Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Greatness of Phil Ochs

I do not delve enough on this blog into cultural topics.  It is a deficit and one I do periodically lament.  I am not sure why, to be honest, because I am every bit a part of this society as the next person.  And musically, I pretty much listen to almost all types, even the occasional country music song, along of course with classical, jazz, hip-hop, rap, punk, and rock.  Still, I have not always been what you would call a fan of folk music.  To be sure, because of my upbringing, I grew up with union songs like this.

Nevertheless, outside of the standard union ballads of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, since they wrote so many labor songs, it was not until my adult years that I began to explore and gain a greater appreciation for folk music.  My discovery of Phil Ochs was a revelation for me.  I did not begin listening to Ochs until I was in college and I wondered how on earth I had not heard of him before, although I had grown up after his death.  Well, this may be why so few Americans know of the sacrifices made by our laboring classes in the 19th century to bring us the 8 hour workday--because the people who own this country, and your contract, do not want you to know.

There is no better time than the present to remedy this shortfall.  Without further ado, one of my favorite folk songs from one of this country's most underrated folk singers.

OK, he had another that I am really partial to, as well.

Whoever posted those, a million thank yous. 

And to those of us who have these songs handed down to us, we should do more than just appreciate them.  We should disseminate them en masse.  Who knows, in maybe a few more years the wars really will be over.  The peoples we bomb, occupy, and oppress deserve nothing less.

Friday, June 24, 2011

New York: Victory for Human Rights

To the tens of readers, I know politics in the U.S. can be a depressing topic.  Rarely is there any good news, and it is bereft.  Our president stabs us in the back on leaving Afghanistan, refuses to support gay marriage, and the other party is populated by the ancestors of those who tried to destroy this country to maintain ownership of an entire race of people like chattel (and who deep down still think that way today, particularly when telling us why we should be setting up a system of internal passports for anyone who looks remotely Mexican).  Yes, I confess, life here can be rough for a progressive.

However, we do not lose every battle.  Every once in awhile, we win.  Today in the state of New York, we won.

Gay Marriage Approved by N.Y. Senate

ALBANY — Lawmakers voted late Friday to legalize same-sex marriage, making New York the largest state where gay and lesbian couples will be able to wed and giving the national gay-rights movement new momentum from the state where it was born.

The bill was approved on a 33-to-29 vote as 4 Republican state senators joined 29 Democrats in voting for it. 

As the Senate debated the measure, supporters and opponents from around the state packed into two small galleries overlooking the chamber. When the final vote tally was read, the crowd screamed and hollered, began to chant “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” — and to yell “thank you.”  A minute or two later, when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo entered the chamber, the crowd cheered again, rushing the edge of the galleries and chanting the governor’s name. 

Senate approval was the final hurdle for the legislation, which was strongly supported by Mr. Cuomo. The Assembly approved changes made by the Senate, after passing an earlier version last week. Mr. Cuomo was expected to sign the measure soon, and the law will go into effect 30 days later, meaning that same-sex couples could begin marrying in New York by midsummer. “I am very proud of New York and the statement we made to the nation today,” Mr. Cuomo said. 

The bill’s passage followed a daunting run of defeats in other states where voters barred same-sex marriage by legislative action, constitutional amendment or referendum. Just five states — Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont — permit same-sex marriage. It is also legal in : the District of Columbia. 

The approval of same-sex marriage represented a reversal of fortune for gay-rights advocates in New York State, who just two years ago suffered a humiliating and unexpected defeat when a same-sex marriage bill was easily defeated in the Senate, which was then controlled by Democrats. This year, with the Senate controlled by Republicans, the odds against passage of same-sex marriage appeared long. 

But the unexpected victory had an unlikely champion: Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat who pledged last year to support same-sex marriage but whose early months in office were dominated by intense battles with lawmakers and some labor unions over spending cuts. 

Mr. Cuomo made same-sex marriage one of his top priorities for the year and deployed his top aide to coordinate the efforts of a half-dozen local gay-rights organizations whose feuding and disorganization had in part been blamed for the defeat two years ago.

The new coalition of same-sex marriage supporters brought in one of Mr. Cuomo’s trusted campaign operatives to supervise a $3 million television and radio campaign aimed at persuading a handful of Republican and Democratic senators to drop their opposition. 

For Senate Republicans, even bringing the measure to the floor was a freighted decision. Most of the Republicans firmly oppose same-sex marriage on moral grounds, and many of them also had political concerns, fearing that allowing same-sex marriage to pass on their watch would embitter conservative voters and cost the Republicans their one-seat majority in the Senate. 

Leaders of the state’s Conservative Party — whose support many Republican lawmakers depend on to win election — warned that they would oppose in legislative elections next year any Republican senator who voted for same-sex marriage. 

But after days of agonized discussion capped by a marathon nine-hour closed-door debate on Friday, Republicans came to a fateful decision: the full Senate would be allowed to vote on the bill, the majority leader, Dean G. Skelos, said Friday afternoon, and each member would be left to vote according to his or her conscience. 

"The days of just bottling up things, and using these as excuses not to have votes — as far as I’m concerned as leader, its over with," Mr. Skelos, a Long Island Republican, said. 

Twenty-nine Democrats voted for the measure, joined by four Republicans: James S. Alesi of Monroe County; Stephen M.. Saland, from the Hudson Valley area; Roy J. McDonald of the capital region; and Mark J. Grisanti of Buffalo. 

Just one lawmaker rose to speak against the measure: Rubén Díaz, Sr. of the Bronx, the only Democratic senator to cast a no vote. 

“God, not Albany, has settled the definition of marriage, a long time ago,” Mr. Diaz said.

