Saturday, January 31, 2009

Why give a mother of six fertility assistance?

My brother Dan's thoughts on the recent birth of octuplets:

How very very sad yesterday was the news of octuplets born into a family already overflowing with six children. My initial feelings of sadness, however, were soon overcome with stronger feelings as I pictured unregulated, profit motivated, fertility “doctors” artificially creating a family with 14 children, as I pictured a most likely scenario of a woman with six children taking artificial measures to have an extreme multiple birth in hopes of becoming famous like the couple with sextuplets on TV.

I see this as yet one more tragedy in a cascade of tragedies resulting from the Reagan, Bush,& Bush scheme of weakening governmental regulators and governmental agencies while creating a propaganda blitz claiming unregulated profit motivated industries were good for Americans. The human fertility industry that grew up in this climate would of course be without moral, ethical, or governmental checks and balances. We have already seen the tragic results of an unregulated Wall Street, of unregulated Banks, of an unregulated housing finance industry, and a war machinery industry with the inside power to control the CIA and the White House to create a series of wars to kill our children. Now we see further tragedy as eight babies are artificially inserted into a “family” that can at best be described as “overwhelmed ” A tragedy created by an industry that, by all indications, is motivated simply by selfish profit.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A baby elephant named Obama

Vital Stats:
Birthday: 1/19/09
Time: 11:50 p.m.
Sex: Male
Height: 39 inches
Length: 41 inches
Birth Weight: 250 pounds

Suspecting that many readers of this blog are not on the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey mailing list I felt that I had to pass along this announcement I just received from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Baily Center for Elephant Conservation.


On behalf of the entire Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® family, I’m thrilled to announce the birth of our first Asian elephant born as a result of artificial insemination. A healthy male born on the inaugural eve of our 44th President of the United States, the calf named Barack, is a living tribute of our ongoing commitment to help save this magnificent yet endangered species.

The worldwide elephant population is declining, which means the overall mortality rate is increasing. That is why at Ringling Bros. we are working around the clock to bring practical solutions that are helping to care for and to save these majestic animals. Since 1999, Barack is just the fourth elephant in North America to be successfully born from artificial insemination. We are proud of the unwavering efforts that our veterinary and elephant husbandry teams provide to support the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation and its global preservation programs.

Barack’s arrival is the 22nd in what has already become the largest herd of Asian elephants in the Western Hemisphere and I’m excited to share this significant milestone with all of you.

>Photo Gallery of pictures of Obama and his Mama

>More information

>Send a Greeting to Our New Calf

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Iraq War costs higher than many expected

According the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON – Suicides among Army troops soared again last year and are at a nearly three-decade high, senior defense officials told The Associated Press on Thursday.

At least 128 soldiers killed themselves in 2008, said two officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the data has not been formally released.

The final count likely will be considerably higher because more than a dozen other suspicious deaths are still being investigated and could also turn out to be self-inflicted.

The new figure of more than 128 compares to 115 in 2007 and 102 in 2006 — and is the highest since record keeping began in 1980.

Obviously we are going to be paying a very high price for our war of choice in Iraq for a very long time, indeed.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Our State Senator has doubts

The only state senator we have in this part of Illinois has been signaling he might vote to not remove Govenor Blagojevich from office. According to an article in today's Quad City Times:

After hearing FBI recordings presented at the Senate impeachment trial Tuesday and the testimony of FBI agent Daniel Cain, state Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, said he still was not convinced the 52-year-old chief executive has done anything illegal.

“Today, they just decided it was criminal,” Jacobs said. “I haven’t quite heard (pay-to-play) yet.

“I don’t think the case is as strong as people would have you to believe.”

While I could be persuaded that it is unfair for other Illinois politicians to say Rod Blagojevich was uniquely unsuited for office, for Mike Jacobs to claim that the tapes we all have heard do not prove "pay-to-play" makes him sound somewhat daft. Also his suggestion that he needs to hear evidence of criminality beyond a reasonable doubt is disingenuous. In an impeachment trial each Senator decides for himself or herself what constitutes grounds for conviction.

There are reasons why a senator would vote to acquit even in the face of obvious criminality. If Mike Jacobs does vote not to remove the govenor from office I hope he gives us his real reasons rather than this nonsense about a lack of conclusive proof of "pay-to-play".

