What you Need To Know

Opinions expressed in my articles are my own, and opinions in the articles and comments section written by others are strictly those of the author or commenter and not me.

Please be civil, it adds nothing to the conversation to engage in name-calling.

Friday, April 17, 2009

How Does Wasserman-Schulz Show US Hypocrisy?

In an interview with Rachel Maddow Friday night, Debbie Wasserman-Schulz (D-FL) discussed the torture memos and relations with Cuba. In this discussion, she showed the absolute hypocrisy of the US in both cases.

On Torture: Wasserman-Schulz made the statement that while she disagrees with 'torturous' policies, we (meaning her), absolutely don't feel sorry for the detainees who were tortured because they are the absolute most heinous criminals in the world and we cannot feel sorry for them.


Since none of these detainees have ever had a hearing, a trial, or a conviction, how can we say this? Oh. Just because they are detainees that automatically makes them guilty of whatever we say they did. Even if they did nothing.

Abu Zubayda was one of the detainees subjected to most of these 'torturous' procedures. He was waterboarded, 'walled' (had his head slammed repeatedly into the wall while being held around the neck with a towel or a collar specifically manufactured for that purpose), put into a small containment box and told that poisonous insects were being placed in there with him (apparently he has a problem with insects), and subjected to sleep deprivation for periods up to eleven days in a row, among other things.

And, now we're hearing that he's not the guy we thought he was. That instead of being "Al Quaeda's #2 guy" that he was not even a member of Al Quaeda. Ooops! Oh well. He's one of those heinous terr'ist crim'nals.

On Human Rights: Wasserman-Schulz discussed Obama's new policies towards Cuba and was saying that the Cuban government was guilty of the worst human rights violations of any country on earth. The example she gave was of the Cuban authorities allegedly arresting a 12-year-old for not joining the Communist Party. Okay. We never do stuff like that here in the good ol' USA!

Except for arresting a 6-year-old and charging him with sexual harassment for kissing a playmate. Or arresting a 9-year-old on weapons charges for bringing a knife to school when her grandmother put the knife in her lunch so she could cut up an apple, and the 9-year-old brought the knife to her teacher and turned it in. Or arresting a 10-year-old for being a drug dealer because she gave a classmate a cough drop. I could go on.

Oh yeah. We have lots of room to criticize other countries at this point in time. Methinks we need to clean up our own back, front, and side yards as well as the basement, the attic, and maybe even the kitchen, living room and bathrooms before we start yelling about other people.

Crossposted at Firedoglake

Saturday, April 11, 2009

What To Do When The Water Wars Begin

A couple of days ago the Government in Mexico was forced to shut down a water pipeline that normally brings almost a third of the water needed in that densely populated city. The lake level is so low the pipes were basically sucking up mud.

This is just the first of what is going to become a common occurrence in the very near future.

The Pentagon has had plans in its files for over thirty years now detailing the response to a number of scenarios when desparate people begin fighting over scarce resources, and the number one resource that was 'gamed' was water. We've heard discussions of peak oil, only it seems that peak water will hit us first.

One of the biggest consumers of potable water is agriculture. Now I know you're going to say 'but we need food too'. I agree. But what I don't agree with is trying to grow water-intensive crops in semi-arid and desert lands. For instance, most of the celery grown in the US is produced in Arizona. (A desert). Celery likes New Jersey a lot better. Because of the rain. Because of the temperatures. So why aren't we growing celery in New Jersey? Good question.

Similarly, the biggest rice crops are in the Sacramento River Delta. As you know, rice requires actual flooded fields for a lot of the first part of the growing season. Well, if they are doing that in a river delta it shouldn't be a problem - right? Well, not exactly. In order to meet the water needs of all the stakeholders on the river, they have had to dam and divert water from three other rivers in Northern California, rivers that are now having major problems including destruction of native fisheries due to low water levels in those rivers. And the Los Angeles area was trying to get legislation passed to require even more diversion water from these rivers and build a new canal to take it down there.

We have been hearing a lot of calls for backyard and frontyard gardens. These personal food sources are a great idea, no matter where you live. But you do have to pay attention. Herbicides and pesticides used on lawns are one of the worst sources of chemical pollution in this country. Most homeowners who use these products seem to feel that if a little bit is good, more is better. So, before you dig up your lawn to plant a food garden - you might want to talk to your neighbors and find out how they care for their lawns. And while you are at it, be sure to invest in a drip irrigation system. Overhead watering is the most inefficient method of irrigation, followed by ditching. Drip irrigation is the best since it delivers water directly to single plants or directly to the soil at the roots of your plantings.

