30 January 2008

Why FISA matters

Senator Russ Feingold explains it simply and clearly.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was put into place by Congress in the 70s to prevent our own government from listening in on our phone calls without a darned good reason -- and a court warrant backing it up.

The Protect America Act, put into place late last summer, changed FISA to allow our own government to listen in, without a warrant, whenever we make or receive calls overseas or basically, whenever it wants to. In addition, an addendum to the act will pardon a whole bunch of telecom companies who have already turned our call records over to the government -- while it was illegal.

Yesterday, the House voted to extend the Protect America Act for another 15 days so that the President and Republicans can find a way to make this shamelessly illegal. police state activity both legal and permanent and keep Democrats from stopping them. The legislation goes to the Senate today.

Be careful what you ask for II

This is a snow that fulfills my old childhood dreams but also inspires a little adult consternation. To drive anywhere, at least until they plow the street again, I'd have to dig space around the back tires of my car and, kneeling in the snow and with freezy fingers, figure out how to put the tire chains on. I haven't done this little chore in probably four years, and then only that one time. (Before that I had a four-wheel-drive Geo Tracker that I loved beyond reason. It never needed chains but it died of a blown head-gasket. I cried. I really did.)

I am grateful I don't need to drive today. The forecast is for little new snow during the day, but another big storm tonight. I am awash in wintry riches. My cup overfloweth. I'm all full up. I ... can't get to my mailbox without ropes, crampons and a snow shovel ...

29 January 2008

Be careful what you ask for

Started snowing again about 8 this morning. It's 5:38 p.m. as I write this. The snow hasn't stopped all day. Not once. The snowplows have come up our street twice now. Chain control on the freeway starts two miles below our place.

I'm ... heheheh... delighted. But I'm here to tell you, we haven't had this much snow, for such an extended period, for a good 10 years. As our first winter here started, we thought Camino got a little snow, a few times each winter. Nothing much to worry about, but it sure would be pretty. Well, that was a La Nina year (like this one is) and it snowed and snowed and snowed. It was still snowing off and on in May.

It has never been like that again -- instead, winters have mostly been like we expected them to be. Last year was an exception, too, though. There was hardly any snow, hardly any rain, hardly any anything.

This makes up for it.

28 January 2008

After a roaring, massive rain storm that knocked out the power for several hours during the night, once again I woke to a delicate dusting of snow. I've been playing with Photoshop Elements, experimenting with different effects. The photo above is of the trees and undergrowth just above the back patio, which looked like a sugar-dusted fairyland this morning. Using the drybrush effect, I can't decide if it looks like a mess or controlled chaos. Maybe both. I sort of like it.
Same drybrush effect, less chaotic detail. The birds looked cold and desolate this morning, so I tossed out some chicken scratch for them and had, within minutes, a whole flock of juncos busily eating it up. Also got shots of some snowbearded sparrows and one elegant, female brown towhee, but they didn't turn out so well.
Finally, it wouldn't be Monday without a lazy cat shot. I'll try to write something meatier tomorrow.

24 January 2008

Winter lullaby

This is Iarla O'Lionaird, an Irish sean nos (old style) singer, singing "I Am Asleep." Iarla sings in Gaelic, but the emotions and even the peace in the song don't need understandable language to come through. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Thoughts from the depths of winter

For those who dread the winter months as dull, gray and dead, I offer these photos. The one on top is of snow-glazed rose hips. If I close my eyes, I can bring to mind the amazing, velvety scarlet summertime roses. In the cold and dark of now, it cheers me to know they'll be back in just a few months.

The second photo is of shamrocks curling up from beneath their snowy blanket. They caught me by surprise this morning as I was out looking for pretty winter photos, and like the rose hips, they symbolize the burgeoning life that's sleeping, waiting to burst with the spring sunshine.

I keep waking up to snow. What a difference from last January, when it seemed like spring had already come, it was so dry and warm. This is normal, this cold and grayness. It's necessary for hope.

