Saturday, June 9, 2007

My baby sister graduated from high school today. Her graduation ceremony was in a church that used to be part of a shopping mall, and no, I'm not making that shit up. Anyway, the ceremony was nice. The Vice Principal passed out about mid-way through announcing the names of the graduates. He had to be carried off stage but we found out at the end of the ceremony that he was ok and I'm very glad for that. It was kind of scary. Anyway, my beautiful, wonderful baby sister graduated from high school today. I am so happy for her! We are throwing her a party and we are all having a wonderful time. I'm taking a break now, as I have just gotten around to eating something after I've worked my way through a good part of a bottle of gin. Anyway, I just want to congratulate my sister. She has went to school and held down a steady job for the past couple of years, which she will continue to do as she enters college. And, since this blog deals mostly with politics and since I just want to finish with this quote as I think about how hard my sister has had to work to just to be able to have a car to drive back and forth to school and to have some small amount of money to spend on herself and doing things that she enjoys and how hard she will have to continue to work to maintain a job and go to school once she starts college:

The universal loathing for Paris Hilton crosses all borders. There are no liberals, no conservatives, no blacks, no whites, no rich, no poor who don't hate Paris Hilton. We all can't stand her and are jubilant at her misery and downfall.
Who didn't absolutely cherish the pictures of Hilton crying like a baby when she was forced to serve out the rest of her sentence like any other citizen? Who didn't adore the stories of her crying out, "Mom!" Or better yet, "It's not right!"
I laughed and laughed. I nearly wept with joy at the comeuppance. I believe the Germans invented the word schadenfreude in anticipation of this very event. Schade! Schade! For shame!

This blog comments on an Op-Ed in the NYT by a gay man who joined the Navy, studied Arabic, and became an Arabic translator, but before he was to be deployed to Iraq he was kicked out of the military under the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. He is one of about 58 Arabic linguists that have been kicked out under this policy when we have a significant shortage of people serving in the military and elsewhere who are fluent in Arabic and can thus translate the intelligence that our troops and national security agencies gather. I link the safety of the troops and our national security interests should take precedence over the homophobia or unease that some people have over gays, especially the Religious Right, which only fuels fears and negative attitudes toward homosexuals at every turn, while the Republican Party continues to pander to them at every turn and while "centrist" Democrats continue to act as enablers.

Update to Previous Post

Here is the link to the Blackwater Victims Defense Fund. These families are being sued by a company that has comparitively endless funds, very well connected friends in high places and an extremely effective and aggressive legal team. All this after they have had loved ones die in Iraq and just because they wanted answers to questions about and accountability for their loved ones' deaths. Our tax dollars are essentially paying for this company to go after these people because it is our tax dollars that have made Blackwater so wealthy. Congress has begun investigations into this company but in the meantime, I'm donating a little bit of money to the families' defense fund. Even if you can't give but $5 or $10 or less, please donate what you can.

I Don't know What to Say

This is probably one of the most appalling things that I have read about in a very long time. I'm really just about speechless to describe how furious this article makes me except to say that this is one of those things that makes me hope that there is a literal hell (and I'm not religious in any traditional sense) and that the people who head this company spend an eternity of abject misery there. Blackwater is a privat security company that pretty much operates as a privately controlled mercenary force. This company has bilked tax payers for billions with almost no oversight. They are pretty much accountable to no one and many people in the Bush Administration and the Department of Defense would love to keep it that way. Only a company controlled by complete sociopaths would do this:

Raleigh, NC -- The families of four American security contractors who were burned, beaten, dragged through the streets of Fallujah and their decapitated bodies hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River on March 31, 2004, are reaching out to the American public to help protect themselves against the very company their loved ones were serving when killed, Blackwater Security Consulting. After Blackwater lost a series of appeals all the away to the U.S. Supreme Court, Blackwater has now changed its tactics and is suing the dead men's estates for $10 million to silence the families and keep them out of court.

Following these gruesome deaths which were broadcast on worldwide television, the surviving family members looked to Blackwater for answers as to how and why their loved ones died. Blackwater not only refused to give the grieving families any information, but also callously stated that they would need to sue Blackwater to get it. Left with no alternative, in January 2005, the families filed suit against Blackwater, which is owned by the wealthy and politically-connected Erik Prince.

Blackwater quickly adapted its battlefield tactics to the courtroom. It initially hired Fred F. Fielding, who is currently counsel to the President of the United States. It then hired Joseph E. Schmitz as its in-house counsel, who was formerly the Inspector General at the Pentagon. More recently, Blackwater employed Kenneth Starr, famed prosecutor in the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal, to oppose the families. To add additional muscle, Blackwater hired Cofer Black, who was the Director of the CIA Counter- Terrorist Center.

