Monday, December 31, 2007

My New Year’s Burn List

I don’t, as a rule, make New Year’s resolutions. It’s a fine exercise if you want to do it, but the surest way to start the New Year off on the wrong foot is to assign oneself a litany of self-improvement goals that inevitably are not reached. Then it’s an entire year of guilt and self-loathing for continuing to be the overweight, beer-drinking, smoking, couch potato you’ve always been.

Where resolutions are concerned, Attaturk has it about right: make a bunch of resolutions you have no intention of keeping but are so nasty, you’re better off for it anyway.

My list is a little different. I list all of the things from 2007 that I don’t want to carry into 2008. Then I go outside, light a match to it and watch the sucker burn.

There will be personal things on my list (which I won't post here), but also things about the world and this country I think we’d be better off without. It's my list so I get to make the rules. And nothing is too big or too trivial to make my burn list.

In no particular order, but as they come to mind, is my Burn List (I’m still working on it, so if you have suggestions, feel free to add them in comments):

1. Iraq War
2. Inaction on global climate change
3. Inaction on impeachment
4. Spineless Democrats
5. Torture of prisoners
6. Religious extremism
7. Bush Administration partisan deceit
8. Homelessness in Nashville
9. Hunger in Nashville
10. Mall/school shootings
11. Violence against women and children
12. Intolerance
13. Right-wing hate radio (buh-bye Michael Savage!)
14. Celebrity news as real news
15. Nashville Predators’ poor game performance
16. Mainstream media ineptitude
17. Global AIDs/HIV
18. Animal torture
19. People speeding down my street
20. Bill O'Reilly (I really do wish he'd just go away)
21. Those stupid GEICO advertisements
22. Phone calls from telemarketers

Sunday, December 30, 2007

When Hooters Becomes Shooters

Come on, people. Can we not reach for our guns at the tiniest provocation? Can we stop doing shit like this?
1 killed, 1 hurt in Hooters shooting

Police say man opened fire at restaurant after argument about bill

An argument over a restaurant tab led to an early-morning shooting Saturday that killed a customer, wounded an assistant manager and temporarily shut down a West Knoxville Hooters, authorities said.

Stacey Sherman, 35, of Applegate, Mich., died Saturday afternoon at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, Knoxville Police Department Lt. Doug Stiles said. The shots started as Sherman stepped out of the Hooters, 8050 Kingston Pike, just before 1 a.m.

Assistant manager Kris Key, 25, also suffered gunshot wounds. He remained in the hospital Saturday night, a company official said.

Police continued to search for the gunman, whom Key had ordered out of the restaurant after an argument over his bill. Police said they're not sure of his name.

Key had waived the man's tab just before asking him to leave. The man, who was by himself, walked out, pulled a .40-caliber gun from a backpack and started shooting into the restaurant, then ran away, Stiles said.

Cue the right-wing morons clamoring to allow guns into restaurants so they can all be the hero. Hey, it works in the movies!

Yeah, I know. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But as long as people are unhinhged psychodoodles ready to fly off the handle and discharge their weapons at the first little irritation instead of resolving disputes rationally, I don’t think we should be giving them deadly weapons.

Just sayin'.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

They're Baaaack!

Following up on this post from earlier in the month, I thought I'd show you the mail we received at the Beale house yesterday.

Yep, all catalogs.

It was the same the day before and it will be the same today. This deluge was bad enough before Christmas, but now all the crap I didn't buy the first time around is on sale, so retailers feel compelled to make that final push.

I never buy from catalogs anymore but I do buy online, which I guess is the same thing from the retailer's perspective. But I'm seriously reconsidering these online purchases, knowing that it will only result in another deluge of catalogs four or five times a year.

If a person buys stuff online, shouldn't they be able to opt out of receiving catalogs from that retailer?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Belt-And-Suspenders Elections


It gets worse. According to an advisory posted by the Metro Election Commission, the laptops contained full social security numbers, not just the last four digits.

Thanks a lot, idiots.


Oh, great:
Thieves nab Nashville voter rolls

Laptop has data on about 337,000 people

Staff Writer

Thieves broke in to the Davidson County Election Commission offices over the Christmas holiday and made off with computers containing the names and identifying information of every voter in Nashville.

The missing laptop contained names, addresses, phone numbers and the last four digits of about 337,000 voters' Social Security numbers. It's the same information that candidates buy from the county when they're putting together mailing lists, said county Election Administrator Ray Barrett.

This is disturbing, to say the least.

If I recall correctly, Davidson County now uses the ES&S iVotronic voting machine, which has a history of problems and, inexplicably, does not provide a paper trail, which makes a manual recount impossible. Why, oh why, did anyone think this was a good idea? Why completely eliminate the option of a manual recount when recent history has shown us how important that can be?

And then there’s this new report:

They found that the ES&S tabulation system and the voting machine firmware were rife with basic buffer overflow vulnerabilities that would allow an attacker to easily take control of the systems and "exercise complete control over the results reported by the entire county election system."

Oh, even more great. So now thieves have stolen a computer that lists every registered voter, and I'm pretty sure it also lists what party they voted for; at least, back when I was a campaign volunteer, that's what the information contained. And we have new voting machines that have proven to be hackable.

You see where I’m going with this?

Yeah, the thieves probably just wanted computers. After all, they also broke into the Water Department offices next-door. But who knows? There’s been enough fishiness to breed doubt. We’re trusting the integrity of our elections to .. what? The goodwill of crooks?

The point is, whether this was just a case of thieves wanting computers or if someone let G. Gordon Liddy off his leash to reenact the Watergate burglary, we don’t have a backup! When we walk into the voting booth in February (or next November) we will have to take on faith that everything is going to be hunky-dory and no human is ever tempted to do something illegal and manipulate the transfer of power in America.

Yeah, right.

Would someone please remind me why we thought it was a good idea to have election machines that do NOT provide a paper receipt? Something I can look at in my hand and say, “yup, that’s how I voted.” And then allow me to deposit that piece of paper in a secure box, so if the election is disputed, or too close to call, or someone alleges dead people are voting, or any one of a number of things happens, we can go back and check something other than an easily manipulated computer hard drive?

You know, a back-up? Do we no longer believe in back-up plans in this country?

My dad used to say he was “a belt-and-suspenders man.” He checked and double-checked everything. He didn’t do anything without having a back-up in case plan A didn’t work. We sometimes called him a pain in the ass but you know what? Important stuff didn’t fall through the cracks.

I want a belt-and-suspenders election. Something this important deserves a back-up. I simply do not get the arguments against this.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto Assassinated

I’m stunned at the news that former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated after a rally today. I haven’t even formed a coherent thought about this tragic news, except I feel that a blog post on the latest American political follies would be banal, maybe even a little tacky.

I am reminded that the world is a dangerous place, and that our greatest allies in the “War On Terror” are leaders of dangerous, unstable countries.

I am grateful to live in a country where we do not need to assassinate our opposition leaders, but instead let the rule of law and democratic process guide our transfers of power. And yet, this country is no stranger to political assassinations: both Kennedies and Martin Luther King Jr. come to mind. Love of power, greed and violence are universal human failings.

I am reminded that there are those who will inevitably try to capitalize on tragedy to further their own agenda. The State Department’s premature statement that “this has all the earmarks of Muslim extremists, possibly Al Qaeda” was one such instance.

