Sunday, December 27, 2009

What lessons should be taken from Nativity story?

In this morning's Moline Dispatch newspaper columnist Scott Reeder opines that the National Association of Latino Elected Officials must not know the Bible as well as he does. The group is trying to encourage immigrants to participate in the 2010 census and are distributing posters to evangelical churches serving immigrants that say

Joseph and Mary Participated in the Census, Don't be afraid.
Mr. Reeder feels that only someone with knowledge of the Bible inferior to his own would suggest such a thing.

Let's recap the Bible story.

Joseph took a very pregnant Mary on a 120-mile journey to Bethlehem to register for the census because an evil emperor named Caesar Augustus didn't give his subjects a choice. He wanted to count them so he could tax them.

His underling, King Herod, was so angry about Christ's birth that he ordered all the boys under the age of 2 in Bethlehem murdered. Mary and Joesph along with the baby Jesus were forced to flee across the border to Egypt and hide.

And this Bible story is supposed to encourage new immigrants to trust their government and participate in the Census?

Someone needs to brush up on their Bible.

Mr. Reeder seems to think that the only lesson this story offers is that immigrants should fear the government and that participating in the census will put them in danger. But in this story the immigrant child whose parents were participating in the census was kept safe by the forces of good in the world. Most likely almost all the children killed in the Slaughter of the Innocents were not new immigrants but were natives of Bethlehem whose families had been there for generations.

Just who has either not understood this story or twisted its meaning to support political goals -- the group of Latino politicians or Mr. Reeder?

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Mavericky Thanksgiving Day Message

A few days ago I asked my father if he shared my growing suspicion that my generation (those of us born after World War II) had really made a mess of things once we got in charge. My father was born in 1923, was 6 years old when the stock market crashed, grew up during the Great Depression and had just started college when the United States declared war on Japan. People of his generation were running the country until around 1992 when Bill Clinton was elected President. My impression was that life had been steadily getting better for most Americans all during the period his generation was in charge and that trend had started to reverse right around the time my generation took over. Was that, I asked him, how he saw it.

No, he said. What really impressed him about the last 20 years was the progress that had been made in regard to race. His generation, he felt, had been an impediment to progress in many ways in racial issues and apparently had to pass from the scene before fundamental progress could be made toward a truly color-blind society.

So that will be my Thanksgiving Day message. I am not sure where our country is going but we are going there more united, at least in terms of race, gender and sexual orientation, than we ever have been before, and for that we should give thanks.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Imaginary dangers

Apparently another way in which conservatives in this country differ from the rest of us is in what they worry about. Here is Congressman John Shadegg, Republican of Arizona, (who had a few days earlier brought a staffer's 7 month old daughter on the House floor with him to use as a prop for a speech) reacting to New York Mayor Bloomberg:
I saw the Mayor of New York said today, "We're tough. We can do it." Well, Mayor, how are you going to feel when it's your daughter that's kidnapped at school by a terrorist? How are you going to feel when it's some clerk -- some innocent clerk of the court -- whose daughter or son is kidnapped? Or the jailer's little brother or little sister? This is political correctness run amok. Link

Terrorists kidnapping children as part of a raid to free jailed comrades? It sounds like a movie plot. When has Al Qaeda or any other real-life Muslim terrorist group operated like that? Al Qaeda targets are always ones that have resonance with the victims of American imperialism -- U.S. battleships and embassies, the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the White House or the Capitol. Although most Muslims around the world oppose acts of terrorist violence they do understand and have some sympathy with the message sent by attacking those targets. What message would be sent by targeting children and who would have sympathy with that message? Americans who worry that terrorist will target the Statue of Liberty, football stadiums or the children of mayors or prison wardens are reacting to terrorist they have dreamed up or seen in movies, not the real-life enemies we actually face.

The more clearly we see a potential danger the more effective we can be in preventing it. Worrying about imaginary dangers is total ineffective in keeping us safe, especially if it causes the warning signs of real dangers to be missed. (Remember President Bush blowing off warnings about Al Qaeda before 9/11 or Katrina before it hit.) I am glad we now have leaders on the national level who appear to be knowledgeable realists with their eyes squarely focused on the world as it exists.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Across the Borderline

Here is a video of the late Willy deVille singing Ry Cooder's song "Across the Borderline." (You may have heard other covers of the song by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Freddy Fender or others.)

Listening to the lyrics makes me realize how deeply American it is for someone to cross the Rio Grande seeking a better life. ... How wierd that some of us, rather than identifying with the immigrants, see them as "the other" and a threat.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Do Conservatives fear the attractiveness of fundamentalist Islam?

Some Conservatives are worried (see here and here) about the world getting a chance to hear what anti-American terrorists have to say. Here is CNN's Wolf Blitzer giving voice to some of those concerns:

One of the arguments against this decision is that it will give these five detainees, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and these four others, a platform, if you will. They will express their Jihadist views. In the process, they will be able to recruit more followers.

Why would Conservatives fear the world hearing what these terrorist defendants have to say? It is almost as if these Conservatives find fundamentalist Islam's ideas, commitment, moral certainty and absolutism more attractive in some respects than the traditional American ideals of democracy, freedom, diversity, choice and the rule of law. Why else would they so fear that when the world hears these ideas they will be seduced into anti-American terrorism? They must not believe that demonstrating our commitment to fair trials, rule of law and justice by publicly giving these criminals their day in court will be seen by the world as more attractive and admirable than terrorist rhetoric. I am starting to suspect that some Conservatives really don't like America very much.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The very "serious" David Brooks

David Brooks' column in this morning's New York Times highlights a key difference between Conservatives and Liberals.

When Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan did that in Fort Hood, Tex., last week, many Americans had an understandable and, in some ways, admirable reaction. They didn’t want the horror to become a pretext for anti-Muslim bigotry.

So immediately the coverage took on a certain cast. The possibility of Islamic extremism was immediately played down. This was an isolated personal breakdown, not an ideological assault, many people emphasized.


The conversation in the first few days after the massacre was well intentioned, but it suggested a willful flight from reality. It ignored the fact that the war narrative of the struggle against Islam is the central feature of American foreign policy. It ignored the fact that this narrative can be embraced by a self-radicalizing individual in the U.S. as much as by groups in Tehran, Gaza or Kandahar.

It denied, before the evidence was in, the possibility of evil. It sought to reduce a heinous act to social maladjustment. It wasn’t the reaction of a morally or politically serious nation.

David Brooks sees viewing Marjor Hasan's murderous rampage as part of a global battle between us and Islam as realistic and "serious," but how realistic, serious and mature is that way of viewing the world? It is particularly troubling that he says the struggle is with Islam itself and not "extremist Islam" or "fundamentalist Islam." Furthermore what course of action does the Conservative view suggest? Measures to reduce the psychological stress on our military of multiple deployments, a course of action suggested by the main-stream way of viewing the tragedy, would be a useless diversion from the fundamental problem according to the Conservatives. It is hard to see how anything other than taking military action against someone or something would be effective when the world is seen in David Brooks' "serious" way.

