Friday, April 29, 2005

Vitter to kill the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker once and for all

By now, most people have caught the excitement over the story that the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker has been re-discovered in an Arkansas wildlife refuge after it was long believed to have been decimated to extinction. The story is today's most-emailed article in the NY Times, demonstrating the very high value that people place on environmental issues, and on preserving ample habitat for diverse species to survive.


An interesting story on the search for the woodpecker can be heard in a 2002 NPR Radio Expeditions story.

Observe that the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker is pictured above in a cypress swamp. Also note that the Radio Expeditions story was done in a cypress swamp in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin, just north of New Orleans - an area where the woodpecker was last thought to be heard tapping on a tree.


Pearl River Wildlife Management Area

Collectively, Louisiana's wetlands provide over 30 percent of the nation's total
commercial fisheries harvest and serve as the over-wintering habitat for 70 percent of the migratory waterfowl of the central and Mississippi flyway.

Unfortunately, there's a tragic dimension to this story. At just the time when almost all Americans are giddy with excitement at this amazing discovery, Congress may be signing a death warrant on the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker.

Cypress swamps are now among the most threatened habitats in the world. The resistance of cypress to rot makes the wood highly desireable for mulch.

Yes, mulch! Wood chips! Logging companies are reducing cypress forests into wood chips at an unprecedented rate.

Now, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) wants to make it even easier for loggers to get to the trees. He snuck a provision into a vital Louisiana coastal restoration bill to allow unregulated destruction of cypress forests - and there's no doubt about it - Vitter wants the provision passed so that, specifically, more cypress can be harvested.

SEC. 2022. OBSTRUCTION OF NAVIGATION.
Section 10 of the Act of March 3, 1899 (33 U.S.C. 403), is amended by adding at the end the following: "Nothing in this section regulates any activity that occurs, or structure that is located, on private property, unless the Secretary, in consultation with the Secretary of the department in which the Coast Guard is operating, determines that such an activity or structure poses a threat to the safe transit of maritime traffic."

The Army Corps of Engineers has undertaken the responsibility for protecting cypress swampland under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act. An email sent out by the Louisiana Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club explained the intent of Vitter's amendment:
This amendment would effectively remove the Corps' currently broad jurisdiction to regulate any activity – even on private property--if it is tidal or under the ordinary high water mark, that affects the condition and capacity of navigable waters under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act. This language would impose a standard of "poses a threat to safe transit of maritime traffic" as determined by the Secretaries. This language is aimed at the authority that the Corps of Engineers has used in Louisiana to halt logging of cypress forests in the Maurepas Basin and to require a permit process. BUT it would also remove a broad jurisdiction under which the Corps looks at tidal marshes (Louisiana’s coastal marshes) as well.

The Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club had this to say on their website:
"In just a couple of sentences, this provision will let coastal cypress forests be clear-cut without any kind of permits required," said Dean Wilson, chair of the Sierra Club Atchafalaya Committee. "In the same piece of legislation that we are asking Congress to authorize $1.9 billion dollars for restoring and protecting Louisiana’s coast, Senator Vitter’s amendment will protect the loggers as they destroy coastal forests. Most of those forests are not renewable and will never come back."

The Vitter amendment was added into the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2005 in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, of which Senator Vitter is a member. By changing the scope of Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, the provision would remove much Corps of Engineers oversight on activities on private lands that affect navigable waters, including clear-cutting of cypress forests.

"It’s clear that the timber industry wants to cut down our cypress swamps, just as they did when they logged out our ancient cypress forests in the early 1900’s. The Vitter amendment will help them do it without permits or oversight," said Maurice Coman, Sierra Club Conservation Chair.

What a travesty! Can anyone imagine a picture of Louisiana without a cypress swamp?

And hey - this isn't just about Louisiana. The Vitter provision will affect wetlands across the entire United States.

So tell Vitter where he can put his amendment.

Then tell your own senator to give Vitter's amendment a thumbs down.

Finally, spread the news to everyone you know. This is the perfect time to act to kill Vitter's amendment.


Update:

On more complete information provided to me by a reliable source, I should provide additional insight on the Army Corps of Engineers jurisdiction to protect cypress swamps.

Section 404:
Normally, if the Army Corps of Engineers finds that a cypress swamp falls within an area delineated as a wetland, the Corps has the jurisdiction under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act to protect that area and the forest habitat. There is, however, a silviculture exemption to Section 404.

Section 10:
If a silviculture exemption is declared, the Corps has been resorting to Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act, which requires permission from the Corps for a host of activities that might be undertaken in the course of cypress extraction.

The Corps hasn't always been able to resort to Section 10, leading to a number of logging companies getting access rights to extract cypress. The difficulty of protecting cypress swampland underscores the need to establish a regulatory system that brings into consideration a definition of wetlands that more broadly encompasses an entire ecosystem. Moreover, there may be a need to better define what the Corps' role should be in protecting wetlands, or even if the jurisdiction should pass to some other agency because of the sometimes conflicting missions the Corps has of both flood control and wetlands protection.

More signs of stagflation

After a discouraging report on economic growth and inflation, today the Commerce Department reported that incomes rose last month:

Americans' incomes rose by 0.5 percent in March, the best showing in three months, and they used the extra money to boost consumer spending by 0.6 percent, the government reported Friday.

But before you go out and spend that paycheck, look again:
While incomes were up 0.5 percent...that increase was wiped out when inflation was taken into account to show no gain in inflation-adjusted disposable incomes in March following a small 0.1 percent increase in February.

But the Commerce Dept. report is a good sign for "the man":
The 0.7 percent increase in the Employment Cost Index represented the smallest rise for wages and benefits in six years.

Watch for another downturn in the "W"-shaped roller coaster economy:
Economists don't believe the surge in energy prices this year will be enough to push the country into a recession but they expect the country to have to endure a repeat of what Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan termed last year a "soft patch."

A sidebar story on yesterday's Commerce Dept. report sharply defined the economic situation:
The economy braked sharply in the first three months of the year, the government reported yesterday, expanding at its slowest pace in two years as rising energy prices spurred a burst of increased inflation and dragged down spending by businesses and consumers.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Bush in press conference: like a dog chasing his tail

The most disappointing feature of monkey boy's press conference was the press' broad, unchallenging questions.

I thought it interesting that all of the broadcast networks, except for ABC, switched over to regular prime time programming before the press conference ended. Did they just see that there was no point in going any further, or is The Apprentice really more important than what the President of the United States has to say?

Bush said nothing new, finding no fault in himself as an uncompromising ideological divider, while contradicting himself on solutions to problems with Social Security and gasoline prices.

Almost his first response belied the very fact of him doing the press conference to try to stop the bloodletting in opinion polls on his handling of Social Security, the economy, Iraq, energy, etc, etc:

You know, if a president tries to govern based on polls, you're kind of like a dog chasing your tail.

Treasury bonds are good enough if they're in private retirement accounts:
I know some Americans have reservations about investing in the stock market, so I propose that one investment option consist entirely of treasury bonds, which are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government.

But not if they're backing Social Security promises:
Our system is called pay as you go. You pay into the system through your payroll taxes and the government spends it. It spends the money on the current retirees and with the money left over, it funds other government programs.

And all that's left behind is file cabinets full of IOUs.

Uh...if Bush is interested in making Social Security solvent, why isn't he interested in a solution that would make Social Security solvent unless private accounts is part of the package? Once again, ideologically uncompromising:
QUESTION: Getting back to Social Security for a moment, sir, would you consider it a success if Congress were to pass a piece of legislation that dealt with the long-term solvency problem, but did not include personal accounts?

BUSH: I feel strongly that there needs to be voluntary personal savings accounts as a part of the Social Security system.

People don't pay their taxes, so the solution is tax reform? How about restoring the IRS budget for prosecution (one-third what it was under Clinton), and prosecute some of those welshing, unpatriotic bastards?
We've also got to make sure that we continue to reduce regulation. I think an important initiative -- I know an important initiative that we're going to be coming forth with here, probably in the fall, is tax reform.

You know, I was amazed by the report the other day that there's some $330 billion a year that goes unpaid by American taxpayers. It's a phenomenal amount of money.

To me, it screams for making the tax system easier to understand, more fair, so that we can -- and to make sure people pay their taxes. More fair means pay what you owe.

How is a judge with a "judicial philosophy" any different from judges who "legislate from the bench"?
I think people are opposing my nominees because they don't like the judicial philosophy of the people I've nominated. And some would like to see judges legislate from the bench. That's not my view of the proper role of a judge.