Finally, look around your community. Where are the farming areas? What kind of crops do they grow there? Do they require irrigation? If so, where does the water come from? Are the crops really compatible with the climate where you are? Then pay attention to your local and area-wide land-use and planning boards. Find out where your own drinking water comes from if you don't know. Ask officials in your community if they have a backup plan if this water source becomes unavailable for some reason. Find out if there is a way that you personally can have a back-up plan.

And finally, we need to learn to eat foods that conform to the seasons where we live. Sure it's nice to have tomatoes in December in Montana - but do they really taste that good when they've come from South America? In the winter, root veggies and winter squashes are the vegetables of choice and of course, canned, frozen, or dried things. But that's another story.

I will be posting a series of articles on this subject in the next few weeks. I'll be discussing water conservation, alternate water systems, wastewater treatment, water source depletion and many other topics around this issue. Hope you'll come along.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Why All the Criticism of The White House Garden?

Michelle Obama and a group of school children broke ground on the new White House vegetable garden yesterday. And the fun begins.

It's just a token, the White House Staff will wind up taking care of it. Okay - so what? It's not like the people who live in the White House have nothing better to do. The fact that even if this were true, the people who live in the White House and their guests will be EATING THIS FOOD is more to the point. Also, that you can have a garden anywhere, in your front lawn if you have one.

Why isn't Michelle Obama talking about sustainability, etc etc etc? One of the things you learn early on if you are dealing with the public is you have to relate to them where they are. People who live in inner cities and poor rural communities already think 'organic' is elitist. By its very nature, an organic garden IS sustainable. Michelle Obama is appealing to the mothers and fathers out there who want their kids to be healthy. That's why she talks about fresh and healthy. And if you can find it and afford it - organic. People in this country need to be engaged in a dialogue about our food, and Michelle Obama is off to a great start.

Oh, the lawns there are all full of pesticides and herbicides so this whole exercise is useless. Well maybe they were. The fact that Michelle Obama has declared that this will be an organic garden means that the groundskeepers have undoubtedly been instructed not to continue to spray toxic chemicals on the lawns. I would think this has been in place since the swingset was installed - after all, who wants their kids playing in that stuff? All in all - this is a win-win for the environment on so many levels. They will have this working mini-farm, they will show people you can still have lawns without polluting so much. The garden is an educational tool - and getting kids involved first is often the best way to reach parents. When their kids want stuff, or make points about issues, parents tend to change behavior more than if you talk directly to them.

Most people don't have acres of lawn to dig up for a garden like this so I don't see how anyone else will be able to do this. One of the reasons the Obama garden is so large (1,100 square feet) is because it will be feeding the Obama family, guests at State dinners, and the school children and their families who are helping do some of the work. And there may be leftovers which I suspect will wind up at local soup kitchens. You don't need acres. I personally grew a garden in a space 10 feet by 11 feet. I canned and froze enough veggies to see us through the winter, plus we ate out of the garden all year. That is a tiny space. You can grow a tomato plant, a pepper plant and a cucumber vine in a large pot on your patio or porch. You can grow lettuces and herbs in a window box. In this era of belt-tightening, there are lots of options for growing fresh food no matter where you live. Have you seen those 'topsy-turvy' upside-down tomato plant things? Ha!

I am eagerly looking forward to seeing pictures of the First Family pulling weeds, and hearing about the meals that are being prepared by the White House chefs for formal affairs as well as the school kids harvesting and cooking what they have helped grow.

Hooray! This is a story we should all be celebrating instead of criticizing. How about it?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

When Are We Going To Get Rid Of The Ban On (Re)Importation of Drugs?

I realize that this is waaaaaaay down on the list of priorities for the Obama Administration, but for people who don't have drug coverage with their health care plan, and some who do (Medicare Part D) this is an important issue.

Remember when all the Republicans (and Blue Dog Democrats) were howling and screaming and the Bush FDA joined in the fray telling us that drugs from other countries were 'too dangerous' and that we could not trust those 'foreign' companies to have rigorous standards for their own populations? A total farce but I digress.

Well, what caught my eye today (h/t to FDL) was a little story that all these old impotent white guys like Bob Dole need to get a grip. Seems that Viagra is made in...drum roll please...Ireland! If that's not a foreign country, I don't know what is!!

