pakistani workers went on strike in June and beat up a Lebanese manager who they accused of harassing them. Owen estimates that 375 laborers were then sent home.
Recent First Kuwaiti employees agree that the accounts of Owen and Mayberry are accurate. One longtime supervisor claimed that 50 to 60 percent of the laborers regularly protest that First Kuwaiti "treats them like animals", and routinely reduces their promised pay with confusing and unexplained deductions.
Another former First Kuwaiti manager, who declined to be named because of possible adverse consequences, said that Owen's and Mayberry's complaints only begin "to scratch the surface".
But scratching the surface is the only view yet available of what may be the most lasting monument to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. As of now, only a handful of authorised State Department managers and contractors, along with First Kuwaiti workers and contractors, are officially allowed inside the project's walls. No journalist has ever been allowed access to the sprawling 104-acre site with towering construction cranes raising their necks along the skyline.
David Phinney is a journalist and broadcaster based in Washington, DC. He can be contacted at:
phinneydavid@yahoo.com. This article is the second part of a series on allegations of forced labor and abuse of workers in the construction of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
The Elephant Lady
If you have spent any time reading this blog, you will know that I have a soft spot for animals - especially those involved in factory farming and the circus. To the left is a video called "the elephant lady". She documents the lives of elephants in Southeast Asia, where there are now only 500 elephants in the wild. It is here : http://www.current.tv/studio/media/14709077?cpg=vmmA. If it gets enough "greenlights" it will be given the opportunity to be on television. This woman is AMAZING. Take a look. It's hard at times, but as I have said before, if they can endure it, you can at least watch. For the most part it is incrediby uplifting.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I will assume that the readers of this blog got a riotous howl out of the latest Fox News BREAKING REPORT - that wild pigs might have been responsible for the e coli outbreak.
Oh my.
It is funny...if only so many people didn't actually buy that b.s.

And now for something completely different....wanna know where some of our tax dollars have gone? Hint: the same place as thinning hair.

Bush Giving Up on Reconstructing Iraq
By Sherwood Ross

Washington, DC - Four months after US forces rolled into Baghdad, President George Bush declared his goal would be nothing less than to convert Iraq's infrastructure into "the best in the region" - yet US contractors today are readying to depart the country, leaving that goal unattained.
Since President Bush's comment of August 8, 2003, some $50 billion has been spent to create what the US Army calls a record of "historic and magnificent accomplishments," rebuilding a nation neglected by Saddam Hussein and shattered by war.
"Iraq's reconstruction is the largest and most complex reconstruction project ever undertaken in a single country," the Army added, comparing its scale to the US "Marshall Plan" that helped restore post-World War II Western Europe to economic self-sufficiency.
Critics, however, have termed the reconstruction effort everything from only a modest success at best to "one of the greatest colonial rip-offs in history."
Unquestionably, the undertaking is among the grandest of such endeavors ever, with 11,000 construction or renewal projects attempted by various Pentagon and civilian agencies, according to Army information.
A signal of the US intent to dramatically scale down its involvement was the government's request for just $770 million for reconstruction funds for fiscal 2007, a figure cut to $200 million by the House.
Yet, by most estimates, Iraq is suffering from a major "reconstruction gap," with much work left undone. And estimates to finish the job range from $20 to $50 billion.
In some ways, it is surprising that any rebuilding was able to get done at all. "Never before has so vast a reconstruction program been attempted in the face of enemy fire or managed in the shadow of geopolitics, where infrastructure itself became a battleground," reported Glenn Zorpette in the February 2006 issue of "Spectrum," published by the International Society of Electrical and Electronics engineers. Indeed: the number of contractors slain attempting to do their job has been put at about 500.
"Insurgents were blowing up electrical transmission towers at an average rate of two a day this past August, and Iraqi workers and foreign contractors were risking their lives to put them back up," Zorpette noted. "Funds that were intended to support the reconstruction effort were used to keep people safe from kidnappings and attacks," the Army said. "Work has been curtailed in some cases and not started in others to make funds available for additional security." According to the Pentagon's estimate, insurgents have reduced reconstruction progress by about 11 percent.
What's more, areas of Iraq unscarred by Coalition bombing or street fighting were demolished by waves of looters. A "Report on Iraq Reconstruction" issued last month by the Pentagon let this ugly truth slip out: "Looting was on such a massive scale after the fighting that whole buildings were dismantled piece by piece with all of the machinery, copper wire, and other fittings stripped and removed."
In that report, Assistant Army Secretary Claude Bolton wrote, "we mark the milestone accomplishment of having contractually obligated 100% of Iraq reconstruction project funds entrusted to DOD ..."
The report professed US senior advisors arriving in Iraq "were shocked by the state of disrepair of the infrastructure - not from the bombing damage during the war, but from the nearly 30 years of neglect under Saddam Hussein's rule." (Got that? The bombing damage was only incidental.)
"Power plants had not been maintained, roads and bridges were in poor condition, many schools were dilapidated, and potable water was scarce," the Army said.
US officials promised to provide a steady supply of 6,000 megawatts of electricity and to boost oil production to 2.5 million barrels per day within months after occupying Iraq. Electrical flow was seen as particularly vital. A survey of Iraqis by the International Republican Institute of Washington, DC, indicates electrical output is their number one priority, and it's one the US has spent about $4 billion to improve, with mixed results.
According to the Army, it wasn't until this summer that the level of electrical production surpassed pre-war power generation capability. The Army said electrical output of 3,300 megawatts of electricity "immediately after the war" has been increased by 1,420 megawatts of capacity since then.
That, however, is not the way Congressman Henry Waxman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Government Reform, sees it. Despite spending $4 billion on electricity generation, the administration is 2,000 megawatts short of reaching its goal for peak output, and generation "is actually below pre-war levels," he says.
According to the Associated Press, "fewer than half the electricity and oil projects planned have been completed, scores of other projects were cancelled, and in Baghdad people spend most of their day without electricity and spend hours in line for gasoline and other scarce fuels." As recently as August, the Pentagon said, Baghdad had electricity for 6.3 hours per day, compared with the national average of 11 hours.
"Rotating blackouts are still a way of life in Iraq's electrical sector, but now they're not done for Baghdad's benefit," the IEEE's Zorpette said. "The city still gets about half of its power from the north and south, but these days city residents get anywhere from 6 to 9 hours of electricity a day, compared with about 15 hours for people living in Basra."
He attributes the shortfall to an insurgency that has made "destroying electrical infrastructure a centerpiece of its bid to destroy the country's fledgling democracy"; too few electric meters and low fees; personnel problems, including "thousands of fictitious employees" among the 48,000 payrollers; lack of maintenance skills; and a mismatch between generators and the proper fuel needed to run them. Some engineers are critical of the Occupation for not installing steam-thermal plants.
