30 July 2010

UN recognizes the human right to water (and how you can help)

Water is supposed to be a natural resource, necessary for our survival. But, in many places, water has become privatized and scarce.

According to Water.org, some 884 million people (approximately one in eight) lack access to safe water, and 3.575 million people die each year from water-related disease.

And so, on June 28, the United Nations General Assembly voted to recognize the right to water and sanitation. 122 states voted in favor of the resolution. Sadly, 41 states abstained, including the U.S.

This resolution won't solve the world's water problems. It's merely a formality. But it gives clout to the cause.

While our water rights will continue to be trampled by the world's corporations, we don't have to support their bloody profits.

Kicking the bottled water habit is a good place to start. Not only does it make good moral sense, it could be healthier as well. Most people don't seem to realize that bottled water is less regulated -- and therefore possibly lower quality -- than tap water, and the plastic bottles they come in are a whole other horror story. Instead, invest in a reusable stainless steel bottle, and refill it with plain or filtered tap water. It's better for the planet, better for your health, and better for your wallet.

29 July 2010

Federal judge takes the teeth out of Arizona's anti-immigrant law

Today, July 29, Arizona's anti-immigrant SB 1070 legislation takes effect.

However, in a last-minute ruling yesterday, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton blocked some of the more draconian provisions.

Judge Bolton blocked a section requiring police officers to question and verify the immigration status of anyone "reasonably" suspected of being an illegal alien. She also blocked a section requiring immigrants to carry their papers at all times.

The ruling is in response to lawsuits by the U.S. Justice Department and a coalition of civil rights groups including the ACLU, the National Immigration Law Center, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, and the NAACP.

As a human rights advocate, I deal with injustices every day. It's nice to see occasional examples like this where rights and humanity manage to trump bigotry and fear.

Hopefully this will cause other states to think twice about passing any copycat legislation.

On the downside, proponents of the law say they will appeal. So stay tuned.

28 July 2010

Geithner wants to do something right; will Congress comply?

On July 25, on ABC's "This Week", Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said he believes that George W. Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 or 2 percent of Americans should be allowed to expire as scheduled at the end of this year.

I agree.

The Republicans surely will not agree. And that is kind of ironic, in a way.

You see, the Republicans scream about the deficit. But those Bush tax cuts, along with the ongoing unnecessary wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are the biggest reasons for the deficit. Where was their outrage when Bush was president?

Will the Dems in Congress -- and maybe a handful of responsible Republicans -- find the strength to end those handouts to the billionaires so we can start rebalancing the budget without having to cut more social services for the real taxpayers?

I hope so, but I shall not hold my breath.

27 July 2010

With Wikileaks, they want to shoot the messenger

The now-infamous whistleblower website Wikileaks has finally released the greatly anticipated leaked evidence of how wrong things really are in Afghanistan.

The British newspaper The Guardian summarizes:
A huge cache of secret U.S. military files ... provides a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, Taliban attacks have soared and Nato commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency.

The disclosures come from more than 90,000 records of incidents and intelligence reports about the conflict obtained by the whistleblowers' website Wikileaks in one of the biggest leaks in U.S. military history. The files, which were made available to the Guardian, the New York Times and the German weekly Der Spiegel, give a blow-by-blow account of the fighting over the last six years, which has so far cost the lives of more than 320 British and more than 1,000 US troops.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is in hiding. The U.S. authorities apparently want to shoot the messenger (hopefully only in a figurative sense).

U.S. National Security Advisor General James Jones released a statement alleging that the leaks "could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security."

Excuse me, but the leaks are just shining a light on the reality of that war. And we already knew -- or suspected -- many of these "secrets".

In fact, Michael Isikoff has reported for NBC News that "[an] ongoing Pentagon review of the massive flood of secret documents made public by the WikiLeaks website has so far found no evidence that the disclosure harmed U.S. national security or endangered American troops in the field."