I am reminded that there is no end to truly stupid punditry. Joe Scarborough’s remark that "Rudy Giuliani will no doubt be helped by this horrible situation," is such an example.

Mostly I just want to know: whatever happened to peace on earth?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Morality of Taxes

Yesterday’s New York Times had a must-read article on the work of Susan Pace Hamill, a Biblical scholar and tax professor at the University of Alabama Law School. For those of us who have long been perplexed at the bizarre alliance between the Religious Right and the Grover Norquist anti-tax crowd, this article is vindication of sorts:
Professor Hamill asserted that 18 states seriously violate biblical principles in the way they tax and spend. She calls Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas “the sinful six” because they require the poor to pay a much larger share of their income than the rich while doing little to help the poor improve their lot.

The worst violator, in her view, is her own state of Alabama, which taxes its poor more than twice as heavily as its rich, while holding a tight rein on education spending.

The poorest fifth of Alabama families, with incomes under $13,000, pay state and local taxes that take almost 11 cents out of each dollar. The richest 1 percent, who make $229,000 or more, pay less than 4 cents out of each dollar they earn, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, an advocacy group whose numbers are generally considered trustworthy even by many of its opponents.

I have never understood how the righteous Christians of the GOP have been able to walk hand in hand with the Americans For Tax Reform crowd and not felt the tiniest tweak of conscience. It’s always struck me as terribly hypocritical to claim to be a Christian following the commands of Jesus Christ while completely ignoring what the Bible says about taking care of the poor. And yet, Gary Bauer and Tony Perkins have no problem making room in their Values Voters club for the rabidly anti-tax Club For Growth. It makes no sense.

The basic Christian ethic is this: help your neighbor. That’s it. We may disagree on how that ethic becomes public policy, but we should at least agree on that basic point.

This is where taxation comes in. For people of faith, a more equitable tax structure that asks the wealthy and corporations to contribute more fairly and create revenue for social programs is Biblical. Not this feel-good, conscience easing "tough love" taxation of the Reagan and Bush years. The poor should not pay 11 cents on every dollar while the rich pay just four cents. That is immoral and un-Christian.

Says Professor Hamill:

“The Bible commands that the law promote justice because human beings are not good enough to promote justice individually on their own,” she said. “To assume that voluntary charity will raise enough revenues to meet this standard is to deny the sin of greed.”

Ah yes, “human beings are not good enough” should be a concept familiar to most evangelicals. Perhaps you are more familiar with the concept phrased thusly: “we are all sinners.”

If you listen to the Righteous Righties and President Bush, we are supposedly a “Christian nation” founded on “Biblical principles.” If you believe that, then you need to kick Grover Norquist and Pat Toomey to the curb, repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, raise taxes on corporations and invest that revenue in social programs that benefit the poor. That is Christian public policy, not this phony IGMY (I Got Mine Y’all) policy we’ve seen in the Bush years.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Ron Paul Doesn’t Believe In Evolution

OK, now I feel completely justified in mercilessly mocking the followers of Ron Paul. The doctor doesn’t believe in evolution? For real? Or is he just pandering to the Bible thumpers in his district? Either way, it’s not looking good for this so-called “maverick straight-shooter.” Y’all are idiots.

Via Carpetbagger Report, we have a transcript:
Audience member: I saw you in one of the earlier debates, all of the candidates were asked if they believe the theory of evolution to be true and they had a show of hands, but I didn’t see which way you voted, and I was wondering if you believe it to be true, and should it be taught in our schools.

Paul: First, I thought it was a very inappropriate question, you know, for the presidency to be decided on a scientific matter. And I, um, I think it’s a theory, theory of evolution, and I don’t accept it, you know, as a theory…. I just don’t think we’re at a point where anybody has absolute proof, on either side.

(h/t, Digby).

Friday, December 21, 2007

Eric Volz Is Finally Free

Eric Volz is on his way home. Read the saga here.

12 Days Of Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone! Brought to you by the Indiana University Men's A Cappella Group:

Leonard Who?

Poor Fred Thompson. Maybe he needs another nap.

When approached by an Iowa rancher about Native American issues, specifically disappointment about President Clinton’s failure to pardon Leonard Peltier and the poor conditions on Iowa’s Native American reservations, Thompson gave a pat, aw-shucks response:
Seeming a little overwhelmed by the breadth of the man's concerns, Thompson responded by saying he'd "look into" it: "You've raised my consciousness level on some things that I'll look into,” he said. “I can't give you a lot of answers to what you're talking about in old treaties and Leonard Peltier."

One little problem. As Michelle Cottle at TNR’s The Plank notes:

And, not to pick on poor ol' Fred, but I would expect him to have a smidge more info and be able to wing it better than most seeing as how he appeared in "Thunderheart," the 1992 fictionalized account of Peltier's saga.

Wait! Do we think this somehow means that Thompson's acting background doesn't qualify to run the country?! Next thing you're going to tell me is that Val Kilmer isn't fit to be head of the FBI.


GOP apologists (cough*coughBillHobbscough*cough) note that Thompson appears briefly in the film, and it’s not an actual Peltier biopic. But for crying out loud, Thompson also appeared in Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, and much more recently, too. That experience didn’t give him a modicum of understanding of Native American frustration with the U.S. government? No background on the Treaty of Fort Laramie?

I guess, as Kleinheider noted, Thompson isn’t “a method actor.”

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Being Libertarian Means Never Having To Return The Money


In comments, Chris Lawton links to a YouTube clip of Paul's appearance on Neil Cavuto last night. Paul does say: "I don't endorse anything that [Don Black] endorses and that [Stormfront] endorses."

That's a positive sign, and one I'm glad to promote here.

But I find his argument that he won't return the money because then it would go to a bad cause incredibly lame and disingenuous.

Ron Paul is keeping the money from white supremacist/Stormfront creep Don Black:
Paul Keeps White Supremacist Donation

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul has received a $500 campaign donation from a white supremacist, and the Texas congressman doesn't plan to return it, an aide said Wednesday.

Don Black, of West Palm Beach, recently made the donation, according to campaign filings. He runs a Web site called Stormfront with the motto, "White Pride World Wide." The site welcomes postings to the "Stormfront White Nationalist Community."

"Dr. Paul stands for freedom, peace, prosperity and inalienable rights. If someone with small ideologies happens to contribute money to Ron, thinking he can influence Ron in any way, he's wasted his money," Paul spokesman Jesse Benton said. "Ron is going to take the money and try to spread the message of freedom.

"And that's $500 less that this guy has to do whatever it is that he does," Benton added.

Gee, could the Congressman at least denounce Stormfront’s endorsement? The one heard here? (Lady Celtic, you almost made sense until the “Jew media” part).

So after months of speculation and disavowals from supporters that Ron Paul isn’t a racist, the campaign decides it’s more important to keep $500 from former KKK Grand Wizard Don Black than proving he's not racist by returning white supremacist money.

Geez, and here I thought he was raking in the internet money hand over fist. The campaign must really be hard up for cash.

I agree with Atrios that some of the stupidest “scandals” are the ones involving so-called “dirty donors,” and certainly $500 isn’t going to influence a candidate. But that’s not the point here. Paul has been dogged by allegations he holds racist beliefs for over a decade. He wrote some really nutty things about African Americans back in 1992. So accepting money from an unabashed white supremacist really doesn’t strike the right “big tent” note.

