Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Catfood Commission Relisted...

That Deficit Commission will be voting this week so let’s review who those 18 members are who will be recommending ways to reduce our national debt.  We certainly know the co-chairs, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson.  Bowles was supposed to be representing the Democratic point of view and Simpson, of course, the Republican.
Here is the group: [Here]
1. Erskine Bowles: Co-Chair  (Democrat)

2. Alan Simpson:    Co-Chair  (Republican)
Members appointed by President Obama:
3. David Cote: a Republican.  Honeywell, International Chairman and CEO.  Supposedly brings a business viewpoint to Obama’s appointees.
4. Alice Rivlin: ex-Fed. Reserve vice chair.  Director, Office of Management and Budget under Clinton.  Senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.
5. Ann Fudge: was Ch. of Young and Rubicam.  
6. Andrew Stern: Pres. SEIU (union head)
Members named by Majority Leader Harry Reid:
7.  Senator Richard Durban: liberal Democrat.  Illinois.  Majority Whip

8. Senator Kent Conrad: conservative Democrat.  N. Dak.  Senate Budget Com. Ch.
9. Senator Max Baucus: conservative Democrat.  Montana. Senate Finance Com. Ch.
Members named by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
10. Senator Judd Gregg: conservative Republican. New Hampshire.   Budget Com.

11. Senator Tom Coburn: conservative Republican, Oklahoma. 

12. Senator Mike Crapo: conservative Republican, Idaho.  Banking Com.
                                                                                                                                                                
Members named by Speaker Nancy Pelosi
13. Representative John Spratt: moderate Democrat, S. Car., ch. House Budget Com.
14. Representative Xavier Becerra: liberal Democrat, Cal., vice-ch. House Democratic Caucus
15. Representative Jan Schakowsky: liberal Democrat, Ill., member Energy and Commerce Com.
Members named by Republican House Leader John Boehner

16. Representative Paul Ryan: conservative Republican, Wisc., ranking member of Budget Com.

17. Representative Jeb Hensarling, conservative Republican, Texas, member Budget Com.  

18. Representative Dave Camp, conservative Republican, House Ways and Means Com.    
And there you have it. 
The Commission was scheduled to hold a public meeting on Tuesday, November 30th, prior to the release of its final recommendations.  However, the meeting was suddenly cancelled.  According to a report sent around by Truthout, [Here] Bowles and Simpson have been distributing to some selected members a tweaked version of the set of recommendations that they made public some weeks ago.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky reported that as of early Tuesday morning she had not seen the latest proposals, although she has been an active member of the commission.  Schakowsky has already made a series of proposals which would reduce the deficit by cutting deeply into the military budget, but would leave Social Security and other “social needs” programs untouched.
Schakowsky, often called the most liberal member of the House, said that she believed Bowles and Simpson are aiming now to have a total of 10 members agree to their proposals, instead of the mandated “super majority” of 14 which was the original target.  According to the original plan, if the Commission met the original goal of 14, the proposals would go directly to Congress for an immediate “up or down” vote.  It now looks as if that will not be happening.
As you probably also know, today is National Call Congress Day, a progressive drive to urge citizens to call their Congressional Representatives to vote to preserve Social Security.   All of this is important background noise for the commissioners to hear as they make their decisions about how to vote on the final recommendations.
I just went through the list of commissioners and I bet I can guess who the 10 members are who agree with Bowles and Simpson and who do not.
Join me.  It's a fine guessing game... 

Monday, November 29, 2010

What deficit???

Reading or hearing the latest news headline is quite an interesting experience these days, isn’t it?  (I almost wrote “shocking experience” but that would take us to a whole different level, wouldn’t it?  It you don’t know my reference, please go [Here])
As we are bombarded by specific squeaky leaks, courtesy of the msm via Wikileaks, we had best also prepare ourselves for the expected vote and report from the so-called Catfood Commission that is scheduled to report in this week.  We hear that the two chairs and their aides are scrambling to get a consensus from the 2o-member group.  And even if they do get a super majority, the package will have to get Congressional approval and an Obama signature.  
The larger question, of course, is why are we focused on the national deficit while we are in the midst of an economic recession with millions of our citizens unemployed and desperate.   AlterNet has an interesting essay by senior editor, Joshua Holland, titled “Why the Deficit Is Simply Not an Economic Problem Now, or in Future Decades.” [Here]  
Holland claims--and we should all pay attention--that the rightwing has framed the issue for us and we’ve swallowed it all, hook, line and sinker.  Here is part of his essay:
If you can frame the terms of a debate, you’ve gone a long way toward winning it, and the deficit hawks have been wildly successful in portraying our budget gap as a structural economic problem, driven by rising “entitlement” costs, that will get worse if unaddressed. The narrative has been echoed across the media -- NPR called the budget gap a “great problem,” the Washington Post reported on ”the gravity of the country's deficit problems,” and in Pete Peterson’s Fiscal Times, Henry Aaron falsely claimed that “all responsible budget analysts agree that the United States faces a daunting deficit problem” (emphasis mine).
These claims echo an ideologically driven framing of the issue -- one that assumes we spend too much and must cut back on the size of government, whether we would otherwise opt to do so or not. The solution, we are told again and again, is some “painful” combination of spending cuts and tax hikes...
Holland concludes that this whole discussion is a rightwing ideological scam which the msm has fallen for.  Unfortunately, so has our President.
The liberal economist Dean Baker agrees with Holland and sums it all up for us in Truthout: [Here]
So, when you read a Washington Post editorial demanding action on the deficit, just remember that you are reading recommendations on the economy by a group that could not see that house prices were 70 percent above their long-term trend. When you hear NPR present one-sided stories telling listeners about the urgent need to cut Social Security and Medicare, you are getting news from people who didn’t bother to report on an $8 trillion housing bubble whose collapse was imminent. All those knowledgeable columnists who tell the public that there is no alternative to cuts in these popular programs failed to see the 200-pound tumor sitting on the economy’s heart back in 2007."
Thank you for the education, Joshua Holland and Dean Baker.  
Hold your hats, folks.  We are in for a bumpy ride...  

