A PROGRESSIVE VOICE FROM THE LLANO ESTACADO

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Jesus (With Zombies)

From the excellent blog of Yellowdog Granny.

Obama Keeps A Campaign Promise

During the 2008 campaign for the presidency, Barack Obama promised his administration would be more open and transparent than the extremely secretive Bush administration. Yesterday, steps were taken to keep that promise.

Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and reform, had promised to make records of White House visitors available to the public beginning in December. However, they have beat that deadline by a month. The records for January 20 through July 31 have now been posted at www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/disclosures/visitor-records.

The records released so far stop at the end of July, because the records are only released once they are 90 days old. I don't know why a three-month delay is necessary, but that is still a quantum-leap better than the Bush administration. At least, the information is being released.

Eisen said, "We will achieve our goal of making this administration the most open and transparent administration in history not only by opening the doors of the White House to more Americans, but by shining a light on the business conducted inside it. Americans have a right to know whose voices are being heard in the policymaking process."

The first release contained some pretty famous names -- William Ayers, Michael Jordan, Michael Moore, Jeremiah Wright and R. Kelly. But before you get excited, these were not the famous people associated with those names. Eisen said, "The well-known individuals with those names never actually came to the White House."

I applaud President Obama for keeping this important campaign promise.

Halloween At The Beck's

Political Cartoon is by David Horsey in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

A Veteran Speaks Out On Afghanistan

Matthew Hoh is neither a right-wing hawk or a left-wing peacenik, and he is certainly not a pundit speaking about the war from the safety of a Washington office. He is a former Marine captain who served two tours of duty in Iraq. After leaving the Marines, he signed on as a State Department Foreign Service officer.

But Mr. Hoh is not a fan of current United States policy in Afghanistan. On September 10th, he resigned his position in the Foreign Service as a protest to that policy, which he called a "cavalier, politically expedient and pollyannaish misadventure." Here are some of his feelings about his resignation and the war in Afghanistan:

"I've had a lot of Afghan-Americans contact me and say, 'Matt, you get it.' You understand -- yes, there is a civil war going on. You understand how Afghan society works. You understand this split within the Pashtuns. You understand valley-ism, or whatever you want to call it."

"I have received many many e-mails from active-duty military and some guys who just separated from the service. Some guys are here in the States. I've gotten many e-mails from guys in Afghanistan. Some are people I know. But a lot are people I do not know. Men and women who are saying, 'Thanks for doing this. Keep it up. We don't know why we're here. We're not sure why we're taking these casualties. We don't know what it's accomplishing.'"

"I fail to see the value or worth in continued U.S. casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year-old civil war."

"I believe that the people we are fighting there are fighting us because we are occupying them. Not for any ideological reasons, not because of any links to al Queda, not because of any fundamental hatred towards the West. The only reason they're fighting us is because we're occupying them."

"In Iraq, even though it was stuck in the '80s, it had infrastructure, it had human capital. It had doctors and lawyers and educators. And they had an established system of government, they had an infrastructure we could build on. Afghanistan has none of that."

"I do not believe any military force has ever been tasked with such a complex, opaque and Sisyphean mission as the U.S. military has received in Afghanistan."

"Increasing troops is only going to fuel insurgency. We need to stop our combat operations in areas where we are fighting people only because they are fighting us. Otherwise, it's going to be 2013, we're going to look back four years and we're going to say, "What did we accomplish? What did we get? What was this worth? What did we get out of this?"

A Real Scare

Political Cartoon is by Cameron (Cam) Cardow in The Ottawa Citizen.

HIV Entry Ban Is To Be Lifted


In 1987, in the midst of the HIV-AIDS panic here in the United States, the government added being HIV-positive to the list of diseases that would bar emigres or visitors from entering this country. For the last 22 years that has been the law.

But for most of that 22 years, it has been known that HIV-positive persons really did not pose a risk to the population in general. Long ago, most civilized nations realized this and did away with any bans (if they had imposed one), but the United States and perhaps a dozen other countries have kept the ban in effect. Thankfully, that is about to change.

Yesterday, President Obama signed a bipartisan extension of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Act, which provides health care treatment and support for about 500,000 HIV/AIDS patients. At the same time, the president announced he would be lifting the HIV-positive ban for emigres and visitors because it was "rooted in fear rather than fact".

He went on to say, "We lead the world when it comes to helping stem the AIDS pandemic -- yet we are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people with HIV from entering our own country. On Monday, my administration will publish a final rule that eliminates the travel ban effective just after the New Year."

We used to lead in world in the establishment and teaching of human rights issues, but this time we are a very tardy follower. Sadly, that is happening far too often.

Scary Costumes

Political Cartoon is by Nate Beeler in The Washington Examiner.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Google God

Found at the excellent blog of The Friendly Atheist.

Recession Is Over (Not)


According to the media, the recession we've been in for the past year is finally over. They're basing this on the fact that the nations Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a broad measure of the country's economic activity, was up by 3.5% in the third quarter of 2009. The stock market was so happy with the news that it gained 199 points (the best day in three months).

But don't be too quick to celebrate a return to good times. There are several reasons to doubt the recession is really over -- not the least of which is the fact that the National Bureau of Economic Research, the organization that officially dates the beginning and end of recessions, has not declared it over.

