Saturday, December 31, 2005
1) To be more resolute.
2) To resolve more crises.
3) To have a resolution passed by a Democratic Congress.
4) To pass light thru a prism (look it up).
5) To change my monitor settings, thus increasing my....(all together now) resolution.
6) To win a court decision.
7) To turn my dissonant chords into consonant chords (you listening, Katrina?)
8) To economize my quantitative verse.
9) To go back and finish that jigsaw puzzle. Again.
Normally, you know I'm unafraid to post controversial photos, but I'm linking to these, because they are very graphic, more graphic than the Abu Ghraib photos, so I think a disclaimer is in order: please make sure your stomach is settled and please keep your children away from the computer unless you believe they can handle this.
Uzbekis boiling for torture, and how Bush and Blair are involved
* (© Skippy The Bush Kangaroo)
Looks like our old fiend, Tom DeLay is deeper in the glue than I think even he thought he would be...
Report: Group linked to DeLay funded by Abramoff clientsWhoops!
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An organization with close ties to Rep. Tom DeLay was funded largely by corporations associated with former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the Washington Post reported on Saturday, citing tax records and quoting former associates of the group.
Tax records, other documents and interviews bring into question the purpose of the U.S. Family Network, which functioned mostly by collecting funds from domestic and foreign businesses whose interests coincided with DeLay's activities while he was serving as House majority whip from 1995 to 2002, and as majority leader from 2002 until the end of September, the paper wrote.
During its five-year existence, the U.S. Family Network raised $2.5 million, but kept its donor list secret, the paper reported. That list, obtained by the Washington Post, showed that $1 million of its revenue came in a single 1998 check from a now-defunct London law firm whose former partners did not identify the money's origins.
According to the paper, two former associates of Edwin Buckham, the Texas Republican Delay's former chief of staff and organizer of the U.S. Family Network, said Buckham told them the funds came from Russian oil and gas executives. Abramoff had been working closely with two such Russian energy executives on their Washington agenda.
A couple of observations about this story:
First, what is this whole Newspeak trope the Republicans get into? An act curtailing pollution controls is called the Clear Skies bill. Here we have the U.S. Family Network, which is being funded by Russian oil interests and Native American casinos. Not that Native Americans aren't US families but still...casinos are what one might call "family entertainment" the way one might call porn "family entertainment".
Second, when Newt Gingrich allowed lobbyists to write legislation directly on the floor of Congress, what was he thinking? Did he not ponder the probability (not possibility, probability) that this might, you know, lead to more corruption? Or did he think Republican shit don't stink? I also fear for when the Democrats take over again next year: will they dismantle this whole mechanism or decide that it's their turn on the gravy train and leave it in place?
Third, what possible Washington agenda could Russia oil interests have? Last I heard, we were paying lip service to the Russian oil fields, lending some advisors, and that's about it. Besides, there was this story today:
Gazprom tells Eni Ukraine dispute may hit suppliesMeaning that Russia's oil industry is a highly sensitive domestic matter and not likely one they'd want the Americans and their busybody noses poking around in, fomenting unrest in former Soviet states, and potentially crippling a major source of revenue for the Russian government.
MILAN (Reuters) - Gazprom has told Eni that gas supplies could be at risk because of its ongoing dispute with Ukraine over prices, a spokesman for the Italian oil and gas firm said on Saturday, confirming newspaper reports.
Il Sole 24 Ore and Corriere della Sera newspapers said in Saturday editions that Russian gas giant Gazprom had sent a letter to Eni warning of possible problems with supplies.
"I can confirm that Eni has received such a letter from the managing director of Gazprom," an Eni spokesman said.
Gazprom is in dispute with Ukraine over a surprise hike in prices and on Friday spurned a plea from the ex-Soviet state to freeze charges as a New Year deadline for a deal approaches.
So why was DeLay selling out his nation to Russians for?
kos himself posts quite a bit more on this, even tracing where the money went.
Friday, December 30, 2005
Scientists Find A DNA Change That Accounts For White SkinHat tip to RJ Eskow @ Skippy
By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 16, 2005; A01
Scientists said yesterday that they have discovered a tiny genetic mutation that largely explains the first appearance of white skin in humans tens of thousands of years ago, a finding that helps solve one of biology's most enduring mysteries and illuminates one of humanity's greatest sources of strife.
The work suggests that the skin-whitening mutation occurred by chance in a single individual after the first human exodus from Africa, when all people were brown-skinned. That person's offspring apparently thrived as humans moved northward into what is now Europe, helping to give rise to the lightest of the world's races.
Leaders of the study, at Penn State University, warned against interpreting the finding as a discovery of "the race gene." Race is a vaguely defined biological, social and political concept, they noted, and skin color is only part of what race is -- and is not.
In fact, several scientists said, the new work shows just how small a biological difference is reflected by skin color. The newly found mutation involves a change of just one letter of DNA code out of the 3.1 billion letters in the human genome -- the complete instructions for making a human being.
Locus of Control Test Results
|Internal Locus (56%) Individual believes that their life is defined more by their decisions and internal drive.|
External Locus (44%) Individual believes that their life is defined more by genetics, environment, fate, or other external factors.
U.S. to Restrict Iraqi PoliceAbu Ghraib. Secret Prisons. Tossing Korans in the toilet. Gitmo. Secret Flights To Torture Chambers. Violations of the Geneva Convention. And then there's this little gem on Americablog:
Military oversight will be bolstered in response to reports of prisoner abuse, reasserting American authority over security forces.
By Louise Roug
Times Staff Writer
December 30, 2005
BAGHDAD — After a series of prison abuse scandals that have inflamed sectarian tensions, U.S. officials announced plans Thursday to rein in Iraqi special police forces, increasing the number of American troops assigned to work with them and requiring consultations before the Iraqis mount raids in Baghdad.
The decision to impose more day-to-day oversight suggests a recognition within the U.S. military that the heavy-handed tactics of some Iraqi units, which are to increasingly take on the role of fighting insurgents, have aggravated the sectarian strife that helps fuel the insurgency.
Confidential British memos show how information procured by torture in Uzbekistan is being used by US and UK, in violation of international law by John in DC - 12/30/2005 12:26:00 AM
Markos has the story, and I'm repeating the gist of it here to help get it out there. Feel free to copy and past this entire post on your blog.Basically, the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, is livid about the fact that the US and the British governments have been gladly accepting information from Uzbekistan procured by torture.
You may remember that Amb. Murray was none too pleased with the horrendous human rights situation in Uzbekistan - the country is one of the most repressive on the planet - and as a result the Tony Blair, most likely with some US nudging, had Amb. Murray removed from his job. (You can read a chilling speech by Ambassador Murray detailing the Soviet police state that we are supporting in Uzbekistan.)Well, today Ambassador Murray gets his revenge.
Amb. Murray has published a number of confidential British government documents proving that the US and the UK were conding torture in that abominable country. Tony Blair is now striking back, pulling down Amb. Murray's Web site. UK bloggers responded by doing a coordinated leak to get the documents out to the public. Markos has republished the docs to make sure they remain public, and I'm doing the same below.
Our government is sanctioning and benefiting from torture in one of the most repressive regimes in the world. A regime that we openly embraced after September 11. A regime that many of you will recall was torturing gay journalist and human rights advocate Ruslan Sharipov (the Uzbek government arrested Ruslan for being a human rights advocate, then, after beating him, threatened to rape him with a bottle and inject him with AIDS). These are the people that George Bush has buddied up to to fight this honorable war. The worst governments on the planet - people who make the Soviets look downright nice.
And who else do you think personally was sucking up to the Uzbek dictator just a couple of years ago? Donald Rumsfeld. The same man who sucked up to Saddam Hussein before we decided he was evil.
And WE'RE qualified to lecture the Iraqis on how NOT to torture?
Here's a thought: just show them pictures of what Saddam's police forces did, and tell them not to do that. Then show them videos and pictures of what we've done to their countrymen, and tell them to stop.
See, this was my fear all along about this particular form of nationbuilding: violence begets violence, and what we've guaranteed is, whether we are there in Iraq or not, a civil war. It has to stop, now, our degradation and occupation of a proud people who barely tolerate the minorities within its borders, nevermind the strangers in their midsts.
Word Spreads in Iraq of Refinery ShutdownYes, the product that was supposed to PAY the US for this invasion is being shut down slowly by the insurgents. That's not going to help make us anymore friends over there.
