Tuesday, June 29, 2010

He Doth Protest Too Much: Conservatives, Racism and Alleged Reverse-Racism

“To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.”
Abraham Lincoln

American 16th US President (1861-65), emancipator of U.S. slaves

"Badges?... We don't need no... stinkin' badges!"
Dialog, "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", 1948
Alfonso Bedoya, as the character Gold Hat to Humphrey Bogart, as character Fred C. Dobbs

I need to thank my friend Mitch for calling to my attention a story he featured on his blog, Shot in the Dark, that I found shocking. Shocking, for what the story appears to be on the surface; more shocking for what the facts actually showed as I dug deeper; more shocking still, because my friend Mitch chose to ignore the contradictory facts when they were provided to him. The story on the right is a ludicrous fuss that makes factually inaccurate claims about voter intimidation and Black Panthers, and uses those misstatements of fact to leverage even more bogus accusations against the Obama administration's Department of Justice.


On the historic election day November 4, 2008, it was alleged by a reporter for Fox News and picked up by other conservative sites on-line, like Michelle Malkin's blog and Ed Morrisey at Hot Air (an additional site affiliated with Malkin), that voter intimidation had been occurring at a polling place in Philadelphia. The only sources promoting this story seem to have a right wing axe to grind.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sea Change on the 2nd Amendment

This post may be longish, apologies in advance.

Today, in what has been expected (including by me) for two years, the conservative members of the Supreme Court ruled (5-4) that the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution shall be deemed Incorporated under the 14th Amendment.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Parade of Pride

Yesterday, a US District Court judge ruled that an evangelist could hand out bibles at a gay pride festival to be held in Minneapolis' Loring Park (from the StarTribune):
"U.S. District Court Judge John Tunheim ruled that the First Amendment gives Brian Johnson the right to evangelize there as long as he's not disruptive."

When I was a young man, including when I was a boy, my parents told me of their opinion of homosexuality, which was always focused on the conduct of men, never women. Their opinion of homosexuality ranged from considering it mental deviance to perversion. The US society around them reflected these opinions. When I joined the US Army, the attitude at the time was that homosexuality was a mental disorder. For a time (iirc), the medical community even agreed, though this position changed in the early 70's, yet the Army's position persisted for years afterward.

When I was a younger man, I was contemptuous toward gays (privately). It is not something which I am glad I did. It was wrong, and I am sorry.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

McChyrstal and Obama: Sticks and Rolling Stones, and Names Will Never Hurt Me -- Except, Maybe This Time (Part l)

UPDATE: General McChrystal has resigned from the army, not only from his command, and will retire.

It has been front-and-center in the most recent news cycle: "The Runaway General" by Michael Hastings, in The Rolling Stone magazine. It won't be on news stands until Friday, June 25th, 2010; although technically, it is the issue for July 8-22, 2010 issue.


For a story only available online, in advance of print publication, it has had amazing 'legs', resulting in the resignation of one of the highest ranking generals among the many serving in the United States armed forces.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

BP, Joe Barton.........and Deputy Dawg?

Rep. Joe Barton, R - Texas
Terrytoons Deputy Dawg and Ty Coon

The recent news cycles are full of clips of Rep. Joe Barton of Texas making his apologies to Tony Hayward during the Energy and Commerce Committee hearings on the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.
There will be more to come, including repetitions in political ads before the 2010 elections.

Often, blog posts attempt serious consideration and discussion of current events. I wanted to diverge from that, with humor and a bit of whimsy.

If you haven't seen it yet so often your eyes have begun to roll independently in your head in self-defense:

(or any of numerous other clips of the exact same thing)

Possibly it is because I've become bored with this same clip over and over, interspersed with the occasional Bachmann BP/big oil boot-licking clips, and the Boehner call for the government to pay for the disaster, that are being retracted, or spun like a centrifuge, and then subsequently denied (despite all too much evidence to the contrary).

Being a bit bored, I cannot help but notice the close resemblance between Barton in both appearance and voice to the famous Ralph Bakshi cartoon character, with which he made his debut in children's television animation 'cult classic'-- Deputy Dawg -- back in 1959. The irony of this is that, being a baby boomer born in 1949, Barton may have grown up watching Deputy Dawg cartoons as a child, in his hometown of Waco, Texas; and the cartoons are set in the (in reality) oil-spill affected Gulf state of Mississippi.

You can refresh your own recollection of Deputy Dawg, either with a nostalgia collection on DVD, or at a number of sites that offer free perusal of the old terrytoons Deputy Dawg episodes, like this one.


