Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"Raise more hell." R.I.P. Molly Ivins 1944-2007.

So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was.- Molly Ivins 1944-2007

We've lost a unique American voice.

The Announcement of Molly's passing --

Syndicated political columnist Molly Ivins died of breast cancer Wednesday evening at her home in Austin. She was 62 years old, and had much, much more to give this world.

She remained cheerful despite Texas politics. She emphasized the more hilarious aspects of both state and national government, and consequently never had to write fiction. She said, “Good thing we’ve still got politics—finest form of free entertainment ever invented.”

Molly had a large family, many namesakes, hundreds of close friends, thousands of colleagues and hundreds of thousands of readers.

Read the entire announcement here.

I read her religiously over the years. The BFP ran her column for a while, after her appearance in Vermont a few years back, but then dropped it. I went to see her in Houston once and a few years back, at the Sheraton in South Burlington.

Loved every dang minute of it.

From the Texas Observer today:

And for me, it’s leaving time.
I have a grandly dramatic vision of myself stalking through the canyons of the Big Apple in the rain and cold, dreaming about driving with the soft night air of East Texas rushing on my face while Willie Nelson sings softly on the radio, or about blasting through the Panhandle under a fierce sun and pale blue sky….I’ll remember, I’ll remember…sunsets, rivers, hills, plains, the Gulf, woods, a thousand beers in a thousand joints, and sunshine and laughter. And people. Mostly I’ll remember people.

There is one thing, an important thing, I have to tell you before I go. What I’m going to tell you is more than a fact. It is a Truth. I have spent six years checking it out, and I know it to be true. The people who subscribe to The Texas Observer are good people. In fact, you’re the best people in this state. I don’t care if you think that’s pretentious or sentimental—it’s just true.

If I got to naming you, I would never stop, so I won’t. But please believe me that all of you whom I know and many of you whom I know only by letter are in my mind as I write this—even if I do forget your names half the time. Always excepting, of course, the turkey who sends me hate mail after my annual gun-control editorial. Turkey, turkey, turkey.

I wanted to call this “The Long Goodbye” but Kaye won’t let me. She wanted to call it “Ivins Indulges in Horrible Fit of Sentimentality.”

I love you. Good-bye my friends.

The closing paragraphs of Molly’s goodbye column to Texas Observer readers published June 18, 1976, as she left to join The New York Times.

SHE DIDN'T SAY THAT, DID SHE? - Highlights of Molly's Observer columns

Tributes to Molly

Official Burlington Candidates for City Election 2007

Here's the roster of candidates.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Throw Da Bums Out!

NEWSFLASH: All seven Burlington City Council seats up for re-election will be contested in the city-wide election on Town Meeting Day, March 6. And you can be sure the Burlington/Vermont bloggers and local media will cover the races. Charity or Haik can correct me (they have lived here longer than I have), but I reckon that most of the incumbents have run campaigns unopposed. I know Ashe has. So I'm delighted to see a challenge! It's better for democracy, whomever you vote for - at least we have a concerned citizen running for office. So in what would have been the usual relatively boring off-year city council election, apart from the 9/11 referendum ballot question, we've got some interesting candidates running for council and inspector of election! The incumbents have been around too long (no, I'm not advocating term limits), but - indeed - the current crop of incumbents this term should be booted out by the voters. They've become a nondescript buncha do-nothings, too much part of the officialdom of Burlington. Some of the challengers I know personally and their creativity and committment to our city would add a much better mix to the council.

She's Right (Thank you Charity!) lists the candidates by ward - There is great news in the Free Press this morning for Burlington voters. There are contested city council races in all seven wards!!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Make Poverty History (and profit from it, too)

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Bono, who preaches charity, profits from buyouts, tax breaks -- ``U2 were never dumb in business,'' Bono says in Bono on Bono. ``We don't sit around thinking about world peace all day.''

What a business it is. Bono's empire encompasses real estate, private-equity investments, a hotel, a clothing line and a chain of restaurants. Along with fellow band members, he also owns a stake in 15 companies and trusts, including concert-booking agencies, record production firms and trusts that are mostly registered in Ireland. U2 was one of the first successful bands in the world to have obtained all rights to its own music.

