Saturday, December 23, 2006

Saturday Holiday Videos

Time for yours truly to get a bit sappy here, with Karen Carpenter singing “Merry Christmas Darling,” with a new audio track…really pared it down and took out the orchestration (I don’t know who she thinks is going to pick up those letters on Christmas Eve :- )…

...I meant to add this earlier, but here's the "Gumby" Christmas Special from SNL in 1982 with Eddie Murphy (of course), Gary Kroeger, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Joe Piscopo (funny stuff)...

…Greg Lake performs “I Believe In Father Christmas” (none of us are getting any younger either, people, so let’s be nice, OK?)…

…and Mariah Carey (“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”).

Friday, December 22, 2006

Friday Seasonal Videos

Sarah McLachlan performs "O Little Town of Bethlehem"...

...and Band-Aid from 1984 ("Do They Know It's Christmas?" - not really sure if they "checked their egos at the door" or not, but they accomplished something positive - and let's forego for now all the Boy George snark in the spirit of the season, OK?).

A Christmas Miracle

We Saved "The Gross Clinic"!

The following report appeared in the Inquirer this morning...

'Gross Clinic' to stay in city

By Stephan Salisbury

Capping as wild a fund-raising ride as this city has ever seen, Mayor Street gleefully announced yesterday that Thomas Eakins' The Gross Clinic had been purchased by local institutions and would remain in Philadelphia.

It was a successful conclusion that few thought possible only several weeks ago.

At a packed City Hall news conference, officials said that the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts would share ownership of the 1875 masterpiece.

The two museums, which have led a frantic six-week fund-raising campaign to buy the huge canvas from Thomas Jefferson University, have agreed to take on a still-undetermined amount of debt and pay a record $68 million for what is widely viewed as an embodiment of the city's intellectual and creative life.

Officials highlighted four large contributions to the fund-raising effort: $10 million from the Annenberg Foundation, chaired by Leonore Annenberg; $3 million from H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest; $3 million from Joseph Neubauer; and $3 million from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

In total, over the last several weeks, about $30 million has been raised and more than 2,000 contributions have been received from about 30 states, officials said.

"I think it is a fabulous day - a fabulous day for Philadelphia, a fabulous day for Thomas Eakins," said Anne d'Harnoncourt, director of the Art Museum. "We are all thrilled and humbled by the extraordinary outpouring of support."

"This has truly been an example of civic pride and accomplishment for the entire community," said Lenfest, chairman of the Art Museum board.

Wachovia Bank has agreed to provide the backup financing that allowed the museums to sign an agreement of sale yesterday with Jefferson. No city or other government money is involved in the purchase.

Hugh Long, chief executive officer for Wachovia's MidAtlantic Banking Group, declined to provide any details on the financing. At one point he said, "It's all a secret."

Museum officials likened Wachovia's role to the provision of bridge financing.

Fund-raising for the painting continues, the officials emphasized. Jefferson had set a Dec. 26 deadline for local institutions to put their money on the table. Now, however, the university has extended that deadline to Jan. 31.

If a gap exists between contributions and sale price at the end of January, Wachovia will cover it, the officials said.

Herbert Riband, vice chairman of the academy's board, said it is possible that some works might be sold from museum collections to help cover the costs of the transaction. But he said that was only a possibility.

Jefferson officials did not attend the news conference. Brian Harrison, chairman of Jefferson's board of trustees, issued a statement saying that the university "is pleased" that the painting will remain in Philadelphia and become "accessible to millions of people" visiting the museums. He added that the university was "also pleased that our agreement of sale with PMA and PAFA gave them an additional 30 days to continue the fund-raising period."

The painting, now housed in Alumni Hall, 1020 Locust St., will be on view in the near future first at the Art Museum and then at the Pennsylvania Academy. It will move back and forth after that, probably with lengthy stops at each institution, but details have not been finalized.

Street said he is sending legislation to City Council that would "establish a registry of all important" objects and works of art in the city. Such a registry, he said, would serve as an alarm system if a work is threatened with sale or removal. He offered no further details yesterday.

On Nov. 10, Jefferson stunned the city and its own community by announcing that The Gross Clinic, which had been purchased by alumni for $200 and given to the school in 1878, would be sold. The buyers were a partnership of an unbuilt Arkansas museum, backed by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Christie's auction house brokered the deal, which contained a provision giving local institutions 45 days to match the purchase price and retain the painting in Philadelphia.

At the time, the university said that proceeds from the sale would go toward fulfilling an ambitious 10-year strategic plan that would transform Jefferson's Center City campus.

But many at Jefferson, particularly university alumni, were shocked by news of the sale, and the alumni association urged its members to support the local fund-raising effort.

Yesterday, Lorraine King, president of the alumni association, and Stanton N. Smullens, a member of the alumni executive committee, both said they were extremely gratified by the outcome.

King, who has said the painting represented the heart of Jefferson, said its proximity will at least allow doctors and students to visit it.

Smullens said, "Schools are not bricks and mortar; there's also a soul, and this [painting] is tied to Jefferson's soul completely."

The initial buyers of the painting - the National Gallery and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., where Wal-Mart has its headquarters - issued a joint statement following the new deal:

"We are disappointed that Eakins' Gross Clinic will not be coming to the nation's capital or America's heartland. However, we are pleased for the city of Philadelphia."

Officials at the two museums had no further comment.

The object of all the attention is a dramatic 8-by-61/2-foot painting that depicts Dr. Samuel Gross, an acclaimed Jefferson surgeon, conducting an operation before students in the school's amphitheater.

Gross is caught in a shaft of light, a bloody scalpel in his right hand. His patient, a boy, lies beside him, a large surgical incision in his thigh. The boy's mother cringes behind Gross, and the artist painted himself observing and drawing in the background.

Eakins, born in Philadelphia and a graduate of Central High School, was 31 when he took on the subject. His intention was to test his growing artistic powers and to create an homage to Philadelphia's greatest medical achievements; the painting was, then, a metaphor for the city's progressive intellectual life.

But squeamish art jurors at the Centennial Exhibition, where Eakins hoped to show it in 1876, rejected the work, citing its gruesomeness.

Jefferson alumni were deeply taken with the painting, however, and purchased it from Eakins to present to their alma mater, where Gross taught. The painting has been at the school ever since.

Eakins went on to teach at the Pennsylvania Academy, where in 1878 he was dismissed after removing the loincloth from a male model.

Despite such disappointments, Eakins remained in Philadelphia, painting its citizens and landscapes until his death in 1916.

Since then, his stature as an artist has continued to rise, and the place of The Gross Clinic in the pantheon of American art has been secured. The $68 million being paid for the painting is a record not only for Eakins but also for any pre-World War II work of American art.

At yesterday's press conference, Street said he believed it would have been an "irrevocable loss" if the painting left Philadelphia, and he noted that "a couple of thousand people from all over the country" agreed and voted with their dollars.

D'Harnoncourt said that yesterday's announcement amounted to "poetic justice" for Eakins. "He has always exerted a powerful presence," she said.
And I respectfully part company with some of my blogging "betters" here I know, such as Will Bunch and D-Mac (hey, nice job with the Wal-Mart "happy face" can do such cool stuff with Javascript, I know), but as commenter Linda noted in response to Will at "Attytood," you don't sell off your heritage - I don't care what else you can buy with $68 million.

If the Waltons want something to show off at their new gallery, they can stop by the New Jersey Convention Center on Route 130 in Pennsauken. The last I heard, they still have year-round flea markets, and I'm sure they can pick up some LeRoy Neiman paintings for a song.

Don't Beg His Pardon

Dubya showed mercy to 16 convicts yesterday and commuted the sentence of someone convicted of a drug offense. As noted here…

Six of the federal offenses were drug crimes, while others included bank fraud, mail fraud, the acceptance of a kickback, a false statement on a loan application and conspiracy to defraud the government over taxes.
I guess I would be just some impudent liberal blogger if I speculated as to whether or not Dubya felt as if these people were kindred spirits based on his own past behavior (I know, so much snark, so little time…).

