A PROGRESSIVE VOICE FROM THE LLANO ESTACADO

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bush Sends Second Carrier To Persian Gulf


So far, Bush has failed in everything he's tried to do as president. He's started two wars, and over five years later hasn't won either of them. He promised to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, but can't seem to find him. He turned FEMA into a joke that had no clue how to handle the Katrina disaster in New Orleans. He's spent more money and created bigger deficits than any president in our history, and has virtually wrecked our economy.

Currently, he has the lowest popularity rating that any president has ever had. In spite of all that, he still has a grand vision of making his mark on history. He only has a few months left as president and wants to change the public perception of his failure as a president.

That's why it worries me that he's sending a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf. He's been ratcheting up the talk about and accusations against Iran in the last few weeks. Now he's sending more American military power to the region. Is he planning to use it against Iran?

Secretary Gates says it's not an escalation -- just a reminder to Iran. But this administration has lied to us so many times that we'd be fools to believe anything they say now. Remember, this is the same fool who thought we'd achieve easy victories in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Frankly, the man scares me. It would be just like him to think he could strike Iran militarily without reprecussions. Didn't he just fire the Admiral who counseled against attacking Iran?

Bush has plenty of time to make another colossal blunder, and attacking Iran could be it. January just can't come fast enough for me.

Colorado Racist Goes To Brownsville


Eight congressmen came to Brownsville last Monday to discuss the ridiculous border fence. Six of them were reasonable people who saw the difficulties the proposed fence will cause for Texas. The other two were Duncan Hunter (R-California) and Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado).

I don't know what the two racists thought they would accomplish down on the border. Surely they didn't think their immigrant-bashing would go over well down there (and it didn't). Their defense of the border fence proposal was met with boos and catcalls. Tancredo became upset with the "landowners multi-culturist views on the border."

I think he meant that as a slam. He doesn't seem to realize that here in Texas, we're damn proud of our multi-culturalism. There was a Spanish influence in Texas even before Texas became a country and then a state. You can just look at the names of many of our counties and cities to see that we have heroes from both the English and Hispanic cultures, and we like it that way.

Tancredo wants to close our border and cut us off from our southern neighbor. But the border in Texas has always been a two-way street. Many Mexicans shop and party in Texas, and many Texans do the same in Mexico. This arrangement has always been beneficial to both sides of the border.

But Tancredo doesn't understand this. He's too busy pushing his racist immigrant-bashing to his whitebread base (just who are the nuts who keep re-electing this creep?). He finally got so angry at Brownsville's refusal to accept his anti-immigrant ideas that he was ready to give the city to Mexico.

Tancredo said, "If you don't like the idea, maybe you should consider building the fence around the northern part of your city." What an ass!

If we need any fence in Texas, maybe it should be on our northern border to keep jerks like Tancredo out.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Death Count Still Rising In Iraq


Last year, Bush instituted his infamous "troop surge" in Iraq. McCain jumped on board, saying Bush was finally doing the war correctly. Both of them quickly declared victory when the death toll of American soldiers dropped to 23 last December. Since then they have been bragging about how they're now winning the war.

I guess they think the American people are stupid, and if they keep talking about victory we might actually believe them someday. But it's now looking like the December numbers were just a one-month fluke. Since then, 152 American soldiers have been killed, including 44 this month. That's 1.57 soldiers dying every single day in Iraq.

Since December, the American death toll is rising each month. The total now is 4,056. Frankly, I don't think we can stand much more of this kind of victory, especially since nothing is being accomplished either politically or security-wise.

McCain is still deluded enough to believe an American victory is possible in Iraq. He has even talked of leaving troops there for a hundred years (as long as they're not being killed). That shows just how deluded he is.

He doesn't seem to understand that we have placed our troops into a no-win situation. They are being killed because they are on Arab soil. The killing will go on for as long as we have troops there. If we stay for a hundred years, the killing will go on that long.

This shows the importance of defeating McCain in November. The only plan he has for Iraq is more of the same old Bush strategy. We must elect Democrats, and then pressure them to withdraw all our troops as soon as possible.

A permanent military base in Iraq is not an option.

Potter County Bans Religious Monument


I was pleasantly surprised by the decision of the Potter County commissioners yesterday. A few days ago, a group asked the commissioners for permission to put a 3-ton religious monument on county property in front of the courthouse. The monument would have had the 10 commandments plus several quotes pushing the christian religion.

But the commissioners decided yesterday to stay out of the religion game. They voted 4 to 0 to ban religious monuments on county property. They did so because they didn't want to have to spend county money to defend a case they were sure to lose.

County Attorney Scott Brumley told the commissioners that the Constitution forbids the government from endorsing any one religion. The monument would definitely have been an endorsement of the christian religion.

Commissioners also said to remain within constitutional boundaries, they would have to allow many more monuments including the possibility of a monument by some radical group that might offend nearly everyone.

Whatever their reasons, the commissioners did the right thing, and I'm proud of their decision. Many Republicans nowdays seem not to care about the constitution and are willing to violate it to push their chosen religion. I'm glad the Potter County commissioners didn't succumb to that pitfall.

Now that this nonsense is out of the way, they can go on to deal with real issues affecting the citizens of Potter County.

18 New Cowboy Hopefuls Are Chosen


The 2008 NFL draft is now over, and it looks like the Cowboys have at least done what they wanted to do. They wanted to plug holes at cornerback and running back and get players that can make an impact this next year.

In the first five picks, they chose two running backs (Felix Jones of Arkansas and Tashard Choice of Georgia Tech), two cornerbacks (Mike Jenkins of South Florida and Orlandro Scandrick of Boise State), and a tight end (Martellus Bennett of Texas A and M). These five players stand an excellent chance of both making the team and contributing this next season -- at least on special teams (which needed improvement).

The sixth draftee is a much longer shot to make the team. He is a defensive end who will probably be converted to an outside linebacker (Erik Walden of Middle Tennessee). The Cowboys like this guys work ethic, but they're pretty happy with the linebackers they already have. I guess it comes down to a question of whether he's better than Carpenter or not. I think that's who he's have to beat out to get a spot on the squad.

