Friday, March 31, 2006

For a change, the President is right.

There are those who believe that I think that everything George W. Bush does is wrong.

In fact, one poster (dorsano) pointed out something he has done which is right. Today, the President reiterated his call for a guest worker program.

CANCUN, Mexico (CNN) -- U.S. President Bush is pushing a program to allow more immigrants to work in the United States as he and the leaders of Mexico and Canada wrap up a two-day summit in Cancun, Mexico, on Friday...

Bush emphasized that the debate over immigration needed "to bring dignity to America, recognizing that America is a nation of immigrants."

"There are people in our country doing work that Americans will not do**, and those people ought to be given a chance to have a tamper-proof card that enables them to work in our country legally for a period of time," Bush said.

Such a guest-worker program, Bush said, "will help us rid the society on the border of these coyotes who smuggle people in the back of 18-wheelers. I believe it'll help get rid of the document forgers. I believe it'll help people on both sides of our border respect the laws of our border and enforce our borders."

He is right, on almost all of this, and even where he is wrong his plan makes sense anyway. Leaving aside the implicit admission that his 2002 decision to allow Mexican rigs to operate anywhere in the United States without inspection has benefitted the smugglers, he is right that when people can get a guest worker card and enter legally, they won't have to pay coyotes a lot of money and risk their lives to come. And let's face it, as long as there is work here, they will come anyway, and the President's proposal has two big benefits: 1) it allows people (both immigrants and employers) to do what they are doing now anyway, but without having to hide anything, and 2) it allows us to find out who actually is living in America.

**-- he is wrong where he says, 'jobs Americans will not do.' There are Americans who will do many of these jobs, and in addition to that, in many cases undocumented immigrants have been working jobs like construction-- jobs that many Americans would do, if they could, and the only reason they are not is because the employer can pay less. But even here, the President's program will help. Once the workers are here legally and don't have to fear talking to the authorities, they will be free to report exploitive work situations.

Not thousands. Just one.

Today, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice admitted that 'thousands of tactical mistakes' were made in Iraq.

No, only one. Going in.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Spanish Language Radio Station Targetted by Vandals.

Last Friday, as part of a nationwide rally, twenty thousand people marched in Phoenix against proposed changes in Federal immigration laws, including a proposal to make being an undocumented worker a felony. Contrary to popular opinion, this was not just a march of illegals, because I have friends who participated (although I had to work that day and didn't make it down there.)

It is pretty remarkable actually to get that many people to come together about anything in Phoenix other than a sporting event or a concert, because the city is notoriously apathetic. Even at baseball games, Phoenicians tend to leave towards the end of the seventh inning and rarely exhibit a great deal of passion about anything. So a demonstration of this size, while dwarfed by the demonstrations in Los Angeles and elsewhere was easily the largest political demonstration in the history of Phoenix.

So did this help convince the rabid, anti-immigrant folks to engage in a more reasoned debate than they have hitherto done?

Well, let's say that my suspicion is that they sent their message last night and it is no. Vandals destroyed four radio towers and knocked KMIA-AM, a spanish language sports-talk radio station based north of Phoenix off the air for what could be a matter of months. KMIA is part of a chain of Spanish speaking stations across the southwest, which have been a significant part of the immigration debate, and is a station that many Phoenix Latinos listen to. The FBI is investigating.

It is true that we don't yet know exactly who destroyed the towers and why. It may be that the towers were destroyed by a bunch of teenagers out doing stupid stuff, and it may be that they were destroyed for some other reason completely unrelated to the content of the station. It might be that there was something else that they discussed, other than immigration, that caused someone to be this angry at them. We won't know that until the FBI finishes their investigation. But coming as soon as it did after the immigration march, I have to admit that the timing and target are awful suspicious.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

How to be a Republican.

Karen over at Namaste' has a post on Things you have to believe to be a Republican.

I won't list all of them, but here are a few of her brilliant examples:

Saddam was a good guy when Reagan armed him, a bad guy when Daddy Bush made war on him, a good guy when Cheney did business with him, and a bad guy when Baby Bush needed a "we can't find Bin Laden" diversion.

Trade with Cuba is wrong because the country is Communist, but trade with China and Vietnam is vital to a spirit of international harmony.

The United States should get out of the United Nations, and our highest national priority is enforcing U.N. resolutions against Iraq.

A woman can't be trusted with decisions about her own body, but multinational corporations can make decisions affecting all mankind without regulation.

Providing health care to all Iraqis is sound policy, but providing health care to all Americans is socialism.

You will have to visit her page for the rest of them, although I have a couple I would like to add:

1. Kids spend too little time studying in school, but it's good if we steal another week for standardized testing.

2. If you are sick, then it's up to you to pay for your medicine, but if you grow it at home, it's a felony.

3. You support democracy around the world. Unless, of course, the people in a country vote for someone we don't like, in which case you're willing to support a coup.

Israeli Election

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post Interpreting the Hamas victory and where from here? in which I predicted that there were rocky times ahead in the short term, but looked with optimism towards a possible future in which Israelis and Palestinians might be able to resolve their long term differences. The upshot of the post was that Hamas, despite their commitment to violence, once they have to begin dealing with the day to day details of governing, would little by little have to moderate their stance. And most importantly, if that day ever comes, they (unlike the notoriously corrupt and ineffective leadership of Fatah) would have the authority with the Palestinian people to make any renunciation of violence stick. And it is true that Hamas, while not renouncing violence has made their own truce with Israel stick (though there are other militant groups they have not restrained, such as the Islamic Jihad militants who yesterday fired a Katyusha rocket into Israel from the Gaza strip.)

As for the short term concern of rockier times, I wrote,

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.

I am glad I was wrong about that. Yesterday, the Israelis took a step towards peace. In what was in many ways as big a surprise as the Hamas victory, the Israelis picked the Kadima Party, founded by Ariel Sharon prior to his stroke and now headed by Ehud Olmert, to form a new government. With 28 seats in the 120 seat Knesset, they will need to form coalitions with other parties to govern, and the most likely coalition partner they will choose is the Labor Party, which won 20 seats, to form a center-left coalition. And most importantly, Israelis rejected the hard line warmongering of Netanyahu, as the Likud party won a paltry eleven seats, coming perilously close to minor party status. In fact, a wide range of minor parties, favoring everything from stricter religious laws to legalizing marijuana, won the rest of the seats (and these are domestic social priorities-- with big things like war and peace on the table, if they have to pass a law letting people smoke a joint, except on the Sabbath, in order to make it work, then they can do this.)

To date, Hamas has not shown any inclination at all to renounce violence. And Kadima's official stance is just as hardline, saying that if they can't reach an agreement with Palestinians by 2010, they will decide for themselves Israel's permanent boundaries and unilaterally impose them.

Nevertheless, if we get past the rhetoric and the blustering, I see a real spark here for a movement towards peace.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Bill's latest proposal

Former President Bill Clinton has a proposal out there for other countries that sounds reasonable, but fails the 'would we want it here?' test.

The proposal which he made this week, calls for mandatory HIV testing in poor countries.

LONDON - Former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday called for mandatory testing for HIV/AIDS in countries with high infection rates and the means to provide lifesaving drugs.

When the AIDS epidemic began two decades ago, mandatory testing was frowned on because of the stigma attached to the deadly illness and the lack of treatment for those infected.

But Clinton said countries where there was no discrimination against people with the illness and where anti-AIDS drugs were available should now consider universal testing.

Now, I can see what he is saying, inasmuch as these countries have very little in the way of resources to fight what is now becoming an epidemic. This would allow the governments there to focus what resources they have on preventing new cases by personally counseling (dare we say monitoring)? people who test HIV positive, and giving them medical care before they develop fullblown AIDS.

I can see what he is saying, but he is fundamentally wrong.

First, even if you find a country where there is no stigma attached to being HIV positive (and I don't believe there is one anywhere in the world yet), don't you think that this would re-stigmatize it? There would be one group of people who could only engage in sexual activity with other members of the same group. And then how would they be identified for the benefit of the 'pure' people? Would they have to wear a badge? How about a yellow star of David? Because that is in effect what this could become, especially if a regime took power in one of these countries that wanted to find a group to scapegoat. We've seen how quickly freedoms can be lost, and freedoms that are signed away with the stroke of a pen will probably never be regained, and if so it will be after years of grudging small steps back by the government (and honestly, Bill Clinton was no better on civil liberties than George W. Bush is; we haven't had a President who really protected individual rights vs. the state since Jimmy Carter).

Here in America, where we now see employees and others having to submit to mandatory drug testing, polygraph tests and other conditions, and in which we have little other than the good word of those administering the tests and the anti-hacking division of Microsoft to protect us, privacy and freedom are under assault. A mandatory HIV test, for anyone and for any reason would be an enormous violation of privacy. It may be warranted in extreme cases (for example, a rapist) but it should certainly not be mandatory for everyone, or even for all but those few people for whom a compellingly urgent case can be made.