Most of the generating units are combustion turbines that run best on natural gas, yet are being run on diesel fuel or crude oil left over after the more desirable fuel grades are removed in the refining process. What the Electricity Ministry gets is fuels "that few other utilities in the world would be willing to burn," Zorpette says. The better grades are exported to bring in desperately needed revenues.
Thus, diesel fuel, not produced in sufficient quantities in Iraq, is being trucked in from Turkey at great cost. By one estimate, $20 billion is needed to satisfy power needs, particularly as Iraq is experiencing heavier-than-ever demand as employed Iraqis rush to buy appliances and newly minted entrepreneurs launch business ventures.
In sum, even though the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF) is scheduled to close at the end of this year, as of last April the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction found more than half of electrical projects were incomplete and delivery spotty.
The special inspector also found 75% of oil and gas projects were incomplete, even though the US, according to Waxman, had spent $2 billion on them. Insurgents played a key role, but hundreds of Oil Ministry staffers have been fired for smuggling oil into the black market or out of the country.
Recent Iraqi statements that the oil industry has surpassed its pre-war production level of 2.6 million barrels per day have been met with skepticism. Last week, Waxman's office said production is "still below pre-war levels" and the new Army report puts production at just 2.2 million barrels per day.
The Army also says Coalition countries have brought potable water to 3.7 million Iraqis and sewage treatment to 5.1 million, at a cost of $1.7 billion. It also claims IRRF has funded work for building 142 new clinics or health care centers, of which three have been completed and 66 are under construction.
It says it has also built 834 new schools, 342 police facilities and built 248 border forts.
Although President Bush said Iraq reconstruction would "pay for itself," the US has chipped in about $22 billion, and if the results have fallen short it may be because a hefty chunk of the money was misspent, wasted, and stolen. Stuart Bowen, head of the Special Inspector General's Office, said the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) set up in May, 2003, "did not establish or implement sufficient managerial, financial and contractual controls to ensure funds were used in a transparent manner."
Bowen found nearly $9 billion of the money CPA spent or reconstruction, before transferring authority to the new Iraq government in June, 2004, remains unaccounted for due to inefficiencies and bad management.
A long shadow of suspected mismanagement falls over Halliburton Corp., formerly headed by Vice President Richard Cheney, and which, by one estimate, got half the dollar value of all contracts awarded for reconstruction of Iraq.
Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) got a $2 billion award for managing Iraq's oil fields without competitive bidding and over the objections of Bunnatine Greenhouse, chief of contract management for the Army Corps of Engineers.
"Not only was the sole-source effort illegally exclusionary to other potential competitors," Greenhouse said, "an intolerable conflict of interest had been created by the government for KBR to be awarded any contract ... for the Iraq Campaign." For her candor, Greenhouse was demoted from her top job and made to sit in a back row cubicle where she was given no work.
Greenhouse's concerns were realized when Pentagon auditors concluded KBR had overcharged the military about $250 million on a contract to deliver fuel and repair oil equipment. Peculiarly, the Pentagon reimbursed KBR's invoices for the work. "Halliburton gouged the taxpayer, government auditors caught the company red-handed, yet the Pentagon ignored the auditors and paid Halliburton hundreds of millions of dollars and a huge bonus," Waxman said.
From the standpoint of Major General William McCoy, the top Army engineer overseeing reconstruction, "My biggest disappointment has been the issues we're having to recover from with bad work by American contractors." One of these was a botched $76 million KBR project to run a pipeline beneath the Tigris River that had to be given to another contractor. Another terminated project was a $186 million, two-year Parsons Corp. effort to build 150 primary health care clinics. Only six were finished.
According to Waxman, US investigators are probing no fewer than 70 corruption scandals tied to Iraqi reconstruction. Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has termed the US reconstruction effort a failure. "It has had some important individual successes, but it has wasted at least half" of the $22 billion earmarked to secure and develop Iraq's economy, he told the Christian Science Monitor.
And in a statement last month to Integrated Regional Information Networks, Judge Radhi al-Radhi, head of Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity, said, "About $4 billion has been pilfered from state coffers and no one is taking responsibility - but we are working hard to find those responsible." He went on to say "at least 25%" of the total $45 billion from all sources invested in reconstruction "is missing without an explanation."
Just to rebuild Iraq's oil infrastructure to produce fuel and revenue will cost another $20 billion, and as much or more will be needed to bring the electricity sector into the modern age. While estimates vary greatly over future costs to rehabilitate Iraq, there is growing body of opinion - based on the quality work performed by many Iraqi sub-contractors - that it would be best if Iraqis themselves managed and performed the work.
Nothing better illustrates the morally bankrupt condition of the Bush White House than its war on Iraq. When it comes to murder, President Bush is the stay-and-slay president. When it comes to humanitarian aid to restore a nation for whose destruction he is personally responsible and where 650,000 human beings have perished, President Bush's policy is cut and run.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Foxy Musings
I heard what slush said about Michael J. Fox.
This is my perspective. When someone "famous" steps up with an underfunded disease and puts himself out there to help not only raise awareness but funds, that is a HERO. My brother died from ALS, a severely underfunded disease with little to no "celebrity" ties. Famous people afflicted with this terminal illness for the most part, and with every right, decided to guard their privacy.
Now, if MJF went off his meds for a commercial what does this mean? Does it say something about the medication? About his character?
Well, to me it says - I take medication that controls this disease. I will be on this medication for the rest of my life until I find A CURE. Showing the disease as it is - not repressed or suppressed by medication is not "exploitive" it is HONEST. To say that he is "using" his disease is probably one of the most retarded things I have ever heard in my life. To say that he was "playing it up" because he is an "actor" goes beyond insensitive. It goes beyond common decency.
He is basically saying - what I would like is a cure, so that I don't have to go through a potentially harmful operation or take medication for the rest of my life that, of course, has side effects. I would like for research to be done because there are thousands upon thousands of people for whom I speak.
Rush was wrong.
Hate radio was out of line.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Coupla Things
Janitorial Musings
There's a janitors' strike going on in the City of Houston. Seems that the janitors are protesting their 5.15/hour pay, no benefits, and part-time status. The building owners say that they cannot possibly change any of this because they have the problems of continuously rising building costs including utilities, property taxes, etc.
Does anyone find this a tad bit insane?
Are you or are you not making their argument for them? The janitors are saying that their 5.15/hr pay hasn't been raised in years and they are all suffering because of it - due to the RISING COST OF LIVING INCLUDING UTILITIES, PROPERTY TAXES, ETC.!! DOH!
5.15 an hour.
To me that is such an incredible slap in the face. Your time is only worth 5.15 an hour. Which comes out to what about 3.44 per hour after taxes?
Golly.
That's like 140 buckeroos for a 40 hour week.
Huh.
Crazy janitors.

