Tuesday, January 31, 2006

State of the Union speech

President Bush opened his speech with a brief tribute to Coretta Scott King, who died earlier in the day.

The tribute was appropriate, but it was notable in that it was all that the President had to say about race relations; relations that certainly were on display during Katrina, a lowpoint of the past year that the President would like to forget. What happened to, 'we will rebuild the Great City of New Orleans?'

Well, here, near the end of the speech:

So far the federal government has committed $85 billion to the people of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. We are removing debris, repairing highways, and building stronger levees. We are providing business loans and housing assistance.

Yet as we meet these immediate needs, we must also address deeper challenges that existed before the storm arrived. In New Orleans and in other places, many of our fellow citizens have felt excluded from the promise of our country.

Pretty much as little as he could get away with saying.

The President said as little as he could about Katrina, and nothing at all about race relations in general.

He began with the war on terror, which he again linked to the war in Iraq. This went on for half his speech.

One line went like this: In 1945, there were about two dozen lonely democracies on Earth. Today, there are 122.

And American invasion and occupation created how many of those? Even if Bush claims that both Iraq and Afghanistan are successes, look at how many democracies were created without the use of American troops.

do not forget the other half — in places like Syria, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran — because the demands of justice, and the peace of this world, require their freedom as well.

Burma is the old colonial-era name for Myanmar, but considering how Bush was brought up to view the world, I guess that slip can be excused. Of course the biggest repressive nation in the world-- China, is our 'buddy' right now, so they don't make the list.

[Terrorists] seek to impose a heartless system of totalitarian control throughout the Middle East, and arm themselves with weapons of mass murder. Their aim is to seize power in Iraq, and use it as a safe haven to launch attacks against America and the world.

1. If we hadn't gone into Iraq, the terrorists would not be pouring in there to kill Americans.

2. Their attacks in London, Bali and Madrid (all of which occurred since after the Iraq war started) seems to suggest that the attacks are happening anyway, and they don't originate in Iraq.

In a time of testing, we cannot find security by abandoning our commitments and retreating within our borders.

Tell that to the Minuteman project.

If we were to leave these vicious attackers alone, they would not leave us alone. They would simply move the battlefield to our own shores. There is no peace in retreat. And there is no honor in retreat.

First, they have singled out the U.S. for attack because we are the primary source of support for the corrupt and ruthless monarchies that hold sway in most of the countries they are from. If we quit supporting all those sheiks and emirs, I suspect they would be overthrown from the inside, removing the main source of anger and resentment among people in those countries who like bin Laden turn to terrorism as an answer. True, they would still be angry at us for supporting Israel, which we will continue to do, but at the same time, the way to address this is by working towards a comprehensive settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, something that Bush's predecessors at least tried to do, with varying degrees of success, but which he has never really tried to do.

Second, When is this a war about honor? Democracy, yes. WMD's, yes it was pitched that way. terrorists, that was used. But war is a terrible bloody thing, and those who think that it is about covering oneself with glory are probably still living in a past that in reality never was, to those who actually fought and died in the wars of human history.

Now, there is no question that we should never even consider making peace with someone like bin Laden, but that in no way justifies Iraq.

Third, we are striking terrorist targets while we train Iraqi forces that are increasingly capable of defeating the enemy. Iraqis are showing their courage every day, and we are proud to be their allies in the cause of freedom.

And I'm sure that the Badr brigade, Iranian backed militia that have infiltrated the Iraqi army appreciate the training.

Marine Staff Sergeant Dan Clay was killed last month fighting the enemy in Falluja.

I thought we ended the resistance in Fallujah last November; guess not. Guerilla warfare is nasty-- you can control a place, but as soon as you leave the land reverts back to local control. That's why we have trouble controlling any place for very long in Anbar Province.

And tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you, and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.

Ouch. How do you think that Iran will respond to this? I don't know, but think how it would feel if a foreign power said to us that they were speaking to the American people and that they hope that someday we will be a theocracy like them.

Previous presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have -- and federal courts have approved the use of that authority.

We've looked at that before. Abuses of the past led to the creation of the FISA, and turning back the clock to the days of those abuses hardly represents progress.

In the last two-and-a-half years, America has created 4.6 million new jobs.

That was after losing nearly three million before that. And the jobs lost have been mostly manufacturing jobs, with benefits, and replaced by low paying jobs with no benefits. So, over five years, Bush's record is a net of less than 2 million jobs. And in any case, Clinton created 20 million jobs in eight years.

This year my budget will cut it again, and reduce or eliminate more than 140 programs that are performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities. By passing these reforms, we will save the American taxpayer another $14 billion next year -- and stay on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009.

Why do I get the feeling that these programs help the poor and the elderly? And Bush has squandered way more than $14 billion on his Medicare drug plan alone, not to mention Iraq and the effects of the tax cuts on the deficit.

The retirement of the baby-boom generation will put unprecedented strains on the federal government. By 2030, spending for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid alone will be almost 60 percent of the entire federal budget. And that will present future Congresses with impossible choices -- staggering tax increases, immense deficits, or deep cuts in every category of spending.

Note, that the Medicare drug bill, projected to grow much faster than Social Security, is a big part of that. It is a sop to the pharmaceutical industry, and even an awful lot of seniors don't see much worthwhile in it. So the quickest way to address that is to undo the mistake of two years ago and get rid on the bill.

Also, if we had a national health care plan like other industrialized countries, we could keep costs down by negotiating with health care providers (as I have blogged on before, they are a higher proportion of the GDP in the U.S. than in other countries), and then we would be able to get rid of Medicare and Medicaid (which would be folded into the overall system.) What people don't think about is that they are already paying taxes to provide healthcare to the elderly and poor-- two high risk groups, and STILL have to, between their employers and themselves plus the profit to the insurance company, pay for their own health care.

As to Social Security, I agree that there is a problem ahead if we do nothing. However, what the President proposed to do last year (borrowing billions to privatize part of the system) would have done zip towards making it solvent. Come up with something that works, then we can look at implementing it. Also, one thing that no one factored in last year (couldn't, because you can't assume a law will change) is that with the millions of illegals, almost all young, who are now working 'off the books' (and therefore whose employers don't send in any Social Security taxes). If in fact we do create either some kind of anmesty or guest worker program so that the employers can report them as legal hires (and send in Social Security tax on them) that in itself would go a long way towards restoring a better balance of active to retired workers. Getting rid of the cap on wages subject to the tax would also go a long way towards solving the problem. If a company can afford to pay their CEO $40 million per year, then they can afford to pay 6.2% in Social Security taxes, the same as they pay for their lower level salaried employees.

Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security.

Thank God for that. His proposal would not have saved Social Security, just as a similar privatization scheme passed in Britain in 1984 damaged, rather than saved, the British retirement system.

Keeping America competitive requires us to open more markets for all that Americans make and grow. One out of every five factory jobs in America is related to global trade, and we want people everywhere to buy American. With open markets and a level playing field, no one can out-produce or out-compete the American worker.

Then, let's make the playing field level: tie free trade agreements to upholding standards similar to ours in environmental protection laws, working conditions and pay, and anti-corruption measures (well, maybe even a bit higher than ours on that last one.)

Keeping America competitive requires affordable health care.

Hint: Healthcare is affordable in all other industrialized countries.

We will strengthen health savings accounts.

I will have to do a post on these insidious little schemes sometime. HSA's are a mechanism primarily designed to shift more of the responsibilities and costs for health care onto workers.

I ask the Congress to pass medical liability reform this year.

One problem with that is that the number they like to quote-- $250,000 (reduced to $166,667 if your lawyer gets a third and is willing to write off expenses), is about what some operations can cost. So what he is saying is that if they make a serious medical error (like the little girl at Duke University Medical Center who got the wrong heart a few years ago) and kill your child because of negligence, stupidity and incompetence, you get your money back. Heck, even Rick Santorum, a leading advocate of limiting lawsuits to $250,000, got more than that himself a few years ago when his wife sued a chiropracter. It's just you that they want to limit.

But as far as your medical bills that they can charge you-- the sky is still the limit.

ENERGY ADDICTION: See my last post.

Tonight I announce the American Competitiveness Initiative, to encourage innovation throughout our economy, and to give our nation's children a firm grounding in math and science.

First: I propose to double the federal commitment to the most critical basic research programs in the physical sciences over the next 10 years. This funding will support the work of America's most creative minds as they explore promising areas such as nanotechnology, supercomputing, and alternative energy sources.

Does that include I.D., Mr. President? And what good is it to have our kids learn science when we have cut research budgets at institutions of higher ed across the country, limited what they can research (i.e. stem cell limitations) and ignore what they find out if we don't like it(the mountains of evidence on global warming). This administration has been the most anti-science of any I can remember (not just my opinion, either, scientists feel the same way), so this is a perfect example of rhetoric that flies in the face of reality.

We have made a good start in the early grades with the No Child Left Behind Act, which is raising standards and lifting test scores across our country.

Uh, SAT scores and other standardized testing scores began going up under Clinton. If anything, credit Goals 2000. This begins a recurring theme that Bush goes into here: taking credit for successes that Bill Clinton created.

In recent years, America has become a more hopeful nation. Violent crime rates have fallen to their lowest levels since the 1970s. Welfare cases have dropped by more than half over the past decade. Drug use among youth is down 19 percent since 2001. There are fewer abortions in America than at any point in the last three decades.

