Saturday, November 3, 2007

11/3/07

Stephen Views The News 11/03/07

*Better but good enough? ~ A rock and a hard place – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) announced that he will not vote for confirming Michael Mukasey as Attorney General. He said Mukasey should not be confirmed because he could not muster a straightforward answer when asked this question: Is the president of the United States required to obey federal statutes? That would have to depend, Mukasey hedged, "on whether what goes outside the statute nonetheless lies within the authority of the president to defend the country." (This evasiveness is not unlike similar dances performed by Bush justifiers and apologists.) Mukasey responded in like fashion when asked if waterboarding was torture. The question puts Mukasey and Bush in a difficult situation. If he states that waterboarding is torture and he becomes the AG, it puts in jeopardy all of the interrogators that have used the procedure. Bush cannot nominate an AG that would jeopardize his overreaching executive power grab and the authorization of torture as an interrogation technique. As the administration attempts to cover its tracks the trail becomes more convoluted. Mukasey would be an upgrade to Alberto Gonzales but, that is faint praise. Whether the Senate miraculously develops a spine to oppose this nomination and such manipulative and destructive reasoning remains to be seen.

*Torture is Surrender - Counterterrorism expert and former instructor at the Navy’s training program for Special Forces Malcolm Nance disagrees with nominee for Attorney General Mukasey and others that feel waterboarding is not torture. His article at Small Wars Journal states unequivocally that waterboarding is torture. An important point he makes: “If you support the use of waterboarding on enemy captives, you support the use of that torture on any future American captives.” I would also point out that experts in the field of interrogation almost universally agree that information obtained through torture is extremely unreliable. And, most importantly, if we become the human animals that we have historically separated ourselves from, we have forfeited our souls.

Keystone Cops ~ 2007 edition – The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) scheduled security checks across the country of airport screeners. It has been learned that a senior official at TSA sent an email “giving screeners all over the country very specific details about what sorts of suspicious clues the undercover testers would expect them to notice - such as ID's with photos that did not match the people using them and boarding passes with altered dates.” Under these circumstances one would expect that the screeners would be more than prepared to do their job. “Security expert David Heyman told NBC that despite the tip offs the screeners still did poorly, and "that's got to be very discouraging." Ya think?

Shylocks of shopping – Credit card companies are leeches on consumers. While you receive airline miles and other perks from credit card companies they offer this allure so that they can pick your pocket. Their hidden fees and interest rates have been an abomination for many years. As interest rates have dramatically fallen the rates they charge have not and remain at an exorbitant 16 to 23% on balances and in some cases even higher. This is allowed to occur because credit card companies and their lobbyists have a stronger voice in congress than you and me. It is estimated that the earnings of the top six card companies from these fees exceed $8 billion annually. Consumers Union through CreditCardReform.org offers a petition to congress that you can sign urging your representatives to, “support tough new legislation to rein in abusive credit card practices that impose unfair and costly fees and unwarranted interest rate hikes on consumers that can send them into a spiral of debt.”

*Sociological observation of the week –Sean Hannity, FOX News commentator and imbecilic spokesman for all that is wrong with right-wing pundits in America said, “Halloween teaches kids to ask for a handout... its teaching them to be liberals.” Mr. Hannity would prefer that we teach children the modern-day conservative values of hate, fear, greed, intolerance and prejudice. Hmm, I’ll take the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

*Dollar Day Sale –The dollar does not shine quite so brightly these days. It continues to drop in value relative to other major currencies around the world and this drop is a reflection of how others view our financial condition. One implication is that imported goods will cost more and that will potentially contribute to inflation. Another potential implication is a decline in investment by foreigners in U.S. stocks and bonds. Such a decline would likely lead to lower prices in both instruments. Little spoken of is the high level of U.S. debt that is funded by foreign investment. To continue to attract this money the U.S. government will probably have to offer higher interest rates and that will increase the amount American tax payers pay for this debt. The president and his supporters continue to tell us how great the American economy is doing. If one is a member of the upper echelon of the “haves” in this country it is probably true. For the other 90+% of us, real income is declining and discretionary income is fading.

*Back from Iraq ~ “I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)” - Former music luminary (Orleans band) and freshman congressman John Hall (D-NY) recently returned from a trip to Iraq. He wrote a letter to his constituents about his findings and what follows is an excerpt: “My conclusion is that we should never send our Armed Forces to carry out a mission that is not militarily achievable. Based on comments by Ambassador Crocker, and the fact that since the September report to Congress the top four Iraqi leaders have not even been in the country at the same time, I continue to believe that American involvement in this war must be ended. This is a political and civil conflict that can only be resolved by the Iraqis themselves, by deciding whether they want to compromise and live together, or continue to fight along religious, ethnic, or tribal lines.” Almost 1500 years of hatred and fighting between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds was not considered prior to Bush invading Iraq with a stated goal to bring democracy to that country. No amount of military force will change the Iraqi political landscape. Our troops were sent on a fool’s errand and have paid a steep price. And that is a terribly sad lesson. At some point a military confrontation with Iran over its nuclear capability may be required. However, America certainly cannot trust the contemporary version of the 3 Stooges to make that decision.

