Thursday, May 31, 2007

Andrew, they sent him on through. Would they do the same for Abu?

A border patrol agent along the Canadian border who saw TB patient Andrew Speaker's name pop up on the computer, along with an explanation why he was to be detained and under no circumstances to enter the country, made a snap judgement to let him through anyway saying that to him, Speaker 'looked healthy.' So, even though Speaker had specifically been put on the watchlist, he was able to get through and drive to New York City.

I guess the border patrol agent must be an expert in quickly diagnosing the effects and severity of infectious diseases.

Considering how much money has been spent on Homeland Security, we are undone by... a border patrol agent engaging in profiling. Note he said that Speaker looked healthy.

I truly have to wonder though whether Speaker would have been waved through by the agent after his name showed up on the computer if his first name was Abu instead of Andrew.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ward Churchill may get fired for his comments. But he shouldn't.

The University of Colorado has announced that it is considering disciplinary action-- possibly including termination, against Professor Ward Churchill. UC President Hank Brown is actively lobbying for his dismissal.

Churchill, you may recall, wrote an essay not long after September 11 in which he compared victims of the World Trade Center Attack to Adoph Eichmann, the Nazi psychopath who with Hitler planned the 'final solution,' leading to the extermination of six million Jews.

I find Churchill's comments to be inaccurate, stupid, intentionally offensive (and deeply offensive at that, on so many levels), and in fact an embarrassment to the University of Colorado, the state of Colorado, the United States of America and the whole human race. My mother's aunt and my entire extended family on that side who remained in Europe were murdered by Adolph Eichmann and his minions.

However, Ward Churchill should not be fired and should face no disciplinary action.

Let's dispense with the trivialities first:

University officials concluded he could not be fired for his comments because they were protected by the First Amendment, but they launched an investigation into allegations that he fabricated or falsified his research and plagiarized.

I don't know what the investigation found, or whether he is guilty of plagiarism (apparently of an al-Qaeda propaganda manual if he was) but it is clear from this that the investigation was launched specifically for the purpose of finding something they could use against him, and that the real reason was his hateful and provocative essay. So, if he is fired it will be for the essay, whatever the official reason may say.

So should he be fired for the essay? Let's forget about tenure for a moment and suppose that it didn't exist, so they didn't have to go looking for something else. Should the University fire him then?

No. Academia exists to expand and challenge the mind. It is a laboratory of civilization, in which ideas are born, percolate and eventually become shaped and expounded to the whole world. Probably at least 99% of the ideas that originate in even the finest of academic minds are stupid, nonoriginal, pointless, useless or (as in this case) needlessly and provocatively harmful. However, it is in academia that the ideas which themselves show promise can be forged, refined and eventually presented as progress. Of such small bits of progress is humanity ever increasing in knowlege, wisdom and ability. If we begin (even the smallest beginning) to restrict those ideas, then we have set a dangerous precedent-- in which only 'certain' ideas will be allowed. Like in Nazi Germany (or for that matter in the Soviet Union or today's fundamentalist Muslim countries) that precedent can be used to create great ignorance, malice and even violence.

I know, this is a leftist blog, so someone will sooner or later find it and suggest that I am selectively defending Churchill because I must secretly agree with him (my earlier comments on that notwithstanding.)

I'd defer, pointing out some of my other posts on free speech:

I posted the infamous Mohammed cartoons that set off weeks of rioting, not because I agreed with their message (which I don't) but because I disagreed more with the fatwa issued against the Danish cartoonist for drawing them. He had a right to draw them, publish them and distribute them. If people don't like them then they can turn the page.

Not long after that, I defended the right of a Holocaust denier to speak his mind without fear of prosecution.

I've also defended anti-Castro Cubans, people who use the 'n'-word, and just recently, two cases that are directly relevant to my defense of Churchill: defending a professor threatened with being fired for espousing a right-wing view of immigration, and University of Colorado Student Max Karson, who was arrested after making tasteless and provocative comments after the Virginia Tech massacre. Certainly UC's tough stance on Churchill doesn't bode well for Karson.

Nevertheless I have to support their right to say what they will.

Because if Ward Churchill (or any of the others) doesn't have free speech, then neither do I, and neither do you.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Is Patriotism a reason support something you know is wrong?

I read another editorial today about how supporting the troops means supporting the mission (and the President.)

I beg to differ.

And I don't just mean differ by the standard liberal response of pointing to cuts made by fiscal conservatives in veteran's programs or the lack of support that some severely wounded vets have received once they were no longer useful to the military. True, supporting the troops means supporting them after they return home, and true that we should continue to call conservatives on their lack of support for veterans where we can point to it, but that argument used by itself as a definition of 'supporting the troops' becomes a dodge of the main issue that is front and center today, which is whether to support the war in Iraq as it is being fought today.

Supporters of the war (who in many cases honestly, though wrongly, believe that fighting it is the right thing to do) want, it seems, for people who now question the war to just 'sit down, shut up and wave a flag.' They will claim that any dissent is undercutting the troops. And if we don't confront that argument head-on, then we end up making their point for them, looking weak, cowardly and stupid no matter how much we might suggest be spent on the V.A.

What it really boils down to is whether, if we believe that our country is wrong, we should support its foreign policy anyway.

Ultimately you have to look at yourself then and ask what is 'right.' Nations make mistakes, or worse, calculated decisions to do what might be considered wrong or morally indefensible for reasons of pure greed or aggrandizement (though they will always have some spurious logic to justify it at the time), and the United States is neither immune nor historically devoid of such decisions. Right now I am sitting in territory that was ripped away from Mexico after what amounted to an outright war of conquest between 1846 and 1848. Do I believe we should return it? No, and frankly if I did then it would be about returning it to the Native Americans and not the Mexicans anyway. The reason why I don't support returning it is that the people who live here now had nothing to do with whatever wrong was perpetrated in 1848 (or before that), and ultimately to return it in order to repent of the sins of the country which elected James K. Polk would mean displacing people who are here now, from their land where they may have grown up and perhaps have several generations of their family buried on. And as we look at events like the Trail of tears, the abrogation of the treaty Thomas Jefferson signed with the Nez Perce and the pursuit of Chief Joseph, the Bosque Redondo or Wounded Knee, it is hard to argue that the United States was in the right on any of these cases. And I do believe that we should do a better job of providing to Native Americans the same benefits that most other Americans enjoy (see my last post) and rectify where we can find them the direct consequences of such past injustices, but I don't believe that as people who live today, we should try to undo the past-- the past is the past and trying to recreate history differently is bound to fail. But Iraq is not a matter of history. It is here and now. The history is whatever we make it, both as a nation and as individuals against the war. Believing that we should not be in Iraq, we can stand for what we believe or we can allow people who will virtually always challenge the patriotism of any war opponent to make us so afraid of being called unpatriotic that we acquiesce and do what they want us to do. OK, fine. Call me a name. I don't care. The war is still wrong.

So then the next question becomes, does Patriotism trump our essential knowledge and recognition of right and wrong?