Hopeful? People are now spending more than they are saving for the first time since the great depression. Hopeful if you are a bank liquidation company that stands to benefit from the new bankruptcy bill.

Crime rates? Credit the Clinton 1993 crime bill that put 100,000 new cops on the streets, built more prisons and created youth programs (remember Republicans poking fun at midnight basketball leagues? Well dang it, they worked.)

Welfare? Of course it's down, since we booted more people off welfare. Now granted, some needed to be booted, but some have ended up on the streets with no hope of finding a job. And those who were booted off and found jobs, did so among the 20 million jobs that Clinton created.

Drug use among youth: Credit Clinton again. Anti-drug education in the schools works.

Abortion and teen pregnancy: Yes, they are down. I've blogged on that as well. At least Bush gets the time frame right. And what has happened over the past dozen years? Sex ed, family planning, and birth control (yes, including condom distribution in the schools.) Keep in mind that 'abstinence only' education is a recent phenomenon that is still used in only a handful of schools. The success, in other words, of the Liberal agenda. Which conservatives opposed tooth and nail.

So Bush is right in terms of that paragraph. But he takes credit for the fruit that someone else planted.

This is a very typical State of the Union speech (by Bush or any other President): Long on topics, short on specifics. We will have to see what his specific proposals are this year, but there is little in here that gives me much hope.

Arriving at the game in the eighth inning.

Apparently in tonight's state of the union address, President Bush plans to preach an end to 'oil addiction'.

Hope he succeeds in that, insofar as our economy shouldn't be dependent on what happens in unstable oil producing regions of the world.

However, he is rather late to the game.

Here are some initiatives that have been proposed by Democrats over the years, which Republicans have blocked or cut back on:

* Increasing fuel mileage standards on vehicles.
* Increased use of alternative fuels, including research on
electric, hydrogen and other fuel sources.
* More funding for mass transit.
* Tax credits or funding for installation of solar and better
insulation in homes.

Now, I hope that the President is serious about ending our addiction to oil (for greenhouse gas reasons, in addition to other reasons), but let's see if he follows his words with actions.

Monday, January 30, 2006

It wasn't today's vote. We blew our best chances to stop Alito weeks ago.

As I predicted, not with enthusiasm, but with a realistic outlook, Samuel Alito will be confirmed.

I suspect that Republicans would have been able to push it through no matter what, but today's filibuster vote (only 25 in favor) is the culmination of a series of strategic blunders that scuttled any chance we as Democrats had of derailing this.

Start with the Harriet Miers nomination. Though I had my misgivings about Ms. Miers, I suggested that as Democrats we should support her. She actually had a number of positions when she was a city councilwoman which made her seem like someone who could be reasonable. And the fact is, a lot of Democrats may have enjoyed watching the President get his wings singed by the far right in the GOP (and with the coup de grace administered by Democrat Chuck Schumer), but we shouldn't have been watching. We should have pushed ahead with the process. It is likely that the half of the Senate Republicans who remained loyal to the President together with Senate Democrats could have gotten her confirmed. And she would have been a centrist, much the same as O'Connor. But not wanting to fight the same fight twice, it became inevitable when she withdrew that the President would choose someone from the far right (I predicted that too, before it happened.) And if, God forbid, there is another vacancy on the court, you can be sure that the President will take the road he has walked successfully, and choose another bleak conservative, likely Michael Luttig or Edith Jones.

Time tested political advice: If your opponent makes a mistake, jump on it. We let it go by, waiting for... what?

Then, a number of further strategic mistakes were made in how we went about opposing the Alito nomination. Democrats could have avoided the whole 'party of no' label easily enough, by pointing out that half the Democrats in the Senate supported Roberts, and that we were prepared to support Miers. Therefore, a full frontal attack in the press and in ads on Alito would have carried some weight. But early on, our representatives were much too timid, allowing attitudes about him to gel pretty much as the right wanted them to. If Democrats in the Senate had decided to go for a filibuster, the time to begin putting the pieces in place for that was in the early days after the nomination was announced. But because little was done, people on the whole either ignored Alito or decided that he wasn't so bad (remember we on the left can see the problems with him, but the majority of people are not so political in the first place, and need specifics before they can be induced to support us.) Trying to put together a last minute filibuster was bound to fail. Our opponents were organized, and we were not. A dozen phone calls at the last minute are less effective than one on the first day. Trying to put together a filibuster in two days is like trying to stop a train when it is already pulling out of the station. Most likely outcome: you get run over by the train.

This was a party wide failure. Our leaders should have made a decision early on whether to filibuster and stuck with it. If they were not going to, then they should have made the decision to go public in a major way and try to turn the tide of public opinion. But they did not do that either. So in the end, it was only a question of how to play out a losing hand.

What can we do now? First, work to make sure that Democrats take control of the Senate. Second, begin educating people now about how the conservatives are one vote short of the five they need to support the right of the government to interfere in people's lives in every way one can conceive of. Then, if there is another vacancy, we will have already laid the ground work to prevail in the court of public opinion.

Race relations in sports, and in society.

I've had a couple of things happen this weekend which have caused me to ponder race relations in America.

On Saturday, I took my kids to the movies, and we saw Glory Road, the movie out from Disney starring Josh Lucas as Don Haskins, who in 1966 was hired as the men's basketball coach at Texas Western University (now UTEP) and recruited several very talented African American basketball players, who won the national championship that year by beating the all white University of Kentucky team coached by the legendary Adolf Rupp. Incidentally, if you see the movie, Haskins has a cameo. At one point Lucas is playing Haskins talking on a telephone at an Esso gas station; there is an old guy washing the windows on a vehicle behind him-- that's the real Don Haskins.

On Sunday, I was in a Sunday school class in which we were discussing Cain and Abel. Someone said that the 'mark of Cain' was a darker skin color. I didn't let that slide by unchallenged, which led to an interesting discussion. In fact, nowhere is 'skin' mentioned in discussing the mark of Cain, and I've heard it described as a spiritual darkness rather than a physical manifestation. However, this isn't a religious blog and I've had enough of discussions that raise Cain for awhile, thank you.

After these events, I think it may be appropriate to blog on the present state of race relations in America.

Now, it is true that a great deal of progress has been made, compared to the way things used to be. Although the film sugar coats things in a way and makes Haskins out to be larger than life (he was a great basketball coach, to be sure, and deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, as he is-- and I remember booing Haskins lustily as a high school student in Albuquerque when I attended University of New Mexico games-- Haskins was about the only coach who could bring his teams into the Pit and consistenly leave town with a win). And he was color-blind (which is admirable, considering the era when he began coaching). But Disney crosses the line when they have Lucas as Haskins giving a speech in which he decides to start five black players because 'I want to end this (racism in basketball) tonight, forever.' In fact, Haskins' quote on why he started five black players was, 'I started my five best players.' The accurate quote would have worked just as well as the 'superhuman' version, and it would have been what he actually said. As I said, the man was colorblind, but he's still just a man. Don't treat him as more than that. Moreover the article I linked to points to problems that remain in College Sports. They focus on UTEP as an example, but the problem extends beyond that. And as far as sports is a microcosm of society, after we read this, we should consider society as a whole.

Haskins could never have dreamed of starting five blacks at any other school in Texas in the mid-1960s. Credit for that would have to go to El Paso, whose history of race relations is complicated; the city in many ways is more Western than Southern.

Still, Glory Road is a finely constructed film that does an excellent job of depicting the mid-'60s era. The banter and camaraderie between the players is perfect. As the films credits rolled, I saw movie-goers trading high-fives and chest bumps, no doubt leaving the theater certain that this road to glory for Texas Western and the world of college basketball was now on the superhighway to equality.

But that's not true, either.

UTEP, now a school with a Hispanic majority, has had countless black athletes who have, like the 1966 Miners, brought attention to the school — athletes like Bob Beamon, Seth Joyner, Tim Hardaway and Antonio Davis.

But consider this: Since that glorious 1966 game, UTEP has had seven athletics directors, 11 football coaches, four men's track coaches and three other basketball coaches. (Don Haskins finally retired in 1999.) That's 25 positions of leadership for some deserving coach.

Yet, every one of those 25 has been filled by a white male. Not a single black man. Or a Hispanic man. Or a woman of any race. Too bad that Don Haskins hasn't been doing the hiring.

Sadly, it's not just UTEP that has this problem. NCAA Division I-A football counts over a hundred teams as members. More than 50 percent of the players are black. Yet less than 3 percent of the head coaches are black.

In fact, the exact number in Division I-A football is 5 coaches out of 119 teams. That is less than the NFL (6 black head coaches) and the NFL only has thirty-two teams. One reason for this is that the NFL has implemented an aggressive affirmative action program, requiring that each team interview at least one minority candidate for any head coaching vacancy. And the turnarounds created by coaches such as Tony Dungy at Indianapolis and Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati make it clear that blacks have what it takes to coach in the NFL, and blow out of the water the idea that there are a shortage of blacks who can do the job. Colleges, which are still tied financially to boosters, which may include 'good old boys' networks, have no such plan. The SEC, the conference most associated with racial decisions (and the last one to integrate) has yet, to this day, to hire a black head football coach at any of its twelve schools.

