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domingo, junio 29, 2008

Please Put A Blogger On Your Radio Show

June 29, 2008

The Media Project
WAMC, Northeast Public Radio
318 Central Avenue
Albany, New York 12206

Dear Alan, Ira, Elisa and Rex:
This evening, again, the subject of Blogs came up during your show, the Media Project. And, to nobody's particular surprise, the usual, superficial analysis was quickly dispensed: bloggers are not journalists, blogs have no quality control, blogs are too quick, blogs have no restraints, blogs by anonymous writers are irresponsible, blogs don't gather news, some blogs print "horrible" things. I've come to expect this.

The fact is that there are millions of blogs. For political and cultural analysis these come in two main types: group blogs (e.g., daily Kos in left Blogistan) and individual blogs. Individual blogs, like newspapers, radio, and TV, have enormous variations in intelligence and quality. Some are absolutely brilliant; others, unreadable. But both kinds of blogs are extremely democratic: anybody with access to a computer can be a writer and express an opinion or an analysis or spread a story. Anybody with a comment about a story is free to post it. Yoanni Sanchez, a prizewinning Cuban blogger, uses the computer at the local library. One doesn't need money to be a blogger. Only time and desire. Bloggers who are no good remain unread and eventually give up. Bloggers who have something to say are ultimately recognized and build a readership.

I say all of this because I don't think your show sufficiently acknowledges the importance of blogs, and it's important that you begin to. Newspapers are cutting back and dying, radio and television are consolidating and moving news to entertainment and propaganda. Blogs continue to grow in influence and importance. Simply put, blogs are the important, new medium. In fact, some newspapers and radio stations attempt to put up blogs, to compete, but in general these are just not the same thing as blogs that are supported only by the writers' time, energy, desire and persistence.

Why am I writing all of this? Because "Teh Blogs" deserve a seat on the Media Project. They provide an important viewpoint you ought to be providing your listeners. And nobody can explain blogging and its role in media as well as someone actually involved in it. In fact, only someone who is actively involved in blogging, which seems to involve reading lots of other blogs in addition to writing, can provide insight into what actually happened in the blogosphere in the past week. You'd be surprised to note that events in the blogosphere frequently don't dwell on the same stories as the traditional media.

You don't have to invite me to sit in. There are lots of other people who could do a wonderful job at this. You can pick the blogger of your choice.

Are the blogs powerful enough, important enough to deserve this kind of consideration? A simple demonstration. I won't mail this letter to you. I'll just post it on two small blogs, my own, The Dream Antilles, and my favorite group blog, Docudharma. I'm relatively sure you'll find out about my opinion and the comments of many others through the magic of the blogs.


David Seth Michaels

P.S. I use the name "davidseth" when I blog. Anybody who cares can easily find my full name and where I am. I do this because I stand behind every single word I write.

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The End Of The World: Across America Cruising Dies

It's another sign of the End of the World. The NY Times writes the obituary for summertime teenage cruising:
For car-loving American teenagers, this is turning out to be the summer the cruising died.

Kevin Ballschmiede, 16, pined for his 1999 Dodge Ram — “my pride and joy” — the other night as he hung out in a parking lot in this town outside Chicago. Given that filling the 26-gallon tank can now cost more than $100, he had left it at home and caught a ride.

From coast to coast, American teenagers appear to be driving less this summer. Police officers who keep watch on weekend cruising zones say fewer youths are spending their time driving around in circles, with more of them hanging out in parking lots, malls or movie theaters.

The price spike in gasoline, to an average of $4.07 a gallon for regular unleaded, is so recent that government statistics do not yet capture the teenage-driving trend. But the figures show that overall demand for gasoline is dropping. In dozens of interviews, teenagers and their parents said the price of gasoline was forcing hard choices on them.
I could've told you this. I'm seeing it in my own household. My daughter's driving a 2000 Honda Civic. It gets really good mileage. But gas is $4.169/gallon. The tank holds 12 gallons. A 10 gallon fill up is $41.69. This will put a helluva hole in a student's budget and lifestyle, let alone the budget of adults who have families to support.
Perhaps the summer’s most visible change is occurring in the downtown strips of small towns where, for decades, cruising on Friday and Saturday nights has been a teenage rite of passage. It is a peculiarly American phenomenon — driving around in a big loop, listening to music, waving at one another and wasting gasoline.

“We’re not cruising around anymore, with gas costing $4.50 a gallon,” said Ewelina Smosna, a recent graduate of Taft High School in Chicago, as she hung out the other night at the Streets of Woodfield, an outdoor mall in Schaumburg. “We just park the car and walk around.”

According to police officers in towns like Elkhart, Ind.; Grand Haven, Mich.; and Mount Pleasant, S.C., traffic has dropped markedly on cruise nights.

“Teen cruising is way down from 2005, when it used to be bumper to bumper downtown,” said David Scott, a senior officer in Grand Haven, a popular resort town hugging the Lake Michigan shoreline. “Traffic downtown used to be so bad in the summer, you couldn’t drive faster than 10 miles an hour. Last Friday night, I didn’t even have to wait in line to get through a light.”
Remember this? Well, soon it will be gone.

