Thursday, August 30, 2007

NFL should not suspend Michael Vick indefinitely.

Michael Vick has pleaded guilty and will soon be sentenced to prison. I hope he gets the full eighteen months that prosecutors are asking for. In fact, I personally would prefer he get longer than that in prison.

As a direct consequence of his guilty plea and sentencing, Michael Vick will lose millions of dollars, regardless of what decisions the NFL or the Atlanta Falcons make. Vick will lose at least two years during the prime of his athletic career, which is itself worth a small fortune. And no matter how good prison fitness facilities are, or how hard an athlete takes advantage of them, they are not even close to the level of the training facilities he won't be using at the Falcons camp or training room. He won't have coaches to work on his passing style. An athlete who spends much time in prison faces an inevitable erosion of skills; exhibit 1 is Mike Tyson, who was never again the feared and effective boxer he had been before his career took a detour through the clink after he was found guilty of raping a teenage beauty pageant contestant. Further, Vick will certainly not be asked to appear as a spokesman for Nike or others who have paid him lucrative commercial deals in the past; they'd probably sell more shoes if they hired Osama bin Laden as a spokesman than Michael Vick.

To which I'd say, GOOD. Michael Vick deserves to lose all the money he could have made if he hadn't thrown it all away on breeding, destroying and torturing animals.

However, despite how repelled I am at his crime, the decision by the NFL to suspend him indefinitely is WRONG. Commissioner Roger Goodell certainly has the right to suspend players for cause, but he has done so for periods of time. To suspend indefinitely a player implies that he won't be given an opportunity to earn a living through the league in the future.

My problem with this is twofold:

1. The criminal justice system was established for the purpose of affixing punishment. If we don't like the punishment affixed then it is incumbent on any of us to lobby for a change in the law (as in the case of Georgia law which was changed but is still being used as the basis for sentencing in the Genarlow Wilson case.) It is not up to any individual, institution or employer to usurp the justice system and decide how to hand it out.

2. We can progressively punish a person in many ways. But denying someone employment when they get out is stupid. If a felon gets out of prison (and most do, sooner or later) and wants to forsake crime and do something else, then isn't it stupid to force him (I use that word by intent because most felons are male) to go back into crime because it is the only thing he can make a living at? It's already hard enough for a felon to get a job. As I once wrote in a post entitled, The prison that follows prison,

For example, we say that convicted felons have the right to seek employment. However, we have for years cut the budgets for prison programs that seek to educate inmates about a trade (I have first hand knowledge of several educational institutions that suspended or ended their prison programs because of state or Federal budget cuts). We have also cut funding for job placement programs and halfway houses for prisoners. So, not surprisingly, when people who get out of a long term in prison with nothing to show on their resume other than a long stint in prison, have trouble getting a job, they often find that the easiest, and perhaps the only, way to earn a living wage, is through returning to a life of crime. This is called, 'recidivism.'

Now, I'm not going to stupidly sit here and say that if we funded more of these things, you wouldn't still have recidivism. Some people are habitual criminals and you could hand them a million dollars in cash and make them the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company, and the next day they would still be out running a con, knocking over a liquor store or beating someone up or raping or killing someone. People like that need to be in prison, and there is little anyone can do to change that. But I am saying that regardless of the success rate (or failure rate) of rehabilitation programs, we as a society have an obligation to TRY. Because except for lifers or people on death row, the rest of the prison population will sooner or later be out among the rest of us, either rehabilitated or not.

It's a fact that Michael Vick knows how to make a lot of money if he doesn't play football. He knows there is plenty of it in dogfighting. Do we really want to force him back to it in order to pay the bills?

Michael Vick is s disgusing human being but it is not up to the NFL or anyone else to usurp the authority of the criminal justice system and hand out their own punishments.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

new scandal has GOP whining that the media goes softer on Democrats-- only that's hogwash

It seems that a lot of Republicans and talk show hosts are now angry about the latest scandal involving Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) who wants to withdraw a guilty plea he made following an arrest for allegedly soliciting sex from an undercover police officer in a bathroom stall at the Minneapolis airport.

Many (though not all) Republicans in Washington are calling on Craig to resign from the Senate (though behind it seems to be a barely voiced but frequently alluded to fear that they may lose a Senate seat, even in Idaho, if Craig remains and runs for re-election next year) but then they always ask why the media (I guess meaning the corporate media) go 'softer' on Democrats accused of sex scandals.

I'd like to respond that that on several levels.

First, it hasn't been true. Start with the most obvious Democrat accused in sex scandals: Bill Clinton. The press reported until most people were nauseated on Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky. During 1998, the Lewinsky scandal made headlines pretty much from January through the conclusion of the impeachment trial the following January. The problem for the GOP is that they took what could have been a minor 'gotcha' story and turned it into a story which in the end benefitted Clinton and Democrats by carrying it way too far and trying to impeach the President. And yeah, I know-- there are stories about Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broderick and probably some more, but I suspect the reason the media hasn't reported much about those is because most people have gotten the idea by now that Bill Clinton is a wandering husband with a zipper problem, and yet another story about it, especially after the impeachment trial would be like watching re-runs of a syndicated black and white TV show for the ninth time. (Yawwwwn.)