Let's answer that by supposing (a purely hypothetical scenario) that the U.S. President were actually ordering the unthinkable. Suppose that the President (not necessarily this President, but assume it was a President of your party and who you had voted for) announced that he wanted to unilaterally (with no provocation at all) launch nuclear warheads at every major city on the planet, because he has evidence that terrorists hide more often in large cities(or some other equally irrational reason.) Obviously, the man would be daft, but the question is, if you were such a supporter of the President in our scenario, would you support him even when he made what was obviously a disastrously wrong decision?

If you answer that yes, then you are in effect saying that you have replaced your own ability (or perhaps your ability enhanced by the spirit of God) to decide what is good and what is evil and act on it, with the chief executive's decision which you will follow blindly. Maybe then the anti=Christ is closer than we think, he'd just have to arrange to get himself elected President and he'd have his hordes of followers. If you answer no, that you would not, then you have at least acknowleged that it is at least possible to conjure up an (admittedly very extreme) scenario in which you would refuse to support the policy that the President was pushing forward.

Now, the question becomes, what if you see your country doing something less wrong than that, but still wrong? Do you still refuse to do it? And therein lies the rub. During the Nuremburg trials, several defendants tried to excuse their actions by saying they were 'just following orders.' All of them were found guilty, because they knew what they were doing was wrong, but they did it anyway. The only clear line is between right and wrong, not between two different levels of 'wrong.'

If you believe, honestly, that starting a war was the 'right' way to handle the situation that then existed in Iraq (say for the sake of argument, that no one questioned the intelligence at the time-- which would be about 95% accurate-- only Jacques Chirac and a handful of others publically questioned it in early 2003) and proceded on that assumption, then you might not buy my belief that actually going to war was still the 'wrong' way to handle the situation, but even if that is the case, understand that there are many people (not just liberals) who believe that war should always be a last resort, only after all diplomatic or even covert options have been tried and exhausted, and that even then it should be carefully measured by weighing the continuation of the status quo against such considerations as how many lives it will cost and what the consequences might be of losing (history is replete with nations ranging from the Greek city-states who had to unite to fight the Persians to the more recent example of the Soviet Union and Afghanistan, who lost wars they by all accounts should have won.) We should not be rushed intoa war by ratcheting up the rhetoric to try and stampede the public into supporing it (which Iraq, quite frankly was).Many people also believe that starting a war is a moral wrong (as opposed to, for example, the war in Afghanistan, which was a necessary and unavoidable self-defense consequence of 9/11, which in effect is when it began.)

How much choosing 'wrong' can be excused by blind patriotism? If you see your country doing something which you believe is wrong, then I would posit that you still have not just a right, but an obligation to speak up in opposition, no matter what the transgression is. Even if you believed at one time that it was right but come to the realization that it is wrong, you have to speak up (as some of Bush's generals have.) Because if you know it's wrong, and you continue to support it anyway then you deserve to be called a coward, not a patriot.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A hero is buried-- and what his community still needs

Today was a long, hot day.

I went as an invited guest of the Birdsprings chapter (Navajo communities are called chapters) to the funeral of U.S. Army Sergeant Christopher N. Gonzalez, a native of Birdsprings who was killed on May 14 when his unit was attacked near Salman Pak, Iraq.

Sergeant Gonzalez was part of the first battalion of the 15th Infantry regiment of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team.of the 3rd infantry division based at Fort Stewart, Georgia (where he and his wife had bought a home). He was in his second tour of duty in Iraq. He leaves a wife and a young son.

His family asked that the media not report specifically on the funeral (which was planned and arranged by Sgt. Gonzalez himself, pre-planned in the event it occurred) so although as a blogger I am not a member of the media, I will honor that request and not discuss the details of the funeral, except to say that it was clear that Sgt. Gonzalez was very proud to be a member of the United States Army.

I will also say that I've been privileged to be going out to Birdsprings for almost two years. Originally it was to do political work, but as I've been going out there I've discovered a most amazing and wonderful group of people. They are willing to open their doors and their hearts and share what little they have (and believe me, it is little) with even a stranger (though by now I'm not such a stranger anymore.) I’ve always felt very welcome there.

Poverty in Birdsprings is extreme. I've tried to describe it to some people who haven't been there and been accused of exaggerating (I've been told that 'nobody in America lives like that,' by people who have themselves never had to face it.) I've been told there that the unemployment rate there gets as high as 50% (though most who are unemployed are simply classified as 'not in labor force.') But even in 2000 when jobs were plentiful elsehwhere the reported unemployment rate of those who were actively in the labor force was still over 16%-- about the same level as it was nationally during the Depression-- and it's risen since then. And everyone is very poor-- even the people who are fortunate enough to have a job end up sharing their paycheck because they certainly have family members who don't have a job; the per capita income in 2000 was less than $8,000 per person, and almost half the homes lack some or all plumbing (no surprise because of how many don't have running water). Two thirds have no phone. Very few people have health insurance.

There are dozens of homes in Birdsprings (and over 18,000 on the Navajo Nation as a whole) which have never been hooked up to the electric grid. If they were then it might even be possible to drill some wells and provide running water (right now they have to haul water for miles, which is itself very expensive using old, inefficient trucks that get poor mileage-- but that's all most people have, because not very many people on the reservation can afford a new vehicle, or even a relatively new used one.) And yes, some people go to the outhouse in the dark, year round with a flashlight or an oil lamp-- I've met quite a few of them by now. So many of the young people leave the reservation to go to work, and many of them go into the military (like Sergeant Gonzalez); if they didn't, the unemployment rate would be even more horrific than it already is.

To hook the dozens of homes in Birdsprings that need it to the electric grid would cost about $700,000. Then wells could be drilled and pumps operated to provide them with water.

And here is where it went instead: The cost of the Iraq war is now at about $1,150 per person (plus whatever is being allocated in the 'new' Congressional funding sham). There are (census data) 829 people in Birdsprings. That means that Birdsprings chapter's share of the 'investment' (all borrowed, to be paid back later) in Iraq is just under a million dollars (with the new funding bill, it will go over that). Ironically, we’ve spent millions to build electric, water and other infrastructure—in Iraq (in addition of course to the hundreds of billions that have gone to destroy what was built before.)

So if they just had their proportion of the money we've been spending in Iraq, Birdsprings chapter could pay for these basic needs for their own people. But instead they've received, like most communities, no return for their 'investment' in Iraq.

Until now. They've finally gotten a return for their share of the debts run up to finance the war in Iraq. And they buried him today.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

New war funding bill is a defeat-- and it shouldn't be taken otherwise.

A loss is a loss, no matter how you spin it.

I've heard a lot of Democrats who support the 'new' war resolution (the funding minus a withdrawal deadline) suggest that this is some sort of a 'win' because it includes a new minimum wage bill without some of the tax cuts that Republicans wanted.

Now, I'm not discounting the importance of raising the minimum wage (especially with gas prices at record highs, and talk of maybe $4 per gallon by the end of the summer). People are hurting out there and we needed a minimum wage hike. However if we were going to give the GOP a win, it would have been much better to do so on the small business tax cuts (since most of the tax cuts in the original Bush tax cut package went to big, not small businesses anyway) in order to get the minimum wage done. But compared to the importance of the war vote, it is at least an order of magnitude less, and no amount of whitewashing will change that fact.

So far, over 3,400 American soldiers have died and $340,000,000,000 plus whatever is in the new spending bill has been poured into an endless rathole with only a civil warn and a fundamentalist Islamic government to show for it.

