Thursday, July 15, 2010

This is what keeping campaign promises looks like:

Healthcare reform
Education reform
US/Russia arms treaty
Wall St reform
Tobacco regulation.
Credit card reform.
Public lands bill
Restores U.S./Russia relations
SCHIP expansion (children's health insurance)
Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
2 Justices to the Supreme Court
Stem cell research expansion
$20 Billion from BP for businesses harmed by oil spill
Restored critical protections under the Endangered Species Act
The largest tax cut in the history of the United States (for the middle class)
Billions in restoration of U.S. infrastructure
600,000 (private sector) jobs created since January
Positive GDP growth for four straight quarters...

119 promises kept, with 245 in the works

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

So why do I care?

Why do I care about that calf ripped from its dairy producing mother a couple of hours after its birth?
Why do tears spring to my eyes as I watch a dolphin desperately leap from its tiny pool onto the concrete as the audience gasps and the other dolphins race to the glass to see the fate of their compatriot?
Why does a grip sweep my heart as I cycle past the dog chained 24/7/365 as it wags its tail hoping I will stop and release him or at least offer comfort?
Why does my throat contract and dry out as I see tiny chicks thrown into a dumpster, atop thousands of others struggling to survive an inevitable doom?
Why do I toss and turn as images of tiny piglets being slammed against the pavement over and over and over again, thwarting peaceful slumber?
How does it affect me personally?
It has no bearing on my life…
Except that it does.
For every animal, for every child, for every senior, for every mentally or physically handicapped abused, neglected, tossed, struck, brutalized I am complicit in the action.
I am allowing it by existing on this planet.
I am a party to it by flicking to the next story, flipping to the next article.
For every second that it is allowed to continue, I am an accomplice.
I care because it matters.
To each and every individual.
As they are dependent on my benevolence.
They rely on my compassion.
It is my moral duty as a human being.
It is my responsibility as co-resident on earth.
I care because if I didn’t I would see no reason to exist.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Immigration Musings
TOPICS Immigration Right-wing extremism
Arizona's immigration battle becomes a major nexus for white supremacists and the 'mainstream'
By David Neiwert
Thursday Jun 10, 2010 12:00pm

Referenced video can be found here:


Videographer Dennis Gilman attended last weekend's "Phoenix Rising" rally in Phoenix last weekend and made this amazing video. You really have to watch it to believe it.

My favorite moment is the woman who believes there is a "radical Islamic Mexican Catholic movement" that "has been taking over our nation and getting rid of and killing American citizens".

But notice: There are a number of familiar faces here, most notably Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Russell Pearce. These are guys who show up on Fox News, CNN and MSNBC as spokesmen for SB1070, presented nominally as the "mainstream conservatives" who championed the law that they're all defending as having garnered so much popular support, etc. etc.

Of course, as we've noted previously, both Arpaio and Pearce have long histories of playing footsie with neo-Nazis and various other white supremacists and flaming hatemongers.

So it really is not a surprise to see them cavorting about and rubbing shoulders in a perfectly comfortable way with such folks at this rally.

But then, consider that the "Phoenix Rising" rally was actually organized by Barbara Coe, leader of the nativist group California Coalition for Immigration Reform, which led the fight to pass the anti-immigrant Prop 187 back in 1994. You see, CCIR has a sordid history that led to their being designated a "hate group" by the SPLC:

Vitriolic, conspiracy-minded and just plain mean, Coe routinely refers to Mexicans as "savages." She claims to have exposed a secret Mexican plan (the "Plan de Aztlan") to reconquer the American Southwest. Last May, at a "Unite to Fight" anti-immigration summit in Las Vegas, she launched the kind of defamatory rant for which she is infamous. "We are suffering robbery, rape and murder of law-abiding citizens at the hands of illegal barbarians," she warned her cowering audience, "who are cutting off heads and appendages of blind, white, disabled gringos."

More recently, she attacked the new Hispanic mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, accusing him of seeking to return Southern California to Mexico.

But the most curious thing about the former police clerk -- whose friends have said she told them she was forced from her job in 1994, after using a city-owned camera to photograph people she thought were illegal aliens -- may be her offhand comments to the Denver Post this November. In a profile of her close friend, U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), the paper said Coe described speaking to and belonging to the Council of Conservative Citizens. That group, which has called blacks "a retrograde species of humanity," has long been listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group -- as has Coe's own California Coalition for Immigration Reform.

Even more recently, Coe has attack the current president as well:

Barak [sic] Obama and his anti-American "czars" are taking a page from Hitler's Nazi Germany playbook - only worse, much worse. Be afraid, be very afraid!

This is precisely what Rep. Linda Sanchez was accurately describing last week:

“There’s a concerted effort behind promoting these kinds of laws on a state-by-state basis by people who have ties to white supremacy groups,” she continued “It’s been documented. It’s not mainstream politics. (Legislators) are being approached by folks, who are front organizations for white supremacist hate groups. They propose the language of these bills and get people to carry these bills in the state legislatures.”

Of course, you'll notice that the Fox News freakout over Sanchez's remarks quickly subsided and the issue quietly went away. Maybe because their researchers realized that it Sanchez was right.

Or maybe they had crews out in Arizona last weekend, and discovered the truth for themselves.

[Be sure and visit Gilman's YouTube Channel, which has lots of excellent videos in a similar vein.]

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Slick Musings

Nigeria's agony dwarfs the Gulf oil spill.
The US and Europe ignore it

John Vidal, environment editor The Observer,
Sunday 30 May 2010 Article history

We reached the edge of the oil spill near the Nigerian village of Otuegwe after a long hike through cassava plantations. Ahead of us lay swamp. We waded into the warm tropical water and began swimming, cameras and notebooks held above our heads. We could smell the oil long before we saw it – the stench of garage forecourts and rotting vegetation hanging thickly in the air.

The farther we travelled, the more nauseous it became. Soon we were swimming in pools of light Nigerian crude, the best-quality oil in the world. One of the many hundreds of 40-year-old pipelines that crisscross the Niger delta had corroded and spewed oil for several months.

Forest and farmland were now covered in a sheen of greasy oil. Drinking wells were polluted and people were distraught. No one knew how much oil had leaked. "We lost our nets, huts and fishing pots," said Chief Promise, village leader of Otuegwe and our guide. "This is where we fished and farmed. We have lost our forest. We told Shell of the spill within days, but they did nothing for six months."

That was the Niger delta a few years ago, where, according to Nigerian academics, writers and environment groups, oil companies have acted with such impunity and recklessness that much of the region has been devastated by leaks.

In fact, more oil is spilled from the delta's network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico, the site of a major ecological catastrophe caused by oil that has poured from a leak triggered by the explosion that wrecked BP's Deepwater Horizon rig last month.

That disaster, which claimed the lives of 11 rig workers, has made headlines round the world. By contrast, little information has emerged about the damage inflicted on the Niger delta. Yet the destruction there provides us with a far more accurate picture of the price we have to pay for drilling oil today.

On 1 May this year a ruptured ExxonMobil pipeline in the state of Akwa Ibom spilled more than a million gallons into the delta over seven days before the leak was stopped. Local people demonstrated against the company but say they were attacked by security guards. Community leaders are now demanding $1bn in compensation for the illness and loss of livelihood they suffered. Few expect they will succeed. In the meantime, thick balls of tar are being washed up along the coast.

Within days of the Ibeno spill, thousands of barrels of oil were spilled when the nearby Shell Trans Niger pipeline was attacked by rebels. A few days after that, a large oil slick was found floating on Lake Adibawa in Bayelsa state and another in Ogoniland. "We are faced with incessant oil spills from rusty pipes, some of which are 40 years old," said Bonny Otavie, a Bayelsa MP.

This point was backed by Williams Mkpa, a community leader in Ibeno: "Oil companies do not value our life; they want us to all die. In the past two years, we have experienced 10 oil spills and fishermen can no longer sustain their families. It is not tolerable."

With 606 oilfields, the Niger delta supplies 40% of all the crude the United States imports and is the world capital of oil pollution. Life expectancy in its rural communities, half of which have no access to clean water, has fallen to little more than 40 years over the past two generations. Locals blame the oil that pollutes their land and can scarcely believe the contrast with the steps taken by BP and the US government to try to stop the Gulf oil leak and to protect the Louisiana shoreline from pollution.

"If this Gulf accident had happened in Nigeria, neither the government nor the company would have paid much attention," said the writer Ben Ikari, a member of the Ogoni people. "This kind of spill happens all the time in the delta."

"The oil companies just ignore it. The lawmakers do not care and people must live with pollution daily. The situation is now worse than it was 30 years ago. Nothing is changing. When I see the efforts that are being made in the US I feel a great sense of sadness at the double standards. What they do in the US or in Europe is very different."

"We see frantic efforts being made to stop the spill in the US," said Nnimo Bassey, Nigerian head of Friends of the Earth International. "But in Nigeria, oil companies largely ignore their spills, cover them up and destroy people's livelihood and environments. The Gulf spill can be seen as a metaphor for what is happening daily in the oilfields of Nigeria and other parts of Africa.