It kind of makes you want to start casting other political figures from this disaster as Deputy Dawg characters - Catfish-poachin' Pelican, Peach Pluckin' Kangaroo, Vincent Van Gopher, Muskie Muskrat, Ali Gator, Mother Crane and Lil Whooper, Moley Mole, Possible Possum, Ty Coon, Pig Newton, the Russian Mischa Mouse, Homer, Penguin, Lynx, and the Deputy's boss, the Sherrif - and his family members, Missus Deputy Dawg, and newphew Deputy Elmer. Let's not forget Astronut, the amiable alien, another spin-off character.

Whenever the election year politics starts to wear on your nerves, and your mind starts to wander during hearings, debates, and endless ads, I hope you will enjoy privately imagining the politicos posturing in front of you as an appropriate cartoon character from your childhood, with special emphasis on similar characteristics and mannerisms. It is a diversion that lends itself to any political POV.

There is a certain, odd, even freakish resemblance between the human and the cartoon character....that is BP CEO Tony Hayward on the right.

I decided to make a revision to this post, with a better comparison between cartoon and political figure -- Senator Joe Lieberman, (I)CT, and another cartoon hound, Droopy Dog.

I trust I don't really need to label which is which.

Perhaps the greatest similarity is in the voices, which you can hear on this video:


It might help keep the inevitable ennui of politics from getting you down, while adding a certain useful perspective to the political season.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Penigma blog wishes a very happy Fathers Day to our readers and our authors, and their families.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Study in Contrasts: Black and White, Day and Night

There are two congressional representatives from Minnesota in the news for their role in the BP oil tragedy. They are James Oberstar and Michele Bachmann.

Their response to this American disaster provides a very clear insight into the important differences between them. That difference is made clearest by their own words.

From James Oberstar, serving in his 17th term in Congress, in his position as chair of the investigation into the BP spill, opened on June 9th with the following:



June 9, 2010

Today, we will examine the issues of liability and financial responsibility for oil spills under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and other related statutes.

The liability, financial responsibility, and insurance issues surrounding the Deepwater Horizon disaster are complex. Estimates suggest that losses associated with this casualty could result in between $1 billion and $3.5 billion in claims. These damages will far exceed the liability caps that apply to offshore facilities, with a limit of $75 million. In fact, if these predictions prove accurate, damages will exceed the amount available in the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

The tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon shows the need for a comprehensive review of the liability concepts in the laws now in effect. Existing laws were developed from centuries of maritime history to deal with damages to persons and property from accidents involving seagoing vessels. A vessel carries a known quantity of oil or other cargo. There is a reasonable basis for estimating the worst possible case of damages that would result from release of all of the oil. This, in turn, establishes a basis for a liability cap and setting levels of required insurance.

By contrast, the Deepwater Horizon disaster demonstrates that when we are dealing with a facility for drilling rather than a merchant vessel, the amount of oil that can be released is highly unpredictable and can be astronomical. Deepwater Horizon also demonstrates that the technology for deepwater drilling is much riskier and uncertain than merchant vessel technology.

In short, Deepwater Horizon shows us that we need to develop a financial and liability program based on the technological complexities and realities of deepwater drilling, rather than simply adding to the concepts developed for vessels.

In addition to liability issues, the Deepwater Horizon tragedy demonstrates that for deepwater drilling complete reliance on industry does not provide the safety regime we need. The Federal Government has allowed the drilling industry to self police through certification, engineering and design; it is time that we take back control over all safety issues associated with deep sea oil drilling operations.

The issues for consideration in this hearing include raising or eliminating the cap on liability under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) for facilities and vessels, and raising the levels required for demonstration of financial responsibility. An important subsidiary issue is whether any changes should be applied retroactively to the Deepwater Horizon spill, and whether existing caps and insurance requirements are incorporated in existing leases and, if so, whether the government would be in breach of contract and liable for damages if liability or insurance requirements were raised.

With regard to the liability caps for facilities, one option is to remove the caps altogether. A major argument against liability caps is that these caps can reduce the incentives for operators to take steps necessary to ensure safety. In addition, liability caps that are well below the level of damages from a spill will mean that persons suffering damages will have to be reimbursed exclusively from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund; if there are not sufficient amounts available in the Trust Fund, the injured persons will either not receive compensation or will have to be compensated by general revenue from taxpayers.

The argument in support of liability caps is that, without caps, only the largest companies will be willing to drill in the deepwater and run the risk of huge damages. This could lead to less competition for drilling leases and lower proceeds to the Federal Government for selling these rights. Limiting drilling to the largest companies may result in less drilling and the supply of oil may be reduced.