Yesterday, the Cowboys announced the acquisition of 12 free agents. These are the guys who are really a long-shot to make the team. But having said that, it is not unusual for a free agent or two to work their way onto the team. They are:

Danny Amendola (Texas Tech) wide receiver
Drew Atchison (William and Mary) tight end
Mark Bradford (Stanford) wide receiver
Andrew Brecher (Harvard) offensive tackle
Julius Crosslin (Oklahoma State) fullback
Dowayne Davis (Syracuse) safety
Keon Lattimore (Maryland) running back
Marcus Dixon (Hampton) defensive end
Brandon Hale (Sam Houston State) offensive tackle
Daniel Polk (Midwestern State) wide receiver
Jay Ottovegio (Stanford) punter/kicker
Darrell Robertson (Georgia Tech) defensive end

If I had to guess right now who might make the team out of this dozen, I'd have to put my money on Danny Amendola. He reminds me of a past Cowboy named Bill Bradley in that he's too small and too slow -- all he does is make great plays when his team needs it the most. The guy is just a player.

But this is all just guesswork right now. We really won't know anything until at least the pre-season games. But as a Cowboys "homer", I can always dream can't I?

Monday, April 28, 2008

I'll Never Shop At BEST BUY Again !


I have purchased some small-ticket items at Best Buy in the past -- items like CDs. At that time, it looked like it might be a good place to buy a bigger-ticket item like a computer. After all, they had a Geek Squad that made their own repairs. I could not have been more wrong!

My daughter has been wanting her own laptop computer for quite a while now. We're not a rich family, so she had to wait until she had the money. Last month, she received a tax refund that put her over the top. Since she finally had the money, we went down to Best Buy. She picked out an $800 Dell laptop and paid cash for it.

At the checkout, they convinced her that their Geek Squad could "clean up" the program and make it run "much faster", and it would only cost her $40. She paid the extra $40, and that seems to be the start of her descent into computer hell.

The first few days were OK. But immediately after their 14-day return period expired, her computer began to lock-up and put up this blue screen. We thought surely Best Buy would fix whatever was wrong, so we took it back to them. After all, when we bought the laptop there was a paper in it saying the Geek Squad had a contract to handle warranty items for Dell.

Imagine our surprise when the infamous Geek Squad told us we would have to return the computer to Dell. We explained we had bought the computer from them, and showed them the paper that said they would do any warranty work for Dell -- all to no avail. They had the audacity to tell us they didn't have a contract with Dell.

We called Dell, and they said Best Buy would fix it. We told Best Buy what they said, and they repeated that we would have to mail the computer back to Dell. After getting bounced back and forth several times, we got Dell back on the phone and made them talk to each other. That did no good at all. Both remained entrenched in their opinion that the other should be the one to fix the problem.

Finally, we talked the Geek Squad into at least looking at the computer and telling us what the problem was. After keeping the computer overnight, Best Buy informed us that it was a software problem. This meant neither Best Buy nor Dell was responsible, and we would have to get Microsoft to fix it. They wanted us to believe it was a flaw in Microsoft Vista.

Now I didn't believe that for a minute. I have a cheaper laptop of my own that has been running Vista for over six months with no problems at all. The only difference is that I bought it at a different place, so the Geek Squad wasn't able to "clean it up" and make it "run faster".

I feel like Best Buy has just stolen $840 dollars from my daughter. Whether it's a hardware or software problem doesn't matter. If it's a hardware problem, then they are shirking their warranty obligations. If it's a software problem, then they are refusing to fix a problem they created themselves (since they are the only ones that have messed with the software).

I have learned a couple of things from this experience:

1. Best Buy will NOT back up the products they sell, and they will NOT honor their warranty obligations. This shocked me. Hell, even Wal-Mart, with all their problems, will back up the products they sell.

2. The Geek Squad are NOT the computer professionals that they claim to be. I should have known that a discount store would not be willing to pay the salaries required to get real computer professionals.

I will never set foot in a Best Buy store again. I urge anyone looking to buy a computer not to do so at a Best Buy. I learned the hard way that it would have been cheaper to spend more money at a real computer store -- one that knew what they were doing and would back up their products.

I now consider Best Buy to be just a group of unethical thieves.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Cowboys Draft For Need

If you're a regular reader of this blog, then you know what a huge fan I am of the Dallas Cowboys. Don't even try and talk to me during a Cowboys game. If you're not talking Cowboys football, I won't be able to hear a word you're saying.

To me, and a lot of other NFL fans, this weekend is very close to holiday status. It is the weekend of the NFL Player Draft. If it didn't happen on a weekend then I'd have to burn a couple of vacation days, because I'm not about to miss it.

This year, the Cowboys had some glaring needs they needed to fill. They finished a respectable 13-3 last year, but without some position upgrades they're not going to be able to go further (and not going further is simply not an option).

The most obvious need was in the cornerback position. It was just too easy to pass against the Cowboys last year. The Cowboys traded for "Pacman" Jones last week. Jones is a very good cornerback, but he is still suspended and no one knows if he'll be reinstated to play this year or not. That means cornerback was still a need going into the draft.

Diring the off-season, the Cowboys lost running back Julius Jones. I don't think too many of us were sorry to see him go, but that did create a need for a back-up running back. Marion Barber will be the starter, but his bruising running style dictates a need for someone to back him up and very possibly share playing-time at the position.

Last week, the Cowboys traded linebacker Ayodele and tight end Fason to the Miami Dolphins for the 100th pick in this year's draft. The linebacker position was already filled with the earlier acquisition of Zack Thomas, but that meant we needed a quality back-up at tight end.

It looks like the Cowboys were able to fill all three needs with their first three picks in the 2008 draft. Here are the players they drafted:

22. Felix Jones (running back) University of Arkansas
25. Mike Jenkins (cornerback) University of South Florida
61. Martellus Bennett (tight end) Texas A and M University

It is said that a team must either draft for need or draft the best player available. The Cowboys obviously drafted for need this year, but I believe they were able to get three extremely good players. All three should be able to contribute to the Cowboys effort this coming year.

