Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Gas Gougers

Why are we being gouged at the gas pumps? The problem is the rising price of crude oil. What makes the price rise? The market - the law of supply and demand. Did the supply go down? No, the suppliers just jacked up the price. So who jacked us up?

According to the Energy Information Agency of the US Department of Energy report of import dependence, one quarter of all imported oil in the world is imported by the US, but the US only depends on imports for about half of its oil. So half of the jacking is being done by domestic oil producers - those same folks who want to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. As Walt Kelly of Pogo fame said on the 1970 Earth Day poster, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

So who does our US Government blame for rising oil prices in the US? Why, the rest of the world of course, those demanders who are allowing themselves to be gouged by the Middle East oil suppliers. Here is how the EIA of DOE puts it: "Yet, although U.S. dependence on the long-haul Middle East has fallen sharply, this has not made U.S. prices less vulnerable to a disruption in Middle East supplies. Since oil is a global market, the relevant measure for that vulnerability is not U.S. dependence, but world dependence on Middle East oil -- and that has not shrunk."

The main reason we protect the Saudi Princes from their own people is because they agree not to gouge us for oil as bad as they gouge the rest of the world. Maybe after some of their people perpetrated the 9/11 attacks we should have told the Princes they need to gouge us a lot less. Or maybe we should have told them it is time to cut their people in on some of the gouge profits. In fact, if the people of Saudi Arabia were in control of their own oil, maybe we could get lower prices from them by exchanging goods the Saudi people want rather than sending military resources to keep the Princes in power.

So what do we do about the domestic gougers, you know, the guys Dick Cheney met with in secret to plot an "energy policy"? The Bush Administration wants to help them drill more oil to gouge us for, and to violate ANWR in the process. Jacking up the prices around the time of the final push to get ANWR drilling allowed appears to be acceptable under the Bush policy, because it fools Americans into believing ANWR oil will be cheaper than Middle East oil. I guess the Energy Information Agency has not done a very good job of explaining to us that as long as we keep supporting the Saudi Princes, they will keep gouging the rest of the world, and then the US oil producers will have to protect themselves from "vulnerability" by gouging us to the same extent. That is how free markets work, if you forget that Saudi Arabia is not a free country or a free market economy.

We need to phase the Saudi Princes out of the oil business and empower the Saudi people. And instead of allowing domestic oil producers to rape our environment, we need to seriously consider adopting price controls on oil in the interests of national security.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

What’s in It for the Indians?

So Bush and his oil company cronies finally got their chance to take a bite out of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. Their tactics were predictable. Stick it in as part of the budget so there can be no filibuster. With the few extra Republican heads in the Senate after the 2004 election, the count was getting much closer. The coalition of the opposed - Democrats except for the Louisiana oil friendly Breaux, moderate Republicans and the one Independent, could only be overcome if one more Democrat would switch and support oil, resulting in a 50-50 tie which Dick Cheney could break with his vote. The Republicans got two Democrats to switch, both from Hawaii, senators Inouye and Akaka.

I watched on C-Span as Hawaii Senator Inouye said he had to change his vote because the Indian Tribes in Alaska asked him to. I asked myself, why would the tribes be in favor of oil drilling in their pristine environment? What is in it for them? Jobs? Some royalties? Money to be made off the pipeline workers? I found it hard to believe that Indians would be that short-sighted.

After doing some checking into this, I found what I expected. Convoluted politics and self-interested dealings by people in positions of power are again screwing indigenous people, not just in Alaska, but also in Hawaii. When oil companies swooped in on Alaska North Slope oil in 1971, they negotiated one of the biggest screwings of indigenous people in US history, resulting in the vast majority of Indian land being sold for very little money, in the belief they were going to get rich off their share of the oil revenue. That did not happen of course, except maybe for some self-interested insiders who maneuvered themselves into positions of power which they used more for their own benefit and that of the oil powers than for the benefit of all the Indians.

Both the native people with stronger cultural links to the sea and those with stronger links to the land are largely in agreement in opposition to drilling in ANWR, but those in control of the corporation which supposedly speaks for them are in favor of drilling for their own personal gain. These pro-drilling advocates have been working behind the scenes with the oil companies to influence the Hawaiian Senators to vote to allow the drilling.

We on the mainland are not much aware of the indigenous people of Hawaii. But their situation today is not much different from that of mainland Indians in the 1800s. They are in the way of the "progress" of the non-indigenous power people of Hawaii, the ones who see to it that Inouye and Akaka get elected, who want to take the land of the indigenous people, subject them to their control and give them as little of value as possible in return. This effort goes by the name of the Native Hawaiian Federal Recognition Bill and has been sought by the Hawaiian Senators for several years. They have not been able to get enough support for passage, because allowing the screwing of indigenous Hawaiians has not been of interest or value to mainland Senators -until now.

In return for switching their votes to allow drilling, the Hawaiian Senators have secured the support of the oil drilling advocates for the effort to Federalize the indigenous Hawaiians, something that would have happened long ago if there was any reason to believe there was oil under Hawaiian land. A key player in this making this link work is a young woman with family ties to the indigenous peoples of both States, who has used those ties to start a non-profit advocacy organization supposedly working for the good of the indigenous Hawaiians, but according to this investigative report by Anne Keala Kelly, she was also a paid lobbyist for the oil drilling advocates.

Senate Democrats tried valiantly to stop the drilling authorization, pointing out that no oil would be seen from this project for ten years and the amount realized will be so small that the time and money would be better spent working on conservation, efficiency improvements, alternative fuels, and drilling in less sensitive areas like the deep Gulf and other areas of the North Slope. Senator Kerry perhaps put it best when he said we cannot drill our way out of our energy problems, we need to invent our way out.

There is still a theoretical prospect of negotiating the removal of the drilling authorization as part of the final budget approval process, but, with the Hawaiian defections, the Republicans seem to have the numbers.
Estimates of the oil in affected field range from is 5.6 to 15 billion barrels, which calculated at a US usage of 20 million barrels a day means the new supply would last the US from 9 months to a little over 2 years. This does not discount for the oil that will be spent developing and harvesting the ANWR oil, so true net yield will be much less. But for oil industry supporters, this is not so much about the ANWR oil as about a principle - that nothing on earth should be a refuge from the commercially sacred need to drill for more oil.

Purpose Driven Hype?