Our Muddled Anglican History

Anglicans Online starts this week with funny observations of our evolving Anglican history...

When we're tempted to be glum and weary about the struggles and strife in the Communion in our own time, just remember that not long ago, in the mother church of the communion:

  • people could be paid for coming to Holy Communion;
  • spit could be used in baptism;
  • clergy could 'forget' Ash Wednesday, or not offer Divine Service on rainy days;
  • livings and advowsons could be bought and sold;
  • the Bishop of Bristol, Dr George Pelham, could send his butler to ordination candidates and tell them to 'write an essay' (1807);
  • churchyards were let for grazing animals;
  • at Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, one lady refused to buy mutton that had been grazed there, for it 'had a deathly taste'§ (1856);
  • the Reverend Sydney Smith could be offered the parish of Foston-le-Clay in Yorkshire, where there had been no resident parson since the reign of Charles II (1809);
  • and 'when he thumped the cushion of his pulpit he claimed that the accumulated dust of 150 years made such clouds that he could not see his congregation for several minutes'§;
  • more than twenty parsons in Devon kept packs of hounds (1860s).

Take heart! Life is better now. Whatever our problems be today, they seem more refined than those of a century or two ago. Perhaps the source of the problems will never change — human nature — but the problems themselves do evolve.

    Sunday, January 28, 2007

    "The secret government has no constitution."

    Bush&Co's shenanigans are not an abberation. Check out Bill Moyer's The Secret Government ... The Constitution in Crisis now on Google after 20 years. Moyers made it in 1987. This system of greed and power has been going on since WWII.

    Thursday, January 25, 2007

    NPR's Crossing the Divide

    NPR has been running a series, Crossing the Divide, examining (*gulp*) the Pros, Cons of Bipartisanship. I guess they took the lead from GW. Heh.

    On Monday morning there was an announcement about an upcoming segment in the series that would look at "unaffiliated voters." Gosh, I thought, they'll talk about third parties! By Tuesday, still promoting the same segment, listeners were told that the focus would be on "independents." But what they gave us was a report on voter registration, specifically, "Unaffiliated Voters on the Rise in California" - More California voters are registering not as Republicans or Democrats, but as "decline to state," indicating no party preference. The ranks of the major parties are affected. Will this become a national trend?

    Independent voters seem to be increasing. The Pew Center says 32% of voters are among that group.

    NPR interviewed Gary South, Democratic campaign strategist for former California Gov. Grey Davis. The very last voters to make up their minds are independents. Says South...

    One of the reasons why they are late deciders in campaigns is because...frankly a lot of them think both candidates are liars and you couldn't believe a single thing either one of them said if they told you that the sun was coming up the next morning, and a lot of them, in the final analysis, don't vote.

    You have to appeal to them as centrists, says South, although their opinion on individual issues may be anything but. South, again...

    Independent voters in this state tend to be moderate to conservative on the fiscal side, and on the social side they tend to be liberal to libertarian.

    I think he's got it all wrong - talking about 'both candidates' (read: DemRepubs)being distrusted. As if there is no other candidate choice.

    NPR interviewed Curtis Gans, the Director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, which has an interesting study here, showing the rise if independents and third party voters.

    But there was scant mention of third parties in the NPR segment. So I sent 'em a comment:
    Independents are not the only citizen voters unaffiliated with the two major parties. Why didn't you talk about members of the third parties? Haven't you ever heard of the Green Party?


    The pre-SOTU hype of the radio pundits and news readers was disgusting. They would have us believe it is a speech that must be listened to. Bollocks. I was listening to the radio on Tuesday evening, when the nice classical music program was pre-empted (interrupted) for the whiny pseudo-Texun drawl of GW. I turned it off as the voice of the hypocrite was heard across the land. I read the speech later. It was CRAP.

    Webb's Democratic response wasn't much better. I'd have to agree with Dennis Perrin. I'd never read Perrin until now, but will check him out regularly now. My thanks to Joshua Frank for the link to Perrin's piece.

