Monday, March 27, 2006


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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Tenting and Blogging Don't Mix

Sometime contributor Gustave Axelson describes a trip to Denali in today's Strib. His story on sharp-tailed grouse appears in the current issue of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer.

Now I know why his posts are so few and far between.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

My Day at the Convention

I've just returned from my Senate District 45 DFL Convention, and few things have been made clear. Here's the short version for skimmers:

1. Despite the crowded field vying to replace Martin Sabo, it wasn't hard to pick a candidate. Keith Ellison is mine.

2. I'm no closer on the governor's race, though wasn't it interesting I avoided making eye contact with Mike Hatch as he worked the room?

3. I love Ford Bell, but I really want to retire Mark Kennedy, and I think Amy Klobuchar is more likely to do it.

5th Congressional District Race
The DFL nominee in the 5th is a lock on going to Washington, so hopefuls are coming out of the woodwork. Looking at the line of candidates waiting to speak today, you'd have thought this was a convenience store and the Powerball had surpassed $200 million.

Most of the candidates showed up, plus former Hennepin County Board Chair Mark Andrew, who is still exploring and hasn't formally declared. (Presumably Polinaut's list which was updated yesterday and is at least two candidates short, will be current on Monday.)

I didn't see big differences on the issues among the candidates, so this was more a swimsuit and talent competition...

No shows: Jon Olson, Anne Knapp. Therefore, no comment.

The City Council Krewe: Paul Ostrow and Gary Schiff should plan on keeping their Minneapolis jobs. Schiff's energy program has us lessening our dependence on "foil oreign." Oy.

Sabo Lite: Mike Erlandson not only has his boss's blessing, he has his boss's charisma.

Personal stories: Gail Dorfman and Rebecca Yanisch both shared personal stories to underscore their passion for office. Dorfman's son is gay and Yanisch told of a nephew who signed up for the National Guard so he could pay for school and was immediately shipped to Iraq. It may not be original, but I liked her line about how kids shouldn't have to risk dying to go to college.

Hometown team: Ember Reichgott Junge and Jorge Saavedra. Junge was stumping in her old junior high and had solid support. She's a tad too Up with People for me. I'm told she'll go to primary with or without the endorsement. Chilean immigrant Saavedra will be an attractive candidate somewhere, sometime, but this isn't the time.

Surprising firebrand: Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer declared himself a candidate when Sabo was still presumed to run, and this is all the thanks he gets. After hearing him speak, I consider him the Ford Bell of the Fifth. I'd take off points for the notecards in his hand, but his words and passion ranked right at the top.

Across the Great Divide Candidate: Keith Ellison had started to speak when I was in the hallway being buttonholed by a J N-P supporter. The ringing strains coming from the cafeteria pulled me in. Other candidates had programmed pauses in which to insert applause; Ellison was the only one to consistently receive it. Yes, he was the first to speak, but discounting hometowner Junge, he was the only Congressional candidate to win his own delegate.

In general, I'm not a big fan of the "I will fight for..." campaign rhetoric Ellison employed. But that's because it often turns out to be just rhetoric. And real fighters aren't very effective on the everyday work of governing.

But the party needs fighters with a clue. I think Ellison qualifies. We don't need a safe candidate to attract swing voters in this district. We need someone who can make us glad we're progressive. I won't belabor this. Just say I knew Paul Wellstone. Paul Wellstone was a friend of mine. And Keith Ellison did a passable Paul Wellstone.

Governor's race
I was most undecided about this race and wanted to hear from Steve Kelly, because he's the indistinct choice for me. We got his wife as proxy instead. By the accounts of people who know him, he's a nice, smart, decent, hard-working man. I want all those things, but I also want someone who will free Tim Pawlenty to take a full-time position with the Taxpayers League or the Minnesota Family Council. I still don't know whether Kelly is the man.

I do know Becky Lourey isn't the woman — though if she had a snowball's chance, I'd stand with her. But the voters didn't buy her once and Republicans have gotten even nastier since. Their campaign ads would have Lourey standing with Cindy Sheehan and Sheehan with Michael Moore and Moore with Osama, and before you know it, too many voters will think she exploited her son's death in Iraq so she could be Governor.

Mike Hatch did show and gave a stemwinder speech largely focused on health care. This may be a good strategy, since health care polls highly with voters. He has a clear record advocating for the consumer and making health care more affordable and accessible. Hatch has the perfect makeup for Attorney General, and he may have what it takes to beat Pawlenty. But then he has to govern, and unless his health care plan covers personality transplants, in a few years we might be looking back fondly on the Ventura administration.

Senate race
Klobuchar sent her daughter and husband. Bell came in person. He got off a good line about Bush wanting to fix Social Security. "Well, I'm a veterinarian, and 'fix' has a very specific meaning."

Ford, if you can help sharpen Amy's positions on the war and health care, you'll have done a good thing.


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Friday, March 24, 2006

More on Minvolved

Wege has an update on the Minvolved demise.

Say It Ain't So, Sponge!

Whenever I checked my Bloglines feeds, Minvolved was the first place I looked. This morning, I may have clicked in for the last time:

We have always done blogging as a hobby. Each morning, we get up at 5:00, blog until the kids get up and then call it a day on the internets. We have always been pretty aware of the fact that we’re a made-up sponge so we try not to take ourselves too seriously.

