Saturday, October 06, 2007

Another Voice On SCHIP

Hat tip to Bill Scher at The Huffington Post for this one...

Update 10/11/07: In response to the commenter, this biased "blog author" (Quotes, huh? Screw you.) found the following (from here)…

Section 651 creates new limitations on the exception to the prohibition on certain physician referrals for hospitals. This section would establish several new reporting and disclosure requirements, including submission of annual reports that identify each physician owner and a requirement to have disclosure procedures in place that inform patients of a physician’s ownership interest. Other changes include a limit on the aggregate physician ownership of a hospital to 40 percent of the total value, with the investment interest of any individual physician owner not to exceed 2 percent of the total value of the investment interest held in the hospital.

This provision prospectively abolishes the so-called “whole hospital” exception that allowed physicians to refer Medicare patients to a hospital in which they had ownership/investment interests, as long as the physicians performed services at the hospital and their ownership interests were in the hospital itself and not a subdivision of the hospital.
I only care about this as a prospective patient at a medical facility (could happen, though I’m not planning for that of course), and it sounds to me as if Section 651 affords more transparency for patients when considering care facilities referred to them by their medical providers. And why exactly should I be unhappy about that?

Today's Random Thought

Did anyone besides me notice that the Google ads have gotten really interesting lately (and a bit graphic too)?

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Good And The Bad...And The Good

Good for Max Baucus on SCHIP...

...and bad for Flush Limbore and the Repugs for trying to make money off the "phony soldiers" mess, brought to us by the pre-eminent right wing propagandist of the airwaves...

...and good for John Edwards (to help, click here).

The (Non) Trouble With Harry

A man named Harry S. Dent, Jr. passed away on Tuesday, and I’ve been thinking about him a bit off and on since then. And before his name disappears into history, I just wanted to say something about him.

You know how much we detest Republicans for their “southern strategy” of catering to racists for their votes, codifying their language with phrases such as “states rights” in particular, as well as emphasizing “law and order”?

Dent invented the so-called southern strategy, and the first person to use it was Richard Nixon when running for president in 1968.

As the New York Times tells us here…

When President Lyndon B. Johnson championed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, some Republican strategists saw a potential bonanza in the South. They thought their party could reap the votes of white people uneasy with Democrats, or downright hostile to them, for advancing the cause of black people.

(South Carolina Senator Strom) Thurmond became a Republican and campaigned for his new party’s presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, in 1964. Goldwater was beaten overwhelmingly by Johnson, but he did carry five states in the Deep South. He had campaigned in part on “states’ rights,” and he had voted against civil rights legislation, facts not lost on vote-counters in either party.

Four years later, Mr. Thurmond helped hold much of the region for Nixon by reassuring Southerners that, as president, he would not be too aggressive on civil rights issues. George C. Wallace of Alabama won five states in the Deep South, but Nixon’s strength elsewhere in the region was crucial to his narrow victory over Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.

In any event, the strategy was credited with the Nixon victory, and Mr. Dent was rewarded with a post as special counsel and political strategist to the new president. Mr. Dent worked in the White House for four years, also finding time to work on the image of his old boss Mr. Thurmond.

“We’re going to get him on the high ground of fairness on the race question,” Mr. Dent said in 1971, as Mr. Thurmond was beginning to hire black people for his staff and steer federal grants to rural black areas.

(Dent) was a lieutenant in the Army infantry during the Korean War and was a Washington correspondent for several South Carolina newspapers and radio stations before joining Mr. Thurmond’s staff (two of his brothers were killed in World War II). Mr. Dent went to law school at night, receiving a bachelor of laws degree from George Washington University and a master of laws from Georgetown University.

Mr. Dent was also an adviser to presidents Gerald R. Ford and the first President Bush and was for a time chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party.

In 1981, Mr. Dent, a Southern Baptist deacon who did not drink or smoke, left his law practice to study the Bible. He and his wife started a lay ministry that helped build churches and orphanages in Romania after the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. He was also active in religious organizations in the United States.

Reflecting on his new mission in life, Mr. Dent acknowledged in a 1981 interview with The Washington Post that he had regrets.

“When I look back, my biggest regret now is anything I did that stood in the way of the rights of black people,” he said. “Or any people.”
Dent died from complications due to Alzheimer’s disease, as noted in the article.

I honestly believe that Dent tried to make amends for his tactics on behalf of Thurmond and Nixon. He came from an entirely other generation of political operative, one that was capable of understanding the need to give something back, before the party’s foul progenies such as Lee Atwater and Karl Rove emerged from the muck to take over and carry out ever-more infamous maneuvers, remorselessly continuing to modify the template created by Dent as it suited them.

For this reason, Dent will always be associated with individuals such as Atwater and Rove. But given the other accomplishments of his life, I will always wonder whether or not he deserves it.

Where The Rubber Meets The Road (10/5/07)

As reported in last Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer, here is how Philadelphia-area members of Congress were recorded on major roll-call votes last week.


Children's health care. The House passed, 265-159, and sent to the Senate a five-year renewal of the State Children's Health Insurance Program set to cost $60 billion, up $35 billion from current spending on the program designed mainly to insure needy youth not covered by Medicaid.

A yes vote was to pass HR 976.

Voting yes: Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.), Robert A. Brady (D., Pa.), Michael N. Castle (R., Del.), Charles W. Dent (R., Pa.), Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.), Tim Holden (D., Pa.), Frank A. LoBiondo (R., N.J.), Patrick Murphy (D., Pa.), Allyson Schwartz (D., Pa.), Joe Sestak (D., Pa.) and Christopher H. Smith (R., N.J.).

Voting no: Joseph R. Pitts (R., Pa.) and H. James Saxton (R., N.J.).
And as noted here, Saxton was targeted immediately for this vote, as well he should be.

And I actually can’t think of a word to describe how truly pathetic Joe Pitts is for this vote – he's usually a joke, but this isn’t funny at all.

And the really sad part is that the bill didn’t pass with a veto-proof majority.

This tells you how the House voted (and by voting No, Dennis Kucinich immediately destroyed the shred of credibility he had with me).

Popcorn additive. The House passed, 260-154, and sent to the Senate a bill that would begin federal workplace regulation of the food additive diacetyl, which has been linked to lung diseases in some workers who handle microwave popcorn.
A yes vote was to pass HR 2693.

Voting yes: Andrews, Brady, Dent, Fattah, Gerlach, Holden, LoBiondo, Murphy, Saxton, Schwartz, Sestak and Smith.

Voting no: Castle, Pitts.
I know this rap isn’t completely fair to the House (aimed more at the Senate), but how stupid does Congress look when it can pass a bill regulating a popcorn additive, but it can’t pass a bill to cut off funding for the Iraq war and start redeploying our people out of there?

Flood insurance. The House passed, 263-146, and sent to the Senate a bill to renew the National Flood Insurance Program and expand it by raising overall coverage limits and adding coverage for such categories as windstorm damage and business interruption.

A yes vote was to pass HR 3121.

Voting yes: Andrews, Brady, Dent, Fattah, Gerlach, Holden, LoBiondo, Murphy, Saxton, Schwartz, Sestak and Smith.

Voting no: Castle and Pitts.
So in addition to organized labor, families, kids, the environment, our military and many, many other constituencies, Joe Pitts doesn’t like flood victims either (and I don’t know what’s going on with Mike Castle, but it seems like he’s completely gone over to “the dark side” as well).

God, I hope Lois Herr runs again in PA-16 for next year. If not, I hope someone lets me know who does.


Children's health care. The Senate passed, 67-29, the renewal and expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (HR 976, above). The bill now goes to President Bush, who has threatened to veto it.

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

Voting yes: Thomas Carper (D., Del.), Bob Casey (D., Pa.), Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) and Arlen Specter (R., Pa.).

Not voting: Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D., Del.).
At least it passed in the Senate with enough votes to survive the eventuality of the big red “X” that gets scrawled all over it from the veto crayon of President Brainless.

Partitioning Iraq. Senators endorsed, 75-23, a call to split Iraq into three self-governing regions - Kurdistan, in the north, a Sunni entity based in the west and a Shiite entity in the south. The nonbinding vote took place during debate of the 2008 defense budget (HR 1585), which remained in debate.

All Philadelphia-area senators voted for the partition proposal.

Iran policy. Senators adopted, 76-22, a call for "the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of U.S. power" in confronting Iran. The nonbinding vote added the wording to HR 1585, above.

A yes vote backed the amendment.

Voting yes: Carper, Casey, Lautenberg, Menendez and Specter.

