Saturday, December 16, 2006

IRS rules for 2007 limit recognition of some donations

 IRS logo
As a year-end tax reminder the U.S. Internal Revenue Service is reminding taxpayers that beginning for tax year 2007, that the rules for deductibility of charitable donations has changed slightly.

In the past, if you made donations to a charitable organization (such as a church) in cash of less than $250 your record keeping requirements were simple, and could include a diary entry or other notation showing the amount you contributed (such as a day-timer entry each Sunday saying "$20 - MyFaithWorship").

Under the new rules, the written record must be independent of the taxpayer -- that is, it must be something such as a cancelled check, credit card statement showing a transfer of funds, or a written record from the charity that acknowledges the donation, its date and value.

From the instructions for Schedules "A" & "B" for the 2006 tax year:
"...What's New For 2007
New recordkeeping requirements for contributions of money.
For charitable contributions of money, regardless of the amount, you must maintain as a record of the contribution a bank record (such as a cancelled check)or a writtten recoird from the charity. The written record must include the name of the charity, date and amount of the contribution... "
This means, however, that those who typically make small contributions in cash (as in "taking a $20 bill out of my wallet") are generally going to be S.O.L on deductibility in many cases, because it is certainly not common practice for the ushers with the collection plate to have a receipt book with them.

Thus, the individual who pulled that same $20 out of their wallet each Sunday could report the aggregate cash contributions of $1,020 (the individual contributions, being less than $250, do not require special reporting), as long as there was that diary notation to back it up.

However, according to the new rules for the 2007 tax year, you had better make that contribution out of your checking account, or else you will not be allowed to deduct it.

Do I have an opinion on this?

Of course I do.

This appears, to me, just a continuation of the nickle-and-dime attack on the small-to-medium taxpayer that is being used to recover the tax revenue lost by the cuts to the taxes of those with big revenues.

Consider, does the small taxpayer benefit when the Alternative Minimum Tax structures are not updated to factor in wage inflation (and certainly not factor in buying power compression)?

Or the general prohibition on the individual taxpayer's ability to deduct most kinds of interest paid on debt (and with credit APRs routinely running from 20% to 25%)?

Or the absurdity of a minimum floor on deductibility of medical expenses?

Do these tax law provisions affect those with large annual revenue to the same extent as those who have a lot less in their take-home pay?

Of course not. And to try to claim that these give-aways for big taxpayers (who wind up shelling out a much smaller proportionate share of their annual income) are somehow of "benefit" to the smaller wage-earner is simply preposterous.

"2006 Instructions for Schedules A & B (Form 1040)"
"Recent Tax Law Changes May Affect People Giving to Charity: IRS Offers Tips for Year-End Donations"
"Publication 526 - Charitable Contributions"

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Why are we doing this again?

In the name of "Democracy," again and again this country supports and props up dictators, despots and regimes that view their time in power as unbridled opportunity for violence and brutality, whether in South/Central America, Africa or S.E. Asia.

As if these governments are certain that, with the United States as patron, they will never fall out of control.

And this support has come from both Democrat and Republican administrations.

The below linked video is from Britain's Channel 4.

If even a tenth of the accusations are true, this is unconscionable.

And it's happening on our watch.

Channel 4 - "Death Squads"


I've been trying to come up with something to say about this, but it's really beyond me.

All I can think of is a change of scene, and that every generation breeds fools and animals, on both sides..

35 years ago.

Only imagine muddy roads and murderous humidity, instead of dust and the desert.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Somebody's site has been spoofed..

And it's just so well written.

There is a spoof of the World Trade Organization's website at

And right at the top of the spoofed site of "news" is "WTO Announces Formalized Slavery Market for Africa," that has all the flavor of "A Modest Proposal."

There are some commentators who don't seem to be aware that this is a satire, however. (one of the problems that arises if you don't double- and triple-check what a search engine gives you...)

I'm not exactly a fan of the WTO, with its over-emphasis on promotion of "free trade" as the prime answer to so many of the world's issues. On the other hoof, what does it say about what is happening in our society that such a spoof is even considered at all possible?

The actual WTO website is here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I guess sexist idiocy really *is* worldwide

I really can't add any snark to this -- it is so full already.....

China love boat wants rich, good-looking

BEIJING (AP) -- A matchmaking love boat cruise open only to male millionaires and "good-looking and desirable" women is slated to set sail later this month, a state-run Chinese newspaper said Tuesday.

Men on the cruise scheduled to go along Shanghai's Huangpu River must be worth at least 2 million yuan ($250,000), the China Daily quoted organizer Xu Tianli as saying.

Xu said more than 20 men had signed up for the Nov. 25 cruise and that half of those registered to take part were worth more than 200 million yuan ($25 million).

Fewer than 30 of the 1,000 woman who applied were accepted, Xu said.

"Only those who were attractive in every category can take part in this event," Xu said, without giving the specific criteria interested female applicants had to meet....

I suppose it's nice to know that the USA doesn't have the sole franchise on this sort of thing...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Oh, Ye Of So Many Faiths

On Pandagon, Amanda has noticed that some commentators think that the Religious Right is really reforming and reaching out to the Roman Catholics to bring under the "conservative big tent." Or that the pickup of Catholic voters for Democatic candidates this past week was the result of pandering to that population.

As someone who was raised Roman Catholic, I can certainly attest to the fact that most of the rabid "fundies" see Catholics as saint-worshipping idolaters who will follow the Whore of Rome unthinkingly, and will *really* welcome people of all races into the fold to pray in the same church pews, at the same time as the white folks (yes, I'm pandering to stereotypes here, it's a rhetorical device).

And, to get the full irony, bear in mind that, for all the fundie fringe proclaims about how "oppressed" they are for "their faith," remember that the christian denomination that, in this nation, has suffered the most explicit discrimination and suppression is the Roman Catholics. And that one denomination is, and has been for a *long* time, numerically the denomination that tops the charts in the "self-identified religion" surveys.

Add in that, overall, the Roman Catholics are a lot more "liberal" on social issues than the Fundamentalist base denominations like the current rulership of the Southern Baptists Convention. And any Catholic that votes based on the single hot-button issues like abortion and stem-cell research is ignoring the balance of things that should also be on their minds, like worker's rights, concern for leaving a viable environment, concern about *not* shafting the poor, the use of the death penalty, and separation of Church and State

Any Catholic who thinks that the Religious Right had anything really in common at the core, instead of just a few issues (like BC and abortion) is either being willfully obtuse or knows absolutely no history about the "relations" between Catholic and the myriad other christian denominations, from loudly proclaimed predictions that JFK would be following secret orders from Rome, the expressed fears that the Catholic nannies and housemaids would steal away good protestant babies for secret baptisms, to the equally load proclamations that all these Catholic immigrants would be out-breeding the good Protestants and taking all the good jobs away, and costing the gummint dollars to support 'em.

Believe me, I have issues with the RC hierarchy and current theological climate, but to think that the Religious Right views the Catholics as any but a Dark Days Desperation Denomination-ally as a collaborator is smoking something that will probably net you several years in the gey-bar hotel.

In the interests of full disclosure, even though I was raised Roman Catholic (as opposed to a variety of denominations that call themselves "New Catholic,") I worship these days with an Episcopal congregation that, bless their pointy little heads, has even recruited me to be one of their Sunday School teachers.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

OK, yes, I am Happy...

LAst year about this time I expected that the control of the Senate would be switched decicivly, and that Democrats would pick up some seats in the House, but that body would remain stubbornly GOP.

I never expected that this would be reversed, and especially I didn't really expect that the control would pass to the Democrats.

Thank you Messrs Delay, Foley and Cuningham.

And thank you, Karl Rove, for twisting arms so that Foley ran for another term.

However, I envision that there will be two years worth of hearings, and that GW will figure out where Laura put the ink bottle for the "veto" pen.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

This really, really, sucks.

I just tried to look at Chris Clark's blog, so I could catch up with news, and saw the following page:

This kind of thing *has* to stop.

