Friday, February 20, 2009

The GOP as Gangbangers

Four, count them, four brave Republican legislators in the past week spurned their peers and voted their conscience rather than their gang. No doubt their names are dirtier than mud these days on right-wing radio. Three GOP Senators, Collins, Snowe, and Specter along with California legislator Abel Maldonado bucked their GOP gangbangers.

I wonder what adjectives have bounced around the right-wing echo chamber since they bravely moved out of their party's ideological mode? Traitor, for sure. Coward, double-crosser, betrayer, and surely un-American.

Today's GOP is not unlike an urban gang, although they could never see themselves as such- which is one of the core delineators of gang-think. Then there is the 'code' to which all must adhere: 'vote no!' Thirdly, there is the sign, the tattoo, the symbol: flag pin!

Whoa! There you have it: Republican gangbangers. Pity the four who broke with their gang. Were this an urban gang, they'd be hunted down like dogs and killed. Rather, the leaders of this gang, like pussies, will sit behind their microphones and whine and drone on about these mush wimps.

It's always fun, a giggle-hoot on the right-side of life.

"I did not mean to kill the leader of the occupation forces."

So said Iraqi shoe-thrower Muntadar al-Zaidi as he took the stand in defense of throwing his shoes at President Bush. 'The leader of the occupation forces' is an interesting title for Mr. Bush. I'm trying to recall whether the leader of the 'occupying forces' in 1776 made a similar visit to the Colonies. Actually, I think not.

Al-Zaidi said that, during that news conference, he became enraged as Bush provided an upbeat assessment of the security situation in Iraq.

"I did not know what achievements he was talking about," Zaidi said. "I was seeing a million martyrs, seas of Iraqi blood, the desecration of mosques, the raping of Iraqi women and the humiliation Iraqis endure every day, every hour. Because I am a journalist, I know all about that."

Bush smirked "icily" as he spoke, Zaidi said, flashing a "smile with no spirit."

Smiled icily. Ah, that smile, or is it a smirk? Lots of adolescent boys like to smirk, especially the more well-to-do white kids who figure that they are in a better economic class. Bush's adolescent smirk never wore off. Of course, psychologists will tell you that a smirk is often a cover-up, often unconscious, for guilt.

"In that moment, I only saw Bush," he said. "I was feeling the blood of innocent people flow under my feet as he was smiling. I felt that he is the killer of my people and I am one of those people. I became emotional because he's responsible for what is going on in Iraq, so I hit him with my shoe."

So then, it was the result of the cocky, icy smirk. Temporary insanity plea. Yet we are left to ponder this question: just who suffered the insanity?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

"A Nation of Cowards"

CNN: In a blunt assessment of race relations in the United States, Attorney General Eric Holder Wednesday called the American people "essentially a nation of cowards" in failing to openly discuss the issue of race.

Eric Holder spoke to an overflowing crowd for Black History Month at the Justice Department Wednesday.

In his first major speech since being confirmed, the nation's first black attorney general told an overflow crowd celebrating Black History Month at the Justice Department the nation remains "voluntarily socially segregated."

Holder urged Americans of all races to use Black History Month as a time to have a forthright national conversation between blacks and whites to discuss aspects of race which are ignored because they are uncomfortable.

The attorney general said employees across the country "have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace," but he noted that "certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one's character." Watch Holder talk about race »

"On Saturdays and Sundays, America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some 50 years ago. This is truly sad," Holder said.


Fifty years ago, he said. I was entering college in 1959. There were two black students in my high school graduation class and my mother still had a 'colored' cleaning lady in every-other Friday. There were 'colored' areas of Toledo and white areas but 'white flight' was already beginning in the Kuhschwantz-Polish section of Toledo as well as near-downtown and north Toledo.

Long-time Polish residents along Nebraska Avenue and the side streets began to move out as the 'coloreds' moved in. I recall much racial bitterness from that era which, of course, erupted in the South a few years later.

I am quite at ease with black people perhaps because we are often immersed together as we work on political or social projects together. My wife and I have two 'adopted' black sons whom we have attempted to steer in the right direction. They lost both parents as teenagers, and we have been surrogate parents for them. We met them in a predominantly black church back in 1991 and have kept up our relationship. We were recent 'proxy-grandparents' for one of the young men. He called us shortly before and after the birth of his daughter and sent us a photo album of the event.

