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.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Police vs Protesters (of all sorts)

I've been watching with dismay as peaceful protesters in a large number of our cities across the nation have been pepper sprayed, beaten with batons, shot with tear gas cannisters, knocked down with flash-bang grenades, sprayed with tear gas, shot with rubber bullets, had sound cannons used on them, run over with motor bikes, pushed, kicked, punched, and arrested for walking on public sidewalks, walking in public streets, camping in public parks, being customers of banks, and just generally exercising their rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

In addition, they have had their property confiscated and in violation of laws on the books everywhere it has been thrown into garbage trucks, run over with bulldozers, burned, poured water on, deliberately destroyed, or conveniently "lost". These possesions include the usual tents, sleeping gear, clothing and other personal items, but in the larger encampments also include medical supplies and expensive medical equipment, cooking equipment and food with which the Occupy groups are feeding not only themselves but lots of homeless and other food-needy people as well. And at the NYC Occupy, a library of over 5,000 books was apparently destroyed as well.

Mayor Jean Quan of Oakland, California revealed that the massive evictions with all the police brutality were a coordinated effort among many mayors. There were also rumors that there may have been assistance from the Department of Homeland Security as well, although that has not been confirmed.

And so, the question is....what are all these mayors and others so afraid of?

This comment was posted on a story on the excellent blog Crooks and Liars

Eric.Arthur.Blair — 11/24/11 9:01am
A friend of mine told me that he got an e-mail with pictures of people camping out at malls and Best Buys and Wal-Marts and Targets waiting for Black Friday.

What a country! People who camp out on private property to profane a supposedly sacred holiday with naked acquisitiveness, greed and commercialism are not only tolerated, but applauded, while those who camp out in public spaces to protest injustice are beaten, sprayed with chemical weapons and arrested.

Point well taken, and given the events of Black Friday where a shopper resorted to using pepper spray on other shoppers in order to gain access to some desired item, even more appropriate than usual.

But I'd like to go a little farther back - to last year. Remember the dawn of the Tea Party? Where the "protesters" would show up in ridiculous costumes complete with tea bags decorating their hats and shirts, and either loudly claiming to or in some places openly carrying guns? These same protesters making loud threats against the President, members of Congress and Justices of the Supreme Court? These same protesters telling us that if they didn't get their way at the ballot box they would get their way by using 'Second Amendment remedies'? A congressional candidate's assistant (he's now in Congress!) who was literally asking people to take up arms and form an insurrection against the government?

And now I ask you, where were the police in riot gear? Where was the pepper spray? All the arrests? The rubber bullets, the tear gas, the beatings, the confiscations, the massed men in blue?

Yes, they were no where to be seen. All that anti-government stuff from the Tea Parties was ignored by law enforcement. Maybe because the Tea Parties were not really a grass-roots uprising but a bought and paid for operation of the Koch brothers, and all law enforcement and city mayors etc knew it all along.

And that is what really scares them about Occupy. It is not funded by the Kochs or anyone else. History shows us over and over again, that when the income disparity gets to great between the rich and everyone else, when the powerful become too much so and the powerless come to feel their powerlessness too much so, there comes a tipping point. And the powerless and poor decide to rise up. At first it is just a few, and they are individuals. But they begin to gather together. And the groups become larger. Soon they become powerful. And when that happens, the tables get turned. Suddenly the rich and powerful are targets and they lose everything - including their wealth and in most cases, their lives as well. Yes, they are afraid. They should be. They have let their greed run amok. They have taken and taken and taken. They have said that there is never enough for them to acquire - they must always take more. More than their share. And the people from whom that share is taken are to blame for their plight. But deep down they always knew that someday would come the reckoning. That day is here.

Occupy is still small. But it is growing, and the attacks on it by law enforcement at the behest of the city governments is actually helping the movement grow even faster. Each time there is an attack - the watchers are galvanized into action. They see the unfairness of the police with all their weapons against the peaceful protesters and it resonates with them because that is how life feels right now. And the protesters are doing something about it. Finally someone is doing something. The watchers are not alone. So they go join up.

I live in a small town. We have a tiny Occupy group. Our police and mayor have decided to let them be. They are camped on the courthouse lawn. They voluntarily left for Veterans Day so the festivities could take place. When they came back, the encampment was much smaller. But we are also a hard winter place. It is very cold here now. Our Occupy group has a really big tent now - and almost all of them are inside that one tent - much easier to keep warm, and interested people can come in and talk, participate in their GA (General Assembly) and pick up some literature without freezing as well. Who's to say that a raid on this tiny encampment might not help them out? Or not.

Our news media has been on the side of the mayors and law enforcement through the writing of headlines. See if you can spot how the bias operates. "Protesters In Altercation with Police At ..."

When you see that headline it kind of sets up the idea that the protesters started something. The way the headline should have read is "Police Attack Peaceful Protesters At ..." because that is actually what happened.

Kind of changes the perspective, doesn't it?

And finally, there is the discussion about the militarization and terrorist-targeted training of all of our police agencies across the country. But that is a subject for another complete post. For now - the protesters are winning - even though they appear to be losing if you only look at the street battles and who is going to jail.

Interesting note: There have been over 5,000 people jailed in Occupy protests across the country so far. More than were put in jail during all the protests in Iran after their so-called illegal elections, and for which our government imposed sanctions and called for the Iranian government to stop suppressing the protesters rights to criticize their own government and to allow free speech. Very interesting indeed!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

When the State Murders Someone...

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the death penalty in the aftermath of a number of incidents in the past few weeks. I am generally opposed to the practice but that feeling has been a general one for the most part. I am opposed because I don't feel that it is a deterrent. I believe it harms the people who have to carry out the executions. And I deeply believe that our justice system is so flawed that we can never be sure that the person we are putting to death is truly and unequivocally guilty beyond all doubt. Recent events have solidified my position and clarified it for me in an almost agonizing way.