As the CNN/AP story also noted…

Bush remains among the stingiest of postwar presidents on pardons.

President Clinton issued 457 in eight years in office. Bush's father, George H. W. Bush, issued 77 in four years. President Reagan issued 406 in eight years, and President Carter issued 563 in four years.

Since World War II, the largest number of pardon and commutations -- 2,031 -- came from President Truman, who served 82 days short of eight years.
And with that, I should note that my blogging until the end of the year will now be highly sporadic (there are a couple of “must” posts coming up, but everything else is up for grabs).

Pundits Should Be Labeled Also

This letter appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times this morning.

Cokie Roberts’ and Steven V. Roberts’ commentary from Nov. 28 reached a new level of idiocy. They suggested we should rejoice at the fact that most of our goods are made abroad. Try telling that to the millions of workers who have lost their jobs due to outsourcing in the last decade.

We should sacrifice good jobs, with pensions and health care benefits, so Cokie can buy cheap trinkets at Wal-Mart. In these trying times, I think we should show how patriotic we are by spending our hard-earned money on American-made goods. A simple Internet search will connect you with companies that are still supporting American workers instead of exploiting children. To save the middle class we need a strong manufacturing sector. We can save our children’s future by spending our money on goods and services made in this country, not China.

Kirk Heilner
Northampton, PA
As we know, the issue isn’t just the junk made in China and dumped into this country for consumption, but stuff made anywhere overseas (sorry if I sound like Lou Dobbs a bit too much, but trust me; we buy our share of electronic and motorized toys made especially in China, and most of the stuff is truly awful). And Mr. Heilner is so, so right about manufacturing and the middle class.

And I want to thank him for jogging my memory on the column written by these two last month. He’s right – it was truly idiotic and full of the typical “free” trade lies and nonsense that Democrats and Republicans alike have been foisting on us for far too long. But I didn’t respond to it at the time because I couldn’t find an online link to it.

Well, I just found one, so here it is (never mind - the link is flaky).

A TV commercial 20 years ago, urging shoppers to buy American-made clothing, contained the memorable refrain: "Look for the union label." That era is long over. Buying only domestic garments would leave your kids shivering this winter.
And we're supposed to be happy about that?

Maybe you’re right, but how do you know? Are we just supposed to take your word for that? Any information on which clothing manufacturers are based in this country versus overseas? Any information on how much clothing purchased by retailers such as Old Navy or higher-end stores is made in this country versus overseas?

Oh, how silly of me – I forgot that the Robertses are self-appointed Beltway media geniuses as opposed to actual reporters.

But here's a heretical suggestion for the holiday season: as you purchase sweaters and games and bikes to put under the tree, look for the foreign label. Notice how many of your gifts are made abroad, and take a moment to realize you are benefiting from globalization and free trade.
How am I “benefiting” from something cheaper that is going to be more cheaply made than something in this country?

I’ll give you a good example of quality, which is the exception these days unfortunately: toys from Tyco. Every toy we’ve bought from them was made in this country (including Shell Shocker and Terrain Twister, the motorized contraptions that curl into a ball, spin around and generally run amok). They’re expensive, but you know what? They last. They don’t wear out or break a day or so after you bought them. And, in all likelihood, they weren’t made by some likely emaciated underage boy or girl in a Third World country working for the equivalent of pennies a day under the threat of imminent violence if they didn’t meet their quota.

And how is this country “benefiting” when we prop up the regimes responsible for this stuff in the name of making a quick buck?

Free trade is hardly a popular idea today. Just before President Bush flew to Asia, Congress slapped him in the face by shelving a market-opening pact with Vietnam. The deal will probably be approved next year, but the vote signaled a major shift in public sentiment.
His own Repug Congress “slapped him in the face”? I don’t think so.

As noted here, the legislation was “fast tracked” in anticipation of Dubya’s visit to Vietnam, but as it turned out, they wanted more time to review the legislation and ultimately passed it anyway during their final week in session.

As former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, a strong advocate of open markets, told bankers meeting in Hong Kong: "There's a tremendous backlash against trade liberalization. It's one of the biggest challenges facing the global economy."

This backlash is not only dangerous, but wrong-headed. Every economic study confirms that free trade is a powerful engine for growth and prosperity, by far the best anti-poverty program anywhere. All those workers in China and Chile crafting toys for Santa can now afford American-made movies and computers.
Sorry, but we have to take care of our own people at home first before out-of-touch columnists or anyone else should try to indulge themselves.

But there's a problem.

Even though free trade creates far more winners than losers, the losers tend to be louder and more visible. It's easy to put a picture on TV of a shuttered factory or an unemployed worker. It's much harder to show a family who earns more from expanding exports, or pays less because of inexpensive imports.

So someone whose job has been eliminated due to outsourcing/offshoring is “a loser”? And it’s somehow their fault when pictures appear on T.V. of shuttered factories or unemployment lines? And I'm still waiting to see families benefit from this in the way that the Robertses describe.

I was so shocked by these remarks that I actually did a little bit of research into Cokie Roberts to find out what could be in this woman’s mind that would allow her to think that these comments are acceptable, and this is what I found.

She is the daughter of the late Hale Boggs, former House Majority Leader and a 1964 political science graduate of Wellesley College. She has accumulated all sorts of honorary degrees and recognition for her academic achievement. She was also appointed by Dubya to something called “The President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation” (so she’s really going to be impartial...right; that no doubt explains her "slap in the face" remark above). She is an accomplished journalist and author to be sure, and to her credit, she is also a breast cancer survivor.

But I have no evidence at all that she has ever held a manufacturing or service job at any time in her life, so how the hell she thinks she’s qualified to write about the economy is something I cannot imagine.

As a result, political demagogues, most of them Democrats, have exploited the anxieties that are inevitable in a rapidly changing economy. One example: Jon Tester ran for the Senate in Montana charging that trade deals were putting "our jobs and the viability of family farms and ranches across Montana in jeopardy."

That's nonsense, but Tester won, and so did several dozen other Democrats who fashion themselves as "populists" on trade but would better be described as fear-mongers. That's where the "foreign label" idea comes in.
I’ll try to explain this for Roberts as best I can; I don’t live in a farm state either, but apparently I have more knowledge on this than she does.

When overseas interests (or interests in this country, actually) are allowed to exploit trade agreements such as NAFTA and CAFTA by acquiring farms or agricultural properties – or anything, really – in Montana or elsewhere and bring in workers cheaper from elsewhere to work at those locations, you’d better believe that that’s depressing wages in that community, and that has ripple effects all over the place when it comes to supporting other area businesses, charitable donations, etc. Also, these interests can use their clout to achieve market advantage in ways that family farms cannot, such as depressing prices to the point of driving out smaller competitors. Tester is talking about stuff like that.

Now it will remain to be seen how much he or anyone can really do, but at least he intends to try (of course, that means Roberts and her friends may have to pay a few cents more for farm-state items they may find at Sam’s Club and similar places such as breakfast cereal, hence the whining and carping).

Many American families who profit from trade don't know it. They don't realize the benefit to their budget when they fill out their Christmas lists with foreign-made gifts at Wal-Mart or Target.
Still waiting for you to make your case…

Free traders are notoriously poor at public relations. A second way to promote their cause is publicizing the American companies that are growing because of exports. Many workers don't realize the products they make, package, load, ship and market are sold to foreigners.
This may be the most condescending piece of columnist garbage I’ve ever read. Workers are too dumb to realize that their exported goods “are sold to foreigners”?

So the problem isn’t the fact that people are losing their jobs due to outsourcing/offshoring and our government refuses to account for how many are lost and actually provides tax incentives for companies to perform such heinous cruelty. The problem is that “free traders are notoriously poor at public relations”?

Would you like some brie with your Chardonnay, Cokie darling? Let’s talk a stroll onto the veranda to watch the polo match while the “workers” neatly unfold the table linen so the cutlery and bone china can be properly displayed. Oh, and don’t forget the crystal champagne flutes also.