Voting no: Biden.
This was the so-called Kyl-Lieberman amendment that provided something that could approximate a legal basis for an attack on Iran, just to let you know. As stated from this link, it officially designates Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, subject to the 2002 Authorization To Use Force (with said authorization used to launch the Iraq war on March 19, 2003).

Such are the games our politicians play (especially the Repugs).

Sweet dreams, everyone.

One more thing: kudos to Joe Biden for recognizing this for what it is (for his other faults, I have to admit that he’s completely figured out Bushco’s neocon overseas agenda and all that is associated with it).

Update 10/7: As he does with so many other issues, John Edwards gets it on this one, though apparently (based on her vote) HRC didn't (or maybe didn't want to admit that she did).

Hate crimes. The Senate voted, 60-39, to expand the federal law against hate crimes to include offenses based on sexual orientation, gender or disability, as well as the existing categories of national origin, religion and race. The vote added the legislation to HR 1585, above.

All Philadelphia-area senators backed the amendment
This week, the House took up bills on overseas contracting fraud and mortgage-debt forgiveness, while the Senate continued to debate the 2008 defense budget and Iraq policy.

How About A "No Nuke" Compact?

The Washington Post tells us here that U.S. House Reps Howard Berman (D-CA), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL, of course) are pushing for a nonbinding resolution concerning “constraints on future nuclear dealings with India.”

I actually thought these three might have been doing the right thing (silly me), until I read about the so-called Hyde Act that was devised when Dubya and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in July 2005 (which is what the three are contesting).

This post about the act states the following…

On the nuclear front the Act offers India access to technology for new, bigger, and better reactors, as well as uranium for those reactors - something we are short of domestically. On the foreign policy front the Act shows that India can now create a space for itself and eventually be recognized as a nuclear state. By no means are these achievements to be scoffed at.

Critics point out that what it offers, the Act can also take away…

  • Nuclear cooperation is not full and excludes enrichment and reprocessing technology, which we need to complete our three-stage nuclear fuel cycle.

  • India does not get unconditional access of uranium fuel or technology. In particular, all cooperation will be stopped should India test another nuclear weapon.

  • The US President must report annually on India's nuclear program. Such reporting can, and probably will, be used to pressure India on other fronts.

  • On the policy front India is yet to see any benefits, such as recognition as a nuclear weapons state. And missteps in negotiation have already reduced India’s ability to extract future benefits. India must take steps to limit those foreign policy losses. And the question to ask really is, when India must decide to support Iran, test a nuclear weapon, or buy gas from Myanmar, will it be able to say to the US, “No, thank you”?
    I don’t really have any sympathy for India when it comes to their unhappiness over lack of recognition as a nuclear weapons state. To accomplish this, all they have to do is sign the Nonproliferation Treaty; I have a feeling, though, that they will never do that unless Pakistan does also (and I hold Dubya primarily responsible for allowing the India deal to go through without getting both India and Pakistan to sign the treaty – a tall order, but Presidents are supposed to facilitate stuff like this instead of thumbing their nose at all established protocols for political expediency).

    And I don’t understand why the three House reps I noted above are putting obstacles in the path of the India deal when it in essence was brokered by Henry Hyde (a fellow Repug, of course) through the act bearing his name (with the Hyde deal apparently tying India’s hands for future development, creating a scenario where, as noted above, they may turn to their neighbors instead of us down the road because, say, Iran may end up offering a better deal for enrichment of nuclear material).

    This is what happens, by the way, when we allow countries to develop nuke programs without treaty enforcement. As the Wikipedia article notes, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea have not signed the treaty (I know North Korea is a basket case on this issue, though they seem to be moving in the right direction, but we should be pressuring Pakistan on this also, and there is no reason on earth why Israel should not have signed by now as far as I’m concerned).

    On the issue of trying to enforce compliance on nuclear development, though, there is another avenue that I haven’t heard anyone discuss.

    This takes you to a column at The Huffington Post by Jim Talent, the (happily) former Repug senator from Missouri who is touting something here called the Global Compact. This excerpt tells us that…

    The Global Compact is an agreement on the part of its signatories to advance 10 principles -- two on human rights, four on labor standards, three on the environment, and one anti-corruption standard. It shifts the debate from "corporate social responsibility," and concentrates instead on Environmental, Social, and Governance issues (ESG).
    As important as all of these are, I would think that a principle advocating the safe development of nuclear power for non-military industrial use (or language to that effect) should be included. Even though the compact is entirely voluntary, the nuke issue trumps all others concerning our safety and the quality of life on this planet.

    And this mentions other issues with the Global Compact that I honestly don’t expect a pro-business apologist like Talent to raise, so I’m doing so here (and here also).

    Win Ben Stein A Conscience

    As most people living in this locality know by now, the Bucks County Courier Times, on occasion, does feature enlightened commentary on its editorial page from people such as Gene Lyons, Marie Cocco, Paul Campos, and others of a liberal/Democratic/progressive persuasion. However, much more often than not, it is home to a seemingly endless parade of self-righteous freeper pundits who are only too happy to scold others whose only offense is to live lives or engage in a particular thought or behavior deemed repugnant by someone who has been granted column space.

    I know it is pointless to answer these people and counterproductive ultimately. I don’t have any raw numbers on this, but I would guess that the audience that actually thinks these right-wing egotists know what they’re talking about is shrinking by the minute. However, I sometimes find their behavior too offensive to ignore.

    And today is one of those times.

    Apparently, Ben Stein, the sometimes actor, wannabe comedian and full-time Republican pontificator, read an essay of sorts that he wrote on CBS Sunday Morning recently (a show I probably should watch once more; I liked parts of it, and I have a feeling I’d also pick up more posting material). And, in keeping with the M.O. for his ilk, it chides America for an alleged collapse in moral values.

    So of course, it was dutifully reprinted in the Courier Times today (and in the article, Stein criticizes the late “Madeleine Murray O'Hare” – nice to get her name right, Ben; I’ll let you look up the correct spelling.)

    This paragraph, however, stood out for me…

    Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock's son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he's talking about. And we said OK.
    That is truly low (and as you can see here, Ms. O’Hair and Dr. Spock are familiar targets for Stein).

    If the guy carried by Jimmy Kimmel on that former game show wants to criticize Dr. Spock for his theories on child rearing, his protests against the Vietnam War in the ‘60s, or the fact that Spock may not have given his first wife enough credit for his books, then go ahead. But trying to hold Spock accountable for the death of a family member is truly scurrilous.

    Besides, Ben, it wasn’t Spock’s son who killed himself; as noted in this Wikipedia article, it was his grandson (get your facts straight, as conservatives love to tell me when they argue but find they don’t have a leg to stand on).

    As Paul Krugman notes so astutely today, though, demonizing and ridiculing others, including children (and trying to make a joke out of it) is as natural to the freepers as breathing (and as Krugman points out, the precedent was set by The Sainted Ronnie R in 1964).

    Oh, we just loved Ronnie and his optimism, didn’t we?

    Sure we did. It’s easy to preach about “morning in America” and “a shining city on a hill” when you’re rich and pampered by your corporate benefactors (as Stein is also).

    Only a conservative could moralize about people who believe in God getting pushed around (and is that even happening?) by publicizing the misfortune of others instead of decrying with all of his or her might an instance when that is actually happening for real.

    Thursday, October 04, 2007

    There's The Matter Of Torture, Senator

    This Boston Globe story notes that Sen. Patrick Leahy wants Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey to answer a range of questions about how Bushco operates, from the warrantless wiretaps to the firing of the prosecutors who didn’t do the bidding of Abu G and the Senate Repugs.

    (Hmm, “Abu G. And The Senate Repugs”; does that sound like a name for a punk garage band playing at the Khyber in downtown Philly or something? Just wondering…).

    However, as important as those other issues are, the story only makes a passing reference to torture, or, as the Globe puts it, “interrogation methods with captured terrorist suspects” (a matter which, along with just about everything else, is “off limits” as far as White House lawyer Fred Fielding is concerned).

    Gee, Fred, Vermont is lovely this time of year. What else is Leahy supposed to talk about, then? The onset of the fall foliage season?

    One day we will be governed by adults again (and of course, White House spokesperson Dana Perino says that, “we don’t torture,” which is kind of like me saying, “I don’t type” – maybe I’m just a little unruly because the Phils are getting pummeled by the Rockies at this moment).

