Friday, November 30, 2007

An Insanity Which Cannot Be Explained

There is simply no way to make sense of the violence reported in the following article. It is the type of insane act that seems to defy explanation. The level of sexual violence against women and children in the DR Congo is has reached imaginable heights, or better to say, depths of unbridled hatred.

An 11-month-old baby girl has died in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo a day after she was raped, the UN says.

The alleged rapist, a man aged 20, has been detained by Congolese police about 140km west of Goma. He faces a life sentence.

Reports of the atrocity came as the Red Cross held a news conference in Geneva to denounce the "systematic violence" against girls and women in DR Congo.

Aid workers blame combatants on all sides for a culture of sexual violence.

ICRC official Dominik Stillhart said that in his recent visit to eastern DR Congo, he found some 370,000 people had been driven from their homes since fighting resumed in December between the army and fighters loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda.

"What really shocked me personally the most, was the systematic violence especially against women and girls which is producing immense suffering," Mr Stillhart said.

Shot dead

The UN Mission in Congo (Monuc), which told the BBC of the latest rape atrocity, have themselves been accused by lobby group Human Rights Watch, of failing to act against the widespread use of rape against civilian victims of all ages.

The BBC's Arnaud Zajtman heard the harrowing story of one young victim.

A six-year-old girl named Mushika told our correspondent she was looking after goats in her village when a soldier grabbed her and abused her.

"He laid me on the ground and lifted my skirt... I was trying to shout but he put his hand on my mouth. After he had finished, he ran away. When I tried to walk, I was dizzy."

When the girl's mother discovered what happened she took the child to the military camp where she was asked to point out the man.

"The soldier was then shot in front of me," Mushika said, "but later his uncle came to our home and threatened to kill the whole family to take revenge."

Some 15,000 UN peacekeepers are in DR Congo to secure peace after a five-year conflict officially ended in 2002.

But violence continues to rage in the east.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/11/29 17:38:17 GM

In the following video Amy Goodman of Democracy Now speaks with Congolese Human Rights Activist Christine Schuler Deschryver on Sexual Terrorism and Africa's Forgotten War

Related posts:

Rwandan rebels suspected in Congo massacre

Congo's Wounds of War: More Vicious than Rape

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Serious Question from Joe Biden

A recent Associated Press article reports Delaware Senator and 2008 Presidential Candidate Joe Biden as saying " "Under no administration will I accept the job of secretary of state."

AP reports:

A voter had asked the Delaware Senator what he would do to restore U.S. credibility in the world.

"That's the president's job," he said. "I know a lot of my opponents out there say I'd be a great secretary of state. Seriously, every one of them. Do you watch any of the debates? 'Joe's right, Joe's right, Joe's right.'"

"I ask you a rhetorical question: Are you prepared to vote for anyone — at this moment in our history — as president who is not capable of being secretary of state? Who among my opponents would you consider appointing secretary of state? Seriously. Think about it."

It's definitely something to think about, isn't it? But I hope that Senator Biden will reconsider.

True, the presidential candidate should have a strong vision for America's future foreign policy. However no individual candidate, in any party, can be an expert in every area of concern. I, for one, am looking for a presidential candidate that has strong leadership skills, a depth of knowledge, integrity, a vision for a better America and the ability to pull together the best people that will make that vision a reality.

As regular readers of this blog know, I've been a supporter of John Edwards since 2004. However, I can think of several candidates, including Joe Biden, that may well meet my criteria and I'm looking critically at them all. I hope that all of the American voting public is doing the same.

None of the candidates will be able to accomplish anything alone. Who will be the leader who will pull together the best team?

It's A Little Too Late

With little over a year to go in his presidency, it seems clear to many administration watchers that George W. Bush is desperately trying to redefine his legacy. Sadly, it's just too late to redefine a presidency that has not only tarnished the Bush legacy but torn at the very heart and soul of America.

In his blog "We The People", Charles Amico listed the many things for which the Bush Administration will likely be remembered. It's not a pleasant read. There is a reoccurring theme throughout. The Bush administration will probably be best known for it's repeated disregard for the Constitution and the will of the American people.

History will be the ultimate decider.


excerpt from:
Bush Isn't The Only Decider
By Bruce Ackerman

Despite the show at Annapolis, this week's main diplomatic initiative has concerned Iraq, not Israel.

Without any fanfare, the Bush administration and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki announced that the United States and Iraq will begin negotiating a long-term agreement that will set the terms of Washington's Iraq policy for "coming generations."

President Bush is again in legacy mode.

Douglas Lute, explained that the administration intends to reach a final agreement between the two countries by July 31, 2008.

In describing the negotiations, he made a remarkable suggestion: Only the Iraqi parliament, not the U.S. Congress, needs to formally approve the agreement.

American presidents do have unilateral authority to make foreign agreements on minor matters.

But the Constitution requires congressional approval before the nation can commit itself to the sweeping political, economic and military relationship contemplated by the "declaration of principles" signed by Bush and Maliki to kick off the negotiations.

But there is no constitutional provision or precedent authorizing this new form of Bush unilateralism.

To the contrary, presidential practice has been regulated by State Department guidelines set down in 1955.

These principles emphasize the need for congressional approval when an agreement "involves commitment or risks affecting the nation" and when it requires "the enactment of subsequent legislation by the Congress."

If such guarantees don't require congressional consent, the constitutional separation of powers is at an end.