Over 300 contractors have been killed in Iraq with very little inquiry into their deaths. The families claim that Blackwater is attempting to cover up its incompetence, its cutting of corners in favor of higher profits, and its over billing to the government. Due to lack of accountability and oversight, Blackwater's private army has been able to obtain huge profits from the government, utilizing contacts established through Erik Prince's relationships with high-ranking government officials such as Cofer Black and Joseph Schmitz.

In addition to assembling its litigation troops, Blackwater also stonewalled the families concerning any information about how the men were killed. Over the past two and a half years, Blackwater has not responded to a single question or produced a single document. When the families' attorneys, Callahan & Blaine, obtained a Court Order to take the deposition of a former Blackwater employee with critical information about the incident, Blackwater quickly re-hired him and sent him out of the country. When the witness returned to the United States more than a year later, the families obtained another Court Order for his deposition. Blackwater again prevented them from taking his deposition by seeking the assistance of the U.S. Attorney's Office to block the deposition under the guise that he possibly possessed national secrets. Following an investigation, the U.S. Army reported that the witness had no secret information and that it had no objection to the deposition.

There's more so click on the link and read the whole article if you can stomach it.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Quote of the Day~ This Guy Should Do Advertisements for Viagra

I, too, am now suffering from erectile dysfunction, or ED....Worse than the discovery that I am now suffering from ED was the subsequent realization that I have been suffering from it for several years.In 2001, I was jogging on campus when I passed a group of feminists marching in the annual "Take back the night" event. After they marched by me shaking their fists and screaming, I first experienced ED.

This is truly pathetic but oh so funny. This guy, a professor and contributer to conservative, has had problems getting it up becuase of feminists and sluts. Apparently, the idea of women as sexual beings has the opposite effect on him that it would have on the average heterosexual male. It comes as no surprise that he was #1 on World O'Crap's "Ultimate Wingnut of 2005." I went to an all women's college that had a large number of dirty feminists sluts and lesbians. My brother and his friends, as well as many of my guy friends, were always thrilled by the presence of so many women--feminists, lesbians it didn't matter--when they visited me. But I guess that's just because women don't scare them and they just like them in general.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Bush Hearts Big Oil Profits and Mad Cow Disease

The Bush Administration doesn't want the Justice Department to go after oil companies for price gouging or to be able to sue OPEC under U.S. anti-trust laws. So what does the Bush Administration think the role of the federal government should be vis-a-vis the greedy and potentially dangerous practices of corporations v. the needs and safety of American citizens? Well...

The Bush administration said Tuesday it will fight to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for mad cow disease.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture tests less than 1 percent of slaughtered cows for the disease, which can be fatal to humans who eat tainted beef. But Arkansas City-based Creekstone Farms Premium Beef wants to test all of its cows.

Larger meat companies feared that move because, if Creekstone tested its meat and advertised it as safe, they might have to perform the expensive test, too.[..]

The Agriculture Department argued that widespread testing could lead to a false positive that would harm the meat industry. U.S. District Judge James Robertson noted that Creekstone sought to use the same test the government relies on and said the government didn't have the authority to restrict it.

And no, this is not a joke.
The Religious Right has entirely too much influence on our political system. They have more or less attached themselves to the Republican Party and, while there is dissatisfaction among the RR that Republican politicians more or less just pander to them and don't go far enough in legislating their agenda (a very valid point, and I'm glad about that at least), the Republican Party, particlularly under the Bush Administration, has rewarded them quite nicely in many areas. I wrote a post on the inroads that the RR and its ideology are making into the public health policy arena here. When I write about things like this the point is to call attention to the fact that the RR's influence and agenda affect everyone who doesn't live the way that the RR thinks that they should. Most people who aren't part of a group whose civil liberties the RR explicitly attacks or who have never thought about what it would be like to need or want an abortion or contraception and not be able to obtain them, probably think the RR poses no threat to them. But it really does. For example:

In Ohio, [the Religious Right's] "ban gay marriage" amendment was used to stop a woman from being able to charge her abusive boyfriend with "domestic violence."

Surprise, surprise the consequences of banning gay marriage end up screwing anyone who doesn't have the moral/legal blessing of the RR:

Ohio’s domestic violence law allows unmarried same-sex and opposite-sex couples to obtain protection orders in family court, and requires local police departments to enforce them.
Johnson’s attorney argued that, under Article 15, section 11 of the Ohio Constitution, Phelps could not be given a protection order.

