Friday, June 29, 2007

Blaming Cheney

An editorial in today’s Quad-City Times makes the case that Vice President Dick Cheney poses the biggest threat to our democracy and is responsible for the disaster that the invasion and occupation of Iraq has become.
Within days after 9/11, Vice President Dick Cheney was engineering a drastic revision of U.S. law that caught then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security advisor Condoleeza Rice by surprise. Cheney convinced the president to sign an executive order that would treat prisoners in the war on terror in ways our soldiers, our justice system and our Constitution never fathomed. The order authored by Cheney allowed prisoners to be held indefinitely without charges, without due process and not even the most fundamental American right of habeus corpus: A formal presentation of the accused to some court, any court, before she or he is locked away.

Now it becomes clear that our nation’s poor results in this war aren’t in spite of Cheney’s behind-the-scenes manipulation. It is because of them. By short-circuiting Powell, Rice and the entire process of advising the president, Cheney pursued reckless, unsustainable strategies that faced no internal scrutiny by generals, diplomats and intelligence officers who might have helped.

Of course, these policies also faced little external scrutiny by media such as the Quad-City Times until, belatedly, now. Obviously not just the Quad-City Times but most Americans are complicit in these crimes, if only by their silence. If a scapegoat is required on which complicit Americans can project their own blame so that they can now oppose these policies and actions, start correcting these mistakes and reclaim our country and its good name I can think of no one more deserving for this role than Dick Cheney.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

illegal pork processing in Beijing

One thing we bloggers like to do is see how people who read our blogs came to our site – what link they clicked or what words they searched on to find us. It turns out that someone just visited this blog after typing the phrase “illegal pork processing in Beijing” into AOL search. Although I have never addressed the issues of illegal pork processing or pork processing in Beijing and certainly not illegal pork processing in Beijing apparently I have come closer to doing so than anyone else on the web since my blog came up first in the AOL search on that phrase. Google also lists this blog first when you type that phrase into their search. Yahoo search, however, did not list this blog at all (or at least within the first 150 listed sites, after which I got tired of scrolling).

If anyone knows anything about illegal pork processing in Beijing be sure to pass it on to me. I need to post it here because people are apparently already coming here looking for it and I would hate to disappoint them.

The High Cost of Legalized Gambling

Once again we are reading in the newspaper about a trusted person in our community whom we have just discovered to have been stealing public funds entrusted to them because they had become addicted to gambling on the riverboat casinos. Once again it appears likely that this is someone who would never have committed a crime or broken anyone’s trust in them if we had not brought legalized gambling to this community.

This case and so many similar previous cases of embezzlement show clearly that the supposed benefits of legalized gambling -- the jobs, the tourist dollars and the grants from the casinos to local groups – come at a very high cost indeed. And besides, those benefits are not all they are cracked up to be and a lot less than was promised. The jobs are mostly transfers from businesses that closed because of competition from the casinos. Many of the closed businesses were locally owned with their profits staying here. The casinos are not locally owned and their profits leave the area. The tourists coming to the casinos do not come from very far away and they mostly do not patronize other businesses while they are here.

The next time you read a newspaper story or see a television news story talking about the jobs the casinos have brought or the grants awarded without mentioning the high cost we pay for legalized gambling in ruined lives and broken trust, as those stories never do, I suggest you do what I have been doing. Supply the missing balance to the story by shouting at the top of your lungs “BUT AT WHAT COST?”

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How do Americans feel about illegal immigrants?

I just received the following message as part of an email from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC):

We have some timely news to share with you. For the past few weeks, AFSC has been conducting the a large, independent study on the U.S. public’s views on immigration issues, and now the results are in. Here are a few key findings:

* The U.S. public strongly supports the idea that “keeping families together should be a priority in our immigration policies”

* The public believes that the broken, outdated immigration system needs fixing, but that more border fences and scapegoating are not the answers.

* Two-thirds of the public supports a legal path to permanent residency and eventual citizenship for all undocumented immigrants who have built a life in this country.

AFSC’s National Immigration Opinion Survey shows that the majority of the public supports more humane and less punitive measures than currently appear in the Senate bill.

Two out of every three Americans think that immigrants who have been working and putting down roots in our communities should not have to live in fear of at any moment being arrested and summarily deported. Two out of every three Americans think it is wrong to have 12 million people among us working and paying taxes but without any rights, vulnerable to exploitation.