Update An email I just got from a local conservative alerts me that my sentence structure in the above may have been a little convoluted, making my meaning less than clear, at least to some people. I am very anti-war. I think all the troops should be brought home immediately. The problem with the Conservatives like David Brooks and those who think like him is that viewing the killings at Fort Hood as being part of a global struggle against Islam (rather than viewing it as what happens when soldiers are placed under too much stress) leaves them their only option for trying to do something to prevent a reoccurance is attacking someone or something militarily -- which I think is a horrible idea. Is that clearer?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

If that is "political correctness" we need more of it.

I think it may be time for people of good will, who believe in treating people the way that we would like to be treated, to embrace the "political correctness" label.

Fox News talk show host Bill O'Reilly has taken aim at the Town of Kent [Connecticut] for refusing to grant a local man's wish that a town memorial to his son [paid for with public funds], who was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks, should read: "Murdered by Muslim Terrorists."

In his evening television program Thursday, O'Reilly said he supported Peter Gadiel's request for such an inscription in the face of refusal by Kent's Town Hall. He labeled as "political correctness" remarks by First Selectman Ruth S. Epstein that such wording would disparage an ethnic group and would be "against everything that we stand for here."

Read entire article

There are millions of American Muslims, most of whom think of their religion as one of peace, and they are sincere about that. They are not the enemy and it would be profoundly misguided to treat them as though they were. It would be a tactical mistake to define as enemies people who otherwise would be our allies -- if you are in a battle you want as many people on your side as possible.

It would also be wrong on moral and ethical grounds. We should treat people the way we would like to be treated. How would you feel if someone disparaged your religion or ethnicity because of the bad actions of a few individuals? We didn't start talking about "Christian terrorists" after any the terrorist attacks carried out by white Americans, such as the anthrax attacks or Oklahoma City bombing.

If it is "political correctness" to treat people the way we would like to be treated and to not define as enemies people who would otherwise be on our side then we should all seek to be more "politically correct."

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Exercising Political Correctness

Yesterday on Fox Friends, Brian Kilmeade and Gretchen Carlson were wondering if it was time for the military to start treating Muslim-American soldiers as potential terrorists simply because they are Muslims.

Do you think it’s time for the military to have special debriefings of Muslim Army officers — anybody enlisted? Because if I'm going to be in a foxhole, if I'm gonna be stuck in an outpost, I've gotta know the guy next to me is not gonna wanna kill me.
I want to ask this question another way. Could it be that the military, because our society -- let's face it, our society has become very politically correct -- could it be that the military was also exercising political correctness, even though [Major Hasan] had a poor performance report, and even though he spoke openly about being a radical Muslim, and had those supposed postings online, could it be that the military was exercising political correctness in not approaching him as seriously as they would have had he not been a Muslim? link

Did the people at Fox News call for special debriefings of all Christian soldiers of European descent to prove they were not terrorists after Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City? Well not so much. Not only did they not think that terrorist acts by white Christians should prompt special suspicion of all white Christians as potential terrorists but when the Department of Homeland Security issued a report to law enforcement warning of the danger posed by right-wing extremist groups conservatives were outraged at the perceived insult to all people with right-wing views. Republican Newt Gingrich tweeted:

The person who drafted the outrageous homeland security memo smearing veterans and conservatives should be fired.

If Newt considered it an outrageous smear and insult to all veterans and conservatives to simply warn law enforcement that right-wing extremist groups might try to recruit returning veterans what would he think of the suggestion that all Christian veterans with right-wing views be debriefed to determine how much of a threat they might be? I suspect he would not label a failure to do that as an excess of political correctness.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

You may be a racist if...

A few years back Jeff Foxworthy was striking comedy gold by alerting people to the warning signs that they may be a redneck. Two of my favorites: You may be a redneck if you have more than one major appliance on your front porch. You may be a redneck if your house is mobile but your truck isn't. These warning signs were necessary because people are a lot more likely to recognize redneckism in others than in themselves.

I was reminded that the same was true of racism by this amazing statement on the Christwire website:

I am extremely terrified of Chinese people, but I am not racist. You should feel the same way too.

See entire article

No evidence is offered for why the Chinese might be doing all the terrible things the author imagines other than that they are not Christians. A purer expression of racism is hard to imagine. But that got me thinking that I should give people warning signs that they may be racists.

You may be a racist if you suspect an entire nationality of people of plotting terrible disasters simply because they are not like you.

You may be a racist if you think the Obama family has any less right to live in the White House than previous first families.

You may be a racist if you demand more proof that Barack Obama is a citizen than anyone ever asked of previous presidents.

You may be a racist if you think bi-racial children aren't "accepted."

You may be a racist if you think immigrants today are assimilating more slowly than your ancestors did.

That's all I have time for now, I have to go to work. If you can think of more put them in the comments.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

What you deserve

I was just reading an online article about people who are in debt even though they make more than enough money to live comfortably.

"Mark," a 41-year-old executive who makes a six-figure salary but fell into debt because he doesn't believe in self-sacrifice: "I have a sort of moralistic self-righteousness that I deserve good things," he says. "And because I'm surrounded by luxury all day, I know what's good quality and what isn't."

My advice is to not listen to any voice, internal or external, that says you "deserve" luxury consumer goods. That is the voice of someone or something which does not have your best interests at heart. Hit the mute button, make the sign of the cross, say "Get thee behind me Satan" -- whatever works for you.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mexican Day of the Dead, Sunday Nov. 1, 2009

This year the Putnam Museum is the place to celebrate the Mexican Day of the Dead in the Quad Cities! [Click on the image below to see it full sized.]

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Why fund war with debt but insist that health-care reform be deficit-neutral?

The Washington Post responded in today's paper to a reader who pointed out an apparent contradiction: the editors insist that health care reform not increase the debt but call for escalation of the number of our troops in Afghanistan without any plan to pay for it other than borrowing money from China and Japan. "Why fund war with debt but insist that health-care reform be deficit-neutral?" This was part of their answer:

Universal health care, however desirable, is not "fundamental to the defense of our people." Nor is it a "necessity" that it be adopted this year: Mr. Obama chose to propose a massive new entitlement at a time of historic budget deficits. In contrast, Gen. McChrystal believes that if reinforcements are not sent to Afghanistan in the next year, the war may be lost, with catastrophic consequences for U.S. interests in South Asia. U.S. soldiers would continue to die, without the prospect of defeating the Taliban. And, as Mr. Obama put it, "if left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans."

