Friday, March 18, 2005

Hawai'i

Many folks are querulous about the idea that the Hawai'ian Daniels voted in favor of opening ANWR to drilling. This article may provide the answer - a little tit for tat with Ted Stevens in return for recognition of native Hawai'ians.

Top Ten Films of the 1990s

Several bloggers have posted lists (Alterdestiny, Majikthise, etc.) recently, which got me to thinking about the topic.

In no particular order, here are the ten films I think were the best of the 1990s

1. Schindler's List
2. True Romance
3. Shawshank Redemption
4. Pulp Fiction
5. The Usual Suspects
6. Glengarry Glen Ross
7. Leaving Las Vegas
8. Fargo
9. The Matrix
10. Shakespeare in Love

Honorable Mention to "Being John Malkovich," "Reservoir Dogs," and "Fight Club."

Monday, March 14, 2005

No East Coast Elite, this Liberal...





Make your own map of states you've visited

Monday, February 28, 2005

Chuck Pennachio for U.S. Senate (Pennsylvania)

I am happy to see at least one Pennsylvanian front and center today in the fight to unseat Rick Santorum in 2006. He's got a good site with some video up already, and just posted an introduction on Daily Kos today. What excites me is that he knows the future is not only about the netroots, its also about the traditional grassroots, and he's got the experience working traditional campaigns.

Check his site out - its worth a look.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Congress Shall Have The Power To ...

Via Laura Rozen - Our Secretary of Defense no longer feels like he has to report his activities to Congress, except when it fits into his schedule. That's nice.

At least this makes A1 of the Post:

Two dozen members of the House Armed Services Committee had not yet had their turn to question Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at yesterday's hearings when he decided he had had enough.

At 12:54, he announced that at 1 p.m. he would be taking a break and then going to another hearing in the Senate. "We're going to have to get out and get lunch and get over there," he said. When the questioning continued for four more minutes, Rumsfeld picked up his briefcase and began to pack up his papers.

Wish I could do that. Sorry, folks, need lunch - I'm done. I wonder if he had just delivered the jerk store line.


Thursday, March 04, 2004

This is absurd

Republican Congressman Tom Cole claims a vote against the re-election of President Bush is like supporting Adolph Hitler during World War Two. It's what he said recently before a meeting of Canadian County Republicans.

This comes via Calpundit and KTOK in Oklahoma City.

U-S Representative Tom Cole might have stirred up Democrats by saying a vote against the re-election of President Bush is like supporting Adolph Hitler during World War Two. Or supporting Osama bin Laden now. "If George Bush loses the election, Osama bin Laden wins the election," Cole is quoted in this week's edition of the Yukon Review which covered the recent meeting of the Canadinan County Republicans where Cole was a speaker. The newspaper says Cole claims if Bush loses his re-election bid, the enemies of the U-S will interpret it as a victory for bin Laden. No comment so far from Oklahoma Democratic party leaders to see if they think Cole is comparing John Kerry to Adolph Hitler or Osama bin Laden. In the Yukon Review article, Cole is quoted as asking what Hitler might have thought had Franklin Roosevelt not been re-elected in 1944.

First, send your thoughts to Rep. Cole - this is ridiculous.
Second, check out the sorts of things Rep. Cole says when he's on the House floor:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address the issue of government spending. Prescription medicines for seniors, helping families own their own homes, supporting education and defending America--the list of the government's responsibilities to the American people is numerous. But, while it is the government's responsibility to provide assistance to the needy and fund programs for our children and seniors, it is intolerable to provide these services at the cost of leaving a crippling burden of debt on our children and grandchildren.

Translation: We got our tax cuts, now we need to fix the budget mess, so we might as well stop providing assistance to kids and old people now so that kids later don't have a lot of debt.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Firefighters Speak Out

Fire Fighters President Says Use of Fire Fighter Images in New Bush Ads Smack of Political Opportunism

From Harold Schaitberger, head of the IAFF firefighters union:

"I'm disappointed but not surprised that the President would try to trade on the heroism of those fire fighters in the September 11 attacks. The use of 9/11 images are hypocrisy at its worst. Here's a President that initially opposed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and now uses its first anniversary as cause to promote his re-election. Here is a President that proposed two budgets with no funding for FIRE Act grants and still plays on the image of America's bravest. His advertisements are disgraceful."

Why am I not surprised?

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

U.S. led coup in Haiti, says Aristide

No way, says White House.

Now-exiled Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide says that U.S. forces forced him to resign and threatened him before he capitulated and ended up on a plane to Africa. Many bloggers have already covered this news, but there were two things from the Bush administration that were outrageous and worthy of further exposition.

