3/31/08

Car Woes

My trip back from Charlottesville aborted when I tried to start my car. Ended up staying another day in C'ville. Sue cooked a risotto from one of her new cookbooks.
My trip back from Charlottesville aborted when I tried to start my car. Ended up staying another day in C'ville. Sue cooked a risotto from one of her new cookbooks.

3/30/08

Virginia Arts of the Book Center lecture at VA Book

Johanna Drucker, Robertson Professor of Media Studies at UVa and advisor to Artists' Books Online, brought all sorts of examples from her collection to share with us. Then I went back to sue and robs and fixed dinner for them, Lily and Dora, a Waldorf salad with chicken on a bed of spinach with chocolate for dessert.

3/29/08

Marc Estrin at VA Festival of the Book


After doing the saturday lineup for NewsTrust and eating noodles at the Asian cafe on the mall, went again at the Village School to hear Marc Estrin read the bar mitzvah scene from The Lamentations of Julius Marantz. He was extradinairily entertaining, despite the fact that he told me he had never acted during his theater career, only directed. I had had the opportunity to finish the book, along with Golem Song, when I visited Marc and Donna this past summer in Burlington. Also appearing were:

  • A.J. Jacobs's, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible;
  • Adam Mansbach, The End of the Jews; and
  • Peter Charles Melman, Landsman. Interestingly, he teaches at Hunter College High School in Manhattan, mom's alma mater.

Got to talk with Donna for a bit before Marc and Donna left to talk with his editor fred at Unbridled, as well as schmooze at a reception. Instead, I returned back to Rob and Sue's for a pot luck and sing along.

3/28/08

Heather McHugh at VA Festival of the Book

Photograph of Heather McHugh (email) from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she is a professor in the English Department.

McHugh read from her poems at UVa Harrison Institute / Small Special Collections and then attended the beginning of a reception at the Colonnade Club. Both locales are on the central grounds.

The Academy of American Poets has a recording of her reading "What He Thought" on April 21, 1992 at the French Institute/Alliance Francaise in NYC, along with a slightly diffent version of the text, as it was published in Hinge & Sign: Poems 1968-1993 (Wesleyan University Press, 1994).

*

Later in the evening, I got to hear Charles Wright reading along with Poet Laureate Charles Simic.

3/27/08

Va Festival of the Book on Evil and Sin

After a dinner of baked potatoes with all the fixings, Sue, foreign exchange student Dora, and I attended the event they had selected, "Evil and Sin," which Jacob Goodson moderated at the Village School on East High Street. The panel consisted of:
  • Jennifer Geddes, editor of Evil After Postmodernism, a research associate professor of Religious Studies at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at UVa and editor of The Hedgehog Review: Critical Reflections on Contemporary Culture;
  • Dr. Barbara Oakley, author of Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend, who is professor of engineering at Oakland University in Michigan; and
  • John Portmann, author of A History of Sin: Its Evolution to Today and Beyond, and assistant professor of religious studies at UVa.
A bit dry and Oakley thinks her sister has evil genes. As Dora said, "What does that say about her?"

3/26/08

Va Festival of the Book on Digging Coal and Moving Mountains




Went the the Virginia Festival of the Book session Digging Coal and Moving Mountains at Gravity Lounge, moderated by David Bearinger.  The panel included:
Paul Kuczko, who produced Music of Coal: Mining Songs from the Appalachian Coalfields, along with my friend Jack Wright.  Kuczko is the Director of the Lonesome Pine Office on Youth in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.


Penny Loeb, author of Moving Mountains: How One Woman and her Community Won Justice from Big Coal, was senior editor at U.S. News and World Report and an investigative reporter for Newsday. She was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1988.


Michael Shnayerson is the author of Coal River, a book about the environmental lawyers and advocates fighting to stop mountaintop coal mining in Appalachia. A contributing editor at Vanity Fair, he has also written The Car That Could and The Killers Within.

Afterwards. Penny and I went out for coffee at the Mudhouse.

3/25/08

Enroute to Charlottesville for the Virginia Festival of the Book


I'll be staying with Rob and Sue, as in past years. Stopped by Trader Joe's on my way out of Springfield to buy them some goodies including artichoke and tomato spreads, Tofurkey italian sausage and asiago cheese.

3/24/08

Touring the Newseum w. th eMedia Bloggers Association


The photo is of Media Blogers Association Founder Bob Cox standing in front of the exhibit that features his photo, as pointed out by First Amendmentment Center Executive Director Gene Policinski.


Thank to my colleague Rory O'Connor, I received an invitation to a pre-opening tour of the Newseum. Here's coverage from another blogger, which I posted at Newstrust...

3/23/08

Split this Rock Sunday

After a meeting at Busboys and Poets to hear about DC Poets Against the War from Sarah Browning, Esther Iverem, Joseph Ross, and Melissa Tuckey and discussing how to continue the work of the festival, we reconvened at George Washington University at noon for a reading by Naomi Ayala subbing for Sharon Olds who was sick, followed by Galway Kinnell, who before getting to his own poems, read one by Walt Whitman and another by his friend Richard Bly, substituting Iraq for Vietnam.

Steve had gone to Easter service, so he joined us late and we walked in silence for the five blocks to Lafayette Park, across from the White House, where we compiled a Cento consisting of 12 words read by each poet.

Afterwards, Len, Steve and I got together for coffee and an impromtu reading, after we were joined by two others from the festival who I beckoned in as they walked by. Since the Starbucks was closing, we actually read part of our poems at a table outside.

I drove out to Springfield and visited Mom and spent the night. Carol was also visiting.

3/22/08

Split this Rock Coverage in WaPo

I'm exhausted, I'm exhilerated. Today's Washington Post feature in the Style section is worth checking out, for the photos alone, not to mention some of the quotations form the poets. I just wish the story had lead off with that. But poets here are not accorded the same place in public life as they are in Europe and Latin America.

3/20/08

Split This Rock Poetry Festival




Sonia Sanchez at Bus Boys and Poets, and Martin Espada, Ethelbert Miller, Naomi Shihab Nye (pictured above) and Alix Olson at Bell Multicultural High School. Quite the lineup. I walked over to the latter w. Steve, who lives in the city. Interestingly he was talking about a poet who's work impressed him and it turned out to be Diane Gilliam. Adrianne Rich could not attend but sent a letter and a poem. Sam Hammill had had a series of minor heart attacks, so likewise.

This one by Naomi Shihab Nye earned a standing ovation:

Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport

After learning my flight was detained 4 hours, I heard the announcement: If
anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic, Please come to the
gate immediately.

Well — one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly. "Help,"
said the flight service person. "Talk to her. What is her problem? We told her
the flight was going to be four hours late and she did this."

I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly. "Shu dow-a, shu- biduck
habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick, Sho bit se-wee?"

The minute she heard any words she knew — however poorly used – She
stopped crying.