Normally a recession is not declared to be over until there have been at least three straight quarters of economic growth. There was also growth noted in the second quarter of 2008, but the next quarter had negative growth and the recession worsened. So far, there has only been one quarter of growth in GDP. Here is why that growth may not be sustainable:

* The White House Council of Economic Advisors says the federal economic stimulus package is responsible for 3-4% growth in GDP. Since total GDP grew by only 3.5%, it is probable that the entire growth was due to expanded government spending and not to a revival of the private sector. While the federal stimulus was helpful to the economy, a true recovery only happens when the private sector grows.

* Most of the private sector growth was in sales of automobiles and houses -- both spurred by (once again) a government stimulus for these industries ("cash for clunkers" and a tax cut for first time home buyers). There is no real evidence that the public in general is confident enough in the economy to begin spending again in other areas.

* Private industry is still lowering the amount of inventory they keep on hand. Although this depletion slowed in the third quarter, it was still declining. This shows the private sector was actually contracting instead of expanding. True economic growth will not be happening until the private sector begins to expand their inventory.

* While the third quarter showed growth in GDP, it also had a loss of about a half-a-million jobs. As long as the economy loses more jobs than it produces, there will be no real recovery. With each job that is lost, the public has less money to spend and less ability to help stimulate a private sector recovery with that spending.

This is a very shaky recovery at best, and at worst, it may not be a recovery at all. It would not surprise me in the least to again see negative growth in GDP again in the next couple of quarters.

With unemployment still rising, it could be years before this economy is back on its feet. So put the champagne back in the cellar -- we've still got a long way to go.

Lost In The Clouds

Political Cartoon is by Bob Englehart in The Hartford Courant.

Life Is Tenuous

Sometimes we forget just how tenuous life can be. Most of us expect to live to a ripe old age and don't really consider the possibility that it might not happen. But life is not fair and is no respecter of persons. It can end in a heartbeat. This odd story brings that fact home.

Taylor Mitchell was a young Canadian folk singer with a bright future ahead of her. Although she had just turned nineteen, she had already been nominated for a Canadian folk music award and her career seemed to be taking off. All of that ended with a walk through a national park.

Mitchell was taking a solitary walk through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia when she was attacked by a pair of coyotes. Other visitors heard her screams and notified park rangers. Rangers said the coyotes were "extremely agressive" and they shot and killed one of them. They are still hunting for the other.

It is extremely rare for coyotes to attack a human. I grew up in the country listening to the night howling of coyotes, but it was rare to even see one. They are afraid of humans and will usually run away before a human can even get close to them. They live by killing small animals like rabbits or scavenging on the leftovers from other animals' kills (or roadkill).

But in spite of the extreme rarity, the attack happened. The young singer was airlifted to a hospital in Halifax where she died on Wednesday. In an instant, a young life and possibly brilliant career were over.

This should serve as an example to us all. Maybe we will live to be cranky old men and women. And maybe it will end tomorrow. No one knows.

Overshooting Again

Political Cartoon is by Mike Keefe in The Denver Post.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tolerance

From the hilarious blog Pundit Kitchen.

U.S. Violating International Law


The United States has a new weapon in its arsenal -- unmanned flying drones that can be armed with missles or bombs and be used as an attack weapon. This is an excellent weapon that can be effective without endangering the lives of any pilots or soldiers. But it looks like the U.S. may be misusing this weapon and violating international law.

Since last August, these drones have been responsible for killing around 600 people in Pakistan. The problem is that many, if not most, of these people have been innocent civilians. United Nations human rights investigator Philip Alston wants the United States to legally justify the use of the attack drones in civilian areas.

Alston says, "My concern is that these drones, these Predators, are being operated in a framework which may well violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law. The onus is really on the government of the United States to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary executions, extrajudicial executions are not in fact being carried out through the use of these weapons."

The United States has tried to use as justification the fact that they are in an "armed conflict". But that excuse just won't fly for a couple of reasons. First, we are attacking Pakistan, and we are not in a war or "armed conflict" with that country. Second, attacking a known civilian area to get a few insurgents who may be hiding among innocent civilians is a war crime. It is the same type of war crime the Israelis are accused of committing in Gaza.

The drones are a good weapon, and can effectively be used against eemy troops in a battle zone. But it should never be used in areas where there are civilian noncombatants. This is no different than spraying a crowd of innocent people with machine gun fire, because we believe a criminal may be hiding in the crowd.

The United States must stop using these drone in this way. It is both immoral and illegal.

Red-Light Cameras

Political Cartoon is by Jeff Parker in Florida Today.

eBay Bans Terrorist Auction


I have never bought or sold anything on eBay. I didn't have anything against them. It's just not how I like to make my purchases. But I have to admit, my estimation of the site has gone way up since their refusal to host an auction for terrorist-murderer Scott Roeder's defense.

As you know, Roeder (pictured) is the anti-abortion nut that murdered Dr. George Tiller in his church. Roeder is one of those violent people that believes if you don't agree with him, he has the right to commit a violent terrorist act (up to and including murder). He is now sitting in jail awaiting trial.