"This has gone on for 50 years in Nigeria. People depend completely on the environment for their drinking water and farming and fishing. They are amazed that the president of the US can be making speeches daily, because in Nigeria people there would not hear a whimper," he said.

It is impossible to know how much oil is spilled in the Niger delta each year because the companies and the government keep that secret. However, two major independent investigations over the past four years suggest that as much is spilled at sea, in the swamps and on land every year as has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico so far.

One report, compiled by WWF UK, the World Conservation Union and representatives from the Nigerian federal government and the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, calculated in 2006 that up to 1.5m tons of oil – 50 times the pollution unleashed in the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster in Alaska – has been spilled in the delta over the past half century. Last year Amnesty calculated that the equivalent of at least 9m barrels of oil was spilled and accused the oil companies of a human rights outrage.

According to Nigerian federal government figures, there were more than 7,000 spills between 1970 and 2000, and there are 2,000 official major spillages sites, many going back decades, with thousands of smaller ones still waiting to be cleared up. More than 1,000 spill cases have been filed against Shell alone.

Last month Shell admitted to spilling 14,000 tonnes of oil in 2009. The majority, said the company, was lost through two incidents – one in which the company claims that thieves damaged a wellhead at its Odidi field and another where militants bombed the Trans Escravos pipeline.

Shell, which works in partnership with the Nigerian government in the delta, says that 98% of all its oil spills are caused by vandalism, theft or sabotage by militants and only a minimal amount by deteriorating infrastructure. "We had 132 spills last year, as against 175 on average. Safety valves were vandalised; one pipe had 300 illegal taps. We found five explosive devices on one. Sometimes communities do not give us access to clean up the pollution because they can make more money from compensation," said a spokesman.

"We have a full-time oil spill response team. Last year we replaced 197 miles of pipeline and are using every known way to clean up pollution, including microbes. We are committed to cleaning up any spill as fast as possible as soon as and for whatever reason they occur."

These claims are hotly disputed by communities and environmental watchdog groups. They mostly blame the companies' vast network of rusting pipes and storage tanks, corroding pipelines, semi-derelict pumping stations and old wellheads, as well as tankers and vessels cleaning out tanks.

The scale of the pollution is mind-boggling. The government's national oil spill detection and response agency (Nosdra) says that between 1976 and 1996 alone, more than 2.4m barrels contaminated the environment. "Oil spills and the dumping of oil into waterways has been extensive, often poisoning drinking water and destroying vegetation. These incidents have become common due to the lack of laws and enforcement measures within the existing political regime," said a spokesman for Nosdra.

The sense of outrage is widespread. "There are more than 300 spills, major and minor, a year," said Bassey. "It happens all the year round. The whole environment is devastated. The latest revelations highlight the massive difference in the response to oil spills. In Nigeria, both companies and government have come to treat an extraordinary level of oil spills as the norm."

A spokesman for the Stakeholder Democracy Network in Lagos, which works to empower those in communities affected by the oil companies' activities, said: "The response to the spill in the United States should serve as a stiff reminder as to how far spill management in Nigeria has drifted from standards across the world."

Other voices of protest point out that the world has overlooked the scale of the environmental impact. Activist Ben Amunwa, of the London-based oil watch group Platform, said: "Deepwater Horizon may have exceed Exxon Valdez, but within a few years in Nigeria offshore spills from four locations dwarfed the scale of the Exxon Valdez disaster many times over. Estimates put spill volumes in the Niger delta among the worst on the planet, but they do not include the crude oil from waste water and gas flares. Companies such as Shell continue to avoid independent monitoring and keep key data secret."

Worse may be to come. One industry insider, who asked not to be named, said: "Major spills are likely to increase in the coming years as the industry strives to extract oil from increasingly remote and difficult terrains. Future supplies will be offshore, deeper and harder to work. When things go wrong, it will be harder to respond."

Judith Kimerling, a professor of law and policy at the City University of New York and author of Amazon Crude, a book about oil development in Ecuador, said: "Spills, leaks and deliberate discharges are happening in oilfields all over the world and very few people seem to care."

There is an overwhelming sense that the big oil companies act as if they are beyond the law. Bassey said: "What we conclude from the Gulf of Mexico pollution incident is that the oil companies are out of control.

"It is clear that BP has been blocking progressive legislation, both in the US and here. In Nigeria, they have been living above the law. They are now clearly a danger to the planet. The dangers of this happening again and again are high. They must be taken to the international court of justice."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Rand Musings

There has been a lot of swirling around the most recent Tea Party candidate, Rand Paul and his comments regarding the Civil Rights Act and the American Disability Act. Rand is a pure libertarian. His dad is libertarian lite by comparison. Why do I say this? Let's take a look at just a couple of his views.
ADA
The Americans with Disabilities Act. This was a long time coming. I think about how much the image of those with disabilities has changed, just in my lifetime, I see it as being intrinsically tied to this particular Act. Prior to the ADA, those with disabilities where ferried off to institutions. Not all of them, but a crazy majority. Tucked away, out of sight, as the prevailing mentality was that disabled people - physically, mentally, etc. have nothing to offer society. Those that didn't fit into the established mold of what was deemed "normal" by the establishment had no avenue to enter into society. Unless they had the family, community, and financial support their life script was written. Institutionalized living.

CRA
The Civil Rights Act. Yet another bit of federal legislation that, in my mind, is embarrassing in its necessity. How sad that it took an act of congress to right our collective conscience. But make no mistake, it took an act of congress. I remember the National Guard coming in to the south to enforce the new legislation.

Rand believes that these Acts are over reaching in that they impose mandates on PRIVATE business. Rand believes that states and local government are better suited to address the concerns of its citizens. He also believes that a bit of creative out of the box thinking (stifled by federal mandates) will allow for solutions for individual states, individual municipalities to solve problems for their constituents. For instance, instead of forcing businesses to put in costly elevators to accommodate those that cannot get up the stairs, put those employees with limited mobility on the first floor.

All of this is based on a false premise and a bit of silliness. For the above problem, Rand completely ignores the fact that disabled CUSTOMERS are restricted to first floor business, completely cutting them off from anything that is placed above ground level. The ADA has provisions for the blind with the little dots below office numbers, etc. which make being blind less of an obstacle, for those in wheelchairs with mandates for door and hall width, for the deaf with bird tweets or pings at crosswalks so that they know how much time they have to cross the street. It is full of provisions that carefully address problems and provide solutions for issues we as able bodied individuals take for granted. I think of the shows on television that have allowed insight into "disabled" peoples lives - like Little People Big World - which has helped normalize the views of the general population to those of diminished stature. Had it been left to local or state governments, I can't help but think that institutions would still be the only place for those now provided access with the ADA.

Much like the Civil Rights Act. Had the state and local governments been left to address racism and civil rights, we would still be seeing people in rags picking cotton. Or we would have had another Civil War. Who were the ones in the South that PERPETUATED the lynchings, the arrests, the brutality? How many black men that were falsely accused of crimes were placed in front of a jury of white people and doomed? How many black people were targeted by local sheriffs and police? How many black people in the care of the local police were released to angry mobs to be ripped to shreds? I think about the 2010 Texas Board of Education that has the responsibility to provide fact based information for the textbooks from which hundreds of thousands of children will be learning.
2010.
And they refuse to include the names of the 8 Hispanics that died fighting with those in the Alamo.
2010.
And they refuse to include any reference to the influence of hip hop music - only country and rock and roll - for fear of "crude" lyrics being played in the classroom.
2010.
And they reference the historic election of our first black president but refuse to reference him BY NAME.
2010.

Rand is wrong. I understand the idea that state and local governments need to deal with individual issues that are unique to their areas. But when we have a NATIONAL problem, a NATIONAL issue, it must be dealt with nationally. I don't want Texas being responsible for the quality of my food and environment. Even with the federally established environment goals, restrictions and mandates - Texas has failed miserably. I shudder to think of what would be happening if Rick Perry had any more power than he currently holds.

Rand is wrong. The past decade has proven that the incredible influence of corporations and business has been detrimental to our country. The banks' predatory lending, the oil companies refusal to take responsibility for monumental mistakes has shown that with diminished regulations those with the money, power and access have no interest in the common good. We send representatives of ourselves into our government to have the common good as their central focus. Is that the case now? No. So adjustments must take place. Term limits are crucial. We do it for the president, it is imperative that we do it for congress. We need to make it so that other people besides multi-billionaires can run for office. There are changes to be made.
There are always going to be changes that need to be made.

But Rand's changes would send us careening back to an era that should never be revisited.

I will fight anyone that believes that the access now granted those without the power, without the money, without the voice should be rescinded.
I will fight any movement that wants to give business MORE power and the individual citizens LESS.
I am older now but still able to rage against the belief that business is the be all and end all.
If you believe that, I respectfully request that you go take a swim off the Louisiana coast.
Have a taste of the uniquely seasoned seafood.
Take a tour of the brilliantly slick and brown coastline.
Caution: Try to avoid the dead dolphins, sea turtles, manatee and fish!

Monday, April 26, 2010

I thought this was a great story.