The Constitution insists that Congress must get into the act before we make sweeping commitments in the name of the nation.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The New Old Russia

Is it a coincidence that the Bush administration suddenly initiated a middle east peace process while democracy is going down the drain in Russia? Not long ago Putin and Bush were declaring that they were on the same page. Oh how times and people change... or do they?

This is a story the world should be carefully watching.

Australian Broadcast Corporation reports:

Russia's presidential election campaign has kicked off on the eve of parliamentary polls, as aides to Garry Kasparov say the chess legend turned Kremlin critic is being held incommunicado since his jailing last Saturday.

The campaign to replace outgoing President Vladimir Putin began officially with the formal announcement of the March 2 election date in the state newspaper, Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

So far only about a dozen figures with marginal public support have launched a bid, leaving the country waiting for Mr Putin to name his preferred successor - and to explain whether he will really leave power.

Mr Putin, who is not allowed to seek a third consecutive term next year, hopes to see his United Russia party score a massive victory in parliamentary elections.

As controversy grew over the fairness of the polls, aides to Mr Kasparov, arrested during a banned opposition rally in Moscow last Saturday, complained he had been barred access to lawyers and visitors.

"I've tried twice to see my client but I've not been authorised to do that. The officials at the Moscow city police headquarters never explained why and this contradicts all norms of international law," lawyer Olga Mikhailova said.

Kasparov aide Marina Litvinovich says that officially the opposition leader is being held at 38 Petrovka, the address of Moscow city police headquarters.

"However, no one can confirm this because they won't let anyone in to see him," she said.

Also barred from visiting Mr Kasparov are parliament member Vladimir Ryzhkov and Mr Kasparov's longtime bitter chess rival Anatoly Karpov, who is a member of a state-backed civil watchdog. Both men have the right under Russian law to make prison visits.

A city police spokesman told AFP he could not comment.

Mr Kasparov, considered by many the greatest chess player in history and now a bitter opponent of Mr Putin, was arrested while leading an unauthorised protest march and sentenced to five days jail.

The following day some 200 activists were arrested at a similar rally in Saint Petersburg.

US President George W Bush said he was "deeply concerned" by the crackdown.

Reuters is reporting that Amnesty International is calling for the immediate release of Kasparov and his supporters.

"Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience and calls for his immediate release," the rights group said in a statement titled "Russian Federation: systematic repression on eve of elections".

"Several witnesses told Amnesty International that they had overheard conversations among the police indicating that it had been planned in advance of the march to detain Garry Kasparov."

U.S. President George W. Bush has said he was deeply concerned about the detention of rights activists and political leaders at opposition rallies over the weekend in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Putin has accused Washington of plotting to undermine the elections and warned foreign states to keep "their snotty noses" out of Russian affairs. He said the elections would be democratic and transparent.

But Amnesty said Russia was making it almost impossible to express dissent.

"The silencing of media and human rights defenders, the harassment and ill-treatment of those who highlight human rights violations or those who express dissent, is unacceptable," Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty's program director for Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement.

In an Oct., 2007 interview with Bill Maher on his program "Real Time", Garry Kasparov discussed the Russian election, Putin, Bush, and oil prices. Today his words seem positively prophetic.

Remember and Remain Vigilant

From everyone who has been given much,
much will be demanded;
and from the one who has been entrusted with much,
much more will be asked.
-- Luke 12:48 (NIV)

Hello Everyone,

I hope that you've all had a good week and that my friends in the US had a very happy Thanksgiving. I had an amazingly wonderful, but tiring, holiday weekend. I guess I'm finally getting better at appreciating life's every day miracles.

I had planned to take one of those luxuriously long Congressional hiatuses. However, I was so moved by the following article and videos that I had to share them. I hope that they will encourage and inspire you.

The following op-ed piece and collection of Youtube videos are powerful reminders of why we vote, we sign petitions, we write letters, we boycott, we protest and we blog. They remind me to be ever grateful and ever vigilant.

excerpt from:
Ghosts of Rwanda
Wednesday, November 28, 2007; Page A23

KIGALI, Rwanda -- We are used to seeing aged Holocaust survivors with faded photographs, telling their stories to remind the young and forgetful. So it is shocking to meet a 31-year-old genocide survivor with memories so fresh they bleed.

I talked to Freddy Mutanguha in a field of white crosses, near a half-finished monument to perhaps 800,000 victims of the Rwandan genocide. "My mom," he recalled, "gave money to be killed by a bullet, because she saw the machetes and knew what they would do to her. But the bullet was too expensive."

Some things about the lead-up to the Rwandan genocide are familiar. Victims were dehumanized for years as "inyenzi" -- cockroaches -- just as the Jews of Europe were labeled vermin. Tutsi children were forced to stand up in primary-school classes to be humiliated and abused -- just as Jewish children were once treated. And children were eventually a special target of the murderers, to prevent them from growing up to perpetuate the threat -- one of the excuses the Nazis employed.

And these patterns should be familiar, because at least some of the hatred in this part of Africa has European roots. In traditional African culture, the division between Hutu and Tutsi was social and economic; intermarriage was common, and mobility between classes was possible. Then German and Belgian colonial rulers in Rwanda and other places declared this a racial divide -- measuring the skulls of Hutus and Tutsis to prove their racial theories and issuing racial ID cards.

But there are differences between the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide. Over time, Germany developed an impersonal machinery of death, with trains and timetables and gas chambers. In Rwanda, the violence was more intimate. Neighbors who had shared meals suddenly became informers and executioners -- adopted children turned upon their families. At one church I visited, soldiers had taken children by the legs and smashed their heads against the wall.

