Thursday, December 10, 2015

Review of "The Bertrams" by Anthony Trollope

The unwritten rules of courtship among 19th century English gentry are the source of many a plot twist in Anthony Trollope novels. If a woman falls in love, she must not breathe a word of it to anyone, including the object of her affections; only he can initiate the process by falling on his knees before her and daring to call her by her first name. She may signal her acceptance by letting fall a tear, or her rejection by coldly addressing him by his surname in her reply. Couples who are not betrothed are not permitted to use each other’s given names.

Moreover, a man must never offer, nor a woman accept, if their combined incomes are not sufficient to support them. Indeed, the ancient purpose of marriage is to combine fortunes to the best possible advantage. Add to that the lack of birth control, and you can see that underfunded unions can be disastrous. In all of Trollope’s novels, money and love rule the plot. The rules, both followed and broken, are the substance of The Bertrams. If you read Trollope, you must be prepared to accept these rules, and willing to step into the mindset of the age. But isn’t this what we yearn for when we read classic literature?

Trollope is like a cross between Dickens and Balzac. Like Balzac, he is scathing on the subject of what his characters will do for money, but, like Dickens, circumspect about the sexual consequences of their actions. Young Bertram breaks the rules by impetuously proposing to a woman he has only known a week, when not yet established in his career. After giving it some thought, she declares that she will marry him—but only after he is financially secure. Tempers fray during the three years he has to wait, until the match is broken during an argument, and on the rebound she accepts the offer of a rising star on the political and financial scene on the understanding that love will play no role in their marriage.

In a subplot, Bertram’s best friend has suffered some financial and educational reversals and is forced to make an agreement that will tie him to a job that is not sufficient to support a wife. He tells the woman he loves—but has not yet proposed to—that he can never marry. She is torn between sorrow and disgust at his faint-heartedness.

The story is about the fate of these two pairs of star-crossed lovers. Not to give away the plot, but one thing you can count on in a Trollope novel: deserving lovers will end up in each other’s arms, however long the road to that conclusion may be. (And, since Victorian novelists got paid by the word, the road usually is long.)

During the portion of this novel that takes place in the Middle East, you can depend on being offended by Trollope’s racism. But he is merely mirroring the colonial racism of English society of the time.

I quite enjoy Anthony Trollope. The love stories keep the plot percolating merrily between long dissertations on the sleazy underbelly of Victorian finance and politics, which are much like the finance and politics of today. Lovemaking has changed in the nearly two centuries since he wrote, but everything else is pretty much the same.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Hello blogspot

Hello blogspot my old friend. I've come to chat with you again.

Yes, it's been two and a half years. Facebook pretty much wiped out the recreational blogosphere. If you are still blogging, you're probably getting--or hoping to get--some remuneration from it.

Why now? Maybe I'm in a nostalgic haze, augmented by the Simon & Garfunkel tapes that I listen to during the rare moments when the loose wire in my car speakers decides to reach out to whatever it's supposed to be connected to. When it's not working, I can repeat the recently heard songs in my head. Like right now. "Hello darkness, my old friend." When I first heard these lyrics in my teens, I thought, "You know, something new is happening, and I want to be a part of it."

Sure enough, a whole new culture was busting out, and I ran to join it. It had been a long time coming. Suddenly people were dressing like me, thinking like me, listening to the music I had listened to all my life.

Now, something's happening in my life once more. A sea change. I've let my hair grow long again, and people's heads are turned. Until they see the well-worn 67-year-old face in front of it. Then it's "Eww! An old lady." I guess I was the same when I was their age. You don't understand old age until you're old.

Yet old age is one of life's great adventures. Each day I learn something new. It's baked in the cake that most kids will waste their youth. But no one wastes their old age. Because by then the remaining years are precious.

And my father's death last week taught me that death is one more great adventure. You haven't really lived until you've experienced it. It's something to look forward to, not with dread but with wonder.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Balancing the budget? Easy

1. Stop all wars. Declare victory and come home. It worked in Vietnam. Yes, Vietnam fell to the Communists, but so what? The world didn't come to an end. Yes, Iraq and Afghanistan might fall to the terrorists, but so what? People are only terrorists when they've got nothing to lose. Once in power, they don't want to risk being obliterated. And with no outside threat, they will in time grow more moderate. Besides, if we stop meddling in the Middle East, terrorists will go back to blowing up each other instead of trying to blow us up.

2. Let the tax cuts expire. It's as simple as that. Before the tax cuts, we had a thriving economy. After the tax cuts, we had a decade of the slowest growth in 30 years. Past history shows that the higher the taxes on the rich, the more likely they are to Let them expire. Then introduce a bill to give a new tax break to the under-$250,000 income group if you want.

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Common sense about mosques and Muslims

I'm dumbfounded by this whole "ground zero mosque" controversy. Insensitive to the feelings of families of 9/11 victims? What about the families of 9/11 victims who were Muslims? Wouldn't NOT building a mosque be insensitive to THEIR feelings? If it's sacred ground, it should be sacred for everyone who suffered grief on that day.

I'm for building the mosque right next door to the WTC. What a wonderful gesture of healing between moderate Islam and America. Muslims all over the world would look at the mosque and say, America is a good country. The only Muslims who wouldn't like it would be Muslim extremists. The last thing they want would be for America to look like a tolerant country to mainstream Muslims.

Go out and make friends with your Muslim neighbor, storekeeper, mechanic, or computer technician. They have no more interest in terrorism than moderate Christians have in killing abortion doctors in the name of Christ.

Let's remember that right after 9/11, thousands held a candlelight vigil for America--in Iran! Islam did not bring down the WTC. A bunch of extremists with their own issues did it.

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Science VS. Religion? Not!

Science and religion are not opposites. Science is a system for studying reality. Religion is a kind of belief system. Not all belief systems are religious—the view of Dawkins and Hitchens and others that religion is a fraud is a sort of belief system but not a religious one. Religion is a deep experience of one’s place in the universe. It actually has nothing to do with god; god is just our anthropomorphic attempt to ascribe a reason for this deep experience.

The experience is so sweet and profound—and fleeting—that people who have it tend to cling to it and want to replicate it and extend it. They turn to the people who run their religion in the hope that if they follow instructions, however fanatical, they will regain the experience.

I like Buddhism because it acknowledges this trap and has devised a technique—meditation—for transcending it. This, of course, is only my religious truth. Yours may vary.

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Monday, January 18, 2010


At last! The long, soaking rain the weatherman promised for the last four or five storms but did not deliver. We've had an inch and a half since nightfall, washing the dust from the road, the sparrows' feathers and the leaves of the trees. And the downpour continues.