What we can do, is provide resources to these poor countries (as we would have to anyway under Clinton's proposal) to help them be able to offer HIV testing to everyone, and to encourage it, including by offering the test itself at no charge. But don't require it.

And we should do the same here.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Asylum for Abdul Rahman

Breaking news is that Abdul Rahman, who faced execution in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity, has been released. Under Sharia, Islamic law, anyone who converts to another religion must be executed. The reason why he has been released is not because of any recognition of religious freedom on the part of the government there, but because his family members claimed in court that he was deranged. Thousands have demonstrated on the streets of Kabul and elsewhere in the country demanding that he be beheaded. The Taliban may be gone, but the truth is that this is still a country where people fear to follow anything other than Taliban-like rule. The repression of women in particular has continued, for example women have been murdered for helping other women register to vote, girls schools have been attacked, and a female television show host was murdered for playing pop music on her show. But it has not been limited to women. Barbers have been threatened in Afghanistan and at least one has been murdered for cutting off beards.

Rahman has requested that he be granted asylum in another country, and I hope that he is granted asylum. The United States should be first in line to grant it. This is not a time to timidly try to avoid stepping on toes in the middle east on the issue of religious freedom. The United States, which was settled in many cases by people who wanted the freedom to practice their religion, must take the lead and be the first country to offer asylum to Mr. Rahman. It is absolutely certain that if Abdul Rahman, who has refused to renounce his conversion, remains in Afghanistan then he will be murdered.

I've blogged before about how we must support freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech and the press. These are very important tests of our democratic ideals, but freedom of religion is equally as important.

I've also blogged against the state supporting a religious viewpoint, but it is very clear that the first amendment was written to protect the rights of all to practice their religion as they please, and we should make that clear by supporting Mr. Rahman's right to practice his religion in a place where he won't have to fear an angry mob slicing through his neck with a scimitar.

If we cannot see and act on that, then we are no longer America.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Republicans believe that government spending is wasteful. And they're certainly proving themselves right.

Last week it was reported (originally by the Washington Post) that layers and layers of subcontractors have been responsible for absorbing enormous amounts of federal money given under no-bid contracts for Katrina relief, even while the people actually doing the work-- who often themselves live in squalor and get paid peanuts, don't get even a fraction of what the government is paying the prime contractor.

(from the first linked article):

An article carried by The N&O portrays an unmanageable web of contractors called out to clean up after disasters. Besides being expensive, this so-called system has rewarded contractors for doing little to help other than paperwork. What happens is that federal agencies in charge of disaster-related contracts turn first to prime contractors large enough to carry the necessary insurance. The primes are legally free to hire subcontractors, and they do...

In fact, the Post found that the difference between the actual cost of Katrina cleanup jobs and the price charged to taxpayers ranged from 40 percent to 1,700 percent. That difference equals waste, pure and simple. It's waste the hurricane-ravaged areas can't afford. New Orleans, for example, needs $3 billion for levees strong enough to encourage displaced residents to rebuild devastated neighborhoods, but Congress has diverted half the money

Originally, the price tag for Katrina was pegged at $250 billion. But if we keep paying enormous sums of cash to contractors, who then use a fraction of it to hire other contractors (likely without even setting foot in New Orleans, just pocketing their big bucks and pawning off the job) who in turn hire more and more subcontractors until you get down to the guy with a pickup truck who will do it for very little money (remember there are a lot of desparate, unemployed people still down there), we will meet and exceed this total long before the work is done.

So, given what was reported, what did FEMA do about it? Here's what: announced today that they won't be reopening four no-bid contracts that they had earlier said that they would.

WASHINGTON - FEMA has broken its promise to reopen four multimillion-dollar no-bid contracts for Hurricane Katrina work, including three that federal auditors say wasted significant amounts of money.

Officials said they awarded the four contracts last October to speed recovery efforts that might have been slowed by competitive bidding. Some critics, however, suggested they were rewards for politically connected firms.

Acting FEMA Director R. David Paulison pledged last fall to rebid the contracts, which were awarded to Shaw Group Inc., Bechtel Corp., CH2M Hill Inc. and Fluor Corp. Later, the agency acknowledged the rebidding wouldn’t happen until February.

This week, FEMA said the contracts wouldn’t be rebid after all. In fact, they have been extended, in part because of good performance, said Michael Widomski, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency....

A review by the Government Accountability Office of 13 major contracts said last week the government had wasted millions of dollars, due mostly to poor planning by FEMA. Among the 13 were three of the four no-bid contracts for temporary housing, worth up to $500 million each, that went to three major firms with extensive government ties.

Whether it is the fault of the contractors or of FEMA (obviously the problems there went way beyond Michael Brown), this stinks to high heaven.

I've come to a conclusion about this. Republicans have always made it their mantra that the government can't do anything as efficiently as private industry, that the government is doomed to fail, and that it always wastes money when carrying out a large scale program like this. They believe that solutions involving the government will fail, they expect it to fail, in fact it would not even be too strong of a statement to say that there are at least some (not all, but I've met some) who want it to fail. So, believing that to be the case, they have given private contractors a blank check (not believing that this kind of waste could occur with it) and then mismanaged even their own areas of responsibility. Thus their mantra has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Are we forcing childhood's end too soon?

It has been a problem all across America.

Students who do well in elementary school, as soon as they get to middle school or junior high school (whether that be in the sixth or the seventh grade) often experience sudden drops in academic performance.

And although we could debate the relative merits of different types of schools or in different places, that isn't the point of this post. The decline in performance exists across America, in public and in private schools, in large cities and in small towns.

Of course, some of the problems are predictable and impossible to do much about. Puberty starts at around this age, and children change physically and mentally. They are also suddenly around older kids, many of whom may be experiencing other (non-academic) life difficulties, such as gang involvement, drug use, pregnancy or juvenile justice problems, that will inevitably rub off on the younger kids (who still have a natural tendency to look up to their older peers).

My thinking though is that some of the problems that students face in a junior high environment is a product of the fact that they are structured so much like high schools. Instead of a transition from elementary school to full high school, we are suddenly in the sixth or seventh grade placing them into an environment that is less of a transition than a complete restructuring. Further, with junior high schools often drawing from multiple elementary schools, the chances are that suddenly students will be surrounded, even in small junior high schools, by a majority of students whom they don't know, and that this will in turn change every hour. This certainly contributes to the cliquishness for which junior high schools are well known, and possibly also to gang activity. Also, recess has been replaced by short 'passing periods,' which other than for lunch, don't allow students to get out any of the natural energy which they still have (and in fact which is especially a problem for students with ADD or ADHD.) Recent proposals to eliminate recess in elementary schools have quite correctly been shot down by people who point out that it is necessary for children to be able to focus and concentrate during the rest of the day.

My proposals would be these:

1) restructure junior high schools, so that the same group of kids goes through the day as a block. They may come from elementary schools (that is a good thing, as long as they are together enough to develop some connection to each other), but have the same group of say 20 kids go through each day together as a group, having the same classes in the same order. This will promote a sense of familiarity and perhaps even develop new friendships, much as exists in elementary schools. The need for more specialized teaching may still require that aspect of the high school schedule to be followed, but even here there is some room for a more relaxed schedule-- instead of 'homeroom' to be in name only, maybe bundle a couple of similar subjects together (i.e. reading and grammar, or math and science, and double the length of the first morning class (maybe even a class where students would have a break in the middle), and this would the the classroom in which students would keep their stuff, possibly returning for the last half hour of the day. In between they could go as scheduled to the classrooms of teachers who taught their other subjects. I mean, who needs lockers in sixth grade anyway? Electives would not be a problem since at this level kids generally only get about one elective class anyway, and the nature of the elective could be used to determine which group of twenty goes together (or alternatively, let the elective class be the one class during the day in which that group is broken up).

2) Even if it means lengthening the day by about half an hour, include a morning recess (see the 'break' above). It's great if kids eat breakfast, but let them get some of that pure sugar energy out sometime during the morning, it will help them focus better during the rest of the day. Even adults work better if they take a few breaks, why do we ask junior high kids to limit the breaks to the time it takes to walk from one classroom to the other? In fact, we homeschooled one of our daughters for two years when we lived in really poor school districts (luckily not the case now) and I can say that the ability to schedule break time was a big plus.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Remember what they said then?

This comes as a timely post, because I posted part of this in my comments section of the last Iraq related post in response to a troll who prefered to stick his head in the sand and forget what was actually said.

I guess since President Bush was the guy to get us into Iraq, he figures he can 'share the wealth,' and it will be up to his successor to figure out how to get us out of Iraq.