What's so hard about seeing people behind the skin color? I wonder why there are so many people who cannot look beyond melanin levels to see the humanness of people. Of course, I did not learn that tolerance from my parents nor my relatives as they were stuck in bigotry all of their lives. At least we taught acceptance to our children and they are passing that off to their children. The viscous cycle of bigotry in my family has, at last, been interrupted.

Jailing Kids for Cash

I couldn't believe the title of this post and, upon reading it, my head is still swimming. Amy Goodman reports in, Jailing Kids for Cash, that two Pennsylvania judges received kick-backs from builders and operators of private jails for sentencing children to their facilities. She writes:

As many as 5,000 children in Pennsylvania have been found guilty, and up to 2,000 of them jailed, by two corrupt judges who received kickbacks from the builders and owners of private prison facilities that benefited. The two judges pleaded guilty in a stunning case of greed and corruption that is still unfolding. Judges Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan received $2.6 million in kickbacks while imprisoning children who often had no access to a lawyer. The case offers an extraordinary glimpse into the shameful private prison industry that is flourishing in the United States.

The future of facilities like these is poised to explode with new inmates and the downturn of our economy. She continues,

According to The Sentencing Project, “the United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with 2.1 million people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails—a 500 percent increase over the past thirty years.” The Wall Street Journal reports that “[p]rison companies are preparing for a wave of new business as the economic downturn makes it increasingly difficult for federal and state government officials to build and operate their own jails.” For-profit prison companies like the Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut) are positioned for increased profits.

Profits for jailing kids. What kind of Taliban-like society have we turned into?

Bipolar GOP

Recall the song, 'Undecided' made famous by Ella Fitzgerald?

"First you say you do
And then you don`t
And then you say you will
And then you won`t
You`re undecided now
So what are you gonna do?"

Well, the answer to Ms. Fitzgerald's question is, if you are a Republican, is to do what you have always done: lie.

The Hill ran and article yesterday titled, "GOP votes against, then embraces, stimulus.

GOP members of the House and Senate who did not vote for it are now touting the benefits of the package to their constituents. How will they get away with this you ask? Come on, you know why: think dumbed-down. Got it?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Great Nebula in Carina

NASA: In one of the brightest parts of Milky Way lies a nebula where some of the oddest things occur. NGC 3372, known as the Great Nebula in Carina, is home to massive stars and changing nebula. Eta Carinae, the most energetic star in the nebula, was one of the brightest stars in the sky in the 1830s, but then faded dramatically. The Keyhole Nebula, visible left the center, houses several of the most massive stars known and has also changed its appearance. The entire Carina Nebula spans over 300 light years and lies about 7,500 light-years away in the constellation of Carina. Pictured above is the most detailed image of the Carina Nebula ever taken. The controlled color image is a composite of 48 high-resolution frames taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and released to honor its 17th anniversary.

Inside the Financial Meltdown

Frontline on PBS presented an inside look at the financial meltdown from June to October 2008. The subtitle of the program was, How the economy went so bad so fast and what Bernanke and Paulson didn't see, couldn't stop , and weren't able to fix.

'And weren't able to fix,' got to me. What about you? Did that phrase send a chill down your spine? As I said, the story ended in October, 2008. Lots of other stuff happened since then including a Stock Market at 7800.

The story itself is a classic replay of Katrina and Heckofajob Brownie: incompetent political appointees way over their heads, pretending to be have everything under control. The Bush legacy, again. Donald Rumsfeld, Michael Brown, Roberto Gonzales, C. Paul Bremer, Mike Leavitt, John Snow, Gale A. Norton, Jim Nicholson, among others.

Frontline barred no punches in calling these two incompetents out. Alan Greenspan, ever the wide-eyed free-marketer, was nailed as well. It was a complete repudiation and excoriation of Republican supply-side, trickle-down, unregulated economics.

And we thought that the legacy of Iraq would be the biggest scourge that the Bush Administration left on our backs! Little did we know what else they bungled so completely.