That amendment, passed last year as Issue 1, reads, “Only a union between one man and one woman may be marriage valid in or recognized by this state and its political subdivisions. This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unwed partners that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.”

Celebrezze ruled that the second sentence bars courts from granting protection orders to a member of an unmarried couple.

“In Ohio only married individuals generally have a right to use the domestic relations court as a forum to resolve their differences,” Celebrezze wrote. “The one exception to this general rule was provided by the domestic violence act, which recognized the importance of providing the victims of domestic violence with a convenient and efficient forum for protection, separate from the criminal justice system, even if said victim is not legally married to the perpetrator.”

After describing the mechanisms of the domestic violence law, Celebrezze concluded, “Clearly, the extraordinary access to the domestic relations court, provided by the domestic violence act, is a ‘legal status’ that approximates a status granted to married couples.”

Emphasis mine. So, when you deny the legal and constitutional protections and benefits to gay couples that they are entitled to under the Constitution based on the RR's narrow, ideological definition of "marriage," then you open the door to taking away the legal and constitutional protections of heterosexual unmarried couples. No shit! It shouldn't really surprise anyone because no matter what your opinion on anything, the RR will not be happy unless you think and live according to their interpretation of what God wants. Nothing, not even battered, heterosexual, unmarried women, should be allowed to get in the way of the RR's attempt to legislate their morality.

Pain at the Pump

In May the price of gas hit record levels in the United States. Many people might be relieved to know that Congress is passing legislation in an attempt to address part of the problem. The House passed a bill on Wednesday, May 23, "that would make gasoline price gouging a federal offense." Unfortunately, the White House is threatening to veto it. Tyson Slocum, the Director of Public Citizen's Energy Program, testified to Congress on May 22nd about gas prices and oil company profits. Here is some rather infuriating information that Mr. Slocum provided to congress:

Gasoline prices have nearly tripled in the last five years, creating financial hardship for millions of families, as the average annual expenditure on gasoline increased $1,000 for the typical family over that time....While American families pay record high prices, oil companies are enjoying the strongest profits in the economy. Since 2001, the largest six oil companies operating in the United States--ExxonMobil, Chevron Texaco, ConocoPhillips, BP, Shell and Valero--recorded $477 billion in profits....To add insult to injury, oil companies enjoy billions of dollars worth of subsidies courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer at a time when the industry records record profits....[oil companies'] largest capital expenditure in 2006 was to buy back stock and pay dividends to shareholders....In just the last few years, mergers between giant oil companies...have resulted in just a few companies controlling a significant amount of America's gasoline, squelching competition....and five oil companies are reaping the largest profits in history....The consolidation of downstream assets--particularly refineries--plays a big role in determining the price of a gallon of gas....A recent government study revealed that the 'source of potential market power in the wholesale gasoline market is at the refining level becuase the refinery market is imperfectly competitive and refiners essentially control gasoline sales at the wholesale level' and concluded that 'mergers and increased market concentration generally led to higher wholesale gasoline prices'....The industry leader, ExxonMobil, spent $37.2 billion buying back its stock and paying dividends to its shareholders in 2006, while spending only $19.9 billion on its oil exploration and refining capital investment....While major oil companies haven't applied for a permit to build a new refinery, a small start-up has: Arizona Clean Fuels....if a small company can do it, why can't ExxonMobil, the world's most profitable corporation, do it?

As if this is not infuriating enough, "The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights exposed internal oil company memos that showed how the industry intentionally reduced domestic refining capacity to drive up profits."

The bill passed by the House "directs the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department to go after oil companies, traders or retail operators if they take “unfair advantage” or charge “unconscionably excessive” prices for gasoline and other fuels" and "would for the first time create a federal law making energy price gouging illegal." Based on testimony provided to congress and the memos mentioned above, this is pretty much what the oil companies are doing.

Bush's response: "The White House called the measure a form of price controls that could result in fuel shortages. It said President Bush would be urged to veto the legislation should it pass Congress."

The only people controlling prices are the oil companies, the energy traders and their enablers--the people in Bush Administration and those in Congress who didn't support the recent bill passed by the House.

Not surprising since Republicans have a cozy relationship with big oil:

Since 2001, energy corporations have showered federal politicians with $115 million in campaign contributions—with three-quarters of that amount going to Republicans....[the energy bill passed by the Republican controlled congress and signed by Bush in August of 2005] lavishes these lucrative corporations with billions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies, while doing little to curb energy demand.

Fortunately, when the Democrats took over congress in 2006 they passed legislation to eliminate some of those subsidies.