WASHINGTON -- President Bush suggested yesterday that US troops might stay in Iraq beyond his presidency, which ends in 2009, saying at a press conference that the issue of removing troops from the country ''will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq."

The president, responding to aggressive questioning at the hastily arranged morning session, declined to give a timetable for pulling US soldiers out of the increasingly unpopular war. But he warned several times about the danger of a 'premature" withdrawal.'

So he figures that the war will last at least until 2009, or six years (which would make it the third longest running non-Indian war in American history, after Vietnam (fifteen years, give or take depending on when you say it started) and the American Revolution (eight years). But there is no guarantee that it could last for only six years, so the sky could be the limit here.

This wouldn't be so bad except that when they were trying to get us INTO the war, this is what they said about its duration:

Feb. 7, 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to U.S. troops in Aviano, Italy: "It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."

March 4, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a breakfast with reporters: "What you'd like to do is have it be a short, short conflict. . . . Iraq is much weaker than they were back in the '90s," when its forces were routed from Kuwait.

March 11, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars: "The Iraqi people understand what this crisis is about. Like the people of France in the 1940s, they view us as their hoped-for liberator."

Kenneth Adelman, a Reagan administration official who serves on a Pentagon advisory board, said in a Washington Post column in February (2003) that the war would be "a cakewalk."

Richard Perle, who chaired that board, predicted that any resistance in Iraq would "collapse after the first whiff of gunpowder."

Well, you remember that. We were supposed to waltz in, get rid of Saddam, find all those bunkers full of nerve gas, the people would throw flowers at us for getting rid of the evil dictator, and our troops would be home for Christmas that year (2003). That is what they told us then, and all the historical revisionism from the right can't expunge from the pages of history what they said then, or even in many cases after the war started (i.e. the President announcing on May 1, 2003 'the end of major combat operations' and Dick Cheney saying in June of 2003 that any acts of violence were just 'Saddam dead enders,' or last year that 'the insurgency was in its last throes'

So now George Bush has generously announced that he can't get us out of this mess, and as such he will be passing this mess on to his successor.

Nice housewarming gift for the next President.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Senate Democrats more popular back home than Republicans

However low the President's approval ratings have dropped, Republicans would like to have you believe that the problem is isolated to him, and that the members of Congress who enabled him on everything from Iraq to the budget, are inured against the consequences of their actions. Alternatively, when defending the President, they like to cite polls showing that Congress is unpopular (a generic poll, so pretty much useless in relation to individual members) as proof that Democrats fare no better than Republicans.

They may want you to, but don't believe it. At the very least, the problems for the GOP are beginning to filter down into the Senate. job approval ratings on all 100 members of the U.S. Senate show that of the twenty-five Senators with net approval ratings in their home states above 30%, only ten of them are Republicans (note that the party ID is in column 4; the color of the state name in column 2 tells you who won the 2004 Presidential election in that state.) Conversely, three of the five Senators with negative net approval ratings are Republicans, and all three of them are up for re-election this year; additionally, fourteen of the 22 U.S. Senators with net approval ratings of ten or less are Republicans.

Not overwhelming numbers, I will admit. There could also be a lot of reasons for this in individual states, but as a national snapshot, this makes it pretty clear that on balance, voters in the states prefer their Democratic Senators more than they prefer their Republican ones.

Three years ago. And again: FIGHT AGAINST ANOTHER WAR!

Three years ago today, we went to war in Iraq.

At the time we were told a lot of things. We were told that there were weapons of mass destruction, active and ongoing research into nuclear weapons, that Iraq had indisputable ties to al-Qaeda. The threat was said to be imminent, so much so that we couldn't even give Hans Blix the several more weeks he wanted to be able to actually find out whether Iraq had WMD. It is now known from the writings of Paul O'Neill, the Downing Street memo and other sources what many of us had suspected before the war: that the Bush administration had discussed an invasion of Iraq even before 9/11 and was dead set on invading Iraq, and anything that would prevent or slow that down was merely an obstacle to be circumvented or run over.

And one more thing that we were told, that the war would be a quick, short one, that it would be over in 'weeks.' And so, President Bush, ever the politician, made a landing on board an aircraft carrier on May 1, 2003 and declared 'the end of major combat operations.' The White House continued to paint a rosy picture of how well things were going and how everything was on schedule, and how any incidents were simply the product of 'Saddam dead enders,' until this lie was so obvious that they had no other choice than to correct it.

Now, we know that things did not turn out according to plan. And, it is true, that we cannot turn back the clock or undo the damage that has been done, whether the false roads we were led down were the product of deliberate deceit or bumbling incompetence (does it really matter which of these it was?) What does matter, and this I blogged on just a couple of days ago, is whether can trust this administration, especially in matters of war and peace. The evidence is that we cannot trust them. It is too late to prevent the last war, but we can prevent the next war.

Therefore we must stand up now and make it very clear that we don't support any proposed war against Iran. Do this by contacting your elected representatives, by speaking out in your community against any such war, and asking why we are building bases in Iraq, if our intention is truly to leave the country (and the fourteen military bases we are building in Iraq are enough so that not only does it signal our intention not to actually leave the place, but to use it as a base against-- well, there are only two places that we might be using Iraq as a base to invade, and Syria, a small country, wouldn't require that many Iraqi bases for support.)

Don't get into shouting matches with right wingers. They may try, as John Bolton did, to pull out the '9/11' justification. That is irrelevant. If they want to make the case why we should invade Iran, ask for proof. Ask for more than a bunch of meaningless quotes (they like to quote Ahmadinejad, but if you go back and look at the rhetoric or Ayatollah Khomeini himself-- he named the U.S. the 'Great Satan' in the first place-- Ahmadinejad, a politician who is playing to domestic politics as much as to an international audience-- is no more shrill.) There is no hard proof that Iran is in fact building a nuke, and even if they are, so what? The Soviet Union had nukes, by the thousands, but we waited long enough and the winds of freedom brought them down (despite Khruschev's line, 'we will bury you.') Why is Iran any different? They haven't provided long range rockets or other significant weapons to Hezbollah or other terrorists that they have contact with, so it is hard to see why they would hand out a nuke (I know it is hard to believe, but Ahmadinejad and Grand Ayatollah Ali Khameinei, who is really the most powerful person in Iran, are not insane, and they know that giving terrorists a nuke (if they had one) would invite retaliation against Iran, and they are not such fools. They give Hezbollah enough second rate military equipment to enable them to be a thorn in the side of Israel, but they haven't provided them with any weapons (including poison gas, which Iran at least had on hand during the Iran-Iraq war) that would represent a clear escalation of that conflict.

And sure, Iran isn't a great place to live, but frankly it's a better place to live, especially if you are a female and value the right to vote, to drive a car, and to own property, than our 'allies' in places like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the U.A.E. But whatever the internal situation there, it isn't up to US to fix everyone else's political problems.

I would hope that as we discuss the three years of the Iraq war, everyone who posts remembers to make the case that we are now beginning to hear the same things about Iran, and it is time to unite against an Iran war now, not wait until conservatives can get their act together and push through another resolution ahead of the election, as they did in 2002.

Friday, March 17, 2006

What to do about chronic child molesters.

There was a story out of South Carolina today about a man who was convicted of child molestation in the early 1990's, served his time in prison, got out, and this week two girls escaped from a dungeon he had set up in his basement where he had kept, tortured and raped them.

This is nothing new. The fact is, that pedophiles can't change their sexual appetites. They may be able to control it if they are in an environment where there are no children (such as prison) but there is a great deal of research on the topic, all of which suggests that pedophiles will remain pedophiles despite whatever drugs, physical or psychological therapy they receive, and in many cases despite an earnest desire to change. It is not a choice that one can make (for example, if you are not a pedophile, try to imagine a day when you changed your sexual orientation-- to kids; chances are you can't imagine that, because it isn't who you are. Similarly, pedophiles is who pedophiles are, and they will always be pedophiles).

I've blogged on child molesters before. In a couple of my early posts (such as this one) I proposed that registered sex offenders should be required to wear a tracking device, similar to the one that Martha Stewart had to wear. This would serve two purposes: 1) if a child was abducted it would allow police to quickly get a fix on where any known molesters were in the area, and 2) knowlege of this fact might deter pedophiles from committing this crime in the first place.

There has been some concern that these tracking devices could be an imposition on freedom. I disagree. When a person is convicted of a felony, they give up a number of freedoms that we take for granted, including the unrestricted right of privacy. Sentences can range from a complete loss of privacy (a prison cell) to a small loss of privacy (a weekly meeting with a probation officer). In this scheme, the tracking devices are in the middle; they allow for twenty four hour monitoring as to location, but as long as the offender is behaving hiself (or herself), they don't allow monitoring of specific activity. It is true that a person who is very knowlegeable about tools can remove one without setting off the alarm, but the large majority of people could not do this, and would probably set off the alarm if they tried.

