“The Fog of Obfuscation”

From the New York Times (via AlterNet), a nice editorial by Paul Krugman that attempts to “dispel the fog of obfuscation right-wingers use to obscure the true nature of their position on children’s health”:

On the Right, Public Healthcare for Children is a Socialist Plot

Suppose, for a moment, that the Heritage Foundation were to put out a press release attacking the liberal view that even children whose parents could afford to send them to private school should be entitled to free government-run education.

They’d have a point: many American families with middle-class incomes do send their kids to school at public expense, so taxpayers without school-age children subsidize families that do. And the effect is to displace the private sector: if public schools weren’t available, many families would pay for private schools instead.

So let’s end this un-American system and make education what it should be — a matter of individual responsibility and private enterprise. Oh, and we shouldn’t have any government mandates that force children to get educated, either. As a Republican presidential candidate might say, the future of America’s education system lies in free-market solutions, not socialist models.

O.K., in case you’re wondering, I haven’t lost my mind, I’m drawing an analogy. The real Heritage press release, titled “The Middle-Class Welfare Kid Next Door,” is an attack on proposals to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Such an expansion, says Heritage, will “displace private insurance with government-sponsored health care coverage.”

And Rudy Giuliani’s call for “free-market solutions, not socialist models” was about health care, not education.

But thinking about how we’d react if they said the same things about education helps dispel the fog of obfuscation right-wingers use to obscure the true nature of their position on children’s health.

The truth is that there’s no difference in principle between saying that every American child is entitled to an education and saying that every American child is entitled to adequate health care. It’s just a matter of historical accident that we think of access to free K-12 education as a basic right, but consider having the government pay children’s medical bills “welfare,” with all the negative connotations that go with that term.

And conservative opposition to giving every child in this country access to health care is, in a fundamental sense, un-American. [full text]

The Great Pretenders

Pretending to be something that you are truly not is inordinately difficult. It is an enterprise that requires great effort and energy and, more often than not, ends in disgrace. Take Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), for example. For who-knows-how-long, he has been pretending to be a straight guy who does not enjoy an occasional rendezvous with anonymous men in the stalls of public restrooms. Unfortunately for Mr. Craig, his true inclinations have been exposed after word got out yesterday that he “pleaded guilty earlier this month to misdemeanor disorderly-conduct charges stemming from his June arrest by an undercover police officer in a men’s restroom at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.” Oops, don’t you just hate when that happens?

Not surprisingly, like many a two-faced fellow nabbed by deceit of his pants, the Senator is denying and minimizing the whole affair. “I was not involved in any inappropriate conduct,” he asserted yesterday, guilty plea and previous allegations notwithstanding. It is doubtful that anyone finds his protests credible. He is still pretending, sharing the lie that he tells to himself to anyone who will listen. How sad.

Mr. Craig is not alone, of course. Our nation’s capital is replete with pretenders. On the same day that the Senator was outed, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales—who has been doggedly pretending to “stand up for the Constitution and the rule of law” instead of the partisan policies of a power-hungry administration—finally succumbed to his many critics and tendered his resignation. Repeatedly exposed as an incompetent toady who has politicized and polarized the Justice Department, Mr. Gonzales has opted not to live the lie anymore. Good for him. And good for America.

But the greatest pretenders of all, Bush and Cheney, remain atop their lofty, if shaky, perches. They are leaders in name alone. True leadership requires considerably more integrity and ability than these hacks have ever demonstrated. They pretend to have our collective back, but—as evidenced by the failures of Iraq and Hurricane Katrina, along with the assault on our most cherished liberties and the cancerous growth of economic inequality in this country—they stab us in the back instead. Et tu, brutes?

I don’t know about you, but I am weary of all the deceit. I long for a modicum of honesty and decency from those who serve at the pleasure of the public. I yearn for leaders whose good intentions exceed their foul pretensions. Is that too much to ask?

Abstract Promises and Concrete Problems

Geoff Schoos writes this week about the concrete plant battle and all the litigation it has created, referring to it as a possible “lawyer’s relief program.” His piece is excellent in its description of the August press conference for the residents opposed to the plant, where they were joined by the American Lung Association of New England and several other organizations. What I found most valuable about the piece was how it shed light on the ways in which our local and state governments are failing to do what have promised to do. From The Cranston Herald:

[...] It did not have to come to this. If the city had changed its zoning laws, as required by state statute, to conform to the Comprehensive Plan approved and adopted in 1992, the land would currently be zoned as open space. There is little question that there would not be a controversy over a misplaced concrete facility today.