The disconnect between the interests and priorities of the Washington elite, as exemplified by the editorial board of the Washington Post, and those of most Americans could not have been revealed more clearly. This was obviously written by someone whose health care (and the health care of everyone near and dear to them) is absolutely guaranteed. This is in sharp contrast to the situation of most Americans who worry that they, or someone close to them, have no health insurance or could lose it, perhaps as a result of being laid off, and be unable to obtain an new policy, either because of a "preexisting condition" or because they could not afford it. For most Americans outside the Washington beltway this is much more of a "necessity" than the need to wage unending war in Asia.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Louisiana judge thinks biracial children are to be pitied

nathan_nora_portrait, originally uploaded by dvdbarrett.

When I read that a Louisiana judge had refused to issue a marriage license to a biracial couple out of concern that "most of black society does not readily accept offspring of such relationships, and neither does white society" it brought back memories. About 20 years ago I informed the people I worked with that after 10 years of trying my wife and I were going to have a baby. We were adopting and we had opted for a biracial child after being told that the wait time would just be weeks but for any other category of child it would be years. The senior member of my work team told me he thought biracial children were to be pitied using almost the same words as the Louisiana judge. There were nods of agreement with this opinion all around -- it seemed to be the consensus opinion. Later 2 women (out of the 60 people who worked there) each told me privately that they disagreed - they thought biracial children were beautiful.
Once we got our baby boy and a year later a girl we discovered that "I think your child/children is/are beautiful" was a kind of code phrase of support for white parents with biracial children that we would occasionally get from strangers in public. It would have never occurred to us that our children were anything other than beautiful, even if no one else had told us that, but it was nice to occasionally have it confirmed.
Judging from the almost universal condemnation of the Louisiana judge's opinions on this, public opinion on biracial children has really shifted in the last 20 years. But how could it be otherwise. Above is a 16 year old picture of my children. How could anyone think they were anything other than beautiful?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why was gambling illegal?

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s all forms of gambling were illegal in this country (except in Nevada) and had been as long as anyone then alive could remember. My grandfather, who was born in 1890, talked about what life was like at the turn of the century and although in some respects the country was very different then the illegality of all gambling was exactly the same.

When I recently read a book in which it was mentioned in passing how this situation came about I was surprised. Before reading about the history of this I would have guessed that the banning of gambling had a basis in Puritan morality, similar to the prohibition of alcohol. When I solicited my Facebook friends for their guesses when and why gambling had become illegal my sister-in-law also assumed that banning gambling had been similar to the prohibition of alcohol -- she guessed it must have come about after women's suffrage and as a result of a campaign to prevent men with wives and children from gambling away money needed by their families. My nephew guessed, again like Prohibition, the ban had arisen primarily as a result of anti-immigrant xenophobia.

It turns out that the national ban on all forms of legal gambling from 1892 to 1965 had arisen in order to stop bribes to and corruption of elected official by the legal state lottery of Louisiana which had so corrupted the state government that national legislation was needed to end it. By this time most other states had already made lotteries and other forms of gambling illegal and these local bans had come about in various contexts and motivated by various concerns besides corruption, including morality, efforts to protect wives and children, anti-immigrant feelings, etc. (although since this was the 19th century these bans were passed without the votes of women). But there is little debate among historians about the basis of the national ban being the need to protect our democratic governments from the corrupting influences of legal gambling revenues.

According to Roger Dunstan in "Gambling in California"

Following a long national tradition, the South turned to lotteries to generate revenue to rebuild the war-ravaged region. The Louisiana lottery was the most notable because of its unseemly end. In 1868, the Louisiana Lottery Company was authorized and granted a 25-year charter. A carpetbagger criminal syndicate from New York bribed the Legislature into passing the lottery law and establishing the syndicate as the sole lottery provider. The Louisiana Lottery was an interstate venture with over 90% of the company's revenue coming from outside Louisiana. This lottery was a prolific money maker. Attempts to repeal the 25-year charter were defeated with assistance of bribes to legislators.

... The Louisiana Lottery survived until Congress enacted a prohibition against moving lottery tickets across state lines by any method. This act led to the abolition of the Louisiana Lottery in 1895. When the lottery was disbanded, it was discovered that promoters had made huge sums of ill-gotten gains. The Legislature was riven with accusations of bribery. By the end of the century, thirty-five states, including California, had in their constitutions prohibitions against lotteries and no state permitted the operation of lotteries.

An article titled "19th Century Gambling as it Flourished in America" at agrees:

In 1868, Louisiana established a lottery that lasted for twenty-five years amid recurring scandals. Anti-lottery sentiment developed again in the waning decades of the nineteenth century, fueled to a significant degree by the scandals surrounding the Louisiana lottery.

"Gambling politics: state government and the business of betting" by Patrick Alan Pierce and Donald E. Miller tells the same story, with some additional detail:

The Louisiana lottery, with its history of bribery, graft, corruption, and dishonesty, represets a fitting end to a storied history of the American lottery, an institution which for years was the backbone of economic development of a new nation. ...Given the lottery's support by Louisiana politicians and citizens, only federal government intervention could stop the corrupt operation of the Louisiana lottery. A series of antilottery laws accomplished this goal. These antilottery laws included an 1827 law that prohibited postmasters from acting as lottery agents, an 1868 act that banned lottery materials from the mails but had no enforcement provisions, and an 1890 act that added enforcement provisions. The final necessary and most effective act, in 1892, prohibited interstate transportation of lottery materials. With its market essentially restricted to the state of Lousiana, the lottery eventually died three years later. Fallout from the scandals of this lottery as well as national public opinion on gambling were so negative that by the turn of the century no states permitted the operation of lotteries.

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Are our state legislatures today less susceptible to being corrupted by legal gambling industry money than their 19th Century counterparts? I know of no reason to suppose that they are. The only difference between now and then is that in 1890 the newspapers in New York and Chicago which were publishing articles alerting the country to corruption in Louisiana were not owned by corporations receiving gambling profits. Perhaps the only reason we are not reading stories about the corrupting influence of legal gambling today is that the small number of large corporations which control most of the media also have a financial interest in gambling remaining legal.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Local town names echos of empires

In his newspaper column in today's Moline Dispatch, Greg Aguilar reminds of how the Quad Cities area towns of Andalusia and Cordova got their names.

Many people don't realize this fact, but the Spanish Empire reached the state of Iowa and a small piece of Illinois. Some of our area cities share their name with cities of Spain like Andalusia and Cordova. It is kind of funny that at one point in our history, Spanish was the official language of the Quad-Cities.
Read the entire article.

Since this is Columbus Day I thought it would be appropriate to also reflect on how the nearby town of Milan got its name during the brief period when this area was part of the Italian empire. The large number of pizza parlors in the Quad Cities are also a legacy of this period. If you know where to look you can still find reminders of a time when all public institutions had Italian names. In the back of the prison in East Moline there is a place where you can see written in large letters on the ground the former name of the old East Moline State Hospital, 'Ospedale psichiatrico di Watertown.'