Before Terri Schiavo rose to the forefront of the news in the last few days, Ashley Smith was the top media star. Something felt phony to me about the story of the woman who turned in the accused Atlanta rampage murderer Brian Nichols. Ashley Smith is being hailed as a hero and maybe an angel. This supposed heroic angel says, while Nichols held her hostage, she calmly read to him from the best-selling Christian motivational book, "The Purpose Driven Life", by Rick Warren, causing him to see that he must stop his rampage and turn himself in. But there is much about her and her story which does not sound right to me.

Why should we care that much about a woman maybe embellishing her story about getting herself out of a hostage situation. After all she was a hostage, she did get herself out alive and she was instrumental in enabling the capture of a killer. I probably would have let it go, but because her story resonated so strongly with the same Christian Evangelicals who brought us George W. Bush and the War in Iraq, and they were so quick to proclaim her an angel and use the story for increasing PDL book sales and evangelical recruiting, I decided to look more into it.

This is an attractive woman who obviously is very bright and in possession of her senses. Watching her interviewed, she told her story calmly, only tearing up when she mentioned her daughter - she is a single widowed mother of a five year old, who was not with her the night this all happened. But then the first flag went up for me. She has news conferences, gives interviews, poses for magazine covers, etc., within a day or two of this traumatic experience. Wouldn't’ you think she would have been so traumatized and so in need of being near her daughter that she would be in seclusion with her? But then, wouldn'’t you think she could have figured out some way her daughter could be spending the night with her also?

As her story developed, it came out this 25 year old reportedly does have a record of shoplifting, drunk driving, speeding and battery going back to age 16. She reportedly now has turned her life around and supposedly the PDL book is a large part of that. On the night in question, she had just gotten off work at 2AM from her restaurant job and was going to pick her daughter up in the morning from Ashley’s aunt with who daughter "lives". Flag - why does her daughter not live with Ashley? After reaching her apartment, she went out to the store to get cigarettes. Flag - 2:30 AM with a killer on the loose - well I have never had a nicotine fit, so maybe that is what happens. She noticed on leaving her apartment a man sitting in a pick up truck in the parking lot. Flag raised by a nicotine fit person on the Net- how would she have noticed that in such a nicotine fit? If she did see him, did she not wonder who would be sitting out there at 2AM? On returning, she noticed he was still there, but moved to a different spot. Again, would not security concerns maybe make her call the cops on her cell to check him out? At least, would not she have avoided getting out of her car where he could see her? No, she says she got out of her car right in front of him and then heard his door open and then he had her.

Once the Schiavo story got hot, I dropped my checking on Ashley’s story, but up to that time, seemingly every item I found, such as interviews with her aunt and grandparents, raised more flags. Here is the CNN transcript of her story about Nichols holding her hostage. I set out below a brief listing, in no particular order, of the other flags and questions raised for me, but you will need to know the full hostage story she told to better understand my flags.

Why did she have men’'s clothing in her apartment for him to change into? Was she still keeping her late husband’s clothes four years after he died? Were they just the right size for Nichols? Does she have any man in her life right now and if so where is he? How did Nichols know that she didn't have a man living with her in her apartment when he grabbed her, or didn’t he care?

What was the story of her husband having been stabbed 4 yrs earlier and dying in her arms? Columbia County, Georgia police say in August 2001, the Smiths and some friends had gone to an apartment complex to confront some acquaintances and Mr. Smith was stabbed twice, once in the chest. The group had loaded him into a van to go to the hospital when police arrived. He died and his killer has not been found Questions: if all knew each other, why has his killer not been found? She says he died in her arms, was that before they put him in the van, while they were trying to help him? Why did they not call 911 for an ambulance? Some on the Net have speculated this was a confrontation between rival drug gangs.

How could a person be so calm and cool as Ashley says she was through all this, going with Nichols to ditch the stolen truck and then riding him back in her car - wait, how did that work, she took her car and he took the truck? She had her cell phone and did not call 9/11, because she figured she could talk him into surrendering, whereas if she called the police he might get away? She had more confidence in herself than in the police. How about her cooking him pancakes and them watching TV news about the manhunt?

Why did he let her leave alone in the AM -had she conned him that much into believing she was going to let him stay there for a few days? The guy was obviously mental, but seemed cool about what he was doing according to the images of him caught on security cameras. Why did he fall for her pitch? What is his attitude toward women in general and is it affected by race (Nichols is black and Ashley is white)? Why did he kill the female court reporter? What is the full story of the former girlfriend he was on trial for allegedly kidnapping and raping? He allegedly burst into the home of ex-girlfriend with a machine gun and tied her up and sexually assaulted her for 3 days. How did that ordeal end? Nichols told Ashley he had a son born the day before her daughter. Who was the mother?

Ashley says Nichols called her an angel sent to stop him and she said something to the effect of God has a plan for you, maybe to preach to people in jail. She says she thinks he knew after they came back from the pickup truck ditching she was going to turn him in because he asked her to visit him in jail and she said she would. When she read to him from PDL she asked him what he thought his gifts were and his purpose was and he said he had the gift to talk to people and to tell them about her. In her interview she also talked about how she brought out his humanity and how he did not want to kill people. Does this not sound like laying groundwork for an argument against the death penalty? An angel from God shows a sinner his destiny is to live to reach out to other sinners in prison.

According to Ashley’s aunt, Ashley supposedly gave her custody two years ago until Ashley could get herself "on her feet" to be able to care for her daughter again. Her daughter lives in Atlanta and Ashley in Duluth. Ashley has been going to school for six months to be a medical assistant. Is the school near Duluth, so is that why Ashley lives there rather than closer to her daughter? The aunt is married to a medical doctor and they live in gated community where Ashley and the daughter are staying with them now. Why didn’t Ashley stay with them before, to be able to be near her daughter and to avoid having to pay apartment rent while she was getting on her feet? The arrangement to care for Smith's daughter had nothing to do with Smith's criminal record of mostly petty crimes from age 16 to 25, her aunt said. Having custody of the child helped the aunt and her husband to enroll her in school and seek medical care for her if necessary.

Ashley’s grandparents, Dick and Ann Mahovec of Augusta say she was raised in the church and attended services every Sunday and they hoped that upbringing would eventually balance out bad judgment. She said she did rely on her upbringing during the ordeal. Her Grandfather said, without elaborating, Ashley was raised by them after her mother "ran into some problems". Some on the Net have speculated that Ashley’s mother may have had drug related problems. Elsewhere it was said that Ashley eventually went to live with her mother, and left her daughter with the aunt. What is the status of her relationship with her mother now? Where is the mother?