I understand that some tempers are flaring with the midterm elections coming in, and the real possibility that the House and Senate may change majority affiliations.

But this kind of response to debate is what makes a real dialog impossible.

Monday, September 18, 2006


New York skyline at night -- showcasing the World Trade Center towers - photograph by Ralf Uicker

September 11, 2001

A day that truly did create a new world.

And a new perspective.

Forever more will be the reference to "before 9-11," "the Day" and "after 9-11"

I've been stalled for more than a week on what to write about the anniversary of the attack.

Partly on how to express my own feelings on that day.

But more, I've been stalled because I have so much trouble getting past the rage that that day, and its aftermath, have engendered.

Rage at bin-Laden, certainly.

But that rage is one that is impersonal, against a target that is the product of an outlaw environment that views individual human lives as insignificant, an environment that uses a guise of religion to subvert that religion's teachings of peace and justice to murder and atrocity.

But the fiercer, and more personal rage I feel is for this presidential administration, that purposely ignored the lessons learned in the Clinton presidency, either because of simple ignorance and disbelief or because of some spiteful "*we* didn't find it, so it must be wrong" process.

An administration that used the attack as a way to try to distract the United States citizens from the Bush administration's failures, and as a way to cement the political and economic power that comprised the status quo obtained when those party conservatives had captured the keys to the kingdom by numerical control of the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and the executive branch.

An administration that purposely set out to denigrate the aid and support that much of the world offered to the United States.

An administration that has been lying to the citizens of this nation from the start - from trying to downplay the importance of the reports of an impending attack by calling it an "obscure historical analysis."

An administration that directed the agency that is chartered to inform the public about dangers to our environment, and dangers from our environment, to lie about the toxicity of the debris from the remains of the towers' destruction.

An administration that continued to lie, even about its own public utterances, even so far as claim that the President's own statement that he was no longer concerned about the previously stated goal of the capture and trial of the architect of the attack, even after declaring A "War On Terror." A war that would never be ended.

A "war" that has also had the result of quickly stripping the citizens of our constitutional rights, under the guise of "national security."

An administration that started one war against the nation that harbored and collaborated with the attackers, and then lost focus and started another war, using knowing deceit in the expression of the "justification," and created a new environment that fostered a fertile breeding ground for the very terrorists that were supposed to be "eradicated."

A war that is costing the U.S. 250 million dollars a day.

250 million dollars a day that is stripped from funding for education.

250 million dollars a day that is stripped from funding for the proper health care of our seniors.

250 million dollars a day that is stripped from funding for the proper health care of the veterans of our armed forces.

250 million dollars a day that is stripped from funding for the infrastructure of our industrial society.

Thousands of our citizens killed and wounded in that second, unneeded war. And quite truthfully uncounted thousands of the citizens of Iraq who have been killed and maimed.

And levels of corruption and pandering to monied interests has been unmatched since the Unites States' own civil war, and that may add a new catchphrase that will be recognized by the name itself, much as "teapot dome" does.

On that day I turned on my television to catch a weather forecast, and was stunned.

My wife and I watched in disbelief as a second missile struck the second tower.

And the perpetrator is still at large, the people in the nation of Iraq have poorer healthcare and access to civil services than under the Baathist rule, the rights of women in Iraq have been stripped from the, and the poppy-for-heroin crop in Afghanistan is at record levels.

I still cannot freely and dispassionately write about what happened that day.

I don't know if I ever will be able to, no matter which party controls the legislative branch, no matter which party's representative sits in the oval office.

Maybe that's just part of the world we live in now, "after 9-11."

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Even when there *is* a "Plan B" there isn't

Again, Tata at Poor Impulse Control has pointed out the Catch-22 that the thugs who call themselves "conservatives" have put the country into.

I think every liberal in this country, of whatever stripe, agrees that freedom of thought is a desirable thing, and the freedom to practice one's religion is a right protected by the U.S. Constitution.

But what happens when that right is abused so as to deny others their own fundamental rights, such as the rights to control over their own bodies, and the right to their own privacy?

Tata has noted in this article that there is a pharmacist in Washington State who is refusing to provide the "Plan B" emergency pill.

Because he is morally opposed to it.

So he will take his moral indignation and use it as an excuse to deny the privacy and reproductive rights of others.

I note that this ass of a pill dispenser is admitting that he's willing to let "embarrassment" (that *he* induces) be a bar to people getting medication that they may need.

And he *approves* of it. He's *proud* of it.

"Douchebag" is too kind.

Attitudes like his go hand-in-hand with the pressure on medical schools to not give training to physicians on how to provide a safe and timely abortion. And the tolerance and celebration of those who threaten to harm, and do harm, doctors and their families frightens those doctors who might be willing to perform the procedures away from the performance.

This pharmacist will simply refuse to carry "Plan B" in his pharmacy (paradoxially, it will be simpler to do this in some states, now that Levonorgestrel has been classed as an over-the-counter medication, and it will not need to be stocked as the laws and licensing regulations require for prescription medications).

It will be legal for women to get and use the drug.

It simply will not be available.

The same way that it is legal for a woman to obtain a first-trimester abortion.

There will simply be no physicians who will either know how to perform the procedures or who have not been frightened away.

The end results will be the same as if there were an outright ban on both the pill and the procedure.

And if the ability of these happy few American Talibans to circumscribe your rights doesn't get you enraged and frightened for the rest of your rights, you aren't awake.

I'm male, so the access to either "Plan B" or safe abortions is of a secondary concern to me personally (after all, I'm not ever going to *be* pregnant).

But what happens when the American Taliban decide that access to other medications should be restricted (after all, "depression" can be cured by prayer, or so I've been told).

What if the decision is made that if you are not the "right" shade of xtian, or not xtian at all, that you should either be denied rights or forced to "convert?"

We already have federal monies flowing to "faith-based" "social service" organizations who have denied services based on religious beliefs (such as when they refuse to provide the services unless the "sinner" prays and "repents.")

What comes next?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Archbishop of York Starts Peace Vigil

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, smiles after having his head shaved as part of his Sunday service at York Minster cathedral in York, northern England August 13, 2006. Image from REUTERS/Nigel Roddis
Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, holds a position in the Anglican Communion second only to the Archbishop of Canterbury, as he is considered the Primate of the Anglican Church in England.

Archbishop Sentamu, (Official biography from the Anglican Communion News Service) was born in 1949 in Uganda and had a career of law there, until he had to leave to escape persecution by then-dictator Idi Amin. Sentamu had reached the post of a judge on Uganda's High Court, and was considered "an opponent and agitator". He was allowed to leave Uganda in 1974, to study theology at Cambridge University, on the condition that he never return to Uganda.

Sentamu was ordained in 1979, and held several positions as Chaplin, Curate, priest and Vicar until his election as Bishop of Stepney (1996) and Bishop for Birmingham (2002). He was installed as Archbishop for York in 2005, the first person of color to so serve.

This past weekend Archbishop Sentamu started a vigil in solidarity with the ordinary people on both sides of the current violence between Israel and Hezbollah elements in Lebanon. A Reuters article from Friday ("Archbishop to hold vigil for Mideast") notes that Sentamu will forgo a planned vacation and will spend the week sleeping in the cathedral and fasting. He will also lead prayers each hour for seven days for those affected by the fighting between the opposing military forces.

From Reuters:
"In the Middle East there are thousands of people sleeping in churches, bunkers, underground car parks and shelters in an attempt to escape from the bombs and rockets that are falling on both sides of the border,"
"This act is a rallying call to people of all faiths and none, to encourage them to feel that there is something that can be done."
Sentamu also chastised U.S. President G.W. Bush, noting that Bush calling the U.S. involvement in the Middle East meant the U.S. was "at war with Islamic fascists" was counter-productive.

That was not the first foray of Sentamu's to chastise U.S. policy -- in February of this year, Sentamu called the U.S. to task for its treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, when he likened what this administration is doing to what he saw Idi Amin do in his native Uganda:
"..By "declaring war on terror" President Bush is perversely applying the rules of engagement which apply in a war situation. But the prisoners are not being regularly visited by the Red Cross or Red Crescent, which is required by the Geneva Convention. They were not even allowed to be interviewed by the United Nations Human Rights Group.