21 January 2008


Snow again. We get flurries at 3200 feet in the Sierras; it snows for five minutes, stops, snows again. It's 28 degrees outside. A light breeze pushes the icy, dry snowflakes haphazard and willy-nilly, floating them in slo-mo first this way, then that, and then both at once. I love how the intense white rimes each and every twig, branch, pine needle and chain-link fence diamond, like a dusting of confectioners sugar to make the ordinary world sweet and extraordinary. And just outside my kitchen window, close enough to be sheltered from the falling snow, a yuletide camellia bud swells, making ready for a months-late but much-anticipated red-and-gold debut.

16 January 2008

Smelling smoke

According to the New York Times today, last fall the Bush administration once again told the nation a bald-faced lie regarding economic progress in Iraq as it sought continued surge financing from Congress.

At issue: The supposed success of the Iraqi government in actually using some of the billions in oil revenue available to it since the overthrow of Saddam, the American occupation and the restructuring of the Iraqi government itself. Some of those billions are set aside ostensibly for reconstruction of infrastructure, etc.

The Bush administration – with grave seriousness and in a nice, deep, voice -- assured Congress that some 24 percent of $10 billion had been spent by the Iraqi government on reconstruction in 2006. This was a very good sign of real progress.

Congress, naturally, took this good news into account when making its decision to fund the surge. There wasn’t very much other good news to work with, after all.

But according to a report released yesterday by the Government Accountability Office, “... official Iraqi Finance Ministry records showed that Iraq had spent only 4.4 percent of the reconstruction budget by August 2007. It also said that the rate of spending had substantially slowed from the previous year.”

Apparently we should be understanding because, as Gen. Petraeus was putting on his dog-and-pony-show in front of Congress in order to convince our gullible (and, I’m beginning to be convinced, dumb-as-planks) members of Congress to keep on funding George W. Bush's vanity war, accurate Iraqi economic figures just weren’t really available.

So, given the story today, my guess is that the administration just fucking made something up. I mean, I would, wouldn't you? Make something up? Because if I didn't make something up I might not get to ... never mind.

I know I should be jaded way beyond any surprise at this news. We are, after all, working on Year 8 of America's Long Night of Lies. Actually, I’m not really surprised – this is par for this malicious, prevaricating and dishonest administration.

I think my surprise comes from the fact that the story was relegated by the Times editors to the bottom of the online homepage, where it can easily be missed as a small liner hed under “World.”
I know -- after all these years of enduring a crappy, bought, lap-dog Fourth Estate, I shouldn't be surprised. But it seems to me news like that ought to be up at the top of the page, you know? It seems a little more important, to me, than the news that the GOP can’t seem to produce a popular front-runner in its presidential field so far. Well, duh. They're all whackjobs, phonies or washed-up, and all of them lie like their mentor, Mr. Bush. Even Republicans are getting a little tired of it.

I only knew the story about this particular lie was out there because I read Talking Points Memo each morning, and the sharp-eyed David Kurtz caught it and quoted it on the site.

He called the lie “fluff.” He’s more polite than I am. People are dying in unspeakable violence as a direct result of that lie.

“Rick Barton, co-director of the postconflict reconstruction project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said all measures of economic progress in Iraq were difficult to pin down precisely. But he said the United States, taking those difficulties into account, should have been wary of touting progress before the facts were clear.

“’The data in these places is hugely unreliable to begin with, primarily because nobody gets out in the field to see what’s going on,’ Mr. Barton said. ‘But what is probably troubling is that when you know this, you shouldn’t be using this to create wrong impressions or false impressions and pretending that you know what’s going on.’”

Well, yeah. But we’re talking about President Codpiece, here. Using data and information pulled out of thin air is de rigueur for this administration. Frankly, a lot of us American citizens who paid attention to Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker’s presentations to Congress in September were pretty skeptical. But as usual, Congress itself swallowed the bait whole.

Honestly, I can’t wait for Jan. 20, 2009. But that’s 370 days and 55 minutes away, and that’s a lot of days Bush can use to keep destroying his country with abandon, since it seems no one will raise a finger to stop him. Let’s hope that he won’t drag us all into yet another terrible and senseless war before he finally slinks away, leaving a trail of death, destruction and sorrow behind him.

15 January 2008

Winter nap

Snoring gently in the direct path of a sunbeam: An amazing cat talent.

14 January 2008

Feeling the squeeze ...