Rain has been predicted for the rest of the week. Odds are small that we'll catch up to normal, but we can dream. Rain has been fickle for the last three years, and when it rains, we Californians count our blessings.

Rain keeps the frost at bay, something my garden will appreciate after a couple of weeks of really cold weather that killed the potatoes and stopped the beets and turnips in their tracks. Maybe I'll go ahead and put the cabbage and broccoli starts in the ground. Should have done it in September, but who knows where the time goes?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Water catchment, ancient Bolivian style

BBC NEWS | Americas | Bolivians look to ancient farming

Bolivians look to ancient farming

By James Painter
BBC News, Trinidad, Bolivia

Poor farmers in the heart of Bolivia's Amazon are being encouraged to embrace the annual floods - by using a centuries-old irrigation system for their crops.

They are experimenting with a sustainable way of growing food crops that their ancestors used.

It could provide them with better protection against the extremes of climate change, reduce deforestation, improve food security and even promise a better diet.

These are the bold aims of a two-year-old project being carried out by a non-governmental organisation near Trinidad, the capital of the department of Beni.

The system is based on building "camellones" - raised earth platforms of anything up to 2m high, surrounded by canals.

Constructed above the height of flood waters, the camellones can protect seeds and crops from being washed away.

The water in the canals provide irrigation and nutrients during the dry season.

Pre-Columbian cultures in Beni from about 1000BC to AD1400 used a similar system.

We are only just now learning how our ancestors lived and survived
Maira Salas Copacabana farmer

"One of the many extraordinary aspects of our camellones project is that poor communities living in the Beni today are using a similar technology to that developed by indigenous pre-Columbian cultures in the same region to solve a similar range of problems," says Oscar Saavedra, the director of the Kenneth Lee foundation.

He experimented for six years in his own garden to develop the complex system of hydrology.

Ancient and modern communities face the same problems - regular flooding followed by drought.

"The floods were the basis for development and the flourishing of a great civilisation," says Mr Saavedra.

There were bad floods in 2006 and 2007, but last year the region saw the worst flooding in at least 50 years.

The floods affected some 120,000 people - a quarter of Beni's population - and caused more than $200m (£119m) of damage.

That experience prompted many local women to enlist in the camellones project.

"I had planted rice, maize, bananas and onions on my plot of land. But the water left nothing," explains Dunia Rivero Mayaco, a 44-year-old mother of three from Puerto Almacen near Trinidad.

"I lost my house too. We had to live three months in temporary accommodation on the main road. The children got ill there.

"So that's why I am working here on the camellones. I didn't want to lose everything again."

About 400 families are now enrolled in the project in five locations, growing mainly maize, cassava and rice.

Many of the sites are still in an experimental phase, but the early signs are promising. Productivity appears to be on the increase.

"These camellones will help us when the floods come," says Maira Salas from the village of Copacabana, a 20-minute boat ride down the river Ibare.

"Crops like bananas that die easily have a better chance of survival. We are only just now learning how our ancestors lived and survived.

"They did not have tractors to build the camellones, and they survived for years. It's incredible."

Villagers are encouraged to embrace the floods and see them as a blessing, not a curse.

During the rainy season, large expanses of land in Beni are under water for several months - except for the raised areas.

When the water recedes into the tributaries that run into the Amazon, it takes nutrients with it leaving a sandy brown soil in which it is difficult to grow crops.

But in the camellones project, the water left by the floods is harnessed to bring fertility to the soil and irrigation during times of drought.

In short, from being victims of the floods, poor people could become masters by turning the excess water to their advantage.

Extreme weather events

International charity Oxfam is supporting the project in part because it offers poor people the possibility of adapting to climate change.

If, as predicted by many experts, the cycles of El Nino/La Nina are going to increase in intensity and frequency, then the project has the capacity to help poor families cope better with the extreme weather events and unpredictable rainfall that are to come.

"It should not matter when the rains come as the water can still be managed at whatever time of the year," says Mr Saavedra.

Other potential advantages of the scheme include:

  • The system uses natural fertilizers, and in particular an aquatic plant in the canals called tarope which both purifies the water and acts as a fertilizer when spread over the soil
  • The canals can also provide fish stock, animal fodder and nutrients for the soil
  • The camellones can act as a natural seed bank which can survive flooding
  • The system can reduce the need to cut down the forested areas around the communities. This is because the soil on traditional plots of land is often exhausted after two to three years. This forces the farmers to clear more land for planting by cutting down the forest.

All this seems too good to be true.

Some of the women say the real test will come when there is a bad year of flooding or a severe drought. So far, 2009 has not been one of the worst.

There are other huge challenges ahead. One is to try to provide the families with an income from tomatoes or garden produce.

Another is to overcome the scepticism from some local people about the time and physical effort invested in the camellones compared to other sources of local employment.

Mr Saavedra is convinced the camellones project can be expanded, even to other countries.

"This process could be repeated in various parts of the world with similar conditions to the Beni like parts of Bangladesh, India and China.

"It could help to reduce world hunger and combat climate change," he says.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/08/18 09:11:16 GMT


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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Friedman finally says something true

Op-Ed Columnist - Advice From Grandma -

"Money in politics has become so pervasive that lawmakers have to spend most of their time raising it, selling their souls to those who have it or defending themselves from the smallest interest groups with deep pockets that can trump the national interest."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Honor our fallen soldiers

Just keep in mind that most of them died not on the battlefield, but from lack of health insurance.

Study: Over 2,200 US Veterans Died in 2008 Due to Lack of Health Insurance | Physicians for a National Health Program: "On Veterans Day, a new study estimates four times as many US Army veterans died last year because they lacked health insurance than the total number of US soldiers who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the same period. A research team at Harvard Medical School says 2,266 veterans under the age of 65 died in 2008 because they were uninsured. We speak to the report’s co-author, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, professor of medicine at Harvard University and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program."

But veterans get free health coverage, right?

Nope. You may be surprised to learn that only veterans who were injured on the battlefield get free health coverage for their war-related injuries. Not that the Veterans Administration wouldn't like to cover them. It's just that there's not enough funding. Plenty of money for war, but nothing for its American victims--our soldiers.

Support the troops, my ass.

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Homeland security?

Op-Ed Columnist - America’s Defining Choice -

Every three weeks, 3,000 Americans die from lack of health insurance. How many die from terrorist attacks? Shouldn't this be a homeland security issue?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Obama's unheralded successes

Juan Cole gives Obama an A for Iran policy and a B for Pakistan and Iraq. Then he asks, why can't Obama do a better job of publicizing his foreign-policy successes?

