Monthly Archives: May, 2007

A Father Speaks Out

Today’s Washington Post features a powerful op-ed piece by Andrew J. Bacevich, a history professor at Boston University and a veteran of the Vietnam War, who recently lost his son to the war in Iraq, one of the more than 3,400 casualties of this terrible folly:

I Lost My Son to a War I Oppose. We Were Both Doing Our Duty.

Parents who lose children, whether through accident or illness, inevitably wonder what they could have done to prevent their loss. When my son was killed in Iraq earlier this month at age 27, I found myself pondering my responsibility for his death.

Among the hundreds of messages that my wife and I have received, two bore directly on this question. Both held me personally culpable, insisting that my public opposition to the war had provided aid and comfort to the enemy. Each said that my son’s death came as a direct result of my antiwar writings.

This may seem a vile accusation to lay against a grieving father. But in fact, it has become a staple of American political discourse, repeated endlessly by those keen to allow President Bush a free hand in waging his war. By encouraging “the terrorists,” opponents of the Iraq conflict increase the risk to U.S. troops. Although the First Amendment protects antiwar critics from being tried for treason, it provides no protection for the hardly less serious charge of failing to support the troops — today’s civic equivalent of dereliction of duty.

What exactly is a father’s duty when his son is sent into harm’s way?

Among the many ways to answer that question, mine was this one: As my son was doing his utmost to be a good soldier, I strove to be a good citizen.

As a citizen, I have tried since Sept. 11, 2001, to promote a critical understanding of U.S. foreign policy. I know that even now, people of good will find much to admire in Bush’s response to that awful day. They applaud his doctrine of preventive war. They endorse his crusade to spread democracy across the Muslim world and to eliminate tyranny from the face of the Earth. They insist not only that his decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was correct but that the war there can still be won. Some — the members of the “the-surge-is-already-working” school of thought — even profess to see victory just over the horizon.

I believe that such notions are dead wrong and doomed to fail. In books, articles and op-ed pieces, in talks to audiences large and small, I have said as much. “The long war is an unwinnable one,” I wrote in this section of The Washington Post in August 2005. “The United States needs to liquidate its presence in Iraq, placing the onus on Iraqis to decide their fate and creating the space for other regional powers to assist in brokering a political settlement. We’ve done all that we can do.”

Not for a second did I expect my own efforts to make a difference. But I did nurse the hope that my voice might combine with those of others — teachers, writers, activists and ordinary folks — to educate the public about the folly of the course on which the nation has embarked. I hoped that those efforts might produce a political climate conducive to change. I genuinely believed that if the people spoke, our leaders in Washington would listen and respond.

This, I can now see, was an illusion. [full text]

Pooh-Poohing Protest

Occasionally, common sense wins out. A jury in Colorado has unanimously agreed that it is perfectly acceptable for citizens to give a crap. The Greeley Tribune reports on what all the to-doo was about:

Jury acquits woman in dog doo case

It might be a laughing matter to the public, or even to members of the jury who acquitted Kathy Ensz.

But to the 64-year-old retired professor, the dog feces case certainly wasn’t funny.

A Weld County jury found Ensz not guilty Wednesday of criminal use of a noxious substance, a charge that stemmed from her deposit of dog excrement at the congressional office of U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave last May 31.

“When you get prosecuted like this, when the powers that be come after you for something like this, it’s very intimidating,” she said after the verdict.

Now, she and her attorneys are mulling a civil suit against the Weld District Attorney’s Office or Musgrave, or both.

Ensz said she felt vindicated by the verdict. Earlier this year, prosecutors offered her a plea bargain but she refused, not wanting to plead guilty to a crime she didn’t believe she committed.

“This was a ghastly waste of time. It was a political vendetta on the part of the Weld County District Attorney, Ken Buck,” she said. “It was a total waste of money, the taxpayers’ money.”

Buck begged to differ.

“Public officials should be protected from this type of conduct,” he said.

Musgrave has received death threats in the past, and has had to have Secret Service protection because of it, Buck and Musgrave’s chief of staff said.

Buck said that would make Musgrave and her staff more sensitive to any type of threat — even scatological.

“I think most people would find this threatening,” he said. [full text]

And I think most people would find that argument full of you-know-what. In any regard, even if the prosecutor had possessed a leg to stand on, Ms. Ensz could have pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Clearly, she was manifesting symptoms of an excremental illness.