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Congratulations President Obama on the Nobel Peace Prize -- Now Please Earn it!

Michael Moore's response to President Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize:

Congratulations President Obama on the Nobel Peace Prize -- Now Please Earn it!

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Dear President Obama,

How outstanding that you've been recognized today as a man of peace. Your swift, early pronouncements -- you will close Guantanamo, you will bring the troops home from Iraq, you want a nuclear weapon-free world, you admitted to the Iranians that we overthrew their democratically-elected president in 1953, you made that great speech to the Islamic world in Cairo, you've eliminated that useless term "The War on Terror," you've put an end to torture -- these have all made us and the rest of the world feel a bit more safe considering the disaster of the past eight years. In eight months you have done an about face and taken this country in a much more sane direction.


The irony that you have been awarded this prize on the 2nd day of the ninth year of our War in Afghanistan is not lost on anyone. You are truly at a crossroads now. You can listen to the generals and expand the war (only to result in a far-too-predictable defeat) or you can declare Bush's Wars over, and bring all the troops home. Now. That's what a true man of peace would do.

There is nothing wrong with you doing what the last guy failed to do -- capture the man or men responsible for the mass murder of 3,000 people on 9/11. BUT YOU CANNOT DO THAT WITH TANKS AND TROOPS. You are pursuing a criminal, not an army. You do not use a stick of dynamite to get rid of a mouse.

The Taliban is another matter. That is a problem for the people of Afghanistan to resolve -- just as we did in 1776, the French did in 1789, the Cubans did in 1959, the Nicaraguans did in 1979 and the people of East Berlin did in 1989. One thing is certain through all revolutions by people who wish to be free -- they ultimately have to bring about that freedom themselves. Others can be supportive, but freedom can not be delivered from the front seat of someone else's Humvee.

You have to end our involvement in Afghanistan now. If you don't, you'll have no choice but to return the prize to Oslo.

Michael Moore

P.S. Your opposition has spent the morning attacking you for bringing such good will to this country. Why do they hate America so much? I get the feeling that if you found the cure for cancer this afternoon they'd be denouncing you for destroying free enterprise because cancer centers would have to close. There are those who say you've done nothing yet to deserve this award. As far as I'm concerned, the very fact that you've offered to walk into the minefield of hate and try to undo the irreparable damage the last president did is not only appreciated by me and millions of others, it is also an act of true bravery. That's why you got the prize. The whole world is depending on the U.S. -- and you -- to literally save this planet. Let's not let them down.

President Obama's Call to Action

President Obama sent the following message to all those on his e-mail list yesterday.

A Call to Action

This morning, Michelle and I awoke to some surprising and humbling news. At 6 a.m., we received word that I'd been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009.

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize -- men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.

That is why I've said that I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations and all peoples to confront the common challenges of the 21st century. These challenges won't all be met during my presidency, or even my lifetime. But I know these challenges can be met so long as it's recognized that they will not be met by one person or one nation alone.

This award -- and the call to action that comes with it -- does not belong simply to me or my administration; it belongs to all people around the world who have fought for justice and for peace. And most of all, it belongs to you, the men and women of America, who have dared to hope and have worked so hard to make our world a little better.

So today we humbly recommit to the important work that we've begun together. I'm grateful that you've stood with me thus far, and I'm honored to continue our vital work in the years to come.

Thank you,

President Barack Obama

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Brick street becomes a hazard

People like the brick streets in the part of Moline where I live but some of them are getting difficult to drive on. 18th Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets got so bad this spring it was damaging the undersides of cars and had to be completely rebuilt -- the bricks removed, the road bed redone and the bricks relaid in a month-long labor-intensive project that I heard people in City Hall referring to as "extremely expensive." Now a portion of 18th Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets is starting to buckle up in the same way.

Will another "extremely expensive" project be necessary?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pat Buchanan on undeserving Latinos

When Pat Buchanan was on the Rachel Maddow show the other night he claimed that Sotomayor was an intellectual lightweight not qualified to be on the Supreme Court who had gotten where she was through affirmative action. Remember, he was talking about a woman who:

Coming from a housing project in the Bronx, Sotomayor ended up graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton. She also was a co-recipient of the M. Taylor Pyne Prize, the highest honor Princeton awards to an undergraduate. Sotomayor then went to Yale Law School, where she served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal and managing editor of the Yale Studies in World Public Order. [the Think Progress blog]

Of course, there is no reason to believe that I am aware of that affirmative action had any role to play at Princeton or Yale in anything other than admissions. Buchanan offers no evidence that Sotomayor was not deserving of her educational achievements other than the fact that she is a minority. If graduating summa cum laude does not prove that you deserved to be there, even though you were admitted through affirmative action, what would? Obviously no level of achievement, no amount of ability and hard work, would be enough.

To black and Hispanic voters the message in this is clear, insofar as Pat Buchanan defines the Republican Party, a Republican administration would be one that thinks that minorities are undeserving per se, just because they are minorities. It is amazing to me that Republican elected officials and Republicans who aspire to be elected seem to be unwilling or unable to counter the damage that racists Pat Buchanan and Rush Limbaugh are doing to the Republican brand.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

White male Republican Senators worry about racism and sexism

The white male Republican Senators have had a lot to say about racism and sexism during the confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor. Apparently they think the only remaining bias in this country is reverse racism by minorities against whites and sexism by woman against men. Listen to Senator Lindsey Graham pretend that Sotomayor had claimed that Latino women always make wiser decisions than white men (something she did not say):

This wise Latino comment has been talked about a lot. But I can just tell you one thing: If I had said anything remotely like that, my career would have been over.

Graham and the other Republican Senators have been lecturing Sotomayor that this wise Latina comment which she made in several speeches makes them worry she will bring bias to her interpretation of the Constitution. In response to that my brother Dan from Rockford wrote:

The GOP senators questioning Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor are being very disingenuous or else they haven’t the grasp of history that one would expect of a United States Senator. To make any sense of the line of questioning these Senators are pursuing, we must, like them, accept that men from a strictly Western European heritage have a neutral perspective. These senators must believe, or pretend to believe, that all other groups—all women and any man with a “minority” family background—have a clouded view or perspective of our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Our Founding Fathers, who were only those men in this country coming form a Western European background, believed that Native Americans, Mexican Americans. African Americans, all women, and the Irish were mentally inferior to white men and thus created laws reflecting their belief. We now know that no group is mentally inferior to any other, yet our Founding Fathers had such a cultural prejudice that they could not see the obvious. They could not understand, for example, that women did indeed have the mental ability to deal with business, higher education, and politics. These Founding Fathers made laws and judicial decisions that a girl had no legal status separate from her father as she grew up and no rights or legal status separate from her husband after she married. If a woman’s husband died, she was under the “protection” of her son if he was of age. If a woman’s husband abused her and her children and she was forced to flee, she took only the clothes she was wearing. All the money she had earned during her marriage, all of her household, and her children belonged to her husband and she could not take any of that away.