The rest of us can draw lessons of courage. A man I met who ran an orphanage saved the lives of nearly 400 children by bluffing the militias and bribing them with food. And those 400 lives mattered, even when 10,000 in the neighborhood around them were lost -- both for the lives themselves and for the affirmation of human dignity that such rescues always symbolize.

We should also draw lessons of shame. Signs of stress and pleas for help were largely ignored in 1994. The world has a poor track record of preventing mass murder, though we have gotten good at the apologies that follow.

* * * * *

Why should you care about the genocides in Rwanda or Darfur? Why should you care about the seemingly endless conflict in the Middle East, the oppression in Burma, or the almost daily murders in Philadelphia?


Because, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere".

We remembered this once in America, we protested, we boycotted and we voted. We actually listened to what the politicians were saying instead of what the political pundits told us they were saying. The media didn't decide when campaigns began and when they ended. For one fleeting moment we were given a glimpse of what we wanted in a leader and he reminded us of who we could be as a people.

As author Naomi Wolf has reminded us there is a blueprint for ending democracy and bringing about the rise of fascism in any nation. Each time that we see a Hitler or Mussolini, a Bosnia or a Rwanda, a Viet Nam or an Iraq, we say "never again". And yet "again" has come time and time again. And so many people believe that this can never change.

We didn't always think this way. Let's remember again.

Yes, Bobby was like a rock star, Bobby was related to a former President, and Bobby had great hair but none of this mattered more than what Bobby did and what he said.

Remember and remain vigilant.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy Birthday Senator Biden

clips from the November 15th Democratic Presidential Debate

You're in good company. I just realized that Bobby Kennedy was born on this date.

Lesson: Don't Bite The Hand That Supplies Your Oil

.... or the hand that bankrolls your war.

It is no surprise to anyone who has been watching the Bush Administration that they have very little to say about the Saudi Arabian woman who was gang raped and has not been herself sentenced to imprisonment and 200 lashes. This comes as no more a surprise than the Bush administration's response to the rash of unsafe Chinese imports. Quite simply their hypocrisy knows no bounds.

As reported on Monday by Reuters:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States, which wants Saudi Arabia to attend a Middle East conference next week, gave only mild criticism on Monday of a Saudi court's order to double the number of lashings for a gang rape victim.

"This is a part of a judicial procedure overseas in the court of a sovereign country," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack when asked to comment on the case.

"That said, most would find this relatively astonishing that something like this happens," added McCormack.

But McCormack declined to directly criticize its close ally, or the Saudi legal system, which has made a series of erratic verdicts in recent months.

Today Reuters reported:

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia defended on Tuesday a court's decision to sentence a woman who was gang-raped to 200 lashes of the whip, after the United States described the verdict as "astonishing".

The 19-year-old Shi'ite woman from the town of Qatif in the Eastern Province and an unrelated male companion were abducted and raped by seven men in 2006.

Ruling according to Saudi Arabia's strict reading of Islamic law, a court had originally sentenced the woman to 90 lashes and the rapists to jail terms of between 10 months and five years. It blamed the woman for being alone with an unrelated man.

Last week the Supreme Judicial Council increased the sentence to 200 lashes and six in prison and ordered the rapists to serve between two and nine years in jail.

BBC News has reported that the young woman's lawyer has stated that his client's current punishment has no basis in Islamic law.

" The woman was initially punished for violating laws on segregation of the sexes - she was in an unrelated man's car at the time of the attack.

When she appealed, judges doubled her sentence, saying she had been trying to use the media to influence them.

Her lawyer has been suspended from the case and faces a disciplinary session."

The Bush Administration is not alone in their hypocrisy. In an article for, Kevin Myers holds the EU just as culpable. He writes:

" There are many questions which result from this story. The first is the one I referred to in the opening paragraph: why is this is not a world-shattering headline?

Of all the stories of abuse, torture and degradation which Islamic societies seem to specialise in, this is surely in a class of its own.

For you can call a 19-year-old a woman if you like, but to my mind, in any society, she is still a girl, and in the enclosed and repressive horror of Saudi Arabia, an utterly inexperienced one.

Rape is always an unspeakable crime, but it varies in extremes, and what happened to her and her friend is just about off the scale. To be sure, whether or not Fatima ( not her actual name ) was a virgin is irrelevant; no amount of sexual experience in any way prepares a woman for such violation.

But in Saudi Arabia, there is this further consequence. Fatima is no longer marriageable: and in married life alone can a Saudi woman find a life.

And now she is to be flogged, 200 times. 200 times.

... unless we stand up for Fatima now, we are mere whores, meekly waiting our turn to be buggered by the rapists of Riyadh."

Friday, November 16, 2007

It's Time For Big Oil To Pay Their Share

Regardless of how you feel about the success of "the surge", the justification for the war, or whether the Iraq war should end in the next 6 months or the next 6 years, it's time to weigh the cost of this war.

And if the cost in human life isn't enough to move you to tell Congress to end this war then maybe the reality of what appears to be blatant war profiteering will.

As former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan has recently stated: "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."

If you accept that premise then the Iraq war is largely about protecting the interests of the US oil industry. And as I mentioned in a post yesterday, from the standpoint of the oil industry the war effort has been a stupendous success. Public Citizen estimates that , "
Since George Bush became President in 2001, the top five oil companies in the United States have recorded profits of $464 billion through the first quarter of 2007."

Yet, who is being asked to fund the war to protect the interest of the US oil industry?

It's the American public, and their children, and their children's children.