And speaking of big tents, the GOP is ecstatic about this, even touting the news on the wesbite. Ron Paul terrifies the crap out of them. But while they may be comforted to find a candidate that makes the rest of the GOP look positively diverse by comparison, the joke is that for all his Libertarian talk, Ron Paul was and remains ... a Republican.

Gift Idea! Not A Joke!

For that hard-to-buy-for person on your Christmas list, this is bound to be a hit:
Pittsburgh-based insurer Highmark says it has made giving the gift of good health possible with the introduction of its Healthcare Gift Card. While hospitals and some practices already are in the gift-card market, analysts consider Highmark's entry a watershed moment for the health care and gift card industries. Highmark is believed to be the first to issue a gift card that can be used nationally while also intended mostly for everyday health expenses.

How about that! An insurance company profiting off the 48 million uninsured in this country! Who’da thunk it?

Yowzaaa. I do believe we just got bitch-slapped by the free hand of the market.

Analysts agree this trend is reflective of patients shouldering more financial responsibility for their health care. Where they disagree is whether health gift cards are a positive or negative development.

"It speaks to the fact that the current reimbursement system and insurance system is inadequate, that there's a market for these cards," said Mark Rukavina, executive director of the Access Project, a Boston-based group that promotes access to health care. "If we have insurance that was more comprehensive and paid more of the bills, then the need for a card like this wouldn't be as great."

Uh, yeah.

The sad thing is, I’m sitting here thinking of all the folks in my life who would actually really appreciate this gift card--family members, friends. And then I thought, “wow, what a perfect gift for our Room In The Inn guests, too.” The possibilities are endless. I was actually getting a little excited about it.

It’s a really sad state of affairs when the worst possible solution to a national crisis is the best option going. As President Bush would say, "it’s uniquely American.”

(h/t, res ipsa loquitur)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Stupid Book Idea Of The Year


With all due respect to Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt, I'm calling bullshit on his assertion here that the Lynn Spears book was not and never has been "a book on parenting." Yeah, maybe not now, but that's not what Thomas Nelson reps were saying back when the deal was announced:
“We’ve signed her to a deal,” a spokesman for Thomas Nelson tells Us. The book, which will be coming out next Mother’s Day is titled Pop Culture Mom: A Real Story of Fame and Family in a Tabloid World.

“It’s a parenting book that’s going to have faith elements to it. I don’t think it’s totally been written yet,” says the publisher’s rep, who expects the manuscript by December.

Someone over there thought it was a parenting book. And I stand by my original opinion that this was the dumbest book signing ever, right up there with Judith Regan's O.J. Simpson deal.


In comments, Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson, writes:

Contrary to what the media has reported, it's not a book on parenting. It never has been. It's a memoir.

Okie dokie.

Amid the news that Britney Spears’ 16-year-old little sister is pregnant comes this bizarre sidebar:

Lynne Spears's book about raising her famous daughters Britney and Jamie Lynn has been put on hold, the publisher confirms to PEOPLE.

"The book is delayed indefinitely. It's delayed, not cancelled," says a spokeswoman for Thomas Nelson, which publishes inspirational books and Bibles.

It had been scheduled for a spring 2008 release and was put on hold last week, says the rep. On Tuesday, news hit that 16-year-old Jamie Lynn is pregnant with her boyfriend's child.

Lynn Spears was writing a book on Christian parenting? Are you kidding? Someone thought this was a good idea?

Thomas Nelson is a Nashville-based Christian publishing house, the largest Christian publisher in the industry with nearly one-third of the marketshare (according to the CEO ‘s blog).

This is a big, big business. I just can’t believe someone thought Lynn Spears had anything valuable to say about Christian parenting, unless it’s that she sucks at it. Of course, in this modern era of church-as-capitalism, no doubt the potential profits and crossover appeal were too tempting for Thomas Nelson turn down.

I also really like the “it's delayed, not cancelled” bit. I hate to sound cynical but let’s be real here: the only reason to delay a book like this is to wait for the dust to settle and Mama Spears to come up with her “it was a really tough time but prayer got me through it” spiel.

Sorry, but I’ve seen this movie too many times already.


How did I miss this one?

Via Digby, apparently Rush Limbaugh said that Hillary Clinton is unfit to be president because women get all wrinkly and icky as they age:
We know that the presidency ages the occupants of that office rapidly... But men aging makes them look more authoritative, accomplished, distinguished.

Sadly, it's not that way for women, and they will tell you... Look at all of the evidence. I mean, I've just barely scratched the surface with some of the evidence, and so: Will Americans want to watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?

To which I submit as evidence the following:Yeah, you’re right Rush. I definitely don’t want to see that on my TV every day.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

America First, God Second

Jim Wallis, the evangelical author/activist, has something important to say to American Christians. I urge everyone to read the whole thing, but in summary, he takes American Christians to task for their blind support of U.S. wars and a foreign policy that oppresses our neighbors. He calls this our “Achilles’ heel, our biggest blind spot, our least questioned allegiance, the worst compromise of our Christian identity, and the greatest failing of our Christian obedience.”
Even in the subset of born-again, Bible-believing evangelical Christians around the world, an overwhelming majority are against American policy in Iraq. Many Christians I’ve spoken to go further and say that America’s aggressive role in the world today has hurt the cause of Christ globally, especially when an American president dangerously conflates America’s role with God’s purposes.

Some on the American Christian Right are now calling for all-out war against “Islamofacism,” and recent presidential endorsements from the Religious Right even suggest that winning the “clash of civilizations” with Islamic fundamentalism is really another “life” issue, perhaps even a higher priority than their traditional concerns such as abortion. Shouldn’t it give us pause that virtually no other Christians or churches around the world take this position, finding it utterly appalling and contrary to the gospel of Christ? Do these militant Christian nationalists, who would again call us to war, know something that the rest of world Christianity does not? Even many Christians who live in or near Muslim countries, and sometimes suffer for their Christian identity, find the warlike theology of their aggressive American brothers and sisters very frightening.

Could it be that far too many American Christians are simply Americans first and Christians second? To say, “We are to be Christians first and members of a particular nation second” is more about our understanding of church than it is about our politics. That simple affirmation, if ever applied, would utterly transform the relationship of American Christians to the policies of their own government.

This message resonated with me today, because I had to drive past Two Rivers Baptist Church this morning. Every time I see that massive building on Briley Parkway all I can think of his how this congregation opened its doors for the Justice Sunday II event, a partisan piece of political theater staged as much (if not more) for the national media than any issues of faith.

Yes, faith informs political views, but when your faith tells you to support procedural maneuvers in the U.S. Senate while ignoring much larger moral issues like war and poverty, something is very wrong.

Much is being said about faith in this presidential campaign. Every endorsement from a faith leader such as James Dobson or Pat Robertson is dutifully reported in the press. But few have stopped to examine these leaders' motives and intentions. Our media is quick to present someone like CBN's David Brody as a legitimate pundit, but no one has ever bothered to ask how well CBN or Focus On The Family (his previous employer) represent Christian values. The media assumes these people represent "the voice of Christianity" but they don't even represent all of American Christians, let alone the global faith community--what Wallis calls "the body of Christ."

I have to wonder why these faith leaders and their misguided flocks still have so much influence in our political debate.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Eric Volz Is Free

[UPDATE 3, 12/21/07]:

Finally Free!