That being said, there have always been one or two lines in the sand that, if crossed, would cause us to quit blogging. One of them has just been crossed. We won’t go into detail, but when the sponge family gets brought into the mix by an email or two, we’re done. We have plenty of other ways to get our kicks out and this is no longer one of them.

There were a lot of reasons Minvolved was a worthy blog, and more reasons to expect it to get even better. Creator Sponge brought an interesting mix of perspectives to his progressive political views: Veteran, family man, Okie immigrant, music and poster art lover, comedian and watchdog. He was also broadly read, prolific and generous, capable of a pithy shot one time and well-documented extended critique the next.

Now, we see his principles and discipline at play in the decision to suspend what he calls a hobby, but what looked to this reader more like a calling.

Minvolved had recently sharpened its focus to Minnesota and launched a new publishing platform and format. It had reined in some of Sponge's previous acerbity without losing its backbone. It was more than another progressive voice, it was becoming a community resource.

His decision is totally his business and we should leave it be, but what happens to Minvolved concerns all of us. If we just wave good-bye, we'll have lost more than a blog.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Grenade in the Tent

Here's a classic cinematic moment: An armed grenade rolls into the tent and a ragtag bunch of antagonists momentarily freezes as they simultaneously realize it's too late to toss it back.

Who will cover it and sacrifice himself? The young lieutenant with the family back home? The alcoholic corporal? The clown and general f*ck-up? The quiet black private? The hardened sergeant who's due to ship out in a week? You can play the variations yourself.

Tuesday at the state capitol, a grenade rolled into House Tax Committee tent, and if legislators don't come to their senses about "gay marriage," everything is going to get blown to hell.

The Heritage Amendment, or so-called 3/16ths bill, started as a movement to dedicate a portion of the state sales tax to environmental and wildlife preservation. It has since has added arts and culture to the mix — and, importantly, asks the monies be drawn from new revenue, aka, a tax increase.

Enter the grenade in the form of the "Marriage Amendment." Checks & Balances (free subscription required) has the story, and the explanation of what occurred gets a bit wonky:

It appears Rep. Ron Erhardt (R-41A, Edina), the author of the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax amendment, attempted to insert a poison pill into the bill when he moved to include the Gay Marriage Amendment in the bill. Even though he did not vote for the Gay marriage Amendment he has created a major situation for the Republicans. If the 3/16th bill, with the Gay Marriage Amendment tacked onto it, makes its way to the floor, Republicans will be forced to vote for a tax increase in order to get another vote on Gay Marriage. If anyone tried to remove Gay Marriage from the 3/16th bill it will again force a vote on Gay Marriage. And if the bill dies of its own weight then this will mean Republicans decided that Gay Marriage was more important then concerns of the Hook and Bullet community.

It is true the social conservatives vote in large numbers, but so do the hunters and fishermen and women and the later is larger constituency group. Usually Republicans try to satisfy both rather than alienate one over the other.

It looks to me like anyone who wants to gum up legislation they don't like can roll that old grenade on the table and leave only two choices: Run or be blown to bits.

The War on Easter

The St. Paul City Council has taken down an Easter display in its offices, allowing the War on Christmas crowd a fresh complaint to work over until Thanksgiving.

Heck, even Eminem celebrates Easter.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Funny that I should start Drinking Liberally  after finally starting to drink conservatively. And after two weeks and two candidates, maybe it's significant that my beverage of choice is Two Hearted Ale.

Tonight was Amy Klobuchar and last week was Ford Bell, subjecting themselves to a nouveau Nordeast bar and a pack 'o libruls, plus one conservative blogger. (Boy, am I glad I'm not still trying to wear my too-tight blue oxford dress shirts to bars.)

Both candidates charmingly played the kinder card. Bell came after a child's concert. Klobuchar stayed late, but exercised the daughter-reading-Sense and Sensibility-together escape clause.

Either would be a distinct improvement over Mark (I'm 3% Independent of the President) Kennedy.

Bell seemed a bit gawky when he arrived, the teetotaler at the orgy. But he requested a Bell's Best Brown off the chalk board, and when it came time to discuss issues, he changed personas — no longer the ill-at-ease socializer, but a man with fire in his heart and facts at his disposal. A man who, like Mark Dayton, could have coasted through life, but chose to give something back. I'm not entirely sure what drove Ford Bell to run for Senator, but it was not a career move.

Amy Klobuchar's fire is evident from the start. She is practiced at seeming comfortable, and I don't mean that in a bad way. She acknowledged people and identified bloggers like  Norwegianity's Wege and Centrisity's Flash and Power Liberal's Smarty as easily as if they'd been Torii and KG and Dante. (And believe me, all these guys are much harder to pick out of a crowd.) This was not that phony pointing to people in the crowd and winking crap that politicians do. Maybe Bush couldn't pick Abramoff out of a line up, but I sincerely believe Klobuchar has book marked Power Liberal.

So what does it all mean? Am I gonna analyze personalities or issues here?

