Thursday, February 26, 2009

Iraq Withdraw to Afghanistan: The Perils of Empire

If one believes President Obama, the US is going to leave Iraq within the next few years. The sad truth is that we are not leaving Iraq, 4, 6, probably not in the next 20 years from now. If you look at the President's proposal, the US is going to disembark approximately two-thirds of our forces, by 2010 or 2012 (or 2013, if the President so chooses in his extra contingency plans). What is not mentioned by the liberals fawning over this proposal, or the war hawks who ache for a post-apocalypse, is that by the end of Obama's first term the US is still going to have 50,000 troops in Iraq.

To put this in context for you, that is more troops than we have in Europe (including the Balkans), even though the US is the lead power in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (and by rule always in command). It is more troops than we have in South Korea, even though the US is still technically at war with North Korea. It is more troops than we will have in Afghanistan by this summer, when we double our troop "surge" to over 35,000 (in a theater of operations most anyone would still call a war). How is that ending a war? No honest person can look at that situation and think that those 50,000 soldiers are going to be necessary for supply duty or, as President Obama euphemistically calls it, "protecting American interests." Unless the US built some baseball fields or new unguarded office buildings, the troops will be there for one purpose: to occupy Iraq. In addition, the contingencies are an obvious insurance for a maintained occupation if Iraq does not stabilize well enough to become a truly viable and self-governing state.

Obama's Iraq plan, if implemented, means the violation of the agreement that Iraq signed with the US this last autumn, which stipulates a full US military withdraw by 2011. This agreement was downplayed by the media at the height of the presidential campaign, which itself was mired in the worries over our decomposing economy. Nevertheless, how is it that Bush's last months in office appear more dovish by comparison to Obama's "withdraw" plan? How can anti-war progressives not be fulminating at the thought of our newly elected government keeping the equivalent of at least 3-4 divisions of troops for the next several years in a country we had agreed not long before to exit by the end of 2011? And what does this say about the General Petraeuses and Senator McCains, who extolled the 2007-2008 surge as a "great success," when we still have to keep behind so many soldiers indefinitely? I have yet to receive an answer on these questions from what constitutes our media or, the executive branch, or Congressional leaders of either of the two parties. Sadly, it is starting to become all too clear as to why candidate Obama did not extensively stress his opposition to the Iraq war during the campaign.

This is what denotes courage in American foreign policy. A maintained military occupation and an expansion of war in another country that is by anyone's account unwinnable. Does anyone honestly think 35,000 US troops in Afghanistan is going to pacify a population that over 100,000 Soviet soldiers, millions of its planted land mines, strewn throughout the countryside, and mustard gas could not?

To be sure, one could argue that there is some value in staying, for the sake of capturing/killing Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and their associates, but it is improbable that any of those responsible for the 9/11 attacks are in hiding in Afghanistan. It is more plausible that they are living in freedom with the protection of their religious brethren in places like Waziristan. There is only so many drones you can send to bomb their camps. I doubt they are dumb enough to travel alone, during the day, or without major disguise to avoid detection. If the Pakistani government is going to sign cease fire agreements with the Taliban in these provincial border areas, it limits the choices of the US military--outside of a full scale invasion or use of Special Forces in those contested areas. This would have dire political consequences for the US and Pakistan's non-Islamist elected government.

None of these are good options and if there is no endgame in a place like Afghanistan, whose state capacity is historically almost non-existent, then what is the point of the expanded intervention? None is really offered, except under the same generic terms about fighting terrorism--the kind of terminology that rightly earned the previous President his record low approval ratings.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar Acceptance

A pro-gay rights speech in Hollywood? Surely, the folks at the Westboro Baptist Church and our Mormon, Catholic, and Southern Baptist brethren must be ill at ease, which is all the more reason to offend them. In homage to the best speeches of the 2009 Academy Awards, Milk Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.



...and of course, Best Actor, also for Milk, Sean Penn.



The response from the God squad was swift and ignorant as ever....



I always felt there was something gay about a man so vociferous in his expressed hatred of gay people. He would not be the first religious person who turned out to be a self-hating closet case.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Jazz, Sweet Jazz

I do not venture into cultural commentary on this site, at least not often enough. It is probably because of the political nature in which I have allowed this blog to evolve. This should not be too surprising since I am a political scientist and a longtime political activist. Plus, there is very little of what constitutes Americana these days that I prefer or want to be associated with. The athletes are over-pampered, overpaid steroid abusers and unconvicted felons, participating in one of the few collectivist endeavors tolerated by this society's owners, next to organized religion--neither of which cost the upper 1% income tax bracket a dime (as opposed to the kind of intolerable collective political efforts that are inculcated into our consciousness as un-American).

Music has been one of the greatest disappointments of American culture, even more than the perversion of athletics. It is difficult to rationalize how we have gone from a place where bands who played and wrote their own music descended to the point of making multimillionaires of the likes of Madonna and the Backstreet Boys, but it happened. Maybe it was the visual obsession with music videos, the increasing corporate control and manufacturization of music as a product, instead of art. Regardless of what it may be, I am certain of this much. It made contemporary rock and most pop music utterly un-listenable. Even those genres that started out as a rebellion against dominant cultural narratives, like rap, was over time trivialized and turned into a series of stripper anthems (much like the hair metal bands of the late '80s and early '90s).

It was during this gutterization that I began to listen to different forms of music in my early adult years. Jazz was one of those joyful experiments. It is improvisational and an acquired taste, and best of all it is a form of music that is distinctly American.

The problem with jazz, like classical music, is that you get stuck with the past, those musicians who are long gone, and who set the standard for the genre. For the longest time, I was in the glories of the past camp in jazz (and still am when it comes to classical music), but I have branched out over the past several years, searching for and listening to contemporary jazz musicians and singers I consider worthy of recognition.

One of the most talented, and in my view underrated, singers to come on to the jazz scene recently is Melody Gardot. She is a Pennsylvanian, who has only been singing for the past five years now--a career that began after suffering a near fatal car accident, spending several months in a hospital following a hit-and-run incident (an ironic way to start one's recording contract). Her voice, sound, style seems almost reminiscent of Billie Holiday, in the best way, but she accomplishes this with her own persona and presence that you rarely see in this day an age (a bona fide talent who can write and carry her own music).



Here is the live version of Quiet Fire (embedding was disabled, so I could not post it).

For those who tire of being spoonfed the 10 year old target audience garbage from MTV...







If you are ever fortunate enough to have this lady in concert in your town or city, you need to acquaint yourself.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pope to Pelosi: Just Say No to Abortion

One of the beauties of being Catholic (or a recovering one in my case) is that it means never having to explain your hypocrisy. Joseph Ratzinger (aka, Pope Benedict XVI) is the personification of this mentality, malady really, that has tainted us since Constantine decided to no longer be a pagan. This is the Joseph Ratzinger who back in 2003, before even becoming Pope, relativized the mass rape of thousands of young children by his priestly brethren, claiming the sex cases were overstated and a product of an anti-Catholic inclinations of the media (i.e., for daring to report the abuse). This defense also included his close friend Bernard Law, who Ratzinger was instrumental in securing the redeployment of to the Vatican, so to avoid a potential prosecution in the US after allowing his priests to molest children without so much as a phone call to the local police or, goddess forbid, the congregations the good bishop permitted his clergy to prey upon.