Her aunt says they noticed about Thanksgiving that Ashley seemed to be getting more into her spiritual seeking, and she told her aunt she needed to find the purpose that she knew God had for her. Sounds like PDL talk from Ashley but her former minister said in an interview she only "received" the PDL book a few weeks ago. When did she get it and from whom? Why hasn’t the one who gave it to her come forward to maybe claim credit as an "angel before the fact"?

Her aunt later said they are an evangelical family and Ashley is from God and wants to tell her story, but "they" won’t let her speak right now. Does that mean she has lawyers or advisors who are telling her to clam up so she doesn’t get caught telling inconsistent versions of the story? Yes, Ashley already has a lawyer, Josh Archer. Ashley’s lawyers apparently told her to hush up, so she read a teary statement saying she needed to drop from the limelight over this ordeal. But, after secluding herself at her aunt’s to avoid media attention during her recovery from this trauma, why did Ashley try to get an after hours hair appointment to dye her dark roots, according to her aunt? Her Aunt says Ashley has gotten four book offers and a Hollywood movie has been proposed and a hostage training center is interested in her story.

Ashley was on the job at the restaurant, training, for only 2 days. What jobs did she have before that and why was she just moving to a new Apartment? Wouldn’t you think her uncle could have arranged a job for her in the medical field while she was going to school, as part of a plan to get her back with her daughter? Sounds like maybe they were wary of her before she became a hero.

What church has Ashley been attending? No one has come forward to talk about it, except somebody dug up a man in South Carolina who says he was her minister at one time but did not give any details and only said in a TV interview he had talked to Ashley the day before and she told him her story and that the PDL book is a must read. Who called him, Ashley’s lawyers?

Did Ashley know or think of the announced reward money when she acted? Did she and Nichols discuss the reward when they watched the news together or when he talked about turning himself in? But actually, he did not turn himself in, did he? She called the cops on him when he let her go to her daughter, and the SWAT team surrounded him and induced his surrender. If he had been the one to call the police, would she have gotten the reward by claiming to have talked him into it? How do victims and their families feel about people who receive award money when the victims and their families get nothing? How do Christians feel about earning rewards for doing what is the right thing to do even without a reward?

So at the point I stopped checking, here is where my thoughts stood. Is the story exactly as Ashley said? Personally, I have a hard time accepting that. Did she embellish the PDL part of it? I think very likely so. Is the PDL story made up? Possibly. Did Nichols know Ashley before this and did he contact her to hide him once he got away? I would not rule it out, but if nobody comes forward soon to say so, then the likelihood diminishes. I think in spite of being capable of rampage, Nichols is also capable of calculation. Ashley also appears to be very wise in the ways of working people. If happenstance brought them together, they may have looked on it not so much as for a purpose, but as an opportunity - for him, knowing he was as he said already a "dead man", to try to escape the gallows by being seen as a repentant murderer destined to preach and reach other prisoners - and for her, to earn reward money and celebrity by being perceived as an angelic heroine. They may have still been considering such a plan, when she decided on her own to make the call to 911.

There are threads on the Net where people savage Ashley, even to the point of speculating that maybe she was previously involved with Nichols and was going to hide him out and help him escape, until she heard about the reward money and turned him in for it. If so, it would be pretty clever of her, because he would have nothing to gain by contradicting her story and he would lose his "destined to live" pitch. He has been silent since his capture.

Maybe some mainstream media will pick up on this whole story and look into its validity somewhere down the line, but the media seems to be very naive right now, or maybe just very reluctant to challenge this story which has been so embraced by millions of evangelicals.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Let Live or Let Die

Though I am very interested in the issues involved, I have tried to stay away from commenting on the Terri Schiavo case. But now that Congress has called its members back from Recess and Bush has left a vacation at his ranch to fly back to Washington in an effort to prolong her vegetative life further, my time has come to speak. Two branches of our Federal Government are in apoplexy over this while the third branch, the US Supreme Court, which actually has jurisdiction, has repeatedly said it is not a Federal matter. More immediate US Government mobilization is involved in the Schiavo case than was involved in the aftermath of 9/11.

I must warn you this is going to be a long article, but I have tried to bring a lot of thought and some measure of experience to it, so if you are interested in the subject, I encourage you to read the rest of what I have written.

This sad case began with a young woman who was much too heavy for her health. In the course of receiving medical attention, her eating disorder was not diagnosed. The undiagnosed disorder led to a chemical imbalance in her brain, resulting in her comatose state. The issue of medical responsibility was resolved in the proper forum, the Florida courts, where a jury found medical negligence and determined the amount of damages, which they reduced because of the contributory negligence of Terri. These issues of weight concerns, eating disorders and the degree to which the medical community is addressing them adequately are rarely discussed in connection with this case, even though they are extremely important issues and they were the genesis of this matter.

Court appointed medical experts have examined Terri and her medical history and have determined that she is in a persistent vegetative state with no chance of recovery. For 15 years and through many court proceedings, all viewpoints have been heard many times and all evidence has been examined, proper rulings have been made and all appeals taken and determined. This is the way our system of laws works, through the judicial branch where it properly belongs. The system has worked and has spoken, all the way up to the US Supreme Court. The system has found that Terri did not want to be kept alive in such a vegetative state and did not want to be fed through a tube to keep her alive.

At this point I want to call your attention to something to watch for if you are a TV news viewer. Very often, when stories are being reported on this case, file footage is being shown of Terri and other people trying to interact with her. I am not sure how many different shots there are and I will be watching to keep count, but I know there are at least two. In the one I recall seeing the most, Terri seems to be smiling and looking at the other person and maybe even almost nodding as if in some kind of acknowledgment. In another shot, she seems much less animated and more out of it. What is missing on the footage is any date. I think the media is being irresponsible by not determining the date the footage was shot and including that date on the screen every time the footage is shown. I suspect in particular that the more optimistic footage is something taken many years ago and provided to the media by her parents.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush and State legislators in Florida previously injected themselves into this case by passing a special law to interfere with the proper role of the Florida judicial branch and in effect make themselves a replacement court. These officials claimed they were acting out of some sort of extreme conscientious objection. But what were they objecting to? Being astute politicians, they were objecting to what an activated segment of their voter base was objecting to, that is, to every extraordinary means not being used to keep Terri alive in this persistent vegetative state until God decides whether she should die or be saved by a miracle.

