Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Impeachment? Is it time?

One of the additional bonuses of my new fitness routine and purchase of a treadmill (hey--it's cheaper than joining the gym, which I hate), beyond being able to see my feet again, is turning on C-Span at 5:30 a.m. and seeing programming that usually is watched by insomniacs and a tiny minority.

This a.m. I got to hear a forum held by a group called, The World Can't Wait and their call for two things:

1. Immediate withdrawal from Iraq
2. Impeachment of President Bush

I don't know alot about them, but I like the provocative nature of what they are calling for. I can't say that I don't agree wholeheartedly with the above two points.

The content below comes from their website:

Will the Democrats stop the war? Or is it up to us?

While public opinion against the war is mounting everyday, there has been debate within the halls of power over what direction to take in the occupation of Iraq. Many are hoping that the Democrats will end the occupation, and beginning to pin their hopes on the 2006 elections.
The Call for World Can’t Wait – Drive Out the Bush Regime! puts it clearly: “There is not going to be some savior from the Democratic Party. This whole idea of putting our hopes and energies into "leaders" who tell us to seek common ground with fascists and religious fanatics is proving every day to be a disaster, and actually serves to demobilize people.”

As the Bush regime is clearly having trouble continuing its occupation of Iraq, and debate is breaking out in Congress, we must ask ourselves what it will take to stop not only the war, but the whole disastrous course the Bush regime is taking us. This will require massive resistance of millions of people taking independent political action (as laid out in our Call), and demanding “Bush: step down, and take your whole program with you.”

We want to encourage people everywhere to debate these questions – from chat rooms, classrooms, work, political discussions, and holiday gatherings – and start organizing to drown out Bush’s State of the Union speech in massive protest.

While some might accuse me of hyperbole, I find much in this piece that I also agree with. Let me just implore those of you who are feeling kind of "blah" and apathetic now that we are in the doldrums of winter. Having your government spy on you, lie to you and spend your tax dollars to kill innocent people in Iraq and other places ought to piss you off enough to at least look into some of the information I've posted here and in other posts.

Find one thing that you can do today, this week, this month, and get at it. Democracy is depending on you!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Going with the flow

And then you have the cowards on the other side of the aisle, the "loyal" opposition party, urging against a filibuster.

Forgive the source, but the pickings are slim on links. ('Gotta love how the copy editor at the local Fox station spelled "A-B-C " and then made sure to phonetically represent Barack Obama's name--as if the morons who get their news there need as much help as they can).

For a guy knighted by progressives as a possible hope in 2008, Obama is turning out to be not much more than a silent fart in church.

While Kennedy and Kerry are fighting a losing battle, I'd at least have a bit more respect for Democrats if a few more went down swinging, rather than planting another Judas kiss on the backside of their base.

Republican swims upstream

I don't know much about Senator Lincoln Chafee, other than he's a Republican and he's from Rhode Island. I suppose I know in a roundabout way, from following politics closely that he's a moderate--something increasingly rare on the Republican side of the aisle.

In a surprising decision, he appears ready to buck his party and vote against the Alito nomination, lending some possibility to a filibuster.

Speaking of moderate Republicans (they used to be called, "Rockefeller Republicans," btw), my own Senator, Olympia Snowe, is also firmly in the camp of moderation. I always chuckle about how the conservative hard-ons in my own state get apoplectic about Snowe, calling her a RINO (Republican In Name Only) and that she ought to leave the party, ala Jim Jeffords (I-Vt). Then, she goes out every election and wins 70 percent of the vote. I guess these knuckle-draggers don't know the voters as well as they think they do.

Well, you know the drill. If you are a Mainer, call her office (202-224-1946) and urge that she vote against confirmation of Alito and seeing the Court hijacked by idealogues. Oh, and be nice--her staff are surely being bombarded today.

If you are in a state with a Senator who might be termed a moderate, a call to their staff wouldn't be a bad idea.

Since Maine has two of the four (in addition to Snowe, Maine's Susan Collins is also termed a moderate), your job is easy. Collins office can be reached at 202-224-2523.

Of the remaining two, I've mentioned Rhode Island's Chafee. That leaves only solitary John McCain (R-Az).

Commence dialing, loyal denizens of Maine and Arizona.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

U.S. supports repressive U.N. policies

Repressive and totalitarian regimes have traditions of excluding sexual minorities from equal protections and access to the same rights offered others. That’s why this article, showing the administration linked to an Iranian initiative that denies United Nations consultative status to organizations working to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people comes as no surprise.

Throughout history, fascist regimes have done their best to eliminate groups and minorities that didn’t fit the criteria of the totalitarian leader at the time. In Nazi Germany, Hitler was behind the killing of over six million Jews. Also singled out for elimination—homosexuals, habitual criminals, resistance fighters, German opponents of Nazism, gypsies, the mentally retarded, and the “anti-social”; beggars, vagrants, etc. Basically, any group deemed by the Nazis as not serving their vision of national political life.