Presuming Musings
Now I recently heard a bit of disdain over the airwaves about how democrats are positively euphoric about the latest turns in the political tides, and those disdainers are none too happy. May I take a brief liberty here? Uh. We've been waiting for six years for the cover to blow off this septic tank and even though we are not all that happy about all that is now emanating from said cesspool, we have to admit that we are, yes, happy. We aren't counting our chickens before they hatch, as we have done that and ended up with a lot of rotten eggs. Instead, we are HOPEFUL. We are pulling in the reins, keeping our eyes on the prize, trying to stay on task, and avoid any premature enthusiasm, but darnit! It's hard. It is very difficult to not feel that joy in your heart, that song in your soul (the hills are aaaallllivvvve with the sound of chan-ges) at the mere thought of this nightmare finally beginning to end. When we can start feeling proud again. When we can start feeling like we are a part of the process again. When we can feel that we matter again. When we can speak out again. It's a great feeling.

And finally.
Job Musings
I hadn't even dared to believe that the job that I was going for would materialize for me. Josh is a sophomore, Cody is in eighth grade. Child support is down by 2/3's. I was beginning to feel the pinch of panic with driving, proms, college, etc. fast approaching on one salary. I finally heard today that the position that I applied for was not only mine but that they wanted me full-time and not part-time as originally stated. I will be starting October 30th at 8 a.m. with the City of Missouri City Public Works/Engineering Department. Full benefits. Retirement plan. An increase to the original salary. AND a cafeteria plan. Woohoo!
It will greatly impact my ability to post here, to share my bi-partisan opinions (I put that in for my long suffering conservative mom who dry heaves and loses consciousness when reading some of my entries - teehee). But I am far from done. I will write as often as I can. There will probably be far less outside articles added. But we will see.
What’s Bad for America, Is Good for Halliburton…Just Ask the Vice President
By Steve Young
In the same month that we lost a record number of American soldiers and Iraqi citizens lost many more, Vice President Dick Cheney told Rush Limbaugh that "if you look at the overall situation they're doing remarkably well."
Now we know that the Darth was speaking about Halliburton.
This week the Halliburton's third-quarter net income rose 22 percent with third-quarter revenue rising 19 percent to $5.8 billion.
But even more indecent was that the VP's talking point was dittoed by Halliburton officials.
"Iraq was better than expected," said Jeff Tillery, analyst (who does research for Halliburton) at Pickering Energy Partners Inc. "Overall, there is nothing really to question or be skeptical about. I think the results are very good."
"Overall, there is nothing to question or be skeptical about." Dost that not soar far off the puke-ability chart?
More than glaring is that both Cheney and Tillery both believe that the "overall" situation in Iraq has not to do with American soldiers dying or Iraqi citizens losing everything or civil war exploding, but with profit..."overall."
Still think Cheney is not deeply connected with Halliburton?
"This was an exceptional quarter for Halliburton," said Dave Lesar, Halliburton's chairman, president and CEO.
Do we need any more proof that, "overall," what's good for Halliburton is, overall, bad for the rest of us?
And you thought Dick Cheney was kidding when he said, "We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will."
Or is that Halliburton's company policy.
Oh hey! This just in. Bush is NOT about "staying the course". That was just some ugly rumor, probably generated by the liberal elite desperate for power. He and Snow categorically deny this rumor...which would also put to bed that ridiculous statement bush allegedly made about staying in Iraq even if Barney and Laura were his only two supporters. Phew! I am so relieved.

Ignoring Senate, Bush Taps Mine Exec to be Safety Chief
By Justin Rood - October 20, 2006, 6:09 PM
Ah, the magic of the presidency. The Senate has refused to confirm former coal company executive Richard Stickler as the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). So, while they were out, Bush
gave him a recess appointment to the post.
MSHA exists to protect miners' well-being. Once a miner himself, Stickler spent most of his career above ground, much of it as an executive for companies like coal giant Massey Energy. According to the Charleston Gazette, Stickler's mines had accident rates of twice the national average.
At a Senate hearing in March, Stickler explained that if U.S. mines were unsafe, it wasn't an "enforcement problem," merely a "compliance problem." His nomination was opposed by the United Mine Workers of America and the AFL-CIO, among others.
Failing to win Senate approval earlier this year, the administration made Stickler a senior contract employee to the Department of Labor, working with mine safety issues.
Bush first nominated Stickler after the Sago mine disaster in January. Family members of miners who died in the disaster
wrote to President Bush, urging him not to appoint Stickler to the important safety post.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Volunteer Blues Musings
Below is an email exchange between me and a parent, as well as the head coach. I am an assistant coach for my son's under fourteen recreational soccer team. The head coach was out of town for the first month of the season, so I lead until he came back.
You might ask, why is this here? I guess, because I am still really pissed off about it. It is probably one of the major reasons that people don't step up to volunteer. You do everything you can, you take on responsibility, and then you get sniper fire from someone that doesn't volunteer, someone who points out problems and offers no solution. I have to admit, I kind of knew that he wasn't volunteering to help out, but I wanted to point out that he was asking people who already shouldered the greater weight of responsibility for the team to do more, while offering nothing. He is from Spain, but his tone and message are pretty evident to me.


-----Original Message-----
From: AV
Sent: Saturday, October 21, 2006 1:35 PM
To: PBH
Cc: FP
Subject: CLAIM

Penny:
Several times the same claims arrive to me. It seems that the boys are not playing the same time everybody. From the last 3 - 4 games, I have seen You have a strong preference for some players. As far as I know, these are Recreational games, so everybody must play at least the same time. We can win some games, others not. We can control this time with a small paper list and a watch, etc. Hope you can resolve very easy this issue.
I am giving a copy of this note to the other coachs.
Regards,
AV


My Response:
From: PBH
Sent: Saturday, October 21, 2006 3:16 PM
To: AV
Cc: JJ; FP
Subject: RE: CLAIM

AV
I was responsible for the placement of players in games while our head coach, JJ, was out of the country. However, since his return, he has taken the lead in regards to player time and substitutions, although he asks my opinion at times. I find it odd that you have not included him in this email. But that's ok, he's included in this one. I am, however, extremely glad that you have stepped up and volunteered to track the time that each player is on the field during all the games. I cannot tell you what a tremendous help this will be to the coaching staff, as we are doing our best, as unpaid volunteers, to coach the game, make substitutions, offer strategy, etc. It would probably be best if you come to our side of the field, with your paper list and watch, so that you can keep us apprised of time allocation. Knowing that you will be attending to this matter will be a huge relief, as we are doing our collective best to ensure that all players are getting equal time. Again, thank you so much for stepping up.
PBH

The Head Coach’s response:
From JJ
Alfredo, you are correct about the time allocation. For the last two weeks, we have played our strongest opponent, so I was using substitutions to assure success. Against weaker opponents, the playing times are different. The forwards are the players that are going to be most affected by my strategy. We have several players that can play that position well, so my method has been to try to rotate those players a lot so that we have fresh players up front. The boys that are willing to stay in defense or goalkeeper will get more playing time since those positions are less desirable and against a couple of our opponents, not very active positions. Sometimes, I'm not able to substitute as soon as I would like to because the ball stays in play and the opportunity to change players does not arise. With 18 players, it is a challenge to keep the playing times equal, but I agree with you that it is important to try. Everybody paid the same amount to be on the team and are therefore entitled to their share of playing time. Thanks for volunteering to help us keep up with these statistics. I will make up a chart with the boys names and supply a stop watch for this purpose.
Regards,
JJ

Response from disgruntled parent:
From: AV
Sent: Sunday, October 22, 2006 12:12 PM
To: JJ;PBH
Cc: FP
Subject: RE: CLAIM


Thank you Jim for your answer. It is hard to play with 18 players, yes of course. What we can not accept are the PREFERENCES with someplayers. If there are STARS in the team who can play all positions, not combining the ball, etc, let me know. The rest about timing, paper and watches are "only excuses". I think there are 3 or 4 active volunteers. I do not have the proper time for voluteer with your team. If I have that time, long time ago I would be an assistance, etc. I have 3 kids playing every saturday so we share the time between 3 fields. Well, thanks again, and sorry for not including you in my first e-mail. -AV

From: PBH

Sent: Sunday, October 22, 2006 2:18 PM
To: AV
Subject: RE: CLAIM

AV
I want you, for a moment to see how this looks to me. ONE team. TWENTY males, ONE female. 18 male players, 1 male head coach, 1 male assistant coach , 1 female assistant coach. And you direct your original accusation at me. How do you think I should take that, AV?
Let's also look at what you are saying. You believe that there is preferential treatment going on towards individual players. Your accusation is non-specific (you do not state which players, you don't have actual playing time denoted anywhere), and insinuates that you are not alone in your concerns with the use of "we" (also non-specific).
Now if there are several of you, I would think that you would have several parents that would be willing to solve this problem. Criticizing those that have volunteered to lead and requesting that they take on MORE obligations in addition to all the responsibilities they already have seems counter-productive to me. Why not state the problem and say that you have several parents that would be willing to rotate the responsibility of tracking player time for us during the games, so that we wouldn't have to worry about it? When my son played baseball, the "stat" book was given to a parent - not always the same one, but it rotated throughout the roster. Perhaps, with your limited time, you can ask around to see if anyone would be interested in doing this.

It seems to me that you want to criticize via email, because you are unwilling to address this in person. It seems that a lot more information would be better exchanged if this were done in person instead of being written. For instance, are you aware that one of the things we have on the team - that all the players know about - is that if you volunteer to play goalie, you get to play the majority of the game? The goalie position is the least desired position on this team. If we don't have an incentive, we don't have a happy goalie. But if a player is willing to volunteer they get rewarded. Is that unfair to you? Were you aware that this existed? Are you aware that some players aren't feeling well before or during a game? Are you aware that we have players that were fasting from sunrise to sundown during Ramadan and we were concerned about their physical welfare? Are you aware that we have a variety of injuries on the team - some healed, some new, some recurring? Are you aware of the countless other things that cause us to substitute on the field? Not one of them has to do with us - the coaching staff. It is all about the boys.

