Thursday, December 29, 2005

Pennsylvania New Year Traditions

This will probably be my last post till next year for a couple of reasons. First of all, I’ve had this nagging pain in my abdomen for several months now that led me to see my primary doctor. She didn’t agree with my assessment that George Bush was the cause of my pain (although she conceded he could be the cause of discomfort in a lower area of my anatomy), so she referred me to a specialist whom I saw this week, and he in turn decided to order some Frankenstein-type tests. So, I have to drink some potions and show up bright and early tomorrow to let the mad scientist do his magic!

The second reason is because my hubby and I will be traveling south to help with my mother again this weekend. Mom is in her 80’s, has Alzheimer’s, and lives with my sister and brother-in-law (who took a much deserved vacation), so we’re taking care of her for the weekend. Some of our children will be joining us and we’ll ring in the New Year together.

Speaking of the New Year, I wanted to tell you about a couple of Pennsylvania traditions that are supposed to guarantee you good fortune and health in the coming year. I believe the traditions are of Czech origin - southwestern Pennsylvania has a huge Czech population – but everyone follows them regardless of ethnicity. Why should the Czechs corner the market on good fortune and health, right?

Anyway, this is the ritual we follow every year. We prepare for the evening by taking shiny silver dollars and setting them outside the front door, along with a broom. The amount doesn’t matter. We usually use two or three. Then, when the ball drops in Time’s Square, we toast to the New Year, kiss and hug our family and friends, and head out the back door or side door (just don’t walk out the front door). Everyone forms a conga line at this point and usually sings the Little Eva song “The Locomotion” as they head for the front door. (I can’t do this part of the tradition because of mobility issues, but I stay inside and watch them make fools of themselves from the window!)

It’s important that a man is first in line when the group reaches the front door. According to tradition, a male has to be the first person across the threshold on the first day of the New Year. It can be immediately after midnight or the next morning or afternoon, but it has to be a male who enters first; otherwise, your household will be cursed with misfortune for the next year.

By the way, you don’t have to form a line and dance to the front door - you can walk single file - but our family is usually feeling pretty mellow by then and somehow they always end up dancing! When the first male reaches the door, he has to pick up the silver dollars, set them on the threshold, and then use the broom to sweep them into the house. (You’re sweeping good fortune into the house that way.) Then the male can walk across the threshold into the house, pick up the silver dollars, and hand them to the next person in line. The process gets repeated until the last person sweeps the coins in and enters the house.

I can’t say you’ll end up a millionaire by following this tradition, but we’ve always been blessed to have enough to provide for ourselves, give help to others, and save a little for the future. What more could any person want?

Finally, don’t forget to eat some pork and sauerkraut on New Years (cooked along with a shiny new dime). We sometimes have it right after midnight and sometimes we have it the next day, but we always make sure to include it on the menu. The sauerkraut and pork bring us good luck for the next year too.

Whatever your family traditions are, I wish everyone good health and good fortune in the coming year, and for our country and the world I wish for peace.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Helen Thomas Suffers Whiplash

I took a brief respite from reading or watching any news over the weekend in the secret hope that the status quo would get shaken up and sanity would be restored to the world during this break. What a great Christmas gift that would have been, eh? When I finally settled down to some serious reading, I came across a Helen Thomas editorial, and the crusty old lady didn't let me down. In her latest piece, Thomas accuses Bush of giving her whiplash with his reasons for invading Iraq and remaining there changing all the time. the Woodrow Wilson International Center, Bush tried to justify his attack on Iraq because it was a "threat" that he admits now was based on phony intelligence.

"We removed Saddam Hussein from power because he was a threat to our security, pursued and used weapons of mass destruction," Bush said. "He sponsored terrorists."

But, Bush granted, "much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong." The president hesitantly has come to grips with a fundamental truth that has been long established by independent commissions and congressional committees.

The president continued: "Yet it was right to remove Saddam Hussein from power."

In his own world, Bush apparently doesn't see any clash between those statements. I'm suffering whiplash.

Thomas goes on to give Bush credit for owning up to his mistakes, but she doesn't let him off the hook. She can't - no one can - for the price being paid is too high to justify any excuses.
It is good that he has taken the blame, relieving the historians of making that decision, not that it would have been a tough call for them.

But Bush will never be able to admit that the invasion was a mistake. How could he look into the faces of parents of a killed GI and tell them that their son or daughter died because of his mistake?

Not to mention the Iraqi lives that were lost, the soldiers who had their limbs blown off, or the children who lost their parents to this ill-begotten war.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas

May the miracle
of Christmas
fill your heart
with peace,
love and joy.

The Bush Base Prospers

Washington recently handed $70 billion in capital gains tax cuts to the wealthy. So, how might a rich person spend the extra money they find in their checkbooks? Like this, according to a story in the New York Times:
David H. Brooks, the chief executive of a company that supplies body armor to the American military in Iraq, invited 150 of his daughter's friends to the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, where they were serenaded by 50 Cent, Don Henley, Stevie Nicks and other luminaries during a birthday party reported to have cost $10 million.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate just passed a brutal budget package that cuts funding for health care, student loans, child support enforcement, foster care funding, and other programs by $40 billion over the next five years. Thanks to the GOP, poor families will be lucky if they can afford a cake for their children, let alone a party or gift.

Getting back to David Brooks, he didn’t just find extra money as a result of the tax breaks. His company, Point Blank Body Armor, Inc., has a contract with the Pentagon that could total $500 million over the next three years. That’s a sweet deal for Brooks, but not our soldiers. The military is recalling more than 18,000 protective vests because they did not meet ballistic test standards when the body armor was made up to five years ago. It’s also the second recall in six months.

Finally, while Washington has been busy giving tax breaks to the rich and lucrative contracts to war profiteers, they’ve been reneging on promises made to our soldiers – the very soldiers risking life and limb for our country.
John MacArthur signed up for 8 years in the Army Reserves, hoping to get his schooling paid for by the military. He served in Kuwait less than a year ago and was told if he spends more than 90 days in a war-zone, his 300 dollar monthly stipend would double. Now he's been trying to get the money for school but is being told by military officials, more soldiers are going to school than they planned for and now the money is gone. John says he knew when he enlisted nothing was guaranteed but says never thought the reason he signed up would be taken away from him.

The Washington elite certainly takes care of their own – their “base” as Bush likes to call them – which leaves the rest of us out in the cold – literally.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Bush Wired Again?

Is Bush wearing a wire again? That's the rumor flying around the blogsphere. He was apparently spotted wearing a wire at his press conference on 12/19/2005.

[Hat tip: Cannonfire]

The bulge is back. The photo evidence is pretty damned conclusive. He even used his infamous phrase "Let me finish!" when no-one had even attempted to interrupt his discussion of the spying scandal...

"We will, under current law, if we have to. We will monitor those calls. And that's why there is a FISA law. We will apply for the right to do so. And there's a difference -- let me finish -- there is a difference between detecting so we can prevent, and monitoring. And it's important to know the distinction between the two."

Karl Rove Leaks Identity of Santa

According to the satirical magazine the Onion, Karl Rove has revealed Santa Claus to be "your mommy and daddy."
The motivations behind the leak remain unclear, but some political observers have characterized it as a calculated act of retribution against Fairfax, VA second-grader Madison Harris. Harris, 7, wore an antiwar T-shirt to her elementary school during a Nov. 2 visit by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

"The shirt, decorated with doves and the word 'peace,' angered White House ideologues, who felt that Harris had undermined a tightly orchestrated visit," independent political media watchdog Ellen Applebee said. "An aggressive attempt to hit Harris where she lived was set in motion."