Shannyn Moore
Just a girl from Homer
Posted: April 25, 2010 05:26 PM


Palin's Pinnacle of Hypocrisy

Sarah Palin took the stand Friday in the trial of Former University of Tennessee student David Kernell. Kernell is charged with hacking Palin's Yahoo! e-mail account while Palin campaigned in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Kernell is facing 50 years in prison over this incident. He would be 72 years old when he gets out of prison. According to the Anchorage Daily News, Palin was asked if she thought the charges against Kernell were excessive:

Palin said, "I don't know, but I do think there should be consequences for bad behavior."

Hmmm...consequences for BAD BEHAVIOR???

This coming from the Quitter Governor of Alaska who:

• used state resources to relentlessly pursue a family vendetta
• took per diem as governor while sleeping in her own bed
• took her kids at state expense on official State of Alaska business trips
• lashed out at socialized "death panel" health care while her family was covered by socialized "death panel" health care
• enjoyed socialized health care in Canada when she growing up and needed it
• has health care provided to her grandson through Indian Health Services
• advocates abstinence when it never worked for her own family
• family members ignored subpoenas and were found in contempt
• and the list goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on....

But...the pinnacle of Palin's hypocrisy might just be with this trial. "...I do think there should be consequences for bad behavior." Really? What about hers? How about Sarah Palin's hacking into another state employees' computer back in 2004? If hacking into someone's computer is "bad behavior," what were her consequences?

Sarah Palin hacked Randy Ruedrich's computer to find some dirt on him. Here are a few highlights from Richard Mauer's Anchorage Daily News article originally from 2004 but modified in 2008:





Former Oil and Gas Commissioner's Missteps Went Beyond His Partisan Work.
By RICHARD MAUER

Sarah Palin never thought of herself as an investigator.

Yet there she was, hacking uncomfortably into Randy Ruedrich's computer, looking for evidence that the state Republican Party boss had broken the state ethics law while a member of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.


WHAT? She was HACKING? But that's "bad behavior"! That can get you 50 years in federal prison!

The next week, when Palin went back to work at the AOGCC, she noticed that Ruedrich had removed his pictures from the walls and the personal effects from his desk. But as she and an AOGCC technician worked their way around his computer password at the behest of an assistant attorney general in Fairbanks, they found his cleanup had not extended to his electronic files.


The technician "said it looked like he tried to delete this, but she knew a way to go around and get some of the deleted stuff," Palin said in an interview. "I didn't know what I was looking for, but I was there."

Yep, you sure were. Right there HACKING a computer.

Palin found dozens of e-mail messages and documents stacked up in trash folders, many showing work Ruedrich had been doing for the Republican Party and others showing how closely he worked with at least one company he was supposed to be regulating.

Don't get me wrong, Ruedrich isn't exactly on my list of stellar humans. But neither is Sarah. She was accused of a similar "misuse" of office the same year.

Much later, when Ruedrich settled state ethics charges June 22 by paying a record $12,000 civil fine and admitting wrongdoing, Palin said she finally felt some measure of vindication for bucking Ruedrich and members of her party.

Sarah seemed to justify her "bad behavior" of hacking because she found proof of wrong doing. I don't know Mr. Kernell, but I wonder if he thought he might find something proving wrong doing in Sarah's emails. Maybe Mr. Kernell was "bucking" the Republican party.

She quit the commission in frustration on Jan. 16, months before the state's secret investigation and its formal charges became public.

Quit number 654. (Just guessing)

Even Ruedrich's departure provided little clarity, Palin said. As she began the ethics inquiry, she was under orders from the Department of Law to keep it secret from the AOGCC staff, even as she went through his desk and computer and solicited information from others in the office.

I guess the Department of Law couldn't find someone more qualified to lead an investigation into wrong doing. No wonder it took the Feds to crack the Corrupt Bastard Club Case.

"It felt like somebody else should be doing this, because they probably know what to look for," Palin said. "I printed off things that were obvious Republican Party documents, because I figured that's what they meant when they said, 'Get on his computer and send us anything that you believe to be partisan.' "

Sadly, this is not where the hypocrisy ends.

In a blog on her Facebook page Palin called for Obama to boycott the climate conference in Copenhagen. Why? Specifically, the "ClimateGate" email incident. Yes it's been debunked, but she clung to the emails obtained when hackers broke into the accounts of prominent climate scientists. Charges against David Kernell were filed October 8, 2008. More than a year later, November 17, 2009, the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit discovered thousands of emails and documents had been hacked through their server.

Palin didn't blog about the "invasivey, privacy" aspects for the scientists. She wanted the emails of "ClimateGate" investigated, but not the way the feds had reacted to her Yahoo account breach. She wanted proof for her "Rapture-Will-Fix-It" Environmental policy and praised climate change denier Sen. James Inhofe for his grandstanding. Senator Barbara Boxer said during a committee meeting, "You call it 'Climategate'; I call it 'E-mail-theft-gate'." Sarah and Bristol have both testified to the horrors of hackery.
For Scientists?
Crickets.

So...another "do as I say, not as I do" moment in the continuing nauseating saga that is Sarah Palin

Monday, April 05, 2010

FASCINATING READ

There's A Method to Republican 'Madness'
by Robert Parry | April 1, 2010 - 10:11am

Washington’s conventional wisdom for explaining the intensity of Republican obstructionism toward President Barack Obama breaks down one of two ways: either it’s a philosophical disagreement over the role of government or a desperate need to stay in line with a radicalized right-wing base.

But there is another way to view the GOP political strategy, as neither principled nor reactive to the rantings of Tea Partiers, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. It is that the Republicans are following a playbook that has evolved over more than four decades, to regain power by sabotaging Democratic presidents.

In this analysis, the Republicans believe they can reclaim the lucrative levers of national authority by making the country as ungovernable as possible while a Democrat is in the White House, essentially holding governance hostage until they are restored to power. Then, the Democrats are expected to behave as a docile opposition “for the good of the country” (and usually do).

The “destroy Obama” game plan tracks most closely with Newt Gingrich’s strategy for undermining Bill Clinton 16 years ago. But today’s strategy also traces back to Richard Nixon’s sabotage of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks in 1968 and Ronald Reagan’s October Surprise gambit against President Jimmy Carter’s Iran hostage negotiations in 1980.

In all four cases – covering the last four Democratic presidencies – the Republicans did not behave as a loyal opposition but rather as a single-minded political enemy that viewed the White House as its birthright and Democratic control of the Executive Branch as illegitimate.

During the first years of Clinton’s presidency, leading Republicans, such as Sen. Bob Dole, actually denounced President Clinton as a “pretender.” They noted that Clinton gained the White House with less than a majority of the popular vote (because of the third-party run of Ross Perot).

Rather than accept Clinton as a legitimate president, the Republicans unleashed their newly minted right-wing media machine (much of it having been assembled during the Reagan-Bush-41 years with the help of conservative foundations and right-wing media moguls).

Magazines, such as The American Spectator, and newspapers, like the Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal, spread ugly rumors about the Clintons, while radio talk show hosts, such as Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy, filled the airwaves with hours and hours of Clinton-bashing.

In Congress, House Republican firebrand Gingrich whipped his party into line against Clinton’s top legislative goals. For the first time, every Republican voted against the federal budget, which included tax increases to rein in the deficit that had surged to unprecedented levels under Reagan and George H.W. Bush (41).

Meanwhile, the escalating anti-Clinton media assault drew in the Washington Post and the New York Times, which were determined to prove they could be tougher on a Democrat than any Republican and thus to shed once and for all the “liberal media” label.

By 1994, the Whitewater “scandal” about an obscure Clinton real-estate investment had become front-page news and a Republican-controlled judicial panel had picked former Reagan-Bush-41 appointee Kenneth Starr to head up an aggressive investigation into the Clintons’ personal finances – and later into their private life.

Back on Capitol Hill, Gingrich's “revolutionaries” rallied – and railed – against Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated health-reform bill.

‘Black Helicopters’

Across the countryside, the harsh language in Congress and the ugly accusations from talk radio fed into a right-wing paranoia. Armed militia groups began forming to resist the threat of “one-world government” and its “black helicopters” arriving from the United Nations to strip away American liberties.

Every day, Americans were confronted with a level of disorder in their political system that they had not seen in decades – and President Clinton took most of the blame for the government disarray.

Having covered CIA destabilization campaigns in Third World countries, particularly Nicaragua, I was struck by the similarities. In the 1980s, the Reagan-Bush-41 administrations destroyed Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista revolution by systematically making the country ungovernable via a combination of economic dislocations, political/media propaganda, and paramilitary activities.

Finally, in 1990, Nicaraguan voters – faced with a choice of electing the U.S.-financed candidate Violeta Chamorro or suffering a continued U.S. economic embargo and a resumption of attacks by U.S.-supported contra rebels – opted to accede to Washington’s desires and voted for Chamorro.

By the second year of the Clinton administration, it seemed something similar was occurring in the United States, in part, because the Reagan-Bush-41 administrations had left behind not only a capacity for “information warfare” in the Third World but a domestic version of that propaganda infrastructure.