Obama's foreign policy report card -

by Juan Cole
Oct. 26, 2009 | Why can't the administration of President Barack Obama get the word out about its policy successes? President Obama campaigned on an ambitious platform of withdrawing from Iraq, engaging Iran on its nuclear program and persuading the Pakistani government to take on the Taliban and al-Qaida. Despite the charge by critics from both the right and the left in the wake of his winning the Nobel Peace Prize that he has accomplished little so far, in fact he has already set in motion significant change on several of these fronts -- despite the enormous domestic tasks that have inevitably preoccupied his administration. Yet you'd never hear about these successes from the mainstream media.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Safety Nets for the Rich

Safety Nets for the Rich

The headlines that ran side by side on the front page of Saturday’s New York Times summed up, inadvertently, the terrible fix that we’ve allowed our country to fall into.

The lead headline, in the upper right-hand corner, said: “U.S. Deficit Rises to $1.4 Trillion; Biggest Since ’45.”

The headline next to it said: “Bailout Helps Revive Banks, And Bonuses.”

We’ve spent the last few decades shoveling money at the rich like there was no tomorrow. We abandoned the poor, put an economic stranglehold on the middle class and all but bankrupted the federal government — while giving the banks and megacorporations and the rest of the swells at the top of the economic pyramid just about everything they’ve wanted.

And we still don’t seem to have learned the proper lessons. We’ve allowed so many people to fall into the terrible abyss of unemployment that no one — not the Obama administration, not the labor unions and most certainly no one in the Republican Party — has a clue about how to put them back to work.

Meanwhile, Wall Street is living it up. I’m amazed at how passive the population has remained in the face of this sustained outrage.

Even as tens of millions of working Americans are struggling to hang onto their jobs and keep a roof over their families’ heads, the wise guys of Wall Street are licking their fat-cat chops over yet another round of obscene multibillion-dollar bonuses — this time thanks to the bailout billions that were sent their way by Uncle Sam, with very little in the way of strings attached.

Nevermind that the economy remains deeply troubled. As The Times pointed out on Saturday, much of Wall Street “is minting money.”

Call it déjà voodoo. I wrote a column that ran three days before Christmas in 2007 that focused on the deeply disturbing disconnect between Wall Streeters harvesting a record crop of bonuses — billions on top of billions — while working families were having a very hard time making ends meet.

We would later learn that December 2007 was the very month that the Great Recession began. I wrote in that column: “Even as the Wall Streeters are high-fiving and ordering up record shipments of Champagne and caviar, the American dream is on life support.”

So we had an orgy of bonuses just as the recession was taking hold and now another orgy (with taxpayers as the enablers) that is nothing short of an arrogantly pointed finger in the eye of everyone who suffered, and continues to suffer, in this downturn.

Whether P.T. Barnum actually said it or not, there is a sucker born every minute. American taxpayers might want to take a look in the mirror. If the epithet fits...

We need to make some fundamental changes in the way we do things in this country. The gamblers and con artists of the financial sector, the very same clowns who did so much to bring the economy down in the first place, are howling self-righteously over the prospect of regulations aimed at curbing the worst aspects of their excessively risky behavior and preventing them from causing yet another economic meltdown.

We should be going even further. We’ve institutionalized the idea that there are firms that are too big to fail and, therefore, “we, the people” are obliged to see that they don’t — even if that means bankrupting the national treasury and undermining the living standards of ordinary people. What sense does that make?

If some company is too big to fail, then it’s too big to exist. Break it up.

Why should the general public have to constantly worry that a misstep by the high-wire artists at Goldman Sachs (to take the most obvious example) would put the entire economy in peril? These financial acrobats get the extraordinary benefits of their outlandish risk-taking — multimillion-dollar paychecks, homes the size of castles — but the public has to be there to absorb the worst of the pain when they take a terrible fall.

Enough! Goldman Sachs is thriving while the combined rates of unemployment and underemployment are creeping toward a mind-boggling 20 percent. Two-thirds of all the income gains from the years 2002 to 2007 — two-thirds! — went to the top 1 percent of Americans.

We cannot continue transferring the nation’s wealth to those at the apex of the economic pyramid — which is what we have been doing for the past three decades or so — while hoping that someday, maybe, the benefits of that transfer will trickle down in the form of steady employment and improved living standards for the many millions of families struggling to make it from day to day.

That money is never going to trickle down. It’s a fairy tale. We’re crazy to continue believing it.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Is Van Jones a communist?

PolitiFact | Glenn Beck says Van Jones is an avowed communist

Here's what Politifact, a fact-check site that takes on both the left and the right, has to say. Click the link above to read the whole article, which also quotes Jones about his disillusionment with the revolutionary approach.

...This, from [Jones's] book, The Green Collar Economy, released in October 2008:

"There will surely be an important role for nonprofit voluntary, cooperative, and community-based solutions," Jones writes on page 86. "But the reality is that we are entering an era during which our very survival will demand invention and innovation on a scale never before seen in the history of human civilization. Only the business community has the requisite skills, experience, and capital to meet that need. On that score, neither the government nor the nonprofit and voluntary sectors can compete, not even remotely.

"So in the end, our success and survival as a species are largely and directly tied to the new eco-entrepreneurs — and the success and survival of their enterprises. Since almost all of the needed eco-technologies are likely to come from the private sector, civic leaders and voters should do all that can be done to help green business leaders succeed. That means, in large part, electing leaders who will pass bills to aid them. We cannot realistically proceed without a strong alliance between the best of the business world — and everyone else."

Or how about this, from an address before the Center for American Progress on Nov. 19, 2008 (well before Jones was brought into the Obama administration):

"Everything that is good for the environment, everything that's needed to beat global warming, is a job," Jones said. "Solar panels don't manufacture themselves. Wind turbines don't manufacture themselves. Homes don't weatherize themselves. Every single thing that we need to beat global warming will also beat the recession. And the challenge is, how do we get the government to be a smart, and limited, catalyst in getting the private sector to take on this challenge?"

Beck would have been on solid ground if he said Jones used to be a communist. Jones has been up front about that.