Beyond Clinton, it hasn't been true that the press brushes over Democratic sex scandals. Ask Gary Hart and Gary Condit about that. It's just recently, the guys involved in sex scandals have mostly been Republicans. The talk show hosts like to cite former Congressman Gerry Studds (D-MA), who in 1983 was censured for having sex with a male page. OK, fair enough. But did you know that on the very same day (July 20, 1983) that the house censured Studds, they also censured a Republican congressman for exactly the same thing (except that, as Indy Voter points out in the comments, the page was female)? Do you know his name? Probably not, if you listen to right wing talk radio. It was Daniel Crane, Republican of Illinois. But somehow the fact that this 1983 scandal is no longer making headlines (at least in terms of Studds, who incidentally left Congress a decade ago and died last year) is supposed to show media bias in terms of the current story involving Sen. Craig.

They also like to compare Studds to former congressman Mark Foley, who resigned last year after having sent sexually suggestive emails to male pages. But the fact is, Foley resigned the same day the story broke so we don't even know what if any action Dennis Hastert's Congress would have taken.

They also like to cite current Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Barney Frank, who was reprimanded by the house for his relationship with an adult male prostitute. This was in fact reported on in 1990. So I'm not sure what their beef is. They like to point out that the prostitute, Steve Gobie, ran a gay escort ring for awhile out of Frank's apartment. But Frank himself reported that to the House Ethics Committee when he found out about it and the Ethics Committee concluded that Frank had no knowledge of it until he reported it. And, if they think that having a gay escort service running out of Franks' apartment was such a serious crime that didn't get enough press, all I have to say to that are two words: JEFF GANNON.

But beyond all of this, there is the issue of hypocrisy. Neither Bill Clinton nor Gerry Studds nor Barney Frank ever tried to lecture anyone else about how they should run their sex lives. But the whole 'family values' platform is practically mandatory for a Republican running for office anymore. So they spout it. And when one of them is caught, well it is more interesting to see what happens to people who live in glass houses when they throw stones. There are many sinners in the world, and when a sinner is caught sinning it is less of a story than when the modern-day Pharisee, who claims to be the defender and upholder of high moral values, is caught sinning. That is human nature-- to want to hold the hypocrite up to the highest level of public ridicule and scorn.

Today right wing jock Sean Hannity tried to address the hypocrisy issue by saying, that 'Democrats SHOULD preach family values.' Hmmmm. Personally, I think I have 'family values,' but the problem is his emphasis on 'preach.' I'm perfectly willing to share my faith and my lifestyle with anyone who is interested, and I've always been up front about them, but I don't 'preach' to people about how they should live, judge them for their lifestyles (it was ironic that Craig's bizarre news conference seemed to be more focused on denying that he was gay than on denying that he was soliciting sex,) or frankly care what their sex life is. But apparently Hannity thinks (apparently because the hypocrisy angle almost exclusively cuts against Republicans) that therefore Democrats should become more like Republicans. Hint: If we thought that we had to 'preach' (and more to the point, legislate) moral values, well then we'd be Republicans.

To be honest, I don't care one iota whether Larry Craig is gay or not. His family, especially his wife, might care but the Craig family sex life isn't my business. Playing footsie under the stall partition in a bathroom is a bit weird, but weirdness isn't a crime. Soliciting sex is a crime, and pleading guilty to a crime without even consulting a lawyer shows a profound lack of judgement that the voters of Idaho might want to consider. Ultimately though, that is up to the voters in Idaho, and I don't live in Idaho.

But yeah, he might want to resign. Because I don't think he will find much support from other Republicans, especially those (like current and former Congressmen Dan Burton and Newt Gingrich who criticized Clinton's affair even while having affairs of their own) who may be trying to overcompensate for their own little secrets by beating the morality drums louder than ever.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Rick Renzi needs to Resign, Now!

Yesterday, my congressman, Rick Renzi announced that he won't seek re-election in 2008 when his term expires. Renzi has been in the middle of a corruption investigation and the FBI raided his business earlier this year. Renzi announced that he won't seek re-election but he has refused to resign. This is unfair to voters in this district, as they no longer have a full time congressman. Renzi no longer goes to committee hearings (he is barred from them) and any legislation he puts up there has less chance of passing than if it was offered by a noncorrupt Congressmember.

I met Rick Renzi when he attended the Founder's Day barbecque in the small town I live in, in 2002 (when he was first running.) I can tell two stories that speak volumes about the man.

The first was when he was at the barbecque and he was going down the line shaking hands of people who were waiting in line for their term to be served. I have a friend whose wife is from Australia. He stuck out his hand and she told him that she was not an American and couldn't vote. So he just pulled his hand away without shaking hers. Couldn't even be bothered to say, 'pleased to meet you' and finish shaking her hand.

My own Rick Renzi story from that barbecque is this: I asked him whether he supports continuing to maintain a selective service registration data base. He said he did. I asked about his opinion on gays in the military (knowing that he wouldn't be for it.) He said he supported the current, 'don't ask, don't tell' policy. So then I pointed out that if both policies were in place and there were ever a draft, people who wanted to dodge it could claim they were gay. Renzi obviously was surprised, having not considered that before. He stammered around, and said 'the recruiter could tell.' I asked on what basis, and then mentioned that in a draft there is no recruiter, you just show up and if you pass the physical you're in. So then he suggested a polygraph. I answered that I finally got it, that these young men and young women would all show up for the draft, and the first thing we'd do is hook them up to a machine and ask them questions about their sex lives. Renzi turned purple. I didn't think that such an idiot could possibly be elected to Congress so I let him go.

What I didn't count on was 1. how much money he had (we now know, he had it because of the Sandlin land deal which is now among the matters under investigation); or 2. that he was a master of the personal smear. He overwhelmed George Cordova with a barrage of attacks (embezzlement, fraud, illegally wiring money out of the country) which, if true would have put Cordova behind bars for a long time. Of course Cordova never was charged with a crime because it was all a lie in the first place, in fact he subsequently pursued a civil court case against Renzi for slander and that was settled out of court but involved Renzi paying him money (not that at least at the time having mysterious amounts of money was any problem for Renzi.) Ironically, it is Renzi, not Cordova, who is now the subject of a Federal investigation. In subsequent campaigns against Paul Babbitt and Ellen Simon, Renzi also used smear tactics to win.