Ridiculous argument for the "gag rule"

It is not surprising that anti-choice activists would oppose Obama's lifting of the "gag rule" which prevented US foreign aid from going to agencies which offer abortions or referrals for abortions as part of their family planning services. What is kind of surprising to me is that some of the arguments they use are deceitful and insulting to our intelligence. Take, for example, the following by Laura Hollis at

What are we to make of the first African-American president who is so blind to the devastation abortion has wrought among African-Americans? African-Americans make up less than 15% of the U.S. population, but over 35% of abortions are performed on African-American women. To get some sense of the magnitude of this impact, consider that, according to the Center for Disease Control, nearly 293,000 black Americans died in 2005. The single largest cause of death was heart disease, which claimed over 74,000 lives. By comparison, the 1400 abortions of black babies daily in the United States is over 438,000 African-Americans destroyed every year. Upwards of 13 million abortions have decimated the African-American population in this country. This is a holocaust, and one that cannot be prettied up under the rubric of "reproductive freedom."

While I can admire a skillful playing of the race card this is just pathetic. The disproportionate use of abortion as a means of family planning is much more associated with low social-economic status (poverty) than race. And to compare woman using abortion to prevent having babies before they can adequately care for them or to limit the size of their family to the Nazis trying to completely eliminate European Jewry is insulting to our intelligence. White people in the developed world have been limiting the size of their families to an average of less than 2 children for the last 50 years or so, using abortion as a last resort, without the results looking anything like a Holocaust.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

4230 Tiny Flag-Covered Coffins

Please click on the photo to see it full-sized.

There are 4230 tiny flag-covered coffins in the room which has a floor about 10 feet square. The small (about 1.5" X 3/4" X 3/4") cardboard boxes each with a tiny flag on its top and sides are arranged in a rectangle 60 boxes across by 70 boxes down, a rectangle about 8 X 5 feet.

If the actual coffins for the 4230 American servicemen and servicewomen killed in Iraq were gathered together and arranged like this (assuming coffins 7' X 3') they would require a space 140 yards long and 70 yards wide, half again as long as a football field.

The tiny coffins are part of a War Memorial created by Rock Island, Illinois artist Jay Strickland, entitled "Arrival at Dover." (Dover, Maryland is the place where most of the flag-draped coffins arrived back in the United States from Iraq.) The walls of the room are covered floor to ceiling with a listing of all the 4230 service people. With each name there is a brief description of how that individual died, whether in combat or on duty, from injuries sustained from IED’s or while being treated in medical facilities for their injuries.

The memorial is currently on display at the Davenport Unitarian Church. It can be viewed Wednesday, Jan. 28 from 5pm - 8pm or Sunday Feb 1 from 1pm - 5pm.

I hope Obama fixes this

According to a story in today's Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald newspaper:

AN AUSTRALIAN family on a mercy dash to a dying relative in the United States were detained without food or water before being sent to a detention centre and forced to spend the night with criminal suspects. Their ordeal finished with them being deported.

Read the entire article.

This happen on January 13th and 14th, before Ohama became president. I hope changes have already been made so this sort of thing won't happen again. Treating famililes visiting the US with valid travel visas, passports and return tickets badly cannot possibly make us safer in any way. In fact it makes people hate us and makes it more likely that Americans will be treated badly when they travel overseas.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Limbaugh's head explodes

To Barack Obama's supporters the actions he has taken in these first few days of his presidency are not particularly surprising. After all, they are reflections of themes he stressed during the campaign. For example, his executive order instructing "federal agencies to handle requests for information from the public and press under the Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] with an eye toward disclosure, not refusal" is just a return to the pre-Bush Administration policies regarding FOIA requests. But what most Americans view as a return to the status quo after 8 years of lawlessness has some Bush supporter's heads exploding. Here is Rush Limbaugh's reaction:

LIMBAUGH: What I’m afraid of is that what Obama did with this executive order is actually make it easier for the media to go get Bush documents. Because you know Pelosi and some of the guys over in congress are talking about war crimes trials and charges and so forth. […]

What I’m afraid of is what Obama’s done here is made the gathering of the information for this kind of stuff– This is not American. This is not America. This is not what America does. We don’t– This is Banana Republic kind of stuff.

The idea that obeying the law and allowing citizens to hold the government accountable for their actions makes us "a banana repubic" is pretty bizarre. Even more bizarre is Rush Limbaugh's view of who has been exhibiting racism lately:

You know, racism in this country is the exclusive problems of the left. We’re witnessing racism all this week that led up to the inauguration. We are being told that we have to hope he succeeds; that we have to bend over, grab the ankles, bend over forward, backward, whichever; because his father was black, because this is the first black president. We’ve got to accept this. The racism that everybody thinks exists on our side of the aisle has been on full display throughout their primary campaign.