You see, AV, I believe that volunteering for 3 hours during the week and up to 2 hours on the weekend - 8 hours for the weekend of the tournament, that this would be considered enough of a commitment for ONE parent when there are over 36 total parents for this one team. You mention 3 or 4 active volunteers...would that be the three parents that stepped up to coach and the team mom? Don't you think adding another obligation - watching seconds and minutes on a clock throughout a game, instead of watching the team dynamic, passing, strategy possibilities, goals, technical points that are to be coached at the next practice, ensuring that we can be on top of the emotional status of each player as well as the physical, is enough work for the coaches?

I was one of the parents that, yes, did pay the same amount of money as everyone else, but I stepped up and committed to not only 5 hours of "on the field" leadership but also countless hours keeping everyone informed, creating rosters so that you all can contact each other should there be a problem, and a player preference sheet. At the beginning of the season I asked all the boys to fill out a form that said which position they wanted to play, if they would play goal, if they were left footed etc. I then compiled all this information from all 18 boys and created a sheet that the coaches could use to ensure that we play the boys where they want to play. When your wife emailed me about AV Jr. losing his ball at practice, I went back out to the field that night and with my headlights combed the tall grass to see if I could find it. I have called parents to see if they need me to pick up their child for practice. I have comforted, soothe, guided, encouraged, and engaged with each and every child on this team. I have talked to individual parents, gladly, about issues or concerns they have. I have talked to them on the phone and in person. So, I believe, maybe wrongly, that I have made every effort to honor the commitment of assistant coach. I have shown up with new, interesting and challenging drills for an hour and a half with 18 teenage boys. I have shown up for all the games even though I have another child that is engaged in other time-consuming activities. I have sat with a player for over half an hour until his parent came to pick him up after practice, even though I have other obligations. I believe that I have, at the very least, honored the minimum effort that was required for a position that I am volunteering my time for.

I'll be honest with you, AV. I have no intention of sitting on the sideline filling out a time sheet for this team. I will not do it. I want to watch the game. I want to ensure that the boys are safe, that physically they are ok, that emotionally they are doing well, that rules are being followed, that technical questions are being answered, that I am resource for the boys to use if they need it. I also have to say, that I am insulted by your commentary. If you had come to me directly, instead of through the email, if you had addressed this by citing a problem but offering solutions, if you had made an effort to address all of the coaches, instead of the only female on the team, I would have been a lot less insulted.

But you didn't. And now I wonder if you have completely killed any desire I have to continue volunteering for this team.
Cheers,
PBH



Media Biggies shouldn't be allowed to get bigger
From the Seattle Times

The Federal Communications Commission's hopscotch through the rules that govern the press and media began last week with a hearing in Los Angeles. The commissioners should treat the restrictive rules like a porcelain vase filled with Grandpa's ashes, given the overwhelming response from the public at the hearing to keep the Biggies from owning everything.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin should not be surprised by the lopsided support for his commission to maintain rules that stymie huge media conglomerates from adding to their already massive portfolios (a disgusting term when talking about the press).

At least Martin showed up. His predecessor, Commissioner Michael Powell, did not attend any of the hearings set up by Democratic commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein in 2003, when the FCC rewrote the rules so the Biggies could buy anything without regard to readers and communities.

A Stanford professor was brought in for the Los Angeles hearing to bolster the cause of consolidation. Amazingly, he claimed media are more diverse than ever. Strange position for somebody living in the Bay Area, where two companies — MediaNews Group out of Denver and Hearst out of New York — control everything from San Francisco east to Contra Costa and south to Monterey.

Adding to the supposedly rich diversity in the Bay Area, MediaNews recently entered into some strange financial arrangement with Hearst.

The Bay Area is not an anomaly. Almost all American cities are saddled with distant owners that consider the local paper nothing more than a commodity.

Further evidence of the sad state of the press is the lack of coverage the first hearing received. The Associated Press covered it. So did the Los Angeles Times. That was about it. The Seattle Times surprisingly overlooked this important story. If there is an issue newsrooms should be concerned about, it is this.

If the big national papers and regional papers are not going to cover this issue as it progresses, I hope for a cyber-response along the lines of the Internet neutrality debate. A resistance of funny and cheap videos on YouTube and Web sites like www.stopbigmedia.com have been able to hold off the well-financed lobbyists who want telecommunication companies such as Verizon to be able to charge for faster Internet service.

With little coverage and no agitation from the Internet, we might see something similar to the failed Powell changes, which would have let a company own an unlimited number of radio and television stations in a single market. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia sent the new rules back to the FCC.

The court's decision had one major fault that Martin can exploit. The court said the FCC could jettison the cross-ownership ban, but was not going to break the ruling into parts.

If Martin is serious about an honest examination of cross-ownership, he should take a close look at a report that was buried during Powell's reign. It showed that concentration of ownership hurt local TV news.

Martin also needs to schedule the other five hearings he has promised. I cannot imagine he has the time or inclination to do more before the upcoming election, but will probably move quickly to wrap up the hearings before the 2008 presidential election.

This should not be a partisan issue, but it is, and Republicans are still a majority on the FCC. Now is the time for those who care about democracy and a free press to be loud. As I wrote back in June, write your congressmen and senators. Go to the FCC hearings.

And please, get on your local newspaper editor and radio and television producers to cover what the FCC is doing. It should be a no-brainer.

To learn more, go to:
www.stopbigmedia.com
www.freepress.net
www.fcc.govwww.mediaaccess.org
Recipe for a Cooked Election
by Greg Palast