Of course, none of this prevented Mr. Ratzinger/Benedict XVI from visiting the US afterward, meeting with some of the victims of his priests, and swearing to never allow this to happen again and to hold such people accountable. He forgot to mention that accountability did not include doing anything to the people responsible for allowing the abuse to happen, such as Cardinals Mahony and Law (who are still members in good standing with the church [Mahony remaining as the archbishop of the LA diocese]).

The same applies to Nazis, now. Not satisfied with reversing most of the gains of Vatican II Council by giving leeway to returning to the Latin Mass, and bringing back the ever popular indulgences, Joseph Ratzinger excelled his numerous rollbacks of past church actions by rescinding the excommunication of the Society of St. Pius X. This is an organization that was started by the Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a supporter of Francisco Franco, Benito Mussolini, and the Nazi collaborationist Vichy regime. This group became infamous after the war for giving aide and comfort to Nazi war criminals, helping people like Paul Touvier to avoid justice (a right-wing Nazi supporter from France and confidant of Klaus Barbie). Not surprisingly, the Society is filled with people who think the holocaust never happened, including the group's founder and its most famous current day advocate, "bishop" Richard Williamson.

Naturally, when it comes to the Church's view of women in positions of authority, the forgiving attitude seems to quickly disappear. Low and behold, pro-choice Catholic politician, and Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. Her recent diplomatic trip to Italy was replete with reminders from the Vatican about her position on the issue of reproductive choice.

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Pope to US Speaker Pelosi: Reject abortion support

By VICTOR L. SIMPSON, Associated Press Writer

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday told U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic who supports abortion rights, that Catholic politicians have a duty to protect life "at all stages of its development."

Pelosi is the first top Democrat to meet with Benedict since the election of Barack Obama, who won a majority of the American Catholic vote despite differences with the Vatican on abortion.

The Vatican released the pope's remarks to Pelosi, saying Benedict spoke of the church's teaching "on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death." That is an expression often used by the pope when expressing opposition to abortion.

Benedict said all Catholics — especially legislators, jurists and political leaders — should work to create "a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development."

In an e-mail issued by her office, Pelosi did not mention the allusion to abortion.

She said it was with "great joy" that she and her husband, Paul, met with Benedict.

"In our conversation, I had the opportunity to praise the Church's leadership in fighting poverty, hunger and global warming, as well as the Holy Father's dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel," she said.

The 15-minute meeting was closed to reporters and photographers. The two met in a small room off a Vatican auditorium after the pope's weekly public audience.

The Vatican said it was not issuing a photo of the meeting — as it usually does when the pope meets world leaders — saying the encounter was private. The statement said the pope "briefly greeted" Pelosi and did not mention any other subject they may have discussed.

A number of the bishops in the United States have questioned Pelosi's stance on abortion, particularly her theological defense of her support for abortion rights.

Benedict has cautiously welcomed Obama's new Democratic administration, although several American cardinals have sharply criticized its support for abortion rights. The new stance is a sharp break from government policy under former President George W. Bush.

Pelosi had meetings with Italian leaders in the past few days, including Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090218/ap_on_re_eu/eu_vatican_us_pelosi
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You see, supporting fascism, the murder of millions of people (and then claiming it never happened), or molesting children, those are all forgivable sins in the eyes of the Church, ones we must look beyond to bring people back into the fold. But if you support women's rights, you are violating the principles of life. And you wonder why I never go to Mass anymore.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Foolishness of Bipartisanship


After the Senator Gregg to Commerce fiasco, you would think the DLC who still runs the Democratic Party would learn. Bipartisanship with the current Republican Party means being Republican.

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Ireeconcilable Differences

Why Can Judd Gregg See What Obama Can't?

By DAVE LINDORFF

Hand it to Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH). The conservative senator from the Granite State turned down an appointment to the position of President Barrack Obama’s Secretary of Commerce citing “irreconcilable differences.”

Citing the latest Senate vote on Obama’s economic stimulus package, for which Gregg voted “no,” Gregg said, “ We are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy."

Truth to tell, that can be said about the entire Republican Party, in both House and Senate, which voted almost unanimously against Obama’s signature domestic effort to date to try and kick-start the economy. The House vote on the measure was completely along party lines with no defections, while in the Senate, only three liberal Republican senators voted for that chamber’s version of the $800-billion bill—but only after those three Republicans had managed to sabotage it, probably fatally, by forcing Obama and Senate Democrats to agree to making a third of the bill be in the form of meaningless and useless tax cuts, instead of programs to ease the plight of laid-off workers and people losing their homes.

The fact is, Obama and his supposedly brilliant political strategists have adopted a bone-headed approach of trying to seem “post-partisan” which has led them directly into a Republican trap on many key policy fronts. The economy is just one such area, where Republicans let Obama water down his stimulus program in an effort to woo them, and then simply voted against the package in the end. The war in Afghanistan is another example, where Obama has been so busy buying into the right’s agenda of continued war that he is about to commit the nation to years more of expanded war in that war-torn region. Even Obama’s cabinet picks have been terrible, made with an eye to appearing “centrist” and even Republican-friendly, with many key holdovers, like Defense Secretary Robert Gates, or appointments like Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Bush’s pick for head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, not to mention his attempt to put a Republican in as Commerce Secretary.

That last botched appointment was particularly pathetic. It had offered Obama the chance to pick up a key Democratic vote in the Senate, since if Gregg had taken the job and left his Senate seat, the Democratic governor of New Hampshire could, and surely would have appointed a Democratic replacement. But Obama, again wanting to show his post-partisanship, cut a deal with Gregg in which the governor agreed to appoint a Republican replacement.

Having seen how needing to get two Republican votes in order to avoid filibusters in the Senate on key legislation can destroy the legislation, Obama now needs to rectify this mistake.

It’s clear that, even if Obama doesn’t sink himself as he has been doing, that the Republicans are out to sabotage his presidency. That being the case, Obama should change course immediately and develop a new strategy based upon confronting and attacking the Republicans in Congress forcibly. One way to do that would be to name a few liberal (not Gregg-style) Republican Senators from states with Republican governors to posts in the cabinet. Example: Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, who has served on the Senate finance committee and on a subcommittee on small business, would make an excellent commerce secretary (much better than Gregg, who at one point had called for the abolition of the department), and if appointed, could be replaced by Maine’s Democratic Governor John Baldacci with a Democratic senator. Obama could also put Gates out to pasture and name the other Maine Senator, Susan Collins, as Defense Secretary. Collins has served on both the Senate Homeland Security and Armed Services committees, and it would be a great idea to have a woman running the Defense Department. Again, Maine’s Democratic governor could replace Collins with a Democratic Senator, giving Obama 60 votes, eliminating his need to cater to that treacherous turncoat, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, who backed McCain last fall, and who renounced his Democratic Party membership after being denied the party’s nomination back in 2006. (This calculus assumes an eventual win by Democrat Al Franken in the still-unresolved Minnesota Senate race.)

Even short of enhancing the Democratic margin in the Senate, Obama could change the political climate in the Upper House by making it clear that Republicans who obstruct his agenda will be barred from having any legislation passed for the next four years. Their bills will not get hearing, and if somehow passed, will be vetoed. He and his Democratic Party allies in the Senate, should, in other words, start treating Republicans in the Senate the way they were treated by Republicans during Bush’s presidency: as irrelevant.

Even with 57 or 58 seats, Democrats have a much stronger position in Congress today than they had when they took over the House and Senate in 2006. They also have a much stronger position than Republicans had between 2002 and 2006, too. But they, and Obama, are still acting as though they are the opposition party, not the ruling party.