Anyway, if the right to give a crap has been legally upheld, is it safe to presume that citizens also have the right to offer grounds for impeachment, as I advocated in an earlier post? After all, nothing says cut the crap like a dollop of recycled organic matter.

The Beat Goes On

While President Bush continues to march to the beat of his own special drummer and Vice President Cheney continues to beat on any war drum he can get his claws on, the American public continues to hold its collective breath and count the days (606) until these imperious rogues just beat it. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post captures the mood quite well:

In the Rose Garden, It Was All Al-Qaeda

Is there no safe haven for President Bush?

It happened midway through his news conference in the Rose Garden yesterday morning, in between his 10th and 11th mentions of al-Qaeda: A bird flew over the president and deposited a wet, white dropping on the upper left sleeve of his jacket. Bush wiped the mess off with his bare hand.

There was no evidence that Osama bin Laden was responsible for this particular attack, and — who knows? — maybe the terrorist leader believes the superstition that bird poop is good luck. But just about everything else that came up during the hour-long news conference was traced to bin Laden’s terrorist network.

The session was called to draw attention to the fact that Democratic leaders had just caved in to Bush’s demand that the Iraq spending bill have no withdrawal timeline. But as frequently happens at presidential events these days, it quickly became al-Qaeda, all the time. Bush invoked the terrorist group 19 times and even suggested it was going after individual reporters’ kids.

“They are a threat to your children, David,” he advised NBC’s David Gregory.

“It’s a danger to your children, Jim,” Bush informed the New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg.

This last warning was perplexing, because Rutenberg has no children, only a brown chow chow named Little Bear. It was unclear whether Bush was referring to a specific and credible threat to Little Bear or merely indicating there was increased “chatter in the system” about chow chows in general. [full text]

When Terrorism Is a Stretch

It comes as little surprise that the very same government that stretched and distorted the threat posed by a distant sovereign nation in order to justify the harshest of actions against it would similarly stretch and distort the definition of [domestic] terrorism in order to justify the harshest of sanctions against certain criminal defendants. Consider the case of Jonathan Paul, as described by his sister in the following op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times:

My brother, the ‘terrorist’

MY BROTHER IS considered one of the biggest domestic terrorists in the country. You probably haven’t heard of him, and I think that’s odd. After all, he’s dangerous. He’s trying to overthrow our country. He “doesn’t like our freedoms,” or so President Bush has said of terrorists in general, so I suppose that applies to my brother too.

Let me tell you a little bit about him. He likes the History Channel. He’s a Trekkie. He cried (in secret) at the corny 1980s movie “Turtle Diary.” He’s good at fixing things. And, most important, he has devoted his life to stopping animals’ suffering. To this end, he has broken the law. He crept into animal laboratories to free dogs. He dismantled corrals to release wild mustangs. He impersonated a fur buyer to film the treatment of minks. He put himself between whales and whalers despite warnings that his boat would be impounded and that he would be jailed. And nearly 10 years ago, he burned down a horse slaughterhouse in Redmond, Ore. It is for this final act that the U.S. government considers him among the ranks of Osama bin Laden, Eric Rudolph and Ramzi Ahmed Yousef.

“This is a classic case of terrorism,” the federal prosecutor said earnestly to the judge during a hearing last week in my brother’s case.

My brother, Jonathan Paul, has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore., to burning the Cavel West Slaughterhouse. He will find out on June 5 whether the judge considers his actions deserving of the “terrorism enhancement” to his sentence sought by the government. (Nine other members of the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front, who pleaded guilty to different charges, are being sentenced as well. The first, sentenced Wednesday, was deemed a terrorist.) If a terrorism enhancement is imposed, my brother’s recommended sentence could go from less than three years to more than 14 years.

Don’t let me give you the impression that I think arson is something to be taken lightly. I do not. The irony is rich in this case: I was a San Francisco firefighter for 13 years. I was angry and dismayed that my brother chose arson as a route to stop animal suffering. But “a classic case of terrorism”? [full text]

Foreign Invaders

They are far from home, in a place they do not belong. Their presence has caused conflict with the natives and destabilized the region. As the death and destruction have increased, so have their numbers. Despite the dire circumstances, little of substance is being done to change course. And the calamity only worsens.

This is not Iraq (though it well could be) but the Great Lakes region of North America. And the foreign invaders are not U.S. troops but non-native species like the zebra mussel and the goby and dozens of others. They have traveled to this continent in the ballast water of oceangoing ships and made themselves at home, much to the detriment of the natives. This is what happens when humans tinker or interfere—intentionally or not—with the natural order of things. Some lessons are dangerously slow to be learned. Is it too late to change?