On Nov. 3, Rove told reporters, "People shouldn't take too seriously the opinions of someone who still thinks a fat man slides down the chimney into her living room every December 25." On Nov. 6, he told several aides, "I don't consider it precocious to wear peace T-shirts and, from what I hear, read Highlights."

This isn't the first time Rove's resorted to this kind of dirty trick. He was fired from George H. W. Bush's presidential campaign in 1988 for "sending an unsigned letter to the young daughter of a Dukakis campaign adviser. In the letter, he revealed the sad ending of the film Old Yeller."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

God Bless Us, Every One

Jack Lessenberry writes for the Metro Times and he believes Democrats should try to impeach Bush so there's a historical record of his actions, especially in lieu of the latest wiretapping revelations. He's convinced things are a little crazy and sick in this country today.

Some weeks ago, I suggested that we were like frogs in a pot. The temperature that leads to fascism gets slowly turned up, degree by degree, until before you know it, we’ve lost our freedoms and didn’t even notice.

In my opinion, the entire “terrorist threat” is the most overblown political tactic in the world. Four years ago, a cunning and ruthless gang pulled one spectacular stunt, which we know as Sept. 11.

But since then, they haven’t done very much, certainly not here. Some day, there may be a terrorist named Maureen O’Riley. Hard to say; but some act of terror is bound to occur, if only by a raving nut. If that happens, do you suppose we’ll start wiretapping every Irish-American?

Or how about this: Suppose a Polish guy from Detroit was secretly an anarchist and plotted — successfully — to assassinate the president of the United States. Caught, he gleefully admitted it, saying the president was evil. And when they dragged him off to be executed, he said, “I’m not sorry!”

Well, guess what. That really happened, in 1901, when Leon Czolgosz murdered William McKinley for political reasons. They tried and executed him in a few weeks, and then spitefully poured sulfuric acid on his face after he was dead. But nobody suggested we spy on Polish America, or build secret prisons in other countries to hold people with suspicious Polish names.

Maybe that‘s because, for all our racism and faults and mean-spiritedness, we knew better who we were then.

We have a leader now who’s forgotten what being an American is all about — or more likely, the spoiled rich man’s son never really knew.

Some weeks ago I also dismissed any thoughts that we ought to consider impeaching this president. Now I think I may have been wrong about that too.

Democrats should try to impeach this fool who is responsible for thousands of unnecessary deaths and the trampling of our basic rights. They can make a run at that, if they should win back one house of Congress next year.

They’d likely fail, but they could make a record for history and show what the nature of this administration was. They might even make future leaders hesitate to violate our rights and freedoms.

Who Will Speak for the Poor in Metro Detroit?

I expected to wake up and find an editorial in the Detroit News or Free Press about the impending Senate bill, but nary a single word was printed. That's okay, though, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette articulates their opinion very well.
The same administration that gave us spying on Americans, good news bought and paid for in the Iraqi press and a costly war built on elusive rationales now wants to reduce the deficit on the backs of the poor. Americans deserve better -- and the Senate should say so today by voting no.

The poor citizens of Michigan thank you Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and to our metro Detroit newspapers I send a hearty raspberry!

UPDATE: Bah, Humbug. Dick Cheney - aka Scrooge - cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate today, which passed a bill to trim nearly $40 billion from federal spending over five years, including cuts to social welfare programs such as health care for the elderly and poor. So much for compassionate conservatism.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Jesus Doesn't Need Advertising

This post at Left-Over about protesters carrying signs chastising Wal-Mart for not using the word "Christmas" in their holiday ads just had to be shared.
There are many reasons to picket Wal-Mart - their discriminatory hiring practices, their predatory expansion policy, their exploitation of cheap foreign labor - to name just a few. The shear stupidity and single-mindedness that leads these religious nuts to picket a Wal-Mart because they don't use the word Christmas is astounding and incredibly sad. A true Christian would be using their spare time in a more positive way - like feeding the hungry or caring for the infirmed or maybe protesting an illegal war for oil. In the end, Jesus doesn't care about Wal-Mart’s ad campaign. He can handle his own PR.


[Hat tip to Born at the Crest for the link.]

Cheney Comes To The Rescue

In the midst of Snoopgate, the business of cutting programs that benefit the disabled, poor and elderly continues unabated. Our Bible-toting, “put Christ back in Christmas,” Senators in Washington are preparing to vote on a bill that will cut $40 billion from the deficit by the end of the decade. The bill faces a tight vote because it includes drastic cuts to Medicaid and a provision that would make it harder for beneficiaries to transfer assets to their children in order to qualify for government-paid nursing home care. The AARP believes these cuts will deny long-term care to people who need it the most.
The Budget Bill would deny people nursing home care if they have given financial help to family members and charities. This bill would also hurt people who cannot afford higher copayments by denying them the health care they need. It could also force people in areas where real estate prices have skyrocketed to sell their houses to get the long-term care they need.

The Republicans are also asking students to sacrifice for the sake of the deficit; no program will take a bigger hit than college loans, where almost $13 billion would be cut over five years.
The $12.7 billion in college cuts are part of an effort, led by conservative Republican lawmakers, to show discipline with the public's money.

The vote is expected to be so close that Vice-President Cheney is rushing home from an overseas diplomatic mission to be the tiebreaker vote. You see, it’s important to get this $40 billion bill passed. God forbid the bill fails and they have to give up the $60 billion in TAX BREAKS the Senate gave them last month. That’s a sacrifice those Rolls-Royce Republicans just aren’t willing to make.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Bush Trumps Citizen's Rights

Bush is not deterred by criticism or the law as he made very clear this morning.
President Bush brushed aside criticism over his decision to spy on suspected terrorists without court warrants Monday and said he will keep it up "for so long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill American citizens."

"As president of the United States and commander in chief I have the constitutional responsibility and the constitutional authority to protect our country," he said at a year-end White House news conference.

Bush might want to consult the Supreme Court before he makes such statements:
President Bush's assertion that his powers as commander in chief allowed him to authorize wiretaps on Americans despite a 1978 wiretapping law has little support in past Supreme Court rulings.

Congress enacted the law requiring investigators to seek judicial warrants before wiretapping citizens in response to revelations that former President Richard Nixon had used the FBI to spy on his political enemies.

The court's view is that Bush's powers do not supersede other legal protections.
"A state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens," wrote Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

UPDATE: I came across this relevant bit of information at TomPaine that I felt needed to be passed along:
Justifying the NSA’s spying as necessary, the Bush administration points to a need to “move quickly” in eavesdropping. But FISA already contains an exception for emergencies that allows the attorney general to authorize foreign intelligence surveillance for up to 72 hours without judicial approval. Also, it is unclear how news of the NSA’s program “alerts our enemies,” as president argued: FISA allows the same surveillance to be conducted under the rule of law...

The words, “Just trust us,” do not appear in the United States Constitution...Intelligence policymaking benefits from public debate — when officials must justify and explain their decisions.