There is one problem with Renzi's announcement that he won't seek re-election. And that is still his refusal to resign. As a congressman-in-name-only the people here in this district don't have the same quality of representation as we should expect, especially with our 'Congressman' still drawing a $135,000 per year salary. He's done virtually nothing in the way of constituent service since the initial FBI raid of his family business back in April. As a citizen of CD 1, I demand that we have a legitimate representative who is carrying out all duties of a congressman, as soon as possible. If Mr. Renzi resigns, then constituent duties will be appointed to a neighboring conressperson, and a special election would be scheduled within a 75- to 90 day window.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Marbury defends Vick, dogfighting.

New York Knicks guard Stephon Marbury defended Michael Vick and said today that he believes that dogfighting is a sport.

Well, I suppose that you can call anything a 'sport,' no matter how barbaric it is, even dwarf-tossing or Russian roulette.

If it's a sport, it's a sport that is illegal in all fifty states. There is a reason why it is. It's because in a civilized society we've come to a collective decision that people should look elsewhere for entertainment than in watching animals maul, cripple and kill one another for 'sport.'

Marbury tries to compare it to 'people who shoot deer.' But there are some big differences. Let's enumerate some of them:

1. The goal of a hunter is to kill a deer as quickly and efficiently as possible, minimizing the amount of suffering involved. In dogfighting, the goal is to produce death, but it is rarely quick or painless, and even the winning dog will sustain a a great deal of pain. In fact, if dog fights ended quickly, there wouldn't be as much money bet on them and they likely wouldn't be as popular. However, deer hunting isn't a 'sport' in which the agony is prolonged for the purpose of making money.

2. Most (though not all) deer hunters eat what they shoot. In this sense, deer hunting is no different than eating a steak that was killed in a slaughterhouse. As far as I know, Michael Vick never had a Pit Bull cutlet for dinner.

3. Thanks to the boneheaded predator policies of the nineteenth century, most areas where deer live no longer have enough (or any) large predators that eat deer. Therefore they multiply to the point where they are both a threat to the ecosystem at large and a threat to themselves and if the population were left unchecked they would eat their food supply and many would die of starvation. State game and fish departments monitor the deer population and use hunting as a tool to manage the deer population. It is also much more cost effective to sell hunting licenses to people who want to help them manage the deer population than it would be otherwise to have to pay professional hunters to do the same. It is true that there is also an overpopulation of dogs (many adoptable dogs are put in shelters and have to be euthanized because of lack of homes to place them in) but dogfighting aficionados actually contribute to the overpopulation of dogs as they breed many pit bulls and other varieties of dogs which because of their upbringing are unadoptible and either abandon them or have them seized by authorities. In fact, we saw an article just the other day in the Washington Post about how A North Carolina shelther will have to euthanize adoptable dogs because a judge has ordered them to use their space to house pit bulls seized in raids on dogfighting operations. Point made

Marbury is free to voice his opinion but it is a fact that societies can make laws which they believe are in the public interest, and this law has been enacted. There are certainly laws which have been enacted which I believe society should consider getting rid of (an example being federal laws against marijuana use) but I don't consider marijuana use to be a form of recreation because the law is very clear that it isn't.

If Marbury wants the law changed, then he should lobby to get it changed. Good luck with that, given the obvious contempt that most people have shown for what Vick did. But until then, anyone who is convicted of involvement in dogfighting will face the consequences of the law. As they should.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

It's not time to walk away from the men in Crandall Canyon mine yet.

It's not time to walk away.

Yes, three additional miners have been killed and several injured in a cave in while trying to reach six who were trapped in the Crandell Canyon mine almost two weeks ago, but the fact is that they were set up to fail.

The mine itself has a long and well documented history of safety violations. But the rescue operation, thrown together hap-hazardly and operated by the company itself, was being run in such a dangerous way that several miners-- comrades of the men who were trapped-- refused to participate in such a dangerous venture because they could smell a death trap. They have since been shown as prophetic.

Most damning, the mine operators had a chance to accept help from the United Mine Workers-- an organization which knows a great deal about mine safety and which has been involved with a number of successful rescues. But apparently their anti-union dogma won out so that this offer of assistance was declined. Under the circumstances, should any reasonable offer of assistance be declined, from anyone who knows enough and has the resources to help?

So now they are talking about ending the search. It is true that four bore holes have been drilled without detecting any sign of the men. It is true that there is a chance that the men were killed in the initial cave-in and are buried under tons of rubble. And there is a chance that they may have survived but in the twelve agonizing days that have followed have died from injuries, lack of oxygen, lack of water or any of many other myriad possibilities. It is possible that if they are dead, their bodies may never be found.

But on one day this week some noise was detected deep inside the mine. The origin of the noise is unclear but it is quite possible that it could be the trapped men. Their employers, the government and all of us as Americans have an obligation to at least investigate whether it was, and continue to look for them and try to rescue them for as long as it is reasonably possible that they could have survived. And if they found a large chamber with breathable air (and breathable are was detected by at least one monitor sent down there) and they had some water, it is very possible that they could still be alive today.

And so we should not walk away from them.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Government controlled by those who want to steal from the rest of us.

We know that the Crandell Canyon mine had numerous safety violations over the past couple of years. We know that last month the government agency that oversees and inspects the mine finally fined them sixty dollars for a repeat violation.