A front page story in the New York Times today says that America may well be facing a serious recession, as evidenced by the fact that people aren’t spending as much money as they were in, say, November 2007.

‘Strong evidence is emerging that consumer spending, a bulwark against recession over the last year even as energy prices surged and the housing market sputtered, has begun to slow sharply at every level of the American economy, from the working class to the wealthy.’

No kidding?

“And consumer confidence, an important barometer of economic health, has plunged. Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, says consumer satisfaction with the economy has reached a 15-year low, according to the firm’s polling.

“Even wealthier consumers, who were seen as invulnerable to rising gasoline prices and falling home values, are feeling the squeeze.”

I find this less than astonishing. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can’t have helped but notice that it costs upwards of $3.40 per gallon of gas to fill your tank so you can get to work or take your children to soccer, band and debate club practice after school. And if you were feeling flush (and anyone could feel flush with a walletful of credit cards)and wanted to keep up with the Joneses two or three years ago, you might even be driving a honkin’ big Hummer around your neighborhood, grinning like a fool and getting about 8 miles to the gallon.

Man, that sure has to sting. I don’t know about you, but I’d start feeling queasy every time I passed a filling station.

If you’ve crawled out from beneath the covers in the last six months, you can’t really have ignored the fact that the housing bubble didn’t just pop, it exploded, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s taking a good portion of the national economy with it. I’m no economist – I have a hard time balancing my checkbook – but even I knew in my heart of hearts that the housing bubble was just about all that was keeping America going. I worried about it bursting, and people looked at me like I was crazy if I brought it up. Of course I got the same looks when I expressed my dismay and concern over the Iraq war. So much for that, eh?

So it doesn’t surprise me at all to learn that my fellow Americans are suddenly spending less of their hard-earned money. The word “sheeple” may best describe post-Sept. 11 Americans , but even mindless sheep have self-preservation instincts.

Perhaps we’re finally cutting back on rich fare like home coffee/espresso machines and $300 handbags from our gluttonous consumer diets because, you know, the mortgage payment on the no-down-payment McMansion just rose by $700 a month.

Some people wonder if we’re already in a recession but we haven’t really felt it yet, sort of like cancer just before it grows fangs and starts munching in earnest. I’ve talked to a few cancer survivors who’ve said they felt like something was “off” for quiet a while before the scary diagnosis was made, but they couldn’t really put a finger on what was wrong. So that’s how the world feels to me, right now. Like we’re teetering on one foot in the dark at the edge of the abyss.

I’ve lived through several recessions in my adult lifetime. Frankly, none of them have hurt me much, probably because I was already poor as a churchmouse and didn’t have any money to spend anyway. I was used to making ends meet somehow. I expect that I’ll manage to get through this recession, too, though it feels far more ominous at the outset than the ones in the past.

“There are mounting anecdotal signs that beginning in December Americans cut back significantly on personal consumption, which accounts for 70 percent of the economy.”

Seventy percent? Oh. My. God. Is it just me, or does that sound absolutely nuts? What’s the other 30 percent? Exported corn syrup?

“There are plenty of recession naysayers. Average hourly wages and salaries have not fallen, and some economists argue that unless — or until — that happens, consumer spending will hold up despite widespread economic unease. According to these economists, what happened in December was a temporary blip.”

Average hourly wages and salaries haven’t risen for most Americans, either, particularly in relation to higher gas, food, and housing costs. And it’s sort of important to remember that December is traditionally the month most Americans spend the most – it's Christmas, and we max out our credit cards and buy those big-ticket items like iPhones and big screen HDTV. And even the things we want that aren’t considered “big-ticket,” like the ubiquitous iPod, cost $300 or more. That’s not pocket change, gang. That we didn't do the spending this last December that we've done in the past is ominous. It sure doesn't seem like a "blip" to me.

“Even in tough economic times Americans rarely reduce their consumption, preferring instead to slow the growth in their spending.”

What does that mean, exactly? That even though the economy is tanking, I’ll consume just as much as I did before, I just won’t spend any more to do it? Hmmm. How does that work? I'm confused. Even if I could wrap my head around the concept, it doesn’t sound like a smart thing to do when a jar of peanut butter or a bottle of salad dressing costs nearly $5, and a loaf of bread nearly $4. Hell, a 14.5-oz. can of black beans goes for $1.19 these days. Wouldn't it be smarter to consume less and spend less, too?