Congress owes it to the American public to demand disclosure from the Bush administration. After all, they do work for us and not the president.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Clear Channel Censors Billboard

Last week I blogged about the winning slogan in the Campaign for America’s Future contest: Wal-Mart: Killing Local Businesses One Main Street at a Time. My post also included a link where you could make a donation to help put the slogan on a bulletin board near Wal-Mart’s Bentonville headquarters. Well, my hubby and I made a small donation to help the cause, but we got this very disturbing e-mail from CAF over the weekend:
Dear Kathy:

After allowing us to reserve a billboard less than a mile from Wal-Mart’s World HQ, Clear Channel has refused to accept our ad, censoring the message that you selected about Wal-Mart. Bob Sadler, Clear Channel’s Fort Smith, Ark., division president, unilaterally made the decision. To try to rationalize his censorship, he forwarded a copy of Clear Channel’s official content review policy which stated:

"I wish I could offer objective guidelines for reviewing copy, but I can’t. Frankly, I think these kinds of issues need to be viewed the way Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart approached a very controversial pornography case many years ago: "You know it when you see it."

This is outrageous. Our ad isn’t pornography. It is a clear statement of the truth about Wal-Mart. Mr. Sadler is suppressing free speech out of fear of offending Wal-Mart.

Clear Channel owns more billboards than any other company in America and over 1,200 radio stations nationwide. It is simply outrageous that they would use this power to suppress speech -- even a message that we are prepared to pay for. We have to let Clear Channel know that their censorship is unacceptable. Please send an email to Bob Sadler, the man who rejected your billboard, and demand that he not suppress speech to placate Wal-Mart.

Click here to send e-mail to Clear Channel

Needless to say, this outraged me too. I’m frequently on the freeways and I’ve seen billboards for everything from God to adult entertainment, so I really feel Mr. Sadler drew the line on this slogan because he wants to control a message he doesn’t want America to hear; however, here are some more facts from the CAF letter:
As you know, "Wal-Mart: Killing Local Businesses One Main Street at a Time" isn’t just rhetoric, it's reality. Within the first five years of Wal-Mart’s arrival in nearly 1,800 U.S. counties, an average of four small businesses, one mid-sized store and one large store go out of business. [2] And, rather than generating substantial new business, Wal-Mart takes 84% of its business from existing stores, closing down stores on Main Streets across America. [3]

No one censors Wal-Mart’s multi-million dollar ad campaigns. No one stops Wal-Mart from painting its workers as happy, without noting that they are paid so little that most can’t afford health care for their kids.

CAF is pursuing legal actions against Clear Channel, and they’re asking supporters to click on the above link to send an e-mail to Sadler. I signed the letter at that link, but it was bounced back to me several hours later with the following message: Unable to deliver message to the following recipients, due to being unable to connect successfully to the destination mail server.

I don’t know what to make of that development. Sadler may be a coward who simply changed his email address rather than dealing with his critics or it could be something innocent like a full mailbox. I’ll keep trying to send through the link and I’ll try to find an update on the CAF website. If you click the link and send a letter, let me know what happens, okay? This whole incident leaves me shaking my head. Freedom of speech in America sure is under pressure and its not pretty.

Ben Stein On Executives Gone Wild

There has been lots of press coverage about Delphi in the last few months; some pundits are siding with management against the union, and some are siding with the union against management. I even added my two cents worth of outrage against the executive compensation package Steve Miller submitted to the bankruptcy court. (To refresh your memory, Miller wants hourly workers to take cuts in their pay from $25 an hour to $9-12 an hour, while rewarding the top 600 or so executives and managers with a share of about $510 million.) Companies like Delphi have been getting away with downsizings and reorganizations for years now without too much criticism, so I was pretty surprised to come across an article in the NY Times by Ben Stein that actually questioned Miller’s sense of decency.
What? A bankrupt company enriching its executives even as it destroys its stockholders' equity and demands that its workers revert to spartan living standards? (To be sure, the compensation is concentrated at the high end of the corporate ladder - of course - and much of it is in stock, which is difficult to value. In these recapitalization situations, though, the stock tends to be a fabulous bonanza for those who got it free or for very little.

Stein goes on to say that he owns Delphi stock and he points out that Miller has a fiduciary duty to the stockholders, not Miller’s colleagues, and that any extra money sitting around belongs to them first and foremost. His next statement then puts it to Miller pretty succinctly:
However, despite my losses on Delphi, I still have a solidly comfortable life - at least for today. I don't desperately need my infinitesimal share of that $510 million (or whatever nine-figure sum it may be). But the workers on the assembly line and in the restocking room who make an hourly wage - they do need it. They need it badly. How on earth did the idea come into the head of someone as smart as Mr. Miller that he could get away with enriching those who already have high pay (or higher pay) and simultaneously demand that his workers accept poverty or lose their jobs?

Stein wasn’t just critical of Miller in his article. He talks about Edward Lampert and the K-Mart/Sears marriage that cost worker’s jobs while enriching him, and Carl Icahn’s insistence that Time Warner eliminate jobs so stock prices can go up and make him richer. Stein owns Time Warner too, but he said, “I KNOW some of these people from my many visits to CNN. They work hard. They are not paid a lot. Is it really necessary for Mr. Icahn to demand that they be fired, just before Christmas or at any other time, so he can make more on top of the billions he already has?”

This article makes me hopeful that the pendulum will start to swing back in the other direction. For too long, workers have been asked to give up pay and benefits for the sake of the company while top executives prospered and never shared in the sacrifice. There comes a time when people need to question the decency and morality behind the decisions being made and how these decisions look to the rest of the world, and for Stein, the time is now:
This is a country at war. For men who are already billionaires to look for more billions by firing hard-working middle-class employees or demanding they take a pay cut is not the kind of thing that unites a nation. I'm a devout capitalist, but this is just plain ugly.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Dingell's Jingle

A familiar sounding holiday rhyme from poet laureate Congressman John Dingell, D-MI. Enjoy!

Twas the week before Christmas and all through the House
No bills were passed ‘bout which Fox News could grouse;
Tax cuts for the wealthy were passed with great cheer,
So vacations in St. Barts soon would be near;

Katrina kids were nestled all snug in motel beds,
While visions of school and home danced in their heads;
In Iraq our soldiers needed supplies and a plan,
Plus nuclear weapons were being built in Iran;

Gas prices shot up, consumer confidence fell;
Americans feared we were on a fast track to…well…
Wait--- we need a distraction--- something divisive and wily;
A fabrication straight from the mouth of O’Reilly

We can pretend that Christmas is under attack
Hold a vote to save it--- then pat ourselves on the back;
Silent Night, First Noel, Away in the Manger
Wake up Congress, they’re in no danger!

This time of year we see Christmas every where we go,
From churches, to homes, to schools, and yes…even Costco;
What we have is an attempt to divide and destroy,
When this is the season to unite us with joy

At Christmas time we’re taught to unite,
We don’t need a made-up reason to fight
So on O’Reilly, on Hannity, on Coulter, and those right wing blogs;
You should just sit back, relax…have a few egg nogs!

‘Tis the holiday season: enjoy it a pinch
With all our real problems, do we honestly need another Grinch?

So to my friends and my colleagues I say with delight,
A merry Christmas to all, and to Bill O’Reilly…Happy Holidays.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

White House Accepts Torture Ban

Chalk one up for human rights. McCain prevailed and anonymous officials are reporting that the White House has agreed to accept his call for a law specifically banning cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of foreign suspects in the war on terror.
Under the emerging deal, the CIA and other civilian interrogators would be given the same legal rights as currently guaranteed members of the military who are accused of breaking interrogation guidelines, these officials added. Those rules say the accused can defend themselves by arguing it was reasonable for them to believe they were obeying a legal order.

Some opposition is building from Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, but it doesn't appear to be a serious threat.

