Sunday, May 31, 2009

Why are environmentalists prosecuted under the Patriot Act, but religious murderers are ignored?

Why are environmental activists branded, prosecuted, and treated as terrorists under the Patriot act, but religious-zealot, anti-abortion murderers and terrorists are treated as just hot-headed idealogues with strong feelings?

The doctor who was just gunned down in Kansas was known to be in the sights of anti-abortion groups for years. Shut down the anti-abortion groups! If need be shut down their churches-- which are known hot beds of activism and hate.

If Pakistan is courageous enough to confront their madrasas and wipe out their splinter mosques, then Washington should be brave enough to shut down a coffee klatch or two. Root out murderous intolerant fundamentalism where ever its found. This is not passionate religious debate anymore-- this is terrorism!

Operation Rescue, a home-grown anti-abortion group, adopts tactics of Taliban

This just in, fanatical fundamentalist group attacks a person with whom they disagree at his place of worship-- a vile, cowardly, and religiously motivated act-- gunning down the doctor who ran a local Women's Health Center in cold blood.

This is the Taliban, only they speak English, and use the term "Jesus" rather than "Muhammed." One way or another, they're invoking the name of a bearded Middle-Eastern man who lived nearly two thousand years ago as they sow mayhem and death among the innocent. And promote intolerant, misogynist, anti-intellectual, and paternalistic policies they want adopted in society from top to bottom.

Is Kansas really the new battleground for two competing Middle Eastern mythologies? When will we finally outlaw religion? In Iran this week, the authorities were able to apprehend, try, convict, and execute by public hanging the perpetrators of a mosque bombing (basically the same crime) within 36 hours of the crime being committed. I wish the justice could be nearly as swift in this case. It's sad, just sad.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Conservatives bemoan return to "Identity Politics"

The conservatives are going nuts about Obama's new Supreme Court appointment. They're accusing the president of a return to "Identity Politics" (whatever that means), or "racial politics" and scolding and pointing and hyperventilating and generally complaining balefully to whoever will listen.

The thing that gets forgotten in all the coverage-- the thing the media seem reluctant to bring up or point out-- is that the President is exercising "democratic politics," and he's doing that because the voters have spoken and said that's what they want.

In the last two major national elections the conservatives and the Republicans were not just defeated, they were put to rout! The American electorate expressed their complete rejection of the right everywhere-- unseating entrenched veterans, and electing unabashedly liberal newcomers. By the time of the stock market collapse and the real estate implosion the fat cats were practically leaving town of their own accord. Having a Bush or Cheney stumping for a candidate was tantamount to political suicide.

The Republicans had been outed as a corrupt, venal, and altogether unappealing organization, with no clue how to deal with (or tools to work on) the very real problems facing the American people. All they knew how to do was stoke the status quo-- less financial regulation, and more oil drilling!

A week or two before Paulsen told Congress to cough up 900 billion dollars to Wall Street or else, John McCain was mouthing the words of his old friend Phil Gramm, and telling everyone there wasn't a financial crisis, it was just cry-babies. Bush lied to Congress about the war, Rumsfeld lied about torture, Cheney lied about everything while he holed up in the secret government bunker, hoping everyone else would blow up, so he could take over, and oh, also enriched his former company, Halliburton, with no-bid, cost plus contracts beyond the size of even capitalist fantasies. That's when Sarah Palin climbed out onto her roof to watch for the Russians, and the American people said, "whew, let's get out of here," and elected Obama and filled Congress with a Democratic majority in the House, and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

The voters said NO in 2006, and they said NO even louder in 2008. Now the Republicans are a shattered party, their members scattered and confused, snarling and snapping and fighting among themselves. Rush is attacking Colin, Arlen defects, and Steele throws up his hands.

So let's stop talking about (or listening to others complain about) how unfair it is for Obama to be exercising "identity politics," and let's call it what it is. Obama is doing what the American people asked loud and clear-- get rid of the failed conservative policies and their corrupt, cronyist, greed driven, fear-mongering supporters-- and get on with addressing the real problems that plague our society. We have a financial crisis, a health care crisis, a real estate crisis, an unemployment crisis, a shadowy, paranoid police state, and a huge budget crisis, as well as two wars in Asia and huge image and trust problems among our allies-- and these aren't the result of Obama's actions, he inherited them. But they've got to be fixed.

Who knows, given some luck and a little support, he might just make some progress.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

OK, I know I shouldn't listen but...

In this New York Daily News article, there's an implication that someone is actually reading Newt Gingrich's Twitters (d'oh, I think they're called tweets!). The article references the "holy trinity" of the GOP-- and names Newt, Ann Coulter (how does she get on TV?), and Rush (I AM the Republican Party) Limbaugh.