Today, the Cowboys have the 92nd and 100th picks of the draft. They should be able to get two more very good players, especially since they no longer have to draft for need.

Of course you never know how the draft was until the season starts, but right now it looks like the Cowboys have upgraded the running back, cornerback, tight end and linebacker positions. I certainly hope so.

Florida Must Not Have Any Problems


It's nice to know there are no serious problems in the state of Florida. Evidently they have eliminated poverty, covered all their citizens with health insurance, created jobs for the unemployed, eliminated gas and food inflation, assured all workers a decent wage, made sure all students will graduate high school and provided funding for everyone who wants to go to college. Surely they wouldn't be dealing with trifling issues unless these problems had been solved.

But then I forgot that they, like Texas, are a state currently being ruled by the right-wing Republicans. So obviously, they would rather pass ridiculous laws than deal with the real problems their citizens are facing.

Last week, the Florida senate decided they needed to sponsor a religion. They approved the issuance of speciality license plates that would sport a christian emblem -- the cross. Even worse, the money raised by selling these plates would go to support some private religious (christian) schools.

I don't see how this could possibly pass constitutional muster. Can it really be constitutional for a state to pick a single religion to support publically and financially? I think they'll be spending a lot of state money to defend that in the federal courts.

Having picked their official state religion, this week Florida moved on to tackle another matter of public "decency". State Senator Cary Baker decided that the fake plastic bull testicles that can beseen dangling from the backs of many pickups and other vehicles are indecent. He introduced a bill to ban the fake "balls", and the bill actually passed the Florida senate.

I think the fake balls are silly, and I certainly don't want them hanging from the back of my vehicle. But this does strike me as a free speech issue. The balls make be making a silly statement, but aren't silly statements also protected by the first amendment? There goes more public funds to be wasted on another court battle.

What is wrong with these Florida legislators? I can hardly wait to see what basic constitutional right they will attack next week.

No More Debates - PLEASE!!


Clinton wants to debate Obama -- again. This time, she has thrown down a challenge to do a "Lincoln-Douglas" style debate. I can understand why she keeps wanting to debate.

She knows that she doesn't have a chance to win unless Obama makes a serious blunder, so she's trying to create as many opportunities for that to happen as possible.But to me, that sounds like a pretty cheap excuse to have a debate.

A debate should help the voters to understand where the candidates stand on the issues. I have to ask, is there anymore to be learned about the stance of the candidates?

This has been the most debated primary I can remember by any political party. There have been something like 21 debates in the Democratic primary this season. If you don't know where the candidates stand on the issues by now, then you just haven't been paying attention (and I doubt you'd pay any more attention to a 22nd debate).

There have been so many debates that the legitimate ones have become just a rote repeating of stances we have heard many times before. In an effort to make the last debate more interesting, ABC let their questioners stray far from the real issues. The first 45 minutes of the debate covered such earth-shattering issues as flag-lapel pins.

After seeing the ABC debate travesty, the Democratic Party of North Carolina withdrew their support for a debate in their state. They realized that there have been so many debates that they have degenerated into nothing more than "gotcha" politics.

At this point, it would make no sense for Obama to accept another debate. He has already proven he is not afraid to debate Clinton -- after all, he has done it 21 times. Another debate would prove nothing.

Let's stop beating this dead horse. No more debates. PLEASE!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Bush Not Accepting Palestinian Reality


Bush has said he wants to create a true Palestinian State that is at peace with Israel before he leaves office next January. But he doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of doing that the way he's going about it. There is a flaw in his personality that will prevent it.

Bush absolutely refuses to talk to anyone he doesn't like (and he doesn't like the leaders of Hamas). Bush is trying to push talks between the more moderate Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Israelis. This is fine with the Israelis who share Bush's flaw.

The problem is that Abbas does not control all of Palestine. Gaza is controlled by Hamas, who were elected by the people there. Hamas is also very powerful in the parts of Palestine led by Abbas. Hamas simply can't be shut out of any settlement talks.

Whether Bush and Israel like it or not, any agreement reached without the approval of Hamas will be worthless. Hamas cannot be forced to accept a treaty they had no part in negotiating.

But there is an opportunity right now to approach Hamas and try to include them in the negotiating. Hamas has offered a 6-month truce. If the truce is accepted, and they are shown some respect by including them in the talks, there is a chance that a real agreement could be reached.

However, I don't think this old dog can learn a new trick. Bush has never talked with people he didn't like, and I doubt he will be able to do so now. That one fact will prevent any progress toward peace.

Wesley Snipes Gets 3 Years In Prison


Yesterday, Wesley Snipes was sentenced to three years in prison. He had been convicted of three misdemeanor counts of failing to file tax returns. The judge gave him the maximum sentence, saying he felt it was important to deter "tax avoidance".

Snipes had made at least $38 million since 1999, but did not even bother to file a return or pay any taxes. He told the court, "I am very sorry for my mistakes and errors. This will never happen again."

He repeatedly tried to give the court three checks totaling $5 million, but the court refused to take them. An IRS agent took the checks during a court break. The prosecutor called it a "grandstand move" and said it was only a portion of the taxes owed.

I like Wesley Snipes. I think he's a good actor and I enjoyed his movies. But I can't bring myself to feel sorry for him. This was not a mistake made in a good faith effort to pay his taxes. He just decided he didn't think he should have to pay any taxes.

This is inexcusable, especially when you consider the millions of workers who make far less but manage to pay their taxes. Snipes should consider himself lucky he wasn't convicted of more serious charges and given a much longer sentence.

Now the government needs to go after other tax avoiders, including rich white guys who hide their money off-shore to avoid taxes.

Board Says No To Creationist "Science" Degree


It looks like the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has come to its senses. The Institute for Creation Research had asked the Board to approve its plan to offer a Masters Degree in Science based on creationist principles. They would have offered the degree online.

