Monthly Archives: January, 2007

Molly Ivins Fighting an Even Bigger Fight

One of my favorite progressive columnists, Molly Ivins—who has long possessed the singular ability to write with equal parts humor, eloquence, and outrage—is battling breast cancer, and, as reported by Editor & Publisher (via Common Dreams), is not doing well:

Molly Ivins Hospitalized in Ongoing Battle With Cancer

AUSTIN — Almost three weeks ago, Molly Ivins wrote that she would dedicate every single one of her syndicated columns from now on to the issue of stopping the war in Iraq — until it ended. But she has managed to finish only one more column since.

The gravely ill Texas columnist has been hospitalized again this week in her ongoing battle with breast cancer.

Her assistant Betsy Moon says she may be able to go home Monday. She adds that those close to Ivins are “not sure what’s going to happen, but she’s very sick.”

The 62-year-old columnist had taken an earlier break from her syndicated column, but resumed writing earlier this month.

Last October she had suggested this headline to an E&P interviewer: “Molly Ivins Still Not Dead.”

E&P wrote then, “The third recurrence of the breast cancer she has been battling since 1999 (and which recently claimed her good friend, former Texas Gov. Ann Richards) has left the 62-year-old Ivins with precarious balance, minimal hair, and no illusions about the redemptive quality of life-threatening illness. ‘I’d hoped to become a better person from confronting my own mortality,’ she laughs. ‘But it hasn’t happened.'”

In the Jan. 11th column, which opposed the troop escalation, Ivins wrote “We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war….If you can, go to the peace march in Washington on Jan. 27. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, ‘Stop it, now!'”

But this was the last newspaper column she has been able to write. [full text]

My thoughts and prayers are with Ms. Ivins and all those who love her.

Out of Foster Care and Into the Abyss

Slowly, there is growing recognition among state and local authorities that the needs and challenges of children in foster care do not magically cease to exist when they turn 18. Today’s New York Times addresses this topic:

For Former Foster Care Youths, Help to Make It on Own

DETROIT — When current and former foster children formed a group to help youths who had turned 18 and were “aging out� of the system, one of the first things they did was hold a luggage drive.

“We saw that a lot of the kids were taking their clothes out in garbage bags,� said Chilton Brown, 23, a former foster child who spent ages 3 to 18 as a ward of the state, bouncing around 15 family homes or group residences.

A life contained in green plastic bags: it is the kind of humiliating detail that hits home hardest among foster youths themselves. It is also a telling sign of how unprepared many of these 18-year-olds are to live on their own, without families, jobs or school diplomas to shore them up.

In part because of the increasing advocacy by foster youth groups like Mr. Brown’s, many states are expanding efforts to help young adults prepare for life outside the system, offering transitional housing, education, medical care and mentoring as they step out on their own. States are also extending aid for extra years, in some cases to age 21 or even beyond.

“We’re finally seeing a recognition by public agencies that they have a responsibility to this population beyond the age of 18,� said Gary Stangler, director of Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, a foundation in St. Louis that is helping to organize foster youth boards and offers matched savings accounts as well as job aid in 10 states. “In our society, most 18-year-old kids aren’t ready to be thrust into the world.�

Long in the shadows, the plight of aging out foster youths — some 24,000 a year nationwide who fail to be adopted and usually leave court-monitored care at 18 — is gaining new attention, as youths speak out and research reveals the numbers who end up in homeless shelters, jail and long-term poverty. [full text]

More Headlines from The Daily Mockery

On the chilliest day of the year (so far) in the Northeast, here are some more faux news headlines to warm the cockles of your liberal hearts. Enjoy…

[direct link]

A Controversial Truth

Just curious, but how tolerant should one be of alternative points of view when such views would seem to clearly emanate from those who have their heads jammed to the shoulders up their behinds (and who encourage others to assume this position)? In other words, at what point is it acceptable to call a reactionary wingnut a reactionary wingnut and then cover one’s ears and sing showtunes?

From the Washington Post:

Gore Film Sparks Parents’ Anger

FEDERAL WAY, Wash., Jan. 24 — Frosty E. Hardison is neither impressed nor surprised that “An Inconvenient Truth,” the global-warming movie narrated by former vice president Al Gore, received an Oscar nomination this week for best documentary.

“Liberal left is all over Hollywood,” he grumbled a few hours after the nomination was announced.

Hardison, a parent of seven here in the southern suburbs of Seattle, has himself roiled the global-warming waters. It happened early this month when he learned that one of his daughters would be watching “An Inconvenient Truth” in her seventh-grade science class.

“No you will not teach or show that propagandist Al Gore video to my child, blaming our nation — the greatest nation ever to exist on this planet — for global warming,” Hardison wrote in an e-mail to the Federal Way School Board. The 43-year-old computer consultant is an evangelical Christian who says he believes that a warming planet is “one of the signs” of Jesus Christ’s imminent return for Judgment Day.