The basic fact of (holy) democracy is "majority rules" and if you can't get a majority (I wonder just how many people are subscribed to the Newt-Tweets), then you can't make the laws anymore, and in fact you don't count. And when you get to the point you can't even raise a caucus in your own party, then it's time to shut up and think about something else. And it's time for the media to admit the only reason anyone lets Ann Coulter onto TV is because she keeps bleachin' her hair blonde, and keeps the weight off. The second either of those things ends, she's gone-- bye, bye Anne! You're a fool.

So STFU already, "holy trinity." You lost! You're losers! The Republic will survive. None of the rest of you will, nor will the people who depend on you three for their thoughts and ideas. Get over it. Amen.

And the Supreme Court is going to FORCE your offspring to marry same-sex partners, and you're all going to have to emigrate to Europe (I believe France is having a bit of resurgence of xenophobia, but that might be over now) to find a job. And send Euros back to your families so they can eat. Take Carl Rove and Scooter with you. Bye bye.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Guantanamo: Using Cacophonous Debate to Hide the Real Issues

There's been a lot of debate in the news over the last couple of weeks about the future of the quasi-military prison at Guantanamo and the prisoners we're housing there. Cheney says the Dems are coddling them, the Dems want to close the place down, the American people are being pictured as cowering from the very thought of "Tear-ists" in their own backyards if they're brought here to the mainland, the democratic house wants to save money by closing the place down, and the republicans, joined by hawkish dems, have refused to allocate any money to close it down. All this yelling and posturing and chest swelling and name calling has managed to do one thing-- it's hidden the fact from the American people that, with the exception of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and one other wingnut whose name escapes me, they've got no one who poses any threat whatsoever to the USA, they've had zero convictions on any of the feckless hateful jerks they've tried, and there's every indication they won't ever be able to convict any of the rest of them, no matter which venue (civilian, military, hybrid) they attempt.

The small fry are just that-- turned in for the reward by their neighbors in Iraq and Afghanistan and various places across Eastern Europe-- and have already served more time than a real conviction of any crime they could be accused of would merit. Look at David Hicks from Australia, who plead guilty to something in exchange for being released back to Australia, where he was freed within months. OBL's driver got the same, though at first the military tribunal acquitted him-- a decision quickly overturned based on what I picture to be a sharp rebuke from the Cheney/Bush White House-- so that even when the guilty verdict came down, he had already served all his time and was free to go.

The basic outline of the situation is, we are holding almost no one of any importance, and at this point those prisoners are proving to be more of a problem to send away somewhere-- and the ones who are important have been tortured and abused and kidnapped and moved around in ways which will make it virtually impossible to convict them.

Cheney/Rumsfeld/Bush royally screwed up. They thought there was an international organization who plotted and carried out the terrorist attacks in the US, Britain, and Spain. For a description of that organization, watch any James Bond movie (or read a comic book) from the 60', 70's, and 80's- with names like S.M.I.R.C.H. and C.H.A.O.S. There wasn't-- there were only independent bands of psychotic men with nothing to lose, aligned only in their burning hatred of the West, and even that was mitigated by real political facts-- the European terrorists seemed to be galvanized by segregation, racism, and oppression, while OBL and the 9/11 band seemed to be more concerned with US influence in Saudi Arabia, the suicide bombers in Iraq are establishing power boundaries and settling scores, and the nut jobs in Pakistan are all over the place, and not just literally. Cheney thinks we're in some final war of good against evil (see above-referenced movies and comic books), and Constitutional niceties like due process and guaranteed human rights are just obstacles in the way of victory. Rumsfeld scrambled to find some legal interpretation to make Cheney's nightmare vision fly, and Bush just wanted to know where to sign the checks. Now, in a corner of the faraway island of Cuba, we've got a secret prison where the dirt who got swept up in Kabul and Baghdad are sitting in cells indefinitely, because everyone who knows anything about the situation knows they will never be convicted by any court of law, habeas corpus be damned.

So, when you hear the Republicans try and block the closing of Gitmo, don't be fooled into thinking it's a budget issue, or an attempt to protect US citizens from these dangerous, bearded demons from the East. They're trying to keep them out of the US civilian court system which will free them in a heartbeat. What's become all too clear, however (are you listening Mr. Cheney?), is the military courts are going to free them anyway. Kahlid Sheik Mohammed is doomed to live forever in some sort of limbo-- I doubt any US court would convict him with the torture-induced confessions (and his original kidnapping from Pakistan), and definitely no one is going to set him free. So be it, and I sincerely wish him the worst. Maybe, to spread the costs of his special imprisonment, we could set up some extra cells-- for Bush, Rumsfeld, and Cheney. That would at least shut Cheney up.