She thought our flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso
for some major medical treatment the Following day. I said "No, no, we’re fine,
you’ll get there, just late, Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him."

We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and would ride next to her — SouthWest.

She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.

Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found
out of course they had ten shared friends!

Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian Poets I
know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering questions.

Soon after, she pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies — little powdered
sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts — out of her bag and was
offering them to all the women at the gate.

To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a Sacrament.
The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California, the lovely woman from
Laredo — we were all covered with the same
powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.

And then the airline broke out the free (non-alcoholic beverages from huge
coolers and the two little girls for our flight--one African
American, one Mexican American — ran around serving us all Apple Juice and
Llemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.

And I noticed my new best friend — by now we were holding hands – had a
potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry
leaves. Ah, an old country traveling tradition: always carry a plant. Always
stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, "This is the
world I want to live in. The shared world."

Not a single person in this gate — once the crying of confusion stopped – was
apprehensive about any other person.

They took to the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.

Not everything is lost.

~




And this one by Martín Espada is the title poem from a collection of the same name:


Imagine the Angels of Bread

This is the year that squatters evict landlords,
gazing like admirals from the rail
of the roofdeck
or levitating hands in praise
of steam in the shower;
this is the year
that shawled refugees deport judges
who stare at the floor
and their swollen feet
as files are stamped
with their destination;
this is the year that police revolvers,
stove-hot, blister the fingers
of raging cops,
and nightsticks splinter
in their palms;
this is the year
that darkskinned men
lynched a century ago
return to sip coffee quietly
with the apologizing descendants
of their executioners.

This is the year that those
who swim the border's undertow
and shiver in boxcars
are greeted with trumpets and drums
at the first railroad crossing
on the other side;
this is the year that the hands
pulling tomatoes from the vine
uproot the deed to the earth that sprouts the vine,
the hands canning tomatoes
are named in the will
that owns the bedlam of the cannery;
this is the year that the eyes
stinging from the poison that purifies toilets
awaken at last to the sight
of a rooster-loud hillside,
pilgrimage of immigrant birth;
this is the year that cockroaches
become extinct, that no doctor
finds a roach embedded
in the ear of an infant;
this is the year that the food stamps
of adolescent mothers
are auctioned like gold doubloons,
and no coin is given to buy machetes
for the next bouquet of severed heads
in coffee plantation country.

If the abolition of slave-manacles
began as a vision of hands without manacles,
then this is the year;
if the shutdown of extermination camps
began as imagination of a land
without barbed wire or the crematorium,
then this is the year;
if every rebellion begins with the idea
that conquerors on horseback
are not many-legged gods, that they too drown
if plunged in the river,
then this is the year.

So may every humiliated mouth,
teeth like desecrated headstones,
fill with the angels of bread.

3/19/08

Sullivan on Obama

Sullivan has written more substantive pieces in terms of evidence, than March 18th's "The Testing of Obama," but he sums up the question eloquently and personally. His posts on the Obama/Wright dust-up include the full text of Wright's 1990 "Audacity To Hope" sermon and links to pieces pro and con Obama in the National Review and elsewhere. Why use the hypothetical comparison to Robertson? Perhaps Sullivan couldn't make MCain's real embrace of Hagee work, given it’s recent. Obama’s speech the next day fulfills Sullivan's description: someone "who offers all of us a chance to see sometimes authentic identity requires an element of contradiction, a bridging of the resentful, angry past and a more complex integrated future," but missteps include saying he would have quit the church, but Wright had resigned (). I also question Obama’s denied significance of his operatives’ pamphlet for organized labor regarding Edwards (). Sullivan’s bridge imagery works with Obama, but is ironic used against Clinton, whose husband used the same metaphor. Like Kaizar, I question Sullivan's description of Clinton "who believes in her heart that America is not ready and … assumes the need to disguise it and play cynical defense." Bill’s action regarding race in her campaign make wonder if he, on every level, wants her to succeed and recall how, despite Bob Dole's connections, Liddy dropped out for lack of funds. This points to two gaps: race AND gender. Clinton doesn’t talk as eloquently about the latter. Her character or her conundrum?

3/18/08

Washington Post and Andrew Sullivan on Obama and Rev. Wright

Today, Barack Obama addressed race in a speech at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Opponents try to use Obama's connection to Reverend Wright to derail his candidacy, pundits debate the effects of the excerpts broadcast and how Obama will try to stem the damage.

The Washington Post, instead made available a complete transcript of the speech, along with a video and adds two articles, all available from this link. The first article covers the speech and doesn't add much, other than to provide some specific examples of Wright's comments. The second with reactions from Wright's congregation and from other clergy, both Black and White, lacks any critics, although there have been plenty cited elsewhere. Some will find this speech a piece of great oratory, others an effort at damage control, but at least the Post gives readers the opportunity to draw our own conclusion. Our reactions may reflect more about us than about Obama. I come down on the oratory side, although I'm still discomfited by the statement quoted in the second story that Obama would have left the Church, except for the fact that Reverend Wright has retired.

In the speech, though, after first condemning the inflammatory nature of some of Wright's statements in sermons, Obama now takes the time to give a more nuanced reaction:

the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country...I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television sets and YouTube, if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way....
I won't quote more, as the library is closing and the who speech bears reading. Also interesting are Andrew Sullivan's multiple posts on the whole fracas and on the speech. For right now, you can scroll through and I'll try to put up an index later. Of especial interest is his verbatim transcript of Wright's "Audacity of Hope" sermon, which is nothing like the picture painted by the current sound bites.

3/17/08

Sunshine Week Starts


Poster for the Open the Government coalition's forum at the National Press Club Wednesday, March 19, 2008 1:00pm- 2:30pm, which you can view online, if you register here. See the bottom of this post for more information.

Besides being Saint Patty's day, March 17 is the kickoff for Sunshine Week ( although events started earlier in the month), during which journalists promote through their writing the idea of open government. There had been quite the media blarney over the signing on December 31 of the “Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National (OPEN) Government Act of 2007,” (first introduced and passed in the Senate in August 3, 2007 as Pat Leahey's (D-VT) S. 849, but held at the House desk an later re-introduced and passed unanimously December 14 as S. 2488 and passed by the House on a voice vote on December 18 (thus ironically hiding the voting record.)

But as Aftergood noted on January 2, 2008, while the amendment to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

makes several constructive procedural changes in the FOIA to encourage faster agency response times, to enable requesters to track the status of their requests, to expand the basis for fee waivers, and more.

One thing it does not do, however, is alter the criteria for secrecy and disclosure. Whatever records that a government agency was legally entitled to withhold before enactment of the “OPEN Government Act” can still be withheld now that the President has signed it.

Some of the misinterpretations in the mainstream media included a January 1 AP story which ran in the Washington Post, the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere.