Somewhat different factors are involved when we consider raising or eliminating the caps for vessels. If smaller vessels, such as tug barges carrying home heating oil, are subject to a major increase in expenses for insurance, there may be a loss of shipping capacity that would be detrimental to consumers. Moreover, the potential damages from a spill from a vessel are more predictable than the losses from an uncontained well. The amount of oil carried by a vessel is known, while the amount of oil that would be release by a spill such as the Deepwater Horizon is highly speculative scientific guesswork.

While the caps for facilities have not been adjusted since OPA was enacted, the caps for vessels have been raised by law and administrative action to adjust for inflation.

The Deepwater Horizon tragedy also demonstrates a need for change in the trust fund that backs up individual responsibility for damage. If the costs of cleaning up an oil spill and the costs of claims for damages resulting from the spill exceed the limits in OPA, the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund is available to cover the costs. The Trust Fund is funded predominately by an eight-cents-per-barrel tax on crude oil received at U.S. refineries. The tax is paid by the refinery operators.

Currently, the Trust Fund has a balance of approximately $1.6 billion, with a cap on expenditures from the Trust Fund of $1 billion and $500 million for natural resource damages. The House has passed legislation to raise the tax on crude oil to 34 cents per barrel and to raise the caps on Trust Fund expenditures to $5 billion, with $2.5 billion for natural resource damages per incident. Still, the Coast Guard has informed us that it will run out of money to fight this disaster possibly next week because it will have exhausted the $100 million advance provided from the Trust Fund.

On May 13, 2010 Transocean filed a complaint in Federal court in Houston to limit its liability to about $26.7 million under a little-known statute – the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851. The Department of Justice has since filed a motion opposing Transocean’s petition. (enlarged type, my emphasis - note MILLIONS limit, compared to the $20 BILLION escrow fund negotiated by President Obama.)

The 1851 Act was put into place before ship owners had access to insurance to encourage American ship owners to invest in shipping, and to put the American shipping industry on an even footing with its competitors in Europe. The 1851 Act allows ship owners to limit their liability to the value of the vessel and her cargo.

Certainly, the claims for personal injury and death and economic losses that are coming forward and will continue to come forward as a result of the Deepwater Horizon casualty will far exceed the value of the rig or whatever was owed to Transocean by BP and others.

The history of the 1851 Act suggests that it was bad law from the start. Among other criticisms, Gilmore and Black noted in 1975 in The Law of Admiralty:

No doubt when more obscure statutes are drafted, the Congress will draft them, but it is difficult to believe that any future body of law makers will ever surpass this extraordinary effort … The only safe thing to do with such a statute is to repeal it.

As we reexamine existing liability laws, we should consider revisions to such laws as the Death on the High Seas Act and the Jones Act, which prevent persons injured on vessels from recovering non-economic damages generally available under tort law.

I look forward to the testimony of each of our witnesses and I thank you all for coming.


In contrast, Michele Bachmann MISSED the vote on June 10th to Amend the Oil Pollution Act :
This legislation would allow the Obama administration to withdraw more money from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund in order to better respond to the Gulf of Mexico oil accident. The Senate approved the bill the previous day by voice vote, and the president is expected to sign it.
But Bachmann did find time to make this stupid statement, among her many interviews anywhere but in her home state, or on the job:
"The president just called for creating a fund that would be administered by outsiders, which would be more of a redistribution-of-wealth fund. And now it appears like we’ll be looking at one more gateway for more government control, more money to government. If there is a disaster, why is it that government is the one who always seems to benefit after a disaster, and that’s of course what cap-and-trade would be."

One representative from Minnesota, James Oberstar, is long serving, in his 17th term of office. The other, Michele Bachmann, is in her 2nd. I think this is an excellent example of who is politicizing a national disaster for their own gain, and utterly failing to represent their constituency in government; and who is doing the actual job they were elected to do with care, fairness, and distinction.
It is obvious why Oberstar is re-elected repeatedly, with usually around 60% of his vote; while Bachmann cannot manage even 50%, and relies on an enormous amount of donations from outside the state of Minnesota for her campaigns. With this kind of performance, why would anyone reasonable, in her own district, fund her election - or vote for her?

The contrast is as obvious as day and night, black and white.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The OTHER Charlie Wilson's 'War', Part II - Update, His Guilty Plea, and Second Amendment 'Remedies'

"A sword never kills anybody; it is a tool in the killer's hand."
– Lucius Annaeus Seneca, aka Seneca the Younger
stoic philosopher, dramatist, statesman, and humorist
c. 4BC - 65AD.