Nashville media is reporting Eric Volz was released this afternoon and is on his way home:
Reports out of Managua, Nicaragua, indicate that Nashvillian Eric Volz was released from a prison hospital today and was, along with his mother, on a plane headed to the United States.

A family spokesperson confirmed that Volz’ was released following the overturning of his murder conviction earlier this week, but would not have any further comment until the family was confident that the 28-year-old Volz was safely out of Nicaragua.

A Christmas miracle.



STILL not free!

Volz family spokeswoman Melissa Campbell this morning said the director of the penitentiary where Volz was being held was dispatched to retrieve Volz from a hospital and return him to the prison ward.

That move forced Volz’s mother, Maggie Anthony, to cut short her visit with her son.

Anthony flew from Nashville to Granada, Nicaragua on Wednesday morning. She went straight to the Supreme Court, but told reporters following her that the Court refused to see her.

It was unclear what action, if any, the Supreme Court would take regarding the prosecutor’s challenge to Monday’s appeals court decision.

But if Ibarra’s appeal to the Supreme Court is filed properly and accepted by the court, it could be years until the case is even considered, Campbell said.

What will it take to get this guy home for Christmas? A miracle, that’s what.

Not yet free:

The U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua today publicly called for the release of Nashville native Eric Volz, who on Monday was ordered released from Nicaraguan prison following the overturning of his murder conviction.

Volz’s release has been held up, though, because the same judge who convicted him and who has been ordered to sign his release papers has apparently refused to do so, Volz’s Nicaraguan attorney told a spokesman for the family.

The latest update from officials on the ground in Nicaragua came this morning, when reports came in that Volz had been transferred to the prison hospital.

U.S. Embassy officials appear to have been denied access to Volz.

Again, this isn’t a case I know much about but I’ve seen this entry getting a lot of hits, so that’s the latest.


I just heard this bit of news on the TV:

Nicaraguan Court Overturns Nashville Man's Conviction

Man Previously Sentenced In Death Of Girlfriend

MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- A Nicaraguan appeals court on Monday overturned the conviction of a U.S. man sentenced to 30 years in prison for killing his Nicaraguan girlfriend.

Eric Volz, of Nashville, Tenn., was immediately freed from a prison in the town of Granada, 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of the capital, Managua. His whereabouts were not immediately known.

Nicaraguan Attorney General Julio Centeno Gomez told Channel 12 television he would appeal the decision to the nation's highest court.

I know very little about the Volz case except what I’ve read on blogs; Volz has said he was in Managua, two hours away, when the murder occurred, and a dozen people have corroborated his alibi. There is a lot of information on the web about the case; Friends Of Eric is a good place to start.

All I can say right now is: this is a welcome Christmas present to his friends and family.

Of course the Attorney General is going to appeal; he has to. He has his career at stake. The Eric Volz case became a cause celebre both in the U.S. and Nicaragua. Sadly, it is inevitable that high profile court cases, no matter where they are tried, have as much to do with the egos of prosecutors as with any facts in evidence.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


This explains a lot:
NOVOTNY: Well, it is unusual, as you know, for a Democrat or an independent Democrat, as you call yourself, to endorse a Republican. Did you consider any of your Democratic colleagues?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I did. I mean, to have full disclosure, not one of the Democrats asked for my support, which may be a story in itself. John McCain and I are friends. He did ask for my support.

No, and we don’t want Zell Miller’s endorsement either.Suck on your irrelevance to the Democratic Party, Joe.

I can’t believe I voted for this guy:

Democratic and Republican sources say that Sen. Joe Lieberman, the independent Democrat from Connecticut and fierce supporter of the war in Iraq, will formally endorse Sen. John McCain tomorrow in New Hampshire.

A McCain spokesperson declined to comment.

A source familiar with the endorsement said that the two will appear of NBC's Today Show tomorrow morning and at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire.

OK, I really voted for Al Gore, and that I’ll never regret -- Hey, I’d do it again in a heartbeat (hint hint). It just so happens Joe Lieberman was on the ticket.

And I can’t for the life of me understand why he still insists on calling himself a Democrat when he clearly left the party somewhere around February 2005.

(h/t, Atrios.)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Horror of "Cooked Chicken"

Queasy stomach alert: if you don’t want to be thoroughly revolted by what our government has done in our name, stop reading now.

I really mean it.

For those of you still reading, we’re going to talk about rendition. You know, where the American government works with the governments of foreign countries whose human rights standards aren’t quite the same as ours. Our government gets these foreign agents to perform outrageous acts of torture on our behalf--things that would spark outrage in Americans if it were discovered U.S. agents were doing this. So we get someone else to do it for us.

See the difference?

Last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review contained a story on "Dirty Diplomacy” by Craig Murray. Murray was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002 to 2004. Despite (or perhaps because of) its “despotic leader” and the brutal torture of prisoners, since 2001 Uzbekistan has been an important ally to the U.S. and Britain in the “war on terror.” They are one of the chief countries in the CIA’s rendition program.

I think when we’re talking about torture, we should be absolutely clear what we’re talking about here. Torture isn’t just a word or a fuzzy concept, it’s actual suffering perpetrated by one human being on another. Murray’s book provides a shocking example of the kind of torture that happens in Uzbekistan, and I thought I’d share it with you here.

Last chance to navigate away. Anyone still here? OK, read this:
... a University of Glasgow pathology report shows one man “died of immersion in boiling liquid” after being seized by the authorities. Post-mortem photos of an 18-year-old Samarkand resident reveal similar marks: “The right hand looked like cooked chicken.” In addition, Murray writes, “one technique was widespread throughout the country — they would strap on a gas mask and then block the filters. I presume that the advantage of this was that it would suffocate without bruising.”

Let’s repeat: an 18 year old whose right hand looked like cooked chicken.

What have American and British officials done with this knowledge of what goes on? Endorsed it:

Uzbek officials seemed to use coercive techniques routinely during investigations, he says, yet there was little outcry from the Americans or the British. The executive director of Freedom House, a Washington-based organization that monitors political rights and civil liberties, tells him in 2003 that the group has decided to back off from its efforts to spotlight human rights abuses in Uzbekistan. The shift in policy occurred, she explains, because some Republican board members (in Murray’s words) “expressed concern that Freedom House was failing to keep in sight the need to promote freedom in the widest sense, by giving full support to U.S. and coalition forces.” Meanwhile, British officials insisted that information from coercive interrogations was valuable and that relying on it did not violate the United Nations Convention Against Torture. “That is my view of the legal position,” a Foreign Office legal adviser tells Murray in London. “I make no comment on the morality of the case.”

It has been documented repeatedly that torture does not reveal reliable information. If someone were holding my hand over a boiling hot Fry Daddy, I’d say anything to get them to stop. Anything. I’m sure some 18 year old kid would feel the same. Regardless, there’s simply no way to know whether the information received is true or not. This is the worst way to get information about terrorists.

America and Great Britain have turned a blind eye to these atrocities, even taken part in them by allowing Uzbek agents to perform them on our prisoners. We won’t do it ourselves, but we have no problem getting someone else to do it for us.

Remember this:

Uzbekistan's role as a surrogate jailer for the United States has been confirmed by a half-dozen current and former intelligence officials working in Europe, the Middle East and the United States. The CIA declined to comment on the prisoner transfer program, but an intelligence official estimated that the number of terrorism suspects sent by the United States to Tashkent is in the dozens.