So last November, voters in America made their opinion of Mr. Bush's war clear. By an overwhelming margin, voters cited Iraq as their number one issue, and among those voters who did cite Iraq, they voted overwhelmingly for Democrats, especially for Democrats who promised to work towards getting us out of Iraq.

Prior to this week, it was plainly Mr. Bush's war. And it was plainly a Republican war-- the GOP Congress and Senate had essentially given the administration a blank check every time he had come to them in regard to the Iraq war.

Even the original Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) to enforce the U.N. sanctions, which Republicans will cite as proof that Democrats were complicit, does not make Democrats so. First off, the final Senate vote was 77-23, and of the 23 who opposed it even when the Bush administration was sitting at 80% plus approval and ratcheting up the rhetoric for war, 21 of them were Democrats (plus one independent and one Republican.) So what opposition there was then, did come from Democrats, and a significant number of Democrats. Second, the text of the resolution authorized the administration to use military force to make Iraq comply with U.N. sanctions. The specific sanction cited at the time was Iraq's refusal to allow back in U.N. weapons inspectors they had kicked out in 1998. But, after that, Iraq did allow the inspectors back in. It was George W. Bush's decision-- and his alone-- to order the inspectors to leave before completing their job and go to war anyway. He can't hide behind the AUMF for that decision, and it is a pity that he hasn't been called on it more often-- if we'd let Hans Blix finish his job, he'd have presumably told us exactly what we discovered after the war-- that Iraq had no WMD's and think how many lives and dollars that would have saved us.

But with the new war funding bill, Republicans can claim that Democrats are complicit. This occurred in a Democratic Congress and was negotiated by Democratic leaders. The two previous bills, tying funding to withdrawal deadlines were reasonable, and the American people in numerous surveys agreed that they were reasonable. So what Congress should have done was send essentially the same bill back to the President, then back again, then back again. Not just twice, but two hundred times, if they had to. They were giving the President the funding that he asked for. Let him explain why he kept vetoing his own funding request.

Some might argue that this just shows that Democrats and Republicans are exactly the same and that neither one will get out of Iraq. But I would disagree with that assessment. Certainly if the voters hand Congress back to the GOP and elect a Republican President, we will stay there. But in this case, it is not even certain that the new bill will get a 'majority of the majority' (which Republicans used to say defined whether they would vote for a plan on the house floor-- saying that not only did a majority of the full house have to support it, but also a majority of the Republicans (who were then the majority party.) I hope that it becomes a case where not only does the house leadership need Republicans to provide a majority of the support to pass it, but that in fact most Democrats themselves vote against it. So the best thing that voters can do next year is to elect more Democrats, especially Democrats who have come out very strongly and specifically against continuing to hand the President a blank check in Iraq. Further a Democratic President becomes an absolute necessity, so we don't get back into this veto battle. And I might add that one reason why I support Bill Richardson is that instead of saying he will keep some troops there as advisors or to just fight al-Qaeda, etc. he has said that he wants to withdraw them all and make a clean break, while relying on dimplomacy to determine the future of Iraq. Most of the other candidates (several of whom voted for the AUMF) have not suggested this-- but I would only add that I believe that half a withdrawl is still not a withdrawl. If half of the troops are withdrawn, it would probably reduce American casualties, but the people who want to kill Americans would still be there and continue to kill Americans. Only a complete and total withdrawl is realistic.

CORRECTION: The post originally discussed the makeup of the Senate in 2002 and described it as a GOP Senate. However, Indy Voter (who this is his third 'catch') corrected me. In 2002, the Senate was split, 50-49-1 for the Democrats (Jeffords was the one independent and caucused with the Democrats.) That makes 8 errors total in 621 posts, so I still have a .987 fielding percentage.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Gas prices at all time high

It's official. Gas prices are at an all-time high, not only in real dollars but also when adjusted for inflation. And they are likely to go higher during the summer, maybe even approaching (or in some places breaking) four dollars per gallon.

Just keep in mind that on the day that George W. Bush was inaugurated the average gas price was $1.39 nationally (and I remember buying gas in 1998-- less than a decade ago-- for less than a dollar per gallon.)

Also, note that crude oil futures are trading right now is around $65 per barrel, but gasoline costs more than it did a year ago when crude oil was pushing $80 per barrel. So the price of the product is less, but they are selling it to us for much more.

There are many reasons for this, and not all of them have anything to do with George Bush. But there is an underlying theme.

1. The reason one that defenders of Big Oil will tell you is that the problem is not a shortage of crude oil, but a shortage of refined products. They will tell you that there has not been a new refinery built in the United States in thirty years. That is true, in fact. They will then blame environmentalists. That is false. As I pointed out almost two years ago in the post this is what happens when you get government out of the regulatory business,

The answer is found in internal memos from Mobil, Texaco, and Chevron from several years ago which all say essentially the same thing. The thing they propose is, to intentionally limit the number of refineries in order to drive up gas prices and then, when it happens, to blame environmentalists.

And it's all right there in their own memos.
Note that the links to pdf copies of the memos themselves are in the original article.

So the oil companies have already been caught red-handed on this one, in which they colluded to prevent the construction of refineries and then blamed environmentalists. And the sad thing is, that you will still hear environmentalists being blamed (and the truth is, the construction of new refineries would probably benefit the environment because they would likely include technology that would help them to be more efficient and cleaner than the old refineries.)

2. The second reason that they will cite is the gas tax. However, Federal gasoline taxes have not gone up in years. So this is a red herring, designed to make people angry with the Federal government and demand another tax cut instead of looking at where the real fault lies.

3. The third reason cited is likely to be increased demand. And it is true that demand has continued to rise with the population. However, it didn't have to be that way. There have been significant advances in fuel technology, including carburators that get fifty miles per gallon or more. These are in routine use in other countries. But when Congress tried to increase CAFE standards, it was opposed by the oil companies and the auto manufacturers as an 'imposition on consumer choice.' Well, aside from the fact that some choices are just bad, how is it an imposition on my choices to not increase fuel efficiency by a few mpg per gallon? I can still choose from among any makes and models they put on the floor. They'll just be better than what they'd have made otherwise (and the irony is, all those SUV's they've been geared up for, is resulting in the 'choices' of laying off tens of thousands of workers as American auto makers lurch towards bankruptcy while foreign auto manufacturers earn record profits.)

Another aspect to this is mass transit. Communities who build or expand mass transit options often see a boom in their local economies coinciding with the opening of these systems. But you'll always see it as a battle over whether to build it in the first place (in metro Phoenix they are now building light rail--- at about 13 times the cost it would have been had they built in 1990 when voters bought into propaganda put out by rabid anti-tax groups and voted it down; So now people are paying far more in taxes to build it today than they would have then.)

They will also suggest that drilling in ANWR or offshore in sensitive regions of the continental shelf will solve the demand problem by increasing the supply. The problem with this analysis is that they will hope that you have forgotten about the refinery argument by now; Remember there has not been a new refinery built in 30 years? If we drill in ANWR, there will be no refinery on the west coast to handle it. So where will it go? Asia, JUST LIKE MOST OF THE OIL FROM THE ORIGINAL ALASKA PIPELINE once they discovered after its construction that west coast refineries couldn't handle the higher sulfur content of Alaskan crude (did they really 'not know' that when they built the pipeline?) Drilling in ANWR or off the coasts won't do a thing about bringing down the price of oil in America, it will only give the oil companies more to sell in foreign markets.