Wait a second, won't dumping more oil on the market lower prices, and therefore affect the bottom line of Bush's friends in the oil business? Can anyone really trust this guy?
I said in my opening statement that the best way to affect the current price of gasoline is to encourage producing nations to put more crude oil on the market.

That's the most effective way, because the price of crude oil determines in large measure the price of gasoline. The feed stock for gasoline is crude oil, and when crude oil goes up, the price of gasoline goes up.

There are other factors, by the way, that cause the price of gasoline to go up, but the main factor is the price of crude oil. And if we can get nations that have got some excess capacity to put crude on the market, the increased supply, hopefully, will meet increased demand and therefore take the pressure off price.

So, what you're saying is there's no reason to give away ANWR to the oil companies, and no reason to give them a gift of $12 billion:
But, listen, the energy bill is certainly no quick fix. You can't wave a magic wand. I wish I could.

Maybe you ought to be "jawboning" your friends in the oil business who have their hands on the tap:
Hopefully, additional crude oil on the market from countries with some spare capacity will help relieve the price for the American consumers.

So how is destroying Central American family farms by dumping our cheap wheat and corn the "friendly" thing to do?
We need to continue to open up markets for U.S. products. As you know, there'll be a vote for the Central American Free Trade Agreement here, hopefully soon.

I'm a strong believer that that's in the interest of American job creators and workers that we open up those markets.

I know it's important geopolitically to say to those Central American countries, You've got a friend in America.

Finally, the most interesting thing was Bush's uncompromising ideological stance on private accounts, blaming divisiveness on Democrats in Congress, later contrasted by the surprising civility between Joe Biden (D-DE) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

Acknowledging the Democrats' complaint that private accounts would take $1 trillion out of Social Security, worsening the crisis rather than fixing it, Lindsey Graham said that the only fair solution to the Social Security problem, if it included private accounts, was to put more money on the table.

When Biden was asked if he thought he could work with President Bush to come up with a solution, he said he could work with Lindsey Graham, and trusted Graham, but Bush wasn't willing to put forward a workable compromise.

So who's the uniter and who's the divider?

Just since the election, Bush cut your pay 3.9 percent

NY Times:

...the Federal Reserve showed prices -- excluding food and energy -- rising at a rate of 2.2 percent in the first quarter of 2005. That was up considerably from a 1.7 percent rate in the fourth quarter and marked the highest reading since the final quarter of 2001

Note, that doesn't even include the inflation caused directly by rising oil prices.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department reported that the American economy slowed during the first quarter to its weakest pace in two years.

Could this be the start of stagflation?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Bush AWOL on troop armor

To the Editor:


Two years into the Iraq war, and the Humvee armor program is still incomplete. Two and a half years into World War II, and we were a few months away from D-Day.

I guess that tax cuts must be more important to the White House. Sad, sad.

Donald Lee Rome
West Hartford, April 25, 2005

What's a concerned citizen to do, other than write letters to the editor?

Get your representatives to hound Bush for going AWOL on the armor issue:

Talk to your chump ass senator.
Talk to your chump ass representative.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Bush: miserable failure

DailyKos:

If you Google "Miserable Failure", George W. Bush's picture appears on top of the chart.

Troops are dying while Bush sells out the fight against terrorism

The biggest defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, announced first quarter profits rose 27% to $369 million on sales of $8.5 billion, compared to a $291 million profit in the first quarter last year.

Lockheed Martin makes the F-16 fighter, C-130 transport plane, electronics systems, and has satellite investments.

The profit announcement was made just a week after President Bush announced he would be buying a fleet of new F-16's for Pakistan, at a cost of $3 billion on the U.S. taxpayers' tab. The NY Times reported that President Bush was giving Pakistan the F-16's as a reward for that country's aid in the war on terror.

Bullshit!

Abdul Qadeer Khan, who stole centrifuge blueprints from Norway, and later became the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, secretly sold nuclear material, designs, and possibly centrifuges to North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Libya. General Mushareff chafed at a request by intelligence analysts to hand over A.Q. Khan so they could determine more precisely the extent of damage, including the possibility that nuclear material and expertise may have been traded with Al Qaida terrorist cells. Bush crawled back to his corner, tail between his legs, let Khan off the hook, claimed the Khan network was dismantled, then rewarded Mushareff for his cooperation by donating two dozen F-16's.

A former Pakistani army chief suggested that Khan couldn't be prosecuted, because Mushareff would be implicated in the nuclear proliferation scheme: "If [Dr] Khan had appeared in a court of law many things would have come out. That is very dangerous for President Musharraf."

After the announcement of F-16's donated to Pakistan, Bush appeased India by saying that it too could buy F-16's, opening up the possibility of Lockheed Martin selling another 126 fighter jets.

Hey, what do these countries need with F-16's? They'd just hurtle them at each other, in which case, India would win because it has ten times as many jets as Pakistan. So what's the point? Why throw away the taxpayers' $3 billion on a guy who won't open up his border with Afghanistan so U.S. troops can find Osama bin Laden, and who scoffs at U.S. attempts to clean up the nuclear mess created by A.Q. Khan.

Better yet, why not put that $3 billion into some freakin' armor for troops in Iraq:

In returning home, the leaders and Marine infantrymen have chosen to break an institutional code of silence and tell their story, one they say was punctuated not only by a lack of armor, but also by a shortage of men and planning that further hampered their efforts in battle, destroyed morale and ruined the careers of some of their fiercest warriors.

The Army's procurement system, which also supplies the Marines, has come under fierce criticism for underperforming in the war, and to this day it has only one small contractor in Ohio armoring new Humvees.

Marine Corps officials disclosed last month in Congressional hearings that they were now going their own way and had undertaken a crash program to equip all of their more than 2,800 Humvees in Iraq with stronger armor. The effort went into production in November and is to be completed at the end of this year.

Why is Bush still f***ing up on this critical issue while troops are getting slaughtered?

Is vacation on the ranch in Crawford more important? Or "town hall" propaganda meetings to privatize Social Security? Or selling F-16's to Pakistan and India?

Meanwhile, business is good for the world's biggest weapons manufacturer, and monkey boy remains the worst president ever!

Monday, April 25, 2005

Bush petting session with Saudi prince

In 2000, Bush claimed he knew how to handle OPEC. He said Clinton had to "jawbone" OPEC members:

"What I think the president ought to do is he ought to get on the phone with the OPEC cartel and say we expect you to open your spigots. One reason why the price is so high is because the price of crude oil has been driven up. OPEC has gotten its supply act together, and it's driving the price, like it did in the past. And the president of the United States must jawbone OPEC members to lower the prices, he said.

Does this constitute "jawboning"? Sounds more like a petting session:

This is an important relationship," Mr. Bush said. "I've got a good personal relationship with the crown prince. I look forward to talking with him about a variety of subjects."

...a Saudi official emerged from the meeting between the leaders saying Saudi Arabia had not been asked to ship more oil to the United States...

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice deflected a question about whether Mr. Bush had pressed the Saudis, and by extension other OPEC members, to lower prices.

Administration officials described the talks between Mr. Bush and the crown prince as wide-ranging, friendly and positive...

Could it be that Bush is talking to the wrong guy? Oil companies are reporting record profits:
1/27/05, ConocoPhillips Doubles Profit In 4th Quarter
"ConocoPhillips reported net income of $2.43 billion...for the period that ended in December, up from $1.02 billion...in the year-earlier."

2/1/05: Exxon Mobil Earnings Jumped 27% in Quarter
"...fourth-quarter profit rose...to record $8.42 billion...net income climbed...from $6.65 billion, year earlier."

2/4/05: Shell Makes Another Cut In Reserves; Profit Jumps
"Royal Dutch/Shell Group reduces its proven oil and gas reserves by additional 10 percent, [but] company reports net income of $4.48 billion in fourth quarter, more than double $1.9 billion it earned in quarter year earlier."

2/9/05: Occidental Revises Quarterly Profit Upward
"...fourth-quarter profit was 12 percent higher than previously reported...$742 million, rather than the $665 million...reported on Jan. 24....Profit almost doubled from $382 million a year earlier."

2/9/05: BP Says Earnings Jumped in Quarter and for Year
"BP reports better-than-expected profit for fourth quarter and full year, and says it might return $23 billion to shareholders in dividends and buybacks in next two years; net income rose 26 percent in quarter, to $3.6 billion; full-year net income also rose 26 percent, to $16.2 billion; BP says production volumes will increase in 2005 to 4.1 million to 4.2 million barrels per day, up from just under 4 million barrels per day in 2004."

4/5/05, ChevronTexaco Offers $16.8 Billion for Unocal
"...expands its global reach and could ignite wave of takeovers of midtier producers; transaction is industry's largest in three years."