But Mr. Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican who opposed gay marriage when he ran for election last year, said he had studied the issue closely, agonized over his responsibility as a lawmaker, and concluded he could not vote against the bill. Mr. Grisanti voted yes. “I apologize for those who feel offended,” he said. “I cannot deny, a person, a human being, a taxpayer, a worker, the people of my district and across this state, the State of New York, and those people who make this the great state that it is, the same rights that I have with my wife.”

The legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States is a relatively recent goal of the gay-rights movement, but over the last few years, gay-rights organizers have placed it at the center of their agenda, steering money and muscle into dozens of state capitals in an often uphill effort to persuade lawmakers. 

In New York, passage of the bill reflects rapidly evolving sentiment about same-sex unions. In 2004, according to a Quinnipiac poll, 37 percent of the state’s residents supported allowing same-sex couples to wed. This year, 58 percent of them did. Advocates moved aggressively this year to capitalize on that shift, flooding the district offices of wavering lawmakers with phone calls, e-mails and signed postcards from constituents who favored same-sex marriage, sometimes in bundles that numbered in the thousands. 

Dozens more states have laws or constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, many of them approved in the last few years, as same-sex marriage moved to the front line of the culture war and politicians deployed the issue as a tool for energizing their base. 

But New York could be a shift: It is now by far the largest state to grant legal recognition to same-sex weddings, and one that is home to a large, visible and politically influential gay community. Supporters of the measure described the victory in New York as especially symbolic — and poignant — because of its rich place in the history of gay rights: the movement’s foundational moment, in June of 1969, was a riot against police inside the Stonewall Inn, a bar in the West Village. 

 On Friday night, as the Senate voted, a crowd jammed into the Stonewall Inn, where televisions were tuned to the Senate hours before the vote began.  Danny Garvin, 62, said he had been at the bar on the night of the riot, and came back to watch the Senate debate Friday. On the streets where police beat gay men in 1969, on Friday crowds cheered, as police quietly stood watch. Bernie Janelle, 53, turned to her partner of 16 years, Cindy Hearing, and said, “I’m going to propose to her on Sunday.” 

Senate leaders hoped to limit debate to just a few speakers, angering some on both sides of the issue. Mr. Diaz was repeatedly chided for overstepping the two minutes he was allotted to explain his vote, while Kevin Parker, a Brooklyn Democrat, erupted when he and other supporters learned they would not be allowed to make a floor speech. 

"This is not right," he yelled, before storming from the chamber. 

During a brief recess during the voting, Shirley Huntley, a Queens Democrat who had only recently come out in support of same sex marriage, strode from her seat to the back of the Senate chamber to congratulate Daniel J. O’Donnell, an openly gay Manhattan lawmaker who sponsored the legislation in the Assembly. 

They hugged, and Mr. O’Donnell, standing with his longtime partner, teared up. 

"We’re going to invite you to our wedding” Mr. O’Donnell said. “Now we have to figure out how to pay for one." 

Just before the Senate’s marriage vote, lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly also approved a broad package of major legislation that constituted the remainder of their agenda for the year. The bills included a cap on local property tax increases, and a strengthening of New York’s rent regulation laws, as well as a five-year tuition increase at the State University of New York and the City University of New York. 


Yes, I know, it is not perfect.  Yes, churches can continue to be bastions of bigotry, in spite of this law, and I know that New York is just one state, but it will be (excepting the short time California legalized it) the biggest state to legalize gay marriage to date.  And to those younger folk, perspective is in order.   This is just the beginning.  

With New York as the largest state to legislatively pass gay marriage, many other states will surely follow.  True, for those of us living in the Western world's version of Afghanistan (i.e., the Bible Belt), gay marriage will likely require a Supreme Court ruling, but even that may not be as far off as we think, either.  The more states who legalize gay marriage, beyond just state court rulings making it possible, and with now for the first time a clear majority of Americans in support of marriage equality, it is only a matter of time until our institutions respond to the pressure and expand it everywhere.  

That is right, my dear Christian readers.  It is coming to your town, and hopefully one day to your village and church.  I anticipate the coming apology of the Southern Baptist Convention to the LGBT community somewhere around the year 2234.

Considering where we were at even twenty years ago, this is not a minor achievement.  In 1990, 80% of Americans thought homosexuality was 'immoral.'  Today, 57% support gays in the military and 53% support gay marriage.  Twenty years from now, it will be the norm, to the point that to even think the way the average conservative Republican does today will court the rightful comparisons of those who supported bans on interracial marriage.  It is a beautiful world after all.

And to those few Republicans in the New York Senate who voted in favor of this bill, to be fair, let them receive credit here.

Senator James S. Alesi of Monroe County
     Senate Office Phone: 518-455-2015
Senator Stephen M. Saland, from the Hudson Valley area
     Senate Office Phone: 518-455-2411
Senator Roy J. McDonald of the capital region
     Senate Office Phone:  518-455-2381
Senator Mark J. Grisanti of Buffalo
     Senate Office Phone:  518-455-3240

I know it is easy to discount these people since they are members of the stupid party, but they took a stand, in spite of their own party and warnings from conservatives that their vote would guarantee an opponent in the next primary.  And their stand helped make gay marriage possible in New York.  For that reason alone, they deserve some recognition and support.  If you have the time, contact these senators and thank them.  They need to know that their vote was appreciated.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Going To Jail For Healthcare

It is a sad commentary in our society that millions of Americans must go to jail or the military to get adequate health care.  Here is to the Potemkin village that kills over 45,000 Americans every year for not being economically viable.

Man robs bank to get medical care in jail

Some people who need medical care but can't afford it go to the emergency room. Others just hope they'll get better. James Richard Verone robbed a bank.