Well, we were in a bar, folks, and it was loud. We were drinking beer. (Klobuchar made a valiant stab at downing her Miller Lite. The rest of us had no such trouble.)

I asked Bell about correcting income disparities in America, and he responded with invest in alternative energy as if it were the Apollo program. I asked Klobuchar if she could put her name on one bill next year what would it be, and she said, reform health care and make sure kids are covered. Plus, she slipped in a second priority — a 20/20% national standard for ethanol content in gasoline/energy from renewables.

Let's not kid ourselves. Freshman Senators aren't going to be transforming much of anything. All we want now is for the river to change direction, and I would get in boat with either of these two.

Michele and Katherine, Please Listen

It's a rerun, but then so is the attempt to get a marriage amendment on the state ballot. MPR interviewed three church-going heterosexual couples and three same-sex couples from Duluth. It's worth a listen.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Report in Black and White

On the morning of July 22nd, Jean Charles de Menezes left his flat to repair a broken fire alarm. The electrician never made it to his job. He was stopped by men who thought they were doing theirs.

de Menezes holds tenaciously to my consciousness. His death — of all last year's pointless deaths both farther and nearer to me — has inspired two book works. The vaporizing heads temporarily added to this blog's banner started as his. And I've assembled other images for a mock police report on the incident I've yet to write.

Soon after he died on the floor of that train, I saw the world divided anew: Those who believe we are all Brazilian electricians, and those who find the very notion insulting and ridiculous.
The previous day's shocking bombings had put all London on high alert, but de Menezes headed off to work as normal on public transit. Everything that happened afterward unfolded from a sad compounding of coincidences. He lived in the same block of flats as one suspect in the bombings. The policeman watching his building stepped away to take a leak just before de Menezes left, making identification uncertain. His route to the underground station, via connecting bus, may have heightened suspicions and anxiety, and forced surveillance to be handed off to different teams, further confusing communications.

Although life for de Menezes was proceeding as normal, events sped up for those following him. Those who thought he may be on his way to another attack.

As he moved toward the station, he was transformed from a man going to work to a terrorist, and though later accounts tried to cast suspicion on his actions, this transformation actually occurred in the minds of witnesses and the people pursuing him.

You can read some of the concurrent conjecture here and here, as people post-dated recollections to make them fit a slowed-down reality.

In any crisis, real or perceived, we are programmed to see the world's greys in black and white. We can't change this wiring, and why should we? Survival demands it.

Yet if we see the world this way all the time, we are reacting, not learning. We are quick sorting people and things, preparing to fight or flee, neither of which allows community to take shape.

Perhaps de Menezes was doomed the moment the phone rang in his building where immigrants lived, when he walked unknowing into a world of black and white. Perhaps his ghost stays with me, to remind me to speak up for the greys. Because otherwise, someday, somewhere, each of us will walk a street where we are the Belgian electrician.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Disappeared

The official report on the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian electrician mistaken as a terror bombing suspect, was first due at the end of 2005. Turns out a report was due, but not to the public. The Independent Police Complaints Commission completed its inquiry as scheduled on 2/24/06, but isn't talking because there could be legal action against some of the police officers. Yet another inquiry into a complaint from de Menezes' family should be complete by the end of April.

As you may remember, a great deal of conjecture and misinformation accompanied the attack. If you don't remember, here are posts immediately following the event (how not to get shot, then staying cool and seeing no evil).

Yet these non-public reports from Britain represent an avalanche of information compared to what we've heard about the death of Rigoberto Alpizar.


You remember, the Costa Rica-born American citizen who was shot at Miami International Airport by federal air marshals. He had flown from Quito, Ecuador, and was on his way to Orlando before he ran off the plane, shouting. He made it as far as the jetway.

This appears to be the first time a federal air marshal aboard a plane has fired a weapon, and an innocent American was killed. The man was apparently bipolar and distressed, but had no bomb. There were conflicting witness accounts about whether he made any claim to have a bomb, but the media quickly accepted the official version: He was innocent; he claimed to have bomb; let that be a lesson to everybody.

You can look in vain for any news accounts since Alpizar was buried back in December. It's eerie. It's not even a cover up. He just disappeared.

American Theocracy

In his new book, American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips continues his critique of the Bush administration's policies. I haven't read it yet, but here's a flavor from Alan Brinkley's review:

[Phillips] identifies three broad and related trends — none of them new to the Bush years but all of them, he believes, exacerbated by this administration's policies — that together threaten the future of the United States and the world. One is the role of oil in defining and, as Phillips sees it, distorting American foreign and domestic policy. The second is the ominous intrusion of radical Christianity into politics and government. And the third is the astonishing levels of debt — current and prospective — that both the government and the American people have been heedlessly accumulating. If there is a single, if implicit, theme running through the three linked essays that form this book, it is the failure of leaders to look beyond their own and the country's immediate ambitions and desires so as to plan prudently for a darkening future.

What else could a house full of oilmen and friends of oilmen be expected to do?

The United States has embraced a kind of "petro-imperialism," Phillips writes, "the key aspect of which is the U.S. military's transformation into a global oil-protection force," and which "puts up a democratic facade, emphasizes freedom of the seas (or pipeline routes) and seeks to secure, protect, drill and ship oil, not administer everyday affairs."

