Wednesday, September 30, 2009

$500 billion in defense contract oversight blurred

Oversight Reports Slam Dysfunction At Defense Contract Audit Agency:

The office in charge of auditing Pentagon contracts is beset by incompetence and possibly malfeasance that has allowed big defense contractors to line their pockets at taxpayer expense, according to two new government oversight reports.

Last year, the obscure but important arm of the federal government called the Defense Contract Audit Agency looked at $501 billion in contractor costs.

But think of the money Mr. Bush's friends made. Isn't that what we pay taxes for??

Obama Still Smiling. Polls are up.

Why Is Obama Still Smiling? Look at the Polls

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Are Insurers Exploiting Health Care Debate To Mislead Seniors And Drum Up Business?


Are Insurers Exploiting Health Care Debate To Mislead Seniors And Drum Up Business?

More extinction bursts: GOP Rep. Trent Franks Calls Obama "An Enemy Of Humanity"

Oh yeah, that.

GOP Rep. Trent Franks Calls Obama "An Enemy Of Humanity"

Because Socialist, Communist, Fascist, Stalinist, and Nazi had already been used.

Despite setbacks, growing momentum for a public option

From Robert Creamer: Growing Momentum for Public Option:

"The big private insurance companies don't want to change the status quo that has allowed a few big players to corner the market in most markets. An AMA survey, released in late January, gives a score gauging the concentration of the commercial market for 314 metropolitan statistical areas. The report showed 94% had commercial markets that were 'highly concentrated' by standards set by the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department.

A Robert Woods Johnson Report indicates that over the last ten years wages have gone up 29%, health insurance rates have gone up 120% and the profits of the private health insurance industry have gone up 428%. No wonder they don't want competition."

A health care business incentivized to avoid delivering health care? Who wouldn't want that?

Oh right. Most of us.

Last weekend's New York Times poll showed that 65% of all voters support giving Americans the choice of a public option and only 26% oppose it.

More importantly, the public option is also popular in swing Congressional districts. The firm of Anzeloni Liszt just released the results of a poll it conducted in 91 Blue Dog, Rural Caucus and Frontline districts. The poll found that 54% of the voters in these battleground districts support the choice of a public option.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

The last fish fry?

Hi everyone,

Where ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise -- and like a fool, I keep reading.

Saturday's column.

The last fish fry?

Before turning up the fryer under this week’s fish story, a quick disclaimer. A few irate readers have been e-mailing my campus to complain about my columns. While I’m happy to defend the inalienable right of anyone to disagree with me, please remember that I do not now nor have I ever written a single word in any public forum as an agent for the University of Wisconsin. What I say in print is solely my responsibility and in no way represents the policies or opinions of the University of Wisconsin or its administration. As I’ve said before, they don’t even like it when I speak up at meetings.

Besides, there are more important things to think about this week – like whether we’re running out of beer battered cod.

I’ve spent the last few years looking into food production and distribution and how these have affected the quality, and sustainability, of what we eat. For instance, when I was a kid you could find a dozen different kinds of apples at the store. Nowadays we’re down to about four. I particularly miss Northern Spie Apples from Michigan.

But despite the crumbly apples and corky peaches now sold as “real fruit” in the supermarkets, I always believed we’d have enough Atlantic cod – until I read Taras Grescoe’s book, Bottomfeeder. It’s funny how global issues always eventually end up on the plate in front of you.

I was aware, for instance, that overfishing had crashed the stocks of many harvestable species on the George’s Bank, once the most productive fishing grounds on Earth just off the east coast, but I was in complete denial about the relationship between that overfishing and the fabulous Friday planks of cod and tartar sauce that make my eyes roll back in my head. Grescoe connected the dots for me.

Grescoe loves fish and, so, set out to see what he could eat in good conscience.

First, the bad news. Never eat these: Bluefin tuna, Atlantic cod (from the U.S. and Canada), Atlantic halibut, Chilean sea bass, Asian tilapia or shrimp.