“Official statistics do not yet show that consumer spending has dropped, but they do suggest that in late 2007, it slowed in areas like automobiles, furniture, building materials and health care, said Mark M. Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com.”

Yeah, a lot of us decided we could just keep drivin’ the ol’ clunker a little bit longer, rather than buy that new, $120,000 Mercedes roadster. My car just had its 20th birthday and with luck, that chewing gum will hold out until I win the lottery. When you’re facing house payments that are rising like the mercury in a meat thermometer stuck in the Thanksgiving turkey, you don’t worry so much about furnishing those four extra rooms you don’t need. In fact, you probably duct-tape plastic over the heating vents. Bankrupt builders don’t need to buy building materials and hell, who needs health care? We have band-aids and Epsom salts, aspirin and antacids, antibacterial soap and hey, herbal teas. We don’t need to spend the few bucks we have left over after putting food on the table on the $20 co-pay they’ll charge us for walking into the doc’s office.

And those of us without health insurance (and who can't afford it even if we'd like to have it) will just keep crossing our fingers or praying to whatever sky god we prefer that we’ll stay healthy, because without insurance, we're totally screwed.

The NYT story grasps for good news, probably because front page advertisers like Dell computers, AirFrance and Blackberry would prefer Americans not get depressed over the money situation.

“There are some bright spots now in consumer spending. Sales of sports gear and electronic gadgets — particularly G.P.S. navigation devices and flat-panel television sets — have risen over the last three months. To Stephen Baker, vice president for industry analysis at the research firm NPD Group, that suggests there is still enough purchasing power for people to buy what they really want.

“’We probably would not have seen strong sales for electronics products that people really want if the overriding issue was economic,’” Mr. Baker said.”

Mr. Baker, I think you’re pie-in-the-skying it. People who are still buying those expensive items are doing it with whatever they have left on their credit cards, knowing that soon, they won’t be able to buy anything at all with them. It’s the Last Great Credit Card Blowout. After all, we might as well be able to watch the new American Gladiator 5 feet high and 7 feet long in HD, since we won’t be able to afford to do anything else – not even the gas to drive to Pizza Hut to pick up that outrageously expensive, $20 pizza to eat while we watch.

13 January 2008

How it's done ...

"Rhythmically, it's quite alluring. It can make anything, even, for example, a simple chair, seem magnificent. Why vote for someone who says: 'See that chair. You can sit on it' when you can have someone like Obama say: 'This chair can take your weight. This chair can hold your buttocks, 15 inches in the air. This chair, this wooden chair, can support the ass of the white man or the crack of the black man, take the downward pressure of a Jewish girl's behind or the butt of a Buddhist adolescent, it can provide comfort for Muslim buns or Mormon backsides, the withered rump of an unemployed man in Nevada struggling to get his kids through high school and needful of a place to sit and think, the plump can of a single mum in Florida desperately struggling to make ends meet but who can no longer face standing, this chair, made from wood felled from the tallest redwood in Chicago, this chair, if only we believed in it, could sustain America's huddled arse,'"
- Armando Iannucci, the Guardian.

Quote regarding lofty and inspiring rhetoric stolen with delicious glee and many thanks from The Daily Dish

10 January 2008

Winter pearls

It's a stunner

Can we please stop calling Hillary Clinton’s three-percentage-point win in the New Hampshire primaries “stunning”?

She won, but it wasn’t a stunning win. She pulled out just a wee bit ahead of Barack Obama and stayed there all evening, winning a point, then losing a point, but finally holding onto her lead until all the votes were counted. If it had been a horse race, they’d have called it a win “by a nose.”

You’ll excuse me, but I didn’t think it was stunning. Obama’s win in the Iowa caucuses, now that was stunning, since Hillary had been all but named the winner for months leading up to the event. The polls really only backed off calling it for her automatically when, in the days right before the caucuses, Obama’s support seemed to grow and he drew almost level with her in the polls.

That he won Iowa was a surprise and a breath of fresh air. We needed it. But that Hillary pulled ahead of Obama and John Edwards in New Hampshire wasn’t “stunning.”