Well, we know that college sports has a way to go, what about the rest of society? There are those who suggest that the laws that have been passed making discrimination illegal obviate the need for affirmative action and more regulation.

Unfortunately they are wrong. It is true that if you can prove discrimination in matters like housing, employment or job promotion, you now have the right to go to court. Unfortunately, this process is time consuming and expensive, and as we saw after Katrina, racial discrimination in housing (in that case, housing evacuees) does still happen.

Further, those who oppose continuing Federal regulation to protect against discrimination are generally those who wonder why African-Americans continue to vote in the 90% range for Democrats. The answer is quite simple, in fact. After 100 years of segregation, it required the Federal Government, whether under Eisenhower, Kennedy or Johnson, to force open a segregated society after Brown vs. Board of Education. So while those who believed in equality fought and united and won on their own, it is certainly true that some bastions of segregation, such as Central High in Little Rock or the University of Alabama, could not be desegregated without the use or threatened use of Federal force. The Federal government then continued to monitor the situation to make sure things were going forward. Now, we know that Republicans have preached for years, 'state's rights' and about smaller, more limited Federal government. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if a state changed something a few years ago only because of the Federal Government, that if the Feds take the pressure off, there will be a movement in that state (which may or may not eventually be successful) to return back to the 'old way of doing things'. And we know the old way of doing things was not healthy, in a lot of ways, if you are African-American. So, most African-Americans vote Democratic because they would rather see the Federal government remain involved with these kinds of things and not just trust states to do the right thing. History suggests that this is prudent.

As to those who argue that because everyone has an equal opportunity now, according to the law, affirmative action is no longer necessary, they are also wrong. To see why, consider a sports analogy:

Suppose that you are playing on the road in a football game. In the first half, the referees are not around. So they pull a few fans out of the front row (by coincidence the front row is where the other's teams biggest boosters sit), hand them whistles and flags and start the game. During the first half, no penalties are called on their team (despite cheap shots on almost every play), they get generous spots, even to the point of having the referee nudge the ball a little if you think you stopped them short, and your team is called tight, for even the smallest penalty, and if a player on your team makes a good run anyway, it is called back because of a 'ghost' penalty. Because of this one sided refereeing, your team is down 40-0 at halftime. At halftime, the real referees show up and agree to start calling the game fairly, but in a concession to the other team, they agree to keep the score from the first half as it is when starting the second half. Now, you could work your tail off in the second half, but 40-0 is a huge deficit, and while a few teams might manage to climb out of that hole (and be held up as examples that 'anyone could do it') most won't manage to overcome such a huge deficit. And so it is with minorities (not just African-Americans) in America today. The law may say everyone has the same opportunities now, but they are still largely behind the eight-ball because of blighted neighborhoods, lousy schools, high unemployement and other problems that may well have their roots during segregation (as well as a few, i.e. drugs, that have nothing to do with segregation and everything to do with scoping out a population vulnerable to your sales pitch.) And holding up the occasional kid who grows up in a ghetto or a barrio and becomes highly successful as an adult as proof that people can succeed from anywhere in life, is like holding up the powerball lottery winner as proof that we don't need social welfare, and poor people should buy lotto tickets instead. Sure, anyone can succeed (theoretically) but most don't succeed when the deck is stacked against them.

One does not have to agree with the solution to this problem (I myself believe that we still need some level of affirmative action, and I would propose an ongoing program, rather than direct cash compensation for the government refusing to honor '40 acres and a mule,' that instead focused on education and scholarships, money for small business startups and homebuyer assistance.)

In fact, black people are still facing the adverse effects of slavery as well, but segregation is much more recent and its effects are quantifiable (and to be honest, society did as a whole pay dearly for the costs of failing to stomp out slavery earlier-- probably close to a million lives, nearly all white, lost in the Civil War, which determined (among other things) that there would be no more slavery in America.)

Other minorities, such as Hispanics and Native Americans generally did not suffer from slavery (there was an attempt made by the Spanish in Mexico to enslave the local population, but the effects were disastrous, in that many of them died and in close quarters spread pandemics among themselves and their masters), but have suffered from segregation and discrimination.

What about reverse discrimination? Well, it exists. To deny that is as foolish as denying that there is still traditional discrimination. Mayor Nagin's recent 'chocolate city' remark notwithstanding, there is no doubt that racial tension and discrimination can cut both ways. Until we can all (no matter who we are) accept Neapolitan ice cream in our town, we will continue to have problems with race.

And attitudes like those I discussed earlier? Yes, they exist as well. And there will always be some people who insist on it. However, the best way to fight these sorts of attitudes is to stand up and speak out when we hear someone say it, no matter where we are. However, I am also optimistic that as society grows towards diversity, it will be harder and harder to maintain these kinds of attitudes.

Is America's race problem better? Yes. Is it good enough to declare that it is over? Absolutely not. And there is no excuse why it is not.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

They'll probably claim this was necessary as part of the war on terror, too.

We know that whether it is about restricting stem cell research, or pushing non-science into science classrooms, or ignoring data on climate change, or cutting budgets for student aid even as tuition has skyrocketed, the Bush administation has, to put it mildly, not been friendly to science.

We also know that they have not responded well to whistleblowers or anyone else who writes a story that contradicts their philosophy, and they or their attack dogs try to punish or at least muzzle the messenger (hence in July of 2003, ABC journalist Jeffrey Kofman wrote an article critical of the administration's handling of Iraq, and within 24 hours that story was buried under an avalanche of smears about Kofman, who most Americans had never even heard of before, being a 'gay Canadian' journalist.)

So it should not come as any surprise that these two trends have come together in the matter of James E. Hansen, NASA's top climate scientist.

The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

The scientist, James E. Hansen, longtime director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in an interview that officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists.

Of course the administration, like people who still claim that the moon landings were a piece of fiction filmed in a Hollywood production studio, continues to question global warming (despite the fact that the only scientists who agree with this position either have questionable qualifications, or they are drawing their paycheck or have close financial ties to industries who are desperate to spit in the face of reality to avoid having to make a change.) And industry as a matter of fact has figured it out as well, with the shipping company OMNITrax spending serious money to improve port facilities and railroad access to the sleepy little port of Churchill, Manitoba, in anticipation of when melting of the Arctic icepack will open up a shorter shipping route between Asia and eastern North America.

So, when someone like Mr. Hansen comes out of the woodwork and says something they don't like, their response is not to consider if a guy who has looked at NASA climatological data since 1967 might know a few things, but instead to shut him up.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The legislature gets a choice: Fund Flores, or watch Flores get funded.

Arizona's Republicans have long been a mixture of practical conservatives who are willing to work on fixing the state's problems, and those who can only be described as the 'nut-bag' right, those whose stubborn 'take no prisoners' brand of obstinacy can lead their own party into trouble. Unfortunately, the second group have often held sway within the Republican caucus, and it has cost their party, the state and the citizens of Arizona.

And so it is again. Today a Federal judge, following up on a series of decisions in the case, Flores vs. Arizona, which found that funding for English-learner programs was entirely inadequate, especially in a state that requires 'English only' as the official language, ordered that the state be fined $500,000 per day and it be deposited into a fund to help English-learners. This means that Governor Janet Napolitano, who supports the funding and has been at loggerheads with the legislature over it and who just this week vetoed two more attempts by Republicans to low-ball it, now can get her way just by doing nothing. Just let the fines accumulate long enough, and the by next year, the funding the courts require will be in place and ready to roll. And any bill the legislature passes that the Governor signs, students in English learner class get an extra half million outside of the bill for every day that they spend working on the bill.

Last year, the legislature sent the Governor another bill that was wholly inadequate, so she vetoed it (together with a pair of Republican tax credit bills just to make it clear that there needed to be give and take.)

Now, this has been working its way through the courts for fourteen years, so conservative Republicans who controlled the legislature for all of that time have had plenty of time to fix the problem. But being unwilling to do anything about it, they have sacrificed mightily just to reach today's decison against them. Had they gone along with the first court order regarding Flores, they would today have already addressed that problem years ago, and would certainly have delivered the tax cuts the Governor vetoed last year, but instead, they stubbornly stuck to their 'spend as little as possible' dogma, and now it has cost them everything. They won't have the money that is going into the fund to spend on anything else (including tax cuts), and now that the Governor will get this priority funded automatically just by leaving the whole thing alone, the legislature's only chance to get her to sign a bill on Flores funding is to pass a real one. There will be a special session starting this week to deal with Flores-related issues, but the Governor holds all the cards now, and the conservatives know it.

Time to call a special prosecutor.

How do you get rid of somebody who has been very successful at his job, and because he is so good at it, he's giving you heartburn?

How about give him a promotion?

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 — The investigation of Jack Abramoff, the disgraced Republican lobbyist, took a surprising new turn on Thursday when the Justice Department said the chief prosecutor in the inquiry would step down next week because he had been nominated to a federal judgeship by President Bush.

The prosecutor, Noel L. Hillman, is chief of the department's public integrity division, and the move ends his involvement in an inquiry that has reached into the administration as well as the top ranks of the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill....

Colleagues at the Justice Department say Mr. Hillman has been involved in day-to-day management of the Abramoff investigation since it began almost two year ago. The inquiry, which initially focused on accusations that Mr. Abramoff defrauded Indian tribes out of tens of millions of dollars in lobbying fees, is being described within the department as the most important federal corruption investigation in a generation.