A nasty little secret of American democracy is that, in every national election, ballots cast are simply thrown in the garbage. Most are called "spoiled," supposedly unreadable, damaged, invalid. They just don’t get counted. This “spoilage” has occurred for decades, but it reached unprecedented heights in the last two presidential elections. In the 2004 election, for example, more than three million ballots were never counted.
Almost as deep a secret is that people are doing something about it. In New Mexico, citizen activists, disgusted by systematic vote disappearance, demanded change — and got it.
In Ohio, during the 2004 Presidential election, 153,237 ballots were simply thrown away — more than the Bush “victory” margin. In New Mexico the uncounted vote was five times the Bush alleged victory margin of 5,988. In Iowa, Bush’s triumph of 13,498 was overwhelmed by 36,811 votes rejected. The official number is bad enough — 1,855,827 ballots cast not counted, according to the federal government’s Elections Assistance Commission. But the feds are missing data from several cities and entire states too embarrassed to report the votes they failed to count.
Correcting for that under-reporting, the number of ballots cast but never counted goes to 3,600,380
. Why doesn’t your government tell you this?
Hey, they do. It’s right there in black and white in a U.S. Census Bureau announcement released seven months after the election — in a footnote. The Census tabulation of voters voting in the 2004 presidential race "differs," it reads, from ballots tallied by the Clerk of the House of Representatives by 3.4 million votes.
This is the hidden presidential count, which, with the exception of the Census’s whispered footnote, has not been reported. In the voting biz, most of these lost votes are called "spoilage." Spoilage, not the voters, picked our President for us. Unfortunately, that’s not all. In addition to the three million ballots uncounted due to technical "glitches," millions more were lost because the voters were prevented from casting their ballots in the first place. This group of un-votes includes voters illegally denied registration or wrongly purged from the registries.
Joe Stalin, the story goes, said, “It’s not the people who vote that count; it’s the people who count the votes.” That may have been true in the old Soviet Union, but in the USA, the game is much, much subtler: He who makes sure votes don’t get counted decides our winners.
In the lead-up to the 2004 race, millions of Americans were, not unreasonably, panicked about computer voting machines. Images abounded of an evil hacker-genius in Dick Cheney’s bunker rewriting code and zapping the totals. But that’s not how it went down.
The computer scare was the McGuffin, the fake detail used by magicians to keep your eye off their hands. The principal means of the election heist — voiding ballots — went unexposed, unreported and most importantly, uncorrected and ready to roll out on a grander scale next time
Like a forensic crime scene investigation unit, we can perform a post mortem starting with the exhumation of more than three million uncounted votes:
Provisional Ballots Rejected. An entirely new species of ballot debuted nationwide in 2004: the "provisional ballot." These were crucial to the Bush victory. Not because Republicans won this "provisional" vote. They won by rejecting provisional ballots that were cast overwhelmingly in Democratic precincts. The sum of "the uncounted" is astonishing: 675,676 ballots lost in the counties reporting to the federal government. Add in the missing jurisdictions and the un-vote climbs to over a million: 1,090,729 provisional ballots tossed out.
Spoiled Ballots.
You vote, you assume it’s counted. Think again. Your "x" was too light for a machine to read. You didn’t punch the card hard enough and so you "hung your chad." Therefore, your vote didn’t count and, crucially, you’ll never know it. The federal Election Assistance Commission toted up nearly a million ballots cast but not counted. Add in states too shy to report to Washington, the total “spoilage” jumps to a rotten 1,389,231.
Absentee Ballots Uncounted. The number of absentee ballots has quintupled in many states, with the number rejected on picayune technical grounds rising to over half a million (526,420) in 2004. In swing states, absentee ballot shredding was pandemic.
Voters Barred from Voting
. In this category we find a combination of incompetence and trickery that stops voters from pulling the lever in the first place. There’s the purge of "felon" voters that continues to eliminate thousands whose only crime is VWB — Voting While Black. It includes subtle games like eliminating polling stations in selected districts, creating impossible lines. No one can pretend to calculate a hard number for all votes lost this way any more than you can find every bullet fragment in a mutilated body. But it’s a safe bet that the numbers reach into the hundreds of thousands of voters locked out of the voting booth.
The test kitchen
But do these un-votes really turn the election? Voters from both parties used provisional or absentee ballots, and the machines can’t tell if a hanging chad is Democratic or Republican, right? Not so. To see how it works, we went to New Mexico.
Dig this: In November 2004 during early voting in Precinct 13, Taos, New Mexico, John Kerry took 73 votes. George Bush got three. On election day, 216 in that precinct voted Kerry. Bush got 25 votes, and came in third.
Third? Taking second place in the precinct, with 40 votes, was no one at all.
Or, at least, that’s what the machines said.
Precinct 13 is better known as the Taos Pueblo. Every single voter there is an American Native or married to one.
Precinct 13 wasn’t unique. On Navajo lands, indecision struck on an epidemic scale. They walked in, they didn’t vote. In nine precincts in McKinley County, New Mexico, which is 74.7 percent Navajo, fewer than one in ten voters picked a president. Those who voted on paper ballots early or absentee knew who they wanted (Kerry, overwhelmingly), but the machine-counted vote said Indians simply couldn’t make up their minds or just plain didn’t care.
On average, across the state, the machine printouts say that 7.3 percent — one in twelve voters — in majority Native precincts didn’t vote for president. That’s three times the percentage of white voters who appeared to abstain. In pueblo after pueblo, on reservation after reservation throughout the United States, the story was the same.
Nationally, one out of every 12 ballots cast by Native Americans did not contain a vote for President. Indians by the thousands drove to the voting station, walked into the booth, said, “Who cares?” and walked out without voting for president.
So we dropped in on Taos, Precinct 13. The "old" pueblo is old indeed— built 500 to 1,000 years ago. In these adobe dwellings stacked like mud condos, no electricity is allowed nor running water — nor Republicans as far as records show. Richard Archuleta, a massive man with long, gray pigtails and hands as big as fl ank steaks, is the head of tourism for the pueblo. Richard wasn’t buying the indecision theory of the Native non-count. Indians were worried about their Bureau of Indian Affairs grants, their gaming licenses, and working conditions at their other big employer: the U.S. military.
On the pueblo’s mud-brick walls there were several hand painted signs announcing Democratic Party powwows, none for Republicans. Indecisive? Indians are Democrats. Case closed. The color that counts It wasn’t just Native Americans who couldn’t seem to pick a President. Throughout New Mexico, indecisiveness was pandemic ... at least, that is, among people of color. Or so the machines said. Across the state, high-majority Hispanic precincts recorded a 7.1 percent vote for nobody for president.
We asked Dr. Philip Klinkner, the expert who ran stats for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, to look at the New Mexico data. His solid statistical analysis discovered that if you’re Hispanic, the chance your vote will not record on the machine was 500% higher than if you are white. For Natives, it’s off the charts. The Hispanic and Native vote is no small potatoes. Every tenth New Mexican is American Native (9.5 percent) and half the remaining population (43 percent) is Mexican-American.
Our team drove an hour across the high desert from the Taos Reservation to Española in Rio Arriba County. According to the official tallies, entire precincts of Mexican-Americans registered few or zero votes for president in the last two elections. Española is where the Los Alamos workers live, not the Ph.D.s in the white lab coats, but the women who clean the hallways and the men who bury the toxins. This was not Bush country, and the people we met with, including the leaders of the get-out-the-vote operations, knew of no Hispanics who insisted on waiting at the polling station to cast their vote for "nobody for President." The huge majority of Mexican- Americans, especially in New Mexico, and a crushing majority of Natives (over 90 percent), vote Democratic.
What if those voters weren’t indecisive; what if they punched in a choice and it didn’t record? Let’s do the arithmetic. As minority voters cast 89 percent of the state’s 21,084 blank ballots, that’s 18,765 missing minority votes. Given the preferences of other voters in those pueblos and barrios, those 18,765 voters of color should have swamped Bush’s 5,988 vote “majority” with Kerry votes. But that would have required those votes be counted.
The voting-industrial complex
New Mexico’s Secretary of State, Rebecca Vigil-Giron, seemed curiously uncurious about Hispanic and Native precincts where nearly one in ten voters couldn’t be bothered to choose a president.
Vigil-Giron, along with Governor Bill Richardson, not only stopped any attempt at a recount directly following the election, but demanded that all the machines be wiped clean. This not only concealed evidence of potential fraud but destroyed it. In 2006, New Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled the Secretary of State’s machine-cleaning job illegal — too late to change the outcome of the election, of course.
But who are we to second-guess Secretary Vigil-Giron? After all, she is a big shot, at the time president, no less, of the National Association of Secretaries of State, the top banana of all our nation's elections officials.
Vigil-Giron, after putting a stop to the recount, rather than schlep out to investigate the missing vote among the iguanas and Navajos, left the state to officiate at a dinner meeting in Minneapolis for her national association. It was held on a dinner boat. The tab for the moonlight ride was picked up by touch-screen voting machine maker ES&S Corporation. Breakfast, in case you're curious, was served by touchscreen maker Diebold Corp.
At the time of this writing, Vigil-Giron is busy planning the next big confab of vendors and state officials -- this time in Santa Fe, "the city different." But aside from Wal-Mart signing on as a sponsor, nothing much is different when it comes to the inner workings of the voting industrial complex.
Except for one thing.
Where's the action?
While Vigil-Giron is greeting her fellow Secretaries and casually introducing them to this year's vendors, it is likely she'll keep quiet about a few things. Voter Action, a group of motivated citizens, some jumping into activism for the first time, sued the state of New Mexico in 2005 over the bad machines and the failure to count the vote. The activists ran a public campaign with their revelations about New Mexico's broken democracy. Last year, Voter Action invited our investigations team to lay out our findings to huge citizens' meetings in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Soon, the whole horrid vote-losing game was on local community radio and TV stations. It worked.
Governor Richardson, who ducked the issue for three years, and his Secretary of State, once openly hostile to reform, had to relent in the face of the public uprising. In February of 2006, Richardson signed a model law requiring that all voting in the state take place on new paper ballot machines, with verifiable tabulating systems. Richardson now claims the mantle of leader of the voting reform campaign.
Voter Action, successful in New Mexico, is now pursuing lawsuits in seven states to stop the Secretaries of State from purchasing electronic voting systems which have records of inaccuracy, security risks, and have been proven unreliable.
In New Mexico we learned, once again, that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. To protect your right to vote, you must know what is happening in your state – before, during, and after Election Day – and be willing to hold your leaders accountable.
Bush's Family Profits from 'No Child' Act
by Walter F. Roche Jr.