"An armed society is a polite society. "

– Robert A. Heinlein
Dean of American Science Fiction Writers
1907 - 1988

"This country was founded by religious nuts with guns."

– P.J. O'Rourke
Cato Institute fellow, political satirist, journalist
b. 1947

On Thursday, June 10th, 2010, Charles Alan Wilson pled guilty to threatening the life of Washington Senator Patty Murray in federal court.

Wilson, who legally owned multiple firearms, and who had a carry permit for his weapons, had made repeated death threats to Murray, and had appeared at Tea Party protests of Murray over her vote in favor of the recent health care reform legislation. Wilson operated under many of the same instances of factual misinformation that have typified those Tea Party protests. He will be sentenced in October of this year.

And like recent GOP Senate Primary winner and Tea Party supported candidate Sharron Angle in Nevada, Wilson appears to have believed in what Angle coyly refers to as 'Second Amendment remedies', the justification for shooting politicians who vote in ways with which he disagreed.

Angle believes that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the right to bear arms, exists to keep the federal government in check. Angle is tap dancing around actually calling for armed insurrection against our legitimately elected government, a government properly held to conformity with that very U. S. Constitution by the Supreme Court.

In a January interview with a conservative talk show host, Lars Larson, Angle stated, "Our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason, and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. In fact, Thomas Jefferson said it's good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years. I hope that's not where we're going, but you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies."

Apparently, if Angle doesn't win her election contest against Harry Reid, she is willing to go for her guns. In other words, this woman insist on getting her way, and if she doesn't get it legitimately, she will go after it violently.

My conservative friends - and a few less conservative commenters here as well - took issue with my linking threats of violence to the Tea Party movement and other voices on the right. And yet, it is exactly this kind of language we see from Angle that persuaded an ordinary law abiding citizen like Charlie Wilson, not previously politically active, who legally owned weapons, when he threatened Senator Patty Murray and another Senator from Washington.

Angle told conservative talk show host Bill Manders in January of this year, "I'm hoping that we're not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope that the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems."

And in May, Angle told the Reno newspaper, the Gazette-Journal, that "it's almost an imperative that conservatives win. The nation is arming. What are they arming for if it isn't that they are so distrustful of their government? They're afraid they'll have to fight for their liberty in more Second Amendment kinds of ways. That's why I look at this as almost an imperative. If we don't win at the ballot box, what will be the next step?"

Gee, Sharron, what WILL be that next step? Because an absolute core value of our country, our government, our way of life is that sometimes your political side wins, and sometimes you lose. When you lose, you lump it, you reorganize, you attempt to persuade an electoral majority; you do NOT reach for your guns.

To advocate resorting to arms if you lose, that is profoundly UN-American, and we are hearing it from the right more and more all the time. If you believe in going for the bullet box if you lose, Sharron Angle, resign now. You already do not believe in our Constitution, you have no business running for office; for you to take any oath of office, even to serve as lowly dog catcher, would be a travesty.

But the right is not responsible, not even a little, when someone believes that crap - someone like Charlie Wilson? Think again.

Now in a Scripps news article, Angle spokesperson, Jerry Stacy, says Angle is not "advocating for a revolution. We should all be worried, but again, she's not advocating or suggesting a revolution."

Then.....WHY should we be worried? Why does Angle work so very hard to emphasize armed and angry unsuccessful voters? Why does she leave it to a spokesperson to walk back her statements, but makes those same statements herself over and over, without clarifying for herself that she doesn't mean people should arm?

Angle is trying to have it both ways, and backs down from her statements any time she gets flak for them ----- and then makes them all over again, to her core supporters.

"Her rhetoric that if she doesn't win at the ballot box people should go to the bullet box undermines the Democratic process.", Harry Reid's spokesman, Jon Summers said, in response to Angle.

According to the Gazette-Journal, Angle PREFERS (my emphasis) to fight at the ballot box. Maybe her spokesperson should explain to candidate Angle that the ballot box IS the ONLY way she is allowed to fight. And if she thinks otherwise, I'm sure the federal government can find her and the other candidates who think as she does a nice cozy cell in the same block as the one that Charlie Wilson will find himself in shortly before election time next fall.