Why is the less than one third of Americans who oppose giving legal status to illegal immigrants so much more vocal than the two thirds who support it? If you believe in a compassionate, caring America, rather than a punitive, vindictive one, you need to speak up.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

How much Spanish do you know?

Just by living in America you have probably picked up more Spanish than you realize. How many of the following 20 Spanish words or phrases can you match with their English equivalents?

1. CasaA. Miss
2. Hasta La VistaB. Hat
3. AdiosC. Good Day
4. GraciasD. Information
5. UnoE. House
6. HombreF. Thank you
7. DosG. Mister
8. SenoritaH. Five
9. SenorI. Good evening
10. TresJ. See ya later
11. SiestaK. Man
12. CuatroL. Afternoon nap
13. SombreroM. The child
14. CincoN. Water
15. El NinoO. Good-bye
16 MaήanaP. Two
17. Buenos diasQ. Four
18. Buenas nochesR. Tomorrow
19. AguaS. One
20. InformacionT. Three

Correct Answers
1E, 2J, 3O, 4F, 5S, 6K, 7P, 8A, 9G, 10T, 11L, 12Q, 13B, 14H, 15M, 16R, 17C, 18I, 19N, 20D

Leave a comment with your score and how you would have described your knowledge of Spanish before taking this test.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Dial 1 for English

Even if you do not usually listen to talk radio or read the right-wing blogs you are probably aware that a certain very vocal segment of the American population has been venting their displeasure that they have to confront on a daily basis the reality that not everyone in America is fluent in English. “Why should I have to dial 1 for English,” is a currently popular rallying cry on talk radio and in the right wing blogosphere.

To some extent we can decide how we react to ideas with which we do not agree. I have decided to try to be sympathetic to those who think Americans should never have to answer the question “Do you want to speak to me in English?” Pollsters tell us that sentiments such as this are strongly correlated with levels of education. The more educated you are the more likely you are to be pleased rather than alarmed at the presence in your community of people with different cultures, languages and traditions. Those of us who view the opportunity to learn new things with pleasure should feel sympathy towards those who react to those same opportunities with panic and fear. Perhaps they, through no fault of their own, did not have the same opportunities we did to further their education.

Pollsters and political experts also tell us that if you, like me, wish to see Democratic Party candidates elected to office then the current xenophobic frenzy in the Republican Party base is a godsend. Candidates who expressed extreme anti-immigrant views did not do well in the general election in 2006 and probably will not do well in the 2008 election. If the Republican base insists on only voting in the primaries for candidates who support George W. Bush’s foreign policy and oppose his immigration policy this could create a perfect storm that will virtually sweep Republicans from power for a generation. Every dark cloud has a silver lining.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Luz Maria's Story

A comment in response to my previous blog entry accused illegal immigrants of thumbing their noses at us in arrogance as they crossed the border into the United States from Mexico. I asked someone I know who speaks Spanish and has been helping recent immigrants as a volunteer with Casa Guanajuato to answer that accusation by relating one illegal immigrant’s story. This is what Connie wrote:

I met Luz Maria when an overworked caseworker at DCFS [Department of Children and Family Services, the Illinois agency charged with helping children at risk] asked me to help her. She had four kids and one on the way. She spoke only Spanish. She had lost her industrial cleaning job and her boyfriend had left her. The landlord wanted her out. Her kids were bright and beautiful. I immediately liked Luz Maria. She was a very sweet person, a loving mother, very undemanding and very grateful for small things with a self depreciating sense of humor. With my husband’s permission, we took Luz Maria and the kids into our home. We were bracing for some inconveniences of having another family living with us, but we were pleasantly surprised. The children were very well behaved. They were used to looking out for each other and were very protective of their little brother Alex. They all spoke English very well and they were full of questions and enjoyed talking to adults. Luz Maria immediately began cleaning the house and cooking for everyone. When I told her that she didn’t have to do that, she said she needed to give back something in return for the kindness.

I took Luz Maria to the Health Dept. to sign up for a program for pregnant women and new born babies. There, they gave her coupons for milk. She got teary eyed and told me that in Mexico she had to beg for milk when her other kids were babies. Her own family could not help her as they had only enough for their own children. Her children often went hungry. She had had her older kids at home because in Mexico, if you don’t have money, they don’t let you into the hospital.

Luz Maria told me that she had been in the U.S. for five years. She had crossed the boarder near Laredo Texas. She told me that it was a grueling journey crossing the river and walking and running in the desert. They passed a few dead bodies along the way. I asked her why she would risk her life, and the lives of her children. She told me that she was escaping an abusive relationship with her husband. Her father and her brothers saved up the money to pay a “coyote” to get her safely to the U.S. At that time she had a brother who lived in Moline. He has since passed away. Her son Alex was named after his Uncle Alejandro.