A company headed by President Bush's brother and partly owned by his parents is benefiting from Republican connections and federal dollars targeted for economically disadvantaged students under the No Child Left Behind Act.
With investments from his parents, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, and other backers, Neil Bush's company, Ignite! Learning, has placed its products in 40 U.S. school districts and now plans to market internationally.
At least 13 U.S. school districts have used federal funds available through the president's signature education reform, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, to buy Ignite's portable learning centers at $3,800 apiece.
The law provides federal funds to help school districts better serve disadvantaged students and improve their performance, especially in reading and math.
But Ignite does not offer reading instruction, and its math program will not be available until next year.
The federal Department of Education does not monitor individual school district expenditures under the No Child program, but sets guidelines that the states are expected to enforce, spokesman Chad Colby said.
Ignite executive Tom Deliganis said that "some districts seem to feel OK" about using No Child money for the Ignite purchases, "and others do not."
Neil Bush said in an e-mail to The Times that Ignite's program had demonstrated success in improving the test scores of economically disadvantaged children. He also said political influence had not played a role in Ignite's rapid growth.
"As our business matures in the USA we have plans to expand overseas and to work with many distinguished individuals in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa," he wrote. "Not one of these associates by the way has ever asked for any access to either of my political brothers, not one White House tour, not one autographed photo, and not one Lincoln bedroom overnight stay."
Funding laws unclear
Interviews and a review of school district documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act found that educators and legal experts were sharply divided over whether Ignite's products were worth their cost or qualified under the No Child law.
The federal law requires schools to show they are meeting educational standards, or risk losing critical funding. If students fail to meet annual performance goals in reading and math tests, schools must supplement their educational offerings with tutoring and other special programs.
Leigh Manasevit, a Washington attorney who specializes in federal education funding, said that districts using the No Child funds to buy products like Ignite's would have to meet "very strict" student eligibility requirements and ensure that the Ignite services were supplemental to existing programs.
Known as COW, for Curriculum on Wheels (the portable learning centers resemble cows on wheels), Ignite's product line is geared toward middle school social studies, history and science. The company says it has developed a social studies program that meets curriculum requirements in seven states. Its science program meets requirements in six states.
Most of Ignite's business has been obtained through sole-source contracts without competitive bidding. Neil Bush has been directly involved in marketing the product.
In addition to federal or state funds, foundations and corporations have helped buy Ignite products. The Washington Times Foundation, backed by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, head of the South Korea-based Unification Church, has peppered classrooms throughout Virginia with Ignite's COWs under a $1-million grant.
Oil companies and Middle East interests with long political ties to the Bush family have made similar bequests. Aramco Services Co., an arm of the Saudi-owned oil company, has donated COWs to schools, as have Apache Corp., BP and Shell Oil Co.
Neil Bush said he is a businessman who does not attempt to exert political influence, and he called The Times' inquiries about his venture — made just before the election — "entirely political."
Big supporters
Bush's parents joined Neil as Ignite investors in 1999, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission documents. By 2003, the records show, Neil Bush had raised about $23 million from more than a dozen outside investors, including Mohammed Al Saddah, the head of a Kuwaiti company, and Winston Wong, the head of a Chinese computer firm.
Most recently he signed up Russian fugitive business tycoon Boris A. Berezovsky and Berezovsky's partner Badri Patarkatsishvili.
Barbara Bush has enthusiastically supported Ignite. In January 2004, she and Neil Bush were guests of honor at a $1,000-atable fundraiser in Oklahoma City organized by a foundation supporting the Western Heights School District. Proceeds were earmarked for the purchase of Ignite products.
Organizer Mary Blankenship Pointer said she planned the event because district students were "utilizing Ignite courseware and experiencing great results. Our students were thriving."
However, Western Heights school Supt. Joe Kitchens said the district eventually dropped its use of Ignite because it disagreed with changes Ignite had made in its products. "Our interest waned in it," he said.
The former first lady
spurred controversy recently when she contributed to a Hurricane Katrina relief foundation for storm victims who had relocated to Texas. Her donation carried one stipulation: It had to be used by local schools for purchases of COWs.
Texas accounts for 75% of Ignite's business, which is expanding rapidly in other states, Deliganis said.
The company also has COWs deployed in North Carolina, Virginia, Nevada, California, the District of Columbia, Georgia and Florida, he said.
COWs recently showed up at Hill Classical Middle School in California's Long Beach Unified School District. A San Jose middle school also bought Ignite's products but has since closed.
Neil Bush said Ignite has more than 1,700 COWs in classrooms.
Shift in strategy
But Ignite's educational strategy has changed dramatically, and some are critical of its new approach. Shortly after Ignite was formed in Austin, Texas, in 1999, it bought the software developed by another small Austin firm, Adaptive Learning Technology.
Adaptive Learning founder Mary Schenck-Ross said the software's interactive lessons allowed teachers "to get away from the mass-treatment approach" to education. When a student typed in a response to a question, the software was designed to react and provide a customized learning path.
"The original concept was to avoid 'one size fits all.' That was the point," said Catherine Malloy, who worked on the software development.
Two years ago, however, Ignite dropped the individualized learning approach. Working with artists and illustrators, it created a large purple COW that could be wheeled from classroom to classroom and plugged in, offering lessons that could be played to a roomful of students.
The COWs enticed students with catchy jingles and videos featuring cartoon characters like Mr. Bighead and Norman Einstein. On Ignite's website, a collection of teachers endorsed the COW, saying that it eliminated the need for lesson planning. The COW does it for them.
The developers of Adaptive Learning's software complain that Ignite replaced individualized instruction with a gimmick.
"It breaks my heart what they have done. The concept was totally perverted," Schenck-Ross said.
Nevertheless, Ignite found many receptive school districts. In Texas, 30 districts use COWs.
In Houston, where Neil Bush and his parents live, the district has used various funding sources to acquire $400,000 in Ignite products. An additional $240,000 in purchases has been authorized in the last six months.
Correspondence obtained by The Times shows that Neil Bush met with top Houston officials, sent e-mails and left voice mail messages urging bigger and faster allocations. An e-mail from a school procurement official to colleagues said Bush had made it clear that he had a "good working relationship" with a school board member.
Another Ignite official asked a Texas state education official to endorse the company. In an e-mail, Neil Bush's partner Ken Leonard asked Michelle Ungurait, state director of social studies programs, to tell Houston officials her "positive impressions of our content, system and approach."
Ungurait, identified in another Leonard e-mail as "our good friend" at the state office, told her superiors in response to The Times' inquiry that she never acted on Leonard's request.
Leonard said he did not ask Ungurait to do anything that would be improper.
Houston school officials gave Ignite's products "high" ratings in eight categories and recommended approval.
Some in Houston's schools question the expenditures, however. Jon Dansby was teaching at Houston's Fleming Middle School when Ignite products arrived.
"You can't even get basics like paper and scissors, and we went out and bought them. I just see red," he said.
In Las Vegas, the schools have approved more than $300,000 in Ignite purchases. Records show the board recommended spending $150,000 in No Child funding on Ignite products.
Sources familiar with the Las Vegas purchases said pressure to buy Ignite products came from Sig Rogich, an influential local figure and prominent Republican whose fundraising of more than $200,000 for President Bush's 2004 reelection campaign qualified him as a "Bush Ranger."
Rogich, who chairs a foundation that supports local schools, said he applied no pressure but became interested in COWs after Neil Bush contacted him. Rogich donated $6,000 to purchase two COWs for a middle school named after him.
Christy Falba, the former Clark County school official who oversaw the contracts, said she and her husband attended a dinner with Neil Bush to discuss the products. She said Rogich encouraged the district "to look at the Ignite program" but applied no pressure.
Mixed reviews
Few independent studies have been done to assess the effectiveness of Ignite's teaching strategies. Neil Bush said the company had gotten "great feedback" from educators and planned to conduct a "major scientifically valid study" to assess the COW's impact. The results should be in by next summer, he said.
Though Ignite's products get generally rave reviews from Texas educators, the opinion is not universal.
The Tornillo, Texas, Independent School District no longer uses the Ignite programs it purchased several years ago for $43,000.
"I wouldn't advise anyone else to use it," said Supt. Paul Vranish. "Nobody wanted to use it, and the principal who bought it is no longer here."
Ignite's website features glowing videotaped testimonials from teachers, administrators, students and parents.
Many of the videos were shot at Del Valle Junior High School near Austin, where school district officials allowed Ignite to film facilities and students.
In the video, a student named India says: "I was feeling bad about my grades. I didn't know what my teacher was talking about." The COW changed everything, the girl's father says on the video.
Lori, a woman identified as India's teacher, says the child was not paying attention until the COW was brought in.
The woman, however, is not India's teacher, but Lori Anderson, a former teacher and now Ignite's marketing director. Ignite says Anderson was simply role-playing.
In return for use of its students and facilities, a district spokeswoman said Ignite donated a free COW. Five others were purchased with district funds.
District spokeswoman Celina Bley acknowledged that regulations bar school officials from endorsing products. But she said that restriction did not apply to the videos.
"It is illegal for individuals to make an endorsement, but this was a districtwide endorsement," Bley said in an e-mail.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