Earlier this month, Verone (pictured), a 59-year-old convenience store clerk, walked into a Gaston, N.C., bank and handed the cashier a note demanding $1 and medical attention. Then he waited calmly for police to show up.

He's now in jail and has an appointment with a doctor this week.

Verone's problems started when he lost the job he'd held for 17 years as a Coca Cola deliveryman, amid the economic downturn. He found new work driving a truck, but it didn't last. Eventually, he took a part-time position at the convenience store.

But Verone's body wasn't up to it. The bending and lifting made his back ache. He had problems with his left foot, making him limp. He also suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis.

Then he noticed a protrusion on his chest. "The pain was beyond the tolerance that I could accept," Verone told the Gaston Gazette. "I kind of hit a brick wall with everything."

Verone knew he needed help--and he didn't want to be a burden on his sister and brothers. He applied for food stamps, but they weren't enough either.

So he hatched a plan. On June 9, he woke up, showered, ironed his shirt. He mailed a letter to the Gazette, listing the return address as the Gaston County Jail.

"When you receive this a bank robbery will have been committed by me," Verone wrote in the letter. "This robbery is being committed by me for one dollar. I am of sound mind but not so much sound body."

Then Verone hailed a cab to take him to the RBC Bank. Inside, he handed the teller his $1 robbery demand.
"I didn't have any fears," said Verone. "I told the teller that I would sit over here and wait for police."

The teller was so frightened that she had to be taken to the hospital to be checked out. Verone, meanwhile, was taken to jail, just as he'd planned it.

Because he only asked for $1, Verone was charged with larceny, not bank robbery. But he said that if his punishment isn't severe enough, he plans to tell the judge that he'll do it again. His $100,000 bond has been reduced to $2,000, but he says he doesn't plan to pay it.

In jail, Verone said he skips dinner to avoid too much contact with the other inmates. He's already seen some nurses and is scheduled to see a doctor on Friday. He said he's hoping to receive back and foot surgery, and get the protrusion on his chest treated. Then he plans to spend a few years in jail, before getting out in time to collect Social Security and move to the beach.

Verone also presented the view that if the United States had a health-care system which offered people more government support, he wouldn't have had to make the choice he did.

"If you don't have your health you don't have anything," Verone said.

The Affordable Care Act, President Obama's health-care overhaul passed by Congress last year, was designed to make it easier for Americans in situations like Verone's to get health insurance. But most of its provisions don't go into effect until 2014.

As it is, Verone said he thinks he chose the best of a bunch of bad options. "I picked jail."


We sometimes forget the victims of the crime that is our private health insurance-dominated system.  Here is another.  Think of this the next time Rick Santorum tells you our government employees were fighting the Germans to give you this.

Uninsured man's self-treatment for toothache hastens death

by Eve Samples
It began with a painful toothache.

But Mark Erdman was not one to slow down, so he didn't.

The 49-year-old Palm City resident kept working, kept hitting the gym every morning at 5.

Without health insurance, he delayed going to the dentist for as long as he could. Over-the-counter acetaminophen and ibuprofen helped him endure the pain.

Erdman had done well during the boom years as a self-employed gutter and insulation contractor, but his business did not survive the construction bust. Private health insurance was unaffordable for his family of four, even after he landed a new sales job.

"We were making six figures and had money in the bank, insurance and everything — and we just lost it all. Lost it all," said his wife, Renee Erdman.

That was bearable because she still had him, her husband of 19 years.

He was the life of the party, the father of her two children; the Pop Warner football coach and the guy who would change a stranger's tire on the side of the road.

Now, she has lost Mark, too.

The Tylenol and ibuprofen he had been taking for his toothache contributed to fatal damage to his liver and kidneys, Renee said doctors told her. At one point, he took eight over-the counter pills in a single day. He knew it was more than the recommended dose, but he never expected it to take his life.

Mark died last Thursday at Florida Hospital in Orlando, where he had been transferred with hopes of receiving a liver transplant.
"It's so sick. It's like he was unknowingly killing himself," Renee said Monday. "And should you find yourself without insurance, forget it."

Mark was initially admitted at Martin Memorial Medical Center, which does not perform organ transplants. A hospital representative in Orlando told Renee a liver transplant would cost $195,000, with 50 percent of that to be paid up front, as she recalls it.

"I just sat there and said, 'I don't have that kind of money laying around,' " she remembered.

Last week, Mark got Medicaid coverage after Renee called the offices of U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, and state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart. Mark suffered damage to his brain before a transplant became possible.

"We had to take him off of life support," Renee said, her voice breaking. "It's just, who knows about this? Most people I talk to, they don't know this will shut your body down. Mark didn't know."

Acetaminophen can cause serious, sometimes fatal, liver damage if taken in higher-than-recommended doses, according to a consumer update from the Food and Drug Administration. Even at the recommended dose, people who have three or more drinks a day are at greater risk of liver damage, the FDA warns.

Renee wanted to share Mark's story as a cautionary tale.

"Maybe this doesn't have to happen to somebody else," she said.

Mark was always going out of his way to help other people. When he was running his own business, he would drive to Boynton Beach every morning to pick up an employee who did not have his own car, Renee said.

"Everything he did, he did it 100 percent," said Billy Baker, their son Tristan's basketball coach.

Now, family and friends are trying to help Renee, a stay-at-home mom to 9-year-old Kara and 15-year-old Tristan.

An account has been opened at First People's Bank. Contributions can be made at the bank to The Mark Erdman Family Benefit Irrevocable Trust or sent care of the Law Offices of Marc S. Teplitz, 73 SW Flagler Ave., Stuart 34994.

"He was a very positive man, and a very loving man and a giving man," Renee said.