Now those idiots who gave us 8 years of this crap are nipping at the heels of Obama. We ought to start building a set gallows, Taliban-style, and have a public hanging. It would be cathartic albeit barbaric.

It's the Banks, Stupid!

Someone has been holding up the banks!  Quick, police! Description: white males, clean-shaven, mid 40's, well-dressed, business suits, seen driving BMW's.

Funny stuff, eh? Lots of laughs. Here in northwest Ohio, the bank robberies are on the up-tick. Those fuzzy in-bank cameras snap the photos: poorly dressed guy, half-shaven who flees on a bicycle or in a '95 red pickup. The cops usually get their man.

Not on Wall Street, however. Few suspects ever caught. Rather than getting away with a stack of 20's and some red dye, these bandits get millions, or is that billions. No dye. Often a handshake and a smile.

The press doesn't much care either; they'd rather write about the homegrown bandit- the one who the cops catch an hour later. Makes us all feel so 'safe.'

Meanwhile, those well-dressed, titled bank robbers continue to dig deep, filling bag after bag with the loot. We ought not be too concerned, though: after all, they are upright members of society, and they are so smartly-dressed, too!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On Seeing the First Flowers of Spring

There it was, poppping its head out of the cold ground as I passed by. I stopped to enjoy its quaint beauty. It was then that I realized that the ugly grip of winter has been broken.

The snowdrop or Galanthus is one of the first flowers to bloom. It is common in Europe and was thought to have been brought there by the Romans.

Nearby I spotted a Witch Hazel with its blossoms open in the bright sun. Were the temperature a bit warmer, the fragrance would have been over-powering. Goldcrest or Hamamelis mollis is the variety.

Tonight's forcast is for a 'wintery mix' as old man winter lets us know that it ain't over just yet.

We Ought to Hang Phil Gramm From a Tree on National Television

"Government is Not the Answer." How many times have we heard that line roll off the tongues of some right-wing Republican? Nauseatingly way too often. Phil Gramm said it too. But first here's the latest story from CNN Money, Why you can't get a loan. It's "the banking crisis" of course. If it weren't so serious, one might have to laugh about the self-inflicted, shoot yourself in the foot 'crisis' which the banking industry brought about- with the help of the Republicans in Congress. They did it with eyes wide open, waiting for the money to roll in.

Naturally, they had the GOP firmly on their side as Congress passed The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. Former senator Trent Lott loudly praised the bill saying on the floor of the Senate,

"When the history is written of this session of Congress, it will probably identify this piece of legislation as the single biggest achievement. I have heard this financial services modernization issue discussed for my entire career in the Congress, which is now up to 27 years. It has been tried by Republicans, by Democrats in the Congress, House and Senate, administrations of both parties. It never quite occurred."

When the history is written... It has been, senator, and it ain't too good.

Phil Gramm, the chief sponsor of the bill and economic adviser to candidate John McCain, said at the signing ceremony,

"We are here today to repeal Glass-Steagall because we have learned that government is not the answer. We have learned that freedom and competition are the answers. We have learned that we promote economic growth and we promote stability by having competition and freedom.

"I am proud to be here because this is an important bill; it is a deregulatory bill. I believe that that is the wave of the future, and I am awfully proud to have been a part of making it a reality."

'Awfully proud,' he said. It is a 'deregulatory bill.' Indeed, senator, indeed it was! Those damned government regulations! Too much government interference in business!

We ought to hang Phil Gramm from a tree in front of Capitol Hill in a nationally televised event. It would be cathartic for us, although it will not recover the 30 trillion dollars that has evaporated from the banking system.

Prior to its passage, Gramm made daily appearances in the well of the Senate, giving speeches on how wonderful the bill would be for the citizens of this nation. In October 1999, he said,

"The financial services modernization legislation is the most important banking legislation in 60 years. The people it will benefit most are working families.

"The hallmark of the bill is that it will make an array of financial services available to every American consumer that will provide lower prices and one-stop shopping at financial supermarkets in every city and town in the country."

