Saturday, July 12, 2008

Foreclosure Phil Hates Whiners

For a superb article on just why Phil Gramm is a greedy lowlife who is more responsible than any other Congress critter for the mortgage foreclosure crisis, take a look at this article from Mother Jones Magazine.

Foreclosure Phil

Foreclosure Phil was in the news this week, denouncing Americans as a nation of whiners. This mantra was picked up by the likes of Fred Barnes and Bill Kristol, who from their lofty perches on top of their inherited wealth, took the silver spoons out of their mouths just long enough to say they agreed. Outrageous.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

In Sorrow for Four Boy Scouts

An elegy is a mournful remembrance, usually a poem, which expresses sorrow for death, quite often the deaths of the young and innocent. I'm not much of a poet, but would like to express here my sorrow over the deaths of four young Boy Scouts, the trauma of their loss to their friends and families, and the loss of these fine young men to their communities and society at large.

Years ago, as the single mother of two boys (and a girl), and worried that my sons would not have enough "guy stuff" in their lives, I decided to enroll my sons in the Boy Scouts. My oldest son was first. Over the years he went to summer camp, eventually making it to Lenhok'sin High Adventure camp at Goshen Scout Reservation, Philmont Scout Reservation (which any Scout will tell you is their Mecca) and with his younger brother to the Northern Tier High Adventure camp, at which they made a canoe and portaging expedition for some ten days through the Canadian wilderness down the Manigotagan River.

As a former Girl Scout and avid camper and general outdoorsy type I welcomed the opportunity to become an assistant leader. I went on many campouts and hikes and other activities, eventually attending seven summer camps over the years, and gained insight into adolescent boys which I wished I'd had as an adolescent girl, and a great deal of admiration both for the dedicated men who are real dads and spend real time with their boys, and for the boys themselves. They weren't all little angels. Some of them were downright troublesome from this criminal lawyer's point of view, but the good always outweighed the bad, and during the course of my Scout career I met many young men whom I could see would grow to be the backbone and stalwarts of their families and communities. I grew fond of many of them and still wonder at times how they are doing.

Accordingly, it was with shock and sadness that I heard of the loss of these young men. I've sent my sons to high adventure camp, praying that all I would see when they came back would be a few bug bites, a sunburn, and a bruise or two from the highly physical nature of some of the activities. On the other hand, I know from experience that sending your child into the woods for an adventure may result in harm. Adventure is impossible without some danger, and it's this aspect which can be very frightening. I well remember my older son coming home from a "shakedown cruise" through the Shenandoah in preparation for the rigors of Philmont. He'd had an encounter with a bear one night that scared the stuffing out of him - but he went back out a couple of weeks later. At Philmont, which is in New Mexico, he was on a bare mountain trail with a lightning storm blew up and lightning struck only a few yards from where he was. Only the quick thinking of the guide in hustling the boys away from their exposed equipment before the strike saved their lives. In Canada, my younger son was in a canoe that was sucked into a strong undertow. He and the guide and another boy were forced to jump out of the canoe before going over a 12 foot waterfall, after which he was sucked into a hydraulic for what seemed to be forever but was probably under a minute. All the things in his pockets were sucked out and lost, and the boy with him actually lost his pants. The only injuries to my son were deep abrasions and bruises on his legs. They took months to heal completely. In the photo above you can see the damage to the canoe. It looks as if it got hit by a rock and pried open with a can opener. Shocking to think that my son endured the same forces which so twisted and damaged reinforced aluminum.

At Dulles Airport I met the gaze of the Assistant Scoutmaster leading the group as he told me with horror of my son's near-death experience, and recounted with equal horror how hard it would have been to break the news of HIS son's death to his wife, as his son was the other boy in the canoe. He was filled with remorse for something that was not his fault and beyond his control and which had in the end caused no lasting harm. It's a hard thing, being responsible for the safety of other people's children beside your own. Even going to regular summer camp every year saw me make at least one hospital trip each time with kids who'd suffered concussions, sprained a limb, cut themselves, were stung by bees, and sometimes kids just being drama queens. They ran the gamut, and every time something happened there was that painful moment of having to pick up a phone and tell a parent over 100 miles away that his kid was in the hospital or had been injured in some way. It's hard.