One example: a company called Dunlee-Philips in Aurora, Ill., which makes high-tech X-ray tubes for medical scanners. Company president Pat Fitzgerald told the Chicago Sun-Times that 40 percent of his business is now overseas: "I think if you're only looking at your market as being the U.S. market, you're missing something."

Neil Hartigan, head of Chicago's World Trade Center, pointed out that as firms like Dunlee-Philips expand, they open opportunities for other businesses. "We're trying to develop the service side of it," he said. "These people need accountants, they need lawyers, they need suppliers."
Roberts continues to look only at the “demand end” of the equation, of course, as opposed to the “supply” end.

In fighting the anti-trade backlash, the new Congress has a role as well. Rep. Charles Rangel, the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, says that "trade is one issue" that's ripe for bipartisan cooperation. He can start by brokering a new farm bill reducing lavish federal subsidies to agriculture, which have helped stymie global trade talks.
First, even Jon Tester has said that he doesn’t like federal subsidies for farmers, but they need them to help with the cost of materials to help them stay in operation. And what’s more important, helping our people in a somewhat imperfect manner, or tossing them aside altogether? I would advocate for them if, for no other reason, to prevent more of these awful trade deals.

Second, if Roberts thinks Charles Rangel is actually a friend of workers in this country, then she’s more out of touch than I ever realized (as David Sirota notes here).

Then he can kill the insane embargo against Cuba, a country hungry for American products.
I absolutely agree with Roberts 100 percent on that.

But the biggest problem facing free traders is the stagnation of American wages.
I would say so also (and even a defender of this odious stuff acknowledges that this is happening, by the way).

That provides fertile ground for the charge that globalization is depressing domestic income. The answer is not shielding American companies from competition, which won't work anyway. It's making American companies (and workers) more competitive than ever. That means subsidies for retraining and research; it means lowering the barriers for foreign students and entrepreneurs who want to create and invest here.
At the time she and her husband wrote this, anything mentioned in that last sentence (which I support – they make somewhat more sense at the end of this column) was totally unachievable with a Republican congress and President Stupid Head sitting in the Oval Office. At least the first part of that awful twosome has been eliminated.

No matter how competitive Americans become, however, globalization will always cause some folks to lose out, like those workers who used to make garments under the union label. They can't simply be discarded. They need help in coping with hardship -- lower drug costs, better health coverage, extended unemployment benefits.
Again, I agree with that, but these are just empty words…everything the Roberts have said already would defeat this, especially under Bushco.

Free trade is in America's national interest. That's why you should look for the foreign label this holiday season.
And to keep their conservative “cred,” the two of them have to repeat this nonsense at the very end.

To provide something close to a response from the reality-based community on this, I located a link to a Council on Foreign Relations Q&A on the effects of offshoring on our economy, and the following is noted (we know this, I realize, but it bears repeating).

Economists…concede that the low level of job creation in recent years has made it more difficult for workers who lose their jobs to outsourcing to find new ones. Some 3 million private-sector jobs have been lost since the U.S. economy peaked in 2000, most of them in manufacturing.
I’m not going to highlight anything else from the CFR article because, though it is good with pro vs. con viewpoints, it contains mostly background material explored by me and my lefty blogging “betters” at various times. Suffice to say that this has been legitimized partly because of the Robertses and others of their ilk for whom those paying the price of job loss are utterly invisible.

In the event that the Robertses observe Christmas (maybe – the Wikipedia article tells me Steve is Jewish and Cokie is Roman Catholic), I hope they both receive coal in their stockings (made in China, of course).

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Thursday Videos

Somehow I omitted Alan Parsons from the birthday list yesterday (he of the Alan Parsons Project, engineer for Pink Floyd on "Dark Side Of The Moon," etc. - this is a slightly chopped up version of "I Wouldn't Want To Be Like You," from "I, Robot," a piece of vinyl that I totally wore out many moons ago; tough call between putting up either this or "Don't Answer Me," but the subtitles did it for me here and the whole kitschy look and feel)...

...Frank Zappa would have been 66 today ("Cosmik Debris," from 1984)...

...and back to the seasonal stuff; Westlife and The Cranberries perform "The Little Drummer Boy" at the Vatican in 2001...

...and Elton John rocks out ("Step Into Christmas" from 1973, I think).

In Our Name

Thanks to Andrew over at Pixel Monkey for jogging my memory about the case of Donald Vance that was written about recently in the New York Times.

Vance is an American living in Chicago who was working with a contractor in Iraq and whose only “crime” was to be “associated” with the organization whose flaws he had been instrumental in illuminating, as noted in Andrew’s post.

So what happened as a result? Well, as the Times story tell us, he was captured by the U.S. military and tortured.

Now, let’s take a moment and really consider this again, please.

An American working in Iraq was captured by the American military and tortured by the American military.

Not the Shi’ites, or Sunnis, or al Qaeda, or any other faction that you would care to include in the unholy human stew presently boiling over in Iraq.

The American military.

To our knowledge thus far, Vance posed no threat. However, this is how he was treated.

American guards arrived at the man’s cell…shackled his hands and feet, blindfolded him and took him to a padded room for interrogation, the detainee said. After an hour or two, he was returned to his cell, fatigued but unable to sleep.

The fluorescent lights in his cell were never turned off, he said. At most hours, heavy metal or country music blared in the corridor. He said he was rousted at random times without explanation and made to stand in his cell. Even lying down, he said, he was kept from covering his face to block out the light, noise and cold. And when he was released after 97 days he was exhausted, depressed and scared.

“Even Saddam Hussein had more legal counsel than I ever had,” said Mr. Vance, who said he planned to sue the former defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, on grounds that his constitutional rights had been violated. “While we were detained, we wrote a letter to the camp commandant stating that the same democratic ideals we are trying to instill in the fledgling democratic country of Iraq, from simple due process to the Magna Carta, we are absolutely, positively refusing to follow ourselves.”

A spokeswoman for the Pentagon’s detention operations in Iraq, First Lt. Lea Ann Fracasso, said in written answers to questions that the men had been “treated fair and humanely,” and that there was no record of either man complaining about their treatment.
And as we know, silence equals consent as far as Bushco is concerned (and as Andrew points out, we truly have become what we sought to destroy).

What The #@$!!

A lawyer for Fox (I’ll try to forego the snark, but I’ll probably fail) argued recently in a federal appeals court that the FCC’s rules on profanity (re: indecency) are unfair (and remember that, according to the Supreme Court, there is a legal difference between indecency and obscenity).

I would be heartened about this development except for the fact that it arises from grievances on the part of Cher and Nicole Richie from their words on the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards programs broadcast on Fox. The network is unhappy because the words for which they were fined were also used in the broadcast of “Saving Private Ryan” (or so they allege).

I along with most other human beings with a pulse can recognize the very different contexts between a film about World War II and a television show featuring fatuous celebrity self-indulgence, but I was still concerned when government lawyer Eric Miller said that C-SPAN, the network broadcasting the legal proceeding in which the words of Cher and Richie were quoted in open court, would not be fined because a news broadcast would not be intended "to pander or titillate."

This is typical of Bushco’s nanny-state mentality on these matters (and I know from whence I speak on this a bit as a resident of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania).

I mean, suppose we have C-SPAN on as we often do and the young one happens to wander into the room in search of whatever new Bionicle creation he has concocted. At that moment, the lawyer for Fox happens to quote Cher or Richie and the young one hears it and repeats it at school the next day.

I know this is a bit of an exaggeration, but you know what I’m saying. I just think it’s more than a little funny that the network mouthpiece for the Republican Party is actually in a position now where they’re complaining about the policies of the regime that they support and helped to install.

And I thought these comments were instructive from Bruce Fein, found in the Moonie Times of all places.

Five commissioners in Washington, D.C., however, have but the faintest idea of what passes for patent offensiveness outside their own parochial experiences. They make indecency rulings more by visceral reaction and political calculation than by evenhanded and predictable standards. The commission's wildly inexact definition smacks of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's befuddlement in seeking to define obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964): "I know it when I see it."