Grescoe gives these fish a “never” because they’ve been over-fished, nearly to extinction, or because they’re harvested using bottom-trawling – a gigantic carpet sweeper netting technology that destroys the ocean floor. Bluefin tuna and halibut can also be relatively high sources of mercury – not something you want in your diet unless you’re already a Mad Hatter, or wish to become one.

Seeing Atlantic cod on the list nearly gave me a heart attack since most of our local fish fries once used Atlantic cod. Those are precisely the fish we’ve nearly wiped out over the past 50 years. We’re accustomed nowadays to hear about overfishing or overgrazing or over use of natural resources, but here’s how bad the Atlantic cod stocks are doing: Seafood Watch at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a clearing house for information on fish stocks and fishery management, says that there is wide agreement among scientists that we’re now fishing “the last 10 percent of this population and that the population may never fully recover.”

Now for the good news. Always eat: Arctic char, Pacific halibut, Icelandic cod, herring, mackerel, mullet, oysters and pollock (the stuff that goes into McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwiches.)

Atlantic cod was out but, thank heavens, Icelandic cod gets a big “yes.” The Icelanders have been using sustainable harvest techniques for years. And, happily, Pacific cod from our side of the Pacific also gets a thumbs up. Cod from the western Pacific is another matter. Because of ineffective, or completely missing, management of their fish stocks and because they’re mining their oceans the way we did the George’s Bank 40 years ago, Seafood Watch suggests avoiding cod imported from Japan or Russia.

For more information about fish to avoid eating (for health or environmental reasons – and aren’t those finally the same?) Google Seafood Watch at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

So from now on, when you order fish on Friday, ask your server where it’s from. I’ve found that asking for information about your dinner has two pleasurable effects: 1) the chef, when they hear that someone is asking where the cod/shrimp/salmon is from, will think you’re some kind of fish connoisseur and do a nice job on your order and 2) you won’t be culpable in over grazing the planetary resources. Eating well and eating responsibly turn out to be the same thing – and, um, are you going to finish your fries?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

the anti-science Eagle Forum now in Wisconsin

They're heeeere.

Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum is the same street gang who pushed through the law that put labels inside biology textbooks in Alabama "warning" kids about evolution and who believe that 'social justice' is simply code for un-American.

-- because kids shouldn't be taught that science works or that America should be a just society. Science and Justice are, after all, dangerous ideas.

For more: Eagle Forum of Wisconsin

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Glenn Beck and The New American Idiocratic elite.

Hi everyone,

Glenn Beck only, finally, got my attention once I'd read something he'd actually written. Makes me a dinosaur in the age of McLuhan but, strangely, I feel pretty good about it. Anyway, I initially thought Beck was just a mouthpiece for his owners' party line, but it turns out things are worse. He's what Augustine would have called incorrigibly ignorant.

And thus, we can start to see the outlines of our new idiotcratic elite: King Rush and Beck as Court monkey.

Saturday's column.

Missing ‘Common Sense’

The New American Idiocracy and its elite skip over key parts of Paine’s wisdom

While watching Congressman Wilson indulge his inner Draco Malfoy during the President’s speech to Congress, I wondered whether common sense had simply failed here in America. Maybe PT Barnum was right about us; maybe “there’s a sucker born every minute.”

Forty-one percent of Americans believed in the death panel nonsense. Twenty-five percent of Americans don’t believe in evolution. Twenty-five percent believe in astrology. Two full years after the Sept. 11 attacks, a USA Today poll found 70 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was responsible. Not encouraging.

Worse. A lot of Americans, right now, believe Glenn Beck understands “Common Sense.”

Glenn Beck has been a very naughty boy. He complains that Obama’s stay-in-school speech to students is “indoctrination” because, in his universe, urging kids to stay in school, do their homework, and study hard to become productive members of society is the sort of ideological proselytizing no American should have to hear. He’s been busy calling the president a racist and, more recently, Swiftboating members of the current administration: the first one an African American, the most recent one Jewish.

It’s his job.