Now there are two ways to look at the nomination for Hillman, who has, in the course of his investigation, unravelled the complex web of ties between Abramoff, the Bush administration and Congress, and collected enough evidence against Abramoff to induce him to plead guilty three weeks ago to three corruption related charges in exchange for his cooperation with investigators (Mr. Hillman being the chief one) who theaten to expose quite a lot of corruption this coming year.

One way to look at this is that President Bush is so impressed with Hillman's work on the Abramoff case (pretty much all he has worked on for two years) and how much he has uncovered, and how he was able to break down one of the most powerful unelected people in Washington, that the President feels that he has earned the right to a Federal judgeship.

The second possibility is that President Bush is so nervous about the work Hillman is doing, getting closer and closer to both the President and his allies in Congress, that lacking a way to fire him or remove Hillman from the case without creating an even bigger firestorm (remember how thoroughly that backfired on Nixon during the so-called 'Saturday Night Massacre'), he has decided that giving the attack dog a steak is the only way to get him off.

Now, I'd love to suppose that it is the first reason, but to be honest, I believe that like I believe Brownie did a 'heckuva job'. And I can't blame Hillman for accepting the opportunity of a lifetime. Most of us would do the same.

However, what may have motivated the President to pluck a very effective prosecutor off of such an important case is secondary. Hillman has accepted the offer, and will become a judge as soon as he is confirmed by the Senate. So the question is what comes next.

And Democrats are absolutely right, when they point out that the importance of the Abramoff investigation is so high that it is appropriate to call a special prosecutor:

Mr. Hillman's nomination for a judgeship was among the factors cited Thursday by four Democratic lawmakers, two senators and two representatives, in calling on Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to name a special prosecutor to oversee the corruption investigation.

The timing of Mr. Hillman's nomination "jaundices this whole process," Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said in an interview. "They have to appoint a special counsel. I think there will be broad support for one."

Representative George Miller, Democrat of California, called the timing "startling" and said, "You have one of the chief prosecutors removed from a case that has tentacles throughout the Republican leadership of Congress, throughout the various agencies and into the White House."

Of course, Republicans, who have much more to lose, don't want one. Truth is, they would rather that this all go away entirely. But since it won't, they prefer to keep it under the purview of the Justice Department (that way, if someone starts sniffing too close to the bone, they can appoint him as a judge or something.) Recall, however, that whatever they may be saying now, that Republicans had no problem calling for a special prosecutor to investigate a 1986 land deal that the Clintons lost money on. And they kept it going for years, until the final report which had nothing about the land deal but was full of pornographic details about an affair that the President hadn't even had yet when the office of the Whitewater special prosecutor was first created. If that is the standard, then it seems that someone pleading guilty to corruption charges involving members of Congress is a much more serious matter and represents a bigger threat to our democracy.

President Bush has the Constitutional right to nominate who he wants to judicial positions (subject to the advice and consent of the Senate), and I suspect that Noel Hillman's name will sail through the Senate with none of the controversy we have seen around the Alito nomination. However, with his administation itself being among the many targets of the Abramoff probe, it is time for the Attorney General to ask Congress to create the office of a special prosecutor to investigate corruption and influence peddling.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Interpreting the Hamas victory-- and where from here

There are election upsets and election upsets. Most often, people know when one is coming. Whether in the case of Bill Clinton's upset of George Bush Sr. in 1992, or the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994, or the recent Canadian election booting the Liberal party after 13 years of Parliamentary control and a kickback scandal, people pretty much know these results are coming because of polling that takes place ahead of the election. And this is true internationally as well. For example, in the British elections, the polls predicted that Tony Blair would get his wings clipped but survive. That happened. In the German election, the polls predicted that Andrea Merkel would replace Gerhard Schroeder, and she did. Polls showed ahead of the recall election that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez faced two years ago that he would win by a huge margin, and he did. In the recent Iraqi elections, polls predicted that the main Shiite party would win but not by enough to form a government all by themselves. Although the Shiites did a little better than expected (finishing ten votes short of an outright majority when the polls had predicted about twice that far), the polls were essentially correct. Polls also picked the winners of the recent elections in Chile and Bolivia.

So, polling showing on the eve of the Palestinian election that Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party would retain power despite a stiff challenge at the ballot box from Hamas, seemed to be the case early on, when returns showed Fatah with a narrow lead. So I went to bed believing that they had won the election. Wrong. Hamas, a terrorist group which has specialized in sending suicide bombers into Israel and which calls for the complete eradication of Israel, won a shocking victory. This one was truly under the radar. It is clear that the people who polled Palestinian voters need to work on their science. And it is clear that the vote was less for Hamas, than it was against a government led by Fatah which has been corrupt, ineffective and unable to deliver peace. And the fact is that Hamas has used the money they have collected for 1) arms, and 2) to deliver services for poor Palestinians (who turned out in droves to elect them). What they have not done with it is enrich themselves (Arafat died with a fortune in banks around the world-- much in contrast to the grinding poverty that his people faced), so at least as far as getting rid of the corruption, they seemed well poised to do that.

The victory, which surprised even Hamas leaders, presents both a dilemma and an opportunity for peace.

The dilemma is obvious. Israel cannot sit down at the peace table with people whose only peace objective is to destroy them. And in the short term, it seems likely that the Israeli electorate is most likely to elect a candidate to lead that country who is a hawk as well (this outcome bodes well for Netanyahu in particular), fearing that Hamas in actual control of the Palestinian Authority will be a deadly threat. And they are right, if Hamas chooses to use its control to conduct more sophisticated and larger scale attacks against Israel.

There is also an opportunity here. One that is unseen right now, but could be exactly what is needed. The opportunity will present itself if Hamas, recognizing that they now have to govern, matures to the point that they see themselves as representing the nascent Palestinian state, as opposed to greater Palestine (i.e. getting rid of Israel). And they did leave the door open to that in their first public statements, reiterating their position on getting rid of Israel, but also reiterating their pre-election 'truce' opposing attacks on Israel, and stating that they are still abiding by it. They will inevitably have to deal with Israeli government officials in matters ranging from border crossings to water usage, and as such will inevitably be forced to acknowlege the existence of Israel. Of course, Israel has refused to negotiate with Hamas representatives as well, so I suspect these contacts will be done behind closed doors, and likely through intermediaries such as Egypt or Jordan, arab countries which have contacts now with Israel.

And whatever Hamas' official position is, they are likely smart enough to figure out that if they took the forces available to the Palestinian Authority into a full out war with the Israeli military, the result would be the destruction of the Authority and would set back any hopes for a Palestinian state by at least a generation.

But the real reason to be optimistic in the long run (though pessimistic right now) is based on an observation of the qualitative difference between Israel and the Fatah government of Arafat and Abbas: Israel could, and did, keep their promises even in the face of intense domestic opposition (the recent forced evacuation of the Gaza settlements being a case in point.) And Israel has had leaders like Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon, who despite sometimes being considered as terrorists by their opponents, could at the same time command the respect and support of their people and be able to back up any offer they made at the peace table both with strength and with their good word. In contrast, after Arafat walked away from the Barak deal and went along with those who wanted to start the 'intifada,' I remember a very profound summary of Arafat's actual authority over the Palestinians from a Palestinian man I remember discussing it with once on the CNN message boards. He said something to the effect that, 'Arafat has the authority to say, 'yes' to those who wanted to riot. In other words, he was the acknowledged leader mainly because the west recognized him as such, but in fact, his real authority extended only as far as he went along with the people who wanted to attack. Abbas didn't even have as much pull as Arafat, and so his party was dumped unceremoniously as soon as the Palestinian people had a chance to do so (Abbas remains technically the President of the Palestinian Authority, but he presides over a parliament that is dominated by Hamas). In fact, this election only validates what many have known for a long time: that Hamas, not the Palestinian Authority, has been the real power among the Palestinians for the past few years. And here is the reason for long term optimism even if it will start off on a rocky road: Unlike Fatah, Hamas can actually make their current truce or any other moves towards peace they make stick, because they have both the moral authority and reputation for ruthlessness among Palestinians (and no, that is not an oxymoron in that part of the world) to make it stick. Hamas, if they can be induced to accept reality and the fact that Israel will remain on the map, has one card that Fatah (under both Arafat and Abbas) never had. They can tell even the biggest hotheads among the Palestinians, either 'yes' OR 'no' when it comes to carrying out attacks. And if someone violated their directive, well let's say I wouldn't want to be that someone (including anyone who cooperated with them.) So while Hamas is not now a suitable negotiating partner, and won't be as long as they insist on the destruction of Israel, ultimately they may hold the most necessary card that Israel has proven they have, but was missing in Arafat's hand-- the ability to make any agreement reached hold, on their side.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Tragic accident casts another spotlight on the state where it is most needed.

I hate blogging about tragedies.

And I've been circumspect, for example, waiting until the day after the funerals began for the victims of the Sago Mine disaster before I said anything about it on Deep Thought. And one benefit of this is that I have facts available to blog with, instead of engaging in idle speculation.