When he committed the murder, the anti-abortion movement was quick to distance themselves from his actions. I think most of us knew that wasn't really how they felt, and now they are beginning to show their true colors.

The anti-abortion terrorists decided to raise money for Roeder's defense -- they want him to claim it was a justifiable homicide. They decided to help raise the money by holding an auction on eBay. Among the items to be auctioned were a cookbook written by a woman in jail for arson on a clinic, some drawings done and autographed by Roeder and an Army of God manuel on how to shut down clinics providing abortions.

Dr. Tiller's widow and family were naturally horrified at the prospect of this macabre auction. They wrote to eBay saying, "These materials contain hate messages, glorify violence against abortion doctors who provide constitutionally protected medical services, and instruct on means of violence, including bombing of abortion clinics. We urge you to deny access to the resources of eBay for this reprehensible and vile 'auction'."

eBay must have already been disturbed by the prospect of the auction, because they banned the auction on the same day of the Tiller family's request. They said, "Based on the details we know about the anticipated listings, we believe these would violate our policy regarding offensive materials. eBay will not permit the items in question to be posted to the eBay site, and they will be removed if they are posted."

Of course, the anti-abortion terrorists are upset with eBay's decision. Regina Dinwiddie, a supporter of Roeder, had the gall to say, "They're not only chilling the first amendment of the Constitution, they're raping the whole Constitution." That's a ludicrous statement.

No one is denying these sick people the right to say whatever they want in defense of their murdering cohort. But there is nothing in the Constitution that says eBay must help them spread their hateful message. eBay is a private entity, and can do as they please.

I applaud eBay's decision to come down on the side of common decency and ban this auction.

Deadly Merry-Go-Round

Political Cartoon is by Mike Keefe in The Denver Post.

Cheney To Endorse Hutchison


Unbelievably, there are still those who believe the Republican primary race for governor is between a far right-winger (Rick Perry) and a moderately right-winger (Kay Bailey Hutchison). This is just not true. Hutchison is about as moderate as a "teabagger" on methamphetamines.

Both of these candidates are on a dead run to the right to convince the racist right-wing base of the Texas Republican Party that they are truly the nuttiest right-winger of all. For a while, it looked like Rick Perry might be winning that race. After all, he had captured the endorsement of Sarah Palin -- the accepted queen of the unthinking right-wing nutjobs.

But Hutchison is not about to let him win that race without a down-and-dirty fight. She has trumped his Palin endorsement with an even scarier endorsement of her own. She has trumped stupidity with downright evil. Her endorsement is from the king of the neocons and the emperor of all that is wrong with America -- Dick Cheney.

Yesterday, the Hutchison campaign announced that the evil overlord Cheney will appear at a Hutchison fundraiser on November 17th in Houston, and announce that he is supporting Hutchison in her run for governor of Texas.

This should end once-and-for-all the fairy tale that there is any kind of moderate Republican running for the Texas governorship in the 2010 election.

Romance Today

Political Cartoon is by Cameron (Cam) Cardow in The Ottawa Citizen.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

That Would Be Most Facts!




Found at the excellent blog What Would Jack Do?

Earning Trust

From the excellent blog What Would Jack Do?

America Split On Afghanistan


A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the American people are split down the middle on supporting the war in Afghanistan. The poll was conducted on October 22-25 by Democrat Peter D. Hart and Republican Bill McInturff, and has a statistical error of 3.1 points. Here are the polls findings about Afghanistan:

47% support increasing the troop level
43% oppose increasing the troop level
58% support delaying a decision until after Afghanistan's presidential runoff and the political situation there becomes clearer
55% could accept sending 10,000 more troops
43% could accept sending 40,000 more troops
45% favor withdrawing all American troops from Afghanistan

My question is, why does anyone think sending more troops will accomplish anything at all, let alone a victory, in Afghanistan? Didn't the Soviets try that with little or no success? Why should we think we would be more successful than they were?

The truth is the Taliban has enough support and enough hiding places (many of them in Pakistan) to prolong this war for years. The only number in the above poll that I can see getting larger is the 45% who say we should withdraw our troops. With each year that passes with no real progress, the number of people who realize we have gotten ourselves into a no-win Vietnam-like situation will grow.

We could put another 100,000 troops into Afghanistan, and it would not create a situation where we could win that war. The Taliban (and al Queda) would simply go to ground and do more guerilla operations, accomplishing a small but steady death toll of American soldiers. Then as we withdraw troops, they would come out of there holes and fight larger operations until they take over again.

Years ago, I supported the Bush administration invasion of Afghanistan (although I always opposed our adventure in Iraq). I was wrong about Afghanistan, and I'm ashamed of my former opinion. I thought we could go in and capture or kill al-Queda, and then get out. I had no idea Bush would half do the job, then invade Iraq, and then try to engage in "nation-building" in both countries -- a concept that has been an utter failure.

We needed to capture al-Queda and bring them to justice, but we didn't do that. We didn't need to engage in nation-building, and we're still trying to do that (poorly). Whether we want to admit it or not, we have failed miserably in both countries. Continuing will only cause the deaths of more American soldiers.

Let's bring the soldiers home now.