While Hitler didn’t assume total power overnight—it took a series of gradual, but orchestrated steps—he eventually assumed his totalitarian role, with the majority support of the German people.

When I listen to callers on national news programs like C-Span’s Washington Journal, I’m reminded that there are many Americans who would have been right at home, goose-stepping under Hitler. These types of citizens accept authority and the national governement’s policies without question. Even more frightening to me, is their anger at anyone who dares to disagree and dissent from their narrow vision of what their country should be.

When people make statements such as, “either you’re with us, or against us” and assuming that only those who have “something to hide” should be concerned about our government’s domestic surveillance program, it indicates an element in our own country that are very open to a despot taking control of our government. In my opinion, the number of these people (the Kool-Aid drinkers) hovers around 50 percent.

I continue to watch with interest to see how much of our liberty we are willing to cede to Bushco. I think that we are no safer today, than we were September 12, 2001. I continue to posit that the issue isn’t with terrorists attacking America. The real issue with safety and terrorism is related to our imperialistic foreign policy and need to dominate the world.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A presidency of lawlessness

We’ve seen the Bush administration, time and time again, thumb its nose at the rule of law and the civil liberties of the American people. Additionally, in its behavior towards prisoners, so-called terrorists and other randomly selected foes, this is a group that holds itself above the law.

This week, the president and other administration hacks, have been traveling across the country, in a full-scale PR blitz, designed to justify spying and data mining aimed at American citizens. Brazenly, as the president has done since September 11, 2001, he uses the fog of fear and the guise of his war on terror to justify suspension of constitutionally guaranteed protections.

While half of the U.S. population is perfectly content with totalitarian-creep, voices of dissent are too few and curiously quiet. Fortunately, pockets of dissent exist and occasionally let the emperor know that he and his minions are standing naked as a jaybird. On Tuesday, Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, appeared at Georgetown Law School to deliver an address defending the NSA domestic spy programs. During the course of his speech, nearly 30 students stood up, donned black hoods one-by-one and turned their backs on Gonzales in protest. They also held aloft a white banner with black lettering that had the following quote from Ben Franklin; “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Afterwards, a panel of professors, including David Cole, who has written extensively on the subject civil liberties and the war on terror, stated that the NSA spying program is clearly illegal and that Gonzales was incorrect in defending it, both legally and constitutionally.

According to Cole, under FISA, Section 1811, entitled “Authorization During Time of War,” this very issue was specifically addressed by Congress. "They (Congress) said that when we’ve declared war, the President can conduct warrant-less wiretapping, but only for 15 days. And they said in the legislative history, this is so if the President needs further authority, he can come to us and ask for that authority. The President didn't do that here. He simply went ahead and did it without asking for their authority."

This isn’t surprising, as Bush is just continuing a lifelong pattern of thumbing his nose at rules and laws he has no use for. Whether it was at Harvard, driving drunk in Kennebunkport, failing to show up for military service, and now, as commander-in-chief, the most powerful position in the land and arguably, the world, this man knows no boundaries and no one appears capable of stopping him.

I continue to watch with interest just how far Congress, the media and ultimately, the American people will allow him to go in his crusade and ascension toward totalitarianism. Clearly, half of the country, including the kooky religious right, stands squarely behind this reign of hubris and lawlessness.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Machuca-filmmaking at its most powerful

Maine is fortunate to have a handful of movie theaters that dare to book films that push the envelope on cinema and more often than not, make you think. Even better is when they show a movie that captures the power to transform and stretch your understanding—something that great filmmaking is intended to do.

The Railroad Square Cinema, in Waterville, is a theater that courageously provides a regular dose of cutting-edge and sometimes controversial movies, for movie-goers who want something more than the standard Hollywood pap and pabulum.

Since 1998, Waterville and the Railroad Square have been home to the Maine Independent Film Festival (MIFF). Each July, for 10 days, Maine is transformed into a backwoods Cannes, showing upwards of 90 to 100 movies over that span.

Again this winter, MIFF is teaming up with the Railroad Square Cinema and running MIFF in the Morning, with 10 A. M. movies every other Saturday and Sunday, from January, until mid-March. Thus far, my wife, Mary, and I, have trekked an hour north to Waterville and have viewed two very powerful movies. The first week, we saw Sir! No Sir! David Zeiger’s documentary chronicling the real frontline dissent of soldiers during the Vietnam war.

Sunday, we were back in Waterville, for a treat of a film, and a rarity for those of us who live outside of the major metropolitan centers of the country.

