Monday, August 30, 2010

It's witch hunt season

New York Times

The last time a Democrat sat in the White House, he faced a nonstop witch hunt by his political opponents. Prominent figures on the right accused Bill and Hillary Clinton of everything from drug smuggling to murder. And once Republicans took control of Congress, they subjected the Clinton administration to unrelenting harassment — at one point taking 140 hours of sworn testimony over accusations that the White House had misused its Christmas card list.

Now it’s happening again — except that this time it’s even worse. Let’s turn the floor over to Rush Limbaugh: “Imam Hussein Obama,” he recently declared, is “probably the best anti-American president we’ve ever had.”

To get a sense of how much it matters when people like Mr. Limbaugh talk like this, bear in mind that he’s an utterly mainstream figure within the Republican Party; bear in mind, too, that unless something changes the political dynamics, Republicans will soon control at least one house of Congress. This is going to be very, very ugly.

So where is this rage coming from? Why is it flourishing? What will it do to America?

Anyone who remembered the 1990s could have predicted something like the current political craziness. What we learned from the Clinton years is that a significant number of Americans just don’t consider government by liberals — even very moderate liberals — legitimate. Mr. Obama’s election would have enraged those people even if he were white. Of course, the fact that he isn’t, and has an alien-sounding name, adds to the rage.

By the way, I’m not talking about the rage of the excluded and the dispossessed: Tea Partiers are relatively affluent, and nobody is angrier these days than the very, very rich. Wall Street has turned on Mr. Obama with a vengeance: last month Steve Schwarzman, the billionaire chairman of the Blackstone Group, the private equity giant, compared proposals to end tax loopholes for hedge fund managers with the Nazi invasion of Poland.

And powerful forces are promoting and exploiting this rage. Jane Mayer’s new article in The New Yorker about the superrich Koch brothers and their war against Mr. Obama has generated much-justified attention, but as Ms. Mayer herself points out, only the scale of their effort is new: billionaires like Richard Mellon Scaife waged a similar war against Bill Clinton.

Meanwhile, the right-wing media are replaying their greatest hits. In the 1990s, Mr. Limbaugh used innuendo to feed anti-Clinton mythology, notably the insinuation that Hillary Clinton was complicit in the death of Vince Foster. Now, as we’ve just seen, he’s doing his best to insinuate that Mr. Obama is a Muslim. Again, though, there’s an extra level of craziness this time around: Mr. Limbaugh is the same as he always was, but now seems tame compared with Glenn Beck.

And where, in all of this, are the responsible Republicans, leaders who will stand up and say that some partisans are going too far? Nowhere to be found.

To take a prime example: the hysteria over the proposed Islamic center in lower Manhattan almost makes one long for the days when former President George W. Bush tried to soothe religious hatred, declaring Islam a religion of peace. There were good reasons for his position: there are a billion Muslims in the world, and America can’t afford to make all of them its enemies.

But here’s the thing: Mr. Bush is still around, as are many of his former officials. Where are the statements, from the former president or those in his inner circle, preaching tolerance and denouncing anti-Islam hysteria? On this issue, as on many others, the G.O.P. establishment is offering a nearly uniform profile in cowardice.

So what will happen if, as expected, Republicans win control of the House? We already know part of the answer: Politico reports that they’re gearing up for a repeat performance of the 1990s, with a “wave of committee investigations” — several of them over supposed scandals that we already know are completely phony. We can expect the G.O.P. to play chicken over the federal budget, too; I’d put even odds on a 1995-type government shutdown sometime over the next couple of years.

It will be an ugly scene, and it will be dangerous, too. The 1990s were a time of peace and prosperity; this is a time of neither. In particular, we’re still suffering the after-effects of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, and we can’t afford to have a federal government paralyzed by an opposition with no interest in helping the president govern. But that’s what we’re likely to get.

If I were President Obama, I’d be doing all I could to head off this prospect, offering some major new initiatives on the economic front in particular, if only to shake up the political dynamic. But my guess is that the president will continue to play it safe, all the way into catastrophe.

Friday, August 27, 2010

This is not a recovery

New York Times

What will Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, say in his big speech Friday in Jackson Hole, Wyo.? Will he hint at new steps to boost the economy? Stay tuned.

But we can safely predict what he and other officials will say about where we are right now: that the economy is continuing to recover, albeit more slowly than they would like. Unfortunately, that’s not true: this isn’t a recovery, in any sense that matters. And policy makers should be doing everything they can to change that fact.

The small sliver of truth in claims of continuing recovery is the fact that G.D.P. is still rising: we’re not in a classic recession, in which everything goes down. But so what?

The important question is whether growth is fast enough to bring down sky-high unemployment. We need about 2.5 percent growth just to keep unemployment from rising, and much faster growth to bring it significantly down. Yet growth is currently running somewhere between 1 and 2 percent, with a good chance that it will slow even further in the months ahead. Will the economy actually enter a double dip, with G.D.P. shrinking? Who cares? If unemployment rises for the rest of this year, which seems likely, it won’t matter whether the G.D.P. numbers are slightly positive or slightly negative.

All of this is obvious. Yet policy makers are in denial.