Considering a Switch

After a week of sporadic service from Blogger, I've set up a trial blog account with TypePad. I'm still maintaining this Blogger account, and will be cross-posting at TypePad under the same name, but a new URL. If I decide to switch over permanently, there'll be a redirect set up at here Blogger, and you can always find me at

UPDATE: works as a redirect. But it goes haywire if I try to embed a link here. One more reason to move, I think. Thanks, Wege.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Archive Mischief

Blogger problems late in the week have wreaked havoc with my recent archives, so you may get blank pages if you click on some recent posts. I'm trying to fix it.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Are Liberty and Equality Parting Ways?

Joel Rogers gave a presentation this week arguing that despite globalization, most of the economy is still locally based, and states should take the lead in creating a more progressive economic future. But first, candidates and thinkers must develop a clear, concise description of what a progressive economic program would look like.

Rogers is founder and head of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS), a UW-Madison professor of law, political science and sociology, and is listed as a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). (His bed-hair photo on the COWS site makes him look like a 30-something web consultant, but in person he looks more like he could play the President on 24.) He received a 1995 MacArthur Fellowship for his activism and scholarly work in the area of labor, the American workplace and democracy, which makes him a “genius” in some minds.

His wide-ranging talk was both dense and accessible. I’ll share my notes and reflection here and in subsequent posts…

Contrary to Thomas Friedman’s flat world vision, “the economy is not sliding on its way to Bangladore. Geography matters.” Most of the economy is organized in space, and so is politics. Therefore state-level action focused on the economy can still have an impact, through measures that focus on growing value, reducing waste and “grounding capital,” i.e., encouraging investment in infrastructure and new businesses that address local needs.

Rogers believes the left has drifted from politics and economics to issues advocacy; to prevail, they must return to providing “deep, ongoing benefit to vast numbers of the working class,” which is a core tenet of progressivism. For now, there’s no clear strategy or consistent set of ideas being advanced.

In contrast, the right has a clear objective — “end all social constraints on capital” — that calls for deregulating business, starving government, crushing unions and redistributing wealth upward. The basic message: “You’re on our own (YOYO!), and anybody who tells you different is a liar!” And, it has built the infrastructure to advance its agenda politically.

For many Americans, each advance increases their material insecurity, and reduces the social capacity to relieve it. Today, 45 million people — far more than on welfare — in the active labor force are in dead-end jobs, with little or no healthcare insurance or retirement plans. And no one, including progressive candidates, is effectively talking about this.

They get distracted by the war in Iraq and gayabortion, or get caught in the health care muddle. Progressives focus too much on redistribution of wealth through taxes — which turns off the business world — when talking out growing an economy that benefits everyone could lead to a productive discussion. Nor have we been effective in defining democratic government and its worth to the economy. Unless we spell it out, attempts at reforms will be met with “Don’t touch my money, because I don’t believe government can help solve the real problems I see.”

We are at an exceptional moment, Rogers said, in the evolution of progressive politics and are “transitioning out of the unification of liberty and equality” that took hold in the last century. As an illustration, he showed the nation’s productivity index, which has grown steadily since post-WWII. Until the mid-70s, the median wage and median family income closely tracked this rise.

U.S. Productivity Index vs. Median Wages and Income

But since then, wages and income have flattened. And where has the wealth produced by these gains gone? To the upper 10%, even more to the upper 1%, still more to the upper 0.1% and so on. And where's the argument to support this redistribution? That investment by the wealthy results in more jobs?

In fact, this chart portrays a "power curve of inequality" leading to the end of shared prosperity in America, where more and more Americans are mired in sub-minimum-wage jobs. If the minimum wage had continued to track productivity growth, it would be $18.50.

This is an unsustainable path. Rogers said that at present rates of deficit spending, our foreign debt will equal 50% of the GDP by 2008. As if to underscore the point, the next day, Congress raised the debt ceiling again.

Candidates Mark Ritchie and Earl Netwal were in the audience, as well as DFL eminence Don Fraser. Rogers was brought to town by Growth and Justice, and his presentation slides are available there.

More later.

New Feature

Blogger has been down, so I took the opportunity to add a few features. If you want notification of new posts, you can now subscribe to receive an email with a top-line summary of the day's content (see the sidebar at right).

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Renewable Nukes?

The first time, I thought it was a misstatement, but there he went again at a staged meeting with seniors in Silver Springs, MD: Talking about nuclear power as if it's the new wind power.

Q: I'm one of the scientists who believes that — and many of us do — the greenhouse gases have been caused by us, and that it's about time that the United States took serious actions on the prevention of further greenhouse gases.

THE PRESIDENT: I exactly agree with you, sir, and that's exactly what we're doing. (Applause.) I think you're right. I thought the prescription to the Kyoto plan was the wrong way to go. On the other hand, I do know we can use technologies to achieve exactly that objective.

For example, second-generation nuclear power. It's a renewable resource. It doesn't emit, as you know, greenhouse gases. It's one of the reasons why I work with India and trying to help China, as well, to be able to develop a civilian nuclear power industry without — with guarantees against proliferation, in order to protect the environment.