On a side note, it's being reported that McCain and Feingold will introduce legislation today to tighten the lobbying laws.
The lawmakers will introduce a measure as early as today that would require lobbyists to disclose through quarterly electronic reports all the contributions they make, the fund- raisers they arrange and the amount they spend on behalf of candidates and political parties, according to a person who has seen a draft. The legislation would require disclosure of all grass-roots activities and double to two years the waiting period before a lawmaker-turned-lobbyist could lobby a former colleague.

McCain is picking up brownie points with the public for his stance on torture, and now he wants to toughen the lobbying laws. Could he be looking at a run for president? It's also interesting that Feingold is working on this effort along with McCain, in addition to threatening a filibuster of the reauthorized Patriot Act. Perhaps vice-presidential candidate is in his future? McCain/Feingold 2008. They may just be the saviors the Republican ticket was looking for.

CLARIFICATION: I caught a lousy virus from Bostonian Exile that appears to have made its way to The Impolitic and me. (Who knew human viruses were transmissible through the internet. I thought Nortons would protect me.) Anyway, my hubby pointed out that my McCain/Feingold ticket didn't make sense, and upon inspection, he is correct as it is written. What I should have said is McCain would run under the Republican ticket and save the GOP from a total wipeout in 2008, and Feingold would run under the Democrat ticket. It would be a win-win situation for everyone.

Hey, Commander-in-Chief had a Republican president and independent vice-president. It could happen. At least that's what my feverish brain is telling me. I hope to blog more tomorrow, but for now I'm posting this and hitting my pillow.

An Anti-Poverty Bill



On a personal level, I know many generous Republicans who are concerned about poverty in our country. They see the incessant and strident efforts of the GOP to cut social programs as mean-spirited, especially when those cuts are offset by huge giveaways to the rich. They believe in the necessity of welfare-to-work rules, as do I, but they’re astute enough to realize that its nearly impossible for the working poor to provide for themselves in a decent manner without government assistance, and they understand that not all people are employable.

On a national level, the number of groups that are speaking out and challenging our government to do something about poverty encourages me. One group, the Community Action Partnership, the nation’s largest anti-poverty group, is pushing the idea of a comprehensive bill to eradicate poverty in America. Derrick Span, the national president, believes, "Nothing short of a major anti-poverty bill will suffice. The bill must be fully funded to be able to lift those in poverty out and to keep those out from slipping in."
While welfare-to-work initiatives of the Clinton administration moved people off welfare rolls, Span said, they also moved the poor into jobs with little to no chance for advancement. If the wages of the working poor had kept pace with the salary increases of CEOs over the last 15 years, he estimated, everybody making minimum wage back then would be bringing home about $48,000 a year today.

Poverty in America is seen in our streets and in our homes. Span describes what he calls the three faces of poverty.
First are the people who live on corners and beg for money. He called them the traditional face of poverty. "They are chronically unemployed, sometimes mentally ill, and many are felons," Span said. "They beg for dinner by day while searching for a warm place to sleep at night."

Second are the working poor. "You know who they are," he said. "Why are they an aberration? It’s because you’re not supposed to be able to say ‘working and poor’ in the United States. They’re working a full-time job for part-time wages."

"The truth of the matter is, there is no such thing as menial labor," Span said. "The only thing menial is the salary the employer attaches to it."

Third are those people just barely keeping things together. "They are individuals one, two and three paychecks away from slipping below the American dream," Span said. "They’re just one step away from utter destitution."

Our most vulnerable citizens need the relief an anti-poverty bill could give them, but Washington needs to know Americans consider the bill a priority. Speak out and tell Congress its time to spend some money here at home. Remind them that we’re tired of spending billions in Iraq and giving tax breaks to the rich while our own people starve.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Patriot Act Section 602

Section 602 of the Patriot Act reauthorization is causing quite a stir across the country, especially the section that makes holding an un-authorized sign at a Democratic or Republican National Convention, a Presidential or VP appearance, and any other event designated by the Secret Service as a "national special security event" (NSSE) a felony punishable by a year imprisonment.

Sign carrying has always been a part of peaceful protest and free speech in our country, and dissenting viewpoints have always been welcome - if not debated - in our democracy. Without protest or dissent, there might never be change. As The Impolitic says:
The way I see it, the purpose of civil dissent is to peacefully disrupt the status quo.

This law could reach beyond official political events too, as Hy Dudgeon at Michigan Liberal points out.
Remember Duncan DeBruin, the man who was ejected from Ford Field for holding up a "Fire Millen" sign at a Lions game?

DeBruin better not think of a repeat performance at Super Bowl XL, especially if President Bush decides to attend the game--like his father did the last time they played the Super Bowl in Michigan. He might wind up doing time in federal prison.

Dudgeon also points out that "there have been about 20 NSSEs since 1998. They included the 2000 and 2004 national party conventions, presidential inaugurations, the 2002 Winter Olympics, and Super Bowl XXXVII in New Orleans." And don’t forget about the three teachers in Medford, Oregon, who were thrown out of a Bush rally for wearing T-shirts reading "Protect Our Civil Liberties" because a Bush campaign worker deemed the shirts "obscene."

Sen. Feingold has already spoken out against this reauthorization act. He said he will do everything he can to stop it, including a filibuster, because the act does not include adequate safeguards to protect our constitutional freedoms. We all need to step up and help Feingold. As Hy Dudgeon points out:
Floor debate on the Patriot Act starts today. Please contact our senators and ask them to join Senator Feingold's effort to stop this legislation. Congress can't afford to hand any more power to the executive branch. Especially one headed by a president as arrogant as George W. Bush.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Pentagon Pays $20 For Each 85-Cent Ice Cube Tray

I had to pass along this information from The Whispering Campaign website. It's just one more example of how the government blatantly wastes taxpayer money. [Hat tip for the link to Acoustic Dad's Place]
The Pentagon paid $20 each for plastic ice-cube trays that once cost 85 cents. A supplier was paid more than $81 each for coffee makers that for years were purchased from the manufacturer for $29.

That's because instead of receiving competitive bids or buying directly from manufacturers as it once did, the Pentagon now uses middlemen who set prices. It's the equivalent of shopping for weekly groceries at a convenience store.

The higher prices are the result of a Defense Department purchasing program called prime vendor, which favors a handful of firms.

The Defense Department touts the program as one of its "best practices" and credits it with timely deliveries that have eliminated the need for expensive inventories and warehousing. For purchases under the food prime-vendor program alone, the DLA claimed a savings of $250 million in five years.

But those savings would have happened even without turning to the prime-vendor program, competing suppliers say. Most suppliers for years have offered goods on an as-needed basis so that the military doesn't need to store them in costly warehouses.

One manufacturer who previously sold directly to the government but now sells to the prime vendors said the system doesn't make sense.

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., called for an investigation of the program.

"Can Congress do anything? Yes. Will Congress do anything? No," he said.

This excerpt is from "Pentagon purchases: Millions in markups" by Lauren Markoe and Seth Borenstein. Check it out for yourself and see how responsible the government is when it comes to spending your tax dollars.

Seniors Selling Drugs

Our economy is growing and prospering according to the president, yet many senior citizens are selling their prescription drugs to make ends meet.
Dottie Neeley, 87, was fingerprinted, photographed and thrown in jail, imprisoned as much by the tubing from her oxygen tank as by the concrete and steel around her.

The woman — who spent two days in jail after her arrest last December — is among a growing number of Kentucky senior citizens charged in a crackdown on a crime authorities say is rampant in Appalachia: Elderly people are reselling their painkillers and other medications to addicts.