November First
I received this in my Christian Vegetarian Association newsletter. Regardless of your opinion on veganism or vegetarianism, it makes beaucoup sense. November 1st. One day. Try it. Go vegan or vegetarian for one day. Before you do, check out recipes on some of the sites listed at the left or google "vegan recipes" and that should bring some up. The choices are so much better than they used to be! There are products that are competitively priced that you can sub in for your favorite stew, casserole, or dish. Just try it for one day and know that if you become vegetarian you will not only be saving animals but you will be making a global impact while helping yourself at the same time.


CVA member Jenny Moxham recently had the following editorial published in her local newspaper:
If you could improve your health, help alleviate world hunger, reduce animal abuse, reduce global warming and environmental damage and save hundreds of thousands of litres of water, simply by refraining from doing one simple thing ...would you?
Well, simply by refraining from buying animal products you can achieve all this.
Today, more and more people are realizing that choosing to be vegan is far more than a mere 'dietary choice'. It is about rescuing the planet from destruction and preventing human suffering as well as non-human suffering. It is about creating a sustainable future.
In third world countries, children starve next to fields of soya and grain destined for export as animal feed for Western nations. For every 10kg of plant protein fed to cattle, only one kg is converted into meat
The irony is that whilst the worlds poor are dying of poverty, millions of affluent Westerners are dying from heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and cancers, largely caused by eating animal products.
Water scarcity is reaching crisis point. According to the CSIRO, every kilogram of meat consumed requires up to 100,000 litres of water to produce. In contrast, rice, our thirstiest crop, requires only 1500 litres.
Nov.1st is World Vegan Day ... the perfect day to make the decision to try a more healthy, sustainable, and compassionate vegan lifestyle.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Go Keith Go!!

Olbermann Addresses the Military Commissions Act in a Special Comment
By Keith Olbermann
MSNBC Countdown

We have lived as if in a trance.
We have lived as people in fear.
And now - our rights and our freedoms in peril - we slowly awake to learn that we have been afraid of the wrong thing.
Therefore, tonight have we truly become the inheritors of our American legacy.
For, on this first full day that the Military Commissions Act is in force, we now face what our ancestors faced, at other times of exaggerated crisis and melodramatic fear-mongering:
A government more dangerous to our liberty, than is the enemy it claims to protect us from.
We have been here before - and we have been here before led here - by men better and wiser and nobler than George W. Bush.
We have been here when President John Adams insisted that the Alien and Sedition Acts were necessary to save American lives, only to watch him use those acts to jail newspaper editors.
American newspaper editors, in American jails, for things they wrote about America.
We have been here when President Woodrow Wilson insisted that the Espionage Act was necessary to save American lives, only to watch him use that Act to prosecute 2,000 Americans, especially those he disparaged as "Hyphenated Americans," most of whom were guilty only of advocating peace in a time of war.
American public speakers, in American jails, for things they said about America.
And we have been here when President Franklin D. Roosevelt insisted that Executive Order 9066 was necessary to save American lives, only to watch him use that order to imprison and pauperize 110,000 Americans while his man in charge, General DeWitt, told Congress: "It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen - he is still a Japanese."
American citizens, in American camps, for something they neither wrote nor said nor did, but for the choices they or their ancestors had made about coming to America.
Each of these actions was undertaken for the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.
And each was a betrayal of that for which the president who advocated them claimed to be fighting.
Adams and his party were swept from office, and the Alien and Sedition Acts erased.
Many of the very people Wilson silenced survived him, and one of them even ran to succeed him, and got 900,000 votes, though his presidential campaign was conducted entirely from his jail cell.
And Roosevelt's internment of the Japanese was not merely the worst blight on his record, but it would necessitate a formal apology from the government of the United States to the citizens of the United States whose lives it ruined.
The most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.
In times of fright, we have been only human.
We have let Roosevelt's "fear of fear itself" overtake us.
We have listened to the little voice inside that has said, "the wolf is at the door; this will be temporary; this will be precise; this too shall pass."
We have accepted that the only way to stop the terrorists is to let the government become just a little bit like the terrorists.
Just the way we once accepted that the only way to stop the Soviets was to let the government become just a little bit like the Soviets.
Or substitute the Japanese.
Or the Germans.
Or the Socialists.
Or the Anarchists.
Or the Immigrants.
Or the British.
Or the Aliens.
The most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.
And, always, always wrong.
"With the distance of history, the questions will be narrowed and few: Did this generation of Americans take the threat seriously, and did we do what it takes to defeat that threat?"
Wise words.
And ironic ones, Mr. Bush.
Your own, of course, yesterday, in signing the Military Commissions Act.
You spoke so much more than you know, Sir.
Sadly - of course - the distance of history will recognize that the threat this generation of Americans needed to take seriously was you.
We have a long and painful history of ignoring the prophecy attributed to Benjamin Franklin that "those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
But even within this history we have not before codified the poisoning of habeas corpus, that wellspring of protection from which all essential liberties flow.
You, sir, have now befouled that spring.
You, sir, have now given us chaos and called it order.
You, sir, have now imposed subjugation and called it freedom.
For the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.
And - again, Mr. Bush - all of them, wrong.
We have handed a blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who has said it is unacceptable to compare anything this country has ever done to anything the terrorists have ever done.
We have handed a blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who has insisted again that "the United States does not torture. It's against our laws and it's against our values" and who has said it with a straight face while the pictures from Abu Ghraib Prison and the stories of Waterboarding figuratively fade in and out, around him.
We have handed a blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who may now, if he so decides, declare not merely any non-American citizens "unlawful enemy combatants" and ship them somewhere - anywhere - but may now, if he so decides, declare you an "unlawful enemy combatant" and ship you somewhere - anywhere.
And if you think this hyperbole or hysteria, ask the newspaper editors when John Adams was president or the pacifists when Woodrow Wilson was president or the Japanese at Manzanar when Franklin Roosevelt was president.
And if you somehow think habeas corpus has not been suspended for American citizens but only for everybody else, ask yourself this: If you are pulled off the street tomorrow, and they call you an alien or an undocumented immigrant or an "unlawful enemy combatant" - exactly how are you going to convince them to give you a court hearing to prove you are not? Do you think this attorney general is going to help you?
This President now has his blank check.
He lied to get it.
He lied as he received it.
Is there any reason to even hope he has not lied about how he intends to use it nor who he intends to use it against?
"These military commissions will provide a fair trial," you told us yesterday, Mr. Bush, "in which the accused are presumed innocent, have access to an attorney and can hear all the evidence against them."
"Presumed innocent," Mr. Bush?
The very piece of paper you signed as you said that, allows for the detainees to be abused up to the point just before they sustain "serious mental and physical trauma" in the hope of getting them to incriminate themselves, and may no longer even invoke The Geneva Conventions in their own defense.
"Access to an attorney," Mr. Bush?
Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift said on this program, Sir, and to the Supreme Court, that he was only granted access to his detainee defendant on the promise that the detainee would plead guilty.
"Hearing all the evidence," Mr. Bush?
The Military Commissions Act specifically permits the introduction of classified evidence not made available to the defense.
Your words are lies, Sir.
They are lies that imperil us all.
"One of the terrorists believed to have planned the 9/11 attacks," you told us yesterday, "said he hoped the attacks would be the beginning of the end of America."
That terrorist, sir, could only hope.
Not his actions, nor the actions of a ceaseless line of terrorists (real or imagined), could measure up to what you have wrought.
Habeas corpus? Gone.
The Geneva Conventions? Optional.
The moral force we shined outwards to the world as an eternal beacon, and inwards at ourselves as an eternal protection? Snuffed out.
These things you have done, Mr. Bush, they would be "the beginning of the end of America."
And did it even occur to you once, sir - somewhere in amidst those eight separate, gruesome, intentional, terroristic invocations of the horrors of 9/11 - that with only a little further shift in this world we now know - just a touch more repudiation of all of that for which our patriots died -- did it ever occur to you once that in just 27 months and two days from now when you leave office, some irresponsible future president and a "competent tribunal" of lackeys would be entitled, by the actions of your own hand, to declare the status of "unlawful enemy combatant" for - and convene a Military Commission to try - not John Walker Lindh, but George Walker Bush?
For the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.
And doubtless, Sir, all of them - as always - wrong.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Just saw Barney Frank on Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO. I'll tell you something, it is an awe-inspiring thing to see a democrat actually start speaking up, calling people out. He was dead on, he was relentless, he was unapologetic, he was firm, he was strong, and he was the most solidly logical person I have heard in a long time. Everytime the repub guest would try to insinuate that all the focus on "gay" republicans was some kind of bizarre assault on a group of people that just happen to have a connection with the conservative doctrine - strong defense, smaller government, lower taxes - Frank absolutely impaled him. How can you categorically vote against a group of people giving them rights, try to criminalize them for private behavior, and then go home and be engaged in that kind of behavior? It makes no sense.
It is how I like my liberals. Seriously. I like them to be strong and show that you know what? Talking to your enemies takes BALLS. Pulling brave and honorable people out of harms way is HEROIC.
It was a beautiful thing to see.
I hope to see more.
A very interesting article...