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

Healthcare Town Hall

Our Congresswoman, Lynn Woolsey, held a town hall meeting last week in Petaluma, within walking distance of our house. Knowing the tea-baggers would be out in force, even in our liberal town, I had to attend. It was astonishing. My daughter, a born writer, describes it so much better than I could:
It was everything I expected - and more! People would come up to the mike and ask Lynn Woolsey whether she had read the Constitution (a devastating rhetorical blow that was repeated multiple times!) Then there would be a bunch of whooping and hollering. Then Lynn Woolsey would say "yes!" Then there would be a rousing chorus of "Liar! Liar!" Then the guy at the microphone would ask Lynn Woolsey why she was trying to ram a government takeover of health care down the throats of honest Americans. Lynn Woolsey would explain that there is in fact no government health care takeover being proposed - merely the *option* of a government-run insurance policy. Then there would be another rousing chorus of "Liar! Liar!" Then someone else would come up to the microphone and ask Lynn Woolsey why she hated AMERICA!!! (Seriously. They did.) And Lynn Woolsey would give some sort of non-answer to this non-question. (Her best response all night, in my opinion? "I assume that's a rhetorical question.")

Sometimes this varied, in two major ways. Sometimes someone would come up to the microphone and explain how they'd had cancer and now couldn't afford health care anymore, which had them a little troubled given that cancer can be a recurrent disease, and they really hoped the public option would provide an option for them. Then there would be a bunch of booing and calls of "Communist!" Abusing cancer survivors and people in wheelchairs: classy. [ETA for scrupulous accuracy - I don't want to imply that there was as much abuse of sick people as there was of Lynn Woolsey and the public option. This was definitely a smaller subset of the group.]

Alternately, several times during the evening, people came up and told this story:
1) They had been trying to contact Lynn Woolsey for weeks! months! and her office had refused to tell them anything about her position on [issue x].
2) Finally, they had gotten through to someone who answered them.
3) That someone told them Lynn Woolsey didn't care about their opinions and that she would vote how she wanted to because she knew what was best for them.

So apparently, there's someone in Lynn Woolsey's phone-answering staff who is not only stupid enough to make that last statement, but is making it to every single conservative who calls! Amazing! Or perhaps, by the rules of civil debate favored by these groups, that would have been my cue to shout "Liar! Liar!"

I really wish I were exaggerating this for liberal humor effect. Sometimes it was actually pretty funny. But I'm not. I'm relaying stuff as near to verbatim as I can remember it, though there were interludes of saner questioning (from both sides, though honestly, more from the pro-reform side than from the anti-) that I haven't relayed.

Lynn Woolsey looked pretty uncomfortable up there, and frankly I would have too. Aside from the fact that having a room peppering you with vaguely insane questions and then screaming abuse at you while you try to talk isn't fun, I have to assume the congresspeople doing these meetings are wondering who's going to be the first to have a shot taken at them by the people who have been making such a show of bringing their guns to meetings (I'm actually pretty gun-friendly for a liberal, but I think all sane people can agree that guns have no place at crowded events with public figures and tempers running high).

I would say coverage of these meetings has in no way oversold the hysteria and craziness at these things. And this was in one of the most liberal areas of the country! Interestingly, the pro-reform people didn't jump up and yell all that often (though they clapped and sometimes cheered for stuff that excited them), but the few times they really did respond all-out, they were louder. Based on noise volume and how many people jumped up and cheered around me for the anti-reform rabble-rousing stuff, I would guess the audience was actually split roughly 70-30 or 60-40 pro-reform vs. anti-. But most of the time you wouldn't have known it from the volume.

Good times, good times.

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Obama: Read this!

Roosevelt: The Great Divider

Published: September 2, 2009
New York Times

When Roosevelt asked Congress to establish the Tennessee Valley Authority to provide cheap electric power for the impoverished South, he did not consult with utility giants like Commonwealth and Southern. When he asked for the creation of a Securities and Exchange Commission to curb the excesses of Wall Street, he did not request the cooperation of those about to be regulated. When Congress passed the Glass-Steagall Act divesting investment houses of their commercial banking functions, the Democrats did not need the approval of J. P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs or Lehman Brothers.
Roosevelt relished the opposition of vested interests. He fashioned his governing majority by deliberately attacking those who favored the status quo. His opponents hated him — and he profited from their hatred. “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today,” he told a national radio audience on the eve of the 1936 election. “They are unanimous in their hatred for me — and I welcome their hatred.”
Read the whole thing and weep for our lost Democratic spine.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009


Tomatoes (Dante's saucers, Principe borghese, pear), green beans, tomatillos, Sungold cherry tomatos, Macintosh apples. Not shown: potatoes onions.

Tomatillos and roasted peppers for salsa verde.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

What is a sense of community?

Okay, this is totally based on my own conjecture.

My conservative relative once complained about the inefficient low-flow toilet in her new home, built after the government began mandating low-flow toilets in all new construction. It was one of the first such homes, and perhaps the low-flow technology wasn't as good as it is now. She wished she could rip it out and put in an old-fashioned toilet. What she should have done is rip it out and put in a newer low-flow toilet, since the newer ones work just fine, but she objected to having to make such a choice.

My impression is that conservatives have a pretty good sense of community. Many are active in their schools, churches, business and fraternal organizations and neighborhoods. They are generous in helping friends who are undergoing difficulties.

But the sense of community doesn't extend beyond sharing with these groups. For instance, it doesn't extend to strangers who depend on shared resources such as water and energy. Conservatives seem less likely to be concerned about whether people beyond their immediate community have enough water, for instance.

It seems like the difference between the conservative sense of community and the liberal one is that a conservative community is heavily weighted toward people conservatives know personally. When it comes to community, liberals are more abstract thinkers.

The conservative view is probably the more natural one. Think back to our primitive origins, when people lived in small groups, and most people personally knew everyone they saw in their daily life, and probably were somewhat familiar with the people the nearest outside community that they might meet with during gatherings to trade resources or find marriage partners. Anyone else was a stranger, the "other."

Unfortunately, we no longer live in such groups. We know nothing about the people two blocks away from us, or many of the people who work in the same building as we do. We're surrounded by strangers. There are two ways to respond to this: the primitive, natural way, which is to exclude strangers from our sense of community; or the adaptive way, which is to extend our sense of community to include people nearby, even though we don't personally know them. (Note: humans are highly adaptable creatures.) Once we've made that adaptation, it's relatively easy to extend the community outwards, to the region, the nation, the world.