I cannot help but wonder if Ms. Angle believes that only her supporters are armed or know how to use a weapon? If she considers that the other political viewpoint is as well, perhaps she will consider the implications of her statements more carefully in future. Harry Reid just helped get the funding for the largest shooting sport recreational area in the entire country - possibly in the world, and opened it with some shooting practice of his own. So, lets not even go there.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hang It on the Wall for All to See

“Racism is man's gravest threat to man - the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.”
- Abraham J. Heschel
Jewish theologian and philosopher

“Lukewarm acceptance is more bewildering than outright rejection.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
American Baptist Minister and Civil-Rights Leader

“In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way. And in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently.”
- Harry A. Blackmun
American Supreme Court Justice

A friend of mine recently tried to support his position that the right is not racist; not Tea Partiers, not Conservatives, not Republicans. He posited that not one of them was a racist, and that they could not be. On other occasions he has tried to argue that Liberals and others on the left are racists, and rampant anti-semites as well.

I don't know anyone, from the spectrum of the right to the left, who characterizes themselves as a racist. How others characterize someone may be distinctly different.

In the past week, we have had conservative South Carolina state senator Jake Knotts, on his internet radio talk show "Pub Politics", call the far right Palin-backed GOP gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, and President Obama, both 'rag heads'. Far from being apologetic, he blamed the reactions on failed humor, indicating he had used the term before this, and presumably unless daunted by the response, he intends to continue using it. (No, repetition does not improve it). Just in case his listening audience failed fully to appreciate his wit, he invoked the 'f'' word for emphasis as a raghead modifier in describing Mrs. Haley. (No, that doesn't improve it any more than repetition). As if that were not enough, despite acknowledging Mrs. Haley's conversion to Christianity, as a Methodist, he expounded that she was not Christian enough to govern the state of South Carolina. Perhaps she needs another dose of conversion to bring her up to full strength.

He then indicated Haley is controlled and directed by a cabal of Sikhs. Is that now the term for a group, a 'cabal of Sikhs', like a 'murder of crows' or a 'gaggle of geese'? Because nothing persuades your audience you are not a bloody-minded, racist bigot quite like a belief in a rousing conspiracy. Yes, those evil 'ragheads' ARE out to get you! They must be, or there is less reason to hold a bad opinion of them as a group instead of viewing them as individuals. You need a pretext to justify hatred and contempt, or whatever your particular expression of racism might be.

Apparently my friend and conservative pundit, blogger, and radio talk show host, Mitch Berg of Shot in the Dark is unaware that his fellow right-wingers had previously used the term well before SC state senator Knotts. For example, prominent right-wing figure Ann Coulter used it this way when she spoke at CPAC, the CONSERVATIVE POLITIAL ACTION CONFERENCE, “I think our motto should be post-9-11, ‘raghead talks tough, raghead faces consequences.’”

Perhaps I simply missed the right's outrage at Ms. Coulter's racist slurs, unlike the outrage expressed from both the political right and left to state Senator Knotts? I cite it here to demonstrate the term is not unique to Knotts on the right, and to demonstrate it has been used before - in Coulter's case, prominently. The use is not isolated.

Naturally, neither Coulter nor Knotts see themselves as racist. They see that use of language to make a point, or to be funny, not as an expression of (gasp) racism. Not them, not ever, it is not possible they could be racist. Racist is what other people are who don't agree with you - never you, yourself. Those people who are offended should stop playing the race card, and quit maligning good funny, articulate people so very unfairly. Shame on them!

Then we have Rush Limbaugh, a Jake Knotts look-alike, another noted figure of right-wing politics. Rush has made entire collections of people's favorite 'tops' lists of racist comments, with statements like this one from his radio program, January 19, 2007:
"Look, let me put it to you this way: the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it."

Apparently Rush in this quote is equating black Americans not just with criminal activity but with gang violence. The "there, I said it" part of his statement suggests he had been holding back what he really wanted to say, what he had really thought, for some time before giving in to the temptation to speak his mind.

That was from the most recent decade, then we have the earlier racist comment:
"Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?"

and his even earlier comment from the 1970's, under his radio name, Jeff Christie:
"Take that bone out of your nose and call me back."

Martin Luther King, Jr., eloquently defined racism as making assumptions, particularly negative or derogatory assumptions, on the basis of external appearance, or ethnic or racial background, with his famous words, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Perhaps King should have added, "or traditional, ethnic head wear" after 'color of their skins'.

By that definition, Rush is a flaming racist, as illustrated by his scores of racially insensitive and demeaning comments, not just one, as are those who take pleasure in his pronouncements instead of being offended by them.

The racism of "Raghead" was not the only recent instance of racism from the right - where else would you expect it from, besides from former-heart-of-the-civil-war South Carolina, but from an old conservative in Arizona.