Alejandro got her in at a job cleaning a meat processing plant at night. So she would put the kids to bed and go to work cleaning amid hot steamy water and chlorine based chemicals, cleaning the blood and guts and fecal matter off the machinery and slippery floors of the meat processing plant. That’s where she met little Alex’s father. A man she later found out was married. She broke up with him and got another cleaning job at a meat processing plant farther away. That’s where she met Moises.

Moises was a nice, quiet, steady guy, and he said he would take care of her and her children. When Moise’s mother got ill in Mexico, he had to leave Luz Maria, telling her that if he could make it back to her, he would. He paid for a month’s rent and left. Shortly after that is when I met Luz Maria and her children.

After Luz Maria had her baby, Christina, she went back to work and got an apartment. A year later, Moises finally came back. With Moises back with the family Luz Maria no longer needed my assistance and she is now just a friend. Moises heard about a better paying job in Kentucky and the family moved there. When I last talked to them they were doing very well and were saving money in hopes of having their own home and business someday.

Does Luz Maria sound arrogant to you? Economists tell us that illegal immigrants contribute far more to our economy and prosperity then they take in services. They have very little compared to most Americans and yet they feel fortunate for what they have because it is more than they would have back in the country from which they came.

If you get a chance to meet an illegal immigrant and hear their story you should do so. As you listen to them you will start to see this country through their eyes and gain a new appreciation of it.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Canadian immigrants

People who think immigrants are ruining our country and advocate stricter border security often claim that these are not racist or xenophobic concerns. But their focus on our border with Mexico, rather than the much less defended Canadian border, as the place where security needs to be tightened and their descriptions of non-English speaking immigrants as the ones whose lack of assimilation is changing America in undesirable ways seems mighty suspicious. Surely if you were concerned about immigrants not assimilating into America in a non-racist and non-xenophobic way you would be just as concerned about the possibility of an English-speaking Canadian immigrant still being a Canadian in her/his heart, waving the Maple Leaf and celebrating Canadian holidays as you are about Mexican immigrants waving the Mexican flag and celebrating Cinco de Mayo.

Why is no one concerned about America being infilitrated by Canadians? Why isn’t this story getting more media play?

The California Republican Party has decided no American is qualified to take one of its most crucial positions -- state deputy political director -- and has hired a Canadian for the job through a coveted H-1B visa, a program favored by Silicon Valley tech firms that is under fire for displacing skilled American workers.

Christopher Matthews, 35, a Canadian citizen, has worked for the state GOP as a campaign consultant since 2004. But he recently was hired as full-time deputy political director, with responsibility for handling campaign operations and information technology for the country's largest state Republican Party operation, California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring confirmed in a telephone interview this week.

In the nation's most populous state -- which has produced a roster of nationally known veteran political consultants -- "it's insulting but also embarrassing ... to bring people from the outside who don't know the difference between Lodi and Lancaster ... and who can't even vote," said Karen Hanretty, a political commentator and former state GOP party spokeswoman.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Immigration Bill that would not die

It appears that the rumors of the death of the Immigration Bill were exaggerated. It is coming back. The Senate leadership has agreed to reschedule the bill, something they would only do if they had some reason to believe that some Senators who had voted against the bill last week were going to change their vote. Apparently some of those who voted against the bill because there was so much public pressure against it have had second thoughts and are now going to side with the business interests and their own long-term career interests and against the strong passions of their party’s voter base.

This might be a good time for those members of the public who have been opposing the bill and creating such a public furor that they got ¾ of the Republican Senators to vote against it to think about the implications of the brevity of their victory. If you create a big enough noise you can influence some votes in the short term, while passions are high and people and the media are paying attention, but over the long haul the money interests and the professional interests of the party insiders are going to win out against public pressure and voter opinion every time.

Republicans who have been opposing this bill might want to ask themselves why they ever felt they belonged in the same political party with the business people who have such different priorities and are undermining all their efforts. Your supposed common cause with these people has been a mirage. What are you going to do now?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Who do we include in our community

Although Americans are currently politically polarized and divided on many issues the belief that the children in our community should be educated at public expense so that all are educated is one thing we all seem agree on. As proof of that check out this opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times that advocates closing the public schools.

link to article

The author, Jonah Goldberg, is not questioning the value of education. Mr. Goldberg argues that educating all the children is so important that it should not be done by the government, which he feels is inherently incompetent in everything it does, but by the private sector. He advocates the government cutting checks (apparently something he trusts the government to do well) for every child which would be used to pay for education provided by the private sector.

