horses and saddles sold cheap and other metaphors

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Senator Tom Daschle has been a determined voice for progressive forward thinking americans. Some think that his opponent, Republican John Thune may win his seat. That would be a shame. Thune is another sunshine patriot, who believes that ethics and honor are for others, not him.
Ex-congressman's filing suggests he broke lobby law
By Susan Milligan, Globe Staff | May 20, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Former congressman John Thune, who is seeking to unseat the Senate Democratic leader in one of the year's most hotly contested Senate races, reported lobbying his former colleagues on Medicare last year, behavior that would have violated laws restricting the activities of former members of Congress.

Thune campaign manager Dick Wadhams denied that the South Dakota Republican lobbied the House in 2003 and said the forms that Thune's firm filed were misleading.

But the 2003 report that Thune's lobbying firm filed with Congress clearly lists Thune as one of eight lobbyists who contacted the House, Senate, and Department of Health and Human Services on behalf of Laserscope Inc., a medical laser systems supplier, last year.

Departing members of Congress are subject to a one-year "cooling off" period, meaning that Thune would not have been allowed to lobby Congress last year.

Bill Moyers
The seventy-year-old journalist—whose new collection of speeches and essays arrives in bookstores this month—on why he's parting ways with PBS, what it was like to work for LBJ, and whether objectivity is all it's cracked up to be.

Just a shout from this tiny voice; you will be missed.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Remember when guys/gals that liked computers were the real geeks, because who would ever want to understand, much less like computers. That was the roaring early nineties. The real geeks now are the economists. It was no accident that I choose sociology for my social science credits, and I have no regrets. If only more of our public officials would study sociology. Many answers to our most pressing problems can be found between the covers of these non-sacred texts: better cleaner cities with less crime, less poverty, less domestic violence, less traffic and congestion...., but we let real estate agents and mortgage bankers make the decisions that sociologists should be making. Perhaps we also need a kind of sociology-economics primer for our supposed representatives in Congress.
The left is constantly being accused of being socialists that want to redistribute income. Not true. Another straw-dog argument of the Right. Our goal is simply that of all the income that is earned through production and commerce, makes its way into the hands that worked the hardest to create that wealth; whether it is a middle manager or shipping dock worker. We don't want wealth redistributed, we want it distributed fairly in the first place.

The top 1% of Americans own as much wealth as the bottom 95% percent.

The total wealth owned by the top 1% of Americans is equivalent to 200 times the total combined wealth of the bottom 40%. (Or, the top 1% owns 200 times the wealth of the bottom 40%

The total wealth of the top 60% of Americans is 500 times the total wealth of the bottom 40%.

Bill Gates, America's richest individual, alone has more wealth than 40% of the U.S. population combined, or 120 million people.

The top 1% of households own almost 40% of the nation's wealth.

The top 10% of Americans own over 70% of nation's wealth.

The economy is something that is an invention. People invented it so that they could put a roof over their head, provide the basic necessities of life, plus have some fun. It doesn't exist to be a yoke worn for life by the many and indentured to those at the top of a social-darwinistic food chain. While the U.S. as a whole provides a lot of people with a good standard of living, many people work hard and still come up short on the basics that our little invention is supposed to provide. While others are doing OK, they're also a few missed pay-checks away from disaster.
"Nothing in the fundamentals of capitalism requires a very steep pyramid of power or the malignant maldistribution of wealth and income." by William Greider,

Republicans, very far right Republicans at that control the legislative and executive branches of government. So are are they doing on the bread and butter middle class economy? According to Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, a "Middle Class 2003: How Congress Voted",
not too well, thank you.
While the U.S. Census Bureau has no official definition of the “middle class,” conventionally it has come to represent a large swath of the American populace with incomes between approximately 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold and those of the nation’s top 5 percent income earners—roughly $25,000 to $100,000 a year.

Today’s middle-class families are deeply concerned about making ends meet, affording everyday essentials, saving for the future, obtaining affordable health insurance for themselves and their families, and avoiding the bankruptcy that has become nearly epidemic–all in the face of rising unemployment and health care costs.
For example, in 2003:

• More than 92 percent of the 1.6 million Americans who filed for bankruptcy were middle class
• The cost of childcare swelled to as much as 40 percent of middle-class families’ income
• More than 40 percent of the 2.4 million newly uninsured Americans are middle class
• Average annual earnings for all Americans were down $1,400 compared to 2000
• Property taxes rose by an average of 2.8 percent in 2003, according to a survey of 108 major U.S. cities
• And, according to a national survey conducted by the Consumer Federation of America in July 2003, half of those surveyed with incomes between $25,000 and $75,000—the very definition of middle class—were “worried about their financial condition.”

The Senate, overall, earned a B for its support of the financial stability of the American middle class. However, this average grade masks great disparities. Votes broke down, for the most part, along party lines.
• While almost all—96 percent—of Democratic Senators received an A, fully one quarter of Republican Senators received an F for their failure to support the middle class.
Party divisions were especially evident in the House. Overall, only Democrats voted consistently for the middle class.
• 66 percent of Republican members of Congress received an F, compared to 1 percent of their Democratic peers.

for more on economics for real folks see: Economic Policy Institute and United for a Fair Economy

Thursday, May 20, 2004

I realize that this author is something of a Utopian. As recent news, from Nick Berg to violations of the Geneva Conventions have been so bleak, so dark I was glad to come across something that had a vision for at least some kind of redemption. That people still do have bright sunny visions of the way things could be.