After its last monetary policy meeting, the Fed released a statement declaring that it “anticipates a gradual return to higher levels of resource utilization” — Fedspeak for falling unemployment. Nothing in the data supports that kind of optimism. Meanwhile, Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, says that “we’re on the road to recovery.” No, we aren’t.

Why are people who know better sugar-coating economic reality? The answer, I’m sorry to say, is that it’s all about evading responsibility.

In the case of the Fed, admitting that the economy isn’t recovering would put the institution under pressure to do more. And so far, at least, the Fed seems more afraid of the possible loss of face if it tries to help the economy and fails than it is of the costs to the American people if it does nothing, and settles for a recovery that isn’t.

In the case of the Obama administration, officials seem loath to admit that the original stimulus was too small. True, it was enough to limit the depth of the slump — a recent analysis by the Congressional Budget Office says unemployment would probably be well into double digits now without the stimulus — but it wasn’t big enough to bring unemployment down significantly.

Now, it’s arguable that even in early 2009, when President Obama was at the peak of his popularity, he couldn’t have gotten a bigger plan through the Senate. And he certainly couldn’t pass a supplemental stimulus now. So officials could, with considerable justification, place the onus for the non-recovery on Republican obstructionism. But they’ve chosen, instead, to draw smiley faces on a grim picture, convincing nobody. And the likely result in November — big gains for the obstructionists — will paralyze policy for years to come.

So what should officials be doing, aside from telling the truth about the economy?

The Fed has a number of options. It can buy more long-term and private debt; it can push down long-term interest rates by announcing its intention to keep short-term rates low; it can raise its medium-term target for inflation, making it less attractive for businesses to simply sit on their cash. Nobody can be sure how well these measures would work, but it’s better to try something that might not work than to make excuses while workers suffer.

The administration has less freedom of action, since it can’t get legislation past the Republican blockade. But it still has options. It can revamp its deeply unsuccessful attempt to aid troubled homeowners. It can use Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored lenders, to engineer mortgage refinancing that puts money in the hands of American families — yes, Republicans will howl, but they’re doing that anyway. It can finally get serious about confronting China over its currency manipulation: how many times do the Chinese have to promise to change their policies, then renege, before the administration decides that it’s time to act?

Which of these options should policy makers pursue? If I had my way, all of them.

I know what some players both at the Fed and in the administration will say: they’ll warn about the risks of
doing anything unconventional. But we’ve already seen the consequences of playing it safe, and waiting for recovery to happen all by itself: it’s landed us in what looks increasingly like a permanent state of stagnation and high unemployment. It’s time to admit that what we have now isn’t a recovery, and do whatever we can to change that situation.

FP morning brief 8/27

Carter returns from Pyongyang, Kim to meet Hu

Today: Former President Jimmy Cater is leaving North Korea today along with freed American Aijalon Gomes. Gomes had been sentenced in April to eight years of hard labor for entering North Korea illegally.
Carter arrived in Pyongyang on Wednesday on a private diplomatic mission at the invitation of the North Korean government. It was suspected that North Korea would use the trip to push for an easing of U.S. sanctions, but it does not appear that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il met personally with Carter, as he did with former President Bill Clinton during a similar trip last year.
Instead, Kim traveled by train to China on Wednesday night and will reportedly meet with President Hu Jintao of China today. Kim is reportedly traveling with his 27-year-old son Kim Jong Un, who is believed to be his father's chosen successor. Kim may be seeking the support of North Korea's largest ally for the succession. He is also likely seeking aid Chinese aid in response to chronic food shortages.
Afghanistan: Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that the U.S. timetable for troop withdrawal has boosted the morale of the Taliban.

  • The United Nations says that more than a million new people have been displaced by Pakistan's floods since Wednesday.
  • Burma's ruling junta has reportedly retired more than a dozen senior military officers ahead of upcoming elections.
  • Japan opened up its execution chambers to journalists in order to spur debate on capital punishment.
Middle East
-By Joshua Keating