His angry e-mail (along with complaints from a few other parents) stopped the film from being shown to Hardison’s daughter.

The teacher in that science class, Kay Walls, says that after Hardison’s e-mail she was told by her principal that she would receive a disciplinary letter for not following school board rules that require her to seek written permission to present “controversial” materials in class.

The e-mail also pressured the school board to impose a ban on screenings of the film for the district’s 22,500 students.

The ban, which the school board says was merely a “moratorium,” was lifted Tuesday night, subject to rigorous conditions. Still, the action has appalled the film’s producers and triggered a ferocious national backlash. [full text]

Why Do We Need Banks (Again) for Student Loans?

The white collars at Sallie Mae are starting to get a little sweaty. First, the House of Representatives passed the new student loan legislation to reduce interest rates. Now Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis) has introduced the The STAR Act (link here) which will help steer students toward Direct Lending as opposed to Sallie Mae. This is going to be a serious battle. As my source says, “Private lenders (Sallie Mae) are going send out their lobby in force. The industry is prepared to die on the hill. “

The STAR act would also increase funding for Pell Grants, which is much needed. Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) are cosponsoring companion legislation in the Senate.

So why do we need banks for student loans? Well that’s just it: we don’t. And now that this boondoggle is being exposed, private lenders are going to be scrambling for position in the political landscape.

Bloggers Collaborate with Media for Libby Trial Coverage

This deserves remarking on: in order to bring comprehensive coverage of the Scooter Libby trial, the media is working with bloggers. People have noticed that bloggers have a certain edge when providing coverage. Call it freshness, call it independence. Whatever you want to call it, citizen journalism or “blogging” is doing it better.

Coverage of the Scooter Libby Trials via the Media Bloggers Association is available here.

A Primary Reason for Electoral Reform

In a great many ways, America’s electoral system is sorely in need of reform. A recent post on this site touched on the apparent demise of publicly-financed elections due to the pernicious influence of big-moneyed interests. Now comes word, in today’s New York Times, that the jockeying among states for ever more influential position in the Presidential primary schedule is getting out of control:

Big States’ Push for Earlier Vote Scrambles Race

As many as four big states — California, Florida, Illinois and New Jersey — are likely to move up their 2008 presidential primaries to early next February, further upending an already unsettled nominating process and forcing candidates of both parties to rethink their campaign strategies, party officials said Wednesday.

The changes, which seem all but certain to be enacted by state legislatures, mean that the presidential candidates face the prospect of going immediately from an ordered series of early contests in relatively small states in January to a single-day, coast-to-coast battlefield in February, encompassing some of the most expensive advertising markets in the nation.

The changes would appear to benefit well-financed and already familiar candidates and diminish the prospects of those with less money and name recognition going into such a highly compressed series of contests early next year. [full text]

In short, the changes will further elevate the role that wealth—or the lack thereof—plays in American politics and further limit the breadth and diversity of choices available to the voting public. Simply put, it is bad for democracy. A more orderly and fair system for scheduling Presidential primaries needs to be enacted. Fortunately, a plan for such does exist, and it is supported by groups such as FairVote, which describes it as follows:

The Graduated Random Presidential Primary System, or The American Plan (sometimes known as the California Plan), is designed to begin with contests in small-population states, where candidates do not need tens of millions of dollars in order to compete. A wide field of presidential hopefuls will be competitive in the early going. A “minor candidate’s� surprise successes in the early rounds, based more on the merit of the message than on massive amounts of money, will tend to attract money from larger numbers of small contributors for the campaign to spend in later rounds of primaries. Thus there should be more longevity of candidacy, and more credible challengers to the “front-runners.� However, as the campaign proceeds, the aggregate value of contested states becomes successively larger, requiring the expenditure of larger amounts of money in order to campaign effectively. A gradual weeding-out process occurs, as less-successful candidates drop out of the race. The goal is for the process to produce a clear winner in the end, but only after all voices have had a chance to be heard. [full text]

Ironically, in order to have a system in place wherein all voices have a chance to be heard, more voices will first need to be heard demanding a change to the status quo and support for proposals such as the American Plan. To remain silent is to be silenced.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Quorum

For a time, President Bush was rather fond of saying that, “as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” Of course, it’s rather difficult to stand up when—whether due to fear or disillusionment—one has not bothered to show up, as reported here by the New York Times:

Iraq Parliament Finds a Quorum Hard to Come By

BAGHDAD, Jan. 23 — Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the speaker of Parliament, read a roll call of the 275 elected members with a goal of shaming the no-shows.

Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister? Absent, living in Amman and London. Adnan Pachachi, the octogenarian statesman? Also gone, in Abu Dhabi.

