31 August 2011

GOP governors and hurricane relief hypocrisy

All year we've been hearing from the GOP that the Obama administration spends too much money.

But now that the east coast is recovering from the effects Hurricane Irene, Republican governors of storm-ravaged states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania can't wait to get some government handouts of their own.

Don't get me wrong: I think it's great that the federal government is providing funds to help the states recover from the storm's devastation. The funding itself isn't the issue here. The issue is the GOP hypocrisy.

It appears that the GOP leaders decry federal spending only until they need some of that federal money for their own local interests.

30 August 2011

Katrina, Bush, and election timing

Yesterday was the 6th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Coincidentally, this anniversary has arrived while much of the east coast of the United States is still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Irene, which struck over the weekend.

And, in observing President Obama's calm and practical response to the threat and aftermath of Irene, I couldn't help thinking about George W. Bush's opposite response to Katrina.

According to Firedoglake, while New Orleans was under water, George W. Bush "famously said the day after Katrina hit that New Orleans 'dodged the bullet.' And ... continued on with his vacation, clearing brush, riding his bike, getting a new guitar ... all the while, New Orleans was drowning ... for days before the President seemed to get the message."

Katrina struck 7 months into Bush's second term. And I cannot help but wonder if he would have been reelected if Katrina had happened prior to the 2004 election.

I hope not.

On the other hand, in light of the recent rise of the Tea Party, nothing would surprise me.

26 August 2011

August 26 is Women's Equality Day

Today, August 26, is Women's Equality Day. On this date in 1920, the 19th Amendment was incorporated into the United States Constitution, giving women the right to vote and to hold elective office.

We've come a long way since the days of the suffragettes, but we must not rest on our laurels. Conservatives would like to roll back much of the social progress we accomplished in the 20th century. Like the suffragettes, we must stand strong and keep raising hell in the ongoing fight for equality and social justice for all.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
-- Margaret Mead

24 August 2011

Right winger disappointed that earthquake didn't destroy White House

Yesterday, a 5.8 earthquake hit the east coast of the United States. Centered in Virginia, the quake was felt as far north as New Hampshire. I felt it here in Philadelphia, and it was very weird.

A few hours later, I ran into my Republican neighbor. After exchanging some small talk about the earthquake, he said, "Too bad the quake didn't destroy the White House."

He was not laughing when he said this. I could tell that he was serious.

This is a good demonstration of right-wing "logic":

1. He doesn't consider that the building is used by presidents of both parties.

2. He doesn't consider that President Obama (whom he resents, despises, and regularly refers to as a "jerk") is not in the White House but is currently vacationing at Martha's Vineyard.

3. He doesn't consider (or maybe he does) that a collapse of the White House would injure or kill countless White House staff, not just the president he so hates. And not everyone who works at the White House is a liberal, or even partisan.

But I didn't bother to point these things out. I know this neighbor well enough to recognize when I would be wasting my time and energy.

And so I must resign myself to the fact that he will continue to cancel out my vote in every single election. And I will continue to be adult enough to not wish that his own home would crumble.

23 August 2011

Amnesty calls for release of American hikers in Iran

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, two American hikers who were arrested by Iranian officials along the Iraq-Iran border in 2009, were recently sentenced to eight years in prison for spying and illegal entry into Iran.

Sarah Shourd, who was arrested with them, was released last year for medical reasons.

Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's Middle East Director, believes that their trial was not conducted in a fair manner.

"The conduct of this trial has quite simply made a mockery of justice. There does not appear to be any substance to the allegations that Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal are spies," said Smart. "The way this case has been handled from the outset strongly suggests that they are being held as a bargaining chip to allow Iran to obtain unspecified concessions from the US government."

Indeed, no evidence was presented in court to suggest that Bauer and Fattal are spies. And some eyewitnesses maintain that the hikers were inside Iraq, not Iran, at the time of their arrest. But it seems that Iran's court system is about as fair as those Guantanamo military tribunals.

Their lawyer is planning to appeal the sentence. Fingers crossed for justice.

21 August 2011

No true justice for the West Memphis Three

On August 19, three men walked out of prison in Arkansas after spending nearly 20 years behind bars for a triple murder that they maintain they did not commit. The crime involved the brutal killing of three eight-year-old boys.

Damien Echols had been on death row for the murders. Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin were both serving life sentences. They had been nicknamed the "West Memphis Three".