Documentary evidence from Reagan’s presidential library now shows that the overseas and domestic propaganda machines were built simultaneously as Reagan’s CIA Director William Casey recruited conservative foundation executives like Richard Mellon Scaife to help finance these activities.

Casey also put a senior CIA propagandist, Walter Raymond Jr., into Reagan’s National Security Council to create an inter-agency propaganda bureaucracy and to oversee its operation. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How Reagan’s Propaganda Succeeded.”]

Another major accomplishment of the Reagan administration was the creation of the National Endowment for Democracy, which on the surface was intended to finance pro-U.S. political/media entities around the globe.

But NED had another side. Since many of the NED-funded organizations were based in Washington – and since the NED bureaucracy was dominated by neoconservatives – NED, in effect, became a permanent funding mechanism for the neocon community in the U.S. capital.

Ironically, NED, which currently has a $100 million annual budget, may have done more to influence the course of the United States than any of the countries it has targeted for “democratization.” NED funding explains why Washington’s neocons have remained so influential despite their involvement in so many policy disasters, such as the Iraq War.

Even when the neocons find themselves adrift during brief periods out of power, many of them remain afloat with the help of NED grant money. They can hang onto a financial life-preserver tossed from some institute that benefits from the federal funding.

That way, the neocons can continue writing op-eds and books, while weighing in on TV talk shows and at conferences that shape U.S. government policies.

These political/media mechanisms dating back to the Reagan years may have been originally designed to protect the political flanks of a Republican administration, but it turned out they could be put to use just as effectively for offense as for defense.

When Clinton managed to wrest the White House from the Republicans after 12 years of Reagan and Bush-41, the GOP realized that it could well shorten its time out of power by savaging the new President and creating chaos to undermine his political power and his popularity.

Clinton-Hating

In February 1994, I attended the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington and was stunned to see the array of Clinton-hating paraphernalia, including slick videos suggesting that Bill Clinton was a murderer and semi-nude photo-shopped images of Hillary Clinton. (Some of the anti-Clinton propaganda was being financed by the same right-wing foundations that had collaborated with Reagan and Casey.)

By early fall 1994, the anti-Clinton hysteria was sweeping the country, though Democrats were mostly oblivious to its ferocity. Shortly before the 1994 elections, I had dinner with a savvy Democratic operative at the Monocle restaurant on Capitol Hill and told him that it looked to me like the Democrats would lose both the House and the Senate.

He responded that I might be right about the Senate but that there was no way the House would fall to the Republicans. A few days later, however, that was exactly what happened.

While the Democrats were slow on the uptake, the Republicans definitely “got” what was happening and why. In celebration, the Gingrich “revolutionaries” made Rush Limbaugh an honorary member of the new Republican congressional majority, hailing him as their “national precinct captain.”

Though today’s conventional wisdom holds that a big difference between 1994 and 2010 is that Gingrich had a positive message in his “Contract for America,” that analysis misses the point that it was the tearing down of the Clintons – represented by Limbaugh’s daily tirades – and the impression of national disarray under Clinton that were key to the GOP victory in 1994.

In the years that followed, the anti-Clinton hysteria would have other consequences. On April 19, 1995, right-wing militia fanatic Timothy McVeigh detonated a bomb at the Oklahoma City federal building killing 168 people. Limbaugh and others who had stoked the fires of paranoia would angrily deny any suggestion that they had contributed to the catastrophe.

Despite Clinton’s reelection in 1996, the Republicans did not give up their determination to destroy him. In 1998-99, they instituted impeachment proceedings that sought to oust him from office for lying about his extramarital sex life. Though Clinton survived a Senate trial, he and his family were humiliated and Republicans were energized to restore the Reagan-Bush dynasty by putting George W. Bush into the White House, even if he did lose the popular vote to Al Gore.

The same two elements – tearing down a Democratic president and creating a sense of political havoc – are again at the center of Republican strategy, except that today the GOP is even better placed to carry out a repeat than the party was in 1994. Then, there was no Fox News dominating the cable TV ratings and the right-wing media was far less developed than it is today.

Though the Republicans can’t say that Obama wasn’t legitimately elected (he won with 53 percent of the vote and a record 66.8 million ballots), the Right has questioned his legitimacy in other ways, such as the spurious claims that he was born in Kenya despite his Hawaiian birth certificate.

The Tea Party crowd also has decried him as some Islamic-terrorist-loving, America-hating communist, socialist or Nazi – if not the anti-Christ. A popular Tea Party poster shows Obama as a white-faced Joker, the sociopathic character from the latest Batman movie.

With funding from corporate and other right-wing interests, the Tea Partiers also have done their best to create political chaos.

Last summer, Tea Party activists disrupted “town hall” meetings on health care, and this spring, they forced Democratic members of Congress to run a gauntlet of insults and other abuse as they walked to the Capitol to vote on health-care reform – scenes reminiscent of white racists shouting at black students at Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

High-Level Encouragement

The organized chaos even entered the Congress itself, as Republican lawmakers cheered protesters on – and at times acted like them.

Last year, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, shouted “you lie” at Obama during a presidential address. During the health-care vote, Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, yelled “baby killer” while Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan, was speaking against a Republican motion to stop the bill by requiring revised anti-abortion language.

Republican leaders also engaged in apocalyptic rhetoric, with House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio declaring that passage of health-care reform would lead to “Armageddon,” a religious reference to the end-times battle between a warrior Jesus and the anti-Christ.

In the days after the health-care vote, the disruptions did spill over into violence, with bricks thrown through the windows of Democratic offices and death threats made against members of Congress. Some militant Tea Partiers vowed to stage an armed rally near Washington.

Though Boehner and a few other Republican leaders finally criticized acts of violence, others continued to wink at the unruly behavior or shift the blame onto the Democrats for talking about it.

"It is reckless to use these incidents as media vehicles for political gain," said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, criticizing Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Democratic National Chairman Tim Kaine for "dangerously fanning the flames by suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon."

For her part, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin defended her advice that her backers should “reload” and her decision to put crosshairs on the districts of endangered Democrats, saying the references had nothing to do with violence. She blamed the controversy on “this BS coming from the lame-stream media, lately, about us inciting violence.”

Amid these mixed messages, right-wing extremists now appear to be shifting from aggressive words and disruptive protests to going operational.

On Monday, FBI agents arrested nine alleged members of a Michigan-based Christian militia group, called Hutaree, charging them with a plot to kill a police officer, bomb the funeral and touch off an armed uprising against the U.S. government. The Hutaree see themselves as at war with the anti-Christ.

Despite the growing specter of political violence, the Republicans appear set in their determination to foment as much disruption as possible between now and the November elections, and thus reap expected gains, with hopes that they can win back the House and Senate and then further neutralize Obama.

Inside-Outside

While some Washington pundits see the Republicans as captives of the extremism on the Right – unable to dismount a dangerous tiger – the counter-analysis would be that the GOP and the Tea Party/militia crowd are just two parts of the same political movement, one inside the system and the other outside, but both working toward the same goal, a restoration of Republican/Right control of government.

In their view, only then would political comity and governmental normalcy be restored, because the Democrats always seem eager to get along and do what’s necessary to make government work.

To refer back to the Nicaragua comparison, the GOP’s inside-outside game is like Nicaragua’s pro-U.S. “internal opposition” operating as a non-violent political arm while the U.S.-funded paramilitary contras wreaked havoc in the countryside, both with the goal of removing the Sandinistas from power.

And as long as this “make-the-political-system-scream” strategy continues to work, it is probably unrealistic to expect the Republicans to disavow it. Washington power and the money that comes with it are so intoxicating that the political risks appear well worth it, especially if Democrats and the American Left don’t have the means or the courage to stand against abuses by Republicans and the Right.

That pattern of acquiescence by the Democrats and the Left dates back to the emergence of this Republican anything-goes strategy more than four decades ago. As audiotapes at LBJ’s presidential library make clear, Johnson was aware of Nixon’s pre-election sabotaging of the Paris peace talks in 1968, but remained silent to avoid risking damage to Nixon’s presidential legitimacy.

Similarly, Jimmy Carter and other leading Democrats, such as former Rep. Lee Hamilton, were aware of substantial evidence that Ronald Reagan’s campaign secretly undercut Carter’s efforts to win the release of 52 American hostages held in Iran in 1980, but the Democrats have chosen to look the other way.

Hamilton, who prides himself on his “bipartisanship,” led a congressional investigation into the Iran-hostage “October Surprise” mystery in 1992, but refused to pursue late-developing evidence pointing to Republican guilt even after his chief counsel, Lawrence Barcella, asked for an extension because so much new information was pouring in by the end of 1992.

Barcella told me later that Hamilton simply ordered the inquiry brought to a close with its finding of Republican innocence. Much of the new evidence implicating the Republicans was then stored away, including a Russian intelligence report confirming secret meetings between Republicans and Iranians. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege]

For his part, ex-President Carter appeared more concerned about the danger of being accused of sour grapes than learning anything new about how the Republicans sank his presidency.

In 1996, while meeting with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat, Carter reportedly raised his hands into a physical stop position when Arafat tried to confess to his role in the Republican maneuvering to block Carter’s Iran-hostage negotiations.