Does any of this sound familiar? It should. Apparently the White House didn't learn from the recent Shirley Sherrod fiasco that they need to do their homework and not just react to every little bit of "news" in a knee-jerk kind of way.

Those little details aside, hiding the truth will not undo the damage we've done in Afghanistan. And the American people have a right to know how our tax dollars are being misused.

When he was campaigning for the presidency in 2008, Barack Obama promised us a more transparent government. To keep that promise, he needs to show us the bad as well as the good. And then let the voters be the judges.

26 July 2010

Shirley Sherrod was presumed guilty

In the United States of America, one is supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Nevertheless, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack hastily forced Shirley Sherrod to resign from her position in the Department based on the right-wing exploitation of a video snippet taken out of context.

According to Sherrod, when she tried to explain, no one would listen to her. No hearing, no trial, just immediate execution. Bam! You're fired!

And the NAACP's initial knee-jerk condemnation of Sherrod's speech was perhaps even less forgivable, since the speech was taped at an NAACP event. Surely if the speech were so out of line, the folks in the national headquarters would have heard about it before this. Still, the NAACP rushed to condemn Sherrod in a widely distributed press release, which was later redacted:
"Since our founding in 1909, the NAACP has been a multi-racial, multi-faith organization that -- while generally rooted in African-American communities -- fights to end racial discrimination against all Americans.

"We concur with US Agriculture Secretary Vilsack in accepting the resignation of Shirley Sherrod for her remarks at a local NAACP Freedom Fund banquet.

"Racism is about the abuse of power. Sherrod had it in her position at USDA. According to her remarks, she mistreated a white farmer in need of assistance because of his race.

"We are appalled by her actions, just as we are with abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers.

"Her actions were shameful. While she went on to explain in the story that she ultimately realized her mistake, as well as the common predicament of working people of all races, she gave no indication she had attempted to right the wrong she had done to this man."
No, folks, Shirley Sherrod's actions were not shameful. Far from it. In her speech, Sherrod relayed a parable for racial unity and redemption. And she explained how she had indeed righted that wrong. What's shameful are the actions of the Obama administration and the NAACP, who fell for the right-wing propaganda and reacted too quickly and very inappropriately.

As Sherrod herself described it, "for some reason, the stuff Fox and the Tea Party does is scaring the administration. I told them to get the whole tape and look at the whole tape and see how I tell people we have to get beyond race and work together."

Still, they reacted first and asked questions later. And then they again had to go into damage control mode, but in the other direction.

So the right-wing propaganda machine scores another point. And the Obama administration and the NAACP look foolish.

It's this sort of weakness that may well lead to Republican victories in 2010 and 2012.

And, sadly, maybe those consequences will be all too well deserved.

23 July 2010

GOP Senators screw the planet; Sierra Club responds

It comes as no surprise, but it makes my blood boil nonetheless.

A New York Times headline yesterday announced: "Democrats Abandon Sweeping Energy Plan"

They realized, apparently, that the Republicans in the Senate aren't going to allow any effective legislation get through. The Republicans don't care about the planet. All they seem to care about is blocking any kind of progress, regardless of the implications.

The Times goes on to report that Senate Dems will now get to work on a scaled-down bill. Good luck, considering that the world's worst corporate polluters have contributed a lot of money to Senate Republicans and Democrats alike.

But we can hope, and we can keep up the pressure. We have to.

To that end, the Sierra Club released the following statement by its Executive Director Michael Brune:
"Given the unfortunate political reality in Washington today, it is absolutely imperative that the Senate must at least follow through with Majority Leader Reid's proposal to pass a bill that reduces oil dependence and creates clean energy jobs before the August recess.

"It's an outrage that corporate polluters can rely on a minority of Senators to block action to put a price on carbon pollution when conservationists, labor, veterans, communities of faith, small businesses, and everyday citizens all agree it's the right thing to do. We remain strongly supportive of legislation to reduce global warming pollution and urge the Senate to move on it as quickly as possible, but the Senate must at least pass an oil disaster response and clean energy package now.