Others who failed to appear Monday included Saleh Mutlak, a senior Sunni legislator; several Shiites and Kurds; and Ayad al-Samaraei, chairman of the finance committee, whose absence led Mr. Mashhadani to ask: “When will he be back? After we approve the budget?�

It was a joke barbed with outrage. Parliament in recent months has been at a standstill. Nearly every session since November has been adjourned because as few as 65 members made it to work, even as they and the absentees earned salaries and benefits worth about $120,000.

Part of the problem is security, but Iraqi officials also said they feared that members were losing confidence in the institution and in the country’s fragile democracy. As chaos has deepened, Parliament’s relevance has gradually receded.

Deals on important legislation, most recently the oil law, now take place largely out of public view, with Parliament — when it meets — rubber-stamping the final decisions. As a result, officials said, vital legislation involving the budget, provincial elections and amendments to the Constitution remain trapped in a legislative process that processes nearly nothing. American officials long hoped that Parliament could help foster dialogue between Iraq’s increasingly fractured ethnic and religious groups, but that has not happened, either. [full text]

Energy Industry Demands Cap; Bush Says No

This is just plain strange: top leaders in the energy industry are telling Bush that we need mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and Bush is essentially saying, “Sorry, but we’ve ruled that out. Let the free market take care of this problem.” It’s beyond sad. Please, Scooter Libby, be the Deus Ex Machina that takes this administration down. From the UK Independent:

Ten senior US business leaders, including the heads of utility and chemical companies, have issued a direct challenge to President George Bush on climate change, publicly demanding the mandatory caps on carbon emissions that the White House has appeared to rule out of the President’s State of the Union address tonight.

“We can and must take prompt action to establish a co-ordinated, economy-wide, market-driven approach to climate protection,” the chief executives, from companies including Alcoa, DuPont, and Pacific Gas and Electric, say in an open letter to Mr Bush.

The move, which threatened to upstage the President ahead of his major annual setpiece speech to Congress, adds to the confusion of the global warming debate here. But it also underscores how the White House, long sceptical that the problem even existed, has become a mere bystander, as individual states and key lawmakers initiate action of their own.

Only confusion has emerged from the White House, with key advisers appearing to endorse a “cap-and-trade” system, only for that to be seemingly ruled out by Tony Snow, the Presidential spokesman.

President Bush has said that voluntary efforts, and the development of alternative energy sources, are the best approach.In the speech, Mr Bush is expected to dwell on health care reform, as pressure builds for some system that guarantees coverage for all.

So the President of the United States is becoming a “mere bystander” while the rest of the world tries to figure out what to do to keep the planet from turning into a melting ball of disaster.

Between these energy industry leaders and our new Congress, perhaps there could be not only pressure to cap greenhouse gas emissions, but also pressure to begin the decreasing of troops in Iraq and get those same troops focused on building alternative energy resources for the US. I know, it’s far-fetched, but it seems to make more sense than the current plan.

Can’t Afford Health Insurance? Too Bad

According to this piece by Paul Krugman, President Bush’s proposed solution to our health care crisis is to give people a tax break to pay for health insurance. Unfortunately, if you don’t have enough money to pay your heat and electricity bills, you are not likely to be sitting around figuring out how to use a tax break in order to sign up and pay $350 a month to get yourself health insurance. From the piece by Krugman, as reprinted here by Truth-out:

President Bush’s Saturday radio address was devoted to health care, and officials have put out the word that the subject will be a major theme in tomorrow’s State of the Union address. Mr. Bush’s proposal won’t go anywhere. But it’s still worth looking at his remarks, because of what they say about him and his advisers.

On the radio, Mr. Bush suggested that we should “treat health insurance more like home ownership.” He went on to say that “the current tax code encourages home ownership by allowing you to deduct the interest on your mortgage from your taxes. We can reform the tax code, so that it provides a similar incentive for you to buy health insurance.”

Wow. Those are the words of someone with no sense of what it’s like to be uninsured.

Going without health insurance isn’t like deciding to rent an apartment instead of buying a house. It’s a terrifying experience, which most people endure only if they have no alternative. The uninsured don’t need an “incentive” to buy insurance; they need something that makes getting insurance possible.

Most people without health insurance have low incomes, and just can’t afford the premiums. And making premiums tax-deductible is almost worthless to workers whose income puts them in a low tax bracket.

Of those uninsured who aren’t low-income, many can’t get coverage because of pre-existing conditions – everything from diabetes to a long-ago case of jock itch. Again, tax deductions won’t solve their problem.

The only people the Bush plan might move out of the ranks of the uninsured are the people we’re least concerned about – affluent, healthy Americans who choose voluntarily not to be insured. At most, the Bush plan might induce some of those people to buy insurance, while in the process – whaddya know – giving many other high-income individuals yet another tax break. [full text]


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