It is hard for me to make any sense of this. He says that he and people who think like him are being told they have to "accept this" but it is not clear what "this" is. It surely cannot be that Obama has a black father or that Obama is the first black president. He surely cannot be objecting to being expected to accept those facts. No, it must be that he objects to the assumption that we all agree that it is good that we finally have a black president. Amazingly, he is claiming that it is racist of us to expect him to be glad about that.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

President Obama is re-administred the oath

Chief Justice Roberts came to the White House last evening and re-administered the presidential oath. Since Obama had repeated the words of oath slightly out of order during the official Inauguration doubts had been raised about whether he had actually taken the oath. Read more about it in this New York Times article.

You may have missed any mention of this in your local newspaper, if your local newspaper is not a big city paper with independent national reporting. The Associated Press is apparently boycotting this story and several other first day of the new administration stories in a dispute about their right to take their own White House photos rather then just distribute photos released by the Obama Administration. Read the Associated Press's take on it here. Notice how even in this story mention of the retaking of the oath is downplayed.

I can publish the above photo since it is an official government photo and therefore belongs to all the people. If the only photos of the event had been ones taken by the news organizations then there would have been no photos that I would have had rights to use.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Grown-Ups are back in charge.

My main reaction, listening to Barack Obama's Inaugeration speech, was that grown-ups are back in charge. We are no longer being told, for example, that we can have a war without sacrifice -- fought by volunteers, paid for by oil revenues from the invaded country, while the rest of us get tax cuts and are encouraged to go out shopping. The Obama Administration will not claim that we can solve our security problems by torturing people or eliminate our enemies by holding people we have captured indefinitely without charges.

This seems to be driving the few remaining Bush Administration loyalists crazy. Consider Mona Charen's column in today's newspapers for example:

That much having been said, it would be salutary in the midst of all this effervescence to reflect that many of the difficulties faced by the United States are not — the left's animadversions notwithstanding — the fault of George W. Bush.

I agree with that. Probably Dick Cheney is more to blame.

It is, for example, nearly universally agreed that America's supposed unpopularity in the world will be erased by the simple fact of Barack Obama raising his right hand and swearing to uphold the Constitution.

Nearly universally agreed that our unpopularity would be erased simply by swearing in Obama?!? Who, other than Ms. Charen, has suggested such a thing? And what does she mean "supposed unpopularity." She must not have done much traveling outside the United States lately.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why we all should celebrate the first African-American president

As part of the Moline Dispatch newspaper's 'What Obama Means to Me' feature Jan Anderson of Moline had the following to say:

...Because Barack Obama is an African American does not make him any more or less important than any previous presidential candidate and I question The Dispatch and their offer to the public to "be part of this historic event."

Every inauguration is historic but it seems that the media, including The Dispatch, has for some reason blown this one way out of proportion. Whatever happened to fair and balanced reporting?

She seems to be claiming that celebrating Obama as the first African-American president is unfair. Unfair to whom? I would have to guess she means unfair to white people.

Apparently Ms. Anderson sees no advantage to her that Americans of color can now join white Americans in realistically believing that their children can grow up to be president. She must not see it to be in her interests for all Americans to have reason to fully buy into the American dream and to have a stake in our nation and economy working well. Her limited and narrow understanding of what is and is not to her advantage and "fair" to her must interfere with her ability to choose what is truly best for her and for the nation. We can only hope hers is an extreme minority opinion and that she will eventually see the light. Perhaps President Barack Obama will have found the right words and phrases for his speech today to open her eyes to the opportunities this moment has for all Americans.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bloody Kristol not only wrong but dishonest

It was not surprising to me that in his column today in the New York Times, William Kristol is completely and thoroughly wrong. Everything he says is totally and demonstrably false. What surprised me was how thoroughly dishonest the column is, especially the following excerpt:

In synagogue, right after the prayer for our country, there is a prayer for the state of Israel, asking the “rock and redeemer of the people Israel” to “spread over it the shelter of your peace.” As we recited this on Saturday, I couldn’t help but reflect that a distressingly small number of my fellow Jews seem to have given much thought at all to the fact that President Bush is one of the greatest friends the state of Israel — and, yes, the Jewish people — have had in quite a while. Bush stood with Israel when he had no political incentive to do so and received no political benefit from doing so. He was criticized by much of the world. He did it because he thought it the right thing to do.