'One-stop shopping at financial supermarkets,' he said. No more stuffy bank buildings; no more scrutiny of assets; none of that old-style stuff that kept banks afloat since the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, enacted after the Hoover Depression to insure the safety of savings and loans. No, none of that 'safety' stuff, senator. Let's experiment with risky loans, eh? Let's create a new kind of bank- one that isn't bound by those foolish rules and regulations of the past. Investment banks! Now there's the answer, right Senator Gramm?

Is it any wonder, then, that John McCain uttered those infamous words, "The fundamental of the economy are strong!" After all, it was Phil Gramm who was giving him financial counsel.

Right after the Senate approved the bill, Senator Gramm took to the floor to praise the legislation. He said,

""The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act strikes down these walls and opens up new competition. It will create wholly new financial services organizations in America. It will literally bring to every city and town in America the financial services supermarket."

May I offer an amendment, senator? Could we substitute this final line instead of yours:

"It will literally bring to every city and town in America to its knees!"

Hang em!

Who Will Fight the Next War?

The 60's Pete Seeger tune, 'Where have all the soldiers gone, long-time passing?' often floats around in my head. Then of course his answer, 'Gone to graveyards every one, When will they ever learn?' I dunno. Maybe never?

A new President and the location this time is Afghanistan. Been there, did nothing already. What will Obama do? Will he be sucked into war as did each of this predecessors? Will he send more of our troops whose blood will be spilled on some despots soil or sand or rock? Sent for a 'noble' cause, of course. It is always the 'right' thing to do.

Why do so many naive and/or recently elected American presidents send our military into action, often on questionable missions? Kennedy's Bay of Pigs; Johnson's Gulf of Tonkin incident; W. Bush's Iraq War.

It's always the youngsters who play out the old man's war fantasies. I wonder if my four grandsons will be called to fight a future president's fantasy. I hope not, but, looking at the historical precedent, odds are they will.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Fourth Most Dangerous State

No. 4: South Carolina. Whatever happened to Southern hospitality? South Carolina is charged with the highest assault problem in the Most Dangerous States list; it ranks number 4 in murder, tied with Alabama.

Lots of unrest down there in the home of the Confederacy. Inbreeding still going on ever since the days of Ft. Sumter? Solid red state in every election. Home state of Strom Thurmond, racist.

I've never been to the state and see no reason to risk my life going there. I'll take cloudy, cold and snowy Ohio, thank you.

[by the way, I came across South Carolina's low ranking as my wife read me a column by Kathleen Parker on pot]

The 7th Worst President Ever

Happy Presidents' Day! On a day like today, we think back on that small set of men who have guided or mis-guided this nation. Some among us want to rank them, much as we do sports teams, cars or TV sets. I wonder how Consumer's Reports would do it. C-Span gives us their annual rankings, as judged by the panel of historians, and the top five are always much the same, year after year: Lincoln, George Washington, FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, and Harry S Truman in the top five slots.

The battle for the basement, however, seems to shift from year to year. Relatives of those bottom-cellar dwellers hold their breath hoping that their man is not dead last. If your name is Buchanan, you are the pits this go-round. Andrew Johnson's relatives breathe a sigh of relief, at least for this year. Franklin Pierce is third from the bottom and Ohio's William Henry Harrison is four from the bottom, although the poor man was in office only 30 days, mostly on his death bed, for crying out loud!

Ohio's Warren G. Harding fell lower than Millard Fillmore for the next slot. Harding was rated worst in Moral Authority and Crisis Leadership and poor in Administrative Skills, Vision / Setting an Agenda, and Performance Within Context of Times.

Millard Filmore, saddled with that awful name, was just able to see light as #37 of 42. Filmore is rated very low in "Pursued Equal Justice For All." His enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law no doubt tumbled him into the cellar with all of the other ne'erdowells.

George W. Bush is next. Anybody surprised? Not very many of my friends and family are; after all, we barely survived these past 8 years. Any guesses on the areas of his lowest scores? After some musing, find out here.

McCain and Graham Eat Sour Grapes

My father read and re-read Aesop's Fables to me quite often at night while we were going to sleep. Even today I can recite many verbatim. As I lay in bed, my young mind would conjure up pictures of the characters in the fable.

The fox and the grapes was classically simple: losers are bitter and cast blame outward rather than inward. McCain and Graham, two of the three GOP campaign trio [sans Lieberman], say Obama is 'off to a bad start,' as CNN puts it.