So why send your son (or daughter - girls go to the same adventure camps as the boys) to a place where he or she might be harmed? Because they could be harmed just as well at home and you can't spend your life being afraid to go anywhere or afraid to let your child go anywhere for fear some harm might befall that child. And sometimes, it is with such adversity that our often over-protected sons and daughters rise to meet the challenge and astound us with their response. Along with telling me of my younger son's near death the leader told me with admiration of my older son's response to the emergency. As soon as it became clear that his brother was going to go over the falls another leader yelled at my older son to try to portage his canoe over land and put in below the falls in anticipation that his brother might be knocked unconscious and need to be fished from the river. My older son, who is not very big, paddled quickly to shore, pulled the canoe out of the water and on to his shoulders, and ran through the brush, dragging a hapless dad who'd agreed to come on the trip at the last minute and who could barely keep up with a focused 16 year old determined to rescue his younger brother. He bulled his way through the underbrush and put in downstream many yards away. All he knew was that he needed to save his brother. Since then, my two boys, who are about as different as night and day, are very close. They look out for each other.

There are news reports that the quick response of the Scouts at the camp and their leaders saved lives. Everyone did what they could to deal with the situation, and you can believe that this was a maturing and life-changing experience for the young men at this camp. They will carry scars, but many will also carry the knowledge that they rose to a challenge and prevailed as best they could. Many of them have learned first hand the nature of loss, the value of friendship, the fragility of life.

But still ... still ... you think your kid's going away for an adventure, not to his death. You send him off to camp and think of how he'll learn new things and grow and spend time with his friends and come home with talk of pranks, contests, and sometimes off-color jokes. You await his return, sunburned, bug-bit, and exuberant at having spent a little time at a place where he has a degree of independence and expectations to meet and challenges to overcome. You do not expect to lose him. And if you are the leader it's a heavy weight you carry. You go to camp, usually accompanying your own child, and you take on the obligation to care for the others. You've been through training and talked with your fellow leaders about the what-ifs: what if Johnny, who's allergic to bees, gets stung by a bee; what if Harold, who's got ADD, forgets to take his meds; what if Sam, whose parents are locked in a bitter divorce battle, gets depressed or acts out against the other boys; what if, what if, what if?

I'm sorry this is such a long essay, but something about this terrible tragedy sparked in me the nightmare I always pushed aside during those years. The nightmare possibilities became real for these boys and their families, and the pain of their loss is a palpable thing. So take a minute and think about these young men and their families and feel the sorrow of their loss.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Wrong About Wright - Or How the Punditocracy is Making Suckers of Us All

Cross-posted to Raising Kaine

Show of hands - who here has actually listened to the Moyers interview, the NAACP speech, and the National Press Club speech WITH its follow up Q&A session?

Me, me, I did!! Really? Okay, anyone else? How about you David Gergen? How about all you other media pundits? What's that, you only heard the "highlights", but you didn't have time to listen to all the rest of it? Oh, you liked the Moyers interview because the Rev came off as such a nice, polite, man but you can't deal with the firebrand, the jack in the box, the bouncing around getting in your face version of the Rev? Apparently it's okay to listen to a few highlights, to decide to focus on the one or two outrageous sounding statements, and then to pontificate and pound the table and DEMAND that the Rev stop saying what he's been saying all these years, and that he take cognizance that he may be harming Obama's campaign, and that Obama not only distance himself and denounce those outrageous statements as not representative of his personal views, but that he also denounce, strongly and without reservation, the Rev, notwithstanding that the Rev ain't running for public office, that the Rev isn't part of the Obama campaign, that he views the Rev as his pastor and not as his mentor, and that the Rev has made clear that he sees himself as a religious figure and Obama as a political figure and that these are indeed two different species.

Question(s): WHY are we allowing people opposed to Obama to define the parameters of this debate? WHY are we allowing to go unchallenged the assumption that this guy is nothing but a hate-spewing, attention-seeking, racially divisive fruitcake and that Obama owes it to the nation to apologize for even knowing him? WHY are we even assuming that Wright owes it to Obama to curtail his activities in order to promote Obama's chances? Wouldn't that mean Wright really IS a part of the Obama campaign after Obama and company just finished explaining that he isn't? WHY aren't we demanding that our beloved "liberal" MSM stop focusing on the guy who is not running for public office and focus instead on those who are? I've asked this in a couple of other forums, but am I just being stupid or is it just possible that we, the Obama supporters, have also allowed ourselves to become distracted by a non-issue? I cringed when Obama said the Rev was a legitimate campaign issue - NO HE'S NOT! He's your former pastor, not a political adviser, and he fills a totally different role, one outside of politics, which has to do with your relationship with Christ and the church. Sheesh, when did it become acceptable not only to impose religious tests on our political candidates, but now upon the religious figures in their lives? How can we even tolerate this incredible diversion from the real substance of this race?