In the 2006 election campaign, the mayor promised that if elected, he would investigate the issuance of that building permit and revoke it if it were determined that any impropriety occurred. He said that on Nov. 1, 2006. I know – I was there. To date, no serious investigation into the matter by either the administration or the City Council has been conducted.

In March 2007, after the mayor agreed to the consent order and to do nothing pending the ZBR hearing of the CCRZD’s appeal of the issuance of the building permit, the mayor’s director of administration told the Eden Park residents gathered outside Judge Indeglia’s courtroom that a ZBR hearing could be held by the end of April. He told the residents that the city was committed to a quick resolution of the issue. I know – I was there as well. Last week he stated that the ZBR could hear the issue as early as this fall.

It’s no wonder that people feel like pawns in the game. They justly feel like victims of a government that forgot Immanuel Kant’s admonition to “always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end.� [full text]

Schoos starts his piece off with a quote from John Locke — “I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.” The actions of our state and local leadership speak much louder than their words, and their actions are about talking the talk but not being able to walk the walk. The Comprehensive Plan of 1992 promised to designate the area open space, but that didn’t happen. Mayor Napolitano promised to do an investigation of the building permit given to Cullion, but that hasn’t happened. The DEM promised to hold a public hearing in July to allow residents to voice their opposition to the concrete plant, but that didn’t happen. The pattern of lack of follow-through is obvious. And they count on your apathy — the public’s unwillingness to hold them accountable — to do things like this.

Don’t let them get away with not listening to the public about the problems being created by the location of the Cullion concrete plant. Write a letter to the DEM. Do your part to hold our elected and appointed officials accountable.

Why Can’t the People of Cranston Be Heard?

Cranston Citizens for Responsible Zoning and Development (CCRZD) is urging concerned residents to contact the DEM and insist that they reschedule the public hearing on the matter of the concrete plant. The DEM had promised to hold a hearing on this issue in July, but the hearing was never scheduled. Now, according the CCRZD, “On September 4th, the DEM will consider canceling the public hearing of Cullion/Karleetor Wetlands ‘Insignificant Alteration’ Permit.”

They provide the following sample text for the letter:

As a resident of Cranston, I urge you to revoke the above Permit, which was modified by Karleetor/Cullion (Concrete Batching Plant) located on Marine Drive. This area is designated by FEMA as a floodplain, is part of a significant wetlands, and will be adversely affected by the air, noise, soil, and water pollution that will surely result from this industrial development. I am strongly opposed to the Cullion proposal and amazed that you would even consider granting them a permit to build and operate a public health hazard in my residential neighborhood.

I am also concerned about attempts being made by Cullion/Karleetor’s attorneys to prevent a public hearing on the above-matter. DEM had already agreed to hold the Hearing, and it was scheduled in July but never happened ~ why? Why has it not been rescheduled?

Since this development will directly affect my neighbors and my family, I feel that we are entitled to be heard on this matter. I have always had confidence in the DEM and its unwavering commitment to protect Rhode Island’s wetlands and citizens from exposure to unsafe air, water and noise pollution, and I hope that you will be strong on September 4th and resist efforts to silence Cranston residents.

We are relying on you make the right decision on September 4, a decision that will profoundly affect future generations who will have to deal with this problem.

Letters should be addressed to:

W. Michael Sullivan, Ph.D., Director
Rhode Island DEM
235 Promenade Street
Providence, RI 02908-5767

FAX: (401) 222-6802

E-MAIL: Michael.sullivan@dem.ri.gov

Bush “Reluctantly” Accepts Gonzales’ Resignation

I am wondering how Senator Whitehouse is reacting to the news. His press office line is busy, but I imagine an email statement from the Senator, after all his effort on this issue, is on the way. From MSN:

WASHINGTON – Embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, under fire from congressional Democrats and even some Republicans, has resigned, senior Bush administration officials said Monday.

Gonzales spoke to President Bush by telephone on Friday and then visited him at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on Sunday where he formally submitted his letter of resignation, a senior administration official said.

“He (Bush) very reluctantly accepted it,� the official said.

UPDATE: As predicted, here is Whitehouse’s statement:

“It’s been clear for months that Alberto Gonzales’s resignation is in the best interest of the country. This is also good news for the Department of Justice, but a great deal of work remains to be done to restore Americans’ confidence in this great Department, to restore its traditions and spirit, and to restore its ability to fairly and dispassionately enforce the law. Fortunately, there are many people of both parties who know and love this Department who I’m sure would be glad to help.

“I hope that whoever the President nominates to be he new Attorney General at this critical time will put the interests of the Department, its employees, and the American people foremost – before partisanship, and before politics.�

Believe it or not, this article from CNN discusses the possibility of Michael Chertoff being nominated for the Attorney General position.

