Friday, November 2, 2007

I am shocked, shocked I tell you, to hear there's corruption in the Bush Administration

Yes, to paraphrase Capt. Renault in Casablanca, I know it's shocking. But apparently top level officials in the Bush Administration have accepted gifts from members of the very industry they are charged with regulating!

From today's Washington Post:
The chief of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and her predecessor have taken dozens of trips at the expense of the toy, appliance and children's furniture industries and others they regulate, according to internal records obtained by The Washington Post. Some of the trips were sponsored by lobbying groups and lawyers representing the makers of products linked to consumer hazards.

The records document nearly 30 trips since 2002 by the agency's acting chairman, Nancy Nord, and the previous chairman, Hal Stratton, that were paid for in full or in part by trade associations or manufacturers of products ranging from space heaters to disinfectants. The airfares, hotels and meals totaled nearly $60,000, and the destinations included China, Spain, San Francisco, New Orleans and a golf resort on Hilton Head Island, S.C.

The agency's travel patterns during the Bush administration, detailed in internal agency documents, differ from those of the Clinton era. Ann Brown, who served as chairman from 1994 to 2001, traveled only at the expense of the agency or of media organizations that sponsored appearances where she announced product recalls, according to the documents provided.

"We hated to have an industry pay for our staff for anything," said Pam Gilbert, a lawyer who was executive director of the agency under Brown.

You can read the entire article here.

Friday video break

Happy Birthday to k.d. lang! Girl, you are so “tall in the saddle”!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Why does a salad cost more than a Big Mac?

Answer: The billions of dollars of federal subsidies included in the Farm Bill. That's right, the ingredients of that special sauce are making somebody pretty wealthy. From the Physicians Committee for responsible Medicine (PCRM):
The Farm Bill, a massive piece of federal legislation making its way through Congress, governs what children are fed in schools and what food assistance programs can distribute to recipients. The bill provides billions of dollars in subsidies, much of which goes to huge agribusinesses producing feed crops, such as corn and soy, which are then fed to animals. By funding these crops, the government supports the production of meat and dairy products—the same products that contribute to our growing rates of obesity and chronic disease. Fruit and vegetable farmers, on the other hand, receive less than 1 percent of government subsidies.

The government also purchases surplus foods like cheese, milk, pork, and beef for distribution to food assistance programs—including school lunches. The government is not required to purchase nutritious foods.
Read more here.

The irony, of course, is that the original Farm Bill was created to aid small, family farmers the help they needed to compete. But most the assistance in the 2007 Farm Bill will go to a very small percentage of American farmers. Efforts to reform the Farm Bill were defeated, and yesterday the bill was approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee.

In a statement from OXFAM:

While Oxfam welcomes critical new investments in nutrition, conservation and renewable energy, the Farm Bill approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee today failed to reform our unfair and broken system of commodity subsidies that undercut farmers and rural economies at home and abroad. Unless the rest of the Senate intervenes, our taxpayer dollars will continue to encourage excess production, reduce world market prices and undermine the livelihoods of millions of small farmers around the world.

Why Tim Russert is an idiot

Finally, a reasoned discussion on the shortcomings of Tim Russert, from The American Prospect, "Tim Russert: Stop the Inanity":

As much as any politician, Russert has constructed a persona for the benefit of the public, an identity meant to give him the authority that his actual work might not. Like most well-designed personas, it has a basis in truth but has been polished and honed to a fine sheen.

If nothing else, at least we're deep enough into the presidential campaign that we don't have to suffer through Russert's endless "Are you running for president? Are you? Are you?" quizzing of potential candidates. But that's what passes for being a "tough" interviewer these days: the pose of confrontation rather than genuinely challenging questions, the query designed to embarrass rather than enlighten, the worship of, rather than the challenge to, conventional wisdom.