May cruisin' rest in peace.

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The Mets: Just Mediocre

Nothing To Celebrate

Like other fans of the Metropolitanitos, I thought 2008 might just be The Year. I thought they were old, yes, but talented. I thought they would make up for last year's terrible fade. I thought they'd be a playoff team at the least and maybe, just maybe, win it all. I thought they'd play hard and be exciting. Wrong. This team is mediocre, and if it keeps going the way it is now, it'll continue to play sub .500 ball through the All Star Break, through the entire regular season, until that ignominious day in September when they are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. I seriously doubt this team will make the playoffs. They're just not playing. They're below average.

There are so many things wrong it's not worth listing them. Just a highlight? How can a team score 15 runs in a day game and then play the same team at home and score 0? Don't ask. No. Let's forget the anecdotes, that will just get me disgusted. The Mets fired Willie. That was supposed to make a dramatic change. Did it? Not yet. The Mets are still 2 games below .500 at 39 wins and 41 losses. They play the Yanquis again today. More runs have been scored against them (378) than they have scored (375). They've lost 2 in a row. They are 5-5 in the their past 10. Did I say they were playing below .500? I'm afraid that this is how it goes until the end of the season. Why would it change? Why would they start playing? Nobody can imagine how that could happen.

By the way, there are 10 National League teams, including the Mets, playing less than .500 ball, and the National League East this year is terrible, so the Mets are still only 4 games behind the lackluster Phillies and the Fish and tied with the Braves. This could give fans hope, if they believe that somehow a team that is 6 or fewer games over .500 will win the division, or that the three rivals are going to continue to falter for the rest of the season. The Mets could, diehard fans might think, win the division if they turn it around soon. But, folks, that's just not going to happen. See, paragraph 1.

And my hero, the aging first baseman, former star Carlos Delgado? He of the career .278 batting average. He who hit .301 for the Fish in 2005. He who hit 38 homers in 2006 for the Mets. He had 9 RBIs in the day game on Saturday. A career day. Wonderful. But other than that game, he's been hitless since June 21, in 6 of the last 7 games, going 0 for 20. And his BA is now .230. I cannot blame the Mets' mediocrity on Carlos, but he sure is not helping things.

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jueves, junio 26, 2008

Obama: Stop Pandering To Barbarians

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 this week that Louisiana's statute permitting the death penalty for child rape was unconstitutional. The decision was a step against extending the barbarianism of the death penalty to crimes in which the victim was not killed.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote the opinion, saying, in essence, that the crime, awful as it is, does not merit capital punishment.

"The incongruity between the crime of child rape and the harshness of the death penalty poses risks of over-punishment and counsels against a constitutional ruling that the death penalty can be expanded to include this offense," Kennedy wrote.

He was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. source

Put simply, a majority of the Supreme felt that as a substantive matter, the death penalty for child rape was cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment and could not be permitted.

And now, the presumptive Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, says that he disagrees with the ruling. This from AP:
Democrat Barack Obama said Wednesday he disagrees with the Supreme Court's decision outlawing executions of people who rape children, a crime he said states have the right to consider for capital punishment.

"I have said repeatedly that I think that the death penalty should be applied in very narrow circumstances for the most egregious of crimes," Obama said at a news conference. "I think that the rape of a small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous crime and if a state makes a decision that under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances the death penalty is at least potentially applicable, that that does not violate our Constitution."
Further explanation:
Obama, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, said that had the court "said we want to constrain the abilities of states to do this to make sure that it's done in a careful and appropriate way, that would have been one thing. But it basically had a blanket prohibition and I disagree with that decision."
Obama's view boils down to this: if the death penalty is "done in a careful and appropriate way" (an oxymoron if I ever saw one) it's ok for a state to expand the crimes for which the death penalty can be imposed. This is logic that would have Obama arguing that the 1977 decision in Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584 (1977), a "blanket prohibition" of execution for adult rape was incorrectly decided. Or that the decision in Roper v. Simmons, imposing a "blanket prohibition" against executing children was incorrectly decided. Didn't Georgis and Kentucky think that these were appropriate cases for death that they would impose "in a careful and appropriate way"?

In fact, Obama's argument sounds an awful lot like the 4 dissenting, conservative, pro-death penalty views in the Supreme Court:
The four members of the court's conservative wing also sharply criticized the ruling, saying a small but growing number of states had determined that the rape of a child deserved the death penalty; they said the court majority was interfering with that judgment.

"The harm that is caused to the victims and to society at large by the worst child rapists is grave," Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote. "It is the judgment of the Louisiana lawmakers and those in an increasing number of other states that these harms justify the death penalty."

Alito was joined in his dissent by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. source

How wonderful. A states' rights argument about state killing advanced by 4 conservative judges and Barack Obama.

And of course, John McSame, never to be left out of espousing barbarian views has the same position as Obama on the ruling:
His probable Republican opponent in the presidential race, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, also objected.