The rest should be handed a hundred bucks, a new pair of shoes, a bag lunch, and flown to some destination of their choosing. Their lives are already ruined, and living in any of the places where they might be welcomed-- the Mideast, South Asia, North Africa, Muslim Easterrn Europe-- is its own form of punishment.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Listening to Howard Zinn

I listened to an excellent interview with Howard Zinn on Democracy Now, the War and Peace Report radio show yesterday, and it brought me this insight: The only use for (and reason for the existence of) official history is to establish the legitimacy of the ownership of power and property. That's why after every major revolution, the history books are rewritten. That's also why we don't seem to learn from history-- because that's just not what it's for.

Now this may seem somewhat cynical, but I don't believe it is. It's more a call to be vigilant and skeptical (never bad advice), and it gives a context in which to analyze what the historians tell us. Every story about people can have half a dozen interpretations. When "history tells us" something, think about who benefits from that interpretation. I believe this can be enlightening.

Here's the interview-- it's slightly long, but it's worth the effort.

Highly managed non-news regarding marijuana shows up on CNN

A story showed up on CNN this morning about the potency of marijuana, with very little information or other indications of why it was published at all. In fact, except for the headline drawn from someone from the University of Mississippi who studies the stuff (marijuana potency surpasses 10 percent), and the conclusion, that pot is 3 times as potent as it was 30 years ago, there's little information at all. The reporter does quote a prominent doctor, however:
"The children I'm most worried about are children who are heavy users ... people who use it on a daily basis," said Dr. Lawrence Brain, a child psychiatrist in Maryland.

I believe major new marijuana policies are going to be forged over the next couple of years in Washington. Watch for more of this type of ersatz news/public relations/hype reportage in the future. There are some indications of where this could be heading-- note the way the article asserts that Mexican pot isn't as strong as the local stuff. Note that they're more concerned about children using than adults. Note that they invoked the image of hospital emergency rooms, without really explaining why-- are people being brought in ambulances because of smoking a doobie? And note that they've introduced a metric to measure potency-- 10%, or whatever. These are the things that will shape the coming debate.

And whatever you do, listen to Dr. Brain, our up-and-coming new pund-o-crat.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Book I Won't Buy in Hardcover

Sarah Palin has announced she'll publish a book!
There’s been so much written about and spoken about in the mainstream media and in the anonymous blogosphere world, that this will be a wonderful, refreshing chance for me to get to tell my story, that a lot of people have asked about, unfiltered
That's going to be a real page turner. Maybe it'll mark the point in time when all the pundits realize how completely moribund and beside-the-point the Republican party has become. And maybe this book will form the basis for those who say Sarah Palin is trailer trash a vlugar opportunist and a blow hard to finally prove their case.

There is no more Republican party-- there are just little clots of intestinal gas and foul moods scattered through the red states which can't even coalesce into a quorum for a fishing derby committee, to say nothing of the Congress of the United States. Sarah's sunk. Rush is sunk. Cheney is sunk. They can only yell at each other these days, because they're irrelevant and no one else is listening to them.

Bye bye, Sarah. Good luck with your book.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's time to change the Social Security number

I was at the DMV the other day, renewing my license. I was asked for my social security number, which I automatically wrote down without thinking about it. You see, the DMV in Maine has been forced to impose some tough new regulations about issuing drivers licenses because of the Department of Homeland Security. We're moving, as a society, closer to some universal ID card which will, it is envisioned, make us safer and more secure. Overall, this is probably a good move.

Well, it occurred to me this morning that system has, at its core, the Social Security number as one of the key identifiers. Supposedly without a SSN you can't work, you can't retire, you can't collect any government benefits, you can't identify yourself to banks and credit card companies, and you can't prove who you are. Nowadays, children get them before (or when) they're born. Everyone is supposed to have one, and if you don't, you're officially hosed.

There's a problem with the SSN, however, which no one seems to be talking about. The problem is it was devised in the 1930's, before there was a lot of computer processing of routine data, and when the work force in the US was much smaller. The problem with the SSN is it's not unique! Type out your SSN just using the digit 9, and add commas and you'll see the problem: 999,999,999. Notice-- there are only 9 digits in the SSN, which means the highest number it's possible to have is one short of a billion. Now when just counting workers, that's a very large number. When counting any population that's a large number (though not big enough to count everyone in China or India).

What we are trying to do with the SSN, however, is bigger than that. We want to assign a unique number to every individual in our society, which they will hold in perpetuity. If I die, I want the courts and banks to be able to pass on anything in my estate to my next of kin, and for that to happen, my SSN has to apply after I'm dead. If you count every American alive today, and add to that every American who has died in the last 80 years (since the Social Security Administration started) you'll see there just aren't enough numbers to identify everyone.