Meanwhile, is anyone asking why refineries are shutting down at a time when demand is high? Didn't we see these production problems when Enron was sticking it to "Grandma Millie"?
A gasoline-making unit at a Lake Charles, Louisiana, refinery owned by ConocoPhillips, the largest U.S. refiner, yesterday failed to start after maintenance, Reuters reported, without naming its source. Conoco spokeswoman Laura Hopkins declined to comment.

San Antonio-based Valero, the third-largest U.S. refiner, on April 18 said a coker at its St. Charles, Louisiana, plant will be shut until at least April 26, halting 336,000 gallons of daily gasoline output and 1.05 million gallons of daily distillate production. Distillates include diesel and heating oil.

A Corpus Christi, Texas, refinery owned by Koch Industries Inc.'s Flint Hills unit slowed operations April 19 after a flange leaked, the company said in a report filed with the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality. The plant can process 300,000 barrels of crude a day.

Petroleos de Venezuela SA, South America's largest oil producer, last week stopped gasoline and diesel production at its Puerto La Cruz refinery after one of the plant's units was shut, El Nacional reported today, citing unidentified industry officials.

Bill Frist, televangelist - where to begin?

Indeed, where to end? Diving in...

After it hosted Bill Frist's political telecast denouncing Democrats as being against "people of faith," shouldn't the tax-exempt status of the Louisville Highview Baptist Church now be questioned?

Frank Rich:

Tonight's megachurch setting and pseudoreligious accouterments notwithstanding, the actual organizer of "Justice Sunday" isn't a clergyman at all but a former state legislator and candidate for insurance commissioner in Louisiana, Tony Perkins...he told a gathering in Washington this month that the judiciary poses "a greater threat to representative government" than "terrorist groups." And we all know the punishment for terrorists. Accordingly, Newsweek reports that both Justices Kennedy and Clarence Thomas have "asked Congress for money to add 11 police officers" to the Supreme Court, "including one new officer just to assess threats against the justices." The Judicial Conference of the United States, the policy-making body for the federal judiciary, has requested $12 million for home-security systems for another 800 judges.

Meanwhile, leaders throughout history have cautioned against mixing religion and politics.

Thomas Jefferson:
...the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time.

Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia, 1779

In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. It is easier to acquire wealth and power by this combination than by deserving them, and to effect this, they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind, and therefore the safer for their purposes.

Letter to Horatio Spofford, 1814

Thomas Paine:
Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly-marked feature of all law-religions, or religions established by law. Take away the law-establishment, and every religion re-assumes its original benignity.

The Rights of Man, 1791-1792

Samuel West:
For the civil authority to pretend to establish particular modes of faith and forms of worship, and to punish all that deviate from the standards which our superiors have set up, is attended with the most pernicious consequences to society. It cramps all free and rational inquiry, fills the world with hypocrites and superstitious bigots--nay, with infidels and skeptics; it exposes men of religion and conscience to the rage and malice of fiery, blind zealots, and dissolves every tender tie of human nature.

Dartmouth, MA, Election Sermon, 1776

John Buchanan, baptist minister:
Preachers like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell should not forget that, in the colony of Virginia, Baptist ministers were beaten and imprisoned and run out of town for preaching their dissenting faith, while Anglican ministers were paid with tax funds from the state treasury.

April 10, 1986

Abraham Lincoln:
When the Know-Nothings get control, it [the Declaration of Independence] will read: "All men are created equal except negroes, foreigners and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer immigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty--to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.

Letter to Joshua F. Speed, August 24, 1855

Richard M. Johnson, Vice President (1837-1841):
It is not the legitimate province of the legislature to determine what religion is true, or what is false.

Second Report on the Transportation of the Mail on Sundays, 1830

Barry Goldwater (hey Tom Delay and Bill Frist, listen up!):
Religious factions will go on imposing their will on others unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy. They must learn to make their views known without trying to make their views the only alternatives.

Speech delivered in 1981

Robert G. Ingersoll:
In all ages, hypocrites, called priests, have put crowns upon the heads of thieves, called kings.

Prose Poems and Selections, 1884

William E. H. Lecky, historian:
Almost all Europe, for many centuries, was inundated with blood, which was shed at the direct instigation or with the full approval of the ecclesiastical authorities.

History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe, 1866

Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, Russian nuclear scientist:
Intellectual freedom is essential to human society. Freedom of thought is the only guarantee against an infection of people by mass myths, which, in the hands of treacherous hypocrites and demagogues, can be transformed into bloody dictatorships.

And if that's not enough to confirm or convince readers that there is absolutely no place in politics for Bill Frist's grandstanding antics, there are more quotes here.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Huey P. Long was not assassinated

Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long was not assassinated by Dr. Carl Weiss. He was accidentally killed by his bodyguards who later planted a gun in Weiss' hand.

This was the testimony of Col. Francis Grevemberg on WDSU's "Closeup", the former Louisiana State Police Superintendent (1952-56). He credited eyewitness state troopers on the scene of Huey Long's death with the information.

Grevemberg's story is told in a new book, My Wars.

Grevemberg was made famous for smashing thousands of illegal slot machines and cracking down on prostitution despite mob threats against him and his family.

There's more on Huey Long's death at the Calcasieu Louisiana History site.

Huey "Kingfish" Long, the populist governor who campaigned on the slogan "Every man a king," was the most active governor in Louisiana's history, implementing a broad array of public works projects. Many historians suggest that he had presidential aspirations, and that he might have challenged FDR for the White House. His strongarm tactics and unprecedented consolidation of power in Louisiana has led others to question what his legacy might have been given events in Europe at the time.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Who is this guy?

The new Chief Executive of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting quoted in the NY Times Magazine:

I'm not much of a TV consumer. Yes, Lehrer is good, but I don't watch a lot of broadcast news. The problem for me is that I do the Internet news stuff all day long, so by the time I get to the Lehrer thing...it's slow...Sometimes I really just want a People magazine.

So maybe he should be the editor of People magazine.

Ken Ferree is replacing Kathleen Cox, who was fired two weeks ago following conservative objections to a "Postcards from Bunny" episode (never aired except on WGBH) in which Buster visits a lesbian couple.

Ferree admits that he doesn't watch much PBS or listen to NPR, but he has big plans for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. One of those plans is a video game to teach teenagers civics. Wow, that opens up a lot of interesting possibilities.

How about a segment on what Republicans do when their Majority Leader takes dirty money from a "lobbyist" who bilks over $80 million from Native Americans while referring to them as morons and troglodytes.

Civics episode #1: When you break Senate ethics rules, change the rules.

Civics episode #2: When the going gets tough, cop a holier-than-thou attitude, and blame the nation's troubles on "activist" judges.

Oh no...that won't do. I forgot. One of Ferree's other big plans is to create more programs that appeal to conservatives - and by "conservatives," Ferree means Republicans.

Ferree's appointment to the top spot at the CPB is another grave assault on public broadcasting. PBS' Chief Executive, Pat Mitchell, has taken a lot of heat from Republicans and announced recently that she would resign next year.

The attitude that public broadcasting should consciously, deliberately try to appeal to a partisan audience is totally contrary to its mission. CPB and PBS executives need to get religion on this issue, and challenge their detractors. PBS and NPR, notwithstanding highly exaggerated criticisms, are not partisan organizations. They exist to provide a depth of coverage, stories and views that can't be found anywhere else. I've written more about the attack on PBS is an earlier post.

A WGBH station representative presented a letter to the Washington Post written by a Marine in Iraq who defended the station, writing:
I don't fight for white, conservative, middle class, heterosexual Americans...I fight so that all can enjoy our inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Buster critics pay no attention to the fact that, in other episodes, Buster visited Mormons in Utah, Hmong in Wisconsin, people from the Gullah culture in South Carolina, an Orthodox Jewish family and a Pentecostal Christian family.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Mother Nature mad, very mad

How perfectly ironic that hail and thunderstorms in the skies over the Great Smoky Mountains National Park forced President Bush to seek shelter inside a Knoxville hangar on a day in which he planned to promote his so-called "Clear Skies" initiative.

Once out of harm's way, monkey boy said:

In the park, had I been there, I would have reminded people today is Earth Day, a day in which we recommit ourselves to being good stewards of the land [choke, choke, cough, cough]. We didn't create this Earth, but we have an obligation to protect it [wink, wink].

Since 1970, the air is cleaner and the water is more pure and we're using our land better, and our economy has grown a lot. My point is, it's possible to have economic growth and jobs and opportunity and, at the same time, be wise stewards of the land.

That's funny...I thought monkey boy has said that because environmental regulation hurts the economy, and that because there was a lot of bad science on the issue of global warming, he couldn't sign the Kyoto Treaty on greenhouse gases. I guess ice caps gushing into the oceans isn't proof enough.