Greasing the Skids
How the Republicans Can Manipulate Oil Prices for Political Gain
by Nomi Prins

Plummeting gas prices have been good news for the motoring public. They also raise the questions: Why? How? Since their August highs, oil prices dropped from $77 to $60 per barrel. Gas prices have fallen from an average of $3.04 to $2.25 per gallon. In a September USA Today poll 42 percent of Americans thought there was a direct connection between the Republicans wanting to keep control of Congress and gas prices falling.
Free-market types went to town. Oil is set by market forces, not Washington, rang the unified voice of analysts. "If only Bush had that kind of control," mused White House spokesman Tony Snow. But subtle manipulation is a form of control.
Let's back up. In July, legendary investor Jim Rogers--who got his start with George Soros--and other Wall Street analysts were saying that within the scope of the bull market, oil prices would head over $100. This would translate to roughly $4.00 to $4.50 per gallon at the gas pumps.
Meanwhile, the White House was evading blame for gas prices having doubled like Olympian dodgeball champions. It's not us. It's unrest in Iraq. Nuclear threats from Iran. Growth in China. Economists said, It's supply and demand, stupid.
Following their logic, and given the second-fastest drop in gas prices ever, we'd expect a noticeable reversal of those factors: an end to the war in Iraq, perhaps; India and China halting production; the Iranian president warmly embracing Bush and the home team. None of this happened. As far as supply goes, this spring US crude oil inventories were at their highest point since May 1998.
Manipulation can be physical or psychological. No, Bush wasn't calling his broker to short the market and Cheney probably wasn't conversing with oil execs to back it up. But long-term mutual back-scratching relationships are potent. An overly speculated market like oil (the most traded commodity in the world) picks up on subtle signs. Just as traders push the market up, they can take it down, depending on those signs.
If detectives from CSI were investigating the plummet in oil prices, they'd look for motive and method. Motive's obvious: strategically important midterm elections. With Iraq and swarming allegations that the Administration has created more terrorism than before, there's not a lot the GOP can control. According to Doug Henwood's Left Business Observer study, there's a 78 percent correlation between the direction of gas prices and approval for the GOP.
Republicans have been pleased to focus on what they can manipulate, if not overtly control. Big Oil gave the GOP 81 percent of its $63 million in campaign contributions since Bush took office. Republicans are giving Big Oil a $5 billion helping of tax breaks. Last November the Republican-led Senate Commerce Committee, headed by Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, gave oil companies a post-Katrina break to keep their exorbitant profits. Democrats called for windfall profits. Republicans didn't.
After Katrina oil companies like Exxon, which also happen to own the major oil refineries in the country, increased their refining profits, which had direct implications on the price of gas at the pumps--that made them higher than the rising price of crude oil would dictate.
In September the difference between the cost of crude oil and the price of gas after the refining process (called the "crack spread" in the markets) has narrowed substantially, meaning oil refiners are extracting less profit because they're charging proportionately less at the independent gas station pumps.
Just as Enron and others could manipulate, if not directly control, California prices by closing power plants at will, so can oil companies reduce refining profit margins (which were gigantic) to keep their friends in power. That's easier to control than futures where other players are in the market, and it's something retailers pass on to drivers. This is not conspiracy, but self-preservation.
Other strong messages came from Washington. My favorite is the one that came directly from the Federal Reserve. For two years, the Fed has been raising interest rates due to inflationary pressures (such as the high cost of gas). Then, it stopped--the day after gas prices reached their August 7 peak of an average $3.04 per gallon. The next day, the Fed said that despite high energy prices, inflationary pressures would "moderate."
The market slide started that day, not a sudden change in supply or demand. On September 20, the Fed again left rates unchanged, saying energy prices were in check, causing a further slide. Global crude oil prices fell, but gas prices fell faster.
Wall Street analysts, traders and hedge funds don't care about any of these reasons. They just don't want to be caught behind the ball, so they sell the market, causing further price drops. Yes, those are market forces--but they are market forces with a lot of push from Washington-related signals. Why now? To say the election has nothing to do with it would be naïve. To say gas prices won't be up again afterward would be wrong.
Nomi Prins is a senior fellow at
Demos, a nonpartisan public policy think tank. Before becoming a journalist, she served as a managing director for Goldman Sachs in New York. She is the author of Other People's Money: The Corporate Mugging of America and Jacked: How "Conservatives" Are Picking Your Pocket.