    My emphasis in bold:

    Reading some of the lib responses to James Webb's speech from last night has left me feeling angry and depressed. More than a few have employed the adolescent "awesome" to describe what was, in form and in fact, a pretty standard political spiel. What a sorry time we live in for Webb to be seen as a beacon of political hope and courage. Yes, he was against the Iraq invasion from the get-go, but so were a lot of people, Republicans and conservatives among them. That Webb, like many in the US elite, foresaw the horrors that awaited our entry again means little. Anyone with passing knowledge of the region and a hint of honesty predicted the exact same thing. Are we so far gone that a conservative Dem who faces reality is considered "impressive"? Apparently so.

    Note that Webb described the Iraq war as "mismanaged." Not criminal, not corrupt, not imperial, but "mismanaged."


    Note also that Webb completely buys into the War on Terror scenario, which he didn't really define last night, though he's doubtlessly referring to Afghanistan specifically and al-Qaeda generally. That's a serious topic that requires serious debate, but Webb wasn't interested in going beyond rhythm phrases like "war on terrorism," the mere sound of which supposedly defines itself and therefore nothing else need be said. And Webb is decidedly on board with an attack on Iran, as he is completely behind Israel's aggression in the region. When the cluster bombs begin falling on Iran, don't expect Webb, Pelosi, Hillary, Obama, or any senior Dem, to oppose it -- that is, unless the murder of Iranians is somehow bungled or "mismanaged." Then perhaps Webb might make some critical noises, and wave more family photos at the camera to prove his sincerity.

    There was an intersting comment from liquified viscera, too, on Frank's post/link about Perrin's piece:

    Webb's "mismanagement" accusation has the additional benefit -- additional to hiding the latent goals -- of reinforcing the assumption that there was good reason to conduct military operations in the Iraq "war". For if there can be proper "management" of the Iraq "war," that assumes the "war" itself was properly initiated.

    Perrin is correct in labelling as naive junior high schooler perspectives the voices who praise Webb as "awesome." These childish Democrats who fancy themselves "liberal" are nothing more than clones of the Daily Kos-styled DLC Dems who are in favor of any imperial venture that enriches big moneyed campaign donors and big corporate coffers. They dis-serve the notion of liberalism by recasting the label "liberal" in favor of conservative corporatocratic centrism, a perspective that is neither liberating nor itself full of freedom.

    Thursday, January 18, 2007

    The End is Near!?!

    Olivia Ward on Common Dreams/Toronto Star (1/17/07): Doomsday Clock Reset for an Alarming World - For the first time in five years, the elite board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is moving the minute hand on their Doomsday Clock closer to the fatal hour of midnight.

    The clock – a symbol of the perils facing the human race – is expected to shift two minutes, from the current seven minutes to midnight to five, a figure the Bulletin would not confirm before its news conference today.

    Sunday, January 14, 2007

    Martin Luther King, Jr.

    We can honour Dr King by re-reading his Letter from Birmingham Jail.

    He wrote his letter in response to a statement of Birmingham religious leaders who did not approve of Dr King's non-violent protests.

    Tuesday, January 9, 2007

    They were aiming at "Al Qaeda suspects", honest

    The Tomb - US Bombs Somalia, Kills 4-Year Old Al Qaeda Suspect --

    The attacks "allegedly targeted Islamists wanted for the 1998 bombings of US embassies in other African countries." The 'transitional government' that the US is backing against the Union of Islamic Courts said the US "has a right to bombard terrorist suspects who attacked its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania". Further, "we understand there were a lot of casualties. Most were Islamic fighters." However, "Witnesses said at least four civilians were killed in the attack, including a small boy. 'My four-year-old boy was killed in the strike,' Mohamed Mahmud Burale said."