The winning of civil and political rights by each of these persecuted groups has been DIRECTLY related and proportional to each group’s involvement in public discourse, voting, political representation, and membership in the judiciary. These GOP senators, therefore, must be ignorant or dishonest to claim that men from a Western European heritage have the ideal or unimpaired perspective of our Constitution.

That is, of course, unless these GOP senators are TRULY CONSERVATIVE and believe that we should fall back to historic beliefs that would take away from women, racial groups, and the Irish their right to vote and enjoy equal protection under the laws of the land.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Turning local police into immigration enforcers

An editorial in today's New York Times opposes the policies announced by the Department of Homeland Security last week "expanding its 287(g) program, which enlists local law-enforcement agencies to hunt illegal immigrants.

...many responsible police chiefs and sheriffs have stoutly opposed having immigration duties outsourced to them. The Police Foundation, a nonprofit research group, declared in a study in April that the costs of 287(g) outweigh the benefits, not just because it strains budgets, but also because it undermines community policing, which relies heavily on building trust among those the officers serve and protect.

Turning local cops into immigration enforcers makes racial profiling more likely while sending a chill through immigrant neighborhoods, where victims fear and avoid the police and crimes go unsolved for lack of witnesses. As a police chief in the report said: “How can you police a community that will not talk to you?”

Read the entire editorial.

This is a concern that some immigrant advocacy groups in the Illinois Quad Cities have been expressing in informal dialog with city officials and police. There has been an apparent upsurge of local cases in which immigrants have been arrested and taken to jail for traffic offenses, such as driving without a license, which in the past would have resulted in only a ticket and court summons. Then instead of being released after serving their time they have been held indefinitely for I.C.E. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) as felons because of technicalities such as 3 misdomenors (even minor traffic offenses committed while driving to and from work) are a felony or using a false papers to get a job is felony identity theft even though the person whose identity has been "stolen" has not been negatively impacted whatsoever.

The New York Times is absolutely right about this. Turning local police into immigration agents is a bad idea.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

One of the "worst of the worst"

(Photo by Nancy A. Youssef / MCT)

Check out this wonderful piece of journalism by Nancy A. Youssef of McClatchy. An Afghanistan tribal elder, Haji Sahib Rohullah Wakil, was detained by U.S. forces in August 2002 after attending a meeting with an American commander at U.S. military base near his home in Afghanistan. He was sent to Guantanamo and imprisoned there for 6 years, including the years 2007 and 2008 when government officials were assuring us that the remaining prisoners were the "worst of the worst." After he was released his name was included in a leaked list of 74 former Guantanamo prisoners "who've returned to or are suspected of returning to terrorism after their release" even though he leads a very public and open life as a respected tribal elder, has a reputation for being anti-Taliban and regularly meeting with Afghanistan government officials advocating for the needs of his home province.

Look who is # 1!

In a possible sign that my opinions are becoming more mainstream a new website named Mediaite, in its rankings of the most influential print/online columnists, ranked two of my favorites in the top 10. Paul Krugman is #1 and Glenn Greenwald #10.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Congressman Hare Pledges Support for Public Option

At least seven House Democrats have pledged not to support any health care bill that does not include a public option. One of them is our own Congressman Phil Hare. As he explains in this video a bill without a public option is "like a car without a motor."

Showing dignity, reticence and restraint in public

I often disagree with Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks but I think he hit a home run with today's column. The subject was the personal dignity and reticence shown by most of this country's early leaders and politicians, epitomized by George Washington.

The dignity code commanded its followers to be disinterested — to endeavor to put national interests above personal interests. It commanded its followers to be reticent — to never degrade intimate emotions by parading them in public. It also commanded its followers to be dispassionate — to distrust rashness, zealotry, fury and political enthusiasm.

Brooks laments that that this code no longer exists and that we now only see the qualities of dignity and personal restraint among those who exhibit a natural dignity, apparently a rare trait. As examples Brooks mentions Joe DiMaggio, Tom Landry, Lauren Bacall, Tom Hanks, Ronald Reagan and Martin Luther King Jr.

The three big news stories of the last few weeks feature people totally lacking in the qualities of dignity, reticence and restraint -- Mark Sanford and Michael Jackson and someone aspiring to high office "unfamiliar with the traits of equipoise and constancy, which are the sources of authority and trust" -- Sarah Palin.

But Brooks ends the column on a positive note.

But it’s not right to end on a note of cultural pessimism because there is the fact of President Obama. Whatever policy differences people may have with him, we can all agree that he exemplifies reticence, dispassion and the other traits associated with dignity. The cultural effects of his presidency are not yet clear, but they may surpass his policy impact. He may revitalize the concept of dignity for a new generation and embody a new set of rules for self-mastery.

That an avowed Conservative should praise Obama's character and leadership should not surprise anyone and will only come as a shock to those who have fallen for the big lie promulgated by so many right-wing hacks that Obama is some sort of left-wing radical. The truth is that he is the opposite of an extremist or radical, exemplifying true Conservative values that people all along the political spectrum can and should admire. I keep waiting, so far in vain, for true Conservatives to rise of and reclaim their political philosophy from the bunch of radicals who have hijacked it. Perhaps this column is the opening salvo in that war.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Undemocratic Elitists?

Has someone revealed themselves to be an undemocratic elitist when they expect the people selected to lead this country to be among the best and brightest, to have demonstrated competence and achievement? That is the dubious proposition advanced by Ross Douthat in his column in today's New York Times.

Palin’s popularity has as much to do with class as it does with ideology. In this sense, she really is the perfect foil for Barack Obama. Our president represents the meritocratic ideal — that anyone, from any background, can grow up to attend Columbia and Harvard Law School and become a great American success story. But Sarah Palin represents the democratic ideal — that anyone can grow up to be a great success story without graduating from Columbia and Harvard.

If Douthat was talking about someone other than Sarah Palin and was arguing that someone could be smart, knowledgeable, accomplished and competent without attending an elite school at least he would have an arguable point. But since it is Sarah Palin he must be claiming that someone can be a "great success" without being smart, knowledgeable, accomplish and competent. And if you doubt that he says you are an undemocratic elitist!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Putin stands up for the Russian people. Who will stand up for us?

An article in today's New York Times informs us (I didn't see any mention of it in the local papers) that the Russian government is closing every legal gambling establishment in the country.

One of the largest mass layoffs in recent Russian history is to occur on Wednesday, and the Kremlin itself is decreeing it, economic crisis or not.

The government is shutting down every last legal casino and slot-machine parlor across the land, under an antivice [sic] plan promoted by Vladimir V. Putin that just a few months ago was widely perceived as far-fetched. But the result will be hundreds of thousands of people thrown out of work.