The law … restores a presumption of a standard that orders government agencies to release information on request unless there is a finding that disclosure could do harm...The legislation is aimed at reversing an order by former Attorney General John Ashcroft after the 9/11 attacks in which he instructed agencies to lean against releasing information when there was uncertainty about how doing so would affect national security.

As Aftergood pointed out, the original House version of the OPEN Government Act establishing a “presumption of openness” was stripped prior to passage. This led toHenry Waxman (D-CA) statement on the House floor on December 18 that the final legislation

does not include a provision which I thought was a key one establishing a presumption that government records should be released to the public unless there is a good reason to keep them secret.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) applauded that

the provision repealing the so-called Ashcroft memorandum was eliminated…. The Ashcroft memorandum established that the administration would defend agency decisions to withhold records under a FOIA exemption if the decision was supported by a sound legal basis, replacing the pre-9/11 Janet Reno standard of always releasing information absent foreseeable harm...I think preservation of the Ashcroft policy is the right policy to adopt in the current environment.

AP added a correction finally on January 4, which only the Washington Post ran. And, as I reported in "Mr. Unitary Executive's FY 2009 Budget Bypasses Congress," and reported by Rebecca Carr in the Austin American-Statesman on February 4, since signing the bill, Bush has eliminated the FOIA ombudsman position at the National Archives which was central to the law.

Sharon Weinberger of Wired had no blarney extolling civic virtue today, when she instead, writes of her travails in trying to FOIA requests. And while nowhere near as detailed or cynical, The Houston Chronicle, taking to heart James Madison's statement that,

A popular government without popular knowledge or the means of acquiring it is but a prelude to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both.

calls out not only a local attorney general, but the Lone Star State's man in the White House in its editorial, "Sunshine Week: Americans are right to want transparent government and candidates' attention to official secrecy."

The Chronicle starts by noting an opinion poll by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University, also cited in more depth by Editor and Publisher, which found that 74 percent of those surveyed believe the federal government is somewhat or very secretive, up from 62 percent in 2006 and then continued,

In an era when the most powerful officials in the nation state that they have the right to conduct official business in secret, where it can't be known by the people they serve, the wonder is that the other 26 percent of those surveyed are not alarmed.

Most government secrecy is not to protect national security or ensure government integrity. Its purpose is to protect officials from public scrutiny, embarrassment or even prosecution.

The Bush administration contends that presidents can get good, candid advice only in confidence. This premise rests on the nonsensical assumption that the best advice presidents receive would be disadvantageous and humiliating to the president or the adviser if the public learned of it.
*
Pat Leahy is attempting to strengthen FOIA again, having introduced Open FOIA Act of 2008.
See Carr's March 12 entry for more information.

So here's the line-up for Government Secrecy: Censoring Your Right to Know

The Secret Executive -- What Can Congress and the Public Do?

  • Ann Beeson, Director of U.S. Programs at the Open Society Institute and previously Associate Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union
  • Mickey Edwards, Director of the Aspen Institute-Rodel Fellowships in Public Leadership and former Republican member of Congress from Oklahoma (1977-92)
  • John Podesta, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for American Progress, and former Clinton Chief of Staff
  • Patrice McDermott, Director of OpenTheGovernment.org will moderate.

Citizen Self-Help: Finding the Information You Need

3/16/08

David Walker's move from GAO to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation

I'm as fiscally conservative as they come. So, I'd usually support someone who has warned us that
at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and on both sides of the political aisle, there are too few leaders who face the facts.
That someone is David Walker, who retired on Wednesday from the GAO. But something raised a flag as I read about Walker's departure in David S. Broder's March 16 Washington Post column, "New Task for a Budget Straight-Talker." Broder quotes Walker as saying that he is leaving to lead the Peter G. Peterson Foundation which will emphasize advocacy in the business community and among the young, because others already have done
a lot of the basic research and analysis [and] the people are ahead of the politicians...but they don't know what we need to do.
I looked up the website for the foundation. This portion of the mission statement caught my interest:
Unsustainable entitlement benefits. As 78 million baby boomers retire, America's unfunded entitlement promises (i.e., Medicare and Social Security) exceed three times the annual GDP of the country.
I'm not an economist, but the first thing that strikes me is that the foundation is conflating Medicare and Social Security. In the February 15 New York Time's account of the foundation's formation, "Tax Break Helps a Crusader for Deficit Discipline," author Landon Thomas Jr. completely omits Medicare in this description:
On Friday, Mr. Peterson will unveil the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and announce his plan to allocate his newfound billions to projects that will increase public awareness of fiscal imbalances, Social Security deficits and nuclear proliferation.
Also, it's interesting that Mr. Peterson favors the tax breaks for hedge funds, at least according to Landon:
And while he supports increased taxes on the wealthy (along with broad-based benefit reductions), he remains firm in his defense of the special provision for private equity partnerships despite the view of many on Wall Street, including the billionaire investor Warren Buffett, that the rate is too low.

"This is a fairness argument," said Mr. Peterson, who says that increasing the 15 percent rate for so-called carried interest, compared with ordinary tax rates of roughly double that, would force private equity companies overseas. "There are so many other partnerships, why pick on this high-growth sector?"

According to Landon, Peterson is considering using his considerable wealth to organize
a youthful equivalent to the powerful lobbying group for senior citizens, AARP. Another is working with HBO on a documentary film adaptation of his book "Running on Empty," in the hope that the American public wakes up to the dangers of deficits and entitlement spending as it did to global warming after Al Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth."
So, here are my questions:
  • Are the figures cited in the mission statement true?
  • If true, how much can be apportioned to each program?
  • Are Medicare costs rising more quickly than inflation?
  • How does the rate of increase compare with private health insurance?
  • How much of the increase is caused by the prescription drug benefit?
  • How much could growth be curbed by allowing negotiated prices currently banned?
  • How much of public v.s. private insurance costs go to administration v.s payments for health care?
  • Does this point to a problem that arguably could be addressed, at least in part, by single payer health care, ironically (for Mr. Peterson) creating a new "entitlement?"
  • When did the language shift from benefit to entitlement?
I've written Robert Greenstein (email) , Executive Director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, asking for his sense of things. If I hear back, I'll share his answers with you. I'm of a mind that there needs to be a reasoned, fact-filled response to the p.r. the foundation will soon be disseminating to business, but especially youth, on possible solutions. You've hear the word "class warfare." It seems to me that Mr. Peterson is about to invoke "age warfare" to promote his aims.

The foundation's only contact at this point is a NYC publicist, Robert Lawson of Rubenstein Communications (email), but I'll contact hime, too, and see if he will put me in touch with Mr. Walker.

3/15/08

Supreme Court, Inc.

Illustration by Andy Friedman (website, email) from March 16, 2008 New York Times Magazine.