As I blogged shortly after it happened, the government regulators failed to protect the lives of six men trapped deep inside the mountain (and by extension, the lives of two more who were killed in a cave in last night during the rescue operation.)

For a fine to be effective, it has to be enough to be more than just a cost of doing business-- the consequences of not taking action (in this case making safety improvements) have to outweigh the consequences (cost) of taking the needed action.

So why did the government fail in its duty and purpose to protect these men? There are a lot of answers to that. We know that government works slowly anyway (not always a bad thing-- too much often does get done during moments of hysteria before more sober minds take over.) We know that the government has to be officially unbiased-- the mine owners have rights too, and those rights require that procedure be followed. We know that there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of similar situations in America today, and the regulatory agencies generally don't get funded at a level that would allow them to keep a tab on everything.

But there is something insidious here. Something that goes beyond all of that. It starts out with the massive, astronomical taxpayer subsidies that are being paid to all kinds of otherwise very profitable corporations-- energy companies, pharmaceutical companies and yes, mining companies. But it is more than that.

It is a government, and especially an administration which has consciously pursued a policy of, for example, helping pharmaceutical companies selectively gouge Americans by making it more difficult to re-import drugs at lower prices, even drugs that may have been manufactured in the very same factory as the similar brands in American pharmacies came from. They've been allowing energy companies to rake in a lot of loot while doing nothing about the price of fuel. The recall of toys was ordered by mattel, not by the U.S. government.

In other words, our government is neither unbiased, nor is it carrying out as its primary duty the need to protect its own citzens. No, our government, instead of regulating those who want to put the screws to us, is an active particpant and is helping them do it.

Without any government at all, the rich and powerful would pretty much have their way-- they could afford to do what it takes to win all the time, no matter what suffering it causes. That is one reason why they are always advocating 'smaller government.' However, government in theory protects not only the rich and powerful, but also those who would otherwise be at their mercy.

Government is a tool which can be used by the people through their elected leaders to build a more humane, better world.

But in the wrong hands, it can also be a source of great evil.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Call the far right anti-immigration hardliners what they are: socialists

I had a letter published in today's print edition of the Arizona Republic. Though there were some minor edits in the letter, the point is essentially unchanged. It began on Tuesday, when another writer criticized undocumented immigrants and asked why they didn't have the 'decency to at least become naturalized citizens.'

My reply was very plain: I wrote,

Short answer: We don't let them.

Every year the legal immigration quota is full. The number of undocumented immigrants is the accumulated difference between the government mandated supply (when Congress sets the yearly immigration quota) and the market based demand (the number of jobs that they fill)

So really what this comes down to is the government trying to limit the number of people who can fill the jobs, so in effect limiting the number of jobs which employers can create. There is a name for this philosophy, of the government controlling fundamental parts of the economy in order to manage it. That name is socialism. There is also a name for the competing philosophy, that the market demand for any given product will determine how much of that product is needed, and this applies to labor just as it applies to any other commodity. The name of this philosophy is capitalism.

Earlier this year, some people in Congress, with the support of the President, attempted to introduce a bill which would both give us the security of knowing how many immigrants were in the country as well as giving us information on who they were. It was a market based solution, in which those who wished to work in the United States would pay a fee or a fine and then be allowed to find work. This would not result in an unlimited supply of immigrants, contrary to what some said, because once the supply of jobs was met, the fee would be large enough to deter people once their chance of finding a job in an already saturated market dropped down low enough.

But the neo-socialists, who wanted the government to control the job market instead, screamed that this was 'amnesty,' and shouted it down.

So be it.

But clearly they have taken the socialist position, so someone should ask some of the anti-immigration hardliners why they think that socialism is better for our economy than capitalism would be.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Weapons we paid for lost in Iraq, some used to kill Americans.

We know (and it has been documented ad nauseum) how there has been little or no accountability for money that has been sent to Iraq-- you know, the guys who were driving around Baghdad in pickup trucks early on during the occuption of Iraq handing out wads of hundred dollar bills, trying to buy us love.

We know that there has been little or no accountability for the no-bid contracts handed out to Halliburton and other contractors. That too has been documented ad nauseum.

But you'd think at least there would be some accountability for weapons sent to Iraq. After all, if we are arming people, we at least want to know who we are in fact arming and where the arms are wouldn't you?

Well, apparently not.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Pentagon cannot account for 190,000 AK-47 rifles and pistols given to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005, or about half the weapons earmarked for soldiers and police, according to a government report.

The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, said in a July 31 report to lawmakers that the Defense Department also cannot account for 135,000 items of body armor and 115,000 helmets reported to be issued to Iraqi forces as of September 22, 2005....

One senior Pentagon official told The Washington Post some weapons probably were being used against U.S. troops. He said an Iraqi brigade created in Falluja disintegrated in 2004 and began fighting American soldiers.

So even arms aren't worth auditing when we send them into a country full of enemies. Un-friggin-believable. The ineptitude and incompetence of this administration is simply mind-boggling.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Richardson has the best Iraq plan

Many of the other Democratic candidates have recently explained that they support leaving some troops in Iraq in order to prevent genocide, fight terror, keep the Kurds safe, etc.

They don't get it.

First, none of these require U.S. troops. There are certainly Shiites who kill Sunnis and Sunnis who kill Shiites in Iraq, but that is not genocide. It is a civil war. And genocide won't happen for one very basic reason-- Iraq is crawling with arms. Large scale massacre of all the followers of a group in a region (this is what genocide is) becomes impractical if the people targetted are even lightly armed-- you man ovewhelm them with force, but losing a soldier at every second or third house that they clear out would not be an acceptable rate of loss.