McClatchy Washington report 8/27

  • The U.S. combat mission in Iraq officially comes to an end Tuesday, 2,722 days after American-led troops stormed across the border from Kuwait. The remaining 49,000 U.S. troops are supposed to depart by the end of next year.
  • More than a quarter of the $20 billion in Housing and Urban Development relief funds that were earmarked for Gulf Coast states after Hurricane Katrina remains unspent five years after the storm, a fact noticed by at least one congressional leader who's eager to spend it elsewhere.
  • The FAA's proposed $24.2 million civil penalty is related to the April 2008 grounding of about 300 American planes, a move that led to 3,000 canceled flights in one week. The FAA said it determined that 286 of American's MD-80s flew a combined 14,278 passenger flights while not in compliance with an airworthiness directive.
  • In a new and more lenient policy, the head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has instructed the agency's legal office to stop the deportation proceedings of foreign nationals who may now be eligible for a green card. The decision primarily affects immigrants ordered deported who have a relative or spouse who is a U.S. citizen.
  • Two days after he lost the Republican nomination for governor, Florida Attorney General McCollum still refuses to support winner Rick Scott, and continues to raise questions about his former rival's character. A Scott spokeswoman called McCollum a "sore loser."
  • The Division of Elections isn't saying how many of the ballots left to count are for the closely contested Republican Senate primary, where insurgent Joe Miller is leading incumbent U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski by 1,668 votes. But three times more Republican than Democratic ballots were cast on Election Day in the Senate race.
  • The University of North Carolina's investigation into possible improprieties in its football program took another serious turn Thursday night with the announcement of possible academic misconduct. The allegations involve a tutor who formerly was employed by Tar Heel football coach Butch Davis.
  • Crystal Gail Mangum, the discredited accuser in the Duke lacross case, is in police custody under $150,000 bond after court officials accused her of violating a condition of a previous pre-trial release agreement.
  • Hours after it told a court that it was not in possession of the contract for a controversial speech Sarah Palin gave in June, California State University-Stanislaus released the contract. There were no surprises — Palin's $75,000 fee was already known — but the quick reversal underscored the controversy over the speech.
  • Yu Jie has picked a fight with the Communist Party of China, and if state security forces haul him away in the dark of night, there will be no one to stop them. It's a risk Yu took knowingly when he wrote a book published this month that slammed the country's prime minister as an "actor" shilling for an authoritarian government.
  • Carol Rosenberg, The Miami Herald reporter banned by the Pentagon earlier this year from covering military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been awarded the Society of Professional Journalists' First Amendment Award for her efforts to cover the detention center there, despite "consistent hostility in covering her beat."
  • Make no mistake, the infamous rolling "California stop" on right turns is still illegal, and arguably more dangerous than ever. But a bill on the Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk would cut the cost of turning right on red without coming to a complete stop.

Native Americans in Arizona Vow to Deport All Non-Native Americans

In a logical turnabout is fair play, the original owners decide to evict the unwelcome squatters.  Click the link below for the whole story:

Native Americans in Arizona Vow to Deport All Non-Native Americans

Monday, August 23, 2010

Council attorney was out of line

Elizabeth Scarborough

Thanks to The Tribune for including online a copy of South Bend Common Council attorney Kathy Cekanski-Farrand's legal questions about Bill 30-10. It was interesting to get an inside look at the council's deliberations.

If she were writing to advise against accepting 30-10, as it appears she was, I would expect to see some legal arguments against the amendment to the Human Rights Ordinance. Instead, what I see are many irrelevant issues being raised. Some questions are about the use of the title “employment fairness” when the law actually addresses discrimination.

There is nitpicking about whether “in employment” means the same as “in the matter of employment.” It seems the document wasn't a legal analysis, but an attempt to bring up as many issues as possible to delay and ultimately defeat the legislation. She even brought up bathroom behaviors, a favorite diversionary topic of those opposed.

I am a Mishawaka resident, but I have LGBT friends in South Bend and I do much of my business there. Further, I firmly believe that discrimination affects us all. As a psychologist, I know that prejudice has a negative effect on those who practice it as well as those on the receiving end.

Now I'm wondering: Does the council attorney have a vote on the Common Council? Because she surely appears to be attempting to cast one.

from Voice of the People
South Bend Tribune

Sunday, August 22, 2010

On Homeland Security, Or, We Visit A Terrorist Gathering Place

They better not build that mosque down by Ground Zero, we’re being told, not just because it’s insensitive, but because we have no idea what they’ll be up to down there.

I mean, where did the money come from?

Who does this Imam hang out with, anyway?

And, at a time when our Nation faces more threats than ever, why would we let these Muslim madmen situate their “terror command posts” anywhere?

Well, I don’t know about all of that...but I do know a place where lots of these Islamic terrorists go to obtain the equipment and supplies they need to support their particular craft, and I decided to make a bit of an undercover visit to the spot, so that I might “observe and report” on what goes on at this specific location.

So put on your dark glasses...and let’s go see what we can find out.

I can’t give away too many details, for security reasons, but I can tell you that this particular distribution center is located about three miles from the Boeing Company’s Renton, Washington, manufacturing site. (The assembly lines for the 737 family of aircraft and the US Navy’s P-8A Poseidon antisubmarine patrol aircraft are all located on the property.)

Off to the southwest of the Boeing plant are dozens of nondescript commercial buildings, all one or two stories tall—including some that store, produce, or process components and subassemblies that will eventually make their way over to that Boeing plant.

We approach the unmarked building that interests us from the west, and even as we enter the parking lot we can see the terrorists gathering and going up the ramp to get inside—and it’s already clear that one of the warnings I was given has already come to pass: they’re operating under deep cover.

I didn’t let their cover fool me, though: it only takes a quick glance to know these are hardened veterans of jihad, and before I went in, I made sure I had taken every precaution.

You can see terrorists coming out of the building with large sacks of what I can only assume must be ammonium nitrate; to protect their cover they’re carrying the bags in what look like ordinary shopping carts.

I could see that everyone who enters grabbed one of these carts first, presumably as a signal to the guards (who are hidden from view as I enter) that they belong there; I grab one of them as well and pass through the portals to the inner sanctum.

Once inside I can see that there’s no further pretense of trying to hide their presence; terrorists are everywhere, in costume, wandering about freely...and for the moment, at least, they seem unperturbed by my presence.

The effort to maintain a cover story, however, even continues inside, as terrorist “sleeper cells” group up in what look like ordinary families, with a male and female, often accompanied by “terror children” and the occasional older terrorist “mentor”, who were apparently disguised to look like grandparents.