A bit tangled, but unmistakable. Nuclear power is a renewable resource.

I thought I'd better see what others were saying. Near the top of the google pile was this at something called 21st Century Science:

The spent fuel produced by a single 1,000-megawatt nuclear plant over its 40-year lifetime, is equal to the energy in 130 million barrels of oil, or 37 million tons of coal, plus strategic metals and other valuable isotopes that could be retrieved from the high-level waste.
Technologically speaking, we can safely store nuclear waste in a repository like that of Yucca Mountain. But why should we spend billions of dollars to bury what is actually billions of dollars’ worth of nuclear fuel, which could be supplying electricity in the years to come?

The publication was very skimpy on sponsor information, but I noticed Lyndon Larouche's name in a number of places. Mother Jones gives a rundown on the roots of Laroucheian connections to pseudoenvironmentalism.

So is the president on a quiet kick to start reprocessing nuclear fuels? Yep. It turns out his budget proposal has funding to restart research stopped back in the Carter days. How respectable is the science and who's behind this?

I don't automatically reject the notion of nuclear energy, or of reprocessing "spent" fuel as a partial solution to future energy shortages. But given all that's going on with nukes for obtaining electrical and global power these days, the national discussion should be a lot more coherent and in the open than it's been so far.

Please, Save Me

I played cowboys and football, shot a gun and wrestled, watched the 3 Stooges and Vincent Price movies, but have managed to live a nonviolent life.

I came of age during the summer of love, yet never have had an STD.

I played rock & roll and hung with all kinds of hippies and disreputable characters, yet never snorted coke, dropped acid or stuck a needle in my vein.

I performed in theater, studied modern dance, sang falsetto and have numerous gay and lesbian friends, yet have never had a homosexual encounter.

I worked in the military industrial complex for a decade, yet never accepted war as the solution to problems.

I owned a capitalist enterprise in the era between "Greed is Good" and the Enron meltdown, yet didn't chase dotcom money, cheat the government or exploit my employees.

But now I am petrified that my 31-year marriage is doomed. I am being crushed by societal pressures that nothing, not even deep religious faith, can withstand. I cannot hope to live up to moral standards without Constitutional protection.

Please, please, save me and others like me. The police won't do it. The courts won't do it. The churches are powerless, and God is... well, God is doing whatever it is he does. Only the Constitution can save me from polygamy.

An amendment is my last and only hope!

Caucus Reflections

Jan in SanFran, who makes her living as an organizer, reports on her visit to a DFL precinct caucus in St. Paul:

So, what's an outsider to make of the DFL caucus I saw? My DFL friends are pretty cynical about the process. They see a bunch of bleeding heart liberals (like themselves) who vote for feel good resolutions and can't even fill up a slate of delegates to carry their positions forward to the next level.

I came away rather more impressed. I organize in elections. I am impressed by any party system that can attract 85 people from a precinct to a meeting on a rainy March evening, not to cheer candidates, but to express their political hopes and ensure they have some representation at more influential levels of the endorsement process. There are not many corners of U.S. democracy where you get that kind of participation at the grassroots. Sure, these were the experienced and the comfortable, but they do show up and nearly all of them do some work in electoral battles in a highly contested state. That's terrific.

My precinct had fewer show, with less fire than she describes, but the lesson is the same, and we need to take it to heart: Democracy is not for those who whine or opine. It's for those who show up, especially at the local level.

Yesterday, I heard a speaker (more later) describe the critical detour taken by progressive activists a generation ago. The left moved away from basic politics and economics to focus on issue advocacy — the environment, equal rights, hemp legalization, etc. The right set about building a political infrastructure focused on winning elections. And here we are today, cynical, while the true believers march on the state houses with their torches blazing.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Reading Oldspeak

Political language - - and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists - - is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
- George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language"

With all that is written in the world, I rarely read something again. But memory fades, some words bear repeating, and others assume fresh meaning with time.

This essay may send me back to reread all four volumes of Orwell's journalism. Find it here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Gaining God's Favor

When I do a good deed, I do so not with an eye toward gaining God's favor; I do it because if I did not, I could not look at myself in the mirror. A moral deed is by definition its own reward. David Hume, a believer, made this point in a very poignant way, when he wrote that the only way to show true respect for God is to act morally while ignoring God's existence.
– From Defenders of the Faith, Slavoj Zizek, NY Times

Monday, March 13, 2006

Coda for Crisis Pictures?

Last year, I tried to rouse support for Crisis Pictures when it was struggling. Alerted more widely read blogs. Sent some money. Some of you did, too.

Crisis Pictures looked substantial, but it was just one guy, giving the world his all.

Today I went looking for some pictures from Iraq. I found this, posted just a week ago:

Crisis Pictures started by accident in November of 2004.
It was during the election. By the time the results rolled in, I was sick of "sides", sick of Fox News and Air America. Sick of red and blue.
When I found that the chaos in Fallujah was so much worse than the tough guy with the cigarette on the cover of Time, I was sickened, truly. I posted the pictures on a blogspot blog, and left a note to the effect of "This is What You're Paying For".
I posted a bunch of pictures from Fallujah on a blog. That's it. I didn't expect a few million people to show up. I didn't seek the attention for myself, or for anything. It was outrage, a yelp of shock and outrage at a world that could produce such a horror.