In Uganda President Amin did something similar: he did not imprison suspects because he knew that in prison the law would apply to them, so he created special places to keep them. If the Guantanamo Bay detainees were on American soil, the law would apply. This is a breach of international law and a blight on the conscience of America."

The Archbishop had previously said (17/02/06)

"The American Government is breaking international law. Whatever they may say about democracy, to hold someone for up to four years without charge clearly indicates a society that is heading towards George Orwell's Animal Farm.

The main building block of a democratic society is that everyone is equal before the law, is innocent until proved otherwise and has the right to legal representation. If the guilt of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay is beyond doubt, why are the Americans afraid to bring them to trial? Transparency and accountability are the other side of the coin of freedom and responsibility.

We are all accountable for our actions in spite of circumstances. The events of 9/11 cannot erase the rule of law and international obligations. I back the United Nations Human Rights Commission report, recommending that the US try all the detainees, or free them without further delay. If the US refuses to respond, maybe the Commission should seek a writ of Habeas Corpus in a United States Court, or at the Hague."

Thanks to Susie at Suburban Guerrilla where I first saw the Reuter's article.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Per-Diem Suit Against Massachusetts National Guard Still Unresolved

Massachusetts National Guard P.R. image, showing a statue depicting Capt. John Parker, leader of the Lexington Minutemen.  The statue stands in Lexington Center, Lexington Massachusetts.  The statue was created by Henry Hudson Kitson in 1900Followers of this site know that one of the continuing stories I've been following is a lawsuit against the Massachusetts National Guard seeking reimbursement for per-diem payments owed when members of the Guard were activated and missioned to provide security for a variety of infrastructure sites in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The individual guard members were activated, and received orders to go to these sites and provide a presence and security. However, the soldiers were not provided with lodging, travel or food, and were thus entitled to a daily payment for reimbursement of their expenses, according to a set schedule.

The Massachusetts National Guard commander, however, explicitly declared that there would be no stipend or per-diem payments for these postings. In essence, the Guard told these soldiers, that all expenses would be borne by themselves, and they would never be reimbursed.

When these soldiers attempted to get their reimbursements, and repeatedly queried the upper echelons of the Guard in Massachusetts, they were threatened with administrative retaliation if they persisted, including discharge from the guard. Other allegations in the lawsuit are that the decision of non-reimbursement was done as a deliberate cost-cutting measure by the Guard General in charge, and that some soldiers were also told that reimbursements had been terminated (which is false).

In the meantime, over a three year period, many members of the Guard were shelling out thousands of dollars, in some cases tens of thousands of dollars) in expenses for travel, lodging and meals, out of their own pockets.

The National Guard *did* start an audit (in May of 2005), but the audit is (according to court papers) not complete.

The latest hearing on the matter was on Friday, August 4, where the state and federal governments attempted to get the judge to dismiss the suit (covered briefly by the Boston Globe),
Government lawyers argued today that a federal judge doesn't have the authority to consider a lawsuit filed on behalf of Massachusetts National Guardsmen who were denied reimbursement for expenses they paid out of their own pockets while protecting sites around the state following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

US District Judge Richard G. Stearns said he'll take the government's motion to dismiss the lawsuit under advisement. Lawyers for the federal and state government claim the soldiers' claims should be handled administratively by the Guard and an Army review board.

Of course, if the Guard and Army had handled this mater expeditiously in the first place, the soldiers would not have felt the need to bring the suit at all.

The AP has an article that expanded on Judge Stearns' decision to defer a decision on the government's request for dismissal of the suit.

The Guard acknowledged Friday that the ongoing audit revealed it has failed to reimburse some soldiers. Both sides were in court Friday, when federal lawyers argued for dismissal based on jurisdictional issues.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns on Monday said that because the Guard plans to have the audit done within two months, he'll wait.

"Because the results of the audit may resolve a number of the pending claims of both existing and possibly future plaintiffs, the court will defer its decision on the jurisdictional issues for a reasonable period of time, this to permit the administrative process to proceed," Stearns wrote.

Guard officials say the number of soldiers and the total amount owed were not known.

It has been over a year since the audit was started. I'm sure that it doesn't take that long to track down the orders that missioned these soldiers to duty, and to verify that they were *not* paid.

Admit that the soldiers were stiffed, and pay them the money owed.

These are citizens who volunteered to serve and protect their nation.

They deserve our respect and honesty.

See other articles from my blog on this issue:

01/12/2006 - Massachusetts Guardsmen seek pay for post-9/11 duty
03/02/2006 - Suit over Massachusetts National Guard reimbursements continues
06/06/2006 - Updates To some Continuing Stories

Sunday, August 06, 2006

U.S. Army Discharges Arabic-Speaking intelligence NCO After Anonymous E-mail about him

ABC just aired a short interview with Army Sgt. Bleu Copas, who enlisted, at age 26, after the attacks on 9/11.

He learned Aramic and was a member of the Army Intelligence cadre.

Someone hacked into his personal e-mail account, and forwarded edited versions of his e-mails, anonymously, to his superiors in the army.

From the description of the questioning, his superiors certainly violated their own strictures in the "don't ask" part of "Don't ask, don't tell."

Video of the interview is here. NOTE: The link puts you into an AOL.COM news bite, and is preceded by a short commercial.

An AP article notes that
"..the GAO also noted that nearly 800 dismissed gay or lesbian service members had critical abilities, including 300 with important language skills. Fifty-five were proficient in Arabic, including Copas, a graduate of the Defense Language Institute in California.

Discharging and replacing them has cost the Pentagon nearly $369 million, according to the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California, Santa Barbara."

This entire witchhunt atmosphere is absurd.

And all because some idiots cannot get over their obsession over which consenting adult is sleeping with whatever consenting adult.

And men and women who have proven their devotion to this country by their sacrifices are blackmailed and treated like criminals.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Over on Bitch,PhD, as an outgrowth of comments on non-commenting about a grad-student survey, Dr B. posed the question of, essentially, civility in discourse:

"...So. The readers of this blog are a pretty diverse group, actually. And mostly, I hope, more interested in discussion and conversation than in simply reinforcing prejudices (our own, or other people's).

And we all know that the current political climate is a … nightmare. What do you believe? Where do we overlap? Where do we differ, and why, and what does that mean? And what in heaven's name do we have in common?

And can we manage to talk about all without taking offense, or being offensive? ...

Her post covers more than a few data points on the issue, but she manages to get across her view, and her question’s basis. The comments thread is diverse (and growing like a weed) and, like Twin Peaks coffee from the RR Diner, is “Damn fine.”

That said, I don't know if the current climate can be made to support actual dialog over any extended basis.

The very first comment to her post illustrated some of what I see is a deep symptom of the issue -- there are factions on both the right, and the left, who don't want a dialog.

From my own (lefty) perspective, it is obvious that those on the right of the aisle (of course!) seem to be the more of a multitude who don't want to seek a common ground, but there are lefties who are just as much buttheads as anybody on the right.

But (and here my progressive bias shows), it also seems that a certain faction of the right-wing, who I will label, for want of a better term, as being "pseudo-conservatives," are actively interested in forcing their views on everybody else without even a pretense of dialog or compromise.

Some of them admit this, and claim it as a virtue, saying they are "being more honest" in their espousal of these views. I don't know if "honest" is the proper phrase, or "naked and scary."

As a case in point, last year, when I was somewhat new to publishing my own blog, there was a blogger who made an open invitation to both sides of the aisle to come to her space and dialog about a particular issue, and to do so in a controlled and non-violent manner.

It worked, for about 3 days.

Then the rightists decided that, essentially, they would *not* tolerate any dialog with those from the left unless it was on the terms of unconditional surrender to all the stipulations of the right. The expressed, collective, opinion was that there was no need for tolerating the expression of differing viewpoints. That to do so would be to somehow sully the purity of their thought. And, yes, that seemed to be the collective opinion. And the writer who had issued the invitation decided to join the collective.