Machuca, released in 2004, is a coming-of-age film about two young Chilean boys, set against the political upheaval in the country during the days leading up to September 11, 1973, when a military junta toppled Salvador Allende’s democratically elected government (with the CIA firmly supporting the military operation that toppled his democratically-elected administration). The film offers the juxtaposition of the two disparate worlds occupied by these 11-year-old boys. Gonzalo is from a well-to-do family living in an upscale section of Santiago. Gonzalo attends a private, Catholic school, run by Father McEnroe, a man set on toppling the social caste system in his school. With a plan to allow local boys from poor families to attend, Gonzalo is brought face-to-face with Pedro Machuca, a young man who lives in the city’s shantytown. These poor students are the children of servants and laborers, many of whom provide services and cheap labor for the parents of the wealthier families of most students.

The film captures the very real class divisions existing in 1970s Chilean society, in a way that most Hollywood films rarely or ever attempt to recognize. Both boys, as they develop a friendship, are constantly brought up against the reality of the two different worlds that they inhabit. Despite their best intentions, the story unfolds and the underlying political upheaval brings their friendship to the breaking point. The film pulses with a heartbeat and vitality that draws you into the story and captures your heart, as well as your mind.

Seeing both this film, and reading Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, has heightened my own awareness of just how little I know about other cultures, such as Afghanistan, and the geopolitical details of events in Chile and other areas of the world, often orchestrated by the U.S. government and agencies such as the CIA. This lack of knowledge isn’t so much about a willful ignorance of facts and geography. I, like most other Americans, are victims of the U.S. education system. We all were fed a steady diet of lies and half truths since we began school at the age of five or six. Unfortunately, the lies don’t stop when you leave school.

One of the points that this movie drives home, and similarly, Hosseini’s book, is that our public school years are less about learning and knowledge and much more about indoctrination and patriotic window dressing. That’s why it’s so difficult to break through the fog of many Americans, who seem intent on waving the flag and irrationally championing U.S. superiority in the world. Their positions aren’t grounded in fact or reality, but rather, are wholly products of a fiction populated by jingoistic propaganda.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Why do conservatives hate everybody?

The nation’s religious conservatives are at it again, seeking to define virtue and morality and script the behaviour of everyone else—this time, the issue involves the annual White House egg roll, taking place on April 17.

A coalition of organizers that include groups such as the FamilyPride Coalition, plan on using the event as an opportunity to publicize and raise the public profile of non-traditional families. According to a press release issued by the group, they’ve been working for the past five months to organize lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) families in an effort to introduce this group to the American public in a genuine and respectful way.

The Family Pride Coalition’s Executive Director, Jean Chrisler said, “Approximately 9 million children are being raised in LGBT-headed households. Our parents live in every corner of this country, rural and urban, red states and blue states, and we strive like every other parent in this country to give our children the best opportunities, to shower them with love, to teach them respect and a love for the rich and diverse traditions America has to offer them.”

Conservative groups however, don’t find the intentions of the Family Pride Coalition and others as benign. Instead, organizations such as the Institute for Religion and Democracy, World Net Daily and other groups, have been sounding the clarion call, beckoning their forces of intolerance to gather once again to stop the “homosexual Easter” from happening. According to their usual skewered view of reality, the annual Easter Egg Roll, which dates back to Rutherford B. Hayes, has been a non-political event. This year, however, groups like the Family Pride Coalition and Soulforce are going to “exploit the annual White House Easter Egg Roll for political purposes."

Mark Tooley, of the Institute for Religion and Democracy wrote an article for the Weekly Standard, which was critical of the motives of the various LGBT-family groups. This has apparently unleashed a flood of “hate-filled, venomous messages, telling us that our families aren’t welcome,” said Chrisler.

The issue came up at the Wednesday press briefing, when Whitehouse mouthpiece, Scott McLellan, was asked if President Bush would prevent gay families from attending.

You can bet that we haven’t heard the end of this. Conservatives could care less about the killing of innocent Iraqi children, by U.S. bombers. They never utter a “peep” when a mentally-challenged or teenage prisoner is executed, but mention homosexual egg-rolling, and brother, you’ve got a rumble on your hands!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Along comes Mary

I know that some of my readers probably wish that I wouldn’t spend so much time writing about the end of the world as we know it. While my intention isn’t to be merely a bearer of all news that’s bad, my curmudgeonly nature lends itself well to that format.

Occasionally, some small event happens that gives me cause for cheer, a chuckle, or a full-blown belly laugh. This one falls in the latter category.

While the world faces environmental catastrophe, the end of oil in quantities formerly known, and on the national front, scandal ad nauseum, here in Maine, the Virgin Mary has graced us with her appearance. Topping that off, she didn’t appear in trendy downtown Portland at some yuppie bar offering over-priced fruity concoctions passing themselves off as adult beverages. No, she decided to appear to the little people, the residents of Mexico, Maine, specifically.