I also favor tougher sentences for child molesters. Child molestation is rape. Period. Rape is the most serious crime except for murder that a person can commit (for that matter, many rapes and molestations include murders, sooner or later as the perpetrator tries to cover his tracks.) And the fact is, that no child molester is 'cured.' So prison at least prevents this from harming others.

However, tracking devices and longer sentences, while they may help, won't by themselves solve this problem.

I would propose that we rebuild institutions which may not be prisons but are designed to separate out people who are a threat to society. These would be similar to mental institutions which were closed in the early 1980's, except that those placed in them would not be mental patients but rather persons like child molesters, repeat drunk drivers and others whose behavior makes them a demonstrable threat to others. These would not be prisons (although their occupants could certainly be sent to prison if they committed a crime while in the institution). Let people in them run a business from 'home', have unlimited (but monitored) family visitation, or even use the internet (with the best possible blocker).

Yes, this would cost money. But it would cost so much more not to.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Illini, Volunteers will win trophies.

I generally try to stay topical, but I admit to being sometimes pacified by the 'bread and circuses' routine, and no circus is quite as full of drama as the annual NCAA tournament ('March Madness'). And I've got a pretty good streak going, so despite the odds let's prognosticate again:

For any of you who were regular readers of the DNC blog the past couple of years, you know that I am on a 2-0 streak, having picked UConn to win the NCAA men's tourney two years ago and North Carolina last season (haven't been as lucky picking the ladies).

My picks this year: Illinois (a surprise) for the men, and Tennessee (a mild surprise) for the ladies.

The Illini, underrated as a number four seed, have been hitting at just the right time. This is a team that has 'Cinderella' written all over it, but also a team with great team chemistry. My guess is that the tournament ends before midnight. Of course, an Illinois tournament win would be considered a big upset, and their patience may be tested in their first game against a slow Air Force offense, but I think they have the tools needed to win. And their outside shooting will be useful if they do get behind and need to come back in a game.

Pat Summitt was visibly and vocally disappointed at being named a number two seed in the tournament. Now, honestly, I think they deserved the seeding, and not sure which of the one seeds they should have replaced. But Summitt is steaming over it, and she and the Volunteers are at their most dangerous when they think they've been dissed. Dangerous enough to win the whole thing, for instance.

Fool Me Once, Shame on You. Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me.

Yesterday, the President Bush re-affirmed our 'doctrine of pre-emptive strike,' while U.N. Ambassador John Bolton raised the specter or 9/11 in discussing the threat from Iran.

What have we heard about Iran? About WMD's, ties to terrorists, how terrible the government is, and the reasoned discussion-ending bloody shirt of 9/11 is pulled out yet again. Haven't we heard something like this before?

Same as things were a few years ago, last letter changed.

I can understand that some people may have believed this crew then. Heck, I even believed back then that Iraq probably had WMD capability based on what I was hearing on the news, although I felt that George Bush should have let Hans Blix do his job and find out for sure whether there were any. But anyone who buys into this one, is a true fool.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Free speech, even at a baseball game.

I've been perplexed why I haven't seen more on free speech from others on the left. Recently, I've made two free speech posts (defending the right of the Mohammed cartoonists to publish their cartoons and then later defending the right of Holocaust denier David Irving to publish his particular brand of filth. This should not be a left/right issue. You may not be protected from the consequences of what you say (whether it be getting fired, being sued or being held to public ridicule) but you should have the legal right to say it, anywhere, anytime.

As such, I was disappointed to hear about a story related to the World Baseball Classic.

The story involves the Cuban team. You may remember, that the Bush administration originally refused to even allow them to play in the tournament. They fortunately changed their minds-- the tournament should not be about petty differences between governments, and the Cuban team is as welcome as any other to participate. Heck, in a historical context, I'm not even sure why the Bush administration wouldn't welcome them, since in the past most Cuban groups of any type that have been allowed to travel to the U.S. have resulted in a defection or two.

During Cuba's 7-3 loss to the Dominican Republic last night, a group of anti-Castro fans wore shirts with the slogan 'Fidel Abajo,' (down with Fidel). They were told by stadium security that they either had to leave or cover the shirts. They also had a sign that said the same thing, which stadium security tore down.

The Cuban squad took umbrage at this, missing a post-game press conference (wonder if they would have missed it if they'd won the game).

I take umbrage too: umbrage that the protestors were told to cover their shirts. Frankly, what they had on them was pretty tame, considering some of the rhetoric that comes out about the United States in the periodic anti-American demonstrations in Havana. Stadium security was wrong. If someone wanted to come with a sign praising Fidel, they could do that too, but it isn't up to stadium security to tell people what they could or could not wear (unless it violated a nudity ordinance or something, but that wasn't an issue here).

Now, I can understand that the Cubans were probably used to playing in an environment where no one would dare put up such a sign or wear such a shirt at a baseball game (no, I'm not a right winger-- but a dictator is a dictator, and calling Fidel Castro anything else is an insult to reality). And they are probably mad about losing the game and would rather blame something else besides their poor job of pitching to David Ortiz. But this isn't Cuba, and if I want to wear a shirt that says down with Castro, Bush, or any other leader, I have the right to wear it.

I agreed with those who argued (and successfully) that the Cubans should have the right to come here to play baseball. But now that they are here, let's remember why we are lucky to be living here and not there.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

How do the soy burgers taste?

Oh, NOOOO!!!

Just this week, we learned that another case of mad cow disease has been found in America. So, what might be the action taken by our government? Well, it just might be to cut beef inspection.

The enhanced program, which was to run for 12 to 18 months, remains in place. It has tested more than 650,000 animals -- far more than initially planned -- and was responsible for finding two of the three cases of the brain-waisting cattle ailment in the United States.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said in January he would decide the future of the program in "early 2006."

USDA on Monday offered the first hint of its plans when Agriculture Department Chief Veterinarian John Clifford mentioned "the conclusion" of the program.

"As we talk about the conclusion of our enhanced surveillance program I wanted to reiterate and state that program was to take a snapshot in time to give us an estimate of prevalence," Clifford said during a telephone news conference on the new mad cow case.

This will certainly improve our statistics on mad cow disease. After all, if they cut the number of cattle inspected, then it is less likely that they will find any more cases of mad cow. Heck, if they cut it all the way to zero, then they will NEVER find one! It would take either the Mad Hatter or the Bush administration to find the logic to come up with this kind of response after last week's news.

This guy's stash could be used to rebuild the Gulf Coast

According to Reuters,

a man was busted in L.A. with $250 billion in counterfeit money. In his case, 250 one billion dollar bills.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The counterfeit money looked good, but there was one flaw. There's no such thing as a one billion dollar bill.
U.S. Customs agents in California said on Tuesday they had found 250 bogus billion dollar bills while investigating a man charged with currency smuggling.

Tekle Zigetta, 45, pleaded guilty to three federal counts of trying to bring cash, phony bills and a fake $100,000 gold certificate into the United States in January.

Further investigation led agents to a West Hollywood apartment where they found the stash of yellowing and wrinkled one billion dollar bills with an issue date of 1934 and bearing a picture of President Grover Cleveland.

"You would think the $1 billion denomination would be a giveaway that these notes are fake, but some people are still taken in," said James Todak, a secret services agent involved in the probe.

A billion dollar bill. Wonder what happens if you go to McDonald's, buy a hamburger, hand them one and ask for change.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The arrogance is astounding.

Unfortunately, having watched the Bush administration operate as they wish for five years now, the revelation today that a lawyer working for the prosecution had coached witnesses in what to say during the Moussaoui death penalty hearing is hardly surprising.

"In all the years I've been on the bench, I've never seen such an egregious violation of the court's rule on witnesses," U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema declared angrily.

Brinkema, visibly upset, said she had decided to put the trial on hold until at least Wednesday because she needed more time to decide whether to dismiss the case.

The surprise development could derail the government's effort to put Moussaoui to death as the only person convicted in the United States in connection with the hijacked airliner attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

"This court is faced with a very serious taint of a key portion of this case," Brinkema said. "It is very difficult for this case to go forward."

Now, whether it leads to the dismissal of the case or not, remains to be seen. And it won't set Moussaoui free, as he will receive an automatic sentence of life in prison even if the case is dismissed. However, what it shows is the utter disregard for the law that we have seen time and again from this administration.