There is other evidence of the United States' reliance on Uzbekistan in the program. On Sept. 21, 2003, two American-registered airplanes -- a Gulfstream jet and a Boeing 737 -- landed at the international airport in Tashkent, according to flight logs obtained by the New York Times.


The logs show that at least seven flights were made to Uzbekistan by those planes from early 2002 to late 2003, but the records are incomplete.

That’s the same time period that Murray was operating in Uzbekistan.

So, did American prisoners get boiled alive in Uzbekistan at the behest of the U.S. government? We can’t know exactly what happened, but it's likely. We would't have sent prisoners to Uzbekistan if we didn't want some acts of horrible torture performed on them; otherwise, we'd have kept them in Gitmo. The mere fact that this activity goes on while we continue to consider Uzbekistan a “great ally” is incomprehensible.

America, I fear, has lost its mind and its soul.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday Fraud

Can we just fire them all and be done with it? This shit makes me angry:
Justice's voting chief steps down amid controversy

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department's voting rights chief stepped down Friday amid allegations that he'd used the position to aid a Republican strategy to suppress African-American votes.

John Tanner became the latest of about a dozen senior department officials, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who've resigned in recent months in a scandal over the politicization of the Justice Department in the Bush administration.


Tanner has been enmeshed for months in congressional investigations over his stewardship of the unit that was established to protect minority-voting rights. He drew increased focus this fall after he told a Latino group: "African-Americans don't become elderly the way white people do. They die."
The Bush Administration has turned every department of the government into a GOP power-hoarding tool. We’ve seen how they care about minority voting rights in Florida, Ohio and New Mexico. So this Tanner news comes as no surprise.

In fact, news of problems at Justice’s Civil Rights division have percolated on liberal blogs for months; in November USA Today finally took notice with this piece about how Justice prosecuted the fewest number of hate crimes in 10 years. That news sparked a massive protest in November.

But back to Mr. Tanner. He’s apparently left his gig to
”...pursue (an) opportunity" to work in the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices.

Oh, great. I can’t foresee any problems with that, nosirree.

Help, I’m Drowning

We’re drowning in catalogs at the Beale household. There’s a whiff of panic in this daily retail blitzkrieg: where in the past I may have received two or three catalogs from a particular retailer, now we’re getting dozens from each one.

This aggressive sales pitch can only mean one thing: sales are down and they’re getting really, really desperate.

Note to L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer, Sierra Trading Post, J. Crew, Sahalie, etc. etc.: you do not need to send me 10 catalogs all with the same crap in them. And no, putting a new cover on it doesn’t convince me that what’s inside is any different than it was the last nine times you sent it to me. If I browsed through your catalog and didn’t feel inspired to buy anything the first time, I’m not going to change my mind now.

This is such a terrible waste of paper, time, money, and space in my mailbox. These days I go straight from the mailbox to the recycling bin and dump everything I don’t want so it doesn’t further clutter my already filled countertops.

The folks at Environmental Defense have some useful tips on decreasing catalog clutter. One of them is to “register with the Direct Marketing Association”--for a $1 fee. Now, why would I want to do that? Why would I want to pay to not receive something I never asked for? (I know, they say the nominal fee is to “cut down on fraud.” Bullshit.) And why do I get the feeling that giving these Direct Marketing people my name and address will only increase the likelihood of getting more crap I don’t want?

A better idea from Environmental Defense is Catalog Choice, a free service. After registering, you list the catalogs you no longer wish to receive, and they contact the company on your behalf. This may not stop you from getting anything new but it will cut down on what you’re currently getting.

I’ve written before about how offensive I find the daily assault of advertising on my life. The constant drum-beat of “buy buy buy buy BUY!” is destroying the fabric of our society. It trivializes what’s important, and has turned everything from religion to politics into a commodity that can be bought and sold.

I’m as much of a consumer as the next person. I like having nice things and I like having the latest gadget. I like to shop--who doesn’t? But these things need to be kept in proper perspective. It should not rule our lives.

Every journey begins with a single step. I’m going to start by eliminating these freaking catalogs from my life.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Two Days Ago

I took advantage of the 78 degree weather (!!!) on Tuesday to catch up on the yard work. Boy, was I surprised to find this.

Yes, the camellias are in bloom again. In mid-December.

Also in bloom in my garden: a magenta azalea (I tried to get a picture but it didn't come out), all of my rosemary, the eleagnus (Russian Olive) bushes, the glossy obelia, hydrangeas, and some reddish shrub I can't identify. This is the second time around for the eleagnus, which normally blooms in October and has the most delightful fragrance of any shrub I know.

Did I mention it's mid-December?

I know there's a difference between climate and weather, but when even the plants are messed up about what season it is, something's not right.

I also saw a mosquito. In mid-December.

I would appreciate it if we could get back to regular seasons, please. December should be cold, maybe even with snow. You should see your breath in the air, and not because you haven't brushed your teeth in a while. And I just refuse to live in a place with California weather without any of the actual benefits of living in California: namely, the ability to buy wine and alcohol in the grocery store, two Democratic senators, a Trader Joe's within driving distance, and a hockey team that can actually win a game every once in a while.

Just sayin' .

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Those Are Some Nice New Spots You’re Wearing, Dr. Frist

That’s funny, I don’t remember Bill Frist caring about poverty and AIDs patients back when he was Senate Majority Leader:
In what is the largest issue ad campaign of the cycle so far, ONE Vote 08, an arm of Bono’s ONE Campaign, will go up with a $1.8 million political ad buy starting Thursday in Iowa, New Hampshire and on cable nationally.

The ads name each of the candidates, but doesn't target anyone specifically. The bipartisan ONE Vote 08, co-chaired by former Sens. Tom Daschle (D) and Bill Frist (R) seeks to influence the agenda of the next president.

Gee, as I remember it, Bill "you-can-catch-AIDs-from-tears-and-sweat” Frist had an opportunity to influence the agenda of the current president. And while President Bush made lots of bold promises for African AIDs relief in his 2003 SOTU, as with so many things President Bush does, the reality fell far short of the hype:

First he handed the top job of his Global AIDS Initiative to a Big Pharma boss, then he broke his $3 billion promise of AIDS relief and now there are concerns that he may sabotage a plan to send cheap drugs to countries ravaged by AIDS.

This past August, the World Trade Organization announced a new deal on drug patents that was supposed to give poor countries facing health problems the right to import generic drugs. But the deal seemed unworkable: The United States, at the behest of the pharmaceutical lobby, had successfully pushed for so many conditions that the agreement exploded from a straightforward forty-nine words to a sprawling 3,200-word maze.

Countries wanting to import cheap generics must jump through multiple hoops to prove they are truly in need, unable to afford patented drugs and incapable of producing the medicines domestically. Meanwhile, there is no guarantee that there will be a sufficient supply of drugs for them to buy, since the deal also puts up hurdles for countries wanting to export. "A 'gift' tightly bound in red tape," declared a coalition of NGOs, including Médecins Sans Frontières and Third World Network.

And don’t get me started on the Bush Administration’s ridiculous “anti-condom policy” :

(London, March 30, 2005)—U.S.-funded “abstinence-only” programs are jeopardizing Uganda’s successful fight against HIV/AIDS, Human Rights Watch said in a new report today. Abstinence-only programs deny young people information about any method of HIV prevention other than sexual abstinence until marriage.