The US Foreign Service: They also serve

It's yet another sign of the failed leadership of the Bush Administration. For the first time since the Vietnam War, US Diplomats are being ordered to posts at the risk of losing their jobs.

Not surprisingly, the State Department has not had enough volunteers to fill all of the diplomatic positions in Iraq. In a late night email sent to employees, the State Department announced that it would begin involuntary assignments to Iraq. From The Raw Story:

Service in Baghdad was "a potential death sentence," said a man who identified himself as a 46-year Foreign Service veteran, the [Washington] Post reported.

"Any other embassy in the world would be closed by now."

From The Washington Post:

Uneasy U.S. diplomats yesterday challenged senior State Department officials in unusually blunt terms over a decision to order some of them to serve at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad or risk losing their jobs.

At a town hall meeting in the department's main auditorium attended by hundreds of Foreign Service officers, some of them criticized fundamental aspects of State's personnel policies in Iraq. They took issue with the size of the embassy -- the biggest in U.S. history -- and the inadequate training they received before being sent to serve in a war zone. One woman said she returned from a tour in Basra with post-traumatic stress disorder only to find that the State Department would not authorize medical treatment.

In notices e-mailed to Foreign Service officers around the world late Friday night, Thomas wrote that State had decided to begin "directed assignments" to fill an anticipated shortfall of 48 diplomats in Iraq next summer. Separate e-mail letters were sent to about 250 officers selected as qualified for the posts. If enough of them did not volunteer, the letters said, some would be ordered to serve there.

The notices, which most diplomats first learned about from the news media as the e-mails sat in their office computers over the weekend, appeared to have catalyzed unease that has been swirling through the Foreign Service over issues that include Iraq, underfunding and inadequate recruitment, perceived disrespect from the U.S. military and the job performance of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

At least three department employees have been killed in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

As someone whose parents served all over the world as Foreign Service officers, this hits close to home. At least when my parents served, the United States was respected around the world, and the US government respected its employees. So although there was certainly some danger in their posts to places such as Karachi and Istanbul, they were never sent into a war zone.

This appears to be another attempt by the Bush-Cheney crowd to paint the picture of Iraq as situation improving. Indeed, it would be a wake up call to have to admit that we need to close the Embassy there. But instead of facing that truth, this Administration chooses to spend $1 billion to build a self-contained Embassy complex that could operate completely independently of the nation where it is located. How convenient.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Has the media already decided who will be the Democratic candidate?

Did you try to watch the Democratic debates last night? If so, I'm sure you were scratching your head at the beginning, thinking “Are they only going to ask questions of Clinton and Obama?” And, “Will Tim Russert ever shut up?”

It sure seemed that way, and well, that's not far from the truth. Sen. Chris Dodd's folks have been keeping track of debate time with a “Talk Clock” to track how equitable the airtime is that's given to the candidates. Last night's results:

Should the moderators really have more airtime than 4 of the 6 candidates in the debate?

Violence in Iraq is down, but mostly because so many Iraqis are dead or gone

The White House is happy to tell everyone that the level of violence in Iraq has decreased in recent weeks. But according the the Government Accountability Office (GAO), there's a disturbing reason for the decrease: Ethnic Cleansing. From ThinkProgress:

In a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee today, Joe Christoff of the Government Accountability Office stated that this recent reduction in violence should be taken with a grain of salt, as it coincides with increased sectarian cleansing and a massive refugee displacement:

I think that’s [ethnic cleansing] an important consideration in even assessing the overall security situation in Iraq. You know, we look at the attack data going down, but it’s not taking into consideration that there might be fewer attacks because you have ethnically cleansed neighborhoods, particularly in the Baghdad area. […]

It’s produced 2.2. million refugees that have left, it’s produced two million internally displaced persons within the countryas well.

Wednesday poetry break

From today's edition of the Writers Almanac. (You may have heard of this guy.)


Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o'ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O! how shall summer's honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time's best jewel from Time's chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O! none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

— William Shakespeare

While you're at it, head on over to one of my favorite blogs, Shakespeare's Sister ....