“There is something I want to tell you,” Arafat said, addressing Carter at a meeting in Arafat’s bunker in Gaza City. “You should know that in 1980 the Republicans approached me with an arms deal [for the PLO] if I could arrange to keep the hostages in Iran until after the [U.S. presidential] election.”

Arafat was apparently prepared to provide additional details and evidence, but Carter raised his hands, indicating that he didn’t want to hear anymore.

The Pattern Continues

So, the Republicans have never been made to pay a political price for their scheming to undercut sitting Democratic presidents -- and to grease the GOP’s route back to power. Whenever a Democrat is in the White House, the Republicans believe they are free do whatever they want to block him from solving national problems, making him look weak and ineffectual.

That was true of Johnson, Carter, Clinton and now Obama.

This GOP strategy is pursued even if it tarnishes the international image of the United States or if it undermines national security, even if it means more than 20,000 additional U.S. soldiers dying in Vietnam, or 52 American hostages facing longer captivity in Iran, or the likes of Timothy McVeigh feeling empowered to blow up a federal building.

The strategy continues even if it raises the current threat level against President Obama and Democratic lawmakers. The strategy continues because it works.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Maternal Musings
Every now and then I get this pang, this knot in my stomach, a wave of mixed love, sadness, joy. As I remember the feel of Josh's tiny hand in mine or Cody's little chubby arms around my neck. I remember their little voices, their little faces turned to me, their blissful, unfettered laughter. I see them as they sleep, the peaceful slumber of the innocent and the waves of unfathomable love for them as I smoothed their hair and kissed their beautiful faces.
My boys are moving towards independence...running into to trouble, growing, stretching, falling, tumbling, rebounding, becoming.
Every now and then, I get this rush of love and adoration for them.
I miss the little them.
Now, now they hug me so hard they pop my back as they lift me six inches off the ground.
Now they wave and throw a kiss as they back their truck and SUV out of the driveway, thumping, pumping bass vibrating glass in every window within a block.
Now, he texts “I miss you, mom” randomly from his college campus or spring break with his girlfriend's family.
I get the amazing joy of hearing how my son is kind, courteous, chivalrous, and polite.
From the girlfriend's family.
From the vice principal.
From the teachers.
The beautiful cherubs I brought into this world.
The screaming, insomniac and the prolific eater.
The little toddler that gently stroked his infant brother's head until he fell asleep.
The little guy that threw a rock as hard has he could in a fit of rage and instantly regretted it as it hurled towards his brother 20 feet away.
Damnable athletic talent.
The blistering fights, the starburst of random kindness, the tight, strong, unconditional intertwining of souls.
Brothers.
My boys.
My boys are moving towards adulthood.

I love my work, the people with whom I work. I love my friends and family. I love my husband, I adore him actually. He's a great guy, he's thoughtful and giving. He's funny as hell and he knows me. I didn't think anyone would every really know me. And still be able to be with me. It's weird how we are with ourselves.
So cruel.
It's funny how we latch on to the negative, mean things people say to us, the things that others exhale and leave hanging around our neck, like anchors.
Dragging us down under the weight of phantom judgments and ghost perceptions based on falsehoods.
A thoughtless slight slices through the skin and latches onto our being.
If we are lucky we, we get to a place where we find the love for self. Where we realize that we are who we are as amazing, resourceful, compassionate, mixed up entities with swirling hoola hoops of life experiences encapsulating us, permanent frames of reference that act like buffers from the world, protecting us yet keeping us from all that is available to us.
One three word sentence from a teacher in fifth grade kept me from being creative for almost twenty five years.
It wasn't her fault.
She had no idea how much her words would become part of my being. Upon submitting my very sad little art project, she took one look and said “stick with sports”. In my mind, she was an expert, she was the authority on all that is art, all that is creative and beautiful. And I was told, in my mind, that I was excluded from that world.
We all face obstacles.
We all face trials and challenges.
Some may seem more extreme than others, some actually are.
But no one gets through this life, if they are truly experiencing life, unscathed.
At some point in our lives we have to realize that it is ours. It is up to us that we make it what we want it to be.
My husband loves me.
He adores me.
And I am worthy of that adoration.
And he is worthy of mine.
I believe that he will always be with me and me with him.

And as my boys move towards the lives that they make for themselves, I will accept that through all the setbacks, the obstacles, the times when I thought I couldn't do anymore, that I was failing...miserably, I succeeded as a mother.
I sheltered.
I consoled.
I comforted.
I guided.
I taught.
I loved unconditionally.
And I stepped back and allowed them to fail under my supervision. I always saw them as future husbands, future partners, future roommates that would need to know how to keep themselves fed, housed, laundered, on time, above water.
I taught them to think outside the box, to love, to laugh, to find the joy.
To realize that with every single thing that happens, there is something to be learned, there is something to that will help us to grow.
No matter how awful, no matter how seemingly insignificant.
I look at their friends, their girlfriends, their interactions and I am so proud.
I helped them help themselves and I couldn't be happier to wave goodbye from the front door as they venture into the world as images flash in my mind of the glorious children they used to be, the young men they are now and the wonderful grownups they are becoming.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Animals in Entertainment Musings

So, what is it going to take?
What has to happen in our society that turns this around and sends us in a different direction?
We had a woman, an innocent neighbor of a woman that decided she could keep a chimpanzee and treat it as a “child”...only it was locked in a cage and was several hundred pounds, that has her face removed . Ripped off her head.
An elephant goes on a crazy rampage.
Tigers attack the man that has spent his entire life training them causing irreparable damage.
And now, a trainer is killed by an Orca at one of these godforsaken, animal entertainment for profit while pretending to be a rehab.
What more has to happen?
How many animals have to be incarcerated, driven mad and act accordingly?
How many more animals are going to be kept in confinement, for a few moments of human entertainment before we strive for the next level of civility?

Animals are traumatically gathered in the wild and hauled into completely incomprehensible and unnatural environments, away from their families, away from all they know, into a world that makes no sense.
I am so over this.
Before, ignorance about the shocking abuse, horrendous living conditions of animals for entertainment, experimentation, fashion and food was the excuse. How could you know when there was no evidence? No documentation. But that is simply not the case anymore. With information literally at your fingertips with access to the internet, there is no excuse. Videos, undercover footage, documentation in every conceivable form. Just a click away.
There is no excuse any more.
For a supposedly civilized society, we do the most uncivilized things to those most dependent upon our civility.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Memo to Dick Cheney: Ssshhhh, Use Your Indoor Voice
Jeff Schweitzer. Marine Biologist and Former Clinton White House Science Advisor
Posted: February 19, 2010 12:46 PM

Former Vice President Dick Cheney appeared before a fawning crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this week to promote his efforts to create an alternative universe in which truths about terrorism becomes lies and lies become truth. His daughter Liz also served as surrogate mouth piece.

With daddy hanging on her shoulder, nodding approval, Liz had the following to say about the Christmas underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab: "There's no polite way to put this, but that kind of incompetence gets people killed." Forgetting 9/11, she actually had the audacity to accuse the Obama administration of missing warnings from the intelligence community that an attack by Yemeni terrorists was imminent. In her haze of amnesia, she went on to decry the "incompetence, misjudgment and presidential neglect" and that, "There is no doubt that the daily intelligence briefings that the president receives contained much more information on the threat from Yemen."

Let us remind Liz of the damning memo sitting on the desk of Condy Rice and in her father's in-box one full month before the attacks of September 11, 2001. On August 6, 2001, the Presidential Daily Brief had the following title: "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US." The intelligence briefing stated that the FBI had detected "patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings." More to the point the document expressed concern that al Qaeda had been "considering ways to hijack American planes" to use as weapons to fly into buildings. The President and Vice President were told that "Bin Ladin was planning to exploit the operative's access to the US to mount a terrorist strike." In May 2001, an intelligence report noted that al Qaeda was attempting to send operatives into the United States to carry out an attack using explosives. To take Liz's own words, "there is no doubt that the daily intelligence briefings that the president receives contained much more information on the threat" from al Qaeda.

So yes, Liz, you are right, we do need to be deeply concerned about the "incompetence, misjudgment and presidential neglect" as you note, but you have the wrong president. The problem is Bush/Cheney, not Obama/Biden. We now know that Cheney and Bush ignored explicit and repeated warnings about al Qaeda attacks, including the use of hijacked airplanes. There is no polite way to put this, but we sadly know that this kind of incompetence gets people killed, as the grieving families of the 3000 lost in the World Trade Center attacks will attest. That blood is on Cheney's hand, and no amount of spinning and rewriting history will cleanse that stain.

In one of the oddest developments in our history, after the September attack voters and the media meekly accepted the bizarre idea that somehow Bush and Cheney were free of responsibility pre-9/11. That claim is ridiculous and deeply offensive to any thinking person. The notion that somehow Cheney is not guilty of neglect prior to 9/11 is nothing but another sick attempt to rewrite history with smoke and mirrors. September 11 happened on Cheney's watch, and he had plenty of intelligence to warn of the event. That is simply an undeniable fact. Neglect, mismanagement and the fog of arrogance allowed the plot to succeed. Cheney's attempt to divert attention from his misdeeds and incompetence by attacking Obama is disgusting. No matter how many times they repeat otherwise Cheney and Bush are fully and completely responsible for allowing the 9/11 attack to take place.