"The Sierra Club will do everything in its power during this fall's elections to make sure that our environmental champions can return to Congress with a demand to finish the job with more legislation to create more jobs, less pollution and greater security. And we will hold accountable those who have blocked efforts to reduce pollution and create clean energy jobs.

"The Sierra Club believes an energy package for this July must reduce oil consumption and address the root causes of the BP oil disaster -- Senator Merkley's proposal to cut oil consumption by 8 million barrels a day would be a good place to start. In addition, the bill must ensure that BP and future polluters are held fully responsible for the cost of damage and clean up for such disasters. The bill should include a strong Renewable Electricity Standard, and investments in clean energy and efficiency that will create jobs and spur economic growth, as well as measures to significantly reduce carbon pollution.

"We remain deeply concerned about efforts by polluters to weaken the Clean Air Act or the EPA's ability to reduce air pollution and protect public health. The Senate's negotiations with industry must not result in give-aways to dirty energy companies at the expense of communities' health and well-being."

But I shall not hold my breath.

22 July 2010

Tim Geithner is afraid of a woman

Yesterday, President Obama signed the finance reform bill. It's a good start, and probably the best we could get right now, considering the current makeup of Congress. But I'm not going to uncork the champagne just yet.

According to an article by Shahien Nasiripour in the Huffington Post, "Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has expressed opposition to the possible nomination of Elizabeth Warren to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to a source with knowledge of Geithner's views."

Many consider Warren to be the leading candidate to head this new agency mandated by the new legislation. So what is Geithner afraid of?

Well, Warren, you see, has a reputation for being one of America's best consumer watchdogs.

According to Credo Action, "As chair of the bailout oversight panel, Elizabeth Warren held Wall Street executives' feet to the fire and proved time and time again that she was not afraid to speak out."

On the other hand, Credo continues, "Geithner is a Wall Street insider with long and deep ties to the financial industry."

So President Obama's choice in this matter will be very telling as to where his priorities truly lie -- with Main Street or with Wall Street.

21 July 2010

Bill O'Reilly says there's no tea party racism

In his July 15 column, right-wing commentator Bill O'Reilly claimed that the NAACP's accusations of racism in the tea party movement are unsubstantiated.

He wrote, "An exhaustive search of media reportage about the Tea Party turns up no mention of [racist signs]."

O'Reilly needs to look up the word "exhaustive" in a dictionary, because a 3-minute Google yielded me several examples of the allegedly non-existent racist signage at tea parties.

Like this.

And this.

And this.

And this.

And these.

But, of course, O'Reilly is no racist, right? After all, he even visited a "black restaurant" once. ;-)

20 July 2010

Argentina passes law allowing same-sex marriage and adoption

On July 15, the Argentine Senate passed a law giving same-sex couples the right to legally marry and adopt children. Argentina is the first Latin American nation to do so, although Mexico City has a municipal-level law allowing same-sex marriage.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, a supporter of gay marriage on human rights grounds, was expected to sign the new law promptly.

I hope this is the beginning of a new trend in that heavily Catholic part of the world.

19 July 2010

No easy execution, just an illusion of it

As humankind evolves, we try to find less gruesome ways of executing our criminals. It makes us feel more civilized.

In ancient days, they burned "witches" at the stake. Later, criminals met death at the guillotine. But it was all so unsightly and disturbing for the witnesses.

Then there was hanging. If done right, the neck would break instantly and unconsciousness would occur. But it was still so unsightly and disturbing for the witnesses.

Firing squad? Messy. And still rather unsightly and disturbing for the witnesses (although it was used as recently as June 18, 2010, in Utah).

Then someone invented the electric chair. If done right, the body might not catch on fire and you might not smell the burning flesh. But it was still so unsightly and disturbing for the witnesses.

So they invented the lethal injection. An IV would be inserted in a medical-looking setting and the condemned would appear to go to sleep. Very peaceful-looking. And much less unsightly or disturbing for the witnesses.

But not necessarily so for the condemned.