There's a lot of good science on global warming in this week's installment of Now on PBS, including a sharp examination of the lunatic fringe wingnuts paid by the energy lobby to denigrate that science (Senator James Inhofe (R, OK), and Micheal Crichton), plus there's a broad array of perspectives on the "Clear Skies" initiative.

Interesting, too, that monkey boy likes to claim as his own the heritage of the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, both signed by President Nixon, and given real teeth thanks to President Clinton, but which he, Bush, has already gutted by executive fiat because Congress won't pass his dirty "Clear Skies" legislation. You see - and as monkey boy is always fond of beginning - "what this legislation says is, is that" monitoring and enforcement of environmental regulations keeps polluters from doing the right thing. Given the chance to get out from under the thumb of the people's laws, they'll volunteer to do the right thing.

Uh huh...that's how it was before the Clean Air Act. Yeah. Sure.

Environmentalist Hilton Kelley recalled how "Clear Skies" is working in Texas after a Port Arthur Motiva refinery accident:
It wasn't the first such incident, or "upset," at the 3,800-acre plant, a century-old, grime-stained industrial giant that glowers above Port Arthur's pancake-flat landscape. Motiva had experienced seven in just the previous 11 weeks, and the record of Port Arthur's other refineries wasn't much better; during one six-month period last year, barely a day went by without a toxic accident of some kind.

And so, Kelley knew just what to do as 128.3 tons of vaporized poisons -- including sulfur dioxide, hexane, carbon monoxide, isobutane -- began sifting earthward. He went door to door, warning his neighbors to either leave quickly or stay inside with the windows shut tight. He also made a phone call, to a toll-free number at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state agency charged with monitoring airborne toxic releases.

When a TCEQ staffer finally arrived, Kelley says, "I asked the guy, 'You got any air-monitoring equipment with you?' And the guy said, 'No.' And I thought, So...what? You're here to watch?"

As for thunderbolts crashing down from the heavens? Well...better luck next time!


Postscript:

The Hamster points out that Bush's "Clear Skies" initiative will make the most polluted National Park even more polluted (yep, that would be Ol' Smoky), then cites ThinkProgress which quoted Bush on the Smoky trip, "I’m proud to be traveling with...Lamar Alexander." The story just gets more amusing, because Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, told Senate colleagues on Monday that he will not support the Bush administration’s air pollution plan - known as "Clear Skies" - because it does not "go far enough, fast enough" to solve his state’s air pollution problems.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Willie Fontenot to speak on Friday

I have confirmed that Willie Fontenot will be speaking at Loyola University on Friday, April 22nd (Earth Day), at 5:30 PM, outside the Danna Center.

Fontenot is the former Louisiana Assistant Attorney General who was forced to resign after chaperoning a group of environmental students through cancer alley.

I have more on Fontenot from an earlier post.

Zogby bias on Social Security?

Oh really?

In a paper Cato published two years ago, the pollster John Zogby said that there was "no correlation between support for individual accounts and stock market performance" and that the appeal of the accounts was primarily based on Americans' desire to control their retirement finances.

The story didn't reveal what Zogby thinks Americans want to do about Social Security, but I have to ask, was pollster Zogby masking his own opinion about private investment accounts by presuming to know the will of the American people?

Okay, the story didn't mention a specific poll Zogby conducted, but those details are important if a story is supposed to appear objective. Hanging a statement like that out there without proper citation is just bad journalism. Sure, I think that given a salary that allows people to meet their basic needs and save, most people would like individual retirement accounts and the security of Social Security--that's why it's called Social Security.

Although Zogby was generally considered a fair pollster during the 2004 presidential election, I'll have to pay more attention in the future.

By the way, for more on polls and polling methodology, a good authority is Paul over at Public Brewery.

As for the CATO Institute, it can quote anyone it wants to, but it has a clear agenda - some might say a radical agenda - to limit the role of government in every sphere of life.

In an April 18th memo to Karl Rove, Ed Crane (President of CATO) said:
...with regard to the "risky scheme" arguments, I think it's ironic that the people who appear so concerned over the growing wealth gap in America are the one's [sic] who refuse to allow low- and moderate-income Americans to accumulate wealth. The investment-risk argument was used in 1983 when the Greenspan Commission refused to even consider personal accounts. Yet the DJIA is now 10 times higher than it was at the peak in '83. How much longer will we deny lower-income Americans an opportunity to participate in the wealth-creation engine known as the U.S. economy?

To which I would reply, how ironic it is that the same people who appear so concerned over allowing personal accounts are the ones responsible for the growing wealth gap in America, refusing to allow low- and moderate-income Americans to accumulate wealth by making them low- and moderate-income Americans.

How can people save if their incomes have been stagnant or falling over the last thirty years when adjusted for inflation? How can people accumulate wealth when rent, food, utilities, kids and all the rest come first? How is it that the DJIA is 10 times higher than it was in 1983, but the incomes for average Americans are stagnant? How is it that Bush and the Congress can cut taxes year after year for milionaires and billionaires while ignoring their obligation to help raise the living standards and quality of life for all Americans?

Indeed Mr. Crane, how much longer will we deny lower-income Americans an opportunity to participate in the wealth-creation engine known as the U.S. economy?

Of course, why bother to give people an opportunity to accumulate wealth if, by your actions, you intend to take it away later by forcing them to pay back a national debt that is skyrocketing to the moon and beyond. Maybe that's what Bush was talking about when he suggested the United States should be working on a mission to Mars.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The only fear is...Bush

Since there's a better chance of winning the lottery than having the NY Times print a letter, I'll post my reaction to the letter below right here.

The subject of the writer's letter was a Bob Herbert article, "A Radical in the White House" (4/18/05).

Herbert celebrated Franklin Delano Roosevelt's optimism, praising him for giving "hope and a sense of the possible to a nation in dire need," and for calling on Americans to not give in to fear.

Sixty years ago, FDR called on Americans to adopt "a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race or creed."

Unfortunately, we're a long way from achieving FDR's goal, and "The nation is now in the hands of leaders who are experts at exploiting fear, and indifferent to the needs and hopes, even the suffering, of ordinary people," wrote Herbert.

Quoting Roosevelt, Herbert said, "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

This writer responded:

Unlike F.D.R., George W. Bush - a conservative in the White House - espouses a bill of opportunities, not rights: the opportunity for a useful and remunerative job; the opportunity to earn enough for adequate food, clothing and recreation; and the opportunity for every farmer to grow and sell products at a return that provides a decent living.

The bill of opportunities also includes the opportunity for a decent home and adequate medical care; the opportunity for adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment; and the opportunity for a good education.

Most important, it includes the right of every person, according to his or her abilities, to convert these opportunities into reality.

Arun Khanna
Indianapolis, April 18, 2005

That there should be a focus on opportunity goes without saying. Everyone agrees. The problem has always been that too few people profit from their advantages in opportunity without paying enough back to the society that gives them those opportunities.

The fault I find with the writer's perspective, and with society generally, is that opportunity works better for those who enjoy the advantages of property and wealth, education, race, natural ability, and family class. Focusing on opportunity without protecting rights gives winners all the gains, and losers all the losses. That's not just immoral--it's inhumane (i.e., it diminishes our humanity), and it's ultimately bad for the survival of our species and the planet we inhabit.

Rectification at the Department of State Ministry of Truth

When I was a kid, I once tried to hide my report card because I didn't like the grades I received. Well, needless to say, I discovered that hiding the truth is a greater wrong than underachieving.

I was reminded of my report card lesson by a recent story that mainstream media stubbornly refuses to make hay out of: The Bush administration decided not to publish the 2004 annual report on international terrorism.

Why? Well, it seems there's nothing to brag about there. In fact, there may be a lot to fear--by both the Bush administration and citizens.

The number of "significant" terrorist attacks rose from 175 in 2003, to 625 in 2004, according to Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst and State Department terrorism expert.

Sure, I thought so too--you're thinking, oh, those must be "terrorist" attacks in Iraq. You'd be mistaken. That number--625--doesn't even include attacks in Iraq.

Where did this leak come from? Several former and current Bush administration officials, who charge that Condescending Rice ordered the report, "Patterns of Global Terrorism," eliminated because the 2004 statistics would be embarrassing to President Bush who continues to make (what the report would prove erroneous) claims of progress in the war against terrorism.

The State Department is still required by law to submit a country-by-country terrorism report to the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but this is the first time since 1986 that the declassified version won't be published for the public to see.