Second, the terrorists are there to fight us. And has recently been shown by some Sunnis turning on their former al-Qaeda allies, they don't want domination by foreign invaders. Neither us nor al-Qaeda.

Third, the Kurds were plenty autonomous and self-protecing for years without out putting troops on the ground. The only real threat they might face is Turkey's army to the north, but let's be honest here-- if the Iraqi Kurds ever want independence they have to prove that they are willing to live within the rules and mores of the world they are in. And for starters that would mean cracking down on people wanting to attack over the border into Turkey. In fact, I would join many in supporting the idea that Turkish Kurds should decide their future for themselves, but they have to renounce violence as a means to get there.

The bottom line though is that none of this requires any American troops. And if we leave troops there then the folks in Iraq who want to kill Americans will continue their work unabated. And sooner or later the troops we leave will be involved in combat and take casualties.

Far better to do something different. Let's get down a book that has likely never been dusted off in the past six years. The book of diplomacy.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Rudy Giuliani's confidante and partner: a pedophile priest

Rudy Giuliani has long been accused of not having exactly the finest circle of friends. We all know by now about Bernard Kerik, the former police commissioner with ties to organized crime, about whom Giuliani was briefed in 2000 before he became police commissioner and decided to let it go. Kerik of course has since been convicted of corruption and is a major embarrassment to Rudy.

Then he hired Thomas Ravenel to run his South Carolina campaign, and was embarrassed when Ravenel was caught dealing cocaine.

But is there a limit to who Rudy would hire?

Apparently not. I mean, if anybody would be radioactive politically, you'd think it would be a child molester.

According to 2002 testimony before a Suffolk County (NY) Grand Jury investigating abuses by the Catholic Church, Monsignor Alan Placa is referred to in reports as 'Priest F' If we read the specific report on Priest F, we read

In Priest F’s first assignment, he appears to have made feeble attempts at abusing a boy who was an alter server. Once, when he was working at the rectory on a slow evening, the boy was in the office watching TV, Priest F came in and asked if he could join him. He pulled up a chair next to the boy and put his right hand on his thigh. Slowly his hand began to creep up towards the boy’s genital area. Alarmed, the boy covered his crotch. After Priest F’s efforts to push his arm away failed, Priest F gave up and left. The boy remembered that Priest F was very nervous. He never told anyone at the time because he didn’t think anyone would believe him.

The conduct repeated itself within a week, only this time, the boy crossed his legs as soon as Priest F pulled up his chair. Even so, Priest F tried to push his hand between the boy’s legs. Throughout both encounters, Priest F never said a word. Even after this second incident, the boy never told anyone. He was embarrassed and didn’t want any of his friends to think he was a homosexual. This victim came forward decades later, only after Priest F denied sexually abusing anyone in a local newspaper story about sexually abusive priests.

Later on in the same report we read:

Once, Priest F approached one of the boys behind the school stage. He grabbed his crotch. The boy reacted violently, pushing Priest F away and warning him never to touch him again.

At one point, two victims complained to the schools’ rector, a priest, about Priest F. The complaint resulted from one boy’s suspicions, later confirmed to be correct, that Priest F was abusing another younger boy. The pair thought a complaint by two of them would have to be believed. It wasn’t.

The tragic death of a victim’s father led, finally, to the end of Priest F’s sexual abuse of him. At the funeral home, Priest F approached the boy, moving close to him. As he moved his hand towards his genitals, the boy told Priest F, “Don’t ever fucking touch me again or I’ll kill you.” This event was witnessed by another boy who saw the abusive conduct by Priest F and heard the response to it.

We also read this:

Priest F was cautious, but relentless in his pursuit of victims. He fondled boys over their clothes, usually in his office. Always, his actions were hidden by a
poster, newspaper or a book.* He talked continuously as he fondled them. Everyone in the school knew to stay away from Priest F.
Once, Priest F approached one of the

The footnote is even more outrageous:

One of the victims remembers the first incident of abuse taking place when preparations were underway to attend a right-to-life march on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. The students were making banners with Priest F’s help. It was a banner that was used as the foil on this occasion.

Monsignor Placa is named in the Grand Jury report completed in 2003 as having both abused children himself and covered up abuse by other priests. Although the abuse happened long enough ago that the statute of limitations for criminal charges against Monsignor Placa had expired by that time it was fundamental in pursuing a suit against the Diocese of Rockville Center.

After the report was issued, Monsignor Placa was stripped of his authority and suspended from serving as a Catholic Priest. But who should show up to rescue him? None other than an old friend. An old friend whose first wedding he had been first man at, and then officiated at for his second wedding in 1984. An old friend named Rudy Giuliani.

Placa was hired in 2002 as a consultant by Giuliani Partners, a New York legal firm which is run by the former mayor. He remains on the payroll even today.

So if Rudy Giuliani is willing to hire a priest who has been disowned by the Catholic Church for child sexual abuse, then there are three questions we have to ask:

1. Is there anybody he wouldn't hire? He's already been willing to hire a mobster, a coke dealer and a child molester. Who does that leave? Osama bin Laden?

2. What kind of judgement does this show in a man who wants to be President? Even George W. Bush's defenders admit that his unyielding willingness to stand behind friends, everyone from Harriet Miers to Donald Rumsfeld in the face of stark evidence that they can't do the job, has resulted in some appallingly poor decisions. Wouldn't this kind of pattern suggest that Rudy could be more of the same?