As Americans, we are entitled to believe in God but we are still required to follow the law of the land. It is not against the law to believe in Divine Intervention, but it is against the law of the land for a Governor and State Legislature to intervene as if they were divine. They had no business doing so and in my opinion their intervention was so egregiously in violation of the Florida state constitution as to be grounds for a claim that they violated their oaths to support, protect and defend the Florida constitution. The Florida Supreme Court quickly did its job and threw this bogus law out, and the U.S. Supreme Court correctly decided to let the ruling of the Florida Supreme Court stand.

Who are these activated voters, clamoring for political intervention? They claim to be religious people, but I wonder if they have more faith in getting what they want by leaning on politicians rather than by praying to God. They want abortions to be non-existent and life to be prolonged, even in a persistent vegetative state. They call themselves pro life, but their entire focus seems to be only on the beginning and ending of life, ignoring many matters affecting the quality of life in the time between birth and death. Critics might label them "pro-birth and pro-persistent vegetative state".

Politicians involved in appeasing this group of voters use all their tricks of political rhetoric. One trick unique to this issue is to say, "There should be a presumption in favor of life". Well, there already is. People are presumed to want to live, but the presumption can be rebutted by competent evidence to the contrary. In the Schiavo case, the courts have determined, based on competent evidence, that Terri did not want to be kept alive if she was ever in a persistent, vegetative state. Here’s where my experience enters. I have talked to thousands of people over the many years I was a lawyer, asking them about their intentions if they ever became in a persistent vegetative state, and every one of them told me the same thing, they would want to be allowed to die without using such means as force feeding. If you have ever been asked this question I expect your answer would be the same. And if you have not yet been asked, then ask yourself now.

Congress fell all over itself repeating the impropriety of the Florida Legislature, and George followed Jeb’s lead in signing special legislation designed to only affect Terri and to attempt to change the outcome of a matter that had already been resolved through the process of the judicial branch, which is where it properly belongs. This law is specifically limited to creating a personal right in Terri’s parents to go to the Federal Court for the Middle District of Florida to "protect the rights"of Terri "under the Constitution and laws of the Unites States relating to the withholding and withdrawal of food, fluids or other medical treatment necessary to sustain life". I don’t know that there have been any such Federal rights established. Congress did not refer to any in the body of this law and in fact said that it should consider such rights in the current session - so Congress admitted it put the cart before the horse in passing this special law.

This special law was passed with the obvious purpose of placing a new legal hurdle in the way of Terri’s right to be allowed to die as the courts have determined she said she wanted. Even though the new law has no citation of any actual Federal right for Terri to be kept alive, this special Federal law seems to have been intended to empower a Federal Judge to order her feeding tube re-inserted while the question of whether or not there are any such Federal rights is determined., which could take a long time, especially when appeals all the way up to the US Supreme Court are included.

I don’t claim to be a scholar of Constitutional law and have not researched the issues involved in this new, special Federal Law. My first inclination, however, is to think Congress has no specific power under the Federal Constitution to legislate, either in general or in a specific case, on these death issues and so therefore the power to do so is reserved to the States under the 10th Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Argument could be made that Congress has the power under the "general welfare" provision, but a law that only applies to one person does not seem to me to be a general welfare law. Others have said this new law may violate constitutional principles of equal protection, due process and separation of powers.

Some Republicans in the Senate circulated a talking points memo saying this was a great issue to excite the pro life base and to play politics with the Democrats and especially Senator Nelson from Florida. A few members of the House had the integrity to cast deserved shame on the Congress for this travesty of justice. The worst offenders in Congress were the ones behind the grandstand stunt of subpoenaing Terri to testify before Congress. If these people were sincerely concerned about Terri, they would go to Florida and see first hand what her life is like in a persistent vegetative state. Terri’s case has been going on for 15 years and before Terri there have been many others in similar circumstances, yet Congress is only now deciding this is something on which they "should consider"adopting policies. In spite of not having any policies though, Congress still rushed to inject itself into Terri’s case. The most crass members of Congress are likely thinking that even if this law is declared unconstitutional, they can blame Terri’s death on the Courts and say that they tried to save her.

A hearing before a Federal Judge in Florida was just held under this new law and the Judge listened to arguments from lawyers for both sides and is now considering what to do. He has not ordered the feeding tube reinserted and one of the first issues he must decide is whether this new law is unconstitutional. Because the law was just passed, the judge may request the parties to submit briefs on the constitutional issue in the next few days. With the feeding tube out, Terri could die in the next week or two, possibly before the Judge issues any definitive ruling.

Maybe every activated voter and every politician who wants to keep Terri Schiavo alive for possible Divine Intervention should be challenged to put their pens where there mouths are - to sign a legal document saying that if they ever are in a persistent vegetative state, they want to be kept alive by all extraordinary means, including being fed through a tube inserted into their throat.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Chest Full of Ribbons

Richard B. Myers and I both enlisted in the Air Force in December, 1965, but we took different career paths and earned different numbers of service ribbons.

As an avowed opponent of the Vietnam War, I enlisted in the Air Force Reserve in order to avoid the draft. For volunteering to serve in a time of War, I was awarded a ribbon. In basic training I had a chance to win a marksmanship ribbon on the rifle range, but I mistakenly shot at the target of the man on my right rather than at my own, so I was not rewarded.

Four months of basic training and technical school, some monthly weekends, a summer camp and 18 months of recall to active duty did not earn me any more ribbons to my knowledge, so when my air force career ended, I had one chest ribbon. You may recall from the campaign flack about Vietnam Vets Against the War throwing their medals at the White House, people talking about medals and ribbons interchangeably. I don’t know whatever happened to my ribbon, but I did not throw it at the White House. I didn’t even know they were going to do it, and I doubt my one little ribbon would have made much impact.

Myers made the Air Force his career. You may recognize the name, as he is currently serving as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I made it to the lowest Sergeant level and he made it to the highest four star General level. A short military biography of Myers includes a picture of him wearing a chest full of ribbons. When I have seen him on TV testifying before Congress, I am amazed because he has more rows of ribbons than I have ever seen. I thought there might be ten rows of ribbons, but the picture shows nine, two with two ribbons and the other rows with three ribbons. Twenty-eight ribbons in 40 years is not as astounding as I thought. If I had kept up my one ribbon in two years pace, I could have earned about 20 in 40 years.

General Myers always looks like a milk toast to me, but reading his little bio shows he had 600 hours of combat flying. That works out to a little less than an hour and a half a month when counted over his 40 year career. Troops in Iraq are living in combat zone conditions around the clock, so they would amass 600 hours in 25 days. I don’t know what ribbons they are earning, other than the Purple Heart when they are wounded, which means there have been at least 20,000 of those awarded for the Iraq War so far.