From the Detroit Free Press:

Invasive creatures have put lakes in crisis, coalition says

Oceangoing vessels should be banned from the Great Lakes until Congress passes a law requiring ships to sanitize their ballast water, an environmental coalition said Wednesday. The goal is to prevent the release of more nonnative creatures into the world’s greatest source of surface fresh water.

“Invasive species are destroying the Great Lakes,” said Jeff Skelding, campaign director of Healing Our Waters, which includes 90 groups in the United States and Canada. “It’s time to fight back.”

The annual cost to try to control species such as zebra mussels has ballooned to $5 billion each year, he said.

A sweeping Great Lakes funding bill that includes requirements for ships to sanitize their ballast water has languished in Congress for five years, Skelding said. Another bill that targets ballast was introduced this week.

On Jan. 1, Michigan became the first state to require ships to get permits to prove they have treated their ballast before entering Michigan ports. The shipping industry has sued the state in federal court to stop the requirement.

“We’re getting at least one new species each season,” said Jennifer Nalbone, campaign director of Great Lakes United, which first called for a moratorium in March. At least 183 invasive aquatic species have entered the Great Lakes since the 1800s. [full text]

Kmareka Headlines: May 24, 2007

Show-Down at the Congress Vs. Gonzales Corral: From the Whitehouse press office: “Today at 1:00 pm, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) will hold a news conference to announce details of the impending vote of no confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.” Wish I had cable TV.

Kindergarten in Iraq — Children Who Smile and Vow to Kill: This story from CNN is a heartbreaker — describing what has happened to a typical kindergarten in Iraq, including going from 180 to 16 students in 4 years, and having graduations where children speak of the violence brewing around them and inside them. This is a frightening portrait of how the culture of trauma in Iraq is affecting children.

Review of The Global Class War by Jeff Faux: For those of us concerned about globalization and how it will affect our jobs as well as the jobs of our children, this looks like a good read. The reviewer, Stephen E. Shaw, captures well some of the nuances as well as the main thesis of this book.

Sign of the Times: Blogger Jobs: Here’s something you won’t find in the Projo. This is a job board where bloggers can find jobs blogging on subjects as varied as golf and tennis, to “junk creation blogger” (my dream job, if only I could keep up the creative ideas and discoveries) to Asian Food and Baking bloggers. Is it my imagination, or is the job market for writing is shifting rapidly?

A Very Young George Bush Explains Global Warming: This video is funny as well as frightening in its interpretation of W’s world view and his understanding of global warming. “Hello America, it’s me, your President, the Commander-in-chief of the world…”

A Taxing Problem—and One Solution

Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, my father worked tirelessly as a Special Agent for the Internal Revenue Service. A good deal of his time was devoted to tracking down well-heeled Americans who were illegally squirreling away their money in offshore bank accounts to avoid paying taxes. My father was something of a pioneer in pursuing and bringing to light this sort of white-collar crime. Yet despite his valiant efforts, such tax evasion remains a significant problem decades later. Given the seemingly intractable nature of the problem—which is certainly due in part to the government’s inability and/or unwillingness to more effectively crack down on those who fail to pay their fair share—perhaps it is time to take a different tack, such as that proposed recently by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich on his blog:

How to Reduce the Use of Off-Shore Tax Havens

After suggesting a couple of weeks ago that the stratospheric earnings of equity-fund managers ought to be considered income rather than capital gains and therefore taxed at 35 percent rather than 15 percent, I was deluged with emails telling me the plan wouldn’t work. It would just drive fund managers into offshore tax havens. No less than Jon Corzine, the former chief executive of Goldman Sachs, now governor of New Jersey, admitted recently in a television interview that many fund managers would take their money out of the country before they’d pay the 35 percent rate.

Corzine and my other critics may have a point. Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation recently estimated that America’s super-rich already sock away more than $100 billion a year in offshore tax havens. So any attempt to get them to pay what they owe is doomed, right?

Maybe. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the immigration bill now pending before Congress – especially the conditions undocumented workers will have to meet if they want to become American citizens. One of them is to pay all the taxes they owe.