I initially thought Beck was just a true-believing lock-stepping Moonie shill for his bosses at Murdoch’s News Corporation and thus, merely stupid, but last week I had the misfortune to read his recent pamphlet. It’s appended to the front of Tom Paine’s revolutionary classic “Common Sense.” I assume the editor stuck them together to lend Beck’s refrigerator-door finger-painting the appearance of, for lack of a better word, competence.

Full disclosure: I’m a big fan of Tom Paine.

Beck claims that the solution to our political woes is for America to return to moral virtue as a guiding principle. Sounds good, if you don’t think about it too deeply.

Unfortunately for Beck, about three pages into “Common Sense,” Tom Paine writes this: “Here then is the origin and rise of government; namely, a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world.”

Let’s read that again: Paine says the rise of government is rendered necessary by “the inability of moral virtue to govern the world.”

Paine understood full well, as did the Founders, that you cannot rely on “moral virtue” to govern the world because everyone has a different idea of what moral virtue is.

The voices we have to listen to in order to create a just society and a responsible government are not those shrieking about “moral virtue,” soaked as they are in the kerosene of human fear, but to the voices of reason. Reasoning, I might add, is a lot more work. Sorry about that.

Anyway, why would Beck do something this stupid? I have two hypotheses: 1) he doesn’t care so long as the money rolls in and 2) he knows most of his readers will endure about one paragraph of Paine’s 18th century prose and fall asleep before they realize Beck doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

The reality, of course, is that my little crumbs of criticism hardly matter for, even though Beck doesn’t understand a lick of “Common Sense,” his book is a big best-seller. When a fundamentally flawed understanding of one of the most important texts in American history can stand in for thoughtful political insight and make money, PT Barnum starts to look like a genius. When we’re willing to believe anything, anything stupid can happen.

For instance: last week, when the president addressed the nation’s school children – as Presidents Bush and Reagan had before him – our local school district had to send out an e-mail to quell rumors that children would be dressed in Obama t-shirts, Obama masks and forced to participate in some kind of Obama Indoctrination Day celebration.

What’s even more interesting than the fact that someone, maliciously, started this rumor, is that so many people believed it – enough people, in fact, that their complaints kept local school kids from hearing the president of the United States tell them to work hard and stay in school. Some of these people, no doubt, embody the contradictions in Glenn Beck’s version of “Common Sense.” Fortunately, there is an American political theorist more insightful and relevant than Glenn Beck, who summarizes perfectly our predicament with regard to the enemies of good government and common sense. It’s the 1930s Sunday cartoons character Pogo, of course, whose most famous maxim carries the most common sense of all: “We have met the enemy, and they is us.”

Although, more and more, I'm thinkin' not ALL of us.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sullivan comes out as early backer of Lawton... Vukmir circles his seat.

Hi everyone,

Something to put in the calendar.

Sullivan comes out as early backer of Lawton - JSOnline
Sullivan is facing what is expected to be a tough re-election campaign next year because of a challenge by state Rep. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa).
I guess Barbara Lawton would be okay, so long as she reroutes funding for the technical colleges through the state legislature where we can keep an eye on it.

But Leah Vukmir is another matter: the former head of PRESS -- a group that intruded in interesting ways into some local schools some years back -- and a nurse opposed to health care reform.

I'm waiting for anyone to ask her whether she believes in evolution.

He said.


And more fun as the right wing tears itself to pieces"Tea Party" Leader Melts Down On CNN: Obama Is An "Indonesian Muslim Turned Welfare Thug"

What does it mean when David Gergen agrees with James Carville about the right wing now in control of the press cycles?

"Tea Party" Leader Melts Down On CNN: Obama Is An "Indonesian Muslim Turned Welfare Thug" (VIDEO)


Glenn Greenwald always nails it: The distracting benefits of ACORN hysteria.

Since ACORN actually turned itself in, and since they only get a few million a year while Wall Street hid its excesses and lack of regulation while managing to get working people to pay for a billion dollars of bonuses ...