And alternative energy sources? The Carter energy plan provided for research on it with the goal of making America energy independent by the turn of the century. And then Reagan dismantled the plan.

But all of this is beside the biggest reason why oil prices are so high. They won't say it, but it is George Bush's failed conquest of Iraq. Just in case you actually don't think the war was about oil (remember he thought it was essential to invade Iraq over alleged WMD at the same that North Korea came right out and said they had WMD), just remember the day that Baghdad fell-- April 10, 2003. U.S. troops were dispatched to defend one, only one and exactly one government ministry-- the Oil Ministry. Never mind that we let looters burn and loot all the rest of them (including, among other things, documents on any WMD's there may or may not have been, documents on Saddam's organization, information on war crimes and political victims, information on al-Qaeda and other terror groups, information on various middle eastern governments, likely including all that was learned about Saddam's arch-enemy, Iran-- all burnt in what Dick Cheney excused as 'blowing off steam' because we sent the troops to guard the Oil Ministry instead and make darn sure we had all their geological survey maps. And as long as it looked like U.S. Oil companies would have primary access to the world's third largest supply of oil (along with refineries and whatever else they would need) the price of gasoline stayed at a reasonable level. But then Iraq started to go sour and the price of gasoline started rising precipitously. True that we also had Katrina and Rita, which damaged and/or shut down a significant amount of refinery capacity, but that was a temporary spike-- all of those refineries have been repaired or restarted by now. But it is clear that even if U.S. forces get something that will allow the Bush administration to claim their elusive 'victory' in Iraq, it will still not represent the vision that they had before the war-- a vision that included pretty much complete free reign by the American petroleum industry over the exploitation of Iraqi oil assets.

So while the official costs of the war have all been borrowed (so you won't have to worry about paying for it until some future administration), it is not true that you aren't paying the price for it now. You will, next time you fill up at the gas station.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Girl stoned to death for falling in love.

What was the crime which Du'a Khalil Aswad committed? The seventeen year old Iraqi girl did something that millions of other seventeen year old girls do. She fell in love. With a boy about her age (sixteen, to be exact). She left home for a few hours to be with him, in fact she was gone all night. Maybe she had sex with him-- we don't know whether she did or not, and it doesn't matter whether she did.

And what was her punishment? She was stoned to death (warning-- the link contains two still photos of her dying on the street, taken from a video that was shot of the murder).

A 17-year-old girl has been stoned to death in Iraq because she loved a teenage boy of the wrong religion.

As a horrifying video of the stoning went out on the Internet, the British arm of Amnesty International condemned the death of Du’a Khalil Aswad as "an abhorrent murder" and demanded that her killers be brought to justice.

Reports from Iraq said a local security force witnessed the incident, but did nothing to try to stop it. Now her boyfriend is in hiding in fear for his life.

Miss Aswad, a member of a minority Kurdish religious group called Yezidi, was condemned to death as an "honour killing" by other men in her family and hardline religious leaders because of her relationship with the Sunni Muslim boy.

Oh. Not only did she spend a night with her boyfriend, but (horror of horrors) he belonged to a different religion.

And somehow that is supposed to justify what happened after that. A group of eight or nine men, some of whom were her relatives, went into a home where she was taking sanctuary, dragged her out onto the street and over a period of about half an hour murdered her by throwing stones at her.

It is tempting to blame the U.S. presence in Iraq, but that would be wrong. This may have happened in Iraq, but the U.S. occupation has nothing to do with it (though the failure of local authorities to do anything about it is typical of what we've seen from Iraqi police and government officials.) For one thing, this sort of thing happens all the time, all over the middle east. Women or girls who even look at a man the wrong way can face the most severe punishment, including not only death by stoning but also by stabbing, beating with clubs, fists or rifle butts, burning to death, being boiled alive and pretty much any other unspeakably brutal way you can think of that a man or a group of men could kill a woman. As religious fundamentalism has spread in Iraq (not just Islamic-- these people were members of a cult opposed to Islam), so have age old, and truly monstrous traditions for 'dealing' with anything other than a 100% subservient, docile, cowering and obedient woman.

We've also seen that post-Saddam Iraq has only followed along with the rest of the middle east in that most nations now deny women equal rights and privileges pertaining to civil matters like divorce, custody and inheritances as they give to men. In fact, some of the first laws passed by the Iraqi parliament under the new Constitution codified in law that women would be second class citizens. Girls still have the right to get an education beyond the elementary school level, but one wonders how long even that will last.

We must condemn 'honor killings' as nothing other than barbaric acts of the most hideous, cruel and foul murder. There must never be any such thing as 'honor' associated with such heinous crimes.

A start that we could do as Americans would be to press our government, when considering whether to grant asylum to refugees, to give preference to women over men from the middle east, specifically because they have reason to fear persecution. Just living as a typical woman in a place where the smallest transgression can lead to a grisly murder is a type of persecution.

And if we did publically do this, at least it would make much more clear that we as a people disapprove of this sort of thing than the lack of action that we have taken in the past seems to suggest.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

How did Jerry Falwell change the political landscape?

Like most on the left, I can't say I will miss Jerry Falwell, the founder of the 'Moral Majority,' who died today at the age of 73.

Most of what you will read about him is true. Even people prone to exaggeration probably won't have to go too far to find plenty to write about him.

One thing that is undeniably true-- Falwell was an obdurate segregationist most of his life, and only changed when segregation was so far gone that it could no longer be defensible to be in favor of it. They needed a new vehicle and they found it. But it is not true that the 'Moral Majority' coalesced out of nowhere, as it seemed to when Falwell founded it in 1979 and claimed Jimmy Carter as its first victim a year later. I remember talking to a black minister back about 1980, and the topic of the 'Moral Majority' came up, and his observation was simple but powerful-- 'same old segregationists, new packaging.' As recently as the 1980's Falwell preached against interracial marriage and even at the height of its power, 'Moral Majority' never made even a pretense of being anything other than a nearly all-white organization. They maintained ties with the Council of Conservative Citizens and other 'just under the line' racist organizations.

That said, he does deserve some credit for being a political genius. He recognized the inherent power in numbers, and that there were millions of Christian evangelicals across the country (though mostly concentrated in the South.) This was a group that in 1976, had split their votes almost evenly between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. But in 1980, Falwell had organized the 'Moral Majority,' and they played a huge role in sweeping the south (except for Carter's home state of Georgia) for Ronald Reagan that year. If you go back and look at election results for 1980, you will find that the margin in almost every state in the deep south was razor thin-- only 2,500 votes in Arkansas and no more than two percent in most other states. It is true that Ronald Reagan would probably have won the 1980 election without the 'Moral Majority,' but the 'solid south' would have stayed with Carter and likely have stayed Democratic for a much longer time. Further, Falwell's organization helped change it from being Democratic at all to being one of the most heavily Republican regions in the country (rivaling the much less populous high plains and north-central rockies as a bastion of GOP power.)