In the past few weeks several incidents have come up. The first being the obnoxious cheering by audience members at the announcement by Texas Governor Rick Perry that he had presided over 234 executions during his time as governor. What Perry didn't mention and the press didn't bother to either was that at least one of those executions turns out to be almost certainly of an innocent man - Cameron Todd Willingham. Perry claims he has no problem sleeping at night and doesn't believe that there have been any problems in his state. However the Willingham case was being investigated and Perry fired the chief investigator and ordered the commission that was looking into it to terminate its inquiry. Another board that routinely reviews cases such as this was told that it could review any case in Texas they wanted to - except the Willingham case. So much for that awesome certainty.

Two more executions were scheduled in Texas a couple of weeks ago. One of them was a man who participated in a particularly nasty racist killing, confessed to that killing, refused his appeals and claimed he didn't mind being put to death. Some of the family members of the victim objected to the death penalty in this case.

The other case was stayed by the Supreme Court for some technical issues for a while but then allowed to go forward.

And of course, there is Troy Davis. Troy Davis was no angel. He may have been present when the officer was killed. The so-called ballistic evidence was flawed and proven to be so and testified to be flawed in one of Davis' appeal hearings. Of the nine witnesses who testified against him, seven have recanted, and several of those have pointed the finger at one of the two remaining witnesses as the actual shooter. Many of the witnesses have said they were threatened by the actual shooter, or by the police themselves. No other physical evidence ties Davis to the shooting. Is he guilty? It is a pretty paltry case on which to put someone to death.

My point is this - in the end it seemed like the District Attorney (who said he would have never sought the death penalty if he was trying the case today), the Board of Parole and Pardons (who stated that the witness recantations caused them to have serious doubts about Davis' guilt), the Georgia Supreme Court (who voted 3-2 to uphold his conviction - the dissenters said that the trial was too racially charged to be fair), the US Supreme Court (voted 5-4 not to stay the execution), all seemed more interested in upholding the process rather than interested in upholding justice. And there was the really incredible statement by Justice Scalia that "there is nothing in the Constitution that says we have to set an innocent man free if he has been convicted by a jury of his peers." WTF??? And yes, Scalia was talking about Troy Davis.

Process is the paperwork, the following the procedures, the filing the briefs, the arguments and so on. But doing the things that are "normally" done just for the sake of doing them. Not rocking the boat. And certainly not taking a stand on the actual case because that would be having to admit somewhere, somehow, that someone or a bunch of someones made an awful mistake.

That the guy who really killed that policeman is still walking around out there loose. And he still is - even though Troy Davis is now dead and buried. That all the pressuring the witnesses and lying about those bullet casings and all the rest got someone on death row so they could say they got the guy. Only they didn't. So the family of the slain officer could get closure. Except they won't get that. Killing Troy Davis won't bring back their son/father/husband. Killing the guy who really killed him won't either, unfortunately.

But no one will now ever know the truth. Because Davis is dead. Now everyone will stop looking. The investigation is closed. The real killer got away with it. He's been bragging to people about it.


I read a scholarly paper about crime and punishment a lot of years ago. The real deterrent is the swiftness and the surety of the punishment, not the severity of it. Especially here when the death penalty is so unevenly applied, and because of the appeals process, which is also very uneven, and which takes forever. In the Davis case - 22 years.

People who commit horrible crimes are not thinking to themselves "Gee. I shouldn't do this because I will probably get caught and if I do they will put me to death."

No. They are thinking "Gee. If I do this I probably won't get caught, but if I do I can get a good lawyer and he can probably get me off."

That is why the death penalty is not a deterrent. Only about 60% of murders are solved, and only a very small portion of those are considered death penalty cases. Several states do not currently have the death penalty as an option. That fact has not seemed to affect murder rates on those states.

The cost of incarceration is an argument given by some death penalty proponents as a reason to put people to death. However the idea that killing someone to save money is a reason for doing it is pretty abhorrent on its own. Never mind that it is a false premise. The costs of a capital murder trial plus the appeals and the execution process far exceed the costs of even a lengthy incarceration. Estimates range between about $32,000 to $47,000 per year depending on the state and the facility. The cost of a death penalty case from start to finish (which may include a couple decades of incarceration at the upper end of the price spectrum) ranges from a low of about $1.2 million to a high of nearly $3.5 million. So if saving money is your argument then you should be arguing to abolish the death penalty.

But the argument should be on the moral grounds. If we believe that it is wrong to kill, then it is wrong to kill, period. It is just as wrong for the state - representing all of us - to coldly and with premeditation and much planning and forethought to kill someone - as it was for that individual to do so. After all, as Keith Olbermann stated, "at least the individual has some excuse, as poor as it may have been, for what he or she did. We, that is, the state on our behalf, do not."

Saturday, September 3, 2011

When did Rush Limbaugh Become King of the United States?

Something happened while I was asleep. Rush Limbaugh became King of the United States. Grover Norquist apparently is his Chief Financial Officer. How this happened is beyond me - but it is a fact.

Here is the evidence. John Boehner, the former Speaker of the House - now just a puppet who mouths platitudes fed to him by King Limbaugh, had received a request from the former President, Barack Obama, to speak before a joint session of Congress. Mr. Boehner said okay. But then King Limbaugh heard about this and he was outraged. Outraged I tell you. He threw a hissy fit. He screamed and yelled as only King Limbaugh can. So of course Mr. Boehner had to pretend that he didn't really say yes to the pretend President. So Mr. Boehner sent a letter to the pretend President and told him that the House would be too busy doing other things like re-naming post offices and stuff and besides they wouldn't have time to do the security sweep that takes three hours even though they were being given a week's notice. So could the pretend President just come another time? And of course, the pretend President said well, yes, of course. We cannot afford to make King Limbaugh unhappy now, can we?

The Republicans are in charge of the nation's money right now. And almost every one of them has signed a pledge given to them by Grover Norquist. One that says they absolutely under no circumstances will ever ever ever raise a single red cent in taxes. And even if it means destroying the country - they are all determined to do just that. They are on a campaign to balance the budget, pay off all our debt and do it all without raising one cent of revenue. Because Grover Norquist says so.

I thought I was just having a nightmare. Turns out I wasn't. I'm wide awake. I keep pinching myself and wondering what universe I woke up in.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Why Are Our Political Leaders Insane?