Sunday, November 28, 2010

All the News That’s Fit To Print...

As you no doubt know, Wikileaks has released 250,000 classified documents and will post them on their website.  The U.S. State Department is fighting a last ditch effort to prevent their release, claiming national security is at stake.  According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the State Department is claiming that information in the documents “could endanger human rights activists globally, U.S. counterterrorism operations and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” [Here]  
The newspapers which have been given special access to the documents by the Wikileak staff are: The Guardian, The New York Times, and Der Spiegel.  By Sunday evening lines from the secret cables were flowing across the websites of these papers and other news sources had begun picking up the stories. 
In coming days we’ll read and hear more of the substance of these leaked cables.  I’ve started to read some of the stories and I found myself utterly captivated because somehow the raw information from the cables make the events and world leaders more accessible and more human.  For example, the descriptions that I've read of Muammar al-Gaddafi are riveting--his blonde Ukrainian nurse who is a necessary companion in his travels, his fear of flying over water, his insistence that during any of his foreign travels he have a large enough interior space to erect his bedouin tent and so on.
I urge that you poke around the documents while they are still available to us.  [Here]
The NYTimes has written an explanation of why the paper has made many of the cables available to its readers.  [Here]
The Times believes that the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match.
The documents — some 250,000 individual cables, the daily traffic between the State Department and more than 270 American diplomatic outposts around the world — were made available to The Times by a source who insisted on anonymity. They were originally obtained by WikiLeaks, an organization devoted to exposing official secrets, allegedly from a disenchanted, low-level Army intelligence analyst who exploited a security loophole. Beginning Sunday, WikiLeaks intends to publish this archive on its Web site in stages, with each batch of documents related to a particular country or topic. Except for the timing of publication, the material was provided without conditions. Each news organization decided independently what to write about the cables.
The Times edited what it believed was sensitive material and shared their redactions with the Obama administration.  More redactions were suggested by the WH, some of which the paper accepted.  The paper then shared those redactions with other news organizations.  And there the situation stands.
In the coming days we shall hear and read more details about these classified cables.  And in reading them, we shall become more informed about the quality of the diplomacy and the leaders who are directing the events which mold our lives.  We thank the leaker, a young man (perhaps pfc. Bradley Manning) who believes that all Americans have a right to know what their government is doing.
  
We must also congratulate the NYTimes for having the courage to publish these cables and we applaud the paper's declaration of conscience: [Here]
“As daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name.”
Amen.  Amen.  Amen...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sarah Palin’s Future...

It’s been some time since we’ve written about Sarah Palin and we should get caught up.  Every time we think that we can forget about Sarah and her gang, they pop up again, often adding yet another face for us to look at.  Recently, for instance, we began seeing pictures of Sarah’s oldest child, Track.  (Wherever did she get the idea of all those  “T” names--Track, Trig, Tripp?)
My, she’s been a busy woman.  Just months after the McCain/Palin ticket had lost the 2008 election, she announced that she was resigning her governorship of Alaska, claiming that defending frivolous law suits, instigated by Democrats, had made it impossible for her to govern effectively, but promising not to disappear from public view.
And she certainly has kept her promise.   A few months later--just one year after the Presidential election--her best-selling book, Going Rogue: An American Life was published.  Two million copies were sold and a very successful, nation-wide book tour kept her face and name before the public.  In January 2010 she signed a multi-year contract with Fox news as a political commentator, further assuring us that her opinions and face would not disappear from public view.
The romantic ins and outs of eldest daughter Bristol and boy friend Levi Johnston provided even more publicity to the never-ending Palin saga.  That disappeared but Bristol popped up as a contestant on the popular Dancing With The Stars.  Bristol has recently finished in third place but the whole very dull process provided the family with even more publicity in the last few months.  Meanwhile, before we can blink, Sarah’s television career continues with a series on TLC about Alaska, titled---you guessed it--- “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.”  
Recently, Palin’s second book, America By Heart, has just been published and we can expect more media attention about it.
We have not even discussed her leaping to a de facto leadership position with the Tea Party Movement and all that pseudo-feminism with the Mama Grizzlies.  During the recent midterm elections, much was made about Palin’s Tea Party endorsements but, looking back, the impact was primarily within the GOP in the primary selection process, rather than in the general election.  Palin’s endorsement of Christine McDonnell and McDonnell’s subsequent defeat by Democrat Chris Coons in the general election is a case in point.  The Palin-endorsed Sharon Angle and Angle's defeat to Harry Reid in Nevada is another example.  More telling of all, perhaps, was Palin’s endorsement of Joe Miller in Alaska’s GOP primary over Lisa Murkowski.  At this writing, it appears that Murkowski pulled off a write-in victory over Miller who is still kicking and screaming about each Murkowski vote.
Looking back, we must concede that she’s come a long way, baby, since we down here in the lower 48 have first heard about her.  We must concede that Palin’s story is a remarkable one of a person with little political knowledge but with a hefty ego and an even heftier ambition. 
After the Alaskan reality shows have ended (we hear that the ratings of the latest segments have dropped significantly) and the personal disclaimer books have been written, (how many ghost written books about Sarah’s life views can Americans digest?) and Fox News and Rupert Murdock are no longer charmed (how many winks can the old man stand?), what is next for Ms. Palin?
Robert Reich, the political commentator and author, has an interesting take on Palin’s future in an essay titled, “Sarah Palin’s Presidential Strategy.”  [Here] Reich believes that Palin has her eyes on the presidency in 2012 or 2016 or, even, 2020 and that her strategy is to run as an outsider, not an insider, as all the other Republican hopefuls --Huckabee, Pawlenty, Gingritch, Romney--are doing.  
Reich, furthermore, believes that she has her eyes on white, working class Americans who will still be in the economic doldrums for the next couple of Presidential elections.  Reich believes that America’s recession will mimic what Japan experienced, viz. a recession with a long, very slow recovery.  
He points out that:
Joblessness among the white working class is far higher than the 9.6 percent average for the nation. While the unemployment rate among college grads...is around 5 percent, the average unemployment rate for people with only a high school degree or less (blue-collar, pink-collar, clerical) is almost 20 percent.
All of this is spawning a new and more virulent politics of anger in the nation's white working class, stoked by Republicans - anger against immigrants, blacks, gays, intellectuals, and international bankers (consider the latest Fox News salvos against George Soros).
...The Palin Strategy is to circumvent the Republican establishment, filled as it is with career Republicans, business executives, and Wall Streeters. That's why her path to the Republican nomination isn't the usual insider game. It's a celebrity game - a snark-fest with the nation's entire white working class.
Reich paints a bleak picture for those of us who believe in the essential tenets of democratic government with a sane, literate and clear-headed electorate, regardless of economic condition.  He leaves us with this:
We might change... [this picture]. But at this point that doesn't seem in the cards. The President seems unable or unwilling to provide the clear narrative that explains what's happened and what needs to be done, and Republicans are at this moment ascendant.
It all fits into Sarah Palin's strategy.
Reich’s analysis is interesting and scary, but my money is still on the American voter and the American worker. 