"Today's Supreme Court ruling is an assault on law enforcement's efforts to punish these heinous felons for the most despicable crime," McCain said. "That there is a judge anywhere in America who does not believe that the rape of a child represents the most heinous of crimes, which is deserving of the most serious of punishments, is profoundly disturbing."
Both candidates for president and 4 justices of the Supreme Court all espouse an expansion of the crimes for which the death penalty can be imposed by states. This is not "hope". This is barbarism, plain and simple. In a world in which the opinion is that the death penalty should be curtailed, the Democratic candidate is arguing for its expansion.

Obama's just not going to have a Dukakis moment on the death penalty. If it would get him elected, he'd suggest that we use electric bleachers for mass executions of child rapists.

I'm deeply saddened but hardly surprised by Obama's pandering. I only wish there were others who were as disgusted as I am who would call his campaign to task.

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martes, junio 24, 2008

A Call For A General Strike on 9/11/08

This morning I was inspired by this Docudharma essay by dharmasyd. It explains the need for a General Strike and calls for a General Strike on 9/11/08. I support this. And I urge you to support it too.

What to do?
In order to get involved, here are the five best steps to take now:
1) Sign up with your email address at the URL in order to get updates,;
2) Mark the day on your calendar and plan to be at a protest in your community;
3) Send this URL to all your friends, post it to forums, put it on your personal pages, There will be zero mainstream media discussion of this General Strike before it happens. So, we must be our own media and promote it. Link to this site from sites and blogs. Mention it with links in your comments on blogs;
4) Join the Consumer Fast already underway. Click Shut'EmDown at the URL
5) Take the lead and help organize a protest on 9/11.
There are, of course, no prescribed rules. And no spokespersons. This is definitely DIY. That means you can do what you want (I hope non violently). Mark the date. Go ahead and do something. Simple.

I don't have time right now to engage in a philosophical discussion about why this is an essential idea. I don't have time to convince you if you're not already convinced. Maybe later. For right now, I urge us all to proceed in accord with what the Wisdomkeepers of the America's call "serpent consciousness." Just do what we have to do to advance this idea, to tell others about it, to spread around the Internet and the media, moving without obsessive thinking or analysis. Just do it.

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lunes, junio 23, 2008

George Carlin, RIP

George Carlin has died. If I weren't concerned about having this blog blocked in public wi-fi spaces and airports, I would make this obituary 7 words long, his most famous 7 words, the 7 words held to be indecent in Pacifica v. FCC.

May he rest in peace.

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domingo, junio 22, 2008

On National Numbness

This morning's Docudharma Times led off with a New York Times story about the interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. It's worth reading all the way through. I found it extremely disturbing, and I haven't been able to get it out of my mind. Hence, this essay is an expansion of this comment.

As Viet71 appropriately noted in the comments, the Times story
tries to put a "human face" on the CIA torture of prisoners by focusing on a CIA interrogator who doesn't seem to be such a bad guy at all.

The writer displays absolutely no disgust for the topic about which he writes and paints a fairly calm picture of the CIA renditions and harsh methods.

There is no mention in the article of high-level administration approval of torture.

All in all, I believe this article is aimed at causing people to believe that what the CIA did in these renditions just wasn't that bad.
In other words, the story appears to be propaganda for the acceptance of CIA behavior in extraordinary renditions illegal extraditions and harsh interrogation techniques torture.

I agree with the comment. How, I wonder, can the arrest, detention in a secret prison in Poland, illegal extradition, and yes, torture, of Khalid Shaikh Mohammad not provoke outrage? How, I wonder, did we end up with a story focusing on the "good cop" in the interrogation, and virtually ignoring the "bad cops", the ones with whom the "good cop" was acting in concert in the interrogation, the "knuckledraggers" who admittedly, repeatedly abused the prisoner? Do we just overlook the war crimes and human rights violations? Are we numb?

Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, by all accounts might be a very, very bad man. But hasn't the law in the US recognized, especially in death penalty cases like this one, that death is different and that extensive procedural safeguards are appropriate especially when dealing with the very worst of bad men? Put another way, isn't it in dealing with people like Khalid Shaikh Mohammad that the most safeguards are required if we are to make a fair, unbiased, reliable appraisal of guilt? And isn't this story glossing over the "shortcuts" and "deviations" that were taken and continue in this case? Are we oblivious to the lack of procedure despite 400 years of common law? Are we numb?

Buried deep in the Times story is this:
Mr. Mohammed met his captors at first with cocky defiance, telling one veteran C.I.A. officer, a former Pakistan station chief, that he would talk only when he got to New York and was assigned a lawyer - the experience of his nephew and partner in terrorism, Ramzi Yousef, after Mr. Yousef's arrest in 1995.