Their first big break came in 2007, when new forensic evidence showed that the DNA from the crime scene did not match any of the defendants. After four years of appeals, a plea agreement was reached by which the three would enter Alford pleas in exchange for having their sentences reduced to time served. Under an Alford plea, a defendant can assert his innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors have enough evidence to obtain a conviction.

So what led to the convictions if the DNA says otherwise? Campbell Robertson, writing for The New York Times, describes the web of hearsay, speculation, and coercion that led to the guilty verdicts:
"The grotesque nature of the murders, coming in the midst of a nationwide concern about satanic cult activity, especially among teenagers, led investigators from the West Memphis Police Department to focus on Mr. Echols, a troubled yet gifted 18-year-old who wore all black, listened to heavy metal music and considered himself a Wiccan. Efforts to learn more about him through a woman cooperating with the police led to Mr. Misskelley, a 17-year-old acquaintance of Mr. Echols's.

"After a nearly 12-hour police interrogation, Mr. Misskelley confessed to the murders and implicated Mr. Echols and Mr. Baldwin, who was 16 at the time, though his confession diverged in significant details, like the time of the murders, with the facts known by the police. Mr. Misskelley later recanted, but on the strength of that confession he was convicted in February 1994.

"Mr. Echols and Mr. Baldwin soon after were convicted of three counts of capital murder in a separate trial in Jonesboro, where the proceedings had been moved because of extensive publicity in West Memphis. The convictions were largely based on the testimony of witnesses who said they heard the teenagers talk of the murders, and on the prosecution's argument that the defendants had been motivated as members of a satanic cult. Mr. Misskelley's confession was not admitted at their trial, though recently a former lawyer for that jury's foreman filed an affidavit saying that the foreman, determined to convict, had brought the confession up in deliberations to sway undecided jurors."
Now the DNA evidence exists that casts reasonable doubt as to their guilt. Why then were they forced to acknowledge otherwise as a condition for their release? It was either that or remain in prison (and, in Echols' case, remain on death row).

Lawyers for the three defendants say that they will pursue full exoneration. That would be one big step towards true justice in this case.

Another big step would be to reopen the case and find the real killer(s).

We owe it to the victims and their families.

19 August 2011

Weather "coincidences"

Record-breaking heat in the summer. Record snowfalls in the winter.

Hurricanes here. Tornadoes there.

Massive floods here. Serious droughts there.

Just as the climate scientists warned us about.

But global warming is a hoax, says Fox News - and some GOP presidential candidates.

So I guess it's all coincidence.

Deadly coincidence.

So enjoy your coal-fueled power and your gas-guzzling SUV.

After all, we'll all be dead before the worst predicted consequences hit the fan.

But don't you care about your grandchildren's and great-grandchildren's future on a planet that is dying at our own hands?

Is your giant minivan really worth the risk?

17 August 2011

Rick Perry's rogue state attitude

As expected, Texas Governor Rick Perry has thrown his hat into the presidential campaign ring. And he hit the ground running over the weekend with a speech heavily criticizing President Obama.

For example: "We are indignant about a president who apologizes for America," said Perry, as quoted by the Washington Times.

Are we, Governor Perry?

First of all, in a fact check of Perry's speech, the Washington Post reported the following:

"We examined this claim in great detail some months ago, and there is no evidence Obama ever apologized for America. (Some might argue — though we don’t agree — that some of his early speeches had an apologetic tone, but that’s an entirely different matter.) Go back and look at our original column, which includes a number of examples of George W. Bush saying much more apologetic-sounding phrases than Obama."
But, of course, the GOP doesn't care much about facts that disprove their knee-jerk talking points.

That said, I for one admired Obama's ability to point out (if not apologize for) the misguided and arrogant foreign policy of his predecessor. That is how you win hearts and minds.

On the other hand, Governor Perry would apparently prefer that the U.S. do whatever it wants, without apology, regardless of international law and protocol.

That, Governor Perry, is the definition of a rogue state.

And apparently, like a certain Texas governor-turned-president before him, he doesn't care.

12 August 2011

Corporations are like Mitt

Yesterday, while campaigning at the Iowa State Fair, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told the crowd that "corporations are people."

No, Mitt, corporations are not people.

Corporations are born on a piece of paper, conceived of legal jargon and clever tax loopholes.

People have flesh and blood, hearts and minds.

Corporations are just vehicles, often used by those whose hearts and minds are a little more greedy and selfish than the average person. Corporations don't care.