We saw it at Abu Graib. We've seen it when a terror suspect was kidnapped off the street in Milan, in a Democracy with which we have friendly relations and flown to Egypt, for interrogation. We've seen it with other so-called 'renditions' (whether justified or not). We've seen it with the wiretapping episode. We've seen it with the Padilla case. We've seen it with political fundraising. We've seen it with the Plame leak. This administration is willing to either ignore or rewrite the law as they see fit and then gamble that the court will uphold it.

But then, last year, it was reported by Capitol Hill Blue that the President called the U.S. Constitution "just a goddamned piece of paper" during a staff meeting on the Patriot Act.

Is anyone surprised about today's revelation? It's no longer unusual, for this White House, it's par for the course.

cross posted at The Divided States of Bushmerika

A simple reason some women choose abortion: anything else is too expensive

Last week I brought up again (New Abortion Law Full of Contradictions an argument I originally made last July, in which I pointed out that the success of liberals in reducing the number of abortions by means of education, birth control and family planning was much greater than the successes that conservatives have had by trying to ban it. I wrote in that post,

Abortion opponents like those in the South Dakota legislature need to keep in mind that there are a lot of ways to oppose something besides banning it. But maybe they are too narrow in their views to think of any.

The purpose of this post is to help out myopically focused conservatives by suggesting another way they could fight it. It is inspired by some research I ran across while I was responding to a post on Rum, Romanism and Rebellion. The specific article I ran across was this study of the socioeconomic profile of women who have abortions published by the Guttmacher Institute.

One thing that I discovered while reading the study (although, anecdotally I have known this for a long time) is that there is a direct relationship between a woman's financial situation and the likelihood that she will have an abortion rather than carry a pregnancy to term.

Now conservatives will certainly jump on the line in the report that indicates that women who receive medicaid are more likely to get an abortion, as proof that the fact that medicaid funds some abortions, makes it more likely that women will get one. True, in fact, but to do so misses the larger point: that this is only one example of the fact that women of limited means are likely to consider cost as a factor in whether to get an abortion. The study goes on beyond that and finds that there is a very direct linkage between income and abortion rates, even as high as 200% of the poverty line, where few if any women are on medicaid, but there are still very many who lack health insurance, and in particular women who lack health insurance are more likely to get abortions.

To begin with, even a healthy pregnancy and normal delivery at a typical hospital is likely to cost $3,000 when one adds up the bills for the hospital, the maternity ward, the obstetrician, the anaesthesiologist and the various other technicians involved. And if there is even a small complication, these costs can grow exponentially (for example, I had a friend whose wife delivered a baby in 2000 that required an operation to correct a defect; he had no insurance, and by the time they were done, he had a $17,000 bill). For most women who are facing a tough financial situation, the choice between $500 today (the approximate cost of an abortion even if there is no insurance payment) and $3000 minimum at a hospital in a few months, is a clear one. For financial reasons alone, abortion is likely to be the preferred choice. In the study it points out that 73% of women who get an abortion have previously been pregnant; 12% have had a previous abortion but never a birth (36% have had both before). This means that 61% of women who get an abortion have already borne one or more children, so it is not like they are against having children. But it is entirely possible, as the study shows, that they may not be able to afford another one right now. Adoption is an alternative that some women choose, but many don't want to have to go through nine months of pregnancy just to sign their child over to another person, and the idea that they might do this for the specific reason that they wouldn't have to pay a large bill at the hospital (it is legal for adoptive parents to pay all expenses) comes perilously close to baby selling.

As such, I would like to ask conservatives if they would object to a very limited but very complete universal coverage bill: a bill which covers all hospital, physician, technician and prescription costs associated with pregnancy, delivery and if necessary complications directly arising from pregnancy and birth, including to correct birth defects and any complications arising to the mother (in fact, maybe even paying for it via a tax on abortions.) Of course, abortion would be unaffected by the bill and would still cost what it does today, about $500 unless insurance will cover it (plus maybe a small increase due to the tax mentioned a moment ago.) This would not eliminate the long term economic impact of having more kids, but would certainly address the needs of those women who are choosing abortion because they are uninsured and are certain they can't afford a delivery.

It seems to me that if this were the case, then the at least the short term economic incentive for abortion would be removed. So I'm asking, conservatives, if you are against abortion, is this a measure you could support?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Why don't immigrants assimilate as they used to?

In one of my posts this week, one of the commenters discussed the difference between people who were born here who don't speak English (i.e. native Americans and a lot of New Mexico Hispanics) and immigrants who don't learn English. This led me to consider some of the larger issues involved in explaining why so many people who come here, in particular those who come illegally, also don't assimilate into American culture as thoroughly or completely (or in may cases, even at all) as either legal immigrants or immigrants who came here in generations past.

Of course, we should remember that prior to 1921, they were almost all (see below) legal immigrants. In that year, as Isaac Asimov once wrote in a memorable phrase, "the Golden Door slammed shut," as Congress passed immigration quotas that strictly limited immigration, and in a way that if they were followed would create an America reflective of the desires of Congress (i.e. Britain and Germany were allocated the largest quotas, because so many Americans were of British and German descent, as were most other northern European countries, while proportionately fewer were allocated according to the population that Congress wanted from Slavic Europe, Mediterranean Europe, and far less than that for Latin America and Asia, while none were allocated for people of black African origin (reflecting the fact that Congress at the time determined, in ways known only to them, that we had enough black people already in America.) Since then, the quotas have changed and no longer reflect open racism or a desire by Congress to only populate America with people from certain parts of the world, but they are still below what is realistic (so that right now, we have anywhere from ten to twenty million illegal aliens living in America-- the accumulated difference since the general amnesty that was granted in 1984 between what Congress decreed and what the market determined).

The problem of non-assimilation however is relatively new. And, it is the product of a number of factors. One is that people in many of the countries where many immigrants come from have become more nationalistic, especially with the growth of democracy. In the old days, someone from a country in Latin America, for example, would gladly embrace America once they were here because they were only giving up a tie to a land which was ruled by dictators and in which other than family, they had no personal stake. Now many people in Latin America take pride in their nations, and that part of it isn't a bad thing. If we quit signing trade agreements like CAFTA that let corporations continue to go into those nations and set up sweatshops, and instead signed trade agreements that focused on raising the living standards in poor countries, they would be less inclined to try to sneak into America.

Another factor, which is less welcome, is that illegal immigrants don't want to become too enmeshed in American culture because it is more likely to get them noticed and deported. As long as they can fade into an ethnic neighborhood where no one speaks much English or is involved in any civic activity, they won't be noticed. So, in contrast to generations past, when many immigrants would open small businesses (such as my mother's immigrant parents, who for awhile ran a small shop in Brooklyn), many of today's illegal immigrants would never even think of opening one because that would inevitably attract the attention of the authorities. So, they don't get involved or learn English.

Now, this second factor brings us to a fundamental flaw in our present system: we want immigrants to assimilate, but then we set things up to go better for them if they do not.

My suggestion is this: First, I support the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill. However, I would also add that we provide free citizenship AND English classes for any immigrant (however they got here) who pays for legal worker status under the bill, and include these as part of the package. I know, Conservatives will scream about the cost, as they always do. But I believe that the investment now will pay off very well in the future, when we really do have a society that functions as one, instead of creating a permanent underclass of immigrants (whether they are legal or not).

CORRECTION: In the comments, IndyVoter points out that there were some limited immigration quotas, mostly directed at Chinese, prior to 1921; Also, I had originally written 1923, but after reviewing his link, I can see that I was off by two on the year that the sharp change from the 'Emma Lazarus' America to the 'Minuteman militia' America occurred (and so corrected the above post). In keeping with the stated policy that we have on Deep Thought, I am publically acknowleging the error. This is the fifth such retraction I have made in 272 posts, so I am still counting a 98% accuracy rate.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

DeLay wins primary, but can't even get 2/3 support from Republican primary voters in his own district.

Tom DeLay is claiming that he won a 'victory' last night in the Texas district 22 Republican primary.

Of course, for an incumbent, who just a few weeks ago held the second most powerful office in the House of Representatives, to have to claim that a win in a Republican primary was a 'victory' is already a statement in and of itself.

Now, let's analyze this 'victory.' The numbers are linked here.

To begin with, DeLay got 62% of the vote against three opponents-- two completely unknown and Tom Campbell, who served in the Bush (I) administration and helped broker the settlement of the Exxon Valdez spill, but had nothing like the name recognition of DeLay. In fact, DeLay got nearly 67% of those who voted early, when his opponents had even less time to let anyone know who they were, but on election day, he had dropped down to 59% of the vote (and that's of those who actually voted; I heard, but could not find numbers to back up, that enough people didn't vote at all in this election that if they were counted his percentage would have dropped to 55%, a number which sounds plausible). He should be thankful that the primary is held in March, a short enough time span since his indictment, resignation as Majority leader and revelations about Abramoff, that no one was able to put together a serious challenge-- especially since DeLay's campaign, as always, was exceptionally well financed.