What say you?....


Friday, November 26, 2010

Some November Odds and Ends...

It’s time for some odds and ends.  Here are some important items that might have passed us by without notice as we enjoyed this Thanksgiving holiday week-end. 

I’m going to begin with an Op-ed piece by the excellent NYTimes columnist Roger Cohen, titled “The Real Threat to America.” [Here]  Cohen starts with:
The full-body scanners and intrusive pat-downs that are fast becoming the norm at U.S. airports — just in time for Thanksgiving! — do at least provide the answer to what should be done with Osama bin Laden if he’s ever captured: Rotate him in perpetuity through this security hell, “groin checks” and all.
Cohen goes on to say that he does not doubt the due diligence and patriotism of the TSA agents, but he does mention the paid-lobbying activity that Michael Chertoff has done to get those machines operational and in our face.  Cohen reminds us that:
When a government has a right to invade the bodies of its citizens, security has trumped freedom.
...America is a nation of openness, boldness and risk-taking.  Close this nation, cow it, constrict it and you unravel its magic.
Roger Cohen then also reminds us of our Fourth Amendment.  (I wonder how many of us have read it lately.  Please read it slowly and carefully.)
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. 
Cohen ends his column with a reminder of what Ben Franklin was quoted as saying after the Constitutional Convention, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”  

Cohen then ends with this exhortation:
To keep it, push back against enhanced patting, Chertoff’s naked-screening and the sinister drumbeat of fear.
Yes, indeed.  And I wonder if one fought back against this invasion of fundamental rights, as the ACLU is doing, and took one’s grievance to the Supreme Court, how that high court, as presently constituted, would decide...
Next item: It seems that a deal has been reached between the State education commissioner David Steiner and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg over the mayoral appointment of Cathleen Black to be NYC’s school chancellor.  [Here]  The deal between the mayor and the state’s commissioner involves the appointment of Shael Polakow-Suransky as a deputy under Chancellor Black.  He will be responsible for performance and accountability.

Are all the sides happy?  We don’t know.  They certainly should be.  It appears that New York City’s school system will be stronger with the addition of the new deputy chancellor who has extensive and recent hands-on teaching and administrative experience in the NY school system.  From what we gather, the two new appointees have been in close discussions about how they would interface.  We are also told that Mr. Polakow-Suransky has been Black’s recent choice as deputy.
It sounds that, on the face of it, the issue has been resolved intelligently, although we would nevertheless be happier if Black knew something about public education and had a passion for it.  Certainly with the push for charter schools and privatization in the air, we would all breath more easily if we knew--really knew--New York City’s children had a devoted advocate in their corner.
The last item was in a NYTimes editorial about the NRA.  (Isn’t it splendid that there is still one important group that will face down the NRA!!)  It seems that the NRA has launched two lawsuits in Texas to force the state to allow 18-20 year olds to be able to buy handguns and carry them, concealed if they wished, into public places.  [Here]  
As the Times points out, the 18-20 age group represents only 5 per cent of the population but 20 per cent of the national manslaughter and homicide arrests.  And that high statistic occurs without the present legal right of those young people to carry guns.  Can you imagine if they could not only buy hand guns but carry them around, concealed in their pockets?
Yesterday we wrote about tasering in Oklahoma and now we add this worry about pistol-packing 18-20-year olds in Texas.  In view of the airport pat-downs and scanners, it seems to me prudent to stay home for a while and play with the dog.  
It's safer and certainly more fun...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Taser Justice...