I had no idea what I was getting into. I had never done any programming or design in my life, and I tried, really, tried to rise to the occasion. I made the site you see now, and I have spent the last six months programming this elaborate content manager to manage thousands of pictures to tell stories in a way that goes beyond "another bad day in the third world."
I learned PHP, MySQL, XML, XSLT, Javascript. I learned about IPTC and XMP and EXIF. I incorporated a 501c3 nonprofit.
I tried, I swear, I really tried.
I have to be honest now, I don't think I can do this anymore without some significant help. No one asked me to do this, but I still truly believe it can do something important. I hate to let it die, but it's at the point where it's Crisis Pictures or me. I am out of money and out of energy.
Please understand, I really did my best. If I can find a way to keep going, I will. Otherwise, I'm sorry. Truly.

Trevor Davis

Trevor, you rose. Be proud.

Pharmacy Counter Compromise

I have written at length on the issue of pharmacists taking a principled stand against dispensing prescriptions that go against their personal beliefs, so go here for the in-depth discussion.

But now that Minnesota is considering compromise legislation that would allow such pharmacists to keep practicing and theoretically not limit consumers' access to full pharmacy services, I feel bound to reprise the central point. I am all for courageous expressions of conscience, but if we are to exempt them from fulfilling their professional responsibilities, who’s next?

Doctors who deny treatment to patients using illicit drugs?

Police who let murderers go because they object to the death penalty?

Engineers at defense companies who don’t want to make bombs?

Bankers who will only write interest-free loans?

NFL quarterbacks who won’t work on the Sabbath?

Diplomats who decline to dissemble?

Marines who insist on embracing their inner Quaker?

Why legislate special protection for any such acts of conscience?

Those pharmacists who don’t want to perform a profession’s normal duties already have options: Quit in protest, take a job behind the cosmetics counter, or not enter the field in the first place. If a compromise gives them one more choice, let's make sure not to limit the patient's, which could happen in a one-pharmacy town served by a refusenik pharmacist.

Let protestors make their stand, but don't make others pay the consequences.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Life of the Mother: Framed into a Corner

This is a red-letter day for the pre-born children and their mothers.
- Troy Newman, Operation Rescue

The other night, it finally hit me. Exceptions to preserve the health of the mother. To save the life of the mother. Pre-born children and their mothers.

A good frame is one you don't even notice. It just sneaks right up and makes you wet between the ears, no questions asked.

What is a Mother? How does a woman become one?

A mother is a woman who has given birth to a child. A female parent in the animal kingdom. Earth Mother. Mother of all battles. To mother.

In the Roman Catholic Church, a mother superior is a woman who holds a position of nurturing authority similar to a mother's. Her title derives not from conception or even giving birth, but from the mother-like role she plays in the lives of others.

Birth mother is a term used to distinguish between a female who gave birth and the woman who is regarded as the real mother, the one who raised the child.

But to Troy Newman and his cohorts, a woman achieves motherhood the moment she conceives, and the united ovum and sperm becomes a child. In an instant, she loses her independent personhood, and all rights of individual determination pass to the cells in her womb. Unlike a real mother.

By adopting language such as "health of the mother," we buy into the pro-life frame, even when we think we are making a pro-choice exception. In effect, the fetal formation is anointed a child the moment we call the pregnant woman a mother. And the life of child should be sacred.

From now on, if I'm discussing those compromises in restrictive legislation, I'll be careful to say, "life of the woman."

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Abortion Crimes: Death Penalty or Probation?

What should the punishment for an illegal abortion be?

Pro-lifers haven't given it much thought, at least at this demonstration. (Via Cup O' Joe)

Meanwhile, Quiddity asks whether Native American tribal lands could choose to offer abortion services alongside casino gambling - - and be exempt from state laws prohibiting abortion. According to one commenter: Maybe. But probably not in South Dakota. (Via Sideshow)

And finally, from my wife, the should-be-commentator-except-she-has-better-things-to-do - - on this article praising Target Corporation for loaning its state-of-the-art forensics lab to help police solve tough crimes:

The lab, which opened two years ago at corporate headquarters in downtown Minneapolis, has already helped more than 125 police departments nationwide solve murders, arsons, bank robberies and other violent crimes.

"They have some impressive equipment in there," said local FBI spokesman Paul McCabe, whose agency has turned to Target for help. "Many small departments do not have labs like theirs."

Target built the state-of-the-art lab to handle security at the company's 1,400-plus stores. Its in-house caseload has grown so much that it opened a second lab in Las Vegas late last year.

Good for corporate citizen Target. But shame on a society that first devotes its best technology to protecting property, not lives.

Friday, March 10, 2006

So-Chi's Choice

My wife noticed this sweet little item about an article in Foreign Policy this morning. The summary is the Strib's:

Sexual frustration predicted for Asian men
...The problem [a shortage of Asian men] began 20 years ago, when ultrasound technology gave Asian women a cheap way to determine the sex of their unborn babies, writes Martin Walker, editor of United Press International. In China and other Asian nations, millions of women chose to abort female fetuses so they could instead give birth to boys.