This is what our country reduces its own citizens to.  Meanwhile, bankrolled teabaggers tell us that being able to choose your doctor or having insurance is 'all about freedom.'  Of course, that is on the condition you can afford it.  If not, then you deserve to die.  Sounds harsh?  Here are the teabaggers responding to a man with Alzheimer's appealing for health insurance.

Life in these United States.  Sometimes I wonder if this is what it was like before they had universal healthcare in the rest of the industrialized world?  I do not recall reading about the Germans acting like this when they received their universal health coverage, over a hundred years ago, or the British in 1948, or the Canadians in 1984.  Why is it that the slightest reform in this country, be anti-slavery, civil rights, even public education, causes so many of our people to respond with such violence and stupidity?  

Meanwhile, if you do not have health insurance and need it, and you are not too poor for Medicaid or old enough for Medicare, our jails and military await you.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Case of Anthony Weiner

One of the least appealing features about being a political scientist in the U.S. is the intense media scrutiny of the personal lives of political figures.  I have never considered such peccadilloes to be of much interest to me, so long as it does not impact their job, violate any laws, and the person is not being a two-faced hypocrite.  This is why I tend to have a great distaste for Republican sex scandals.   Not because of the scandal per se (minus the law-breaking aspect [if there is one]), but because it is a party whose adherents constantly tell us how to live our lives and how the government should be legislating morality on us all, when they are themselves violating the principles they claim to believe in.  There are few worse crimes in my eyes (other than those of a purely criminal nature) than hypocrisy.

I have looked back on Rep. Weiner's career, and I cannot recall the last time he advertised himself as a 'family values' type of officeholder.  Not one denunciation of anyone else for his/her private behavior.  Not a single call for resignation of any of his political opponents for being unable to keep their marital vows.  Anthony Weiner is many things, but he is not a hypocrite.

As far as I can tell, although who knows how this will play out in the coming days and weeks, Rep. Weiner has violated no laws.  His greatest moral crimes are being a louse, as a husband and person, and a liar (to his wife and his constituents).  He did not even have sex with anyone he sent sext messages to (which in itself would still not be against the law).  He did not pay anyone for sex, like Senator Vitter and Rep. Ken Calvert have done (and ended up getting re-elected anyway).  He has not harmed anyone other than his wife and probably his marriage.  If Rep. Weiner is to resign over what he has done, up to this point, someone needs to explain to me why Senator Vitter should still be allowed to occupy space in the U.S. Senate, never mind Rep. Calvert (who was arrested after being caught in the act with a prostitute in his own car).

If Rep. Weiner should be excoriated for anything, it is his habit of sending unsolicited sext messages and pictures to women, many of whom were simply trying to engage him in political conversation.  This is a past-time I do not engage in, so maybe I am wrong in what I am writing, but it would seem common sense to me for a man to not send women (he has yet/never met) compromising pictures of himself and sexually suggestive text messages.  Maybe this is what our culture has come to, that it is suitable now for people to behave this way, that we have finally come full circle and drafted a member of Congress to be the first guinea pig for ethics in social media networking.  And one cannot use age as an excuse because Weiner is a 46 year old man, much older than myself, and a man who did not even start using the internet probably until he was in his 30s (in other words, he did not grow up with the internet or utilize it for the purposes that has ensnared the congressman in his current quandary).

Rep. Weiner's interactions with women on the internet, though, is the part I find most interesting, more so than his pictures or messages (which the media concentrates on [OK, so I posted one with Charlie Sheen pasted in the background]).  With the recent advent of social networking in our lives, what is normal conduct for people online?  It seems to me from the message boards I read that people and the messages/responses they post are more licentious and aggressive (and abusive) than how we behave in everyday life.  However, much of that is on account of the anonymous nature of being online.  Weiner behaved the way he did as a public figure, never attempting to hide his identity from anyone (until he was caught, of course).  It makes you wonder what he was like when he was posting anonymously or meeting women on the streets.  It does not bode well for him as a person, but then it is entirely possible he lived a different life online. 

Still, if Weiner did live a different life online, if indeed he treated women he ran into more respectfully than the ones he sent messages to online, why would he continue to act the way he did in his own name, without any attempt to hide the conduct?  It is all speculation to me, but I surmise any person who starts sending half-naked pictures of himself to women he has never met is most likely a sexually aggressive person in the flesh.  But I could be wrong.  The internet age has changed a lot in terms of how people behave and interact with each other, even the language that we use (much of it coarsening over time, replete with emoticons and slang).

Last but not least, if what Anthony Weiner has done is terrible in sending non-nude (albeit inappropriate in light of the fact his were unsolicited) photos of himself, what about those politicians who have posed completely nude?  I do not recall too many Fox 'news' correspondents raising a stink about these photos.

Indeed, in the case of Scott Brown, Fox 'news' cooed over his nude photo.

If that is acceptable, and if none of the women Anthony Weiner sexted file a complaint over his conduct, then what is the difference between them?  Why is Schwarzenegger/Brown's nudes acceptable and Weiner's partial-nudes reprehensible?  Why is it OK to pose nude, and talk about how you are bringing the 'sexy' back to Congress, but if you are half-naked and doing it online (assuming the other party's consent) it is wrong?  Is it because of the medium involved?  And while I personally think Mr. Weiner's behavior is worse, in light of the fact he sent his pictures to individual females as a married man (and at least one of those women was only trying to engage him in a political discussion, not elicit pictures of his pecks), I still think it is a perfectly legitimate discussion and debate to have.  So, to my tens of readers, what doth thou thinketh?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Death of Our Constitutional Republic #1: FBI Widens Rights Violations

In the first installment of what is likely to become a long, long series, our beloved government is permitting its law enforcement agencies to re-write its rules to allow the snoops increased powers over your lives.