You know all this deficit and debt talk is a contrived crisis, right? And the ginned up hysteria around raising the debt ceiling? Which is not to say that it should not be raised. It should. Immediately and without any further delay or any further hostage-taking, grandstanding or budget-dealing, back-room meetings, stupid speeches or anything else.

It takes a bill that is all of one sentence. Ten minutes for each house. A minute for a signature by the President. Done.

What has disappeared in all of this is our sense of morality as a country - our humanity, our spirit of sharing and caring.

We have a much smaller but no less real crisis here in my town. Our local homeless shelter, which is located in a far-from-ideal building succeeded in getting a large grant to build a badly needed new building. They spent months looking for a site, finally identified one, and on advice from the mayor, proceeded to do most of the preliminary paperwork and permitting without notifying the residential neighbors.

Well, the neighbors have now found out and the predictable backlash is in full force. And the loudest objections were because they weren't notified at the start of the process. The cowardly mayor then backed down and told the shelter people that maybe they should find another place because this one was "too controversial". Yeah - it's a derelict bar. On a block with two more bars and a casino. On one of the state highways that runs through town. Not very kid friendly. But it is close to the community clinic, a large grocery store, a bus stop, the hospital, and a school.

Oh wait, see that's a problem. This shelter is for women with children but we absolutely cannot allow it to be near a school!!! The principal of the school even wrote a letter to the editor stating that she did not want to allow any of "those" kids in "her" school! Wow! The whole neighborhood is jumping up and down calling people who are defending this project nasty names and screaming about how sacred "their wonderful neighborhood" is. I got news for them. This is the Northside. As in the wrong side of the tracks. You know what that means. There is nothing wonderful about it. There are probably as many or more people living in cars and little tiny travel trailers in backyards in that wonderful neighborhood as would be housed in this new homeless shelter. But "those" people in that brand new shelter are going to drag the home values down. Down from where? Have you noticed that the banks already did that number on you?

This whole thing just makes me sick. I guess it makes other people sick too. The directer of the shelter organization has now quit. So in addition to trying to find another site, they are now also looking for a new director. And "those people" are still needing shelter.

Still sucks to be poor. It didn't used to be a crime but apparently it is fast becoming one.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Why is AARP Selling Out Seniors?

The leadership of AARP has announced that it is okay with benefit cuts to future retirees as part of some kind of budget deal. WHAT?

There are a number of problems with this.

FIRST: There is no structural problem with Social Security. A complete and total fix for any so-called funding problems that are 40-50 years in the future is to either raise or remove the cap on earnings. The original design was for 'capture' of 90+% of total earnings. Right now, capture is sitting at about 83%. Raising the cap to get it back to 90% would solve the very far in the future funding issue. Eliminating it altogether would allow for benefit INCREASES! I know, what a concept. Additionally, it might be worthwhile exploring some kind of 'capture' of FICA tax on unearned income - that is, the kind of income that rich people get from stock market investments and the like. And that is only taxed at 15% for income taxes as well...but that is a discussion for another day.

SECOND: There is absolutely zero, zilch, nada, no impact whatsoever from Social Security on either the debt or the deficit. Social Security is also not an "entitlement" - it is an insurance program that people have paid into, and then get money out of. It is completely self-funded and receives no money from general revenues - and thus has no impact on budgets or anything else.

The Republicans are trying to say that because the Social Security Trust Fund is held in Treasury Bills (T-Bills) that will have to be 'cashed in' or 'paid back' that it is part of the deficit and therefore the program must be cut or destroyed because of that. This is not true.

The majority of the deficit is held by us. You and me. It's in our pension funds, both private and public. It's in our mutual funds that are in our 401(k)s and IRA accounts. It's in our stock portfolios (if we have one) in the form of T-Bills and US Government Bonds. So, according to the same logic - that means that because individual citizens, institutions like unions, state governments and corporations, should all be dismantled or ...what...because they also hold instruments of the deficit? And what about China - they too hold about 20%. We gonna tell them they need to do ....what exactly?

THIRD: If you are going into a negotiation - you don't begin by telling the other side what you are willing to give up before you even start. That is a recipe for not only losing on that issue but having to give up even more since that issue will become the starting point for the negotiation. Witness what happened during the health insurance bill debacle. Single payer came off the table before it started. The public option soon followed. Negotiating for drug prices was given away before it started, along with a host of other very helpful things - all because the Democrats signaled early on that they were willing to give these items up. And so they were gone and nothing was gained in return.

SO......the problem is NOT Social Security. What then is the problem with AARP? Well, as usual it is very simple. Money. AARP has gone from an advocacy group to

-Hawks health, auto, motorcycle, home, mobile home, long-term care, dental and life insurance; besides offering discounts and incentives for travel, eyeglass, hearing aid and many other services;

– Sells annuities, mail order prescription drugs and credit cards and has seven no-load mutual funds;

– Has one of the largest mailing lists in the nation and publishes one of the nation’s most widely circulated and lucrative magazines etc

(You can read more about this at Time to Burn My AARP Card)

I join with Professor Eric Kingson, author of the quoted article, in saying if you must join some senior advocacy group then choose one of these:

Alliance for Retired Americans or
National Committee for the Preservation of Social Security and Medicare

Both of these fine organizations still remain true to their advocacy goals and positions, have large memberships, and will benefit from new ones and will benefit all seniors by having increased power to lobby on behalf of us all.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Water Weather?

We are having what I call water weather here in Montana. What is that, you ask? It's a combination of rain, floods, snow-pack melting, snow falling (yes, I know it's June!) and all of the attendant problems.This year we are really having water weather. Our rivers are higher and more destructive than usual.

For example, the Judith River in southeastern Montana took out a railroad trestle - twisting the railroad rails like wet spaghetti noodles. The biggest problem this caused is sort of obvious - the train cannot run across this trestle any more. Here is the real deal. On one side of this trestle - the east side - is the huge coal mine known as Colstrip. On the other side - in Washington State to the far west - is a big customer - a coal-fired power plant complex. There are now empty coal trains sitting on every single siding between the Judith River and the power plant. I'll not get into a discussion about the wisdom (or not) of burning coal here, but suffice it to say that I don't think the power plant has a large enough stockpile to last until that trestle can be rebuilt. Especially since they have to wait until the water goes down before they can even start - and that is not looking like it will happen any time soon.