Backward

Political Cartoon is by Monte Wolverton at caglecartoons.com.

Lieberman Turns On Democrats - Again


Liberals tried to tell Harry Reid and Barack Obama months ago that Joe Lieberman shouldn't be allowed into the Democratic Caucus or be allowed be allowed to assume any Democratic committee positions. After all, he had run against the Democratic candidate in Connecticut (and defeated him) and had supported George Bush's illegal wars. Then he not only supported Republican John McCain for president, and spoke for him at the Republican Convention and on the campaign trail.

But Reid and Obama wouldn't listen, and convinced Senate Democrats to once again allow Lieberman into the Democratic Caucus. They said they would need his vote to overcome Republican filibusters (as if he would ever turn on his Republican buddies).

Now, Lieberman's vote is needed to turn back a Republican filibuster against health care reform. So what is Lieberman going to do? Naturally, he's going to support his real party -- the Republicans. Lieberman announced yesterday that he will back the Republican effort to filibuster and kill the Senate Democrats' health care reform bill.

Lieberman especially opposes the public option for insurance that would help poor and working-class Americans get health care insurance coverage. He said he would vote against the public option "even with an opt-out because it still creates a whole new government entitlement program for which taxpayers will be on the line."

He was allowed back in the Democratic Caucus because his vote was needed, but once again, when the chips are down he is voting with the Republicans. Allowing him back into the caucus is analogous to letting a rattlesnake into your bed -- you're going to keep getting bit until you get that snake out of your bed.

It's long past time to kick Lieberman out. He will never vote with Democrats on any important issue, and those who think he will are fools.

Break The Glass !

Political Cartoon is by R.J. Matson in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Scientology Guilty Of Fraud


Here in the United States, the courts give religions of all ilks a wide berth lest they be accused of denying religious freedom. Religious nuts can pretty much suck their adherents dry of their money, and their is nothing the law will do about it (just look at the TV "preachers" who are little more than shameless money machines preying on the dim-witted).

But things are different in France, especially if a religion is classified as a sect or a cult. That is how scientology is classified there. A French court has convicted two branches of the religion and several individuals of fraud.

The churches Celebrity Centre was fined 400,000 Euros and their library (bookstore) was fined 200,000 Euros. The head of scientology in France, Alain Rosenberg, was fined 30,000 Euros and given a two year suspended sentence, and three other church officials were also fined.

The case started in the 1990s when two women accused the church of manipulating them into parting with thousands of dollars for the church. The investigating judge said the church was little more than "a purely commercial operation designed to make as much money as it can at the expense of often vulnerable victims."

The prosecutor wanted the church to be banned in France, but a law in effect at the time the church was charged would not permit that. That law has since been changed, and if the church is convicted in the future it could well be banned.

I don't doubt the judge's description of scientology, and I think the same description could be applied to many religious entities here in the United States. I wish we could investigate and prosecute those entities whose primary function is to enrich the founders and leaders (on a tax-free basis).

But I don't see that happening any time soon.

Too Big To Fail ?

Political Cartoon is by David Horsey in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

First Republican ?

From the excellent blog What Would Jack Do?

Reid Abandons Texas/Southern Poor


Nearly one out of every four Texans does not have any kind of health insurance, and throughout the South the numbers are nearly as bad. It's not surprising, because in this part of the country if your employer doesn't provide health insurance then you probably can't afford to buy it. That's because there are few unions and working-class salaries lag far behind most other parts of the country.

This is a part of America that badly needs the public option for health insurance. It's also a part of the country where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and other senate Democrats are in the process of turning their backs on the working-class and the poor.

On Monday, Reid announced that senate health care reform legislation will include a plan for public option health insurance. Normally that would be cause for celebration, but Reid and fellow spineless Democrats are including a provision that will allow states to opt out of the public option.

Texas, along with most other Southern states, are controlled by Republicans. Making matters worse, the few elected Democrats they do have are mostly blue dogs. Both of these groups are far more interested in protecting their buddies in the private insurance companies, than in helping to provide insurance for poor and working-class citizens. It is almost a certainty that they will opt out of the public option and leave millions of their citizens without health insurance coverage.

This is a very disappointing turn of events. How can they claim to have passed health care reform, when they are leaving millions without health insurance coverage? I don't really blame Republicans. We have known from the beginning that they opposed any kind of health care reform. They were long ago bought and paid for by Big Insurance and Big Pharma.

But the Democrats are starting to disgust me. They were put in power because a majority of the American people wanted change -- especially health care reform. But they seem to be too spineless to pass any real change.

I feel like the Democrats have abandoned me and millions of other Texans and Southerners, and I really don't know how much longer I can support them. I can't vote Republican, but I can certainly vote third-party or stay home on election day.

Professional Courtesy

Political Cartoon is by John Cole in The Scranton Times.

Newspaper Circulation Falling Rapidly


There has been an ongoing discussion over the last couple of years over whether newspapers can survive in the age of television and the internet. More and more people are said to be getting their news from television and the huge number of internet sources. New figures show that the circulation numbers of newspapers are still falling.