As I went inside the gathering of terrorist supplies continued, even in my presence—and it was amazing to see how effectively even ordinary looking objects could be “reinvented” as tools of terror.

At least 1/3 of the facility is devoted to devices that appear to resemble ordinary produce but have obviously been repurposed for terrorist purposes; in that area I saw terror tomatoes, terror shallots, and even terrorist-enhanced pineapples openly on display...and the costumed devils who had come to this location were grabbing them up as if they were...well, pineapples.

“Terror Tea” is evidently required if you hope to overthrow the infidels, and at least 20 different varieties of what must have been explosive materials (some of it was actually described as “gunpowder tea”) were on display, some in tiny bags small enough to smuggle on aircraft; other “bulk” packages were as large as 400 grams.

For those who seek to formulate their own materials, there is an entire “island” in the center of the store covered with bags of various powders that can be mixed together to achieve various effects; to maintain cover these were also innocently labeled as though they were exotic spices, unknown on this continent. I saw “turmeric”, “fenugreek”, and “cardamom” among the nonsense names that are obviously being used to throw off the English speaker.

They had strange fuels available as well, including “cooking” oil that they claimed was made from the seeds of grapes and some sort of what I assume was liquid explosive that was labeled “ghee”.

All sorts of “canned goods” and bizarre objects in jars were available, obviously intended to allow terrorists to infiltrate decent American homes and plant “booby traps”...but just as Japanese clothing designers seem to have trouble getting the English just right, there were subtle differences that can be observed by a real American.

For example, the word “ZerGüt”, which would never be used on an American product, appears on many of the jars (I couldn’t confirm this on the scene, for reasons of personal safety, but I assume ZerGüt means “Die, haters of Islam!” in Arabic).

Those large bags: they were stacked around the building, and as I approached some of them I saw even more patently ridiculous English labels, clearly intended to throw off Customs and Border Protection inspectors, such as “Brown Jasmine Rice” and “Red Cargo Rice”...and based on how much inventory they had on hand, there’s no doubt that the ruse was working.

The most insidious part of the story I saved for last: the use of cookies and candies as a mechanism for distributing certain unknown pastes that were concealed inside the cookies and candies, and the fact that this type of weapon is especially targeted toward American children.

You could see it from 50 feet away, as the “children” of the sleeper cells would gather around the cases of weapons, often choosing the most brightly colored packaging in what must have been a tactical decision to use that packaging to attract other children later when the cookies are handed out to innocent victims.

Mind control pastes?
Novel explosives?
A means to bankrupt us by spreading diabetes?

It’s impossible to say, but whatever their plot is, it must be diabolical to use such weapons as these.

In an effort to determine exactly what was going on, I obtained several of these packages of weapons. Disassembly and sampling have not enabled me to fully discern exactly what properties these unknown pastes might exhibit, but I do know that they contain high levels of sugar, which could be helpful if you’re looking to make “formed explosives”.

Due to the variety of hues encountered when examining the pastes, I assume there is some sort of color code that I have not yet figured out.

Obviously, I’ll continue to sample the various packages obtained until the scientific data within is more fully revealed.

Despite the fact that I was not dressed as the others in attendance were, I was moved through the money-changing process efficiently, in English (that’s how good they are...), and I was able to return to my vehicle and leave the area without being tailed.

An analysis for active and passive sensing and sending devices (on my vehicle and among the objects obtained) seems to offer no new data compared to a baseline analysis I conducted before visiting this site, so I’m fairly confident I escaped without the potential for future incident...which means the biggest issue remaining is probably assuring the safe disposal of the samples that were collected; as we’ve noted, that process is already underway.

So what did we learn?

We now know that an active distribution network exists to put various booby-trap weapons and other devices in the hands of terrorists—and we know that this activity is occurring within just a few miles of a commercial aircraft assembly facility that also does work for the militaries of this Nation and several others.

The devices are astounding in their similarity to actual items that might be seen in American households...and the terrorists are so good at maintaining cover that, in my presence, they kept themselves in the characters they were taught by their handlers, even to the point of the “children” keeping up the appearance of sticking with their “parents”.

But the most important thing we learned is that we can not take any chances on allowing these terrorists to gain any more footholds in our Homeland.

We don’t know what their diabolical plan is, but we have to act now to stop any further command centers from coming on-line—and most importantly of all, we have to make sure that these terrorists don’t get a chance to take their sleeper cells to a “Community Center” anywhere near Ground Zero, where they might try to play Terror Basketball or cook up “recipes” in a Terror Kitchen...and if we have to throw out the Constitution to make that happen, well, what’s more important, being free, or being safe from being free?

Friday, August 20, 2010

IN State Education Dept. needs to address its own deficiencies

Don Wheeler

I was heartened to read the editorial of The Tribune July 25, which declared "Early start is key to children's school success." Two years ago, as a candidate for South Bend Community School Corp. Board of Trustees, conversations with neighbors made it clear to me that almost no one knew that kindergarten is optional in Indiana. It was only a slightly smaller group that was aware the state didn't fully fund all-day classes for kindergartners.

Here's how my wife and I found out. After narrowing our options for our daughter's kindergarten year, we met with the Hay Primary Center principal. We wanted our daughter to be in a full-day class and asked him about the possibility.