    All attempts at snark aside, I should note this article in today’s New York Times that tells us…

    (Two) memos were disclosed in Thursday's editions of The New York Times, which reported that (a February) 2005 legal opinion authorized the use of simulated drownings and freezing temperatures while interrogating terror suspects, and was issued shortly after then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales took over the Justice Department.

    That secret opinion, which explicitly allowed using the painful methods in combination, came months after a 2004 opinion in which the Justice Department publicly declared torture ''abhorrent'' and the administration seemed to back away from claiming authority for such practices.
    I sincerely hope Sen. Leahy makes it clear to Mukasey that this typical disregard for something like humane practices for suspects in our custody will be fought vigorously, if for no other reason then because it would subject our people abroad to the same treatment (at least, Leahy can politely suggest this before the Senate rolls over and gives Bushco what it wants yet again).

    As noted here, I’m definitely not a fan of Mukasey, but he may be as good as we’ll get from this bunch (shouldn't get a free pass, though he'll likely get one). And while I respect those who say that a new AG should not be confirmed until this administration comes clean with what the Judiciary Committee wants, I think the more practical thing to do is get someone in there to replace Abu G. who could end up doing some good.

    And besides, though we should fight Dubya & Co. on this until the end, we should realize that they will never give Leahy what he wants anyway.

    No Doubting Thomas, Sadly

    So Supreme Court flunkie justice Clarence Thomas had a big party the other day to celebrate the release of his new book with his other neocon fellow travelers.


    I don’t think there is anyone else in public life, with the possible exception of Dubya, who has risen to a position of prominence so far above his qualifications who is so resolutely bitter about it, imaging enemies everywhere he looks.

    But the only reason why I’m bothering to take any time on this subject is because of the following from this Washington Post story…

    NAACP Chairman Julian Bond and Thomas talked about Georgia. Thomas posed for a picture with a woman in a huge red hat. "I like that hat!" he said to Linda Softli of the Black Republican Women.
    Given Bushco’s contempt for African Americans in this country (one word: Katrina, and other evidence is provided here), can someone please explain to me why the leader of an organization that ostensibly represents African Americans would have any regard whatsoever for Clarence Thomas, who has openly opposed affirmative action (as columnist Eugene Robinson notes here, among some other choice observations)?

    I know there is an obvious reason, but a civil rights titan such as Julian Bond stains himself and those he represents by giving someone like Thomas even so much as the time of day (and though I don’t hold Stephen A. Smith culpable since he makes his living reporting on a wholly other business, it would have been nice if he’d decided to brush off Thomas also).

    And by the way, like many others, I had problems with Thomas way before the Anita Hill business flared up (and what a small man Thomas is to hang onto that after 16 years).

    When justice Thurgood Marshall stepped down from the high court, he said that he should not be replaced by “the wrong Negro.” Even though I don’t believe Marshall had Thomas in mind when he said that, those words were still prescient.

    Thomas to me is the epitome of narcissistic conservative entitlement. A cipher for his ideological betters, he should not be surprised when he receives scant congratulation for favors that are almost completely unearned.

    The World According To “Genghis” Cohen

    My goodness, is Roger Cohen in a spirit of jingoistic right-wing triumphalism today in the New York Times, or what (here)? I haven’t seen such armchair warrior ferocity since Don (“The Defense Secretary We Had”) Rumsfeld skipped out of Washington, D.C. for the comfy confines of the Hoover Institution.

    Tristero over at Hullaballo (h/t Atrios) addressed a good bit of what I’d planned to say very well here, so I’ll just point you over there. However, Cohen did manage to sneak in some other propaganda that I want to comment on, to wit…

    When John Kerry was vilified as a flip-flopping liberal by those armchair warriors, Bush and Cheney, I knew where I stood. When Michnik and Kouchner are neocons and is the Petraeus-insulting face of never-set-foot-in-a-war-zone liberalism, I’m with the Polish-French brigade against the right-thinking American left.
    (Cohen defines somewhat who Koucher is, but he really doesn’t bother to say much about Michnik – oh well…).

    More to the point: for Cohen’s information, many members of MoveOn are veterans as well as family members or relatives of currently serving members of our military. And MoveOn is their voice (as noted here).

    And very much unlike you, we opposed the wrongheaded preemptive war in Iraq, vilified then as America-hating appeasers, and vilified now by the likes of you for pointing out that we were right all along.

    And by the way, it seems that the latest neocon trick, in an ongoing effort to compare Iraq to some other reasonably successful military episode from our history, is to compare the Iraq war with the intervention we led with the U.N. against Slobodan Milosevic and what was once Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

    The comparison doesn’t hold up for me because, as far as I know through that action, Bill Clinton wasn’t responsible for the deaths of 3,808 (at last count) of our military personnel.

    Steve And Patrick Under Fire In Bucks, PA

    (I would have gotten to this earlier, but I've had some technical difficulties; that's why there haven't been any videos for the last couple of days - hopefully all will be made right soon).

    The following letter appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times yesterday…

    As a lifelong Democrat and one who has supported Congressman Patrick Murphy financially and politically, I was offended by Murphy’s $1,000-per-person fundraiser in Newtown at the Brick Hotel on Sept. 24.

    The event was the first meeting of the “Congressional Policy Group” wherein members must make a required $1,000 annual donation to Murphy’s political campaigns. Donors, through their purchased membership, will apparently have the good congressman’s ear to discuss “a range of policy issues” directly with Murphy.

    While I do see the value of organizing a broadly based think tank to help our congressman understand and act on the concerns of his constituents, I fail to see how the required $1,000 access fee is appropriate, desirable or that it will provide sage advice. Those $1,000 donors are not representative of the voters who elected Murphy.

    I see this as pay to play.

    While not opposed to fundraising or to the idea of a congressional policy group, mixing the two will lead to a loss of voter confidence because of the apparent purchased access. This is a slippery slope.

    Congressional approval ratings of under 20 percent are no mystery in this kind of an environment. I want my congressman’s integrity to be above suspicion and above reproach. The apparent sale of access does not leave me with a high level of confidence.

    Delano Purcell
    Newtown, Pa
    Here is a link to a prior post on the fundraiser in question.

    As you read it and the linked Courier Times article by Brian Scheid, please explain to me where it states that Patrick Murphy will contract the services of anyone making a donation to his campaign or assist anyone who donates by trying to place them in a public position of any type at all.

    You can’t. And that’s because Patrick makes no such commitment.

    This has nothing whatsoever to do with “pay to play.”

    And besides, as the Courier Times story notes, there is a precedent for what Patrick is doing here, and that was established by none other than Jim Greenwood with his “Freedom Team.”

    But of course, it’s only a “problem” when Dems do things that Republicans do when campaigning, particularly if they’re not illegal (the price of the Brick Hotel party is definitely too rich for my blood, but I’m just a filthy, unkempt liberal blogger, let’s not forget).

    And this nonsense appeared on Tuesday...

    Kudos on the Aug. 26 editorial promising to hold Steven Santarsiero and Diane Marseglia – Democratic candidates for county commissioner – to their word on cronyism. I don’t know much about Marseglia, but Santarsiero has found religion late in life.

    Is this the same Steve Santarsiero who removed the long-seated engineering firm and solicitor in Lower Makefield only to replace them with firms that made hefty contributions to the Democrat Party? Those same firms then turned around and billed the township 250 percent more than was budgeted for legal and engineering fees.

    The day after the editorial ran, you published an excellent letter from Cory Steiner, a Lower Makefield resident, who questioned the township’s new ordinance requiring “apprentice programs” (read unions) to work in Lower Makefield.

    A brief review of the dates will show that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers made a $10,000 contribution to the Bucks County Democratic Committee – a major financier of the Santarsiero/Marseglia campaign – on April 7, 2007. At the very next Lower Makefield Supervisors meeting, Santarsiero’s “Responsible Contractor Ordinance” was passed.

    This ordinance, among other things, requires that any contractor doing work for the township on projects in excess of $75,000 must have an “apprentice program.” By a large measure, apprentice programs are found at union contractors. Clearly tit-for-tat or, if you prefer, pay-to-play politics!

    If I were a cynic I might say that Santarsiero is simply an opportunistic politician looking to grab a headline. Since I am not a cynic, I will remain happy that he has found religion. No matter how late in life he’s come to it.

    Andy Raffle
    Lower Makefield, Pa.
    I absolutely do not know where Raffle is getting that figure of a 250 percent increase in budgeted legal and engineering fees for Lower Makefield when Steve and the board changed engineering firms and solicitors for the township; several Google searches yielded nothing. Is that an imaginary number, then? It wouldn’t be surprising if it was, seeing as how Raffle is undoubtedly a Republic party sympathizer, and such tactics are normal for them (and Cory Steiner, by the way, is another chronic freeper offender on the editorial page of the Courier Times).