Now we know da bitches always be wreckin' da cars, but to lay this "choice" on women in China seems quite a stretch, given that its culture places a higher value on males, and Chinese policy mandates only one child per couple.

Next, are we going to hear that women were behind the changes in the abortion laws refusing to make an exception for rape, incest and health of the mother? Surely men have nothing to with it.

First Day of the Lamb

Yesterday was one of those first lamb days. When warm winter weather blows in and doesn't feel like a mistake. When it's possible to forget that March is our snowiest month. When you can't help but hope.

Yesterday afternoon some vaguely defined errands, plus guilt about not getting on the bike, got me out the door. Then the 50-degree day steered me west toward Medicine Lake instead of east toward the office.

Instead of east toward murder.

Melvin D. Paul Jr. survived the storm and resulting flood, two days at the crowded Superdome and a bus trip to the Twin Cities with three of his children in tow. But the New Orleans native was shot to death Thursday afternoon while riding in a car that later crashed in north Minneapolis.
- "Shooting of Katrina survivor in Minneapolis not random crime, police say," StarTribune

Paul was shot at 16th and Emerson, a crossroads on my way into the city, at 2:20 p.m., about the time I would have passed by had the day been cooler or my errand more urgent.

It's the third murder over the past year within a block of my regular route. I rode there today. I am not afraid.

We share this world, but it is not the same place for all of us, even on a beautiful day like yesterday.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

On Toleration

The crucial thing is not tolerance but toleration. Tolerance is a mental attitude but toleration is a set of arrangements. I think that the attitudes matter less and will come in time if you get the politics right -– if you find the right regime of toleration.

This reminds me of a Puritan sermon (from the 1630s or '40s) against divorce. It said simply: if you hold the estranged couple together long enough, something will happen that makes the marriage possible. I don’t believe that about marriage, but it may be true for the less intimate coexistence of groups. If you force Greeks and Turks to live together for 200 years, there is going to be commerce and friendship and even intermarriage across the borders -– if the political regime is successful and imposes peace.

My stress is not on mutual respect but on peaceful coexistence. Start there. In today’s world, it would be a huge gain.
— Michael Walzer, interview in UNESCO Courier

I just finished Michael Walzer's book, On Toleration, which presents a framework for understanding how different groups coexist (or not) under different types of political regimes.

It was published in 1997. I bought it more than a year ago based on the title, but the moment to read it never seemed right. Now, it is, with a sectarian meltdown looming in Iraq, U.S. fundamentalists waging a counter-attack in "the War on Christians", and state battles shaping up over same-sex unions and abortion.

Walzer argues that toleration is a foundation of the liberal thought that made the American republic possible.

I'll dig into this in subsequent posts.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Remorse, Congressional Style

Over at Cafe Hayek Russell Roberts writes about Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham's new-found sense of remorse.

This is one conservative-leaning blog I can read without fuming. Written (and read) by economists, it'll take informed but unexpected tangents on the day's news and events. Why get mad when you can get smart?

Tomorrow is Not Promised to Any of Us

Most tributes to Kirby Puckett will skip from Chicago's projects and a Ford assembly line directly to his sudden, transformational appearance with the Minnesota Twins. But some fans know he played ball at Triton (Ill.) College, and in my hometown more than a few remember his earlier heroics.

At the Junior College World Series, Puckett hit a record .688 for the 1982 tournament. That's a slow-pitch softball average, not baseball, and the locals figured they might see more of this kid with the fireplug body. No one imagined he'd be starring for the Twins just two years later.

I like to think my dad was one of those fans who enjoyed Puck's performance. He must've been in the stadium for those games, because one of his great labors of love was helping establish a permanent home for the JUCO baseball tourney, qualifying Grand Junction, Colorado, as a sort of warm Omaha. (Omaha is the site of the College Baseball World Series.)

But he never saw the rest. The spring Puckett broke through in the majors, my father died. He was the same age I turned just last week.

Kirby Puckett gave fans a lot of joy, but maybe nothing greater than his farewell to baseball when glaucoma took his sight and his career.

"Tomorrow is not promised to any of us," he said.

So enjoy the game today.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Unintended 9/11 Fallout

America hasn't caught many terrorists we can actually tie to 9/11 — at least as far as we can see in the U.S. courts. But in recent months, the Feds have begun to round up and indict suspects in a string of fires dating back to the late 1990's, the most famous of which was the $12-million firebombing of a resort at Vail Montain.

It may be that 9/11 helped investigators crack these cases.

One agent involved in eco-terror cases recently told me some of the fringe conspirators looked at their activities differently after 9/11. Before, they saw their actions as principled resistance, and their model The Monkey Wrench Gang. After, the lines had shifted, and their new counterparts were the 9/11 hijackers.

Some, at least, didn't want to be on that team. They began to distance themselves from their old affiliations and eventually became ready to talk.

It's possible to argue that "eco-terrorism" isn't really terrorism because it doesn't target people. In fact, the firebombers took pains to avoid causing human casualties. But for at least some participants, the comparison to the WTC attackers as too close for conscience.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Flat and Flatter

The Dubai Ports World deal is waking Americans up to a painful reality: So-called "conservatives" and "flat world" globalists have bankrupted our nation for their own bag of silver, and in the process are selling off America.