Today though there was a story out from Florida that really makes me angry. Angry because it's very closely related to something I have been pointing out for years (literally) and not much has been done about. Today's tragedy may or may not turn out to be related to the problems in the Florida child welfare system (we will have to learn more about what happened to determine whether and to what degree the adoptive parents of seven children and the Florida Department of Children and Families may have been at fault.) What we do know is that seven children who had been (or in one case were being) adopted by the same family were in a minivan, driven by a fifteen year old girl (the legal age to obtain a driver's license in Florida is sixteen) and it was struck from behind by a truck carrying bottled water (which apparently failed to brake) and then was crunched between the truck and a school bus. If any of the seven survived the initial impact (doubtful given how compressed the van was), they died soon after as the van was engulfed in flames. Two children on the bus are also in very serious condition tonight and several more were injured in the crash.

Now, today's episode and the question of why the driver was allowed to drive, and carry six others before it was legal to do so aside, it is a fact that the state of Florida has singularly and spectacularly failed in its duty to protect its children.

Last year, the state was in the headlines for failing to track and follow up with convicted sex offenders. Two of them subsequently killed young girls in places where according to records, they should not have been. Once that came out, it turned out that making sure that registered sex offenders actually were living where they were registered was just not a priority for Florida, and it appears that thousands may have slipped through the cracks.

The Florida Department of Children and Families was also negligent in some truly apalling ways, such as losing dozens of children, including five year old Rilya Wilson, who simply has vanished to no one knows where sometime during fifteen months of missed visits by DCF.

Now, I know a number of people who work with kids here, and I am sure that they are the same in Florida--mostly hard working professionals, underfunded, underpaid, and overworked, who when they make the right call rarely get credit but if they make a mistake, it will haunt them, in every single sense of that word, for the rest of their lives. However, there is a difference between Arizona and Florida. When we had some egregiously horrible cases here involving Child Protective Services, our Governor made reforming CPS a top priority, and pushed the funding for it through a Republican legislature. The Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, had the opportunity to do the same, but he chose to do nothing.

In fact, Jeb's biggest nod to kids was to try to eliminate twelfth grade, and replace it with a year of preschool in order to save costs. Of course, most parents who care about their kids already send them to preschool, so in fact this was simply to eliminate twelfth grade (to pay for Jeb and the Republican legislature's tax cuts.) In a world where America's kids are increasingly losing the competitive edge with their counterparts from foreign countries, and where many blame, rightly or wrongly, our educational system, it is hard to understand how chopping off a year of high school will benefit children in Florida.

We need to do better by our kids everywhere, and it is true that we can't jump to any conclusions about today's tragedy until the police finish investigating it, but it has been clear in the past that the Sunshine State is way behind the rest of the country in taking care of kids.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Morales first move: Get them before they get you.

Last month, Bolivia elected leftist Evo Morales as President. The election was a disappointment for Washington, since they clearly didn't favor Morales (a close ally of Hugo Chavez), who had promised that he would only cooperate in the 'war on drugs' if guarantees are offered that Washington is reluctant to offer; Bolivia is a major producer of coca, the main ingredient of cocaine. However, in the past many indigenous farmers, even those growing other crops or producing small amounts of coca for sale in local markets have had their farms wiped out in large scale military operations involving Bolivian military with American support. The small farmers and others living in rural Bolivia in turn provided a large margin for Morales when he took a tough tack on ending these operations, allowing him to win the Presidency.

Of all the countries where someone like Morales could get elected, Bolivia is the one where one problem in particular, that has festered all over Latin America since the days of Bolivar, screams the loudest for attention: military corruption. It is only recently that the 'coup a year' adage was no longer completely true for Bolivia (for years, we were reminded that since gaining independence in 1826, Bolivia averaged 'a coup a year.') Despite the fact that Bolivia has, like the rest of Latin America, made the transition to Democracy, the military in Bolivia still considers itself the most powerful institution in the country, making a coup a distinct possibility at any time. And Morales is well aware of the abortive coup attempt that his mentor, Chavez, faced in 2002 (a coup attempt which the Bush administration initially welcomed, until it became obvious that it would fail.) In his first test of leadership, Morales moved swiftly to address this potential threat.

He appointed a lower tier general, Wilfredo Alfredo Vargas, to head the armed forces. Many of the higher ranking generals were furious at being passed over. Apparently they believe that the old way of doing things in Bolivia should be followed. However, let's note that first, the President has the right to appoint anyone he feels comfortable with to head the armed forces, second, that given the history of coups in Bolivia, it is probably wise of him to pick who he trusts ahead of who is looking to move up, and third, since his stated objective is to get rid of corruption in the military, we may assume that when choosing a leader, he looked at who was honest ahead of who had picked their way up the ladder in the old system. The claims that Vargas is unqualified don't ring true, either. They would if Morales had picked a political hack to head the military, or if he had picked a private, or a sergeant, but a general, even a lower level one, probably knows enough about the military to make intelligent decisions about how to run it.

In fact, Morales had good reason to feel he couldn't trust the existing military establishment.

The decision to send 28 Chinese shoulder-launched missiles to the United States for destruction prompted Morales' predecessor to fire a top army chief, whom Morales replaced in Tuesday's ceremony at the Government Palace...

Morales argued during his campaign that the decision to turn the missiles over to the U.S. was illegal because it was not authorized by Congress.

Now the issue here isn't whether the missiles were obsolete, as the army claimed, nor whether it happened under Morales' predecessor or under Morales. It is that apparently in Bolivia the army still believes that they can make decisions like this in open defiance of the civilian leadership.

He did make one decision I'm not so sure about:

Morales also named new army, navy, air force and police chiefs.

Bolivian navy? Did I miss something?

Morales, whose leftist government took power Sunday on promises to reinvent Bolivia by fighting poverty, discrimination and corruption, said he would investigate the missile case.

"I regret that some of the generals are under scrutiny by the government," he said. "They have to submit themselves for investigation."

"It's important to strengthen our armed forces because a country without a military is not a free and sovereign country."

Now, Morales has not said that he isn't willing to cooperate with Washington on policy issues, including the war on drugs. He has only said that it has to be done on an equal footing, and the rights of farmers and others who are only making a living have to be respected.

He is definitely a leftist:

In addition to supporting small farmers and loading his government with union leaders and other political activists, he appointed a Marxist known for criticizing gas and oil companies to oversee Bolivia's energy policy.

But regardless of his politics, he is clearly an able leader who knows the score, if his first few days in office are any indication. Washington had probably best get used to the idea of dealing with Evo Morales for the next several years.

Our military effectiveness suffering for Bush's mistakes.

Another article that says the same thing we keep hearing: Army stretched near the breaking point.

WASHINGTON - Stretched by frequent troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has become a “thin green line” that could snap unless relief comes soon, according to a study for the Pentagon.

Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer who wrote the report under a Pentagon contract...suggested that the Pentagon’s decision, announced in December, to begin reducing the force in Iraq this year was driven in part by a realization that the Army was overextended....

The Krepinevich assessment is the latest in the debate over whether the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have worn out the Army, how the strains can be eased and whether the U.S. military is too burdened to defeat other threats.

Rep. John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat and Vietnam veteran, created a political storm last fall when he called for an early exit from Iraq, arguing that the Army was “broken, worn out” and fueling the insurgency by its mere presence. Administration officials have hotly contested that view.

This report seems to indicate that Murtha is right.

Remember the military machine that George W. Bush inherited from Bill Clinton? It was the same one that Clinton inherited from Bush Sr., that had won the Gulf War resoundingly. Under Clinton, it did the same job in Kosovo. Although I never supported the rationale for the war in Kosovo, I have to admit that our military did an extraordinary job of stopping the killing that was going on there, and did so at a cost of zero U.S. casualties.

So when George W. Bush took over, he had the most successful, most frightening military machine that has ever been assembled in the history of the planet. Used wisely, this could have done a great deal of good.

Then September 11 happened, and America went to war in Afghanistan. And we booted the Taliban out, got Osama on the run (and would have had him if we hadn't outsourced the job of finishing him at Tora Bora to Afghan militias who could either be fooled, bribed or cajoled into letting bin Laden escape,) and looked to be in control of the situation in Afghanistan. Had we sent enough troops and kept them there, there is every reason to think he would be history today.

But then the Bush administration chose to go into Iraq. And ignoring the advice of Gen. Shinseki who said that 400,000 troops would be needed during the occupation phase to prevent an insurgency from taking root, Don Rumsfeld and George Bush effectively fired him and planned to do the job with 100,000 (which was talked up to 150,000 by Gen. Casey.) Now that the insurgency is there, our presence does nothing to prevent it, and when we fight we feed it as much as we damage it.

And with the present administration's record of inflexible dogma, even ticking off our allies by our methods (remember that Italy was a coalition partner until we kidnapped a terror suspect off the street in Milan in a covert op) it is certain that we can't expect much tangible help (other than maybe some cheerleading) if we go to war again, for example against Iran.

And as I have said numerous times, there is a reason why Iran has become so much more confrontational now. They know the U.S. could still bomb them very effectively. But they also know they can survive that, and that to actually overrun the country, we would need 'boots on the ground,' and right now we don't have any to spare. We did four years ago (one reason why having the monstrous military might available that George Bush did then was a good position to be in; deploying force effectively doesn't necessarily mean actually using it.) Iran knows that our military is like a cannon that has been fired. We have to reload it before we can fire it again, and in the meantime the advantage is theirs, to take as much advantage as they can. Does anyone really think that if we still had the physical ability to invade and occupy Iran, that they would be as belligerent about their 'right' to build nukes as they are now?