The most common lethal injection formula used in the U.S. consists of a three-drug protocol:

1. First, sodium thiopental renders the prisoner unconscious.

2. Next, pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant, is introduced, causing complete paralysis.

3. Finally, potassium chloride stops the heart.

Unfortunately, there is reason to believe that the sodium thiopental doesn't always work as intended, meaning that the condemned may actually be conscious as the potassium chloride burns its way through his bloodstream to the heart. But the prisoner cannot express the excruciating agony he feels because that second drug, the pancuronium bromide, has him paralyzed.

And all that, of course, depends further on the execution staff being able to insert the IV. Many prisoners have damaged veins as a result of past intravenous drug use, making it difficult to find a usable vein. This prolongs the pre-execution process and creates more pain and suffering for the condemned. Of course, the witnesses don't get to see this, because the curtain on the death chamber window does not open until the IV is in place and the drugs are about to flow. This way, it's very peaceful-looking. And much less unsightly or disturbing for the witnesses.

The benefit of lethal injection, therefore, at least to the extent that it is shown to the public, serves only the witnesses' eyes and stomachs.

If it looks peaceful and painless, it's much easier to watch, even if it's only an illusion.

And, if it looks peaceful and painless, it's much easier to justify, even if it's only an illusion.

Take away the illusions and you have the very real possibility of cruel and unusual punishment, which is supposedly forbidden per the Eighth Amendment.

Unfortunately, the various courts haven't always agreed on that issue.

Still, it seems to me that justice must not be based on illusions. If it is, how can it be called true justice?

16 July 2010

Fame trumps justice in Polanski case

Here's one more for the Hall of Shame: On July 12, the Swiss Ministry of "Justice" announced that it will not extradite filmmaker Roman Polanski to the U.S. where he would be sentenced and rightfully punished for a sexual assault that he admittedly committed against a 13-year-old girl in 1977. Instead, he was set free.

And so Polanski continues to escape accountability for his crime.

If this were an ordinary person who had committed the same crime, rather than a rich and famous director, I suspect he would have been promptly sent to prison without a second thought.

But Polanski's superstar status somehow wins him the sympathy of the Swiss officials and many in Hollywood.

It's disgusting.

And it's criminal -- literally.

>> If you have any questions or doubts about what occurred on the evening of the crime, read the court transcript of the victim's testimony. And remember: Polanski pled guilty.

15 July 2010

Jersey joins other states in throwing HIV/AIDS patients under the bus

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. And it's been said that a society is judged based on how it treats its weakest members.

So what does that say of New Jersey, which will soon bar some 950 HIV/AIDS patients from a program that provides free medication.

When the change takes place on August 1, income eligibility for the free drug program will drop from $53,150 to $32,490.

Think about that.

$33,000 is not a high income these days. But, out of that modest income, patients will now have to pay for their own HIV/AIDS meds, and those drugs don't come cheap. Or, as Hyacinth Foundation director Kathy Ahearn-O'Brien has noted, the change may force patients to quit their jobs to stay in treatment.

But Jersey isn't the only state to blame. Because of the tight economy and misled priorities, similar cuts have been made, or are in the works, in other states as well.

I can sympathize with the difficult economic position that so many states are in these days. But I'll bet that not a single one of them would consider raising taxes on the very wealthy in order to keep our more vulnerable citizens alive and healthy.

14 July 2010

Philly goes green with LED traffic signals

The City of Philadelphia has given the green light (in more ways than one) to an earth-friendly move to replace its current incandescent traffic lights with more energy-efficient LEDs.

And this project is not costing the city a dime. In fact, it will save the city money, as the Philadelphia Inquirer explains:
Half of the $6 million for the project came from a federal Department of Energy grant, the other half from Peco Energy. The lights are expected to conserve enough energy to power 700 homes and save the city $1 million a year in electric costs.
Reducing our energy usage is a good thing, and I applaud the news.