By SINAN SALAHEDDIN , 12.30.2005, 07:30 AM
Long lines formed at gas stations in Baghdad on Friday as word spread that Iraq's largest oil refinery had shut down, spreading fears of a gas shortage.
Iraq's largest oil refinery, in Beiji, was shut down on Dec. 18 because of the deteriorating security situation in the region, Minister of Oil Ibrahim Bahar el-Ulom told The Associated Press on Friday. A spokesman earlier had said the refinery had been shut down since Saturday.
Iraqi Shiite family slain in 'triangle of death'So we have people killing fellow Iraqis ruthlessly and violently, wholesale.
Eleven members of a single Shiite family had their throats slit in an attack south of Baghdad that illustrates the size of the task awaiting political leaders trying to sketch out plans for a grand coalition government.
And you know it's only a matter of time before this violence is visited here at home.
School’s scandal shadows WeldPontius Pilate must have been a Republican, the way these guys find ways to wash their hands of any messes they leave behind.
Critics say alleged fraud at college during his tenure as its CEO could end his NY run to become governor
BY ERROL A. COCKFIELD JR
ALBANY BUREAU CHIEF; Albany researcher Melissa Mansfield contributed to this report.
December 27, 2005
ALBANY - Since he became engrossed in a scandal at the Kentucky trade school he ran for much of this year, William Weld, the former Massachusetts governor, has been crafting a defense that other chief executives have used before.
Weld, a Republican who is now running for governor in New York, said he did not know anything about what federal investigators believe was widespread student loan fraud at Louisville's Decker College.
"I'm not aware of any improper activity," Weld said in a recent interview. He denied any responsibility for the school's woes, and said, "There was nothing I would have done differently."
By the time Weld resigned as CEO in September, after eight months at the helm, Decker faced fraud investigations by the FBI, the U.S. Education Department and the Kentucky attorney general's office. A month later, it went bankrupt and left an estimated 3,700 students in limbo.
A smarter maneuver probably would have been to say that, as CEO, he discovered this fraud upon his arrival and became frustrated at his inability to get to the root of the bureaucracy and left shortly after the criminal investigation began in order to clear his name of the whole mess.
That would have been less honest of course, rather than admitting that he had no oversight over such a crucial component of the campus he was in charge of, but it would have saved face for him.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Jobless claims rose 3,000 last week
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New claims for U.S. jobless pay rose by 3,000 last week while a separate gauge of longer-term unemployment posted a third successive weekly increase, the Labor Department reported on Thursday.
Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits rose to 322,000 in the week ended December 24 from an upwardly revised 319,000 in the prior week. That was modestly higher than Wall Street economists' forecasts for 320,000 claims but the prior week's claims figure was revised up from an originally reported 318,000 so the rise in claims was not far from expectations.
The closely watched four-week moving average of new claims, designed to flatten the volatility in the weekly numbers to provide a clearer picture of the job market, edged up to 325,000 in the week ended December 24 from 324,750.
The number of continued claims - a measure of how many people remained on benefit rolls after drawing an initial week of aid -- rose for a third straight week. These claims were up 85,000 to 2.72 million in the week ended December 17, the latest week for which these figures are available.
Don't let the Republicans and their puppets fool you: this economy has only been good for business and will only get worse for consumers, who are officially between a rock and a hard place:
Minimum credit card payments going upWelcome to Bush's "ower"ship society, folks, where you own nothing and owe everybody else, and forced to slave at a job you absolutely despise for wages that don't even keep up with inflation in order to make monthly payments for transient things that are shoved at you by marketers who want every last dollar they can squeeze out of you. Oh...and it's ALL your fault, nevermind the pusher in the hat and trenchcoat shuffling down the sidewalk away from the cops busting you...
By MIMI JUNG / KING 5 News
SEATTLE – The holiday shopping spree is over. Now comes the tough part: paying for what you bought.
When credit card bills arrive in a few weeks, some consumer will be in for a surprise. Some minimum credit card payments are expected to double due to new government rules.
Fearing banks may go under for extending so much credit at very low payments, federal regulators ordered credit card companies to raise minimum payments by January.
Some banks waited until the last minute, which means your holiday shopping spree could end up taking a bigger-than-expected bite out of your January budget.
Consumer groups expect minimum payments may double, but in the long run, they say, that's good.
"By increasing minimum payments, people will pay off credit cards, won't pay so much in interest and will have money left over to buy things," said Ed Mierzwinski, U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
But first, there's that bigger January payment.
What to do?
Credit counselors say you can quickly find extra cash by eliminating cable and cell phone services, and that costly cup of coffee every day.
"Add that $2 a day over 20 working days a month, that's $40 to $60 a month you can use to pay the credit card," said Sue Hunt, National Federation of Credit Counselors.
Or at least start chipping away at it.
Credit counselors say the worst thing you can do is not make the payment and not call the bank to work out a payment schedule.
Due to a new law that took effect in October, it's much harder for many people to declare bankruptcy and have those debts erased.
I wonder how many of those folks who make only the minimum payment even have cable or cell phones?
And now, how many more people are going to only make the monthly payment, which will drastically increase their potential for falling behind in credit card payments, since they no longer have that cushion they had before of cutting back payments?
I can speak intelligently to these issues as I was out of work during the Bush 41 Depression for extended periods. You run up debts, because you presume there's another job around the corner, and figure you'll pay it all back quickly.
Not so. Not that I was ever in danger of filing bankruptcy, but let's face facts: I grew up believing that debt was something you tried to get rid of, like a case of gonorrhea, and the stress to my system was enormous. The sea change in that attitude regarding avoiding debt is breathtaking, in not just how I view myself, but in how society views indebtedness.
And the bills are coming due, folks. Make no mistake about it.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Novello for Senate?BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!
Health commish is being courted to run against Hil
BY JOE MAHONEY
DAILY NEWS ALBANY BUREAU CHIEF
ALBANY - Republicans close to Gov. Pataki are trying to recruit state Health Commissioner Antonia Novello to run against Sen. Hillary Clinton, sources told the Daily News.
Novello, a high-profile Latina who was U.S. surgeon general during the first Bush administration, has a strong understanding of federal policies, particularly health care, and would be in good position to battle Clinton on those issues, the insiders said.
The only claim to fame this numbnutz Latina has is her ex-husband (nasty divorce, that one) is brother to Father Guido Sarducci!
Antonia Novello has been an absolute shambles, someone who's been a figurehead in the truest sense of the word (the word "token" leaps to mind) as her entire administration has been run out of Governor George Pataki's office.
This is JUST too funny!
TWU board OKs contract dealMy good friends over at NYCEducator have a couple more interesting little tidbits, inside baseball stuff.
BY DAN JANISON and HERBERT LOWE
December 27, 2005, 11:32 PM EST
The executive board of the transit system's main union Tuesday night overwhelmingly approved a contract deal that would raise workers' wages a combined 11 percent over three years, but included no pension concessions.
The agreement would end the worst labor crisis at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in a quarter century -- one that led Transport Workers Union Local 100 to strike for three days last week.
However, city bus and subway employees will have to pay 1.5 percent of their pay in health benefits, through a first-ever premium.
According to state budget documents, the MTA in July set aside funds for a wage and fringe increase at the regional inflation rate. That was calculated at 2.9 percent per year.
This could come close to the final rate when the health insurance concession is taken into account. But sources close to both sides cautioned that the cost of fines for the strike and other factors such as work rules, deployment and other possible improvements for the workers had yet to be spelled out.
Looks like the union, in the end, won what they wanted, while the MTA is able to keep their budget in line.
What's wrong with the economy?Sort of echoes what I posted wayyyyy back on Labor Day.
by EPI President Lawrence Mishel and Policy Director Ross Eisenbrey
1. Profits are up, but the wages and the incomes of average Americans are down.Inflation-adjusted hourly and weekly wages are still below where they were at the start of the recovery in November 2001. Yet, productivity—the growth of the economic pie—is up by 13.5%.2. More and more people are deeper and deeper in debt.
Wage growth has been shortchanged because 35% of the growth of total income in the corporate sector has been distributed as corporate profits, far more than the 22% in previous periods.
Consequently, median household income (inflation-adjusted) has fallen five years in a row and was 4% lower in 2004 than in 1999, falling from $46,129 to $44,389.The indebtedness of U.S. households, after adjusting for inflation, has risen 35.7% over the last four years.