Hope's Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the American Land
by Chip Ward

Imagine America in 2104. From the air, what you see is a largely unbroken, green, and fluid realm with graceful and permeable natural boundaries -- all those geometric grids we were so used to faded away when we tapped out too many aquifers before we switched over to sustainable farming. There are still dams, but only a few. Water is stored the way nature stores it in regenerated wetlands, recharged aquifers, and along recovered flood plains that are also refuges for wildlife. The restored river valleys also serve as corridors for cougars, wolves, and bears moving between huge habitat reserves that are spread from one end of the continent to the other. In the Northwest, salmon teem in pristine streams that also provide clean drinking water for nearby cities. On Midwestern plains on a great, restored, natural "commons," the buffalo roam again. Across a mostly rural continent, the howling of wolves can sometimes be heard at night.

Lawns, so popular in the water-wasting days of the twentieth century are rare, but native plants thrive everywhere, inside buildings and out. Schools have shaded playgrounds and gardens. Rainwater and storm runoff are harvested to make it happen.

An urban renaissance went hand-in-hand with the creation of a continental network of nature reserves. Cities eventually became more attractive than sprawling suburbs because they offered so many parks, sports fields, libraries, galleries, restaurants, nightclubs, and museums. After several decades of explosive growth, sprawl stopped, and then receded, as long and frustrating commutes, dead lawns, and the social isolation of the burbs lost out in competition with the easy transportation and diverse cultural amenities of cities. There are still cars and sometimes even traffic, but clean and reliable public transportation is generally the preferred method of travel

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Via The Sacramento Bee

This story is taken from Opinion at

Atrocities in Iraq: 'I killed innocent people for our government'
By Paul Rockwell -- Special to The Bee - (Published May 16, 2004)
"We forget what war is about, what it does to those who wage it and those who suffer from it. Those who hate war the most, I have often found, are veterans who know it."

- Chris Hedges, New York Times reporter and author of "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning"

For nearly 12 years, Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey was a hard-core, some say gung-ho, Marine. For three years he trained fellow Marines in one of the most grueling indoctrination rituals in military life - Marine boot camp.

The Iraq war changed Massey. The brutality, the sheer carnage of the U.S. invasion, touched his conscience and transformed him forever. He was honorably discharged with full severance last Dec. 31 and is now back in his hometown, Waynsville, N.C.

When I talked with Massey last week, he expressed his remorse at the civilian loss of life in incidents in which he himself was involved.

Q: You spent 12 years in the Marines. When were you sent to Iraq?

A: I went to Kuwait around Jan. 17. I was in Iraq from the get-go. And I was involved in the initial invasion.

Q: What does the public need to know about your experiences as a Marine?

A: The cause of the Iraqi revolt against the American occupation. What they need to know is we killed a lot of innocent people. I think at first the Iraqis had the understanding that casualties are a part of war. But over the course of time, the occupation hurt the Iraqis. And I didn't see any humanitarian support.

Q: What experiences turned you against the war and made you leave the Marines?

A: I was in charge of a platoon that consists of machine gunners and missile men. Our job was to go into certain areas of the towns and secure the roadways. There was this one particular incident - and there's many more - the one that really pushed me over the edge. It involved a car with Iraqi civilians. From all the intelligence reports we were getting, the cars were loaded down with suicide bombs or material. That's the rhetoric we received from intelligence. They came upon our checkpoint. We fired some warning shots. They didn't slow down. So we lit them up.

Q: Lit up? You mean you fired machine guns?

A: Right. Every car that we lit up we were expecting ammunition to go off. But we never heard any. Well, this particular vehicle we didn't destroy completely, and one gentleman looked up at me and said: "Why did you kill my brother? We didn't do anything wrong." That hit me like a ton of bricks.

Q: He spoke English?

A: Oh, yeah.

Q: Baghdad was being bombed. The civilians were trying to get out, right?

A: Yes. They received pamphlets, propaganda we dropped on them. It said, "Just throw up your hands, lay down weapons." That's what they were doing, but we were still lighting them up. They weren't in uniform. We never found any weapons.

Q: You got to see the bodies and casualties?

A: Yeah, firsthand. I helped throw them in a ditch.

Q: Over what period did all this take place?

A: During the invasion of Baghdad.

'We lit him up pretty good'
Q: How many times were you involved in checkpoint "light-ups"?

A: Five times. There was [the city of] Rekha. The gentleman was driving a stolen work utility van. He didn't stop. With us being trigger happy, we didn't really give this guy much of a chance. We lit him up pretty good. Then we inspected the back of the van. We found nothing. No explosives.

Q: The reports said the cars were loaded with explosives. In all the incidents did you find that to be the case?