F.B.I. Agents Get Leeway to Push Privacy Bounds

WASHINGTON — The Federal Bureau of Investigation is giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents, allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention.

The F.B.I. soon plans to issue a new edition of its manual, called the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, according to an official who has worked on the draft document and several others who have been briefed on its contents. The new rules add to several measures taken over the past decade to give agents more latitude as they search for signs of criminal or terrorist activity.
The F.B.I. recently briefed several privacy advocates about the coming changes. Among them, Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent who is now a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that it was unwise to further ease restrictions on agents’ power to use potentially intrusive techniques, especially if they lacked a firm reason to suspect someone of wrongdoing.
“Claiming additional authorities to investigate people only further raises the potential for abuse,” Mr. German said, pointing to complaints about the bureau’s surveillance of domestic political advocacy groups and mosques and to an inspector general’s findings in 2007 that the F.B.I. had frequently misused “national security letters,” which allow agents to obtain information like phone records without a court order.
Valerie E. Caproni, the F.B.I. general counsel, said the bureau had fixed the problems with the national security letters and had taken steps to make sure they would not recur. She also said the bureau, which does not need permission to alter its manual so long as the rules fit within broad guidelines issued by the attorney general, had carefully weighed the risks and the benefits of each change.
“Every one of these has been carefully looked at and considered against the backdrop of why do the employees need to be able to do it, what are the possible risks and what are the controls,” she said, portraying the modifications to the rules as “more like fine-tuning than major changes.”
Some of the most notable changes apply to the lowest category of investigations, called an “assessment.” The category, created in December 2008, allows agents to look into people and organizations “proactively” and without firm evidence for suspecting criminal or terrorist activity.
Under current rules, agents must open such an inquiry before they can search for information about a person in a commercial or law enforcement database. Under the new rules, agents will be allowed to search such databases without making a record about their decision.
Mr. German said the change would make it harder to detect and deter inappropriate use of databases for personal purposes. But Ms. Caproni said it was too cumbersome to require agents to open formal inquiries before running quick checks. She also said agents could not put information uncovered from such searches into F.B.I. files unless they later opened an assessment.
The new rules will also relax a restriction on administering lie-detector tests and searching people’s trash. Under current rules, agents cannot use such techniques until they open a “preliminary investigation,” which — unlike an assessment — requires a factual basis for suspecting someone of wrongdoing. But soon agents will be allowed to use those techniques for one kind of assessment, too: when they are evaluating a target as a potential informant.
Agents have asked for that power in part because they want the ability to use information found in a subject’s trash to put pressure on that person to assist the government in the investigation of others. But Ms. Caproni said information gathered that way could also be useful for other reasons, like determining whether the subject might pose a threat to agents.
The new manual will also remove a limitation on the use of surveillance squads, which are trained to surreptitiously follow targets. Under current rules, the squads can be used only once during an assessment, but the new rules will allow agents to use them repeatedly. Ms. Caproni said restrictions on the duration of physical surveillance would still apply, and argued that because of limited resources, supervisors would use the squads only rarely during such a low-level investigation.
The revisions also clarify what constitutes “undisclosed participation” in an organization by an F.B.I. agent or informant, which is subject to special rules — most of which have not been made public. The new manual says an agent or an informant may surreptitiously attend up to five meetings of a group before those rules would apply — unless the goal is to join the group, in which case the rules apply immediately.
At least one change would tighten, rather than relax, the rules. Currently, a special agent in charge of a field office can delegate the authority to approve sending an informant to a religious service. The new manual will require such officials to handle those decisions personally.
In addition, the manual clarifies a description of what qualifies as a “sensitive investigative matter” — investigations, at any level, that require greater oversight from supervisors because they involve public officials, members of the news media or academic scholars.
The new rules make clear, for example, that if the person with such a role is a victim or a witness rather than a target of an investigation, extra supervision is not necessary. Also excluded from extra supervision will be investigations of low- and midlevel officials for activities unrelated to their position — like drug cases as opposed to corruption, for example.
The manual clarifies the definition of who qualifies for extra protection as a legitimate member of the news media in the Internet era: prominent bloggers would count, but not people who have low-profile blogs. And it will limit academic protections only to scholars who work for institutions based in the United States.
Since the release of the 2008 manual, the assessment category has drawn scrutiny because it sets a low bar to examine a person or a group. The F.B.I. has opened thousands of such low-level investigations each month, and a vast majority has not generated information that justified opening more intensive investigations.
Ms. Caproni said the new manual would adjust the definition of assessments to make clear that they must be based on leads. But she rejected arguments that the F.B.I. should focus only on investigations that begin with a firm reason for suspecting wrongdoing.


Amazingly, this is not much different than how the Syrian government monitors and keeps track of its citizens, which our State Department uses to criticize the Syrians.  If we used the standards by which we judged the Syrians, our government would have to indict itself, but of course we know the likelihood of this occurring.  And just imagine, this is what it is like living under an "Islamic socialist who hates America."  Take a moment to envision what Sarah Palin's national security policies would be like.  And notice the lack of criticism of this manual from the leadership of our two parties in Congress.  Apparently, the party of dinosaurs-walked-the-earth-6,000-years-ago is more worried about the 'Communist' government forcing you to purchase a private health insurance plan.  I am sure the ex-Stasi agents are having a good laugh.  