*Derriere orifices of the week – Meet Rev. Fred Phelps and his two daughters, Shirley Phelps-Roper and Rebecca Phelps-Davis of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka. These morons and their followers travel the country to protest at funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. A grieving father won a nearly $11 million verdict Wednesday against this fundamentalist Kansas church who believe that the war in Iraq is a punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality. Church members testified they are following their religious beliefs. Religious beliefs! One placard they carried said, “Thank GOD for dead soldiers” and another said “GOD hates fags”. The verdict should have included an injunction preventing these miscreants from reproducing.

*A smile where you can get one – Last week I noted the Bush administration slashing (censoring) the CDC report on the dangerous effects of global warming. This week I received a mass email from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) requesting the signing of a petition to President Bush “demanding that he come clean about White House censorship of global warming science!” Perhaps a sardonic smile really doesn’t count as a smile. Smiles should feel good. For those interested in what the administration removed from the CDC report desmogblog.com obtained a full version of the report. The redactions are in red. There is a lot of red.

*Joke of the week – Did you hear the one about the acting chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) asking lawmakers in two letters not to approve the bulk of legislation that would increase the agency’s authority, double its budget and sharply increase its dwindling staff? Meet Bush appointee Nancy Nord. “The CPSC has exactly one full-time toy inspector... It has 15 inspectors who oversee all of the imports under the agency's jurisdiction, a $614 billion market.” A question I often ask: Why does the President of the U.S. and the administrative people he has appointed, hate Americans? We continually see evidence that federal agencies such as CPSC, FDA, EPA and NASA, whose mission includes protecting us, have deliberately gone out their way to do the opposite. Like Humpty Dumpty our federal government has taken a great fall and there is no one in sight to repair it.

*Joke of the week punch line - The Washington Post is reporting some interesting information about Nancy Nord. “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... 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.” We pay her salary to oversee the safety of products we use. The companies she is supposed to regulate pay for lavish trips. She tells congress not to give her the resources necessary to protect consumers. In a normal world this would be conflict of interest, dereliction of duty, unethical and amoral. In Bush’s Bizarro World it is syllogistic harmony.

*Shooting oneself in the prostate, Ouch – In a new radio ad Rudy Giuliani bashes socialized medicine and says that "My chance of surviving prostate cancer, and thank God I was cured of it, in the United States, 82%. My chances of surviving prostate cancer in England, only 44% under socialized medicine.” As is quite often the case what passes through Giuliani’s lips has little to do with reality (a Bizarro World requisite). ABC News is reporting that prostate cancer survival rates are almost the same in the U.S and England. It would be interesting to know if Giuliani is receiving serious campaign contributions from the health insurance industry. As I noted last week he is already a tool (fool) of the National Rifle Association when he promulgated the Second Amendment right of blind people to have hand guns.

*A Leader in Congress – A Leader in Corruption - Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is the Minority Leader in the Senate. He is also a leader in corruption according to the non-partisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). “Senator McConnell’s ethics issues stem from earmarks he has inserted into legislation for clients of his former chief of staff, lobbyist Gordon Hunter Bates, in exchange for campaign contributions...” Further details about McConnell’s indiscretions and the corrupt activities of many other elected officials can be found at CREW’s web site. People like McConnell preen in front of the TV cameras as esteemed governors of our nation. They are crooks.

*BP pleads guilty, 6 times - Last week I noted that BP was not the wonderful corporate citizen that they advertise themselves to be. The truth about BP’s method of operating is surfacing. It was announced that various divisions of BP: “racked up over $380 million in criminal and civil fines and restitution in five separate instances involving federal regulators and prosecutors. In the sixth instance, a federal grand jury indicted four former employees.” Among its civil and criminal acts BP pleaded guilty to violations of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. “With the addition of these six instances, BP now has the second highest misconduct penalty dollar amount with $1.1 billion. It ranks behind another oil company, Exxon Mobil. Unfortunately, these fines are relatively petty annoyances given the billions of dollars in profit that these companies generate. Lacking a conscience, the oil companies will not choose corporate responsibility over irresponsible cost cutting measures until major executives are imprisoned or the level of fines gets the attention of stock holders.