Jeffrey Rosen (profile and email), a law professor at George Washington University writes in tomorrow's article, "Supreme Court, Inc," that
A generation ago, progressive and consumer groups petitioning the court could count on favorable majority opinions written by justices who viewed big business with skepticism — or even outright prejudice. An economic populist like William O. Douglas, the former New Deal crusader who served on the court from 1939 to 1975, once unapologetically announced that he was “ready to bend the law in favor of the environment and against the corporations.”
Things have changed, however. Rosen talked with Robin Conrad, who heads the Chamber of Commerce'ss litigation effort and said she was especially pleased that several of the most important decisions were written by liberal justices and questioned the use of lawsuits to challenge corporate wrongdoing, strategy routinely denounced by conservatives as “regulation by litigation.”
Justice Ginsburg talked about how "private-securities fraud actions, if not adequately contained, can be employed abusively."Justice Breyer had a wonderful quote about how Congress was trying to "weed out unmeritorious securities lawsuits." Justice Souter talked about how the threat of litigation "will push cost-conscious defendants to settle."
Rosen indicateds that since the appointment of John Roberts,

Forty percent of the cases the court heard last term involved business interests, up from around 30 percent in recent years. While the Rehnquist Court heard less than one antitrust decision a year, on average, between 1988 and 2003, the Roberts Court has heard seven in its first two terms — and all of them were decided in favor of the corporate defendants.

Rosen maintains that while these cases receive less attention than those concerning issues like affirmative action, abortion or the death penalty
shareholder suits, antitrust challenges to corporate mergers, patent disputes and efforts to reduce punitive-damage awards and prevent product-liability suits — are no less important. They involve billions of dollars, have huge consequences for the economy and can have a greater effect on people’s daily lives than the often symbolic battles of the culture wars.
He cites the blocked liability suit against Medtronic, the manufacturer of a heart catheter, and a shareholder claim against Enron. Additional, the court is slated to In the coming months, the decide whether to reduce the punitive-damage award which resulted from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.

*
I'll sign off now to drive to Roanoke to Lilly's for a potluck and international folk dancing.

3/14/08

Military Doctors and Their Ethical Dilemmas

Stephen N. Xenakis is a medical doctor who retired from the U.S. army at the rank of brigadier general. In his essay for the No Torture. No Excuses series in the January-March Washington Monthly, he cites interrogation logs obtained by Time magazine on the torture in 2002 and early 2003 of Mohammed al-Qahtani. Xenakis writes that a doctor treated him for hypothermia
in order to return him to his interrogators.
This, of course, is an extreme test of the oath to "do no harm" but not the only medical dilemma doctors face in war,when even those who treat their own side's military men and women may be returning them to the possibility of re-injury or even death.

It reminds me of the moral questions faced by those who assist in executions by legal injection. I think that an opinion piece can be good journalism. In this case, I would have liked to have seen a deeper examination of the issues involved and perhaps to have heard from those facing these decisions and how they dealt with them. Still, a valuable read that raises important questions.

The library is closing. More later...

3/13/08

Winter Soldier: Iran & Afghanistan

The library is closing, but check out the site on how you can watch the hearings today through March 16. Here's the rundown. Sorry for the wacky format.

To mark 5 years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Iraq Veterans Against the War
(IVAW) will gather at the National Labor College near Washington, D.C. March
13 thru 16 to disclose the realities of U.S. war policy in a public investigation
called Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan. Veterans and civilian survivors of
both conflicts will give public testimony and share the eyewitness stories that
have been censored from the American public about the true human cost of
these occupations. This testimony also will reveal how the Iraq occupation is
tactically un-winnable, morally wrong, and has brought our military to its breaking
point.

Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan aims to:
1) Motivate veterans and active duty service members to get involved in
todayʼs growing GI resistance movement;
2) Awaken America to the real human costs of war that have not been
exposed sufficiently by the American media; and
3) Hold both Democrats and Republicans accountable for the illegal Iraq
occupation they have jointly kept going.

The term, Winter Soldier, is a play on the words of Thomas Paine who wrote in
“The Crisis” (1776) that summer soldiers ʻshrink from the service of their countryʼ
in times of crisis. In contrast, Winter Soldiers are those who stand up for the soul
of their nation in its darkest hours. Americaʼs democracy is in crisis today,
motivated by an economic addiction to oil and empire, engaged in ongoing illegal
occupation that has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands, and stymied by a
political process that values moneyed interests more than the majority of the
American people. Over 35 years after the first Winter Soldier investigation
conducted by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, America needs Winter Soldiers
again.1 Continuing in this tradition, IVAWʼs Winter Soldiers are performing a
difficult but essential service to our country.

For the past five years, Americans have heard from generals, pundits, and
politicians about the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they haven't heard enough from those who have first-hand experience. IVAW believes that for our
democracy to truly function, Americans must understand the reality of the wars
our government is waging in our names. We know that veterans are most
qualified to expose the true face of the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations
because we are the ones who fought on the ground. And Iraqi and Afghan
civilians who have survived these violent occupations have important stories to
tell about whether or not they are better off with U.S. military intervention.

Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan testifiers will share their first-hand accounts of:
• Killing and injuring of innocent civilians, including children and women;
• Destruction of property, infrastructure, and natural resources;
• Racist dehumanization, torture, and abuse of civilians;
• Injured soldiers being forced back into combat before full recovery;
• Denial of medical treatment and health benefits for active duty troops and
veterans;
• Waste, fraud, and abuse of private military contractors;
• Policies of discrimination against women, gays, and service members of
different ethnic and religious backgrounds within the military; and
• The breakdown of the U.S. military due to prolonged occupations in Iraq
and Afghanistan.

From incidents like Fallujah and Abu Ghraib to the awarding of no-bid contracts,
Winter Soldier will show that wrongdoings and failures in Iraq and Afghanistan
are part and parcel of war policy set at the highest levels of power. Troops are
being ordered to do things that violate their conscience and the rules of war.
Civilians whom the U.S. purports to be helping are being violated causing anger
and resentment. The U.S. military is being broken from the institutional level
down to individual service members. And large companies are profiting greatly.
Winter Soldier will place the blame of this failed war policy where it belongs – on
our political leaders.

Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan will be the largest gathering of IVAW members
to date and is the largest project IVAW has organized in its young three-and-a-
half year history. IVAW members and leaders are working diligently with
thousands of allies around the country to prepare for this historic event. We are
reaching out to our over 800 members to get them involved, and expect more
than 200 of them to attend. Teams of interviewers are taking testimony from over
100 veterans about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their testimony is
being vetted and corroborated for accuracy and truth. Volunteer lawyers from the
National Lawyers Guild are counseling testifiers, and mental health professionals
have been made available around the country for emotional support before,
during, and after the event.

3/12/08

John Birch Society: Bush Wants Torture

Despite opinion to the contrary, the prohibition of torture, while partisan, is not a left-right issue. For proof, see Ann Shibler's piece today for the John Birch Society, "Bush Wants Torture."