Prescott, Arizona city councilman and (what else?) conservative politics local talk show host, Steve Blair was fired from a Fox radio affiliate, over a recent K-5 school mural controversy. Blair made disparaging comments in objecting to a mural portraying students on the outside of Miller School. There is an attempt by members of the community, including parents of students attending the school, some of whom are portrayed in the mural, to recall Blair in the upcoming November elections.

In recent statements, Lou Silverstein, owner of radio station KYCA where Blair had hosted his talk show said, "Maybe it could be a learning experience, Steve Blair is not a racist; he's a good guy. But, sometimes, he just puts his foot in his mouth." Silverstein went on to say that he fired Blair because his comments "could be interpreted as racist." Silverstein himself wasn't apparently bothered by the racist content; he was just worried what other people might think. There is not a lot of quality of character in that action.

You know, like the comments made by another broadcaster on his KYCA station, Rush Limbaugh. I'm sure that Mr. Silverstein doesn't believe that Limbaugh or Jake Knotts or Ann Coulter could be racist either, because they are good conservative men - and woman. I wouldn't use the word lady to describe a woman as crude and offensive as Ann Coulter has chosen to be.

I shudder to contemplate what kind of comments, and from whom, would be recognized and acknowledged by any of these individuals as racism. I'm guessing that wouldn't be something they would see in a fellow-conservative/tea party supporter/Republican.

Let me be clear, I do not believe all conservatives are racist, nor do I believe that anyone of any political position is inherently free from racism just because of their politics. To claim that no conservative involved in politics is racist, either in elective office or political commentary, be it at the local or state level, or on the national stage, is pure bull. It is a statement that deserves to be challenged, and to be challenged hard.

These were not one-time statements; in each case they were part of a pattern of statements. Blair lost his broadcasting job for having drawn too much of the wrong kind of attention, not because he offended his boss. Knotts has lost his access to the little local internet radio show, "Pub Politics" for similar reasons, although his views also are less congruent with the pub's owner in his case. Coulter and Limbaugh continue to have wide public access, through radio and cable programming, and have achieved the kind of supportive following for their racist and other offensive comments that make them proof against being fired. There appears to be no statement so hateful they cannot only survive, but thrive from it.

We must support freedom of speech, even hateful and offensive speech. But we do not in the course of permitting that speech need to reward it, or accept the message, nor should we. It is important to identify it, and to challenge it. Hang it on the wall, for everyone to see, not unlike the inspirational public art on the side of the school in Arizona. Scrutiny, public attention, is what is most effective in ending the underlying sentiments of racism, not just the outward expression of them.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A New Kind of Mousetrap

A week ago the members of the Israeli armed forces stormed aboard a Turkish flagged ship attempting to bring ashore supplies to Gaza in defiance of an Israeli blockade. This blockade has been in place since 2008 when Israel sent troops and tanks into Gaza in search of military armaments and those who would use them on Israel.

This blockade, though, in addition to seeking to prevent military equipment or the rudiments to make military equipment from reaching the Hamas-lead 'government' in Gaza or any rebels in Gaza, also has sought to prevent basic humanitarian supplies, such as building supplies needed to repair homes destroyed by the Israeli invasion, or food necessary to feed the populace. The idea has been that such things as dates or drywall could in fact be traded on the black market for armaments. In this, they (the Israelis) may not be wrong.

However, in Turkey, Israel has had its strongest Muslim ally for many years. In Turkey, with US support, Israel has avoided taking on a Muslim nation fully capable of meeting Israel on more than equal military terms. Frankly, from a 10,000 foot view, their air forces seem to be near peers, while the Turkish army and navy are far more than a match for Israel's counterpart. While Turkey would have to go through Syria (and Lebanon) to get to Israel by land, it is not too remote a possibility Syria might allow it. Lebanon has no ability to resist or object.

In the past, Turkey has been a broker of compromise between Syria and Israel. In the past, Turkey has been much more secular as well. However, during the Bush years, Turkey was routinely snubbed by the US after they declined to be more supportive of Bush's invasion of Iraq. As well, that invasion helped to launch a pro-Islamic fundamentalist government which took power in 2008. On Sunday, Turkey issued the first of what are likely to be many changes to this relationship when they rescinded their offer to provide military protection for Israel.

In truth, I don't believe the Turkish government was looking for this outcome. Creating an unstable middle-east situation is not beneficial to Turkey's desire to become part of the European Union. They are seen as a key player in keeping that tenuous situation from devolving further. However, I do believe that they felt the oft-inhumane nature of the Israeli blockade needed to be illustrated for the world and I do believe they wanted to provide a challenge to it, albeit almost certainly with a more peaceful outcome than was seen.