Another problem. There is so much water in all the rivers that the lakes behind all of our big dams are rising faster than the water can be released. Today - officials began the process of opening the biggest spillway in the Fort Peck dam on the Missouri River. It is expected to cause flooding in North Dakota and all points downstream once they do. Notifications have been going out for a week so people can get packed and move to higher ground. The dam must be opened - it cannot be allowed to be overtopped - that could result in the destruction of the dam itself and the resulting catastrophe would be far worse.

The Kerr Dam on the Flathead River is a major electricity production point. Not only are all the spillways open at their maximum - but the huge turbines are spinning freely - not generating. This is because the resistance for electricity generation causes the water to be backed up - so they are spinning to let more water through. So...no electricity - and the lake is still rising.

It has been cold and rainy and snowing in the mountains all week. Adding more water to the equation. However the forecast for this weekend is for hot, sunny summer sunshine. You would think we would be happy. Guess again.

The forecast 80-degree heat is expected to melt the huge amounts of snow still in the mountains and bring it all down our already flooding rivers and streams all at once.

And this cold, rainy-snowy followed by hot-sunny stuff is expected to continue for the entire month of June.

Methinks we all better have a canoe and a pair of chest-waders on hand.

But of course this has nothing to do with climate change. Nope. Just coincidence. It's just normal (except it's not).

And Eric Can't-or says we will not be eligible for any assistance unless he can find some cuts somewhere else - like subsidies for not burning coal.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

What Can We Learn From The Japanese People?

I was gifted with these ten things by a friend of mine passing along an email.

This was attributed to SKYNEWS. I thought I would pass it along, with some additional commentary (my commentary is in italics).

Not a single visual of chest-beating or wild grief. Sorrow itself has been elevated.

Just think of this, the country had just been shaken by an unprecedented 9.0 earthquake. That alone would have been enough to "rattle" this country beyond belief. Roads crumbled, buildings toppled, water mains broken, power lines down, and people panicking everywhere. And about an hour later, a 43-foot tall tsunami washed across major portions of the country that had just experienced that major earthquake. Whole small cities of 10,000 people were simply washed into the sea. Google-Earth images show heavily populated areas with hundreds of buildings before - and moments later, the landscape has been washed clean of any evidence of human habitation, not a road, building or anything left. And then after all that, a number of nuclear power plants in the country began experiencing problems - the most serious of which was Fukushima Dai-ichi. The world focused on Dai-ichi and forgot about the rest of the devastation.
But the Japanese people and their government quietly and calmly began immediately to do what was necessary. They set up shelters and began gathering thousands of homeless people into them. They provided food, water and transportation. There was no question of how to do this. They didn't split families up - in fact they tried to keep families together, sending homeless people to relatives instead of stranding them in cities where they knew no one. Quietly and efficiently.

Disciplined queues for water and groceries. Not a rough word or a crude gesture. Their patience is admirable and praiseworthy.

Here in this country, most people act this way during a crisis. Unfortunately, there are a lot of others who don't. And equally unfortunately, our media seeks these situations out and highlights them. So it seems even worse than it is. But why are we so rude and mean in the first place? Why do we think that being rude and mean will help us get what we want faster or better or more? Usually it works the opposite way. And we also seem to feel that being dignified is somehow "weak" because it isn't 'aggressive' or 'manly' enough. Actually being dignified takes far more courage in most situations than being a punk. But enough on that.

The incredible architects, for instance. Buildings swayed but didn't fall.

Many large cities on the West Coast of the US are just as prone to earthquakes as Japan. We have really good architects and engineers who know how to build wonderful buildings too. But a lot of our buildings probably would not withstand a huge earthquake like this - even the newest ones - because our government doesn't require them to be built that way. And because the corporations who build and own them don't want to spend the extra money. They do just the bare minimum to get by. And then hope. And if it does happen, rely on their insurance company to pay for the damages. If people get hurt, too bad. In Japan - the government has a different attitude about these things.

4. THE GRACE (Selflessness)
People bought only what they needed for the present, so everybody could get something.

I witnessed this in a live interview on Kyodo News during the time immediately after they discovered radioactivity in the water in Tokyo. A woman was in a store buying water for her pregnant sister. She bought 4 small bottles of water. The American reporter asked her why she didn't get more and she replied that she wanted to leave some so that others would be able to get some too. They also showed that day - the same day of the announcement that babies and pregnant and nursing mothers should not drink the water, the government had already set up distribution centers and were giving water to people in those categories. Talk about efficiency!

No looting in shops. No honking and no overtaking on the roads. Just understanding.

I have never understood this. Whenever a disaster strikes, or even just when the power goes out for an extended time, a certain group of people just seem to always see it as an opportunity to steal and vandalize things. It is excused as 'venting rage' or something - but often the victims of the theft and vandalism are not the perpetrators of whatever the thieves and vandals are complaining about. After Katrina, I could understand people getting food and water - but the ones stealing TV sets and expensive sound systems?
Taking advantage of others in the midst of a crisis doesn't help your situation much if at all, and in the long run may make everything worse. That store owner whose store was impacted by the disaster already and then lost even more because of looting may decide it isn't worth it to re-open in your neighborhood afterwards. There go the jobs, and the access to whatever he sells. Maybe he would have been able to stay if not for the looting. Why don't we teach people the long-term consequences of our actions - in everything we do?

Fifty workers stayed back to pump sea water in the N-reactors. How will they ever be repaid?

