* Civics Class 101: Legal Prophylactics – I was under the impression that the function of the Federal Emergency Management Agency was to aid citizens impacted by natural or terrorist disasters. A recent investigation demonstrates my ignorance. When FEMA employees informed top management that up to 120,000 Katrina refugees, living in FEMA-provided trailers, may be exposed to toxic formaldehyde gas leaking from the trailers, the following emergency response was put into action: FEMA lawyers rejected environmental testing out of fear that the agency would then become legally liable if health problems emerged; the Office of General Counsel "has advised that we do not do testing," because this "would imply FEMA's ownership of this issue". Another attorney on June 15th advised, "do not initiate any testing until we give the OK. Once you get results and should they indicate some problem, the clock is running on our duty to respond to them."
*As The World Turns (Upside Down) – In a recent interview Business Week magazine asked Secretary of State Condileeza Rice, “Would you consider a position in business or on Wall Street?” She replied, “I don't know what I'll do long-term. I'm a terrible long-term planner.” How fortunate that the Middle East, Africa, North Korea, Iran… only require short-term solutions.
*Paying the piper – As a professional lobbyist in the 1990’s potential Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson earned money representing pro-choice interests. Facing Republican primaries Mr. Thompson is now against abortion. He follows in the footsteps of Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney aborting earlier positions to appeal to the Republican base. In 2004 Republicans accused John Kerry of flip flopping. Disingenuous sounds so much more sophisticated.
*In April Amnesty International released a powerful study “Maze of Injustice” which exposed the U.S. government's failure to protect Indigenous (Native American and Alaska Native) women from epidemic rates of sexual violence. One out of three of these women will be raped in their lifetime. The U.S. government has created a complex maze of tribal, state, and federal jurisdictions that often allows men to rape with impunity. This study has led to congressional hearings. Information on this subject can be found at: www.amnestyusa.org and then select Women’s Human Rights.
*Good job Jimmy! - Secretary of Veterans' Affairs Jim Nicholson announced he will be resigning. He is a Bush political appointee whose qualification was serving as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1997 to 2000. His tenure has been fraught with scandals and a massive loss of veterans’ data in 2006 contributing to chronically slow processing of disability claims. When criticized for the terrible service provided to injured vets he claimed that the number of injured vets is overblown since "a lot of them come in for dental problems." He did not mention injured military seeking replacement limbs and mental health treatment. He did not comment on VA top executives receiving bonuses in 2006 in the amount of $3.8 million. It makes you want to grind your teeth.
Postscript – It was just announced that Iraq war veterans are suing the Department of Veterans Affairs for illegally denying or delaying claims for mental health treatment and disability pay, claiming that there is a backlog of 600,000 disability payments for vets, inadequate treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and other shortcomings in the VA.
*Pride and Prejudice - On Meet The Press conservative columnist Robert Novak reported that, “Republicans are saying privately that they are very pessimistic about their chances in the 2008 presidential election. Their only hope is that the Democrats will nominate a woman or an African American.” Quite the strategists! A wing, a prayer and a white sheet.
*Bush had a colonoscopy this past Saturday – Numerous thoughts. No comment.
*A different side of the same coin – Republican politicians and their aides earned the reputation over the last decade for leaving public service to lucratively use their connections on Capitol Hill by working for lobbyists. Not to be outdone, in the 6 months that Democrats have been in the majority, 19 senior Democratic aides have joined lobbying firms. If there is any possibility of cleaning up government it will have to include public financing of elections and a prohibition for some period of time for public employees leaving to work for lobby-type companies.
*Be aware of the expiration date on seafood - They say you can’t be almost pregnant. What about almost ethical? - Alaskan Republican Rep. Don Young has acknowledged taking more than $5,500 in illegal campaign contributions from a seafood trade association since 2001. He has informed federal officials that he will only pay back a portion of those funds because some of the violations fall outside the statute of limitations for campaign finance violations.
*Clearing the air? - The EPA recently proposed new ozone levels for our air. Not surprisingly, it did not listen to doctors and its own panel of scientists calling for much stronger limits. As the comment period begins, powerful polluters are lobbying for even weaker air quality standards. You can voice your opinion when signing a petition at: www.adoptthesky.org.
*Where the hell did I leave my glasses? - In response to a subpoena from the Senate Judiciary Committee for information, VP Dick Cheney may exert executive privilege. This follows Mr. Cheney’s assertion in June that his office was not a part of the executive branch.
*Give me the good ol’ days in the South (sung to the tune of Swanee, How I Love Ya”) – In the fall of 2006 in Jena, Louisiana, the day after two Black high school students sat beneath the "white tree" on their campus, nooses were hung from the tree. When the superintendent dismissed the nooses as a "prank," more Black students sat under the tree in protest. The District Attorney then came to the school accompanied by the town's police and demanded that the students end their protest, telling them, "I can be your best friend or your worst enemy... I can take away your lives with a stroke of my pen." Racial tensions increased, violence followed and now several black students are facing serious prison time. Details can be found at: www.colorofchange.org.