The 80-page report, “The Less They Know, the Better: Abstinence-Only HIV/AIDS Programs in Uganda,”documents the recent removal of critical HIV/AIDS information from primary school curricula, including information about condoms, safer sex and the risks of HIV in marriage. Draft secondary-school materials state falsely that latex condoms have microscopic pores that can be permeated by HIV, and that pre-marital sex is a form of “deviance.” HIV/AIDS rallies sponsored by the U.S. government spread similar falsehoods.

The arrogance of trying to impose a fundamentalist, right-wing ideology on people who are dying! You’d think the Senate majority leader at that time would have stepped in, since he cares so much about people with AIDs. Oh, wait, I forgot, back then Frist was Bush’s water carrier; when Bush said “jump,” Frist asked “how high?” Frist and Big Pharma also go way back, so doing the pharmaceutical lobby’s bidding where global AIDs is concerned was a given.

And as for poverty, well, I’m sure we all remember how Sen. Frist sat on the sidelines while hundreds of thousands of low- and middle-income Tennesseans lost their healthcare coverage (and I'd hazard a guess that a lot of those folks had AIDs!) Or what about how in the days after Hurricane Katrina, he scheduled a vote to repeal the Estate Tax, which would have been “a major blow to the nation’s charities” which rely on contributions and bequests from wealthy donors.

Yeah, those sure are some nice new spots you’re wearing, Dr. Frist. I wonder if this sudden lip service to compassion has anything to do with your desire to resurrect your political career? Maybe run for POTUS in 2012?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Attention Walmart Shoppers

What cheapens the meaning of Christmas more: someone greeting you with “Happy Holidays!” or this:
Talking Jesus Action Figure Sells Out At Walmart

If you were planning on getting a Talking Jesus Action Figure this Christmas (or whatever) you're almost out of luck. Walmart has completely sold out of the toy and has "very limited supply," according to the manufacturer's spokesperson, Joshua Livingston.

According to the Dallas Morning News, “almost 20 percent of the Wal-Mart stores that sell Talking Jesus are in Texas.” Why does that not surprise me?

Note to conservative Christians: if you’re worried about a perceived “war on Christianity,” and you’re selling a talking Jesus action figure, you’ve already lost!

Lord protect us from these fools who insist on making money from the Christian faith. Religion is not a money-maker--at least, it shouldn’t be, not if you’re doing the “religion” part right.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Atlas Lugged

Hey, conservative Christians: there’s another Creation myth trying to gain traction in Washington D.C. and academia. This one comes from Islam, and blames the 9/11 attacks on Darwin.

The Atlas of Creation is a 12-pound, 800-page tome explaining the Islamic version of Creation, along with a dose of social commentary. What’s strange is that copies of the gigantic book were mysteriously sent to hundreds of high schools and universities in France this year; similarly, thousands of unsolicited copies were also sent to U.S. government offices, museums, and American universities. I’d hate to see the publisher’s postage budget.

Most folks oohed and ahhed over the atlas’s beautiful artwork, then recoiled in horror at “what a load of crap it is.” Some, however, like U.S. Secretary of the Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, decided to prominently display the Atlas in his office waiting room (a Commerce Dept. spokesman now says that was “a mistake.”)

Anyway, I know the nuttier fundamentalist Christian fringe believes Islam is a "vicious enemy." But reading about The Atlas of Creation I can’t help but feel like I’m looking at two sides of the same coin.

See if this sounds familiar:
A caption from the book, below a photograph of one of the planes striking the World Trade Center, reports: “No matter what ideology they may espouse, those who perpetrate terror over the world are, in reality, Darwinists. Darwinism is the only philosophy that places a value on–and thus encourages–conflict.”

Darwinism is also to blame for fascism and communism. As the Atlas explains, it “is the root of various ideologies of violence that have spelled disaster to mankind in the 20th century."

Wow, where have I heard that idea before? Oh, yeah:

We have had 150 years of the theory of Darwinian evolution, and what has it brought us? Whether Darwin intended it or not, millions of deaths, the destruction of those deemed inferior, the devaluing of human life, increasing hopelessness; Darwin’s theory has been deadly, indeed. … The time has come to recognize that evolution is a bad idea and should be, frankly, discarded into the dustbin of history.

That’s the late D. James Kennedy, in a 2006 fundraising pitch for his anti-evolution “documentary.” Kennedy passed earlier this year, but his comments are no different from what we’ve heard from Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, James Dobson and the rest.

Maybe instead of hating Islam, fundamentalist Christians should embrace the religion and its followers as fellow soldiers in the war on evolution. It could be a real “coming together” point, you know?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

F@&%#@g Liberal Media Part Duh

Look, gals! It’s a medley of Robin Givhan’s greatest hit!:
The mind, so easily distracted by things mauve and lemon yellow, strays from more pressing concerns to ponder the sartorial: How many pantsuits does Hillary Clinton have in her closet? And does she ever wear them in the same combination more than once?

The pantsuit is Clinton's uniform. Hers is a mix-and-match world, a grown-up land of Garanimals: black pants with gray jacket, tan jacket with black pants, tan jacket with tan pants. There are a host of reasons to explain Clinton's attachment to pantsuits. They are comfortable. They can be flattering, although not when the jacket hem aligns with the widest part of the hips (hypothetically speaking, of course). Does she even have hips?

This is just a more acid version of the same story Givhan did on Nancy Pelosi last year, headlined “Muted Tones Of Quiet Authority: A Look Suited To the Speaker.”

We get it. Women in politics wear pantsuits. Stop the fucking presses. Hey, Robin, with any luck we’ll get more women elected to political office and then you can just phone it in.

Of course, the 2006 Pelosi story did have this gem:

(The appearance of the current speaker, Rep. Dennis Hastert, will go unmentioned here except to say that there is nothing chic or particularly polished about it.)

Thank you for explaining why you never did a story on Hastert’s schlubby, wrinkled appearance. We all know, men’s appeareance is not news. Women are still judged by their external qualities: their clothes, their mannerisms, the size of their hips and the way they laugh and even their accessories. No wonder we still don’t have a woman president. Hastert’s slept-on-a-park-bench look wasn’t even noteworthy, but imagine if a woman had shown up for work looking like that.

Honestly, aren’t we way overdue for an end to this sexist nonsense? This is a presidential election. I don’t care what people are wearing, I want to know what they will DO if the American people hand them the reins of power.

I know my endless harangues against the media get tiresome but honestly: "Clinton-the-human-color-wheel”? How can you not read that and just think the WaPo doesn’t get it?

(h/t, Hecate)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Deck The Halls

Or in this case, deck the pets. Yes, it’s that time of year, the season our family pets dread. When elf costumes and Santa hats make their appearance for the obligatory annual photo. As you can see, Cleo (left) and Zelda are not amused.

No Christmas in the Beale household is complete without the appearance of Animal Cruelty Santa. AC Santa was a wedding gift, one of those things we got from someone who doesn’t know us very well (and clearly didn’t know we had requested donations to charity in lieu of wedding gifts anyway).

I’m sure it was a very expensive gift, and it was certainly thoughtful. But we aren’t doll people, definitely not Santa doll people, and certainly not the kind of folks who can appreciate a Santa carrying animal pelts (hence the moniker Animal Cruelty Santa).