By failing to overturn the veto, it seems that 188 House members agree with President Bush who continues to support the idea that the government should be free to use torture. "I cannot sign into law a bill that would prevent me, and future presidents, from authorizing the CIA to conduct a separate, lawful intelligence program, and from taking all lawful actions necessary to protect Americans from attack," he said.

In any case, there is nothing "lawful" or intelligent or "necessary" about waterboarding or any other torture techniques. And torture simply cannot "protect America from attacks." The techniques are inhumane and immoral, and totally ineffective, but must somehow satisfy some primal instinct of lower human nature, or they wouldn’t be so popular with so many.

The fact is, America should be above the various and sundry barbarities, torture included, that seem to delight certain instincts in some. It is important, therefore, to know who amongst our legislators supports such uncivilized behavior so that, come next election, citizens who favor civilized behavior can vote accordingly.

You can check how your representative voted by clicking here. Notice the almost perfect partisan lines that were kept; know then, that is probably not about torture but partisan politics. And keep in mind that "Yeas" are good, meaning they voted to override Bush’s veto, and the "Nay’s" need to get a letter from their constituents, asking why they condone and vote for immoral and brutal treatment of other human beings when the folks back home understand torture when they see it, and want it stopped.

Or, as conservative Bob Barr wrote in the piece I referenced yesterday,


As a teenager, I loved to read comic books. Superman comics were my favorite. Among the many adversaries the Man of Steel faced (and always vanquished) was Bizarro World. In Bizarro World, everything was the opposite of that which prevailed in our world. Up was down, clean was dirty, black was white, good was bad ... you get the picture.

Events of the past few years remind me more and more of Bizarro World, except now it's not a comic-book world, it's the real world. The effect of witnessing a federal government operating according to Bizarro World standards instead of those enshrined in our Constitution and legal system is truly frightening.

In no instance is this scenario clearer than when the current administration has addressed the matter of whether its agents have, since September 11, 2001, tortured prisoners.
I would add, that as a teenager, I found the John Birch Society, more than a little odd, when I attended an extra credit presentation for geography class at the Richard Byrd library near my home and heard a representative of the Society call The World Book Encyclopedia a communist plot. After all my beloved third grade teacher Mrs. Moore had sold us our copy.

So, like Mr. Barr, I find myself in Bizarro World or perhaps Through the Looking Glass when I find myself agreeing with the Birch Society. But things just get curiouser and curiouser.

3/11/08

No Torture. No Exceptions.




Above is the cover illustration (although the Mac version of Adobe has messed up the color again--picture the headline in burgundy) for No Torture, No Exceptions, a collaboration of Washington Monthly and the American Security Project,
a non-profit, bipartisan public policy and research organization dedicated to fostering knowledge and understanding of a range of national security issues, promoting debate about the appropriate use of American power, and cultivating strategic responses to 21st century challenges.
Washington Monthly solicited 37 essays opposing torture from folks whose names you may not recognize, as well as the well-known, such as Jimmy Carter, General Wesley K. Clark, Chris Dodd, Richard Armitage, Chuck Hagel, Lee H. Hamilton & Thomas H. Kean (chairmen of the 9-11 Commission), Richard Lugar, Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson and Nancy Pelosi.

This topic is particularly timely, given today's failure by the House to override President Bush veto (announced Saturday in his weekly radio broadcast) of Congress's prohibition against waterboarding in the CIA authorization bill. Mr. Bush explained he had vetoed the bill because,
the danger [of terrorism] remains, we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists. Unfortunately, Congress recently sent me an intelligence authorization bill that would diminish these vital tools.
But despite the partisan vote on the veto override, this is not partisan issue. NewsTrust selected a piece from The Washington Monthly by Republican Bob Barr, the former Congressman from Georgia and a member of the American Conservative Union. He is one of a number of conservatives, such as Bruce Fein, who have been critical of Mr. Bush on issues such as privacy and torture. I always find it admirable when folks in either party are willing to look critically at the positions of their leaders and write about their opinions in a clear, considered fashion.

Interestingly, Barr points out,
The difficulty in resolving this controversy is immense, because administration officials won't even discuss "torture," preferring instead to talk about "enhanced interrogation techniques. Federal officials like the latter term because it is not defined in federal or international law ("enhanced interrogation" being essentially a made-up term), and therefore activities falling within its ambit are not—cannot be—illegal."
The American Security Project has a blog post, "American Security Project Board Members Join Call for an End to Torture in Latest Washington Monthly Magazine," highlighting some notable quotations from the project.

All of the contributions make for interesting reading and are available online at the link I've shown at the top of the page or can be downloaded from there as a single pdf file.

3/10/08

Tax Attorneys Organize to Promote Shared Economic Growth

On March 4, the New York Times Diana B. Henriques reported, that unlike individuals, some companies are stockpiling cash. Matt Lykken, Laura Hunt and Heléna Klumpp are all tax attorneys who find it incongruous that the IRS Code encourages companies to send their money offshore. They think the country would be more prosperous if instead, the tax code encouraged these companies to pay dividends. And they have some ideas for how to prevent their proposal from increasing income disparity and benefiting primarily the the wealthy. To this end they've started a non-profit, SharedEconomicGrowth.org

dedicated to educating the American public regarding the effects of the tax system on the economy and options for improvement.
In the March 10, 2008 Too Much newsletter, Editor Sam Pizzigati writes about their proposal in "Egalitarian Corporate Lawyers--Shared Economic Growth: Wouldn’t That Make More Sense?"
A simple question: Where’s America’s cash? Certainly not with average Americans. If average Americans had cash in their wallets, they wouldn’t be maxing out home equity lines of credit to pay off monthly bills. They wouldn’t be losing homes, at record rates. And our consumer spending-dependent economy wouldn’t be sinking ever deeper into recession.

So who has the cash? News reports last week supplied one answer. Corporate CEOs are now sitting on the biggest cash hoard in modern business history. In February, the nation's top 500 companies were sitting on $600 billion in cash, triple the cash that sloshed away on S&P 500 balance sheets just ten years ago.

This enormous stash, if circulated back into the domestic economy, could stimulate the United States right out of recession. But top corporate execs aren’t investing in America. They’re shifting jobs overseas instead — and investing only in schemes, like buyouts of other companies and buybacks of their own corporate shares, that line their own pockets.

Not a pretty sight, and Matt Lykken, for one, has seen enough. A corporate tax attorney, Lykken has joined with two other corporate tax lawyers, Laura Hunt and Heléna Klumpp, to launch “Shared Economic Growth,” a campaign to overhaul the U.S. tax laws that encourage U.S. companies to offshore their operations.

To end the incentive for going offshore and “encourage companies to bring home the cash they have invested abroad,” Lykken and his colleagues want to let corporations deduct off their taxes any dividends they pay out. That would lead to bigger dividends, they posit, and these bigger payouts would put cash in the pockets of average Americans who own shares of stock.