Each time that the Bush administration goes back to Congress, the elected representatives of the American people, and asks for additional war funding, they are asking you and I to pay to help brave young men and women risk their lives in order to place profits into the pockets of US oil industry executives. Does that make sense to you?

Don't get me wrong. If during the past 6 years the oil industry appeared to be reinvesting their profits into ending America's oil dependency and developing alternative energy then $464 billion dollars might seem reasonable. But that has not been the case. Instead the big oil has conducted business as usual and has been paying K Street lobbyists to help them gain access to protected areas that are currently closed to off-shore drilling.

Meanwhile Americans, the majority of whom are in favor of ending the war in Iraq, are paying at the gas pumps, paying when the home heating oil bill is due, paying the rising cost of every product that is shipped and, paying at tax time.

Cities are running out of water, bridges are collapsing, levees are breaking, working people have no health insurance, people are losing their homes, veterans are not getting adequate healthcare and the borders are still not secure. The American public is being asked to pay, and pay, and pay, and pay while big oil is asked to do nothing.

If none of that bothers you then don't read any further. But if you think it's high time that those profiting from the war to pay for it, then click on the following link and send a message to your congressional representatives and local newspapers.

Those That Profit From War Should Help Fund It

Today Senate Republicans blocked a reasonable plan to provide funds for the troops and help bring them home. If you are fed up with this sanity let them know.

* * * * *

excerpt from:

Senate Republicans bar Iraq withdrawal plan

By Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan 2 hours, 21 minutes ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Republicans on Friday blocked a $50 billion Iraq war bill that included a troop pullout plan, killing the latest Democratic attempt to end the war while keeping up the fight over its funding.

Despite passionate appeals by Democrats, who noted that 2007 had been the deadliest year for U.S. troops in Iraq so far, Republicans stopped the proposal that had passed the House of Representatives on a largely partisan vote on Wednesday.

The measure needed 60 votes to pass under Senate rules; it only got 53 votes, with 45 senators voting against, all but two of them Republicans.

The bill would have given President George W. Bush about a quarter of the $196 billion he wants for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in fiscal 2008, while setting a goal that all U.S. combat soldiers withdraw from Iraq by December 15, 2008

"What will it take to end this war? How many lives, how many limbs, how many broken families, how many innocent victims?" the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, asked. Over 850 U.S. soldiers have died this year.

"We know the president will not do this, but it is within our power" to start bringing U.S. troops home, Durbin argued.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Who Profits from High Oil Costs & The Iraq War?

Watch the following video clip and then take a guess!

As the price of oil approaches $100 a barrel, the US military is scrambling to stretch their budgets to cover soaring energy costs. Dr Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress tells CNN despite a campaign to "green" the power consumed by the Pentagon, energy costs are outpacing those efforts.

And who supplies the US military with the fuel that they need for their tanks, jeeps & jets?

This might give you a clue. According to the consumer watch group Public Citizen:

Since George Bush became President in 2001, the top five oil companies in the United States have recorded profits of $464 billion through the first quarter of 2007:

ExxonMobil: $158.5 billion
Shell: $108.5 billion
BP: $89.2 billion
ChevronTexaco: $60.9 billion
ConocoPhillips: $46.9 billion

Many industry analysts claim that rising demand in China and India are the big reasons why the price of oil exceeds $60 a barrel. However, they neglect to mention the role U.S. demand plays in setting global crude oil prices. Americans consume 25% of the world's oil every day (see chart comparing global oil consumption). China, the next biggest consumer, uses less than 7% of the world's oil each day. America's huge appetite for oil combined with the fact that the United States is the world's third largest producer of it (only Saudi Arabia and Russia produce more than we do) creates a strong argument that the United States holds a lot of sway over world oil prices.

Of course today Defense Secretary Gates told Congress that they MUST pass yet another war spending bill or he may have to lay off thousands of Pentagon employees.

Well, here's my suggestion for funding the war.

I'm asking all of the friends of Bush & Cheney in the oil industry to do their patriotic duty, support the troops and the war on terror by donating half of their profits to the war effort. Here's what you can do for your country:

ExxonMobil: $79.25 billion
Shell: $54.25 billion
BP: $44.6 billion
ChevronTexaco: $30.45 billion
ConocoPhillips: $23.45 billion

For a total of: 232 billion dollars

That's 232 billion dollars to bring democracy to the Iraqi people. So what do you say oil executives?

Don't leave the future of the Iraq war in the hands of that "do nothing" 110th Congress, fund it yourself! That'll show them.

* * * * *

If you're an American citizen who thinks that Big Oil should help fund the war why not contact your Congressperson and let him/her know.

Related posts:

This MUST Be Against the Law

Shell Oil's President Clear On The Oil Industry Agenda

They Don't Want You To Believe in Global Warning

Philadelphia's Future Police Commisioner Announced

Mayor Elect Michael Nutter has announced that former Wash., DC Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsay will be the new commander-in-chief in the war against crime in Philadelphia.

According to the blog

" He's said to be a big believer in community policing, which he also championed in his hometown, Chicago. He joined the Chicago force as a 18-year-old rookie, and rose through the ranks to become Deputy Superintendent of the Bureau of Staff Services before heading to D.C.

But Ramsey has been known to throw down a crime emergency, the latest in July 2006 after a wave of shootings that was, frankly, far less serious than the one Philly has lived in for two years.

It's important to note that Ramsey's crime emergencies are very different from what Nutter has discussed. Ramsey's merely gave him the ability to change police deployment and require overtime, which cost the district quite a lot: $14 million for Ramsey's emergency in 2006.