If Obama wants to be a successful president, and if he hopes to be re-elected in 2012, he will need to simply run over Republican opposition in Congress and start pushing through the agenda that he was elected to promote.

Bi-partisanship, post-partisanship, or whatever caving in to forces of the thoroughly discredited right is called, is a doomed strategy. It only encourages the Republicans, like wolves pursuing a wounded elk, to move in for the kill.

Right now, the public is still blaming Bush, Cheney and the Republicans for the messes in Iraq, Afghanistan and the US economy. But it won’t be long before all those crises will have Obama’s and the Democrats’ name on them, which is precisely the goal of the Republican policy of obstruction and sabotage.

Obama doesn’t have much time to start taking charge of this situation. A good place to start would be by calling on his Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor or two or three to start aggressively investigating the crimes of the Bush/Cheney administration, including any collusion with Republican members of Congress. Democrats in Congress, too, could get much more aggressive about their investigations in to the abuses of the last two presidential terms. That would sure signal to Republicans in Congress that he is serious, and not to be pushed around.

DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006, available now in paperback edition). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

http://www.counterpunch.org/lindorff02132009.html
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What makes this even more frustrating is that the Republicans, true to their word, showed hardly bipartisanship when they were in power. They understood that elections were about legitimizing policy and approach. To cut over $100 billion out of the stimulus package, money that could have gone to students and people in serious need, to placate a group of people who only favor spending money on Iraqi Islamists and Wall Street bankers, why should anyone be surprised that virtually the entire GOP opposed the bill? It is not as though they lost power, of Congress and the Presidency, by accident.

The air of unreality is reinforced by the hilarity of a political party that is reduced to looking towards talk radio hosts as its self-appointed leaders. Of course, there is a reason why Rush Limbaugh is not in elected office, outside of his being a thrice-divorced heroin addict and draft dodger (on account of a claimed anal cyst).



And what has this Republican suckupmanship brought the Democrats over the past couple of decades? NAFTA, GATT, the Welfare Reform Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, the Iraq War resolution. Name one Democratic endeavor the majority of Republicans voted for on the scale of what the DLC has wrought in the aforementioned betrayals of its supposed principles. You cannot name one because it does not exist. That is the difference between a party that understands itself, even when the people reject them, and one that continues to live in the mentality of the Era of Good Feelings, even when the people and base pushes them farther out than the leadership is willing to go. One party has no brains, the other no spine. Thus it is the difference between the Republicans and Democrats.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Punching Bags Strike Back: Women and Valentine's Day


I have never been a fan of Valentine's Day. It is not that I lack romanticism. I am Italian, after all. It is just I have always hated the commercialism and the fact you constrict expressions of romantic love for your partner to one day. As the narrative is understood by our cultural mandarins, February 14 is a female holiday, in which men are obliged to buy their female significant others gifts to express our feelings for them. Naturally, this all comes with a fee, for the male, and profits for FTD and Hallmark. The shallowness should be obvious to anyone who thinks about why such a day is even necessary if you bother to take your relationships seriously, but then cultural narratives are not about making people think.

Be that as it may, I have always respected ingenuity, and these ladies in India are partaking in one of my favorite past times, angering religious lunatics.


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"Loose" India women to send pink knickers to Hindu group

By Rina Chandran

MUMBAI (Reuters Life!) - Thousands of Indians, many fuming over a recent assault on women in a pub, are vowing to fill bars on Valentine's Day and send cartons of pink panties to a radical Hindu group that has branded outgoing females immoral.

A "consortium of pub-going, loose and forward women", founded by four Indian women on social networking website Facebook has, in a matter of days, attracted more than 25,000 members with over 2,000 posts about the self-appointed moral police.

The women said their mission was to go bar-hopping on February 14 and send hundreds of pink knickers to Sri Ram Sena, the militant Hindu group that has said pubs are for men, and that women should stay at home and cook for their husbands.

The same Hindu group was blamed for attacking women in a bar in Mangalore in January, an incident that sparked a national debate about women's freedoms in India.

Collection centres have sprung up in several cities, with volunteers calling for bright pink old-fashioned knickers as gifts to the Sri Ram Sena as a mark of defiance.

"Girl power! Go girls, go. Show Ram Sena ... who's the boss," reads one post on Facebook from Larkins Dsouza.

There is a separate campaign to "Walk to the nearest pub and buy a drink (and) raise a toast", that has found supporters from Toronto to Bangkok to Sydney, with even teetotallers saying they will get a drink on Saturday to show solidarity.

"Though I don't promote smoking or drinking for both sexes, we definitely don't need hooligans telling us what to do and what not. Best of luck!", reads one post from IfteharAhsan.

There are more heated discussion threads as well that range from the limits of independence to religion and politics, reflecting the struggle facing a country that has long battled to balance its deep-rooted traditions with rapid modernisation.

Growing numbers of young and independent urban women have become an easy target for religious fundamentalists and ageing politicians trying to force traditional mores on an increasingly liberal, Western outlook.

Not to be outdone, the Sri Ram Sena, which has cautioned shops and pubs in southern Karnataka state against marking Valentine's Day, has promised to gift pink saris to women and marry off canoodling couples to make them "respectable".

http://in.reuters.com/article/technologyNews/idINIndia-37987820090212?pageNumber=2&virtualBrandChannel=0&sp=true
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So, going to a pub makes you a whore? Well, only if you are a woman, of course, at least according to our believing friends from Sri Ram Sena (a right-wing fundamentalist group founded by emigres of an organization that supported Hitler and Mussolini, and who engineered the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi). And what is the preferred way for this group of thugs to reaffirm their belief in family values? By going into bars and beating up women. Whenever I think of what I dislike the most about sexism, and organized religion, this is it.


If you really wanted to offend these folk, though, you should do them one better, ladies. Go to college and become the employer of these men. Once you start hitting them where it really hurts, you will discover how quickly they reconceptualize their make believe butcher in the sky.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Putin's Mamma Mia

One must have grown up or remember the 1970s to recall the horror of ABBA. Yes, they were popular. Their sound was certainly melodic, sort of the Enya of their day. This is why I hated them so much. They were like the eternal Oscar Meyer commercial. It amazes me still that Sweden could produce such rubbish. I know I sound judgmental, but it is hard to grow up listening to Led Zeppelin and take a group like ABBA seriously. The saddest part is that they presaged many of the pop acts of today, with all of the glam, glitz, and no-brain lyrics for the average 10 year old to enjoy.

Still, the band members have to be given some credit. They are the object of desire of the greatest corruptibly eleected leader of all, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Yes, you read that correctly. The butcher of Grozny, the man who likes to kill off his dissident reporters, while microwaving errant ex-FSB employees, is also a fan of the '70s pop group from hell.

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ABBA tribute band says it played for Putin

MOSCOW (AP) -- A British-based ABBA tribute band said Friday the Kremlin whisked it away to perform a private concert for Vladimir Putin — offering a rare glimpse into the private life of the secretive Russian prime minister.

The four-member Bjorn Again band said it traveled 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of Moscow for the Jan. 22 gig on the shores of Lake Valdai to perform before an exclusive audience of eight people — Putin, an unidentified blonde woman and six other men in tuxedoes.

Putin's spokesman denied that the prime minister attended any such concert, but band members gave plenty of details and said they recognized Putin at the show.