Back in January, an advisory committee to the Board had recommended the degree be approved. It looked for a while like the Board would go along with them and approve it, but science teachers across the state objected and the Board put off its vote.

The teachers pointed out that this "science" degree would not be based on scientific principles, but instead it would be based on Biblical principles. The Institute does not believe in the Big Bang, evolution or that the earth is millions of years old. Obviously, this would not be a science degree at all. It would be a religious degree.

On Thursday, the Board finally voted, and they rejected the application. The Institute says they will appeal. If they do, they should lose the appeal. A true science degree must be based on science, not religion.

Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes did not think the degree program met accepted standards of science or science education. He said, "...religious belief is not science. Science and religious belief are reconcilable but they are not the same thing."

Thank goodness the Board came to their senses. Otherwise, Texas would have been the laughingstock of the scientific world.

Messing With Wrong Wheelchair-Bound 95-Year-Old


I just love stories like this. It really doesn't need any commentary. This is from Channel 8 News (ABC) in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.


Armed only with a screwdriver, a 95-year-old woman in a wheel chair kept a burglar from breaking into her home by repeatedly stabbing his hand.

It was 3 a.m. when a 95-year-old Bartlesville woman heard somebody break the glass on her front door and push the door open. When a hand came inside and tried to unlock the door, she stabbed it. Again and again.

She stabbed that hand many times over the next hour, say Bartlesville Police.

The woman would not leave the door for fear the man would break in while she was calling for help.

Eventually, the man gave up.

When police arrived, they found the bloody suspect passed out on the front porch with dozens of stab wounds to his lower arms and hands.

"What do you tell your friends in jail about where did you get those wounds, asks a neighbor, Gerri Lynn Grindle. "I don't know that he's going to tell anybody he got them from a little old lady confined to a wheel chair."

The elderly woman told a neighbor she was going to get the screw driver gold plated and put it on a pedestal to serve as a warning to anybody else who tried to break in.

The suspect, 46-Year-Old Robert Horsley, is in jail facing one count of first-degree burglary.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Israelis Create Humanitarian Crises In Gaza


Last June, the people of Gaza had an election and put Hamas in power. Instead of trying to negotiate with the new government, Israel decided to punish them for electing Hamas leaders. They have imposed a blockade and isolated Gaza from the world.

This punishment has now developed into a humanitarian crises of enormous proportions. About 1.5 million people live in Gaza, and 56% of them are children. The vast majority of these children are now malnourished because the blockade is not allowing enough aid to enter.

The aid needed could be delivered in 250 trucks each day, but the Israelis are only allowing 45 trucks each day -- not nearly enough. Even worse, now the United Nations said they cannot even deliver that because of restrictions on fuel.

It looks like Israel has decided to starve the people of Gaza into submission. This is just wrong. I believe Israel has a right to exist, but it doesn't have any right to commit atrocities against their neighbors. There will never be peace in that area until the Israelis are willing to negotiate with the people in power -- not the people they want to be in power.

The Israelis have overreacted. There is a big difference between self-defence (which they claim) and the starving of children (which they are doing). The entire world should condemn Israel's treatment of the people of Gaza.

Persecution is wrong when practiced against the Jews -- it is also wrong when practiced by them.

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Badtux the Snarky Penguin has written an excellent post on this topic. It is well worth reading.

VA Lies To Congress About Vets


If there's one thing the Bush administration has been consistent about, it is lying. They have lied about little things and big things, important things and unimportant things. They have lied to their friends and their enemies. They have lied to Congress and to the American people.

So I guess it shouldn't surprise us to see they plan to finish their 8-year stretch still lying. Maybe they've been lying so long they've forgotten how to tell the truth. This time, it's the Veteran's Administration (VA).

We all know that 4047 American soldiers have been killed in the Iraq War. It's hard to hide an obvious cost like the death statistics. But there are hidden costs to this unnecessary war -- like the psychological casualties among the soldiers who have returned home. It's much easier to lie and hide this cost.

According to the statistics released by the VA, 790 veterans of the war tried to commit suicide in 2007. That sounded bad enough, but now we find through VA internal e-mails that this was a lie. The actual number of attempted suicides among returning veterans was about 12,000 in 2007. That wasn't just a lie -- it was a gigantic whopper!

Over 300,000 of the returning veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Major Depression. Only half of these have sought help, and of those, only half have received a "minimally adequate" treatment. This is a huge number of psychologically wounded veterans, and the Bush policy is creating more every day.

As Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) pointed out, some of the more violent symptoms may not show up for many years. She said, "I think we ought to be worried. They can be walking time bombs for decades. I hope everyone in the VA understands this."

It's easy to see why the Bush administration is trying to hide these war casualties. This is a huge and growing problem that will affect our country for many years. We are paying a terrible price to soothe Bush's pride, control Iraqi oil and enrich a lot of giant corporations. It is time to end this nonsense.

We must pull our troops out of Iraq -- the sooner the better.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Clinton To Continue Hurting The Party


I was wrong! I really thought Obama would finish within 5-6% of Clinton in Pennsylvania. But with 95% of the vote in, it looks like Clinton will finish there with a 10-point lead. That means she will continue to attack and damage the leader -- Obama. This is not a good situation.

But even though she scored a 10% win in Pennsylvania, she really didn't pick up nearly enough delegates. According to CNN, the delegate count now stands at 1694 for Obama and 1556 for Clinton. It is still next to impossible for Clinton to catch up. She would have to win every remaining state by large margins, and that just ain't going to happen.

Her only hope is that she can damage Obama enough that the superdelegates will overrule the majority that Obama will have. Personally, I think that would split the party and give the election to the Republicans, and that is unthinkable. This should be a huge year for Democrats.

Clinton cannot win the nomination or the presidency, but she can create a lot of enemies in the party, and drive a lot of voters out of the party. Thanks to tonight's result in Pennsylvania, she will continue her "slash and burn" campaign.