I stumbled over the following incident today.  There should have been an angry national outcry at the bullying police tactics that were involved, but there hasn’t been.  I only came across this story by accident while visiting Digby at Hullabaloo. [Here
...[In] the 911 call made by grandson Lonnie Tinsley, he said that he was unsure what medication his grandmother had taken and that he feared she 'wanted to end her life.' He requested that an emergency medical technician come to her apartment to evaluate her.
Yet according the lawsui that was filed in an Oklahoma federal court, it was not the paramedics or an ambulance that responded. Instead, 'as many as 10 El Reno police' arrived and 'pushed their way through the door.'  The grandmother, Lona Varner, who was lying in bed hooked up to an oxygen machine, responded by telling police to get out of her home.
Police admitted tasering the suicidal 86-yr-old woman in her hospital-type bed to incapacitate her after she told the police to get out. According to The Oklahoman, Officer Duran wrote in a police report that Lona Varner pulled a kitchen knife from under her pillow and threatened to kill him.  The officer added she raised the knife above her head and said, 'If you come any closer, you’re getting the knife.'  The cop allegedly tried talking to her to calm her down but 'nothing would work.' 
Leaving the room must not have occurred to the ten cops since the lawsuit states, 'The police then proceeded to approach Ms. Varner in her bed and stepped on her oxygen hose until she began to suffer oxygen deprivation.'
Because the bedridden grandmother sat up a bit straighter, Officer Duran stated that she 'took a more aggressive posture in her bed,' and that he was fearful for his safety and the safety of others.
Tinsley said, 'Don’t taze my Granny!' But the cops said they would taser him instead.  Tinsley was wrestled to the floor, handcuffed and forcibly removed from his grandmother’s apartment to wait in the back of a police car. 
The lawsuit states that officers fired tasers at the bedridden woman, hitting her twice, 'causing burns to her chest, extreme pain and to pass out.  The police then grabbed Ms. Varner by her forearms and jerked hands together, causing her soft flesh to tear and bleed on her bed; they then handcuffed' and arrested her. 
That’s when the cops freed the grandson from the back of police car to ride in the ambulance with his granny.  She went from the emergency room to a psychiatric ward 'at the direction of the El Reno police; she was held there for six days and released.
Wow!  Life is certainly dangerous down there in Oklahoma, particularly if you are a bedridden, 86-year old woman.  At least they didn’t give her a full-body pat down and shove her through a scanner, but then again, maybe they did that when they got her to the emergency room.

I wonder what they do to you down there, if you reach 90...



Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cat Food Commission Reactions...

Huff Post ran a story this week by blogger Dave Johnson, titled “The Shock Doctrine Push to Gut Social Security and Middle Class .” [Here]  Johnson is a fellow of the progressive Campaign For America’s Future, [Here], a 501(C)(4) organization which is concerned with issues such as the environment and the preservation of Social Security and Medicare.
It’s good to see Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine title being used to describe the current campaign to privatize and dismantle the Social Security system as we now know it.  We have written about the book before.  It is important that the destructive neoliberal, Friedmanism theory gets as much exposure as we can manage.  Briefly, the neoliberals have realized that when people are still in shock from an unexpected violent attack (as the 9/11 attack), the time is ripe to do something that would be opposed in a calmer moment, e.g. invade Iraq.  Natural disasters can present the same opportunity to neoliberals.  For example, after Hurricane Katrina while the people were scattered all over the country, the privatization of hospitals and all schools in New Orleans was accomplished.  
Author Dave Johnson has pointed out that the current severe recession has presented the neoliberals with a perfect environment to enact more of their agenda: cut taxes; reduce the size of government; deregulate and privatize, privatize, privatize.  Obama’s Debt Commission has opened the doors for a full frontal attack on their bete noire, Social Security.  Unfortunately, the President chose for his co-chairs two men who have not been defenders of the Social Security system.  In fact, the Republican co-chair Alan Simpson has been a poster boy for the dismantling of the system, likening the system to a “milk cow with 310 million tits.”   Unfortunately, his fellow chair, Erskine Bowles, is not a staunch defender of the system, either.  (What was Obama thinking?)
In his article Dave Johnson points to a Washington Post piece [Here] and calls it “punch two” after the Bowles/Simpson surprise early report which he calls “punch one.”  The Post article smells of billionaire Pete Peterson’s fine hand and we must always view WaPo’s positions on Social Security as filtered through Peterson’s passionate enmity. 
Johnson gives us a rundown of recent polls that proves, in Johnson’s words, that “the public hates this.”
A recent Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research report showed that an overwhelming 69% of voters agreed that "politicians should keep their hands off Social Security and Medicare" when they address the deficit. The public hates this.
Only 6% of the public  says the government's priority should be deficits now. The public hates this.
An AARP poll finds that 90% of people aged 18 to 29 say Social Security is important. The public hates this.
An NBC/WSH poll finds that 57% are against cutting Social Security no matter how bad the deficit is. The public hates this.
A USA Today poll finds that the public by 66/31 says don't cut benefits to fix the deficit. The public hates this.
I can continue citing poll after poll; there are no polls that show the public is in any way behind this.”

Johnson has announced a grassroots action which will happen on the last day of November, a National Call Congress Day and a petition that one can sign expressing support for Social Security and a call to strengthen it.  If you are interested, click [Here].