ABBA was one of the best-loved foreign bands during Soviet times, and the Swedish quartet even traveled to Moscow to perform in the Kremlin.

But revelations that Putin could be a closet ABBA fan run counter to his traditional strongman image. The prime minister is better known for manly displays on the judo mat and in fighter jet cockpits, and for robust outbursts against the West.

Rod Stephen, founder of Bjorn Again, originally thought it was a hoax when he received a phone call requesting that his band travel to Russia to perform at Lake Valdai.

"It was the classic 'hello ... Kremlin ... Russia ... we want Bjorn Again'," recalled Stephen. "I thought it was one of the band members sending me up."

But they soon understood the offer was serious.

Aileen McLaughlin, one of the four band members who traveled to Russia, said the group found the whole experience "bizarre" from the start. After flying into Moscow, they boarded a bus for a nine-hour journey on "very bad" roads and learned they were to perform before Putin.

"We arrived at five in the morning at big metal security gates, where we had to get out and be searched," she said by telephone from London. "We were just tired and wanted to get to the hotel. Oh my — were we wrong again!"

McLaughlin said they stayed in a place resembling a military installation, with very basic accommodations and tight security. The band members were guarded by machine gun-toting security guards and cameras, and when any of them ventured outside, they were prevented from straying by men with Kalishnikovs.

But she said the audience — comfortably seated on three sofas — appeared to enjoy the concert.

"They were clapping and swaying, and putting their fingers in the air, that kind of thing," said McLaughlin. "He (Putin) had good rhythm. He was shouting 'Bravo, Bravo!' after the songs."

The audience particularly enjoyed "Super Trouper" and "Mamma Mia," she added.

A lace curtain separated the band from the elite audience for the hour-long, high-security show, but McLaughlin said at one point the spotlight flashed on the audience and band members saw Putin.

McLaughlin described the lone woman as a blonde who was "wearing a long, cream, really pretty dress." Putin's wife, Lyudmila, has blond hair, but they are rarely seen together anymore.

The band was paid 20,000 pounds ($30,000) for their performance, which was organized by the Moscow-based agents SAV Entertainment, said Stephen, speaking from London.

A woman at SAV Entertainment denied that the company had anything to do with the event.

"We are telling everyone that such a concert never took place. We are denying it," she said, refusing to give her name.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that Putin attended any such party on or around Jan. 22, adding "neither Mr. Putin nor his apparatus ordered any band of this kind."

"I have no doubt that he likes some music of Abba," Peskov said. "But he simply wasn't there."

http://entertainment.msn.com/news/article.aspx?news=351225&GT1=28130&
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Just in case any of you take Putin as a security risk, like the current Governor of the great state of Alaska, consider that his mp3 player is filled with songs like this.



And we are supposed to worried about this man? It is not so much the band (well, actually it is), so much as the concept of visualizing Vladimir Putin killing Chechens to the tune of Ring, Ring. Maybe if Prime Minister Putin listened to music like this, I would consider him as a more fearful leader.



Really, Vlad, you disappointed me.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Profiles on the Evils of Religion: Marrying Girls

Just consider this one the next time our heavenly believers tell us that their religion is about morality.



I cannot remember the last time an atheist organization was marrying off 8 year olds.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Reason #1,235 to Hate Baseball


I have written previously about the time waste that sports has become. As an ex-athlete, it was not a pleasant thing to face that I was nothing but an entertainment tool, but that is what it has always been, going back to the days of the coliseums.

Still, it must be said for the gladiators that if nothing else they were at least honest killers who looked the way they did naturally. Here is my old sport of baseball, showing us resoundingly, yet again, why it is a brothel for millionaire cheats and drug addicts.

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Sources tell SI Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003

By Selena Roberts and David Epstein

In 2003, when he won the American League home run title and the AL Most Valuable Player award as a shortstop for the Texas Rangers, Alex Rodriguez tested positive for two anabolic steroids, four sources have independently told Sports Illustrated.

Rodriguez's name appears on a list of 104 players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball's '03 survey testing, SI's sources say. As part of a joint agreement with the MLB Players Association, the testing was conducted to determine if it was necessary to impose mandatory random drug testing across the major leagues in 2004.

When approached by an SI reporter on Thursday at a gym in Miami, Rodriguez declined to discuss his 2003 test results. "You'll have to talk to the union," said Rodriguez, the Yankees' third baseman since his trade to New York in February 2004. When asked if there was an explanation for his positive test, he said, "I'm not saying anything."

Phone messages left by SI for players' union executive director Donald Fehr were not returned.

Though MLB's drug policy has expressly prohibited the use of steroids without a valid prescription since 1991, there were no penalties for a positive test in 2003. The results of that year's survey testing of 1,198 players were meant to be anonymous under the agreement between the commissioner's office and the players association. Rodriguez's testing information was found, however, after federal agents, armed with search warrants, seized the '03 test results from Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc., of Long Beach, Calif., one of two labs used by MLB in connection with that year's survey testing. The seizure took place in April 2004 as part of the government's investigation into 10 major league players linked to the BALCO scandal -- though Rodriguez himself has never been connected to BALCO.

The list of the 104 players whose urine samples tested positive is under seal in California. However, two sources familiar with the evidence that the government has gathered in its investigation of steroid use in baseball and two other sources with knowledge of the testing results have told Sports Illustrated that Rodriguez is one of the 104 players identified as having tested positive, in his case for testosterone and an anabolic steroid known by the brand name Primobolan. All four sources spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the evidence.

Primobolan, which is also known by the chemical name methenolone, is an injected or orally administered drug that is more expensive than most steroids. (A 12-week cycle can cost $500.) It improves strength and maintains lean muscle with minimal bulk development, according to steroid experts, and has relatively few side effects. Kirk Radomski, the former New York Mets clubhouse employee who in 2007 pleaded guilty to illegal distribution of steroids to numerous major league players, described in his recent book, Bases Loaded: The Inside Story of the Steroid Era in Baseball by the Central Figure in the Mitchell Report, how players increasingly turned to drugs such as Primobolan in 2003, in part to avoid detection in testing. Primobolan is detectable for a shorter period of time than the steroid previously favored by players, Deca-Durabolin. According to a search of FDA records, Primobolan is not an approved prescription drug in the United States, nor was it in 2003. (Testosterone can be taken legally with an appropriate medical prescription.)

Rodriguez finished the 2003 season by winning his third straight league home run title (with 47) and the first of his three MVP awards.

Because more than 5% of big leaguers had tested positive in 2003, baseball instituted a mandatory random-testing program, with penalties, in '04. According to the 2007 Mitchell Report on steroid use in baseball, in September 2004, Gene Orza, the chief operating officer of the players' union, violated an agreement with MLB by tipping off a player (not named in the report) about an upcoming, supposedly unannounced drug test. Three major league players who spoke to SI said that Rodriguez was also tipped by Orza in early September 2004 that he would be tested later that month. Rodriguez declined to respond on Thursday when asked about the warning Orza provided him.

When Orza was asked on Friday in the union's New York City office about the tipping allegations, he told a reporter, "I'm not interested in discussing this information with you."