Nutter said at today's announcement that he would leave the decision whether to declare a crime emergency up to Ramsey (you will recall that Nutter's crime plan, issued during the primary, said he would declare a crime emergency "on day one" of his administration).

(Now, it would be appropriate to discuss whether Ramsey's strategies in DC were working if he was forced to announce a crime emergency.

Ramsey has had his critics in D.C. When he left, here's how the Post said about him:

Ramsey, a career cop who got as much attention for his personality as his policies, leaves office today as the city's longest-serving chief in more than three decades. As a master of the sound bite, he often spouted off about crimes and railed about topics that were beyond his control, including irresponsible parents and failing schools.
His critics -- in the police union, on the D.C. Council and in some crime-ravaged neighborhoods -- view him as a showboat. In many parts of the city, residents say that they don't see enough officers on patrol and that crimes are not investigated quickly or thoroughly. Inside the agency, morale is low, with officers saying that Ramsey overworked them by declaring crime emergencies that took away days off and lasted for months."

Whatever Ramsay's strategy will be, things certainly can't get much worse. He needs to be given a chance and the tools necessary to create change.

Most importantly, the community needs to step up and do its part. One of the major hindrances to current Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson's efforts to combat crime has been the lack of support from the community.
As was cited in a Washington Post article which addressed Ramsay's "crime emergency" strategy:

" Citizens, who unlike the police are everywhere, can help by being vigilant and by reporting suspicious activity before, not after, the fact. Does that mean following the admonition of Inspector Andy Solberg, commander of the 2nd District, who suggested during a public meeting called to discuss this week's Georgetown slaying that suspicious-looking people in the neighborhood -- those who are "going to stand out" -- should be reported? Yes. But should the criterion be race because, as Inspector Solberg said, "black people are unusual" in Georgetown? The answer, of course, is no. Behavior, actions, demeanor -- not skin color -- should be the basis for picking up the phone and dialing 911.

Citizens can also help the police and themselves by insisting on better rehabilitation programs within prisons and more support services for returning inmates. They can also demand a frontal attack on the pipeline that produces the kind of people who end up robbing, stealing and ultimately killing. Within that pipeline can be found poor parenting, inferior education and lack of values, a drug culture, and an environment where bad behavior is tolerated, if not encouraged."

Mayor Elect Nutter and City Council also need to step up and address Philadelphia's gun laws.

* * * * *

Related articles:

D.C.'s Crime Emergency

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Georgia Water Crisis: Sorting Out Priorities

What Would Your State Do?

excerpt from:

Georgia Farmers to Atlanta: Stop Hogging Water

As drought worsens, so do rural-city tensions over things like toilets, lawns

Crops or lawns?

In a recent editorial, Valdosta Daily Times lashed out at Atlanta, accusing it of hogging water while farmers watch their crops burn in the fields.

Atlanta politicians, the newspaper said, "can't bring themselves to tell their greedy constituents complaining about the low flows in their toilets this week that perhaps if they didn't have six bathrooms, it might ease the situation a bit. That watering your lawn isn't as important as watering crops. Or that their greedy overbuilding has taxed their supplies of natural resources beyond their capabilities."

Between 1990 and 2000, Atlanta added more than 1 million people and its water use climbed 30 percent to about 420 million gallons a day. Now metropolitan Atlanta boasts roughly 5 million people and projects more than 2 million more by 2030, when water could climb past 700 million gallons a day.

In rural southwest Georgia, the biggest city, Albany, has about 160,000 people in the metro area. The region helps make Georgia the No. 1 peanut state.

Farmers have tilled the fields here for generations, but water use spiked in the 1970s with the rise of new irrigation technologies such as center pivots and underwater pumps. The farmers now rely on thousands and thousands of wells that tap into a huge aquifer fed by the streams that crisscross the region.

* * * * *

Related posts:

What Can Be More Important Than Water?

What Can Be Achieved When You Don't Have Profitting From Disaster As Your Goal

When a government is more intent on protecting its people and natural resources than aiding private firms which profit from disaster then the whole nation thrives.

excerpt from:

How to fight a rising sea

What the Netherlands has done – and is urgently planning to do – in the face of climate-driven sea-level rise holds important lessons for the rest of the world.

The Dutch enjoy a hard-earned reputation for building river dikes and sea barriers. Over centuries, they have transformed a flood-prone river delta into a wealthy nation roughly twice the size of New Jersey.

If scientific projections for global warming are right, however, that success will be sorely tested. Globally, sea levels may rise up to a foot during the early part of this century, and up to nearly three feet by century's end. This would bring higher tidal surges from the more-intense coastal storms that scientists also project, along with the risk of more frequent and more severe river floods from intense rainfall inland.

Nowhere does this aquatic vise squeeze more tightly than on the world's densely populated river deltas.

So why is one of the most famous deltas – the Netherlands – breaching some river dikes and digging up some of the rare land in this part of the country that rises (barely) above sea level?

In the Biesbosch, a small inland delta near the city of Dordrecht, ecologist Alphons van Winden looks out his car window at a lone excavator filling a dump truck with soil. He considers the question and laughs. "We do have a hard time explaining this to foreigners," he says.

The work here represent a keystone in the country's ­climate-adaptation plans, Mr. van Winden says. Indeed, nowhere are adaptation planning efforts to address rising sea levels and flooding more advanced than in the Netherlands.

To be sure, the country's economic wealth and long experience dealing with threats from seas and rivers give it an advantage over other low countries that face rising waters, such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, and the tiny tropical island nation of Tuvalu in the South Pacific. But many of the approaches the Netherlands is taking can and are being slowly adopted even in countries far poorer, specialists say.