When Dight Eisenhower was a four star General he only had two rows of ribbons, as shown in this picture. How did Myers end up with so many more than Ike? I think the answer is that the military has since Ike’s day created many more reasons for a person to be awarded a medal, in order that "lifers" as we short term service people call the career people, can impressively fill their chests. In the Air Force in particular, I suspect top line officers can earn ribbons by directing their personal pilots to detour across the corner of a war zone on the way to a meeting in some safe place.

I heard today that General Myers is planning on retiring in September. If that is true, it does not seem right that he should be able to retire at a time when the military has "stop loss" orders in place to prevent people from being allowed to leave the service at the end of the term of their voluntary commitment. It seems to me the top brass should have to stick it out as long as the grunts are stopped from leaving.

My favorite 20th Century General is George C. Marshall who played a vital role in helping defeat totalitarian aggression in WWII, and then went on to serve as Secretary of State after the War and won the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize for his Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe. Colin Powell went on From Joint Chiefs Chair to become Secretary of State, but George W. Bush and his chicken hawks made sure Powell had no chance for A Nobel Prize.

I sometimes wonder whether the man on my right at the firing range was so impressed by all the hits he had on his target that he decided to become a lifer. I guess it could not have been General Myers, since he went in through the ROTC as an officer, while the guys shooting with me were all just enlisted reservists.

Pictures on the Wall

I watched a little of the Bush press conference this morning. He is feeling pretty comfortable in his role with the White House press corps. He calls on his chosen ones, using their first names or nicknames, knowing they will not ask him anything challenging and that he has been prepared by his press staff - briefed is the right word, since they give him something brief to say in response to any question on a major topic. He can use the brief generic response and then continue on making the same generalized rambles that he uses in his campaign speeches.

Campaigning is what Bush likes to do. Though he is not running for office again, he is now campaigning for his legacy - as the man who would be remembered for changing America from an "entitlement society" to an "ownership society". This morning in one response he said he likes to make decisions and does not spend time walking around the White House talking to the pictures on the wall about what his legacy might be. That is a symptom of the problem. Bush is a man with no sense of history. I doubt he even knows who the people in the pictures are, except the ones whose faces he might recognize from being on our money. If he knew who they were and was knowledgeable about how they made decisions on the issues of their day, he would learn there is a difference between making decisions and making wise decisions.

Bush is a wise guy but he is not wise. He knows how to divide people by getting some to suck up to him while being acerbic to others, and then taking advantage of the suckers like any good con man. He still acts like a spoiled college frat boy, slouching and joking as he rewards others with the pleasure of his company. He occasionally uses pretended self-deprecating humor, all the while projecting clearly that he has a very high opinion of himself for what he has accomplished. If he could truly speak his mind, I expect he would say something like,"You people may think you are smarter than me, but I would rather be a dumb President than a smart-ass reporter like you – heh, heh, heh."

Watching Bush respond this morning made me chuckle when he said, "Personal accounts is not a permanent fix for the solution". I cringe when I hear him fumble with answers on subjects he does not begin to understand and then resort to the childish tactic of using the words from the question to fake an answer. But then when I think of the horrors that have resulted from his decision to invade Iraq, I get angry and wish we had a President like some of the ones in the pictures, wise enough to consider the evidence and the lessons of history and to apply good sense, discernment and wisdom before making decisions.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Wal-Mart Oranges and Washington Apples

Reiko sent a link to another article on Wal-Mart by the Seattle Post Intelligencer about the Washington State teacher’s union (WEA) children’s fund for disadvantaged students. The fund has made a step toward worker solidarity by telling teachers not to buy items at Wal-Mart if the teacher wants reimbursement from the fund.

This article is interesting for two reasons beyond the continued citation of documentation of worker abuse by Wal-Mart and the teacher’s union act of solidarity. The first reason is the intentionally misleading response of the Wal-Mart spokesperson. The second is the lack of investigation or challenge by the reporter of the Wal-Mart misinformation.

Wal-Mart is embarked on a massive public disinformation campaign and they have plenty of money to finance it. One tactic they use is to compare oranges with apples, in this case national oranges with Washington Apples, citing a national average wage of all workers (not just those at Wal-Mart) of $9.35, in comparison with a Washington Wal-Mart Average of $10.14. An honest comparison for Washington State would be the $10.14 wage average for Washington Wal-Mart workers compared to $23.35 wage average for all Washington workers. [Per report from the State of Washington Employment Security Department, the average hourly wage in Washington State was $23.35 in 2003.]

The Wal-Mart spokesman claims 86% of Wal-Mart employees have medical insurance and more than half get it from the company. Assuming that is true, it is an admission that one out of seven Wal-Mart workers have no medical insurance at all, and that Wal-Mart is not providing insurance for two of the remaining six workers. So Wal-Mart, one of the five wealthiest corporations in the entire world, only provides medical insurance for half its employees. It appears about one out of three Wal-Mart employees is either getting medicaid insurance subsidized by the taxpayers or is getting coverage probably through a spouse who works elsewhere, perhaps for a decent employer who has to compete with Wal-Mart on prices.

Reporters should do their homework and correct and challenge this misinformation campaign. Apple and orange comparisons should not be that difficult to detect. And when the issue is how an employer treats its employees, the most significant fact about Wal-Mart and medical insurance for its employees is that only half of them are covered by the Wal-Mart plan, yet the reporter fell for the red herring of putting the 86% figure out there first. I had to look at the article a couple times in disbelief that Wal-Mart could be covering 86% of its employees for medical, before I saw it was actually being reported "backwards".

As for the WEA boycott, with 20-1 member support, it is interesting the article quotes four teachers, one reluctantly shopping at Wal-Mart, one in support of the boycott and two opposed to the boycott. Apparently the reporter considered it balanced enough to quote 2 ½ people against the boycott and 1 ½ in favor, because a true representation of 1 teacher quote against and 20 in favor would have sounded one-sided - but then so was the support for the boycott.

Here’s an idea for the WEA to address the concerns of price conscious teachers. Solicit unionized competitors of Wal-Mart to work with the WEA fund to meet the Wal-Mart prices for purchases by the fund. Giving the teachers and students exposure to a merchant that treats its employees fairly would be good for teachers, students and decent merchants.

As for Wal-Mart’s claimed $40 million tax deductible donation, if true, out of Wal-Mart’s market capitalization of $218.5 billion, that amounts to a contribution of less than two one-hundredths of one percent (.0183%), less than 2 cents per $100 - not much to be tooting about.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Who Benefits by Lebanese Assassination?