Anticipating that the 33-year-old Rodriguez, who has 553 career home runs, could become the game's alltime home run king, the Yankees signed him in November 2007 to a 10-year, incentive-laden deal that could be worth as much as $305 million. Rodriguez is reportedly guaranteed $275 million and could receive a $6 million bonus each time he ties one of the four players at the top of the list: Willie Mays (660), Babe Ruth (714), Hank AaronBarry Bonds (762), and an additional $6 million for passing Bonds. In order to receive the incentive money, the contract reportedly requires Rodriguez to make extra promotional appearances and sign memorabilia for the Yankees as part of a marketing plan surrounding his pursuit of Bonds's record. Two sources familiar with Rodriguez's contract told SI that there is no language about steroids in the contract that would put Rodriguez at risk of losing money. (755) and

Arguments before an 11-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Pasadena are ongoing between government prosecutors and the players' association over the government's seizure of the test results from the Long Beach lab. The agents who collected the material had a search warrant only for the results for the 10 BALCO-linked players. Attorneys from the union argue that the government is entitled only to the results for those players, not the entire list. If the court sides with the union, federal authorities may be barred from using the positive survey test results of non-BALCO players such as Rodriguez in their ongoing investigations.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/baseball/mlb/02/07/alex-rodriguez-steroids/index.html
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A-Rod is not the only one (there are over a hundred of them just in 2003). Most of the big sluggers are still on steroids. They are avoiding detection by taking human growth hormone because they know there is no reliable test for it. Look at the sluggers with measurements that resemble Arnold Schwarzenegger's when he was winning his Mr. Olympias (and taking steroids the whole time), and you will see why these people do not deserve to be gracing any field. Remember when Pete was kicked out of baseball for gambling on baseball? What people like A-Rod, Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, Palmiero, et al., have done is a hundred times worse. They have bastardized the very legitimacy of the product, undermining its purpose and value for anyone who believes in the sanctity of the game, assuming one could be naive or foolish enough to think there are any redeeming qualities in Major League Baseball.

The saddest part will be the manifestation of this cultural worship of wanton wealth and cheating in about two months time when thousands of Yankees fans are cheering A-Rod after he hits his first home run, much in the same way Giants fans cheered so wildly when Bonds stole Aaron's career home run record. The same fans, media propagandists, and players who savaged Jose Canseco as a self-serving opportunist for daring to say that A-Rod was probably abusing performance enhancement drugs on account of his physical appearance (and Jose is one to know, since he used steroids for over two decades). How is it that a convict and woman beater, as well as admitted steroid user, could be one of the few people in baseball who has stated the truth on this issue?

I hope I am wrong and people finally become fed up and leave. I sincerely hope people stop frequenting these sports and just let them die. The overpaid players (the only people less in need of a union than the owners), the owners (who live off our dollar in publicly-financed stadiums that they are charging increasingly outrageous prices to allow the taxpayers into), and the memory of people like Hank Aaron who played with nothing more than the natural talent they were born with. There is no group of athletes more deserving of the worst than this.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Moron Report #30: Sarah Palin's Name Picks


I have resisted adding the Governor of Alaska to my hall of shame. True, she thinks the Vice President sets the legislative agenda of the Senate, cannot name what papers she reads or which countries are in North America, or any Supreme Court case outside of Roe v. Wade. And yes, she thinks rape victims should pay for their own rape kits (in a state with the highest rate of sexual assault in the country), and that impregnated rape victims should be forced to carry the fetal products of those assaults to term. And oh, yes, she thinks that 6,000 years ago dinosaurs pranced around the earth with us. All of this is sadly true.

And I hate to sit in judgment of any parent's choice of name for his or her kid. After all, Frank Zappa named one of his children Moon Unit. A couple in Pennsylvania named their kids after Adolph Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Aryan Nations (just to make sure they covered their white pride bases, I suppose). Still, even I have my limits. Naming a baby after the HQ of ESPN?

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Palin: ESPN inspired daughter's name

(CNN) – Sarah Palin’s media blitz continues in a new, expansive interview with Esquire magazine, in which the Alaska governor reflects on the presidential race, her favorite lip balm, and how her ESPN motivated her to name her daughter Bristol.

Palin told the magazine the inspiration for her oldest daughter’s name had a few sources. She once worked at a Dillingham hotel called the Bristol Inn, and her husband Todd grew up in Bristol Bay.

“But also, Bristol, Connecticut, is the home of ESPN,” she explained. “And when I was in high school, my desire was to be a sportscaster. ESPN was just kicking off, just getting off the ground, and I thought that's what I was going to do in life, is be one of the first woman sportscasters. Until I learned that you'd have to move to Bristol, Connecticut. It was far away. So instead, I had a daughter and named her Bristol.”

Esquire published online excerpts of the interview last month, including one in which Palin bashed “bored, anonymous, pathetic bloggers who lie.” But on Friday, the magazine released a miscellany of nearly two dozen quotes from the interview, which covered everything from moose chili to Saturday Night Live.

Looking back on the campaign, Palin reiterated her disappointment with the McCain campaign’s decision to pull out of Michigan early.

“We pulled out of some states that I believe we should have continued to campaign in and sent a stronger message that those states really mattered, regardless of the number of electoral votes there,” she said. “The people mattered. I would have loved to have had more influence on where it was that we campaigned.”

As she said in the earlier excerpts, Palin said she wished she could have called “some of the shots” in the race. “Don't just assume that they know you well enough to make all your decisions for ya,” she said.

The governor noted that she’s a big fan of a certain lip ointment. “I'm addicted to Carmex,” she said. “I don't go anywhere without Carmex.”

She also said: “Everything I've ever needed to know I learned through sports.”

At the end of a long day, she said, she likes to take a bath with her son Trig, and then fall asleep listening her daughter Piper read aloud.

“She's learning to read and she'll read for hours on end,” she said. “It's idyllic. It's amazing.”

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2009/02/06/palin-espn-inspired-daughters-name/
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It sort of makes you wonder what motivated her to name the other kids Trig, Track, Piper, and Willow. Congratulations, Sarah, you made it on the same list with gored American tourists in the Running of the Bulls, a creation science teacher who takes to burning crosses into his students' arms, and this nice lady who vampired her bed-tied boyfriend. An honorable group, indeed.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The 28th Amendment

Constitutional amendments are much like bills, only rarer (they are submitted all the time and almost never passed or implemented). The right to life amendment to the Constitution craze that hit DC back in the early '80s, which died out almost as quickly as it started, the periodic protestations about our electoral college, which never amount to anything, are but some of the examples of how little success they ever have.

Nevertheless, I have hopes for Senator Feingold's proposal to require openings in the US Senate to hold elections, outlawing appointments. It should be self-evident after the disasters in New York and Illinois in appointing Senators (both of whom are no-names and one of them put in office by a future felon). I am not sure why this is such a problem. It could be they want to appoint supporters or loyalists, and end up finding obscure figures (like Governor Paterson's choice) to do their bidding for them. The problem is that it is highly un-democratic.

Here is Senator Feingold's introduction of his amendment.

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Statement of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold on Introduction of a Constitutional Amendment Concerning Senate Vacancies

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mr. President, our founding fathers did a remarkable job in drafting the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Their work was so superb that in the 217 years since the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the Constitution has only been amended 17 times. But every so often, a situation arises that so clearly exposes a flaw in our constitutional structure that it requires a constitutional remedy.

