Saturday, June 21, 2008

* Patriotism or Avarice? – President Bush and Republicans are pushing Congress very hard to give immunity to telecommunication companies that broke the law cooperating with the government's illegal warrantless surveillance program. As of Friday the House has capitulated to the White House demand for telecom immunity and the Senate will debate the bill next week. We are told that companies such as Verizon and AT&T were being patriotic. Perhaps they were. Perhaps they were not. According to Washington Technology magazine, Verizon received $1.3 billion, Sprint $839 million and AT&T $505 million in federal prime contract revenue for fiscal 2007, for a total of $2.6 billion. While the companies have been government contractors for a long time, it still represents a significant increase in revenue. Glenn Greenwald has an excellent blog on the amounts being spent through lobbyists by this group in 2008 and the sleazy influence they have on Congress. One company that did not participate in illegal spying was Qwest and they subsequently lost hundreds of millions of dollars in contract opportunities. Qwest did not participate because they thought the program illegal. In a court opinion from 2006 U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker commented, "AT&T cannot seriously contend that a reasonable entity in its position could have believed that the alleged domestic dragnet was legal." I will reserve judgment whether the telecoms were being patriotic. I do not doubt that the Bush administration waved a very lucrative financial stick with threat of strong reprisal when enlisting the telecoms to participate in an illegal venture.

* Unlawful acts engender their own momentum – Physicians for Human Rights has just released their report
Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by the US. It details torture suffered by 11 prisoners from Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. As noted by the Washington Post, “One of the interviewed detainees, Ali al-Qaisi, detailed horrors of defecation, sodomy, excruciating pain and humiliation… The assessments of 11 men formerly held in U.S. detention camps overseas revealed scars and other injuries consistent with their accounts of beatings, electric shocks, and shackling.” ALL 11 MEN WERE EVENTUALLY RELEASED FROM CUSTODY WITHOUT BEING CHARGED WITH CRIMES. The Supreme Court ruling last week concluded that habeas corpus applies to prisoners being held by the U.S. military and that just cause must be demonstrated to justify incarceration. The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky commented in an editorial favoring the Court decision: “Critics should shelve their usual braying about ‘permissive liberal judges.’ Does American conservatism truly now embrace a doctrine of authoritarian executive power?... Due process, fair trials and timely resolutions are American strengths, not weaknesses. The Court has wisely cleared the way for them to work.” Once laws are ignored doors open to further abuses and this truth has been demonstrated repeatedly over the past 7 years. No oversight of imprisonment, the use of torture and illegal spying on Americans are examples of this administration’s acts that stain our country and our society. The America of George Bush and Dick Cheney is not the America that most of us envision. It is beyond time for Americans and Congress to comprehend and then reject the thorny road carved out by this President and Vice President. To do less multiplies their sins of commission and our sins of omission.

* Exercising exorcism ~ exorcising science – One of the leading candidates to be John McCain’s vice-presidential nominee is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Mr. Jindal would bring a unique perspective to the McCain ticket. It is difficult to recall a VP candidate who claims to have rid a friend of cancer through an exorcism. In 1994, the now 37 year- old Republican, describes just such an event in an essay he submitted to the publication New Oxford Review. The article, ”Beating a Demon – Physical Dimensions of Spiritual Warfare,” he describes using a bible, a crucifix and chanting Hail Mary to rid his friend of the illness. Furthering his maverick status the exorcism procedure Jindal used is apparently outside of Church law and protocol. Taking one nano step closer to “mainstream” ideas Jindal is a big proponent of Intelligent Design – the religious right alternative to scientifically based evolution. Appearing this past Sunday on Face the Nation Jindal “defended intelligent design as a legitimate scientific discipline that has a place in the nation’s classrooms… Jindal said that local school districts should decide for themselves what theories to teach and that federal and state governments should stay out of the equation.” This statement may have gravitas for strict adherents of states rights but not to anyone with a sense of the validity of science. The President of the National Academy of Sciences, Bruce Alberts, said in a NY Times op-ed, “Because ‘intelligent design’ theories are based on supernatural explanations, they can have nothing to do with science.” I think that Gov. Jindal is a good fit for a McCain campaign unburdened with truth and fact and policy positions as flexible as the predictions of a storefront psychic.

* Preparing for disaster ~ before it happens – The current Iowa flood disaster has regenerated interest in a plan that had stalled in the Pennsylvania legislature. The bill would create the state’s first dedicated fund for flood prevention and storm cleanup. The proposed funding appears to be simple and painless for residents. “The proposed PA Flood Grant and Assistance Program would require all property owners to pay a surcharge of 20 cents on every $100 of insurance premium payment.” For the average residential policy the cost would amount to $1 a year and generate $9.5 million annually. There is no cost to the state or insurance companies and the money spent to prevent floods could potentially save both parties untold millions and higher insurance rates for homeowners in the event of a disaster. Perhaps this plan requires a larger scale or a different approach but at a minimum it is creative and proactive toward preventing and addressing catastrophic events. It is well-documented that over-development, a deteriorating infrastructure and changing climate are placing many communities across America at risk. Attention to these issues now will save lives and treasure.