    What I do know is this, based on this recent post…

    In 2006, when Santarsiero and two other Democrats took control of the Lower Makefield supervisors for the first time ever, they replaced one engineering firm with three new ones. By a 3-2 vote, which fell along party lines, the township hired general engineer Schoor DePalma to replace Pickering, Corts and Summerson of Newtown.

    PCS had worked for the township for nearly 20 years and charged $87 per hour. Schoor DePalma, which is based in Manalapan, N.J., but has an office in Falls, charges $90 per hour.

    Firm Chairman Stephen DePalma donated $15,500 to the county Democratic committee from May 2003 to May 2005, according to an analysis by county GOP campaign manager Mike Walsh. He also donated $11,800 to the county Republicans from 1998 to 2005, Walsh said.

    Santarsiero said the township chose Schoor DePalma because the firm was better qualified than PCS. Since the hire, the company's hydrologist and grant-writing department have benefited the township, he said.

    “I don't mean to disparage anyone at [PCS],” he said, “but there's no question that Schoor DePalma is a firm with much greater resources and a much wider breadth of experience.”
    But as stated later in the post based on reporting by Jenna Portnoy of the Courier Times, however, the Repugs awarded a six-figure deal to Begley, Carlin & Mandio of Langhorne, and no matching contribution was made to any Dem candidate or to the party. Also, one attorney’s hourly rate for B, C &M was raised by $75 an hour, with no word on how many hours were billed at that rate.

    Pay to play, indeed.

    And Raffle makes the inane comparison between those sums and the $10,000 donation from the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to the Bucks Democratic Party, alleging that the “Responsible Contractor Ordinance” passed by the township was a quid pro quo because the ordinance stipulated an apprentice program for projects in excess of $75K.

    This Wikipedia article tells us that…

    …In September 1941, the National Apprenticeship Standards for the Electrical Construction Industry, a joint effort among the IBEW, the National Electrical Contractors Association, and the Federal Committee on Apprenticeship, were established. The IBEW added additional training programs and courses as needed to keep up with new technologies, including an industrial electronics course in 1959 and an industrial atomic energy course in 1966.

    Today, the IBEW conducts apprenticeship programs for electricians, linemen, and VDV installers (who install low-voltage wiring such as computer networks), in conjunction with the National Electrical Contractors Association, under the auspices of the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC).
    And this tells you about the apprenticeship program requirements for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for the Capitol City Local 1 in Madison, Wisconsin. If you click the links and open the .pdf documents, you’ll see that the requirements for enrollment in the apprenticeship programs are thoroughly defined (a GED at a minimum) and the program courses provide the knowledge needed to become professionally skilled. It takes work and dedication to complete the training and become certified to do the work properly.

    And I applaud Steve and the supervisors for making sure the apprenticeship program was stipulated in the ordinance. Unions do this work well, on time (or ahead of schedule) and keep in the budget or come in under the allocated amount. And as a taxpayer, I don’t know what else I could ask for.

    And Raffle concludes the letter by saying, “I am not a cynic.” Actually, I believe that. He's just an ignorant Republican who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    Can You Feel The Excitement?

    I think I have a treatment available to anyone out there in need of relaxation, and you don’t even need Diazepam. This will mellow you out faster than a Kenny G retrospective.

    It’s called The Fred Thompson Campaign For President.

    As the New York Times notes here…

    Twenty-four minutes after he began speaking in a small restaurant the other day, Fred D. Thompson brought his remarks to a close with a nod of his head and an expression of thanks to Iowans for allowing him to “give my thoughts about some things.”

    Then he stood face to face with a silent audience.

    “Can I have a round of applause?” Mr. Thompson said, drawing a rustle of clapping and some laughter.

    “Well, I had to drag that out of you,” he said.
    And so charismatic and personable too, isn’t he? I guess he acquired a lot of people skills working in front of a TV camera for all those years...

    Mr. Thompson told few jokes and, while an easygoing presence, did not appear to have much interest in the small talk that is a staple of retail campaigning. As he defined his candidacy, Mr. Thompson spoke in broad generalities about the conservative principles that he said had informed his political views — in particular, federalism and cutting government spending — and led him to run for president.

    In the process, he often lulled audiences into the kind of stillness that engulfed the room when he finished talking at the “Lunch with Fred Thompson” in Marshalltown.

    “On prosperity, I have a real novel approach, a real creative approach,” he said in Coralville the other night. “Let’s continue doing what works and quit doing what doesn’t work in this country. Tax cuts work.”
    Yep, that’s “novel and creative” all right, Fred. So novel and creative that every other candidate who has ever run for elected office has tried it before, I’m sure.

    The more he speaks, the more I continue to be amazed by the depth of Thompson’s curiosity and intellect…not!

    And so knowledgeable of history also, as you can see here…

    Still, Mr. Thompson at times seems to be looking for his sea legs. In an interview with Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa on Wednesday, in talking about Iran, he referred to the “Soviet Union and China.” (Ms. Henderson, at the end of her blog post on the exchange, wrote: “No, I did not mistype. Thompson said Soviet Union rather than Russia.”)
    And politically astute as well…

    On the first day of his visit here, he attacked the Medicare prescription drug plan signed into law by Mr. Bush in 2003 as too costly. That bill was “written and championed by Iowa’s popular Republican Senator Charles Grassley,” as was tartly noted in a front-page story in The Des Moines Register, referring to the senator who all the Republican presidential candidates are assiduously courting for an endorsement.
    I think Thompson is being almost unconsciously innovative here in that he may be the first politician who has ever tried to “phone in” his candidacy.

    The only problem is that I think he’ll have done such a good job of making the voters nod off, they won’t wake up in time to answer the call.

    Wednesday, October 03, 2007

    No Hope For Casey

    And based on this story, the same for Baucus, Bayh, Bingaman (happy birthday, schmuck), Carper, Conrad, Dorgan, Inouye, Johnson, Landrieu, Levin (the guy who once came up with this, by the way, back when he acted like an adult), Lincoln, McCaskill, Mikulski, The Nelson Brothers, Pryor, Reed, Salazar, Tester and Webb also…

    I found out about this from The Daily Kos, and they noted that every single Republican voted against the Feingold amendment also. Hell, at least THEY can show unanimity for a cause, however unholy it is, as opposed to those idiots I try to help in my way (who seem to be stuck on this 28 or 29 number).

    And remember how happy we were to see Casey, Webb, Tester and McCaskill win so the Dems could get the Senate? All four sold us down the river again here on the war.

    Can someone explain to me again exactly why I should support the Democratic Party?

    Ready For Your Close-Up, Dubya?

    Much like a trained seal trying to balance a beach ball on its nose in lieu of not knowing what else to do, our now-and-forever red state president open up his demagogic playbook again in a speech where he took another shot at “Hollywood values.”

    And I guess that’s a funny remark for people such as Robert Duvall, Ron Silver, Kelsey Grammer and Cicely Tyson, among other actors who supported Dubya in ’04.

    It’s really not worth my time to list all of the problems facing our nation and the world once more, and it really isn’t worth your time either for me to make you read about what you already know. It’s just sooo depressing to watch Incurious George continually try to present himself as an adult in a job for which he has continually been overmatched, imagining “issues” handed to him straight from the Republican National Committee while everything else disintegrates around him, and he remains oblivious.

    I’ll tell you what then, Dubya, as long as you think we should take you seriously; here is an article about movie projects proposed in support of your pet war in 2005 (with more of a jingoistic tone, I would say), and here is a link to movie projects proposed somewhat for the same reason as of a few days ago which seem to reflect, more than anything, our country’s discouragement over this whole sorry episode in our history.

    At least “the dream factory” recognizes what the public wants based on their understanding of this calamity, and on that score, they’ve been waay ahead of any politician, especially you.

    What’s Some Stray Missiles Between “Friends”?

    According to this McClatchy news story, the Israelis have acknowledged that “its air force had struck an unspecified military target deep inside Syria in September.”

    And that’s about it. However, the McClatchy story offers this possibility…

    One of the latest theories is that North Korea told the United States it had sold nuclear technology to Syria , which prompted the U.S. to tell Israel that North Korea had sold nuclear technology to Syria , which prompted Israel to attack the North Korean technology in Syria . Follow?
    And as far as I’m concerned, telling Bushco about stuff like this is as good as telling the Israelis anyway.