There are some on the left who make the same claim. From what I can see, however, most who make that claim from the left are usually engaged into dialog with others from the left, and if they persist are usually ignored (by the left) or given a pat on the hand and told to come back when they can deal with the prospect of dissent in the ranks.

Of course, as I alluded above, this is informed and colored by my own political perspective, where I style myself as "progressive."

I grew up in a blue-collar household in Boston, firmly entrenched in the teachings of the post-Vatican II spirit.

(And if you want to see "Christian bashing," view how some the "religious right" express, in unguarded moments, their feelings toward Roman Catholics -- "Papist Cult" and "Whore of Rome" are among the gentler descriptions)

For me, being "Christian" means being a liberal, means being someone who believes in the social compact that members of a society owe responsibility to other members of that society.

Because of issues I have with the “conservatism” I saw take over that church, and the unwillingness of even the “old and enlightened” hierarchy to realistically address the place of women in the Church, or the simple anti-survival stance the church took toward both “artificial birth control” and abortion, I left off dealing with organized religion of any stripe for a good number of years, until I was serendipitously introduced to the Episcopal Church (“Anglicanism” to you readers on the European side of the pond). And, bless their pointy hats, they’ve even got me teaching Sunday school.

However, that RC upbringing skewed me pretty firmly towards concerns with “social justice,” “Equality before the law,” and a firm conviction that, “if the poor will always be with us,” it didn’t mean I either had to accept or feel comfortable with that dubious reality.

But part of the process of belonging to a Christian denomination that *was* considered fair game for “attack” (even though it is the single most populous denomination in the country) is that you learned to listen to “the other side” and offer counters to their thesis, or else to respectfully disagree.

Somehow I think that, in a public political climate characterized by Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, Karl Rove and the aftereffects of Newt’s Contract On America, the “respectfully disagree” path is not an option. And I really don’t know what will be.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Updates To some Continuing Stories

Looking back over my archives, I see a couple of places where I should probably issue updates to articles I’ve written here.

President George W. Bush is joined by legislators, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2005 at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, as he signs the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. White House photo by Paul MorseIn late October of 2005 I wrote about Retrograde Gun Control, and Bill S397, “The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,” which prohibited liability lawsuits against gun and ammunition manufacturers and gun dealers when the guns and ammunition made/sold is used in an illegal act.

The bill was signed into law by Pres. G.W. Bush on Oct 26, 2005, and prevents lawsuits based upon misuse of firearms to be brought against the manufacturers and sellers, and also stopped action on all suits that were either in the courts or pending. Note that the same logic that this bill uses to provide the shield against lawsuits (that manufacturers or vendors should not be held liable for misuse by those operating the equipment) was exactly the logic that was used to *bring* suits, by the music industry, against the peer-to-peer networks, claiming that the software providers were responsible for the acts of independent third-parties.

The full text of the law (Public law 109-92) can be found here, at the GPO website.

Massachusetts National Guard shoulder patchesIn January and March of this year I wrote about the lawsuit to force the Massachusetts National Guard to pay the expenses for food, transportation and lodging for postings to provide infrastructure security, to the tune of $100 million.

Since my first reporting, one of the complainants, Capt. Louis P. Tortorella has died, and he, according to court documents, was insolvent and his home close to foreclosure, presumably due to the thousands of dollars he, effectively, advanced to the state government when he paid his food and lodging expenses out of his own pocket, expecting the National Guard to actually reimburse him for the per diem payments he was entitled to by law. The suit continues to go forward.

Armed Forces Radio and Television ServiceIn October I reported on a dustup when, with less than a week’s notice, the DoD reversed a decision to air the middle-of-the-road-to-progressive radio talk show hosted by Ed Shultz on Armed Forces Radio.

A second reversal came after a raft of stories that tied the cancellation of the scheduling to reportage that noted that one of President Bush’s “unstaged Q&A session” with some troops in Iraq was really as scripted as a professional wrestling bout.

Two months after the cancellation, Shultz’s radio show was finally available over the cable-tv and satellite audio feeds available to armed forces personnel on military bases throughout the world. I haven’t been able to determine if the show is available through the broadcast service available to be heard off-base.

Yearbook photograph of Dominique SamuelsIn May I wrote about the dearth of non-local reportage in the rape and murder case of Dominique Samuels.

On 05/12/06 Boston Police arrested Roderick Taylor as a suspect in the case. The prosecution’s theory is that Taylor raped and murdered Samuels after a party at the house she shared, first positioned the body in the victim’s bed to make it appear she was just sleeping, then returned several days later to take the body and burned it in an attempt to destroy evidence.

All this is ripe for tabloid exposure. But there’s still nothing carried on outlets outside of New England.

A quick Google search using the terms “Dominique Samuels murder” still returns only Massachusetts local outlets, one bit on CNN (who was interviewing a Boston Herald reporter) and one of the aggregators for independent papers, which picked up coverage by the Boston Phoenix. It looks like it’s still a case of “murdered while black = spike the story”


What Happens When There *Is* No Plan B?

Over on Feministe,  Jill has a post up that comments on a WaPo article about a middle-aged woman, married with children, who found herself coping with an unwanted pregnancy.

To me, the WaPo article points up that (as in most matters) the current administration in Washington, in the effort to placate the very small numbered, but very vocal and exceedingly well-funded theocrat-wannabes, has followed their usual practice of not bothering to look at consequences for their actions.

In this case, it’s a direct consequence of the FDA’s bigot-inspired refusal to allow Plan B to be marketed over-the-counter that is causing an abortion.

It also points up another consequence, which has been shown, time and again, from the viewpoint of less-than-wealthy women, that the restrictions on abortion, if not targeted directly at poor and the young, do affect the poor and the young disproportionately.  Dana L, the author of the WaPo story, finds that, since she did not have access to Plan B in its prime window of opportunity (72 hours after intercourse), her unwanted pregnancy was going to be terminated by an invasive procedure.

Dana L. was able to afford the time, and expense, to travel from Virginia to Washington DC and have her abortion terminated in a Planned Parenthood clinic there, while her husband took her two young children to visit the Smithsonian.  She notes that, except for a woman who was the parent of one of the other patients at the clinic, she was the oldest person there.
All the while, I was thinking that if religion hadn't been allowed to seep into American politics the way it has, I wouldn't even be there.  This all could have been stopped way before this baby was conceived if they had just let me have that damn pill.

After passing through the metal detector inside the building, I entered the Planned Parenthood waiting room; it was like the waiting room for a budget airline -- crammed full of people, of all races, and getting busier by the moment. I was by far the oldest person there (other than one girl's mom). The wait seemed endless. No one looked happy. We were told that the lone doctor was stuck in Cherry Blossom Parade traffic.

He finally arrived, an hour and a half late.

The procedure itself took about five minutes. I finally walked out of the building at 4:30, 6 1/2 hours after I had arrived.

You know, one of the things I have seen in threads on this article (and the various places where the original article, and the post in Feministe are linked) is the commentary about how being concerned about this woman's dilemma (which actually shows that the issue is *not* just of concern to those who are "economically challenged") is misplaced because she’s affluent, “it’s her own fault” and "women in African countries are suffering genital mutilation."  

If someone who is relatively well-heeled has to jump through these hoops, think of what someone on the low end of the economic totem pole has to do.  Someone who can’t afford the  two days off from work to satisfy the waiting period and likely lie to their boss about the two days of sick time because they may get fired if the real reason for needing the time off were known, or cannot afford the babysitting fees for someone to watch the kids while she goes to the clinic (if she can find someone to take the money if they ever find out why she needs the time) or simply cannot afford the money to buy the travel to get to a clinic they can use that is outside their own area, because anybody providing services in her area has been hounded out by death threats.

And as for the genital mutilation, well, you know, realistically?  I, personally, can do just about squat for some woman in Africa or the Arabian Peninsula who is being mutilated by her family in the name of “being pure” and “conforming to cultural norms.”