3. We know that Rudy's own kids won't even talk to him because of how he treated their mother (who learned that he was planning to divorce her and marry his current wife via a televised news conference.) And now we see that he is willing to reward a man who hurt other people's kids. So if he becomes President, how much do you think he will care about what happens to your kids?

A President whose best friend is a child molester, and he rewards him for it with a job. I wonder, if Rudy is elected, do you think he will appoint Alan Placa as secretary of Children, Youth and Families?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Another day in the Bush administration-- we learn about another whistleblower who got the ax.

Doug Parker is not an ideologue. He was, however a competent administrator who began working for the United States when Gerald Ford was the President. He worked for 29 years for the U.S. Forest Service. By 2005 he was the pesticide coordinator and assistant director of forestry health for the agency's Southwestern region.

Parker took his job seriously. So he didn't consider it acceptable when he found that pesticides were being misused, often illegally in the National Forests. So he raised the issue with his supervisors. And they fired him for bringing it up.

Parker is now suing in court to get his job back.

In June, an in-house appeals board upheld his firing. So Doug Parker has realized that he won't get anywhere appealing within the administration, and he is now in court contending that his firing was illegal and had no other basis than his pointing out that the law was not being followed.

According to the lawsuit, Parker became the subject of hostile treatment by his supervisors after complaining about what he called a "systemic problem" when it came to proper pesticide use across several forests in New Mexico and Arizona.

Parker had accused some managers of not preparing environmental risk assessments and failing to get approval from agency officials who had the authority to make decisions about pesticides.

He was concerned that not following agency policies or laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act — which serves as the basis for federal management of public lands — could have consequences for public safety and the environment.

"Responsible management officials knew and were aware that Mr. Parker considered the manner in which pesticide coordination was being carried out by others to be ethically, legally and environmentally unsound," the lawsuit reads.

This story is only the latest in a long series of retaliatory moves taken by the Bush administration against whistle blowers. But let's be clear here-- the reason they've had so many problems with whistleblowers is because there have been so many fouls to blow the whistle on. In keeping with the Bush administration's philosophy of governance however, they haven't addressed the problems that cause whistleblowers to pop up by doing a better job of complying with the law, but instead they have tried to make examples of those who do (and in Parker's case, the objections were never even raised publically until this week) in order to rule by fear, threats and intimidation. Or sometimes, as we saw in the U.S. Attorney scandal, it is a matter of removing a professional public servant who is doing a competent job in a sensitive area, and replacing him or her with some kid whose primary job qualification is being a Republican.

If there was justice in the world, next year we'd have a Democratic President, Parker would get his job back and have his recommendations acted on immediately, and maybe even get a promotion (the position of immediate supervisor of his old position would be a good one for him to be in.)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

President blames Congress for bridge collapse, proposes corporate tax cuts as the cure.

It's hard to believe, but President Bush blamed Congress for the bridge collapse last week at the same time that he pushed for new corporate tax cuts.

President Bush said yesterday that he is considering a fresh plan to cut tax rates for U.S. corporations to make them more competitive around the world, an initiative that could further inflame a battle with the Democratic Congress over spending and taxes and help define the remainder of his tenure....

Bush also warned China not to start a trade war, blamed Congress for not doing more to shore up infrastructure such as the bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis last week, and pushed back against Democratic presidential candidates who are promising to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Yeah. OK. We clearly need a lot of money to pay for upgrading and maintaining our infrastructure, whether it is bridges or other elements (like the steam pipe that blasted a hole in Manhattan last week). How is a corporate tax cut going to do anything about that?

I might take him seriously about claiming that 1. it's up to Congress to come up with the money to fix it, 2. we need more tax cuts now, and 3. we have to hold the line on spending, if he wasn't going to change the dial again and ask for another hundreds of billions for Iraq next month.

This guy doesn't understand the meaning of chutzpah.

GOP has a good thing going in the Ames straw poll; Maybe Democrats should do something similar.

Not often that I approve of something that Republicans do, but I have to admit they have a good thing going with the upcoming Ames straw poll in Iowa.

With the primary season now compacted into less than a month (either that, or the actual Iowa caucus may come before Christmas this year) it is a fact that most Presidential candidates, especially those who lag in the polls but might have something useful to say, just won't have the time or resources to compete and get the necessary press coverage to make their case to the voters.

And one can argue that little is at stake in a voluntary (show up with an Iowa driver's license, claim to be a Republican, pay $35-- I guess that is to keep out the po' folks-- and vote) straw poll, but in fact it does provide an early test of the ability of a campaign to organize and turn out supporters in Iowa, a key to victory with its first-in-the-nation caucuses. More importantly, it will likely give some lesser known candidate a chance to jump up and seize the moment and muscle his (since the GOP primary field, as usual, is 100% white and male) way into contention.

Plenty will be at stake too. GOP candidates John McCain and Rudy Giuliani have both decided to skip the event, in effect conceding it to Mitt Romney. However this is more than as they would tell you, 'a strategic decision;' The underlying fact of the matter is that McCain and Giuliani don't have the organization in Iowa that Romney does, so if they did participate they'd embarassingly lose their first head to head contest; and if they don't build an organization in Iowa soon (maybe even by December if the caucuses move up) then they may well underperform then, and maybe lose to Romney when it is for real. Four or five months is a long time, but not that long.

Among other candidates, many of them have invested heavily in the straw poll. While Romney will win, how big he wins will be an early test of his strength. If he doesn't win by 20 or 30% over his nearest rivals with his main opponents for the nomination skipping the event it could be a sign that his campaign in Iowa isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson has said flatly that if he doesn't finish 'first or second' in the straw poll, he is done. Well, my prediction is that he won't, and he will be gone. Thompson had a chance to be a serious candidate had he run in, say, 1988 or 1996, but he waited to run until his moment had long since passed.

Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback, who have been hitting each other over the head competing for the same group of voters are also trying to finish second. They've pulled out all the stops too, even encouraging supporters of Giuliani and McCain to show up and vote for them. One of them will certainly finish ahead of the other, and will claim a victory (likely he will be the 'minor' candidate who springs into the discussion) while the other will probably discover that he is following the path into irrelevance that was already blazed by Tommy Thompson.

An intriguing question is how well Ron Paul does. Paul's supporters are few but are almost fanatical in their devotion to him. The straw poll will provide an early window on how much they will impact the GOP race. Some Ron Paul sites on the internet are already predicting that the straw poll will be stolen from him, so they plan to conduct an exit poll of participants. It could be fun to watch the fireworks on that one.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Bonds does deserve the record.

Like a lot of baseball fans, I think I've warmed just a bit to Barry Bonds' pursuit of baseball's all time home run record in the past few days. And like many of them, the catalyst was the intentionally cold, dispassionate face of Commissioner Bud Selig, sitting up in the luxury booth, almost glowering every time Bonds stepped to the plate. Yeah, I think that Barry got the record by juicing himself full of steroids, but if Selig isn't willing to step up and announce what Bonds' penalties will be, then he should quit trying to play to respond to criticism of his past failures in confronting steroid use and end up looking like that sour old butler from the movie, 'The Haunted Mansion'. Thankfully, Selig missed last night's game (because, as his office noted, he was preparing for a meeting with George Mitchell and the Steroids Committee,) and he had the class to call Bonds after the game and offer him his congratulations.

Let's also get another point straight-- steroids is now taken much more seriously as 'cheating' than it was just a few years ago when Bonds was apparently using them. In 1998, Mark McGwire was hailed as a 'hero' for breaking Roger Maris' record and he and the media brushed off allegations of steroid use. He was gushed over by that very same Bud Selig. When he retired five years ago he was still considered by most to be a sure-fire Hall of Famer.

Perceptions have changed since then. And Bonds has been part of the change. McGwire's record stood for only three years, before it was shattered by Bonds. But unlike McGwire, Bonds was surly, sometimes on bad terms with the press and besides that his name had come up in connection with a Federal investigation-- specifically that of BALCO, a San Francisco area lab that was accused of supplying steroids to a number of players for the Giants and Athletics, including Bonds. Bonds is rumored to have perjured himself in front of a federal grand jury investigating the BALCO case, so the possibility that he could be indicted on a felony charge and maybe even go to prison has loomed in the background (though luckily for him, one of the U.S. attorneys let go by Gonzalez was for northern California; though the political angle on it was that the catalyst for the firing was the investigation into corruption charges against Congressman John Doolittle (R-CA) the firing has also slowed down action on a number of other cases, most notably the case involving Bonds. The U.S. Senate two years ago began investigative hearings into steroid abuse in baseball, and McGwire, who was at that time still immensely popular, probably talked himself out of a shot at the Hall of Fame with his now infamous response to the Senate panel, 'I'm not here to talk about the past.' Why did he agree to testify then? So he could talk about the weather? And then McGwire's old 'bash brother' teammate in Oakland, Jose Canseco, published a book in which he described steroid use as rampant in baseball, pointing fingers at everyone from McGwire to George W. Bush (who was the owner of the Texas Rangers when Canseco played there and described a clubhouse practically swimming in steroids.)

So now it is being said of Bonds that he cheated his way to the record, and doesn't deserve it. Perhaps, but let's face it-- trying to get an edge, legally or not in baseball is as old as the game itself. Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry described in detail a few years ago how he doctored, scuffed and managed to spit on baseballs, in clear violation of the rules of the game. Pitcher Doc Ellis once took speed so he could throw faster, and whether he threw faster or not, he did end up throwing a no-hitter that day. Pitchers who use marijuana to help loosen up before a game have been too numerous to mention. Hall of Famer George Brett once had a home run disallowed for using too much pine tar on his bat; the call was later reversed by the commissioner's office, but one wonders if they'd have done the same if it was someone of a lesser stature than George Brett. Sammy Sosa, who gave McGwire a run for his money a few years ago and who has also been accused (without any real evidence) of using steroids, was caught using a doctored bat in a game three years ago. Remember that when Bonds is alleged to have used steroids, they were considered no higher a level of cheating than say, a scuffed ball or a corked bat, and if Canseco is to be believed then as many as half of all players on the field are using or have used steroids to 'improve' themselves. In such an environment, it's just as accurate to argue not that players who use performance-enhancing drugs have an advantage, but rather that players who don't are at a disadvantage.

One final point-- Bonds has always been a very good hitter. Taking steroids is a separate issue from that. I doubt if Arnold Schwarzeneggar could hit a home run, because hitting a home run takes a lot of concentration, good wrists, timing and other skills that have nothing to do with steroids. I'm not even sure that strength is all that high on the list-- I've seen a woman hit a softball hard enough that it was way out of the field, and would probably have left a major league park. The truth is that hitting is both an art and a science, and the assumption that one can just bulk up and suddenly home runs will come is just plain untrue.

Selig is also partly to blame. Some years ago, in the face of declining ticket sales, some changes were made to the game to juice up the offenses. Shorter fences, livelier balls, so much that even journeyman infielders can often hit twenty home runs in a season (what used to be considered a magic mark for power hitters.) So is it any wonder that the best home run hitters over the past decade have almost routinely rocketed past numbers that had stood unchallenged for decades?