This is very bad news for the papers. The lower the circulation is, the less they can charge for advertisements and the less ads they can sell. These ads are the life-blood of a newspaper. The charge to the consumer barely covers the distribution cost for most newspapers. The other costs (such as salaries) and profit are covered by advertising sales.

New figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation shows that the average drop in newspaper circulation (in April-September from the same span last year) was 10.6%. Making matters even worse, it looks like the circulation drop is increasing with each six-month reporting period. The drop for October 2008-March 2009 was 7.1%, and the drop for April-September 2008 was 4.6%.

It is increasingly looking like newspapers are the news media of the past, and will not survive long in the 21st century. There are still those consumers who like getting a print version of the newspaper, but there probably are not enough of them to keep newspapers viable in this era of multiple news sources.

The question now is can these newspapers make themselves viable enough on the internet to survive as a news organization. Some papers are considering charging consumers for their online version, but I don't think that's going to work. All that will do is depress their online viewership, which will in turn depress their ad revenue. There are just too many news sources on the internet that are free (not to mention free television).

If these newspapers are going to survive as news-gathering organizations and stay viable, they will have to do it with advertising revenue (and that's not easy on-line). The question now is not whether the print version of newspapers will die. That is pretty certain at this point. The real question is whether these organizations can remain viable and profitable in their move to the internet. The answer to that question is still unknown.

For your edification, here is how the top 25 newspapers are doing with their weekday circulation figures:

Wall Street Journal -- 2,024,269 -- up 0.6%
USA Today -- 1,900,116 -- down 17.2%
New York Times -- 927,851 -- down 7.3%
Los Angeles Times -- 657,467 -- down 11.1%
Washington Post -- 582,844 -- down 6.4%
New York Daily News -- 544,167 -- down 14.0%
New York Post -- 508,042 -- down 18.8%
Chicago Tribune -- 465,892 -- down 9.7%
Houston Chronicle -- 384,419 -- down 14.2%
Philadelphia Inquirer -- 361,480 -- no % available
Newsday (Long Island) -- 357,124 -- down 5.4%
Denver Post -- 340,949 -- down 9.2%
Arizona Republic -- 316,874 -- down 12.3%
Minneapolis Star-Tribune -- 304,543 -- down 5.5%
Chicago Sun-Times -- 275,641 -- down 12.0%
Cleveland Plain Dealer -- 271,180 -- down 11.2%
Detroit Free Press -- 269,729 -- down 9.6%
Boston Globe -- 264,105 -- down 18.5%
Dallas Morning News -- 263,810 -- down 22.2%
Seattle Times -- 263,588 -- no % available
San Francisco Chronicle -- 251,782 -- down 25.8%
Portland Oregonian -- 249,163 -- down 12.1%
Newark Star-Ledger -- 246,006 -- down 22.2%
San Diego Union Tribune -- 242,705 -- down 10.1%
St. Petersburg Times -- 240,147 -- down 10.7%

The Philadelphia Inquirer and Seattle Times figures were not comparable to the prior year because they both merged with another paper and took over their subscriptions, but both showed declining Sunday figures. For Sunday figures for all papers please click here.

The Party Of No

Political Cartoon is by John Darkow in The Columbia Daily Tribune.

Driving While Hispanic Is NOT A Crime


A week or so ago, Ernestina Mondragon was driving in Dallas and made an illegal u-turn. She was ticketed for that and found guilty by a judge. There is no problem with that. She broke a traffic law and will have to pay a fine.

The problem is with another ticket she was given by the Dallas police officer. She was also ticketed for driving a car without being able to speak English. I am amazed that this ticket was given. Even most ordinary citizens in Texas know that there is no law requiring an ability to speak English to be able to drive. How could a policeman, who is supposed to know the law, make such an egregious mistake?

The judge did dismiss the ridiculous ticket, and Dallas Police Chief Kunkle apologized for the patrolman's mistake. The bad thing is that Chief Kunkle also admitted that the Dallas Police Department has issued 38 of these tickets in the last three years!

Let me make that clear. The Dallas Police Department has for the last three years issued more than one ticket a month for a driver not being an English-speaker! What is going on? What is the cause of so many of these illegal tickets being issued?

Either the Dallas Police Department is failing to properly train their officers on the law, or there are some immigrant-hating racist officers in the department trying to enforce their own personal brand of justice. I hope it is the former, because that can and should be fixed with better training. The latter is far more troublesome.

NOTE -- There is a law requiring drivers of public transportation (buses and taxis) to be able to speak English. But this law does not extend to (and was never meant to extend to) ordinary drivers in their own cars.

The Only Expansion Happening

Political Cartoon is by Ted Rall at gocomics.com.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Spineless

From the web site of bartcop.com.

55 Health Care Hypocrites


As we all know, the Republicans have had virtually nothing to offer in the way of health care reform. It seems like the only thing they are interested in is protecting the obscene profits of the huge private insurance companies.

One thing the Republicans have especially opposed is the creation of a public option for health insurance -- something along the lines of Medicare for Americans of all ages (even Sen. Snowe opposes this). Now it looks like this Republican opposition to public insurance has turned at least 55 congressional Republicans into hypocrites.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-New York) decided to do a little investigative work to see what kind of insurance members of Congress had. He discovered that 151 members of Congress were covered by Medicare (exactly the same kind of public insurance being denied to ordinary Americans).