The level of debt as a percent of after-tax income is the highest ever measured in our history. Mortgage and consumer debt is now 115% of after-tax income, twice the level of 30 years ago.
The debt-service ratio (the percent of after-tax income that goes to pay off debts) is at an all-time high of 13.6%.
The personal savings rate is negative for the first time since WWII.
3. Job creation has not kept up with population growth, and the employment rate has fallen sharply.The United States has only 1.3% more jobs today (excluding the effects of Hurricane Katrina) than in March 2001 (the start of the recession). Private sector jobs are up only 0.8%. At this stage of previous business cycles, jobs had grown by an average of 8.8% and never less than 6.0%.4. Poverty is on the rise.
The unemployment rate is relatively low at 5%, but still higher than the 4% in 2000. Plus, the percent of the population that has a job has never recovered since the recession and is still 1.3% lower than in March 2001. If the employment rate had returned to pre-recession levels, 3 million more people would be employed.
More than 3 million manufacturing jobs have been lost since January 2000.The poverty rate rose from 11.3% in 2000 to 12.7% in 2004.5. Rising health care costs are eroding families' already declining income.
The number of people living in poverty has increased by 5.4 million since 2000.
More children are living in poverty: the child poverty rate increased from 16.2% in 2000 to 17.8% in 2004.Households are spending more on health care. Family health costs rose 43-45% for married couples with children, single mothers, and young singles from 2000 to 2003.
Employers are cutting back on health insurance. Last year, the percent of people with employer-provided health insurance fell for the fourth year in a row. Nearly 3.7 million fewer people had employer-provided insurance in 2004 than in 2000. Taking population growth into account, 11 million more people would have had employer-provided health insurance in 2004 if the coverage rate had remained at the 2000 level.
Don't let the clown car occupants on the right distract you. This economy is in very serious danger of falling right back into recession. Right now, I'm of the opinion that it's being propped up by the government spending for Iraq and Katrina, but once that falls away, all bets are off.
Andrew Sullivan, who lately has shown a near-moderate side to his usual self-loathing rants about liberalism and it's inferiority complex to his brand of coservatism, posted the following last week in Time Magazine:
In mid-January 2005, President Bush declared that the 2004 election had been his "accountability moment." He spoke a bit too soon. The "moment," it turned out, lasted for the following 12 months. The President didn't see it coming. And who could blame him? For more than three years after 9/11, the American public had given the Administration, and indeed many authority figures, the benefit of the doubt. We were at war, even in mortal danger. Trust was essential. The bigwigs kept assuring us they knew what they were doing. And so most of us went along.Which got me thinking: While Katrina clearly was his "jump the shark" moment, jumping the shark implies the end of a process: one where hubris and greed take over a process or organization (or man) and turn him down the dark path into buffoonery.
Katrina was the turning point, the moment when the extent of cronyism, incompetence and sheer smugness in Washington reached a level that even the White House couldn't ignore. FEMA's Michael Brown, the American people surmised with their wide-open eyes, was not doing a "heck of a job." And a President who could say such a thing obviously had no clue about what was going on in his own government.
For want of a better term, I'd call this moment the "jump the couch" moment. Yes, a slight alteration from the moment that describes a nervous breakdown, but hey, English is a living language, and the metaphor just fits.
For Bush, I think this moment can be found here:
And it's one of the wonderful -- it's like earning capital. You asked, do I feel free. Let me put it to you this way: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style. That's what happened in the -- after the 2000 election, I earned some capital. I've earned capital in this election -- and I'm going to spend it for what I told the people I'd spend it on, which is -- you've heard the agenda: Social Security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror.Social Security reform? Dead.
Tax Reform? Dead.
Economy moving forward? On life support.
Fighting the war on terror? Oh, that's alive...if you assume that Iraq is the war on terror, but I'd count that as dead as well.
Winning the war on terror? Aborted.
The notes are in the air of the funereal dirge of this administration, and it shows in Bush's eyes and face: he's a man who's empty of ideas, of intellect, of energy. In other words, he has had a nervous breakdown.
I will be no exception. However, rather than bore you with my resolutions and hopes for the new year, I want to pass along a list of life's little instructions. These were emailed to me by a mysterious monk sitting high in a mountain enclave in Nepal (OK, actually Houston, Texas), who's got slightly more experience in life than I do.
You may refer to him as "Guru":
1. Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me either. Just pretty much leave me the hell alone.(Yes, I realize most of these have their origins with various stand up comics, and yes, most of these are blatant ripoffs of nearly every spam-filled joke site you've ever seen, but are you getting any pop-up ads here? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! So shut up about it.)
2. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a broken fan belt and a leaky tire.
3. It's always darkest before dawn. So if you're going to steal your neighbor's newspaper, that's the time to do it.
4. Sex is like air. It's not important unless you aren't getting any.
5. Don't be irreplaceable. If you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted.
6. No one is listening until you fart.
7. Always remember you're unique. Just like everyone else.
8. Never test the depth of the water with both feet.
9. If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments.
10. Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them you're a mile away and you have their shoes .
11. If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you.
12. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.
13. If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.
14. If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.
15. Some days you are the bug and some days you are the windshield.
16. Don't worry; it only seems kinky the first time.
17. Good judgment comes from bad experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
18. The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put It back in your pocket.
19. A closed mouth gathers no foot.
20. Duct tape is like the Force. It has a light side and a dark side, and it holds the universe together.
21. There are two theories to arguing with women. Neither one works.
22. Generally speaking, you aren't learning much when your lips are moving.
23. Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it.
24. Never miss a good chance to shut up.
25. We are born naked, wet and hungry, get slapped on our ass... then things get worse.
26. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.
27. There is a fine line between "hobby" and "mental illness."
28. No matter what happens, somebody will find a way to take it too seriously.
29. There comes a time when you should stop expecting other people to make a big deal about your birthday ...around age 11.
30. Everyone seems normal until you get to know them.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
If you said "homosexuals," give yourself five points.
From James Wolcott:
I suspect Stanley hasn't even picked the right phony controversy to work himself into a lather about. What's really got the Christian activists' chastity belts in a swivel is NBC's Book of Daniel, a series where Jesus rides in the front seat with Aidan Quinn and same-sex loving seems to be bursting out all over. More insidious propaganda from heathen Hollywood, and, as the American Family Association helpfully notes, it's written by one of them: "The writer for the series is a practicing homosexual.""Stanley" refers to Stan Kurtz, chief crackpot wanker of the National Review Online. Apparently, Stan's knickers are in a twist over a new (and as yet, unproduced series) on HBO called "Big Love". Apparently, Kurtz was unaware that the traditions of the Mormon church included polygamy, and HBO is producing a series examining the trials and tribulations of this arrangement.
I'm not sure how the AFA keeps tabs on "practicing homosexuals" as opposed to those who are only nominally gay and never leave the house, but I suppose they have their methods.
But nooooooooooooooo, that's not juicy enough for Kurtz's Christian family values motif (curious, he wrote all this on Christmas...go fig...could it be he's....Jewish?????), he has to drag in the fact that one of the writers on the series is....*gasp*....GAY!.
Wow. A Hollywood writer who is gay...I mean, I never imagined in all the years I've worked on movies and in theatre that there were actual gay men and women around me!
I just thought they were flamboyant.
Anyways...Kurtz tortures logic enough to make a black-ops CIA agent cringe, and somehow flings the following catapeltic turd: "No, polygamy is being used to legitimate same-sex marriage! In other words, gay marriage and group marriage are mutually reinforcing, and both depend upon the larger view that families ought to be whatever people want them to be."
(Sorry for the link, but I got lectured about my exploitation of massive vocabularly)
Hope you didn't split an anal wart pushing that one out, Stan. He goes on to let the rest of his steaming pile flow out predictably, bringing up that famed homophobe and defender of Krustianity, Mel Gibson, and wondered "What Would Hollywood Do?" if Gibson produced a series about "reformed" homosexuals going straight...
Wolcott does a masterful job of skewering Kurtz' premise by pointing out that HBO is indeed a subscription channel (you gotta read his column, I can't and won't try to do it justice here) and as such not beholden to anyone but its viewers, who probably don't give a rat's ass about "The Passion of.....KEEEEEEEEEEERIST! Is that movie a bloody fucking mess or what????".
Wolcott's column got me to thinking now, since Christmas is over and Fitzmas is only just warming up, how will the clown car inhabitants try to distract us now? Can't claim a "war on Christmas," when Christmas clearly won, so what next?