In addition, though, we need to work harder on developing alternative energy sources. Peco and other power companies worldwide need to move away from coal, gas, and nuclear, and focus instead on cleaner and safer energy sources, like wind and solar. It's 2010. There is no time to waste.

13 July 2010

Why Philly should appeal the Boy Scout court win

On June 28, in the case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a law school (Hastings) does not have to recognize a religious student group that bars gay students.

So, with that as a precedent, it seems to me that Philly could ultimately prevail if it appeals last month's ruling in favor of the Scouts.

In the Philly case, a federal court jury decided that Philadelphia taxpayers must continue to subsidize the Boy Scouts' rent-free occupation of a city-owned building despite the fact that the Scouts' anti-gay policy violates the city's anti-discrimination charter. The decision was based on the opinion that the city violated the Scouts' First Amendment rights by requiring them to reject the national organization's anti-gay policy or be evicted.

However, in the Supreme Court case, the decision specifically held that "[the law school's] all-comers policy is a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral condition on access to the [Registered Student Organization (RSO)] forum; it therefore does not transgress First Amendment limitations."

Accordingly, and also just for the sake of principle, I hope the city will pursue its case further -- all the way to the same Supreme Court if necessary.

12 July 2010

Corporations gone wild (as Jefferson warned us)

Today we live in historic times, and I don't mean that in a good way.

First of all, we are suffering the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And why? Because the financial industry was permitted to run amok.

Under the relaxed regulations of the Reagan and Clinton administrations, the banks did not prove themselves trustworthy to do the right thing for the economy and for the customers they served. They only cared about profits. Alan Greenspan himself admitted that he had "put too much faith in the self-correcting power of free markets and had failed to anticipate the self-destructive power of wanton [i.e., unregulated] mortgage lending."

Nevertheless, the wealthy ruling class of Wall Street, largely unpunished, is doing just fine with its multi-million-dollar bonuses. But middle-class and working-class Americans continue to suffer through home foreclosures and long-term unemployment. And small businesses can't get loans to stay afloat.

As if that's not enough, with the ongoing BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico we're now watching the greatest environmental disaster that the U.S. has ever seen. And why? Because the oil industry was permitted to run amok.

BP and other oil companies have a long record of thumbing their noses at safety regulations. For example, it seems that a safety device was available for $500,000 which could have prevented the BP oil disaster. This acoustic switch would trigger an underwater valve to shut down a well in case of a blowout, like the one that recently happened in the Gulf. BP, however, decided that $500,000 was too much to spend on safety, despite the fact that its 2009 profits totaled some $14 billion. So BP spent its money instead on working with Dick Cheney to block regulations that would have required the use of this and other safety precautions.

As a result, not only is the environment suffering, along with the coastal wildlife, but so are the livelihoods of everyone who works in the fishing and tourism industries in the Gulf Coast region.

But don't worry. Even if BP were to go bankrupt as a result of the disaster, as some have speculated, the oil industry in general won't likely suffer any more long-term setbacks than the bankers have. If it's not BP drilling off our coasts, it will be Exxon or Shell.

And don't forget about the coal miners who have died due to relaxed safety standards, and those who will likely die in the future for the same cut corners.

These days, the corporations are calling the shots. And, now that the Supreme Court has given corporations the unlimited "right" to buy and sell elected officials, I can't see it changing any time soon.

So they'll be fine, even if we won't.

The banks will continue to do whatever it takes to make profits, even if ordinary Americans and small businesses must suffer as a result.

The oil companies will continue to do whatever it takes to maximize their own profits, planet be damned.

Coal miners' families will worry each day until their loved ones come home.

And, sadly, given the status quo, I don't think there is anything we can do about it.

Unless, of course, we the people can find a way to overturn the wealthy and powerful status quo.

Meantime, I suspect that our Founding Fathers are spinning in their graves. After all, they warned us about this. As Thomas Jefferson once said, "I hope we shall crush ... in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country."