So, while I agree that he did most likely get there while enjoying the dubious benefit of steroids, Barry Bonds does deserve the record. No asterisk.

And in other news-- Alex Rodriguez, who has never been accused of using steroids and who could very well have another decade left to play, hit number 500 the other night....

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Death of an editor.

There are some stories that are important, but I'd probably not comment on them for the matter of more pressing news, if I didn't think I had to comment on them.

But when people are shot dead for what they have written, it is time to spread what they have written far and wide.

Last Thursday, journalist Chauncey Bailey was murdered by a gunman in Oakland in what police are calling 'an assassination.' A 19-year old man was later arrested for Bailey's murder.

The suspect is a member of the black muslim community in Oakland.

A couple of years ago, Bailey, a top notch investigative reporter began investigating a series of crimes that occurred at local liquor stores, in which groups of well-dressed young men did their best Carrie Nation imitation and went into liquor stores and destroyed bottles of booze. Alcohol has certainly been the cause of a great deal of misery in Oakland, as it has been everywhere else, but of course it is specifically protected by the 21st amendment to the Constitution (the only drug to be so protected.) But what Bailey was investigating was a crime, pure and simple. It led him to Oakland's black muslim community (no surprise there). Bailey discovered that it is run by one man, Yusuf Bey and that he runs it from a bakery. Still not much of a surprise as that information was widely known before Bailey's articles came out.

But then he reached higher, and dicsovered that Bey had cultivated a culture based on violence (see for example Bailey's own work, The sinister side of Yusuf Bey's empire) and that he had reached up into the ears of state and local government officials. This clearly was a crime, and Bailey reported it. He even named names.

And that made Bailey a marked man. There are those who would prefer that journalists not write about them. A prime example is the zetas, who have already killed a number of Mexican journalists and even forced entire newspapers to shut down for daring to print their names. So Bailey met this same fate last Thursday, being cut down on his way to work. Police later arrested a 19 year old follower of Bey and charged him with the murder.

And that is why I have linked to one of Bailey's articles in the post. The best way to deter future such murders is to give it more press play than his work would have otherwise gotten.

Utah mine disaster

What do the Sago and the Alma #1 mine disasters last year in West Virginia, and the Crandell Canyon mine disaster now unfolding in Utah have in common?

The short answer is that all three occurred at non-union mines.

The Crandell Canyon disaster, in which we can and should hope and pray for the lives of six coal miners who remain trapped by a massive cave-in and unaccounted for, occurred in a mine in which the method of mining-- in effect carving out a checkerboard pattern of chambers which are then intentionally caved in after they are worked, is notoriously very dangerous (though considered a 'cash cow' for the company-- it is much cheaper than having to build fixed-chamber mines.) It is very likely during one of these intentional small scale cave-ins that the much larger one occurred. However, even if the miners had a union, in a so-called 'right-to-work' state like Utah, the rules are tilted in favor of the mine operators. The idea that the Federal Government will force the company to comply with workplace safety regulations is laughable at best, especially with the current administration; the Crandell Canyon mine, like the others I mentioned had numerous violations of basic workplace safety rules, and they received little or virtually no punishment for them. Just last month the operators of the Crandell Canyon Mine, after being found to not have done anything about a previous violation, did in fact face the wrath of the Bush administration. They had to pay a $60 fine.

Sixty dollars. That's all, for a repeat violation. In order for a fine to be effective, it has to be for a large enough amount that the violators will find it worthwhile to fix the problem, instead of just including the occasional token fines as part of 'the cost of doing business.'

So if the Federal Government won't do much about mine safety, then who will?

Simple. A union. And I will repost something that I blogged both about the post regarding the aftermath of the Sago mine and the Alma #1 mine.

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

The case I alluded to in Pennsylvania was that of the Somerset mine disaster, which occurred in a union mine. Not only is it true that in contrast to the other three we are discussing, that disaster occured because of a poor map showing the location of an underground chamber of water rather than any safety problem with the mine itself, but the Pennsylvania mine had had a much better safety record than any of the other three.

The best friend that a working man or woman has while ina tight spot is a strong union.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

AMTRAK should figure out a policy for dealing with drunken passengers before they make more of them.

In order to convince more people to ride the train, AMTRAK is now going to give away up to $100 in free alcoholic beverages per passenger to passengers who are members of its guest rewards program (regular AMTRAK travellers.)

Of course they have a right to give away anything they want to in a promo, but the choice of alcohol is an astoundingly poor choice for AMTRAK right now, and a bitter irony for Roosevelt Sims, a diabetic man who was kicked off of an AMTRAK train out in the middle of the Coconino National Forest, miles from civilization just over a month ago. Sims' family claim that he was going into diabetic shock even as he was being kicked off the train; AMTRAK says that he was intoxicated. Luckily, after state and local authorities spent thousands of taxpayer dollars searching for Sims, he was found four days later, though in pretty bad shape, dehydrated and confused as to where he was. Luckily it was summer and he didn't freeze to death. It's a good bet that if it had been during the winter, they'd have had to carry him out in a body bag.

Since this new policy is being announced only a month later, I doubt if AMTRAK has had time to revise their old policy. So the question has to be asked, what if one of their passengers has too much booze?

Do they kick them off in the middle of the Sonora desert next time? How about the Okeefenokee swamp? What about a bare plain in Montana when the temperature is about forty below? The promo is after all scheduled to run between November and January. And don't say they wouldn't do it, because as they proved with Roosevelt Sims, safeguarding the lives of their passengers is not much of a priority.

And until it is, and they have a policy that safeguards the lives of passengers, even drunk passengers, they have no business giving anybody alcohol.
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