Bin Laden may be dead, but his spirit of getting our government to destroy our liberties is alive and well.  RIP, right to privacy.  You were a wonderful right while we had you.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Moron Report #46: The Rick Santorum Express

It must be tough being Rick Santorum.  He was annihilated by over 700,000 votes when he ran for re-election five years ago (to an anti-abortion Democrat, no less).  Worse (for him), the ex-senator from Pennsylvania is most known to people under the age of 30 as the combination of fecal matter and lube not infrequently found inside of the very folks he would just as soon see in prison (or worse).  But good ole Rick is fighting the good fight for every right-winger's most favored Bethlehem carpenter.  And how do you best deliver the message that healthcare is un-American?  You hide behind military veterans, of course.

Santorum: D-Day Troops Fought For Health Care Freedom 

by Jillian Rayfield

Newly minted GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum is appalled that President Obama would disrespect those who fought at Normandy by not trusting them to make their own health care decisions. "Those Americans risked everything so they could make that decision on their health care plan," he said Monday.
Santorum was speaking at a rally in Pennsylvania to mark his official entry into the race for president, and railed against those who oppose Paul Ryan's (R-WI) proposal that effectively ends Medicare as we know it, and instead gives seniors a voucher to buy their own plan. These people, he said, "want to hook you."

"They believe in themselves, the smart people, the planners, the folks in Washington who can make decisions better than you can," he said, using what he called "Mediscare" as an example. "They're saying to seniors, 'you need to trust us. We are the ones who are gonna make decisions what every senior can have. We cant trust seniors to make decisions.'"

But, Santorum said, what he and Paul Ryan want to do is "give people the resources to go out and choose for themselves choose what's best for themselves."

Unlike Obama, he continued, who is spitting in the face of those Americans who fought on D-Day, 67 years ago today. "Almost 60,000 average Americans had the courage to go out and charge those beaches on Normandy, to drop out of airplanes who knows where, and take on the battle for freedom," Santorum said.
"Average Americans," he added. "The very Americans that our government now, and this president, does not trust a to make decision on your health care plan. Those Americans risked everything so they could make that decision on their health care plan."


I am certain the irony is completely lost on the ex-senator that the surviving veterans of the Normandy invasion are now all on government healthcare (Medicare), and they were dependent completely on government healthcare while they were charging those beaches 67 years ago.  But no, they were trying to take out those German 88s for everyone else's 'right' to overpriced private healthcare, insurance bureaucracy, and a system that kills over 44,000 Americans every year for a lack of access.  Surely, all of this was lost because otherwise Mr. Santorum would not have delivered that speech with anything resembling conviction.  Then again, he is a member of our stupid party.  

Welcome to my hall of shame, Rick, right alongside the ex-governor of Alaska and some idiot who mistook some ashes inside of an urn for cocaine.  You are a deserving addition.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Arundhati Roy and Violent Resistance

Those of us on the left, particularly in the West, constantly hear about the importance of non-violence resistance.  Of course, Western liberals are also apt to lecture the Third World folk about the importance of non-violence resistance, too, even when they are being violently repressed by their governments.  Arundhati Roy, on the other hand, takes a different tact, one that presupposes the right of a people to defend themselves by force of arms against those who would kill you, which in this era of course is akin to advocating terrorism--and thus one of Roy's problems, in the West and even back in her home country.  Interesting article and interview.

Arundhati Roy: 'They are trying to keep me destabilised. Anybody who says anything is in danger'

by Stephen Moss

The Booker prize-winning novelist on her political activism in India, why she no longer condemns violent resistance – and why it doesn't matter if she never writes a second novel.

This is not an ideal beginning. I bump into Arundhati Roy as we are both heading for the loo in the foyer of the large building that houses her publisher Penguin's offices. There are some authors, V S Naipaul say, with whom this could be awkward. But not Roy, who makes me feel instantly at ease. A few minutes later, her publicist settles us in a small, bare room. As we take our positions on either side of a narrow desk I liken it to an interrogation suite. But she says that in India, interrogation rooms are a good deal less salubrious than this.

Roy, who is 50 this year, is best known for her 1997 Booker prize-winning novel The God of Small Things, but for the past decade has been an increasingly vocal critic of the Indian state, attacking its policy towards Kashmir, the environmental destruction wrought by rapid development, the country's nuclear weapons programme and corruption. As a prominent opponent of everything connected with globalisation, she is seeking to construct a "new modernity" based on sustainability and a defence of traditional ways of life.

Her new book, Broken Republic, brings together three essays about the Maoist guerrilla movement in the forests of central India that is resisting the government's attempts to develop and mine land on which tribal people live. The central essay, Walking with the Comrades, is a brilliant piece of reportage, recounting three weeks she spent with the guerrillas in the forest. She must, I suggest, have been in great personal danger. "Everybody's in great danger there, so you can't go round feeling you are specially in danger," she says in her pleasant, high-pitched voice. In any case, she says, the violence of bullets and torture are no greater than the violence of hunger and malnutrition, of vulnerable people feeling they're under siege.

Her time with the guerrillas made a profound impression. She describes spending nights sleeping on the forest floor in a "thousand-star hotel", applauds "the ferocity and grandeur of these poor people fighting back", and says "being in the forest made me feel like there was enough space in my body for all my organs". She detests glitzy, corporate, growth-obsessed modern Indian, and there in the forest she found a brief peace.

There is intense anger in the book, I say, implying that if she toned it down she might find a readier audience. "The anger is calibrated," she insists. "It's less than I actually feel." But even so, her critics call her shrill. "That word 'shrill' is reserved for any expression of feeling. It's all right for the establishment to be as shrill as it likes about annihilating people."

Is her political engagement derived from her mother, Mary Roy, who set up a school in Kerala and has a reputation as a women's rights activist? "She's not an activist," says Roy. "I don't know why people keep saying that. My mother is like a character who escaped from the set of a Fellini film." She laughs at her own description. "She's a whole performing universe of her own. Activists would run a mile from her because they could not deal with what she is."