What this points to is the law of unintended consequences on all sides when we start being intractable, rather than responsible, namely:

George Bush, as colossal a screw-up on the world stage as we've seen in a very VERY long time, was so interested in invading Iraq, that he trampled on relationships which had other, very meaningful uses and the destruction of which had other, very serious (and negative) consequences.

The US (under Bush), in an attempt to help deal with Hamas and Hezbollah, invaded Iraq, in part to help protect Israel. The effect of that invasion has had the exact OPPOSITE effect. Iran is more powerful, and Hamas at least is certainly more politically protected as a result of the ill-advised invasion of Lebanon Israel undertook in 2006.

Turkey, in an attempt by the fundamentalists to expose the plight of Palestinians, kicked a tiger (Israel) - so profoundly ready to engage in military action that military action is mostly all they know, and probably Turkey was surprised by the virulent nature of the Israeli reply.

Israel, due to xenophobic, extremist (totalitarian) right-wing governments (one after another), reacted exactly wrongly to the challenge. Rather than waiting until any relief vessels were in Israeli waters, and rather than simply impounding the boats and releasing any supplies they could while justifying those they couldn't, decided, as they have for 30 years, that massive retaliation was justified. There was a French village exterminated in WWII when a German general was killed by the French resistance. That act was deemed a war crime, and those who perpetrated it were prosecuted after the end of the war. When Israel takes this kind of action today, such as invading Gaza and knocking down buildings because rockets which did minimal damage fell on Israel, the interpretation by the rest of the world is that Israel is using hammers to kill ants. We find such conduct to be unethical when it is done by governments we don't like, why would we, for that matter given Israel's origin, why would Israel, want to be seen as the brutal, dictatorial state?

The winner in all this truly is Hamas and organizations like them - meaning pro-Islamic fundamentalist movements. They are looking to mouse-trap Israel, and in part Turkey, into a confrontation. They maneuvered Turkey into confronting Israel, and have a government which will support them now after Israel's stupidity. We may be in a position where Turkey will confront Israel militarily. Such a confrontation would be disastrous for Israel certainly. It would also be disastrous for the United States, we would be made to look the fools for backing a nation which cannot/will not conduct itself in a humane way - an utter irony given the treatment many of their oldest generation suffered.

If we are to be Israel's closest friend, its best ally, we must give them some hard and straight advice. A good friend doesn't tell a friend they don't have warts ever, they tell them about their warts and help them to manage them. We do no favors for Israel when we fail to remind them that in 50 years they have to face the problems they create today. We do them no favors by not telling them that military solutions to political problems are virtually guaranteed to fail. Israel must start planning today for a world in which their neighbors have nuclear weapons, more military might, and more economic might than they have. If they continue down the path of thinking only about next week, then they will have been mouse-trapped by clever, determined foes (like Hamas) into slitting their own throat. Hamas will simply have given them the knife. They won't even need to wield it.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Please join our blog Penigma in remembering D-Day June 6, 1944, 6:30 AM.

One of the most pivotal dates in the history of WW II, the invasion of Normandy was a massive coordinated allied forces effort, involving air, sea, land, and resistance forces.

In appreciation of this historic date, and in recognition of the importance of learning the lessons of history, please join us in honoring those who participated, altering the course of history, and benefitting those who came after them.


Please also try to spend a few moments when you can in learning more about these momentous historic events.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

What Are They Thinking, What Are They Drinking?

Some things leave me at a relative loss for words.

For those who tease me about writing posts that are too long.......


I have always found it preferable to focus on the common ground, the similarities, between people who are from different cultures, different religions, different parts of the world.

This.......was one of those instances where the gap was too large to bridge.

The notion that fundamentalists Wahhabist clergy would be arguing over the relative merits of adult men drinking women's breast milk, quibbling over using a glass, versus drinking it directly from a woman's breast, where practice prohibits a man so much as shaking the hand of a woman, boggled my mind.


That this controversy comes at a time when drinking raw, unpasteurized cow's milk has resulted in five illnesses from e. coli here in Minnesota, and the outburst from the believers in the dubious and unproven benefits of raw milk, along with comparisons between raw milk, processed milk, and breast milk adds a certain poignancy.

Truth really IS stranger than fiction.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Coal Cruel World - part II, Two Months After the Explosion

"Every social injustice is not only cruel, but it is economic waste."
William Feather

American Publisher and Author
1889 - 1981

In an NPR interview on 'Morning Edition' on May 27th, Frank Langfitt spoke with miners, former miners, and federal Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors who told story after story of their experiences with the Massey Energy mine that was the site of a deadly explosion on April 5th, 2010.