However, I, personally, can, by voting and badgering my elected representatives, do something about what is happening *here,* in the United States.

Thank you, but I’ll fight the battles I actually can, by voting and donating to groups such as NARAL, who aren’t perfect, but at least they are trying to do the right thing.

Monday, June 05, 2006

And I Didn't Even Use Duct Tape On Them

My wife (known to various blog venues as LedasMom) has just spent a weekend in the wilds of Nebraska, for a mini family reunion with some of her mother’s family.  

She left on a 6:30 AM flight on Saturday, and her return flight got her back into the airport at about 8:30 AM  today (Monday).  

Yes, the Monday 2 days after the departure.  

No, it was not a lot of time.    

However, because the boys were abandoned at the work house left at home with me, it gave a chance for she and her mother to spend some time together without having to chase the boys around.  I suspect, however, that at least part of the attraction was simply to have any time without having to chase the boys around.  Or to have to chase the hubby around to get stuff done either.

So, in the tradition that probably dates back to picking up pretty shells and rocks when Ooogha was coming back to the camp after the two weeks away on the mammoth hunt, LedasMom brought us back some tchotchkes from Nebraska.  

The key to a good tchotchke is to pick something that will be appreciated by the recipient.  So, the boys got refrigerator magnets with the outline of the State of Nebraska, which they are already fighting over.

And what, you ask, did she bring back for hubby?

I give you – the legendary Tom Swift, Jr.!

Illustrated by Graham Kaye, 1954
Illustration credited to Edward Moritz, 1963Illustration credited to Charles Brey, 1963

Actually, I’ve got to admit that I have never read any of the Tom Swift books, in any of the various incarnations of the series.  The closest I’ve come is by reading Tom Swifties.  I’ll have to get back to you about what my impressions are of the text, but I will say that I recognized as extremely familiar the artwork for the covers and interior illos right away.

Even if the writing turns out to be abysmal, it will still be interesting, in light of the number of artists, writers ans scientists who count the Tom Swift and Tom Swift jr. books as influences to first capture their own imaginations.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Carnival of the Liberals # 13 is Up & Running!

Carnival Of The Liberals # 13 is now up at Lucky White Girl.  

Run over there, and follow those links!

Good articles, all.  (I think my blogroll is going to get some new blood this week…)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

"Murdered while Black" = "Spike the Story?"

Rachael Entwhistle, with daughter LillianThree women.

What do these three women have in common?

All three are from the Boston area, and all three were murdered under circumstances to make any tabloid editor willing to blast the story with 140-pt type.

Dominique Samuels (yearbook photo)

Three women.

Now, what do two of these women have in common, and the third doesn’t?

The stories of their murders made national headlines, and the stories stayed in the limelight for weeks.

Imette St. GuillenThree women.

Can you guess which two?

Can you guess what else those two have in common, but not the third?

If you guessed that the first and third were the ones whose stories had legs, you have already guessed what they had in common.

They are, in order:
  • Rachael Entwhistle, 27, murdered in her Hopkington home, with her infant daughter, Lillian. Her husband has been arrested for the murders, after he was extradited from England

  • Dominique Samuels, age 19, murdered and her almost nude body burned in a field behind a local hospital

  • Imette St. Guillen, age 24, a student from Boston, murdered outside a club in the Bowery.  A bouncer from that club has been arrested and charged with her murder

  • The Entwhistle and St. Guillen murders garnered weeks of publicity and media profiles from the instant that the bodies were discovered, partly because the circumstances were so tabloid-worthy.

    Yet Dominique Samuels, whose murder should be prime fodder for the news cycle, has been ignored by the media outside of the Boston area.

    Samuels, a young girl who was a part-time student in community college, had been captain of the cheerleading squad at her high school, was murdered, her body, clothed only in shorts and one sneaker, was dumped into Franklin Park behind the Lemuel Shattuck hospital, doused with accelerant and put ablaze.

    This should have all the legs of any big story – a young, pretty woman, well-liked, described as a “big sister to everybody,” who liked to bake cookies and make sandwiches for her friends, a murder and a horrific treatment of the body, either in hatred and spite or as an attempt to disguise the identity of the victim.

    But where is the attention from the wider media?

    I don’t usually watch the television news, and my newspaper reading outside of the Boston papers is usually limited to the politics, national and international news sections.  I had thought that it seemed there was no coverage of Samuels murder outside of Boston, but I put it down to my reading the “wrong sections.”  Apparently I wasn’t the only one wondering.

    This question was also asked by one of the Boston dailies, the Boston Herald.  The Herald contacted both CNN and FOX about the disparity:
    Cable talk show hosts and local radio talk jocks tirelessly debated every new development as well as the evidence and motives in the Entwistle and St. Guillen murders. Coverage hit saturation levels.

    Nancy Grace of CNN’s Headline News was among the cable hosts who covered the St. Guillen and Entwistle cases extensively.

    Janine Iamunno, a spokeswoman for Grace, said the show’s researchers hadn’t learned of Samuels’ murder until contacted by the Herald yesterday. Grace plans to put the case on her show tonight and cover it more extensively next week, Iamunno said.

    A bevy of other cable network hosts, including Greta Van Susteren of Fox News, also extensively covered the Entwistle and St. Guillen cases, but have not addressed Samuels’ murder . A Fox spokeswoman declined comment. ...
    Sadly, there have been enough other cases of “missing/murdered while black” that just slip under the news writer’s notice to dismiss this as just a case of it being overlooked.

    As Errol Cockfield, himself a reporter for Newsday and a board member of the National Association of Black journalists, said to the Herald’s reporter:

    … if the national media doesn’t pick up the Samuels murder, “It’s proof to me that there’s something wrong with newsroom managers in terms of how they think about race.

    “It’s the same old story with the national media,” Cockfield added. “It’s clear to me that if it’s a white woman who is affected that more attention is paid to than if a black woman is affected.”

    Tuesday, May 09, 2006

    Something is wrong

    Something is very wrong.

    It’s been 40 years since Griswold v. Connecticut.

    It’s been 33 years since Roe v. Wade

    Women’s reproductive rights in this country seemed finally, if not assured, at least settled.  The battle to outlaw abortion seemed restricted to the far fringe, which showed their desperation with violence.  The rights to access to contraception seemed rock solid, with no meaningful opposition.

    Now, with the rise to power of a GOP that is beholden to a small, but well-heeled and vocal, minority seeking a fundamentalist theocracy, not only is access to safe and legal elective abortions endangered, but those same elements are fighting access to basic contraception, and contraceptive information.

    Along with the effort to deny access to effective family planning choices, a woman’s right to emergency contraception (EC) is being endangered under the guise of “moral choice” laws for pharmacists and an FDA that is adamant that it will keep EC from being offered over-the-counter.  

    And proving that not only do the would-be theocrats have a staunch ability to completely ignore facts, and showing the true agenda of control over women’s choices, the stated reason for much of the opposition is that access to these contraceptives is because it will “increase the likelihood of teen sex.”

    Considering the actual rate of teen pregnancy in the Bible Belt, where “just say no” and “keep your knees closed” is often the sum total of sex-ed, it doesn’t appear that access to Plan B would have much impact. And it won't. This resistance to contraceptive choice is really the battle for who will control a woman's body -- she, herself or a pharamacist who doesn't even know her face, but, for their own sense of entitlement want to control what a woman can do with her own body, out of some supposed moral outrage.

    As an indication on how difficult it is likely to be for a woman who needs EC to have access to it over-the-counter or find a doctor to give a written prescription in the 72 hours for best effectiveness, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is now advising women to get a preemptive prescription to the morning-after pill.

    Get an advance prescription for emergency contraception so it will be on hand if you need it, the nation's largest gynecologist group advised women Monday.

    The new campaign aims to increase access to the morning-after pill following the Bush administration's refusal to allow the emergency birth control to be sold over the counter nationwide.