So, rather than public schools which accept all children, no questions asked, we would have a system in which a child is only provided an education if the parents are on a government list of some sort – the list from which the checks are printed. We don’t know if Mr. Goldberg sees it as a plus or minus that his system would not educate all of the children that the current system does since he does not discuss this

Local blogger, thescoundrel, in comments posted in response to my previous entry advocated not educating children of illegal immigrants. What Mr. Goldberg and thescoundrel seem to be working toward is a change in our definition of community. They think we are making a mistake to include everyone who lives and works here in our community – the community of people whose children we educate, the community of people we consider Americans, the people we consider "like us". They say this not racism or xenophobia and perhaps it is not. But it sure does not seem moral or ethical or right to me.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Teaching English as a Second Language

It is somewhat amazing when you think about it that in the United States of America we provide free public education to all the children in our community, no questions asked. Although providing that education consumes a sizeable percentage of all the tax money collected on the local level I have never heard anyone suggest that we stop doing it. No one talks about how much lower their taxes would be if free public education were eliminated.

We don’t think of the money we spend on education as charity. We are sold on the concept that it benefits us all to provide education to all. We do not even balk at spending more for educating “special needs” children. On what basis could we object to the costs required for any particular child once we have accepted the general concept of educating all the children? If someone were to claim that so much was being spent on Special Education that it was impacting the quality of education provided to the other students we would probably say, “well, we just need to come up with more money, then.”

But something about illegal immigrants upsets some people so much that they resent the money spent to educate “those” children, Here are some of the comments posted online to a Moline Dispatch/Rock Island Argus article about East Moline schools hiring bilingual staff to better meet the needs of students for whom English is not spoken at home:
This is an English speaking nation and I resent my tax dollar being spent on instructing anyone who don`t bother trying to learn the language of my country. Press one for English--press two for instruction on leaving the country until you do.

I have to say that I strongly resent the expansion of the ESL program, not because I hate children or can't stand immigrants, but because in an increasingly competitive world, our children are being left in a cloud of dust by an uncontrolled stampede of illegal immigration.

I don't believe my taxes should be paid just to educate my child, I do, however, believe that when it comes time for my child to receive their education I should be able to expect a sound, solid base. This cannot happen with limited resources (tax dollars) being stretched beyond capacity.

The bright children are left without challenge. More and more "gifted" programs are cut, while we spend our tax dollars on teaching basics like speaking English, and often to those who are here illegally or not paying taxes.
It is simply a matter of equity and sound governance, not a matter of racism. As we shift our resources from teaching science, math, arts, and music to programs teaching simple communication, we lower the level of education for all.

Of course, illegal immigrants do pay taxes. When it comes to the property and sales taxes that pay for education they pay just as much as anyone else. But that is beside the point. Our commitment to educating all the children is not based on how much the student’s parents have paid in taxes.

Why do these people resent the cost of educating these “special needs” children while not objecting to other “special needs” students? I think the people making these comments see illegal immigrants as “the other”, not like us, not part of our community. It is not inevitable that this would be so. Almost all the illegal immigrants came here for the kinds of reasons Americans normally approve of and identify with. They came here looking for work so that they could provide for their families. They heard there were jobs here and they came looking for work, not a handout. They do not qualify for food stamps, Medicaid or Section 8 housing.

Judging from the comments it seems the main reason they are seen as “the other” is because they do not speak English. It is not obvious why that should put them beyond the pale. My paternal grandmother’s parents and grandparents came as immigrants to this country from Schleswig-Holstein, in what is now Germany. My great-great-grandparents came to this country as adults and although they picked up some English they always spoke German at home. My great-grandparents learned English as a second language in school. I suspect that many of those posting those intolerant comments also have immigrant ancestors who learned English in school as a second language.

Friday, June 08, 2007

We learned everything we know about elections in high school

Reporters and editors for the corporate media apparently learned everything they felt they needed to know about covering election campaigns in high school. In high school elections the only basis on which to choose between candidates are personality, appearance, poise, confidence, speaking style and (less often) debating skill. High school teachers and administrators invariably say that the experience of deciding for whom to vote in a school election should be used as training for participating in our national democracy as adults.