"When a person is on Social Security, drawing $500 a month, and they can sell their pain pills for $10 apiece, they'll take half of them for themselves and sell the other half to pay their electric bills or buy groceries," Floyd County jailer Roger Webb said.

Experts suspect the problem is not limited just to Appalachia. We should be ashamed in this country: Billions for war, but no butter for our seniors.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Milking the System

Washington loves to cut funding to the poor, but they turn a blind eye to excesses elsewhere. War profiteering? No problem. Pork barrel projects? Absolutely. Government oversite of FEMA funds? Hey, its only taxpayer money. We can get more where that came from. Well, I'm tired of the government using taxpayer dollars like their personal piggybanks, especially when money that could give real relief to people in dire situations gets spent on the haves and the have mores.
A FEMA program to reimburse applicants for generators and storm cleanup items has benefited middle- and upper-income Floridians the most and has so far cost taxpayers more than $332 million for the past two hurricane seasons, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel found in a continuing investigation of disaster aid.

What makes this so infuriating is that people know they're scamming the system but do it anyway.
Dr. Arthur Palamara of Hollywood, a vascular surgeon and candidate for the state House of Representatives, got an $836 check from FEMA for a generator he bought a week after Wilma, and he now is debating whether to cash it.

''My sons are giving me a hard time, saying, 'You don't really deserve the money,' " said Palamara, who lives in a home assessed at $1.1 million.

In 2004, eighty percent of the money went to applicants in middle- and upper-income areas. FEMA imposes no income restrictions, but leaves it up to the states to determine eligibility. It's interesting to note that Jeb Bush's Florida remains one of the most generous of the hurricane-vulnerable states, yet the Bush brothers and their Republican pals criticize the poor for living on the dole.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Mission Accomplished

The Buckeye Balls are finished and snuggled away in Christmas tins - all 152 of them! My hubby made the dough Friday evening so it could chill overnight, and Saturday morning we got busy cooking. The first picture shows him rolling the dough between his hands while I manned the camera. I had a little snafu and couldn't get the darned thing out of movie mode, so by the time I found the manual, read it, and changed the settings, my husband had already rolled 140 of those little buckeyes. That might explain the serious look he has on his face!

I redeemed myself by offering to get the chocolate melted for the next step - and cleaning up the kitchen afterwards - so that brought a smile to his face. (Honestly, I don't know how the camera ended up in movie mode. It really was an accident and I wasn't trying to get out of helping him.) The next picture shows my hubby happily dipping balls in chocolate while making a mess at the same time.

Just in case you're skeptical, the third picture proves that I actually helped my hubby dip those little balls in chocolate and didn't leave all the work for him. My feelings are kind of hurt though. He's not totally convinced of my selflessness. He mumbled something about me being a chocolate freak or something to that effect.

Anyway, the last picture shows the buckeyes being put into tins for safekeeping through the holidays. They're kind of cute, aren't they? If you find yourself in our neighborhood in the next couple of weeks, stop in and try a buckeye ball for yourself. They're a Pennsylvania tradition named after a tree indigenous to Ohio (the Buckeye State), but even Michigan fans could learn to love them!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Separated at Birth

Robert Dreyfuss has a clever post over at The Dreyfuss Report where he asks the question: Are I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby and Ibn Al-Shaikh al-Libi related? Are they brothers?
I don't want to speculate about whether al-Libi's father had several wives, and whether one of them was Scooter's mother. But the coincidences seem all too real. In America, we have I. "Lying" Libby making up stuff about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda and peddling those lies to stampede Congress and the public into supporting the Bush administration's war. And over in the Middle East, our forces conveniently capture a man named "Libi," who is then shipped from Afghanistan to Egypt, tortured, and then comes up with the very same lies that "Libby" was pushing. It was "Libi's" lies, produced under torture, that gave "Libby" the ability to claim that Iraq was training Al Qaeda in chemical and biological weapons. That charge, of course, was a cornerstone of the terrorism-WMD nexus that gave nervous liberal hawks a reason to support Bush's illegal war.

Dreyfuss concludes that the new term for liberals who supported the war in Iraq may be "Libbys." That's a possibility, but Dreyfuss should check with Libby at The Impolitic before he paints all Libbys with the same brush.

Update: Impolitic Libby also blogs for the DetNews. I love her style, and the fact that she is not afraid to mince words. This post definitely puts to rest the notion that Libbys are liberals who support the Iraq war.
Let me say this slowly for the war supporters, so it can sink in. We are not safer from terrorism by being in Iraq. While we're fighting them "there," there's no one left "here" to protect us...

You hear a lot about how people "volunteer" for military service and know what they're volunteering for, but what you don't hear from the war apologists is how they're being told one thing by the recruiters and instead end up virtually conscripted for life. In any event, calling up these Individual Ready Reservists, after decades without training, can hardly be construed as troop readiness. And if they're scraping like this to get warm bodies to send over "there," who do you think is left to protect us "here?"

We have multiple deferment Cheney et al to protect us. That should make it easier for us to sleep at night, eh?

We've Got a Winner

The winning slogan in the Campaign for America’s Future contest is: "Wal-Mart: Killing Local Businesses One Main Street at a Time." For every $5,000 raised, this slogan can be published for one month on a billboard less than one mile from Wal-Mart’s Bentonville, Ark., World Headquarters.
"Wal-Mart: Killing Local Businesses One Main Street at a Time" isn’t just a slogan, it’s a reality. Within the first five years of Wal-Mart’s arrival in nearly 1,800 US counties, an average of 4 small businesses, 1 mid-sized store and 1 large store go out of business. [1] Rather than generating substantial new business, Wal-Mart takes 84% of its business from existing stores, closing down stores on Main Streets across America. [2]

It’s time to stand up for Main Street and for the hardworking entrepreneurs that make the American economy work for working families. And, it’s time to stand against Wal-Mart, the model “low road” corporation in the global economy -- a company that pockets millions in public subsidies, while providing poverty wages to workers, buying sweatshop products from China and driving countless small businesses into bankruptcy.

The loss of these local merchants has multiple effects upon our communities. Local businesses return more to communities than big-box retailers. The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies compiled a number of studies that show for every $100 spent at a local independent company approximately $45 goes to the community. On the other hand, if you spend $100 at a corporate chain like Starbucks, only $13 goes to the community.

They also did a study on charitable giving and determined, "small firms give an average of more than two and a half times the amount per employee than do medium or large firms (small firms give $789 per employee, medium sized firms $172, and large firms $334)."

We live in a big-box nation, but our daily lives revolve around friends and family in our local communities. When we shop at a big-box retailer like Wal-Mart, we hurt our neighbors employed there, especially when we remain silent about the conditions they work in. They deserve better wages and benefits. We also hurt our neighbor-merchants who depend on us for their livelihoods when we take our business elsewhere.

So what’s the solution? We need to watch out for each other and speak up. When our neighbor benefits from better wages, our community benefits. When we buy local and small businesses prosper, our community benefits. We may live in big-box America, but for the most part we live in small towns, and small town people - and all Americans for that matter - look out for each other.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Buckeye Balls

My hubby was in the kitchen the other night rustling some papers around, but I didn’t give it much thought since I was engrossed in the hockey game (I’m an avid Red Wings fan). Well, guess what? It turns out my hubby – aka Emeril – was looking for our recipe for buckeye balls. For those of you who have never heard of buckeye balls, they’re peanut butter confections dipped in chocolate that resemble buckeye nuts. (Nuts, balls, they’re all the same to me.) Anyway, they’re also another one of those Pennsylvania traditions we make every year like the sauerkraut and pork I told you about.