That other fable comes to mind regarding the senators: The Ass and His Masters.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Milky Way Galaxy has 'billions of Earths'

BBC reports:

There could be one hundred billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy, a US conference has heard. Dr Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution of Science said many of these worlds could be inhabited by simple lifeforms. But, based on the limited numbers of planets found so far, Dr Boss has estimated that each Sun-like star has on average one "Earth-like" planet.

"Not only are they probably habitable but they probably are also going to be inhabited," Dr Boss told BBC News. "But I think that most likely the nearby 'Earths' are going to be inhabited with things which are perhaps more common to what Earth was like three or four billion years ago." That means bacterial lifeforms.

Dr Boss estimates that Nasa's Kepler mission, due for launch in March, should begin finding some of these Earth-like planets within the next few years. Recent work at Edinburgh University tried to quantify how many intelligent civilisations might be out there. The research suggested there could be thousands of them.


Thousands of 'them.' That's thousands of 'us.' Intelligent civilizations. Of course, one might ask whether our civilization is intelligent. After all, we still conduct massive killings of each other on a regular basis through our endless wars.

Did God create human life on each of these thousands of planets, too? And did they, like Adam and Eve, 'sin?' Did he send his son down to each of these planets to be crucified for the sinfulness?

Or did that scenario exclusively happen only here, on this inhabitable planet?

So much to yet learn from science...

Milk and Anita

I was again told that 'I had to see' another film. This time it was Milk, the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Unlike my last movie, Gran Torino, I knew this story as well as the ending.

Two films filled with bigotry and a tragic ending. That's about all these two movies had in common. While in the theater for the first film, my wife and I saw two Hmong friends of ours. They were recruited as 'extras' by Clint Eastwood at a soccer field in Highland Park two summers ago.

In Milk, I thought I recognized someone else who played the role of the bigoted Anita Bryant, but then I realized that it was actually she in film clips. Maybe all homophobes look alike. She was oh-so righteous in her bigotry that I thought is was an actress over-playing the role.

I wondered what ever happened to Ms. Bryant after the murder of Milk and Mayor Moscone. Dan White, the murderer who intended to kill two others during his 'mission,' served only 5 years in prison but, upon release, committed suicide after his marriage and family-life fell apart.

Wikipedia details the post-murder history of Anita Bryant. I already knew that she lost her Florida orange Juice contract after there was a boycott of that industry. Yet, I was stunned that she was shunned by 'the church' [fundamentalist] after her divorce in her abusive relationship. Her husband, Bob Green, claimed that God does not abide divorce and that "she is still his wife in God's eyes." Some Christian audiences and venues shunned her after her divorce and she was no longer invited to appear at their events. The love of Jesus!

Later, Bryant said, ""The church needs to wake up and find some way to cope with divorce and women's problems." Wikipedia says, "In the same article, she said that she felt sorry for all of the anti-gay things she had said and done during her campaigns. She said that she had adopted a more "live and let live" attitude."

Live and let live. What a monumental epiphany!

I'm glad I looked up Anita Bryant for this post. Redemption, although not portrayed in Milk, is a major subplot in the real story of Harvey Milk, just as it was in Gran Torino. Bigotry cannot abide.

What's the Rant These Days on Right-wing Radio?

As I do not soil my ear with right-wing radio, I wonder what those dead-enders are shouting and ranting about these days. Surely it has to be the stimulus bill. Which adjective describing it has become most trite on the air waves? 'Bloated,' no doubt. Right-wingers are great with adjectives and metaphors. Their base reacts well to both.

The House Republicans took a great gamble in pounding and defaming the stimulus bill. Of course their 'gamble' is that their right-wing districts will love them for 'saving them taxes.' The charade goes on when the constituents are gullible.

Rush condemned the three Senate Republicans who voted for the bill, calling them RINOS. He went further, as ususal, and called them out, literally. He wants them removed from the GOP because they are not real Republicans. As the Grand Poobah of the GOP, he knows who is and who is not real.

I should call up my right-wing brother-in-law to get the latest 'summary' from that end of the political spectrum. Summary, I say because, after the adjectives and metaphors, there lies great emptiness.

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