That definitional elusiveness invites discriminatory enforcement by the commission to retaliate against political opponents or adversaries. Media owners who support the president or commission policies will be treated with kid gloves. In contrast, the government's detractors will be required to incur enormous legal fees and suffer damage to reputation in fending off trivial indecency allegations. The free marketplace of ideas will be chilled and the media's constitutional role to scrutinize and scold government will be crippled.
And as the story notes, Fein was former FCC general counsel under Reagan.

Well, if the fines get lowered against Fox for the outbursts of Cher and Richie, it can only help in what may yet emerge as the next battle in this “war” (perhaps a silly way to describe it), and that is the one led by nutjobs like Ted Stevens to limit Internet “indecency.”

God, what bullshit :- ).

Paving The Way For Patrick

These letters appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times this morning (along with J.D.’s Cold War cartoon reminiscences).

I am writing to express my satisfaction with the election of Patrick Murphy as our congressman. Murphy won because he worked hard (he even got up early the day after Election Day to meet commuters at a train station) and is a man of strong principle. I am confident that those same qualities will make him an excellent congressman.

The voters of the 8th district should be proud of their decision to elect the first Iraq war veteran to Congress. It will be good to finally have someone in Congress who brings a firsthand perspective on the implications of our foreign policy. Congressman-elect Murphy will serve the 8th district well.

Robert Casile
Bristol Borough

The juvenile whining over Mike Fitzpatrick’s loss and Patrick Murphy voting to support Rep. Murtha is evidence of very selective memories.

In his first vote in Congress Fitzpatrick voted to allow Tom DeLay to keep his majority leader post if DeLay was indicted. Three of DeLay’s aides had already been indicted. The old rule that prohibited an indicted congressman from holding leadership positions had been voted for by Congress in 1993. At that time, they were focused on the wrongdoings of Democrats. In the heat of criticism, this new rule was quickly dropped. However, Fitzpatrick also voted to turn the ethics committee into a black hole. The other new rule requires a majority vote by the ethics committee which was not previously necessary to initiate an investigation of any member of the house.

Fitzpatrick barely won Bucks County. The voters in the district’s part of Philadelphia and Montgomery County were written off by the campaign because the Republicans expected a full partisan vote in Bucks. He got from the disenfranchised what he gave them. In Bucks, his own people voted against him. Take notice, the sun is still rising every morning.

Susan Gibbons
Bristol Township
According to Matt Browner Hamlin of the great blog My Left Nutmeg, Patrick will be assigned to the House Armed Services Committee (makes sense). I don’t know of any other committee assignments yet.

A Cartoonish Remembrance

In this morning’s Bucks County Courier Times, columnist J.D. Mullane waxes somewhat philosophically over the ‘60s cartoon series Jonny Quest as a tribute to Joseph Barbera, one half of television’s legendary animation team who died on Tuesday.

(And no, I can’t believe there’s a Wikipedia article on Jonny Quest either, and it’s pretty good actually.)

Yes, I watched the show also for a time, and I realized that it took risks back when cartoons usually didn’t do that sort of thing, pushing the envelope when it came to violence, as opposed to now, when some cartoons do that with everything.

But as aggravating as the whole notion of political correctness can be at times, there is a reason why that notion exists (I once heard WXPN morning personality Michaela Majoun tell people to call the station with requests because a female intern whose name I can’t recall was “personing” the phone, and I almost called the station myself to tell Majoun that I thought she was an idiot).

And the reason why it exists is because of shows like Jonny Quest.

Yes, I know it was a cartoon and it wasn’t supposed to have the same sensibility as an adult program, and yes, I also know that it was a product of its time. And I agree with Mullane that it was commendable to see a show composed almost exclusively of men where they managed to solve problems without machine gunning or blowing up the bad guys in the process (they usually tricked the bad guys into doing that themselves); also, it was nice to see the male characters portrayed in an intelligent manner for a change.

But Jonny’s stepbrother Hadji (I guess, according to Mullane – watching the show, I never knew exactly what he was) was always seen wearing a jewel-encrusted turban and, in the show’s closing credits, always played a flute while the cobra slowly coiled and rose out of the rope basket, and always was subservient to Jonny, wondering what to do next while Jonny, Race Bannon and Dr. Quest saved the day in one fashion or another.

And another cliché of the ‘60s program was that, whenever trouble arose, Jonny, Race, Hadji and sometimes Dr. Quest would inevitably strip to their bathing suits and jump into the speedboat for the rousing action finale; indeed, every time something dangerous was about to happen, Dr. Quest would tell Race Bannon to get out there and do something about it, in the tradition of Tonto, Kato, and the guy wearing the tan stretch shirt on “Star Trek” beaming down to the alien planet who would inevitably get killed or risk serious bodily harm while the hero ended up taking the bows at the end.

So yeah, it was fun, and it was a product of its time as I said. But if it were to debut now in its original form, it wouldn’t stand a chance not because of the violence, but because of its hackneyed plots and dialogue.

Also, as long as we’re on the subject of Hanna-Barbera cartoons, I should confess my fondness for Top Cat, which Mullane derides somewhat in his column. I guess it was sort of an answer to “The Aristocats” from Disney and “Bugs Bunny” from Warner Bros., with a tiny bit of “West Side Story” thrown in (I often thought Office Dibble was supposed to be a takeoff on Officer Krupke). It was often sweet and endearing as I recall (dusting off the memory banks here), and like most cartoons of that era, one of the characters was voiced by Arnold Stang.

And while I am forced to watch Scooby Doo with the young one, I should note that I think the two movies are kind of entertaining as well as the more recent cartoons since money was actually spent on production values and hiring writers to come up with somewhat interesting storylines, but why anyone would remember those original cartoons with any fondness totally escapes me, since they were cheap looking and contained barely enough of a story to work in a dippy-sounding song while everyone ran around incoherently just before the bad guys were caught.

And finally, while I know Doug Wildey, the illustrator for the ‘60s series, was a comic book artist, for Mullane to draw any comparison between Jonny Quest and DC Comics is a laughable insult.

Update 12/26: Speaking of cartoonish developments for the season, I'm glad someone said something about this because there was a last-minute flurry of "War On Christmas" B.S. in our media before yesterday.

And another thing: I should point out that the Philadelphia Inquirer usually publishes a nice Tony Auth cartoon on Christmas day wishing everyone a happy holiday season in a way that brings a smile to one's face regardless of your politics. Well, on Christmas day this year, Philadelphia's conservative newspaper of record published this garbage by Glenn McCoy, proving once more that, under the ownership of Bruce Toll and Brian Tierney of Philadelphia Media Holdings LLC, there is no holiday for insulting and ridiculing anyone or anything that doesn't tow the Repug conservative (and by extension, their own) line.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Wednesday Videos

Happy Birthday to Billy Bragg ("The Price Of Oil," from 10/22/ much wisdom and common sense, sadly ignored by so many)...

...and also Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes ("She Talks To Angels" from 1991)...

...back to the seasonal stuff with Hayley Jensen ("Do You Hear What I Hear"'s a home video which happens to capture a great performance; I wish the camera operators had decided to keep quiet)...

...and Foghat performs "All I Want For Christmas Is You" (one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs, and the original version as far as I know; the video is just some recycled clip of some guy and his friends and his wife/girlfriend partying somewhere, but the song is worth it).

Tax Cuts Are Still Their "Jesus"

Actor Bradley Whitford uttered that original quote on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” and Bushco continues to prove him right every single day.

So Dubya says he wants “tax relief” to be included in any legislation to raise the minimum wage, huh?

If that tiny particle of brain matter in his head would just fire off a synapse or two, he might remember that a bill exactly like that was defeated in Congress not too long ago because its opponents (including your humble narrator) recognized it as the farcical sham that it was.

This of course is right from Dubya’s script of lies on this issue, as noted in this Common Dreams article. Also, as noted by (updated in January of this year)…

President Bush has noted that 2 million jobs were created over the course of 2005 and that we have added 4.6 million jobs since the decline in jobs ended in May 2003. But does that mean the labor market is getting back to normal?