But the rules had changed, and the tough treatment began shortly after Mr. Mohammed was delivered to Poland. By several accounts, he proved especially resistant, chanting from the Koran, doling out innocuous information or offering obvious fabrications. The Times reported last year that the intensity of his treatment - various harsh techniques, including waterboarding, used about 100 times over a period of two weeks - prompted worries that officers might have crossed the boundary into illegal torture.
So. "Cocky defiance" is the same thing as attempting to assert the right to counsel and the right to remain silent. The Constitutional rights enumerated in Miranda v. Arizona include, "You have the right to remain silent," and "You have a right to a lawyer." Evidently, Mr. Mohammad tried to assert both rights. But, unbeknownst to him, refusing to provide counsel or ceasing the interrogation until one was present was OK because "the rules had changed" in his case. Mohammad probably didn't get the memo about that. Nor to be frank, did I. So instead of not interrogating until the prisoner had counsel, the US used "various harsh techniques including waterboarding" about 100 times within two weeks. And the article opines that this might be torture.

Might be torture? Let's to the arithmetic. 100 techniques divided by 14 days is 7 techniques per day. Are we anesthetized? Are we numb?

And then there's something else. When Mohammad said he wanted counsel and didn't want to talk, did the interrogators have to go up the chain of command to decide what to do? Or did they already know to deny the request because it had been planned for? Where are the memos that explain all of this, the ones that explain that "enemy combatants" have no rights to silence or to lawyers? They're classified and we cannot see them. But we don't make a big deal about that. Are we numb?

Forgive me if I sound alarmist, but uncritical acceptance of stories like this one, and failure to follow up on the questions they raise, is a step toward a United States that believes that torture is all right in some cases, that warrantless wiretapping is all right in some cases, that illegal extraditions are all right in some cases, the secret prisons are all right in some cases, that detention without access to the courts is all right in some cases, in sum, that doing monstrous and unprecedented things is all right in some cases because it might make the US safer and the US is afraid not to.

There's an obvious problem with all of this. A US that guts its principles, rips up its Constitution, and justifies these terrible policies and even more won't be the US you used to know. It will have been transformed into something else, something totalitarian and oppressive.

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viernes, junio 20, 2008

Tasha Tudor, RIP

Tasha Tudor (1915-2008)

told The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk in 1996 that it was her intention to go straight back to the 1830s after her death.

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jueves, junio 19, 2008

The End Of The World As We Know It

Or at the least that first effects of The Recession have finally arrived on privileged corners of Manhattan.

This from the The New York Times, which as you will recall, contains all the news that's fit to print, and chronicles events in the world from its lofty perspective. The headline: "In weak economy, forgoing $4 lattes for home brews."
The ''latte effect'' of the go-go years had consumers spending $4 a day on coffee. Now the downturn is forcing them to rethink the wisdom of such habits.

As inflation squeezes budgets, middle-class Americans are taking fresh stock of their spending in search of ways to save a nickel or a dime. The result: People are giving up a variety of small financial vices. ..snip

While the idea that little costs add up is nothing new, it comes with added sticker shock as food and gas prices sprint along at a record pace. The result is that people are finally putting the breaks on vices once considered necessary -- like frappuccinos. ..snip

The result is fewer latte runs. Literally.

Last month, Starbucks Corp. blamed rising food and gas prices when it reported a 28 percent drop in second-quarter earnings, and said sales at U.S. stores open at least a year had dropped -- indicating some may finally be summoning their inner Scrooges.
This cute article is a sign that even the New York Times, which usually lives in an opulent world, recognizes that the economy is crashing and that even greater discomfort is coming. Being The Times, it says it's no big deal. Ha ha ha. People are just tightening their belts a little bit. It's not a big deal, really. We're all doing fine, right?? Well, aren't we?

When a large coffee at the local coffee emporium reached $2.25 about 3 months ago, I stopped this "vice[ I] once considered necessary." I found that I could buy organic, fair trade, Peruvian French roast for about $11/pound and my own half and half. And that I liked my brew better. I did that initially because $2.25 felt like too much. Later I was scandalized by the arithmetic: 5 x $2.25 =$11.25 x 50 weeks = $562.50/year.

That kind of outrage has been happening with more frequency lately. Regular gas at $4.269/gallon means that a 15 gallon fill up costs $64.04. A 250 gallon tank of fuel oil at $4.699/gallon is $1,174.50. And a trip to the local health food and vegetable emporium is eye opening. I thank Goddess that my own vegetable garden is so very abundant this year, though it would be far, far better if there were more bees to pollinate the peas.

The signs of economic pressure are everywhere if you're paying attention.

I am not poor. I am self employed. I have a high income. My income has not measurably decreased because of the economic condition of the country. But I'm nevertheless deeply offended by what is happening to my neighbors as prices for necessities rise and they struggle to make ends meet and they do without and their wealth is gradually redistributed from them to the wealthiest Americans.

And now even the New York Times has noticed that fewer people, the people in its affluent audience, are buying $4 lattes. In other words, the decay, the rot is growing and has now begun to arrive even at the Times's door.

Have our insulated and oblivious politicians noticed this trend too? Are they sleeping? Are they waiting until there are numerous little Bushvilles, people living in refrigerator crates under highway overpasses, homeless people begging on sidewalks, families camping out in their cars before they recognize that there's a big problem in the economy? Are they waiting until fuel drive offs, thefts of gas cans, and siphoning reach record levels?