But wait, it gets worse. Practically every person who has had a heart attack, angina pain, a stroke, or is at risk for any of these is now taking a drug called Plavix. It supposedly reduces the risk of re-occurrence of one of these episodes. By a reported 20%. Of course, that is 20% over and above an....drum roll please...aspirin. Aspirin can be obtained at Wally World for about a buck for a 100 pills. Plavix on the other hand, costs about $100 for 30 pills. Now here's the deal. Aspirin has never really had the kinds of efficacy and safety studies that are now routine for new drugs. It is on the GRAS list (Generally Recognized As Safe). So we really don't have a lot of good data telling us how much (if any) aspirin reduces these risks. If it does a lot - then Plavix does quite a bit as well. But if, as I suspect, aspirin does very little, then Plavix does even less. And the rest of the story (h/t to the late Paul Harvey) is that Plavix is produced in...rimshot please...FRANCE! Now that's a country that the Republicans love to hate!

Freedom fries, John Kerry looks too 'french' to be allowed to be POTUS, the French are total wimps and should be on their knees kissing our feet for us saving them from the Germans in WWII.

Which brings me to my next story. Most of you probably remember that actor Dennis Quaid and his wife had problems with the drug heparin. Their problem was actually an error by that hospital. But it did bring to the forefront a bit how ubiquitous the use of that particular drug is. It is actually quite useful - anyone who has had an IV in for a period of time, or a chemo-port knows that heparin is used to keep these devices from clotting closed. Heparin (coumadin, warfarin) is also used to reduce clotting in the blood the same way Plavix/aspirin and those drugs are - only more aggressive. It is being prescribed so much that in the bigger clinics people on coumadin actually have their own check in window since they have to get blood tests on a weekly or monthly basis.

So...most heparin in the US market is produced by Bayer. A German company. Well, not so bad, right? I mean the Germans are nothing if not models of efficiency, quality control and great design. Oops. The actual factory where the heparin is made is in ...gong please...China!

I guess this last example is more of a proof for why we DO need to be careful about 'foreign' drugs. But my point is that we have a lot of drugs in this country that are produced in foreign countries. And why the importation of drugs doesn't seem to be a problem, even when it should, as with the heparin from China.

But drugs that are produced here in this country for export cannot be brought back into this country why? They are made in the USA. The same companies that make them for US citizens make them for Canadian citizens. Are you telling me that they make them differently and dangerously for our friends up north?

This whole thing is really stupid. Let's get rid of this reimportation ban and reduce the cost of drugs for everyone. If we were allowed to reimport these medicines, I suggest that the cost of drugs here in this country would go down - simple competition. Don't get me started on Medicare Part D!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

When Do We Get Some Good News?

There was one piece of good news this week. President Obama announced the creation of a Commission on Women and Girls in his administration.

This is one of the recommendations of the CEDAW process - and the goal of that is to provide programs and policies that really do help women and girls have equal rights.

Many people in this country think we already do - but that just is not the case.

Here are just a few examples:
1) Women in this country make up 51.7% of the population. However, women in all parts of our supposedly representative form of government amount to just under 17%.
2) Women still earn on average only 76 cents for every dollar a man earns. The fact that we had to pass the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act speaks to this - even when a woman is doing the exact same job - she is still paid less. Never mind pay equity between 'so-called traditional' women's work (nursing, teaching) and traditional men's work (construction, police, fire etc).
3) If a married couple applies for a loan the man's name is almost always listed first - unless the woman objects. This happens even if the woman is the main negotiator, the larger money-earner, and if the man only shows up to sign the papers at the end of the deal.
4) If a single woman applies for a loan, she is more likely to be either turned down, or asked to get a co-signer, regardless of her credit score and earnings history.
5) Women are still discriminated against in hiring on the basis of the 'baby factor'. It is assumed by HR people that career women will at some point 'take time off to have a baby' and therefore, if a similarly or even less qualified male applies, they will be hired so the company doesn't have to deal with maternity leave, and the insurance for this.
6) Studies of the outcomes of divorce show that the majority of men are better off financially one year after a divorce, while the majority of women are worse off. This has mainly to do with the fact that women still retain physical custody of children and that child support payments are woefully low compared to the actual costs of raising a child. Some states have pretty good laws for joint/shared custody and or equal treatment of fathers requesting custody. But the majority presume the woman is more qualified/better suited to care for children - even when she patently is not.
7) In government contracting, women are still treated as a 'minority' - which does qualify them for some preferences - but this speaks ill of a society and the place of women in it.

I won't even get into the mess that minority women face - just take the list above, add about fifty racist things to it and then double up on the whole thing.

Women have been making gains in getting equal education, in fact in some areas of the country, women now make up a majority of graduates from college. This has disturbed the status quo so much they are thinking about putting limits on the number of female students that will be allowed to enroll in the impacted programs (kind of like the limits they talked about in the 1970s and 1980s for Oriental people in the math and sciences).