Just my thought. Probably horribly over-generalized, but I think there's a grain of truth to it.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why we won't get real healthcare reform until we reform our campaign funding system

Sickening Amounts of Healthcare Lobbying | Center for Media and Democracy

The healthcare industry is waging a "record-breaking influence campaign," spending "more than $1.4 million a day on lobbying," reports the Washington Post. "The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) doubled its spending to nearly $7 million in the first quarter of 2009, followed by Pfizer, with more than $6 million" spent in just three months. Among the lobbyists are many former Congressional staffers and even former members of Congress, including Dick Armey and Richard Gephardt. The impact is illustrated by a recent meeting in the office of Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus, which "included two former Baucus chiefs of staff: David Castagnetti, whose clients include PhRMA and America's Health Insurance Plans, and Jeffrey A. Forbes, who represents PhRMA, Amgen, Genentech, Merck and others." The Post "identified more than 350 former government aides, each representing an average of four firms or trade groups." PhRMA leads "the pack in spending and employs 49 former government staff members among its 136 lobbyists." Many of the major lobbyists "remain opposed to the public-insurance option" supported by the Obama administration. PhRMA's head, former Congressman Billy Tauzin, finds the Congress-drug industry revolving door "pretty normal." He asked, "Is it a distortion of baseball to hire coaches who have played baseball?"

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Yikes! Coming soon to your neighborhood: a dust bowl

Climate Progress � Blog Archive � Energy and Global Warming News for June 27th: Dust-Bowl-ification spreads to southern Italy; Clean energy by Nobel Prize-wining Grameen Bank; DC Metro crash symptom of crumbling infrastructure

Dust-Bowlification is predicted to happen all over the world — see NOAA stunner: humanity faces permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe. But it’s happening some places now:

Deserts crossing Mediterranean

The Sahara Desert is crossing the Mediterranean, according to Italian environmental protection group Legambiente which warns that the livelihoods of 6.5 million people living along its shores could be at risk.

”Desertification isn’t limited to Africa,” said Legambiente Vice President Sebastiano Venneri.

”Without a serious change of direction in economic and environmental policies, the risk will become concrete and irreversible.” A recent report by Legambiente estimated that 74 million acres of fertile land along the Mediterranean were turning to desert as the result of overexploited land and water resources.

Legambiente said that southern Italy was at severe risk in addition to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia where 11% of all arable land showed signs of drying up. ”Semi-arid coastal regions like southern Italy are prone to the effects of desertification due to farmers’ dependence on water from underground aquifers instead of rainfall,” said Legambiente spokesman Giorgio Zampetti. According to Zampetti, pumping too much fresh water out of these underground deposits can result in seawater leaking in to replace it, effectively poisoning the groundwater.

As an example of the long-term consequences, Legambiente pointed to Egypt where it said brackish groundwater had compromised half the country’s farmland.

“The south of Italy isn’t the only part of the country at risk,” added Zampetti. ”Aquifers around the Po Delta in northern Italy have also begun showing signs of saltwater contamination.” Experts said that the Po River, which is Italy’s longest waterway and nearly dries up in parts when industrial consumption peaks, is one of the most visible examples of desertifying climate change in Italy. Italy is not the only country in Europe losing fertile land.

Legambiente estimated that desertification affects more than a fifth of the Iberian Peninsula with early indicators also present along the French Riviera.

Across the Mediterranean, Legambiente said that countries like Libya, Tunisia and Morocco were losing 1,000 square kilometers of fertile land every year.

Legambiente experts predict that between 1997 and 2020, desertification will have forced over 60 million people in sub-Saharan Africa to leave their homes, many of whom will head north to Europe.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

These are the people who are going to fix our healthcare system?

Many in Congress Hold Stakes in Health Industry -

June 14, 2009

Many in Congress Hold Stakes in Health Industry

WASHINGTON — As President Obama and Congress intensify the push to overhaul health care in the coming week, the political and economic force of that industry is well represented in the financial holdings of many lawmakers and others with a say on the legislation, according to new disclosure forms.

The personal financial reports, due late last week from members of Congress, show that many lawmakers hold investments in insurance, pharmaceutical and prescription-benefit companies and in hospital interests, all of which would be affected by the administration’s overhaul of health care.

Read the rest.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Why I hate Memorial Day

Memorial Day honors the tragedy of those who died for their country. All over the nation, ceremonies take place at cemeteries of the fallen. Volunteers place flags on graves; taps is played; flags are furled; and stern-faced members of veterans' organizations attend in solemn rows in their caps and insignia.

It's not a time for cynicism. And yet, that's just what I feel. As a nation, our feelings are manipulated on what should be a day of sorrow and regret.

Let me be clear--we should justly honor the sacrifice of those who died in war. But the way we do it glorifies war to yet another generation. It deludes our youth into believing it's their duty to enlist in the next crusade to benefit politicians and the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about. The martial music and stirring speeches perpetuate the lie that the fallen "died for our freedom." They did not.

Did our soldiers die heroically? Often they did. But for the most part, they died uselessly.

War is a failure of diplomacy. Instead of flags and martial music, we should offer apologies to the dead for yet again failing to avert the catastrophe of war. Our vow to the dead should be to redouble our efforts to find peaceful ways of settling disputes. On this day we should mourn not just those who perished in war, but our repeated failure to move beyond the barbaric practice of officially killing strangers just because someone in power who stands to gain from war convinced us that it's in our best interest to do so.

The message of Memorial Day should be "Never again! We will not send yet another generation of youth to the killing fields."


Eisenhower on war:

"When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war." (Press conference: 1953)

"I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its stupidity. War settles nothing." (Speech: Ottawa, Canada, January 10, 1946)

Dwight D. Eisenhower
34th President of the United States

(Courtesy of West Point Graduates Against the War)

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Don't eat processed foods!

May 15, 2009

Food Companies Are Placing the Onus for Safety on Consumers


The frozen pot pies that sickened an estimated 15,000 people with salmonella in 2007 left federal inspectors mystified. At first they suspected the turkey. Then they considered the peas, carrots and potatoes.

The pie maker, ConAgra Foods, began spot-checking the vegetables for pathogens, but could not find the culprit. It also tried cooking the vegetables at high temperatures, a strategy the industry calls a “kill step,” to wipe out any lingering microbes. But the vegetables turned to mush in the process.

So ConAgra — which sold more than 100 million pot pies last year under its popular Banquet label — decided to make the consumer responsible for the kill step. The “food safety” instructions and four-step diagram on the 69-cent pies offer this guidance: “Internal temperature needs to reach 165° F as measured by a food thermometer in several spots.”

Increasingly, the corporations that supply Americans with processed foods are unable to guarantee the safety of their ingredients. In this case, ConAgra could not pinpoint which of the more than 25 ingredients in its pies was carrying salmonella. Other companies do not even know who is supplying their ingredients, let alone if those suppliers are screening the items for microbes and other potential dangers, interviews and documents show.