I guess they'll trot out the ol' saw: fag bashing.
On Tuesday, a day after officials in Arnold Schwarzenegger's Austrian birthplace of Graz removed his name from a soccer stadium to comply with the California governor's wishes, they deleted references to him on the city's Web sites.I'm guessing his strudel is getting stale in his home country.
Schwarzenegger earlier this month wrote to Graz officials asking for his name to be removed from the stadium and ordering the city to stop using it for promotional purposes.
He was reacting to fierce criticism from opponents in his hometown who denounced him for refusing to block the Dec. 13 execution in California of Stanley Tookie Williams.
Late Sunday or early Monday, Graz officials took down the large metal letters spelling out Schwarzenegger's name on the 15,300-seat arena. On Tuesday, the mayor's office said references to the actor-turned-politician were scrubbed from Graz's main Web site and from a sister site devoted to the region's sports scene.
"It's all settled," Thomas Rajakovics, a spokesman for Graz Mayor Siegfried Nagl, told Austrian media.
I didn't weigh in much on the Tookie Williams case, mostly because it was an unlikely case to draw much sympathy or to make a point about the death penalty.
I oppose the death penalty in all cases. Nevermind the state sanctioned aspect of it; simply put, our jails are not just about revenge, but about second chances and we as a people ought to honor that commitment to our fellow man. Sure, there are a relative handful of cases where you simply can't get thru, no matter what. That's why you keep them locked away forever.
Right now, it costs less to imprison someone for life than to sentence him to death, because of the myriad appeals avenues open to him, and generally speaking, death row inmates will use public defenders offices for these appeals. Those bills add up rapidly over the course of decades (yea, I know, why not install express lanes, but hell, we've already executed a few innocent people we can be pretty sure, so why make it even more dicey?).
We ought to be taking a much closer look at rehabilitation. Executions, like abortions, ought to be rarer than they are.
To be sure, the H5N1 strain hasn't found its way to the U.S., and local health officials say they're closely watching the flocks and say the New York markets are safe. One expert said the state has stringent standards in place for monitoring and testing the birds. And for now, the disease is just one subtype of flu virus that typically infects fowl, so the risk to humans remains low.(emphasis added)
But the disease has spread from Asia to birds in other countries, including Russia and Croatia, and outbreaks are expected in Africa as birds migrate south. If the virus were to begin to transmit easily among humans, health officials fear it could launch a pandemic, threatening millions of people worldwide.
Health experts blame the human cases in Asia on close contact between humans and birds at the small farms that sell poultry to live markets. That leaves some health officials here wondering whether workers at New York State's approximately 100 live poultry markets -- the most of any state in the U.S. -- need to take more precautions.
It seems to me that the cradle of mankind holds the key to just about any really nasty virus that affects mankind, likely because of the enormous headstart viruses have had there in learning to cope with human immunodefenses (on the order of millions of years), as well as the unique way that viruses can mutate on an RNA-based transfer of genetic material. While avian flus in general originate in Asia, (not sure why, but the last outbreak in 1968 was given the moniker "Hong Kong Flu," and while the 1918 outbreak was called the "Spanish Flu," the world was somewhat distracted by its first global war, and probably missed the originating outbreak) contact with Africa in the past has been nominal, with the flu viruses spreading to Europe and the Americas long before Africa was affected.
The reason? Slower global transportation meant that the flu was transferred out of Asia far slower and ended up in Europe and the Americas long after birds had migrated south. This year, we've already seen outbreaks in Russia, Croatia, France, Germany and the UK, meaning that birds not yet in transit will have come in contact with the virus carried by international passengers and freighted livestock.
Going to be an interesting spring.
Monday, December 26, 2005
Still, a Wounded MilitaryBut careful readers of this blog wouldn't be surprised by this last bit.
In last year’s list, we pointed out that the health of the U.S. military was in serious decline. At 7 to 1, the ratio of wounded to dead in Iraq was the highest of any conflict in recent memory, including Vietnam, where the ratio was 3 to 1. A year later, the story is worse—and still largely ignored.
In 2005, the most common number cited regarding the war in Iraq was the more than 2,100 U.S. soldiers that have died. When the number of wounded was mentioned, the Pentagon figure of more than 15,500 U.S. troops, or the Army Medical Department’s total of 20,748 medical evacuations, was usually rolled out.
Today, the wounded-to-dead ratio remains near 7 to 1 by this official count. But a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) report released in October tells a bigger story. Its data shows that 119,247 veterans of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have sought VA healthcare. Of those, 46,450 were diagnosed primarily with musculoskeletal problems, such as joint ailments and back disorders. More than 36,800 veterans, or 31 percent of those the VA cared for, were treated primarily for mental disorders.
Not even the VA had anticipated the number of soldiers they would be asked to help. In June, the agency told lawmakers that it had underestimated the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and required $1 billion in emergency funding.
While the US armed forces and the mental health community are acutely aware of PTSD, and Vietnam veterans had a much harder time of it because not only were they in combat but the support system at home was non-existent for many veterans, the Iraqi vets aren't going to have it a whole lot easier.In addition, the study on posttraumatic stress disorder found that the percentage of troops suffering from PTSD increased by between 7-10% after deployment to Iraq, which would represent 25,000 to 35,000 initial periodcases of PTSD among the roughly 350,000 U.S. troops who have served in Iraq.
That's as of July of 2005. That's nearly half the number of fatalities we had in Vietnam.
Why will this war be a challenge to the mental health of so many soldiers?
Simple. It's an unpopular war in which Americans are killing Iraqis by the thousands, much like in Vietnam. We were led into the war under false pretenses, so the responsibility for those deaths has shifted from a just cause (fighting terrorism, stopping a WMD from being launched at America) to one that is much ore nuanced (removing a dictator from power).
When a soldier questions his rationale for being in a combat zone, that soldier will call into question his own motives for serving. Even in a forced recycling such as we've seen in the Guard and Reserve troops sent to Iraq, the slender justifications for fighting are peeling away as each day's bad news....more American dead, undercover psyops involving shooting people supposedly on our side by British troops dressed as civilians...piles on.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Today we celebrate the birth of arguably the greatest Teacher in the history of this measly little rock in space (which brings up most of this article). Be he God, or God-like, or merely an unusually gifted man is irrelevant to that point: He has been more influential than any other inhabitant of this planet, ever.
And yet, we learned so little from Him.
If you believe, as I do, that Jesus was sent here by His Father to save us from our sins, then you have a lot of questions:
1) First and foremost, why? There are an awful lot of subqueries to ask here. A couple that spring to mind:
a) Why aren't we perfect in the first place? God made us in His image. Is He not perfect, then?
b) Why didn't God just wipe us all out like He did during Noah's time? After all, murder didn't go away when He flooded the planet, neither did theft, or lying or adultery, all of which are mortal sins according to Moses. Did God admit He failed the first time He created us? Then for heaven's sake, couldn't He have chosen a less sinful family than Noah's to repopulate the planet? I mean, you know, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent...why a sinner like Noah? Did God run out of the clay He made us from in Genesis? And so quickly?
2) When is God going to get tired of these numbnuts who hijack His name for earthly purposes? The "War On Christmas," indeed! Can we expect another massive flood to level the planet?
3) If Revelation is accurate (a book written 300 years after Christ, by a stoned monk), then heaven only holds 144,000 souls. There are 6 billion people on the planet now, and since "souls" could mean anyone who's ever lived, we're talking about something on the order of ten billion souls. Heaven sounds harder to get into than a WASP country club for a minority.
4) Doesn't this behavior sound odd to you? A God who destroys (Noah) and humiliates His subjects (Adam and Eve, Abraham, David, Job...I could go on) in one book turns around and gives them a beautiful gift in the next? Was not an omniscient God in charge? Could He not see the failures of man ahead of time and prevent them? Didn't He get bored of running around behind us like a kindergarten teacher?
5) In fact, does not Jesus sound more like a Father than His Father does? I'm reminded often of the Star Trek (first gen) episode, The Squire Of Gothos, and that the Father is Trelane, and Jesus one of the beings that scolds him in the end. One can begin to imagine the conversation they must have had ahead of time.
6) And yet, even Jesus' teachings have failed where they count the most: the human heart. Who amongst us can claim to never have had a sinful thought?