Do they have a solution for this? Are they discussing this? I mean, there's nothing to be concerned about, right? Do they really think talking about offshore drilling and drilling in ANWAR and suspending the federal gas tax and regulating kinds of futures trading speculation and investing in future green energy projects is addressing the economy? Do they think we're better off than we were last year? Or 8 years ago? Or have they decided that the market will miraculously solve this problem and that people should just suffer until it does?

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miércoles, junio 18, 2008

Whose Buenos Aires Is This Anyway?

Today's New York Times has an article with slideshow by Maxine Swann about her life in Buenos Aires. She moved there about 10 years ago. The article concentrates on apartments and neighborhoods. It is, after all, in the Home and Garden section. It doesn't mention a single Argentinian writer or poet. I wish it did. If she were writing about my Buenos Aires, she would have to.

At any rate, I don't think of her City at all as Ricardo Piglia's Buenos Aires. Or the Buenos Aires in his novel, The Absent City. Or Borges's. Or Roberto Arlt's. Or the Buenos Aires in Arlt's novel, Mad Toy. And no, this isn't my Buenos Aires either.

In my Buenos Aires in addition to the Obelisk (above) and 9 de Julio, there are many references to and an acknowledgment of the literary canon, the writers. The neighborhoods are remembered by the books they appear in. The streets also. The cafes. The street corners. And there's an aggressive pride in this. Of course, you're supposed to know this stuff. How could you not? You might ask how I, who have read about but never been in these writers' Buenos Aireses, could be excessively proud of these references. You might as well ask whether these writers have been in my Buenos Aires, or if they're just part of its ornamentation, the backdrop for its events.

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domingo, junio 15, 2008

There Is No Joy In Metsville, Mighty Willie's Striking Out

Will This Man Have A Job On Monday?

Last night's rain-out means that the Metropolitans have a double header today against the Texas Rangers. It's interleague play and to me not all that interesting. But there is a very interesting story line. If the Mets don't win, I think you can wave bye bye to Willie Randolph, their manager. That means, I think, that the players, who haven't done well under pressure, are under even more stress for today's games. In addition to their chronic, season-long underachieving (that's a nice way to put it), I doubt they want to be responsible for the traditional, scapegoat firing of their manager and the bad feelings that will engender, especially when the NY press's drama kings say, "Willie had to be fired because the team wouldn't play for him."

Fortunately for Willie, this do-or-be-fired test comes against a Rangers team that may be slightly worse than the Mets. But guess what? Even if Willie survives two games today, the next games are in Los Angeles against the Angels beginning on Monday night, and the Angels are 13 games over .500 and leading the American League West. The Mets never play well on the west coast after traveling at night. If the Mets play in LA the way they did in San Diego, Willie's going to be gone.

There is some reason for firing of Willie. You can find it in bookkeeping and in the standings: the Mets are 2 games below .500, they're 7 games behind the Phillies in the National League East after playing 66 games, and they've lost 6 of their last 8 games, including the sweep by the feckless Padres. Nobody with more than 50 at bats is batting .300 or more. You cannot find an explanation of why a team that has so much talent and is paid so much money is playing so badly. When that happens, the first person to go is always the manager.

And it wouldn't break my heart if Aaron Heilman, whose complete lack of control is responsible for so many of the recent losses, were fired, too.

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sábado, junio 14, 2008

Argentina Breaks Up Farmers' Protest, Strikes Continue

Police Break Up Today's Protest

This past Spring (Fall in Argentina) Argentina's president, Cristina Kirchner, decided to raise export taxes on grains. This has led to more than three months of bitter protests by farmers, essayed here, and to shortages of meat, oil, flour and fuel. Kirchner has refused to repeal the tax increase, which she claims will cut inflation and increase food supplies to the poor. Farmers have responded by cutting off transportation routes in an effort to strike back at the government. And the government has said in response to blockades of roads by farmers that it would guarantee free travel on all roads in Argentina.

As a result, food that normally ships to Europe and Asia has not made it to port, and hundreds of thousands of gallons of spoiled milk have been dumped on rural routes, and there are huge shortages of food in the capital city and elsewhere. In other words, after more than 3 months, there remains a complete deadlock.

Please join me in Gualeguaychu.

Today, according to AP there was an escalation: the farmers' protests were forcefully broken up and 20 farmers were arrested:
Argentine authorities broke up a farmers' highway blockade Saturday, briefly arresting about 20 protesters including a prominent leader of a months' long protest against an increase in grain export taxes.

The arrests near the city of Gualeguaychu and Argentina's river border with Uruguay were broadcast on national television and threatened to inflame a tense standoff between farmers and President Cristina Fernandez's government. /snip

"The government is not going to pacify us like this — on the contrary. The protest will continue," de Angeli told Cronica TV after his release.
CNN and the photo at the top of this essay provide some details of today's confrontation:
Military police scuffled with farmers as they tried to remove them from a road that protesters had blocked with their trucks.