Unfortunately, no. Recent job gains lag far behind historical norms. Last year's 2 million new jobs represented a gain of 1.5%, a sluggish growth rate by historical standards…In fact, it is less than half of the average growth rate of 3.5% for the same stage of previous business cycles that lasted as long. At that pace, we would have created 4.6 million jobs last year. If jobs had grown last year at the pace of even the slowest of the prior cycles—2.1% in the 1980s—we would have added 2.8 million jobs. Over the last half century, the only 12-month spans with job growth as low as 1.5% were those that actually included recession months, occurred just before a recession, or were during the "jobless recovery" of 1992 and early 1993.
And we know who led us out of that, don’t we?

Jobwatch also examines in greater depth the effects of government spending on defense and non-defense discretionary spending versus the actual change in jobs, yielding the following conclusion…

The mere fact that the projected job growth resulting from increased defense and other gov't spending exceeds the actual number of jobs projected to be added to the economy through 2006 clearly indicates that the tax cuts hardly seem plausible as the engine of the modest job growth in the economy since 2001.
So tax cuts don’t do much to create jobs and leave us saddled with debt; yes, I know it gets more than a little tired to keep pointing this out, but we must because President Stupid Head keeps regurgitating this stuff.

Well, when stories about the economy and our monetary policy in general come up, I usually end up turning to Paul Craig Roberts, so I’ll do so again with this quote…

The clowns in Washington DC imagine that they sit astride a Superpower. Absorbed in fantasies of invading countries and remaking the world in America's image, little do our deluded leaders realize that America is in the hands of our Chinese and Japanese creditors. Should either of these Asian powerhouses decide to stop mopping up America's red ink, the dollar would collapse to such an extent that it would lose its reserve currency status.

When the dollar ceases to be the reserve currency, America will cease to be a superpower.
And all the tax cuts in the world will never fix that.

And by the way, speaking of our financial excesses, this letter appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times this morning…

When you live by the sword, you die by it. Those who salute our worldwide aggression won’t be surprised when it is returned. It will be returned shortly, and not by al Qaeda. The world is almost fed up with us, and that includes “enemies” like most of the European Union, Mexico, Canada, Russia, and China.

For decades, we’ve been using economic sanctions on nations like Cuba, and strangling countries economically. Now, it’s happening to the United States. We might be 10 years from its fruition, but the cows will most likely be coming home in 10 months.

I believe the Saudis are moving to secure $60 oil (a barrel?), and will cut production to assure it. That’s $60 (for) oil in 2000 dollars, which is now $70 and heading to $100. I also believe that the Chinese are about to flood world currency markets with an excess of U.S. dollars, and that just the threat of that has brought the dollar equivalent to 0.75 Euro and 0.51 British pounds, the former being an historic all-time low.

Since oil is (still) traded in U.S. dollars, and since our dollar has lost much of its value vs. the Euro, the British pound and the Canadian dollar over the last few years, we are paying a lot more for oil and a much higher increase in the cost of oil and its products than those in other nations. My memory tells me that gasoline has gone up 100 percent here but only 20 percent in most other places on earth.

Unlike stock market moves, where the executive branch can thank or blame the Fed, these above things are directly attached to U.S. foreign policy and, you guessed it, President Bush and his cabal.

Let’s put this another way: Five more years of the current excesses in spending and warmongering and the United States of America will have to sell property or Fort Knox gold, the same as the Russians and the British had to do in the 1990s, to pay off debts. We cannot spend over $400 billion a year on interest, which is what we paid in 2006. I don’t care what proportion of our GDP that represents.

Furthermore, Americans are not willing to deny our elderly by cutting emergency social programs to pay interest payments on nation building and international civil war creation.

Has it struck anyone that not a single G-8 nation (the UK is throwing out its Prime Minister) is interested in or concerned with Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, North Korea, etc? They are just sitting back and enjoying the slow bleeding of the American national treasury.

Barry Nathan
Lower Southampton
Yes, there are some simplistic generalizations here, and I would have like to have seen attribution for these claims, but I think there’s enough substance in this letter to make our government stop screwing around, get out people out of Iraq and make the economy the number one issue again as soon as possible (or at the very least, a close second behind the legitimate war on terrorism).

And I know I’m dreaming, but this is the season of miracles, isn’t it?

Patrick Gets Ready (Admiral Joe Too)

I received this letter from our newly elected 8th-district U.S. House rep yesterday (and I believe the freepers have given up their “Mikey Fitzpatrick Actually Lost The Election…BAAWWWLLLL!” whine fest for the holidays – haven’t seen much of that in the Bucks County Courier Times lately; of course, now that I’ve just pointed that out…)

Dear Friends,

Thank you. You put your hopes and hearts in my hands, and for that I will be more grateful than I can ever express or you might ever realize.

For me, this journey began in 138-degree heat on the streets of Baghdad. We were sent to battle without enough troops and without a plan to win the peace. The nineteen guys from my unit who never made it home deserved a government as honest and decent as they were.

Now begins the real journey – not just for me, but for all of us here in the 8th district. We are going to bring back optimism. We are going to bring back hope. And we are going to bring back possibility.

As your Congressman-Elect, I am more humbled, more hopeful and more assured in my faith and in the American people than I ever could have imagined when I began this journey over a year ago.

Thank you for your support. Thank you for your trust. I promise I will make you proud.

Patrick J. Murphy
And as far as the swearing-in ceremony is concerned...

Dear friends,

From the first door I ever knocked to our victory together on Election Night, you, my wonderful friends and supporters, have been with me. I hope you'll join me again as I take the oath of office on January 4, 2007, on Capitol Hill.

My team has organized several celebrations in Washington, DC, and you're invited to all the festivities. You can organize your own transportation, or you can meet up with one of our Murphy Buses, which leave the morning of January 4th from two 8th District locations and return the same night.

Be sure to RSVP to with your name, phone number, and the number of seats you'd like. A member of my staff will call to confirm your reservation. Space is limited!

Here is the information about our events and the Murphy Buses traveling to Washington:

The Murphy Buses:

Murphy Quakertown Bus:
-LOCATION: Park & Ride across from the PA Turnpike on Rt. 663 in Milford.
-PICKUP TIME: 7 am. The bus will leave on time, so please be prompt!
Murphy Bristol Bus:
-LOCATION: 7500 Bristol Pike, Levittown
-PICKUP TIME: 7 am. The bus will leave on time, so please be prompt!

Here are the events my team has planned. I hope you can join us:

• An Open House at my new Congressional Office, 1007 Longworth Building
• A Swearing In Celebration at the National Democratic Club
• A Murphy Afterparty with the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association

More information is coming soon. If you have any questions, please call my office at 215-547-5211.

I can never fully express my gratitude to all of you for your work and your support. I hope you'll share this moment with me as the new Democratic Congress begins to take our country toward a new, brighter future.

See you in Washington!

And by the way, let’s not forget about Admiral Joe in the 7th U.S. Congressional District.

Dear Friend,

Thank you for all you did to support the election! I would be honored if you would be able to accept my invitation to join me in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, January 4, 2007 when I am sworn in as the next Congressman from Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District. It is a moment that really belongs to you. Provided below is further information about this event.

If you can attend the reception, we request that you please RSVP per below as it would be extremely helpful for our planning purposes. Please note that since the actual swearing-in is for all members simultaneously on the House floor, you will be able to view the swearing-in on closed-circuit TV in the Foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building, which we have reserved for our reception.

Thank you, and I look forward to seeing you in Washington, D.C.

Joe Sestak

Swearing-in Ceremony and RSVP Information
When: Thursday, January 4, 2007
12:00 PM – 2:00 PM

Watch Congressman-elect Joe Sestak’s swearing-in ceremony on closed-circuit TV in the Foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building.
2:00 PM – 6:00 PM

Reception in the Foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by Congressman Joe Sestak. Food and beverages will be provided.
12:00 PM – 6:00 PM

Although you will see Joe at the reception, you are also welcome to stop by his Congressional office, located in the Longworth House Office Building, Room 1022, where staff will be for an open-house.

The Rayburn House Office Building is located across the street and southwest of the Capitol. It is bounded by Independence Avenue, South Capitol Street, First Street, and C Street, S.W.