He smiled a bit wistfully and said, "Any time I'm having a conversation like this with both a mother and father, I can be sure their child will not be in a full-day class." That's because full-day classes were either at magnet schools, which Hay was not, or were U.S. government-funded Title I programs. The principal had correctly assessed that our daughter was not a Title 1 student. Undaunted, we enrolled her there in afternoon-only kindergarten, and have not regretted it ever.

Thanks to the decision by the SBCSC board, principals won't have to say that anymore. But it should have been the state's responsibility to have made that happen. Other school systems unwilling or unable to do what SBCSC did still are still shortchanging their kindergartners.

The editors correctly point out that students can enter formal education as late as age 7 in Indiana. Our daughter turned 7 in March and was evaluated as having the reading skills of a beginning fifth-grader. She was one of four children in her 20-student first grade class judged to have achieved that level of competency. What's the likely outcome for kids just entering our school system at that age?

The National Institute of Early Education Research (of Rutgers University) exists to track what works and doesn't work in the effort to get our children off to good starts. Many states have had available state-sponsored preschool programs for quite some time — some over 10 years. NIEER's research shows that — particularly for children from challenging situations — early structure and nourishment of their innate curiosity pays big dividends.

Our child has many advantages. One of them was two years of private pre-school taught by professionals. Am I completely nuts to think that all kids should have access to resources like that?

Sadly, what I see from our state government is posturing and fingerpointing. In some ways this isn't new — I've seen little progress on this front in my 20 years as a resident. On the other hand, people who haven't done anything to improve conditions, yet who are imposing themselves as "the solution," strike me as throwing an anchor to a drowning person.

We have plenty of our own work to do locally. There's no doubt of that. Were we to have a real partner at the state level, they might realize the same holds true for them.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


On Saving Us From The Immoral, Or “Ready, Fire…Aim!”

It was about a week ago that we saw the ruling throwing out California’s Prop 8; that decision has now been appealed, and we will see, at some point in the future, how the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals handles the matter.

A couple of days later, I had a story up that walked through the ruling, describing the tactics used by the Prop 8 proponents, which, in the opinion of the Judge who looked at the evidence, were basically to try to scare Californians into thinking that gay people, once they’re able to get gay married, will somehow now be free to evangelize your kids and make them gay, too.

In the course of answering comments on the several sites where the story is up, I noticed that there were those who felt the Bible should be guiding our thinking here…that if it did, we would be better off than where we are today, with all those immoral gay people running around free to do all those immoral gay things.

This led me to an obvious question: are those who have been using the Bible as a sort of “divining rod” to figure out who is immoral and who is not…actually any good at it?

There are those who seem surprised that a defective rattrap like the Mulford law could be endorsed by the legislature of a supposedly progressive, enlightened state. But these same people were surprised when [California’s] Proposition 14, which reopened the door to racial discrimination, was endorsed by the electorate last November by a margin of nearly 2 to 1.

--From The Nonstudent Left, by Hunter S. Thompson, published in “The Nation”, September 27, 1965 (links were added for this story)

So as I said above, there are lots of folks who are just absolutely convinced that the Bible can effectively help us figure out who is being moral and who is being immoral; others are convinced that, with the proper application of the “Judeo-Christian values” that form the basis of our system of Government, we can protect ourselves from the immorality that constantly threatens out American Way Of Life.

Let’s see how that’s been working out.

For about 400 years Christians tried, and tried again, to save Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the immoral Muslims; we know those efforts as the Crusades. In the effort to save the world from that immorality thousands upon thousands of Christians and Muslims were killed in war, thousands more Jews were killed who just kind of happened to turn up along the way, and in 1212, thousands of children either did or did not participate in another Crusade that led virtually all of them into either death or slavery.

Still another Crusade ended the immorality of rivals competing for Venice’s monopoly control over the marketing of Byzantine trade goods. (That took two years, from 1202 to 1204 and led to the sacking of Constantinople).

Here’s what happened with yet another effort to protect Europe from the immoral:

When national feeling and the adoption of religious ideas later associated with the Protestants made Bohemia a threat to European stability, at least in the eyes of the Holy Roman Empire and the pope, a Crusade was declared against Hussites, who were named for John Hus, their first leader. Some decried this as a false Crusade, saying that greed was being sanctified by ecclesiastical banners. But most of Europe endorsed the brutal warfare and the reimposition of Catholicism. This was, in their eyes, a Crusade for Christ’s church and people, as valid as any of the expeditions to the Holy Land.

It turns out that believing in “ecclesiastical poverty” was another one of those immoral things that had to be stamped out to protect the rest of us…and that’s why certain French Christians were subjected to the Inquisition, starting in the 1300s.

Being a Jew could be immoral, too, which is why officials of the Spanish Inquisition killed somewhere between 10,000 and 600,000 of those who refused to convert to Christianity as the Moors were being driven out of Spain.

Ever heard of Galileo? He became famous because he built telescopes that could prove that the Earth orbits the Sun…which was immoral because it was heretical (which essentially means the Church, who told everyone else what the Bible really means, did not agree). He did not have a fork shoved through his chest and jaw to shut him up before he was burned at the stake for those beliefs because he had friends in high places who could protect him.