The views held by Falwell and his organization, which formally disbanded in 1989 (now its adherents are largely followers of Pat Robertson and other political evangelists) were repugnant to many liberals (including myself), but the fact is that he made the GOP a majority party by adding to the old limited-government, economy and freedom-driven Goldwater conservatives a new strain of conservatives-- cultural conservatives, and the power to turn millions of them out at the polls.

In 2000 and 2004, cultural conservatives certainly provided a boost to George W. Bush in two close elections. But recently they have started to sour on the GOP. After six years of the Bush presidency, they've seen him become involved in a seemingly endless war (with their sons and daughters, many of whom join the military, coming back in caskets)-- and at least a significant minority of cultural conservatives have begun openly questioning the moral underpinnings of starting a war as a means to advance policy objectives. They've seen President Bush fail during the years when he had a GOP Congress to do much about changing the culture of America to the way they want it, and they've seen their erstwhile hero only choose a conservative for the Supreme Court when conservatives in the Senate blocked Harriet Miers. Last year it came out that high level GOP strategists had privately joked about cultural conservatives and described them as ignorant and uneducated (some are, at that, but some have Ph.D.'s). Despite the President's restrictions on it, many states and institutions are moving forward with embryonic stem cell research. In Pennsylvania, Kansas and other places, voters have risen up and punished their candidates on school boards when they've overreached and tried to force creationism into the classroom.

Most importantly, the single issue that most defined cultural conservatives (almost with a fervor that one feels that it has replaced segregation in their list of 'non-negotiable values,')-- abortion-- seems to be going in the opposite direction from what cultural conservatives want it to go in. Despite a minor win on the 'partial birth abortion' ruling by the Supreme Court, nothing else seems to be going their way on it. The Republican frontrunner recently came out as being pro-choice (he said he personally opposes it, but is 'OK' with it if the court refuses to throw out Roe v. Wade-- something that cultural conservatives have made THE ultimate goal of their cause pretty much from the moment that Falwell organized them.) The 'morning after pill' has become commonplace, and is likely to be offered over the counter-- a move which will certainly make abortions rare, but one which does so by rendering it moot. Further, it is true that abortion has declined since the early 1990's, but what has changed since then is that years of sex education in schools has largely been successful and changed people's thinking about using birth control and avoiding unprotected sex. The quixotic attempts by conservatives to ban or restrict abortions have produced lots of legal bills and so far not have prevented a single abortion.

And in the end, even Falwell's most visible legacy, changing the color of the South from blue to red, may be a mirage. The old 'Dixiecrats' may now be Republicans, but let's face it-- in the old days they were often just as conservative as Republicans (so that for example in the early 1980's they helped Ronald Reagan effectively control the House by defecting en masse to vote with the Republicans on key pieces of legislation.) So now they actually are Republicans, but the change from conservative Democrats to conservative Republicans is a change in party label only, not ideology. In contrast, in other parts of the country, the 'Moral Majority' and similar organizations have not prevented a shift to the left-- some examples include New England, once described as 'rock ribbed Republican' and the place where Alf Landon won his only two states in 1936, but now a solidly Democratic region; Illinois, still known as the 'land of Lincoln,' and a state which tilted towards the right, is now out of reach for the GOP in anything other than a landslide election. California, the home of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and another solidly Republican state for decades, is now a reliably Democratic state. Pennsylvania and New Jersey-- two other traditionally Republican states that have trended sharply towards the left. In fact, if you compare the map of Jimmy Carter's close election win over Gerald Ford in 1976 with the election maps of George Bush's victories over Al Gore in 2000 or John Kerry in 2004, the first thing that you will notice is of course that the South has changed from Democratic to Republican. But then you will notice that the majority of the states that Democrats carried in the 2000 and 2004 election, had voted for Gerald Ford just about a generation earlier. And unlike the South, this represents an ideological change. In these regions of the country, Democrats are in general liberals. So if people have begun supporting Democrats, it is largely because they are now more liberal. For that matter, even Falwell's home state of Virginia-- where Richmond was once the capital of the Confederacy and going back to colonial days was the quintessential Southern state), has now become more purple than red; though Virginia last voted for a Democrat for President in 1964, expect it to be a major battleground in the next Presidential election.

And why is this? There are a lot of reasons, to be sure, but it is certain that one of the big ones is simply voters who don't want to be dictated to by American mullahs in the groups which have succeeded the Moral Majority (which itself formally disbanded in 1989).

And many cultural conservatives feel that their choice for President next year is between a guy who is openly pro-choice (bogeyman #1), a guy who they've never trusted and who they consider to be too willing to make deals that mainly serve himself and will probably sell them out if he gets elected (bogeyman #2) and a guy who many of them think is a heretic (bogeyman #3). But the simple fact is, that the failures of the Bush administration have simply made it unlikely that a true hardcore conservative Republican-- any straight up conservative Republican-- could win in 2008.

The years between 2000 and 2006 were what a generation (in fact, arguably several generations) of conservatives were building towards-- years when they had the control to do as they pleased and remake the government and society in their image. Well, they had the opportunity and the political capital, and it all got squandered in a stupid war in Iraq (as well as a few other projects that in the end were tangential to cultural conservatives like drilling in ANWR and the ill-fated attempt at privatization of Social Security). Then last year the American voters slammed the door shut on the era that conservatives since the darkest days after the Goldwater defeat had dreamed of and built towards. With the war in Iraq continuing to drag down the GOP, it looks like 2008 may be a rerun of 2006, making it increasingly unlikely that conservatives will be able to recapture that era of virtually unanimous control of the government again for at least another generation, if ever.

And so in the end, I would suggest that Jerry Falwell ultimately failed.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Some questions about the McCann kidnapping:

Like millions of other people around the world, I am praying and hoping that they find four year old Briton Madeleine McCann, who was apparently abducted from a hotel room at a resort in Portugal on May 2. Or if it turns out she is dead already, we may hope that at least the perpetrators are brought to justice.

However, there are some hard questions that need to be asked.

For one, it is hard to criticize grieving, concerned parents, but it is a fact that while Madeleine was abducted, she was watching her brother and sister. Both aged two. Her parents had sauntered off for a leisurely lunch, leaving a four year old in charge of two two year olds (and in a foreign country, at that). To be honest, if they get her back I hope the next thing that happens is that Madeleine and her siblings are immediately taken into protective custody by the state. I mean, even forget about the possibility of such an abduction. There are plenty of kids that age who die just in accidents, drowning in the bathtub or pulling an appliance down on top of them while trying to climb on it. Or they could figure out a way to unlatch the door and wander out onto a busy street. Or they could guzzle down a bottle of liquid Drano. I could go on with a lot more, but you get the idea. This is parental negligence of the first magnitude, and I guarantee you that had Madeleine been found safely within a short time, today none of the kids would be living with the parents.

For another, I have to (once again) point a finger at the media. Are there likely to be any people in the United States who will know information that may help the police in Portugal, that justifies this kind of blanket coverage? It is sensationalist media at its zenith. And Madeleine is exactly who they like to cover-- a young, pretty blonde girl. If you got all your information from the news media, you'd think that only pretty blonde girls ever disappeared. But that simply is not the case.