I don’t claim to know much about who is who in the Middle East. When former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri was killed a few weeks back, the mainstream US news media made it seem highly likely Syria was behind it, because Hariri apparently was opposed to Syrian troops remaining in Lebanon. Not knowing the players, I was not that concerned.

Then the news started covering Lebanese street demonstrations and the impact they were having on the Government over there. American media reported on Bush and his people as being supportive of this popular Lebanese democratic uprising against the evil Syrians. Since I know the Bush players much better, my ears started to tune in more. When I heard sound bites of Lebanese demonstrators praising Bush for invading Iraq and spreading democracy in the middle east, my nose got involved - something smelled fishy.

Watching 60 minutes on Sunday, about the CIA kidnaping people and flying them to co-operating countries where they are then tortured to obtain information for the US, reminded me again there seems to be no limit to the illegal and immoral means the Bush administration uses to reach its chosen ends. I began thinking, Bush may have had Hariri assassinated.

I did a Google for Hariri and CIA and got hits to articles, not from mainstream media of course, arguing that Bush may in fact have been behind the killing. The top rated hit, from the World Socialist Web Site, says investigating detectives ask the question who will benefit from a crime. In the Hariri killing, the article points out, there is actually no benefit for Syria, while there is potential benefit for the Bush middle east policy, and for Israel, which has previously used assassination as an acceptable tactic.

Much larger counter-demonstrations have occurred in Lebanon, by people opposed to the US involvement in Lebanese affairs and in support of Syria. That the Bush administration may not have an accurate read on the sentiments of the Lebanese people is not surprising in view of the Bush misread of the Iraqis. Or maybe they did expect this and it is part of the Bush plan for destabilization and intervention.

That CBS News, via 60 Minutes, is willing to question the Bush tactics in international affairs has likely made them a target of a domestic version of those tactics. I need to check out the hatchet job on Dan Rather over the 60 Minutes piece on Bush ducking military duties; I suspect the forged document that was used to fool Rather may have been another Bush generated scam.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Costco or Wal-Mart?

Financial analysts are expressing disappointment Costco did not make as much money recently as the analysts thought they should. These sages say Costco should stop paying their employees so well and be more like Wal-Mart. Costco says their business model, hiring good workers and paying them well, saves money on turnover and training costs. Their employee turnover is only one-third of the average for retail businesses. It also saves money on theft by employees. I say Costco has it right.

Costco, based near Seattle, has become one of the largest retailers in the world, while always giving their employees a good deal. Another local business following the same model toward their employees, but on a very much smaller scale, is Dick’s Drive In Restaurants. Here is an excellent article from a Seattle Times reporter on these two businesses and on the wisdom of their model for long term business success:

Our family has college years connections with both these companies. My son, Anthony, spent time working for Costco while he was going through college, and while I was in college, I spent time eating at Dick’s Drive Ins.

Protecting Poor People from Minimum Wage Increases

Teddy Kennedy is trying to get a Federal minimum wage increase attached as an amendment to the proposed Bankruptcy law changes. The current wage of $5.15 per hour has not been increased for eight years, during which time Kennedy points out the Senate has received seven salary increases. Kennedy proposes a raise to $7.25, phased in over time.

The business think tanks say raising the minimum wage will hurt poor people who will lose their minimum wage jobs to high school students from more affluent families. Supposedly these kids, who only use the money for extra discretionary spending, are not willing to work at the current low wage but will take a job for a couple dollars more.

If you were an employer with a minimum wage employee who is poor and needs the job to live on and is doing decent work, why would you take the job away from him and give it to some high school kid with no work experience who was not willing to work at all until the minimum wage was raised and who really doesn’t need the job but just wants to have some extra money for buying more things he also doesn’t need? Not only would it not be nice to your present employee, but it would be a bad business decision.

I suspect this gibberish from think tank spokespersons has three purposes:
1. To fool the general public into thinking minimum wage increases actually injure poor people; 2. To fool dumb employers, if the minimum wage is increased, into letting good workers go and hiring less desirable ones; and
3. Also if the minimum wage is increased, to get the lazy children of these overpaid think tank people off their asses and out into to the world of work instead of asking for another allowance increase.

The minimum wage has been lagging because the traditional moral force behind keeping it up to date, the labor unions, have lost much of their power, and the only other force with the power to raise the minimum wage, the Republican controlled Congress, lacks the moral integrity to do it.

As an indicator of the Republican attitude toward workers, Senator Santorum has countered Kennedy with a proposal to increase the minimum wage by only half as much, provided that certain business tax breaks totaling $4 billion are also adopted, that many more businesses are made exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act and that overtime pay obligations are undermined by adoption of so-called "flex-time" rules calculating excess hours over a two week period rather than weekly (e.g. you work 20 hours this week and then when you have to work 60 next week you do not get paid for overtime). In the House, Majority Leader Delay says there are no plans to consider any bills to raise the minimum wage.

I learned at my mother’s knee that Republicans are for the big business bosses and Democrats are for the working people. The lesson she taught back then remains true to this day.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Voting With Your Feet

Reiko forwarded a link to a KOMO radio story about a locally owned grocery store chain, Brown and Cole, here in Washington State that says it is going to have to close 8 of its stores because of competition from Wal-Mart. I also heard a piece about this on KPLU radio (the local NPR station).

The local employer wants to keep providing good benefits and insurance for its employees, but says it is hard to compete with Wal-Mart when Wal-Mart provides few benefits for its help. On KPLU, the Wal-Mart spokesman demonstrated Wal-Mart follows the same PR philosophy as the Bush Administration - say something in support of your position with an ounce of truth but pounds of falsehood. The spokesman said Wal-Mart provides good wages and benefits including health insurance. The ounce is that a small number of their employees do eventually get some small amount of benefits and insurance. The pounds are that their wages are far less than union workers earn and the bulk of Wal-Mart employees do not get the benefits because of such gimmicks as requiring part timers to work two years before becoming eleigible and then laying most of them off before the two years.

The facts on Wal-Mart employees are readily available to journalists, who should familiarize themselves with the facts before interviewing a Wal-Mart spokesperson and then should challenge with the facts. For example, ask the spokesperson what percentage of Wal-Mart employees actually have health insurance coverage through Wall-Mart, and then when the response is an ounce of generic evasiveness, the journalist should provide the pound of fact, citing the source for the information, and challenge the spokesperson to provide any contradictory facts and name the source. Something I find bothersome is that Wal-Mart, obviously concerned about such journalistic challenges, is apparently trying to head them off with cash - for example, Wal-Mart now is giving money to NPR to support its programing.