    "We want women to be prepared, well before a contraceptive failure or unprotected sex occurs.  Afterward may be too late," said Dr. Michael Mennuti, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

    Something is very, very wrong.

    Sunday, May 07, 2006

    I'm Depressed, Enraged and Frightened.

    Emergency hospital during influenza epidemic, Camp Funston, Kansas. (1918) - Image from the National Musuem of Health and Medicine Over on Poor Impulse Control Tata opened up an article with
    If you're feeling a bit depressed, skip to the next entry. This one's serious.
    Which, no matter how depressed I may, or may not, be, is sure to suck me in.

    She notes that 21 years ago, when Saint Ronnie was holding court, she had nightmares about nuked landscapes where nobody had a chance of survival (and yes, there were a number of close calls, where nothing more than stupid luck and some divine intervention kept us from making most of the globe glow a soft Cherenkov blue at night).

    And The Anointed Leader didn’t care that his international policies were putting the entire world at risk, and his domestic policies were putting the poor of the United States into a generation’s extra gulag of being an “underclass” and accelerated the process that was putting the then-middle class into the same camp.

    And, fast-forwarded to 2005, she noted the horror she felt at realizing that the federal government didn’t care, was incapable, or both, to do anything with the spectacle of seeing part of the continental United States turn into a 3rd-world suburb.

    And that the President has said, in as many words, that if the avian flu goes to a “worst-case” status that your federal government is going to say “tough love kids, you’re on your own.”

    The same government that is composed of elected officials, including the President, who have sworn an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution that is the basis for the governing law of this nation, the same Constitution that says, in the first paragraph, that one of the aims of that Constitution is to “promote the general welfare.”

    Now I understand that this administration seems to have amply demonstrated that they seem incapable of *reading* that “Goddamn piece of paper,” but somebody in the Cato Institute should be capable of reading it to them.

    No, Tata, I’m not frightened. I’m enraged.

    No, I’m enraged and frightened.

    And I’m even more enraged that it feels like I can’t do anything more. My state (Massachusetts) Senators are pushing the conservatives in the Senate, my representatives in the House are pushing as well, but it feels like the whole damn house of cards is starting to slip away.

    21 years ago I was under the thought that there was some sort of continuing thread in the Congress and the Executive that felt that continuity and cooperation between the two sides of the aisle was a way to stability and continued progress, and that the absurdity of "tickle-down economics" was recognized by some in the GOP as "Voodoo.".

    But then the GOP decided that courting the far fringe of both politics and religion was the entrée to power, and all that went out the window. With the accession to power that marked the Contract On America, cooperation, moderation and any pretended nod to pluralism vanished. And the meager setback to that assault that occurred during the presidency of Clinton has been more than erased.

    This "administration," from the delusional cowboy and his sidekick drunken shot-gunner to the power-mongers in the senate and the house, to their real paymasters, the religious right, the neo-con wingnuts and the players behind the K-street lobbyists do not give a flying ***** about the people who are ordinary citizens. The "productivity gains" in the "job-loss economic recovery" are at the expense of overworking those people who haven't been moved out the door yet to shift their jobs overseas, and we're running up debt in billions for a war my great-grandchildren will be paying off, and basic food and healthcare are deemed "too expensive entitlements" by the Party's ideologues that control the Executive and Legislative branches and has managed to pack the Judicial as well, and bitch that they are being blocked by trhe Mean Liberals.

    In the event of a pandemic the religious fanatics will claim that it was "God's will" and anybody who dies is a “Sinner” who deserved to die, the neo-cons will view it as a way to cement “emergency powers” and extend hegemony over the Middle East “for the Good of the United States.” And the moneyed elite will view it as a confirmation of their elevated Right To Rule and as a way to control more of the lives of those who really generate the wealth.


    The current landscape in the United States is looking more and more like Russia in 1916, complete to the conscription into the armed forces of large numbers of skilled workers.

    Is this what two hundred and twenty-five years of our Republic has come to?

    Saturday, May 06, 2006

    OK, so ads sometimes objectify men too...

    ...Or maybe not.

    I really don't understand the wording in any focus groups, either "within the company" or "in the real world" who would find a market for this, at least not a market that would justify the cost of R&D and the ad agency time.

    I will admit, though, that the ad is a hoot, in a surreal and really crass sort of way.

    High points?

    - watch the intro, please,
    - the test drive
    - "The basics," which is a kind of FAQ list,(aside from a truly tasteless homage to Basic Instinct) is smarmy and unremarkable, except for the the response to the question "What do you think of using scissors, tweezers or wax to remove body hair?"

    Down points --
    -- I haven't had the nerve to listen to the testimonials yet
    -- I didn't, no, I couldn't, finish the viewing of the music video.

    Heads-up courtesy of Andrew Sullivan (He's calling for a pre-emptive strike, BTW -- notice the difference between the published title of his blog entry and the permalink title.....)

    Wednesday, May 03, 2006

    Specter to Call for hearings on Signing Statements

    Bush’s contention that he can ignore provisions of the Patriot Act, whose renewal he ushered last month, has drawn scrutiny. (Jim Young/ Reuters) Just days after an article in the Boston Sunday Globe highlighted the massive number of “Signing Statements” that President G.W. Bush has filed on laws he has had some issues with, Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) have called for answers from the White House about number and breadth of the assertions that Pres. Bush has made in the more than 750 signing statements he has recorded since he took office (this represents a rate of about 1-in-10 of the bills signed.), with Specter calling for Senate hearings in June on the issue. (See this article from the 05/03/06 Boston Globe).

    Since he has vetoed no bills, President Bush has not had any public debate over issues the he, in his role of the head of the Executive Branch may have had with legislation that comes across his desk for signing. In some cases, it has been reported that his signing statements directly conflict with some provisions that were crafted as compromises in order to satisfy objections to some proposals in a bill. As I noted in my own article yesterday, because the Office of the President is the overall head of the Executive branch of the Federal government, the signing statements provide guidance to officers of the Executive, including the Departments of Justice, Energy and Defense, when those entities craft regulations or act under provisions of those laws.

    This reinterpretation process of legislative provisions came to the fore during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on 05/02/06 when Sen. Specter announced his plans for calling for hearings, and when Sen. Feingold was bluntly told by FBI Director Robert Mueller that, if so directed by the executive branch, the real possibility was that the FBI would not comply with the oversight and Congressional briefings called for by the Patriot Act.

    At the hearing yesterday, Feingold pressed FBI director Robert Mueller to give assurances that the bureau would comply with provisions in the Patriot Act and to tell Congress how agents are using the law to search homes and secretly seize papers.

    Mueller said he saw no reason that the bureau couldn't share that information with Congress. But he also said that he was bound to obey the administration, and declined to promise that he would ''go out there and fight" on behalf of Congress if Bush decided to override the Patriot Act's oversight provision and ordered the FBI not to brief Congress.
    ''How can we know whether the government will comply with the new laws that we passed?" [Feingold] said. ''I'm not placing the blame on you, obviously, or your agents who work to protect this country every day, but how can we have any assurance that you or your agents have not received a secret directive from above requiring you to violate laws that we all think apply today?"

    Mueller replied: ''I can assure with you with regard to the FBI that our actions would be taken according to appropriate legal authorities."

    As in the question of what “is”, “is,” the question could become the definition of “appropriate legal authorities.”

    And, judging by past performance, the roster of those the Bush/Cheney Administration would call on for “advice” in these matters is truly troubling.

    Sunday, April 30, 2006

    Steps Into The New Imperium

    We have heard complaints that President George W. Bush is acting as if he has an “imperial presidency,” of course we cannot forget his remark about how a “dictatorship could be good,” if he were the dictator, and some have pointed to his statements on how his legal staff’s interpretations of the United States Constitution trumps the plain language of what the Congress written into a bill (two of the most publicized are the ban on torture and congressional oversight of the PATRIOT Act).

    What is not so well-known to the public is to just what extent he has laid the groundwork for this imperium, by way of the sheer multitude of “signing statements” filed on bills he has signed – over 750.