The excavation work here is one example of what van Winden calls "soft approaches" to flooding in this small nation where competing interests jostle for every square foot of land. By buying out the few farmers remaining in this region, breaching the dikes they built to protect their land, and digging additional water channels, the Dutch government aims to reduce peak flood flows at Dordrecht and other cities downstream. No longer will tightly constricted river and canal channels hold high water captive. Big floods will overspread the Biesbosch, reducing the threat of water spilling over the top of levees that guard densely populated cities to the west.

You Can Build It But They Still Won't Come

Gee, the Bush Administration is building a $600 million embassy in Iraq and the diplomats still don't want to go.

Aren't swimming pools and tennis courts enough?

Just what do these diplomats expect, safety? Haven't they heard that "the surge" is working?

Come on ladies and gentlemen in the State Department, support the troops.


excerpt from:
Diplomats Won't Be Forced to Go to Iraq, for now

The State Department says it hopes to fill foreign service posts with volunteers rather than compelling employees to accept them.
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 14, 2007

WASHINGTON -- Top State Department officials, struggling to avoid an embarrassing showdown with their own foreign service, backed away Tuesday from threats to fire diplomats who refuse to accept postings in Iraq.

Trying to calm a furor that has spilled into public view, senior officials extended a deadline and said they won't issue any forced assignments until at least the end of the week. They said that before then they hope to find volunteers for most or all of the 23 unfilled jobs.

Let's hear from Condi on this:

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What Happens When You Don't Know What They Don't Want To Tell You

There is a portion of a biblical passage that states: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge". Never has this statement been more true than when it applies to the American people and the financial system.

President Bush stated that many homeowners who now face foreclosure are doing so because of bad credit decisions and a failure to read the fine print on their sub-prime or variable rate mortgages. And as much as it pains me to say this, to some degree, he is right.

Ugh! I got that out without choking.

But -- and you know there is a big one ....

While it is true that many people tried to buy more home than they could afford and did not ask enough questions when they signed on the dotted line, there is much, much more to the story of the housing and credit crises. In many of these instances people were set up for failure by a system that does not have the interest of the consumer at heart.

This has been a hard lesson for millions of Americans, myself included.

But this is a lesson to learn from and not just cry over.

It's high time that we all become more knowledgeable about the way the financial system is structured. We not only need to manage our credit but we need to understand how and why the financial system fosters a debtor society.

We also need to guard ourselves against those in the financial industry who long ago sold their souls for 30 pieces of silver. There really are people
employed by "reputable" financial institutions who trick senior citizens into refinancing virtually paid for homes with new 30 year mortgages by using the hook that they are lowering their monthly mortgage payments. And despite what we want to believe, these people DO sleep at night.

The age of financial innocence is over.

By the way, it's no coincidence that six ministries which preach a message of prosperity without indebtedness are coming under investigation by the ranking republican on the Senate Finance Committee. Heaven forbid that people decide to give their money to their minister, feed the homeless, clothe the naked, support those who take the message of Christ's love around the world, and oh yeah, cut up their credit cards!

After all, what will happen to the American economy when women and minorities learn how to not pay high interest rates and punitive bank fees?

What will happen when Americans decide not to spend lavishly on items that depreciate and pay exorbitant interest for holiday gifts?

Think about it!


The following article by Dean Baker for " Truthout" discusses the little discussed truth behind the home foreclosure crisis.

excerpt from:
Homeownership: The Fast Path to Poverty
By Dean Baker
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Monday 12 November 2007

In looking for scapegoats many people have focused on the mortgage and banking industry. Millions of loans were sold to moderate income borrowers with low teaser rates that reset to unaffordable fixed rates after two or three years. Undoubtedly many of the borrowers failed to appreciate the structure of these loans, which virtually guaranteed they would have trouble meeting their mortgage payments.

But deceptive loans were just part of the problem. The bigger problem was that millions of moderate-income families purchased homes at bubble-inflated prices. There was an unprecedented run-up in house prices in the years from 1995 to 2006, with house prices rising by 80 percent after adjusting for inflation. This increase is truly striking because house prices in the United States have typically just moved in step with the overall inflation rate. Over the hundred-year period from 1895 to 1995 there was no increase in inflation adjusted house prices.

No economist has been able to identify any changes in the fundamentals of supply or demand in the housing market in the mid-nineties that could explain such a huge run-up in prices. The one obvious explanation for this jump in prices is that the United States was experiencing a speculative bubble in its housing market that coincided with a speculative bubble in the stock market, just as had been the case in Japan a decade earlier. Of course the defining characteristic of a speculative bubble is that it cannot be sustained: bubbles burst, bubble inflated house prices fall.

The housing bubble was the underlying problem that created the current subprime mess. Lenders didn't care whether borrowers could make their mortgage payments because in a bubble market, every loan is a good loan. Homeowners who face problems making their payments can always borrow against the new equity created by rising house prices or simply sell their home and pocket the gain. The story is different once the bubble stops growing and prices start falling back to earth. That is when foreclosure rates soar and people get thrown out of their home.

* * * * *

9/2/07 -- President Bush gives Rose Garden press briefing on the state of the economy and more specifically the state of the mortgage market.

and one American's response

Related posts:

Insurance, Healthcare, Greed & the Corruption of the Capitalist Soul

America, Maxed Out

graphic courtesy of Tim Nyberg

Monday, November 12, 2007

John, Barry & Joe at the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson Dinner

No, I didn't forget Hillary. I just think it's time to take a closer look at the other candidates.