I'm starting to get a sick feeling about November. I hope I'm wrong.

More Evidence Of Economic Disaster


Bush and his Republican cohorts (including McCain) are still trying to convince Americans that the country is not in serious economic trouble. They would have us believe the economy is just going through a "rough patch". To hear them tell it, all we need to do is give out a bunch of $600 checks and cut taxes for the rich again and everything will magically be all right.

But that's just not the truth. They are trying to hide the disaster they have made of our economy until after the coming election, because when Americans understand the real situation they certainly won't want to vote Republican.

Every week, more bad economic news trickles out. We are learning of stagnant wages and disappearing jobs, inflation (especially regarding food and gas), rising and record oil prices, a record number of home foreclosures that gets worse each day, higher-education being priced out of reach of many, and rising unemployment.

Frankly, Republican policies have not done this much damage to the American economy since the late 1920's, when they created the conditions that brought on the Great Depression. Now they seem dead set on repeating that history, by creating and nurturing a record gap between the rich and the rest of us. Never before has so much of the wealth been concentrated in so few people.

This week, the bad news is about house prices. During the Great Depression, house prices fell by a disastrous 30%. Since 2006, American home prices have fallen by 15%, and look like they could fall much further. Yale economist Robert Shiller, who created one of the most respected indexes regarding home prices, believes the fall in home prices could easily outpace that of the Great Depression.

With jobs disappearing, wages stagnant or falling and savings at an all-time low, the only thing many Americans had left was the equity in their homes -- now that is fast disappearing. There is simply no good news for ordinary Americans.

The worst thing that could happen to this country is a continuation of current Republican economic policies after next January. The upcoming election is extremely important. It could mean the difference between a recession and a depression.

Iran And al-Queda Hate Each Other


Bush, Cheney and McCain like to lump all the Middle Eastern groups that don't like us into one big group called terrorists. McCain has shown several times that he has trouble telling the players apart in that part of the world. But the real situation is a lot more complicated than that.

The fact is that many of the players in the Middle East hate each other as much as they hate us. That was made clear again yesterday, when one of al-Queda's biggest leaders launched a verbal assault on Iran.

Ayman al-Zawahiri (pictured above), al-Queda's leading voice since the virtual disappearance of Osama bin Laden, has put out a tape attacking Iran. He accused Iran of trying to marginalize al-Queda by blaming Israel for 9/11. He angrily claimed all responsibility for 9/11 for his group. He also accused Iran of helping the United States in their attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The charges being traded back and forth by both groups are ridiculous. Israel had nothing to do with 9/11, and Iran did not help the United States in Afghanistan. But the arguments do show how much the groups hate each other.

Iran is composed mainly of Shiites, while al-Queda is a Sunni group. Zawahiri and his group are afraid they are being marginalized in Iraq. It's becoming pretty clear that the Shiites will probably take over once the United States withdraws from Iraq. If they do, it would mean the end of al-Queda in Iraq.

In a strange twist of fate, al-Queda is being protected in Iraq by its sworn enemy -- the United States. While Bush claims to be fighting al-Queda in Iraq, the truth is that the only reason al-Queda can remain in Iraq is because we are holding back the Shiites. As long as we stay there, al-Queda can stay there also.

The easiest way to get al-Queda out of Iraq would be to withdraw our troops. Once the Shiites are freed to act, they will quickly get rid of al-Queda. So we are not in Iraq to fight al-Queda.

The only reasons we are still occupying Iraq and getting more of our troops killed, is for the Iraqi oil and for Bush's pride. Neither is worth the life of a single American soldier.

We need to withdraw our troops and let the Iraqis take care of al-Queda.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pickings Are Slim For Recruiters


The United States Army needs to recruit about 80,000 new soldiers each year to keep the forces at the current level. The United States Marines need a few less. However, it looks like both are having trouble filling their quotas.

Both the Army and the Marines are now having to lower their standards. A few years ago, neither would have accepted anyone who had been convicted of a felony. But in 2007, the Army granted 511 felony waivers. That is more than twice the 249 it granted in 2006. Meanwhile, the Marines granted 208 in 2006 and 350 in 2007.

They have granted waivers for such felony crimes as assault, burglary, drug possession and making terroristic threats. However, the Army swears it doesn't grant waivers for crimes like sexual violence, alcoholism and drug trafficking.

What is really ridiculous is the reason the Army gives for lowering their standards to accept criminals. The Public Affairs Department said that only 3 out of 10 Americans of military age "meet all our stringent medical, moral, aptitude or administrative requirements."

Do they really expect us to believe that nonsense? The truth is that the huge majority of Americans, including those of military age, are opposed to the war in Iraq. Most of us don't see the sense in sending more young people to die in Iraq, when we know that nothing is being accomplished there except the enrichment of huge corporations.

Personally, I support and admire the young men and women who have served in Iraq. They are not the ones who blundered horribly -- that was our leadership in the White House. These brave men and women are just trying to make the best of a very bad situation they have been put in.

But I fully understand why most do not want to join them over there. Our current leadership is far too foolish and short-sighted, and have demonstrated an unholy willingness to sacrifice lives for corporate profits.

Thousands Switch Parties In Pennsylvania


Last week, we found out that there are over 200,000 new voters in Pennsylvania and most of them have registered as Democrats so they could vote for Obama. But there is another interesting phenomena happening in Pennsylvania -- party switching.

Over 178,000 people have switched their party registration in Pennsylvania this year, and 90% of them have registered as Democrats. There is strong anecdotal evidence that most of these people have switched so they can vote for Barack Obama.

There are 4.2 million Democrats in Pennsylvania, and state officials believe that as many as 50% of them may vote in the primary today. If, as expected, Obama gets nearly all the new voters and the party switchers, that could give him a boost of over 350,000 votes. That's a significant chunk of votes in a closely contested election.

Clinton tried to turn a statement that Obama made last week about "bitter" voters, but it doesn't look like Pennsylvania voters are buying it. The latest poll shows Obama only 5% behind with 8% still undecided. It is clear that although the mainstrem media played up the remark, Clinton has been unable to turn it to her advantage.