Cheney's assault on Obama is even more disingenuous given the incident with Richard Reid, who tried to blow up an airplane with his shoe bomb just a few months after 9/11. Bush and Cheney had clamped down hard, steamrolling over civil rights, and instituting new security measures, but that did not prevent a terrorist from walking onto a plane with a bomb on their watch. The incident spotlighted a gaping hole in homeland security even after Bush and Cheney could no longer use the nauseating "pre-9/11" as an excuse for gross incompetence.

Cheney views Obama as weak because Obama expects to act within the constraints of the Constitution he is sworn to uphold. Obama is weak because he believes in the vision put forth by our Founding Fathers by giving those arrested the rights others before us sacrificed so much to protect. (Forget that we have evidence that processing Umar through the civil courts has led to extensive cooperation that likely will prevent future attacks). In stark contrast, Cheney believes, incredibly, that "whatever the president does during war is legal." He actually uttered those fascist words and repeated them on national television. He means quite clearly that the president can, during an endless war on terror, authorize against American citizens such heinous crimes such as beatings, torture, murder, property confiscation, indefinite detention with no representation, and unlimited warrantless spying, if the president alone decides such actions advance the cause of war. Cheney believes and openly declared that the president's powers are unlimited. History has shown what unlimited power brings, and that is Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler. Yet Cheney went on Fox News and claimed that our president, the President of the United States of America, has the same unlimited powers as those monsters. Whatever the president does is legal. That is the most frightening declaration any public official in our history has ever made. Those views should marginalize Cheney to the backwaters of American history. Instead this is the guy attacking Obama in full glory with no hint of his extraordinary radicalism in his news coverage.

Cheney believes we must sacrifice our civil rights to protect them; that we have to burn the village to save it. He is wrong at the most fundamental, deepest levels. The war on terror is not the first existential threat we have faced. We have fought and prevailed in the past without sacrificing everything our founders created, and we will do so again. Sadly, Cheney just does not get that basic point. After many public denials, Cheney finally owned up to his role in authorizing torture, after years of denying any involvement. He did so without even a hint of concern that he blatantly lied to the American people for his entire term in office. He lied about Valerie Plame. He lied about wiretapping. He lied about Iraq. He hides his records and secret meetings by making the weird claim he is not part of the Executive Branch. He has no regard truth or the essence of our history.

So we have a man who willingly discards the basic principles embedded in our Constitution attacking the president for upholding the law of the land. We avert our eyes from that absurdity rather than confront Cheney's twisted assertions.

We have the double standard and awesome hypocrisy in Cheney's approach to Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Other than some feeble objections from John Stewart the lies go unchallenged.

We have the man most responsible for neglecting to prevent 9/11 attacking Obama for a foiled attack of much smaller magnitude. His claim is largely reported without pointing out the obvious conflict with historic fact.

Everything about Cheney perverts the truth. His views on national security are sick and paranoid. His dark apocalyptic vision of a United States led by a dictator with limitless power to protect us from an external evil by trampling civil liberties has no place in the bright American landscape. He needs to keep his voice down so that sane adults can have a conversation.

But I know that will not happen, so I again bow to reality. In a previous blog I urged Republicans to make Sarah Palin their candidate in 2012. I now have an additional wish: that Palin make Cheney her running mate. The election in 2012 should be a clear mandate from the voters on whether the United States is going to become a theocratic dictatorship or remain a sectarian democracy as originally conceived. A Palin-Cheney ticket perfectly represents the former, and so I can think of no better way to give the American voters the choice they deserve. We are at a fork in the road of our history, and we will choose one path or the other. There is no middle lane. We can no longer pretend that the two paths represent different approaches to the same goal and that they eventually meet somewhere down the line. They do not. The paths are forever divergent; a democratic society based on the rule of law cannot coexist with a police state driven by zealotry and religious passion. The two choices we face lead to radically different futures, each incompatible with the other, never to reconcile into a shared vision. So let's choose and give the American people exactly what want, whatever that turns out to be.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What to Say to Those Who Think Single Payer Advocates Are Wacko
Published on Monday, February 8, 2010 by CommonDreams.org

by Paul Hochfeld

What do we say to our more conservative friends, who genuinely think that the Single Payer solution to our health care crisis would be a disaster? Try what follows. In the end, you may simply agree to disagree. That’s O.K., but what follows may give them pause to think.

Already, 60% of all our health care dollars come directly or indirectly (because employers insurance premiums are tax deductible) from the taxpayer. The care of our oldest neighbors are financed by Medicare, i.e. the taxpayers. The care of our disabled neighbors is financed by Medicaid. Ditto the care of our poorest neighbors who, because health follows wealth, are also at greater risk of high expense. Fourteen hundred insurance companies, at significant expense, stratify the rest of the population by “risk”. Their top-secret formula results in them covering the employed people, small groups, and individuals who can prove that they are at low risk. What about the others? When those who can’t afford the premiums get sick, go bankrupt, and can’t pay their bills, “we” all pay for it in higher charges. Furthermore, employer-paid premiums are tax deductible which means insurance company profits are subsidized by the taxpayer.

As near as I can tell, this is a big taxpayer rip-off. Additionally, our non-system is fraught with numerous perverse incentives that result in more care, but not necessarily better care. Physicians must share a significant part of the blame here, but that’s a different, though important, discussion. Addressing these perversities is problematic because we don’t have a Health Care System we have For-Profit Sick Care Non-System that, to extent that it has any design at all, is designed to serve the for-profit insurance and the pharmaceutical industries. Perverse incentives work for those who profit from them. They don’t work for patients or those who pay the bills, i.e., taxpayers.

Single payer means one risk pool. You’ve heard the slogan. Everyone in. Nobody out. We gather all the money that employers and individuals are currently paying for health care. It’s not more money. It’s the same money, already being spent on health care, but by pooling it, we can save 20% right off the top. Providers won’t have negotiate fee schedules with all the different payers. Providers will only have to send bills, electronically, to one place. Furthermore, substantial savings accrue as the system matures. When an ER Doctor in Oregon sees a patient passing through town, he will access her electronic medical record in Iowa, resulting in, not just less expensive care, but better care. None of this is going to be accomplished until we have Public Health Authorities administering a health care system with the goal of health, financed publicly and delivered privately.

This isn’t pie in the sky. Check out what the other developed countries are doing, but please don’t respond with anecdotes. We have 45,000 new anecdotes every year that illuminate how real or perceived financial barriers to timely, appropriate care cause unnecessary death.

The real question is whose “system” produces the least number of unnecessary deaths and the least suffering for the dollars being spent? Yes, other countries are struggling because of limited resources, but they are dealing with the problems maturely, they are making difficult decisions, and, by recognizing that health is a human right, they are getting a healthier population for less cost.

Is access to appropriate health care a human right? If not, we can agree to disagree. If so, it is a legitimate function of our government to make sure that nobody falls through the cracks. Also, doesn’t the government have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure the taxpayer is getting value for its health care dollars? Insurance company CEO’s have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize profits even if it means investing large sums of money in manipulating public policy… and that’s exactly what they’ve been doing. It’s unfathomable to me that some people distrust “The United States” more than United Health Care. That may be where we end up agreeing to disagree.

In any case, the taxpayer is being ripped off, big time.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Story That No One Will Tell
by Rep. Alan Grayson.
Congressman Alan Grayson represents Central Florida (FL-8).


The story that everyone wants to tell is that the Democratic Party is disheartened and disintegrating. Teabagger Republicans are juiced up and on top. Or so the media says, over and over again.

But the House candidate who raised the most money in the entire country during the last FEC reporting period -- $860,000 in three months -- is not a teabagger. He is not boosted relentlessly by Fox News. He's not even a Republican. He doesn't think that the Earth was created 6000 years ago, that President Obama was born in Kenya, or that global warming is a hoax.

This House candidate also, remarkably, had the largest number of contributors. Over 15,000 individuals contributed, many of whom have given time after time, whatever they could. The House candidate who raised the most money did so without French-kissing lobbyists, without flattering the idle rich, and without reaching into his own pocket.

The House candidate who raised the most money, from the most people, is an outspoken populist who tells it like it is on the war, on jobs, and on health care. His website is called CongressmanWithGuts.com. In the 100,000 e-mails that he has received this year, the most common refrain is, "You are saying what I've been thinking."

I know who he is. Because he's me.

But no one has reported that the House candidate who raised the most money, from the most people, is a proud Democratic populist. No one.

There are something like ten thousand political reporters in this country, maybe more. The information above is readily available. Anyone could have visited an official government website, www.fec.gov, any time this past week, and seen it for themselves. We did our part -- we sent out two news releases, both local and nationwide. But in lieu of any actual reporting in the media, there is instead what Simon & Garfunkel vividly described as the "Sounds of Silence":

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.