Readers may recall the uproar last year when it was discovered that the Bush administration (in an election year) published a report that dramatically underreported the number of international terrorism incidents--which should make us wonder why there's no fuss this year when the administration just decides not to publish a damn thing.

Oooh...but there's more. Another way to downgrade the counts of terrorism incidents is to call them something else. Of course, that doesn't make us any safer.

Now, Narcosphere reports a memo leaked by an agent in the Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which instructs supervisors to cleanse terrorist watch lists.

The terrorist watch list database is maintained in a major law-enforcement computer system called TECS. All told, TECS contains about 12,000 terrorism records.

The ICE memo orders supervisors to "modify or remove all ICE-generated TECS records designated as 'terrorist'" to make them appear to be unrelated to terrorism.

Stayed tuned to your Telescreen. Minitruth reports that we are making significant progress in the war against Eurasia. Doubleplusgood!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

END THE BIRTH TAX!!!

Letter to the NY Times Editor:

...in reviving a bill to repeal the estate tax, the Republicans ignore the fact that the elimination of what they call the "death tax" on heirs of multimillionaires will create a corresponding "birth tax," estimated by Senator John Kerry last year at $35,000, that each child will come into the world owing as his share of the national debt.

Alan S. Fintz
Brooklyn, April 15, 2005

Bush: Chimp or...Santa Claus?

From "a reliable source" inside Tulane's Center for Latin American Studies, I bring to fore this interesting anecdote of the diplomatic prowess of George Dubya Bush.

In a Washington meeting a couple of months ago, the former president of Bolivia had a little face time with monkey boy. I should mention that President Mesa was forced to resign in March, but not before an appeal for help to our sage leader.

How did it go?

The story recounts Mesa approaching Bush, and saying that if he couldn't get $150 million in assistance, his government would be forced to dissolve.

Officially, the White House stated that President Bush said the request would be difficult for the United States to satisfy.

Unofficially, someone in the room who overheard the conversation said monkey boy burst out, "What do I look like, Santa Claus?!"

Well, actually, yes. Billions in tax breaks for billionaires paid for on the backs of the working class and future generations. Yeah, that sounds like either Santa Claus, or...er...maybe a Latin American banana republic dictator.

I imagine monkey boy issued that snort of a laugh, giving the familiar blank stare and nervous half smile--the sort of reaction one expects from a guy who's afraid someone from a less-developed country will want to talk about something he knows nothing about without his tutor Condescending Rice nearby.

Without getting into the merits of whether assistance should have been provided or not, what a total dunderhead we have for a president!

Maybe monkey boy was hoping for some of the coca leaf as a gesture of good will...oh yeah, pardon me--that was before he was president. We're not supposed to talk about that kind of thing now that we have a "wahr president" fightin' a "wahr against terrah" in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, North Korea, Sudan...uh, well, Iraq...or was it a war against the AARP. I get confused, 'cuz I don't hear the prez'dent talkin' much about huntin' down the terrorists since the election.

I guess that was just a lot 'a talk on the campaign trail.

Monday, April 18, 2005

A friendly eye could never see such faults

So wrote John Negroponte as he turned a "friendly eye" to CIA-funded Contra terrorist units stationed in Honduras while he was employed as the U.S. ambassador there.

Negroponte's support of the Contras was not universally supported by his peers, as was revealed in a rebuke made by the U.S. ambassador to neighboring Nicaragua, Anthony Quainton. After Negroponte invited Contra leader Adolfo Caldera to dinner, Quainton criticized Negroponte for his "gastronomic diplomacy" with a man "in the business of overthrowing a neighboring government."

This new information was reported by the Washington Post using Negroponte's personal documents obtained from a recent FOIA request.

Thanks to Michelle at the Cuaderno Latinoamericano for keeping tabs on Negroponte's sins.

More can be learned about Negroponte from my recent backgrounder.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

I see dumb people

Over at Adbusters, there's an article which asks the question, is the United States a Stupid Nation?

Americans, as we all know, are hilariously stupid.

...the key problem is not a lack of intelligence, but rather a lack of reliable, accessible information.

...for every well-researched, carefully considered piece of reporting, there’s reams of laziness, sensationalism, manipulation, and jingoism

...a political culture that encourages mistrust toward intelligence plays right into the hands of opinion-makers.

A friend pointed out a T-shirt she saw with a play on the line made famous in The Sixth Sense: I see dumb people (this is not my endorsement of any business selling these things).

Finally, the only way we're going to start getting better information out there is to force honesty on media by making it difficult for them to lie to the American people.

Please sign the petition to restore the Fairness Doctrine, then let the FCC and your representatives know you care about what you see and hear on all broadcast media. Yes, I mean cable and satellite too. Both merit regulation because the former operates in a monopoly in most markets, and the latter operates within conditions of scarcity, and therefore, privilege.

Night of the billionaire dead

Fafblog:

...if income tax dissuades the living rich from being rich, then the death tax can only dissuade the dead rich from dying. Indeed, the more the government taxes our nation's most resourceful robber barons' estates upon their deaths, the greater incentive they have to not die at all - or worse, to rise from their graves and feast on the flesh of the living. Wandering the earth in endless, gnawing hunger, scattering brains and severing limbs, mindlessly devouring everything in their path: this is hardly a fate America can want for the most enterprising of the business elite. What, after all, would be left for their children to feed on?

Patriotism

It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government.

Thomas Paine
Quoted in 911Truth.org

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Soldier calls Iraq War 'stupid'

Letter printed in the April 16th Stars & Stripes:

I swore to preserve freedom, but what they left out was to preserve freedom of other countries. Iraq had nothing to do with Sept. 11. I understand fighting for freedom when it’s necessary, and Afghanistan was necessary, but not Iraq.

...this mission is complete crap....It’s stupid and we’re risking other soldiers’ lives. For what? Iraqi liberation? Weapons of mass destruction? Neither one of those has been even close to being found.

Pfc. Bradley Robb
Camp Striker, Iraq

Hat tip to The Raw Story.

Making the world safe for military contractors

Wow! President Bush is such a sage diplomat. India and Pakistan have nuclear warheads pointed at each other, so let's give them some fighter jets. Maybe this would be a good time to announce a sale of advanced weapons to Taiwan, and then give some good "advice" to China:

On the same day last month that the United States announced that it would sell F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, President Bush personally called the prime minister of India, Pakistan's archrival, with advice intended to soften the blow. The United States, Mr. Bush confided, had decided to allow fighter jet sales to India as well.

Uhh...how has this "9-11 gold rush" contributed to finding Osama bin Laden? And how do fighter jets in Pakistan and India help prevent a terrorist attack inside the U.S., which is more likely to come in the form of a bomb in a public place?
The last few years since 9/11 have been a gold rush for U.S. contractors," said Jon Kutler, president of Quarterdeck Investment Partnership, a unit of the Jeffries Group.

Why does the United States need to strengthen its presence on the Chinese border? And since when has the Pentagon budget been under pressure? The Pentagon has seen budget increases every year for years:
Some critics denounced the Bush administration's move as contributing to a South Asian arms race. But from the government's perspective, weapons sales to Pakistan and India strengthen the American presence on the Chinese border and open new markets throughout Asia for military contractors, which are looking more to foreign buyers as the Pentagon budget comes under pressure.

Oh, hey, by the way Mr. Musharef, we'll just put those jet fighters on our tab:
Because of Pakistan's meager economy, $3 billion in American aid will be provided to buy the F-16's.

Meanwhile, Dubya's putting a nice upward slope on the national debt which totaled $7,786,560,972,566.27 just a day before tax day:


Yup, you're reading that chart correctly. Bush is responsible for $2 trillion of that debt.

By the way, without batting an eye, I just lobbed $283 billion off of the deficit. Play the National Budget Simulation.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Tax winners, debt slaves

Robert Kuttner, "The Biggest Tax Cheats":

The Internal Revenue Service recently released a report estimating that taxes owed but not collected in 2001 (the last year studied) ranged from $312 billion to $353 billion. That didn't even count much of the tax evasion by US firms offshore.

The IRS isn't talking about students or moms and dads working as waiters and waitresses hiding tips, writes Molly Ivins. Hiding tips because your boss pays you $2.35 an hour accounts for just five percent of the total.

No, the real deadbeats are those who report "business income." They steal $100 billion a year from the military, police, schools, medical research, and care for the ill and infirm.

"That would cover the cost of Medicare and the war in Iraq, with change left over," said Ivins.

What's the Bush administration doing about it? The IRS enforcement budget is a third of what it was during the Clinton administration.

Oh yeah...that was when we had budget surpluses and the outlook for the future of America looked bright. Maybe our impoverished children will one day celebrate the 90's as the "good old days."