Of that 151, 55 of them were Republicans who have voted against and campaigned against the public option for health insurance. That's just mean and selfish that they would oppose giving ordinary Americans the same kind of public insurance they themselves enjoy -- and it makes them hypocrites. Here are the names of those 55 hypocrites:

Rep. Ralph M. Hall ----- Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett
Rep. Sam Johnson ----- Rep. C.W. Bill Young
Rep. Howard Coble ----- Sen. Jim Bunning
Sen. Richard G. Lugar ----- Rep. Don Young
Sen. Charles E. Grassley ----- Sen. Robert F. Bennett
Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers ----- Sen. Orrin G. Hatch
Sen. Richard C. Shelby ----- Rep. Jerry Lewis
Sen. James M. Inhofe ----- Rep. Ron Paul
Rep. Henry E. Brown ----- Sen. Pat Roberts
Sen. George V. Voinovich ----- Sen. John McCain
Rep. Judy Biggert ----- Sen. Thad Cochran
Rep. Harold Rogers ----- Rep. Dan Burton
Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon ----- Rep. Frank R. Wolf
Sen. Christopher S. Bond ----- Rep. Michael N. Castle
Rep. Joe Pitts ----- Rep. Tom Petri
Sen. Lamar Alexander ----- Rep. Doc Hastings
Rep. Cliff Stearns ----- Rep. Sue Myrick
Rep. John Carter ----- Sen. Mitch McConnell
Sen. Jon Kyl ----- Rep. Phil Gingrey
Rep. Nathan Deal ----- Rep. John Linder
Rep. Kay Granger ----- Rep. John L. Mica
Rep. Walter B. Jones ----- Sen. Jim Risch
Rep. Ed Whitfield ----- Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner
Rep. Virginia Foxx ----- Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison
Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite ----- Sen. Saxby Chambliss
Sen. Michael B. Enzi ----- Rep. Elton Gallegly
Rep. Donald Manzullo ----- Rep. Peter T. King
Rep. Ander Crenshaw

Costume ?

Political Cartoon is by Steve Sack in The Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Economy Hurting Apartment Rentals


A year ago, apartment owners thought the economy and the large number of home foreclosures would create a boon in apartment rentals. The National Apartment Association predicted a rise in the demand for apartments because of "the combination of a stagnant, recessionary-like economic environment, a shift toward renting, weak job reports, declining payrolls and general uncertainty."

Well, it doesn't seem to have worked out that way. They were right about the economy and jobs, but it has not resulted in a higher demand for apartments. In fact, the apartment occupancy rate has actually gone down. The national occupancy rate currently rests at 92.2% -- the lowest since 1986.

Here in Texas, it's even worse. Apartment owners here would probably be pretty happy to equal that national rate. Here are the rates in some Texas cities:
Amarillo..........89.8%
Lubbock..........90.2%
Abilene..........92.0%
Dallas/Ft. Worth..........87.7%
Austin..........89.3%

There are a couple of reasons for this. The federal governments tax credit incentives for first-time home buyers has caused apartments to lose some of their renters. But the main cause is the huge loss of jobs the country has suffered.

If a person can't make a mortgage payment because of a job loss, the chances are very good that they can't make a rent payment either (especially with rents as high as they currently are). So where have these people gone? They've either moved in with family, or they've joined the growing number of the homeless.

Since the Great Depression, we've had a number of recessions -- but they were short-term and the recovery was quick. Our current recession is different. It has done serious damage to our economy that will take years to recover from, and the recovery hasn't started yet (and may not for a couple of years or more).

The Victim

Political Cartoon is by John Darkow in The Columbia Daily Tribune.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Vegan / Carnivore

Found at the blog of Yellowdog Granny.

Juvenile Official Suspected Of Smuggling


Just last month, Governor Rick Perry appointed Catherine Evans, a former Dallas County juvenile court judge, to be the ombudsman for the Texas Youth Commission. The ombudsman's job is to be the representative of the incarcerated youth of the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) and make sure the rights of those youth are not being violated.

But after only a month on the job, Ms. Evans has already got herself in serious trouble. She was caught trying to enter the Crockett TYC facility with a weapon. Her office admits in a recent report that the also successfully entered a Beaumont TYC facility near the end of September with a weapon, prescription drugs and $300 in cash (all are prohibited).

This is serious. It is a felony offense to enter a TYC facility with contraband such as this. Any other TYC employee that tried to do this, would have been fired and charged with a criminal offense. So far, the agency just says Ms. Evans is being investigated. While she is temporarily barred from entering any TYC facility, she can still go in to her office and is still drawing her state salary.

It's beginning to look like she's going to try to claim she was just checking on security at the facilities. That story is ridiculous. It is not her job to check facility security. And the law doesn't say you can't smuggle items into a facility unless you're checking security procedures. It just says it's a crime to enter a TYC facility with contraband or weapons.

Evans violated Texas law. She should be terminated from her job and charged with a crime (just like any other TYC employee). But don't be surprised if Perry steps in to save his appointee. There is a campaign going on, and that is more important to Perry than truth or justice.