And despite all the ranting and raving by the Mormons and the Catholics and the Religious Right-wing about saving traditional marriage, the truth of the matter is that over 62% of women are now raising children alone, or are single with no children. The majority of women are now in the workforce - by necessity. The so-called traditional family of the 1950s has, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist.

So this new commission is good news. I am hopeful it means what it says - that the issues that face women and girls will finally get some real and focused attention, and that some new policies and laws will be put into place to stop some of the discrimination that is faced on a daily basis by the biggest "minority" on the planet.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What's Up?

I've been missing in action for a bit due to some health issues. Slowly mending now and trying to get caught up with the news.

Where to start? Wow. I guess President Obama's speech to Congress last night is a good enough starting place. While most of his speech was heartening and hopeful, there were a couple of issues I'd like to dissect a bit.

I am particularly disturbed by the 'entitlement reform' passing reference. I also want some clarification on his two war policies.

The new housing thing sound better than what we've had so far, but the idea that we cannot tell these bankers how much money and perks they can have when the taxpayers are paying the bills fries my brain.

So, then there was the Republican Response. After it was over, I called my mom and we both said "wasn't that the most pathetic thing you have ever seen?" I kid you not! I won't waste my time discussing it because it isn't worth it. I already wasted the time listening to his lies - and most of it WAS lies, including his story about the Sheriff during Katrina.

So...In our state, a bill to abolish the death penalty has passed the Senate and is now waiting debate in the House. There are about 8 other states doing this right now as well. Beyond the moral issues, the thing is now being argued on economic terms as well. I hope the abolition bill passes.

Finally, for today, I'm planning to adopt a shelter kitteh next month so will be posting pics and having fun for once.

Take care all, and keep chins up - things are changing - and a lot of it in ways we don't even know or realize yet!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

When Are Women Going to Get Equal Rights?

There has been a small stirring in the latest news cycles - mostly as a result of the passage of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act just passed by Congress. While this goes some distance toward reversing that horrid decision by the Supreme Court in Ledbetter vs Goodyear, I don't think it goes far enough. The statute of limitations is 2 years now - but that presumes that women in the workplace can actually find out that they are being discriminated against.

Anyone who has worked for a living for a medium to large-sized corporation knows that there is intense pressure and sometimes even punitive measures in place that prevent or strongly discourage workers from discussing their wages with their peers. The employers are certainly not forthcoming with information of this nature. So exactly how is the woman supposed to find out? In Lily's case - a co-worker gave her a tip - but did so anonymously for fear of retribution. Millions of women are not so lucky (if you can call her that). But at least with the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, at least you may have a chance at recovering some of those lost wages. That's far better than the current situation.

Women have actually lost ground on the pay issue under the Bush misrule. In 2000, women were up to 79 cents per dollar of mens wages. Women are now at 76 cents. This is a bit harder to address because of the built-in differences in wages between traditional 'womens' work and 'mens' work. While women and men are making strides in breaking down the barriers and performing well in occupations that used to be reserved for their opposite gender, the workplace is far from equal. We need a real examination of the value of the job itself - taking into account levels of responsibility, educational requirements, and the like. My favorite example is that my non-high-school graduate father and GED-holding husband were both truck drivers. They were responsible for a large motor vehicle, and loads of commodities that sometimes were worth in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. They were responsible for watching out for hundreds of idiot car drivers, and getting their loads to the destination when their bosses had promised. Their wages ran around $12-14 per hour (calculated since they both got paid by the mile plus loading and unloading time).

My mother, who had a Masters of Science in Nursing, and was in charge of the largest hospital in our state but one, was making at the same time, $8 per hour. It is hard to quantify how much the two levels of responsibility are between a big truck driver and an advanced-degree nurse, but I believe that they are at least equivalent. And therein lies the rub. Truck drivers are mostly men. Nurses are mostly women. That seems to be the only substantive difference that explains the disparity in their pay. So when are we going to have this discussion?

And finally, unions. Unions are getting a really bad rap from the right-wing at the present time. They are being blamed for everything that is wrong with the economy and are being tarred with the complete culpability for business failures (outside of the banking and finance industry) when it is actually the failure of the credit markets that is to blame.

A recent study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research shows that joining a union raises a woman's wages as much as one year of college courses does, and gives a woman better chance of having health insurance than earning a four-year degree does. In fact, women in unions earn an average of 11.2 percent more than their counterparts not in unions.