This has been a problem for years, and the way the Social Security Administration has dealt with it is to issue duplicate numbers, and identify the particular individual with another piece of information-- their place of birth. I have to assume that works for government programs, such that it identifies peoples' payments into the Social Security system, so they can be correlated with benefits paid out years later.

The problem is government is now trying to use the SSN as an ersatz universal ID number. But that's not really possible with a number that repeats. And this imperfect number is being used by banks, hospitals (and health care in general), insurance companies, credit agencies, and now the DMV and Homeland Security, to identify people. Add to that the risk of online (and offline) crooks using the SSN to steal your identity and use it to siphon off credit, and you've got a very imperfect system. It was designed in the 1930's to track financial transactions to one government agency. It's now used everywhere. We need a new number. The technology is there. We just need the political will.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Ghouls dig up bodies in Europe

I heard this on the BBC news this morning, and found it incredibly offensive:

Exhumation underway

They're digging up about 400 bodies of British and Australian soldiers that were killed in a battle in WWI and buried by the Germans after the cease-fire the Germans offered to allow the other side to gather their dead was rejected. Now they want to dig them all up and ID them with DNA testing, and then bury them individually with head stones and full military honors. They died in 1916.

Does anyone think this matters? What is it about militarism that makes people think this kind of ritual has any importance at all? Is it guilt on the part of the military? Could it be remorse on the part of the military establishment that sent 5,000 living, vital men to die in a storm of exploding steel, in 45 minutes, in one battle, to gain nothing? The men are dead. Their commanders are dead. The children and grandchildren of the men and the commanders are all dead. Nothing will bring them back, and nothing will reverse the wrong of their fathers' and sons' and brothers' dying. Quit it. Let them rest. This is a social ritual that should be ended. It promotes and reinforces all the wrong values. There is no glory in war, there is just burning, exploding steel that smashes bodies and randomly erases dreams. There is no respect or honor among the corpses. And, in that war, there was no honor at the top either. Vile and craven old men on all sides, driven to actions motivated by values from the previous century sent hundreds of thousands to certain death in a newly mechanized war. This ritual can only honor the military establishment that brought about the insane and idiotic war in the first place. End it. It's over. It's an embarrassment and an indictment.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Three Issues seem important

The Big Screen Kindle Hail Mary to Newspapers...

This could be a key to the economic problem, because you see at issue is how to design and sell electronic products to consumers, but the real issue is how to control the price by selling subscriptions with the item. It seems as if the most important and innovative new products can't really be sold on their merits, and need to be subsidized by sales of other, possibly unrelated products. So this electronic book reader-- a good idea, though expensive-- can't really succeed as a product without a price subsidy, and that will come in the form of newspaper subscriptions sold in advance with the item. Like the cell phone that works (stays inexpensive) because the phone companies underwrite them. With a three year contract, you get a free phone. My preference is for a product that will work (meaning sell) without the frou-frou and card tricks. And in fact, I believe without that-- without a product that is appealing and economical on its own merits-- then the economy will continue to be a big, ugly, over-leveraged mess. And we all know any profits from manufacturing the "gear" (the actual kindle, or cell phone, or camera, or whatever other doo-dad we might be selling-- is all going to Asian manufacturers anyway. It's not a rosy picture.

Red Sox Can't Avoid Harmful Rays...

Someone should put together a chart comparing wins vs. days off for professional baseball teams. The Red Sox have been on a 17 day work schedule, 18 games in 17 days, and they're going to New York to play the Yankees starting tonight. They won the first eleven games (including sweeping the Yanks), but they have lost six of the last seven. Jeezus, Red Sox organization... why not consider giving the guys a day off? It's hard to play well without enthusiasm, and I haven't seen much enthusiasm in our team since they went to Cleveland. It's fine to analyze the pitching and the fielding and the other teams' stats, but in point of fact it appears our team is basically functioning as slave labor to those who are making money filling stadiums. When Dustin Pedroia can barely leave the field in a shambling trot, you know you've burnt out all the fire from the boys. And it's fire that wins games. Curb your greed, already. It's hurting everyone.

And last but not least, in the "learning to live in lean times" department, I have recently cut way back on smoking. I'm down to 5 or 6 cigarettes a day, and the advantages are many. But one thing I noticed recently is I often go out in the morning with only a few cigarettes. Now interestingly, it used to be de rigeur for me to check before I went out to make sure I had enough, and would slip another pack into my pocket if it wasn't absolutely clear the last pack had enough. Now I look, see there are 5 cigs, and realize that's more than enough for the day, even though it feels like too few. The patterns that have to change in order to finally quit are more than just the simple and obvious personal habits-- what to do with the hands, how to satisfy the need for oral stimulation-- and involve as well the ways I have learned to take care of myself. It's challenging. And doable!