    Because GW has vetoed no bills, he has allowed for no clarification from the Congress on points of the legislation he had issue with.  According to a copyrighted article in the Boston Globe, even though many Bush apologists try to say that the signing statements are just window dressing and have no real legal weight, those statements are also the template that is used by the various federal agencies, that, as part of the executive branch, take direction on how to implement the laws that the Congress passes.

    Some, such as the declaration that the President can direct the armed forces to ignore the ban on torture, have some remote “justification” on national security grounds, but how to explain the prohibition imposed on military lawyers that they (the lawyers) cannot advise their commanders on what constitutes “torture” independently of what the administration has declared, which places those commanders at-risk for possible future charges.  Also hard to justify are the prohibition against reports, to the Congress, by the Congressionally-mandated post of an independent Inspector-General (IG) for occupied Iraq, unless the executive branch permits a specific report, this prohibition extends even Congressional directive that the Congress shall be informed if any U.S. official refuses to cooperate with the IG.  Bush has also directed, in that signing statement, that the U.S. military, and other instrumentalities of the executive branch, can reserve for themselves the sole investigative functions of any crime that the Pentagon wants to investigate for itself, rather than the IG.

    As noted above, by making these signing statements Bush is reserving for the Executive branch the setting of policy that may be directly contradicted by the letter and spirit of the actual legislation, which is usurping the power of the legislative branch to decide the content and sense of law, and is asserting a right to refuse congressional oversight.

    Indeed, because many of Bush’s signing statements have language to the effect that the administration, through the powers of the Executive, can be the arbiter of what is the “sense” of the Constitution in regards to law, rather than the Judicial branch, by declaring that the regulations and implementation of a law shall be subject to the Executive’s view of what is a “manner consistent with the Constitution.”  In some cases the signing statements declare that the law will be implemented (or provisions ignored) even though the letter and sense of the law plainly is that mandated by Supreme Court decisions.

    Also troubling is the sheer volume of the signing statements. During the elder Bush presidency, the President appended 232 signing statements over 4 years, Bill Clinton appended 140 during his 8 years, and, since the start of his time in office, G.W. Bush has signed at least 750.  The accompanying graphic shows the relative absolute count and the average “per year” count.  

    The Globe article (which should be read in its entirety) has detailed the content of some of these signing statements:

    March 9, [2006]: Justice Department officials must give reports to Congress by certain dates on how the FBI is using the USA Patriot Act to search homes and secretly seize papers.
    Bush's signing statement: The president can order Justice Department officials to withhold any information from Congress if he decides it could impair national security or executive branch operations.

    Dec. 30, 2005: US interrogators cannot torture prisoners or otherwise subject them to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.
    Bush's signing statement: the president, as commander in chief, can waive the torture ban if he decides that harsh interrogation techniques will assist in preventing terrorist attacks.

    Dec. 30: When requested, scientific information ''prepared by government researchers and scientists shall be transmitted [to Congress] uncensored and without delay."
    Bush's signing statement: The president can tell researchers to withhold any information from Congress if he decides its disclosure could impair foreign relations, national security, or the workings of the executive branch.

    Aug. 8: The Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its contractors may not fire or otherwise punish an employee whistle-blower who tells Congress about possible wrongdoing.
    Bush's signing statement: The president or his appointees will determine whether employees of the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can give information to Congress.

    Dec. 23, 2004: Forbids US troops in Colombia from participating in any combat against rebels, except in cases of self-defense.  Caps the number of US troops allowed in Colombia at 800.
    Bush's signing statement: Only the president, as commander in chief, can place restrictions on the use of US armed forces, so the executive branch will construe the law ''as advisory in nature."

    Dec. 17: The new national intelligence director shall recruit and train women and minorities to be spies, analysts, and translators in order to ensure diversity in the intelligence community.
    Bush's signing statement: The executive branch shall construe the law in a manner consistent with a constitutional clause guaranteeing ''equal protection" for all.  (In 2003, the Bush administration argued against race-conscious affirmative-action programs in a Supreme Court case.  The court rejected Bush's view [this is a clear case where the signing statement directly contravenes prior U.S. Supreme Court decisions].)

    Oct. 29: Defense Department personnel are prohibited from interfering with the ability of military lawyers to give independent legal advice to their commanders.
    Bush's signing statement: All military attorneys are bound to follow legal conclusions reached by the administration's lawyers in the Justice Department and the Pentagon when giving advice to their commanders.

    Aug. 5: The military cannot add to its files any illegally gathered intelligence, including information obtained about Americans in violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches.
    Bush's signing statement: Only the president, as commander in chief, can tell the military whether or not it can use any specific piece of intelligence.

    Nov. 6, 2003: US officials in Iraq cannot prevent an inspector general for the Coalition Provisional Authority from carrying out any investigation.  The inspector general must tell Congress if officials refuse to cooperate with his inquiries.
    Bush's signing statement: The inspector general ''shall refrain" from investigating anything involving sensitive plans, intelligence, national security, or anything already being investigated by the Pentagon.  The inspector cannot tell Congress anything if the president decides that disclosing the information would impair foreign relations, national security, or executive branch operations.

    Nov. 5, 2002: Creates an Institute of Education Sciences whose director may conduct and publish research ''without the approval of the secretary [of education] or any other office of the department."
    Bush's signing statement: The president has the power to control the actions of all executive branch officials, so ''the director of the Institute of Education Sciences shall [be] subject to the supervision and direction of the secretary of education."
    Bear in mind that we, as citizens, may not even be privy to whether or not a signing statement is being followed into enacting regulations, what the content of some signing statements are,  or indeed, if there is a signing statement at all to a particular law, because they would be pertaining to laws that that are, themselves, secret.  

    As in the vast increase of the use of the FISA courts (where the courts were even consulted), this President has used the “prerogatives” of office more than any other, and in ways that seem to put political and economic ideology at a premium over the rights of the individual citizens.

    Saturday, April 29, 2006

    OK, So maybe I'm easily impressed...

    Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., is escorted to a police vehicle by members of the Uniform Division of the Secret Service after his arrest during a demonstration outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington. Associated Press photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais
    ... But it looks like Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA [3rd District]) will get my vote again when his name is on the ballot.

    McGovern, along with four other members of the House (Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA); Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX); Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA); and Rep. John Olver (D-MA)) were arrested Friday (4/29/06) at a protest that blocked the entrance to the Sudanese embassy in Washington D.C.

    According to the Boston Globe, the congressmen were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after they and the protesters refused to disperse after being requested to do so by uniformed Secret Service agents.
    ''For us, this is a minor inconvenience," McGovern said at the police station after his release. ''But there is a genocide going on, and the world is watching it unfold. For us to spend a couple of hours in jail is nothing."

    The lawmakers, along with three of their colleagues and several other activists, demanded that the Sudanese end the killings in Darfur, which has been the site of a brutal and bloody internal conflict since rebels challenged the Sudanese government in 2003. International agencies estimate that between 140,000 to 400,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in the conflict, which has spilled over to Chad.

    ''They are slaughtering people, families, entire villages," Olver said. ''What we are doing today is adding weight" to growing international demands for intervention in the troubled west Sudanese region, he said.
    The SF Chronicle reports:
    "If you're looking for lack of international morality, Darfur encompasses all aspects," Lantos said before his arrest. "Here we see the slaughter of innocent black women, children and men by a monstrous regime. ... I'm appalled by the relative lack of interest in most civilized countries. This is murder on a grand scale."

    Lantos, 78, a 25-year veteran of the House, began calling for an international intervention in Sudan in the spring of 2004. The only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in Congress, Lantos has urged the Bush administration to take action. He led the debate in Congress to label the situation in Sudan a genocide in the summer of 2004, and soon after, the Bush administration declared it a genocide.

    Yes, it's grandstanding.

    And some might say it is ill-represented for "the dignity of the House."

    But the arrest of 5 congressmen *will* get more media exposure of the issue, and afford a more wide ranging pulpit, than if 50 "ordinary citizens" are arrested for the same non-violent protest.