The distracting benefits of ACORN hysteria

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Library censor Ginny Maziarka, back in the blogs.

Hi everyone,

Ms. Maziarka shows up on my "West Bend" Google Alerts and, in the wake of someone giving her her own Memorial Library Censorship campaign coffee cup and refrigerator magnet at Cafe Press, here's a digest of some of the other local conversations.

From Sleepless in West Bend and Censorship-Free Libraries: Ethics Code?


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Republicans trying to end Medicare too.

I imagine the baby boomers will eventually wake up and want to say something about this... oh yeah, they did. They elected the current President.

But just in case:

The banality of Sensenbrenner.

Hi everyone,

Missed the last few weeks getting back up to speed with the beginning of the semester. Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-WI 5th CD) helped wake me up with a little column he wrote about Gitmo.

Let me just say that this is precisely what Hannah Arendt was talking about. You'll see.

The Banality of Sensenbrenner.

Lawyers who become politicians sometimes focus so hard on what the law allows, they forget what justice demands. Maybe that’s because the law can be bent to fit circumstances as desire or expedience dictates. Justice is a different matter.

This may explain Rep. Sensenbrenner’s embarrassing two-step in the paper last week where he suggested that locking up prisoners in Guantanamo was “the solution, not the problem.”

Only someone more interested in legality than in justice could write something like that — assuming it was not embroidered by some hack from one of the pricey think tanks currently calling the shots for the RNC. Only someone with formidable legal skills could fold the American Constitution, like an origami master, into something that makes the torture of untried prisoners into a normal part of American life.

But there’s nothing normal about Gitmo, no matter how you crease the Constitution.

Had Guantanamo been tasked with locking up “prisoners of war” we wouldn’t even be having this conversation — but Guantanamo was not designed to incarcerate “prisoners of war.” It was designed to “detain” “enemy combatants.” There are sharp legal distinctions hiding inside these quotation marks. Prisoners of war must be treated according to the Geneva Convention, of which the United States of America is a signatory. The phrase “enemy combatants” was used instead, in order to camouflage their imprisonment under the drab olive tarp of legal expediency.

There’s a lot of nonsense in Rep. Sensenbrenner’s tidy paragraphs, but his most sinister comment of all is to note how good the conditions are for the prisoners. Prisoners at Guantanamo, he reminds us, get three culturally appropriate meals a day, are allowed to exercise and receive medical attention, and, best of all, they even have showers!

Apparently being imprisoned without trial or legal recourse is not such a big deal — so long as the food reminds you of your Mom.

So here’s the reality Mr. Sensenbrenner’s ninja lawyer tricks help him dodge: the fact that some of these men are dangerous terrorists — and some of them no doubt are — does not mitigate the fact that in United States of America everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Everyone. For now.

The camp at Guantanamo was built to legally circumvent this critical bit of constitutional justice. The fact that a detention camp has nice showers doesn’t make the incarceration of untried prisoners just or even — as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit recently found with regard to the Bush Administration’s treatment of suspected enemy combatants — legal. Not without some fancy dancing.

Am I the only one who gets sick simply from seeing the words “camp” and “showers” so close together?

This brings us to the crux of the matter.

Hannah Arendt, in the title of her 1963 work, “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,” coined the phrase that describes Mr. Sensenbrenner, and all the other Halliburton-built Camp Delta apologists, to a T. She noted with regard to the Holocaust (and those who supported it), as we may note with regard to the Guantanamo detention camps (and those who supported them), that the greatest evils in history are not caused by fanatics or sociopaths but by completely ordinary people who simply “accepted the premises of their state and therefore participated with the view that their actions were normal.” Those responsible for Guantanamo, and for defending it, believe all of this is normal. They accepted the Bush administration's premises — specifically, that terrorism justifies anything we happen to feel like doing whether it’s constitutional or not.