The new voters and party-switchers say they are voting for Obama for two main reasons. They find him to be inspiring, and they want a big change from the status quo. To these people, Clinton (and McCain) represent the old politics, while Obama represents a real change.

It's beginning to look like Clinton's strategy of throwing everything at Obama except the kitchen sink is not working for her. In fact, some voters say they have decided to vote for Obama since the last debate. They appreciate that he kept to the high road and quietly answered charges, while Clinton engaged in slinging mud.

Chris Matthews of MSNBC and others are still saying that Clinton will win by around 10%. I don't think so. I think she'll be lucky to maintain the 5% she has in the latest poll, and that's not good enough to help her catch up with Obama. A less than double-digit win by Clinton would actually be a moral and delegate victory for Obama.

But the waiting is finally over for Pennsylvania. Tonight we'll finally know the results there.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Paraguay Elects Leftist President


Paraguay is one of the poorest countries in South America, and for the last sixty years it has been ruled by the Colorado Party. This was the party of the privileged, and for the last six decades it made sure the rich stayed rich and the poor stayed poor. But things have changed there now.

Yesterday, the citizens of Paraguay elected a left-leaning president named Fernando Lugo (pictured above). Lugo was an ex-Bishop of the Catholic Church, who campaigned on a promise to help the poor and indigenous people of Paraguay. He received 41% of the votes.

For the last 500 years , the indigenous people of Central and South America have been ruled by the privileged and denied true equality and opportunity. We have supported many of those dictatorships and pseudo-democracies. But whether our own government and corporate leaders like it or not, things are beginning to change.

It started in Cuba and is now spreading. The poor and indigenous peoples of Nicaragua, Chile, Venezuela and now Paraguay, among others, are electing leftist governments that are empowering those who have always been denied power.

One by one these countries are finding their way to equality and equal opportunity for all their citizens. Most are democracies, while others like Cuba are still struggling with that. Someday, I expect all the countries south of our border will achieve that status.

But it will be no thanks to us. Most U.S. administrations, including the Bush administration has opposed this. They have opposed it because it might interfere with corporate profits. Even today, our government considers corporate profits more important than the lives of individuals.

We should be ashamed of the corporatocracy we have established.

The Colbert Report "Bump" Is Real


The Colbert Report is one of the funniest shows on television. The host, Stephen Colbert, does a dead-on comedy impression of a right-wing television commentator (like Bill O'Reilly, who he calls "Pappa Bear"). The show has made Colbert something of a minor hero among liberals and young people.

Even though it is a comedy show, it has drawn many politicians of both parties as guests (including most of the presidential candidates). Back in 2006, a candidate running for congress, Jon Hall, appeared on the show. Soon after, he defeated the incumbant congresswoman he was running against.

Since then, it has been a running joke on the show that any politician that appears on the show gets a bump in the ratings. It has come to be known as the "Colbert Report Bump". As strange as it seems, it now looks like the "Colbert Report Bump" may be more than a running joke -- it may actually be real.

A political scientist (James Fowler of the University of California at San Diego) decided to test the premise. He picked campaign contributions as the measurement since that is a tangible result that can be measured. To insure fairness, he only compared Republicans to Republicans and Democrats to Democrats. He compared contributions before and after an appearance against contributions of candidates who did not appear.

Fowler found that there is statistically significant bump among candidates that appeared on the show, but the bump is very party specific. Democrats who appeared on the show had about a 44% rise in contributions after the appearance. However, Republicans showed no rise in contributions or a small decrease.

Why the difference between the parties? Is it because the show has a mostly liberal audience? Probably not -- the show is only seen by about 1.5 million people and that's not enough to account for the large bump. Fowler does point out though that an appearance on the show is viewed as a news event by the major media outlets, and they broadcast parts of the appearance to 30-50 million viewers.

Fowler believes it relates to the candidates themselves, since they must decide to appear on the show or not. He believes that the only Republicans that appear are those who are already doing well with their campaigns, while even unknown Democrats view an appearance as an opportunity.

I think the reason may be even simpler. I believe Democrats see a candidate's appearance as someone who is willing to poke fun at himself and as someone who can take a joke. While Republicans see a candidate's appearance as sort of collaborating with "the enemy".

Whatever the reason, the bump seems to be real. Fowler will be publishing his study in an upcoming issue of PS: Poiltical Science and Politics.

McCain Doesn't Have A Clue


Last week John McCain told Americans that "a lot of progress" had been made economically in the last seven years, although he did add that "some Americans" are hurting. I have to wonder what country he's been living in for the last seven years, because Bush has really sent our economy into a downward tailspin during those years.

I guess we have to remember that McCain is among the super-rich, with his heiress wife being worth around $100 million. For the super-rich, it has been a wonderful seven years. McCain and his rich compadres are making more money and paying less in taxes than at any time since the Roaring 20's. So I don't guess we can expect McCain to understand that the other 95% of Americans are hurting.

But McCain tells us he has an economic plan. First, he wants to stop collecting the federal gasoline tax for the summer months. I don't know about you, but I seriously doubt that not collecting that 19 cents a gallon is going to keep anyone out of bankruptcy.

What it will do is put the rebuilding of our infrastructure even further behind, because that is where the gas tax money goes. It will also give his Big Oil friends a chance to raise their prices even further and top their own record-breaking windfall profits.

Then he wants to follow Bush's lead and cut taxes even further for the rich. Never mind that Bush doubled our national debt to between $9 and $10 trillion, when he cut taxes for the rich. The only thing these further cuts will do is saddle our children and grandchildren with an enormous back-breaking debt.

McCain says he will balance the budget after he cuts those taxes though. How? He's going to cut out wasteful government spending! Isn't that they same thing that Bush and every other conservative says before they get into office and raise our debt? "Cutting wasteful spending" is the right-wing code for "I don't have a plan or a clue what I'm doing economically".