09 July 2010

Don't blame Sestak for job scandal

Pat Toomey apparently isn't going to let the "jobgate" scandal die. Toomey, the Pennsylvania Republican who is running against Democrat Joe Sestak for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Arlen Specter, recently told the Conservative rag Human Events, "I don’t think this job controversy has completely gone away."

He is referring to Sestak's claim that the Obama administration had offered him a White House position if he would pull out of the Senate primary race. It's no secret that the White House supported Specter. And what happened is not a crime, just politics as usual.

If Sestak should be blamed for any part of it, it's for starting the scandal by revealing to the media that the offer took place. That's not criminality on Sestak's part -- it's honesty.

And isn't honesty something we need more of in Washington?

08 July 2010

Delaware enacts ban on texting while driving; so should every other state

On July 6, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed into law a new ban on texting while driving. The ban will take effect on January 2, 2011.

Pennsylvania really should follow suit, as well as every other state that doesn't already have such a ban in place.

Currently in Pennsylvania, only Philadelphia and Harrisburg have local bans.

Why are these bans a good idea?

The answer is simple: Highway safety.

Last year, Car and Driver published test results showing that people drive more dangerously while texting than while drunk.

Cell phone users have a right to send and read text messages. But, just like adults who drink, they shouldn't have the right to endanger others while doing it.

Drunk driving is illegal in every state.

There is no excuse to delay similar bans on texting as well.

07 July 2010

Will Michael Steele be forced out?

I think hell just froze over. I actually agree with Michael Steele AND Ron Paul on something. Since Obama has chosen to continue -- and escalate -- our combat activities in Afghanistan, it's now his war.

Steele, the RNC chairman, has come under fire recently for saying that the situation in Afghanistan is a "war of Obama's choosing" and suggesting it is not winnable. And Paul is defending that position.

That didn't sit well with the hawkish GOP that thinks the mess in Afghanistan is necessary and winnable (and nothing that Obama should be credited for).

Many are wondering whether Steele's remarks will force him out of his position, although that seems unlikely.

Besides, it's possible that the GOP is so desperate to have a token African-American in such a high-level party position that they'll complain but keep him there anyway. (It's the equivalent of "Some of my best friends are black, but...")

Time will tell.

In the meantime, it's fun to watch.

06 July 2010

At hot dog eating contest, the media glamorize gluttony

While watching CNN over the Independence Day holiday weekend, I noticed that they kept repeating various stories about the annual July 4th hot dog eating contest on Coney Island.

And, in researching the event, I learned that ESPN televised it live as a sporting event, complete with a cheering crowd of spectators.

The contestants were treated like athletes, even though stuffing dozens of sausages and buns down your throat is hardly something I think of as an athletic skill. To me it looks like gluttony. And it looks wasteful and ill-conceived.

After all, today some 17 million American children -- more than one in five across the U.S. -- lack food security. To them, eating a hot dog isn't a sport, it is a rare treat. In fact, it's a rare treat when they can eat at all.

Think of how many poor children you could feed with the 54 hot dogs that Joey Chestnut inhaled to win this year's contest championship.

And wouldn't donating all those hot dogs to hungry children be a far better PR move for the Nathan's hot dog company that holds the event each year?

05 July 2010

Why are we still in Afghanistan?

General Stanley McChrystal was recently relieved of his job as the top U.S. general in Afghanistan after being quoted in Rolling Stone magazine as dissing members of President Obama's staff.

Good riddance.

Now I'd like to see Obama bring our troops home from Afghanistan along with McChrystal. Unfortunately, however, that's not going to happen any time soon, as President Obama described McChrystal's departure as "a change in personnel, not a change in policy."

But is the unchanging policy really a good one?

Obama's escalation of our troop presence there was McChrystal's idea, and what did it get us?

It got us a bigger quagmire than ever, with violence up sharply.

Not only that, but the Washington Post has reported that the U.S. military is "funding a massive protection racket in Afghanistan, indirectly paying tens of millions of dollars to warlords, corrupt public officials and the Taliban to ensure safe passage of its supply convoys throughout the country, according to congressional investigators."