Over the past several months, our country has witnessed multiple controversies surrounding appointments to vacant Senate seats by governors. The vacancies in Illinois and New York have made for riveting political theater, but lost in the seemingly endless string of press conferences and surprise revelations is the basic fact that the citizens of these states have had no say in who should represent them in the Senate. The same is true of the recent selections in Delaware and Colorado. That is why I will introduce today a constitutional amendment to end gubernatorial appointments to the U.S. Senate and require special elections to fill these vacancies, as is currently required for House vacancies. I am pleased that the recently elected Senator from Alaska, Senator Begich, and the distinguished senior Senator from Arizona, Senator McCain, have agreed to be original cosponsors of the amendment.

I do not make this proposal lightly. In fact, I have opposed dozens of constitutional amendments during my time in the Senate, particularly those that would have interfered with the Bill of Rights. The Constitution should not be treated like a rough draft. Constitutional amendments should be considered only when a statutory remedy to a problem is not available, and when the impact of the issue at hand on the structure of our government, the safety, welfare, or freedoms of our citizens, or the survival of our democratic republic is so significant that an amendment is warranted. I believe this is such a case.

In 1913, the citizens of this country, acting through their elected state legislatures, ratified the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. Our esteemed colleague Sen. Byrd, in Chapter 21 of his remarkable history of the United States Senate, lays out in fascinating detail the lengthy struggle to obtain for the citizens of this country the right to elect their Senators. The original Constitution, as we all know, gave state legislatures the right to choose the Senators for their states. While the first proposal to amend the Constitution to require the direct election of Senators was introduced in the House in 1826, the effort only really picked up steam after the Civil War.

As Sen. Byrd recounts: “In the post-Civil War period, state legislatures became increasingly subject to intimidation and bribery in the selection of Senators.” Nine cases of bribery came before the Senate between 1866 and 1906. And between 1891 and 1905, the state legislatures from 20 different states deadlocked 45 times when trying to pick a Senator. At one point, a Senate seat from Delaware remained vacant for four years because of deadlocks.

The political theater occasioned by these Senate appointment fights dwarfs even the extraordinary events we have witnessed in recent months. Sen. Byrd quotes from an account by the historian George Haynes about efforts to select a Senator in Missouri in 1905:

Lest the hour of adjournment should come before an election was secured, an attempt was made to stop the clock upon the wall of the assembly chamber. Democrats tried to prevent its being tempered with; and when certain Republicans brought forward a ladder, it was seized and thrown out of the window. A fist-fight followed, in which many were involved. Desks were torn from the floor and a fusillade of books began. The glass of the clock-front was broken, but the pendulum still persisted in swinging until, in the midst of a yelling mob, one member began throwing ink bottles at the clock, and finally succeeded in breaking the pendulum. On a motion to adjourn, arose the wildest disorder. The presiding officers of both houses mounted the speaker’s desk, and, by shouting and waving their arms, tried to quiet the mob. Finally, they succeeded in securing some semblance of order.

Popular sentiment for direct election of Senators slowly grew in response to events like these. Some states held popular referenda on who should be Senator and attempted to require their legislatures to select the winners of those votes. More and more Senators were chosen in such processes, leading to more support in the Senate for a constitutional amendment. Congress finally acted in 1911 and 1912. There was high drama in the Senate as Vice President James Schoolcraft Sherman broke a tie on a crucial substitute amendment offered by Senator Joseph Bristow of Kansas during Senate consideration of the joint resolution. A few days of parliamentary wrangling ensued over whether the Vice President’s tie breaking role in the Senate extends to such situations, and that precedent still stands today. In May 1912, an impasse of almost a year was broken and the House receded to the Senate version of the amendment, allowing it to be sent to the states for ratification. Less than a year later, on April 8, 1913, Connecticut became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, and it became the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.

I recount this summary of the history of the 17th Amendment, and again, I commend to my colleagues Sen. Byrd’s chapter on the subject, first to make the point that even though it seems obvious to us that the Senate should be elected by the people, the struggle for that right was not easy or fast. But the cause was just and in the end the call for direct elections was too strong to be ignored. I believe the same result will occur here. It may take time, but in the end, I am confident that the principle that people must elect their representatives will prevail.

Second, this history shows that the public’s disgust with the corruption, bribery, and political chicanery that resulted from having Senators chosen by state legislatures was a big motivation for passing the amendment. Gubernatorial appointments pose the same dangers, and demand the same solution – direct elections.

Finally, the history indicates that the proviso in the 17th amendment permitting gubernatorial appointments to fill temporary vacancies was not the subject of extensive debate in the Congress. The proviso originated in the substitute amendment offered by Senator Bristow. The Bristow substitute was designed, its sponsor explained, to “make[] the least possible change in the Constitution to accomplish the purposes desired; that is the election of Senators by popular vote.” Most significantly, it deleted a provision in the resolution as originally introduced that year that would have amended Article I, section 4 of the Constitution to remove Congress’s supervisory authority to make or alter regulations concerning the time and manner of Senate elections.

The proviso, explained Sen. Bristow, “is practically the same provision which now exists in the the case of such a vacancy. The governor of the State may appoint a Senator until the legislature elects.” Although significant debate over other provisions in the Bristow amendment is found in the Record before the climactic tie vote, which was broken by the Vice President, there seems to have been no further discussion of the proviso.

Thus, it appears that the proviso was simply derived from the original constitutional provision in Article I, Section 3, which gave the power to choose Senators to the state legislatures, but allowed governors to appoint temporary replacements when the legislatures were not in session. It was unremarkable at the time of the 17th Amendment to allow governors to have the same temporary replacement power once direct elections were required. That would explain the apparent lack of debate on the question. The long and contentious debate over the amendment was dominated by much more basic issues, such as whether the people should elect their Senators at all, and whether Congress should also amend the “time, place, or manner clause” of Article I, section 4.

Nearly 100 years later, that proviso has allowed a total of 184 Senators to be appointed by governors, and we have a situation in today’s Senate where the people of four states, comprising over 12 percent of the entire population of the country, will be represented for the next two years by someone they did not elect. It is very hard to imagine that the Congress that passed the 17th Amendment and the states that ratified it would have been comfortable with such an outcome. Indeed, some argue that the intent of the 17th Amendment was that temporary appointments to fill early vacancies should last only until a special election can be scheduled, rather than for an entire two-year Congress until the next general election. A number of states have adopted that approach, but many have not.

That is not to say that the people appointed to Senate seats are not capable of serving, or will not do so honorably. I have no reason to question the fitness for office of any of the most recent appointees, and I look forward to working with them. But those who want to be a U.S. Senator should have to make their case to the people whom they want to represent, not just the occupant of the governor’s mansion. And the voters should choose them in the time-honored way that they choose the rest of the Congress of the United States.

I want to make it clear that this proposal is not simply a response to these latest cases that have been in the news over the past few months. These cases have simply confirmed my longstanding view that Senate appointments by state governors are an unfortunate relic of the pre-17th Amendment era, when state legislatures elected U.S. Senators. Direct election of Senators was championed by the great progressive Bob La Follette, who served as Wisconsin’s Governor and a U.S. Senator. Indeed, my state of Wisconsin is now one of only four states (Oregon, Massachusetts, and Alaska are the others) that clearly require a special election to fill a Senate vacancy in all circumstances.

The vast majority of states still rely on the appointment system, while retaining the right to require direct elections, as the Massachusetts legislature and the voters of Alaska have done in recent years. But changing this system state by state would be a long and difficult process, even more difficult than the ratification of a constitutional amendment, particularly since Governors have the power to veto state statutes that would take this power away from them. Furthermore, the burden should not be on Americans to pass legislation in their states protecting their fundamental voting rights – the right to elect one’s representatives is a bedrock principle and should be reaffirmed in the nation’s ruling charter.