Yet the supply chain for ingredients in processed foods — from flavorings to flour to fruits and vegetables — is becoming more complex and global as the drive to keep food costs down intensifies. As a result, almost every element, not just red meat and poultry, is now a potential carrier of pathogens, government and industry officials concede.

In addition to ConAgra, other food giants like Nestlé and the Blackstone Group, a New York firm that acquired the Swanson and Hungry-Man brands two years ago, concede that they cannot ensure the safety of items — from frozen vegetables to pizzas — and that they are shifting the burden to the consumer. General Mills, which recalled about five million frozen pizzas in 2007 after an E. coli outbreak, now advises consumers to avoid microwaves and cook only with conventional ovens. ConAgra has also added food safety instructions to its other frozen meals, including the Healthy Choice brand.

Peanuts were considered unlikely culprits for pathogens until earlier this year when a processing plant in Georgia was blamed for salmonella poisoning that is estimated to have killed nine people and sickened 27,000. Now, white pepper is being blamed for dozens of salmonella illnesses on the West Coast, where a widening recall includes other spices and six tons of frozen egg rolls.

The problem is particularly acute with frozen foods, in which unwitting consumers who buy these products for their convenience mistakenly think that their cooking is a matter of taste and not safety.

Federal regulators have pushed companies to beef up their cooking instructions with the detailed “food safety” guides. But the response has been varied, as a review of packaging showed. Some manufacturers fail to list explicit instructions; others include abbreviated guidelines on the side of their boxes in tiny print. A Hungry-Man pot pie asks consumers to ensure that the pie reaches a temperature that is 11 degrees short of the government-established threshold for killing pathogens. Questioned about the discrepancy, Blackstone acknowledged it was using an older industry standard that it would rectify when it printed new cartons.

Government food safety officials also point to efforts by the Partnership for Food Safety Education, a nonprofit group founded by the Clinton administration. But the partnership consists of a two-person staff and an annual budget of $300,000. Its director, Shelley Feist, said she has wanted to start a campaign to advise consumers about frozen foods, but lacks the money.

Estimating the risk to consumers is difficult. The industry says that it is acting with an abundance of caution, and that big outbreaks of food-borne illness are rare. At the same time, a vast majority of the estimated 76 million cases of food-borne illness every year go unreported or are not traced to the source.

Home Cooking

Some food safety experts say they do not think the solution should rest with the consumer. Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said companies like ConAgra were asking too much. “I do not believe that it is fair to put this responsibility on the back of the consumer, when there is substantial confusion about what it means to prepare that product,” Dr. Osterholm said.

And the ingredient chain for frozen and other processed foods is poised to get more convoluted, industry insiders say. While the global market for ingredients is projected to reach $34 billion next year, the pressure to keep food prices down in a recession is forcing food companies to look for ways to cut costs.

Ensuring the safety of ingredients has been further complicated as food companies subcontract processing work to save money: smaller companies prepare flavor mixes and dough that a big manufacturer then assembles. “There is talk of having passports for ingredients,” said Jamie Rice, the marketing director of RTS Resource, a research firm based in England. “At each stage they are signed off on for quality and safety. That would help companies, if there is a scare, in tracing back.”

But government efforts to impose tougher trace-back requirements for ingredients have met with resistance from food industry groups including the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which complained to the Food and Drug Administration: “This information is not reasonably needed and it is often not practical or possible to provide it.”

Now, in the wake of polls that show food poisoning incidents are shaking shopper confidence, the group is re-evaluating its position. A new industry guide produced by the group urges companies to test for salmonella and cites recent outbreaks from cereal, children’s snacks and other dry foods that companies have mistakenly considered immune to pathogens.

Research on raw ingredients, the guide notes, has found salmonella in 0.14 percent to 1.3 percent of the wheat flour sampled, and up to 8 percent of the raw spices tested.

ConAgra’s pot pie outbreak began on Feb. 20, 2007, and by the time it trailed off nine months later 401 cases of salmonella infection had been identified in 41 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which estimates that for every reported case, an additional 38 are not detected or reported.

It took until June 2007 for health officials to discover the illnesses were connected, and in October they traced the salmonella to Banquet pot pies made at ConAgra’s plant in Marshall, Mo.

While investigators who went to the plant were never able to pinpoint the salmonella source, inspectors for the United States Department of Agriculture focused on the vegetables, a federal inspection document shows.

ConAgra had not been requiring its suppliers to test the vegetables for pathogens, even though some were being shipped from Latin America. Nor was ConAgra conducting its own pathogen tests.

The company says the outbreak and management changes prompted it to undertake a broad range of safety initiatives, including testing for microbes in all of the pie ingredients. ConAgra said it was also trying to apply the kill step to as many ingredients as possible, but had not yet found a way to accomplish it without making the pies “unpalatable.”

Its Banquet pies now have some of the most graphic food safety instructions, complete with a depiction of a thermometer piercing the crust.

Pressed to say whether the meals are safe to eat if consumers disregard the instructions or make an error, Stephanie Childs, a company spokeswoman, said, “Our goal is to provide the consumer with as safe a product as possible, and we are doing everything within our ability to provide a safe product to them.”

“We are always improving food safety,” Ms. Childs said. “This is a long ongoing process.”

The U.S.D.A. said it required companies to show that their cooking instructions, when properly followed, would kill any pathogens. ConAgra says it has done such testing to validate its instructions.

Getting to ‘Kill Step’

But attempts by The New York Times to follow the directions on several brands of frozen meals, including ConAgra’s Banquet pot pies, failed to achieve the required 165-degree temperature. Some spots in the pies heated to only 140 degrees even as parts of the crust were burnt.

A ConAgra consumer hotline operator said the claims by microwave-oven manufacturers about their wattage power could not be trusted, and that any pies not heated enough should not be eaten. “We definitely want it to reach that 165-degree temperature,” she said. “It’s a safety issue.”

In 2007, the U.S.D.A.’s inspection of the ConAgra plant in Missouri found records that showed some of ConAgra’s own testing of its directions failed to achieve “an adequate lethality” in several products, including its Chicken Fried Beef Steak dinner. Even 18 minutes in a large conventional oven brought the pudding in a Kid Cuisine Chicken Breast Nuggets meal to only 142 degrees, the federal agency found.

Besides improving its own cooking directions, ConAgra says it has alerted other frozen food manufacturers to the food safety issues.