Now, let's consider who votes in a Republican primary. Pretty much the party's faithful. The die hard Republicans, who would never vote for a Democrat. Probably those least likely to ever consider voting against an incumbent Republican. This might be considered to represent his 'base,' those who will stand by him through thick and thin. The Republican primary does not measure how well he would do against a Democrat, since only committed Republicans vote in their primary. But even in this situation, he couldn't, as the incumbent, even get three out of five votes from active members of his own party on election day. 59% was all-- not very good for an incumbent of any party in a primary without a high level opponent. Further, there are signs that the Republicans who abandoned him may not be ready to move back into the house yet. Exhibit number 1: Tom Campbell's campaign website (at least as it appeared when I post this comment). You know, if you ever look at these things, that the day after the election, most candidates put up the obligatory message of congratulations to the winner, and pledge and urge their supporters to come together behind the winner, and so on and so on. This is even more true in a primary election. Well, normally that is true. But not here. Campbell's website (at least as of right now, over 24 hours since the last vote was counted) has no message of congratulations, and in fact still displays first and foremost a letter that Tom Campbell wrote criticizing Tom DeLay for his ethical lapses. Obviously, DeLay still has a lot of work to do just to convince his own party to get completely behind him.

However, in November he isn't running in a Republican primary. He is running against Nick Lampson, a former congressman who was 'DeLaymandered' out of a district two years ago (and ran and lost in a heavily Republican district.) It seems that one quirk of 'DeLaymandering' caught Lampson's eye-- when drawing the new districts, DeLay was very generous to other Republicans. Maybe too generous, in fact. Perhaps believing that he was personally invulnerable as the Majority Leader, DeLay absorbed a high number of Democrats into his district (including those in what was 20% of Lampson's old district). So, one of the true ironies-- DeLay is running in a district that due to his own district lines, may be the only competitive district in all of Texas. And unlike DeLay's unknown opponent from two years ago, who held DeLay to a lackluster showing in the district, Lampson knows how to run, how to win and how to do all the things needed to pull together a winning campaign, things like fundraising and assembling a quality campaign staff.

I suspect that come January, Tom DeLay won't need all those corporate flights anymore.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Not such a clear case. What say you?

Today, I was listening to a host on a right wing radio station (unfortunately, that is pretty much the only kind we get up here) complaining about an emplyee for the public works department in Arapahoe County, Colorado who is possibly going to be fired for having a sign on a vehicle he uses for his private lawn mowing business but also drives to work in, reading, "Lawn Services Done With Pride!! By An English Speaking American.". The man also wore a hat with the logo of the U.S. border patrol to work. The county is saying that the sign and hat are offensive and insensitive. The host complained that the action taken by the county (where the man, Mike Gray, is a heavy equipment operator) is a violation of his first amendment rights.

In fact, this is a complex situation. First of all, we are a nation of immigrants, and even I, as a native born American, can see that in fact this sign could be offensive-- including to, among others, legal immigrants, as well as illegal ones, and people whose native language is not English (I am typing this right now at a location on the Hopi reservation, which is surrounded by the Navajo reservation, so it is a good bet that within a 50 mile radius of me, the majority of people are Americans who don't speak English as their native language, and in fact, quite a few who don't speak any other language at all except for Hopi or Navajo-- and their ancestors have been living here, speaking the same language, for hundreds of years.)

Now, the talk show host is right about one thing. We do have a first amendment right to be as insensitive as we darn well want to be. No one has the right to prosecute us in America for what we might say, unlike other countries. And that is a good thing, as I have pointed out in recent posts on the Mohammed cartoon controversy and a man sent to prison in Austria for denying the reality of the Holocaust.

But the county of Arapahoe is not denying Mr. Gray's first amendment rights. No one is proposing that he be prosecuted for anything he has said or done. They are instead threatening to fire him for his sign. And the first amendment does not protect one from being fired (something that right wingers seem to miss, at least when it applies to them.) For example, I posted last December on Night Bird's Fountain about a conservative who complained about a fundamentalist who had been fired from two jobs for pushing people at work to join his religion until he became a nuisance. In fact, I have a right to say what I want to legally, but my employer has a right to fire me for cause, and if I say anything that causes problems for my employer or for other employees, then they have the right to hold me accountable for my actions. Free speech does not guarantee that I will not have to face the consequences of that speech. And if Mr. Gray had put a sign like that up on his county vehicle, there is no question that the county would have every right to threaten to fire him.

However, we have a third level of complexity at play here. And that is where I have to say that the right wing host's view that Mr. Gray was justified is accurate, even though it has nothing to do with the first amendment, particularly since Mr. Gray complied with the request to stop wearing the hat at work. That is the fact that he was displaying the sign not at work, but on his own private vehicle (which presumably is parked in the parking lot when he goes out operating his heavy equipment). Now, many of us have bumper stickers or other signs on our vehicles, and I would posit that his employer does not have the right to tell him what he can paint on his vehicle. This is a tricky situation, isn't it?

To take an extreme example, if my employer signed a contract with, say, Nike, and mandated that all employees had to put a swoosh decal on our windows, I would object to that requirement, wouldn't you? What if your employer made a policy mandating that there could be no bumper stickers or any description, and that you had to come to work in a plain, unmarked vehicle? It seems that would also be overstepping their bounds. OK, what if they said that only certain bumper stickers or signs were OK in their parking lot-- for example, only bumper stickers endorsing candidates that they liked. You see, this truly is a 'slippery slope' type of argument. If it is your car, then you should have the right to show up in it, no matter what is on it. If it in some way violates a local civil ordinance (such as if you plastered the outside of your car with explicit pornographic paintings) then there are likely applicable local laws and the local authorities, not your employer would handle it (although nothing would prevent them from reporting you if you were in violation of the ordinance). But when an employer gets into the business of telling an employee what (s)he can put on a private vehicle, then in my mind, that is going to far, and the rights of the employee should be protected, no matter how offensive the message is.

I'm still mulling this one over, though, I would love to hear your comments.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Superwoman rejoins Superman.

Today, Dana Reeve, widow of Christopher Reeve, died after a long fight with lung cancer. Dana Reeve had never smoked a single cigarette in her life, so her lung cancer was NOT caused by smoking.

In fact, she was a remarkable woman. After her husband was paralyzed following an equestrian accident, she worked very hard with him to raise awareness of paralysis, spinal cord injuries, and worked to promote stem cell research. He died about a year ago, and not long after that she was diagnosed with cancer. After her husband's experience being in the very public limelight, she could have kept her disease secret, but she chose not to. One reason why, she said, was to point out that anyone can be victimized by lung cancer. Smoking makes it much more likely, but in fact, nonsmokers can still suffer from this disease. As a matter of fact, a friend of ours where we live recently had lung cancer surgery. Like Reeve, she was also a non-smoker. Unlike Reeve, she has fortunately recovered fully.

Dana Reeve bore her burden with quiet dignity, both during the time when her husband's condition was the focus of attention, and this past year when her own condition was.

I do, in fact believe in an afterlife. And I believe that right now, Dana and Christopher are reunited, neither of them having to worry any more about hospitals, medical restraints or publicity.

Monday, March 06, 2006

New abortion law full of contradictions.

Today, South Dakota's governor signed the new abortion law. The law, scheduled to go into effect on July 1 (although it will be challenged in court) bans all abortions except to save the life of the mother. The proponents of the law have said openly that their intent was to time this law, hoping that Justice Stevens' heart won't last until a new President is sworn in in January 2009, thereby allowing President Bush to replace him with a strong conservative, who will join with Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Roberts to overturn Roe v. Wade. Leaving aside how 'pro-life' it is to wish for the death of Justice Stevens, and also leaving aside the troubling aspects of passing legislation, not with any idea that it will become law, but only to force a challenge, the law and its supporters are a mass of contradictions.

Start with the law itself. Of course, since it bans all abortions except to save the life of the mother, this includes Rape. But then rep. Bill Napoli, Republican of Rapid City and a leading proponent of the bill, when asked about this by Fred de Sam Lazaro on PBS' Online Newshour, did change his tune and name an exception for rape-- sort of:

BILL NAPOLI: A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.

Uh, I don't even know where to begin on that. First of all, ANY rape victim is likely to be very messed up, physically and psychologically, whether they are impregnated or not. Read Shayna's post about a friend of hers who ended up killing herself after being raped. How does it make any difference whether the girl in question was a churchgoer, whether she was a virgin or whether she was sodomized? I addressed the whole question of whether virginity had anything to do with the seriousness of the crime on a post I wrote a few weeks ago criticizing an Italian court decision on the subject. Obviously, rep. Napoli has 1) done what was ideologically fed to him, and not thought it through on his own, and 2) thinks that some people are more deserving of protection under the law than other people are (dare we say, 'better?')