Advice to Disgraced Clergy: Get a Job

I once worked with an ex-priest. The Catholic church lost one of their best when this man left the priesthood for the secular life. I think he brings the gift of ministry to his work in social services. When he first left the priesthood he did a variety of jobs, including construction. Hey, even St. Paul was a tentmaker.

My church is pretty tough on ministers. One of them resigned and has a practice as a counselor. Another works in prevention of cruelty to animals. A lot of people come out of divinity school and don’t get a gig right away, or don’t click with their church and resign or even get fired. They might do other work for some time, or maybe minister in some other way. Being clergy doesn’t exempt you from having to pay your bills.

But I’m being of a worldly mind. In the Church of the Prosperity Gospel the ordained of the Lord won’t ever be found doing drudge work. Ted Haggard, who lost his megachurch ministry when he was outed by a male prostitute he hired, has a message for you– “send me money now.�

The former New Life Church pastor plans to seek a master’s degree in counseling at the University of Phoenix while his wife studies psychology, he said in an e-mail sent this week to KRDO-TV in Colorado Springs.

The couple and two of their sons planned to move Oct. 1 to the Phoenix Dream Center, a faith-based halfway house in Phoenix, where Haggard and his wife would provide counseling, the e-mail said.

“It looks as though it will take two years for us to have adequate earning power again, so we are looking for people who will help us monthly for two years,” the e-mail said. “During that time we will continue as full-time students, and then, when I graduate, we won’t need outside support any longer.”

You will notice the article says, ‘provide counseling’. Having a total disaster of a marriage gives the Haggards a special authority as counselors, but apparently Megachurch Divinity never gave Ted Haggard a real degree. You wouldn’t want him to have to sell his house or take out a student loan, would you? That’s for peasants.

And if you donate to Ted’s support fund, ‘Families with a Mission’, ten percent of the donation will go to a convicted sex offender who is administering the charity, according to Seattle’s newspaper, The Stranger. Haggard probably has a lot of friends who are forgiven. God forgave them, why can’t you?

I used to think that you had to kill a dog to lose your reputation, but even Michael Vick has his defenders, so I suppose someone will send money to Ted Haggard. We’re so used to preachers getting really good at soliciting money and building bigger and bigger churches that it seems normal. When one of them falls from grace, they keep doing the only thing they know how to do, selling salvation and begging for bucks.

I don’t know why so many people fall for the con that God needs their money. God is omnipotent. He gets everything for free. People need money. It’s okay to tell some of those people to get a job.

I don’t get this forgiveness thing, either. Forgiveness is a blessing, but it’s not the same as forgetting. If the guy really screwed up as a minister he probably needs to be doing something else. You can forgive an embezzler, but don’t give them a job in a bank. Ted Haggard is only one of a long procession of charismatic, flawed people who shouldn’t be a minister, or counselor, or anything else where they have power over people. These people should get a regular job and show every one they can lead an honest life. Maybe there’s a career opportunity in carpentry.

“An Environmental Success Story”

The following article from the Associated Press (via the Boston Globe) offers some hope that, amid the sea of bad news that daily laps at the shores of our lives, there remains the occasional island of good news:

Biologists endure isolation, noise and bird poop to aid puffins

EASTERN EGG ROCK, Maine –A puffin hops up onto a rock, notices another puffin standing on one leg nearby, and waddles to over to join him. The fact that the one-legged bird is a wooden decoy doesn’t seem to matter. Puffins love company.

Stephen Kress smiles as he watches from a blind about 20 yards away. The deception is one of the techniques he used to lure the colorful seabirds back to this rocky island.

“I used an old hunter’s trick, something that hadn’t been done with seabirds before,” whispers Kress, director of the National Audubon’s Seabird Restoration Program.

Puffins, seabirds that resemble halfpint penguins except that they can fly, were decimated in the late 1880s by hunters for their meat and feathers in Maine. By 1901, Maine had just one pair of puffins, on Matinicus Rock, researchers said.

Though plentiful elsewhere, Kress three decades ago set about bringing them back to Maine’s islands, on the southern end of their range.

In 1973, with backing from the National Audubon Society and help from the Canadian Wildlife Service, Kress began transplanting 2-week-old puffin chicks from Great Island off Newfoundland, 1,000 miles to the northeast. The first returning bird came in 1977. Four years later, the first breeding pair was spied on the island.

These days there are 90 nesting pairs on Eastern Egg. All told, there are more than 700 nesting pairs four Maine islands, Kress said.

With seemingly daily stories of global warming and vanishing species, the restoration of puffins in the Gulf of Maine represents an environmental success story. [full text]