From my lips to God's ears. The next President, Vice President and Secretary of State of the United States of America.

Insurance, Healthcare, Greed & the Corruption of the Capitalist Soul

Today you may be young, healthy, affluent and only concerned about your credit rating and the growth of your 401k and stock portfolio. If that's the case the following articles and videos may not hold much interest for you.

However, if you or someone you know is a senior, not in the best health, not affluent or is someone with a social conscience then the following information may alarm you.

The LA Times article may remind you of John Grisham's novel "The Rainmaker". But the real truth about the insurance and healthcare industries is more reminiscent of a work by Stephen King.

an excerpt from:
Health insurer tied bonuses to dropping sick policyholders

By Lisa Girion, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 9, 2007

One of the state's largest health insurers set goals and paid bonuses based in part on how many individual policyholders were dropped and how much money was saved.

Woodland Hills-based Health Net Inc. avoided paying $35.5 million in medical expenses by rescinding about 1,600 policies between 2000 and 2006. During that period, it paid its senior analyst in charge of cancellations more than $20,000 in bonuses based in part on her meeting or exceeding annual targets for revoking policies, documents disclosed Thursday showed.

The revelation that the health plan had cancellation goals and bonuses comes amid a storm of controversy over the industry-wide but long-hidden practice of rescinding coverage after expensive medical treatments have been authorized.

These cancellations have been the recent focus of intense scrutiny by lawmakers, state regulators and consumer advocates. Although these "rescissions" are only a small portion of the companies' overall business, they typically leave sick patients with crushing medical bills and no way to obtain needed treatment.

Most of the state's major insurers have cancellation departments or individuals assigned to review coverage applications. They typically pull a policyholder's records after major medical claims are made to ensure that the client qualified for coverage at the outset.

The companies' internal procedures for reviewing and canceling coverage have not been publicly disclosed. Health Net's disclosures Thursday provided an unprecedented peek at a company's internal operations and marked the first time an insurer had revealed how it linked cancellations to employee performance goals and to its bottom line.

* * * * *

In the following videos, Bill Moyers and John Bogle discuss the greed that some explain away as modern capitalism. The article that they refer to at the start of their discussion is a New York Times expose on the business practices of Habana Health Care

excerpt from:
At Many Homes, More Profit and Less Nursing
Published: September 23, 2007

Habana Health Care Center, a 150-bed nursing home in Tampa, Fla., was struggling when a group of large private investment firms purchased it and 48 other nursing homes in 2002.

The facility's managers quickly cut costs. Within months, the number of clinical registered nurses at the home was half what it had been a year earlier, records collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services indicate. Budgets for nursing supplies, resident activities and other services also fell, according to Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration.

The investors and operators were soon earning millions of dollars a year from their 49 homes.

Residents fared less well. Over three years, 15 at Habana died from what their families contend was negligent care in lawsuits filed in state court. Regulators repeatedly warned the home that staff levels were below mandatory minimums. When regulators visited, they found malfunctioning fire doors, unhygienic kitchens and a resident using a leg brace that was broken.

''They've created a hellhole,'' said Vivian Hewitt, who sued Habana in 2004 when her mother died after a large bedsore became infected by feces.

Habana is one of thousands of nursing homes across the nation that large Wall Street investment companies have bought or agreed to acquire in recent years.

Those investors include prominent private equity firms like Warburg Pincus and the Carlyle Group, better known for buying companies like Dunkin' Donuts.

* * * * *

Friday, November 9, 2007

Eastern England Escapes The Worst

As the world's climate changes we should all prepare for more and more of these events.

excerpts from:
Thousands of people who left their homes amid fears of flooding are returning after the biggest tidal surge for half a century.

Fears of widespread flooding in eastern England have diminished as tides peaked without major breaches of sea defences.

The waters were nearly 8in (20cm) lower than originally feared and passed without causing major damage.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said it had been a "close run thing" but that the worst was now over.

The North Sea surge had been moving south during Friday, combining with high tides and strong winds to create flooding risks along the coast.

Residents on the Kent coast had been told to remain vigilant due to high tides on Friday afternoon, but no major flooding was reported.

Stop Big Media

Urge your Senator to Support The Media Ownership Act of 2007 S2332

Kevin Martin, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has been keeping a secret from the American people. He wants to push through plans to remove decades-old media ownership protections. And he's trying to do it without public scrutiny.

Senators Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) have introduced groundbreaking bipartisan legislation that would hold the FCC accountable and put the people ahead of Big Media.

Petitions from the public — millions of them — stopped media consolidation in 2003. Sign the petition and tell everyone you know:

WGA West, SAG Back Media-Ownership Act of 2007

Guilds Come Out in Joint Support of New Bill

By Ben Grossman -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/8/2007 11:27:00 PM

The Writers Guild of America West and the Screen Actors Guild Thursday jointly came out in support of the new Media Ownership Act of 2007.

The bill, introduced Thursday, would prevent the Federal Communications Commission from voting on any new media-ownership rules until sometime in 2008 and open a separate proceeding on broadcast localism.

It would require the FCC to have a 90-day comment period on any proposed media-ownership rule changes and to conduct a separate proceeding on localism and diversity with another 90-day comment period.