Okay, you’re probably wondering why Pennsylvanians claim the tradition of buckeye balls when the buckeye tree is native to Ohio and they’re known as the Buckeye State. The answer is: I don’t know, and I don’t care. I just know that my hubby insists that we make buckeye balls every year when we do our holiday baking since that’s what Pennsylvanians do.

Anyway, making buckeye balls is on the agenda for this weekend. Our goal is to have 10 dozen balls by Sunday night. Hubby will bring 5 dozen to work, which the guys will suck down in about 15 minutes, and we’ll give 3 dozen to a good friend of ours. That leaves my husband 2 dozen buckeye balls for himself. Me? I hate peanut butter. I’ll pick up a few bags of Hershey Kisses – that’s my idea of a bona fide Pennsylvania tradition!

UPDATE: The buckeye balls are finished and nestled in their tins! Check out the pictures for yourself to see the finished product.

Here's the recipe in case you’d like to make some buckeye balls. It makes about 3 dozen.

½ cup butter, melted
1 pound powdered sugar
1 ½ cups smooth peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon shortening

Combine melted butter, powdered sugar, peanut butter and vanilla together and mix well. Dough will be stiff. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until firm. Roll into 1 inch balls and place on waxed paper.

In the top half of a double boiler, melt the chocolate and shortening. Stir constantly until smooth. Use a toothpick to dip balls into melted chocolate, but leave a small area uncovered so the ball resembles a buckeye nut. Place back on wax paper and refrigerate until chocolate is firm. Transfer to storage container and keep refrigerated.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


I've heard of students getting kicked out of school for many reasons, but this one makes absolutely no sense.
Zach Rubio, a student at Turner School District's Endeavor School in Kansas City, Kansas, was recently suspended for two days because he spoke Spanish during recess, which, among other things, is not against school policy. Despite Zach's not breaking any rules, however, the principal, Jennifer Watts, explained: "We are not in Mexico, we are not in Germany."

Where are we, Ms. Watts? Oh...I almost forgot, we're in Kansas, where the schools are dedicated to teaching nonsense, and the line separating church and state gets thinner every day.

When the superintendent got wind of this he quickly reinstated the student; meanwhile, Zach's father is still waiting for an official apology.

Note to my son, Gary (who is an assistant principal in Pennsylvania): I have total confidence in your professionalism and that of your school district!

Torture Defined

Bostonian Exile picked up on my previous post regarding Sheriff Bouchard's opposition to John McCain's anti-torture bill, and chided those of us who label people against the amendment as pro-torture.
Just as someone can abhor terrorism while opposing the Global War on Terror (is that what we're calling it this week), one can abhor torture without endorsing the McCain Amendment.

...I am not convinced that the McCain Amendment is the best way to prevent this, predominantly because the Amendment, while saying some very noble things that I support in principle, isn't terribly clear as to what it is proscribing.

Fair enough, the language used is vague and leaves lots of room for interpretation. However, that vagueness is a problem that Exile and I agree on, and it should be addressed by our government. There needs to be a definitive definition of what constitutes torture and inhumane treatment, and the government also needs to put on the record what practices are/are not acceptable. Of course, this wouldn't sit well with the Bush administration since they like to push the boundaries and interpret the gray areas to their advantage.

I'm not letting Sheriff Bouchard off the hook though. He said with proper training and tools law enforcement could bring forth information during interrogations. How does Bouchard define appropriate tools? I believe its important for him to answer that question. Does he condone waterboarding? How about beating prisoners with lead pipes? Michigan's citizens deserve to know.

Update: For those who may disagree with my opinion that the Bush administration likes to interpret gray areas to their advantage, check out this post at The Carpetbagger Report. As they point out, trying to decipher Condoleezza Rice's remarks about the U.S. approach to abusive tactics is no easy task.
Rice, in other words, is telling the truth insomuch as she defines her terms, without acknowledging what those definitions are. It's breathtaking.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Sheriff Bouchard Pro-Torture

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard is opposed to John McCain’s anti-torture bill.
…Bouchard said appropriate interrogation methods are necessary to keep the country safe.

"There are a variety of methodologies that can be used in interrogations," said Bouchard. "With proper training, we can bring forth information, but we need the tools."

McCain believes that Americans should “hold ourselves to humane standards of treatment of people no matter how evil or terrible they may be. To do otherwise undermines our security, but it also undermines our greatness as a nation. We are not simply any other country. We stand for something more in the world — a moral mission, one of freedom and democracy and human rights at home and abroad.”

Sheriff Bouchard needs to define what kinds of “tools” he thinks are appropriate in dealing with interrogations. In the meantime, try not to get arrested in Oakland County; human rights don’t mean much there.

[Hat tip: Michigan Liberal]

Tonto's Revenge

Robert Scheer believes the Republicans have pretty much lost the moral high ground.
Call it Tonto’s revenge: The outrageous rip-off of Native American tribes by a top Republican lobbyist is leading inexorably to a reckoning for the allegedly morally superior religious and political right.

“I don’t think we have had something of this scope, arrogance and sheer venality in our lifetimes,” Norman J. Ornstein, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, wrote in Roll Call. “It is building to an explosion, one that could create immense collateral damage within Congress and in coming elections.”

Selling firewater to the natives—or in this case charging them $82 million for government breaks on slot machine and other gaming licenses - is not exactly what the high-minded prophets of the Republican revolution promised. And to see behind the scenes as Christian right superstar Ralph Reed, bought off by top Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, dupes his grassroots “pro-family” followers into unwittingly supporting casino-rich Indian tribes under the guise of anti-gambling initiatives, is to glimpse moral corruption of biblical proportion.

The web magazine Truthdig is working on connecting the dots on Abramoff’s web of corruption. The list of charges and accusations is lengthy, but of course so is the depth of the GOP corruption.
Abramoff has been a good friend to the GOP. But as the list of bad deeds and dirty connections grows by the day, watchers are worrying that this friendship is incompatible with a healthy democracy.

Incompatible? That's an understatement.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Help Wanted 75-100K

Would you like to earn up to 100K a year? Well, dust off that resume. Kellogg, Brown & Root may be the answer to your dreams – or quite possibly the nightmare you’ll never wake up from.

According to In These Times, KBR is holding job fairs to find workers to fill positions in Iraq ranging from chefs, electricians, mechanics, medics, laundry, pest control, construction and water purification workers. The pay ranges from $75,000 to $100,000 a year — with the first $80,000 tax-free if you last an entire year. They currently have between 50,000 and 60,000 people in Iraq with orders to keep sending 200 to 300 more a week – with no end in sight.
The cardboard display on the table outside the hotel conference room promotes benefits like "integrity," "adventure" and "pride," but "the money is the big draw," says Dale, another of about 60 KBR hopefuls at this afternoon’s session, which consists of an hour-and-a-half long presentation by Peter Howatt, a recruiter with KBR’s special projects group. Six other recruiters out in the hallway sift through resumes while Howatt lays out a far more realistic scenario than the military presents to army recruits. "We don’t pull any punches," Howatt told In These Times. "People know exactly what they are getting themselves into."

For the most part, the Vietnam veteran stays true to his word. In the first 10 minutes of his talk, Howatt provides his audience with the official KBR contractor death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan (68 at the time). He tells the applicants that they’ll be working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, with 10 days off every 4 months. After a short film showing construction of a tent city in the desert, he advises the room full of military veterans, former Halliburton/KBR employees and average Joes and Jills (complete with a crying baby in the back) that if they are killed in an NBC (nuclear biological or chemical) attack and their remains are contaminated, they won’t be flown home to their families. Instead, they will be cremated.