Later on, Napoli goes on:

BILL NAPOLI: When I was growing up here in the wild west, if a young man got a girl pregnant out of wedlock, they got married, and the whole darned neighborhood was involved in that wedding. I mean, you just didn't allow that sort of thing to happen, you know? I mean, they wanted that child to be brought up in a home with two parents, you know, that whole story. And so I happen to believe that can happen again.

I'm sure that will lead to a whole lot of wonderful marriages. There is a reason they don't do shotgun weddings anymore. Think about what life would be like if you married whoever you were going with when you were a sophomore in high school. Besides, given what Mr. Napoli just said about rapists, does this mean that if the girl was not a churchgoer or a virgin, or the rape didn't involve sodomy, that he would suggest that she marry the rapist? I mean, that seems to be the implication if you read all of his statements together.

Further, since the only crime more serious than rape is murder, let's assume that the South Dakota legislators really do equate abortion with murder. In that case, why did they make actually performing one a class A misdemeanor (fine: $5000 to the doctor, and $2000 to the woman; does this mean that if she aborts herself with a coat hanger, she gets charged with two misdemeanors and has to pay $7000?) Either it is murder or it isn't. If it is, then why are they calling it a misdemeanor, and if it isn't, why are they calling it more serious than rape?

Beyond that, there is the whole issue of abortion rights. I blogged on it last July The successes of Liberals in stopping abortion, in one of my relatively early posts. What I said then, I still stand by.

In fact, abortion represents a very real tragedy. Nobody ever has sex just so that they or their partner can end up in an abortion clinic. Have you ever met a woman who was happy about getting an abortion? No one I know outside the Chinese government is 'pro-abortion,' and in fact we as liberals would love it if there were no abortions because every child was wanted. But, it is sadly and tragically not so. Yet. But that is the goal that we are aiming for.

Then I went on to point out that our Liberal program, focusing on sex ed, birth control and family planning has been much more successful over the past decade at reducing the number of abortions (down by a third since peaking in the early 1990's) than all the quixotic attempts by conservatives to ban it. And they've consistently fought against the very measures which we have had success with.

What they want to do is to take away the freedom of reproductive choice. Now, with freedom, are there people who will make choices you or I wouldn't, or that maybe we don't even like? Of course there will be. So what? How is that our business in the first place? Beyond that, one of my commenters had a great insight, which I have adopted. He compared abortion to smoking:

I don't like smoking. Smoking pollutes the air, causes millions of cancers (including some in non-smokers) and has been linked to heart disease, childhood asthma and low birthweight. And besides all that, it stinks. So, I support efforts to fund education about smoking and to help people quit. And those funds have done their job-- the smoking rate in America has gone way down over the past decade since this started. But do I support banning nicotine? NO.

And for that matter, if this becomes law, it is hard to see how it will stop abortion. It may stop doctors, but as I pointed out once before, there are plenty of shady characters (like the ones who run meth labs) who would probably love another opportunity to make a few dollars, this time by preying off desparate women. One can only imagine what kind of sanitary conditions one would find in their hideouts.

To reiterate though, the bottom line is this: abortions prevented by the Liberal plan involving sex ed, family planning, and birth control (supplemented recently by emergency contraceptives): Tens of thousands every year. Abortions prevented by conservatives tying up the courts with attempts to ban it: Zero.

Abortion opponents like those in the South Dakota legislature need to keep in mind that there are a lot of ways to oppose something besides banning it. But maybe they are too narrow in their views to think of any.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Criminal Investigation Into Tillman Death.

Today, the army announced their intention to launch a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of former NFL star and army ranger Pat Tillman. This constitutes at least the fifth investigation into the death of Tillman, who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.

Pat Tillman was in fact a hero. On that there is little dispute. He had millions of dollars and an NFL career on the table in front of him, but after the September 11 attacks, he joined the army because he felt it was of critical importance at this time that he serve his country. And he was serving his country on the day he was killed, regardless of who fired the shots that killed him. Friendly fire is a fact of combat. As I once heard it described, 'Friendly fire-- isn't.' There is nothing dishonorable about being killed by friendly fire (just as Stonewall Jackson deserves to be remembered as a great Confederate general during the Civil War, despite being shot mistakenly by his own men during the battle of Chancellorsville.) Had the army simply reported the death as it was when it happened, it would today be considered an unfortunate and tragic-- but no less heroic-- death, and the case would be closed.

The army did not do that. Whether because of the perceived embarrassment to the army of the death of such a high profile soldier due to friendly fire, or whether because it might open questions about why the US army has had a number of other friendly fire incidents (remember the incident involving the Canadian troops in Afghanistan, or the Sgrena incident) or whether they simply wanted to continue to portray Tillman as larger than life for recruiting purposes (some myth about how martyrs are always killed by the enemy), the army covered up the details of the incident. Further compounding the situation, a false story was put forward instead, which described Tillman taking on the enemy alone in order to provide cover for his troops. Tillman was then awarded a Silver Star, on April 30, 2004, just eight days after he died. The story took on a life of its own, with Tillman honored with a moment of silence at the NFL draft that weekend, and at numerous other events around the nation. Tillman is even bigger here in Arizona than in many places. In fact, the area around the Cardinals new stadium will be named the "Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza," when the stadium opens later this year.

But then things started to unravel. Witnesses who were there could not be silenced, and they began reporting that the army's story had holes. In fact, not just holes but that it was fake. If the army was counting on a family who would not tolerate anyone trying to tear down the story, they were wrong. Led by Tillman's mother, Mary, the Tillman family has been a study in dignified but steadfast pursuit of the truth. They don't want the sugar coated fiction that the army has placed on this, they want to know what happened. And when the army wouldn't tell them what the facts were, they went to the media. this post describes in stark contrast how conservatives (Ann Coulter is the fool portrayed in the link) were desparate to go on believing in the lie, when Mary Tillman felt that the truth was more important. In the link cited, Mary Tillman told the San Francisco Examiner about something that Pat had said about the Iraq war-- that Tillman had believed that the war there was "f***cking illegal." Coming from a soldier who served both in Afghanistan and Iraq, and whose motivation for joining the army was patriotism, pure and simple, this could not have been something that the Bush administration would have wanted publicized as they desparately try to tie Saddam's regime to the war on terror. Of course, while Tillman was in Iraq, he did his duty, as a soldier, but if there is any silver lining to his death, it is that he at least died fighting in the war that he had joined the army to fight in, not the war he didn't believe we should have been in.

According to the linked article,

The very private Tillmans have revealed a picture of Pat profoundly at odds with the GI Joe image created by Pentagon spinmeisters and their media stenographers. As the Chronicle put it, family and friends are now unveiling "a side of Pat Tillman not widely known--a fiercely independent thinker who enlisted, fought and died in service to his country yet was critical of President Bush and opposed the war in Iraq, where he served a tour of duty. He was an avid reader whose interests ranged from history works of leftist Noam Chomsky, a favorite author." Tillman had very unembedded feelings about the Iraq War. His close friend Army Spec. Russell Baer remembered, "I can see it like a movie screen. We were outside of [an Iraqi city] watching as bombs were dropping on the town.... We were talking. And Pat said, 'You know, this war is so f***ing illegal.' And we all said, 'Yeah.' That's who he was. He totally was against Bush." With these revelations, Pat Tillman the PR icon joins WMD and Al Qaeda connections on the heap of lies used to sell the Iraq War....

But when Tillman fell in Afghanistan the wheels once again started to turn. Now the narrative was perfect: "War hero and football star dies fighting terror." The Abu Ghraib scandal was about to hit the press, so the President found it especially useful to praise Tillman as "an inspiration on and off the football field, as with all who made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror." His funeral was nationally televised. Bush even went back to the bloody well during the presidential campaign, addressing his team's fans on the Arizona Cardinals' stadium Jumbotron.

We now know, of course, that this was all a brutal charade. Such callous manipulation is fueling the Tillman family's anger. As Mary Tillman said this past May, "They could have told us up front that they were suspicious that [his death] was a fratricide, but they didn't. They wanted to use him for their purposes.... They needed something that looked good, and it was appalling that they would use him like that." A growing number of military families, similarly angered, are criticizing the war in Iraq through organizations like Military Families Speak Out.

As for Chomsky, whom Ann Coulter would undoubtedly label "treasonous," Mary Tillman says a private meeting was planned between him and Pat after Pat's return--a meeting that never took place, of course. Chomsky confirms this scenario. This was the real Pat Tillman: someone who, like the majority of this country, was doubting the rationale for war, distrusting his Commander in Chief and looking for answers. The real Pat Tillman, the one with three dimensions, must stick in the throat of the Bush-Coulter gang, a pit in the cherry atop their bloody sundae.