We need to finish the job started by La Follette and other reformers nearly a century ago. Nobody can represent the people in the House of Representatives without the approval of the voters. The same should be true for the Senate.

In the several days since I announced my intention to introduce this amendment, I have heard a number of arguments raised against it. I would like to briefly address them. First of all, some suggest this amendment is an overreaction to the headlines of the day. But there are several precedents for amending the provisions of the Constitution that relate to the structure of government based on specific events. The 22nd Amendment, limiting the presidency to two terms, passed in 1951 in response to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four-term presidency. And the 25th Amendment, revising presidential succession, was passed in 1967 in response to confusion that occurred after the assassination of President Kennedy. If events demonstrate that there is a problem with our government structure, sooner or later we must take steps to address those problems. There is no better time to do that than when the effects of the structural flaw are most evident and most prominently part of the public debate.

Another objection I have heard to this proposal is the potential financial burden on the states that must pay for special elections. As someone with a reputation for fiscal discipline, I always consider a proposal’s impact on the taxpayer. But the cost to our democracy of continuing the anachronism of gubernatorial Senate appointments is far greater than the cost of infrequent special elections. And weighing the costs associated with the most basic tenet of our democracy – the election of the government by the governed – sets us on a dangerous path. Besides, the Constitution already requires special elections when a House seat becomes vacant, a far more frequent occurrence since there are so many more Representatives than Senators. I find the cost argument wholly unconvincing.

Another argument I have heard is that special elections garner very low turnouts, or favor wealthy or well known candidates. They are not particularly democratic, the argument goes. And that may very well be true. But they are a whole lot more democratic than the election held inside the mind of one decisionmaker—the governor. Special elections may not be ideal, but they are elections, and every voter has the opportunity to participate. As Winston Churchill said, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

I have also heard the argument that the candidates for the special election will be selected by party bosses because there won’t be time for a primary. That is simply not true. Under this amendment, each state can decide how to set up its special elections. My home state of Wisconsin provides for a special election within about 10 weeks of the vacancy, with a primary one month earlier. It’s a compressed schedule to be sure, because the state doesn’t want to be without representation for too long. But it can be done. I would hope that most states would want to hold primaries, but the point of this amendment is to make clear that only Senators who have been elected by the people can serve, not to micromanage how the states want to implement that requirement.

Mr. President, I believe the core issue here is whether we are going to have a government that is as representative of and responsive to the people as possible. The time to require special elections to fill Senate vacancies has come. Congress should act quickly on this proposal, and send it to the states for ratification.

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There are some progressives and liberals who question the Constitutionality of this proposal, surprisingly enough (since it was progressives who were the ones that pushed for direct elections of Senators over a century ago). True, the framers opposed such democratic tendencies. They also opposed direct elections for the Senate, which was not done away with until 1913. It seems much fairer than having a crook pick a crony with his own living mausoleum.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Drying Up Aid Amid Ruins: The Failure of Policy

One would think in economic down times that the government, ever loving as it is when representing the interests of corporate political campaign sponsors, would at least increase some level of assistance for people victimized by the last decade of greed, but alas such is not the case.

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Welfare Aid Isn’t Growing as Economy Drops Off

Published: February 1, 2009

WASHINGTON — Despite soaring unemployment and the worst economic crisis in decades, 18 states cut their welfare rolls last year, and nationally the number of people receiving cash assistance remained at or near the lowest in more than 40 years.

The trends, based on an analysis of new state data collected by The New York Times, raise questions about how well a revamped welfare system with great state discretion is responding to growing hardships.

Michigan cut its welfare rolls 13 percent, though it was one of two states whose October unemployment rate topped 9 percent. Rhode Island, the other, had the nation’s largest welfare decline, 17 percent.

Of the 12 states where joblessness grew most rapidly, eight reduced or kept constant the number of people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the main cash welfare program for families with children. Nationally, for the 12 months ending October 2008, the rolls inched up a fraction of 1 percent.

The deepening recession offers a fresh challenge to the program, which was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 amid bitter protest and became one of the most closely watched social experiments in modern memory.

The program, which mostly serves single mothers, ended a 60-year-old entitlement to cash aid, replacing it with time limits and work requirements, and giving states latitude to discourage people from joining the welfare rolls. While it was widely praised in the boom years that followed, skeptics warned it would fail the needy when times turned tough.

Supporters of the program say the flat caseloads may reflect a lag between the loss of a job and the decision to seek help. They also say the recession may have initially spared the low-skilled jobs that many poor people take.

But critics argue that years of pressure to cut the welfare rolls has left an obstacle-ridden program that chases off the poor, even when times are difficult.

Even some of the program’s staunchest defenders are alarmed.

“There is ample reason to be concerned here,” said Ron Haskins, a former Republican Congressional aide who helped write the 1996 law overhauling the welfare system. “The overall structure is not working the way it was designed to work. We would expect, just on the face it, that when a deep recession happens, people could go back on welfare.”

“When we started this, Democratic and Republican governors alike said, ‘We know what’s best for our state; we’re not going to let people starve,’ ” said Mr. Haskins, who is now a researcher at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “And now that the chips are down, and unemployment is going up, most states are not doing enough to help families get back on the rolls.”

The program’s structure — fixed federal financing, despite caseload size — may discourage states from helping more people because the states bear all of the increased costs. By contrast, the federal government pays virtually all food-stamp costs, and last year every state expanded its food-stamp rolls; nationally, the food program grew 12 percent.

The clashing trends in some states — more food stamps, but less cash aid — suggest a safety net at odds with itself. Georgia shrank the cash welfare rolls by nearly 11 percent and expanded food stamps by 17 percent. After years of pushing reductions, Congress is now considering a rare plan that would subsidize expansions of the cash welfare rolls. The economic stimulus bills pending in Congress would provide matching grants — estimated at $2.5 billion over two years — to states with caseload expansions.

Born from Mr. Clinton’s pledge to “end welfare as we know it,” the new program brought furious protests from people who predicted the poor would suffer. Then millions of people quickly left the rolls, employment rates rose and child poverty plunged.

But the economy of the late 1990s was unusually strong, and even then critics warned that officials placed too much stress on caseload reduction. With benefits harder to get, a small but growing share of families was left with neither welfare nor work and fell deeper into destitution.

“TANF is not an especially attractive option for most people,” said Linda Blanchette, a top welfare official in Pennsylvania, which cut its rolls last year by 6 percent. “People really do view it as a last resort.”

The data collected by The Times is the most recent available for every state and includes some similar programs financed solely by states, to give the broadest picture of cash aid. In a year when 1.1 million jobs disappeared, 18 states cut the rolls, 20 states expanded them, and caseloads in 12 states remained essentially flat, fluctuating less than 3 percent. (In addition, caseloads in the District of Columbia rose by nearly 5 percent.)

The rolls rose 7 percent in the West, stayed flat in the South, and fell in the Northeast by 4 percent and Midwest by 5 percent.

Seven states increased their rolls by double digits. Five states, including Texas and Michigan, made double-digit reductions. Of the 10 states with the highest child poverty rates, eight kept caseloads level or further reduced the rolls.

“This is evidence of a strikingly unresponsive system,” said Mark H. Greenberg, co-director of a poverty institute at the Georgetown University law school. Some administrators disagree.