And he obviously doesn't have a clue. The biggest and most wasteful spending our government is doing is the $12 billion a month we're throwing away on the unnecessary war in Iraq. But he's fine with that spending, and is willing to continue that for another "hundred years".

The fact is that McCain doesn't have any more of an economic plan than Bush does. He would simply continue the Bush policies that are destroying our economy. Voting for McCain would be an excellent way to push our economy from a recession to a depression.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

American Airlines Still Doesn't Understand


I have to wonder about the leadership at American Airlines. Do they not understand the rank-and-file employees are the backbone of the company, or do they just not care as long as they can feed millions of dollars into their own bank accounts. Maybe it's both.

Back in 2003, the airline was in trouble and the employees came to its rescue. They agreed to take paycuts to keep the airline afloat. They thought these cuts would just be temporary, and once the airline was again making money their salaries would be reinstated. They were wrong.

It seems the airline's top management had a different idea. The airline has made hundreds of millions of dollars the last couple of years, but there has not even been a discussion of whether to restore the paycuts of line employees.

Meanwhile, top management has rewarded themselves handsomely. Here is the compensation given to the airline's top five leaders:

Gerard Arpey, CEO, $6.6 million
Tom Horton, CFO, $2.8 million
Dan Garton, executive vice president of marketing, $2.8 million
Robert Reding, senior vice president of technical operations, $2.6 million
Gary Kennedy, general counsel, $1.7 million

In addition, this last week over $38 million in bonuses was given out to the airline's top executive and managers. Last year, even larger bonuses were awarded to these same people. It seems strange that while workers are still working for partial salaries, the management are rewarding themselves with millions in bonuses.

Evidently, the management thinks they are the only important people in the company -- the only ones worthy of sharing in the companies good fortunes. Someone needs to remind them that there wouldn't even be a company except for the sacrifice in pay by the employees. And there wouldn't be any profit except for the hard work and dedication of the employees.

Hard-working and dedicated employees could help the company turn a profit even with second-rate management. But the best managers in the world could not turn a profit with poorly performing employees. The airline's leaders need to understand who's doing the hard work that earns profits and repeat customers (and it isn't management).

Not a single dollar in management bonuses should have been awarded until the salaries of employees had been fully restored. These management bonuses were a slap in the face to the employees.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Myth Of al-Queda In Iraq


George Bush and his clone, John McCain, are still trying to convince Americans that the biggest threat in Iraq is al-Queda. They'd like for us to believe that if we leave Iraq, al-Queda would either take over there or at least be able to use Iraq as a base for their nefarious activities. The truth is there is absolutely no chance of either happening.

Let's look at just who the groups are that are vying for power in Iraq. First we have the Kurds, who inhabitat the northern part of the country. They are not interested in any part of Iraq except their northern homeland, and they are probably strong enough to control that whether we stay or leave Iraq. They don't like al-Queda, and al-Queda is unable to operate in that area of Iraq.

That leaves four groups vying for control of the rest of Iraq -- the Shiites, the Sunnis, the puppet government we installed and al-Queda. The strongest group is the Shiite militias, the largest of which is controlled by Sadr. This is the group most likely to take over in Iraq when we leave. If they do, they will install an Iranian-style theocracy.

The Shiites hate al-Queda (who are Sunni) and there is no way they would allow them to operate in Iraq. If the Shiites take over, al-Queda will be exterminated or run out of the country in short order.

The Sunnis are the second most powerful group in Iraq. The Sunni militias, called the "Awakening Movement", do not like al-Queda either. They consider them foreigners and trouble-makers. If the Sunnis came to power, they would not treat al-Queda any better than the Shiites. In fact, they are already fighting al-Queda with arms supplied by us. They certainly wouldn't provide a haven for them.

The third group is the puppet government installed by the Bush administration. There is no way they will survive once we leave. Their troops are not capable of fighting any of the other groups without our help. I expect these troops will desert and join either the Shiite or Sunni militias after the U.S. troops withdraw, and the government will quickly fall.

That leaves al-Queda, who is actually the weakest of the four groups. They do not have the numbers to engage in real military actions anymore. The only way they can fight is through terrorist actions -- suicide bombers and roadside bombs. The only reason they still exist in Iraq is because we are still occupying the country.

Once we leave, they will be unable to recruit new members there. Our presence is the only reason they can recruit anyone there at all. They will be left with a few foreign fighters, who will quickly be killed or kicked out by the Sunnis and Shiites who hate them.

Would there be a bloodbath if we leave? It's possible, but it would not be al-Queda doing it. The Sunnis and the Shiites will vy for power, and it might be a bloody civil war. But it might not. A majority of the Arab world believes these groups could come to an understanding, if we would just get out of the way.

So, staying in Iraq is not the way to get rid of al-Queda there. It's only our presence that allows them to even exist there. If we were really serious about fighting al-Queda, we would leave Iraq and go where they really have some power -- Afghanistan and Pakistan. All our occupation of Iraq is doing is allowing the real al-Queda forces to grow stronger in these two countries.

I am in favor of fighting al-Queda, and I have been since they attacked us on 9/11. The group should be crushed and it's leaders brought to justice. But staying in Iraq will never accomplish that.

Arab World Hates Us (What A Surprise!)


The administrations of Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton reached out to the Arab world and began to make friends there. For the first time, Arabs started to feel like they might be treated fairly by America. Even Bush's short war to kick Iraq out of Kuwait didn't seem to damage this, since most Arabs didn't feel Iraq should have invaded Kuwait.

But it looks like the current Bush administration has destroyed most of the good will the three previous administrations had created. According to a new poll done by the University of Maryland and Zogby International, 8 out of 10 Arabs now have a negative view of the United States.

Most Arabs don't approve of our actions in Iraq either. While George Bush (and John McCain) are trumpeting the wonderful success of Bush's troop surge in Iraq, the Arab world doesn't agree. Only 6% of Arabs believe the surge has improved conditions in Iraq.