A Medicare Reality

Political Cartoon is by Bob Englehart in The Hartford Courant.

Financial System Is Still Shaky


A few months ago, the stock market was cratering and our entire financial system was on the brink of collapse. The federal government pumped billions of dollars into some of the largest financial institutions in an effort to keep them from failing and taking many others with them.

Since then, the market has rebounded, and the bailed-out entities are doing better and once again wanting to hand out ridiculously large bonuses (to the same people who nearly sunk them in the first place). So our financial industry has been fixed, right? Well.....NO!

The giant banks who received billions of our tax dollars may be doing OK, but there are hundreds of other banks that are not doing well at all. As of yesterday, 106 banks have folded this year and been taken over by the FDIC. That's the largest number of bank failures since 1992, when 120 banks failed after the savings and loan crises ( and we still have two months to go before the end of the year).

And that's not the worst of it. The federal government has identified at least 416 more banks that are in serious risk of failure. The feds have been trying to slow down the takeovers of failed banks, to keep the public from panicking. The hope is that a rebounding economy could save some of these banks.

But that's a futile hope at this time. With tons of jobs still being lost every month, our economy is a long way from rebounding. With the pundits predicting the job market won't start producing more jobs than it loses for at least another year, we can expect to see hundreds more banks fail.

Rich folks and giant banks may think the recession is over, but workers, small businesses and small banks know they are still in the middle of an economic disaster. And it could be years before things get significantly better (just look at how long the Great Depression dragged on).

(NOTE - Cartoon is by Jeff Parker in Florida Today.)

More Like Vietnam Every Day

Political Cartoon is by R.J. Matson in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Size

From the hilarious blog of Pundit Kitchen.

California To Ban Divorce ?


Sometimes the right-wing can be amazingly stupid, and I believe this may be one of those cases. A man named James Marcotte has proposed to alter the California constitution to ban divorces in the state. Yesterday, Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced that Marcotte has 150 days to gather the required signatures to get the initiative on next year's election ballot.

The nut has until March 22 of 2010 to collect 694,354 signatures (or 8% of the total votes cast for governor in the last state election). Here is the initiative as worded by the state attorney general:

ELIMINATES THE LAW ALLOWING MARRIED COUPLES TO DIVORCE. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Changes the California Constitution to eliminate the ability of married couples to get divorced in California. Preserves the ability of married couples to seek an annulment. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Savings to the state of up to hundreds of millions of dollars annually for support of the court system due to the elimination of divorce proceedings. (09-0026.)


Supposedly, he has suggested the initiative as a way to save the state some money. If you don't have divorce, then you don't need divorce courts and judges. That's ridiculous. There are many other ways to save money or to raise money. This sounds like just another volley in the right-wing fundamentalist war against equal rights for women.

What's going to happen to the thousands of women in the state who must get a divorce because of their physical or psychological abuse (or the abuse of their children)? Is saving the state a little money a good enough reason to abandon these women?

Of course, it won't affect the rich or upper middle-class. These people can just go to another state to get their divorce, because they have the money to establish residency in the new state. But what about poor and working-class women? They will be condemned to live with abuse -- very possibly life-threatening abuse.

This is just a real bad idea. Hopefully, Marcotte will not be able to raise the required number of signatures to get it on the ballot, or it'll be defeated in the next election by Californians. But then I thought the same thing about proposition 8 in the last election.

Pain And Nausea

Political Cartoon is by Jimmy Margulies in The Record (New Jersey).

Republicans Not Very Popular


The Republicans are counting on taking some seats back from the Democrats in next year's elections. And they seem to think the way to do it is just to say no to everything President Obama proposes.

The party out of power does usually take back a few seats in the mid-term elections, but frankly, it looks to me like the Republicans are bound and determined to change that tradition. How do they think opposing a well-liked president is going to increase their popularity?

They'd better change their policy of being nothing but the "party of no". If we are to believe recent polls, it's simply not working. While President Obama still retains majority support, the public perception of Republicans just keeps getting worse.

Take the CNN/Opinion Research poll that was just released yesterday for example. The poll was taken October 16-18, and the sampling error is plus or minus 3 points. Here are the numbers regarding the public's perception of both Republicans and Democrats:
Republicans..........favorable 36%..........unfavorable 54%
Democrats............favorable 53%..........unfavorable 41%

Those are not good numbers for Republicans. You can subtract the full 3-point sampling error from the Republican unfavorable rating, and there is still a majority of people with an unfavorable view of the party. Also, you can subtract that same three points from the Democrats favorable rating, and still half of all Americans view them favorably.

Obviously, just being the "party of no" is not working for the Republican Party. If they don't turn these numbers around soon, the 2010 mid-term elections could be another disaster for the Republicans. If their numbers fall much further, they'll enter Whig Party territory (and you know what happened to that party).

The only thing saving Republicans right now are the blue dog Democrats. A majority of the American people like President Obama, and they also want to see the president successfully pass health care reform legislation. They know the Republicans won't support the legislation, and their becoming disillusioned with the Democrats (especially those siding with the Republicans).