To begin with, a 2002 study of missing kids sponsored by the Justice Department found that 54% of missing children are white. That means that 46% are not. But the missing children shown on television are almost all white. Is it more important to find a white kid than a black or Hispanic kid? Apparently so, according to a lot of news stations because they invariably show you the picture of the white kid.

Also, it turns out that 53% of missing children are male. But missing boys aren't usually as pretty so they tend to focus almost exclusively on missing girls. That is one reason wny child sex predator Michael Devlin was able to live with a kidnapped boy right in the middle of an apartment complex in Missouri for four years, and only got caught when he was seen abducting another boy.

I have no problem with coverage of missing children in general. But what I'd like to see is a local focus on missing kids that someone around here actually might know something about.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

There are worse people in the world than those who club seals.

Jennifer Lopez (J-Lo), an actress who regularly wears fur, has recently received a series of mailed death threats from someone (or perhaps a group of people) who claims to be a member of PETA (the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). PETA responded by saying that they consider all violence to be wrong. And I will say that it is nearly impossible for any organization to police every single member. At the same time their refusal to explicitly condemn the threats is troubling in itself.

What really stands out to me though is that when such threats are made against celebrities (Lopez is not the first one to receive them), it is invariably against female celebrities. Certainly, you'd think that PETA would have more problems with men (some of whom actually enjoy killing the animals themselves, such as by trophy hunting) but when death threats are made they are much more likely to be directed at female celebrities like Lopez than they are at male celebrities.

What this causes me to believe is that there may well be a sexual predator, some wannabe Ted Bundy or BTK killer, who is using PETA as a cover to indulge his deranged and misogynist sexual fanatasies of terrorizing and eventually murdering women.

As I said, this sort of thing is virtually never directed at men, so if it is in fact a case of some psychotic killer hiding in the ranks of PETA then I hope both the organization and the police will cooperate to track this sicko down.

Godspeed that we rescue the prisoners

Today U.S. forces were searching for three people, either three U.S. troops or two U.S. troops and an Iraqi interpreter, who were captured in an attack on a patrol consisting of seven Americans and the interpreter. The rest of the patrol was killed in the ambush.

I think that all Americans are hopeful at this point that the search will be successful and the missing personnel will be recovered.

If that does not happen, past episodes of this sort of thing do not point to a promising outcome.

Early in the war, six Americans including Jessica Lynch were taken prisoner. Lynch was seperated from the others and according to author Rick Bragg, who studied the pattern of her injuries, was sexually assaulted while under sedation in the hospital. Lynch was subsequently rescued by American soldiers. The other five (four men and a woman) were beaten bloody and forced to make anti-American statements on Iraqi television. Later they were joined by two more POW's, whose Apache helicopter was shot down over central Iraq.

And those eight, as horribly as they were treated, were still treated in a way that looks good compared to subsequent American prisoners in Iraq-- likely because as prisoners of Saddam Hussein's army their captors had at least some semblance of the rule of law in how they treated prisoners.

In April 2004, the first capture by insurgents occured. They captured Sgt. Keith Maupin, of Batavia, Ohio and another soldier (the other soldier was apparently shot to death shortly after capture-- either he resisted or the insurgents decided they'd have an easier time escaping with one prisoner than with two.) Maupin's execution was purported to be shown on Al Jazeera, but the U.S. army has called into question the authenticity of the video and still lists Maupin as missing.

On October 23, 2006 US Army soldier Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie was kidnapped by insurgents. It is no secret that muslim extremists hold a special level of hatred for muslims who fit into western society, and it seems certain that as a member of the U.S. army, Taayie was specifically targetted. His fate is unknown, but it is likely quite gruesome.

On June 16, 2006 in Yusufiyah, Iraq, three U.S. soldiers were ambushed. One of the three, David Babineau was killed in the ambush (though apparently shot at close range, possibly after he was unable to defend himself.) Babineau was the lucky one, however, as the bodies of PFC Kristian Menchaca and PFC Thomas Tucker were found three days later; According to the Iraqi defense Ministry they had been 'killed in a barbaric way,' and 'slaughtered' by being tortured to death. Their bodies had been so mutilated by the torture that DNA analysis was needed to confirm their identities.

And that is just the U.S. soldiers who have been captured in Iraq, not the scores of contractors, civilian workers or Iraqis working with the U.S. who have met similar fates.

Again, let's all pray that the latest prisoner hunt by the army is successful and that they are rescued before anything like this happens.

Let's also remember three other things:

1. The muslim extremists in Iraq have no compunction about doing anything to anybody. In other words, Saddam Hussein may be gone, but there is nothing he did that isn't still being done in Iraq.

2. Conservatives will argue that this justifies our use of torture against prisoners. That is false. First, those prisoners by and large have not been convicted of anything and some of them may well be innocent. And second, even if they are guilty, it is hard to see the logic in arguing that because we are fighting a viscious enemy we must do the same as they do. Certainly the highest levels of the U.S. government knew very well what was happening in German occupied Europe in WWII, but they never suggested that we put captured Nazi soldiers in gas chambers.

3. We've been fighting in Iraq for years, and things are not getting better. The sooner we leave, the sooner we won't have to read stories like this.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Soaking the Poor

Yesterday's print edition of the Arizona Republic featured an article about how hospital charges are more unequal than even I had thought, with hospitals routinely billing uninsured patients as much as three times what they bill insurance companies for the same thing for patients who have insurance.

Conservatives will suggest that it is the uninsured patients' fault, for not shopping around.

This of course is ridiculous. If you need emergency bypass surgery or for that matter have to go to the ER, you won't have time to compare costs. And even if you are going in for say, elective surgery, they won't quote you a price, certainly not until they have diagnosed you. And unlike asking a plumber or a roofer for an estimate, the diagnosis itself will likely carry a significant price tag-- and if you want a second opinion (not that I'm against getting one if one can do so) you will have to pay for that as well. Further, the article indicates that the extreme overcharges extend across hospitals, so even if an uninsured person did comparison shop, they would still likely end up paying two or three times what an insurance company was charged.

To be sure, there are a number of reasons that play into this. The most obvious is the fact that because some people don't pay at all, and medicaid often pays hospitals less than they spend to treat the indigent, they lose money there and so have to charge more to those who can pay. Insurance companies of course can spot bogus or inflated charges (i.e. upwards of $40 for a 'mucous recovery system' which turns out to be an eighty-nine cent box of kleenex-- and yes, that is a real charge that some patients have been charged.) Consumers may not understand technical or official medical sounding names and just go ahead and pay an outrageous charge like that.

Another factor, closely related to the first, is likely to be that even when hospitals are doing well, they know they can take advantage of uninsured patients so the temptation to gouge just becomes hard to resist. And those who can't pay, they send to collection agencies and after squeezing out every drop they can they ruin the patient's credit and move on to the next victim. The concern they actually have for the poor has been amply demonstrated by (as I've blogged on several times by now) the practice of just dumping poor homeless people in the middle on the street and drivng off.

And this is why we do indeed need universal coverage. Very few, if any patients without insurance are trained enough to really understand their bills and dispute it. For that reason, wouldn't it be better if every hospital bill was reviewed by someone whose job it was, to know what was in it and how much it should cost?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Even a Pat Buchanan-quoting professor still shouldn't be fired for his views.

A story out today is about how Glendale Community College Math Professor Walter Kehowski could be fired for an email he sent out with a link to Pat Buchanan's website.