7) Which leads me to the place Jesus' teachings should have succeeded wildly: the human mind. After all, the logic is impeccable. If you don't want to be screwed around with, don't screw around with someone else. You get what you put in. Every major religion and belief system has this at its core, this magic bank account where you deposit good will and you withdraw good will, but if you deposit ill will, you withdraw ill will (and in some systems, you even earn usurious interest rates on the order of three-fold!). Why have His teachings failed to impress the one place humans CAN control, their own minds?
Now, I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, and His Son, Jesus Christ, who was born unto men, died for our sins, arose to Heaven where he will sit in judgement of the quick and the dead, and the Holy Spirits, the last leg of the Triune God.
I just don't believe in religion. I don't believe that man, any man, can tell me how to follow my God. Either God is so involved in the day to day affairs of each man, as He was in the Old Testament, that a priest or minister becomes superficial, that we each have a direct line to Him in our hearts, or God is so uninvolved in our lives that, through Jesus, he gave us blanket immunity from prosecution by just believing that Jesus died for our sins, in which case, priests and ministers become irrelevant (again) as we each must find our own path to salvation, that the most a priest can do for us is to point out what needs forgiving in God's eye.
A tale is told of the man who dies. He enters a large chamber, a vestibule of a sort, high vaulted ceilings bathed in white marble and white plaster ornamentation.
Across the marble floor from him are two doors.
The first door, grand white oak, with brass handles and two sentries posted in the finest guard uniforms, braided gold epaulets , which has a lonnnnnnnnnnnng line of people snaking forth from it, has an huge gilded sign over it: "Lecture On How To Get To Heaven."
The second door, perpetually open with many cobwebs across the entrance, musty, old pine, with a simple knob, is marked with a simple hand carved (by a Carpenter?) wooden sign: "To Heaven".
That doorway is empty.
And to conclude today's services, a hymn...
Fairy Tale of New York (Hi Bandwidth Real Player)k
Fairy Tale of New York (Lo Bandwidth Real Player)
Fairy Tale of New York (WMV Hi Bandwidth)
Fairy Tale of New York (WMV Lo Bandwidth)
Merry Christmas, all. Happy Hannukah, all.
Aw, hell, Merry Happy Christmahannukwanzaakah, everyone! Especially Jesus' General.
Friday, December 23, 2005
Mosques monitored for radiation: reportHonestly, how much do they think the country will swallow?
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. officials have secretly monitored radiation levels at Muslim sites, including mosques and private homes, since September 11, 2001 as part of a top secret program searching for nuclear bombs, U.S. News and World Report said on Friday.
The news magazine said in its online edition that the far-reaching program covered more than a hundred sites in the Washington, D.C., area and at least five other cities.
"In numerous cases, the monitoring required investigators to go on to the property under surveillance, although no search warrants or court orders were ever obtained, according to those with knowledge of the program," the magazine said.
The report comes a week after revelations that the Bush administration had authorized eavesdropping on people in the United States. U.S. President George W. Bush has defended that covert program and vowed to continue the practice, saying it was vital to protect the country.
On the other hand, the United States has been up to Rod-Stewart-rumours proportions, so perhaps they think they've pulled a fast one...
New York Buses, Subways Back in Service After StrikeBottom line:
The union agreed to end the walkout and resume contract talks after two days of meetings between labor representatives and MTA officials with a three-person mediation panel headed by Richard Curreri, director of the state Public Employment Relations Board.
The largest mass transit system in the U.S. came to a standstill Dec. 20 when the union rejected a three-year MTA contract offer that called for new employees to contribute more of their wages to a pension plan and walked off the job.
A state law prohibiting walkouts by public employees penalizes strikers two days' pay for every day of work missed. State Supreme Court Justice Theodore Jones fined the union $1 million for each day of the walkout and threatened to jail labor leaders, and city officials were pressing a separate suit for millions in damages before the agreement was announced.
A court hearing scheduled for yesterday was postponed after the strike was called off until Jan. 20.
During the walkout, Mayor Michael Bloomberg had called strikers ``selfish,'' ``greedy'' and ``thuggish.'' TWU Local 100 President Roger Toussaint said he was defending his workers' rights.
The union and MTA returned to a midtown hotel after midnight yesterday for their first face-to-face meeting since talks broke off earlier in the week, and at 11 a.m., state mediators came to a ballroom where reporters were waiting to announce they had reached an agreement to end the strike.
The MTA has NOT taken pensions off the table, in violation of the state's Taylor Law (the law referred to four paragraphs up), but is under no sanction for proposing it. They have, however, agreed that they'd consider additional changes in the health insurance components in exchange for dropping that bit of unethical nonsense.
Which, I suspect, is what they were after in the first place.
So who loses?
The TWU, for one. Those million dollar a day fines are not negotiable and unwaivable, altho on appeal, the courts might reduce them significantly.
The riders, for another, even tho the MTA will move heaven and earth to placate us with a few measly scraps from the table.
Other unions, also. Their pensions and health care coverage are in jeopardy now. The TWU was the only union to strike over a contract, yet the police, fire fighters, teachers, and health care workers all have worked significant periods of time without contracts. The Taylor Law HAS to be amended to make it a fairer deal for workers, who de facto lose money each day they work without a raise that at least covers inflation.
Bloomberg loses as well. Calling working people "thugs" is not going to endear you to any future union work disputes.
Pataki probably loses, but only a little. His presidential bid is such a long shot it's not even funny.
The MTA, of course, wins big, since this is all one giant zero sum game. But things have a way of evening themselves out in the end. I pity Peter Kalikow and George Pataki for the karma they've riled up.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Strike Report 12/22/05But pensions...those are up for grabs.
It's Over (Almost), But Pension Battle for All U.S. Workers is Just Starting
The sickening anti-worker propaganda in New York's newspapers - in a confounding twist, these courageous workers were even called "rats" by the New York Post - shows that Americans have a lot to learn about how their own government is screwing them over.
In this increasingly interconnected world, the NYC transit strike has to be linked to the sorry-ass news on Capitol Hill: Vise President Dick Cheney further put the squeeze on Americans by casting the tie-breaking vote yesterday in the Senate that guaranteed a grimmer economic future for all Americans who make less than $250,000 a year. The guy is simply a vulture, and you're only fooling yourself if you store the horrendous budget news coming out of D.C. in a separate part of your brain from the economic issues behind the New York City transit strike.
The Washington Post only partially got it right this time, reporting this morning:Senate Republicans, by the narrowest margin yesterday, pushed through a major budget measure that would trim federal spending by nearly $40 billion over five years, but they were stymied by Democrats in their effort to open Alaska's wilderness to oil drilling.The tax cuts for the wealthy? Not even mentioned in the Washington Post story, even though those tax cuts and our outrageous war spending are breaking the federal piggy bank.
Vice President Cheney took his seat as president of the Senate just past 10:30 a.m. to cast the tie-breaking vote on a hard-fought budget bill that would allow states to impose new fees on Medicaid recipients, cut federal child-support enforcement funds, impose new work requirements on state welfare programs and squeeze student lenders - all for the purpose of slowing the growth of federal entitlement programs.
As I pointed out the other day, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg had the gall to label the New York City transit strike as "morally reprehensible" while Wall Street execs are taking home huge bonuses this holiday season.
The transit workers, trying to look out for their futures, are labeled "selfish"?
How do you think many of those huge bonuses were paid for by companies rewarding their CEOs and other executives for performance? By not funding pensions.
Elaine Chao, our erstwhile Secretary of Labor (such as she is) estimates that the unfunded pension liability nationwide is $450 billion. And that's a conservative making a conservative estimate! My guess, you can double, perhaps triple, that figure and be closer to the truth.
And guess who pays for that? You. Me. Every tax payer in America will have the opportunity to do right for a fellow working American as the Reagan/Bush legacy comes home to roost squarely on the backs of the people who worked 20, 25, 30, 40, 50 years for a company only to find out the rules changed and their pensions that they thought would be waiting for them, are in default.
Like other commuters, I'm happy that the transit strike appears to be ending. We won't have to pound as much shoe leather. But the fight for reasonable pensions and health-care benefits is just now starting, if we're smart. And it was the transit workers who did the walking for us.
I hear the argument from tired newsroom hacks that pensions aren't a "sexy" topic and that young people don't even think about such things.
Well, for decades, many Americans didn't have to think about such things because they had unions fighting for them and because insurance companies weren't running the health-care business.
Those days are over. People had better start thinking about how to revive the American dream before it expires.