View a map of the Capitol Complex

Optional Bus Transportation Reservations:

If you are interested, round-trip transportation will be available by charter buses at a cost of $35 per person. The buses will depart at 8:00 AM sharp from the main parking lot at the Penn State Delaware County Campus located at 25 Yearsley Mill Road, Media, PA, 19063. Parking is available in the lots to the right and left when entering the campus from Middletown Road (Route 352). The buses will depart Washington, D.C. at 6:30 PM and arrive back at 9:30 PM at the Penn State Delaware County Campus.

The deadline to make a reservation for bus transportation is noon, Wednesday, December 27th.

If you are interested in traveling to Washington, D.C. by charter bus, you may pay by credit card, check or cash. If you would like to pay by credit card, please call our transition office at 610-891-8956 with your credit card information by December 27, 2007. Please make checks payable to “Sestak for Congress” and mail them to arrive at the below address by December 27, 2007:

Sestak for Congress
P.O. Box 16
Media, PA 19063

You may also drop-off checks or cash at our transition office at 428 E. Baltimore Pike, Media, PA (the same location as campaign headquarters) by December 27, 2007.

(Note: You may make your own transportation arrangements to Washington, D.C. if you so desire.)

this link to RSVP:

If you have any questions, please call Zach Steacy on my staff at 610-891-8956.
All the best, guys!

"Nice Try"

This is the first sentence in this Washington Post news story whereby Dubya grudgingly, haltingly, and with a great deal of difficulty, appeared to acknowledge the reality in Iraq for the firs time.

President Bush acknowledged for the first time yesterday that the United States is not winning the war in Iraq and said he plans to expand the overall size of the "stressed" U.S. armed forces to meet the challenges of a long-term global struggle against terrorists.
Oh, but didn't that French-sounding, $150-haircut-buying John Kerry propose something that sounds a lot like that in 2004? But we can't possibly give him credit for that, can we now?

The story doesn’t say that Dubya wants to “expand” the size of the military (and how the hell does he plan to do that without a draft, and there is NO WAY Congress will allow that to happen) to “meet the challenges of a long-term struggle in Iraq.”

No, it says “meet the challenges of a long-term global struggle against terrorists.”

And as far as I’m concerned, you can substitute “a long-term global struggle against terrorists” for “Iran” (a proposed military buildup is noted here) which is ridiculous for many reasons, one of which is because AhMADinejad is slowly losing whatever power he has in that country.

Oh, and besides Iran, let’s not forget these guys too.

Others smarter than I have noted that, among the many reasons why Dubya should have absolutely no more military personnel to abuse in this colossal blunder of his, is that he might use them instead to carry out aggression elsewhere, such as that which I noted a minute ago.

And it’s interesting to me how this note appears on the “teaser” on CNN’s site but not again in the story (gee, I wonder if Bush’s quote will just conveniently disappear altogether shortly?).

Bush sidestepped a question about whether he would order a so-called surge of troops in Iraq to help control the violence. "Nice try," he told a reporter who asked about his plans.
We should put that quote along with Dubya’s picture on the grave markers of every one of our people killed in this unholy enterprise from this point forward, including Marine Maj. Megan McClung (not to dishonor their sacrifice, God knows, but just to remind everyone who is responsible for their deaths).

Site Note

I'm in the process of trying to upgrade to the new Blogger, and some flaky stuff is going on - if I fade out for a little while, that's why.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Tuesday Videos

Sixties folksinger Phil Ochs would have been 66 today, so as a remembrance, here's "Flower Lady" recorded at The Bitter End in New York City in 1967 (so many songs to pick from: "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore," "The Crucifixion," "Outside Of A Small Circle Of Friends," etc.)...

...Bloody Hell! Keith Richards hit Number 63 yesterday (here's "Sweet Neo Con" - footage appears at the end of the WTC collapse, by the way)...

...and the LeeVees remind us that we're celebrating another seasonal holiday at this time ("How Do You Spell Channukkahh?")...

...and Josh Groban performs "O Holy Night" at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the Rockefeller Center in NYC on December 4, 2002.

Thanks, A.I.

Well, now they’ve done it.

Since it is somehow the fault of Allen Iverson that the Philadelphia 76ers could not assemble a cast of talented supporting players to complement him, and apparently since it was asking too much for Iverson and Coach Maurice Cheeks to try and reconcile, it rested upon Team Chairman And All Knowing, Omniscient Philadelphia Sports God Ed Snider to make sure general manager Billy King traded him.

I’ll be honest with you; I’m not going to say that trading Iverson at some point would have been the wrong thing to do.

But if you’re going to do it, wait as long as you can until the end of the year until you can move him to a contending playoff team and get the most value that you can. Don’t paint yourselves into a corner and advertise to everyone in the world that there is a problem, lessening Iverson’s value in the process.

Oh, but if that had happened, then Ed Snider would not have been able to act with authority, and let’s not forget that, in this most recent episode, it was paramount that Ed be portrayed as the man in charge as opposed to doing the right thing by the team’s best player (and even if you didn’t like Iverson, you had to give him his due for that).

Well, as he is now leaving, I want to take a few minutes and say thanks to Allen Iverson for all of his highlight-reel plays (which, as noted in this Sports Illustrated story, will be dutifully expunged, thereby shortening the film to about fifteen seconds). I want to say thanks to him for trying to lift this hopelessly moribund franchise from the seamy depths of mediocrity. I want to say thanks for his courage on the basketball court (which, as far as I’m concerned, is the only factor that should be considered in this entire situation).

Episodes like this have a lot to do with why I am a sports fan of only passing acquaintance these days. It’s more important in this media market to generate headlines, fan chatter and a whining sort of agitation than to field a winning team (of course, that energy could be used towards more important issues, but I know I won’t win that one).

And everyone who thinks that this is actually going to make Chris Webber a happy camper should clap their hands.

Oh, and by the way, somebody let me know when either the Flyers or the Sixers win a game this month, OK?

Love That Muammar

So Libya is about to execute five Belgian nurses and a Palestinian doctor because they allegedly infected 400 children in a hospital in Benghazi.

This is way beyond cruel, barbarous, and ridiculous.

It is also all of that and more when you realize that we now have diplomatic relations with Libya.

And remember that Saddam Hussein never blew up any of our planes and do your best to digest all of this, OK?

Don't Tread On The USW

At this moment, talks have resumed between the United Steel Workers and the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Cliff Schecter of HuffPo tells us why this is important here (including this excerpt):

This is exactly where progressives/populists need to be drawing the battle lines.

Not only is it the right thing to do, but as Sherrod Brown and Ted Strickland showed in their very successful populist campaigns, if Democrats want to win again in Ohio (where Goodyear is based), they must once again prove they are on the side of working Americans.
As Schecter and other commenters to his post state so well, this is a battle we must join in our way. The story of Goodyear is the typical sad, pathetic, gut-churning story of crony capitalism run amok, with exorbitant CEO compensation at the expense of workers losing their salaries, benefits, and ultimately their jobs.

Aside from Schecter’s post, the USW page provides more background links.

Update 1/2/07: It sounds like this was the best possible outcome - I haven't read anything contrary to that yet.

In addition to the Goodyear fiasco, we have also seen the Las Vegas Nurses lockout and the DHS raids on supposed counterfeiting activity at the six Swift and Company meat packing plants (separating families and kids at Christmas – way to go, Mike “City of Louisiana” Chertoff!).

And don’t run this argument by me about how the Swift workers are illegals. If so, someone had to get them here, right?

All these stories illustrate that it’s time to do what we can to support labor or be run over. Period.

O The Weather Outside Is Frightful

As noted here, 13 states filed suit against the EPA in Philadelphia today to stop another Buscho assault on our health.

The purpose of the suit is to prevent the EPA from raising the acceptable level of soot emissions to 13 or 14 micrograms per cubic meter of air to the 15-microgram level that took effect yesterday.

This appeared in the story...

The (EPA's) own analysis found that lowering the level to 13 would have prevented 24,000 premature deaths per year from chronic respiratory disease and asthma attacks, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, one of the parties to the lawsuit.