This is one of those decisions that those individuals probably didn't have to consciously make - they were there, they just started doing what was necessary, one step at a time. At some point or other, they realized they probably weren't going to get out without getting a possibly lethal dose of radiation, but also realized that if they didn't stay - hundreds or thousands of people faced that same fate. And so they just kept on - for the sake of their families who probably lived within the mandatory evacuation zone, and for everyone else. I hope for their sake that the Japanese government gives them something to recognize that they are all heroes in the truest sense of that word. And I am sure that will happen.
Unlike here where our lovely Congress has delayed and delayed even paying for the vitally needed healthcare for the people who spent weeks and months digging in the wreckage of the WTC pile - after having been lied to by Bush Administration officials about the air quality - and are now sick and dying from breathing toxic chemicals in the air. And even now - those workers are being forced to be run through the terrorist watch list database before they can access the funds for this healthcare as a result of a provision that was attached to the recently passed legislation authorizing those funds. Unbelievable. Instead of medals they get insults on top of death sentences.

Restaurants cut prices. An unguarded ATM is left alone. The strong cared for the weak.

The Japanese people, through their government/business partnership structures and the way their corporate/labor structures work are used to working as teams. They understand that they are 'all in it together'. You know - socialism of the highest order. They get that for all of them to survive three huge disasters all at the same time that everyone must work together to put the pieces back together.
Japan seems to understand in a way that the US does not, the virtue of long-range planning and preparedness. Like the water for babies. They made an announcement and the water was there. Immediately. Not in a week. Right then. They ordered a mandatory evacuation zone around Dai-ichi. And even though the roads had been washed away and the shelters were already full of people left homeless by the earthquake and the tsunami, they got the people out of there. Right away. Not weeks later. Obviously, their version of FEMA actually has plans. Plans that take into account many variables. Plans that all the appropriate people know about and that are not hidden away in the drawers of some private consultant somewhere. Plans that can be and are implemented on a moments notice.

The old and the children, everyone knew exactly what to do. And they did just that.

It's one thing to have plans. But everyone has to know just what those plans are, and how they fit into those plans. In Northern California where I lived for over 25 years, they have NEST (Neighborhood Emergency Support Teams). In case of a disaster - probably an earthquake - you might be inaccessible because of bridges out, landslides, and so on. So neighborhoods were encouraged to form NESTs to identify resources that everyone could depend on for up to two weeks in that event. In my neighborhood, our house was a water source since we had an active deep water well and a hand pump available if the water main broke and water was unavailable. That's the kind of resource that becomes pretty important.
After Katrina, one of the major problems was the evacuation plan. There were apparently only five copies of the $3.2 million plan ever made. During the Congressional hearings afterwards, not one single person could provide a copy of it to the investigating committee. Not even the private consulting firm who supposedly produced it. As far as I am concerned - if no one has the plan - it doesn't exist. You cannot implement a plan if you don't know about it, if you haven't disseminated it to all affected parties, if you haven't practiced it. You cannot criticize anyone for not evacuating according to some plan they never heard of.
But this failure of long-term planning is pretty endemic throughout this country. We are always in the 'no one could have known' frame of mind. Even though time and again the best minds among us have been crying in the wilderness for years about that very thing.

They showed magnificent restraint in the bulletins. No silly reporters.
Only calm reportage. Most of all NO POLITICIANS TRYING TO GET CHEAP MILEAGE.

I would add to this that there has been no 'ass-covering' by the government towards TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company, the owner of the Dai-ichi Nuclear Plant). TEPCO was ordered last week to begin disbursing checks to the people who lived within the mandatory evacuation zones. They were told how much to pay and that the checks needed to be paid immediately and given a list.They were also told that this is just a preliminary payment and that other payments will follow. The checks went out.
Contrast this to the BP $20 billion fund to reimburse all the people who lost their livelihoods after the Gulf disaster. A year and a half after that began, people are still not getting paid and still getting hassled for more papers please and the lawyers are getting rich and the fisher people and business people of the Gulf coast are losing everything they own to bankruptcy. Meanwhile BP is writing off the disaster as a loss on their taxes and giving big fat bonus checks to all their executives.

When the power went off in a store, people put things back on the shelves and left quietly.

The manager of the Dai-ichi Power Plant broke down sobbing at the first news conference when he announced to the world that his plant was releasing high levels of radioactivity and that the plant was in danger of meltdown at at least three of the reactors. His sobbing was not the idiotic grandstanding stuff of John Boehner, but the kind of a person who realizes that a nuclear power plant that he is personally responsible for may just wind up killing a lot of people. At every appearance he has been at since he begins and ends with multiple apologies, and that very deep bow. (The deeper the bow, the more humiliating). He has also been very sick himself - an aide reported that he was so sick that he had a doctor come in and hook him up to an IV, but that he 'hadn't fallen down on the floor' so he continued to work although he was staying in a side room. Yeah - the conscience. Unlike some others - you know who - the list is endlessly long.....>

With their country in the midst of a colossal disaster - The Japanese citizens can teach plenty of lessons to the world.

These examples are particularly sharp for me today because I just read an article about Tim Pawlenty's education commission where they decided that teaching kindergartners to share was bad because it has "socialistic tendencies". What???

I'm sorry but socialism is not a bad thing. In fact, all you right-wingers out there - if it wasn't for socialism you would not even be alive. Sharing is what your parents did for you from the moment of your birth. They shared their food, their shelter, their resources, so you could live. Everything you have achieved in your life is because of socialism. The house you live in, the roads you drive on, the car you drive in, the schools you attended whether public or private, the church you go to (or not), the food you eat, the water you drink, the clean air you breathe, the clothes on your back, the companies you have worked for, even the government you love to hate - all of it and every bit of it is socialist. We are all socialists you and I. And the more socialist we are - the better off we all are.

The Japanese people, through the three gigantic, horrific disasters they are going through right now, are showing us just how true this is.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Why Do We De-Value "Womens" Work?

I was having a conversation with my mother the other day about all the slashing and cutting the Republicans in Congress and in the Statehouses across our country are doing in programs that affect the poorest people. We started out talking about food - there is a fast going on to protest cuts in the WIC program, food stamps, school lunch programs and several others that will have an effect on the nutritional status of particularly children and the elderly. We continued on a tangent and wound up talking about the fact that my developmentally disabled sister no longer qualified for food stamps because in addition to her SSDI check she has a job that pays her $10.00 per hour for 18 hours per week. This job is a supported employment job - in other words, her employer got a subsidy for hiring her, she has a job coach, and there are a bunch of other things that go along with it. Her job consists of picking up trash, doing laundry, weeding flower beds, and other similar menial tasks. She likes what she does, gets along well with her supervisors and performs her tasks well enough that she has earned several "employee of the month" certificates.