* A view from abroad ~ President Bush concludes his final European jaunt – A leading British newspaper, The Independent, ran an opinion piece titled, “The Tragic Legacy of a Disastrous President.” The entire article is worth a read because it provides a perspective of America from one of our closest, long-term allies. One excerpt is most telling: "Perhaps Mr. Bush's most significant legacy, as far as Britain is concerned, will be the destruction of the instinctive trust of America and its leaders that once prevailed here. It is no exaggeration to say that Mr. Bush has done more damage to relations between our two nations than any president in living memory. This rupture is not an accident of circumstance; there are no impersonal forces of history to blame. This sorry state of affairs is the consequence of the actions of a single leader and his small coterie of advisers. ... And whatever the future holds for transatlantic relations, there will be very few in this country who watched President Bush's plane depart yesterday without a feeling of profound relief that the end of this disastrous presidency is finally in sight." An overwhelming majority of Americans will share this feeling on January 20, 2008.

* The worse laid plans… – When President Bush initiated his “exporting democracy” policy several years ago few imagined it would result in millions of people being “freed” - from their homes and a life of normalcy. The UN Refugee Agency is reporting that currently 3.1 million refugees are Afghans and 2.3 million are Iraqis. Let freedom ring!

* Gay rights ~ wedding bell blues – I applauded the California Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Many gay couples have begun taking advantage of the right to have their relationship receive legal status through civil ceremonies and in some cases ceremonies conducted in a house of worship. However, the extension of rights to one group should not result in the diminishment of the rights of others. There are some religious denominations and particular houses of worship that refuse to conduct marriages for couples of the same sex. This refusal is resulting in lawsuits that strike a faulty note. Gaining the right to same-sex marriage does not void another’s right to their belief system. That should not have to be adjudicated.

* Disingenuous dissertation ~ de rigueur – Republicans, instead of directing their attention to a responsible energy plan, want to drill for oil off our coasts and in wildlife preserves in Alaska. Once again lies and fear justify their agenda. “In a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, VP Dick Cheney said…that waters in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, long off limits to oil companies, should be opened to drilling because China is already there pumping oil (off the Cuban coast).” Red China, Communist Cuba and the boogeyman would surely be an influential cocktail to win the day! When it was documented that none of these assertions are true the Vice President’s office “acknowledged that he was mistaken”. Well, okay – some things have changed. Following Cheney’s initial lies about China drilling off Cuba the U.S. did not bomb the island.
~ The benefits of off-shore oil to consumers are meager. A Philadelphia Inquirer editorial noted that off-shore oil exploration and construction will take three to 10 years at best, and an additional 10 years for full ramp-up, leading to a savings per gallon of . . . pennies.” Who does benefit from this approach? Can you say, “Big Oil?”

* Energy policy ~ who speaks for the people? – This week the Senate began debate on the Climate Security Act sponsored by Senators Boxer, Lieberman and Warner. The bill is opposed by energy special interests as well as John McCain. McCain says that he opposes it because it does not provide sufficient funding for nuclear power plants. That may be the case but perhaps there are other influences at work. Since 1990 McCain has received just over $2 million dollars in campaign contributions from oil, coal, electric utility, auto, chemical and nuclear industries ($1 million of it from gas and oil). The only Senator to have received more money from this group is Texas Senator (R) Kay Bailey Hutchinson at $2.8 million. Adding to the influence of special interests is the fact that “John McCain has at least 22 people working for his campaign, either as top fundraisers or as senior campaign staff that have lobbied for Big Oil.” There are many environmental groups that oppose this bill believing it to be weak and shortsighted – opposition based on merit and concern for the environment. Friends of the Earth provides a critical analysis of this bill. I do not believe that Mr. McCain is a member of this group.

* Government concern for consumers – For quite a long time this concept has been an oxymoron, especially with respect to a poorly regulated financial industry bolstered by laws and regulations clearly anti-consumer. The Federal Reserve Board and two other federal banking agencies are proposing a rule to reform some of the most unfair credit card tricks that include applying higher interest rates to an old balance and sending bills so close to the due date that many will wind up paying late charges. Not surprisingly, the banking industry and their lobbyists are opposing reform. The organization Americans for Fairness in Lending is providing a petition to the Federal Reserve Board supporting credit card reform.

* Speaking of oxymorons and empty rhetoric:
“At this moment, America's highest economic need is higher ethical standards -- standards enforced by strict laws and upheld by responsible business leaders.”
George W. Bush, current President of the USA, corporate responsibility speech - July 9, 2002

* "The only title in our democracy superior to that of President is the title of citizen."
Justice Louis Brandeis (1856 – 1941)


Anonymous said...

Very thought-provoking, as usual, Stephen. Particularly enjoyed the comments by the British paper about Bush's terrible legacy & the distrust he engendered in our once faithful ally; also the government's Socialist position - not toward programs for the poor - but for rich corporations.
Love your new ocean-blue colors and much increased readability. Keep up the great work. - Ruth & Scott

Anonymous said...

I think that Jewish folks believe chicken soup to be as good as penicillin. Taking that into consideration, we should stop to figure out how to use the chicken to solve some of the domestic and foreign problems that have come to the forefront in recent times. Your statement about the chicken tells me you need someone to take charge of that endeavor. I am volunteering to head that up for you, as soon as we can figure out what to do with this chicken.