We should thank Dave Johnson for using Naomi Klein’s language and for giving us the opportunity to join with other voices to call for preservation of the nation’s most important safety net. 
By the way, did you note that American corporate profits were sky-high?  This is from the NYTimes on Tuesday, November 23rd, “Corporate Profits Were The Highest On Record Last Quarter” by Catherine Rampell. [Here]
The nation’s workers may be struggling, but American companies just had their best quarter ever.
American businesses earned profits at an annual rate of $1.659 trillion in the third quarter, according to a Commerce Department report released Tuesday.  That is the highest figure recorded since the government began keeping track over 60 years ago, at least in nominal or noninflation-adjusted terms.
It is very hard for me to fathom why these neoliberals who are currently enjoying unprecedented corporate wealth and a recovering stock market would be so hell-bent on gutting Social Security.  (Maybe they have stock in cat food companies.)   
I repeat: what was Obama thinking???

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Come fly with Whom...???

We must share with you Jane Hamsher’s take on the TSA scanners, which, by the way, she calls “TSA Porno Screeners.”  [Here]  If you do not know of her, Jame Hamsher is one of the leading progressive bloggers in this country and is the founder of FireDogLake, the collaborative and very influential progressive blog.  The full title of her November 22nd blog was TSA Porno Screeners: Giant Boondoggle.” 
Hamsher quotes Elizabeth Fuller’s reporting in the Christian Science Monitor and the picture is not pleasant:  [Here
The TSA received more stimulus funding than any other single agency, company, or organization: $1 billion for aviation security. Most of that money was allocated to screening checked baggage. But $266 million went toward improving checkpoints by acquiring five types of screening equipment: chemical analyzers; explosives detectors; bottled-liquid scanners (which should allow passengers to carry water and shampoo through security checkpoints); enhanced X-ray scanners for carry-on bags; and the AIT scanners.
The first 4 types of screening devices are not yet operational, but the AIT scanners certainly are, with the help of the injection of even more stimulus money this year.   There are 385 AIT machines in operation now and an additional 100 more are scheduled to be ready in December. 
How effective are these machines?  Hamsher has reported that, as of April 2010, the General Accounting Office reported that it is unclear whether the AIT scanner would have detected the device that the so-called underwear bomber used in December, 2009. Nevertheless, the TSA is pouring money into the scanner program.
I might add that the TSA is also pitting its own reputation into backing the controversial airport security program that it has devised--the AIT scanner, aided and abetted with the infamous, “don’t touch my junk” pat-downs.  And now there is a new wrinkle.  If you get to the airport and suddenly decide that both the AIT scanner and the pat-down are not for you and you turn around and go home, you might be searched out, questioned and socked with an $11,000. fine. [Here]  (Nice, eh?)
As Matthew Harwood of Truthout wrote: [Here]
In Congressional testimony last week, TSA Administrator John Pistole stood firm. He said air travelers will either submit to a full body scan or an enhanced pat down or they will not fly.  Pistole pleaded for public cooperation, telling senators that the TSA and other federal agencies and national laboratories are working diligently to deploy next-generation screening technologies to eliminate fliers' privacy concerns.
On Wednesday, November 24th, there has been a grassroots call for a national day of disobedience, called National Opt-Out Day.  We have yet to know what will happen but it will be interesting.  I am not planning to go anywhere but I’ll be eager to hear what happens.  My heart and sympathy will certainly be with those who protest.    
How much more will it take for national leaders to have some common sense or, at least, listen to others who do?
Is this TSA scenario more Shock and Awe?  More tomorrow... 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Some Random Thoughts...

I have a few random thoughts today and they are quite random.  
Let’s start with Nobel Laureate and NYTimes columnist Paul Krugman who has an interesting blog, “FDR, Reagan and Obama,” that shouldn’t be ignored.  Here is part of Krugman’s statement, but you should read the entire post. [Here] [The underlining is mine.]
Some readers may recall that back during the Democratic primary Barack Obama shocked many progressives by praising Ronald Reagan as someone who brought America a 'sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.'  I was among those who found this deeply troubling--because the idea that Reagan brought a transfomation in American dynamism is a right-wing myth, not borne out by the facts....
...And here’s this... [from Obama].  'We didn’t actually, I think, do what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did, which was basically wait for six months until the thing had gotten so bad that it became an easier sell politically because we thought that was irresponsible. We had to act quickly.'
This is a right-wing smear. What actually happened was that during the interregnum between the 1932 election and the 1933 inauguration — which was much longer then, because the inauguration didn’t take place until March — Herbert Hoover tried to rope FDR into maintaining his policies, including rigid adherence to the gold standard and fiscal austerity. FDR declined to be part of this.
But Obama buys the right-wing smear.
More and more, it’s becoming clear that progressives who had their hearts set on Obama were engaged in a huge act of self-delusion. Once you got past the soaring rhetoric you noticed, if you actually paid attention to what he said, that he largely accepted the conservative storyline, a view of the world, including a mythological history, that bears little resemblance to the facts.
And confronted with a situation utterly at odds with that storyline … he stayed with the myth.
I am thrilled that Krugman is being more confrontational.  I wonder if anyone in the Obama WH will pay attention?
I have one more random thought and this one concerns Hillary and her natural leadership abilities.
I’m referring to two of her reactions quoted over this past week-end.
The first echoed what we all feel about the TSA and their new airport security procedures.  When asked on Face The Nation if she would wish to submit to the pat downs, she answered bluntly: [Here]
Not if I could avoid it.  I mean, who would?
Bingo!  She then went on to say the usual soothing things about the TSA working to improve the process, but what will be quoted is her first, down-to-earth, common sense statement that everyone with good sense and a brain would agree with.  
The second reaction occurred on Sunday during a Chris Matthews interview on Fox.  When asked about the recent conviction of Ahmed Ghailani, Hillary replied that the “vast majority” of American detainees should get civilian trials and went on to prove it in her clear-headed, no-nonsense prose.  [Here]
Yes, indeed, ain’t she grand.  
Thank you, Paul and Hillary.
Aren't we most fortunate to have them part of our national discourse?