TV host Cooke's body plundered by ghoulsHow many "Masterpiece Theatre" jokes can we make here? "RUMPole of the Bailey"? "EYE, Claudius"? "Elizabeth ARM"?
By WILLIAM SHERMAN
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
The ghoulish body parts for sale ring stole the bones of "Masterpiece Theatre" host Alistair Cooke just before he was cremated, the Daily News has learned.
The celebrated broadcaster and actor died March 30, 2004, of lung cancer that spread to his bones.
The next day, without permission of any family members, body snatchers surgically carved out the 95-year-old's diseased bones.
The bones were sold for more than $7,000 to two tissue processing companies for eventual transplant procedures, sources told The News.
"I hope those guys burn in hell for what they did," said longtime Cooke family attorney David Grossberg.
The alleged leader of the body-snatching ring is Michael Mastromarino, whose operations are under investigation by the Brooklyn district attorney's office.
Mastromarino ran Biomedical Tissue Services Ltd., a tremendously profitable tissue recovery business that sold body parts, including bone, skin and cardiac valves.
After processing, Cooke's bones could have been used for dental implants or numerous orthopedic procedures including dowels for damaged spines.
Cooke's remains were sold by Mastromarino to processing companies Regeneration Technologies Inc., of Alachua, Fla., and Tutogen Medical Inc., of Paterson, N.J.
A spokesman for Tutogen did not return a telephone call. A spokesman for Regeneration Technologies had no comment.
But Cooke's daughter, Susan Kittredge, who learned what happened to her father only last week, told The News she was "shocked and saddened that following his death, parts of his body were illegally sold for transplant."
"That people in need of healing should have received his body parts, considering his age and the fact that he was ill when he died, is as appalling to the family as is that his remains were violated," she said.
The use of cancerous bone for transplant is a violation of Food and Drug Administration regulations and the use of body parts from the aged also is against transplant protocol.
But in paperwork given the two processing companies, Mastromarino allegedly changed Cooke's "cause of death" to heart attack and changed his age from 95 to 85, according to sources.
Mastromarino, along with his former partner Joseph Nicelli, an embalmer, are being probed for allegedly forging hundreds of such records in their business, which ran from 2000 until October 2005, when The News first disclosed the details of the Brooklyn probe.
Mastromarino routinely paid funeral directors for each corpse provided to his company.
Cooke's corpse was picked up at his Fifth Ave. home by the New York Mortuary Services Inc., a private funeral home at 2242 First Ave. Kittredge said she got what she believed to be her father's ashes two days later.
Timothy O'Brien, head of New York Mortuary Services did not return calls. His attorney had no comment.
Pirro drops Senate bid to run for Attorney GeneralNot just on Pirro's part, since she's clearly going to be in a dogfight against either Cuomo (who has his own marital issues to defend) or Green, but on the GOP part.
BY ERROL A. COCKFIELD JR
ALBANY BUREAU CHIEF
December 22, 2005
Finally bowing to the wishes of powerful figures in the Republican party, Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro brought an end to her beleaguered U.S. Senate campaign yesterday, saying she would instead run for attorney general.
Pirro, whose 12-year tenure as Westchester District Attorney draws to a close at the end of the year, said she hopes to build on her career as a prosecutor, echoing the calls of fellow Republicans who had said she was more suited to run for that office.
"I have concluded that my head and my heart remain in law enforcement," she said in a statement, adding she would make a formal announcement next month.
A Pirro bid for attorney general potentially sets her up for a run against former gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo, the former Housing and Urban Development Secretary. Former New York City mayoral candidate Mark Green is also in the Democratic field.
If Pirro is chosen by Republicans to run for attorney general she would again be forced to defend the illegal activities of her husband, Al Pirro, who was convicted in 2000 of tax fraud.
Pirro's decision immediately opened the door for Manhattan lawyer Ed Cox, a son-in-law of former President Richard Nixon, to re-enter the Senate race. He withdrew in October after Gov. George Pataki endorsed Pirro. But yesterday, a Cox spokesman would not comment on that prospect.
Again, I'm not sure you want the son-in-law of the second-most corrupt President in the nation's history running against the wife of the perhaps least corrupt President of the past fifty years (OK, Carter, but I think it's pretty close, absent the sexual improprieties). I can imagine the campaign now: "You had a choice and married into the Nixon family????" followed by loud raucous laughter.
By the way, for you out-of-state'rs, here's a good primer on the New York GOP:
State GOP Smackdown!
With the end of Pataki’s reign nigh, the New York State Republican party seems to be at war with itself. A handy guide to who’s stabbing whom in the back, and why.
Pataki’s Inner Circle
Governor George Pataki
Current Play: Trying to convince national GOP leaders he’s presidential material; plotting to avoid being associated with high-profile 2006 losses.
Boosting: Himself, Pirro (tepidly), Weld (to punish longtime rival Tom Golisano).
State GOP Chair Stephen Minarik
Current Play: Hanging on as party supremo.
Boosting: Socially liberal candidates Pirro and Weld.
Undermining: Conservative Party honcho Mike Long and his power over the GOP.
Strategy: Strong-arming county chairmen into supporting his duo.
Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld
Current Play: Hoping his blue-blood charm will out-affable Spitzer to win governorship.
Boosting: Minarik, his prime sponsor.
Strategy: Pushing for Minarik-engineered “straw poll” of county chairs to shore up his candidacy.
Westchester D.A. Jeanine Pirro
Current Play: After her Senate bid was betrayed by Bruno and others who want to take control of the party from Minarik, she’s fighting for her political life.
Strategy: Staged “summit meeting” with Pataki to create impression he’d rallied for her.
Former Senator (and current lobbyist) Al D’Amato
Current Play: Plotting to maintain influence in post-Pataki Albany.
Boosting: Pirro (in hopes of selling access to her later).
Backup Plan: He’s crossed party lines to talk up Spitzer, hoping likely future gov will give him the access to keep his lobbying biz alive.
State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno
Current Play: Hanging on to slim State Senate majority.
Boosting: Golisano, hoping he’ll bankroll Senate candidates and goose turnout.
Undermining: Minarik, Pirro, Weld.
Strategy: By slaying Pirro and Weld, he destroys archrival Minarik.
Rochester Billionaire Tom Golisano
Current Play: Gubernatorial candidacy as hostile takeover of state GOP after losing repeatedly to Pataki.
Undermining: Minarik, because he hand-picked Weld.
Conservative Party Boss Mike Long
Current Play: Figuring out how to maintain influence over state GOP.
Undermining: Pirro, Weld, Minarik.
Strategy: By withholding support from Pirro and Weld, he hopes to turn worried GOP activists against Minarik.
The Free Agents
Former Congressman Rick Lazio
Current Play: Floating his name for attorney general while sitting at his desk at JPMorgan Chase.
Strategy: Waiting to see if GOP primary field is clear before running (and apparently wondering if it’s worth sacrificing his Wall Street bonus).
Former Secretary of State Randy Daniels
Current Play: Hoping to become governor by siphoning minority votes from Spitzer while also running as the conservative candidate.
Strategy: Hoping to turn GOP rank and file against liberal Weld.
Lobbyist John Faso
Current Play: Selling himself as a Long Island version of tax-cutting Pataki.
Undermining: Weld, Daniels, Golisano.
Hidden Agenda: High-profile statewide loss would still boost profile (and lobbying business).
Mayor Mike Bloomberg
Current Play: Trying to leverage his landslide into Albany influence.
Boosting: Minarik’s state party for helping him win, punishing Democratic Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver for sinking his stadium (but not enough to alienate probable Dem governor Spitzer).
[T]he strike's emotional tenor went up a notch, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg continued to call the union "selfish" and several black leaders decried his criticism Tuesday that union leaders were acting "thuggishly."Here you have a billionaire mayor, Bloomberg, a billionaire MTA head, Peter Kalikow, and a millionaire governor, George Pataki, wielding the massive club of the state's Taylor Law, calling a bunch of folks the city relies on to move its people "thugs"?
After updating reporters on the city's Day Two response to the strike, Bloomberg castigated the TWU and its rhetoric.
"What frauds they are, claiming to be a champion of working families when their illegal actions are costing New Yorkers their livelihoods," he said.
A few hours later, Toussaint invoked the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the August 2003 blackout in demanding respect for workers. He also compared the strike to the work of Rosa Parks. "We ask you to keep that in mind when you consider the type of offensive language and insulting speech being used to describe your neighbors," he said.