Ever heard of Father Giordano Bruno? He believed the same things, he had no friends in high places…and he did get the Heretic's Fork, after which he was burned at the stake to protect the public from his particular brand of immorality.

Sorcery was immoral from the beginning for Church theologians, but magic was OK. Believing in witchcraft was immoral, before 1400, and those who believed in witches, the Bible told us, were heretics who needed to be punished for the protection of the rest of us…but by 1487, when the Malleus maleficarum was published by the Catholic Church, practicing the witchcraft which recently didn’t even exist was now considered idolatry and apostasy, punishable under law…and all that is a long way of saying that thousands and thousands and thousands of “witches” were killed, on orders of the Church and local authorities, partially to try and stop the bubonic plague, which, as the Bible taught us, was being caused by witchcraft…which only recently, the Bible taught us, didn’t even exist.

Do you know what a Bruloir might be?

It’s an oven that is specially designed to cook the living person inside in the most painful way possible (you put them in a cold oven, then heat it up)…and it really gained popularity as a moral means of killing those plague-promoting witches in the second half of the 16th Century.

I could go on and on and on…but let’s have a look at where we’ve been so far, and see what we can learn:

If you believed that the Earth orbits the Sun, and you taught that to others, you were immoral, a heretic, and a menace to society, and had to be exterminated for the good of the rest of us.

If you believed that being Islamic and living in Jerusalem was no big deal…you were immoral, a heretic, and a menace to society, and for hundreds of years entire Christian armies were going to try to exterminate you for the good of the rest of us.

Immoral, at least once.

Immoral, at least twice.

Exterminations all around, please.

When the witches caused crop failures, or the plague, or engaged in their orgiastic behavior, we were darn lucky to have the Bruloir available for the protection of our collective morals…eh?

Even to this very day, theologians warn us to beware of rock ‘n’ roll, I kid you not, because “these musicians have been primarily responsible for the dramatic rise in Satanic practices among young people today.”

And now it’s the damn homos, wanting to destroy our American Judeo-Christian Bible Law And Morality with their efforts to get fag married and turn our babies into lesbian cannibals…even though Pastor Fred Phelps very clearly tells us that God hates Fags….which they somehow can’t seem to understand, which is why we have to pass laws to try and protect our Judeo-Christian values.

Now I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade here, and I know this is a great campaign issue for Republicans, but if you’re standing in front of the “Protecting Morality Scoreboard”, and the score reads, say, 0-11, and you’re the 11, and every time you’ve screwed it up so far piles of bodies end up strewn all over the place…and now you’re here to tell us that God and the Bible want to shut down the same-sex weddings because you just absolutely know that they’re a moral threat to society…why, exactly, are we supposed to believe you have any idea what you’re talking about?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On Online Brainstorming, Or, "Hey, Unions...Wanna Grow?"

Sometimes stories happen because of planning; other times serendipity intervenes, which is how we got to the conversation we’ll be having today.

In an exchange of comments on the Blue Hampshire site, I proposed an idea that could be of real value to unions, workers...and surprisingly, employers.

If things worked out correctly, not only would lots of people feel a real desire to have unions represent them, but employers would potentially be coming to unions looking to forge relationships, and, just to make it better, this plan bypasses virtually all of the tools and techniques employers use to shut out union organizers.

Since I just thought this up myself, I’m really not sure exactly how practical the whole thing is, and the last part of the discussion today will be provided by you, as I ask you to sound off on whether this plan could work, and if so, how it could be made better.

It’s a new let’s all put our heads together and rebuild the labor movement, shall we?

Credit Where Credit Is Due Dept.: We’re having this conversation today because of a back and forth between StratfordDem and myself over at Blue Hampshire, as I mentioned above, and the ideas that you’ll hear here are hardly my own—in fact, they’ve been part and parcel of how unions have worked for as long as there have been unions.

My proposal, however, takes an old idea, adds a twist, and tries to develop it to a whole new market, in a place where unions have been disadvantaged for a long time: among small businesses.

Before we move forward with the actual proposal, let’s do a bit of “stage setting”:

We are forever being told that the vast majority of jobs being created in the US economy are jobs created by small businesses. Unfortunately for unions, those small businesses don’t seem to be fertile grounds for organizing.

There are a variety of “structural” barriers that have been put in place over the years to make union organizing harder (and it’s even worse outside the US); one example would be the “right-to-work” laws that exist in more than twenty US states.

On the other side, there are industries that seem to likely targets for organizing, including those nursing facilities providing the kind of “hands-on” care that is often performed by medical assistants...who, quite frankly, would be awfully hard to “outsource”.

In normal economic times, it’s hard to keep these places staffed, particularly when there are either short shifts to be filled or people calling in sick, and that’s why there are “staffing agencies” who provide workers to fill in the gap.

There’s a catch: “agency” help is very expensive—and that often forces facilities to choose between agency help or “mandatory overtime”, which is also an expensive option. Obviously, abusing mandatory overtime isn’t just a budget problem—it will also damage the relationship between management and crew, which has its own costs.

The other players in this environment we’ll be talking about are the “Bryman Colleges” of the world (or Everest College, depending on where you live); you know them for their nonstop ad campaigns hoping to make you anything from a medical assistant to a construction project manager.