Fortunate, indeed...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Are we like sheep?...

I know that it’s easy for me to sit in my cozy house in the woods with no plans to fly anywhere in the foreseeable future and make comments about the heightened TSA security system but what I’m reading makes my blood boil.  It isn’t just the invasion of privacy that is disturbing, but it is the fact that Big Government and Big Authority And Big Media and Those-in-the-know are telling Americans to be quiet, stand in line (shoeless) and offer themselves up without complaint or argument because it’s for our own good.  
Perhaps it is but the introduction of new scanning machines in airports has been handled most poorly.  I think that the NYTimes called the situation correctly on Friday in an editorial: [Here]
Americans understand the need for security screenings at airports and are remarkably patient.  So there is no excuse for the bumbling, arrogant way the Transportation Security Administration has handled questions and complaints about its new body-scanning machines and more aggressive pat-downs.
...[C]ivil liberties groups have collected more than 400 complaints since the new pat-downs began three weeks ago. That is a minuscule number compared with all the people who flew. But there are far too many reports of T.S.A. agents groping passengers, using male agents to search female passengers, mocking passengers and disdaining complaints.
Lawsuits have been filed asserting that new, more powerful body-scanning machines violate the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches. In general, it seems to us that the scanners are not unconstitutional, but the lawsuits are a healthy process that will require the government to prove that the scanners are reliable and more effective than other devices.
The poster boy for the anti-TSA sentiment is a 31 year-old software engineer named John Tyner who was flying out of San Diego with his father-in-law to go on a hunting trip.  He refused to go through the xray machines and was going to be patted down.  Tyner is the young man who did not want his “junk” touched, the statement that the msm has made much of.  Actually, Tyner firmly held his ground, but more supervisors were brought in and the situation unnecessarily escalated.    
According to Tyner’s own account, he had read about possible radiation danger from the machines beforehand.  He then had carefully checked the TSA’s website which said that the machines had not yet been deployed in the San Diego airport and made his plans accordingly.  Unfortunately for Tyner, the website was out of date and, as we all now know, San Diego did indeed have the new machines.
What will now happen to Tyner, I do not know.  He has been threatened with a sizeable fine, but whether the feds will see this through, I do not know.  Tyner should be a poster man for the ACLU.  Whether or not one agrees with the TSA and the current time-consuming security system that they have devised, it is clear that Mr. Tyner is clear-headed and intelligent and a man of conviction.  Standing up for one’s rights is not easy.    
Furthermore, he should not have been messed with.  Once again, we wish that the msm had handled the incident with more intelligence and sympathy.  I guess when they heard that Mr. Tyner had referred to his genitalia as “junk,” they went snickering off the deep end.  Tyner deserved better and so does the privacy issue that he had the courage to face head on. 
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the week ahead when Americans experience the heaviest travel week-end of the year.  I wonder how many grannies and children will be patted down and how many will take it silently.  The President said today that the procedures were “inconvenient, but necessary.” [Here]   
I wonder if that is all that he would say after he watched Sasha and Malia being subjected to a full-body pat-down or would he have allowed them to be x-rayed? 
Sheep, Mr. President?...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Two Different American Women...

On Friday there were two stories in two different “national” newspapers that describe two women’s lives and, read side by side, form a very disturbing picture of contemporary American life, showing large underlying problems.  The first story was in the NYTimes and concerned Cathleen Black, Mayor Bloomberg’s surprise nomination to become New York City’s School Chancellor. [Here]  The second piece was in the Washington Post [Here] and detailed the life of one woman, Chrissanda Walker, a single parent in Fort Myers, Florida, who has been forced into poverty from a comfortable middle class life because she lost her well-paying job as an executive in a nursing home a year and a half ago for no credible reason.  
Cathleen Black is a media executive with absolutely no professional or personal experience with the city’s public school system or any public school, for that matter.  She has no personal understanding of what it is like to teach a class of 25 hungry, wiggling second graders or what it is like even to be one of those hungry, wiggling second graders.  The Times gives us an account of her phoning and contracting the power players in the city--ex-mayors, City Council members, politicos of all stripes--who might have clout and press access.  I guess this is how things get done today in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York.  It’s a heartless, technocratic view of the world and it makes my blood run cold.
We are left to wonder what her opinion is about charter schools and indirectly whether she would fight to maintain public education against those corporationists who wish to replace public schools with privatized, chartered schools.  She obviously approves of charter schools because this summer she joined  an advisory board of the Harlem Village Academies, a cluster of 2 middle and one high school that has earned a national reputation for student achievement.  [Here]