"This case is just one more example of the federal government ignoring sound science in establishing environmental policy and watering down safeguards designed to protect the public," Pennsylvania DEP Secretary Kathleen McGinty said in a statement.
And in case anyone thinks this is an apparently miniscule difference in the “acceptable level of smog” (I don’t know how any level of fog could be considered “acceptable”…to whom, I wonder? Certainly not me), I should provide this information from a report that appeared in the American Journal of Epidemiology that was reprinted in the Los Angeles Times (I cannot locate a date on this link, but I have a feeling that this information has been known for some time).

More than 12 other studies in the United States, Brazil, Europe, Mexico, South Korea and Taiwan have established links between air pollutants and low birthweight, premature birth, stillbirth and infant death, the Times reports. For instance, a team of U.S. and Swedish researchers reported earlier this year that pregnant women in several U.S. cities who were exposed to elevated carbon monoxide levels during their third trimester were 31% more likely than other women to give birth to underweight babies.

Another study by UCLA researchers published last year found that pregnant women exposed to elevated levels of microscopic particles during the final six weeks of pregnancy were 20% more likely to deliver a baby prematurely than women whose pollutant exposure levels were lower. In addition, a 1998 study by Brazilian researchers found that pregnant women exposed to high levels of nitrogen and sulfur oxides were 18% more likely than other women to have their pregnancies end in stillbirth. Researchers in that study also found evidence of carbon monoxide in the umbilical cords of nonsmokers, suggesting that air pollutants can reach fetuses through the umbilical cord. Carbon monoxide can cut off oxygen to a fetus, resulting in death, the Times reports.
Now someone would argue that there are other factors out there that can contribute to premature birth, and that would be correct, but given the fact that smog can be so damaging, I cannot possibly imagine why the EPA would want to raise the “acceptable” smog limit (actually, I take that back – I can: probably because some lobbyists, wealthy campaign donors or both cried about how they’re oppressed by that baaad government regulation again and how it’s destroying the American system of free enterprise).

As with other issues with a critical impact on our lives, I sometimes wonder why there isn’t more of a public outcry. That being said, I should point out this story that recently appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

I was initially intrigued by the title “GOP Failed To Leave Mark on Environmental Issues,” which I thought was kind of a curious way to put it. As I read the article, it appeared that the writer was almost apologizing over the fact that the Repugs could not have gutted existing environmental law in a more radical fashion.

Actually, I think the headline should be that the GOP was outsmarted on that front by a coalition of environmentalists and hunters/sports enthusiasts (and how often does that happen, anyway?), but that’s probably nit picking on my part (and based on their web site, I think it’s safe to say that the Center for the Rocky Mountain West based at the University of Montana was probably a key part of that process).

But of course, to keep the wingnuts happy, the article provides this quote and others to keep their lizard brains functioning…

"I just don't think the Republicans made the case that these changes could be made in an environmentally friendly way and in a way that would make a real difference at the pump or in terms of electricity prices," (Ben) Lieberman (of the Heritage Foundation) said.
That’s because no such case can be made unless done so disingenuously (and speaking of that, ThinkProgress provides this example of environmental demagoguery by the recently-defeated House Repug Richard Pombo of California).

There are so many reasons to do right by the environment (almost too much of a common sense issue to point out – almost). And the fact that so many of us did our part to one degree or another in opposition to the departing Congress and this administration and continue to do what we can should be a source of pride that should strengthen our resolve to carry on.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Monday Mashup

Still trying to catch up...

1) I’ve attacked Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida for some of his wretched votes, but kudos to him for meeting with Assad in Syria, with Specter and others getting ready to follow suit; it’s nice to see some of our elected officials acting like adults for a change.

2) So according to this guy Bellinger (noted in this column), we can’t return some Guantanamo detainees to their countries of origin because those countries won’t take them back? Why don’t we just drop them off then at our third party “proxy” countries that we’re using for torture and let them cut them loose from there?

3) So let’s see – first Barack Obama is criticized because his middle name is Hussein, then Maureen Dowd says that his ears are too big (I wish she hadn't put it that way - should be an innocent enough comment, but it tells you how low the Repugs will go), and now Stanley Crouch of the New York Daily News says that, somehow, Obama isn’t “black enough.”

Crouch tries to cop out by stating the following:

Of course, the idea that one would be a better or a worse representative of black Americans depending upon his or her culture or ethnic group is clearly absurd.
But then, a few paragraphs later, he adds…

So when black Americans refer to Obama as "one of us," I do not know what they are talking about. In his new book, "The Audacity of Hope," Obama makes it clear that, while he has experienced some light versions of typical racial stereotypes, he cannot claim those problems as his own - nor has he lived the life of a black American.
Crouch later states that, if Obama becomes President (and yes, I realize that it’s WAY too early to take this stuff too seriously), he’ll have to enter the White House “through the side door, since that may be the only one that’s open” (and of course, Crouch provides no further explanation on that secretive remark, because if he did, he would end up having to blame the political party that rolls out its “southern strategy” every election year – Crouch also doesn’t really describe what he means when he says Obama hasn’t “lived the life of a black American” since Obama has apparently endured “light racial stereotypes”...if these are direct quotes from Obama's book, Crouch should acknowledge them as such).

Could this entire discussion be more infantile?

Update 12/20: Forget about this woman’s looks and consider the vile garbage she spouts (hat tip to Atrios – I know we’re wise to that by now, most of us anyway, but it bears repeating...never mind, Media Matters put in a new photo).

Go Fight In Your War, Hitchens!

In this post at HuffPo, I believe Christopher Hitchens showed all of the soul-searching of a Hallmark greeting card (if pomposity and excess measured literary worth, he would be Lord Byron).

And, as a response to this infamous Hitchens moment, I would like to reprint his post here with some graphic accompaniment.

There are some lessons that can't be transmitted down the generations (or else this column would not be a regular feature) and the most conspicuous of these is the choice of your life partner.

There's no damn heritability. In fact, this is a case where you can't even profit by other people's mistakes. Which of us has not seen a friend whose parents didn't get along make the very same blunder? Which of us has not seen a person from a happy family ignore her mother's fine example? Which of us has not known a couple, contentedly living in sin, fly apart as soon as they tie the legal knot? All I have learned, from absorbing moisture on both shoulders, is that what you find out about others is almost never what you would have expected. And as for yourself...

You learn as a child that a paper cut can be more painful than a badly banged elbow, and that a tiny injustice can ruin your whole year, and then you forget this as life gets bigger. And then you learn it all over again. The domestic devil is in the details: The negligible thing that wasn't even worth mentioning. The annoying remark at the dinner party. The uneven division of labor. I don't need to go on about this; everybody knows, and has their cherished instance. (Did I just actually write cherished?) If pressed to give an example--and gallantry becomes my enemy here--I do recall how, in the case of someone very dear to me, a certain unpunctuality and forgetfulness seemed to be a vital part of her carefree charm. Fine, as long as you don't mind that much about punctuality yourself (it's a paltry virtue, but excuse me, I do possess it). Funny how small things can become really quite big ones.

I have been married twice, and a father three times. My main fault--though there have been other nominations for this coveted award--is that I do not like to lose an argument. Arguing is my life. It just happens to be what I do for a living. Being up to speed with a quick riposte, or a very long, slow, measured, patient explanation, is everything to me, and more. This has not always been delightful (to my partners, I mean), though it has been good practice. Looking back, I can sometimes see where another man might have decided to give way gracefully, or at least quickly. Not moi. For what do you take me? I have a position to maintain here. In fact, I often return to it at later points, having polished it a bit.

My ability to keep up a flow of burble has sometimes been considered part of my charm. What this reveals, of course, is the dualism that most relationships involve. The trick lies in not allowing your advantages to negate themselves. Also, in at least trying to picture how you look to others.