A: Never. Not once. There were no secondary explosions. As a matter of fact, we lit up a rally after we heard a stray gunshot.

Q: A demonstration? Where?

A: On the outskirts of Baghdad. Near a military compound. There were demonstrators at the end of the street. They were young and they had no weapons. And when we rolled onto the scene, there was already a tank that was parked on the side of the road. If the Iraqis wanted to do something, they could have blown up the tank. But they didn't. They were only holding a demonstration. Down at the end of the road, we saw some RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) lined up against the wall. That put us at ease because we thought: "Wow, if they were going to blow us up, they would have done it."

Q: Were the protest signs in English or Arabic?

A: Both.

Q: Who gave the order to wipe the demonstrators out?

A: Higher command. We were told to be on the lookout for the civilians because a lot of the Fedayeen and the Republican Guards had tossed away uniforms and put on civilian clothes and were mounting terrorist attacks on American soldiers. The intelligence reports that were given to us were basically known by every member of the chain of command. The rank structure that was implemented in Iraq by the chain of command was evident to every Marine in Iraq. The order to shoot the demonstrators, I believe, came from senior government officials, including intelligence communities within the military and the U.S. government.

Q: What kind of firepower was employed?

A: M-16s, 50-cal. machine guns.

Q: You fired into six or ten kids? Were they all taken out?

A: Oh, yeah. Well, I had a "mercy" on one guy. When we rolled up, he was hiding behind a concrete pillar. I saw him and raised my weapon up, and he put up his hands. He ran off. I told everybody, "Don't shoot." Half of his foot was trailing behind him. So he was running with half of his foot cut off.

Q: After you lit up the demonstration, how long before the next incident?

A: Probably about one or two hours. This is another thing, too. I am so glad I am talking with you, because I suppressed all of this.

Q: Well, I appreciate you giving me the information, as hard as it must be to recall the painful details.

A: That's all right. It's kind of therapy for me. Because it's something that I had repressed for a long time.

Q: And the incident?

A: There was an incident with one of the cars. We shot an individual with his hands up. He got out of the car. He was badly shot. We lit him up. I don't know who started shooting first. One of the Marines came running over to where we were and said: "You all just shot a guy with his hands up." Man, I forgot about this.

Depleted uranium and cluster bombs
Q: You mention machine guns. What can you tell me about cluster bombs, or depleted uranium?

A: Depleted uranium. I know what it does. It's basically like leaving plutonium rods around. I'm 32 years old. I have 80 percent of my lung capacity. I ache all the time. I don't feel like a healthy 32-year-old.

Q: Were you in the vicinity of of depleted uranium?

A: Oh, yeah. It's everywhere. DU is everywhere on the battlefield. If you hit a tank, there's dust.

Q: Did you breath any dust?

A: Yeah.

Q: And if DU is affecting you or our troops, it's impacting Iraqi civilians.

A: Oh, yeah. They got a big wasteland problem.

Monday, May 17, 2004

The snail kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) is an endangered raptor whose distribution in the United States is restricted to the South Florida Ecosystem, including watersheds of the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, Kissimmee River, and Upper St. Johns River. Because snail kites feed almost exclusively on one species of aquatic snail (the apple snail, Pomacea paludosa), their survival depends directly on the hydrologic functioning of these watersheds. Each of these watersheds has experienced, and continues to experience, substantial degradation, resulting in the current planning for what probably will become the largest ecosystem restoration ever undertaken. Although other endangered species occur within the ecosystem, snail kites are probably the only species restricted to the watersheds within the South Florida Ecosystem and dependent on the entire network of wetlands within this ecosystem. Over half of the wetlands within central and southern Florida have been lost during the past century and those that remain have been highly fragmented and severely degraded (Weaver et al. 1994). This degradation has prompted planning for ambitious restoration efforts (e.g., the Central and South Florida Project Restudy, Kissimmee River Restoration, and the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration initiative). Because of the snail kite's restricted range and because their population is highly dependent on the success of restoration efforts, the snail kite is a key species to monitor throughout the restoration process.

While definitions of what an ecological niche is, it's safe to say that the niche of the Florida Snail Kite is very narrow. It doesn't feed on several types of prey, or even multiple specis of snails. It feds on apple snails. Some observers have reported on very rare occurences a snail kite may feed on something other then apple snails.
DESCRIPTION: The Everglade snail kite is a medium-sized hawk with a wingspan of about 45 inches, very similar to the marsh hawk but without wavering, tilting flight. The beak is slender and very hooked. The adult males are slate gray with black head and wing tips, a white patch at the base of a square tail, and red legs. The female has a buffy body, heavily streaked with dark lines, a white line above the eye, a white tail patch, yellow legs, and red eyes. The immatures resemble the females, only they are darker and their eyes are brown. photo doesn't do it justice...

INTERESTING FACTS: 1.The female Snail Kite may desert the male and leave him to finish raising the nestlings, while she searches for a new mate to raise a second clutch of eggs.
2.The plumage of the Snail Kite shows sexual dimorphism. The male is solidly blue-black and the female is streaked brown with white on her face.

My Ecosystem Details