I imagine those gray and flinty lawyers, perfectly normal people, spending long days folding Madison’s illuminated prose into a shape that could justify a brave new world, and I know what they thought about on their way home from work each night. They thought about their kids, or about gardening or about pot roast for dinner: the million mundane facts of a mundane life. I imagine Rep. Sensenbrenner, heading home after a long hard day, dreaming of a brat with sauerkraut and maybe an ice-cold, Wisconsin-brewed beer.

Issues of justice? Enough bratwurst and the law starts to look more reasonable than what justice demands, in the same way that Guantanamo can look more reasonable than what justice demands.

Guantanamo was not, and is not now, a final solution to international terrorism. Guantanamo was, and remains, the most effective of all recruiting posters for international terrorism.

It is, alas, not surprising that people who confuse the law with justice should confuse the torture of uncharged prisoners with increased security for one’s country.

Our long national nightmare continues.


Pray4Ginny Gear now available at Cafe Press.

Hi everyone,

In the future, said Andy Warhol, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. Here's what that looks like:

Cafe Press: Ginny Maziarka doesn't speak for me! coffee mugs. Distance yourself from Ginny's views in style!

And so it goes.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Help Joe Wilson, retire.

Hi everyone,

Joe Wilson helping his opponent in the next election. You can help too.

Check out: Left Take


Friday, September 04, 2009

A Single-Payer Reform Would Be Major Stimulus for Economy with 2.6 Million New Jobs, $317 Billion in Business Revenue, $100 Billion in Wages

Hi everyone,

Looks like the possible savings are beginning to penetrate the skulls of even the most fraidy cat phalangists out there... but here's some more ammo.

First-of-Its Kind Study: Medicare for All (Single-Payer) Reform Would Be Major Stimulus for Economy with 2.6 Million New Jobs, $317 Billion in Business Revenue, $100 Billion in Wages

Expanding Medicare to include the uninsured, and these on Medicaid or employer-sponsored health plans, and expanding coverage for those with limited Medicare, would have the following immediate impacts:

  • Create 2,613,495 million new permanent good-paying jobs (slightly exceeding the number of jobs lost in 2008)
  • Boost the economy with $317 billion in increased business and public revenues
  • Add $100 billion in employee compensation
  • Infuse public budgets with $44 billion in new tax revenues


More drum beats over the West Bend Library dust up.

Hi everyone,

I see now that Ginny and Owen are starting their own grass roots organization for prosperity in America. Wonder who gets to join. In the meantime, there's this reminder:

Book banning is alive and well in homophobic America

[[And a Mea Culpa. Whoops: badly spun info precipitated the unchecked meta-commentary... from me above. Apologies to the BSer's out there. What I meant to say is that Owen and Ginny and some of their fellow travelers have expressed pleasure at the new grassroots organization for prosperity in America. Etc.]]


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

West Bend Public Library Wins Wisconsin ProQuest Intellectual Freedom Award

Congratulations for those defending human dignity and the Enlightenment from those barbarians trying to crash the gates of our Republic, housed in the West Bend Library.

From West Bend Public Library Wins Wisconsin ProQuest Intellectual Freedom Award

In the wake of the ongoing controversy over select Young Adult books at the West Bend Community Memorial Library, the Intellectual Freedom Round Table of the Wisconsin Library Association has named Director Michael Tyree and Young Adult Librarian Kristin Pekoll, along with the other staff, members of the Library Board, supportive community members (especially blogger/organizer Maria Hanrahan), as winners of the 2009 Wisconsin ProQuest Intellectual Freedom Award.

The announcement can be found in the latest WLA newsletter (p. 11, authored by Elizabeth Buchanan and myself), and includes the following praise:

Our colleagues at West Bend Public Library were indeed tested. Going through any challenge requires commitment, professional integrity—and guts. It is a long mental and physical process and, with each day, a new commitment to the core values of intellectual freedom in our profession is required. Our colleagues met this challenge and, while this case may not be over, it is our hope that they can be proud of their actions and their firm standing in the face of strong controversy.

A not incidental irony: Protecting free speech protects the very same Christian Fundamentalists who attempted to ban free speech in the West Bend Library. In a strange way, this is a victory for the Maziarkas as well.