As to Reverend Wright himself, I've been astounded at the response of so many in the media who thought the Moyers interview went just fine, but are all over him for being animated, angry, and just plain active in his speeches before the NAACP and the National Press Club. He didn't change his statements, he just made them more forcefully. His answers to questions did not deviate at all between the Moyers interview and those two speeches, but his audiences did. Moreover, he stayed for a lengthy Q&A session yesterday at that National Press Club speech and took on all comers. The questions were written on note cards by the dozens of journalists in attendance and he answered them all. He looked positively gleeful at times, which I heard denounced as arrogance by the pickle-puss pundits scrutinizing him. He committed the unpardonable sin of having a lot of fun during that session, so rather than review the Q&A for its substance, CNN and MSNBC viewers were treated to frowning commentators talking about his arrogance and the looming horribleness of his effect on the Obama campaign. Why, they found him downright uppity. They showed him saying that when Obama gets the nomination on November 5th he'll be in Obama's face the next day wagging his finger because Obama's the representative of a government he finds oppressive. Ohmigod, said our pundits, he "threw Obama under the bus. How appalling." Yes, something's appalling, I'd say.

If I'd known one does not need either sense or brains or cultural understanding in order to become a pundit I would have become one years ago - except for the dress-up part. I just hate dressing up and trying to look like I have gravitas and understanding surpassing that of mere mortals on my stern mien - ick, maybe I'll stick with blogging. Anyway, what the punditocracy appears not to understand is that not only does Obama not consider the Rev to be his man, but the Rev does not consider Obama to be his man. He thinks Jesus is the man. That's what he meant when he said Obama was a politician while he is a pastor. Their roles are different, and in the great scheme of things he sees the master he serves to be infinitely greater than the one Obama serves. He's obviously an extraordinarily intelligent and articulate individual, notwithstanding his rather bizarre belief in the origins of the drug war and AIDS, and he's trying to get it across to all those self-important and self-appointed commentators that his first obligation is to his God and his church and his people. This is hard for pundits to understand because while many of them consider themselves religious they actually mean that they go to church from time to time and might believe in God, but not, you know, in that weird way of the evangelicals they secretly love to mock. Wright's trying to say that God transcends politics and other earthly considerations and is not impressed with the politically powerful. This is why he is not calculating his appearances and his statements to what the pundits perceive to be Obama's needs. He said it himself yesterday. He believes that if God intends for Obama to be the nominee, then it will be so. He does not believe Obama's candidacy is either his responsibility or his duty. Maybe we should take a page from Wright, not only the page wherein his devotion to the poor, downtrodden, addicted, abused, abandoned, and sick may be found, but the page wherein he tells us it's his job to utter the truth as he sees it, and to serve the truth. His truth may be off when it comes to AIDS and the drug war, but it's on target when he's addressing the history of the black church, when he's talking about this country's history and the great stain on its soul. He points out that God and Country may not be one and the same, that the real arrogance may be our belief that we have all the answers and only our way of doing things will do. Isn't that what we criticize this Administration for believing?

So, let's step back, take a deep breath, and the next time some media moron says "hey, look at the crazy pastor" we respond with "uh huh, and what exactly did Obama and Hillary and McCain say about the economy today? That pastor's not running for office, so why are you focused on him and not the people who are?" Just a suggestion.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Travesty - Fort Bragg's Treatment of Returning Soldiers

This was posted on Fred2Blue's blog, who deserves credit for bringing it to our attention, and viewers were encouraged to copy and circulate it wherever possible. It tells of the treatment of the 508th Brigade of the 82nd Airborne, who returned only a week ago from a hellish 15 month tour of Afghanistan.

How were they treated upon their return home? See for yourself.

There is absolutely no excuse for this. I've heard other things about Fort Bragg's treatment of our returning veterans. Only last year I posted a diary telling of medically unfit soldiers who were being forced to go back to Iraq despite their clear ineligibility for deployment.

With all the bad attention Fort Bragg got last year for sending disabled veterans back into a war theater you would think they'd get the hint and start treating our soldiers better.

Of course, this is really all part of a larger problem, and that's this Administration's reliance on flag pins and yellow car magnets when discussing patriotism. Real patriotism is taking care of those who are out there making the sacrifices our government has asked of them.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Obama Repudiates Pastor's Excesses

Obama here handles his pastor's inflammatory statements about as well as they can be handled.