For Veronica Dennis, tragedy turned into wonder when she saw an image of Mary on her scorched kitchen wall, after a fire destroyed her home and forced her family out into the cold. Not to be deterred and looking to turn lemons into lemonade, Ms. Davis is sure that miracles are just around the corner. According to a quote attributed to her in yesterday’s Lewiston Sun Journal, “We just know in history that if this is a true sign, miracles will happen there.” Sort of a take on the Field of Dreams mantra, “If you build it, they will come.”

Apparently, the Virgin Mary was just looking for a place to lay her head when the Dennis’ home caught fire, after a space heater in her daughter’s room ignited a bed and nearby dog bed, severely damaging the modest two-story home and leaving the family homeless.

An official for Maine’s Catholic Diocese, Susan Bernard, exclaimed, “It’s amazing to look at.” However, the Church is withholding a decision on whether to confer miracle status on the image. Apparently, they subscribe to the wait-and-see philosophy of determining the miraculous. Bernard said that they are waiting to see if conversions, improved lives and other miracles occur, before taking a clear position on the matter.

I might add that the photo in Wednesday’s paper did appear rather mystical, as the lighting and other effects appeared to offer the view of some glowing object. It looked something akin to the statues that one sees in a typical American Catholic church.

Today’s edition of the Sun Journal had a follow-up story, about Ms. Dennis’ vow to protect the image of Mary on her charred wall. Once the insurance money arrives, the family will begin the rebuilding process. Apparently, her neighbors would not appreciate the sale of the home and an upgrade of the property to a shrine, or something similarly gauche.

Things have been slow on Burton Street since the news broke. No hordes of pilgrims looking for a miracle have descended yet, according to police Chief James Theriault. “We haven’t had any action up there,” he said. They are keeping a close eye on the place, however, which is probably a good thing.

The Dennis’ family has had a run of bad luck in 2005, but if the Virgin Mary has anything to do with it, 2006 should be a major improvement.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Lovelock's dire predictions

With our mid-January weather befitting the birth of spring, rather than the dead of winter, one could forgive northern New Englanders concluding that our planet is definitely warming. Rather than engage in anecdotal conjecture, however, I would rather look to scientific evidence and the opinions of authorities from that community in making my argument.

British scientist, James Lovelock, is no stranger to environmental controversy. His crime--not soft-pedaling his views about the long-term health of the planet. Dr. Lovelock, writing in Britain’s Independent newspaper, warned of the dire consequences resulting from our current love affair with lifestyles that are not sustainable. Lovelock, the originator of a theory, called Gaia that views the planet as a living organism, warns that the earth is “soon to pass into a morbid fever that may last 100,000 years." Through his theory, Lovelock speaks metaphorically about the earth in human terms, equating it with a human organism.

Some key points of his article touch on the following:

--temperatures will rise 8 degrees centigrade in the temperate regions and 5 degrees in the tropics

--the tropical areas of the world turned into scrub or desert

--this will add to the 40 percent of the earth’s surface already depleted and unable to produce necessary food and other plants for the planet

--the ecosystems of the earth will be disrupted bringing widespread death to species and many plants

Interestingly, Lovelock contradicts the idea represented by leaders who should know better and repeated by the pied pipers of the press—that the world has the capability to grow unlimited quantities of food and other plants. In reality, writes Lovelock, “We could grow enough to feed ourselves on the diet of the Second World War, but the notion that there is land to spare to grow biofuels, or be the site of wind farms, is ludicrous. We will do our best to survive, but sadly I cannot see the United States or the emerging economies of China and India cutting back in time, and they are the main source of emissions. The worst will happen and survivors will have to adapt to a hell of a climate.”

This contradicts the majority of people who believe somehow, that technology will save us. That we can continue to embrace our western modes of one car-one person travel, our rampant consumerism, replete with its rash of packaging waste and believe like Pollyanna, that technology—in the form of biofuels, photovoltaic collectors, windfarms, etc.—will come riding in on its white horse and save us from ourselves. Added to the insane mix that is pushing us towards our environmental Armageddon are burgeoning economies in China and India—each ramping up their use of diminishing supplies of fossil fuels with new modes of consumption rivaling our North American patterns.

These ideas aren’t limited to a handful of environmental “kooks,” as members of the right-wing talk radio family would have you believe. Other scientists across the globe subscribe to the potential of similarly grim scenarios, but some believe that we still have time to correct our course, before our plunge into global darkness and chaos.

Australian scientist, Timothy Flannery believes that we have “one or two decades” to take action. He takes issue with Lovelock’s “pessimism” and says it might be driven more by the political unwillingness of his own government and the current regime in Washington.

Quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, Flannery offers some balance to Lovelock, saying, “''It seems to be that [Professor] Lovelock's pessimism about things is due to the pathetic political response we've had from the US, Australia and some of the other polluting nations,'' said Dr Flannery, who is director of the South Australian Museum and author of climate book, The Weather Makers.

While saying he respects Lovelock and can understand his dire predictions and pessimism, but it’s important to “keep up hope.”

While I agree with what Flannery is saying and recognize that it is important to remain hopeful, it isn’t acceptable to stick one’s head in the sand and hope all this doomsday talk goes away. In the same piece, Flannery also warns that countries “have no choice” but to stop polluting. If we stopped our current greenhouse emissions today, it would still take 100 to 200 years to reverse the current direction we have chosen in climate change.

I think all of us who are aware of what’s happening need to keep Lovelock’s predictions and work in mind, but like Flannery, remain hopeful and most important—committed to doing what we can to both educate and reduce our environmental footprint, however small that might be. However, while individual responsibility is important, governments have the means, as well as the resources to shift the debate and the direction of our current non-sustainable course. Because combining trips and limiting packaging waste makes us feel good, it's difficult to alter the march of global warming without government-mandated changes in all areas of our daily life. I know this sticks in the craw of conservatives (the small-c kind) and libertarians, but we've moved past the point where ideological pissing contests are permitted.

In our own state, and many other rural areas, public modes of transportation are virtually non-existent. In order to get anywhere in rural Maine requires an automobile. Without population density, light rail and other modes of public transport probably won't happen. Significant tax breaks and subsidies that would provide an incentive to trade in our internal combustion-driven automobiles for hybrids might be a positive first step.

Regardless of what gets done, there isn't alot of time for hand-wringing, pontification, studies and commissions--and that's what scares me the most.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Keeping his legacy alive

"The Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and What It Means To Us Today"
by, Jim Baumer

Once again, we come upon the celebration of the birthday of a truly great human being, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It has been more than 30 years since an assassin's bullet stole from us one of our greatest champions of social and economic justice. Like many, I have been thinking about his legacy and what it means to those of us committed to building a just society today.

I think it is important that we not relegate his memory to the dusty corridors of history. While canonization may have been inevitable for one so prophetic in addressing a nation's besetting sins, we cannot allow the sanitization of his memory to lessen the intensity of his light, or to diminish the volume of his oratory.

While many today would laud King for his success in bringing about desegregation and championing civil rights, he spoke to issues much broader than race. And while race was, and still is a problem in America, to say that King was merely a champion for African-Americans in their quest for equal rights and access, is to rob him of the greater substance of what he stood for.

In an address delivered at the Riverside Church in New York, April 4, 1967, exactly one year to the day before he would be martyred, King laid down what he saw as the triumvirate of sins besetting the American culture.

In his impassioned oratory, he lashed out at racism, rampant materialism, and militarism. In his unique and prophetic way, he made the connection between the obscene amounts being spent to bludgeon a culture across the globe in Vietnam, and our success in affecting the war on poverty at home. He saw that divisions between the classes, fed by greed and materialism, were just as ugly a scar on the American psyche, as divisions between the races.

It was an economic cause that brought King to Memphis on that fateful day of April 4, 1968. King had come to show solidarity for the 1,300 striking sanitation workers that led him to this southern city, where he was ultimately gunned down and martyred for his cause.

Many within the leadership of the civil rights movement were troubled by his belief that the most important issue affecting America was more than race. He was severely criticized by several prominent members of that very leadership, after giving his address at the Riverside Church. This criticism ate at King and kept him awake many a night in prayer and reflection. Yet, he knew his cause was just, and that it was greater than he was. It was the visionary character of King's message and his understanding of the issues that separated him from the pack.

Looking back at his life, what do we see today that needs our attention in order to properly honor his memory? Has his mantle been taken up? Unfortunately, I think that there is still much work to be done.

We have seen our nation plunged into a costly and unjust war in Iraq. We see economic fragmentation. The ever-widening chasm between the haves and have-nots has created the greatest disparity of wealth in our country in more than 100 years. Many of the poorest in our country go without because of our misplaced national priorities. Never before has conspicuous consumption been lifted up and exalted like during our present day. While more and more of our citizens lack food, shelter and clothing, there continues to be those that are searching for bigger and better toys. Sadly, we have not done a very good job at heeding the words of one of our nation's most prophetic voices.

If Dr. King were alive today, I believe he would be commenting on these very same issues—racism, militarism, and rampant materialism—social and economic justice. He wouldn’t be timid, either. He would offer us a voice of reason in a cacophony of madness, telling us that the only way to bring about peace isn't by sacrificing our young men, and killing all of our enemies. He would be a counter-weight to the cowboy diplomacy of our current administration.