Miners and inspectors described chronic failures by Massey management not only to practice the required safety measures in the Upper Big Branch mine, but to attempt to deceive safety inspectors about compliance. In the interview miner Gary Quarles made the statement to a House of Representatives hearing on the disaster, "When an MSHA inspector comes onto a Massey mine property, the code word goes out, 'We've got a man on the property'".

Quarles son died in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, one of the 29 miners to do so.

Former Massey miner, Mike Shull, told a similar story about responding to the inspector alerts by fixing violations, and complying with regulations just ahead of the inspectors. Shull described the leisurely response to inspection warnings: "You probably had an hour and 15 minutes to get ready, so we didn't move at no fast pace.[We]Just got things legal."

Another miner from Massey, Ron Flutey, Jr., described routine failures to hang the plastic curtains that were important to prevent coal dust circulating, which was important both to prevent explosions, and to prevent miners contracting black lung. In Fluty's vernacular speech, he said, "Usually didn't never hang no curtain unless somebody showed up".

Massey claims it cooperates with the government inspections; perhaps they have drastically different definitions of regulatory compliance. CEO Blankenship told senators in another hearing that Massey didn't put profit over safety, and "doesn't tolerate reckless behavior".

Statements from miners and inspectors would suggest they don't tolerate it, they require it.

Blankenship's claims didn't prevent a recent discovery by inspectors who prevented the alerting of mine staff, a discovery of miners who were not ventilating mines in violation of safety standards. Blankenship indicated those miners were fired. More likely the miners were being scapegoated, being blamed for carrying out the orders of management, with Blankenship claiming innocence, and ignorance of the violations.

As a result of the recent disaster, miners now have begun tipping off inspectors about violations. MSHA coal inspector Kevin Stricklin describes the new 'blitz' of inspections, "We captured the phone and we went underground and unfortunately in all three of these cases, we found the anonymous tips were true".

Blankenship claims Massey only hires miners who have the right attitude about safety. That would be in obvious contradiction to their safety record, and to the findings of inspectors once the 'alert' process used by Massey to circumvent useful safety inspections is disrupted.

It is useful to ask the question why would miners opt to avoid safety measures that are intended to keep them healthy and alive? Who would benefit from that? Massey would benefit by saving time and money not complying, putting greater coal production and profits ahead of lives.

To quote Inspector Ken Stricklin, speculating on why the miners would go along with the failure to follow safety regulations, "I think some of them must do it because they fear they won't have a job".

Another inspector, Terry Scarboro, who had inspected mines for 14 years, including Upper Big Branch and other Massey mines, made this statement, "Is there any way Don Blankenship doesn't know this is going on? No, there's no way. He knows it's going on. All management knows it's going on and the employees are guilty and they know it's going on."

Scarboro went on to describe the inspection policy of Massey and some other mine operators, "It's a cat and mouse game. You catch me, I'll fix it. If I can get ahead of you and fix it before you catch it, then you didn't see it."

In this cat and mouse game, apparently there are some rats, at least one 'big cheese', and 29 dead miners who got caught in the trap of this mining disaster.

Between June 2006 and the April 5th, 2010, the date of the disaster, the Upper Big Branch mine had over 500 citations for safety violations. Those would be the violations they were unsuccessful in hiding from inspectors. Of the 500, 300 were in the most serious category "significant and substantial". Of those 300 most serious safety citations, approximately 100 claim high negligence or reckless disregard for safety standards.

Earlier this week, the first attempt to inspect the mine by the civil and criminal investigations took place. The inspection was covered by the Beckley, West Virginia Register-Herald : www.herald-register.com/todaysfrontpage/x1358969217/Dangerous-gases-delay-mine-teams-at-Upper-Big-Branch

The FBI is conducting the criminal investigation looking into alleged "willful criminal activity" by the mines operators, directors, officers and agents, and includes possible bribing of inspectors. Presumably we may assume that bribery would be by the mine operators, and not the miners whose lives are protected by safety regulation. I'm waiting for CEO Blankenship to deny knowledge of that too, if the proof emerges of bribery, and then to fire somebody lower down as the next scapegoat.

Just as some companies have proven 'too big to fail', I'm waiting to see if Blankenship is 'too big' to jail, as a result of the criminal investigation and any subsequent prosecution. Blankenship seems to be positioning himself for denial of responsibility. With a big money political spending guy like Blankenship, the buck appears to only stop with him when it hits his bank account.