    Of course they're only going after the baddies who blew up the African embassies. It is inconceivable that the US would bomb the areas where the opposition to the 'transitional government' is strong. Certainly, there will be no suggestion from this quarter that there was a thinly veiled message to Somalis not to fuck with the empire in this attack. The sending of an aircraft carrier to the region to carry out further attacks certainly doesn't mean that the US will carry out terrorist atrocities in Somalia to intimidate the population into accepting an unpopular government. And the EU's suggestion that it will send troops to Somalia doesn't make it a spear-carrier for the empire.

    Random News Stories

    Milk with your cuppa? Tea drinkers are being told that adding milk can cancel out any health benefits. A new study advises drinking tea black. First thing in the morning I'll still carry on drinking mine with a drop of milk.

    BBC:Sex 'cuts public speaking stress' - However, only penetrative intercourse did the trick - other forms of sex had no impact on stress levels at all.

    Monday, January 8, 2007

    Escalation in Iraq

    Surge is the word of the moment, regarding the Iraq occupation. Let's call it what it really is: Escalation.

    True to form, the Democratic Party a.k.a. The War Party is namby-pamby on this, as Gary Younge writes in The Guardian.

    For if the Democratic Congress is unwilling to use any means at its disposal to fulfil its democratic mandate, then it will be left to the public to make their displeasure known. It is two years and tens of thousands of lives, some of them American, before the next presidential election. The American people clearly don't want this. A CBS poll last month showed that 18% wanted to see an increase in troop levels compared with 59% who want them either decreased or withdrawn completely. The question is: what are they going to do about it?

    The tragic answer is probably nothing. For while opposition to the occupation is clearly broad, its depth is more difficult to fathom. "It's rare when people seriously publicly engage," says Leslie Cagan, the national coordinator of the largest anti-war organisation, United for Peace and Justice. "They watch it on TV, they read about it in the newspapers. They get angry, but that doesn't necessarily mean they engage. So it's difficult to know the depth of feeling."

    The Tomb has more: The Bush Gamble

    Yet, what is their alternative? They cannot leave Iraq, and don't intend to, so they may well be desperate enough to hope that a drastic escalation in repression in Iraq will be sufficient to pacify the country and reverse the negative assessment not only of the US public, but increasingly of the American ruling class. And this is based at least partially on a realistic assessment, which is that the main problem for the occupation is not sectarian violence but resistance violence (principally roadside bomb attacks). The effect that this has on US public confidence in the war is striking. Aside from the massive Iraqi casualties, 3,000 US bodybags and tens of thousands of wounded or crippled soldiers have been one of the principal reasons for the war's unpopularity. But it is deeper than that. If Americans really believed that the resistance was the work of a small minority of Iraqis, or some Al Qaeda offshoot, they might see this differently: but the breadth and persistence of the resistance, dramatising the fact that Iraqis don't want to be occupied, and the increasing awareness that Iraqis have good reason to fear and despise the occupation, all contribute to growing dissent. Given that withdrawal is simply out of the question for Bush, a last-ditch effort at colossal demonstrative violence may be all he has left. That is: the 'surge' policy is a bifurcate gamble; a PR war directed against Americans; and a terror war directed against Iraqis by the man who brought you the Salvador Option.

    Vermont Impeachment Resource Site is now up and running.

    Thanks to BurlingtonPol for alerting us.

    Sunday, January 7, 2007

    It really, really, really is about (the control) of oil

    The Tomb - IMF and Iraq's Oil - got this in the post:

    The legislative battle for control over Iraq's oil is heating up and oil aid is playing a key role in the conflict. As noted in this article from Spiegel, the US is being accused of leaning on the IMF and the World Bank to "push Iraq into signing oil contracts fast" and Iraqi authorities have promised the IMF a draft petroleum law as a condition of IMF support.

    The IMF is also being accused of using its role in managing debt cancellation as leverage to press for reforms in Iraq's oil sector.

    According to Spiegel: "The IMF sets the conditions for Iraq's debt relief from the so-called Paris Club countries. Eighty percent of that debt has been wiped clean, and the final 20 percent depends on certain economic reforms. With the final reduction, Iraq's debt would come to 33 percent of its GDP -- but if the reforms are not made, debt would climb to 57 percent of GDP..."