I want to talk more about Mary Roy – and eventually we do – but there's one important point to clear up first. Guerrillas use violence, generally directed against the police and army, but sometimes causing injury and death to civilians caught in the crossfire. Does she condemn that violence? "I don't condemn it any more," she says. "If you're an adivasi [tribal Indian] living in a forest village and 800 CRP [Central Reserve Police] come and surround your village and start burning it, what are you supposed to do? Are you supposed to go on hunger strike? Can the hungry go on a hunger strike? Non-violence is a piece of theatre. You need an audience. What can you do when you have no audience? People have the right to resist annihilation."

Her critics label her a Maoist sympathiser. Is she? "I am a Maoist sympathiser," she says. "I'm not a Maoist ideologue, because the communist movements in history have been just as destructive as capitalism. But right now, when the assault is on, I feel they are very much part of the resistance that I support."

Roy talks about the resistance as an "insurrection"; she makes India sound as if it's ripe for a Chinese or Russian-style revolution. So how come we in the west don't hear about these mini-wars? "I have been told quite openly by several correspondents of international newspapers," she says, "that they have instructions – 'No negative news from India' – because it's an investment destination. So you don't hear about it. But there is an insurrection, and it's not just a Maoist insurrection. Everywhere in the country, people are fighting." I find the suggestion that such an injunction exists – or that self-respecting journalists would accept it – ridiculous. Foreign reporting of India might well be lazy or myopic, but I don't believe it's corrupt.

She sounds like a member of a religious sect, I say, as if she has seen the light. "It's a way of life, a way of thinking," she replies without taking offence. "I know people in India, even the modern young people, understand that here is something that's alive." So why not give up the plush home in Delhi and the media appearances, and return to the forest? "I'd be more than happy to if I had to, but I would be a liability to them in the forest. The battles have to be fought in different ways. The military side is just one part of it. What I do is another part of the battle."

I question her absolutism, her Manichaean view of the world, but I admire her courage. Her home has been pelted with stones; the Indian launch of Broken Republic was interrupted by pro-government demonstrators who stormed the stage; she may be charged with sedition for saying that Kashmiris should be given the right of self-determination. "They are trying to keep me destabilised," she says. Does she feel threatened? "Anybody who says anything is in danger. Hundreds of people are in jail."

Roy has likened writing fiction and polemic to the difference between dancing and walking. Does she not want to dance again? "Of course I do." Is she working on a new novel? "I have been," she says with a laugh, "but I don't get much time to do it." Does it bother her that the followup to The God of Small Things has been so long in coming? "I'm a highly unambitious person," she says. "What does it matter if there is or isn't a novel? I really don't look at it that way. For me, nothing would have been worth not going into that forest."

It's hard to judge whether there will be a second novel. The God of Small Things drew so much on her own life – her charismatic but overbearing mother; a drunken tea-planter father whom her mother left when Roy was very young; her own departure from home in her late teens – that it may be a one-off, a book as much lived as written. She gives ambiguous answers about whether she expects a second novel to appear. On the one hand, she says she is engaged with the resistance movement and that it dominates her thoughts. But almost in the same breath she says others have "picked up the baton" and she would like to return to fiction, to dance again.

What is certain is that little of the second novel has so far been written. She prefers not to tell me what it is about; indeed, she says it would not be possible to pinpoint the theme. "I don't have subjects. It's not like I'm trying to write an anti-dam novel. Fiction is too beautiful to be about just one thing. It should be about everything." Has she been blocked by the pressure of having to follow up a Booker winner? "No," she says. "We're not children all wanting to come first in class and win prizes. It's the pleasure of doing it. I don't know whether it will be a good book, but I'm curious about how and what I will write after these journeys."

Are her agent and publisher disappointed still to be waiting for the second novel? "They always knew there wasn't going to be some novel-producing factory," she says. "I was very clear about that. I don't see the point. I did something. I enjoyed doing it. I'm doing something now. I'm living to the edges of my fingernails, using everything I have. It's impossible for me to look at things politically or in any way as a project, to further my career. You're injected directly into the blood of the places in which you're living and what's going on there."
She has no financial need to write another novel. The God of Small Things, which sold more than 6m copies around the world, set her up for life, even though she has given much of the money away. She even spurned offers for the film rights, because she didn't want anyone interpreting her book for the screen. "Every reader has a vision of it in their head," she says, "and I didn't want it to be one film." She is strong-willed. Back in 1996, when The God of Small Things was being prepared for publication, she insisted on having control of the cover image because she didn't want "a jacket with tigers and ladies in saris". She is her indomitable mother's daughter.

I insist she tell me more about her Fellini-esque mother. She is, says Roy, like an empress. She has a number of buttons beside her bed which, when you press them, emit different bird calls. Each call signals to one of her retinue what she requires. Has she been the centre of her daughter's life? "No, she has been the centre of a lot of conflict in my life. She's an extraordinary women, and when we are together I feel like we are two nuclear-armed states." She laughs loudly. "We have to be a bit careful."

To defuse the family tensions, Roy left home when she was 16 to study architecture in Delhi – even then she wanted to build a new world. She married a fellow student at the age of 17. "He was a very nice guy, but I didn't take it seriously," she says. In 1984 she met and married film-maker Pradip Krishen, and helped him bring up his two daughters by an earlier marriage. They now live separately, though she still refers to him as her "sweetheart". So why separate? "My life is so crazy. There's so much pressure and idiosyncrasy. I don't have any establishment. I don't have anyone to mediate between me and the world. It's just based on instinct." I think what she's saying is that freedom matters more to her than anything else.