Read the entire column

As William Kristol knows very well polls show that the vast majority of America's Jews have great misgivings about the wisdom of the sort of military solutions to Israel's disputes with the Palestinians that Kristol and his fellow neocons, including President Bush, support. It is not through some oversight or lack of thought that most American Jews are not celbrating President Bush as a savior of Israel.

Equally dishonest is Mr. Kristol's amazing claim that it is of no political benefit to an American politician to be a strong supporter of Israel's government, and therefore the politician must be doing it because of a personal conviction that it is the right thing to do. After the injury of AIPAC having hijacked our political process on this issue so that almost all our politicians are forced to blindly support Israel's every policy mistake this insult is almost too much to bear. Kristol's assertion that Bush is acting against his political interests in supporting Israel is chutzpah of the highest order.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Forced to Prosecute

In a very interesting article in today's New York Times, reporter Scott Shane reports that the Obama Administration, simply by acknowledging the obvious truth that waterboarding is torture, could be forced to prosecute those responsible for torture as war criminals, despite Barack Obama and Eric Holder's protestations that they are disinclined to do so.

In the view of many historians and legal authorities, Mr. Holder was merely admitting the obvious. He was agreeing with the clear position of his boss-to-be, President-elect Barack Obama, and he was giving an answer that almost certainly was necessary to win confirmation.

Yet his statement, amounting to an admission that the United States may have committed war crimes, opens the door to an unpredictable train of legal and political consequences. It could potentially require a full-scale legal investigation, complicate prosecutions of individuals suspected of committing terrorism and mire the new administration in just the kind of backward look that Mr. Obama has said he would like to avoid.

The article goes on to point out the difficulties in prosecuting the low level people who carried out the orders.

Two obvious obstacles stand in the way of a prosecution: legal opinions from the Justice Department that declared even the harshest interrogation methods to be legal, and a provision in the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that grants strong legal protections to government employees who relied on such legal advice in counterterrorism programs.

Although the article does not say so, it seems to me that this defense should not and would not work for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Powell although it should absolve everyone below them in the chain of command. Picture Bush and Cheney being prosecuted for war crimes, claiming that as a result of legal rulings they directed the Justice Department lawyers to draw up, their orders to torture people were legal. Would such a defense have worked for the Nazis and Japanese Generals in the war crime trials following World War II?

Friday, January 16, 2009

This Miracle Brought to You by America's Unions

Marcy Wheeler has an excellent post up at the emptywheel blog:

They're calling it a miracle--the successful landing of a US Airways jet in the Hudson and subsequent rescue of all 155 passengers. They're detailing the heroism of all involved, starting with the pilot and including cabin crew, ferry crews, and first responders. What they're not telling you is that just about every single one of these heros is a union member.

There's the pilot:

Sullenberger is a former national committee member and the former safety chairman for the Airline Pilots Association and now represented by US Airline Pilots Association. He--and his union--have fought to ensure pilots get the kind of safety training to pull off what he did yesterday.


There are the ferry crews:

They're represented by the Seafarers International Union. They provide safety training to their members so they're prepared for events like yesterday's accident.

Read the entire post.

Thank goodness that plane did not come down in a river somewhere out in one of those red-state rural areas of this country that Sarah Palin likes to call the "real America." Those highly-trained and skilled blue-state New York City policemen, firemen, Coast Guard and commercial ferry crews are as real American heroes as you will ever need.

Wouldn't it be great if everywhere in this country we had as competent and highly-trained union professionals responding to disasters as they have there in New York City?

Friday, January 02, 2009

Violent crimes committed by G.I.s back from war

Today's New York Times has an article about violent crimes being committed by soldiers returning home from multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

He's not a drop-out. He's taking corresponence courses.

According to numerous press reports:

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin says her future son-in-law Levi Johnston is not a dropout as the press is reporting, but is enrolled in high school via a correspondence program. The former Republican vice presidential candidate also said daughter Bristol, is enrolled in regular high school and has taken correspondence courses. The 18-year-olds are the parents of Sarah Palin's first grandchild, Tripp Easton Mitchell Johnston, born Saturday.

My brother Dan, the school teacher, just emailed me his take on that:

Doesn't nearly every kid who has dropped out of High School claim to be taking correspondence classes? By the nature of those sort of programs, it is hard to claim who is or is not a student until they start to actually earn credits in the program on a regular basis. Otherwise ALL dropouts are not dropouts but simply waiting or delaying attendance. I don't see how "dropout" has any meaning if it doesn't mean all students who are not making measurable and steady progress toward graduation.