Our military is like a very good car. Maintain it and use it properly, it will take us anywhere we need to go, internationally speaking. But fail to maintain it and abuse it, even the best car will break down after awhile.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Ford joins GM on the layoff list, Daimler Chrysler shows it's not inevitable.

Last November, I blogged on layoffs announced by General Motors.

Today, Ford announced that it is cutting 30,000 jobs.

Note that the Ford cuts are occurring pretty much the same place as the General Motors cuts. None outside of North America, and within North America, almost all in the United States, with relatively few job cuts in Canada. The whole Ford list has yet to be announced, but so far, five plants have been announced: Windsor Casting in Canada, Batavia Transmissions in Ohio (both parts makers which have no further market with the shutdown of assembly plants) and three major assembly plants: The Wixom assembly plant near Detroit, the St. Louis assembly plant in Missouri and the Atlanta assembly plant in Georgia.

Now, I briefly addressed Ford's problems in my post last November:

then why IS General Motors in such dire straights, especially compared to foreign auto makers (not just Toyota)? For that matter, Ford is limping along as well, hamstrung in similar ways, and Chrysler has had a mild resurgence, and that only since being absorbed by Daimler-Benz, a German company.

In fact, I was a little off on Daimler Chrysler. It is not just having a 'mild' resurgence, but its U.S. sales are up by a healthy 5% (including both sales of Chryslers and of German imports).

Now, there has certainly been mismanagement at both GM and Ford, which banked too heavily on bigger and better SUV's, even as consumers were finding that both the payments and the fuel prices on SUV's were no longer so affordable. But there is more here than that.

Conservatives will blame unions, and the associated contracts. However, that ignores the fact that Daimler Chrysler is doing so well (they have UAW unions in the United States, and in Europe they have arguably even stronger unions and workplace laws that include more vacation time and higher pay than in America.)

What we should recall is very simple. Health care. Foreign auto manufacturers (remember Diamler Chrysler makes a lot of cars in Europe) don't have to worry about either paying health insurance premiums or paying someone to administer their plans. And without healthcare on the table, unions and management already start labor negotiations much closer together.

About fifteen years ago, foreign governments were accused of 'subsidizing' their auto, steel and other heavy industries by American manufacturers. And they were, if you call their national healthcare plans a 'subsidy.' Our lack of one adds over a thousand dollars to the price of a new GM or Ford vehicle, and that is why American manufacturers are hurting, and increasingly closing plants in the U.S. (and just as in the case of GM, the Canadian plants are less likely to be closed than plants on this side of the border).

The fact is, America is a very rare bird when it comes to healthcare, in fact unique in the world. We are the only nation that doesn't have a national healthcare system, but in which a majority of our population is covered by private healthcare (most nations with only private healthcare are third world, poverty stricken nations, where only the privileged few can even afford a doctor; And developing countries that can afford for more than these few citizens to have health care, still opt for socialized medicine (like Mexico.)

Now, conservatives have a very specific solution. They would like for workers to pay part or all of their health premiums, claiming this would restore America to competitiveness in the world economy.

Well, that depends what kind of competitiveness you mean. Apparently they mean competitiveness against impoverished nations where people do in fact purchase their own healthcare, if they can afford it. Yeah, we could compete economically with Chad! They obviously don't mean competitiveness against countries like Germany and Japan, where most of the cars that have been chasing GM and Ford out of the market are made. Apparently, they can't even look at Daimler Chrysler (a hybrid company with half its workforce under national healthcare) and figure it out.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Having to ask the same questions, again.

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged It is now time to start asking hard questions about the Sago mine disaster in West Virginia that claimed the lives of twelve coal miners and in which the one survivor was found by rescuers literally on death's doorstep.

Unfortunately, questions like those which needed to be addressed then, are slow to answer. Investigations must be done, the intentional misdirection and obfuscations of those who don't necessarily want full answers must be punctured, and then legislation must be passed. That takes time. And as the time drags so slowly by, the conditions that need to be corrected continue to exist, in many other places.

And so it was today. Two more West Virginia miners died, this time following a fire at the Aracoma Coal companies' Alma #1 mine near Melville, West Virginia.

Now, let's review the questions I asked in my post two weeks ago: I will copy and ask the three questions exactly as I asked them then, and then look at how they relate to the current disaster.

1. Why was action not taken by the owners of the mine to bring it into compliance? According to a number of news stories, the Aracoma mine received more than 90 citations from Mine Safety and Health Administration in 2005. According to the MSHA Web site, the most recent were issued Dec. 20, when the mine was hit with seven violations for problems related to its ventilation plan and efforts to control coal dust and other combustible materials. So, despite the mine receiving all of these citations, there is no indication that the owners actually spent any effort or money actually addressing them.

2. Why, after violation after violation after violation, did the government not take action to close down the mine? Well, just as I answered two weeks ago, merely issuing citations and then doing nothing to enforce them, as was the case with the Sago mine, in effect gives the owners the incentive to do nothing. As long as this question has to be asked, the first question will always have to be asked. But there is even another twist here. Today's tragedy was started by a fire in a conveyor belt system. It turns out that

An MSHA proposal in the early 1990s would have required more vigorous testing of fire resistancy of conveyor belts. But it was shelved in 2002.

The agency proposed the change after a study showed that conveyor belts sparked 53 coal mine fires between 1970 and 1988, with 36 of them occurring in the 1980s.

So this particular problem was well known by the government, and they proposed a remedy. But it was set aside by the Bush administration.

3. The mine was a non-union operation. Would a union have helped prevent this?

I will repost my answer from two weeks ago, because like the Sago mine, the Alma #1 mine is non-union.

You bet your sweet patootie they would have. Unions go to court and fight aggressively to have regulations enforced and safety improvements made, and the 'penalty' problem I mentioned in the second question doesn't exist, because employers fear legal action by the union and/or strikes much more than they fear the relative inaction by the government. Three years ago, the union in Pennsylvania (remember that?) pushed for everything from a speedy rescue operation to overtime pay for the trapped men.

In the face of a government whose response to these kind of things ranges from inaction to actively trying to roll back safety requirements, the best friend that people working in dangerous jobs like this can have, is a strong union.

Friday, January 20, 2006

We should turn this job over to a Union.

Notice what you don't see any of in this story.

The New York Transit Workers, who just before Christmas engaged in a three day strike, voted on whether to accept a new contract. And despite the urging of union officials to accept the contract that was negotiated with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, they rejected it by seven votes, by a margin of 11,234 against to 11,227 in favor.

Now, there are plenty of recriminations floating around, and they are examined in the article. The point of this post is not to take a position about whether the contract was good or not, or whether the union should have rejected it or not, or whether the campaigning was above board or not, or whether Governor Pataki's threat to veto funds that were involved in a key part of the contract affected the vote, or not. I'm not taking a position on it because I really don't know enough about the specifics of the Transit Workers contract to take a position one way or another.

No, the point of this post is to look at what isn't in dispute. The vote count. This is an election in which thousands of votes were cast, the margin was seven votes, and no one is disputing it, or asking for a recount, or threatening to go to court over it, or challenging the legitimacy of a single vote that was cast, or leveling accusations of fraud or chicanery.

In fact, the reactions of the defeated proponents of the contract were decidedly muted.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the harshest critics of the three-day walkout in December, called the contract rejection "disappointing news to all New Yorkers." He urged both sides to return to the negotiating table.


[union President Roger] Toussaint blamed "downright lies" told by contract opponents for the ratification failure but said the union's leadership was ready to "go back to the drawing board" as soon as possible.

So the losers acknowlege losing and are ready to go back and work on putting together a better package.

Now, we saw that a few years ago, when George W. Bush and Al Gore were within a margin that percentage wise was even closer than this in the state of Florida, the Republican machinery which is in control in that state was engaged together with the national Republican machinery to make sure that the recount was never completed. And despite the HAVA, what we had last year was a system rife with disputed numbers, apparent errors, allegations of hacking and other vote fraud, and complaints. And today, the same problems still exist. And probably a number of local elections (maybe even statewide elections) will remain in doubt until well after the election. Some may end up in court, and whoever is eventually declared the winner, will not be the winner in the minds of those who supported their opponent.

And this is despite millions spent on new voting equipment.

I have a suggestion.

Let's turn elections over to a bunch of union guys. It looks like they can count the votes and get it right, so that no one questions even the closest elections.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Bin Laden Truce Offer

Every now and then I end up agreeing with the Bush administration. And at least to a degree, this is one of those times.

Osama bin Laden sent a tape offering a 'long-term truce.'

The Bush administration, after confirming that it was indeed bin Laden on the tape, rejected the offer.

Now, unless bin Laden is completely delusional, he must have known that this would be the answer. So either he is desperate (I hope that is the case, but probably not, given our failures to date, and the diversion of American resources into Iraq which could be used looking for him) or he thinks that by making a tape like this he can divide the American people.