If you read the entire article you may have been amazed as I was that the focus is almost entirely on the downside of decision -- the loss of jobs. There was little attempt at balance or explanation of the upside of this decision other than a mention of organized crime and a concession that:

The gambling industry here does not have the loftiest of reputations, and many Russians will not grieve for it.

This obvious deficiency and lack of fairness and balance in the reporting probably does not leave most readers here in Illinois and Iowa totally in the dark about what might be causing the Russian people to make this move. Unfortunately we are all too well aware of the kinds of problems legalized gambling causes -- lives ruined by gambling addiction, increases in other vices such as prostitution and loan-sharking, increases in the number of instances of embezzlement perpetrated by people who had been upstanding law-abiding citizens before the casinos came, the loss of more wholesome, locally-owned entertainment businesses unable to compete with the organized gambling giant corporations who send the profits far away.

The slant the article takes does give an indication how difficult it would be to reverse the trend toward more legalized gambling with incrementally decreasing restrictions occurring in this country. The very serious people in the news media would inform us that restricting gambling in this country would be unthinkable. We will just have to endure all the problems that gambling causes. Anyone who suggests otherwise is just not being serious.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Rummage Sale Today!


Date: Saturday, June 6, 2009

A fundraiser for

Come and Buy!

St. Mary’s Gymnasium

412 – 10th Street

Moline, IL 61265

· Furniture

· Kitchen items

· Toys—gently used

· Clothing, Accessories, Jewelry

· Tools

· Crafts

Time: 8 a.m. to 3p.m.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Are Americans who attend church at greater risk?

A great deal has been written about the horrible and terrible murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas yesterday, but one aspect I have not seen discussed is whether Dr. Tiller put himself at risk by being a regular church-goer. In the interest of full disclosure I am particularly interested in this topic since I also attend church nearly every Sunday morning. More details have been released and it now appears that the murder happened in the vestibule of the church during the church service, where the murderer could have known Dr. Tiller would be because Dr. Tiller was listed as being one of the ushers in the church bulletin.

Dr. Tiller was known to sometimes wear a bullet-proof vest and have security at the clinic where he worked. Was his regular church attendance a fatal security lapse?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Did the demise of the Whigs look like this?

Watching Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich define ever increasing numbers of Americans out of the Republican Party (Rush and Newt are now declaring racist the idea that having grown up non-white might give someone some special insight on racial discrimination) got me to wondering what the demise of the Whig Party looked like. I did a Google search on 'Demise of the Whig Party.' Wikipedia had this:

The Whigs were unable to deal with the slavery issue after 1850. Their southern leaders nearly all owned slaves. The northeastern Whigs, led by Daniel Webster, represented businessmen who loved the national flag and a national market, but cared little about slavery one way or another. However many Whig voters in the North felt that slavery was incompatible with a free labor-free market economy, and supported the Wilmot Proviso that did not pass Congress but would have stopped the expansion of slavery. No one discovered a compromise that would keep the party united. Furthermore the burgeoning economy made full-time careers in business or law much more attractive than politics for ambitious young Whigs. Thus the party leader in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, simply abandoned politics after 1849. When new issues of nativism, prohibition and anti-slavery burst on the scene in the mid 1850s, no one looked to the fast- disintegrating Whig party for answers

It sounds like at the end the Whigs were pursuing their own self interests rather than what was good for the party. Sort of like what Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich are doing, don't you think?

Friday, May 08, 2009

Miley Cyrus making waves again

Teen TV star, Miley Cyrus, recent made some comments on her Twitter account giving her view of what Jesus, Christianity and God have to say on the subject of gay marriage

Everyone deserves to love and be loved and most importantly smile.

Jesus loves you and your partner and wants you to know how much he cares! That’s like a daddy not loving his lil boy cuz he’s gay and that is wrong and very sad!

Like I said everyone deserves to be happy.

God’s greatest commandment is to love. And judging is not loving.

I am a Christian and I love you - gay or not - because you are no different than anyone else! We are all God’s children.

The website took great exception to those statements on their website and in an email. They seem to have removed the statement from their website but it can still be found on the web, for example here.

Such statements will send the wrong message to our children who are influenced by this teenage megastar. Parents need to realize that Cyrus is not the positive role model she was once thought to be.

Two very different points of view! Which one do you think is closer to Jesus' message in the Gospels?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Hope for Republicans in the culture wars?

In his latest newspaper column Pat Buchanan sees hope for the Republican Party. First he gives the bad news:
...the voting groups growing in numbers — Hispanics, Asians, African-Americans, folks with college degrees, the young — are all trending Democratic, while the voters most loyal to the GOP — white folks and religious conservatives — are declining as a share of the U.S. electorate. And demography is destiny.

But he sees an advantage for Republicans in the culture war issue of gay marriage.

When African-Americans, who gave McCain 4 percent of their votes in California, gave Proposition 8, prohibiting gay marriage, 70 percent of their votes, why would the GOP give up one of its trump cards — not only in Middle America but among minorities? A conservative who could have sharpened the social, moral and cultural differences might, from the exit polls, have done far better.

That is just too stupid for words. All the Proposition 8 vote showed was that in a straight up or down vote on gay marriage most African-American voters were against it. Their feelings about gay marriage have caused few African-Americans to support Republicans up to now and there is no evidence, in the Proposition 8 vote or elsewhere, that very many African-American voters will become single-issue anti-gay rights voters in the future.

In fact the same demographic and intellectual trends that favor Democrats that Buchanan cited are eroding opposition to gay rights in general and gay marriage in particular. In fact, these trends will continue to erode opposition to gay rights until it will be as much a fringe position among the American electorate as is opposition to womens suffrage or support for slavery. But that is the issue Buchanan hopes will stem the tide of Republican decline. What a maroon!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

A Nation of Typhoid Marys

Nicholas Kristof, in his column in today's New York Times, points out how vulnerable to pandemic our flawed health care system makes us.

Think of the 47 million Americans who lack [health] insurance. They are less likely to receive flu vaccines (which might or might not help), less likely to receive prompt care when they get sick, and less able financially to stay home from work — and thus they are more likely both to die and to spread the virus inadvertently.

“These are, in effect, 47 million ‘Typhoid Marys’ of the next pandemic — at risk themselves and to their families and neighbors,” said Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Read the entire article.

There are reasons to believe that many of those who have died from the flu in Mexico waited too long to seek medical attention because they lacked both medical insurance and money to pay the hospital.

The threat of pandemic is just one of many wake-up calls that should alert us that we need to provide health insurance to all Americans ASAP. The failing American automobile manufacturers are another. Many of their foreign competitors are based in countries in which the government provides health care, taking the burden off of employers.