She chose not to have children because it would have impinged on that freedom. "For a long time I didn't have the means to support them," she says, "and once I did I thought I was too unreliable. So many of the women in India who are fighting these battles don't have children, because anything can happen. You have to be light on your feet and light in your head. I like to be a mobile republic."

Roy has in the past described herself as "a natural-born feminist". What did she mean by that? "Because of my mother and the way I grew up without a father to look after me, you learned early on that rule number one was look out for yourself. Much of what I can do and say now comes from being independent at an early age." Her mother was born into a wealthy, conservative Christian community in Kerala, but put herself outside the pale by marrying Ranjit Roy, a Hindu from West Bengal. When she returned to her home state after her divorce she had little money and was thus doubly marginalised. The mother eventually triumphed over all these obstacles and made a success of the school she founded, but growing up an outsider has left its mark on her daughter.

Roy says she has always been polemical, and points to her run-in with director Shekhar Kapur in the mid-1990s over his film Bandit Queen – she questioned whether he had the right to portray the rape of a living person on screen without that woman's consent. It may be that the novel is the exception in a life of agitation, rather than the agitation an odd outcrop in a life of fiction-writing. But has she sacrificed too much for the struggle – the chance to dance, children, perhaps even her second marriage? "I don't see any of these things as sacrifices," she says. "They are positive choices. I feel surrounded by love, by excitement. They are not being done in some martyr-like way. When I was walking through the forest with the comrades, we were laughing all the time."


Out of all the issues addressed in this article, more than Roy's background, feminism, which are interesting and notable topics for discussion on any other day, what I find most interesting, and have always found most interesting, is that of violent revolution.  This is nothing new, of course, as this has been a topic going back to Marx in the 19th century, when he was one of the few voices who supported the Paris Communards, and resonated in the 20th century, as it became one of the dividing contentions between the Communists and social democrats throughout Europe, but it deserves an updated redressing today.  Just when is it legitimate for people to take up arms against their own government?

Countries like Libya, Bahrain, and Syria seem obvious to most Westerners, outside of the security forces in those governments, of course, but those countries are either dictatorships or semi-democratic states.  India always likes to advertise itself as a free society, "the world's largest democracy."  If you are an Adivasi in India, you live in something like a democracy, what should you do?  Do traditional non-violence tactics (many employed in India by Gandhi over two generations ago) really work anymore?

Western apologists for armed uprisings in dictatorial countries that we dislike prefer using qualifiers, such as,
"you have no choice in a non-democratic setting but to use violence to overthrow the oppressive government that rules over you," but can you not have the same settings in democratic countries, too?  The US was considered a democracy when women or African Americans were not allowed to vote.  And when is it legitimate for people to take up arms in democratic settings in which they are being oppressed?  These are the types of questions I would think that are more appropriate not just in the case of Roy but at times even in my own country, when our current government decides to spy, monitor, torture, and murder us under the guise of national security.

If I had to look at it objectively, I would think what differentiates the Adivasi from the average American is that they are an actual group (or groups) of people, not just individual citizens, and their government (knowing they are an extreme minority [well below 10% of the country's overall population]) deems it right to tear down their homes and villages and put up their land for sale to the highest corporate bidder.  I would certainly think that you could apply this to the experience of the indigenous peoples in American history, and one could justify their resistance to 'defending' what they believe to be their country from a foreign invader, but this is where it becomes more complex because India is an ancient civilization, heterogeneous in population, with groups and subgroups who have lived side-by-side for thousands of years, not just a few decades.

A second issue that makes it even more interesting is that few non-tribal Indians seem to care that much about the plight of the Adivasi, including the Indian government, even though they are included as one of the 'scheduled tribes' under Indian law.  Even so, they are dozens of different major ethnic groups in-country and subregionally, and India is certainly not the first country to push natives out of their land for future development (Brazil, the US, and Australia, for example).  The problem with the other cases is that they were long ago (Brazil being the most recent).  Also, there are few defenders of such policies today, even if they still partake in 'development' programs in indigenous areas (like in Colombia and Peru).  Nevertheless, in that context, the Adivasi are hardly alone.

But does that give them the right to take up arms against an otherwise democratic government that has decided to disenfranchise and de-land them?  Ultimately, that is what it comes down to.  From their perspective, I would certainly not take kind to my government seizing my land, kicking me out by force, burning down my subsistence, and expelling me or the people that I love and care about (like an indigenous enclosure).  I am not sure if I would take up arms and fight it, since I have been fortunate enough not to be put in those life circumstances, but it would be hard for me to judge someone who did so, although I would qualify such support under limited circumstances to prevent the type of etho-centric separatist movements that so often tend towards human rights abuses far beyond that of the national government it is fighting (such as the Tamil Tigers).  To that ends, it would have to be an environment in which an entire group (ethnic or otherwise) is being violently and collectively targeted and unjustly expelled (as a group) from their lands without legal redress, and even then much of this would depend on other factors (realistic assessment for success, the willingness of opposition government to negotiate, etc.).

In addition, should not our enlightened international community consider what is happening any different than a foreign military invasion of a national homeland (since these are militias and military forces expelling and expropriating Adivisai lands they have lived on for centuries)?  In Kosovo, we called such actions ethnic cleansing (and in that case the natives, the Serbs, were the ones accused of the crime for running out several hundred thousand Kosovar Albanians during their war with the KLA-UCK).  What I would like to know is should not such group-targeting tactics be considered a form of ethnic cleansing under international law?  Does it somehow make it more acceptable to do this because the government is not, on paper, a formal dictatorship or is acting under the appearance of 'economic development' exculpate the nation-state in question from its conduct?  I ask these as open questions.