The political reporters camped out in D.C. often act like a giant Xerox machine for the fib factory known as the national Republican Party. Recently, they saw fit to report (and repeat, and repeat) the Republican Party's crackpot claim that we are withholding a secret poll with bad news in it for us. (We aren't; there is no such poll, but the Republican Party is soooo good at manufacturing plausible lies.) Not one word from those reporters, though, about what would seem to be an irresistible "feel good" story -- that thanks to People Power, that brash, plain-spoken Democratic Congressman from Orlando is the Number One fundraiser in the country. Nothing about that.

The fact that an unapologetic progressive Democrat could amass such support, not by trading favors for money, but by striking a chord with so many ordinary people, refutes the pervasive meme of Democrats divided and despondent. Particularly when it's a Democrat who says that "you can't beat a Republican by being one." Particularly a Democrat who quotes Harry Truman and Howard Dean: "If you run a fake Republican against a real Republican, the real Republican will win every time."

Freshman Democrat Alan Grayson, number one in the country. The story that no one will tell. It doesn't fit their preconceptions. So you're just not going to hear about it.

Unless you happen to read the Huffington Post.

Monday, January 25, 2010

When the media is the disaster
In the wake of the Haiti earthquake, false depictions of victims as criminals hinder the relief effort
By Rebecca Solnit


Soon after almost every disaster the crimes begin: ruthless, selfish, indifferent to human suffering, and generating far more suffering. The perpetrators go unpunished and live to commit further crimes against humanity. They care less for human life than for property. They act without regard for consequences.

I'm talking, of course, about those members of the mass media whose misrepresentation of what goes on in disaster often abets and justifies a second wave of disaster. I'm talking about the treatment of sufferers as criminals, both on the ground and in the news, and the endorsement of a shift of resources from rescue to property patrol. They still have blood on their hands from Hurricane Katrina, and they are staining themselves anew in Haiti.

Within days of the Haitian earthquake, for example, the Los Angeles Times ran a series of photographs with captions that kept deploying the word "looting." One was of a man lying face down on the ground with this caption: "A Haitian police officer ties up a suspected looter who was carrying a bag of evaporated milk." The man's sweaty face looks up at the camera, beseeching, anguished.

Another photo was labeled: "Looting continued in Haiti on the third day after the earthquake, although there were more police in downtown Port-au-Prince." It showed a somber crowd wandering amid shattered piles of concrete in a landscape where, visibly, there could be little worth taking anyway.

A third image was captioned: "A looter makes off with rolls of fabric from an earthquake-wrecked store." Yet another: "The body of a police officer lies in a Port-au-Prince street. He was accidentally shot by fellow police who mistook him for a looter."

People were then still trapped alive in the rubble. A translator for Australian TV dug out a toddler who'd survived 68 hours without food or water, orphaned but claimed by an uncle who had lost his pregnant wife. Others were hideously wounded and awaiting medical attention that wasn't arriving. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, needed, and still need, water, food, shelter, and first aid. The media in disaster bifurcates. Some step out of their usual "objective" roles to respond with kindness and practical aid. Others bring out the arsenal of clich├ęs and pernicious myths and begin to assault the survivors all over again.

The "looter" in the first photo might well have been taking that milk to starving children and babies, but for the news media that wasn't the most urgent problem. The "looter" stooped under the weight of two big bolts of fabric might well have been bringing it to now homeless people trying to shelter from a fierce tropical sun under improvised tents.

The pictures do convey desperation, but they don't convey crime. Except perhaps for that shooting of a fellow police officer -- his colleagues were so focused on property that they were reckless when it came to human life, and a man died for no good reason in a landscape already saturated with death.

In recent days, there have been scattered accounts of confrontations involving weapons, and these may be a different matter. But the man with the powdered milk? Is he really a criminal? There may be more to know, but with what I've seen I'm not convinced.

What Would You Do?

Imagine, reader, that your city is shattered by a disaster. Your home no longer exists, and you spent what cash was in your pockets days ago. Your credit cards are meaningless because there is no longer any power to run credit-card charges. Actually, there are no longer any storekeepers, any banks, any commerce, or much of anything to buy. The economy has ceased to exist.

By day three, you're pretty hungry and the water you grabbed on your way out of your house is gone. The thirst is far worse than the hunger. You can go for many days without food, but not water. And in the improvised encampment you settle in, there is an old man near you who seems on the edge of death. He no longer responds when you try to reassure him that this ordeal will surely end. Toddlers are now crying constantly, and their mothers infinitely stressed and distressed.

So you go out to see if any relief organization has finally arrived to distribute anything, only to realize that there are a million others like you stranded with nothing, and there isn't likely to be anywhere near enough aid any time soon. The guy with the corner store has already given away all his goods to the neighbors. That supply's long gone by now. No wonder, when you see the chain pharmacy with the shattered windows or the supermarket, you don't think twice before grabbing a box of PowerBars and a few gallons of water that might keep you alive and help you save a few lives as well.

The old man might not die, the babies might stop their squalling, and the mothers might lose that look on their faces. Other people are calmly wandering in and helping themselves, too. Maybe they're people like you, and that gallon of milk the fellow near you has taken is going to spoil soon anyway. You haven't shoplifted since you were 14, and you have plenty of money to your name. But it doesn't mean anything now.

If you grab that stuff are you a criminal? Should you end up lying in the dirt on your stomach with a cop tying your hands behind your back? Should you end up labeled a looter in the international media? Should you be shot down in the street, since the overreaction in disaster, almost any disaster, often includes the imposition of the death penalty without benefit of trial for suspected minor property crimes?

Or are you a rescuer? Is the survival of disaster victims more important than the preservation of everyday property relations? Is that chain pharmacy more vulnerable, more a victim, more in need of help from the National Guard than you are, or those crying kids, or the thousands still trapped in buildings and soon to die?

It's pretty obvious what my answers to these questions are, but it isn't obvious to the mass media. And in disaster after disaster, at least since the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, those in power, those with guns and the force of law behind them, are too often more concerned for property than human life. In an emergency, people can, and do, die from those priorities. Or they get gunned down for minor thefts or imagined thefts. The media not only endorses such outcomes, but regularly, repeatedly, helps prepare the way for, and then eggs on, such a reaction.

If Words Could Kill

We need to banish the word "looting" from the English language. It incites madness and obscures realities.

"Loot," the noun and the verb, is a word of Hindi origin meaning the spoils of war or other goods seized roughly. As historian Peter Linebaugh points out "At one time loot was the soldier's pay." It entered the English language as a good deal of loot from India entered the English economy, both in soldiers' pockets and as imperial seizures.

After years of interviewing survivors of disasters and reading firsthand accounts and sociological studies from such disasters as the London Blitz and the Mexico City earthquake of 1985, I don't believe in looting. Two things go on in disasters. The great majority of what happens you could call emergency requisitioning. Someone who could be you, someone in the kind of desperate circumstances I outlined above, takes necessary supplies to sustain human life in the absence of any alternative. Not only would I not call that looting, I wouldn't even call that theft.

Necessity is a defense for breaking the law in the United States and other countries, though it's usually applied more to, say, confiscating the car keys of a drunk driver than feeding hungry children. Taking things you don't need is theft under any circumstances. It is, says the disaster sociologist Enrico Quarantelli, who has been studying the subject for more than half a century, vanishingly rare in most disasters.

Personal gain is the last thing most people are thinking about in the aftermath of a disaster. In that phase, the survivors are almost invariably more altruistic and less attached to their own property, less concerned with the long-term questions of acquisition, status, wealth, and security, than just about anyone not in such situations imagines possible. (The best accounts from Haiti of how people with next to nothing have patiently tried to share the little they have and support those in even worse shape than them only emphasize this disaster reality.) Crime often drops in the wake of a disaster.

The media are another matter. They tend to arrive obsessed with property (and the headlines that assaults on property can make). Media outlets often call everything looting and thereby incite hostility toward the sufferers as well as a hysterical overreaction on the part of the armed authorities. Or sometimes the journalists on the ground do a good job and the editors back in their safe offices cook up the crazy photo captions and the wrongheaded interpretations and emphases.

They also deploy the word "panic" wrongly. Panic among ordinary people in crisis is profoundly uncommon. The media will call a crowd of people running from certain death a panicking mob, even though running is the only sensible thing to do. In Haiti, they continue to report that food is being withheld from distribution for fear of "stampedes." Do they think Haitians are cattle?

The belief that people in disaster (particularly poor and nonwhite people) are cattle or animals or just crazy and untrustworthy regularly justifies spending far too much energy and far too many resources on control -- the American military calls it "security" -- rather than relief. A British-accented voice-over on CNN calls people sprinting to where supplies are being dumped from a helicopter a "stampede" and adds that this delivery "risks sparking chaos." The chaos already exists, and you can't blame it on these people desperate for food and water. Or you can, and in doing so help convince your audience that they're unworthy and untrustworthy.

Back to looting: of course you can consider Haiti's dire poverty and failed institutions a long-term disaster that changes the rules of the game. There might be people who are not only interested in taking the things they need to survive in the next few days, but things they've never been entitled to own or things they may need next month. Technically that's theft, but I'm not particularly surprised or distressed by it; the distressing thing is that even before the terrible quake they led lives of deprivation and desperation.