But wouldn’t bigger dividends also generate windfalls for the rich? The Shared Economic Growth plan would stall these windfalls by upping tax rates on America’s wealthy. The plan would eliminate all preferential tax treatment of capital gains income and impose an additional 7½ percent tax on individual income over $500,000.

These two moves would over double the tax rate on a typical hedge fund manager’s $100 million annual income.

Lykken and his corporate tax attorney team are building a detailed case for their reform approach online. But their work’s real significance may be the light their proposal shines on the growing opposition — within corporate ranks — to America’s continuing concentration of income and wealth.

Over a hundred years ago, a high-powered corporate lawyer inspired a similar opposition. Disgusted by the gross inequality of his day, this corporate lawyer — Louis Brandeis — began battling for reforms to topple plutocracy in America. He would eventually gain a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court and help forge the political consensus that cut America’s rich, in the mid 20th century, down to democratic size.

The corporate tax lawyers behind Shared Economic Growth are reviving that Brandeis spirit. And that revival matters, more than the specifics of any reform proposals. If even corporate tax lawyers are decrying our top-heavy status quo, a new assault against concentrated wealth and privilege may finally be in the offing.


*

So who are these guys? For their bios on SharedEconomicGrowth.org:

Lykken

graduated with honors from Harvard Law School in 1985 began his career with the Office of Chief Counsel, I.R.S., and for the last 17 years has worked as an international tax planner and tax department head living in the U.S. and abroad, working for both U.S. and foreign owned corporations. He has advised governments from Trinidad to newly post-communist Poland on the design of their tax systems, and has been a member of the core evaluation team for dozens of corporate investment decisions. He is intimately familiar with the negative effects of acquisitions of U.S. corporations by tax subsidized foreign rivals.


Hunt
graduated from the University of Illinois College of Law at Champaign in 1991 and received her M.B.A. from the University of Miami in 1987. She has worked for U.S. based multinationals in domestic and international tax planning and audit defense for 14 years.

Klumpp
has advised dozens of U.S.- and foreign-owned companies on worldwide transactions and tax planning strategies. A graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, Ms. Klumpp is currently employed as tax counsel for a Fortune 300 corporation. She has written extensively on tax policy issues, having recently served as editor of Tax Notes magazine, the leading news source for tax professionals and policymakers. Before working for Tax Analysts, publisher of Tax Notes, Ms. Klumpp spent nearly eight years working in the Washington, D.C. office of a large, multinational law firm. As the mother of two young children, Ms. Klumpp is passionate about leaving a sound national fiscal legacy for the next generation of Americans and views corporate tax reform as an essential step in that direction.

Update: April 21, a visitor from house.gov (The U.S. House of Representatives) stayed over three minutes, having arrived from a google search on Lykken's name. The outclick was to the SharedEconomicGrowth.org site. There hasn't been any news coverage, although Tax Notes published a paper by Lykken and Hunt March 17 (not available except for subscribers.)

3/9/08

Ward Connerly's Big Payda from Fighting Equal Rights

Wardell Connerly is the founder and chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, a non-profit organization which opposes affirmative action. He is considered to be the man behind California's controversial Proposition 209, which outlawed race and gender-based set-asides in state hiring and state university admissions. His twelve-year tenure on the Board of Regents ended on March 1, 2005. Now, according to the CNN story, "Affirmative action ban heads for ballot in 5 states,"

Ballot initiatives have been proposed in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma that would give voters the chance to decide whether they want to do away with affirmative action in government-funded projects and public schools.

Ward Connerly,....the main backer of the ballot initiatives, says the 37 word initiative would read: "The state shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting."

What's interesting about these referenda, is that they avoid the term "affirmative action" and according to Katherine Spillar's article in Ms. Magazine, "Ward Connerly Using Deceptive 'Civil Rights' Initiatives to Ban Affirmative Action" will not, if Connerly has his way, will not
be talked about in the campaign -- that's because most voters support the concept. The debate will instead focus on whether "unqualified" minorities are admitted to public colleges and universities over "more qualified" (i.e., white) students. What has never been widely reported in the coverage of Connerly's campaigns are his ties to the large public works contractors and construction industry organizations that stand to benefit tremendously from eliminating programs that help level the playing field for women- and minority-owned businesses.
The full article is not available online, somehting one of the community members at Newstrust complains is "crass." I'm not sure why Ms. should not expect us to buy the magazine or at least check it out at the library. After all, there are bills to be paid and Ms. has chosen not to take advertisements.

I have not yet been able to get my hands on a copy, having been busy today making a poster for the poetry reading, selling popcorn for th eLyric and attending a working group meeting for Burning Book, but what I was able to read in the the excerpt piqued my interest. California laws he promoted have affected women and minorities:

Having hit an all-time high of 27.7 percent of Caltrans contracts in 1994, women- and minority-owned businesses dropped to just 8.2 percent of those contracts in 2002.
Meanwhile Connerly, according to IRS filings between 1998 and 2006, received
a total of $8.3 million from the two nonprofit organizations he founded in the late 1990s to promote his messages and campaigns -- nearly half of the $17.5 million in total revenues reported in that period by the two nonprofits. In addition to salary and benefits, Connerly receives expense accounts and fees for speaking, media interviews and consulting. In the last reported fiscal year, 2006, he received $1.6 million -- 66 percent of the $2.4 million in revenues his nonprofits generated that year." Since non-profits are not supposed to enrich individuals this is very interesting.
The actual initiative hasn't gotten much national coverage that I could find, other than the piece in CNN, but there has been local coverage. I'll be back with more information when I obtain it. Right now, the library is closing, as is my perennial problem.

3/8/08

Contra Dance in Floyd

The Floyd Contra Dance hosts David DiGiuseppe (accordion) and Pete Campbell (keyboard) on Saturday, March 8 for the monthly dance and concert. As part of the Chapel Hill contra dance band Footloose, the duo plays contemporary interpretations of traditional tunes with often complex arrangements, infusing Celtic reels and jigs, French bourees, or Cajun two steps with an added dimension. Expertly, they create high-energy music that really moves the crowd on the dance floor. Gaye Fifer from Charlottesville is calling.

In addition to three solo CD albums, David recently released two books of traditional tunes arranged for accordion published by Mel Bay Publications. 100 Tunes for Piano Accordion and 100 Irish Tunes for Piano Accordion are both extensive collection of reels, jigs, hornpipes and polkas.

3/7/08

Lineup for the Women Activist Poetry Reading at Gillies March 10

Lissa Bloomer, lives in Radford in an old Victorian monster of a house with her three little kids and her husband. She is a potter, kayaker, gardener, a writer and researcher of women's and gender issues, and has been teaching writing at tech for 18 years. She has been writing stories and nature journals since she was 4, so we can't call her a new writer; but instead, prefers to be called an emerging voice-- an essayist, poet, and children's book author, who's topics range from the politics of febreeze to women in physics. Her activism comes from her anger of the treatment of our environment and women -- and the humor in noticing the smallest of these things.