Beyond that issue, we also do not know her opinion about a long list of other critically important issues, such as holding teachers accountable for the test results of their students or the centrality of standardized testing itself. 
While we attempt to find out the answers to some of these questions, the NYTimes has treated us to a blizzard of information about Cathleen Black’s professional and private life, her achievements in the magazine business, her luxury apartment, and even pictures of her summer homes.  [Here]  
In contrast to Cathleen Black’s soaring success story, the Washington Post’s article “One family’s plunge from middle class into poverty” presents us with an opposite reality that too many Americans are facing now across the country.  [Here]  Chrissanda Walker of Fort Myers, Florida was fired from her job as a well-paid ($100,000 per year) nursing home executive over a year and a half ago.  Since then, she has been unable to find a job although she has been constantly searching and applying for work.  She and her daughter, a high schooler, have been living on about $11,000 a year from her unemployment payments and selling her home-cooked meals for $10.00 apiece.  (Her unemployment benefits are scheduled to end in the beginning of December.)
The Post quotes federal statistics [Here] that indicate that the national poverty rate has risen to 14.3%, “the highest level in more than 50 years.”  In Chrissanda’s Florida, the state’s poverty level has risen to 2.7 million people.   Furthermore, the diminishing income of black families has been almost 3 times that of white households.
Chrissanda is no stranger to work.  She has worked at various jobs since she was 12 years old.  She has followed the American dream and still believes in it, but she can find no work today, even though she has a college degree and an exemplary resumé.  Obviously, her employer, the privately-owned nursing home, wished to downsize and they began with Chrissanda’s position.
This is the story of two women, both intelligent and both hard-working, but with such different realities.  They both tell us something of contemporary America: one woman’s future career will probably give her immense power and recognition but the other woman’s future looks grim, perhaps even tragic.  Both in their own way present each of us with fundamental questions about America’s future... 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

And the winner is...Lisa Murkowski...

Hurrah for Lisa Murkowski.  I guess we can write “Winner” after her name.  We can also write "Finally Ended!” after the Alaska Senate race that started way back this summer when the Alaska Tea Party, under Sarah Palin’s watchful eye and enthusiastic support, selected Joe Miller as their choice to take Lisa Murkowski’s Senate seat.  That support (and money) carried Miller into winning the Republican primary.  
Then, as you know, the real race began.  The Democrats had chosen Scott McAdams, the likable but rather inexperienced two-term mayor of Sitka, Alaska.  Lisa Murkowski decided not to be defeated but to run a write-in campaign as an Independent, endorsed by no party.  It was a brave long-shot and it now looks as if she has pulled it off, the first time it has been done in the U.S. Senate for over 50 years when Strom Thurmond did it in 1954.
Even though Murkowski will caucus with Republicans, who can not applaud her political courage?
The most intelligent analysis of the election that I’ve come across is a response from an Alaskan voter and reader of Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish. [Here]  
I'm an Alaskan voter (who voted for Lisa Murkowski) and I am sick to death of columns... that made it sound like our choice was between (as you quoted it): "corrupt big spending Republicans" or the "shallow, hypocritical radicalism" of the Tea Party.  Please.  There were a lot of things in this campaign - a lot of them - that went far beyond... [money] 
The local news revelations about Miller were huge, especially his conduct at the North Star Borough and the fact that his campaign called former Mayor Whittaker a liar, until it was proven that Miller was in fact lying.  What also didn't endear him to half the state: his suited-up security guards at the Anchorage school and the bizarre arrest of a journalist, his comments about emulating East Germany when it came to immigration and frankly, having Sarah Palin's support (she is not popular up here.)  He also picked some strange fights with the Alaska Native groups which mystified everyone.
Murkowski is basically a moderate. She is pro-choice.  She believes global warming exists and acknowledges that Alaska is already dealing with it.  (This was one of the areas where Miller's rhetoric really was alarming as there are coastal villages disappearing right now and dealing with them can not be ignored.)  Miller didn't even go into the bush to campaign - he was especially destroyed by the rural vote (which went for Tony Knowles in the last senatorial election). 
I don't always agree with Murkowski (I'm actually a registered Democrat), but prior to this year when she foolishly shifted hard right for a few months, she has always been fairly moderate. She is responsive to her constituents and in the past has been willing to work with both sides of the aisle.  If she wins this election, we think she will acknowledge the Democratic and Independent support she has received and return to her bipartisan roots.  She knows how she has gotten to the place she is now and she has acknowledged that support more than once.  She has already said she will not attempt to regain her former position in the GOP leadership.
Joe Miller basically freaked us all out.  He came across as silly as Christine O'Donnell or Sharron Angle.  My husband is a Republican, I'm a Democrat.  His mother is a Rep. His father is a Rep.  His step-mother is a Dem.  We all voted for Lisa because we thought Scott McAdams was just way too inexperienced (we all hope he gets into state politics).  But as to Joe Miller, frankly, he comes across as batshit crazy and there was no way in hell we trusted him. 
And yes, Alaska does get a lot of federal money. The state also has a lot of federal land and it is incredibly expensive to live there. (The Lower 48 enjoys gas prices markedly cheaper then in Fairbanks, that's for sure.)  We all thought the Bridge To Nowhere was lame, but I'm sure there are similar (though less famous) idiotic earmarks in other states.  Everyone agrees that the system needs to change and Alaska needs to start thinking about renewable energy and other ways to become more self-sustaining. We get that, I promise. 
So it would be great if everyone would acknowledge that Alaskan voters have brains in their heads and actually choose candidates based on something more than cash.
I thank this anonymous writer for providing more insight into Alaskan politics than anything that I’ve read in the msm.  

(I also hope that Murkowski’s two handsome children and husband are helping her to celebrate.  They all deserve a big party.)

Now let’s see how she grows into her new role as Independent Alaskan.  It should be interesting...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Stormy Weather Ahead...