I should mention right here that though I work in the same field as Professor Kehowski and I am certain that I know some people who also know him (including several of his colleagues in the math department there), I don't remember meeting him. I may have met Professor Kehowski at a professional conference (though the name doesn't bring to mind a face) but if I did then I don't remember the introduction, nor have I ever attended any professional conferences where I listened to him present anything. I've been to Glendale Community College several times for various reasons and find it to be a pleasant enough place, but have never had any contact with their administration.

I will also mention that I am certain that I disagree with virtually everything political that Professor Kehowski believes concerning immigration, and have been an outspoken proponent of immigrant rights on this blog and elsewhere.

However, I disagree even more strongly with the idea that he should be fired for exercising his right to free speech within the context of an academic environment.

A Maricopa Community Colleges professor could be fired after he sent an e-mail to district employees that contained a link to Pat Buchanan's Web site and a transcript of a George Washington Thanksgiving proclamation.

Math Professor Walter Kehowski, who has sent controversial e-mails in the past, was placed on paid leave from his job at Glendale Community College. A national free-speech group, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, has taken up his cause and is asking the Maricopa County Community College District to exonerate him.

Greg Lukianoff, president of the Philadelphia-based group, said Kehowski is being targeted because of the e-mail, sent Nov. 22, with the 1789 proclamation and the link to the site of Buchanan, a conservative commentator and former presidential candidate. Lukianoff said five employees filed complaints because the Buchanan site criticized immigration policies.

Glendale Community College is claiming that he is being fired for violating the district's electronic communications policy, which prohibits using district e-mail for private or personal matters.

Fair enough, if it were a private or personal matter. If he were sending out emails touting his side business or exchanging raunchy emails with a hooker in Hong Kong then they might have a point.

However, this email propounded a political viewpoint. Whether one agrees with it or not is irrelevant. It is hard to argue that it is either private or personal. It is instead an academic argument. What this amounts to is an attack on academic freedom. Academia is supposed to be a place in which ideas can be exchanged freely, debated and responded to (there's a thought-- why didn't they just send out an email rebutting his?). If Professor Kehowski is fired the clear message will be that only those political views which pass muster with Maricopa Community Colleges will be tolerated or will be allowed to be expressed on campus (because let's face it, they certainly have similar policies governing what can be posted on bulletin boards and otherwise distributed on campus.) Perhaps the view here is that academic freedom on campus doesn't extend beyond the classroom.

And that would be a true irony. As I mentioned earlier, I work in the same field as Professor Kehowski. And teaching math, I have no reason to discuss politics in the classroom, so I very scrupulously check my politics at the door and go in and talk about quadratic equations and logarithms. As Professor Kehowski's professionalism on the job has not been called into question, I can only assume that he does likewise. Do you really think it is wise then, to implement a policy in which he (and for that matter any of us in academia, if this policy becomes universal) has to propound his views in the classroom because that is the only place on campus where free speech will be protected?

Monday, May 07, 2007

They're still looking for a chump.

The latest news is that several months after proposing the creation of the office of a 'war czar' to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are still looking to fill it after several qualified candidates said, 'thanks, but no thanks.'

Of course the office itself is absurd. We already have the joint chiefs of staff, the secretary of defense and above them the Commander in Chief who is supposed to be doing all of that. It is hard to imagine what another high level bureaucrat would do that would improve the effectiveness of either war.

Ultimately, it isn't about improving effectiveness, as has been pitched. It's not about that at all.

It's about finding a sucker to be the scapegoat. The day after last year's election, Don Rumsfeld, who had been absorbing the brunt of the criticism for our failed war policy, resigned. So who does that leave? His replacement, the joint chiefs and the President. What this sounds like is that they all agreed that none of them wanted to be the 'fall guy' when (no longer if) we leave Iraq without leaving behind the grand democracy that was envisioned, but which was never a realistic vision. And even more tragically, the war in Afghanistan (which I've always, see Terrorism and the Afghan War) which should have been our focus, has since it quit being our focus degenerated into a mini-Iraq (except that the problems there are growing-- it's not so 'mini' anymore either.) So sooner or later we may have to make the incredibly hard decision to recognize that the chance that we did have to get rid of the people who really are our enemies in Afghanistan, has passed us by, and decide whether we want to refocus our efforts where they should have been in the first place and gamble on being able to reverse the direction of an increasingly uncertain and bloody war or withdraw and think very carefully through what the pitfalls are of getting sidetracked before we make another attempt.

The decision to put Afghanistan on the back burner before we had caught up to the al-Qaeda leaders there and invade Iraq was made early on during the Afghan war, and the present situation in both countries can be pinned on that single decision. But now those who made it don't want to be tagged with the consequences. All of which makes the 'war czar' position come into much sharper focus.

It's really the office of the 'blame czar.'

And obviously everyone they've asked so far to take the job, can see that very clearly.

It's about time.

Last November, I blogged on a disturbing trend in higher education, Universities becoming more exclusionary in which I wrote, it part,

Colleges have become far too exclusionary. Note I did not say 'exclusive,' (though they are often that as well) but 'exclusionary.'

And I'm not just talking about Ivy league schools, or those which have traditionally been very exclusive. Even state universities are becoming very picky about which students they will take. And certainly ability to pay is a factor here as well-- recall the post I wrote last year about Paige Laurie, the Wal-Mart heiress who hired a student who had to leave the University of Southern California because she couldn't afford to stay, to write all her papers for her.

When combined with skyrocketing tuition costs and the cuts in financial aid made by the Bush administration, for a child (and a high school student is a child) to be able to get into most colleges, (s)he must excel academically, be able to afford it (this already excludes millions of kids) and now must in effect be already an adult. Already have decided what (s)he wants to do with life and then do it, and already be good at it before applying to college....

The root of the problem is actually quite simple. With an increasing population, combined with less and less state funding for higher education, there are simply less places for students.

Add to this the matter of 'rankings.' Colleges want a higher 'ranking,' based largely on perceptions rather than measurable statistics (though statistics such as graduation rate, first year employment rate of grads and average salary of grads ten years out of college would be available if colleges wanted to do the research). This ranking system adds another tier of both mystery and discrimination in favor of those who can afford what is perceived to be a 'better' college. And the truth is, it may not be a better college. One of the side notes that came out of the recent Duke LaCrosse case is that one of the accused students was appealing an 'F' he got in a class from an instructor who gave 25% of the course grade based on attendance (he said he had to miss some classes to meet with his lawyer). As a community college instructor, I was outraged. Not about the 'F' (I never question a grade given by another instructor, not knowing all the facts) but about the fact that 25% of the grade is based on attendance. This is supposed to be one of the nation's 'elite' universities, yet students get the equivalent of more than two letter grades just by filling a seat. Personally, I expect students to come to class and fill a seat as part of their basic expectations for the class (sort of like knowing how to read the textbook). Generally the only times I give points for attendance is in a short summer session, when the course is over in less than a month and especially in cases where I am teaching by interactive TV (meaning a couple of day turnaround time on tests or assignments) there is otherwise a dearth of information I could use for assessment. And even then, it won't be more than 10% of the grade.

Well, now it seems as if a group of college Presidents at liberal arts colleges are working on doing something about it.