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Finally, someone has the nerve to say it: The dude's crazy, man!

Dennis Kucinich has my vote because he is the only candidate who dares speak the truth. (Well, Ron Paul does sometimes, too, but then he gets kinda wacky-like.)

Kucinich met today with the Philadelphia Inquirer's editorial board and stated his concern over President Bush's chucklefest last week, when Bush laughed and warned of World War III. Today Kucinich said:
"I seriously believe we have to start asking questions about his mental health. There's something wrong. He does not seem to understand his words have real impact.

You cannot be a president of the United States who's wanton in his expression of violence. There's a lot of people who need care. He might be one of them. If there isn't something wrong with him, then there's something wrong with us. This, to me, is a very serious question."
Amen to that, brother.

If you're happy (and gay) and you know it, clap your hands!

From Pam's House, a good analysis of how Obama's campaign has whiffed on the issue of gay rights. If you haven't been following this story, a brief summary from Pam:
In another attempt to connect with people of faith in South Carolina, presidential hopeful Barack Obama has decided to reach out by going on a concert tour with gospel artists, including known homophobe and recloseted homosexual Donnie McClurkin.

McClurkin believes one can pray away the gay, that it is a choice, and, according to Keith Boykin, Donnie compares gays and lesbians to liars.
It soon became clear to Obama's loyal followers in the gay community that they were being thrown aside in an effort to court another political demographic. Sure, the Obama campaign tacked on an openly gay (but white) preacher to the event. And, oh yeah, Obama didn't show up at the concert in person but appeared via video feed.

More from Pam:
The concert was to be the highlight of this outreach and while the crowd left excited, it was clear the campaign still regarded the controversy as complicated. Aides gave reporters a three-page memo detailing McClurkin's and Obama's views on gay rights that noted in capital letters "MCCLURKIN DOES NOT WANT TO CHANGE GAYS AND LESBIANS WHO ARE HAPPY WITH THEIR LIVES AND HAS CRITICIZED CHURCH LEADERS WHO DEMONIZE HOMOSEXUALS," with quotes detailing those statements from the singer.

It's too easy to say this is a battle between the secular and religious, but campaigns try mightily to simplify things. The inconvenient truth is that there are people of color in the faith community who are LGBT. These people are ignored, because for politicians, the complexity of addressing that matter is not worth the political cost. It's about the numbers game, and LGBT minorities of faith are to be tossed out like yesterday's trash.

The most disappointing aspect of this whole Obama/McClurkin affair is that Barack Obama, because of his race, actually was best positioned to address it (politically speaking, since we know white pols loathe to take it on, lest they get zapped on that third rail). Ironically, because of the ludicrous questions about his racial "authenticity" from the black community, it appears that his camp cravenly decided that Obama could cleave to the community by enabling its homophobia, rather than challenging it.

That's audacity, all right.

Irony Alert: Bush to honor author of "To Kill a Mockingbird"

The world gets curiouser and curiouser.

Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by George Bush.

Aside from the obvious joke, that I'm sure he's never read the book, how about the irony of the weakest, most amoral president in our history honoring the author of a book which tells the story of justice and equality.

From the Telegraph:
Lee won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for the novel, which is credited with helping to focus the country at the height of the civil-rights movement by raising awareness of the injustices of discrimination.
How about this: Scout for President!

Rumsfeld on the run to avoid arrest in France

From AlterNet:

Former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld fled France today fearing arrest over charges of "ordering and authorizing" torture of detainees at both the American-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the U.S. military's detainment facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, unconfirmed reports coming from Paris suggest.

U.S. embassy officials whisked Rumsfeld away yesterday from a breakfast meeting in Paris organized by the Foreign Policy magazine after human rights groups filed a criminal complaint against the man who spearheaded President George W. Bush's "war on terror" for six years.