But we bring AC Santa out to remind the cats they’d better be good, for goodness sake, or they’re going to end up in Santa’s collection of animal skins. Here, Jolene checks to see if there are any birds in the birdhouse.

Our newest addition to the family is Moses, who finds the premiere spot under the tree. Since he’s an indoor kitty he’s mighty grateful that we brought the outdoors to him. He promises to be good and not try to slip outside any longer.

And with that I wish everyone a Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays, from our home to yours.

Friday, December 7, 2007

F@&%#@g! Liberal Media!

Someone needs to stop the liberal media before it strikes again. Yes, Ex-Bush staffer Matthew Dowd has landed at ABC, the latest in a revolving door of White House staffers who have joined the bobblehead crowd:
Skeptics see a certain irony in an administration that has always been at odds with the Fourth Estate turning into a farm team for the nation's punditocracy. Karl Rove, who wasn't shy about criticizing the press, recently became a Newsweek columnist. Nicolle Wallace was hired as a CBS News commentator shortly after stepping down as Bush's communications director. Michael Gerson signed on as a Washington Post columnist shortly after resigning as Bush's chief speechwriter, while a fellow speechwriter, Matthew Scully, published a long Atlantic Monthly article accusing Gerson of taking credit for others' work.

Irony? Is that what you kids call it today? Some of us call it “controlling the message.”

I know, this influx of Bushies into the MSM is supposed to make up for all the liberals already in the media. People like Lou Dobbs, Joe Klein, and David Broder.

Oh, wait.

This whole thing is just so wrong. As the fabulous Madamab pointed out in yesterday's blogpost, news coverage of something as vitally important as who will be our next president has deteriorated into lame “color commentary.” I don’t know if I’m watching a football game, or trying to get informed so I can pick the next President.

Why is this? Because our lazy-ass media hires people like Matthew Dowd, Karl Rove, Michael Gerson and yes, even Markos Moulitsas to do its work. Why would you hire partisans? Whatever happened to, you know, reporters?

This is priceless:

Dowd, 46, was generally accessible to reporters and logged plenty of camera time as a Bush strategist in 2000 and 2004. He was often armed with the latest polling data, a specialty Dowd says will come in handy.

"I have a pretty good handle on the public's needs, wants, desires and dreams," he says.

No, you don’t. If you did, you wouldn’t be on freaking ABC News trying to spin the current events of the day. We don’t want spin. We want facts. And we know we won’t get that from you.

I’m sick of polling data, trends, horse race coverage of the election, and strategy talk. Does anyone on the TV talk about what any of the candidates actually believe? Their policy positions? No, they don’t. Because, like Matthew Dowd, they’re armed with “the latest polling data”--and little else.

Pffft. I’m finished with all of them.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Smell Of Desperation

You know things are bad for the TN GOP when they have to turn this ridiculous “bunker” at the governor’s mansion thing into a statewide, GOP fundraising campaign.

Seriously, you guys don’t have any more important issues to worry about? Things that actually affect real Tennesseans? You know, like healthcare? Jobs? Education? Pollution? Veterans affairs?


Oh well, then. Dig your own grave. The Nashville Scene reports:
Neighbors opposed to the planned underground entertainment complex that first lady Andrea Conte envisions for the Executive Residence are raising their screeching protests an octave by creating a group called Tennesseans for Accountability in Government (TAG), which local businessman Lee Beaman is bankrolling, confirms Steve Brumfield, a public relations executive whom TAG has retained.

The jokes just write themselves. Lee Beaman, the uber-partisan who never saw a smear campaign he didn’t like (that Swift Boat Veterans donation really paid off for you, didn’t it?). Lee Beaman, whose wife Kelly formed an "ethics in government" group that strangely was only interested in one politician from one (rival) political party. Heh.

This is so obviously a partisan attack on Tennessee's Democratic Governor. Seriously, turning neighborhood NIMBYism into a statewide issue? Are they serious? Does anyone in Memphis or Knoxville give a crap about the wealthy residents of Curtiswood Lane being put out by some construction noise? And just look at the folks involved in TAG: Lee Beaman, Mr. GOP moneybags himself; Crom Carmichael, prominent TN GOPer; conservative anti-tax activist Susan Kaestner and the Tennessee Center for Policy Research--the same clowns who revealed that Al Gore --GASP!--uses electricity. In other words, the usual Republican Party suspects.

Trying to parlay a local issue affecting a handful of wealthy Nashville suburbanites into a statewide witch hunt against a Democratic Governor is either an act of tremendous chutzpah or a sign of desperation. I’m voting for the latter; I think the TN GOP is so desperate to take back the governor’s seat that they are pulling out all the stops.

Consider this bit of nonsense:

“This is an issue that will have significant impact on all taxpayers,” according to a talking-point document that Brumfield authored. “They’re projecting $3.84 million in taxpayer money to pay for this. Of course, that’s the starting point—government projects always seem to go up from there, don’t they?”

Yeah, that pesky government, can’t trust it to stay within a budget! Just ask George W. Bush how his Iraq project is going, budget-wise.

No, Mr. Brumfield, $3.84 million in taxpayer money is NOT going to have a significant impact on Tennesseans. It’s about 66 cents per person. You know what does have a significant impact on Tennesseans? The cost of healthcare. Jobs. The need for housing for a variety of income brackets. Methamphetimine in our rural counties. Education.

Oh yeah, and wealthy GOP donors who keep bleating “taxes! taxes!” in an attempt to whip up partisan furor.

Get a life, Mr. & Mrs. Beaman. The people of Tennessee have more important issues to worry about than your pet neighborhood issue.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Trash Talking

Yesterday’s article on Nashville’s “Curby” program came at an interesting time, since I have been meaning to call Metro Public Works to get another green cart out at our place. Mr. Beale and I recycle, and since pick up is just once a month, our two 64-gallon large bins are always filled to overflowing.

I have a little challenge with myself to see how little actual garbage I can generate. One week I actually got it down to one large garbage bag, but I suspect that’s because we ate out a lot that week. The truth is, we generate plenty of garbage at our house.

I grew up recycling, it’s just what you did. It’s habit, like brushing your teeth at night and paying the electric bill on time. But I understand for a lot of people around here, recycling is some strange new thing they fear is sucking taxpayer dollars away from ... I dunno, whatever they think is more important.

It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that a lot folks share the views of this guy:
[Nate] Crawford, who terms himself a "country boy from Lawrenceburg," never used it, and his questions about the program have only grown.

"I did not want my tax dollars spent for that. I feel the same way now when it's only being used by 37 percent of the people.

"This is an awful lot of money when a lot of people don't participate," he said.

Actually, it’s not a lot of money. In fact, I was surprised to learn that the program only costs $878,399. Compared to the entire Metro budget, that’s peanuts.

I don’t mean to put words in Mr. Crawford’s mouth, but I get the feeling a lot of folks resent city recycling programs largely because it sounds like a “liberal” thing to do. Whatever the reason, I don’t blame people for having a negative attitude toward Curby -- Metro put zero effort into educating and promoting the program. If you don’t explain why the city wants you to recycle, of course people are going to be left to come up with their own reasons, or think it’s some politically correct exercise foisted on taxpayers by all the Democrats in the city council.