So in the context of our discussion, mom and I were commenting on how "rich" my sister is because you have to really be poor to qualify for food stamps since obviously my sister is now rich since she doesn't.

But that got me thinking about something else that happened not too long ago.

Womens work. You know - the stuff women have always done, care for the house including laundry, sewing, child care, cooking, gardening, nursing, that kind of stuff. Someone once added up all this work that women do for a family at the cost it would be if they hired it done: a nanny, a professional chef, a gardener, a registered nurse, a seamstress, a bookkeeper, a personal shopper, a gardener, a chauffer, a professional housekeeper and so on - and a stay-at-home mom taking care of a couple of children is worth roughly $267,000 per year.

Even though it is now 2011 - and this kind of stuff has been supposedly relegated to "equal opportunity" by the invention of washer-dryer pairs, no-iron fabrics, disposable clothing, fast food and pre-packaged microwave meals, and men cooking and nursing, there is still a devaluation of that work traditionally done by women. And some of that devaluation is done by other women. The career types look down at women who stay home to take care of children (if they have a choice, which most do not). The value of the work that a stay-at-home mom does in a divorce settlement is valued at zero. Only a paycheck serves as any marker of value. But even the experience of a stay-at-home mom managing a household and raising children is viewed in the so-called "actual" workplace as no experience and therefore unqualified to do anything at all.

So here's what happened to me. I am a highly trained and experienced seamstress and tailor. I had been working doing alterations for a local tuxedo rental and sales shop in town - these alterations were mostly not of the 'let the pants up or down' variety but of the type of 'take the jacket apart and rework the way the sleeves were set in' sort. One day the manager of the store casually mentioned to me that there was another seamstress who had offered to do the alterations for less than half of what I charge. And I stopped receiving calls.

There are two issues here. The first one is that prior to this conversation she and the customers had been thrilled with my work. I still get repeat business from some of them. And the customers had never quibbled about my prices. But this female manager decided that it was better to have this much less expensive service so she stopped recommending me to her customers.

The second issue is that this other seamstress was so willing to provide her services for so little. Didn't she understand that what she was doing was much more valuable than that? I might add that this other seamstress was charging $8 per hour. And that I already knew about her - mostly from customers who brought me items to re-do after her failed attempts. Even so, as a seamstress (not a tailor), her time was and is certainly worth at least as much as $10, and probably more. I think that she can probably hem a dress and do regular seamstress work. Isn't that worth at least as much as weeding a flower bed and washing a load of shop rags? So why is this seamstress unwilling to value herself more than $8 per hour?

Then there is the whole career thing. My mother was a nurse. A really good one. She has an MS degree, and at one time was the charge nurse for an entire hospital - one of the largest in our area. During that same time period, my late husband, who never graduated from high school, was a long-haul truck driver. My mom was busy saving lives, he was driving a truck. She got $8, he got $13.

Cooking. What is it about cooking that when a man does it he is a chef and gets to own a fancy restaurant and boss everyone around. When a woman does it she gets no respect and works in a greasy spoon for minimum wage and she's called a cook.

So what is it? And there are all kinds of these cases. Womens work. And women in general. The Supreme Court has a case in front of it right now about women and work. About women not getting equal pay, equal promotions. And from the sounds of the oral arguments the women are going to lose. All the men are voting against them. The three women are voting for. The decision will be 6-3 not to certify the class.

Women make up more than 50% of the citizens of this country. Why don't we have 50% representation in Congress? In any Statehouse? In governorships? Why haven't we had a woman President? Or even a Vice-President? Why aren't there more women on the Supreme Court? In all the Courts? Why are there still so few CEOs in the Fortune 500?

Hillary Clinton was right - the glass ceiling is still there. She put a bunch of cracks in it - but they are still only cracks. Women still have such a long way to go here - and the United States is supposed to be the most progressive nation. Every other developed nation beats us in every single one of those statistics. They have all had women Presidents or Prime Ministers. Women are represented far closer to the actual demographic than they are here in every way both in public and private.

I think a lot of it is about self-confidence. I was asked once how I decided how much to charge for my services. I will admit that it was long hard conversation with myself and with a lot of prodding from my daughter that got me where I am. And that's what it is, confidence. I had to spend time coming to the realization that I am worth it! It's not just a slogan for some hair product - it means something. I AM worth it. I have spent the time for the training. I have spent years practicing my craft. I have hundreds of happy customers. I have created beautiful garments and fantastic costumes for the ballet. I AM WORTH IT.

We women are so busy doing stuff for everyone else that we fail to notice who WE are. We are capable. We are competent. We are knowledgeable. We are smart, efficient, managers. We must start living and acting this way. We must demand more - not just of ourselves but of each other. The things we must demand are respect, and equal treatment. And that includes equal pay for equal work. And also an idea whose time has long since come - an equality of pay across careers, professions, trades and crafts that makes allowances for time off spent raising and caring for children, and that raises the status of "womens work" to the same status as "mens work". Finally.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why Is It Always Greed That Triumphs Over All?

I was one of those optimists who cheered when the new Health Care bill was passed and signed into law last year. I know, it certainly wasn't perfect - far from it. But I honestly believed that it was a starting place and that we could expand the good parts and fix the bad ones and gradually, hopefully, wind up with something that looked sorta, kinda, like health insurance that everyone could afford. And I am do want to clarify here. This was never a health CARE bill - it was and is only a health INSURANCE bill.

But it is a year later. Implementation has begun. People who know stuff have been reading all the fine print. The new Republican majority in the House has been taking a budget axe to the thing. And I am becoming more and more dismayed the more I learn.

I get that the thing was about compromise to get it passed. I do. But it seems that the compromises were always about greed and never about what was best for the actual people this bill affected. And you can be sure that the people making the decisions were not and never would be affected by this. Congress is automatically exempt from every single piece of legislation they ever pass. Yup, you read that right.