*Bush quote of the week – “Nobody has accused me of being Shakespeare.” Methinks thou protest too much.
*Faux News – One of Robert Greenwald’s new insightful videos “FOX Attacks! The Environment” concerns FOX News’ treatment of global warming. The following comments were taken from recent broadcasts:
Sterling Burnett – You don’t go see Joseph Goebel’s films to see the truth about Nazi Germany. You don’t go see Al Gore’s film to see the truth about global warming.
John Stossel – Global warming, I rudely put it in the chapter about psychics and astrology.
Sen. James Inhofe (R, OK) – The warming is due to the sun. Carbon Dioxide is not a pollutant.
Dennis Miller – I have always thought of Al Gore as such an inauthentic man.
Unknown – Al Gore has the Bella Lugosi haircut.
*Recipe for disaster – Since 2003 food imports have doubled. During this same period the number of Food and Drug Administration inspectors has decreased. FDA inspectors only have the money and resources to check about 1% of the 8.9 million imported food shipments a year. In the last 12 months there were 1,901 shipments of food or cosmetics rejected form China, 1787 from India and 1560 from Mexico. Would a 25% inspection rate have resulted in over 130,000 rejected shipments? What is passing through the inspection sieve? Protecting Americans must not be limited to focusing on terror threats. Federal leadership requires multi-tasking!
*That damn Congress! - The Washington Post reports that Congress has stalled funding for a radiation detector program that the Department of Homeland Security would use to screen trucks and cargo containers for potentially dangerous materials. Oops. When DHS said the detectors worked 95% of the time, they really meant somewhere between 17-50%. Now Congress wants to know if the mistake was intentional.
*Chilling thoughts on a hot summer’s day - Paul Craig Roberts is an old-line conservative who served in the Reagan administration. His latest column can be read at the website counterpunch.org/roberts07162007.html. He says, "Unless Congress immediately impeaches Bush and Cheney, a year from now the US could be a dictatorial police state at war with Iran." … “Bush has put in place all the necessary measures for dictatorship in the form of "executive orders" that are triggered whenever Bush declares a national emergency”… “Ask yourself: Would a government that has lied us into two wars and is working to lie us into an attack on Iran shrink from staging "terrorist" attacks in order to remove opposition to its agenda?”
*You cannot make this up - Lily Ledbetter, an employee of Goodyear, was the victim of blatant pay discrimination. Her case reached the less than Supreme Court in May. In a 5-4 ruling the court said that workers cannot sue for pay discrimination if they learn of it more than 180 days after the employer’s original decision to unfairly pay the employee less than his or her coworkers. You read that correctly. Not even a 6 month limit from the time the employee learns of the discrimination. Six months from the time that the employer initiates the discrimination. Logic, fairness, justice, common sense? Fortunately, congress can correct this mentally unemployed ruling. Last month, Rep. George Miller introduced H.R. 2831, the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and this month Sen. Ted Kennedy introduced the companion Senate bill, the Fair Pay Restoration Act. Both proposed laws would remove the 180-day time restriction.
*Finally, a qualified candidate – John McCain says he wants to succeed George W. Bush. His key campaign staff have resigned, he is almost out of money and plummeting in the polls.
*The right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing – FOX News and Weekly Standard pundit Bill Kristol says that those pushing for withdrawal from Iraq represent the political left in America. Recent polls indicate that 70% of Americans want our troops out of Iraq. I would say that this represents the political center. It seems that only the neo-cons, who without conscience send others to do battle, are the voices for continuing the Iraq debacle.
*You are what you eat - A recent study predicted that at the current rate Americans are gaining weight, by the year 2015 75% will be overweight. A seemingly positive development related to this alarming trend is that eleven major US producers of chocolates, fries, sodas and sugary cereals pledged to cut back advertising aimed a kids. This decision may be a result of corporate enlightenment or perhaps the threat of new laws that would regulate junk food advertising aimed at children. The correct role of most corporations is to generate profit. This makes self-policing problematic. What are the mitigating factors for today’s parents?
*And then there was Hugo – In part a response to its competition, McDonalds announces the introduction of its new 42 ounce soda calling it Hugo. It will sell for as low as $.89 and will pack 410 calories. Advertising will be in several languages thereby targeting minorities who, along with children, have been especially susceptible to obesity problems. Self-policing? Fat chance!
*The power of perspective – In a letter to the Phila. Inquirer Barbara Gold writes:
Re: Misleading term – As a physician, I flinch each time I see the term wheelchair-bound. Those who use wheelchairs find them enabling, freeing, helpful in their mobility. When the news media use wheelchair-bound readers may think of the wheelchair as a prison. It isn’t.