But in the absence of meaningful federal rules, other frozen-dinner makers that face the same problem with ingredients are taking varied steps, some less rigorous. Jim Seiple, a food safety official with the Blackstone unit that makes Swanson and Hungry-Man pot pies, said the company tested for pathogens, but only after preliminary tests for bacteria that were considered indicators of pathogens — a method that ConAgra abandoned after its salmonella outbreak.

The pot pie instructions have built-in margins of error, Mr. Seiple said, and the risk to consumers depended on “how badly they followed our directions.”

Some frozen food companies are taking different approaches to pathogens. Amy’s Kitchen, a California company that specializes in natural frozen foods, says it precooks its ingredients to kill any potential pathogens before its pot pies and other products leave the factory.

Using a bacteriological testing laboratory, The Times checked several pot pies made by Amy’s and the three leading brands, and while none contained salmonella or E. coli, one pie each of two brands — Banquet, and the Stouffer’s brand made by Nestlé — had significant levels of T. coliform.

These bacteria are common in many foods and are not considered harmful. But their presence in these products include raw ingredients and leave open “a potential for contamination,” said Harvey Klein, the director of Garden State Laboratories in New Jersey.

A Nestlé spokeswoman said the company enhanced its food safety instructions in the wake of ConAgra’s salmonella outbreak.

Danger in the Fridge

ConAgra’s episode has raised its visibility among victims like Ryan Warren, a 25-year-old law school student in Washington. A Seattle lawyer, Bill Marler, brought suit against ConAgra on behalf of Mr. Warren’s daughter Zoë, who had just turned 1 year old when she was fed a pot pie that he says put her in the hospital for a terrifying weekend of high fever and racing pulse.

“You don’t assume these dangers to be right in your freezer,” said Mr. Warren, who settled with ConAgra. He does not own a food thermometer and was not certain his microwave oven met the minimum 1,100-wattage requirement in the new pot pie instructions. “I do think that consumers bear responsibility to reasonably look out for their well-being, but the entire reason for this product to exist is for its convenience.”

Public health officials who interviewed the Warrens and other victims of the pot-pie contamination found that fewer than one in three knew the wattage of their microwave ovens, according to the C.D.C. report on the outbreak. The report notes, however, that nearly one in four of the victims reported cooking their pies in conventional ovens.

For more than a decade, the U.S.D.A. has also sought to encourage consumers to use food thermometers. But the agency’s statistics on how many Americans do so are discouraging. According to its Web site, not quite half the population has one, and only 3 percent use it when cooking high-risk foods like hamburgers. No data was available on how many people use thermometers on pot pies.

Andrew Martin contributed reporting.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Marcus Aurelius on the afterlife

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” —Marcus Aurelius

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

How we can all become energy suppliers

One reason solar energy is such a small part of our energy mix is that energy companies won't pay for any excess power you generate from your rooftop solar panels beyond what you use yourself. Ending that restriction could do more for our economy and the outlook for global climate than all the technology of the next ten years.

Green Growth: Are Feed-in Tariffs the Answer? | The New America Foundation

President Barack Obama has touted a robust green energy sector as our best chance of jumpstarting the economy, putting Americans back to work, and securing our nation's standing in a post-carbon world. Yet the renewable energy industry has been among the hardest hit by the current downturn.

How can America revive this vital sector, transforming it into an engine of economic growth? The Washington Monthly has found a promising answer in an unlikely place: Gainesville, Florida, which is in the midst of a solar-power boom, thanks to a bold incentive known as a feed-in tariff. Under this policy, the local power company is required to buy renewable energy from all producers, no matter how small, at above-market rates. This means anyone with a cluster of solar cells on their roof can sell the power they produce at a profit.

While Gainesville is the first to take the leap, other U.S. cities and at least eleven U.S. states are moving toward adopting the policy. There is also a bill for a nationwide feed-in tariff before Congress. The surge of interest stems from the dramatic results the policy has delivered in other countries, most notably Germany, where it has given rise to the world’s most vibrant green energy sector. In America, however, an aging electrical grid and fractured utility market could make feed-in tariffs problematic.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Afghanistan is the new Iraq

Informed Comment: Top Ten Ways the US is Turning Afghanistan into Iraq

Friday, April 03, 2009

A fascinating new take on transportation by car

Daimler to Bring Car-Sharing to Texas - Wheels Blog -

Daimler to Bring Car-Sharing to Texas

Car2Go Daimler’s Car2go program, to be started in Austin, Tex., will allow members to share Smart Fortwos.

When it comes to creating a successful car-sharing service, Daimler is hoping that what works in Europe will also work in America.

After introducing its Car2go program in Ulm, Germany, last week, the automaker is looking to begin a similar service in Austin, Tex.

“The car-sharing services that exist now require you to pick up and deliver the car, and you can’t drive per minute,” said Han Tjan, a spokesman for Daimler North America, about what separates Car2go from the other car-sharing services, like Zipcar, already on the market. “With this one, if you have to go 10 blocks in Manhattan and it starts raining, you can look for a car and take it.”

Specifically, the Austin service will offer drivers shared access to 200 Smart Fortwos 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To confirm a car’s availability, customers hold a member card over a card reader on the car’s windshield. If the car is available, the door will unlock. The driver can then access the keys from the glove compartment using a PIN. If the car is not available, the customer will be directed to the nearest available Car2go. The service also lets you prebook your vehicle and locate a car by phone or the Web.

When you’re done using Car2go, you can park at any legal parking spot or at Car2go-only parking spaces throughout the city. Cars are locked by holding up the Car2go member card to the reader. Daimler’s goal is to have a Car2go car available within a three-minute walk.

Though prices in the United States have not be announced, the Ulm Car2go program costs 0.19 euros (about 25 cents) a minute. Drivers are charged 9.90 euros ($13.25) an hour after the first hour of use. Flat day rates of 49 euros ($65.60) are also available. These prices include fuel costs. (A service team helps ensure that cars are properly fueled and maintained.) Membership is free.

Daimler’s Car2go Austin service will first be tested by city employees this fall before eventually becoming available to the public.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Electric Cars for All! (No, Really This Time)---and by 2011

From the Desk of David Pogue - Electric Cars for All! (No, Really This Time) -

We started from the infrastructure. We came up with an electric car that would have two features that nobody had before. 1) The battery is removable. So if you wanted to go a long distance, you could switch your battery instead of waiting for it to charge for a very long time.

And 2) It was cheaper than gasoline car, not more expensive. Because you didn't buy the battery. You paid just for the miles and for the car.

DP: So what will you guys make? What will you do?

SA: We sell miles, the way that AT&T sells you minutes. They buy bandwidth and they translate into minutes. We buy batteries and clean electrons--we only buy electrons that come from renewable sources--and we translate that into miles.