But heads perk up at the mention of salary, and Howatt’s sales pitch to the group is tight: "If you owe back taxes, call the IRS, tell them you are gonna go overseas, make a ton of money, and they’ll be glad to let you go. Same with child support."

With 200,000 job applications on file, the KBR recruiter admits the poor economy “adds to our ability to go out and attract the right people.” It probably doesn’t hurt any that as of January 1, starting pay in the U.S. army will only range from $15,282 to $27,464 per year.

UPDATE: It appears that KBR is behaving just like any other typical corporation - they're outsourcing jobs. According to the United Press International, the U.S. military has paid Halliburton subsidiary KBR about $12 billion so far for logistics support and KBR in turn "hires subcontractors whose job it is to recruit, transport, house, feed and pay "third-country" nationals to stock, prepare, serve and clean up at the dining facilities at 43 bases across Iraq."
Most of the workers are deemed unskilled and work seven days a week for 12 hours a day, according to their contracts, one of which was obtained by United Press International. In practice, workers said in interviews, most only work six days a week.

There is no provision for sick leave. Any employee who threatens a strike or attempts to organize is subject to immediate dismissal and the employee required to pay for his return plane ticket.

For this they are paid $150 a month, roughly 45 cents an hour.

Salaries are deposited in bank accounts in Africa so the money is available to the workers' families.

The workers also get a $40 a month cash allowance on top of that, but the contract states the money is a gift, and the amount discretionary and may be eliminated.

This whole scenario stinks, but you can bet your last dollar Kellogg, Root & Brown executives will make out like bandits.

It Really Is True CAN fool some of the people ALL of the time.

[Hat tip: Shakespeare's Sister]

Bear in mind, this is a Fox News poll, but still:

[S]ome Americans think there are still weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. A 42 percent plurality thinks Iraq had weapons before the war and moved or destroyed them, while 28 percent think there were no WMD at all. Almost one in five (19 percent) think there are still WMD in Iraq.

The poll also revealed that "the long-standing polarization between the parties continues, as there are almost as many Republicans that approve of the job Bush is doing (78 percent), as there are Democrats that disapprove (80 percent)."

Like I said at the beginning, you can fool some of the people all of the time - and I'm not talking about the Democrats.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Fair Tax Reform

Economist Dean Baker pushes for tax reform that treats income equitably a la Ronald Reagan '86.

The key idea behind the ‘86 reform was not to lower tax rates, but to eliminate loopholes. It also took a key step that stands in opposition to the current flavor of Republican tax breaks. The ’86 tax reform treated all types of income—wage income, capital gains, dividends and rents—the same way. This meant that a person who earned $70,000 from working would pay the exact same tax as someone who got $70,000 in dividend checks or who made $70,000 in profit on stocks.

Taxing all income the same way meant that there was no money to be made by gaming the system—for example, by disguising wage income as capital gains income. Reagan proudly boasted when he signed the bill that people would now make money by working and investing, not gaming the tax code.

Compare this to the type of reform being pushed by the Bush administration.
This spirit behind this approach to taxes runs counter to the current tax cuts being pushed by President Bush and the Republicans in Congress. Sen. Frist, in particular, has pledged that he won’t bring back a conference committee on the tax cuts to the Senate floor without the capital gains and dividends provision. Frist and his colleagues think it’s unfair that people who get money from dividends or profits on stock pay the same tax rate as people who earn their living working as truck drivers or schoolteachers. The Republicans want to extend their tax breaks from 2003, under which the maximum tax rate on dividends and capital gains would be just 15 percent. This compares to the 25 percent rate paid by many middle-income workers.

Republicans claim that most Americans would benefit from tax breaks on dividends and capital gains because so many people are now stockholders. However, this claim is misleading. The vast majority of shareholders own very little stock that would benefit from a tax break.
Most people hold their stock in 401(k) type retirement accounts. The money earned in these accounts is taxed as normal income after retirement, regardless of how it was earned. This means that when a schoolteacher or firefighter pays taxes on the dividends earned by the stock held in their 401(k)s, they will pay the standard tax rate—quite possibly 25 percent. The special 15 percent tax rate is reserved for that relatively small group of wealthy people who have substantial stock holdings outside of retirement accounts.

Our tax code should treat workers and investors the same; to treat them differently smacks of class discrimination. However, that's precisely the message the GOP seems to be sending: Americans fortunate enough to sit around all day and live off of their trusts funds deserve more tax relief than hard-working Americans who bust their tails to go to work everyday.

Fatherly Advice

The one single theme of the Bush presidency that bothers me the most is his faith, or actually the way he lives his faith. He shows great concern for issues like abortion, but he turns his back on the poor struggling to provide basic needs for their families. In other words, Bush talks the talk, but he doesn't walk the walk when it comes to his faith. Extreme evangelicals may be on his side, but more and more mainstream Christians are starting to speak out and challenge the president to act on his faith.

A tongue-in-cheek rebuke of Bush is online at the Society of Mutual Autopsy in the form of a letter from Bush's father. Bush Sr. is concerned that his son may in fact be a true follower of the Gospel, and he warns him not to do anything that may tick him off.

Dear Son,

I hear from Uncle Dick that you're going through yet another rough patch. Chin up! Remember what I've been telling you all these years: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves to Everything. Now, we Bushes have certainly helped ourselves to gazillions, and God has truly blessed us in return. After you said God told you to invade Iraq, remember how Pat Robertson gave you God's blessing? You are truly blessed my Son. I made sure of that.

Now, I know what it's like to be down in the polls. Let's not forget '92. But if you're feeling a bit low, why not watch Joel Osteen instead of reading your Bible? Granted, this fellow Texan is a bit too touchy-feely for my taste, but he does say that the Lord is all about success. I'm sending you his upbeat #1 New York Times bestseller, "Your Best Life Now." Soon you'll be experiencing victory, joy, and happiness every day of your life!

As you know, mum was a bit disturbed when you decided to leave the family's Episcopal faith for that middle-class Methodism. And while I would never proclaim Jesus Christ as my favorite philosopher, I got to admit that move really helped secure your political base with the righteous Republicans.

But I just heard from your mother you're so despondent that you actually got down on your knees and decided this time to really commit your life to Christ and, God forbid, the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Please tell me this isn't so. I didn't pay good money to get your fanny on Easy Street just so you could go off and pull a Dorothy Day or a Martin Luther King Jr. I thought I taught you better than that. Please, son, stop with this loony discipleship business before you embarrass the entire family.

After all we've done for you, how can you give up your ranch, your SUVs, and your cozy, cash-cow bedmate, Halliburton? Not to mention that brand new $100,000 set of digitally engineered cheat-to-win golf clubs I gave you on Father's Day. How else do you think you've been making all those birdies? I know you, son, and you have a habit of rushing into things without thinking about the long-term consequences. And if you choose to follow Christ, it's going to have eternal consequences.

You can kiss goodbye to fun - and you know how much you like to have fun. No more two-month long vacays. No more $200,000-a-plate barbecues. You'll be out there fighting for peace, and all you'll get is war and destruction. To quote Luke 12:51-53, "Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother." These are definitely not Bush family values.