Under international law, authorities in France are obliged to open an investigation when a complaint is made while the alleged torturer is on French soil.

Read more here.

Fla. student who was Tasered after questioning Kerry won't face criminal charges

From the AP this morning:

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A University of Florida student who was shocked with a Taser after persistently questioning Sen. John Kerry won't face criminal charges and has apologized for his actions, his attorney said Tuesday.

Andrew Meyer, 21, yelled "Don't Tase me, bro!" as he scuffled with officers during the on-campus speech last month. In letters to the university, its president and the campus police department, he apologized, attorney Robert Griscti said.

"I made the decision to supersede the rules, and for that I apologize," Meyer wrote. "I should have acted calmer and obeyed the directives of the officers. If I had, none of the subsequent issues would ever have arisen."

Prosecutors had no immediate comment.

I'm sure they had no comment. After all, even though the police investigated themselves and found no wrongdoing (well there's a surprise!), it was clear to everyone who saw the video of the incident that the police reaction to Meyer's obnoxious behavior was heavy handed, at the very least. And it's not out of the question that he had a solid case for a lawsuit.

I hope the video of this incident is used in police training around the country. It's a perfect example of how ill-trained police can actually escalate a situation rather than diffuse it. Six burly police officers should not need to use a Taser on an unarmed (albeit obnoxious) college student. IMHO.

Monday, October 29, 2007

If this was my money ... oh wait! It is!

Oil prices broke a new record, $93 a barrel. Yes, for a non-renewable energy source. As in, one day it will run out.

The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are expected to be at least $2.4 trillion.

Crazy me, I wonder if that $2.4 trillion wouldn't be a little more wisely spent to research renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and water.

Just sayin'.

UK Minister detained at US airport

That's right, it's time to check in again with our friends at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). In today's installment, we'll see how the TSA detained a high-ranking British official simply because ... that's right — he's Muslim!

From Press TV:
International Development Minister Shahid Malik, of Pakistani origin, has said that he was detained for about 40 minutes at Dulles Airport in Washington, and his hand luggage was inspected for traces of explosives when he was returning to London after talks on tackling terrorism with US officials.

“Obviously, there was no malice involved, but it has to be said that the US system does not inspire confidence,” he concluded.

When bees vanish, say goodbye to your fruits and veggies

As I was channel surfing last night waiting for the World Series to begin (yay for the Red Sox!), I came across two separate shows about the mysterious disappearance of honey bees in recent years. Known as Colony Collapse Disorder, the cause of the current situation has the scientists somewhat baffled. From Bloomberg:
Colony Collapse Disorder remains an entomological enigma a year after it was first described by U.S. beekeepers. The syndrome, in which bees abandon their hives and die, has been found in at least 35 states, a Canadian province and parts of Europe, Asia and South America. The collapse hurt a quarter of U.S. beekeepers, wiping out 45 percent of their bees on average.
As a gardener, and someone who in general spends a lot of time outdoors, I feel as though I have a pretty good understanding of appreciation for the intricacies of nature. Yet even I have a hard time grasping the impact that the disappearance of honey bees would have on our food sources. But it's not just about honey. If you take a step back from the produce department of your local grocery store and picture the life of that apple you hold in your hand, you'll see what I mean. Virtually all the fruits and vegetables we eat have flowers that are pollinated by bees. Without the pollination step, the plants won't produce fruit. Instead, the flower will simply dry up and fall off.

In normal circumstances, the bee who found this apple flower would buzz on back to the hive and do a nifty little dance telling the other bees where this great orchard of pollen can be found. For some reason, today the bee who goes out, doesn't come back to the hive. Eventually all the worker bees stop coming back, and the colony at that particular hive is gone.

To quote a beekeeper in the CBS 60 Minutes story, “Most of the people in this country have no idea what it takes to put the food on their table.”

Are we all about to find out? You can learn more at the web page for Nature's program, Silence of the Bees.