    Personally, I think something else is going on here, as noted here by Daniel Levy of The Century Foundation via Ezra Klein, as follows (dated 9/7 right after the story broke)…

    There has been huge speculation in Israel, throughout the summer, regarding Syrian rearmament and possible military intentions. This might have been a way of dipping one's toe in the water of Syrian potential bellicosity. The Israeli website, DEBKA (part sensationalist, part propagandist, part psych-ops plaything) has suggested today that Israel was checking the threat posed by the new Russian-supplied Pantsyr Missile Systems that both Syria and Iran have taken possession of:

    Western intelligence circles maintain that it is vital for the US and Israel to establish the location and gauge the effectiveness of Pantsyr-S1E air defenses in Syrian and Iranian hands, as well as discovering how many each received... Western intelligence circles stress that information on Russian missile consignments to Syria or Iran is vital to any US calculation of whether to attack Iran over its nuclear program... Syria took delivery in mid-August of 10 batteries... the Pantsyr-S1E had failed in its mission to bring down trespassing aircraft.

    This would neatly dovetail the renewed push in the American media this week for confrontation with Iran - that included a Washington Post editorial discrediting IAEA chief elBaradei, a new ADL stop Iran campaign and general neocon push. I am not suggesting that the American Enterprise Institute has a hotline to the Israeli Air Force Chief.
    However, I would suggest that the Israelis took out the Syrian Pantsyr missiles as a test to find out we could do the same thing to the Iranian missiles, which are the same type. And the Syrians are, by comparison, not making much ado about it because they don't want to publicize the fact that they got burned.

    And if you doubt any of this, then just wonder why President Stupid Head (in these parts today to honor a 10 year old; his intellectual equal, no doubt, and I don’t mean to insult the kid) keeps beating the drum against Iran in his typically mindless fashion.

    Another Reason For Single Payer Care, Eh?

    To recap, here is the summary of what was accomplished in the settlement last week between General Motors and the United Auto Workers Union in the UAW’s 41-hour strike last week…

    The agreement, which ended a 41-hour strike against GM, shifts $51 billion in potential healthcare liability off GM's balance sheet, puts new workers on a lower pay scale, freezes wages but guarantees bonuses, promises to keep investing in U.S. production and limits how long idled workers get nearly full pay in a so-called jobs bank.
    However, this article from the Canadian Press tells us of the following impact on the Canadian auto industry as a result…

    …the U.S. deal represents "a very dark day for the Canadian automotive sector," in the initial reaction of leading industry analyst Dennis DesRosiers.

    "GM and very shortly Ford and Chrysler will have created about a $25-per-hour cost advantage to build vehicles in the U.S. instead of Canada," DesRosiers said shortly after last Wednesday's agreement.

    By the weekend, as more details of the American settlement came out, DesRosiers downsized this estimated gap to $10 an hour, "understanding that this is a moving target."
    And concerning the precedent set in the agreement to begin moving away from employer-based health insurance (a move I would only encourage with a reliable substitute already in place, though that move continues regardless of my opinion or anyone else’s), here is what former Clinton Administration Labor Secretary Robert Reich has to say…

    I say let's just scrap the employer based system altogether. Use the 200 million dollars or so of annual tax deductions the system now relies on (for employers and employees) to help lower-income Americans, who aren't poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, afford basic health insurance. And then allow anybody who wants to reduce their health-insurance costs to join them -- along with the retirees , government workers, and poor, all of whom are now in government-organized health care plans -- in a SuperMedicare plan that would have so many members it could negotiate with drug companies, suppliers, and hospitals for bargain-basement rates.

    It's win-win-win. Employers no longer pay rising health-care costs. Employees get affordable health insurance even when they're between jobs or have no steady employer. Nobody loses any options they now have. The only losers are the big insurance companies, hospital chains, and drug companies. Seems like a small price to pay, doesn't it?
    Sounds like Reich has been paying attention to what John Edwards has been talking about (or vice versa maybe?).

    And even better, we won’t have to hear employers whining about having to offshore jobs because of the prohibitive benefit costs for hiring U.S. workers (I don’t believe that is a hindrance worth taking work off our shores for a majority of employers, though).

    Though I’m sorry for the Canadian auto workers, I would only ask that they please not consider us a bunch of “hosers” for trying to do right by our workforce and accomplish some long-overdue health care reform.

    Tuesday, October 02, 2007

    Tuesday Videos

    Incubus ("Oil And Water," live at the 2007 KROQ Weenie Roast - not the whole band)...

    ...and Happy Birthday to Sting ("Russians" - don't need to add much, do I?).

    For more videos, please check the WeShow link from the home page.

    Darrell Issa Threatens Henry Waxman

    Backgrounder is here (h/t Atrios) - sometimes their antics are so galling that mere words don't suffice when trying to describe them.

    Methinks Thou Doth Protest Too Much

    I hate reading stuff like this (guess I’m just an old, moralistic, liberal stick-in-the-mud today).

    I have a question for Tara Kissane, the Director of Visual and Performing Arts for the Higley Unified School District in Mesa, AZ; did you actually ask any of the kids whether or not you should stop the production of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” as noted in the story? Did they appear to be confused, scared, or offended somehow?

    As noted in the story…

    The play was produced by a New York-based touring company, Windwood Theatricals. Paul Bartz, the producer, said he was surprised to learn the performance was stopped.

    “It's a matter of interpretation, but they're surely not seeing anything on that stage that they're not seeing on television,” Bartz said Tuesday. “You might liken it to a 'Saturday Night Live' sketch on Shakespeare.”

    The group's Web site says it's a “whirlwind roller coaster tribute to the immortal bard. Three actors take on the daunting task of performing 37 plays and 154 sonnets in under two hours, illuminating the world of Shakespeare through the use of football, swordplay and hip-hop music.” A version ran off-Broadway in 2001-2002.

    Thinking about the early parts of the play, Bartz said, “The only thing I can think of that she might have found objectionable is that there is the use of the word penis, twice.” He said if Kissane had objections, the cast could have made adjustments, but they weren't given the chance.
    Bartz also said he’d shown a video of the production to his own middle-school-age kids, and they apparently had no problem with it (I guess he would say that, but I'm inclined to believe him).

    But heaven forbid that we subject our children to people such as that ruffian Shakespeare, what with everyone walking around threatening to expose a “bare bodkin” (a knife, by the way), as well as all of that war, witchcraft, and tawdry sexual contact, to say nothing of ritual suicide.

    Yep, it’s more important to preserve our “moral values” than to provide insight for our kids into the world through literature’s greatest author (IMHO).

    Sure it is.

    Bucks, PA Dem Mash-Up

    I apologize for being a little late with this item, but Patrick Murphy came up with a great idea for those victims of flood damage in Bucks who need to file a claim with the national flood insurance program...

    On (9/27), Murphy pushed for a new federal office to help direct home owners and business owners through the often confusing national flood insurance program.

    The new federal post, which Murphy called the National Flood Insurance Advocate, would be an independent office within the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The new office is modeled after the Taxpayer Advocate Service, which helps Americans with tax questions within the Internal Revenue Service.

    “This office would fight for weary, rain-soaked families and businesses looking to rebuild,” Murphy said on the House floor Thursday afternoon.

    The office was included as an amendment in the Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2007, which House members were expected to vote on late Thursday.
    This makes a whole lot more sense than Mikey Fitzpatrick’s idea to get PA Governor Ed Rendell to write a letter to request that New York City officials lower their reservoir capacity to 85 percent, resulting in a decrease in the Delaware River along River Road in Yardley Borough of about one inch (as noted here).

    It’s called constituent service, Repugs.

    Update 11/27/07: And here's a follow up from Patrick on that.

    Also, Courier Times reporter Brian Scheid noted here the disparity between those in Congress who have served in the military and those who haven’t and how much that is responsible for our current sorry state...

    Fewer than 30 percent of congressional members have served in the military, 28 percent of senators and 23 percent of House members, according to figures provided by the Military Officers Association of America. Just 20 years ago, nearly 80 percent of congressional members had served in the military.

    The dwindling number of veterans on Capitol Hill has some veterans nervous that veterans services and the well-being of current military personnel could be overlooked by a growing majority in Congress that has never worn combat boots.