I won't go into a recitation of all the crap I've been reading lately of all the failures of this bill to do what it pretends to do. Google is your friend. But here is a little story.

I have some friends - a young couple with two young children ages one and three. This young couple both happen to each be very talented artists. But as you can well imagine - making a living doing art is a stretch even when the economy is not in the tank so each of them does another job in order to earn money to support their family. Last year, the wife made a big decision to leave a paying job and work full-time at home so she could spend more time with her children, the youngest of whom had a life-threatening episode shortly after her birth. She came up with a creative business that she is doing in her basement and now employs two part-time workers to help her with the work. The husband is just finishing up with his apprenticeship to be an electrician - a four-year grueling stint of school and work that leaves him little time for his art, but he continues his painting after the kids are in bed and after his long days.

As you might well expect - health insurance for this family is not very good. They have some through the husband's work. But the youngest daughter has already had a major health problem. So they are considered "high risk" and after his apprenticeship he will have a difficult time finding work unless the employer who supported his apprenticeship is willing to hire him permanently. That is not a done deal at this point.

In the last few weeks, their older child has had a couple of normal, childhood accidents. She got her thumb caught in a slammed door. It's broken. It took an ER visit and two visits to two different orthopedists to get a decision whether to put a cast or just a splint on her tiny thumb. (She got the splint). Then, just a week later, she was playing on a chair, somehow tipped it over, and smashed her face on a picture frame. That required another trip to the ER and four tiny stitches in her forehead. And just three weeks before this happened, the husband had a first-time ever migraine episode/panic attack that was apparently brought on by what his neurologist told him was 'lack of sleep, overwork, and stress'. Gee, ya think?

So...where is the health INSURANCE for this family? I had arrived at their home just after the older child's second accident to find the wife sobbing as she tried to get the baby ready, wondering how they were going to pay the medical costs for all this stuff, the child wanting to know why her mommy was crying, and I am holding both of them thinking yes - why is this happening? This is the richest country on the planet and only here! If this family lived in Canada...or England, France, or Germany...or even CUBA for crying out loud, she would not have to ask that question. She would not have to worry about the money. Her husband would not have to keep doing a job he doesn't particularly care for so he can keep a piddly amount of health insurance for his family. He could spend all his time on his wonderful, exquisitely detailed and yes, saleable paintings instead of crawling under houses in the middle of a Montana winter. She could take time off from her business to care for her babies instead of having to take them to day care because she has orders to get out and they need the money to pay the doctors and the hospital - EVEN WITH THE INSURANCE!

This business of every single person in Congress only looking out for their personal bottom line - what's in it for them in the form of campaign cash - instead of what's in it for the good of the country is so apparent right here in this one little story. The sad part is that this one little story is not the most extreme, nor is it the most heart-rending, nor is it unusual. It just happens to be the one that is happening right here to someone I know right now this minute. I'm sure you know someone too. Or you are someone.

I guess my question is when are we going to demand better of our politicians? We sigh and complain. But then we just shrug and walk away because "that's just the way things are". Well, they don't have to be that way. We say, well, we don't have any choice - they are all corrupt. That is only partly true - we currently don't have any choices because we don't organize around making other choices available. A well-organized campaign can be done - if you don't believe me just ask Senator Lisa Murkowski! She not only defeated a well-funded Tea Party candidate in her own party - she spent most of her campaign cash on advertisements that taught the electorate in Alaska just how to properly fill in a ballot for a write-in candidate so that all the votes for her would be correct and would count in the face of what was sure to be legal challenges. It can be done!

So if we truly believe that our politicians are corrupt - we need to figure out a better one - fund them ourselves so that special interests (read big corporations and rich jerks) don't, and get them elected. And then, we need to stay involved by continuing to contact them with information about the issues and demand that they vote the way we want them to. (Another of my pet peeves - pols who vote the opposite of what their constituents want and claim they were sent there to do just that!).

So get active - if there is a fair elections group in your district, community or state - get involved. Let's get the private money out of elections and make them publicly funded. That's the only way to overturn the Citizens United decision. If you think your Rep or Senator isn't doing the job and you aren't happy with the opposition - get your friends together and find a different candidate to run against both of them. And get out the vote! We have the lowest voter turnout of almost any democracy. We complain about who gets elected - but less than half, and in many cases only a third of people actually vote. If everyone votes - the outcomes might just be really different!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Where is the R-E-S-P-E-C-T ?

Our conversations of late have been filled with discussions about what is wrong with our society. I would argue that it is simply lack of respect. We do not respect ourselves. We then lack respect for others, and that leads to a lack of respect for the planet, the belongings of others whether personal or business, and just about anything else.

We wonder how to disagree without being disagreeable. By being respectful. If you respect that the other person has the right to have an opinion, a right to feel the way they do the same way that you feel the way that you do, then you can have a discussion, disagree on the issue and not wind up calling each other vile names and shouting at each other.

When we respect each other we don't vandalize others' property. We don't litter, pollute, destroy, and pillage the earth and its resources. When we respect each other we don't vilify others who are just tryiing to do their jobs. We don't blame certain groups of people for things that individuals do. We don't criticize others for our own faults.

Respect is something that is learned from a very early age. Respect has to be taught to children. We have not been doing this for a long time. Respect doesn't mean unquestioning subservience. What it means is that you admit that other people have a right to exist. And that they might have an idea or two that are valueable, just as you yourself do. You also must admit that 99.99% of people are working to try to make things better - they just differ with you about they way in which to do that.

We need to begin to teach our children again to respect others. This starts very young. Instead of sending children to school with the message "don't let that teacher tell you anything or I'll give them the what-for", and making teachers afraid to enforce absolutely any kind of discipline, we should teach our children that these adults (and all adults) should be respected. They are adults - and children don't know everything. Children are to learn from them.

Now this is not to say that all adults are perfect and that they should never be questioned. There is a right way and a wrong way to do that as well. But questioning can be done in a respectful way as well. And if we begin to have a respectful culture - adults can be respectful of childrens' questions as well.