Katie Fallon, an Instructor in the English Department at Virginia Tech, writes primarily creative nonfiction with an emphasis on wildlife, nature, and the environment. Her essays and memoir pieces have recently appeared in the literary journals Fourth Genre, River Teeth, Appalachian Heritage, Ecotone, and elsewhere. She is involved with several local and regional environmental organizations, and she serves on the Board of Directors of the West Virginia Raptor Rehabilitation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to 'restoring injured and orphaned birds of prey to the wild while inspiring environmental understanding through education for the benefit of all living things.' Katie's first word was 'bird,' and thirty years later, she's still obsessed with them.

Aileen Murphy got her BA in creative writing from Oklahoma State University and her MFA from Colorado State University. She is currently the Assistant Director of Creative Writing at Virginia Tech, where she teaches creative writing. She has published poetry in Midland Review, New Voices, Galley Sail Review, Ambergris, and Weird Sisters. She believes that the word "activist" describes other people, although as the youngest of seven daughters, and as a "recovering catholic" it is sometimes an appropriate synonym for "feminism."

Beth Wellington graduated from William and Mary with a B.S. in Psychology. She started writing and publishing poetry in her late twenties, after attending the writers' workshop at the Roanoke Women's Resource Center with Dara Wier. She's attended the Hindman Settlement School Writers' Workshop and is a member of the Southern Appalachian Writer's Cooperative. She studied with both Fred Chappell and Bill Stafford at the Atlantic Center for the Arts and has given workshops and/or readings in Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, Utah, Michigan, Massachusetts, Vermont, Kentucky, West Virginia and, of course, Virginia. In 2006, Katie and Beth met while attending the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition's Mountaintop Removal Writers' Tour. She's had recent poems published in Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, Coal: A Poetry Anthology, Appalachian Heritage and Verbal Events.

3/6/08

Mountain Justice Spring Break and SAMS to hold "Hearing" at Abingdon DEQ Friday, Boucher in Blacksburg Saturday

Again, I'm having trouble uploading an image to Google at the Blacksburg Library. Until I can fix this glitch, go to Charlotteville cartoonist Jen Sorenson's (email) website and check out her stripmining cartoon, "Appetitle for Destruction."

My friend Marley wrote me from Mountain Justice Spring Break, asking friends of the mountains to come down to Abingdon, VA tomorrow and join them and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS), Student Environmental Action Coalition, Southern Energy Networks and dozens of other organizations at 12:15 p.m. at the park across from the Barter Theatre (133 W. Main St.) to gather and march to the regional office of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), less than one mile away

as we hold our very own public hearing before the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to demand that they represent the interests of the people of Wise County and all of Virginia by opposing Dominion Power's Air quality permit for their proposed 585 Mega Watt, $1.8 billion, mountain leveling, commmunity poisoning, mega profit making, climate changing, Wise County Coal Fired Power Plant!
He continues,

This rally is in direct response to a recent hearing held by the DEQ in St. Paul, in which supporters of the plant, who received notices of the hearing in their pay stubs, (and may still have been on the clock!), intimidated local opponents, clogged up the sign up lists by being let in to the hearing early,
and repeated the tired myths that Dominion has fed to these communities: namely
that the proposed plant will be the economic salvation to a region that has been
chronically sucked dry by the extractive, exploitive and destructive coal
industry. We are asking for support and presence from anyone who has taken a
stand against this plant, whether its for the fact that it will contribute to a
rapidly warming global climate, or that it will poison streams and rivers from
Wise County to Winchester, Norfolk and points beyond. Perhaps its because this
plant will ensure another few decades of destructive mountaintop removal mining,
money fleeing Southwest Va, and communities living with only one option: destroy your mountains for coal or go somewhere else.

Yesterday at noon, according to my friend Willie of Blue Ridge EarthFirst!, approximately two dozen Mountain Justice activists visited a Bank of America in Boone North Carolina to protest the bank's funding of mountaintop removal coal mining and coal-fired power plants. It was the third bluegrass-themed protest in a week in which "Action Jackson," an Appalachian string band from EastTennessee staged a traditional fiddle and banjo jam inside a BoA branch while others rallied in opposition to Bank of America'sinvestments in coal. Willie writes that,


While the demonstration was underway, three....already present in the bank chose to close their accounts in protest, informing the branch assistant manager that theywould not allow their hard-earned money to destroy
Appalachiancommunities and ecosystems. After a few minutes police arrived on
thescene and briefly detained one protestor who was later releasedwithout arrest
or citation...For as long as Bank of America is fundingcoal we're going to keep
coming back," promised one of the musicians.
Meanwhile Saturday, Congressman Rick Boucher (D, VA9), who has suported MTR to date comes to Blacksburg Council Chambers on Saturday. Let's hope he hears lots of questions on that issue.


You can get information on how to help fight against the destruction of our mountains by writinginfo@mjsb.org, or calling Dana @ 276-475-3842. Also, check http://www.cleanenergyva.org/ about the March 12 deadline to write the DEQ and explain that, according to Marley's email





the people of Virginia do not want this plant, and that what we want is a clean energy future where people can feed their families AND protect their streams, mountains, air and environment.
Also, John Messer of Big Stone Gap, has a piece, The 3-Ms of environmental destruction, worth reading on the SAMS blog, today:


Myth, misinformation and manipulation are the only tools remaining in the arsenal of big business and their political enablers, in their continuing effort to stifle logic and reason. The overwhelming and growing awareness of environmental and social injustice issues relating to the coal fired power and
mountain top removal strip mining, is little more than a pest to those who will
go to any extent to maintain the status quo. The greatest myth being that so
called economic growth improves the quality of life of the masses, when in fact
it serves only the concentration of wealth at the top and the destruction of the
middle class. Truth is that in 1950 there were 143,000 employed coal miners in
West Virginia , today that number is down to 20,000, with an average annual
extraction of 170 million tons of coal since the year 2001. More than 60 million
tons of that result from mountain top removal. The recent DEQ hearings on the
proposed Virginia City power plant are prime examples of manipulation and
misinformation. The idea that without the construction of this plant, there will
be fewer coal mining jobs is absolutely absurd.... There is simply no
historical evidence that the core population of the coalfields has ever seen
long term benefit from modern destructive mining practices. The lion’s share of
profit has always and continues to go to large corporations that exist
elsewhere, while leaving behind economic and environmental devastation.

3/5/08

FBI Continued Secret Spying Even After IG Report

In "FBI had privacy violations in 2006 before reforms" on March 5, Reuters reporter James Vicini reveals that FBI Director Robert told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that a soon-to-be released, follow-up report by the U.S. Justice Department's inspector general found that privacy violations continued in 2006.
This report will identify issues similar to those in the report issued last March. This is, of course, because it covers a time period which predates the reforms we now have in place.