Such studies demonstrate why it's so critical that Congress prioritizes passing the Employee Free Choice Act! The EFCA is not a repeal of democratic principles, and does NOT get rid of secret ballots. If the workers want to have an election in addition to the card-check, they still can. Currently though, card-check exists but must be followed with an election. The corporations use the time between a majority card-check-off to threaten and intimidate workers and in some cases have even closed stores or plants to prevent unionization. The availability of the card-check to validate a union allows workers to avoid this. It also increases penalties for verified threats and intimidation tactics used by these corporations.

So if you have a minute or two, make a phone call, send a FAX, or write a letter to your Congresscritter and urge passage of the EFCA, and any other pay equity legislation currently pending before your State or the Federal legislature. Women work just as hard (in a lot of cases, harder!) than men - and we all deserve equal pay and benefits. It is not about a new hat any more. There are too many women who are the sole support of themselves and their children, and too many families where two wage-earners are a necessity, not a choice.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Evil Reborn?

Like all citizens of the world, I am watching the events unfolding in Gaza with the Israeli bombing, strafing and soon to come ground invasion. The history of this area has been one heartache after another of tit-for-tat killings. But recently, the word genocide has begun creeping into the dialogue.

There are several problems. First, any criticism of what the STATE of Israel, that is, its government, is immediately denounced as anti-Semitism. This is a problem because it is being used as a cover, and a justification for whatever bad acts the government decides to do. And there are many. Israel has not lived up to any of the conditions set up in Oslo, Rekyavik, Taba, the Roadmap, or a large number of US resolutions - all of which call for it to withdraw to the 1967 borders, and stop building settlements in areas outside that line.

Second, The Palestinians insistence on the 'right of return'. Regardless of how one feels about the formation of the State of Israel and the movement of millions of Palestinians to refugee camps back in the 1940s, the facts on the ground are here and now. The populations of both groups have continued to grow, and the areas controlled by both have not. There is pressure on both sides to find room for new inhabitants. The fact is that most of the Palestinians alive today were always residents of the 'refugee' camps that are now cities within the West Bank and Gaza. In return for this concession on the part of the Palestinians, Israel MUST allow and/or provide access to water. In this desert region, water is more important than oil. It is a vital necessity of life and must not be restricted or interfered with.

There are other issues, the fence, the status of Jerusalem, settlements in the West Bank, the Hamas/Fatah internecine conflict, the list goes on and on.

But now to my point. The world has basically agreed by consensus that certain leaders, including Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and others, have committed horrendous crimes against their own people and others. The death tolls in each instance are in the millions and simply staggering in the wanton disrespect for human life. So let's look at the leadership in Israel and Gaza and see if there are any comparisons.

There has been much argument among the MSM whether Israel's response to Hamas' rocket attacks is disproportionate. There has almost been unanimous condemnation by the governments around the world of Hamas, claiming that they started this and they are getting a well-deserved pounding, after all, Israel has a right to defend itself.

While I am not defending suicide bombers and rocket attacks by the Palestinians, we do need some perspective on this issue.

Here's a little story (h/t to several commenters at FDL and C&L and Salon for some of the imagery):

Suppose that the people of Rhode Island elected a Grand Dragon of the KKK for their governor. Then let's suppose that the governor of Massachusetts, who is a black man(absolutely no offense or anything intended to the current governor), announced that he would not recognize the government of Rhode Island because it is now being run by a terrorist organization. And the government of Massachusetts began the process of erecting a huge concrete 'fence' around the entire state of Rhode Island. Of course, he didn't stay on the borders, but ran the fence around some prime pieces of real estate that Massachusetts really wanted to get away from Rhode Island in the first place. Then the government of Massachusetts imposed a blockade and refused to let in any food, fuel, medicine and other stuff for the people of Rhode Island. It gets so bad that the people there are eating grass because there is no other food. Now let this situation go on for over a year. Finally, the people of Rhode Island say enough, and begin building rockets which they lob over the fence towards the cities of Massachusetts. Of course the Governor of Massachusetts screams that he needs to defend his State and launches an aerial bombardment, including bombing any vehicle that is moving, any person who happens to be walking on the street, all the police and fire stations, all the city halls and state capitol, and the houses of any government officials it can find (or not). The home-made rockets didn't kill very many people. But hundreds are now dead and thousands injured in Rhode Island.

Here is where the evil comes in. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has been asked when they will allow humanitarian aid into Gaza. Her reply: There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, so there is no need for any humanitarian intervention.

Evil reborn? Whaddya think? I'm just sayin'.