Then there's the agreement negotiated with other nations by Clinton, but siderailed by Bush, to catch tax cheats who have moved as much as $11 trillion to offshore banks. The Bush administration saw the need for such an agreement for terrorists, but not for his friends at KBR and Halliburton.

No, there are too many "privacy concerns" to allow the government access to the financial records of wealthy deadbeats. The Bush administration is proving that it doesn't have the stomach to make criminals out of his tax cheat friends for financial transactions that they claim are just "technical violations."

Meanwhile, people who made $1 million last year were given tax cuts averaging $123,600, and if Bush and the Republican Congress have their way, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans will get another $1 trillion if tax cuts are made permanent. If that happens, for the first time since the popular progressive backlash against robber-barons led to reforms of the tax code in 1913, middle-class taxpayers will actually contribute more to the treasury than millionaires and billionaires.

The next tax cut for the wealthy coming down the pike is elimination of the estate tax. The Republican House bill passed on Thursday. It's up to the Senate now to kill the legislation.

Elimination of the estate tax will only reinforce the already overwhelming advantage of wealthy Americans. "It's better to be poor in Norway than in the US," wrote David Francis for the Christian Science Monitor:
In a list of 30 prosperous nations, including smaller economies such as Taiwan and Israel, only Russia and Mexico have a greater maldistribution of income than the US.

...well-to-do American families, far ahead of most prosperous families in the other nations, can provide their children with all the benefits their good incomes can provide - nutritious food, computer courses, travel, expensive universities, etc. They get a degree, develop a good career, find a suitable educated marriage partner, and have probably one or two kids.

These advantages can put them well ahead in life - reinforcing what some observers see as a growing class structure in the US as the income distribution has worsened in recent decades.

In its defense, Bill Gates said the estate tax "is a fair payback to society for the opportunity to do business in our marvelous economy and society."

Echoing Gates' sentiment, thousands of wealthy Americans recognize their responsibility to fellow Americans, and the vital role they play in keeping America strong by returning a small percentage of their wealth back to society.

A member of Responsible Wealth, millionaire Heleny Cook says "Tax Me More":
This Tax Day, I'm telling Congress to stop giving me tax breaks. I'm wealthy. I don't need them, and they're bad for our country.

As a teacher, I can't look my students in the eye and tell them millionaires should get tax cuts while schools and libraries are hit with budget cuts.

As a citizen, I can't face a military family and tell them they should sacrifice while millionaires get tax breaks.

The budgets passed by the House and Senate deserve an F for economics and ethics.

It's irresponsible to dig our nation deeper into debt to give tax breaks to millionaires.

It's immoral to cut health care and child care to give tax cuts to millionaires.

Our government is not fulfilling the promise of equal opportunity for children, it is undoing it.

Households with incomes above $1 million got tax cuts averaging $123,600 last year. That tax break could cover the pay of three teachers.

Tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent will cost more than $1 trillion over the next ten years if they are made permanent.

That translates into $300 million a day less for education and public health and safety. It means $300 million a day less for clean water, clean air and renewable energy, $300 million a day less to invest in research, job training and small business development.

Federal tax revenues have fallen to their lowest level as a share of the economy since the 1950s. Medicare and Medicaid didn't even exist in the 1950s.

We can't build 21st century education and healthcare on a 1950s tax base.

That's right. Sophomoric metaphors aside, Thomas Friedman criticizes Bush for "unilaterally disarming" American economic competitiveness by shortshrifting investment in research and education, "cutting the Pentagon's budget for basic science and technology research by 20 percent next year - after President Bush and the Republican Congress already slashed the 2005 budget of the National Science Foundation by $100 million." Since Bush took office in 2001, Japan, South Korea, and China passed the United States in broadband internet usage.

The United States is going from building a bridge to the 21st century during the Clinton era, to reverting into a pre-industrial economy and society during the Bush era. There exists a broad index of measures on how the United States is falling behind in scientific research--a topic I'll have to return to after I dig out some clipped articles.

And speaking of cheating the middle class while handing out special favors to the wealthy, has anyone noticed the blackout in broadcast news of criticism of the bankruptcy bill headed to the BushCo desk for signing. Oh yeah, they all quote Bush's praise for the legislation, but no one wants to mention that among families filing for bankruptcy, 50 percent suffered disastrous medical expenses, and three-quarters of them did what they were supposed to--they had health insurance. Another 40 percent of bankruptcies were caused by the loss of an adult income in households through death (including casualties from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), divorce, or job loss, according to David Swanson.

There's no mention that most people have already fought to the very end to pay their obligations to creditors (i.e., banks, HMO's, doctors, pharmaceutical and insurance companies). Over sixty percent skipped getting medical care they needed but couldn't afford, fifty percent didn't fill their prescriptions, a third had their utilities shut off, twenty percent went without food, and seven percent moved their parents to cheaper care facilities.

No, the corporate broadcast media, controlled by the corporate elite, doesn't want you to know that federal lawmakers refused to close the "asset protection trust" loophole used by millionaires and billionaires to shelter mansions and other assets from creditors in bankruptcy. Those same lawmakers weakened protections that protect the family homes of ordinary people from creditors during bankruptcy.

And by the way, 142 House Democrats received an average campaign contribution of $7,884 from the credit card industry in the 2004 election cycle. 73 of them voted for the legislation, including New Orleans' slumlord, Bill Jefferson.

Meanwhile, the credit card companies who fought for years to get the bankruptcy bill passed are having such a tough time that they only profited $30 billion last year. That's right, you'd be correct in thinking that they take this money as part of the risk premium collected in higher interest rates, but when they hand out cards like candy, they want the government to crack down on debtors. I guess responsibility is something only the poor and middle class have to learn.

Imagine doing everything you're supposed to do to protect yourself from financial disaster. Insurance companies make their billions on your premiums, and then, when you get sick, you and your family are thrown out on the street. There's little hope then of saving for your retirement in a private account, is there?

Bush and co. are destroying the planet, destroying America, and turning us all into debt slaves. Can there be any doubt about the agenda?

Capital knows no borders, pays respect to no allegiance, owes no loyalty to any community. We are witnessing nothing less than the dismantling of the United States system as it has existed for the last 200 plus years--or maybe just its logical end. I seriously doubt Bush understands this. He's too dumb and too incurious. He's just a piehole for a conspiracy of money and power.

You may as well just get yourself a gun and a plot of land. That's just about all that will be left to live off of in another twenty years.

Retired officer says to Bush and Republicans, "pucker up and kiss my ass"

This has been out there for about a little over a week--a conversation between two retired officers posted on Steve Gilliard's News Blog, with hat tip to DailyKos:

I don’t wish for failure but I don’t expect success. I started my blog as a result of the piss-poor coverage of the Iraq war in the American media. Rumsfeld and his buddies have fucked up this war from jump street, and the US media has failed to report it.

After 27 years of active duty, I know a bit about US Army operational doctrine and force structure planning. You don’t make a deep attack on a strategic objective along a single axis of advance, and you always build your force structure with sufficient resources to protect your lines of communication during the campaign and to secure your objective after you’ve taken it.

Despite the advice of the uniformed officers, Rumsfeld and his civilian political appointees (most of whom never served a day in uniform unless they were Boy Scouts or worked at Burger King) insisted on a minimal force structure and a single attack route to Baghdad.

I didn’t swear allegiance to a political party, like Soviet officers, and I didn’t swear my loyalty to a Fuehrer, like Wehrmacht officers. I know few Russians, but after serving in Germany and speaking the language, I met many former Wehrmacht officers who rued the day they swore a personal oath to Hitler. Ask me to swear an oath to a political party or a partisan leader and I’ll tell you to pucker up and kiss my ass.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The beatings will stop when morale improves

People who live downwind of chemical plant stacks in cancer alley along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans have fought hard to force chemical companies to inform them when toxic chemicals are released into the air. Shepherding their claims against chemical companies for over 27 years was Willie Fontenot.

For the crime of educating people about the dangers of toxic releases, and the struggle for the public's right to know, Willie Fontenot was forced to quit his job as the community liaison officer in the Louisiana Attorney General's office. He tendered his resignation on Monday, April 4th. 62-year-old Fontenot said he was told he'd be fired if he didn't resign.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Charles Foti denied that Fontenot was forced to retire.

Fontenot's troubles were triggered by an incident that occurred while he was hosting a group of environmental students from New England's Antioch Graduate School. The group stopped at the home of a woman who refused to be moved off of her land next to a major ExxonMobil chemical plant. Some students began taking photos, when, within two minutes, off-duty police, sheriff's department, and private security officers detained the group.