    “It really worries me,” said Bill Perry, a Vietnam veteran from Middletown and executive director of Delaware Valley Veterans for America. “It worries me greatly.”
    As I have in the past, I should add that I am in no way trying to advertise a return of the draft here, and I never will. There are many other ways to acquire the well-rounded experience with the world and other cultures that I believe is necessary to serve in a high-profile public office. I just don’t think it’s an accident that the majority of our politicians who have served are Democrats, given that they view this country as a member of the would community and advocate policies accordingly on issues such as energy, defense, the environment, etc. (as opposed to the Repugs, many of whom do the exact opposite).

    Finally, Steve Santarsiero and Diane Marseglia, the two Dem candidates for Bucks County Commissioners, unveiled their plan to involve all 54 of the county’s municipalities in the effort to fight for open space and try to mitigate sprawl throughout the county.

    As the story tells us…

    “Townships have been left to flounder on their own,” said land use lawyer Bob Sugarman, who touted the Democrats’ plan. He said a strong county plan, such as what Chester County has, would insulate municipalities against unwanted development.

    Under the Democrats’ plan, the planning commission would focus on agricultural promotion, water resources, flooding, traffic and property taxes; an Environmental Advisory Council would oversee green practices.

    Tinicum Supervisor Boyce Budd — who is Republican, but showed up to hear the Democrats’ plan — said he favored the county bond referendum, but stressed more must be done to help municipalities curtail sprawl.

    “If there was a comprehensive plan laid out, we wouldn’t feel like we’re just one little isolated township that’s fighting the developers,” he said.
    Once again, it’s called constituent service, Repugs.

    Whoops, She Won't Do It Again...Maybe

    I really don’t want to spend much time on this since it isn’t really my thing, but I received some interesting information that could pertain to the child custody dispute going on between Britney Spears and Kevin Federline from a lady named Bonnie Russell who, as noted here (last entry under “R”) publicizes the work of attorneys (mostly in a positive light, but not in the case of Ron Lais, who now resides at a correctional facility at taxpayers expense).

    The following is noted in the FindLaw article about the Spears/Federline case (describing a condition Spears must meet to regain custody of her two boys set by Superior Court Commissioner Scott M. Gordon)…

    The commissioner did say Spears must meet eight hours a week with a parenting coach, who will observe and report back to the court about her parenting skills.

    Both parents are prohibited from making derogatory remarks about each other in their children's presence, and from using corporal punishment to discipline them.

    (PA family law attorney Lynne) Gold-Bikin said the corporal punishment restriction is unusual, adding there may have been some evidence introduced at a closed-door custody hearing that led the commissioner to add it to the order.

    Each must complete the court's "Parenting Without Conflict" class. The educational program, set in a group format and comprised of six sessions, helps parents learn the benefits of cooperative parenting, conflict resolution and problem solving.
    And for anyone out there who wonders how “interested parties” manage to work their way into these cases and get family court referrals (such as the person or entity who could be chosen to assist with supervised visitation should Commissioner Gordon – holy litigant noncompliance, Batman! – decide a third party is needed, or the person named as the “parenting coach,” or the organization or individuals offering the educational program)…

    California attorneys don't know the machinations behind-the-scenes when it comes to Supervised visitation.

    Such as judges sitting on various non-profit boards and ordering litigants to use their non-profit for Supervised Visitation...although by law, the State says a volunteer is enough (

    Attorneys fail to mention children whose parents are ordered to undergo Supervised Visitation remain at risk because there is no oversight to these quasi-government pass offs.

    Or that all one needs to accomplish to become a supervised visitation monitor is a clean driving record and some evidence one has completed one domestic violence class. But oversight? There is none.

    Which explains why mainstream news people are unaware some "monitors" have been arrested for bestiality.

    (That would be Deborah Hildebrandt in Contra Costa County. Case number is D05-00622.)

    I don't think attorneys are trying to hide anything. They don't know they don't know.

    In 2001, in San Diego I investigated one supervised monitor and after reading the stuff I got from the Public Records Act, hot-footed it down to testify before the County Board of Supervisors. I passed out the evidence, (seven copies each) and suggested the county terminate contracts totaling over 300k for one fake therapist who ran a Supervised Visitation agency.

    The county opened an investigation. The woman wanted the investigation to end so she terminated the contracts. The country investigated anyway, found financial problems and ordered she pay restitution. But what about the children? How did they deal with the woman who lies about her resume making custody reports upon which judges based custody decisions?

    It was remarkably easy. County Supervisor Ron Roberts went on record stating they were getting reimbursed so all was well. Turns out the safety of the children was never, at least in the eyes of the Board of Supervisors, an issue.
    This ties into some anecdotal stuff I’ve heard in the past about Philadelphia Family Court, and I’m sure it holds true for most other family courts in existence. As with other matters of law, you want to do anything you possibly can to settle a child custody matter before it ends up in court and thus ruled upon by a judge or jury.

    I’m sure many of you feel the way I do about this; I don’t much give a damn about the prospects for the two knucklehead “adults” in this case; I don’t wish them ill, I just couldn’t be bothered.

    However, there are so many dangers out there for young kids, to say nothing of these two boys, who, if they so choose, can find pictures online almost wherever they choose of their mother parading around in her underwear (as well as a few where she forgets to even wear that much clothing). I hope there’s a reasonably stable adult influence out there for them to rely on as they try to overcome the trauma inflicted on them by these two human sores masquerading as parents.

    Killing For Peace?

    The New York Times informs us here that…

    The United States maintained its role as the leading supplier of weapons to the developing world in 2006, followed by Russia and Britain, according to a Congressional study to be released Monday. Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia were the top buyers.

    The global arms market is highly competitive, with manufacturing nations seeking both to increase profits and expand political influence through weapons sales to developing nations, which reached nearly $28.8 billion in 2006.

    That sales total was a modest drop from the 2005 figure of $31.8 billion, a trend explained by the strain of rising fuel prices that prompted many developing states — except those that produce oil — to choose upgrading current arsenals over buying new weapons.
    I’m honestly not trying to single out Times reporter Thom Shanker here, since this is good factual reporting on an issue that is vastly under-reported as far as I’m concerned.

    But assuming our goal is to aid forces legitimately trying to fight for Democratic reforms (a huge, dumbass naïve assumption, I know, made even more ridiculous when you consider what’s going on in the countries who are our biggest buyers), wouldn’t a rational person think that we should be taking a look at the effect of our actions here?

    (It’s so discouraging to see how even our somewhat intelligent corporate media mindlessly lapses into the mode of “let’s focus on the numbers and percentages and the other countries doing what we’re doing and how much better we’re doing versus them,” when reporting on stuff like this – I guess we’re supposed to imagine little chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” in our heads like it’s a goddamn football game or something, as Frank Overton bellowed in “Fail-Safe” – going waay back for that movie reference.)

    Fortunately, however, William D. Hartung of provided some much-needed context here for a virtually identical news story from about a year ago…

    While the U.S. hangs its foreign policy on preventing the spread of “weapons of mass destruction” (a worthy goal, however grossly the Bush administration goes about achieving it), it continues to ignore a more immediate threat—the proliferation of small arms and light weapons—that deserves serious attention as well. These low-tech arms have been described as “slow motion weapons of mass destruction,” because they are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths over the past dozen years, from the genocide in Rwanda to the ongoing civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Yet yesterday, the United States, the world's largest arms supplier, voted against an historic United Nations proposal to curb traffic in arms.

    The United Nations vote was the culmination of the work of a network of prominent individuals and diverse non-governmental organizations. They set out to address the problem of small arms and light weapons—as well as larger systems like tanks, fighter planes and attack helicopters—by putting forward a proposal for an Arms Trade Treaty. The thrust of the proposed treaty is to curb arms transfers to major human rights abusers and areas of conflict. It would also urge weapons suppliers to limit weapons sales that are likely to undermine development in poor nations.

    Other elements of an arms treaty could include the creation of common international criteria for assessing particular exports, and movement toward global enforcement mechanisms such as licensing of the arms brokers and shippers who are all too often at the center of illegal deals that have fueled conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola and Rwanda.

    As a first step—by a vote of 139 to 1 with 24 abstentions—the U.N. General Assembly agreed yesterday to create a two-part process aimed at pursuing such a treaty. The United States was the only vote in opposition to the resolution.

    So, the question remains, why is the United States opposed to taking measures to stop this deadly trade? The first answer is strategic. The executive branch wants to preserve its “freedom of action” to arm U.S.-allied groups like the Nicaraguan contras, the Afghan mujahadin, Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA movement in Angola, the Iraqi National Congress and groups opposed to the current regime in Iran. Even if one accepts the right of the United States to attempt to overthrow governments that oppose its short-term political or economic imperatives—which this author does not—the short-term “benefits” of these arms-supply relationships are inevitably outweighed by the long-term costs to U.S. and global interests. Unfortunately, short-sighted policymakers in Washington—of both parties—have failed to understand or accept this fundamental principle.