    The Iraqi Labor Union Leadership has issued a statement arguing that: "The Iraqi people refuse to allow the future of their oil to be decided behind closed doors," and that "the occupier seeks and wishes to secure themselves energy resources at a time when the Iraqi people are seeking to determine their own future while still under conditions of occupation."

    Council on Foreign Relations - Iraq and Oil: Revenue-Sharing Among Regions

    According to a recent study by the Global Policy Forum, sixty out of Iraq's eighty known oil fields may be explored under PSAs, handing at least 64 percent of Iraq's known oil reserves over to foreign investors.

    Greg Palast - Why Saddam Had to Go

    "Control is what it's all about," one oilman told me. "It's not about getting the oil, it's about controlling oil's price."

    Thursday, December 14, 2006
    Iraqi trade unions attack plans for foreign company control of oil

    At a meeting in Amman, Jordan, leaders of Iraq's five trade union federations - between them representing hundreds of thousands of workers - called for a fundamental rethink of the forthcoming oil law, which is designed to allow foreign investment in the oil sector.

    Friday, January 5, 2007

    ExxonMobil Spreads Doubt about Global Warming

    Sci-Tech Today - ExxonMobil lists on its Web site nearly $133 million in 2005 contributions globally, including $6.8 million for "public information and policy research" distributed to more than 140 think tanks, universities, foundations, associations and other groups. Some of those have publicly disputed any link between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

    Alden Meyer, the Union of Concerned Scientists' strategy and policy director, said in a teleconference that ExxonMobil based its tactics on those of tobacco companies, spreading uncertainty by misrepresenting peer-reviewed scientific studies or emphasizing only selected facts.

    Dr. James McCarthy, a professor at Harvard University, said the company has sought to "create the illusion of a vigorous debate" about global warming.

    The company said its financial support doesn't mean control over any group's views.

    I'm not surprised, are you?

    This reminds me of an article I read in Scientific American in the summer of 2005, at the height of the Burlington Board of Health's discussion surrounding the continuation of water fluoridation in Burlington. The Vermont Department of Health representatives and local members of a dental industry group criticised the scientific evidence against fluoride provided by by Fluoride Action Network.

    The quote below from Doubt Is Their Product (David Michaels, Scientific American, June 2005) is equally apt for the questionable practises of ExxonMobil:

    Uncertainty is an inherent problem of science, but manufactured uncertainty is another matter entirely. Over the past three decades, industry groups have frequently become involved in the investigative process when their interests are threatened. If, for example, studies show that a company is exposing its workers to dangerous levels of a certain chemical, the business typically responds by hiring its own researchers to cast doubt on the studies. Or if a pharmaceutical firm faces questions about the safety of one of its drugs, its executives trumpet company-sponsored trials that show no significant health risks while ignoring or hiding other studies that are much less reassuring. The vilification of threatening research as "junk science" and the corresponding sanctification of industry-commissioned research as "sound science" has become nothing less than standard operating procedure in some parts of corporate America.

    Scientific American has the complete article for a price, but why give the magazine your money?. I suggest you go to your local library to read an archival copy of that issue. It's an eye-opening article.

    Related link: Union of Concerned Scientists

    Violence Begetting Violence

    Joan Chittester/National Catholic Reporter, writing about the Saddam execution and its aftermath -- Justice is done: Why doesn't it feel like it? --

    The event was, in other words, totally surreal. Except for one thing: the questions it raises, if we will only face them, are profoundly important ones for us as a nation and for a world in transition to a village.

    But the ultimate irony, perhaps, lies in the fact that now political pundits are saying what philosophers, theologians, mystics and holy ones have been saying ever since Jesus said, "Peter, put away your sword." They are all clear: "No," they tell their interviewers across cyberspace, "No, this will not change anything in Iraq -- except, perhaps, make it worse."

    Violence begets violence the saints have told us over and over again.

    We have seen it with our own eyes. We invaded Iraq and started a war. We justified the invasion on false grounds and now carry on our own backs the onus of injustice: There were no weapons of mass destruction. The Iraqis did not lie to us. They had nothing to do with Al Quaeda. They had not been breeding terrorists. They did not support the attack on the Twin Towers.