In fact, a solid majority of Arabs believe if the United States would just withdraw their troops from Iraq, the Iraqis would be able to settle their differences. They see the U.S. as an impediment to peace in Iraq.

But if the Arabs hate us, who do they like? According to the poll, the three leaders most respected by Arabs are Hassan Nasrallah (Hezbollah), President Bashar al-Assad (Syria) and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Iran). Why? Because these leaders are perceived by Arabs to be the only leaders standing up to oppose America.

Perhaps even more troubling is the Arab view of Iran. Bush believes Iran to be the biggest threat to peace in the region. But while the Iranians are not Arabs, the Arabs don't view them as a threat. In fact, a majority of Arabs think it would be a positive thing for Iran to develop a nuclear bomb.

Bush claims he invaded Iraq to bring democracy to the Arab world. Whether he's telling the truth or not, it hasn't worked out that way. All he has done is turn the Arab world against us. A few of Arabia's dictatorial leaders may still like us (like the Saudi King), but the vast majority of Arabs now hate us.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Was Corn Ethanol A Good Idea ?


Whether they will admit it or not, everyone has known for a few years now that America (and the world) must find an alternative for fossil fuels. One of the biggest uses of fossil fuels is the gasoline that powers our automobiles.

Recently there has been a push to replace much of the gasoline with ethanol derived from corn. The rising price of oil has made ethanol very feasible. In addition, ethanol burns much cleaner and therefore produces less damaging pollution.

It sounded like a great solution. I have to admit, it even sounded good to me. Last year the United States produced 6.5 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol. But in 2007, a new energy bill up the ceiling to 15 billion gallons. It sounded like a win-win situation. Farmers get a new market for corn, and consumers get a cleaner burning fuel.

But there was an aspect that was not considered. What would it do to the food supply? The first person to express doubts was Fidel Castro. Months ago, Castro warned that this would add to world food shortages -- especially in third-world countries. But Castro is not well-liked in this country, so no one listened.

Now it looks like he could have been right. But the effect is not being felt only in third-world countries. Food prices are rising everywhere. The 6.5 billion gallons produced last year did not reduce exports of corn (for food and feed) last year, but it did contribute to rising prices because their was less corn available for bidding on.

Imagine what production of 15 billion gallons will do (and even that is only a fraction of what would be needed if we were serious about replacing gasoline).The more ethanol we produce from corn, the more the price of corn will rise -- both food and feed corn.

When food corn rises in price, it creates more demand for other grains and their price also begins to rise. When feed corn rises in price, it will also drive up the price of meat. As the prices rise, the third-world cannot buy as much and shortages will be larger. The rest of us will feel the rise in prices when we go grocery shopping.

Now this is not the only factor in the rising food prices. Higher energy costs, droughts, and the rising consumption of meat and dairy foods in many places (like China) are also contributing factors. But the production of corn-based ethanol is becoming a major factor.

Maybe it's time to rethink food-based ethanol. While those who came up with the idea didn't take it to its logical conclusion, the marketplace certainly did. If ethanol is to be a real alternative, it must be made from non-food sources.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cancer Strikes Specter Again


Anyone who reads this blog even semi-regularly knows that I don't have any love for Republicans. As a party, I believe they have done serious damage to this country. But that doesn't mean I was happy to hear this news.

As far as Republicans go, Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) was a moderate, and one of the few Republicans with half a brain. At times, he was able to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats for the good of the country. That can't be said of too many Republicans.

In 1993, Senator Specter fought back from an operation for a brain tumor. Then in 2005, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease (cancer of the lymph system). Again he fought, and went through six months of chemotherapy. The disease went into remission and he was cancer free for three years.

On Tuesday, Specter announced that the Hodgkin's had returned. The 78 year-old senator is now facing 12 more weeks of chemotherapy. But this is no whiner. He is a brave man who will face this head-on. With some luck, maybe he can beat it again.

All politics aside, I am pulling for Senator Arlen Specter. I hope he beats the odds one more time.

State Abuse Scandal Is Brewing


It looks like Texas has another scandal brewing -- this time in our state schools and centers for the mentally disabled. The Justice Department has announced that it will investigate charges of abuse at the largest state school -- the Denton State School. An investigation of the Lubbock State School in 2006 revealed widespread abuse, and there is little doubt that the new investigation will find the same.

The 13 state facilities service about 5,000 clients and have around 12,000 employees. According to figures relesed by the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, over 800 employees have been fired for abuse in the last four years (239 in 2007, 200 in 2006, 203 in 2005, 180 in 2004).

These are incredibly high numbers. It means nearly 7% of the employees have been fired in the last four years. Last year, 450 incidents of abuse were verified. The bulk were instances of neglect at 51%, while 31% involved physical abuse, and 16% involved verbal or emotional abuse. Less than 1% involved sexual abuse.

Governor Perry pointed to the large number of people fired as proof that something is being done. He is wrong! The fact that over 200 people are being fired every year just means the abuse is continuing unabated. We can't believe the problem is being addressed sufficiently until the number of firings starts dropping.

Our state leaders have done nothing except mouth platitudes about better training is needed. That's easy to say, but very hard to do under current conditions. The conditions must change before increased training can be effective.

The fact is that these are very difficult and frustrating jobs, and the employees get little recognition and abysmally low pay. Nearly all state employees are underpaid, but the employees in this field are among the lowest-paid state employees. This results in a large turnover and an unstable work force. Training can barely keep up with turnover.

There is a solution, but our state leaders must be willing to do what is necessary. The only solution is for leaders to bite the bullet and raise the pay significantly for the rank-and-file workers at these facilities. And I'm not talking about a paltry $40 or $50 a month for workers while management gets huge raises (which is what usually happens).

I'm talking about a large raise for line workers -- a raise that will attract good employees and keep them for a long time, thus eliminating the huge job turnover. This way, they can be properly trained and put those skills to use on the dorms.

Our Republican leadership must stop pumping big money into the pockets of rich corporations, and put that money into hiring and keeping good employees. Until they do, we are just spinning our wheels and the abuse will continue.