According to the General Accountability Office, the tuition for the medical assistant program at one of those schools might run in range of $12,000, which could be triple what it would cost to get the same training at a community college.

Ultra Geeky Fun Fact Of The Month: Those of you who play with Lie Groups and buildings of spherical types probably already knew this, but Belgian mathematician Jacques Tits (so famous, thanks to his “buildings” theory, that the concept of a group with a BN-pair is described as a "Tits System") celebrated his 80th birthday August 12th.

Ironically, Tits and buildings have nothing to do with TITS (the Total Information Transfer System), created by the City University of Hong Kong to to improve the communications process among construction managers developing large building projects.

So now it’s time to put all this together:

Picture, if you will, a union apprenticeship program for medical assistants that is melded with a “hiring hall” for fill-in positions.

Instead of spending $12,000 to go to Bryman, people would join the sponsoring union and start paying union dues.

The union, in turn, would place these workers, at about 125-150% of “normal” wage, in the fill-in slots that become available, allowing workers to “earn while they learn”; at the same time they’re attending the academic classes that would be required of any apprenticeship program.

The union needs to find nursing homes that are willing to place these workers. The way they do that is with a fairly straightforward sales pitch: “I can place workers in your facility, on short notice and with one phone call, for about the same price as overtime...and a lot less than the cost of agency help.”

The union involved will have to accept that they won’t be representing all of the workers at that facility...but they will be placing their workers at higher wages than non-union workers...and as the one group begins to see what the other has, this should help to make the idea of joining a union a lot more interesting to that portion of the staff the union does not yet represent.

It also removes the problem of the facility “pretextually” firing anyone who might look like they’re trying to organize the rest of the workforce.

Since workers would be finding out about the apprenticeship program through advertising and other means of contact, the ability of employers to intimidate workers out of joining a union is diminished; since employers are looking to bring in these union fill-in workers to fix a hole in their very, very, tight budgets, their desire to intimidate is also reduced.

If they do this well, the union should be able to create quite a bit of worker loyalty, and that should help resolve some of the problems associated with “right-to-work” laws.

So there you go: there may be a place for unions to expand apprenticeship by invading the territory of training schools that seem to be sticking it to workers today, and those same unions have a chance to change the relationship between unions and businesses into something that looks a whole lot less threatening to those businesses.

In the process, unions could create new worker loyalty—and they could also create a situation where the other workers start asking themselves: “hey...why don’t we belong to a union?”

And that brings us to the part where you come in:

What obvious things did I miss?
What legal impediments might exist that I’m unaware of?
How can this idea be made better?

Let’s make this a conversation, and let’s see where it ends up.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


As Obama Touts Private-Sector, Big Business Withholds Investment

Greenland's 'Tipping Point' Could Spell Global Disaster: Scientists

The US-Mexico Border Is Safer Than You Think

State Races Put Climate Pacts in Jeopardy

UN Chief May Be Heading for Showdown with Israel

Former US Senator Stevens, Others Killed in Alaska Plane Crash

House Passes State Aid Bill; Obama Signs into Law


Keith Olbermanns' Special Comment: The 'Professional Right' Goes Unchallenged by 'Amateur Left' in the White House

Change That's Not: 'Obama on Bush Route'

Truthout 8/11

William Rivers Pitt | The Bad Old Days
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "Someone once told me that I'm the kind of guy who runs toward a fight. He said it like it was a bad thing - pretty much because I was fighting with him at the time - but I never forgot it, and have since taken it as a badge of honor. There's nothing wrong with running to the sound of the guns if the struggle is brutal, vital, and in need of another body, especially if one more person can make a difference."
Read the Article

The Hidden Tragedy of the CIA's Experiments on Children
H.P. Albarelli Jr. and Dr. Jeffrey S. Kaye, Truthout: "From early 1940 to 1953, Dr. Lauretta Bender, a highly respected child neuropsychiatrist practicing at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, experimented extensively with electroshock therapy on children who had been diagnosed with 'autistic schizophrenia.' In all, it has been reported that Bender administered electroconvulsive therapy to at least 100 children ranging in age from three years old to 12 years, with some reports indicating the total may be twice that number."
Read the Article

Primary Returns Show Mixed Bag
Yana Kunichoff, Truthout: "The predicted anti-incumbent rage in the midterm elections has proved more complex on the ground, as some victories of established legislatures are won with ease and others continue to fight the wrath of the American voter."
Read the Article

Jim Hightower | New Outrages Keep Gushing From BP
Jim Hightower, Truthout: "With BP's well capped and CEO Tony Hayward exiled to Russia, perhaps you thought that surely there will be no additional revelations about BP to enrage you. But now comes this: prison labor. In its national PR blitz to buff up its image, the oil giant has loudly been boasting that it has hired devastated, out-of-work local people to handle the clean-up."
Read the Article

Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan: Beyond the Body Count
Mike Ludwig, Truthout: "The United Nations announced on Tuesday that the rate of civilian casualties in Afghanistan is reaching an all-time high as the US-led occupiers escalate a war that has ravaged the country since 2001. The report proves that the situation is getting worse for the people of Afghanistan amid allegations that coalition governments have attempted to cover up recent civilian massacres. The report tracks 2010 civilian casualties up to June 30, and does not include the consequences of escalated fighting during July."
Read the Article