At Common Dreams, Thom Hartmann takes off on When Americans No Longer Own America. He thinks Americans are awakening, but I wonder whether the issue will get anywhere near this year's campaign. Aren't we supposed to be in love with a flat world?

He cites research by Economy in Crisis that draws on US Government statistics indicating the following percentages of foreign ownership of American industry:

· Sound recording industries - 97%
· Commodity contracts dealing and brokerage - 79%
· Motion picture and sound recording industries - 75%
· Metal ore mining - 65%
· Motion picture and video industries - 64%
· Wineries and distilleries - 64%
· Database, directory, and other publishers - 63%
· Book publishers - 63%
· Cement, concrete, lime, and gypsum product - 62%
· Engine, turbine and power transmission equipment - 57%
· Rubber product - 53%
· Nonmetallic mineral product manufacturing - 53%
· Plastics and rubber products manufacturing - 52%
· Plastics product - 51%
· Other insurance related activities - 51%
· Boiler, tank, and shipping container - 50%

And those are just the foreign-majority-owned industries.

Should we be worried? I'm not sure. But we should be talking about it.

(via sideshow.)

It Can't Happen Here 2

Across more than a dozen years, I can still hear that early warning: Fundamentalist Christians are organizing to win low-profile local elections. But their ultimate goal is to build a political power base from which to transform society in their image.

And I remember my reaction: Okay, they might pick up a few school board seats or even win a majority on some small town council. But power at the state level in prosperous, progressive Minnesota? Or a national majority based on the Bible, patriotism and intolerance? Come on, the country was getting ready to throw out Bush 1.

If you've found your way here, you don't need a litany of how things have changed for the worse. If you care about free speech, about the working poor, about public education, about the environment, about how your kids will pay off our debts, about rights to privacy and your gay and lesbian and immigrant friends, it's not enough to read warnings and then stare out the window and say: Naaahh.

That's what I did when I heard the first warning. The drums are so much louder today.

No way I'm looking back in shame again.

Jobs Growth Not What It Seems

Mike Mulcahy, who covers the state capitol for Minnesota Public Radio, has this to say about the governor's agenda for this legislative session (and election cycle) -- first quoting from the state revenue forecast:

"... in the last two years, employment growth in Minnesota has fallen further behind the national averages. During the second half of 2005 Minnesota payroll employment grew at an annual rate of just 0.4 percent. U.S. payroll employment, even with the disruptions from the hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, grew nearly twice as fast."

So how concerned is the current governor about this? Not very. I asked him about it on Midday yesterday and he said basically the job growth lag is not a big deal for a number of reasons. First, he said there's not enough data to indicate a trend. Secondly, he said, the defense industry is leading the national economy, and Minnesota doesn't have many defense companies. And he said the numbers are lower because he's cut government jobs, and because the state's population is aging and the numbers reflect people leaving the workforce.

Mulcahy implies that jobs growth is an important measure of the economy, and Pawlenty says slower growth is not a big deal, but then gives some lame explanations why.

Joel Kramer of Growth & Justice will tell you that jobs growth comparison doesn't provide a good barometer of economic well being -- especially for Minnesota. Here's why:

1. Minnesota will never outstrip jobs growth in the Sunbelt, because that's where population is growing fastest. The problem isn't Minnesota's aging population (which Sunbelt states are getting younger?) or lack of defense jobs. It's the shortage of 70 degree days between November and April.

2. If jobs are growing at a higher rate, the growth is typically accompanied by an influx of people, which creates a greater demand for government services, from schools and roads to public health and safety. (See also: controversy over immigration.) That means government must spend more to provide the same level of services.

3. But new jobs are generated disproportionately at the lower end of the pay scale -- in retail services, small businesses and cleaning up after hurricanes, for example. The lower income earned by these workers (and by extension, their ability to pay taxes) means the state collects less per capita to provide services.

Kramer argues that a better measure is growth in average personal income, because it indicates an improving standard of living plus an increased capacity to invest in the community. Without necessarily raising taxes or fees.

You'd think the current governor would be all over that one.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

People, Get Ready

This also via minvolved. (His morning read is becoming my morning read, since he gets up first.) He notes the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library has added some new issues to its resource section on topics of interest to Minnesota legislators.

Not that new topics necessarily indicate where the legislature will be spending its time in an election year, but...

The Spyware Party Turns Goes Domestic

Polinaut, MPR's blog, reports on a Minnesota Republican Party stunt that manages to stir support for an anti-gay union amendment and violate the privacy of the very people they expect to support their initiative. (Via minvolved)

On Monday, the Minnesota Republican Party announced that it will send out CD videos on Friday to inform voters about the importance of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. It turns out the CD is also being used to add to the GOP voter database. Officials with the Republican Party say certain voter data is being collected by the party. Internet privacy experts say they're concerned that the party isn't telling the viewer that it's collecting the data and worry where the information will end up.

Don't just stop here. Read the associated links on the page, including this one. And for more on the fallout.

Watch for continuing coverage on this one.