Protesters responded by throwing rocks at police and burning large truck tires in the road. Thick clouds of black smoke could be seen for miles.

Scenes of baton-wielding police in riot gear carrying struggling protesters away in trucks were broadcast live around the country.
The farmers are not alone in their protest. The middle class, according to CNN, supports the farmers:
Thousands took to the streets in Buenos Aires on Saturday to bang pots and pans in support of the striking farmers. They also cut off traffic at busy city intersections, waving Argentine flags, singing the national anthem and asking for dialog between the government and farmers.
And so, too, the transportation unions support the protest:
Roberto Fernandez, chief of the Tramway and Motorized Drivers Union, announced a "total halt of activities" because of the lack of an agreement between the government and farmers who have cut dozens of routes nationwide, preventing buses from passing.

Cargo truckers have been idled by three separate farm strikes and have vowed to protest indefinitely themselves until the strikes are resolved.
According to IHT,the truckers voted Thursday to protest indefinitely and to block about 200 roadways until the strike ends.

Neither side seems willing to yield in any way. There are presently no talks. And none are scheduled. The results? In addition to shortages throughout in Argentina, the protests are driving up food prices globally. Argentina is the world's third largest exporter of soy and corn, most of its exports go to China and the EU.

Corn and soy are in many processed foods, foods people in the developed world eat. If the cost of these items increase, so too will the cost of food. It's unclear whether you can expect to feel the effects of the deadlock at your local supermarket in the near future. It's more likely that the consequences will first be felt in Argentina and then in the EU. But in the global economy, the ripples of the protest will eventually be felt in the US as well.

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lunes, junio 09, 2008

Gasoline: Widening The Gap Between Rich And Poor

Is lack of any US energy policy designed to drive the poorest Americans even deeper into poverty? To drive them to the cities? To drive them off their land? To drive their wages lower? It sure looks like it, and that rising gas prices are the means to those ends.

This morning's NY Times, focusing on the Mississippi Delta, finally reveals the problem all of us suspected as soon as gas prices started to spike. The bleak news:
Here in the Mississippi Delta, some farm workers are borrowing money from their bosses so they can fill their tanks and get to work. Some are switching jobs for shorter commutes.

People are giving up meat so they can buy fuel. Gasoline theft is rising. And drivers are running out of gas more often, leaving their cars by the side of the road until they can scrape together gas money.

The disparity between rural America and the rest of the country is a matter of simple home economics. Nationwide, Americans are now spending about 4 percent of their take-home income on gasoline. By contrast, in some counties in the Mississippi Delta, that figure has surpassed 13 percent.

As a result, gasoline expenses are rivaling what families spend on food and housing.

“This crisis really impacts those who are at the economic margins of society, mostly in the rural areas and particularly parts of the Southeast,” said Fred Rozell, retail pricing director at the Oil Price Information Service, a fuel analysis firm. “These are people who have to decide between food and transportation.”
Put simply, gas at $4 a gallon and more means that the poor, who go without on a good day, are forced to go without even more. It's not a pretty picture. It means that paying for gas competes with the utilities, food, health care, clothing, school supplies, and every other household item.

What, you might want to know, are the practical alternatives to commuting long distances to work, something endemic to living in rural America? There is no real public transportation system. Car pooling might be an option, assuming you have somebody near you who is on the same shift at the same plant. Working longer shifts on four days to save the fifth day's commute money might be a small help, if your employer can do that. But beyond that, there's no apparent, short term solution, not with prices zooming toward $5/gallon and beyond. And wages being low and fixed. And second jobs in great demand and even harder to find. And miles from where the rural poor live to where they can find work.

How do rural people with low incomes cope? Answer: they struggle mightily. They cut corners. They take from Peter to pay Paul. They borrow. They max out their credit. They work multiple jobs. And now, despite all those struggles to keep the wolf from the door, the pre-cursors have arrived for a Tom Joad moment. There is an economic disaster looming in rural America.
The extra dollars spent at the pump mean electric bills are going unpaid and macaroni is replacing meat at supper. Donations to church are being put off, and video rentals are now unaffordable.

Cleveland Whiteside, / snip [who] used to commute 30 miles a day, said his Jeep Cherokee was repossessed last month, because “I paid so much for gas to get to work I couldn’t pay my payments anymore.” His employer, Larry Clanton, has lent him a pickup truck so he can get to work.

Signs of pain and adaptation because of the cost of gas are everywhere. Local fried chicken restaurants are closing because people are eating out less. At the hardware store here, sales have plummeted to $30 a day from $250 a day a month ago.

“Money goes to gasoline — I know mine does,” said the hardware store’s manager, Pam Williams, who tries to attract customers by putting out choice crickets for fishing bait beside the front door.
The bottom line? The situation as it now stands with rising gasoline prices is just not sustainable. Workers and their families cannot afford to go on in this way.
Sociologists and economists who study rural poverty say the gasoline crisis in the rural South, if it persists, could accelerate population loss and decrease the tax base in some areas as more people move closer to urban manufacturing jobs. They warn that the high cost of driving makes low-wage labor even less attractive to workers, especially those who also have to pay for child care and can live off welfare and food stamps.