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A dozen college presidents have pledged to boycott a key component of the U.S. News & World Report college rankings because they say the popular rankings mislead prospective students and encourage gamesmanship.

The presidents -- from a range of mostly smaller institutions including Dickinson College in Pennsylvania and Earlham College in Indiana -- outlined their complaints in a letter dated Saturday to colleagues at other schools.

The letter says the dozen colleges have pledged to stop filling out the part of the survey in which colleges rate each other, which accounts for 25 percent of a college's ranking. The colleges say they also will no longer use the rankings in their own promotions and ask other schools to do the same.

The letter is the latest step in a growing movement led by Lloyd Thacker, a veteran of the admissions field who has started an organization dedicated to toning down the competition in the admissions process.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Renzi paid back taxes on old scandal

Today, it looks like Rick Renzi may be in trouble with the IRS. He paid back taxes last year for money that he received while violating election laws in 2002 (which he was subsequently sanctioned by the FEC for.) Gosh, since Al Capone got sent up for it, I though that crooks always paid their taxes.

Even when he is being crooked, he can't do it right:

According to the Hill

Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) took out a $500,000 second mortgage on his Flagstaff home in January after paying more than $300,000 in tax arrears discovered by a Federal Election Commission (FEC) investigation.

The mortgage loan, revealed by Renzi in a document filed with Coconino County, Ariz., is worth the highest possible listed value of his house, and suggests the embattled lawmaker may have faced a substantial cash squeeze at the end of the last Congress.

It may also cast light on $200,000 that came to Renzi two years ago from a business partner. The money exchange has raised eyebrows and suggestions of impropriety.

Around the time Renzi accepted the payment, the FEC launched an investigation of his campaign finances, forcing the lawmaker and his wife to pay an extra $324,000 in federal and state taxes.

Let's see here-- he took a $200,000 bribe, and had to pay $324,000 in back taxes, penalies and interest. Plus $25,000 fine to the FEC to settle the ethics complaint on that old scandal.

In Rick Renzi's case, 'crime doesn't pay' may turn out to be true. Literally.

It also helps explain why he tried to shake down a mining company for money, which began the current round of scandals. He trie to shake them down because he needed the money. And just think-- until two weeks ago, Rick Renzi was on the Intelligence Committee, where he had access to all sorts of information that a lot of evil people would be willing to pay a great deal for.

It's not my job to enforce the smoking ordinance.

Yesterday, Arizona officially became 'smoke free' in most public buildings (except for tobacco shops, private veterans or fraternal organizations, and some bars and restaurants with outdoor patios where smoking will be permitted.) By law, the ordinance does not extend onto reservations (so likely some reservations will do what cities around Tempe did when it passed a similar ordinance and become a haven for smoker-friendly bars and restaurants.)

The proposition to do this was passed by the voters with more than 70% of the vote back in November, so businesses have had half a year to prepare. I do understand that businesses don't like being forced to do something that might adversely affect their business (as the Tempe ordinance did in fact put some Tempe businesses out of business, so clearly bars and restaurants near a reservation will have to sweat things out) but the half a year gave them time to in most cases make provisions, such as remodeling to create a sealed off outdoor patio if smokers are a major part of their clientele.

For the most part the first day seemed to have gone well, with a few isolated problems (including a bar manager and patrons who openly flouted the law in an act of civil disobedience)

So I was reading the article on it in today's Arizona Republic linked here when I stopped at the following line:

"The people who think they are going to get away with it are nuts," [state health director Will] Humble said. "The reality is that just about every non-smoker who goes out in public is one of our inspectors."

There, I have a problem. It's true that I don't smoke and have no desire to be around it, and as such welcome the new law. However, I'm not a cop, and I'm not going to become part of the 'smoke police.' As long as somebody isn't being obnoxious about it, if I see an addict getting their drug fix then I'm just not inclined to go call the cops. They may need treatment, and if I know them well enough I may suggest it, but as a non-smoker I'm just not going to flip a gasket if someone lights a cigarette. And I certainly don't want Mr. Humble telling me that I'm "one of his inspectors." This has a vaguely sinister feel to it, reminiscent of societies like the former East Germany or Saddam Hussein's Iraq when people were encouraged to call the authorities to report even the smallest violation of the most trivial rule. That sort of thing led to a lot of mistrust and division within society, when a person couldn't even trust their own next door neighbor or family members, knowing that they might be an agent of the secret police.

Smokers are addicts who have a substance abuse problem. But they aren't evil people, or the enemy, and we shouldn't be treating them like they are.

By the way, has it hit anyone that apparently the state is now more worried about people smoking cigarettes than they are about people smoking marijuana? Granted, I think we should legalize pot for those who use it, but it is an interesting irony that if someone smoked a cigarette in public there is a hotline in place to report it and the police would be right there to fine whoever owns the property, but not if they smoked a joint.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

I wonder if they asked their fellow citizens who were evacuees before turning away help

We've known already that hundreds of millions of dollars offered to the United States after Katrina by international governments was turned down. But now we are learning more of the details.

The U.S. has collected about $126 million and used just $40 million of the $454 million in cash that was offered, the newspaper reported, citing U.S. officials and contractors....

Wasted aid included medical supplies from Italy that spoiled in the elements for weeks after Katrina...

The U.S. turned down at least 54 of 77 aid offers as of January 2006 from three close allies: Canada, Britain and Israel, according to a State Department document, the Post reported.

We only used $40 million of $454 million in cash aid that was offered.... less that ten percent!

And while we are at it, don't forget the hundreds of tons of NATO ration packs that the British donated for Katrina victims only to see us burn it in an incinerator.

Then we also have the question of priorities, and making sure that the friends of the administration didn't get 'cheated.' For example,

Also, the Department of Homeland Security accepted, then later rejected, an offer from Greece to use two cruise ships as hospitals or to house displaced residents for free because the ships could not arrive soon enough, the Post said. The government paid $249 million to use Carnival Cruise Lines vessels.

There are still 100,000 Katrina evacuees living in camps or in government provided housing today, so the issue about arrival times is pretty bogus. So I have to wonder whether the fact that Carnival chairman Mickey Arison is a large contributor to the Republican party and a big Bush supporter might have had something to do with their turning down free cruise ships from the Greeks so they could pay Arison and his company a quarter of a billion dollars in taxpayer money instead.

And other people to have to protect:

Kuwait made the largest offer — $100 million in cash and $400 million in oil, the Post said. The Kuwaitis ended up instead donating $25 million each to the Red Cross and a private Katrina aid group because it seemed to be "the fastest way to get money to the people that needed it,'' the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, Salem Abdullah al-Jaber al-Sabah, told the Post. The oil donation was not collected.

Just think that if we accepted $400 million in free oil what that would do to gasoline prices and oil company profits.

This is criminal, or it should be. If everything was under control and we really didn't need all that foreign aid, then it would be OK to turn it down. But things are still not under control in regard to an awful lot of Katrina evacuees, and under the circumstances WHAT THE HECK IS THIS ADMINISTRATION DOING, TURNING DOWN ALL THAT FOREIGN AID? It's like a man stuck in a deep hole who quits tossing the rope back and insisting that he can get out himself. Only this time it is thousands of people he is tossing the rope away from.
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