Friday, May 01, 2009

The morality of torture

A Pew Research Center survey reveals that, in general, the more Americans go to church the more willing they are to support torture. According to a CNN article:

More than half of people who attend services at least once a week -- 54 percent -- said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified. Only 42 percent of people who "seldom or never" go to services agreed, according to the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

What is taught about the morality of torture in the churches attended by these people who think torture is "justified?" I doubt that the ministers or priests in their churches are actually preaching torture.

Although I seldom see it talked about I think the difference between those who think that America should never torture and those willing to accept it is the attitude toward those likely to be tortured. I think that those who always oppose torture see the likely victims of torture as people fundamentally like themselves and those who think torture is justified assume that those tortured are "the other." I suspect that these regular churchgoers who think torture is justified have an us-against-them view of the world that trumps the Christian teachings of "love thy neighbor", "turn the other cheek", the parable of the Good Samaritan and the compassionate example of Jesus, the healer.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Meghan McCain reacts to Arlen Spector's choice

John McCain's daughter Meghan posted the following message on Twitter yesterday:

I know its been a hard day for a lot of you but Arlen Spector has made a selfish choice. This can come back and be better than ever.

What Republican principle does making a selfish choice violate?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Shocked, shocked to discover crooked gambling

If you had been thinking that the state-run lottery was a fair and honestly run game-of-chance in which your odds of winning were determined by the mathematical laws of probability then you may have been shocked by the news story in the Quad City Times this week that:

The state ombudsman issued a report Tuesday alleging Iowa Lottery officials have failed to adequately protect the enterprise’s customers from fraud and theft by retailers.

Iowa Citizens’ Aide/Ombudsman Bill Angrick said his review of three years’ worth of lottery investigations found numerous customer complaints where leads went unexplored and potential crimes were not pursued.

And, Angrick said in a 210-page report, even when the lottery substantiated complaints against retailers for fraud or theft, in many instances those retailers were not held accountable.

Read the entire article

Most people who were not born yesterday know how crooked gambling scams work, such as the street-corner 3 card monte huckster or the carnival side-show booth. These are games in which there are no winners other than the operators. Anyone appearing to win is either a hired shill who has won nothing other than their pre-agreed share of the take or a mark who has been allowed to win when the stakes are low in order to entice him/her into larger bets. Sometimes people are allowed to walk away from these crooked games winners when there are other potential marks standing around to see this and be drawn in.

If you had been thinking that the association between gambling and gangsters and crime was just a result of gambling being illegal and that a legal state-run lottery or state sanctioned and regulated casinos could be fair and honest then you have been naive. Gambling is a scam by its very nature. If you are involved in any way in gambling you are by necessity in one of two groups. You are either part of the group that organized and runs the game and is profiting from it or you are a mark, a victim, a loser. Proponents of state lotteries and state sanctioned casinos claim that the tax-payers and school-children of the state are part of the group that benefits from the gambling, but given gambling's tendency to turn everyone not actually running the game into marks and victims how likely do you think that is?

Some of the ways we have been made victims by legalized gambling have been argued in this blog previously. New jobs appear to have been created in the community by casinos but it turns out the jobs have merely shifted because jobs have been lost by other entertainment businesses closed because of competition from the casinos. Although gambling adds money to the state coffers there are large costs to the community when formerly law-abiding people become addicting to gambling and commit crimes, sometimes embezzling large amounts of money from PTAs, fire departments, etc. Now we have a report that legalized gambling is turning the retail stores that sell lottery tickets into crooks and thieves who defraud their customers. (The state's reluctance to investigate and punish this wrong-doing because the state is a partner in this scam reminds me of Catch 22 where people are being attacked and killed by a corporation that has been hired to strafe and bomb them and are told that that's good because they are stockholders in the corporation and are therefore profiting from the attack.) What other ways in which governments are corrupted and we are victimized by legalized gambling are yet to be revealed?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Republican patriotism

Daniel from Rockford wrote me to suggest a topic for this blog. I couldn't think of anything to add to what he wrote, so I will just let him speak:

Is there much that is less patriotic than to publicly avow secession from the Union? Well, now we have a pattern of secession talk from the center of the Republican party. The party’s V.P. candidate spoke at a meeting in her own home town that was advocating Alaska secession. Now, the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, is making secessionist comments and then refusing to disavow the idea when questioned about the implication of what he has said.

The Republican party has made patriotism their badge of honor for many years now. Sadly, their idea of patriotism usually turned out to be the shallow lapel pin type symbolic patriotism. They stretched the truth whenever they made any claim to patriotic action as opposed to their usual patriotic speech and flag waving. For example, during the Reagan, Bush years they claimed that indulging in hedonistic capitalism was a patriotic act or then denied that social activism was patriotic. They sneered at Obama’s social activist background.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Obama passes test of foreign policy crisis

Congratulations to the Navy and to President Obama for the rescue of the ship's captain held by pirates. They negotiated and waited while that was the correct course of action and then took decisive and successful action when it was called for. President Obama early on gave authority for lethal action if and when it became appropriate to the navy and then allowed the professional military people on the scene to use their judgement. He was not bullied into intervening and forcing inappropriately premature action by right-wing criticism such as this on the national level and this from here in the Quad Cities.

How refreshing to have a president whose actions are not geared toward meaningless gestures and stage-managed photo-ops.

An economist's take on the GOP

Check out Nobel Laureate economist Paul Krugman's analysis of the positions and leadership of the Republican Party in his column in today's New York Times.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mariana de la Torre

I blogged about a month ago about the sad story of Mariana de la Torre. Kuninori Takahashi (Kuni) is the Chicago Tribune photographer who upon hearing about Mariana's situation came to the hospital in Rock Island to meet her, decided he wanted to document her story and accompanied her on her trip from Illinois back to her home in Mexico to see her three young children before she died. Kuni has just completed and put on the web an audio slideshow telling her story. Watch it here.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

My mother

My 87 year old mother died Friday evening. The last few years of her life she was increasingly afflicted by dementia and so it was a long good-bye for my father, brothers, sisters-in-law, daughter, nieces, nephew, wife and me.

Here is a link to the obituary my brother wrote in the QCTimes on-line edition. The obituary also appeared in the Moline Dispatch (but I could not find it in the on-line edition of that paper) and the Chester (Illinois) Herald.

Here is a picture of her taken before her marriage and long before I was born so I have no actual memories of her looking that young and glamorous. But I would like to think of her as beautiful and care-free as she appears in this picture, forever young, and so I shall. I invite you to do so, also.

Monday, March 30, 2009

It takes a brick-paved street to cry

Click picture to see it full-sized.

In the part of Moline where I live there are a number of old brick-paved streets. I took the above picture a block from my house. Apparently the winter was hard on the streets around here. This is 18th Avenue betweeen 12th and 13th Streets. That section of the street is now blocked off but a number of cars scrapped their bottoms on this hazard before the barricades were put up.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Gonzales, Yoo and 4 others may be indicted for War Crimes

According to the Associated Press a Spanish court has agreed to open a criminal case that could result in criminal indictments for six Bush Administration officals on charges of enabling torture at Guantanamo Bay.