Let us honor his memory by committing ourselves to the causes of racial equality, economic justice, and peaceful co-existence. We must build economically self-sustaining communities that are based on meaningful jobs that pay a living wage. To do anything less is to allow his light to flicker and fade from our national consciousness.

© Jim Baumer, 2006

Friday, January 13, 2006

Mainers receive help from Venezuela

The first gallons of Citgo’s discounted fuel oil flowed into Maine, yesterday. The grateful recipients of the largesse were a couple in Windham, who are in their late-80s and struggling to keep warm this winter.

While yesterday’s 50 degree temperatures took some of the zing out of the event, Maine Governor John Baldacci was on hand for a news conference, along with Citgo CEO, Felix Rodriguez, at the home of Malcolm and Mary Lyons.

Under its program, the Houston-based subsidiary of Citgo-Venezuela is offering discounted fuel to Mainers as part of a $5.5 million program that has also brought needed heating assistance to Massachusetts, the Bronx, with other deals are currently under negotiation for Rhode Island and Vermont. Citgo is also donating 120,000 gallons of oil to 40 homeless shelters in the state, as well as providing discounted prices on oil to households on Maine’s Indian reservations.

With oil prices statewide running 50 cents higher than last year at this same point, Maine’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) would have been severely strained and ultimately would have run out of funding without intervention. Citgo has been the only corporation to come forward recognizing the need that exists in northern states like Maine. The large American-based companies have yet to offer anything other than empty rhetoric and escalating prices to elderly consumers like the Lyons.

Predictably, ideological shills for the President’s cause were quick to criticize the offer from Citgo as a ploy to embarrass him. Baldacci brushed aside these baseless claims choosing to focus on the need to help residents of Maine, like the Lyons, get through the harsh winter weather that is sure to make its reappearance soon.

[Information for this post was drawn from an AP story that appeared in this morning’s Lewiston Sun Journal.]

Thursday, January 12, 2006

It looks like Alito

Once again, we have the circus of a Supreme Court judge’s nomination thrust upon us. The proceedings are truly a spectacle, in the dictionary sense, but also illustrate what DuBord called “The Spectacle,” a fragmented view of reality.

What I find amazing, is how this important choice for the highest court in are supposed free society, a decision that will send out ripples for decades to come, is being orchestrated primarily by a small group of white men, whose ranks are made up mostly of members from the privileged socio-economic class. No women, no minorities, no native peoples and no one who could remotely be considered from the working class. This small, exclusive club, is being given the right to determine the fate of millions of Americans. Amazingly, most of our citizens are acutely unaware of the farce that is being beamed into their homes.

Samuel Alito, like his predecessor, John Roberts, is a relatively young man. He is 52 years old and appears to be in good health and reasonably vigorous. Common sense tells us, based on expected male life spans and prior justices, that Alito could very well serve for the next three decades.

From a quick perusal of various analyses and a rundown of his prior decisions and writings, Alito’s ideology is squarely rooted in the conservative camp. This, in and of itself isn’t necessarily bad. What is problematic in the least, however, is how his views could very well alter in a dramatic fashion, the judicial landscape in the following areas: alter of the following:

Reproductive Rights-In one dissent, Judge Alito would have upheld a Pennsylvania law (Planned Parenthood v. Casey) requiring a wife to notify her husband before having an abortion. The Supreme Court rejected his reasoning, finding that the law imposed an undue burden on the wife.

Free Speech-While Judge Alito clearly supports free speech access for big business, as well as government agents, yet he clearly does not support the claims of prisoners seeking access to newspapers and photographs of their families.

Privacy-Not finding any problems with a 10-year-old being strip-searched, Judge Alito dissented in a case that ruled it unconstitutional.

Workers’ Rights- Judge Alito has consistently sought to limit the scope and reach of statutes protecting workers’ rights and to raise the bar that employee plaintiffs must overcome to bring legal claims. While many of these cases involved technical procedural issues, Judge Alito’s opinions are consistent in outcome. The employee or union would have prevailed in only five of the 35 employment and labor opinions he wrote.

Environmental Law-In case after case, Judge Alito has deferred to regulatory agency decisions, and appears reluctant, or even unable, to pre-empt state environmental laws unless directed by federal statute.
[Compiled from reports by the ACLU and People for the American Way]

It seems fairly clear to me that in viewing his record, Judge Alito will dramatically move the high court, rightward.

Kate Michelman, the former president of NARAL, from 1985 to 2004, speaking on C-Span, yesterday, brought up privacy issues and abortion. While Alito apparently isn’t outspoken about overturning Roe, since 1985, he has clearly supported a strategy on Roe that would keep it in place, but eviscerate it and in essence, make it ineffective, by stripping out all provisions that allow women control over their own bodies.