    All of those things have been forgotten. Now, instead, we tell ourselves that we did, at least, eliminate a dictator. But how? And at what cost? And with what gains as the numbers of our dead climb and theirs skyrocket?

    Maybe we should listen again to the saints. Perhaps we should give our own role in World Peace Day new attention as we approach the day in which we will be given "a new strategy" for Iraq. If it were not for American voters, we would be nowhere near such a moment. But the vote may not have been enough to make the difference. We may all need to do more to make the point that World Peace Day is a pressing, immediate, demanding and real challenge, not a celebration of the kind of self-serving sanctimonious nationalism that says we believe in peace, therefore we are peaceful.

    I think Sr. Joan is saying that by continuing with this eye-for-an-eye (il)logic, we're becoming blind.

    Lambasting the Pro-War Left

    Richard Seymour (lenin) has an excellent, if lengthy, piece lambasting the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Norman Geras, Nick Cohen, Martin Amis, Sam Harris: In the name of decency: the contortions of the pro-war left --

    Indeed, many of the pro-war left’s most strident adherents were both anti-imperialists and revolutionaries in the past. For a variety of reasons, these people are now united by the conviction that in the current geopolitical realities, support for imperialism is a left wing position. In this, they are allied with liberals and social democrats who have a history of support for imperialism.

    Wednesday, January 3, 2007

    Overcoming the Bottled Water Habit

    Rebecca U. Cho, Religion News Service -
    Rooted in the notion that clean drinking water, like air, is a God-given resource that shouldn't be packaged and sold, a fledgling campaign against the bottling of water has sprung up among religious groups. And though the campaign is at a relative trickle and confined mostly to left-leaning religious groups, activists hope to build a broad-based coalition to carry the message that access to water should not be restricted to those who can afford it.

    Cassandra Carmichael, director of eco-justice programs for the National Council of Churches, said she has noted an increasing number of religious groups that consider the bottling of water a wrongful - perhaps immoral - act. "We're just beginning to recognize the issue as people of faith," Carmichael said.

    In October, the National Coalition of American Nuns, a progressive group representing 1,200 U.S. nuns, adopted a resolution asking members to refrain from purchasing bottled water unless necessary.

    Likewise, Presbyterians for Restoring Creation, a grassroots group within the Presbyterian Church USA, launched a campaign in May urging individuals to sign a pledge against drinking bottled water and to take the message to their churches. . .

    Americans consume more bottled water than any other type of beverage except carbonated soft drinks, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, a New York-based research organization. In 2005, Americans drank about 7.5 billion gallons of bottled water, a 10.4 percent increase from 2004. The U.S. leads the world in bottled-water consumption.

    At the same time, one-third of the world's population lives in water-stressed conditions. That proportion will double by 2025, according to a 2006 United Nations report on water scarcity. Water is scarcest in arid developing countries plagued by drought and pollution, such as South Africa, where agriculture fuels demand.

    Presbyterians for Restoring Creation: Bottled Water Campaign

    NCC Eco-Justice Programs

    H/T to Undernews for alerting me about this story.

    Canadian churches are already turning off the tap on bottled water.

    Related post: Groundwater as a public trust resource

    Monday, January 1, 2007

    $200 a Day, Plus Expenses

    Happy new year to all the readers of BI. Call me a stay-at-home, but I don't normallly celebrate NYE. I'm sure some Burlingtonians enjoyed First Night, but all the festivities seem hyped to the extreme. (Don't get me started on the media's year-end reviews and stupid advice for resolutions.)

    Last night I was with a good a friend - a collaborative cooking effort. I've always been a fan of the pop culture of the seventies – music, movies, television series - and by luck, recently discovered Netflix had the the fab 1970's Rockford Files 1st and 2nd series episodes. So my friend and I watched Jim Rockford, "Rocky," and Dennis Becker- with 'breaks' for dinner and dessert - until it was nearly midnight.