“We’re still putting people to work,” said Larry Temple, who runs the job placement program for welfare recipients in Texas, where the rolls dropped 15 percent. “A lot of the occupations that historically we’ve been able to put the welfare people in are still hiring. Home health is a big one.”

Though some welfare recipients continue to find jobs, nationally their prospects have worsened. Joblessness among women ages 20 to 24 without a high school degree rose to 23.9 percent last year, from 17.9 percent the year before, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some analysts offer a different reason for the Texas caseload declines: a policy that quickly halts all cash aid to recipients who fail to attend work programs.

“We’re really just pushing families off the program,” said Celia Hagert of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a research and advocacy group in Austin, Tex.

Some officials predict the rolls will yet rise. “There’s typically a one- to two-year lag between an economic downturn and an uptick in the welfare rolls,” said David Hansell, who oversees the program in New York State, where the rolls fell 4 percent.

Indeed, as the recession has worsened in recent months, some states’ rolls have just started to grow. Georgia’s caseload fell until July 2008, but has since risen 5 percent. Still, as of October the national caseloads remained down 70 percent from their peak in the early 1990s under the predecessor program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

Nationally, caseloads fell every year from 1994 to 2007, to about 4.1 million people, a level last seen in 1964. The federal total for 2008 has not been published, but the Times analysis of state data suggests they remained essentially flat.

Some recent caseload reduction has been driven by a 2006 law that required states to place more recipients in work programs, which can be costly and difficult to run. It threatened states with stiff fines but eased the targets for states that simply cut the rolls.

“Some states decided they had to get tougher,” said Sharon Parrott of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington research and advocacy group.

Rhode Island was among them. Previously, the state had reduced but not eliminated grants to families in which an adult had hit a 60-month limit. Last year, it closed those cases, removing 2,200 children from the rolls.

Under the new federal accounting rules, that made it easier to meet statistical goals and protected the state from fines.

Michigan also imposed new restrictions, forcing applicants to spend a month in a job-search program before collecting benefits. Critics say the up-front requirement poses obstacles to the neediest applicants, like those with physical or mental illnesses.

“I think that’s a legitimate complaint,” said Ismael Ahmed, director of the Michigan Department of Human Services, though he blamed the federal rules. The program “was drawn for an economy that is not the economy most states are in.”

While food stamps usually grow faster than cash aid during recessions, the current contrast is stark. Many officials see cash aid in a negative light, as a form of dependency, while encouraging the use of food stamps and calling them nutritional support.

“Food assistance is not considered welfare,” said Donalda Carlson, a Rhode Island welfare administrator.

Nationally, the temporary assistance program gives states $16.8 billion a year — the same amount they received in the early 1990s, when caseloads were more than three times as high as they are now. Mr. Haskins, the program’s architect, said that obliged them to ensure the needy could return to the rolls. “States have plenty of money,” he said.

But most states have shifted the money into other programs — including child care and child welfare — and say they cannot shift it back without causing other problems.

Oregon expanded its cash caseload 19 percent last year, so far without major backlash. “That’s the purpose of the program — to be there for that need,” said Vic Todd, a senior state official. But California officials expressed ambivalence about a 6 percent rise in the cash welfare rolls in that state when it is facing a $40 billion deficit. “There’s some fine tuning of the program that needs to occur, to incentivize work,” said John Wagner, the state director of social services.

Among those sanguine about current caseload trends is Robert Rector, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington who is influential with conservative policy makers. He said the program had “reduced poverty beyond anyone’s expectations” and efforts to dilute its rigor would only harm the poor.

“We need to continue with the principle that you give assistance willingly, but you require the individual to prepare for self-sufficiency,” he said.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/02/us/02welfare.html?
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For this, as noted in the article, we can thank the Clintons. It was President Clinton's signing of the Welfare Reform Act, which cut aid, inserted conditions for recipients (conditions that even private charities would never impose), and encouraged states to decrease welfare rolls (coercing recipients into menial labor, low-wage jobs without benefits and support) that devastated poor communities throughout the US (communities that go ignored and uncovered). No one cared back in the '90s because the victims of this barbarism were poor women, and not infrequently poor women of color, always the butt of racist jokes by right-wingers and their libertarian cousins who fulminated against "welfare queens." It was an unforgivable sin in my eyes for Clinton to sign that bill, and for then-first lady Hillary Clinton to lobby for it, particularly for someone who made a name for herself as a supporter of children's welfare issues, which ended my support for the Democratic Party for several years (and to this day has instilled in me a deep mistrust in the party that has never gone away).

At least in the '90s there was employment, certainly by '96, to take people in. Granted, they were terrible jobs, mostly low-pay, the companies received preferential tax treatment by the government to hire the recipients (who were trapped and at times abused by these companies, who knew they had no choice but to take and keep those jobs), but there were jobs. Well, those jobs are gone. Fast food companies are losing so much money they are either merging (Wendy's is being bought out by a company known for making ham sandwiches), laying off, or on the verge of going under. The retailers have cut back almost a million jobs this last year (more than even the manufacturing industry). Those are the kinds of jobs in which poor people are being pushed into by TANF. They are no more and those laid off workers are now being forced to compete against other talented laid off workers, in a shrinking employment pool.

This coming depression, and I do not think it is a stretch to refer to our economic vortex as a depression, is already exposing the flaws of a governmental policy designed to pauperize and subordinate people. Unemployment has basically doubled in the last year, and the real unemployment rate (if we used the pre-1980s methodologies) is closer to 17-18%, and yet there is no increase in aid to people impacted by this round of job loss. Nothing better illustrates the hypocrisy than the manner in which our same government gave away almost a trillion tax dollars to bankers when they forgot how to make money last fall (which they are currently using billions of to give their own executives bonuses).

Of course, poor people do not have much of a lobby in Washington DC. Instead, they get to depend on such DC think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, whose idea of helping poor people is to throw them to the streets and give them copies of Horatio Alger books. The poor's one-time party, supposedly the Democratic Party, tells them that they feel their pain, while they stab them in the backs and call it taking responsibility. That is how we deal with poverty in this country, even today, as it intensifies in our land of diminished expectations.

I remember a little over a year ago getting into an argument with a county welfare case worker who is (or was) an associate of a family member by marriage. When she bragged about how much she had decreased the welfare rolls in her county, I asked her if the poverty rate had decreased during that same period. She admitted that it had not, to which I replied, "Then you just increased the poverty rate by putting people in $7/hour jobs without benefits, while patting yourself on your $40,000-a-year back about how great you are at getting people back to work." Needless to say, she did not like being reminded of this, demurring that the recipients could not expect good jobs, because of their skill levels, and that they were too endemically lazy to make anything of themselves without the force of law. When I asked her how one could be an employee of an agency that is supposed to help people, when she thought so lowly of those she was obliged to assist, the response was even less sanguine and unprintable. It was the last conversation I had with this person and it would one too many times if I ever encountered her again.

When a case worker's assignment is to prevent you from getting the assistance which his or her office is named, you know you have a problem. It is time to repeal the Welfare Reform Act. It is time to return to a policy that treats poor people with a little more dignity, not the least because we have so many more of them (thanks to the same forces who gave us NAFTA and GATT). That $700 billion could have saved the lives of thousands of our own citizens living in destitution, homeless, without health care, and with children experiencing this pain and suffering alongside their parents and families. If cutting them off at the knees seemed misguided in 1996, it should be seen as criminal now.