In ordinary times, minor theft is often considered a misdemeanor. No one is harmed. Unchecked, minor thefts could perhaps lead to an environment in which there were more thefts and so forth, and a good argument can be made that, in such a case, the tide needs to be stemmed. But it's not particularly significant in a landscape of terrible suffering and mass death.

A number of radio hosts and other media personnel are still upset that people apparently took TVs after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005. Since I started thinking about, and talking to people about, disaster aftermaths I've heard a lot about those damned TVs. Now, which matters more to you, televisions or human life? People were dying on rooftops and in overheated attics and freeway overpasses, they were stranded in all kinds of hideous circumstances on the Gulf Coast in 2005 when the mainstream media began to obsess about looting, and the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana made the decision to focus on protecting property, not human life.

A gang of white men on the other side of the river from New Orleans got so worked up about property crimes that they decided to take the law into their own hands and began shooting. They seem to have considered all black men criminals and thieves and shot a number of them. Some apparently died; there were bodies bloating in the September sun far from the region of the floods; one good man trying to evacuate the ruined city barely survived; and the media looked away. It took me months of nagging to even get the story covered. This vigilante gang claimed to be protecting property, though its members never demonstrated that their property was threatened. They boasted of killing black men. And they shared values with the mainstream media and the Louisiana powers that be.

Somehow, when the Bush administration subcontracted emergency services -- like providing evacuation buses in Hurricane Katrina -- to cronies who profited even while providing incompetent, overpriced and much delayed service at the moment of greatest urgency, we didn't label that looting.

Or when a lot of wealthy Wall Street brokers decide to tinker with a basic human need like housing ... Well, you catch my drift.

Woody Guthrie once sang that "some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen." The guys with the six guns (or machetes or sharpened sticks) make for better photographs, and the guys with the fountain pens not only don't end up in jail, they end up in McMansions with four-car garages and, sometimes, in elected -- or appointed -- office.

Learning to See in Crises

Last Christmas a priest, Father Tim Jones of York, started a ruckus in Britain when he said in a sermon that shoplifting by the desperate from chain stores might be acceptable behavior. Naturally, there was an uproar. Jones told the Associated Press: "The point I'm making is that when we shut down every socially acceptable avenue for people in need, then the only avenue left is the socially unacceptable one."

The response focused almost entirely on why shoplifting is wrong, but the claim was also repeatedly made that it doesn't help. In fact, food helps the hungry, a fact so bald it's bizarre to even have to state it. The means by which it arrives is a separate matter. The focus remained on shoplifting, rather than on why there might be people so desperate in England's green and pleasant land that shoplifting might be their only option, and whether unnecessary human suffering is itself a crime of sorts.

Right now, the point is that people in Haiti need food, and for all the publicity, the international delivery system has, so far, been a visible dud. Under such circumstances, breaking into a U.N. food warehouse -- food assumedly meant for the poor of Haiti in a catastrophic moment -- might not be "violence," or "looting," or "law-breaking." It might be logic. It might be the most effective way of meeting a desperate need.

Why were so many people in Haiti hungry before the earthquake? Why do we have a planet that produces enough food for all and a distribution system that ensures more than a billion of us don't have a decent share of that bounty? Those are not questions whose answers should be long delayed.

Even more urgently, we need compassion for the sufferers in Haiti and media that tell the truth about them. I'd like to propose alternative captions for those Los Angeles Times photographs as models for all future disasters:

Let's start with the picture of the policeman hog-tying the figure whose face is so anguished: "Ignoring thousands still trapped in rubble, a policeman accosts a sufferer who took evaporated milk. No adequate food distribution exists for Haiti's starving millions."

And the guy with the bolt of fabric? "As with every disaster, ordinary people show extraordinary powers of improvisation, and fabrics such as these are being used to make sun shelters around Haiti."

For the murdered policeman: "Institutional overzealousness about protecting property leads to a gratuitous murder, as often happens in crises. Meanwhile countless people remain trapped beneath crushed buildings."

And the crowd in the rubble labeled looters? How about: "Resourceful survivors salvage the means of sustaining life from the ruins of their world."

That one might not be totally accurate, but it's likely to be more accurate than the existing label. And what is absolutely accurate, in Haiti right now, and on Earth always, is that human life matters more than property, that the survivors of a catastrophe deserve our compassion and our understanding of their plight, and that we live and die by words and ideas, and it matters desperately that we get them right.

At the dawn of the millennium, three catastrophes were forecast for the United States: terrorists in New York, a hurricane in New Orleans, and an earthquake in San Francisco. Rebecca Solnit lives in San Francisco with her earthquake kit and is about to make her seventh trip to New Orleans since Katrina. Her latest book, "A Paradise Built in Hell," is a testament to human bravery and innovation during disasters.

Friday, January 01, 2010

My husband and I saw Food Inc. To me, it is “must” viewing for every American. Not because it glimpses the horror that is the life of the factory farm animal in the United States but because it shows how our food, our sustenance, our “fuel” has been hijacked by the corporate machine.
It's not that I am anti-business. I am absolutely not. What I am against is a few owning most. Because when a few own most we get corruption, we get manipulation, we get monopoly.
Which is what is happening in our food production. Farmers are literally indentured servants – forced to get loans to provide the required CAFOs for the giants like Tyson, and then continuous mandated to revise filtration systems and overhaul the feeding apparatus to company mandates, going further and further in debt. If they refuse, the corporate giants pull their contracts, and they are left with nothing.
Monsanto has copyrights on seeds. Yes. That's right. Seeds. So when the farmers plant their crops, they are not allowed to gather the seeds following the harvest. Should they employ a seed cleaner (a massive machine that separates the seeds from the dirt and other matter after harvest – which by the way have been destroyed or requisitioned so that they are a very rare machine indeed) to gather the seeds for the next harvest, Monsanto or like corporations destroy them financially by bringing in their arsenal of big time law firms and burying them in legal debt.
Those that speak out about the horrendous conditions that they endure, that the animals endure, are silenced by having their livelihoods destroyed.
The corporations would not speak to the film maker. They would not allow any kind of tour of the facilities where OUR FOOD COMES FROM.
The film maker made it abundantly clear that the only way this exists is by perpetuating the “farm” myth. The green grass, the “happy” cows, the fresh air, the rolling hills, ma and pa farmer tending to the animals. Every package depicts this utopian scene and nothing could be farther from the truth.

We don't want to know.
We don't want to see.
It is easier to go to the grocery store and pick up those items without thinking about HOW it got there. If we have a family, if we work, if we are involved in our communities, we barely have time to get our basic household chores done without reading every label, without investigating every thing that we purchase. For crying out loud, isn't that what the FDA or USDA is for? Don't they have standards?

We have allowed it to get away from us. Our food has been hijacked and we have allowed it because we have been told that the highest standards have been met, and that it is good for us and that it has been geared to bring the highest quality at a cheaper price. And we are so terribly terribly busy. We are trying to work, to spend time with our friends and family, to get exercise, to do volunteer work, to be involved with our churches and neighbors. Animals that cannot process corn are being fed corn because it is highly subsidized and it is cheap. The fact that they cannot process the corn means that they are more susceptible to disease so they are pumped full of antibiotics. With the overuse of antibiotics comes the inevitable creation of super resistant bacteria and bugs.

And then we get to the incubator of deadly viruses and illnesses that are cultivated in the breeding ground that is intensive confinement. Thousands of animals stacked on top of each other, so packed together they can't move, cattle standing in mountains of their own waste, in buildings with no access to clean air, water, or anything that is considered natural in their environment or behavior, dead animals , diseased animals in with the living. How is it possible to NOT have deadly diseases, horribly debilitating viruses and bacteria flourishing in these cesspools?

The thing is, you don't have to be vegan, you don't even have to be a vegetarian. All you have to be is aware. You have to be vocal. You have to demand that your food, the food you put in your body will not be tainted. You have to buy local. You have to find out which retailers are purchasing food from ethical sources, from ranchers that feed their animals food that can be processed by the animals. You have to use your wallet to determine what will be supplied. If you demand it, it will be supplied. Remember that guy that was going to sue Nabisco for the transfat in Oreos? How they mocked him and talked about frivolous lawsuits? That guy got the media to take notice of trans fat, and its inherent adverse toll on the human body AND change occurred. Now, trans fat is a thing of the past. It takes all of us deciding to cut back a bit and buy things that are better for us. Sure, the dollar menu is tempting and when you have no money, it is impossible to pass up. But at what cost? What we need is alternatives. We need to make it happen for ourselves. Grassroots movements can create co-ops where local growers, local ranchers, local farmers can collectively bring their goods to the public.

But what you can do right now is this:
BUY LOCAL.
BUY FROM FARMERS MARKETS
BUY SEASONAL.
BUY HUMANELY RAISED, APPROPRIATELY FED ANIMAL PRODUCTS
and watch FOOD INC.

Contact your representatives. Tell them that want better oversight of our food supply. Demand it.