In the ensuing dispute, the officers claim that Fontenot was uncooperative in getting students to turn over their id's, and that students were trespassing on private property. The students and Antioch College deny those claims. When the student's instructor, Steve Chase, asked an officer to whom and for what he would be submitting a report, the officer threatened to call in the "homeland security" people to detain the group overnight for questioning.

Given the speedy response to the photo session, the officers must have been closely trailing the group. Just a day earlier, a private security guard for Shell's Norco chemical plant detained members of the group, claiming that taking photographs of the facility was a federal violation.

By the way, for those who don't know, the history of petrochemical companies in the Mississippi corridor is so pervasive that the name of the town Norco is actually an acronym for the long defunct New Orleans Refining Company. A friend of mine who grew up and lived in Norco until about a year ago has said she'd find a residue of funk on her car almost every morning from the previous night's "accidental" releases.

In the Orwellian Newspeak of the times, simply bearing witness to corporate environmental crimes against citizens is itself a crime punishable by the Department of Homeland Security.

Do we now live in a post 9-11 brave new world where love is hate, peace is war, freedom is slavery, toxic emissions are good for us, and having a view of smokestacks in cancer alley is "doubleplusgood"?

Four Key Pieces of Information About Longtime Environmental Advocate Willie Fontenot Being Forced Out Of His Job, Mindfully.org.

Antioch New England Study Trip Sparks Political Harassment In Louisiana, Indymedia.org.

Mark Schliefstein, "Activists' ally snared in security net," The Times-Picayune, 5 April 2005.

Carl Pope, "Mixed News in the Bayou," Sierra Club, 8 April 2005.

Amy Wold, "AG staffer retires rather than face hearing," The Advocate.

Amy Wold, "Former attorney general staffer gets support," The Advocate.

More...

From Carolyn Brown: Are we Democrats ready to address real issues?

Subject: Antioch New England Statement on Political

Harassment of Environmental Justice Tour in LA

Below is a press release from the Antioch New England Graduate School concerning harassment of the school's faculty and students during their Environmental Justice tour in Louisiana. The tour was led by Attorney General's Office Community Liaison Officer Willie Fontenot. As a result of his defense of the participants' academic freedom and of their basic civil liberties he was forced out of his 27-year long position with the Attorney General's Office.

Willie Fontenot will speak at the conclusion of Loyola's Gaia Fest, which will be held on Earth Day, April 22 from 3:00 to 6:00 PM.

# # #

For immediate release April 7, 2005

For more information, please contact: Eleanor Falcon, Director of Public Affairs 603.357.3122 ext 213 efalcon@antiochne.edu

Antioch New England Study Trip Sparks Political Harassment In Louisiana Respected Environmental Advocate Forced Out of Job By Attorney General

Keene, NH - From March 14 to 25, two instructors and 13 master's students from Antioch New England Graduate School's Environmental Studies Program in Keene, NH visited Louisiana as part of a field studies course entitled Environmental Justice in the Mississippi Delta.

During their visit, the Antioch New England class met with a diverse array of stakeholders, including elected officials, petrochemical industry executives, union leaders, scientists, EPA officials, environmental activists, and members of polluted communities along the stretch of the Mississippi River that many state officials call "the Chemical Corridor" and local people often call "Cancer Alley." The Antioch New England study group also met some people they did not expect to, including off-duty police and sheriff's department officers and corporate security officials who detained them on two separate occasions because they took photos of industrial facilities from public roadways and sidewalks.

On March 16, Mr. Willie Fontenot was accompanying the group in his official capacity as Community Liaison Officer for the Louisiana Attorney General's Office. They were touring the neighborhood surrounding the major ExxonMobil chemical facility in the area. Mr.Fontenot took the group to the neighborhood because ExxonMobil has engaged in a program to buy out nearby homeowners who had long complained of toxic emissions from the plant. During a stop on a side street off Scenic Highway, some students got out of the group's vehicle and took photos of a remaining home and the ExxonMobil facility. Students are required to complete a visual presentation about the trip as a course assignment and took photos throughout their stay in Louisiana.

Course instructor Steve Chase, the Director of Antioch's Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program, said members of the group had been detained the day before by a corporate security guard near the Shell chemical plant in Norco who claimed that photographing industrial facilities was a violation of federal law and had threatened Chase and the students with images of FBI agents knocking on their doors in the middle of the night. Mr. Fontenot explained, however, that while the police had every right to stop and ask people who they were, standing on public property and photographing facilities was perfectly legal. "I've researched this extensively over the years because I often give tours to academics and journalists as part of my job with the Attorney General's Office," said Mr. Fontenot.

Within two minutes of the stop near the ExxonMobiil plant, a pair of off-duty officers from the Baton Rouge sheriff's and police departments, wearing their official public service uniforms, but in the employ of ExxonMobil, quickly detained the group. Fulltime ExxonMobil security officials soon joined the detention team. "We were less than impressed," said co-instructor Abigail Abrash Walton, "when one of the officers falsely stated that three of the students had gone on company property and then falsely claimed that we were refusing to turn over our IDs." When asked by the course instructor about what actions he would be taking in filing a report about the group, the off-duty sheriff's department officer refused to answer, and instead responded aggressively that he was going to call in "homeland security" people who would detain the group into the night.

The group was released after more than an hour, but later learned that the sheriff's department had filed a complaint with the Attorney General against Mr. Fontenot, the group's local guide for the day. Both The New Orleans Times-Picayune and The Baton Rouge Advocate reported that Mr. Fontenot was forced to retire at 10 am on Tuesday, April 5, or risk being fired over the incident. Said Mr. Fontenot, "I was advised that taking retirement was a better way to go."

"I am very disappointed," said Chase, "that our detention served as the catalyst for the Attorney General to force Mr. Fontenot out of the public service job he's held for 27 years. Given what we experienced, I suspect that this whole matter has just been used as an excuse to remove one of the state's most respected citizen participation advocates from the Attorney General's Office." Chase added, "I am particularly stunned that Mr. Fontenot lost his job when even the U.S. Coast Guard investigator who phoned me when we arrived back in New Hampshire assured me that there is absolutely no local, state, or federal law against photographing industrial facilities from public sidewalks."

Co-instructor Abigail Abrash Walton noted, "This incident showed our students a vivid example of how law enforcement and corporations can sometimes overstep their legitimate security duties in the guise of 'homeland security.' This experience was also a firsthand glimpse of the type of over-the-top repression that community members and their supporters told us they experience on the frontlines of trying to defend their communities' health and homes in Louisiana."

As a response to Mr. Fontenot being forced out of his job, the Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program at Antioch New England Graduate School is working with Marylee Orr, Executive Director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), to create a fund to help Mr. Fontenot make up his lost salary and continue to work for environmental justice in Louisiana through a nonprofit organization of his choice. The Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program, LEAN, and other Louisiana citizen groups and members of the academic community are considering further actions aimed at addressing the political harassment of academics, concerned community members, and advocates in Louisiana.

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Monday, April 11, 2005

Coming soon to a zoo near you...monkey on a stick

May 10th is the last day for the public to submit comments on the Audubon Commission's 90% Master Plan. After that, the commission will finalize its Master Plan, defining the development goals and maintenance strategy for Audubon Park over the next 20 years.

About 30 people attended the commission's April 11th public meeting. It was a poorly advertised event, with no mention of the meeting on the Audubon Institute's web site (no surprise). The majority of the vehicles in the parking lot were luxury suv's and sedans.

Among a dozen or so comments made, New Orleans residents offered praises for the plan to build a labyrinth, complaints about encroachment onto park property by residents bordering the park, concern over road-building plans, and requests to build a skate facility.

Only one person complained about the newly expanded golf course (ahem...moi), with its bleak, sun-scorched, surreal hills in the middle of a natural lowland habitat. I paid token respect to the commission by applauding the plan to renovate the rest rooms and existing facilities like the ball parks, but I protested any endeavor to build new facilities. Complaining that I've seen more developed space and less natural space since the golf course expansion, I argued that the park commission should manage its existing assets, not expand them or build new facilities.

While I praised the commission's tree inventory project, I deplored the lack of any audit of migratory birds or other wildlife in the park. Perhaps the commission realized the futility of such an endeavor now that they've created a wide open lunar landscape in the middle of what used to be a rich canopied space woven throughout the park. I asked the commission to consider creating more of a buffer to block the view of the golf course for park users who don't appreciate what the Audubon Institute praises on its web site as offering "beautiful new vistas enjoyed by all park users." Sounds like Stalinist doublespeak. Excepting myself from that enjoyment, I argued that the golf course expansion was an abomination which James Audubon would not have approved.