And just because corporations represent the tax loopholes and lack of accountability that you love so much, that doesn't make them people, Mitt. Although - if they were people - they would be much more like you and much less like the people in your audience yesterday.

11 August 2011

Warren Jeffs's legacy?

On Tuesday, polygamist pedophile pervert Warren Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison for having sex with underage girls whom he called his "spiritual wives". Fortunately, this sentence guarantees that he won't be raping any more 12-year-olds.

But what about the followers he leaves behind in his fundamentalist Morman sect? Surely there will be a successor to lead the group going forward, just as there were leaders before Jeffs.

Will Jeffs's arrest and conviction teach them that their practices are wrong? Or will they see it (as Jeffs does) as religious persecution?

Sadly, I suspect the latter.

I feel so sorry for the children, who are brainwashed from birth, and who suffer without knowing any better.

I hope the lay authorities will keep a close watch on things.

10 August 2011

Wisconsin recalls should be an inspiration, not a discouragement

Yesterday, in the Wisconsin recall elections, only two Republican senators were recalled, with the other four surviving. So the GOP retains control of the state Senate.

It would be easy to feel discouraged by this. But we cannot afford to.

We should appreciate the victories in those two cases, and let them inspire us to spread the movement throughout the country, to other states where Republican governors and legislators are working to undermine workers' rights and the middle class.

To give up now would be to risk forfeiting the America we grew up in.

We cannot afford that at any cost.

09 August 2011

Torturer Graner out of prison; high-level accountability still lacking

Charles Graner, who gained fame as one of the Abu Ghraib prison guards posing with thumbs up amongst the abused and bloody detainees in the infamous torture photos from that prison, was released on August 6 after serving a 6 1/2 year sentence at Ft. Leavenworth military prison.

Some of his co-offenders, including Abu Ghraib dominatrix Lynndie England, have also served time for their war crimes.

It is good that these low-level soldiers were held accountable once their abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib came to light. They clearly did wrong, and they probably knew it at the time. But were they simply having too much fun following the misguided orders they were given?

Abu Ghraib may have been the work of a few bad apples, as was an excuse at the time. But the rottenest of apples happened to be sitting in the West Wing and the Pentagon. Little Lynndie England sat in a prison cell for following orders (to break the detainees), while Donald Rumsfeld sat comfortably at home.

The Bush administration's actions were evil but cunning. The Bushies hid - and continue to hide - behind the legal justifications that they ordered from their legal counsel. And Jay Bybee and John Yoo were unscrupulous enough to twist rhetoric and law to the point where it would seem to justify the unjustifiable.

And, for some unimaginable reason, it has all gone unchallenged, even by the Obama administration.

So, despite the low-level convictions and sentences, torture ultimately wins.

Humanity loses, as does the rule of law.

And, perhaps most distressing of all, this could lend itself to an unthinkable sort of slippery slope over time.

05 August 2011

The trickle-down theory is a naked emperor

The GOP continues to insist that the only real way to create jobs is to keep giving tax breaks to billionaires and corporations. They keep telling us that it will "trickle down" - that the rich guys will use that money to create jobs for us working stiffs.

But wait a minute: The billionaires and corporations have had their tax breaks for several years now - on and off since Reagan, and stuck in the "on" position for the past decade. And what did it lead to? It eventually led to an unemployment rate near 10%. The rich guys aren't investing in jobs for us working stiffs. They're investing in growing their own personal wealth (while exploiting the workers who succumb to low wages and long hours because they need that paycheck).

The fact is (or should be) clear: It doesn't trickle down, people. Otherwise, we'd all have jobs!

Hopefully the voting public will soon open their eyes and see that this particular emperor has no clothes.

03 August 2011

Entitlements still in limbo

First of all, I am glad that the U.S. will not default on its debt, as was a huge concern for many of us.

That said, I'm not too happy about the "deal" that President Obama and Congress reached to prevent the potential economic catastrophe.

While President Obama kept talking about "compromise", I saw very little compromise on the the side of the GOP. The Republicans and their rich corporate benefactors got almost everything they wanted. All they conceded was entitlement reform (for now), so they will not be taking food out of Grandma's mouth or medicine out of her cabinets - yet.

But the "deal" also calls for the creation of a special bipartisan "super committee" of 12 members of Congress who will study the issue further and make recommendations for further budget tweaks. Obama said that everything is on the table for the "next phase", and that likely includes further scrutiny of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Let's hope that the super committee doesn't turn out to be a death panel.