As Michelman said, “Judge Alito wants to turn back the clock on poor women, women of color and rural women, in denying them access to abortion.”

I’m very concerned that a nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court will put him squarely in place to tote the water for his ideological home boys, the all-white, conservative caucus of women-haters. He’ll clearly be in a favorable position to once again, reduce women to being prisoners of their own biology, without a choice in any reproductive matters.

Additionally, those of us who aren’t members of America’s privileged class will find it harder to assert our rights that the Constitution supposedly guarantees us. We will be looking at an America that is less free, less democratic and a country that is ruled entirely by the highest bidders.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Feeding the lie machine

It seems that wherever I turn, I’m greeted by the latest attempt at shading the truth. Whether it is Congressional hearings on a Supreme Court justice, a state senator’s insistence that he didn’t compromise his position on the environment, or the hypocrisy of officialdom, lecturing a free spirit on virtue, our culture is crawling with the art of hypocrisy and fabrication.

Granted, prevarication isn’t new. For those who use religion and its sacred texts as a measuring stick, one could say that lies are as old as Adam and Eve, the first occurrence of such in biblical literature. History is replete with stories of the art of bending the truth to fit one’s situation, or pocketbook.

While lying is an age-old device, its pervasiveness seems to have taken on new parameters. From the highest office in our land, on down through the halls of justice and our law-making bodies, falsehoods flow freely and unchecked. They’ve become our norm, rather than an exception. Rarely, if ever, do I hear political figures speak, without the appearance of words pouring from both sides of their mouths. When asked the simplest of questions, they seem genetically incapable of an honest answer.

Yesterday, I was traveling home from an appointment and I was listening to the Senate’s confirmation hearings of Samuel Alito. Numerous senators pointedly questioned him on his views on privacy, abortion, and the extent to which he would allow executive powers to reach. One of the most grating of this gaggle of crooks and thieves was Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE). I’ve listened to him numerous times, in his typical manner of grandstanding, grill a nominee (including current Justice Roberts during his confirmation), appearing tough and having issues with them, then time-after-time, vote in favor of confirming. I will allow that it is the Senator’s prerogative to vote any way that he sees fit, however, occasionally, it would be nice if his vote actually matched his tough-talk and rhetoric. Another example is bloated windbag, Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who claims to speak for the poor and working class, when he wouldn’t know the first thing about working, or class. This very same Kennedy, a man who lectures Republicans on the need to wean ourselves from dependence on foreign oil, but balks when a proposed wind farm might be built a bit too close to his beloved Hyannisport compound.

Even my own Governor, John Baldacci, seems incapable of answering simple questions pertaining to running our state. Last Friday, while listening to MPBN’s Fred Bever interview him on statewide issues, Baldacci continually hemmed and hawed and evaded answering several questions.

Over the past few days, former Olympian, Bode Miller, has found himself in a world of trouble for comments he made to a 60 Minutes reporter, about his behavior on the slopes. Miller, who last year became the first American skier in 22 years to win the World Cup, apparently has found himself at the top of the mountain, while still under the influence of the previous night’s drinking and partying. Typically, his comments about skiing drunk have elicited the latest round of hypocritical hand-wringing, common when free-spirited young men speak from their hearts. You see, Miller, a New Hampshire native, who grew up in a cabin without heat or plumbing, raised by parents who made $600 one year, probably never learned the fine art of spinning the truth. With Miller, what you see is what you get. On the other hand, Bill Marolt, president and executive of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association has come out saying that Miller’s comments are “irresponsible” and send “an inappropriate message” to younger skiers and snowboarders. Officials like Marolt and much of the Olympic brass, have been exploiting the gifts and talents of young skiers for so long, they wouldn’t know appropriateness if it walked up and bit them in the ass!

Is it wise to end up on the top of a world class slalom course with beers under your belt? Certainly, not for most of us. For Bode Miller, on the other hand, I think he’s earned the right to make his own decisions. I, for one, find Miller and his open and unscripted ways much more refreshing and honest than the usual circumvention of the truth that makes up our daily parade in politics, sports and the media.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Investigate that!

For the most part, Maine’s newspapers no longer do investigative journalism. Occasionally, they’ll run a four, or six-part series, on topics like “poverty in Maine, or “underage drinking in Maine”, or the ever-popular, “teen-age suicide in Maine”, but generally, the need to sell advertising keeps them comfortably in the middle of the road. This need to fill advertising space not only keeps them conservative (I mean this in the sense of not-willing to take chances, as we all know that the media has a liberal bias, right?) in their content, but also prevents them from devoting the substantial column inches necessary to handle say, a 6,000 to 10,000 word investigative piece on some aspect of Maine, ala magazines like The Atlantic Monthly, Mother Jones and other print journals devoted to the investigative side of journalism. Oh for a new and updated version of The Maine Times!