*For female readers and cross-dressers only – The organization Campaign for Safer Cosmetics recently conducted a study on lipsticks. It found lead in 61% of the 33 top-brand lipsticks tested -- including L'Oreal, Cover Girl, and Christian Dior. These are lipsticks manufactured in the U.S. and used daily by millions of women. “Lead is a potent neurotoxin and linked to numerous other health and reproductive problems—and it doesn't belong in lipstick.” The Environmental Working Group’s web site Skin Deep offers an extensive list of cosmetic and skin care products (for both genders) that have been tested for safety. Resources such as this are valuable because the Food and Drug Administration lacks standards for many of these products. Some might say that the FDA is not doing its job. For me it is not an equivocation.

*Sporting News – Vice President of the United States and prominent sportsman Dick Cheney went hunting again. This time he fortunately did not shoot a human being. What is of interest is where. The Clove Valley Gun and Rod Club is in upstate Union Vale, N.Y. and displays a confederate flag. I think the Reverend Al Sharpton’s comment has merit. "It's appalling for the VP to be at a private club displaying the flag of lynching, hate and murder. It's the epitome of an insult." There is no truth to the rumor that the VP dropped his white sheet and fired birdshot at the Reverend.

*No avoiding the void - Toby Moore formerly worked in the Civil Rights Division of the Dept. of Justice under Bush appointee John Tanner. This week he testified before a congressional committee hearing explaining why he and so many other career employees left the Civil Rights Division; “there was no sense in doing his work if it didn’t make a difference in the decisions being made." Tanner and the political appointees above him, Moore explained, decided issues "of significance and controversy". So Moore, and many other career analysts and attorneys left. This is one example among thousands where the Bush administration silenced or squeezed out experienced and conscientious federal employees to advance their political agenda. In 15 months Bush will retire to his ranch but the voids created within most departments of the federal government will be felt for a very long time. You can hear Moore’s testimony at this link: tpmmuckraker.com

*Interesting numbers:
~The U.S. is spending $43.5 billion on spying this year. The figure does not include the intelligence programs run the by the separate military services. Who is watching the watchers? Spending on steroids.
~Forbes.com is reporting that Elvis, who died in 1977, led earnings of dead celebrities over the last 12 months at $49 million. John Lennon ranks second with $44 million. The very Golden Oldies.
~In the past month there have been 7 suspicious fires in the Senate office buildings. Police report that there are no viable suspects. I suspect that someone is trying to light a fire under the asses of our elected leaders.
~The head of Merrill Lynch was fired after a third-quarter loss of $2.3 billion and an $8.4 billion charge for failed credit and mortgage-related investments. They certainly made E. Stanley O’Neal an example for underperformance. They threw him out the door – where he landed on a $150 million severance package. There was no mention of his health insurance benefits.
~The head of Citigroup is resigning in the wake of a $5.9 billion write-down and a sharp drop in profits. Charles O. Prince III, who has earned in salary $53 million over the last 4 years will leave with stock holdings of $87 million and a pension. In Bizarro World, the bigger the screw-up the larger the reward.
~The U.S. budget deficit for 2007 will be $167 billion. And that is the good news. The 2008 budget deficit could reach $210 Billion. Don’t you just love those fiscal conservatives?
~”Dropout Factory" is a high school where no more than 60 percent of the students who start as freshmen make it to their senior year. That dubious distinction applies to more than one in 10 high schools across America. Whatever happened to “No Child Left Behind”? The brain drain has new meaning.

*”To keep students from dropping out, either from school physically or while sitting in the classroom, schools have to be places where there is hope that something good is going to happen.”
Dorothy Rich, founder and president of the nonprofit Home and School Institute, MegaSkills Education Center, in Washington. The quote is from her article “Do school, teachers have the freedom to be great?” that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer and can be read at this link.

1 comment:

Ruth Deming said...

I'll pick one or 2 items to respond to in your always intellectually-stimulating missive. Loved the link to the Inq article about What constitutes a good school. I agree with the author that one can determine upon entering the personality of the entire place whether a school or an art gallery. Our senses pick up messages. First impressions are everything. My niece teaches in an inner city Philadelphia school & can only do GREAT WORK if the principal is her ally. This of course is in contrast to our nation where the principal is not our ally but of course the motto here is "don't get me started." That's Stephen's job. I myself refuse to buy into the Halloween game. Yes, we do have the power to think for ourselves. For the 40 kids that came to my door I gave them healthy juice-boxes of fruit juice blends which they plopped over their assorted dental-caries-making candy bars. The moms actually thanked me & the kids asked the moms, "Hey, can I start drinking this right now, I'm thirsty." A compliment certainly to my selection but - hey! - have American kids ever heard of drinking water? PS - I'll be blogging later today about a fab trip I had yesterday to The Big Apple should anyone care to read it. NewDirectionsSupport dot org.