“We feel that it is vital that the public be allowed ample opportunity to comment on media-ownership decisions, a key issue of concern to members of the creative community and consumers,” the two guilds said in a joint statement.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) introduced the bill, co-sponsored by Senators:

“We applaud Sen. Dorgan’s comments on media-ownership rulings that the bill recognizes the importance of a wide range of media owners and local content and requires a process that does not rush past those concerns to open the gates for even more consolidation of media ownership,” the statement continued. The WGAW and SAG urge Congress to act on this bill, and we are hopeful that further media consolidation will be reviewed thoroughly to protect creative and independent content, as well as consumers.”

John Eggerton contributed to this report

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Is Congress Finally Getting It?

By overriding President Bush's veto of H.R. 1495 the Water Resources Development Act, the US Congress rediscovered its spine and acted in the interest of the American people.

They finally remembered that this nation was founded on the concept of "no taxation without representation"

Can it be possible that the US Congress finally understands that the American people are not going to indefinitely tolerate trillions of dollars in war spending while our bridges are falling down, levees are breaking, children are uninsured, the borders are unsecured, consumer products are not inspected and little is being invested in alternative energy?

How White House spokesperson Dana Perino can twist her lips and form the words, "The president is standing up for the taxpayers," is unimaginable. It has become clear to most Americans that the only group for which the Bush Administration stands are his friends in the oil & natural gas industries and the war profiteers.

Yes Ms. Perino, "
Budgeting is about making choices and defining priorities — it doesn't mean you can have everything." But the President isn't the final decider on what is and is not a priority. That decision is and has always been the choice of the American people. Something that this administration, the Congress and the American have forgotten for way too long.

If this Congress does not start acting on behalf of their constituents, and America as a whole, then they will be voted out. And if the next Congress thinks they can ignore the will of the people they will be booted out too.

To see how your Congressperson voted go to:

And if your Congressperson did not think that investing in the US infrastructure was important, why not send him/her a note with your thoughts.

excerpt from:

Congress hands Bush first veto override

By CHARLES BABINGTON, Associated Press Writer

President Bush suffered the first veto override of his seven-year-old presidency Thursday as the Senate enacted a $23 billion water resources bill despite his protest that it was filled with unnecessary projects.

The 79-14 vote included 34 Republicans who defied the president. Enactment was a foregone conclusion, but it still marked a milestone for a president who spent his first six years with a much friendlier Congress controlled by his Republican Party.

Now he confronts a more hostile, Democratic-controlled legislature, and Thursday's vote showed that most of the Republicans will defy him on spending matters dear to their political careers.

Bush's spokeswoman portrayed the issue as a divide between a budget-conscious president and a big-spending Congress.

"The president is standing up for the taxpayers," White House press secretary Dana Perino said. "No one is surprised that this veto is overridden. We understand that members of Congress are going to support the projects in their districts. Budgeting is about making choices and defining priorities — it doesn't mean you can have everything. This bill doesn't make the difficult choices; it says we can fund every idea out there. That's not a responsible way to budget."

The bill funds hundreds of Army Corps of Engineers projects, such as dams, sewage plants and beach restoration, that are important to local communities and their representatives. It also includes money for the hurricane-hit Gulf Coast and for Florida Everglades restoration efforts.

The House voted 361-54 to override the veto Tuesday. Both votes easily exceeded the two-thirds majority needed in each chamber to negate a presidential veto

Ballad of a Young American Soldier

Long after a soldier returns from war there is often a battle that still rages in his soul. The following poem speaks to the heart of that battle. plk

Ballad of a Young American Soldier: a too-common American Tragedy

by Barbara Tomlinson

( a ballad of blasted hopes )

"What shall I be when I grow up? Dear little mother of mine?

What shall I do when I grow up?

Of beer or of wine I'll drink a cup,

I'll drive and vote, with a girl get hitched up,

Like a bee, from all nectars I will sup,

Dear little mother of mine."

"What will you do when you come of age? Dear little son of mine?

What will you do when you come of age?

To college you'll go, where you'll get sage

To make me so proud, in my old age,

To surpass your Dad, and earn a good wage,

Dear little son of mine."

"What will I do when I come of age? Dear little mother of mine?

In my twenty-first year of age?

On Life's Great Book I'll write a new Page

My style and my flair will be all the rage

And e-very whim I will engage

Dear little mother of mine."

"What will you be like when you're mature? Dear little son of mine?

As a Man when you're mature?

I know you'll be honest, upright and pure,

You'll do the Right Thing, of that I am sure

Though occasional hardships you'll endure

Dear little son of mine."

"What does it mean to be a Man? Dear little mother of mine?

What is a Man, I ask?

I'll take up arms, it's a soldier's task

My country calls, my service it asks

But I'll return safe, in Fame to bask

Dear little mother of mine."

"Why are your hands so red with blood? Dear, dear son of mine?

Why so pale, why so thin?"

"I can't explain, can't even begin

I have a bad feeling, I've committed a Sin

If I'd done it here, a Jail I'd be in

Curse you, mother of mine."

"Where did we go so terribly wrong

Dear sweet son of ours?

Why are you so withdrawn?"

"Get out of my way, I'm the Devil's spawn

I can't sheathe my saber, once it's drawn

I blaspheme each day I see the dawn

To Hell with you, mother of mine."

"Come back, come back, my dear sweet son

Come back to your father and me."

"You can't even imagine where I have been

Where Evil is Good, and Right is a Sin

The State of Confusion that I am in

Will last all my life, parents mine."

"Why are your eyes so full of Death?

What do you see with your eyes?"

"Death is my Neighbor, my only Friend

It means all my troubles will soon have an end

All the future I forecast, my Grave you will tend

And be rid of me, parents mine."

[6 November 2007]

more of Barbara's poetry can be found on Megalithic Poems

photos courtesy of &