The first is the White House's denial of Aristide's story (and this story comes straight from his mouth - he spoke with an AP reporter via phone from his new location in the Central African Republic). Here's Mr. Scott, Bush's "press" secretary:

"That's nonsense," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. "I've seen some of the reports [and they] do nothing to help the Haitians move forward to a better, more prosperous future."

This is a non-denial if I've ever seen one. Folks, if you haven't read 1984 lately, I urge you to do so - the similarities between it and our government today are uncanny and eerily frightening. In case it isn't clear - the fact that the report helps the Haitians is irrelevant to its truth...

The second is from Colin Powell, and is even more ridiculous. I'll let this one speak for itself and you see if you can imagine another person being the subject of this rather than Aristide:

Powell said that "it might have been better for members of Congress who have heard these stories to ask us about the stories before going public with them so we don't make a difficult situation that much more difficult."

He called Aristide "a man who was democratically elected, but he did not democratically govern or govern well," he said. "Now we are there to give the Haitian people another chance."


I want my second chance.



Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., live in St. Louis

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. spoke here today on a variety of topics, including his work to protect and preserve our environment, but surprisingly, much of his speech had political overtones. At one point, he commented that of course we can all go out and buy hybrid cars, but the problem is really one that begins with the subversion of our democratic system by large corporations. I wanted to share some of the highlights of his speech, including his comments on factory hog farming, Ralph Nader, and an eloquent argument about the benefit of higher federal CAFE standards for automobile fuel efficiency.

Kennedy began by describing his work to fight corporate hog farming with an introduction to his work on behalf of Riverkeeper, an environmental advocate for the health of the Hudson River in New York. He introduced us to folks working in North Carolina, but in fact, there are 110 Waterkeeper organizations throughout the world working to help keep our waterways healthy and safe.

Hog farmers are only one example of how corporate capitalism has perverted the free market economy. Kennedy asserts, as he did in his December Rolling Stone article that corporate hog farmers cannot make a profit without breaking the law, and without government subsidies. He describes the manner in which they have depressed the markets for hogs, put all competitive slaughterhouses out of business, and then run family farms out of business as well. While the ideal most efficient hog farm in a true free market would contain less than 300 hogs, these corporate slaughterhouses regularly slaughter upwards of 30,000 hogs a day, with disastrous environment effects. In addition to the pollution of our land, water, and air; these giant farms are emptying rural America all over this country, as no one can live safely near them, and the entire community economy that used to support small family farms is no longer necessary as resources for the huge farms is sent in from out-of-state; so banks, feed stores, even schools and churches are boarded up.

10 years ago, Kennedy says, there were 60,000 family hog farms in America. Today there are 10,000; and half of these are already in the process of being put of business by being forced to sell their hogs directly to the corporate hog barons for a fraction of their true worth because there is no longer a market for them to be sold to. And the communities aren't the only victims. The workers who work at the slaughterhouses only stay an average of 4 months for a variety of reasons, including low wages, no benefits, and dangerous work; additionally, many of them are not Americans, trucked in en masse from poor Mexican villages in violation of immigration laws. And once again, as corporate America claims they are bringing jobs to our communities (see, e.g. Wal-Mart), the jobs they are bringing are ones that no one wants to do, ones that are patently unsafe, and ones that do not pay anything approaching a living wage. And these jobs are replacing the old jobs which were safe, paid decent wages and provided benefits on the family farms.

Returning to his theme of corporate corruption in the political process, Kennedy described the difficulty of fighting the hog barons. He told us an anecdote of his recent trips to Poland in support of the local farmers there who are beginning to have to compete with the presence of these corporate giants. Apparently, Poland has a vibrant agricultural tradition which is thriving, in part because during the communist era, they could not afford pesticides, and so now Poland has thousands of organic diversified family farms whose products are much in demand throughout Europe. At any rate, Kennedy visited Poland to raise awareness about the practices of companies like Smithfield who were looking to enter the Polish market, and the Polish farmers protested, blocked roads, etc. Kennedy debated hog barons in the Poland Senate, and is now being threatened with a libel lawsuit in Poland to keep him out of the country, because in Poland, truth is not a defense to libel, and basically insults are criminalized, or so it would seem.

The main theme of Kennedy's talk is the increased power that corporations have over government, which is no surprise to anyone with their eyes open looking in the right places. The bottom line is that, at least with respect to the hog farmers, they could not turn a profit without the subsidies that allow them to purchase cheap grain, and without their obvious flaunting of environment laws concerning pollution.

When Kennedy opens up the floor to questions, someone asks about Ralph Nader's recent announcement that he's running for president; Kennedy responds with sadness that although Nader is someone who has been a tireless advocate for the right things, and they have been friends for many years, the only explanation for his campaign this year is "psychotic egomania" which, in truth, is sad.