One thing the Wal-Mart spokesperson said that I do agree with is that customers make the decision of which business model to support when they decide where to shop. Brown and Cole, locally owned and treating its employees fairly, deserved the support of its community when Wal-Mart, an international predatory exploiter, invaded Washington. Sufficient members of the local community defected to support the exploiter, and they should be ashamed of their defection. Remember, when you shop at Wal-Mart, you are voting with your feet.

The Democratically controlled Washington State Legislature is considering legislation requiring fees be paid to the State by large employers who do not provide health insurance for their employees, as partial reimbursement for the medicaid expenses the State incurs in providing health care to those employees. A traditional threat employers have used in the past to oppose such legislation is to say that if it passes they will leave the State. I hope it does and I hope they do. As long as Wal-Mart keeps their current business model, they should not be welcome.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Public Thumb

By a 5-4 vote, the US Supreme Court has just moved the national pendulum on the issue of whether to execute juvenile criminals all the way over to the no side. Technically the majority decided such executions now constitute cruel and unusual punishment which is banned by the 8th Amendment, basically because juveniles are not mature enough to be held responsible at the price of their life. Predictably, Scalia, Rehnquist and Thomas were in favor of letting juveniles hang if that is what a State jury wants to do, but Sandra O’Connor also dissented and wrote her own dissenting opinion, not joining in the other dissent.

Using my "line drawing" approach here, I would say there are two lines under discussion. One is where the line should be drawn on capital punishment. People like me say capital punishment should never be allowed, but other people struggle on a case by case basis with trying to decide who should live and who should die. Like the Roman Emperor, juries are asked to give thumbs up or thumbs down, which should be a hard decision for people to make, but not for people like me because opponents of capital punishment are not allowed to serve on a jury in a capital case. Imagine what it would be like for a capital punishment foe on trial for a capital offense, knowing that the supposed jury of your peers actually does not include any of the many people like me who are opposed to capital punishment.

The other line the Court was involved in drawing was a time line. When has the societal thumb changed enough for the Court to change a prior opinion. In the present case, the Court had to work around or overturn a prior decision from 1989, evaluating the attitude of the public thumb and how it has changed since then. As Justice Stevens pointed out in a one page concurring opinion joined in by Justice Ginsburg, that the public thumb does change over time is not open to question, otherwise 7 year olds could still be executed as they could legally be at the time the 8th Amendment was adopted, but the pace at which the public thumb changes will always be open to debate.

Forgive Us Our Debts

As a new lawyer in the 1960's, working in an inner city law office with blue collar clients, I learned about bankruptcy from the debtor point of view. Unpaid medical bills, job loss and inability to support two households after a divorce were the main reasons people went bankrupt. The ordinary bills of life were enough to sink people if one of the above waves hit. Spending sprees were hard for a working man to finance. Credit cards were non-existent, bankers gave soundly conservative advice about avoiding debt, and finance companies were the only thing approaching the predatory lenders of today.

Today, personal bankruptcies are at all time highs. The Republicans are in control of the Federal government and they have a solution to the financial woes that are driving so many Americans into bankruptcy. You might think the solution to unpaid medical bills is to make insurance more readily available - but the Republicans don’t. You might think the solution to job loss is to stem the flow of jobs overseas and provide meaningful job upgrade training - but the Republicans don’t. You might think part of the reason for the high divorce rate is the stress caused by worrying about not having health insurance or a job - but the Republicans don’t.

The Republican solution to the unbearable debt of the overloaded American is to change the Bankruptcy law to require people to work harder and longer to try to pay more and more of the debts, without the Bankruptcy Court saying too much is too much and discharging the debts. Anyone who has filed bankruptcy knows it is not a picnic. Psychological consequences can result and future availability of legitimately needed credit is extremely limited for a period of years after filing. But the Republican focus, as always, is on the business person, in this case the money lenders, and not on the American worker and consumer of credit.

The money lenders are responsible for creating a new breed of overspending Americans. They have been running amuck in a feeding frenzy, each one of them trying to sign up as many Americans as possible to the highest debt amount, for the highest fees, with the most exorbitant interest rate. Spending fortunes foisting unsolicited cards en masse, moving to small states where the laws allow excessive fees and interest rates, and encouraging card users to constantly run up more charges while only paying the monthly minimum, these greedy predators are free of any truly meaningful legislation to stop this foolish frenzy. Add in such stupidities as "payday loans" and "rent to own" and you see how many sharks are now in the pool.

This new breed of debtor, created by the predatory lenders, is the chief target of the Republican proposal. Under the guise of protecting poorer folks, Republicans propose to limit their targeting to the debtors in the top half of the income range [the "bloody turnips" as opposed to the turnips out of which one cannot get blood]. Republicans say these debtors are the ones at fault, not the lenders, because the debtors are free to decide how much debt to incur. Funny thing about debt though, it has a life of its own and a way of sucking debtors in more and more, kind of like quicksand or Brer Rabbit and the tar baby, where the more you resist, the bigger the problem becomes.

As a proponent of the vast rich elite conspiracy theory, I believe predatory lending and tar baby like Bankruptcy law changes are intended to trap as many people as possible in a lifelong quagmire of indebtedness, compelling them to keep working as long as possible to service the never ending debt. Maybe some of my belief is based on my experience in the 1960's before true reforms improved the law for debtors. Back then, people who had filed bankruptcies, with proper notice to creditors, and had the Court declare their debts discharged, often would find their pay check had been garnisheed by one of the creditors after the Bankruptcy case was closed. What happened was that upon receiving the notice of filing for Bankruptcy, the creditor had ordered a credit report on the debtor and compared it with the debts listed in the Bankruptcy. If the debtor had failed to list one unpaid debt, even one to a different creditor, that was grounds under the law for considering the Bankruptcy discharge invalid as to all creditors. The creditor did not have to object in the Bankruptcy proceeding, and could just lay in wait to seize the wages of the unsuspecting worker after the Bankruptcy case was closed. The snakes in the grass of those days are the predatory lenders of today.

If the lending community had its way, I suspect they would make it legal to move their operation offshore to some place where there is no limit whatsoever on what fees and rates they charge. They might even be able to get debtors prison reinstated there and enter into an extradition treaty with the US to ship over deadbeats for use as forced labor in their operations.