The Audubon Commission pats itself on the back for showing in its 90% Plan an increase from 3520 to 3912 trees between 1992, and the 2002 tree inventory. The commission does not, however, enumerate the numbers of trees it eviscerated from the park over that period of time, and especially during the golf course expansion. Furthermore, the 90% Plan has identified an additional 331 trees for removal without making any specific plans to replace them. The public is simply supposed to trust the Audubon Commission's "desire...to achieve a sustainable, multi-generational asset in its tree population."

Meanwhile, perhaps reflecting its members' love of golf and greens, permitting native understory species to promote wildlife habitat "would directly conflict with public safety and the historic landscape aesthetic." What's historic about grass? And...oh yeah...we're long overdue a New Orleans B-movie horror flick about killer weeds.

I uncovered another little tidbit from the Audubon Institute web site illuminating the upside-down priorities of the institute. The web site highlighted the mission to benefit the community at all levels, including "nurturing economic development," and emphasizing the institute's success in celebrating and preserving the wonders of nature "even in the face of great challenges."

Since when was economic development a mission of the Audubon Institute? I submit that the greatest challenge to the Audubon Institute's mission is the Audubon Institute itself.

How many visitors to New Orleans will go home shouting praises of the newly expanded golf course? It's absolutely no different from any other pitiful golf course limited to the confines of a relatively small urban park. Okay, I admit it. I hate golf courses. I'd much rather walk a trail in the woods than get burned like a beet chasing a ball around a treeless moonscape.

Alternatively, how much different would visitors' impressions be if, for example, the Audubon Institute actually strived to perpetuate for all generations that unique appreciation for the natural habitat that James Audubon inspired in us through his illustrations? How much more might be said of New Orleans if, instead of clearing Live Oaks to make way for a golf course expansion, Ron Forman and the Audubon Commission had the vision to put Audubon Park on the map as a bird sanctuary, planting more trees and expanding the habitat for migratory birds seeking a safe place to rest in their long journey across the Gulf of Mexico? Places like St. Francisville are trying to do just that, with an incredibly unique habitat on the Mississippi that was purchased by the Nature Conservancy and donated to the National Park Service.

Ah well, little should be expected from the small minds of Ron Forman and his elite clique who rebuilt the Audubon Tea Room out of pure mahogany. When criticized by the New Orleans community for exhibiting such a callous disregard for the destruction of rainforest habitat where mahogany is found, Forman lamely retorted that the lumber came from a mahogany plantation. Now, I can't say I know everything there is to know about Latin America, but I've traveled around a good bit over a number of years. I've never heard of mahogany plantations. They are hardwoods that take somewhere around 100 years to mature. In any event, if such a thing existed, it would obviously require the destruction of a lot of natural habitat to make way for a very large plantation. You see, the problem with harvesting mahogany, and other rare species of trees, is that the whole ecosystem has to be razed to get to a few logs.

As I recall it, a letter to the editor of the Times-Picayune stated that if a "mahogany look" was what the Audubon Institute wanted, it could have simply bought a few cans of mahogany-colored stain instead of killing monkeys in a rainforest somewhere for the appeal of the real thing. A former boss of mine joked that Ron Forman and the Audubon Institute might just as well have posted monkey skulls in front of the zoo.

Post your comments folks! You're a taxpayer? The Audubon Institute gets your money--gobs of it--more, in fact, than the New Orleans Recreation Department and many other city agencies according to one resident at the public hearing. That entitles you to have a say in whether your money gets spent on improving golf courses and cages, or planting more trees and keeping the public bathrooms safe and clean. The Audubon Institute might like you to think that it exists as a private club for its rich patrons, but it belongs to everyone--so far.

Here's a postscript to the story. I just confirmed by asking the Audubon Institute directly--they proudly claim that the floors are Brazilian Cherry, and the rest of the construction is mahogany.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Rest in peace Karol Wojtyla

Be not afraid


Totus Tuus

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Pope John Paul II, post-Cold War anti-capitalist

Americans love to boast that the United States won the Cold War, and they like to use the claim to validate American capitalism.

They're wrong.

The United States didn't "win" anything. To the contrary, the Soviet system failed internally because it could no longer suppress its citizens' desires for freedom, nor could it adequately provide material comfort. The extent to which people claim the U.S. won the Cold War, they tend to miss the inherent imperfections of the capitalist system, and conversely, the merits of Marxism.

I've spoken up at length about my views on capitalism elsewhere, but I'd like to share what Pope John Paul II said about capitalism. We know the Pope was opposed to the Soviet order, but less may be known about his opposition to unbridled capitalism.

John Paul is universally recognized as an inspiration for the Solidarity workers movement in Poland. The broad appeal of Solidarity exposed the weakness of the Soviet satellite government, which in turn led to the domino effect of other Soviet government failures. Ever since, John Paul has been widely hailed as a warrior against communist regimes.

While John Paul was justifiably very critical of "communist" (i.e., totalitarian socialist) regimes, neither did he parse words when criticizing the inhumanity of runaway capitalism.

On a visit to Canada in 1984, the Pope criticized the concentration of capital in large corporations, instead suggesting an economic model based upon smaller units of production when possible, with more decision-making power in the hands of workers. He deplored the "imperialistic monopoly" of wealthy nations, stating that they will be judged by poor people and poor nations for taking away their food and their freedom.

In his 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), the Pope asserted that the Catholic church's notion of private property was radically different from both the Marxist and capitalist notions. He even suggested the need for the socialization of the means of production in some cases.

The Pope attacked the "radical capitalist ideology" of materialism and injustice in his 1987 encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (Concern in Social Policy). He criticized both the Soviet and Western capitalist nations for the hardships they created throughout the globe, accusing them of neocolonial imperialism.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, in the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, the Pope clearly stated that the collapse of the Soviet system did not vindicate the capitalist nations, arguing that to claim victory without freeing their own people from poverty was not just. He warned:

The Western countries...run the risk of seeing this collapse as a one-sided victory of their own economic system, and thereby failing to make necessary corrections in that system.

Later, on his 1993 visit to Latvia, John Paul proclaimed that there was "a kernal of truth in Marxism" which recognized the "exploitation to which an inhuman capitalism had subjected the proletariat since the beginning of industrial society."

The Pope spoke often of the advantages of capitalist enterprise, and clearly stated that he wasn't condemning market economies as the best of available economic systems. At the same time, he argued in 1997 "that a market economy left to unconditional freedom is far from bringing the greatest possible advantages to individuals and societies."

On his 1999 visit to Mexico, the Pope criticized the "neo-liberal" economic model which viewed economic activity in terms of "profit and law of the markets as its only parameters." Defiant of capitalist exploitation, he proclaimed, "No more exploitation of the weak...never again!"

On the topic of globalization, John Paul recommended as recently as 2002 that the market be subjected to laws of solidarity, to prevent individuals and societies from being adversely affected by deregulation of markets.

If a man could survive at all, history couldn't help but produce someone like John Paul (Karol Wojtyla), who knew first-hand the sins that could be committed in the name of extreme political ideologies. After all, tens of millions of people just like Karol Wojtyla were gassed, executed, fire-bombed, imprisoned, and disappeared over the course of the 20th Century by Bolsheviks, Leninists, Maoists, capitalists, military juntas, fascists, and...oh yeah, let's not forget that particular breed of fascists, the Nazis. The Nazis were particularly brutal in dealing with the Poles. The same cruelty and murder that the Nazis reserved for Jews, was visited upon the Poles with an added vengeance.

His experience with the Nazis, and later the Soviets, forged in Karol Wojtyla a rugged and courageous attitude in defiance of ideologies which deny people their lives and dignity. Karol Wojtyla, and anyone else who survived the Nazis, deserves our respect and attention.

After Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism were defeated, Pope John Paul II turned his attention to the last great evil, radical capitalism (and its bully counterpart, industrial-militarism). Indeed, on the topic of war, the Pope spared no words in berating George W. Bush for his policies in Iraq. His health visibly failing, Pope John Paul nevertheless made Bush look like a first-grader taking a stern lesson in behaving nice to classmates.

Although his final work remained incomplete, his strong advocacy for the poor and disadvantaged should inspire us all to continue the struggle for justice.

To conclude, this was (allegedly) the last rites declaration of Pope John Paul II:
The unforgiveable sins this earth must confront and overcome are nationalism, capitalism, and hoarding. The idea of every nation should be forgot, price should be struck from the commons, and princes should be seen for the devils they are. The sins include our church, secret societies, and other religions which make of the spirit of God a divide.

And this quote from John Paul, which aptly sums up his perspective:
Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.

For more about Pope John Paul II's views on economics and justice, John Pawlikowski wrote an excellent paper from which many of the quotes found here were drawn.