OK here’s the thing. Cities and counties recycle because they have to (federal and state laws about landfills) and because it makes economic sense. It’s a free-hand-of-the-market thing. Used paper, glass, plastic and metals are raw materials that have a dollar value on the open market. A while back people thought it made financial sense for municipalities to sell these items instead of throwing them away.

The more you recycle, the more money you save on tipping fees (what it costs to take a load to the landfill) and the more money you get selling metals, glass, plastic and paper. The more people who participate, the more cost effective it becomes.

Ideally, if everyone were to recycle, these programs would pay for themselves. That hasn’t happened in Nashville, for a lot of reasons. A big one is, no one has ever explained the economic value to the city of recycling, so our participation is low.

Nate Crawford may be a country boy, and I don’t know how they do things in Lawrenceburg, but I do know a lot of country folks in rural Kentucky who recycle. They don’t do it because they are tree-hugging liberals, but because of economics. When you live in the boondocks and don’t have the luxury of city services like weekly trash pickup, you have to pay a private trash hauler. The more pick-ups, the more you pay. People recycle because it’s cheaper for them.

Free hand of the market. My libertarian friends must be swooning.

That's the idea behind the solid waste program in Austin, Texas, where residents pay based on the size of their trash bin. The more they recycle, the less trash they have, and the smaller the bin, so the less they pay. I’ve always intuitively been opposed to doing that in Nashville, but I don’t really know why. It’s actually a really good idea that deserves some serious thought.

The Curby program is not as efficient as it could be. It costs more to not separate the cans from the paper and plastic, and those bins fill up real quick when pick-up is just once a month, which means recyclables inevitably end up in the trash. Metro’s curbside program originally had households separate their recyclables, and I don’t know why we stopped doing that. We’ve also stopped recycling glass, and I’m not sure why that is.

Some cities recycle compost--food scraps, yard waste and grass clippings; we don't, and we should. The compost generated could be used in city parks or sold at a nominal cost to county residents. It's a waste of landfill space to throw that stuff away.

Monthly Curby pickups don’t really put the incentive on recycling. In Tallahassee, Florida, they’ve cut back on trash pickup and increased recycling pickups. It worked:

But under the new system, residents receive only once-a-week service and have to roll their 96-gallon containers to the street for emptying. The city also changed the twice-monthly curbside recycling pickup to weekly pickup.

The idea was to save money and manpower and increase recycling. All that has come to pass.

Recycling of paper, cardboard, plastic bottles and aluminum cans has increased 30 percent. Through attrition and reassignment to other jobs, the city has trimmed its residential-garbage force from 41 employees to 23. And the department is spending less on gas and vehicle maintenance.

The bottom line for customers: The monthly charge for garbage pickup is still $15.30, as it's been since 1992. What else are you buying these days that costs the same as 15 years ago?

I don’t think people should be forced to recycle. But I do think people should be educated as to why it’s important. Maybe if everyone recycled, the program wouldn’t cost $878,399 a year but actually make money that could be spent on things like parks or environmental education in our high schools.

If Nate Caldwell knew that by recycling he was saving the city/county government money, not spending it, would he still choose not to participate? If the answer is yes, then we're talking about a whole different problem than how tax dollars are spent.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Mainstream Media Sucks

Example number 1,173:
CBS Seeks Enviro-Reporter, Knowledge of Environment Not Required

In a job posting that's curious at best and a bad PR gaffe at worst, CBS News has a job posting on JournalismJobs for an eco-reporter position, but the job description states, 'Knowledge of the enviro beat is a big plus, but not a requirement.' They do, however, want you to be 'funny, irreverent and hip, oozing enthusiasm and creative energy.'


CBS, which thought “perky, celebrity, and nice legs” were necessary qualifications to anchor the CBS Evening News, apparently thinks the enviro-beat needs “funny, irreverent and hip.” Which is hilarious, since if it were me, I’d think scientific knowledge, an environmental policy background, and an ability to make what is often dry and technical information interesting and accessible would be important. Go figure.

My father, a dyed-in-the-wool newspaperman, always said a good reporter can cover any topic. This is true. What’s sad is that the corporate media doesn’t want good reporters. They want “funny, irreverent and hip.”

Edward R. Murrow need not apply.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Stuff I Don't Get

Chief among them is this::
Black Confederate says he is marching for heritage

By Ray Chandler
OCONEE COUNTY — It’s a sight that elicits a second glance, maybe a third. A black man marching along the S.C. 28 toward Walhalla dressed in Confederate butternut, carrying a Confederate battle flag.

To H.K. Edgerton, however, it’s a march for truth in history as critical as any march for civil rights. Mr. Edgerton’s march Thursday carried him to Oconee County.

When it comes to the role of blacks in the Confederacy, Mr. Edgerton is less than happy about the story.

“This flag has nothing to do with hate,” Mr. Edgerton said of the starred red, white and blue St. Andrew’s Cross battle flag he carried. “It’s the flag of Southern heritage, black and white.”

Edgerton is reprising his 2002 “March Through Dixie,” which took him from his home in Asheville, N.C., to Austin Texas. He also appears in full Confederate uniform, carrying the stars and bars, at parades and protests all across the South, which is odd since he is not descended from a black Confederate soldier.

This “black Neo-Confederate” thing looks too much like a Jewish Nazi to me, but what do I know? Perhaps its best to hear from the man himself, as interviewed by the Southern Poverty Law Center:

• Before the slaves were freed, “Black folks and white folks were family,” he said. “We did all kinds of things together here. White people and slaves saw each other on the streets and they tipped their hats to each other … and asked each other about their families.”

• “I don’t see [the Ku Klux Klan] as terrorists. I see them as — I hate to use the word ‘vigilante,’ but vigilante sometimes ain’t as bad as you think. When your government fails you and fails to protect you, you have to turn somewhere.”

• “It wasn’t so much about [then-Alabama Gov.] George Wallace going to the schoolhouse doors, saying, ‘No, you can’t integrate.’ The thought in his mind was, ‘No, you can’t tell me to integrate. Let us deal with this, and we’re gonna deal with it.’”

• The KKK was “just protecting the people — all of the people, black and white. Blacks wanted to be a part of that.”

Okay, maybe that didn’t explain things any better.

Earlier this year it looked like Edgerton might be on the outs with the neo-Confederates, after he was accused of stealing by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Edgerton had folded his flag and said he was finished with "the movement." But now, he says there was " “never” was any dissension." Okie dokie.

This is all very strange to me. For the record, despite articulating his point pretty clumsily, I think Fred Thompson has it right on the whole Confederate flag thing:

“I know that everybody who hangs the flag up in their room like that is not racist. I also know that for a great many Americans, it’s a symbol of racism.

“ ... As far as a public place is concerned, I am glad that people have made the decision not to display it as a prominent flag, symbolic of something, at a state capitol.

“As a part of a group of flags or something of that nature, you know, honoring various service people at different times in different parts of the country, I think that’s different.

“But, as a nation, we don’t need to go out of our way to be bringing up things that to certain people in our country that’s bad for them.”

This position, that we shouldn’t go out of our way to offend and alienate a huge chunk of the population, got Thompson labeled a "scalawag and carpetbagger" by Don Gordon of, you guessed it, the Sons of Confederate Veterans. And they've got their very own black man to make the argument that the Confederate flag is not racist and Fred Thompson and the rest of the country are just plain wrong.

Neat how that works.