OK, honesty time. I probably won’t vote for Hillary Clinton in the California primaries on Feb. 7. There’s a part of me – the long-time feminist part – that feels guilty about that. I’m trying to ignore it, though. See, along with giving me a sense of solidarity with my sisters, feminism has also taught me to think for myself and make my own decisions. It’s taught me that I don’t have to march in lockstep just because some man – or some woman – tells me to. Instead, as an American feminist and voter, I take pride in learning all I can about the candidates and making my decision based on the facts. Sure, emotions come into play. I’m human.

I think it’s great that Hillary Clinton is running, as a viable, serious candidate for the job of President of the United States. I’m proud of her, and proud that a woman finally has a shot at it. It’s an historic accomplishment. If Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, I’ll throw my support behind her and vote for her because my country can’t survive another four or eight years of Republican rule. But I’d rather not have to vote for her.

Why? The main, most niggly reason I can’t throw my support behind Hillary Clinton is that she voted to give Bush the power to prosecute war in Iraq – and to this day, refuses to acknowledge what a serious lapse of judgment that was. John Edwards also voted for it, but he later publicly admitted his mistake. Barack Obama wasn’t a senator at the time, so he didn’t vote one way or another. But he’s been against the war from the beginning.

It worries me that someone as smart as Hillary Clinton could be gulled by Dubya into supporting his bloodthirsty vanity war. That it was unnecessary, merely a war of convenience and spite, was clear to most thinking people from the start. That it was a terrible idea, given the history of Iraq and its people, was also quite clear. We knew Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with Sept. 11, and we knew he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. We knew that the UN sanctions were working, as far as they went, and that Saddam was largely toothless. Was he a tyrant? Yes. Was he a monster to his own people? Yes. But was it up to us to depose him? No.

Those of us who said so were called traitors and terrorist sympathizers, but the truth was right there under our noses. We knew the Bush administration was lying through its teeth.

And so, because Hillary Clinton IS too smart to be gulled, it makes me wonder why she went along with it. That she still won’t, to this day, repudiate that vote disturbs me deeply.

Other reasons? Hillary Clinton is smart and articulate, she was a good First Lady, and from everything I’ve read, she’s been a good Senator in New York. I’m fairly sure she’s a good person, too – at least as good as any politician can be. But if it weren’t for the continued popularity of her husband, the former President, she wouldn’t be running for President herself. She might not even be a senator.

I also don’t like the idea of dynasties in the U.S. presidency. I didn’t like it when George W. Bush ran after his father’s eight-year stint as VP and then four-year stint as President. Likewise, I don’t like it that Hillary Clinton is running after Bill Clinton’s successful eight years as President. I don’t like the idea of that sort of power concentrated within families. This is America, not Great Britain. We don’t have royalty.

And our world has changed so astoundingly, largely thanks to Dubya, that we really do need a different way of going forward now. Hillary Clinton just isn’t, to my mind, the leader we’re looking for.

Is Obama? Maybe. He certainly inspires with his ideals and his rhetoric, and as an African-Amercan, his is no less an historic candidacy than Hillary Clinton’s. Is Edwards the leader we need? I have to admit I like him. He’s less idealistic than Obama, but he’s ready to tear into the big corporations that are, in effect, running the world these days. I like that. We didn’t vote for corporations as our leaders.

But, back to my original idea for this post. “Stunning” is a misleading word. Hillary Clinton won New Hampshire because 39 percent of those who turned out to vote, voted for her. They had their own reasons. All the pundits and newshounds and political bloggers are turning somersaults trying to explain why she won when it’s really very simple. She just had a few more people who liked her more than they liked Obama or Edwards or Kucinich or Richardson vote for her. Maybe some of those voters were older women, like me. Maybe they were feminists, like me. And maybe they felt strongly about their vote, like me.

One thing is for sure – the turnout was massive and those Democratic voters – women, men, young, old, black, white, Hispanic and Asian-American and native American alike -- were at the polls voting to make their voices heard, finally. That’s the most important thing now.

01 January 2008

Hmm. We'll see ...

Walked three miles this morning. That's 12 so far for the week. As a reward, just saw "Charlie Wilson's War" at the local theater. It was excellent. Try not to miss it.