Never mind all of that (for now). I mentioned "heritability" at the beginning. Well, there's no real point to a childless marriage, as the supporters of gay adoption have admitted. And here is what can't be argued: When the child arrives, your wife at once, and by some alchemy, knows what to do. Both Eleni and Carol--each of them loved by men, adored by women, and married to me--seemed even to their best friends to be implausible as the sort of "officer material" that motherhood demands. But both were immediately and splendidly not just officers, but field marshals. It has once or twice occurred to me to think: Give your mouth a rest, big boy, she's raised your children. But I'm moving from the point, which is that nobody can teach you anything much about this in advance. Though you may eventually notice your own children trying not to date people like you ...

I gave fair warning by publishing a book entitled For The Sake of Argument, and I could claim that the women who have put up with me were aware of what they were "getting into." But that would be ungallant also. So I prefer to think, in the encroaching autumn of my self-regard, that it all helped in honing the point--and to hope, as I watch the children grow, that some of my better arguments will actually outlive me.
Don’t worry, he was appropriately hammered in the comments for this one.

Update 2/6/07: Hitchens is nothing if not consistent.

Seeing The Light At Last

This appeared in Saturday’s Philadelphia Daily News...

A judge yesterday granted a request by Republicans for a hand recount of ballots in a close legislative election that will determine whether Democrats will reclaim the majority in the state House of Representatives after 12 years.

Chester County Judge Howard F. Riley Jr. said the recount of the election, in which Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith defeated Republican Shannon Royer by 23 votes, would begin Tuesday and continue "each day thereafter."

The Democrats had sought a machine recount of the 23,000 ballots and wanted them to be run through a different kind of optical scanner than that which was used in the Nov. 7 general election, a process they said could be completed in three days. But the Republicans have said they are concerned about evidence that some ballots may not have been scanned properly, and proposed a hand count that they estimate will take about two weeks.

The Democrats ended up with a 102-101 majority after November's election. Smith and Royer competed to succeed Republican Rep. Elinor Z. Taylor, who retired after serving 15 two-year terms.
Gosh, I don’t know about you, but I recall an election not so long ago where the Republicans did everything they could to stop a hand recount (and succeeded, unfortunately).

The (Non) Trouble With Harry (12/06)

I mentioned Harry Reid a few minutes ago, and here he is again; this Inquirer story reported over the weekend that Reid was somehow guilty of the type of “dead of night” legislating that he decried under the Repug U.S. Congressional leadership.

In their words, Reid “slipped” a couple of home-state items into the last major bill passed by the now-happily-over 109th Congress. The first item pertained to federal land that will now be turned over to state and private control (the land in question is reportedly two-thirds the size of Rhode Island), and the second had to do with appropriating $4 million for a hospice.

Well, once you get past the screaming headline of “There Goes Harry Reid And Another Double Standard” which falls apart like tissue paper the minute its held up to scrutiny (and speaking of John Solomon of the AP by the way – he of the Harry Reid “hit” pieces about the boxing tickets and the property Reid legally held in trust without the benefit of earmarks – a big fat raspberry goes out to the Washington Post for hiring this slug), what you find out is that the land appropriation was something Reid discussed at length with Ways And Means Committee Chairman Repug Bill Thomas, but Thomas forgot to include it in the bill and Reid was reminding of it. You also find out in the very last paragraph that the other Senator of Nevada, Repug John Ensign, approved the land transfer also.

And as far as criticizing Reid for appropriating money for a hospice, I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.

And one more thing – inevitably, whenever you hear a Repug complain about spending too much (which is truly laughable given the horrific non-oversight of the recently departed Congress), the person who is usually the most visible on this is Judd Gregg of New Hampshire of the Appropriations, Budget, and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committees.

Regarding Senate appropriations, this takes you to a list of votes by Gregg, and as you can see, he basically voted for everything except the following amendments:

Transit Security Amendment
Influenza Vaccine Injury Compensation Amendment
After School Funding Amendment
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Amendment
Air Cargo Security Programs Implementation Amendment
Future Military Funding for Iraq Amendment
So Gregg has no right to complain about “budget busting," deficit-spending appropriations now or ever!

Update 1/22/07: Here's more on (moron?) Gregg...

My Sacheen Littlefeather Moment

(Lots of stuff to get to, but posting will probably be sporadic – I’ll do my best.)

To explain the title of this post, I should recall that Marlon Brando won the Oscar for Best Actor in 1973 for “The Godfather,” and instead of appearing to accept the award himself, she appeared onstage, stating that Brando was declining the Oscar because of this country’s treatment of native Americans (of course, as far as I’m concerned, “Dances With Wolves” by Kevin Costner ended up accomplishing at least as much on that score cinematically as anything Brando ever did).

(Also, I realize that what I just mentioned is pretty much burned into our cultural consciousness, along with the fact that actor John Wayne had to be restrained backstage at the time from going out and choking her; that’s the legend anyway.)

So why exactly am I bringing all of this up?

Well, as many of us know, Time Magazine’s collective Person Of The Year, as announced over the weekend, is “you,” as in, you and me and anyone else who “seized the reins of the global media.”

I would actually laugh at this if it weren’t so utterly pathetic. It sounds like we're awarding ourselves for very little in an almost masturbatory act of self-gratification.

I don’t consider “seizing the reins of the global media” to be something that is particularly memorable, and I don’t consider what I do to be a particularly earth-shattering accomplishment. I know that there are people who visit this site and indulge me with their time, and to one and all, you have my great thanks for that. However, I would be truly deluding myself if I thought that what I was doing was particularly memorable or leaving some kind of indelible impression on anyone.

As nearly as I can recall, Time’s standard for this award is “the person who made the most impact over the prior year” or something. This also is part of their criteria apparently, as noted by Time’s managing editor Richard Stengel…

"If you choose an individual, you have to justify how that person affected millions of people. But if you choose millions of people, you don't have to justify it to anyone."
I would like to think that, were he with us now, Edward R. Murrow would give Stengel the dressing down of his life for that statement.

Well, much like Sacheen Littlefeather did 33 years ago, I will decline this award with gratitude and dedicate it to someone else (I think she showed a little gratitude, as I recall).

I hereby dedicate my tiny portion of the “Person Of The Year” Award to the 3,000th American casualty in Iraq (and, by association, all of our service personnel).

Of course, I hope and pray that we don’t see that; I hope and pray we don’t see any more casualties, in particular American ones, but I felt that way when we neared the 2,000 mark, and we blew right past that milestone unfortunately.

And with our politicians crying for more troops to get thrown into this nightmare (including the reluctant-sounding Sen. Harry Reid – scratching my head a bit over that, actually - who, along with Nancy Pelosi, can do nothing without being over-analyzed about fifty different ways), I think it’s only a matter of time before we reach that number.

I cannot help but feel that, except for the immediate friends and family of our troops, as well as our troops themselves, this war continues to be largely invisible to this country. I really cannot find the correct words to communicate my utter loathing and disgust with the “pay no price, bear no burden” crowd who continue to publicly advocate sacrificing more of our men and women in the name of the unholy enterprise known as the Iraq war (I know I continually try to find the words, but I continually feel like I fail each time I do).

And by the way, kudos on that score to Bill Richardson of New Mexico for calling out John McCain, the supposed “straight talker” and “maverick”…I won’t say much more about McCain for now because the childish media narrative whereby they report every real or imagined flaw among Democrats/liberals/progressives while magnifying every real or imagined virtue of Republicans/conservatives – mostly the latter – is the subject of another rant. And I would give Colin Powell more credit for telling the truth except for the fact that he’s doing it way too late to make a difference.

Our young men and women in uniform expect us to truly support them, and many of us do as our means allow. And I think Time should have recognized them and their contribution as people who certainly make a difference and continue to do so.

We bloggers, whatever our “hit count” or level of recognition may be (as well as others at community networking sites or other individuals cited by Time), type these words and send them out into cyberspace and make a contribution of some type, I’ll acknowledge that. But often it is intangible, not something measurable or verifiable.

However, our military are shedding blood and limbs in real time, suffering in very measurable ways either physically or psychologically. And for Time or any other corporate media publication to ignore them at their own narcissistic expense (and ours, to an extent) is an almost unspeakable travesty.

Update 1/1/2007: I think the fact that we reached this awful milestone on New Year's Day is particularly grotesque.