Children should also be taught respect for others' things. This includes close family members, the neighbors, and people who you don't know. The lesson is that of the golden rule - someone else did something to acquire that item - and if you destroy or damage it, it will hurt them. How would you feel if someone did that to you? This can then logically extend to care for all things - including the environment. It is just as easy not to throw litter on the ground as it is to hire someone else to pick it up later. It is easier not to pollute the water than to try to clean it up later. It is easier not to pollute the air than to try to fix the mess later on.

Most indigenous people have lived in harmony with their surroundings for hundreds of years. They managed to take only what they needed, being careful not to over-use, and by so doing, had plenty of resources. So-called Western Civilization on the other hand has a history of constantly acquiring vast amounts of resources for no other reason than hoarding vast amounts of it and bragging to each other about it. We have stripped the land of timber and minerals, overharvested fish and wildlife, driven other species to extinction, destroyed whole ecosystems, polluted the water we drink and the air we breathe, and are now on a course to possibly destroy the livability of the entire planet. For what? Not for our needs - for our wants. This displays a complete and total lack of respect for not only the planet but for every person who does not live the way we do, who does not have the lifestyle we have, or who does not even grasp after the lifestyle we want.

So the next time someone wonders what is wrong, let us remember the wonderful song by Aretha Franklin, R-E-S-P-E-C-T, because that is really what this country needs right now. Lots and lots of it.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

We Needed to Invade Iraq to Spread Democracy Around the Middle East?

Yeah, remember that was one of the reasons why we invaded Iraq - to bring democracy to those people there at the point of a gun.

Well, the people in Tunisia and the people in Egypt and who knows how many other countries in the Middle East (Palestinians anyone?) are trying to bring democracy by peaceful protests. And who are 'we' siding with? The dictators of course. We want stability above all. And the dictators who have been our friends ensure stability above all. So we will urge Mubarek to step down in favor of our hand-picked CIA sock-puppet torture-master because we want stability.

In the meantime our right-wing flame-throws around the fact that somehow the Muslim Brotherhood is forming a caliphate with Code Pink and Jon Stewart to take over the world so everyone should be afraid, be veeeeeery afraid.

What is remarkable in all this in Egypt is that the Army has said they will not fire on their own people - and are mostly acting as a 'fence' between the peaceful anti-government protesters and the pro-government violent thugs - many of whom appear to be members of Mubarak's secret police.

The people in the street want a European-style democracy, one with lots of political parties in a parliament. That parliament will elect a Prime Minister in much the same way that Britain, Germany and yes even Israel does. And yes, the Muslim Brotherhood will be one of those parties. But not the only one, and probably not even the most powerful one. Israel has political parties that are more radicalized than the Muslim Brotherhood - they participate in the Likud. All these groups ask is to be heard and to participate - as citizens - in the governance of their country.

I thought that was what this country - the United States - was supposed to be about. But looking at the US lately I am beginning to wonder. The GOP seems to feel that if you are not a member of the extreme right wing of their party that you are a traitor, you hate America, you are un-American, that you are automatically a socialist (not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion), a communist, a fascist, and that you can hold all those contradictory positions at the same time. Anyone who objects to this characterization or questions them is accused of being a hater and vilified for daring to speak up. They are told that they are trying to deprive the GOP and its followers of their constitutional rights, and the name-calling begins or continues louder and in more obnoxious fashion.

Controversies are manufactured where there are none, the talking heads on the networks and the cable shows all chime in and 95 percent of the voices are coming from the right so the entire megaphone of the press magnifies and amplifies all the screaming and self-victimization, the false-equivalency preening and contributes to an almost complete and total disinformation campaign that leaves the average person completely demoralized, disgusted and disenchanted with the entire political process that is so necessary for a democracy to function. And that is the whole point.

The fewer persons who participate the easier it is for the special interests to get, and keep control of our now-broken government.

So how does this relate to Iraq and now Egypt?

Think about it. Iraq was a war for the special interests - Halliburton in particular, oil companies in general, and Dick Cheney and Eric Prince both managed to become very wealthy indeed off the proceeds. How did they do that? Rigged elections, putting idealogues on courts, lots of money in the right places, and it continues to this day with no prosecutions for war crimes.

We have propped up Mubarak because he and his new vice president ran our torture and rendition program for us, they helped us keep the Palestinian problem under control, and they have given us first place in line in the shipping through the Suez Canal. That means billions of dollars to the special interests here in the US.

All of this is one of a piece. Democracy - true democracy is trying to break out all over the Middle East. We - the US - need to get out of the way and let it happen. We need to stop propping up corrupt dictators and overthrowing democratically elected governments just because we don't like them. It's not our decision to make. We have enough problems of our own to clean up.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

What Can We Do But Cry?

What can we do but cry when a child's life ends in a hail of gunfire. When all the promise is cut short. When all that could be will never be. When all that hope for tomorrow will never be realized. When all those dreams will never come true no matter how hard you wish.

According to a report called "Protect Children, Not Guns" published in 2009 by the Children's Defense Fund:
The latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 3,184 children and teens died from gunfire in the United States in 2006—a 6 percent increase from 2005. This means one young life lost every two hours and 45 minutes, almost nine every day, 61 every week.

Of these deaths, 2,225 were homicides, 763 were suicides and 196 were due to an accident or undetermined circumstances. Boys accounted for 2,815 of the deaths; girls for 369 deaths. More than five times as many children and teens―17,451―suffered non-fatal gun injuries.

The really sad thing is that most of these deaths go unremarked. There may be a brief notice in the local paper, but in big cities, especially if the child in question is black, that may not be the case.

This past week we had a national outpouring of grief for the death of a child - we should grieve for her. But why do we not grieve for the other 3,000 dead children. Are they not just as worthy of our notice, our grief, our sorrow? And if not, why not? What makes one child so much more special than another? Each child has parents who have hopes and dreams for their future. Each child has hopes and dreams for their own future. Each child has their own gifts to offer this world.

Where is our grief for each of them?

And when are we going to do something besides cry?