    In a more serious tone, however, the images of 5 Democrat congresscritters being frisked, cuffed and put into patrol cars is so invigorating to the likes of the 101st Keyboard Brigade.

    I mean, where can the Democrats look to for guidance?

    Offending the dignity of the House this way doesn't hold a candle to the prospects of the House Speaker being censured for abuse of power or the Senate Majority Leader announcing a professional medical diagnosis about a patient he had never seen in the flesh.

    And being booked for disorderly conduct while protesting against oppression, corruption and genocide isn't anywhere as impressive in your home district as being booked for wire fraud and money laundering or being under investigation by the SEC for insider trading.

    Sunday, April 23, 2006

    The Voice in The Wilderness

    On Wednesday, April 22, 1970, I was still in high school, and played “hooky” from classes at my downtown Boston school to spend the day on the MIT campus in Cambridge, cheek-to-cheek with other high-schoolers, graduate students, undergrads, academics and the press.

    It was the 1970 Environmental Teach-In, meant to be a one-shot expository day and turning into the first celebration of the non-equinoctial “Earth Day.”  *  A day of concentration on activities for sustaining the ecology of the planet, on how to preserve what resources were still available, and review how to minimize man’s impact on the balance of the remaining wilderness and planetary environment.

    It was a time when some conservative political players (usually backed by pro-business and petro/mineral exploitation interests) tried to deny the existence of “ecology” as either a discipline of study or even validity as a word itself, even though the term had been coined (as oekologie) by Ernst von Haeckel in 1866 (von Haeckel was a Lamarckian zoologist who founded a philosophy called ‘Monism” and coined the (now) discredited axiom "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny").  It was also a time when most of the world’s general public was blissfully unaware of the intricate delicacy of the dance of interaction between participants and the environment’s underlying structures.

    Jane Goodall and chimps, Vanne Morris-Goodall 19771970 also marked the 10-year anniversary of Jane Goodall’s first observations of chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania (when she arrived in 1960 the nation was called Tanganyika) and the year that the National Geographic Society reprinted their edition of My Friends the Wild Chimpanzees

    In the years since, Earth Day in the U.S. enjoyed a period of official and public support, coupled with the enactment of legislation that recognized that economic considerations may need to be considered secondary to environmental considerations.  Since the dawn of the new century, however, the trend seems to have been reversed and 5 years of new legislation has been attempting to reverse 30 years of progress.  And the federal government’s support of “Earth Day” has been to prop up a sickly façade, where Clinton-administration advances are presented in such a way as to imply that the progress was due to the G.W. Bush efforts, and support for such farces as the “Healthy Forests” and “Clean Skies” programs are presented as “Initiatives” that are beneficial to the ecology, when the “environment” that is really to benefit is the economic one of big-lobby industrial interests.

    Conversely, Goodall went on to research and author papers on the Egyptian Vulture, African baboons and Spotted Hyenas, but always returned to the chimpanzees at Gombe.  She was able to capitalize on the popularity of her books, the weight of her accomplishments in primatology and her own presence as a speaker, to have some remarkable success in bringing attention to issues such as poaching of primates (for purposes as diverse as “bush meat,” slaughter for folk medicines or illegal transshipment to foreign zoos), destruction of habitat and the use of primates as subjects in medical experimentation.  

    In order to provide a more organized presence for her initial efforts at habitat preservation, and to provide ongoing support for field research on wild chimpanzees, “Dr. Jane” founded the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education and Conservation in 1977.  With her work at the Jane Goodall Institute, she is now “on the road” for about 300 days of each year.

    Jane Goodall also formed a separate organization, in 1991, named “Roots and Shoots,” that “plans and implements service-learning projects that promote care and concern for animals, the environment, and the human community.”  Roots and Shoots started with 16 youngsters on the front porch of Dr. Goodall’s home in Dar es Salaam and now has more than 7,500 groups in more than 90 countries

    In the 35 years since I skipped school on that Wednesday in 1970, I was involved with a number of environmental groups (some more effective than others), went on to college myself, fell away from the True Faith of the Environmental Front Lines, and have come full circle, back to wondering how I, as a single private citizen, can effect change, driven by the thought that my children, and grandchildren, may never see the world whole, or healthy.

    My thought is that my best practice, aside from urging my elected representatives in voting against abominations such the “Clean Skies Initiative,” is education.  Educating my children and (perhaps through The Boston Progressive) educating the public.

    Dr. Jane Goodall - image courtesy of Jane Goodall InstituteAs part of educating my children, I try to engage them with as much exposure to the "natural world" as I can, including such "captive nature" as zoos (even in the zoo you can show how the artificial setting differs from, and affects, the animals). I recently noticed that Jane Goodall would be making a speech, in commemoration of Earth Day, at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo, (which is a regional coordinating host for the Roots and Shoots program) and we altered the date for an already planned visit to Franklin Park to cooincide with her visit and to see her speech.

    We arrived at the zoo, on a chilly and grey day, close before opening time (when we pulled in, we were the only car in the visitor’s parking lot), and saw Dr. Goodall arrive on the grounds.  We had several hours yet before the scheduled date for her speech, so we “took the airs” and wandered the several areas of the zoo’s collection.  I’m naught but an occasional zoo visitor, so I really don’t know the relative worth of the Franklin Park Zoo’s collection or presentation, but, all the experience being new to them, both of my boys (aged 4 and 8) enjoyed themselves (my 4-year old son was absolutely captivated by the family of lowland gorillas).  I’d like to be able to say that the skies magically cleared and the temperature rose as it came time for Dr. Goodall’s speech, but the clouds stubbornly refused to disburse, and the wind even picked up.

    When Dr. Goodall took to the podium, one saw a woman who is moving gracefully through age, and presents a kind of vulnerability that was present in films taken during her first years at Gombe.  Not a physical frailty or infirmity, but rather a feeling that she would never really credit that people could ever do or think anything but the best, if only they were shown what the truth was, and where the real world’s priorities should lie.

    She told some anecdotes about her days at Gombe, and noted the very close genetic similarity between chimpanzees and homo sapiens (given a match in blood type, transfusion across strains are effective – which makes chimpanzees prime material for AIDS/HIV vector and progression research), and noted that economic factors are forcing native destruction of habitat and environment, and the outside world appears either oblivious or has determined not to attempt to work towards changing conditions.  She praised those who work with the Roots and Shoots programs, and noted a remarkable program that the new president in Tanzania was embarking on, that all plastic bags in that country would be removed from commerce, and that only paper and cloth would be used for bags from stores.

    I’m afraid that, with an exhausted four-year sleeping on my shoulder, and my membership “in the choir,” I didn’t find the portions of her speech on ecology as electrifying as some in the audience did.  Interesting, thoughtful, but not, overall, remarkable.  What I did find more captivating were the anecdotes on her years at Gombe, and thoroughly startling was when she demonstrated some of the “language” and calls her chimpanzees used, including a change in timbre and power of her voice, from that of a relatively unassuming Englishwoman, when she articulated those calls, including a truly amazing exhibition of a “distance call” that I could readily image carrying across mountain valleys.

    Although I did not find her presentation itself awe-inspiring, her power as a symbol in the world’s environmental awareness is unquestioned.  And the knowledge that this one woman has had the ability, through education of the world’s people, to bring real change to the policies of nations, is awe-inspiring.  

    What was unquestionably sad, though, was that none of the local news outlets thought that her appearance was noteworthy enough to even send a film crew to, never mind do a broadcast about.

    She appears to be, either still, or again, the prophetic voice crying in the wilderness.

    * There is a “competing” Earth Day celebration internationally that is a movable feast, being celebrated each year during the vernal equinox.  There is a (perhaps) cynical observation that the timing of the original Earth Day in late April, 1970, was chosen because it fell between spring break and final exams allowed for more participation on U.S. college campuses

    -- My own camera is currently dysfunctional -- the photograph of Goodall at the podium is courtesy of the Jane Goodall Institute