A couple of former gumshoe journalists, who occupied the trenches at Maine newspapers in the past, have taken their craft from the print realm, over to the cyber side of news. Roberta Scruggs, a former award-winning writer at both the Portland Press Herald and Lewiston Sun Journal, has started The Scruggs Report, focusing Maine’s rugged outdoors and the issues affecting it. While Scruggs offers free content for readers to preview, the site charges for most of its material. This might be off-putting for some, but given the quality and the scope of Scruggs’ work, the girl’s ‘gotta eat, too! A good introduction to the site might be her expose of Inland, Fisheries, and Wildlife Commissioner, Danny Martin’s tour of Moosehead Lake this fall. Apparently the Baldacci call for belt-tightening regarding unnecessary travel doesn’t apply to Martin.

Former Portland newshound, Chris Busby, has given those of us who remember the glory days of the old Casco Bay Weekly, something to read. While in its early stages of development, Busby’s, The Bollard, promises to deliver news with a healthy helping of irreverence and muckraking. A good example of this was his channeling of Al Diamon, and his annual “25 Ideas for a Better Portland” column. Busby invokes the ghost of Diamons past while offering his readers his condensed version of “10 Ideas for a Greater, Greater Portland.” In addition to serving up tongue-in-cheek exercises like this one, The Bollard is chock full of music reviews, happenings about town, interviews with cutting-edge entrepreneurs and others, as well as a substantial helping of Busby, being Busby, reporting on the goings-on at city hall, and Portland’s push toward its holy grail of being a “gentrified, SUV-kind of town.” The best part of all this—it’s free! Apparently the ads (all local and non-corporate) on the site help him to pay a small pittance to his writing staff.

If Maine’s newspapers aren’t cutting it for you, well, there are some online options you can now check out in order to get your hard news jones on.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Pouring salt in the wound

In another example of the professional media getting it wrong--which is happening with ever-increasing frequency--distraught families had to deal with the latest buzzword bandied about--"miscommunication."

In one of the best quotes from an article in Editor and Publisher, the Poynter Institute's Scott Libin wrote, "This case reminds us of a lesson we learned, at least in part, from Hurricane Katrina: Even when plausibly reliably sources such as officials pass along information, journalists should press for key details....If we believe that when your mama says she loves you, you should check it out, surely what the mayor or police chief or governor says deserves at least some healthy skepticism and verification. I understand how emotion and adrenaline and deadlines affect performance. That does not excuse us from trying to do better."

I can only imagine what these emotionally wrung out families must be feeling right now.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Making a living in the mines

Mining is a dangerous occupation. While the incidences of accidents related to boring into the earth’s interior have gone down, this is partly due to the wane of mining’s viability in the U.S. Coal, the type of mineral being mined at the West Virginia mine where the latest accident occurred, is no longer the fuel of choice that it once was, particularly during the 19th and early 20th centuries. There is also a greater emphasis on safety and better practices.

As with any disaster, the media’s need to sate their bloodlust for tragedy was on display last night, as a surf of the news networks found this tragedy front and center from CNN, to Fox, MSNBC and any other pseudo-news stations. While I could only stomach this in small increments, it appeared that the usual method of mining the misery of victim’s families was the vehicle of choice of the staunch journalists that ply their trade for cable news.

I read Barbara Kingsolver’s revealing book, Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mining Strike of 1983, two years ago. My eyes were opened to the hard life of mining, as well as the extent of exploitation that was visited on this particular group of miners, but represented mining since its inception. Regardless of the method used for extraction of riches from the earth, the process is either extremely dangerous, or leaves the earth scarred and rarely able to recover. Explosions are always a possibility, due to the buildup of gasses (most notably, methane) associated with the mining process; a spark or other ignition means danger and more often, death.

I read with interest that this particular mine, recently acquired by ICG in March of 2005, had been cited by federal inspectors for 46 violations over an 11-week period. Apparently, the number of violations increased in 2005, from 68, to 205. ICG insists however that it is operating a safe mining operation.

Concerning safety, modern mining would never qualify as safe employment in my book, however, it is much safer than it ever has been, particularly 100 years ago. Much of the safety and improvements for workers have come from being unionized. Miners have always been some of the most militant of workers and have been able to acquire a rate of pay that at least takes into account the dangers faced by them, each time they are lowered into a mine shaft. Their militarism stems in part from how hard they had to fight for some basic recognition of the hazards of their trade. Nowhere was this more apparent than in West Virginia, and its history of poor treatment of miners. Despite the gains that organized miners have acquired, this disaster illustrates the importance of never becoming complacent, as management of many industries will always look to cut corners on safety, in hopes of extracting greater profit from their operation.