Michael Winship | The Wall and the Mosque: Divide and Unite
Michael Winship, Truthout: "The current fight over the building of an Islamic study center near Ground Zero here in Manhattan is reminiscent of another battle nearly thirty years ago. Then, too, ignorance, rage and prejudice threatened to destroy the creation of something intended to help mend a grievous wound and foster understanding and reconciliation."
Read the Article

House Sends $26 Billion in Aid to States for Teachers, Medicaid
David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers: "States will get $26.1 billion in the next few months so they can open their school years with fewer layoffs and help pay health care benefits for the poor. The House of Representatives approved the new spending on Tuesday by 247 to 161, and President Barack Obama signed it."
Read the Article

In Place of Mental Health Care, Are Some Troops Being Evangelized?
William J. Astore, Truthout: "Yesterday, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and Veterans for Common Sense sent a startling letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. It alleged that the military has sent some psychological casualties to chaplains for counseling, rather than to mental health care professionals for diagnosis and treatment."
Read the Article

Tom Tomorrow | This Modern World
Award-Winning political cartoonist Tom Tomorrow paints the absurd universe that results when conservatives deny, distort and rewrite reality.
Read the Comic

Dahr Jamail | "Blood on Our Hands"
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "While most media continue to ignore the US-installed disaster in Iraq, author Nicolas Davies refuses to do so, and his book 'Blood on our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq' could not be released at a better time."
Read the Article

McClatchy Washington report 8/11

  • Four people survived the crash into a steep, remote Alaska hillside that killed former Sen. Ted Stevens. At least three were flown to an Anchorage hospital in a Coast Guard C-130 aircraft. Among the survivors was former NASA chief Sean O'Keefe and his son, Kevin. The bodies of Stevens, 86, and the other victims were still at the site.
  • The craft was part of an operation to rescue people around Sukkur, the city in Sindh province where the wall of water unleashed by the worst flooding in Pakistan's history was cresting Tuesday as it moved south down the Indus River toward the Arabian Sea.
  • The House of Representatives approved the new spending on Tuesday by 247 to 161, and President Barack Obama signed it. The money should begin flowing in time for school systems to rehire and retain teachers early in the school year.
  • Federal regulators lifted a fishing ban off Florida on Tuesday, pronouncing all but a small area far off the Panhandle coast clear of any oil spill stigma. Reopening the areas was symbolically important enough that NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco flew to Panama City Beach to announce that a "rigorous set of steps" had shown seafood in the area was safe.
  • Gesturing at cameras in the room during a recent Friday sermon at his Pembroke Pines, Fla., mosque, Shafayat Mohamed shared his solution for turning what Muslims are calling a tide of anti-Islamic sentiment: Throw the doors wide open — online. During Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting and prayer that begins Wednesday, Muslims are opening mosques' doors, online and in person, aiming to improve images of Islam.
  • Alex Spanos, one of the nation's foremost Republican benefactors, has contributed $20,000 to Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown's gubernatorial campaign. The donation is unusual. Spanos has given millions of dollars to Republican causes, and he was a top fundraiser for President George W. Bush and former presidential candidate John McCain.
  • Downgrading its view of the economy, the Federal Reserve on Tuesday projected a "more modest" rate of recovery in the months ahead and announced that it will use proceeds from the mortgage bonds it owns to buy new Treasury debt in an effort to spark growth and investor confidence.
  • The possibility of legal action remained on the table as Texas' Republican political leaders decried a Texas-specific mandate included in a $26 billion jobs bill that won final congressional approval Tuesday. Texas Republicans object to an amendment crafted by the state's congressional Democrats to prevent Gov. Rick Perry and other state leaders from diverting millions of dollars in federal education assistance to other purposes. Republicans have denounced the restriction as a political stunt that would require them to violate the Texas Constitution to receive the money.
  • Ted Stevens died Monday the way Alaskans die, in a plane crash in the wilds of the state he devoted his life to. At 86, he was the last giant of statehood and a major architect of the Alaska that emerged from its territorial history. His constituents called him Uncle Ted and Senator for Life. Even his enemies welcomed his largesse, dished out in federal appropriations that numbered in the tens of thousands and affected almost every Alaskan's life.
  • Republican U.S. Senate nominee Rand Paul on Tuesday denied trying to abduct a woman and force her to use illegal drugs while attending Baylor University in the early 1980s. He said the allegations, published on the website of GQ magazine, are "absolutely untrue" and worthy of a lawsuit.
  • Amy, Betty and Cindy Doe just want to dance. The pseudonymous Ms. Does are three Kansas City-area erotic dancers named in a lawsuit challenging new restrictions on adult businesses in Missouri that are set to go into effect later this month. In addition to the dancers, several adult clubs and retailers, a cabaret owner and an industry trade group brought the case against the state.
  • This is a requiem for Willy Brown.
    As these words are written, he lies brain dead and on life support at Miami Children's Hospital. By the time you read this, there's a good chance he will have been disconnected and declared dead. He is, or he was, two years old. His father, 23-year-old Lee Willie DeJesus of Homestead, is in jail, having been denied bond. Prosecutors expect to charge him with first-degree murder.

What do you think it symbolizes?