If so, then he is wrong about that. I believe that the Bush administration made a stupid and completely wrongheaded move into Iraq, but that has nothing to do with the fight against Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden is still the man who has repeatedly attacked America, and who has killed thousands, both Americans and those who simply got in his way. Allowing him to move about freely while rebuilding his organization is absurd in itself (even without the added benefit he would gain just by virtue of his survival of being able to claim that he 'defeated' us which he could then use to stir up even more unrest throughout the region). The President was absolutely right to reject this offer. My only complaint on this topic with the President is that he hasn't done enough to take out Mr. bin Laden, instead focusing on Iraq. But as far as the need to catch and either kill or capture Osama bin Laden, there is no disagreement with that here. I hope that whatever else the President achieves (and thus far, little if any of it has been good) he does leave with Osama bin Laden neutralized as a threat. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by accepting his offer. The only way such an offer could even remotely be entertained is if he agreed to renounce publically everything he has devoted his life to, and lived by that renunciation, and I doubt if we will ever have to consider whether to accept it in that kind of context.

So let me say it here:

I fully support President Bush in his quest to kill or capture Osama bin Laden.

Now, that is not to say that there aren't other things we can and should be doing to address the situation we now find ourselves in involving Mr. bin Laden.

Let me draw an analogy. Our foreign policy in the middle east, in particular, propping up unpopular monarchies that plunder their countries' wealth and oppress their people, and which we do because we need the oil, is like a lifestyle, which has produced the cancer of Osama bin Laden and his followers.

Now, President Bush has said that we need to get rid of them. And he is absolutely right about that, we should aggressively treat the cancer until it has been eradicated. If he has not done so vigorously enough, instead choosing to concentrate on what amounts to muscle enhancement instead (i.e. Iraq) then I only urge that he get re-focused on the task at hand, beating the cancer.*

What the President has not done, is address the underlying causes of why we are having to contend with the likes of Osama bin Laden. It is as if someone who was fighting cancer continued smoking three packs a day, eating the same poor diet they had before, and other risky behavior. Sooner or later, they would be likely to have more cancers, even if they were successful at treating that one.

What the other part of this equation is, is that we need to 1. conserve oil and develop more fuel efficient vehicles to be able to cut middle eastern oil out of the picture, 2. quit propping up monarchies like the Saudi and Kuwaiti royal families and let the people there make their own decisions about what to do about them, and 3. work at least behind the scenes with reformists and Democratic leaders in those countries (but absolutely never with Osama bin Laden-- the only right we should be willing to grant him, is the right to hire a defense attorney, should he be fortunate enough to live to see the day when he needs one.)

*--and before anyone suggests that Iraq is a part of this fight, I'd like to point out that al-Qaeda's only foothold in prewar Iraq was an enclave way behind Kurdish lines, nowhere near anyplace that Saddam had any control over; and if we left Iraq, then it would be Zarqawi and the other terrorists who have come there to kill our troops, who would then be seen as the foreign invaders and would be opposed by the local populace.

It's not rocket science

The bad thing about global warming is that the window of opportunity to avoid it is now shut. It's happening, and all we can do anymore is prepare for it, try to limit or ameliorate its effects (we still have time to do that) and adapt to the new reality.

The good thing is that at least it is easy to explain to those who have questions. The effects are already obviously at a glance, and unlike many scientific theories, global warming is working in a way that requires little explanation and which ordinary people even without a scientific background can understand.

The main areas where the predictions made by models in the seventies, which are now being borne out, have to do with 1) rising sea levels, 2) more and bigger hurricanes, and 3) shifting weather patterns. In the southwest, where I live, the models have predicted a drier climate.

Here is why all those things are occurring.

1. Rising sea levels. This is due to the melting of the polar ice caps (see the picture). In fact, while the pictures are dramatic, the reduction in Arctic sea ice, and the breaking apart of Antarctic ice shelves, are by themselves a relatively small contributor to rising sea levels (mainly because Arctic ice is relatively thin, and it is already on an ocean.) The major contribution comes from the melting of polar icecaps in Greenland and Antarctica. For example, with the breakup of the Larsen B and beginning breakup of the Ross ice shelf which act as barriers to ice sheet collapse, the West Antarctic ice sheet (which contains 11% of that continent's ice) is beginning to collapse (a process that in itself will take centuries, but even the effects on a yearly basis are significant). The EPA estimates that sea levels could rise 2-7 feet in the next century. This could completely submerge a number of island nations like Tonga and the Maldives, literally wiping them off the map (for example, the highest point in the Maldives is 3 feet above sea level) while causing major flooding in coastal areas of continents.

2. More and bigger hurricanes. After the disastrous 2004 Atlantic hurricane season (almost seems like ancient history now, but in 2004, Charlie, Frances Ivan and Jeanne turned Florida into a living hell all summer), global warming apologists were quick to say that we are headed into a natural cycle that corresponds to more hurricanes. Fair enough. But in 2005, we saw three of the seven most powerful Atlantic storms on record (including the most powerful, Wilma, which at its most powerful measured 882 mb of central pressure), set (and in fact shattered) the records for most named storms, most hurricanes, most major hurricanes (cat 3 or larger) and most storms hitting land. This was a freakishly powerful season, and there is nothing 'natural' about it. If we are in a 'naturally' more active hurricane cycle, that could be a part of why we saw so many, but there is obviously something more superimposed on top of that. And, here is why global warming causes more large hurricanes. Surface temperatures of water in the tropics are key. The warmer the water, the more energy a hurricane can draw from it. And, it turns out that water temperatures are now higher than they ever have been (for example, water temperatures in the northern Gulf of Mexico approach 90 degrees on the hottest days of the summer. And you need look no farther than the Guiness book of world records from just about a deacade ago to read about how the Persian Gulf (then at 85 degree surface temperature) had the warmest seawater in the world. So, sea surface temperatures have increased. Ergo, stronger hurricanes.

3. Drought in the southwest and other unusual weather. In fact there is nothing unusual about it. Storms travel in a storm track, following the jet stream. The jet stream forms (in fact is driven by) the boundary between warm tropical air and cold polar air. With relatively more warm air and less cold air (global warming again) that boundary moves north. So do the storms. So the southwestern U.S. (including Arizona, where I live), which used to get our fair share of jet stream borne storms, is now generally out of the loop. Most of our snow is going to Utah and Colorado (while conversely the northwest is getting wetter especially in winter, as the jet now is more likely to dump more snow than usual in Washington and the northern Rockies.

None of this requires a degree in climatology to understand. Just explain it simply, and people get it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Thousands still missing from Katrina; Did no-bid contract to SCI include a clause for them to go back to their old tricks?

Not long ago, the Government reported that the official death toll from Katrina was around 1,300. An awful tragedy, to be sure, but not as bad as the 'several thousand' that had been feared early on.

Now, however, we are told that nearly five months after the disaster, 3,200 remain missing. Now, not all of them are dead, but it is very likely that some, in fact quite possibly most, of them are.

Dr. Louis Cataldie, the state's medical examiner, said he planned to ask state and parish officials to recheck about 400 addresses where authorities have consistent information about people missing from badly flooded neighborhoods. Most are in east New Orleans; about 50 are from St. Bernard Parish.

It's possible some of those missing were washed into Lake Pontchartrain, or their bodies remain in the rubble that still blankets much of the city. Over the last several weeks, at least one family returning to a wrecked home has found the remains of a relative inside.

Some of those still listed as missing likely have been found already by relatives but the center hasn't been notified of their status, the call center said. Others may not want to be found because of criminal or legal problems.

Here is my concern: Last September I blogged (Even Ghouls can get a no-bid Contract) about how a company called Kenyon International got a no bid contract to clean up human remains after Katrina. In the article, I wrote,

the no-bid contract for collecting, identifying and disposing of bodies from Hurricane Katrina has been outsourced to a firm, Kenyon Interntational, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Service Corporation International, SCI, a funeral company with a long and sad record of breaking the law to dispose of bodies, some in very disturbing ways.

I went on to discuss in that post several of the body dumping scandals that the company has been involved with (you'll need a strong stomach to read it) and then the close ties between SCI CEO Robert Waltrip and George W. Bush.

Now, it may be that some of the explanations offered above are the case for a few of those who are still missing. But 3,200 is a very large number, being well over twice as large as the official death toll (and large enough to really embarrass a lot of people who are in positions of power), and with a company known for getting rid of large numbers of bodies in the past working on it, there actually is a reason to at least start asking some questions.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Oregon assisted suicide ruling.

The Supreme Court today, in a ruling that reversed a previous set of rulings that moved the court away from Federalism and towards the Federal government, voted 6-3 to uphold a ninth Circuit Court ruling that supports Oregon's law on physician assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. The vote was also the first test of John Roberts, and he voted much as many liberals suspected he would, joining Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia among the dissenters.

There are three reasons why this ruling is a good thing. The first is the most fundamental reason. We euthanize animals when they are in pain and have no hope of recovery. Why we should force people to suffer in a similar situation is mind-boggling and sadistic.

The second reason is because of our healthcare system, which forces people to pay for expensive treatment they may not want. I've always thought that it was hypocritical of some on the right to object, as they do, to inheritance taxes (they prefer to call it a 'death tax,') in which a portion of an estate is taxed and used by the government to benefit society as a whole, but they have no problem with the idea that a terminally ill person can be 'kept alive until broke,' so that the hospital ends up with their whole estate. We need universal healthcare, but lacking that, we at least need a way that people have a choice in this situation.

The third reason is because it makes it clear that the decision of when to end life is in the purview of the terminally ill patients, in consultation with their families and their doctors. The Oregon law essentially only allows that to happen, but does not force anyone to choose death (in contrast to the misleading and outright false rhetoric of some on the right.) The fact is, that this is not the state's business, and it shouldn't be the state's business.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Governments should regulate monopolies, even when they aren't called monopolies.