    A second factor in U.S. opposition to any substantial measures to curb the weapons trade is the role of the domestic gun lobby. Both the National Rifle Association and its allied organization, the World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities, have gone on record against an Arms Trade Treaty. National Rifle Association propaganda has made the false claim that a treaty would lead to the confiscation of guns owned by U.S. citizens.
    So you can thank the profligate greed of our weapons manufacturers operating under the cover of a professed desire by our government to ensure democratic reforms for helping to perpetuate gun carnage engulfing the world, as well as the National Rifle Association for continuing to ensure that it engulfs this country right along with it.

    And I suppose that no one is supposed to report on the extent to which these instruments of death find their way into the hands of those who seek to do harm to our military (or, if someone does, it’s not supposed to affect our official policy on supporting “democracy” abroad).

    But hey, at least we found something we can do better than the Russians or the Brits, right?

    U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A…

    And by the way, speaking of war (which this post is ultimately about anyway), please note the headline from this AP story, which is…

    Iraqi Deaths Fall by 50 Percent
    However, in the story, we read the following…

    "The Iraqi death count is considered a minimum based on AP reporting. The actual number is likely higher, as many killings go unreported."
    Can someone please tell me what journalism school teaches these abysmal methods of performing one’s job when reporting the news?

    Don't Know Much About History

    (Apologies to Sam Cooke…)

    In today’s News for Republicans, John McCain, enjoying that “bump” all the way to third place past Willard Mitt Romney in the contest for the Repug nomination for president, travels to Florida (noted here) to address “a broad spectrum of issues” according to U.S. News and World Report stenographer Liz Halloran.

    I hope that while McCain is traveling to Florida, he has a chance to read the U.S. Constitution; it most certainly does not specify that America is a “Christian nation” (here).

    And Rudy! is no doubt still basking in the love shown for him by South Philadelphia cultural troglodyte Joey Vento of Geno’s Steaks, seeing as how they both share such a love and respect for immigrants.

    As noted in the Inquirer story…

    Vento, who got national and international attention last year for posting a sign in the window declaring, "This is America. When ordering, please speak English."
    There are many reasons why this is the wrong attitude, but here are just a few (from here)…

    Today there is a tendency to revise history, to extol the virtues of past immigration, specifically that which includes our ancestors, while saying that now the country is full and can hold no more. But as we have seen, the pattern of resistance to immigration was, if anything, more severe during earlier waves of arrivals. Indeed immigration today is about equal, in absolute numbers, to the peak of entries around 1910. And the rate of immigration as immigrants per 1,000 U.S. residents is several times lower than at any time during the period 1850-1930, because the U. S. population as a whole is so much larger (Simon 1992).

    Anti-immigrant groups have had to endorse historical immigration because the vast majority of U.S. citizens are descended from immigrants. What they do not state directly, but imply in cleverly constructed arguments, is the one thing that clearly is different today. In 1900, 85 percent of immigrants came from Europe (only 2.5 percent came from Latin America and Asia combined). By 1990, Latino and Asian immigrants accounted for more than two-thirds of all immigrants (Lapham 1993). Because recent immigrants tend to settle in five or six states, these increases have contributed to areas where people of color are in the majority. The population of Hispanics in the United States is projected to reach 96 million by the middle of this century, while the Asian population will rise to about 34 million. By 2050 about half the U.S. population will consist of people of color (Population Projection Program 2000).
    And more in line with Vento and Giuliani is this excerpt…

    Language is a key issue in the immigration debate. At the same time that there is concern that students are not learning second languages, there are attempts to make sure that young immigrants do not retain their native language. A plausible explanation is that immigrants have the wrong language: Spanish, rather than French or German (predominantly spoken by the wave of immigrants in the early 1900s). The opposition to "other" languages seems to reflect both disdain of foreign cultures and fear of the loss of English as the dominant U.S. language and is closely associated with the racist aspects of immigrant bashing.

    The language issue is often falsely framed as a concern that immigrants are not learning English and are not integrating into society. In fact, immigrants today are learning English as rapidly as previous generations of immigrants, despite longer and longer waiting lists for adult English classes due to government cutbacks. The hidden political agenda of English Only advocates is clear in their attacks on bilingual education and bilingual ballots. When English Only laws have passed, it has emboldened employers to restrict non-English languages at work and cities to outlaw commercial signs in various languages. It has fueled anti-immigrant sentiment, extending to citizens, legal residents, and the undocumented alike, as long as they "look like immigrants."
    Now I’ll be honest with you; I get frustrated also when I hear non-English spoken in the work place or in other areas of businesses where I deal with people who have either recently arrived here or have not been here for long compared to myself. But in my experience, these people are able to function as citizens and aspire for better lives for themselves and their families. And if they’re here as a result of an employer seeking cheap labor, that’s not the fault of the person who has come here. They’re trying to take advantage of an opportunity, and I would do the same thing if the roles were reversed.

    Just forget about Joey Vento. Pat’s is better anyway (and it looks like Rudy’s guy Paul Singer couldn’t quite pull off that little stunt in California trying to screw up the electoral votes…bad luck there).

    And by the way, did you know that Saddam Hussein “of course” had WMD before we invaded Iraq? Why, that must be true – Frederick of Hollywood said so here (doesn’t he need a nap right about now or something?).

    And as for Willard Mitt Romney who I alluded to earlier…


    Update: Sounds like the "mayor of 9/11" has more explaining to do.

    "Talent On Loan From God," Huh?

    Check this out, Flush - another "phony soldier" for you (h/t The Daily Kos).

    Update: He should never have been on the network to begin with (here)...

    Monday, October 01, 2007

    Monday Videos

    Sixx:AM ("Life Is Beautiful," thanks to da Phils - still don't know yet if it will be San Diego or Colorado visiting on Wednesday)...

    ...and Happy Birthday to Mariska Veres of The Shocking Blue ("Venus," their Top 40 hit in about 1970, I'd say - wow, did you catch all that subliminal advertising going on also? Really deep, maan; looks like a few of them were on mushrooms or something).

    For more videos, please check the WeShow link from the home page.

    A Judge Of History

    The New York Times informed us yesterday that the Supremes returned to do their business today, this being the first Monday in October and all that.

    As noted in the editorial…

    The case that will most test the court’s ability to rise above partisanship is a challenge to Indiana’s voter ID law. Indiana is one of a growing number of states that require voters to present a government-issued photo ID. Such laws have been billed as anti-vote-fraud measures, but there is little evidence of vote fraud at the polls. The Republicans who have pushed these laws are trying to make it hard for poor and minority voters, who are less likely than other groups to have drivers’ licenses — and more likely to vote Democratic — to cast ballots. The court has traditionally championed voting rights, but a conservative majority may boost Republican chances in 2008 by endorsing this disturbing barrier to voting.
    Of course, the Repugs scream about fraud at the polls to distract from the matter of voters who tend to vote Democratic getting illegally scrubbed from the state records, or placing an abundance of voting machines in Republican districts but fewer in Democratic ones, thus making it harder for Democrats to vote, etc.

    Well, the Times Magazine on Sunday September 23rd profiled Justice John Paul Stevens in an article by Jeffrey Rosen; Stevens is now the longest serving justice on the court (and possibly the last bastion against a court that completely holds sway on behalf of conservative interests). And for anyone who thinks of Stevens as a liberal, this should be noted…

    ''I don't think of myself as a liberal at all,'' he told me during a recent interview in his chambers, laughing and shaking his head. ''I think as part of my general politics, I'm pretty darn conservative.'' Stevens said that his views haven't changed since 1975, when as a moderate Republican he was appointed by President Gerald Ford to the Supreme Court. Stevens's judicial hero is Potter Stewart, the Republican centrist, whom Stevens has said he admires more than all of the other justices with whom he has served. He considers himself a ''judicial conservative,'' he said, and only appears liberal today because he has been surrounded by increasingly conservative colleagues. ''Including myself,'' he said, ''every judge who's been appointed to the court since Lewis Powell'' -- nominated by Richard Nixon in 1971 -- ''has been more conservative than his or her predecessor. Except maybe Justice Ginsburg. That's bound to have an effect on the court.''
    Rosen notes here how Stevens has tried to build a consensus to support his opinions…

    Stevens...has been notably successful in building majorities by courting his fellow justices -- in particular, (Justice Anthony) Kennedy. His methods of persuasion are intellectual rather than personal, and they are closely tied to the court's procedure for deciding cases. After the justices hear the oral arguments, they meet in a private conference to deliberate. After the chief justice speaks, each of the remaining justices speaks in order of seniority, so that Stevens speaks second. Then the justices vote, and the majority opinion is assigned. The majority opinion later circulates among the justices, and on rare occasions a justice may then change his or her vote, and a majority can become a dissent. But ''you very rarely win votes if there aren't five votes persuaded after our conference,'' Stevens stressed. ''Very rare.''