“As gas prices rise, working less could be the economically rational choice,” said Tim Slack, a sociologist at Louisiana State University who studies rural poverty. “That would mean lower incomes for the poor and greater distance from the mainstream.”
Put in less academic terms, poor, rural workers are absolutely screwed. They cannot afford gas. The result is that they cannot afford to commute, so they cannot afford to go to work. That means that they will have to move somewhere else to find work closer to where they can live. Or take a worse paying job that is closer. And as prices rise, more and more workers, including some of those who are now barely eeking by, too, will not be able to afford to commute. And then not be able to afford to work.

Is there a short term solution to this? Crickets.

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domingo, junio 08, 2008

Step Right Up And Beat The Mets

Why Is This Man Smiling?

How wonderful. Today is June 8, 2008. The Mets have lost 3 games in a row, each by the identical score, 2-1. And to what pitching juggernaut have the Mets' bats fallen so silent? To what Cy Young winners, to what fire ballers have the Mets yielded? The hapless Carmen San Diego Padres. How hapless you ask? After whipping the Mets 2-1 3 games in a row and setting up a sweep of their series with them (there's another game today at 4 pm if you can bear to watch it), the Pads are still, that's right, still 10 games below .500 and in next to last place in the Western Division. They stink. But we all know who stinks even more, don't we.

The Mets are now 1 game below .500 for this season. Did I mention that they've lost 3 in a row? to San Diego? My hero, a former slugger, the aging Carlos Delgado is now batting .237, which for him is a vast improvement over last month, but he still won't get his jersey dirty. Alas, there's no individual player to be blamed for this pathetic play. No. They all aren't hitting. They all are not contributing to the offense, leave aside whether it's "small ball" or "long ball." They aren't scoring runs. And they look simply awful at the plate.

By far the bigger problem for me is that the Mets are no fun to watch. They have no passion. They have no electricity. They are dispirited. There is no excitement. You watch until they find a way to give away the game. Maybe they give it up in extra innings. Maybe they give it up in the early going. They give it up. You can bet on it. They are the opposite of "scrappy."

If I owned the Mets I would fire a bunch of them. I'd probably start with Willie Randolph. I know, I know, it's not his personal fault, and he's a nice guy and he knows baseball. But he is the manager of this joke show. So as every baseball traditionalist knows, when you lose with a team that's not playing to capacity (that would be the Mets and that would also be a grotesque understatement), you lose your job. Why? Because nobody knows anything else to do when this lackluster lack of offense malaise creeps into a locker room populated by players who used to be able to hit. You fire the manager because you can. It's the one thing you have control over. It shows that you mean business.

Casey Stengel asked in 1962, "Can't anybody here play this game?" For the 2008 Mets, the answer is, after all, I guess not.

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jueves, junio 05, 2008

The Trailer For The Gitmo Joke Show

Today the US Government tried unsuccessfully to move the Gitmo death penalty show trial of five "enemy combatants" toward a "trial" by arraigning the accused. Unfortunately for the US, today's proceedings were a complete and utter joke show. And a complete embarrassment. And they were the previews of the upcoming Gitmo Joke Show "trial"

Reuters reports:
The accused al Qaeda mastermind of the September 11 attacks stood in a U.S. military court on Thursday, sang a chant of praise to Allah and said he would welcome the death penalty.

"This is what I wish, to be martyred," Pakistani captive Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the highest-ranking al Qaeda operative in U.S. custody, told the Guantanamo war crimes court.

As the judge questioned him about whether he was satisfied with the U.S. military lawyer appointed to defend him, Mohammed stood and began to sing in Arabic, cheerfully pausing to translate his own words into English.

"My shield is Allah most high," he said, adding that his religion forbade him from accepting a lawyer from the United States and that he wanted to act as his own attorney.
Isn't that just a super beginning to the arraignment before a death penalty "trial"? A "trial" that is supposed to lead to convictions and not acquittals? A "trial" that is supposed to result in five executions? But that's not all. Not by a long shot.
[Mohammed] criticized the United States for fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, waging what he called "a crusader war," and enacting "evil laws" including those authorizing same-sex marriages. /snip

The judge, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, tried to persuade the men to accept their military lawyers, but all refused.

Aziz Ali said he had barely been allowed to meet with his lawyer anyway and described him as "a signboard" hung up so the government could say, 'Hey, we give these people lawyers."'

"All this is just a stage play," he said.
But that wasn't the only part of the stage play arraignment that raised issues of fairness and propriety. Oh no. It's never that simple.
Binalshibh, whom the lawyers said was receiving psychotropic medication, wore leg chains bolted to the floor but the rest of the accused were unshackled in the courtroom.

A security officer cut the audio feed to the spectators' section when he described the reason for the medicine, and again when another defendant discussed his capture.

Binalshibh said he had sought martyrdom since trying and failing to get a U.S. visa "for 9/11" but that his life was in God's hands and that "America and the whole world cannot extend my life by one day or make it one day earlier."
Last year Mohammend allegedly told a review panel that the idea of hijacking planes and crashing them into buildings was his idea and that he oversaw the implementation of the plan.