This has been a very long, and busy weekend. Not all bad (though some of it was), mind you, but long, absolutely. Over the past three days, I have been to Flagstaff, to a night visit with my wife to an emergency room in Winslow, to a chapter house meeting on the Navajo reservation (where I believe that two of us who attended on behalf of the Democratic party got to get some good work done), and today, to Albuquerque. Now, my mother lives in Albuquerque (a three and a half hour drive for us) so frequently I go there with the kids, and we did surprise her and have dinner with her tonight. However, this was a completely unplanned and unscheduled trip. It was necessitated by a search for a textbook, for a class that my wife is taking online from Northern Arizona University.

On Saturday, we checked their bookstore. It was not in. We also checked the other bookstores near the campus in Flagstaff (Barnes and Nobles, and a used book store) and neither of them had it. The class officially starts tomorrow, and my wife is supposed to take a quiz on Friday. Living in a very rural area (it takes us an hour and a half just to drive to Flagstaff), ordering it from amazon.com was not realistic since our experience is that everything takes a day or two longer to get delivered here than it takes in other places. So, when we found the book in Albuquerque, I piled the kids into the car and off we went.

Now, this got me thinking about textbooks. As a community college professor, I deal with textbooks, and their selection, all the time. I get lots of free copies, many of which I have never even requested and which we are not even considering for adoption. I've been treated to dinner at a very fine restaurant (quite a few years ago, when I didn't yet realize how this contributes to the cost of a book-- see below) by a textbook representative (and I know a lot of very good, hardworking textbook reps who try to make their case on the merits of the books, but clearly they have generous expense accounts, or at least that one did). And I know why. They work on commission, and they want us to choose their textbook. Now, we always choose the texbooks that will work the best with our courses, but it doesn't stop textbook reps from pulling out all the stops anyway.

Now, on the other end, I look at the prices that publishers charge for textbooks. For a hardcover textbook at a university, prices are generally above a hundred dollars a copy (or a bit less, say anywhere from $50-$90 for paperback). This represents a degree of inflation, though when I went to school, they were still quite expensive.

And why is this? It isn't the cost to the publisher, because if you walk into any regular bookstore in America, you can find books of similar quality, typeset and intracacy as any textbook, selling for under $20 (hardcover) or $7 (paperback). The book I bought my wife today is paperback, is about the size of a Schaum's outline (which usually costs about $7.95) and if new retails for $83.25 (I found a used one for about sixty dollars). So they are certainly raking in far more than it costs them to publish the book. Now, some of it certainly goes to pay for all those free textbooks and other expenses, but even beyond that they are clearly seeing some huge profits.

And it hurts the students the most. They have no choice-- they have to buy the textbook for the course. At the institution where I work, we try to keep our tuition affordable, but often students end up spending more on books than they do on tuition anyway. About the only thing that holds down prices is competition with other textbook publishers, but only competition for the decisions of professors, not competition from the actual consumers. And I can tell you that most of the time, cost to the student is not a factor that is strongly considered when making textbook decisions (although we are starting to think more about it).

Now what other industry does this remind you of? The prescription drug industry, of course. People have to have the particular drug that will help their condition, and they often (unless there is a generic available) have no choice except to pay for it or not. And like the textbook industry, drug prices are not regulated (as they are in other countries where the government actucally negotiates drug prices).

So, what should we do for both industries? Regulation. Conservatives would say, 'choice,' but this is not realistic when textbook publishers are protected by copywrite laws (just as pharmaceutical companies are protected by patents). Now, I do want to be very clear about one thing-- I support patent and copywrite laws as necessary to protect artistic and creative freedom, and am in favor of enforcing patent and copywrite laws to the nth degree. And while the high prices of textbooks does lead to some pirating and unauthorized copying, I oppose this and support intellectual property rights. However, regulation does not in any way infringe upon copywrite. What regulation would do, is limit the prices that people who in effect have a monopoly can charge for their product. We already do that with utility bills. So why can't we do the same for books and drugs? Don't tell anyone that they can't make a profit, but decide (with their input, as well as consumer input) what a reasonable profit is, the price which produces that profit, and then set that price.

If it is a good thing for your electric company, then why is it a bad thing for your prescription drugs, your college textbook or for that matter air travel (remember they deregulated the airline industry during the Reagan era, and if you've been watching airline after airline go under or reorganize under bankruptcy since then, you can see how well that has worked.)

Regulation-- it works, and sometimes it is necessary.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Kill some time, kill a man.

Police are today looking for a group of attackers, apparently kids out amusing themselves, who murdered a homeless man by beating him to death.

Police say they will seek murder charges against the attackers who beat a sleeping homeless man to death are suspected in two similar attacks in the city a few hours later.

The first attack was caught on a university surveillance video before dawn Thursday. Police were looking for two to four young men.

"It's senseless. If you look at these kids, it was almost like it was fun and games for them," Officer Scott Russell said....

Norris Gaynor, 45, who was later attacked as he slept near the Broward Center for Performing Arts, died from his injuries at a hospital Thursday, police said. The other victims, both hospitalized in serious condition, have not been identified.

The video from Florida Atlantic University shows two men chasing and beating a man who had been sleeping on a bench. "It looked like they were going for the head," Detective Katherine Collins said.

The 58-year-old man found a security guard, who called for help, and the victim was hospitalized with head trauma and defensive fractures, authorities said.

Gaynor was beaten about 90 minutes later in a chillingly similar attack.

This is in fact quite a common story. The only reason this time has garnered so much attention is that it was caught on video cameras.

According to the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless, 386 homeless people have been attacked nationwide since 1999, resulting in 156 deaths.

Many of the attacks have involved weapons, such as knives and bats, while others have involved straightforward beatings with fists or with feet. What is disturbing though is that the profile of the attackers often is like those who are being sought in this case-- young, usually white males who apparently are looking to amuse themselves. In one case last year, the teens had been watching a copy of the video 'bumfights,' which was made by people who had paid homeless people to fight with each other, and then distributed 300,000 copies. The video was criticized for 'dehumanizing' homeless people. Apparently correctly. It is hard to imagine what must be going through minds of these youths (who often, when caught, it turns out have come from relatively affluent families) who try to kill an afternoon by killing a man.

Now, the life of a homeless person is already a very difficult one, even without these two legged wolves out prowling the streets. With no job, and no permanent address, it is difficult to get a job that will allow one to have a permanent address. At this time of year, we are continually reminded that the number of beds in shelters is less than the number of homeless people, so even on the coldest nights, some will be sleeping outside (if 'sleeping' is the word for it) and in some cases they have been found later frozen to death.

Of course, when funding for housing for the homeless was cut during the Reagan administration, conservatives liked to talk about how the homeless were that way 'by choice.' Now, it is true that there have always been a handful of hobos out there, who do choose to live as hobos. But that is not the case with most homeless people, who would give anything for a home but don't have one. Further, in many cases, these involve families with children. Now, how does a CHILD make a 'choice' to be homeless? If I made my kids sleep outdoors on cardboard boxes, I am sure that CPS would be here and would take them away in short order and place them in foster homes (which would be absolutely what they should do in that case). Additionally, more and more cities and towns are passing ordinances which simply make it against the law to be homeless (not in so many words, but they spell out that it is illegal to sleep in any place where homeless people might be sleeping, hoping to drive them out and over to the next town.) And this includes liberal cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles just as much as it includes conservative ones like Houston and Sarasota, Fla. (The entire list of the 20 'meanest' cities for the homeless is here, and clearly no single region, size of city or political ideology has a monopoly on meanness). Further, there are many causes for homelessness. It can be due to mental illness, drug or alcohol dependency, chronic unemployment, losing a job and being unable to find another one, leaving prison with no place to go, or just plain bad luck. With the changes in the bankrupcty bill, it is now possible for millions in the middle class to become homeless simply by having a major medical expense which they can't pay, having the court take their house and sell it to pay the medical creditors, and then ending up on the street. And out of the millions who are now living on thin ice and don't even recognize it, there are thousands who it will happen to.

Further, the whole 'choice' thing, together with the 'private charity' and 'personal responsibility' angles, are twin cop-outs on the part of Republicans who simply put would prefer more tax cuts for the rich than to have to worry about homeless people. We discussed choice above. As to the 'private charity' argument, I commend them for the work they do. But if they were completely solving the problem, then there would be enough beds in shelters. There are not, and this time of year you always hear about how the shelters are full and some people don't get in. Case closed, it is too big a problem for private charities to solve. As for 'personal responsibility,' I am not denying that some (though not all) homeless people have made their own path to where they are now. However, not all have, and to use the ones who have as an excuse to help nobody is incredibly callous. And it is not our place to judge between them-- God can judge who and how he will judge, but it is our place to simply provide what we can to help our brethren. (and yes, about 75% of adult homeless people are male, so that word is largely accurate here.) Insofar as we can do it with private donations and through private institutions, I have no problem with those charities continuing to do the job that they do. But we also need the Government to be involved, just looking at the numbers who are outside of this system of charities.

Ultimately, Government has a duty to defend its citizens. Homelessness is a threat to our society and many citizens. And we have an obligation to defend against it just as surely as we would protect against a threat by any foreign power.
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