The failure to support the president and pass health care reform legislation has the public upset with both parties in Congress. When asked if they approve of the way Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress are doing their jobs, here are the numbers:
Republicans..........approve 33%..........disapprove 66%
Democrats............approve 38%..........disapprove 59%

Right now, I don't think I'd want to be a Republican or a blue dog in the 2010 elections.

Too Scary

Political Cartoon is by Bob Englehart in The Hartford Courant.

David Van Os On The Hogs At The Trough


A few days ago my newspaper contained a heart-wrenching article about a young woman who died of cancer after her insurance company denied a treatment that her doctors recommended. We have all heard of or personally observed such tragedies. The denial of doctor-recommended treatment to persons who have health insurance coverage is one of the greatest causes of public outrage about the greed of bean-counting insurance companies.

You would think that any health care reform legislation would do something about this problem, right? Wrong. The bill that recently passed the Senate Finance Committee does not regulate treatment coverage.

You would also think that any health care reform legislation would regulate how much insurance companies can charge for health insurance. After all, it is the high cost of premiums that is the main obstacle for individuals who do not have health insurance - they simply cannot afford it. And it is the high cost that deters small businesses from purchasing group health insurance for their employees. However, the current approach of both the President and the Congress does not regulate the cost of health insurance.

The bills do provide financial assistance for those who cannot afford health insurance. But in the long run what good is that without direct regulation of the premiums charged by the insurance companies? If the insurance companies are free to raise costs as much as they like whenever they like, the need for government assistance will simply keep going up and the ever-increasing cost to the federal treasury will continue being a football in a political game that the people who most need assistance cannot win.

Several days ago an Obama administration spokesman stated during an NPR radio interview that the administration "hopes" the system envisioned in the health care legislation will control costs. In fact hoping is all anyone can do, because the bills don't regulate what health insurance companies can charge. In fact the bills regulate very little about health insurance industry conduct.

The fundamental flaw in the current approach to health care "reform" from both the White House and the Congressional leadership is that it is market based. You would think that after the proven failures of the cult of the "free market" at the big business level our political leaders would have finally stopped worshipping at the false altar of this relic of the failed Reagan-Bush era. But they have not. The entire thrust of the present Washington approach to so-called health care "reform" rests on the premise that the insurance "market" will reform itself if lawmakers provide the right incentives and disincentives. Even the "public option" - which I support as the most preferable alternative in the present deplorable context - is based on the idea of providing competition so that the "market" will work according to the assumptions of corporate Reagan-Bush dogma.

What the current approach will really do is make the insurance industry cartel even stronger than it is today, which will be an amazing accomplishment considering it is already one of the dominant oligopolies disrupting our Constitutional democracy. If you think the health insurance industry charges too much money for its products today, you haven't seen anything yet. Just wait until these hogs are handed the ultimate captive market of the government compelling every person to purchase their products. They won't just be wallowing in the trough; they will own the trough and everything in it.

Entrepreneurial free enterprise is one of the greatest strengths of our society because it promotes invention, creativity, risk-taking, resourcefulness, talent, and individual freedom. But monopoly corporate power is not free enterprise. It is the opposite. It stifles individual freedom through control and domination. Maybe that is why the magnificent original Bill of Rights of the Texas Constitution declares in Article 1, Section 26 that monopolies are contrary to the genius of free government and will never be allowed.

The real solution to the health care crisis is not to rely on corporate free-market dogma. Giving the health insurance barons even more oligarchy power than they already have will in broad terms only worsen the severe socioeconomic crisis threatening the egalitarian underpinnings of Constitutional democracy; and in specific terms, it won't cure the health care crisis.

The real solution is to apply a concept that is much simpler and much more straightforward than the bills that are being considered today. Rather than merely hoping to control costs, why don't we actually do it? Why aren't we talking about direct regulation, pure and simple? As far back as the 19th century we Americans have regulated big business when the public interest so dictated. At the state level we Texans also regulate automobile and homeowners insurance (though very poorly under Slick Rick Perry). Every outrage imposed on people by the giant health insurance companies, from charging unaffordable premiums, to blocking doctor-recommended treatments, to relying on pre-existing conditions, to denying insurance coverage could be addressed through direct regulation. The same goes for the outrages of the pharmaceutical companies and other health care related robber barons. While writing such legislation would entail all the complexities of the lawmaking process, with a host of details to be resolved, the fact is that enacting regulatory legislation is a normal activity for the U.S. Congress. While they are at it, an important piece of such legislation would be to repeal the exemption from antitrust laws that Congress gave the health insurance industry in 1946 in a particularly bad display of corporate welfare.

The biggest thing standing in the way of the direct regulatory approach is the lack of political courage to confront the corporate free-market propaganda that has dragged we the people ever deeper into the economic mud over the last 30 years or so.

At this very moment, various public interest organizations are encouraging their followers to flood Congress with phone calls for "real health care reform", but without specifying what "real" reform should consist of. This may be misplaced energy. The essential problem is that the "market-based" philosophy favored by the free-market cultists who surround President Obama and the congressional leadership is NOT reform. REAL reform would be to regulate the economic behavior of the health insurance and health care industries just like many other industries are and have been regulated. REAL reform would be not to try to sweet-talk the hogs out of the trough, but to evict them and lock them out.