On Wednesday, November 17th, all but one of the Republican Senators, the entire GOP Senate caucus, voted against bringing up for debate or even for a vote, the Paycheck Fairness Act, [Here] which is designed to eliminate some of the loopholes of the older Equal Pay Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Act.  In other words, every GOP Senator with the exception of Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski who had flown back to Alaska on her re-election business, voted against the bill which would have brought more pay equality to women!  
Even Maine’s Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe who had previously voted for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, voted against this bill.  The House had already passed the bill and the Senate was scheduled to tackle it in this lame duck session of Congress.  It certainly wasn't a surprise to anyone that Majority Leader Reid brought it up for a vote.
Rebecca Lefton in Truthout wrote: [Here]
More than 45 years after passage of the Equal Pay Act, the pay gap shockingly persists with women still earning on average 77 cents to every man’s dollar. According to the National Women’s Law Center, ‘This persistent pay gap translates to more than $10,000 in lost wages per year for the average female worker.’ [Here] The gap is even worse for women of color: [Here] African-American women earn 61 cents and Latinas earn 52 cents for every dollar a white non-Hispanic man earns.
...Women are half of all U.S. workers and mothers are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American families. The Paycheck Fairness Act would be critical to strengthening the economic security [Here] of these families. The bill would have updated the landmark Equal Pay Act of 1963 by closing loopholes, strengthening incentives to prevent pay discrimination, and prohibiting retaliation against workers who inquire about employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages. The act would have also addressed pay secrecy, [Here] which is a prevalent problem prohibiting employees from knowing whether discriminatory practices are occurring.”
I guess it isn’t surprising that the Democrat-in-name only, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, was the lone Democrat to vote against the bill, but I’m still outraged.  Nelson had voted for the Lilly Ledbetter bill, too.  I guess Snowe, Collins and Nelson decided that their one vote for the Ledbetter bill was the only vote for women’s pay equality that they could muster the courage to vote for.  
Is this the bipartisanship that Obama wants more of?
And by the way, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce strongly opposed this bill, as they opposed the Ledbetter Bill.  Remember in 1977 they opposed amending the Civil Rights Act to cover pregnant women because they claimed that pregnancy was a “voluntary” condition.  (I’m not making this up.)  [Here]
This is the same U.S. Chamber that the NYTimes tells us Obama is making "overtures" to. [Here]  If this is a taste of things to come, feminists and liberals are going to have some tough months ahead.
Dust off your marching shoes and bring some extra oxygen.  It sounds as if it's going to be mighty crowded under the bus...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Stranger In A Strange Land...

Do you remember Robert Heinlein’s 1961 classic science fiction best seller, Stranger In a Strange Land?  [Here]  That title describes the way I’ve been feeling lately.  I guess most folks who are lucky enough to live long enough to reach a “certain age” feel that way, but clearly the current political momentum is carrying the country farther and farther away from the values and political momentum of FDR’s New Deal that was the political background of my childhood.  Social responsibility and concern were in the political air that we breathed, even in my Republican household.
A certain political divisiveness that we are feeling today was certainly present back then.  Remember all those horrible jokes about Eleanor and Madame Perkins?  However, the political powers in charge reached out to help the less powerful.  Expanding economic wealth and freedom continued after World War II, and, in spite of the McCarthyism of the ’50’s, gained momentum again with the anti-war and civil rights movements of the 60’s. 
However, unfortunately, there is something else in the air today, isn’t there?  I call it creeping Friedmanism.  We have been shocked almost to numbness by the pictures from Abu Ghraib of torture and human degradation done by Americans and under American direction.  We were lied to by our President into declaring war against a country which had not attacked us.  We then reelected him for a second term and now he's touting his book about his exploits.  
We have just endured a midterm election in which millions of corporate dollars were poured into espousing corporate-backed economic interests and candidates.  We’ve seen money frame the political dialogue.  More stunningly, we’ve seen corporate money convincing people to vote against their own economic self-interest.  I suspect we’ll see much more of this in the future when the corporate-dominated GOP leadership tries to convince their conservative base that eviscerating Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid is in their interest or that destroying public schools in favor of profit-making charter schools is intelligent public policy.
Digby at Hullabaloo [Here] is arguing that much of the energy that is driving American political life today is tribal warfare.  She quotes from Amanda Marcotte at Salon: [Here]
For anyone who has any doubts that the main engine of the viciousness of the American political landscape is a pure culture war, I give to you the case of Bristol Palin hanging in on Dancing With the Stars. Palin is making a career out of conservative America using her to demonstrate that what matters most to them is that you're a member of their tribe. You can break their strict sexual rules, and they'll embrace you. You can have no talent whatsoever, and they'll promote you. Just so long as you're in the tribe. It's how George W. Bush got to be president, so this shouldn't be so shocking. Especially when you consider that cheeseball fare like Dancing With The Stars draws more Republican viewers than Democratic ones.
Tribal/cultural war is the only explanation. If this was actually about politics, it would only be about politics. Who wins on Dancing With the Stars has exactly zero impact on policy decision-making in Washington. It has nothing to do with those things that we keep hearing motivate the Tea Party--tax rates, "fiscal conservatism," the auto bailout. But it has everything to do with scoring points in the ongoing war of sticking it to those latte-drinking liberals, who sneeringly believe the spawn of the martyred Sarah Palin shouldn't win because she's not good enough. The nerve!
Consider that the folks who are organizing to keep Bristol Palin on the show are easy to set off on rants about the evils of affirmative action, and much of what defines the current political landscape will become all too clear.
What is so strange is that Bristol Palin has broken all the rules, hasn’t she?  She had premarital sex and became pregnant.  No Problem.  She gave birth and then became a well-paid, poster icon for Abstinence Only.  No Problem.  She was caught drinking while underage--and pregnant.  No Problem.  Joins Dancing With the Stars.  No Problem.  No talent while on Dancing with the Stars.  No Problem.  Judges don’t think much of her dancing so organize a huge vote-in campaign, compelling the show to keep her on.  No Problem. 
If this isn’t blind tribalism, what is?
Yes, I’m a stranger in a strange land...