DP: What are we talking about here? What's the infrastructure you're building?

SA: We have two pieces of infrastructure. 1) Charge spots. And they will be everywhere, like parking meters, only instead of taking money from you when you park, they give you electrons. And they will be at home, they'll be at work, they'll be at downtown and retail centers. As if you have a magic contract with Chevron or Exxon that every time you stop your car and go away, they fill it up.

Now, that gives us the ability to drive most of our drives, sort of a 100-mile radius. And that's most of the drives we do. But we also take care of the exceptional drive. You want to go from Boston to New York. And so on the way, we have what we call switch stations: lanes inside gas stations. You go into the switch station, your depleted battery comes out, a full battery comes in, and you keep driving. It takes you about two, three minutes--less than filling with gasoline--and you can keep on going.

Read the whole amazing story...

Watch the David Pogue video:

Saturday, March 07, 2009

In the dark...


Op-Ed Columnist - Miracles Take Time - "Freaking out over earmarks is like watching a neighborhood that is being consumed by flames and complaining that there is crabgrass on some of the lawns."

Monday, March 02, 2009

Still more on Canada's financial wisdom

Op-Ed Contributor - The Great Solvent North -
by Theresa Tedesco
February 27, 2009

HAS the world turned upside down? America, the capital of capitalism, is pondering nationalizing a handful of banks. Meanwhile, Canada, whose banking system had long been notorious for its stodgy practices and government coddling, is now being celebrated for those very qualities.

The Canadian banking system, which proved resilient in the global economic crisis, is finally getting its day in the sun. A recent World Economic Forum report ranked it the soundest in the world, mostly as the result of its conservative practices. (The United States ranked 40th).

Read the rest...

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Gulf War--the true story

Why the Dark Secrets of the First Gulf War Are Still Haunting Us

By Nora Eisenberg, AlterNet.
February 27, 2009

Barack Obama, an early and ardent enemy of the Iraq War, quickly declared his affinity for a war in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan. And like so many Democratic leaders, he has commended Bush 41's Gulf War over Bush 43's, for its justifiable cause, clear goals, quick execution and admirable leadership.

It's difficult to determine the proportion of expedience to ignorance that allows politicians and pundits to advance the theory of the good and trouble-free Gulf War. What's clear, though, is that for close to 20 years, the 42-day war, in which we dropped more bombs than were dropped in all wars combined in the history of the world, maintains a special place in American hearts.

But as John R. MacArthur amply demonstrates in The Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War, the real 1991 war was kept from the American public. This week, as we commemorate the 18th anniversary of the Gulf War's end, and opportunities for new hostilities beckon, Americans, and our leaders, would do well to take a hard look at the war that we continue to love only because we never got to see it.

Despite our inability to detect it at the time, U.S. prosecution of the 1991 war with Iraq relied on all the now-familiar and discredited strategies used to promote the present war -- with equally disastrous and far-reaching results. More...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

More on Canada. Obama, are you listening?

In Canada, Obama gets warm welcome--and tips on managing an economy

The country has seen no major banks fail. Debt levels are low and foreclosures pale in comparison with those of the US.

For his first foreign visit as president, Barack Obama chose a country where no major banks have failed, home foreclosures pale by comparison with those in the United States, corporate and consumer debt is low, and citizens enjoy universal health care.

Canada often gets short shrift from its southern neighbor, despite its stature as the largest trading partner of the US and a staunch ally. But now, amid global economic turmoil, the financial moderation practiced by this nation of some 33 million people is being celebrated.

"These days, boring is beautiful. Prudency is a big hit," says Stephen Foerster, finance professor at the Ivy School of Business at the University of Western Ontario in London. "You might say Canada has suddenly become sexy, even if it's in an unsexy way."

President Obama acknowledged his affection for Canada during a six-hour visit Thursday to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The trip offered balm to a relationship rocked in recent years by differences over the Iraq war and, more recently, worries over protectionism. "I love this country," he said during a press conference after euphoric Canadians greeted his arrival in the capital, Ottawa, by singing Bob Marley's reggae classic "One Love" and chanting "Yes We Can."

Two days earlier, Mr. Obama hinted at the reason for his admiration. "One of the things that I think has been striking about Canada is that in the midst of this enormous economic crisis.... [It's] shown itself to be a pretty good manager of the financial system in the economy in ways that we haven't always been here in the United States."

Among industrialized countries, Canada is the only one not to have seen a major bank fail. The World Economic Forum ranked Canada's banking system as the healthiest in the world in 2008, while the US took the 40th spot. And while Canada's largest five banks reaped profits of $8.2 billion, the top five US banks lost a combined total of $8.3 billion last year.

Stronger federal regulations and lower leverage ratios borne by Canadian banks have allowed them to weather the global banking storm. Canadian financial institutions didn't engage in the subprime mortgage lending that sideswiped the US banking industry and forced millions of American homeowners into foreclosure.

"The difference with Canadian banks is that they never succumbed to the temptation of huge profits. It also allowed them to avoid the downside of more aggressive behavior," says David Haglund, a professor of international politics at Queen's University in Kingston. "It speaks to the more conservative nature of Canadian society in general. Canadians are simply more risk averse."

Canada has not escaped the global economic crisis. Its economy tipped into recession in the last quarter of 2008. In January alone, 129,000 jobs disappeared – the biggest one-month increase in years – pushing the unemployment rate to 7.2 percent. And this week brought more bad news: Alberta, Canada's cash cow, which has led the national economy over the past several years, is also in recession, hit by a slowdown in oil prices and sales. To combat the downturn, Prime Minister Harper's Conservative government introduced a $39 billion (about $31 billion US) stimulus package, to be rolled out over two years.

But analysts believe Canada's strong balance sheet will position it better than other embattled countries to weather this recessionary storm. For 12 consecutive years, Canada has posted budgetary surpluses, compared with the $1 trillion US federal deficit – a figure that doesn't include the $787 billion stimulus package signed into law this week.

To hear the analysts tell the story, Canada appears to have been getting a number of other things right. For example, even the most ardent proponents of big business are fans of the universal healthcare system. As Professor Haglund points out, the Big Three automakers have been able to produce cars more cheaply in their Canadian plants because the government absorbs the cost of healthcare.

And healthcare costs are lower in Canada, accounting for 9.7 percent of the GDP, compared with 15.2 percent in the US.

Higher taxes or regulation and a vibrant economy aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, Haglund says. "If Barack Obama can take away any lesson from the Canadian experience, it's that things can be changed while preserving what's best in North American life."