This message, that when choosing a president or Congressperson we should make the decision on the basis of the image the candidate’s campaign has presented, is apparently one that the reporters and editors for the main-stream corporate media have taken to heart. Besides, it is much easier to simply report what the candidates are saying, how they appear and speak and the image that the campaigns are presenting than to do investigative reporting. Actually doing some research and reporting whether what the candidates are claiming is true or not is a lot of work, Besides, investigative reporters who take their journalistic responsibilities seriously are often criticized as being biased by the supporters of the candidates whose lies they have exposed.

For example, in the Republican candidates debate last Tuesday, asked whether we should have invaded Iraq, Mitt Romney said that war could only have been avoided if Saddam “had opened up his country to I.A.E.A. inspectors, and they’d come in and they’d found that there were no weapons of mass destruction.” He dismissed this as an “unreasonable hypothetical.”

That, of course, is not how it happened at all. Saddam Hussein did allow the inspectors in. Remember Hans Blix? Remember how he did not find any weapons of mass destruction and was asking for more time to complete his inspections. President Bush was the one who ordered the inspectors out so that we could invade. You can look it up. If you did you would be a better journalist than most of the people who covered the debate. I could not find any report in the main-stream media that provided any fact-checking for any of the candidates’ statements, including Mitt Romney’s revisionist history.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Assassinations as official policy

I was watching the debate this evening between the Democratic presidential candidates when Dennis Kucinich was asked if he would approve an operation to “take out” Osama bin Laden which would result in the death of a few innocents. He said that he would not because rather than assassinating people we should seek to arrest people who have violated international law and put them on trial. Senator Obama said that since we were at war he would approve such an action and Senator Clinton and several others also raised their hands if favor of such an operation.

Exactly when did the idea that the United States should abide by the rule of law and not be assassinating people become a fringe left-wing position? When did extra-legal assassinations as official US policy become a main-stream, middle-of-the-road stance?

Great Blue Heron

Resting Crane, originally uploaded by K.J McDonnell.

This photo was just uploaded to flickr by K.J.McDonnell of Muscatine, Iowa. On my bike ride Saturday along the Mississippi River I saw 6 herons which looked very similar to the one in the photo, but was not able to get a good photo of any of them because they flew off whenever I stopped my bike.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Our macho State Senator

The governor’s office is denying it but judging from all the evidence it does seem likely to me that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich threatened to withhold $75 million needed for Western Illinois University’s Quad-Cities campus unless our state senator, Mike Jacobs, voted for the Governor’s universal health care plan. Read more about it in the Dispatch/Argus. A wimpier politician than Mike Jacobs probably would have felt that it would be better for his district as well as his own career not to create a public feud with the governor by calling a press conference and creating a public uproar. If the governor decides to punish Mike Jacobs this part of Illinois has more to lose than just the $75 million for the WIU – Moline campus.

But, just as fish have got to swim and birds have to fly Mike Jacobs cannot back down from a bar fight when he feels he has been challenged. Although the people of north-western Illinois did not actually pick Mike Jacobs to be our state senator from among a crowded field of candidates (he was initially appointed to the position when his father retired) he is the only state senator we have. I suggest we make the best of it by taking whatever satisfaction we can from the thought that our senator cannot be intimidated.

Friday, June 01, 2007

State Senator Mike Jacobs stands up to the Governor

Bethany Carson at the Illinoize blog writes about our State Senator Mike Jacobs causing a stir in Springfield.
Jacobs’ fellow Democrats tried twice to pull him away from the microphones in the Senate press box Friday afternoon.

Read the whole story

Bill O'Reilly: immigration is changing the complexion of America

I read this transcript from the May 29 edition of Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly on the Media Matters website: Bill O’Reilly is speaking:
On the other side, you have people who hate America, and they hate it because it's run primarily by white, Christian men. Let me repeat that. America is run primarily by white, Christian men, and there is a segment of our population who hates that, despises that power structure. So they, under the guise of being compassionate, want to flood the country with foreign nationals, unlimited, unlimited, to change the complexion -- pardon the pun -- of America. Now, that's hatred, too.

It is clear from that quote that, in Bill O’Reilly’s mind, the most important thing to know about immigrants are whether or not they are white. One would almost be tempted to suspect that Bill O’Reilly fears that whatever success he has achieved was only possible because he is a white Christian man in a majority white Christian nation. He seems to be projecting his own fears onto others so that in his mind people advocating immigration reform are primarily motivated by a desire to take power away from Bill O’Reilly.