Some public officials and New Yorkers bridled at Bloomberg's use of the word "thuggish" to describe the union Tuesday.
Standing in front of a sign that read, "The Taylor Law is a slave code," and wearing a red arm band, Councilman Charles Barron likened the MTA to a plantation.
Georgina Howard, 45, a nurse from Cambria Heights, was incensed with some of the mayor's rhetoric. "He called Toussaint a thug," she said. "If the head of the union had been white, I doubt he would have used that word."
The mayor's spokesman, Ed Skyler, said, "It's despicable to inject race into this situation."
Tell you what, Mikey, Petey, Georgie: put down your club, and walk with me. Let me show you what people are going thru to persevere in this strike. Get out of your limousines and your town houses and your mansions, and take a walk with me to an apartment in, say, Long Island City...no police protection, Mr. Mayor. No cameras for your little photo op across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Be the populist you claim to be, Governor. Walk from City Hall to the Queensboro Bridge, and into Ravenswood projects, or the Queensbridge Houses. See the people, feet aching, legs throbbing.
I'd mention Petey, but I'm guessing the half mile up the incline of the Queensboro Bridge would cripple his calves, which only get exercised stretching for rationales.
We who walk support the TWU. Why?
Because we get it. We see the naked greed of the MTA. The fact that they whine about deficits and bankruptcy until mirabile dictu, they get a fare hike or union concessions or an increase in state or city funding. Then suddenly, they're so far in the black it's not funny.
This isn't private industry, gentlemen. You can't outsource the "D" train to India. You can't hire a busload of Central Americans to operate the trains, sweatshop fashion.
Deal with the folks who run the system. Deal with them fairly, deal with them honestly. Take the pensions off the table, guys. We have enough insecurities in our citizenry about private companies and their pensions without you guys jacking up the fear for folks who, for less pay than they'd make in the private sector, worrying if they made a mistake in serving the public.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Judge Reportedly Resigns Over U.S. Spy ProgramAnd then there's this:
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: December 21, 2005
Filed at 11:20 a.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal judge has resigned from a special court set up to oversee government surveillance, apparently in protest of President Bush's secret authorization of a domestic spying program on people with suspected terrorist ties.
U.S. District Judge James Robertson would not comment Wednesday on his resignation, but The Washington Post reported that it stemmed from deep concern that the surveillance program Bush authorized was legally questionable and may have tainted the work of the court.
An aide to Robertson said the resignation letter submitted to Chief Justice John Roberts was not being released. Robertson did not step down from his district judgeship in Washington.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan would not discuss Robertson's resignation or the reasons cited for his departure. ''Judge Robertson did not comment on the matter and I don't see any reason why we need to,'' McClellan said.
Robertson was one of 11 members of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees government applications for secret surveillance or searches of foreigners and U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism or espionage. Robertson's term was to end in May.
Judge bars ID from schools, says it's religion, not scienceBut then again, maybe not:
BY BRYN NELSON
December 21, 2005
The concept of "intelligent design" is inherently religious in nature and may not be introduced into high school biology classrooms in a Pennsylvania public school district, a district court judge ruled yesterday in a sharply worded and potentially far-reaching decision.
"The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID [intelligent design] is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory," wrote U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III in a 139-page decision that prompted a flurry of responses on both sides of the bitter intelligent design-evolution divide.
Pirro Expected to Drop Out of N.Y. Senate RaceBut then again:
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: December 21, 2005
Filed at 12:27 p.m. ET
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Jeanine Pirro has decided to halt her struggling campaign for the Republican nomination to challenge Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2006, two Republicans close to the situation said Wednesday.
She will run instead for state attorney general, the sources said.
The Republicans, who spoke to The Associated Press only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information, said an announcement from the high-profile Westchester County district attorney could come as early as Thursday.
There was no immediate comment from Pirro.
Cheney Breaks Tie on Budget-Cutting Bill"Victory #1", after nearly a year of this Congress. Sad commentary on the "effectiveness" of the GOP agenda, since for this bill to have been a tie, several Republicans had to defect in the first place from the President's agenda....
By CARL HULSE
Published: December 21, 2005
WASHINGTON, Dec. 21 - With Vice President Dick Cheney breaking a 50-50 tie, the Senate approved a $40 billion budget-cutting measure today that Republicans hailed as evidence of their determination to control federal spending.
"Victory No. 1," Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, declared after the budget measure was passed in the first of a series of major policy and parliamentary showdowns in the closing hours of the session.
In Final Hours, M.T.A. Took a Big Risk on PensionsOK, time value of money calculated in, let's allow for 30 years of service before a worker draws on his pension at age 55. At even 6% a year earnings, that $20 million would grow to the grand total of $100 million.
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
Published: December 21, 2005
On the final day of intense negotiations, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, it turns out, greatly altered what it had called its final offer, to address many of the objections of the transit workers' union. The authority improved its earlier wage proposals, dropped its demand for concessions on health benefits and stopped calling for an increase in the retirement age, to 62 from 55.
But then, just hours before the strike deadline, the authority's chairman, Peter S. Kalikow, put forward a surprise demand that stunned the union. Seeking to rein in the authority's soaring pension costs, he asked that all new transit workers contribute 6 percent of their wages toward their pensions, up from the 2 percent that current workers pay. The union balked, and then shut down the nation's largest transit system for the first time in a quarter-century.
Yet for all the rage and bluster that followed, this war was declared over a pension proposal that would have saved the transit authority less than $20 million over the next three years.
It seemed a small figure, considering that the city says that every day of the strike will cost its businesses hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenues. But the authority contends that it must act now to prevent a "tidal wave" of pension outlays if costs are not brought under control.
The MTA (George Pataki and Michael Bloomberg) has an unfunded pension liability (meaning money they've borrowed from their workers' future to fund current operations) of $450 million. This, with a $1 Billion dollar operating surplus.
Why not just fund that extra $20 million now out of the surplus, instead of giving commuters an almost useless nine extra days of discounted fares on the rails and buses?
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
As I walked, listening to my iPod, I pondered how I felt about this strike.
Under the state's Taylor Law, the TWU is clearly in violation of the law, and is in danger of serious and severe sanctions. Which means they must be serious about the issues on the table. Maximum penalties under this law are two days salary for each day's strike, plus potential arrest and imprisonment.
And that's just the rank and file.
So what precisely are the issues involved?
First of course, is a salary increase. Even the MTA, including Peter Kalikow and his handler, Governor George Pataki, acknowledge the union deserves a serious wage hike. Three years ago, the MTA was pleading near-bankruptcy, the September 11 attacks had crippled major subway and bus lines and wiped out an awful lot of the ridership (just after some major improvements had been implemented to improve service and keep costs down). The TWU had threatened a strike in 2002, but the strike never came close to materializing, as Roger Toussaint sympathized with the MTA's woes.
Miracle of miracles, six months later, the MTA was running a big surplus! This, after effectively cutting fares, improving service frequency and reliability.
Think the TWU was a little, um, miffed? After all, they, like the rest of us, believed the MTA's sob story. So this time around, with the MTA claiming a billion dollar surplus (is it really only a billion dollars?), the TWU asked for a three year contract with a raise of 6% a year.
The latest MTA offer is a three year contract of 3, 4, and 4 percent increases. So they're not far apart on this issue.
Next, the pension.
The MTA wants new employees to kick in 6% of the annual pension funding for their benefit for the first ten years of employment, and a raise in the retirement age from 55 to 62.
It sounds reasonable, right? I mean, most 20 year olds don't contribute to 401(k)s in the corporate world, feel they're going to live forever, and so why not force them to put a little away for their old age?
well, that little obstacle, the Taylor Law addresses this issue as well, sort of. Imposed by the Taylor Law is a good-faith arrangement that prohibits the state from materially changing the collective bargaining agreement. In other words, the pension benefit that was in force at the time the Taylor Law was passed has to remain unchanged (but not unaltered).
So this request of the MTA to alter the pension plan may be in violation of the Taylor Law. If so, state law is very clear on this point: if the union can show that the MTA was attempting to force a change in the basic agreement (in this case, the pension benefit), the union can show that the MTA was in effect coercing the union in negotiations by dangling the Taylor Law sanctions in front of them, which would make the strike legal, and the penalties imposed would have to be rescinded.