Human rights lawyers brought the case before leading anti-terror judge Baltasar Garzon, who agreed to send it on to prosecutors to decide whether it had merit, Gonzalo Boye, one of the lawyers who brought the charges, told The Associated Press.

The ex-Bush officials are Gonzales; former undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith; former Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff David Addington; Justice Department officials John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee; and Pentagon lawyer William Haynes.


Spanish law allows courts to reach beyond national borders in cases of torture or war crimes under a doctrine of universal justice, though the government has recently said it hopes to limit the scope of the legal process.

Garzon became famous for bringing charges against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, and he and other Spanish judges have agreed to investigate alleged abuses everywhere from Tibet to Argentina's "dirty war," El Salvador and Rwanda.

Read entire article.

It will be very interesting to see how the American public reacts to this news. Hopefully this will open people's eyes to how the reset of the world views the actions of the Bush Administration.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Unfair compensation

Is your feeling that the bonuses received by the AIG executives whose actions helped put their company at risk of bankruptcy are unfair and wrong just an emotional reaction or is it a reasonable position grounded in your moral principles? Can you define fair and unfair compensation? Without a definition of unfair compensation you are left expressing anger without a justification, like the lynch mob some people in Washington and the Main-Stream Media accuse those opposing the bonuses of being.

Of course, unfettered free-enterprise (capitalism) does not provide any definition of fair compensation -- the income someone receives entirely depends on market forces of supply and demand . Fairness has nothing to do with it. If you believe that the bonuses were unfair then you must look somewhere else for justification for those feelings.

My brother Dan suggested to me yesterday that the old Quaker idea that a businessperson should set a fair price for his/her merchandise or service and always sell it for that price, rather than haggling to establish the price for each transaction suggests a refinement to capitalism that could give us a definition of unfair compensation. Up until the late 18th Century there were no set prices in American stores. As is still the case in the developing world store-owners would haggle with the customer for each sale. If, through ignorance or desperation, the customer was in a poor bargaining position the store-owner would be able to coerce a high price and make more profit. Some Quaker shop-owners began feeling uneasy about charging some customers more than others, especially because it often worked out that the highest prices were charged to those least able to pay. They decided to determine a fair price for everything they sold, post those prices and always sell at the set price without haggling. Customers much preferred set prices to haggling and as a result stores offering set prices became popular, business increased and the Quaker store-owners ended up making more money than ever. Soon all stores were forced by competitive pressures to also adopt set prices and it became the standard way of doing business in this country and the developed world.

On September 11, 2001 in New York City the subways were closed down and tens of thousands of people who normally took public transportation were forced to walk to get home in Manhattan. It was a hot day and a lot of the walking people started ducking into stores to buy bottled water. Some store owners, in order to cash in on the situation, suddenly raised the price for their bottled water. If you think it was wrong to raise the price of water for desperate, thirsty people just because they were thirsty and desperate then that suggests a definition of unfair compensation. It is wrong to charge more for your product or service just because, through circumstance, you are in a position to do so. It is wrong for AIG to reward executives who made bad decisions just because the government has been forced to bail out AIG because it is too big to fail.

Not only is it wrong to try to profit from someone else's misfortune, as the experience of those late 18th Century Quaker shop-owners shows, it might turn out in the long-run to be a bad business decision. At least it would if people today react as those 18th Century customers did. We seem to be on a retreat from set prices made possible by shopper's desire to get a "bargain." Today a lot of items have set prices, called the list or retail price, but most people most of the time don’t pay that price, they pay a discounted, sale or coupon price, sometimes arrived at through haggling. For those items the retail price becomes the unfair price paid by those unable, through circumstance, ignorance or desperation, to negotiate a better price. Once again those least able to pay, pay the most.

The 18th Century Quakers had other ideas that were just as radical and new at the time as set prices. They opposed slavery and believed that women had the same rights to education as men. They were declaring wrong activities and behaviors that were almost universally practiced. All three ideas were eventually adopted by the developed world and now seem like conventional wisdom. But we seem to be on a retreat from the idea of the same price for everyone. Why would unfair prices be a harder problem to solve than slavery or women's rights?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Gov. Richardson abolishes death penalty in New Mexico

I don't know how much good Bill Richardson would have done as Commerce Secretary, but there is no doubt in my mind that the bill he signed on Wednesday, abolishing the death penalty in New Mexico, made the world a much better place. As the prophet Amos, speaking on behalf of God, said "...let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream."

Here is an excellent editorial about it from the Los Angeles Times.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Are illegal immigrants the biggest threat we face?

There is an interesting op-ed in this morning's New York Times:

Here’s a thought. What if illegal immigrants really aren’t America’s worst nightmare? A lot of energy has been spent insisting that they are, but are they really as dangerous as, say, zombie banks? Or as evil as retention bonuses?

In truth, our biggest domestic menace never was waiting outside Home Depot, hoping to clean your basement. Unauthorized immigrants are not about to destroy anything, not even when they get angry and loud and march in large groups. On the contrary, they are inspiring. Their ethic of self-reliance and hard work is one that Americans should recognize and celebrate.

Read the entire article

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Young Moline Mother Returns to Mexico

photograph by Kuni Takahashi of the Chicago Tribune. Click on the picture to see it full sized.

The woman in the bed in the picture is 28 year old Mariana de la Torre, a Moline resident for two years, until her recent return to her native Mexico. You can still tell, if you use your imagination at little, how pretty and vivacious she was before the cancer and the radiation and the chemotherapy took her hair and her strength.

A little over a month ago one of the oncology nurses at Trinty Hospital in Rock Island told my wife, who was there as a friend and translator for Mariana, that she did not understand why the doctor was treating her so aggressively. "There is nothing more to be done. Why doesn't he just discharge her?" But Mariana had told the doctor that she wanted to go home to Mexico to see her children and family. The doctor ordered one more round of chemo to get her well enough to travel. That got her just strong enough that she could fly home, although she needed someone to go with her to handle the ostomy bags and tubes and ambulances were needed to take her to and from the airplane. The above picture was taken a few weeks ago in Mexico at the hospital Mariana was taken to by ambulance from the airport. The three children are Mariana's. They had not seen each other since December 2006, when she left them with an aunt and crossed the border illegally and came to the Quad Cities looking to earn money that she could send back to Mexico to support her children. She had just left an abusive husband and had no way of earning enough money by herself in Mexico.

The day after this picture was taken the Mexican hospital asked Mariana where she wanted to die and then released her in her brother's care. There was nothing more they could do for her.

There is an article in today's Chicago Tribune about Mariana's situation.