Today he said
"They mistranslated my words and put many words in my mouth," he said in broken English learned as an engineering student in North Carolina.

He called the trial "an inquisition" and added, "All of this has been taken under torturing. You know that very well."

The New York Times provided further details of the arraignment. Mohammed made it entirely clear at today's arraignment that he wanted to be killed:
He told the court he wanted the Americans to put him to death.

“This is what I want,” he told a military judge here in his first appearance to answer charges for the terrorism attacks. “I’m looking to be martyr for long time.” /snip

He said his American lawyers were agents of the Bush administration’s “crusade war against Islamic world,” he chanted in Arabic (and then translated for himself), and he made it plain that he wanted to rally the other four accused men to his approach.

He was, he cheerfully told the court, unable to accept lawyers untrained in Islamic law, and he asked for the chance for all five men facing terrorism, conspiracy and other charges here in the Sept. 11 case to meet to plan a joint defense. /snip

The request for the meeting, like most from the defense, was rejected by the stern military judge, Col. Ralph H. Kohlmann.
Let's review today's arraignment. The five accused, each of whom faces the death penalty, have refused US appointed lawyers, claiming in part that providing lawyers is just part of the show and that accepting them is against their religion. Apparently, they want to represent themselves. Some of them apparently wish to be martyred. They would like to plan a joint defense, but they will not be allowed to. At least one of the accused is apparently psychotic and/or receiving psychotropic medication and was shackled to the floor in court. One of the accused has argued that statements attributed to him were false and the result of torture. Spectators were prevented from hearing parts of the proceeding by a security officer who twice cut off the audio of the proceeding.

If this is how the arraignment ran, you can only imagine what the "trial" will be like.

Meanwhile, prosecutors want to start the trial on September 15, a date the defense says was chosen to influence the U.S. presidential election in November. It's not clear how conducting this farce and mockery of justice will influence the presidential election.

One thing is clear. If today is any indicator, the "trial" is sure to emit a terrible stink. And it is sure to be a colossal, worldwide embarrassment to the US. It's hard to imagine any proceeding that could less fair or bring more criticism from those concerned about fairness and human rights and justice. In sum, the joke show is just beginning and the entire world is watching while the US thoroughly and perhaps irredeemably embarrasses itself.

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Do These Gardening Horror Stories Justify Killing Animals?

Today's New York Times features "Peter Rabbit Must Die", a compendium of stories of gardeners killing animals which had the unmitigated gall-- can you imagine the nerve?-- to eat their tomatoes and other plants. The bottom line? In the collision between gardeners and wildlife of all kinds, the animals are killed. Nothing, it's claimed, is as effective as clubbing, drowning, shooting. And, of course, most of these folks claim that they don't even feel the slightest twinge of guilt afterwards.

What disgraceful nonsense. Give me a break.

I've been gardening for more than 20 years in Columbia County, New York. Sure the deer have eaten the Swiss Chard and the sunflower sprouts. Of course the ground hogs have eaten the cucumbers. It's sad when that happens. I get angry, too. But let's get a grip. This garden isn't necessary to feed me or the people in the Village of Chatham. It's not the difference between living and dying, between health and starvation, between prosperity and economic ruin. It's a hobby. It's something I enjoy. Yes, I love my lettuce and tomatoes and kale. So, in fact, do the animals. But does this give me authority to get a shot gun and blast them away when they browse the arugula? I don't think so.

These animals were here long before I was. They were here long before my 160 year old farm house. They were eating crops here before Lincoln was president. They were eating spinach and kale when it was grown by Dutch colonists in the 17th century. So at the very most, I can take non-violent steps to discourage them. Urinating on the garden's boundaries sometimes works. Letting the dog out sometimes works. Letting the cats wander sometimes works. Spraying with cayenne works to a degree. Being present works. Weeding works. Leaving your scent in the garden works. If I left for a week or 10 days and didn't weed, the garden would be eaten in broad daylight because it would appear to have been abandoned.

There have always been collisions between humans and wildlife. I believe in non-violence. And peace. And equanimity. I don't want to think while I'm eating my tomatoes of the dozen ground hogs I murdered to get the vegetables on the table. I don't want to pass the lettuce and think about rabbits I garroted. I don't want to eat stuff zucchini and think about how I got a NY State permit to shoot the deer. I can live very nicely without those thoughts.

There's a bird family living in the kitchen vent in the side of my house. I hear the chicks tweeting for food at sunrise. I see the mother and father bird bringing food and nesting materials into the vent. I get off the porch if they are frightened of my being there and won't go to their chicks. I would never reach in and throw them, their nest and their babies out and stomp them.

How can we expect anything as grandiose as world peace when we cannot find a way to coexist with groundhogs? Can't we live and let live?

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miércoles, junio 04, 2008


This is simply wonderful. "Driftwood: You know, if it wasn't for Gottlieb, I wouldn't have got this room? "

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