Now I hear you're facing pressure to abolish the death penalty and end the war in Iraq. Please, my son; focus on Leviticus 24 with its call for "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" instead of this "turn the other cheek" crap. Between you and me, Jesus wasn't always the sharpest knife in the drawer. Just look at the riff-raff He chose as his disciplines. Uneducated fishermen who are nothing but welfare bums, a tax collector turned raving liberal, two hotheaded rowdy youths nicknamed "sons of thunder" and a political activist a.k.a. terrorist. Would you want untouchables like these to enter the halls of the Yale Club?

Uncle Karl says you've been talking about running around Washington D.C. loving God with all your heart and soul and loving your neighbor as yourself. Have you no decency? Have you no shame? Never, ever, has a Bush fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and visited those in prison. We have a family tradition to uphold, after all.

Finally, I can't afford to have you sell all of your possessions, give the money to the poor, and chuck the presidency of the greatest nation on earth. Please son, I'm retired. I need the tax cuts you promised me.

Now, my Prodigal Son, it's time to come back to the fold. A place is waiting for you at the National Prayer Breakfast. After all, the Bible does say, "Honor thy father and mother," and despite what Christ says, I am your father.


Pappy Bush forgot a line: "Never, ever, has a Bush attended a funeral for a soldier killed in war."

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Jesus Is the Reason, Except in Washington

Three weeks from today is Christmas Eve - the night of our dear Savior's birth - and millions of homes across the country will decorate Christmas trees in His honor, except for Washington. Our politically correct Capitol decorates a "Holiday" tree in honor of - well, I don't know what they honor exactly, maybe gross consumerism that enriches corporations and drains household pocketbooks?

There is one person in Washington who wants to return the emphasis where it belongs, House Speaker Dennis Hastert. [Hat tip: Think Progress]

House Speaker Dennis Hastert has decided to mark the season by loudly insisting that the Capitol’s decorated spruce be called a “Christmas tree,” as opposed to a “Holiday tree.” He is right on this point. It is a Christmas tree. And while the Speaker may consider his action a “work,” the message of Jesus means more.

The message of Jesus IS important and that message is that faith without works is dead. If we celebrate the birth of Christ as a Christian nation, but act in ways that neglect the needs of the poor, then we are a nation of hypocrites.

If Speaker Hastert really wants to put Christ back into Christmas, he should start by joining a long list of religious leaders in supporting a budget that isn’t balanced on the back of the poorest and most vulnerable.

Before the House went on Thanksgiving break, it passed $50 billion in spending cuts that target millions of poor and working-class Americans... The Congressional Budget Office estimated the House bill “would cut food stamp benefits by about $45 a month for 225,000 people” and that 40,000 children would lose their eligibility for free meals at school. At the same time, conservatives are seeking to “extend several of Mr. Bush’s biggest tax cuts, including those on stock dividends and capital gains” — over half of the benefits from those cuts go to people earning over $1 million per year.

Hastert should heed the true spirit of Christ by caring for the vulnerable. As Jesus reminds us in Luke 4:18-20, by following his example we can “bring good news to the poor.”

Washington has an opportunity to act with Christian charity and restore the spending cuts. I pray they will listen to their hearts and do what's right.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Vote For Wal-Mart Slogan

Take action and help choose the slogan that will further expose Wal-Mart's high costs to America! Vote for the slogan that you'd like to see published - and publicized - on a prominent billboard less than a mile from Wal-Mart's Bentonville, Ark., World Headquarters.

The deadline is Sunday, December 4th, 11:59pm EST, so VOTE today.

When you're done, come back and tell me your favorite slogan. I voted for "Profits for China, Foodstamps for Americans!"

Thursday, December 01, 2005

"Duke" Gets the Royal Treatment

Duke Cunningham cried and blubbered after pleading guilty to charges of fraud and conspiracy, but that frown will soon be replaced by a smile. Cunningham will keep his government pension and could retain the privileges enjoyed by other former members of Congress according to The Hill. Unbelievable. The man serves in the House for 17 years, but after admitting to tax evasion, conspiracy and accepting $2.4 million in bribes, he will be allowed to keep his taxpayer funded pension.

What a double standard. Average Americans should have it so good. [Hat tip: The Carpetbagger Report]

Here's the pitch voters should hear: A corrupt congressman has more retirement security than you do.

About a month ago, PBS's NOW with David Brancaccio did a very disturbing piece on the crumbling pension system for millions of American workers.

Currently, 44 million Americans are enrolled in traditional defined benefit pension plans. Here's how they're supposed to work: during your working years, your employer is supposed to set aside money on your behalf, with the promise that they'll pay you a monthly benefit when you retire. But there's a problem: looking to save money today, many companies aren't setting aside enough money for the retirees of tomorrow.

Bradley Belt calls that "underfunding." Add it all up, he says, and the shortfall for America's pension plans is staggering.

How staggering? It's a $450 billion problem.

When Duke Cunningham can count on his congressional pension, but workers at United Airlines can't, it's time for Congress to take a look at this issue.

Maybe its time to do something about those "legacy costs" in Washington.

Declining Status in the World

The midwest has always been known as the industrial engine of our country, and manufacturing jobs have traditionally paid good wages and benefits, which in part helped create a strong middle class. The tide has been turning for some time though, particularly for the auto industry, and the standard of living workers once enjoyed is rapidly disappearing. We’ve lost our industrial edge, and our image and standing in the world have suffered as a result. America is no longer #1 in terms of industrial might.

The U.S. is losing its edge in other areas too. The Christian Science Monitor points to these troubling indicators:
As 2005 draws to a close, foreigners hold about $3 trillion (yes, that's trillion) in US dollars, Treasury bonds, and other government securities such as Fannie Mae mortgages. Two-thirds of this is held by four Asian countries - Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea. It is a mark of confidence that foreigners are willing to put so much of their money into our money, but the cumulative result is that foreigners are acquiring huge claims on American assets. This is the stuff of nightmares for US economic policymakers worrying about what would happen if the Asians should decide to cash in their dollars all at once. Worse, what if the Asians decided, as the US has sometimes done, to use their economic clout for political purposes?

It’s not just the foreign deficit we need to be worrying about either; our federal deficit has skyrocketed.
It used to be said that budget deficits didn't matter because we owed the money to ourselves. But that is no longer true. Both as a government and a people, we are living beyond our means…

We need to have a national debate about the federal budget. This should not be a repetition of the silly argument in which Republicans accuse Democrats of taxing and spending and Democrats accuse Republicans of neglecting the poor in favor of the rich. The budget is our main tool for allocating resources and setting national priorities and values…

The other part of budgetmaking is taxes. Tax policy is deciding who pays how much for the costs of the budget. Tax policy can also be used for social purposes, that is, the redistribution of wealth…

At the same time, we have to adjust to a changing world. We don't know how to deal with globalization. The Chinese, on their way to becoming a world power, don't know how to deal with the clash between a liberalizing economy and an authoritarian political system. General Motors, long the world's biggest automaker, is threatened in that position not by Ford, not by Volkswagen, but by Japanese Toyota. And this comes on the eve of the 64th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Better an economic than a military threat, but the irony remains.

An economic threat may be less painful in terms of death and destruction, but how long can we hold onto our military might if we lose our economic superiority? The USSR is a perfect example of a country that lost its military edge when its economy faltered. Is that the future of this country?

And what is the future for millions of Americans who already live in poverty? What about the millions without health care? We need to raise taxes and reduce spending in ways that reflect our national values, but I don’t believe most American’s values include bankrupting our country on the backs of the middle and lower classes while enriching the coffers of corporations and the upper class. We CAN do better for the people in this country. The question is: What are we waiting for?