Meaningful regulation of predatory lending is what is really needed. We should not be worrying about protecting predatory lenders from deadbeat debtors as the Republicans propose, but rather protecting honest Americans from predatory lenders. Bankruptcy law is Federal and Federal regulation to limit lending practices, interest rates and fees nationally is needed. Meaningful regulation likely would put many predatory lenders out of business, a prospect which prompts Republicans to suddenly start thinking about the working man and point out that these businesses all have employees who will lose their jobs if their employers are regulated out of business. The Mafia and al Qaeda also have employees who will lose their jobs if they are put out of business. Remember - all legislation is about drawing lines between matters of degree.

One Handed Economist

Harry Truman reportedly exclaimed he needed a one-handed economist, because all the economists he knew would say one thing, and then in the next breath, prefaced by "on the other hand", say the opposite.

I would like to hear an economist talk about the employees of a company, the ones who actually do the work that makes the company productive, as if they were real people, with lives, families, talents, experiences, ideas and work ethics. Instead, these vital people are referred to by economists with such terms as "jobs" or "labor costs". At one time, there was a recognition of a good work force as an asset of the company, part of its goodwill. Now, with revolving employment doors, outsourcing, mergers and downsizing, employees are rarely if ever referred to as a company asset, though they are sometimes used in company ads to put a human face on an impersonal corporation (and to save actor or model fees by using a minimum wage employee for double duty).

General Motors just announced a corporate reshuffling with some top executives being moved into new job titles including the word "global". The announcement talked about making better use of their "global resources", and pointed out that no jobs would be lost. Jobs may not be lost, but they will be moved from America and Europe to places where they can be done by lower paid workers. So GM economists are now calling potential low paid replacement workers in India "global resources".

An economic newsletter from a leading group of mutual funds, speaking of the European economy, said corporations are "moving labor costs outside of Europe" to increase profitability. Then, pulling his other hand from his pocket, the writer continued, "The outlook is not without issues. Faced with high unemployment, consumers have maintained high savings rates." So the poor bastard in Germany who loses his job building BMWs [or whatever car they still build in Germany] is sitting on his savings instead of buying a new BMW, which is hurting corporate profitability.

Henry Ford was a business genius, largely because he recognized the wisdom of building a good car for an affordable price and paying his employees enough money to be able to buy one. Look how far the American auto industry has moved away from what Henry Ford so wisely demonstrated to be the best policy. GM builds crappy cars, charges too much for them and wants to accelerate its race to find the cheapest worker in the world. The business genius that has produced wonderful Japanese cars for so long is an extension of the Henry Ford philosophy, expanded to value workers not just as consumers but also as part of the innovative production team.

Some people believe that replacing workers with tools like robots is the answer. It may be for some tasks, but the capitalist who dreams of replacing all workers with robots and thus keeping the labor slice of the pie for himself is a fool. R2D2 and C3PO aside, sales, marketing, customer relations, ideas and innovation are better left to real human beings. Have you ever decided to send more business to a company because of a pleasant voice mail recording?

Do the Crime and Serve the Time

The bogus felon purge tactics of brother Jeb in Florida were enough to steal the election for George in 2000. Purge lists were also a problem in 2004 and will continue to be a problem until laws disenfranchising felons who have served their time are repealed.

Like much of what is wrong in America, the punitive mentality behind these laws, the antithesis of a compassionate, forgiving, corrective and rehabilitative mentality, has its roots in American slavery. Following the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves, as whites saw Reconstruction end, black voting power was seen as a threat to white privilege. It was at that time that laws such as poll taxes and literacy tests, with whites conveniently "grand fathered", came into existence. One part of this black disenfranchisement package was the disenfranchisement of felons. Here is a history of felon disenfranchisement from Right to Vote, an organization working to end such laws:\.

Here in Washington State, legislation has just been proposed [by the ACLU ] to repeal the disenfranchisement provisions. Yes, the anti-black purge mentality expanded out of the Reconstruction South as blacks moved north and west, where black voting was perceived as a possible dent in white privilege. A Republican [who else?] legislator speaking in support of retaining the disenfranchisement, posited a case of a woman victim whose face was slashed and was incurring medical expense, while her assailant was done serving his time but had not paid restitution. Very few criminals ever pay restitution. Prison work is notoriously low paying and ex-cons have great difficulty finding decent employment. I fail to see how disenfranchising the criminal who has served the sentence makes the victim feel better, especially since this modern day version of the poll tax might be preventing the criminal from voting for the same candidate the victim prefers.

Society talks sympathy for compensating victims of crime but does not put its money where its mouth is. Part of the problem is that most victims of crime are socio-economically not that different from the criminals. Figuring out how to discretely discriminate between the slashing victim who is a prostitute and the slashing victim who is a small business owner [a category seen by most Republicans as somewhat sacred] is the problem. So money is spent setting up and running government agencies to seek restitution from the criminals, even though we know the agency will produce few collections and the cost of the agency would be better spent by paying that money directly to the victims.

Felon purge laws have another racial/economic aspect. The laws usually include some procedure to petition and present evidence to have the right to vote restored, something which is much more likely to be known to and affordable by whites as a group.

The good news is that through the educational efforts of groups like the ACLU and Right to Vote, progress will be made toward ending all these ill-conceived laws, maybe some day even in Florida.

You Can’t Touch This

Touch screen voting without true recount capability should be outlawed.

As sour grapes, whiner [remember I am paying the Republicans back for their unfair characterization of Al Gore] Dino Rossi’ s challenge to the election of Washington Governor Gregoire works its way through the Courts to what should be an ultimate rejection, more interesting information about the vote tallying continues to emerge.

Per an article in the Seattle Weekly about a report done on the election, Snohomish County, just north of Seattle traditionally votes Democratic. Kerry won the most Presidential votes there, but Republican Rossi beat Democrat Gregoire in Snohomish. On the Snohomish paper ballots, which could be verified on recounting, Gregoire won 97,044 to 95,228. But on the touch screen machines, which had no method for verifying on a recount, Gregoire lost 50,400 to 42,135.

Random testing of the Snohomish touch screen machines before the election found several machines that switched votes and had other glitches. The Democrats in Snohomish could have replaced these touch screens, and they definitely should do so now. In rejecting all challenges to the election, the courts should mention this 8,000 possible "glitch" vote for Rossi as another example of how the election may not have been perfect but, to paraphrase Don Rumsfeld, "We have to conduct elections with the election materials we have".