Yes, you read that right. They're using our tax dollars to pay off the Taliban -- the same guys we're supposed to be fighting.

Forget about Al-Qaeda. They're now across the border in Pakistan and in cells around the world, no longer concentrated in Afghanistan to any great extent. Bin Laden most likely is not in Afghanistan.

So why are we still there, exactly?

Why do we continue throwing money at this unwinnable mess in Afghanistan when we are suffering through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression?

Why do we continue throwing money at this unwinnable mess in Afghanistan when we have nearly 10 percent unemployment in the U.S.?

Why do we continue throwing money at this unwinnable mess in Afghanistan when some 17 million American children -- more than one in five across the U.S. -- lack food security?

Why do we continue throwing money at this unwinnable mess in Afghanistan when we are in the midst of the worst environmental crisis in U.S. history and really need to invest in some clean and renewable energy alternatives?

As Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) said recently, "I'm concerned about the hundreds of billions of dollars we’re spending on 'nation-building' in Afghanistan when we need to do some more nation-building here at home."

Maybe President Obama fears looking weak if he initiates a withdrawal from Afghanistan "too soon". But why should it matter, when the Republicans will invent whatever it takes to make him appear weak no matter what he does?

Sadly, though, these are merely rhetorical questions. After all, General David Petraeus, whom Obama has chosen to replace McChrystal, is credited with turning the tide on the Iraq war via the surge there that he had architected. So Obama is probably hoping to replicate that perceived victory in Afghanistan.

So it appears that we will be fighting there for at least another year.

And we will be seeing more military and civilian deaths there for at least another year.

And more of our tax dollars will fund the violence there for at least another year.

No change there that I can believe in.

02 July 2010

Could Sharron Angle actually win?

I live in Pennsylvania, but the Senate race in Nevada this year is proving to be even more colorful and interesting than our own. Challenging incumbent Harry Reid, who happens to be the U.S. Senate Majority Leader, is Sharron Angle, a tea party Republican. That means she is a bit extreme.

For example, she keeps floating the idea of a "Second Amendment remedy" to deal with a government that might prove disappointing. Considering that the Second Amendment has to do with the right to keep and bear arms, it's hard to stretch Angle's comments into a peaceful context.

On more practical issues, her positions are just as extreme.

According to the New York Times, "she favors the privatization of Medicare and Social Security, supported a program based on Scientology that would have offered massages to some prison inmates, and did not support unemployment insurance in a state with among the highest jobless rates in the nation."

She does not believe that humans contribute to global warming, and she wants to disband the Department of Energy.

Her response to the BP oil spill was a call to deregulate the oil industry.

And she is against abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, because she doesn't want to interfere with "God's plan".

Perhaps most interesting from a Nevada political standpoint is that she suggested that alcohol should not be legal. Now think about this: She's running in Nevada -- the home of Las Vegas and Reno. Alcohol is a big part of their casino revenues.

So does she stand a chance of winning?

I hope not. But, at the same time, I suppose that stranger things have happened. And many Republicans and Independents -- radicalized by Glenn Beck and the tea party movement -- have fallen into a pattern of voting against their own best interests.

So we'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, I'll make the popcorn.

01 July 2010

Boehner's priorities

Regarding the national budget, U.S. House Minority Leader John Boehner told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Tuesday that he thinks we should cut Social Security benefits to curb the deficit but continue funding the war in Afghanistan.

Nice priorities. Stop funding survival, and continue funding death. Make our troops and our old people suffer.

Of course, a media firestorm then ensued, to the point where the Tribune-Review issued a clarification, saying, "During a wide-ranging interview with the Tribune-Review, House Minority Leader John Boehner said the federal government must continue funding the war in Afghanistan to protect the nation. He also said Congress must curb spending on federal entitlements, such as Social Security[,] to reduce the federal deficit. He did not link those issues directly."

Big deal. You don't need to link one to the other to see that both are wrong.