The new immigration bill may not make it through Congress, but that provision about paying taxes that are owed in order to be a citizen serves as a reminder that paying taxes is one of the major obligations of citizenship. After all, if we didn’t pay the taxes we owe, we wouldn’t have public schools, police and fire protection, national defense, homeland security, roads and bridges, Medicare and Social Security, and other things we need.

So when the super-rich use offshore tax havens to avoid paying what they owe in taxes, they’re reneging on their duties as citizens. It seems only fair to me that the consequence of that kind of tax avoidance ought to be loss of citizenship. If it’s more important to someone to avoid paying what they owe in taxes than to continue being an American, then let them keep their money. They can become a citizen of the Cayman Islands or Bermuda or wherever else they store their wealth, and come here on a visitor’s visa – if they can get one. [link]

Now Boarding, Air Viagra?

Some headlines catch the eye like a meringue pie in the face. Today, that headline is: “Viagra reduces jet lag in hamsters.” In the article (in The Register) that accompanies this seemingly preposterous headline, it is reported that “Argentinian researchers have rather unaccountably discovered that Viagra helps ameliorate the effects of ‘jet lag’ in hamsters, and might do the same for humans.” As eye-opening as this news is, several questions remain unanswered, including the following:

1. Where precisely are all these hamsters jetting off to?
2. Do rodents travel in their own tiny aircraft or on JetBlue like everyone else?
3. Are hamsters eligible to use frequent flier miles?
4. Do the TSA and the FAA know about this?
5. Is there any concern that the hamsters, because of their size, will sneak into the cockpit?
6. In addition to boarding the aircraft, do the little buggers board each other?
7. If the Viagra is taken too soon before boarding, does that cause a terminal condition?
8. Are Viagra-drugged passengers happier passengers?
9. Can the hamsters return their seats to the upright position whenever they desire?
10. What happens if a hamster experiences an erection lasting more than 4 hours and the flight is much longer than that?
11. Is jet lag really that big a problem in the hamster world?
12. Don’t Argentinian researchers have better things to do with their time?

88% of 466,000 MSN Readers Want Bush Impeached

I know there is a presiding sentiment that pressure for impeachment is not going anywhere — look what they did to Russ Feingold when he brought it up, for heaven’s sake. But now that we have a bunch more Democrats elected, it might be worth revisiting the question. Take a look at this survey on MSN. It has a very good sample size (over 466,000 as of this writing) and 88% of the respondents want to see George W. Bush impeached. Now go vote in it.

h/t for the link.

The Big Brother Tactics of Big Pharma

How many sundry and insidious schemes will the pharmaceutical industry employ to push their products on doctors and patients? The following news article from the Washington Post suggests that these companies will do virtually anything—including use intrusive data mining tactics—to pad their profits:

Doctors, Legislators Resist Drugmakers’ Prying Eyes

Seattle pediatrician Rupin Thakkar’s first inkling that the pharmaceutical industry was peering over his shoulder and into his prescription pad came in a letter from a drug representative about the generic drops Thakkar prescribes to treat infectious pinkeye.

In the letter, the salesperson wrote that Thakkar was causing his patients to miss more days of school than they would if he put them on Vigamox, a more expensive brand-name medicine made by Alcon Laboratories.

“My initial thought was ‘How does she know what I’m prescribing?’ ” Thakkar said. “It feels intrusive. . . . I just feel strongly that medical encounters need to be private.”

He is not alone. Many doctors object to drugmakers’ common practice of contracting with data-mining companies to track exactly which medicines physicians prescribe and in what quantities — information marketers and salespeople use to fine-tune their efforts. The industry defends the practice as a way of better educating physicians about new drugs.

Now the issue is bubbling up in the political arena. Last year, New Hampshire became the first state to try to curtail the practice, but a federal district judge three weeks ago ruled the law unconstitutional.

This year, more than a dozen states have considered similar legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. They include Arizona, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Nevada, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont and Washington, although the results so far have been limited. Bills are stalled in some states, and in others, such as Maryland and West Virginia, they did not pass at the committee level.

The concerns are not merely about privacy. Proponents say using such detailed data for drug marketing serves mainly to influence physicians to prescribe more expensive medicines, not necessarily to provide the best treatment.

“We don’t like the practice, and we want it to stop,” said Jean Silver-Isenstadt, executive director of the National Physicians Alliance, a two-year-old group with 10,000 members, most of them young doctors in training. (Thakkar is on the group’s board of directors.) “We think it’s a contaminant to the doctor-patient relationship, and it’s driving up costs.” [full text]


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