Someone asks why the democratic candidates don't use the environment as a speaking point more often, and Kennedy replies that it isn't the candidates (or elected officials) fault - instead, he blames the media. The media doesn't want to talk about it because it impugns their interests. General Electric is the nation's #1 polluter, he says, and of course, they control NBC, etc; Westinghouse is #2, and they control CBS. The interests of the corporate polluters too often line up with the interests of the corporate media, and it just isn't news. Of course, what the media is interested in is profits. He gets the biggest laugh of the day when he reminds us of CBS's decision to not release the Reagan docudrama at a time when FCC regulations were before Congress, but wonders why "they didn't seem to have any problems with any of the stuff they published about my family over the last forty years."

Kennedy's most powerful argument, concerns CAFE standards, which federally regulate the average miles per gallon efficiency rate that the automobile industry must meet. He reminds us that this rate was around 18 mpg in 1979, and scheduled to rise to 26 mpg in 1986, and as high as 40 mpg in 2000. Of course, this progress was all undone by Reagan's administration, but the real point isn't one of negativity against Reagan, it's a subtle reminder of what would've happened had these standards not been rolled back. And of course, under Bush, we've had tax breaks FOR Hummers instituted, while tax breaks for buying hybrid cars have been repealed.

There are two interconnected arguments here which together have a great deal of force. The first is that because our government subsidizes the oil industry to such a large extent, Americans do not pay the "real" price of gas. We pay, currently, around $1.70 a gallon, and that's high by historic measurements, but not high enough to be a behavior changer. In Europe, they pay $5.00 a gallon, which may include a higher level of tax, but this is much closer to the true price of gasoline. Imagine an America where gas cost $5.00 a gallon. Do you think anyone would buy a car that didn't get at least 30 miles a gallon?

The other point is that we have a hundred million people driving around in SUVs and similarly fuel inefficient cars. If the CAFE standards had been held to, and these people all drove cars that made 40 miles per gallon, the savings in real dollars over a year would be enormous. Compared to the Bush tax "refund" checks of 2001 of $300 - American families would have $1000 or $2000 extra dollars in their pockets because of lower gas bills. Now, that's economic stimulus.

Kennedy finishes by tossing out some humorous phrases in connection with global warming. Leaving no doubt that global warming is a problem, and citing the Pentagon study which calls global warming our most serious national security issue today, he talks about how there just isn't any scientific opposition to global warming anymore, but that most Americans think the debate is still open. This is because, he explains, the corporate powers hire what he calls "biostitutes" to publish misleading reports that don't actually involve science that raise some doubt in the minds of the media. While these reports are scientifically worthless, and the media knows this, they'd rather not take the time to debunk them, instead just publishing that "there's still some debate on the issue." And these reports, published by places like the Heritage Foundation and other so-called "think" tanks, are in reality professional confusionists. These right-wing think tanks aren't actually interested in producing facts or using the scientific method to turn public opinion to their side, they're just interested in keeping the debate open. Confusion is their goal, and so far, they've had remarkable success.

Overall, Kennedy gave an excellent call to action, and I'll definitely be watching his work more closely in the future, and participating where I can.

State money can't be used for religious training

I was somewhat surprised when the opinion came down this morning in Locke v. Davey (pdf). A Washington state college student received a scholarship from the state under a program which prohibited the scholarships from being used for devotional studies. Since the student Davey was intending on pursuing a degree in pastoral ministry, the state refused to allow him to use their money to help pay his education expenses.

By a vote of 7-2, the Supreme Court said that the State of Washington could do this. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the opinion, and concluded that:

[W]e can think of few areas in which a State's antiestablishment interests come more into play. Since the founding of our country, there have been popular uprisings against procuring taxpayer funds to support church leaders, which was one of the hallmarks of an established religion.

Since the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of religion, the State can refuse to provide funds to train pastors or other church leaders. This makes perfect sense to me, but I imagine some people will be fairly upset about it, including Justices Scalia and Thomas (pdf).

When the State makes a public benefit generally available, that benefit becomes part of the baseline against
which burdens on religion are measured; and when the State withholds that benefit from some individuals solely
on the basis of religion, it violates the Free Exercise Clause no less than if it had imposed a special tax.


I'm not a First Amendment scholar by any stretch of the imagination, but this is a particularly interesting case, because it demonstrates the interplay between the two prongs of the First Amendment's protection of religion :

(1) Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
(2) or prohibiting the free exercise thereof


Rehnquist and the majority see the scholarship program as threatening an establishment of religion by providing state funds for religious training. Scalia sees the denial of funds as prohibiting Davey's free exercise. Read the whole opinion if you're interested in this area.