Almost every other public employees union in the state has raised an alarm about this particular aspect of the negotiations, because if one union is forced to submit to these rules, then all pensions are in danger, not only of being altered, but dismantled.
Next issue, the MTA wants the union members to contribute 1% of the health care premium. Right now, they pay nothing. Again, this sounds reasonable, and perhaps the union will cave on this provision, but it would violate the Taylor Law spirit.
Next, holidays. The TWU wants the MTA to add Martin Luther King's birthday as a paid holiday (which would also impose overtime rules for employees that worked that day). MLK's Birthday is a federal holiday, and the MTA has warmed up to this request.
Finally, and this to me is an overlooked issue: The TWU wants disaster-preparedness training, following transit system bombings in Madrid and London.
See, say what you will about the police, both undercover and uniformed personnel in train stations and on trains, the bus and subway operators are the city's first line of defense against a terror attack in the transit system.
The police can't be everywhere. The TWU has to be. And that alone should justify support of the TWU.
The International TWU has disavowed any authorization of this strike, saying they pleaded with Toussaint to hold off on a job action.
Bunch of pussies. No wonder unions are dying in America.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Mutations taking world closer to bird flu pandemic: officialPlace your bets on when bird flu hitting America here
Fri Dec 16,12:29 PM ET
PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Bird flu has yet to achieve human-to-human transmission, but subtle mutations in the virus are bringing the world closer to a pandemic, the UN's coordinator on avian influenza said.
"There are some subtle changes in the genetic makeup of H5N1 which suggest that it is making some of the mutations that would enable it to have a higher likelihood of being able to become a human-to-human transmitted virus," said David Nabarro.
"Virologists who study these things say do not get complacent. It is quite feasible that H5N1 could mutate. The fact that it has taken some years should not lead you to believe that we are through the worst."
Nabarro was speaking in Phnom Penh during a one-day visit to Cambodia, which has seen at least four human bird flu deaths.
He warned that there are difficulties stockpiling enough anti-viral medicines to combat the illness.
"We all would like there to be much more stockage of anti-viral medicines. We are in a bit of difficulty because the production capacity, particularly of (Tamiflu), is quite restricted," he said, adding that the UN was in regular talks with drug manufacturers to build up stocks.
TWU stands strong on strike deadlineWe should also point out that the MTA has asked that the union remove its representation from the pension plan board in exchange for funding the pension liability of $450 million that they've been "borrowing" to fund perks.
BY RAY SÁNCHEZ and NYNewsday.com
December 19, 2005, 1:25 PM EST
Thousands of Queens commuters began the Monday morning rush hour with no bus service after workers for two private bus lines went on strike, offering a preview of what could become a citywide shutdown if transit negotiators fail to reach an agreement before the end of the day.
"We believe there is time to resolve this contract before a complete shutdown across the city. But it is our position that unless there is substantial movement by the authority, trains and buses will come to a halt as of midnight tonight," Roger Toussaint said at a news conference Monday morning.
After making little progress over the weekend, negotiators for the Transport Workers Union and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority planned to return to the bargaining table Monday -- but the head of the union warned that plans were firm for a large-scale strike beginning at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
Toussaint said that the MTA's plan to raise the age at which new employees become eligible for a full pension from 55 to 62 presents a major sticking point.
But we know this "major sticking point" cited is a sham, since:
The main obstacle to a settlement appears to be the MTA's demand that new employees not qualify for full pensions until age 62, compared with age 55 for most current workers. A union lawyer said yesterday that the Taylor Law prohibits either side from insisting on pension changes in its final contract offer.The same Taylor Law that prohibits civil service and other municipal and government unions from striking.
"A change in pensions requires an act of the state legislature," he said. "Therefore, it is outside the realm of what you can require somebody to bargain with you about."
Or, to put it another way:
They fear any concessions by Transport Workers Union Local 100 will be forced on municipal workers in coming years - slashing benefits for hundreds of thousands of middle-income New Yorkers, labor leaders and experts say.
"Any effort to change this [the benefits] is going to face fierce opposition from the other municipal unions," said Daniel Walkowitz, a labor historian at New York University. "This will become the new model, and it will be very hard to reverse it."
That's one reason the New York City Central Labor Council, which represents 375 local unions, is organizing a rally outside Gov. Pataki's midtown office today - and is urging every unionized worker in the city to contribute a dollar to a $1.5 million strike fund for the TWU. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's contract proposal "is a precedent that could be devastating to the other unions," said Doug Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College. "They're worried. They're frightened."
Methinks this is the chip that Toussaint is going to drop in court when the state sues him after they strike tonight.
Much walking for me tomorrow, I suspect.
Bush on Iraq: 'We're winning'A few observations here:
President admits mistakes were made, but insists course in Iraq is right; asks Americans to fight off 'defeatism'
BY CRAIG GORDON
December 19, 2005
WASHINGTON -- President George W. Bush last night appealed to Americans not to give in to "defeatism" in Iraq, warning of more sacrifice in the months ahead but insisting, "We are winning the war in Iraq."
"Do not give in to despair, and do not give up on this fight for freedom," Bush said in unusually personal terms at one point, speaking directly to those who oppose his decision to invade Iraq.
Bush hinted that Iraq after last week's legislative elections "should require fewer American troops" in the new year. But he stopped well short of announcing any specific steps to reduce the 153,000 U.S. troops in Iraq today.
Instead, Bush used the inherent drama of a rare Oval Office address to convey the importance he places on keeping U.S. troops in Iraq, posing the choice before the American people as stark - "victory or defeat."
Bush said, "To retreat before victory would be an act of recklessness and dishonor, and I will not allow it."
1) The last time a President said "Mistakes were made" --
As Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein tied the scandal to top officials in the Nixon administration, Ziegler routinely dismissed their reports as inaccurate. But the press secretary publicly apologized to them and their newspaper the day after the April 30, 1973, resignations of White House counsel John Dean and Nixon aides John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman.Again, are these guys sure they want the ghost of Nixon hovering over this corrupt administration?
"I would apologize to the Post, and I would apologize to Mr. Woodward and Mr. Bernstein. ... We would all have to say that mistakes were made in terms of comments. I was overenthusiastic in my comments about the Post, particularly if you look at them in the context of developments that have taken place," he said at the time. "When we are wrong, we are wrong, as we were in that case."
2) Someone will have to define for me "winning". We're about to spend another $100 billion dollars between Afghanistan and Iraq, combined. What are we winning for that money, first off, and secondly, is it worth that much money in a nation that's seeing an entire major metropolitan area demolished, it's future in doubt? Is it worth around $10,000,000 per vote in Iraq to see homeless people in our streets, hunger creep back across America, unemployed skilled laborers working the doors at Walmart? IS IT???
3) On the "winning" note...who said this?"I don’t think you can win [the war on terror]"? Was it the same person who said “[B]y helping democracy succeed in Iraq, we bring greater security to our citizens here at home. The terrorists know that democracy is their enemy. And they will continue fighting freedom's progress with all the hateful determination they can muster.”
"Not very long," answered the Mexican.
"But then, why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the American.
The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.
The American asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"
"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs . I have a full life."
The American interrupted, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat."
And after that?" asked the Mexican.
"With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers.
Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise."
"How long would that take?" asked the Mexican.
"Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years," replied the American.
"And ! after that?"
"Afterwards? Well my Friend, That's when it gets really interesting," answered the American, laughing. "When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!"
"Millions? Really? And after that?" said the Mexican.
"After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends."
And the moral is: Know where you're going in life... you may already be there.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
GOP leader: Cox would reconsider Senate race if Pirro quitsI'm fairly certain that, as the corrupt practices of the Bush administration are revealed in a mounting heap of crap, that the New York GOP wants people to remember there was yet another corrupt Republican president who spied on his own people and ran an illegal war in a country we had no business being in.
By MARC HUMBERT
AP Political Writer
December 16, 2005, 12:14 PM EST
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Edward Cox, a son-in-law of the late President Richard Nixon, will consider resuming his campaign for the Republican nomination to challenge Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton if Jeanine Pirro quits the race, a top party leader said Friday.
Cox, considered Pirro's main competition for the Senate nomination, halted his campaign in October on the day that Republican Gov. George Pataki endorsed Pirro's candidacy. But, in recent days, a host of party leaders have called on the Westchester County district attorney to end her struggling campaign and run instead for state attorney general. Pirro has refused to heed that advice.
It's seems there's no end to the people in this clown car...