Mueller told the Committee that the FBI adopted various new procedures and internal oversight mechanisms, including the creation of a new office, aimed at preventing future lapses.
We will continue our vigilance in this area...We are committed to ensuring that we not only get this right, but maintain the vital trust of the American people.

Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked Mueller about the CIA's confirmed use of waterboarding on terrorism suspects captured after the September 11 attacks. Mueller replied the FBI's policy prohibits the use of coercive techniques.

A determination was made ... we would not participate in that type of interrogation....I believe that our techniques are effective....Those techniques are founded on a desire to develop a rapport and a relationship.

He added that the FBI's techniques had worked in questioning deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) asked if there had been a rift between the CIA and the FBI on the interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects. Mueller replied,

There periodically have been disagreements.
In its initial March 2007 report, the department's inspector general revealed that the FBI abused its power by improperly obtaining telephone, financial and other secret records between 2003 and 2005, using national security letters, which allow the FBI to compel the release of private information without obtaining authority from a judge or grand jury, after powers granted under the USA Patriot Act. At the time, the WaPo reported on FBI General Counsel Valerie E. Caproni testifying before Congress, attributing an "F report card" from the IG partly to the bureau's inexperience in conducting its national security work in secrecy, away from a judicial system that threatens to expose any flaws.

That imposes upon us a far higher obligation to make sure we have a vigorous compliance system.
She appologized profusely, saying,

I think the public should be concerned. We're concerned. And we're going to fix it.
As she cited the fact that the FBI never told its agents to retain signed copies of the national security letters, The IG interjected
This was an example of the incredibly sloppy practice that was unacceptable.
His report noted that some lawyers at FBI field offices felt pressured to go along with requests for letters that they knew were not adequately documented. I've got to wonder what kind of atmosphere puts this kind of pressure on attorney;s and why an IG's investigation was required to stop the practice. What does this say about the atmosphere of entitlement and being above the law we have seen in the Bush Administration to date. How does this tie into the current demands for telecom immunity which will serve to shield the administrations actions further from scrutiny?

3/4/08

In Oregon Health Insurance is Truly a Gamble

An estimated 600,000 people in Oregon are uninsured, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services. The State once heralded the Oregan Health Plan, a standard benefit program for people not poor enough for Medicaid but too cash-strapped to buy their own insurance. At its peak in 1995, the plan covered 132,000. State budget cuts forced the program to close to newcomers by 2004. Barney Speight, director of the Oregon Health Fund Board says,

We have pretty much returned as a state, in terms the percentage of uninsured, to where we were in the late '80s when we created [the plan].
The board is to come up with a plan to address health care access and coverage for for consideration in the 2009 legislative session. Gov. Ted Kulongoski considers the Oregon Health Plan a basis to build on, said Anna Richter Taylor, a spokeswoman for his office.

It's a huge challenge for one session — it's probably going to be a sequential process.

Meanwhile, the Oregon Health Plan has several thousand openings and so, according to "Oregon Holds Health Insurance Lottery," the AP's Sarah Skidmore reports that the state will draw names this week from more than 80,000 who have registered since January for the chance to enroll.

Ellen Pinney, director of the Oregon Health Action Campaign, founded in 1985, told AP,

This is such a wonderful opportunity. We've heard absolutely no complaints, just a lot of hope that they are the ones who will be selected.

Shirley Krueger, 61, told AP she signed up the first day. Her part-time job leaves her ineligible for her employer's insurance plan and with too little income to buy her own and she's gone more than six months since she could afford to take insulin regularly for her diabetes, putting her at a higher rish for kidney failure, heart disease and blindness. She says,

It's better than nothing, it's at least a hope....I'm worried about it. I know it's a death sentence.

3/3/08

George Bush on Email: "I don't want you reading my personal stuff."

March 3's article, "Computer experts point to White House failures in e-mail controversy" by the AP's Pete Yost outlines what Mark Epstein calls "negligence." Epstein is director of technical services for Cataphora Inc., a California company that specializes in retrieval and analysis of electronic information.

Even with Federal laws requiring proper archiving, the White House is not being subjected to the standards that have enforced in the private sector, according to James K. Wagner Jr., a lawyer and co-founder of DiscoverReady LLC, a firm that assists companies in gathering and reviewing electronic documents.
The penalties for regulated companies that have failed to implement effective e-mail archive solutions have been quite severe, penalties often imposed by branches of the federal government.

And, of course, this analysis comes on the heels of a report that the RNC isn't even going to try and retrieve messages sent on its servers by White House staff.

3/2/08

The Paintings of e.e. cummings

Sound #5 by e.e. cummings from Suny Brockport

NPR's site has a slide show , which accompanied a story today on the poet's paintings at SUNY Brockport. The college is asking wealthy supporters to "adopt" one of its 72 pieces by cummings so that it can be restored after being turned down three times for a grant from the National Foundation for the Arts. There's also a longer piece that was published in October 2007 in the Wall Street Journal, as well as an online gallery of all the works at the College's website. The National Academy of Poets has an exhibit including a biography, some of the poems and helpful links.



suppose... (VIII)

suppose
Life is an old man carrying flowers on his head.
young death sits in a cafe
smiling, a pierce of money held between
his thumb and first finger

(i say "will he buy flowers" to you
and "Death is young
life wears velour trousers

life totters, life has a beard" i
say to you who are silent.--"Do you see
Life? he is there and here,or that, or this
or nothing or an old man 3 thirds
asleep, on his head
flowers, always crying
to nobody something about les
roses les bluets
yes,
will He buy?
Les belles bottes--oh hear
, pas cheres")

and my love slowly answered I think so. But
I think I see someone else

there is a lady, whose name is Afterwards
she is sitting beside young death, is slender;
likes flowers.


Although cummings considered himself more of an artist than a poet initially, according to the WSJ piece, the paintings, while interesting, don't have the energy of the poems.

3/1/08

Poet Campbell McGrath: Seven Notebooks


The March 1 WSJ has an interview "Campbell McGrath on Poetry,Walt Whitman and Schaefer Beer," with the Florida International University faculty member and MacArthur genius grant recipient about his new book of poems out February 5 from Harper.

Ode to Inspiration

Then the imagination withdraws, drifts across the table
to investigate the glass flowers rolled in cloth tape.

It hovers, probes the petals, some like galaxies,
some like figs or seashells. Dutiful and penitent,

it shimmers back across the gulf of air,
without a metaphor, to doze away the afternoon.

Rain.
Unseasonably hot day.

Imagination is the builder, the worker bee,
but inspiration is the queen.

And when she leaves me, where does she go
if not back to the hive to gorge on royal jelly,

back into her cave of winds, accumulating
density, growing richer and darker,

like mercury in the bloodstream,
like extravagant honey.