Couldn't have written that better myself.

And the army, the conservatives, and the Bush White House could have avoided the whole mess easily enough-- by telling the truth when it happened. By now, Tillman would have been old news. But they are pathologically incapable of telling the truth, and so now we arrive today at a criminal investigation. Let's hope that at least that gets to the bottom of it, learns whether negligence played a role in the shooting, and holds accountable whoever made the decision to lie about what happened, whoever they are. There are some who may wonder about that, or whether they will pick out a few low level operatives for prosecution, as at Abu Graib. Only there is a difference this time. The difference is that Mary Tillman will be on top of this one.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Some thoughts on security.

As Democrats, we have been very good at pointing out the failures of the Bush administration in fighting al Qaeda and other terrorists around the world.

But the question can be asked, what could and would we do differently, and why would it be better?

I'd like to address that question.

First, we have to recognize that fighting terrorism is a three pronged battle: security at home, aggressive action abroad, and 'counter-recruiting'-- preventing terrorists from reaching their objective in the streets, slums and countryside of countries where they have roots. To fight a successful war on terrorism, we need a plan for all three.

Start with security at home. Right now, it feels as if the security blanket that we have put up since 9/11 is more directed at Americans than it is at foreign terrorists. I don't think this is entirely true, but that is how it feels. The whole issue of getting a warrant within 48 hours (plenty of time) for a phone tap should be an easy one, but we don't see it happening. We must insist on reasonable safeguards for civil liberties. And a situation in which a warrant must be gotten within forty-eight hours in no way hamstrings the war on terror. Further, the contention that only phone calls with one end international is a red herring. By tapping into phone trunks, the administation has the ability to snoop on domestic calls. And given the past history of this kind of stuff (going all the way back to J. Edgar Hoover), it is not enough to simply say that we will TRUST that the administration (ANY administration) will be good little girls and boys. Put it in writing. Or, in the words of Ronald Reagan when discussing arms control agreements with the Soviet Union: "Trust, but verify."

We should also look seriously at the 'Homeland Security Department." After all the billions spent on training and preparing first responders, Katrina exposed that this was a complete failure (and yes, it was a hurricane, but what good is a Homeland Security Department if the only kind of thing they are set up to handle is more people flying planes into buildings? I mean, if a terrorist had blown up a nuke in New Orleans would things have transpired much differently? Aside from reversing obvious mistakes (i.e. moving FEMA down into DHS), we clearly must determine why all that money that we spent on the Homeland Security Department resulted in an organization which failed completely when it was most needed. Even Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff said just two weeks ago that his organization had failed even to be able to keep track of where it's own supplies were during Katrina (had Cheney not pulled the trigger, that would have been the main story two weeks ago.)

The second prong of the security issue is aggressive action abroad, by which is meant fighting terrorists directly. We have to continue to do that. First, catching Osama bin Laden and the rest of the 9/11 conspirators must be our first priority. If we don't catch them, then in a sence they will have won on 9/11. We must redouble our efforts in this regard. Now, Iraq, in contrast, was a completely unnecessary war, but the reality of it is that now terrorists have come there, to fight us. Our soldiers have become the targets in this war. We have nothing more we can possibly gain there, and if we are serious about getting the Iraqis to take ownership, we must commit to a date when we will leave, and stick to it. Right now, we are being bombed and shot at less, only because Iraqis seem so intent on bombing and shooting at each other. We don't seem capable of stopping this, so maybe it is time to leave.

The third prong can be called the 'hearts and minds' prong. Right now, terrorists have many disaffected muslims from which they can recruit. If we want to prevent this from happening, one thing we have to do is recognized that al-Qaeda is like a cancer. We should in fact treat it rigorously. But cancer is also a symptom. Treating it while maintaing an unhealthy lifestyle (say, eating too much junk food, or smoking) means that we still may get it again. The best way to treat cancer is to also make the lifestyle changes that will prevent its recurrance. In the same way, we have to quit supporting the corrupt monarchies that hold sway in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. After all, many, or even most, of their people don't support them, why should we?

True, there are areas where we will continue to disagree with much of the world (notably in terms of American support for Israel) but even here, we must play a much more assertive role in trying to bring about peace. Bill Clinton's peace efforts between the Israelis and Palestinians may not have succeeded, but at least he tried. Bush hasn't even done that. We have an obligation to keep trying.

We also have to acknowlege that what has driven recruitment by al-Qaeda, Hamas and other terrorist groups has been the grinding poverty and sense of hopelessness that has been prevalent on the arab streets for a long time, living in a society where poor people have no social safety net and no social protections. Hamas gained popularity among the Palestinians at first, not because of their violent outlook (where they were among many) but for providing bread, medical care (at least what rudimentary medical care they could provide) and other necessities of life at a time when neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority could or would provide these things. When people are hungry, they are much more apt to listen to the people who feed them than the people who lead them.

As for the rest of the arab world, let's go back to leading by example. Instead of trying to force Democracy on them, let's go back to doing what we do best-- living in and enjoying the fruits of a free society. The kind of example that got people in eastern Europe, Latin America and elsewhere motivation to transition towards a freer society. Give them something bigger to work towards than anything bin Laden could offer.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Suit Alleges Rescuer Pulled Off of Gay Man, who Dies.

Every now and then, a story comes along that just takes your breath away, for the ignorance, fear or malice that some people can display. In this case, it is a story either about ignorance, fear or malice, it is hard to see inside of a man's head to know which of these it is (perhaps all of them).

And so it is with a story out today about a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the mother of a gay man who died of a heart attack, allegedly after the chief of police in the town where he lived pulled away a would be rescuer who was performing CPR on him.

CHARLESTON, West Virginia (AP) -- A small-town police chief was accused in a federal lawsuit Thursday of stopping a would-be rescuer from performing CPR on a gay heart attack victim because he assumed the ailing man had HIV and posed a health risk.

Claude Green, 43, died June 21 after being stricken yards from City Hall in Welch, a community of about 2,400.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of his mother.

Now, the police chief, Bobby Bowman, said that the whole thing is a 'boldfaced lie,' and that he called an ambulance and that Green was taken to the hospital in "no more than nine minutes."

Of course, he is going to have to say something like that (I mean, what else would he say, "Yeah, I thought he was a sick S.O.B. so I decided to let him die," ?)

But he then chooses his words carefully:

"No one refused him CPR as his sister and mom are saying. They can do what they want, but if they're saying I refused him CPR, that is no way true," Bowman said.

The allegation is NOT that Green was refused CPR, it is that Bowman pulled his friend off of him in order to prevent CPR. Green was not in a position to request CPR (being unconscious) so there was no refusal, but an act much more direct.

The lawsuit accuses Bowman of pulling off Green's friend Billy Snead as Snead was performing chest compressions on the man. Snead was a passenger in Green's pickup truck when Green collapsed; Snead had managed to pull over the vehicle.

After this episode, Green was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead after he could not be revived there.

Now, let me address a few points.

First, the time for the ambulance. Nine minutes. Cardiologists will tell you that your best chance for surviving a heart attack is to receive a controlled electric shock within the first six minutes. But if none is available, then CPR can help fill this gap. All potential first responders are given this information as part of their routine training. It may be a small town, but it is hard to imagine that a police chief would not know this.

Second, the police chief showed an apalling lack of knowlege about AIDS. To begin with, it is no longer primarily a 'gay' disease, as it was in the 1980's. More heterosexual people now have it than homosexual people. Further, the chances are pretty good that a randomly selected individual, whether gay or straight is not HIV positive (and Green, in fact, was not HIV positive). On top of that, it would be extremely difficult to get AIDS from giving someone CPR, even if it involved mouth-to-mouth. Extremely difficult. And even if the police chief, for whatever reason known only to him, thought he had to prevent mouth-to-mouth, why would he have also thought that he had to prevent Mr. Snead from administering chest compressions?

Third, if Mr. Snead is engaged in trying to save a life, who is the police chief to tell him he can't? Many lives are saved at the cost of some risk (whether a lifeguard at a beach who jumps in after someone, aware that they may be caught in a strong undertow, or for that matter one of Mr. Bowman's officers who may have to rescue someone from a crashed vehicle, aware that there is at least a remote chance that it might explode). But then, as I mentioned in the second point, there was essentially zero risk to Mr. Snead, while the risks and consequences to Mr. Green for every second he didn't receive CPR increased exponentially.

"He was simply a gay man in Welch, West Virginia, and because of that we can only assume that Chief Bowman assumed he had HIV and it was unsafe to even touch him," Saxe said.

Now, we will watch for this as it goes to trial. But if the allegations are borne out, it will be interesting to see how much was ignorance, how much was fear and how much was malice.
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