    When he is in the majority, Stevens is careful not to lose votes that start off on his side, often assigning the opinion to Kennedy when Kennedy seems to be on the fence. ''Sometimes,'' he told me, ''in all candor, if you think somebody might not be solid'' after casting a vote in conference, ''it might be wiser to let that person write the opinion,'' because after defending a position at length, people ''tend to become even more convinced'' than when they started. For example, Stevens was effective in winning over Kennedy by asking him to write the majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 decision striking down sodomy laws, which many liberals consider the Brown v. Board of Education of the gay rights movement. ''It worked out O.K.,'' Stevens told me, with typical understatement. ''I don't know if I'm entitled to the credit or Tony's entitled to the credit, because he wrote an exceptional opinion.'' In other cases, Stevens has written the majority opinion himself in an effort to shore up Kennedy's vote. In April, for example, in a 5-to-4 case, the court allowed a lawsuit to proceed against the Environmental Protection Agency for its refusal to regulate global warming under the Clean Air Act; by citing several of Kennedy's previous opinions in his own opinion, Stevens persuaded Kennedy to stay in the liberal camp.
    The story notes that Stevens has not been as successful in persuading Kennedy on cases related to abortion, which Stevens views as a personal issue between the woman, her doctor and her family (paraphrasing from the story on my part). Stevens called the so-called “partial birth” abortion ban “a silly statute” and called Kennedy’s rhetoric about the need to protect women from the emotional trauma of abortion “frustrating.”

    Stevens was born on April 20, 1920 and grew up in Chicago, noting…

    ''I had a very happy childhood,'' Stevens told (Rosen) with a faraway look in his eyes. But events took a darker turn in 1934, when the Stevens Hotel (built by his father) went bankrupt in the Great Depression, and Stevens's father, grandfather (who founded the Illinois Life Insurance Company) and uncle were indicted for diverting money from (Illinois Life) to make interest payments on bonds for the hotel. Stevens's uncle committed suicide, and his father was convicted in 1934 of embezzling $1.3 million. ''A totally unjust conviction, I can assure you,'' Stevens told me with passion. Indeed, later that same year, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the conviction. ''There is not a scintilla of evidence of any concealment or fraud attempted,'' the court noted.

    I asked Stevens whether seeing his father unjustly convicted influenced his views on the Supreme Court. ''I'm sure it did,'' he replied. ''You can't forget about that.'' Stevens said the experience had taught him a ''very important lesson'': namely, ''that the criminal justice system can misfire sometimes'' because ''it seriously misfired in that case.'' As a Supreme Court justice, Stevens seems to have kept this lesson firmly in view. In criminal-justice cases from 1995 to 2001, according to numbers compiled by Christopher E. Smith of the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University, of all the justices on the court, Stevens took the most expansive view of individual rights, voting against the government 69.7 percent of the time. (The next most liberal justices were Ginsburg at 60 percent, Souter at 57.6 percent and Breyer at 54.9 percent.)
    After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Chicago in 1941, Rosen writes, Stevens enlisted in the Navy on Dec. 6, 1941, hours before the Pearl Harbor attack. He later won a bronze star for his service as a cryptographer, after he helped break the code that informed American officials that Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander of the Japanese Navy and architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, was about to travel to the front. Based on the code-breaking of Stevens and others, U.S. pilots, on Roosevelt's orders, shot down Yamamoto's plane in April 1943.

    He returned from the war and enrolled in law school, and after graduating from Northwestern University Law in 1947 with the highest grade point average in the history of the school, he won a Supreme Court clerkship with Justice Wiley Rutledge, a liberal New Dealer and former law school dean appointed by FDR. After serving in this role, he became an antitrust lawyer in Chicago some years later in 1969, and that year, was appointed to investigate a political scandal on the Illinois Supreme Court, an investigation that made his professional reputation, Rosen tells us.

    There are a few different reasons why Stevens has maintained his streak of individualism in his opinions, primarily his dissents (which, unfortunately, may be more frequent with The Supremes under Hangin’ Judge J.R.).

    One is his experience with a third Illinois Supreme Court justice not under indictment in 1969 who wrote a dissenting opinion in the case that led to the resignations of the other two justices under investigation; the dissent wasn’t published to maintain “collegiality” such as the type Chief Justice Roberts said he wanted when he was confirmed. Another could be the experience serving our country and fighting corruption that other justices on the bench don’t have. A third could be remembrance of the wrongs against his family while growing up. With all of this to consider, though…

    …Stevens went on to suggest, ever since he joined the Supreme Court, he has written more dissenting and separate concurring opinions than any of his colleagues. And his experience with the (Illinois Supreme Court) Commission of 1969 has made him even more skeptical of Chief Justice Roberts's idea that unanimity is in itself a desirable goal. Ever since the early 19th century, there has been a vigorous debate about whether the Supreme Court and other appellate courts are best served by consensus or transparency -- by unanimous opinions written by the chief justice, which was John Marshall's view, or by separate opinions in which individual justices make their disagreements clear, which was the view of Marshall's distant cousin and archrival, Thomas Jefferson. Roberts has explicitly embraced Marshall's vision. Stevens, however, takes the Jeffersonian view. ''I don't believe in suppressing dissent,'' he told me. ''If you disagree you should say so. . . . I just feel I have an obligation to expose my views to the public.''

    Stevens's work on the Commission of 1969 brought him to the attention of Senator Charles Percy of Illinois, a moderate Republican who had decided to promote merit appointments to the federal bench instead of political cronies or ideologues. On Percy's recommendation, President Nixon appointed Stevens to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago in 1970. And five years later, when President Ford was looking for a replacement for Justice William O. Douglas, a liberal icon, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, he, too, decided to emphasize merit and competence over ideology or cronyism. Rejecting the advice of Barry Goldwater, who urged him to appoint the archconservative Robert Bork, and of his wife, Betty, who urged him to choose a woman, Ford chose Stevens as ''the finest legal mind I could find.'' The Senate enthusiastically agreed, by a vote of 98 to 0.

    As a sign of how significantly the Republican Party has changed since 1975, President Ford, until the end of his life, embraced Stevens's jurisprudence even as a younger generation of Republicans was denouncing it. In a warm tribute to Stevens in 2005, Ford wrote, ''I endorse his constitutional views on the secular character of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause, on securing procedural safeguards in criminal cases and on the constitution's broad grant of regulatory authority to Congress.'' I asked Stevens what he thought of Ford's letter. ''It was amazing to see that,'' Stevens said, grinning like a proud schoolboy. ''I was delighted, as I'm sure you understand.''
    That Gerry Ford managed to know a thing or two, I’ll give him that much.

    And in closing, Rosen noted this…

    Near the end of my interview with Stevens, as I started to leave his chambers, he almost shyly suggested that I might want to consult some of the opinions he wrote on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, before he joined the Supreme Court. I should be sure, he said, to look up a case from 1970, in which his colleagues, at the request of an incumbent U.S. senator from Indiana, stopped a recount in a close election on the grounds that it might compromise the integrity of the ballots. Stevens dissented, insisting that the recount procedures were perfectly fair and that the state judges should be trusted to handle the litigation honestly, without having their impartiality questioned by interference from federal courts. I asked Stevens why the decision was important. ''Because,'' he said, his eyes flashing, ''I had it very much in mind when I wrote Bush against Gore.''
    And I thought it was a bit curious that Rosen really didn’t devote a lot of time to what Stevens had to say about that electoral fiasco in December 2000, for which we are still trying to cope with the outcome (Stevens, David Souter, Stephen Breyer, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg bitterly contested the Court’s decision to stop Florida’s hand recount of the votes).

    This is what Stevens said – it spoke volumes then and continues to do so now…

    "Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."
    And thus began the downward spiral that may end up taking us to God knows where before the Bushco cabal departs (a day that, hopefully, Stevens will see along with the rest of us).

    Update 4/22/08: I thought this was interesting.