I'm getting a little annoyed at the guilt by association being foisted on all three candidates who are being trailed by ridiculous statements from embarrassing surrogates. McCain has Hagee and Parsley; Hillary has Geraldine Ferraro (who STILL won't apologize for making racist statements); and Obama has Reverend Wright. I wish Hillary had repudiated Ferraro's statements, but it's time to get back to the race. I'd like to see McCain repudiate the statements of Hagee and Parsley, but I don't believe for a minute that McCain believes the Catholic church is the Whore of Babylon, as Hagee does, or that he shares Parsley's antipathy toward everyone who isn't a right-wing fundamentalist biblical literalist whackjob. Let's move on.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I'm Stealing Phriendly Jaime's Post

(Stolen, by invitation, from West of Shockoe)

Please steal this post from me and spread it far and wide

I'm serious. I would like as many of you as possible to steal this straight from here, put it on your blog(s), email it to everyone you know, tell them to forward it to everyone THEY know, print it out on cards and send them/give them to strangers and acquaintances, post it as a flyer on a telephone pole, etc., etc., etc.

Thanks in advance.

Subject: The Real Truth About Barack Obama!

As enthusiastic volunteers in the Barack Obama campaign for the Presidency, we have put together a list of facts about Barack so that you will know the truth about him. Please follow the links we have included for documentation of these facts. If you value the truth as we do, please spread this information via email, blog, or any other means, to everyone you know.

  1. Did you know that Barack Obama is a devout Christian? He has been a member of the same United Church of Christ congregation for 20 years, and was married there to his wife Michelle in 1992.

  2. Did you know that Barack Obama often leads the US Senate in the Pledge of Allegiance?

  3. Did you know that Barack Obama is a strong friend of Israel and has spoken out strongly against anti-Semitism?

  4. Did you know his grandparents from Kansas were part of the "Greatest Generation?. His grandfather served with Patton's Army during World War II, and his grandmother, a real "Rosy the Riveter", worked in a bomber assembly plant back home.

  5. Did you know that Barack Obama was opposed to the war in Iraq from day one, before we invaded, even while he was running for the Senate, and knowing his opposition might be politically unpopular?
    "I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world and strengthen the recruitment arm of al Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars." --Barack Obama, 2002

  6. Did you know Obama favors transparency over secrecy in our government? Did you know that Obama worked with Republican Senator Tom Coburn to pass one of the strongest government transparency bills since the freedom of information act? He's calling it Google for Government and you can see the results at Sen. Obama has also released his own tax returns for public review.

  7. Did you know that after graduating with honors from Harvard Law School, Barack practiced civil rights law and also taught Constitutional Law for 10 years at the University of Chicago, one of the nation's best law schools, where he was consistentl y rated by his students as one of their best instructors? Did you also know that he was the first African-American elected pres ident of the prestigious Harvard Law Review?

  8. Did you know that Barack Obama is an outspoken advocate for women's rights and has been a principled defender of the civil rights of women?

  9. Did you know that despite the grueling schedule of running for President, Senator Obama remains a devoted family man, making time to do things like pick out a Christmas tree with his wife and two young daughters, or hurrying home to spend Valentine's Day with them? Did you know he hasn't missed a single parent-teacher conference while running for President?

  10. Did you know that Barack Obama has a stellar environmental record, including having the highest rating from the League of Conservation Voters (96%) of any Presidential candidate, Democrat or Republican?

  11. Did you know that Barack Obama has been an elected legislator longer than Senator Clinton?

  12. Did you know that Barack is a member of all of these Senate Committees: Foreign Relations; Veteran's Affairs; Health, Education, Labor & Pensions; Homeland Security and Government Affairs?

  13. Did you know that Senator Obama has sponsored or co-sponsored 15 bills that have become law, and has introduced amendments to 50 bills, of which 16 were adopted since he joined the Senate in 2005?

  14. Did you know that Senator Obama sponsored legislation working together with Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar, to keep Americans safe by keeping dangerous weapons out of terrorist hands? The two senators also visited the former Soviet Union to inspect the decommissioning of nuclear weapons. Sen. Lugar said of Sen. Obama, "He does have a sense of idealism and principled leadership, a vision of the future."

  15. Did you know that Barack Obama is the only candidate running for president who voted against using cluster bombs in Iraq and the only candidate who supports banning the use of landmines?

  16. Did you know that, as an Illinois state senator, Barack Obama succeeded in passing legislation requiring the videotaping of police interrogations, gaining the respect and support not only of fellow legislators but that of the police, who had initially opposed the legislation?

  17. Did you know that Theodore Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland, Ulysses S. Grant, John F. Kennedy, and Bill Clinton were all younger when they took office than Barack Obama will be?

During election season many emails are circulated about the candidates. Some are true, some aren't. It's often difficult to determine the truth. We encourage you to visit the following non-partisan sites that do a good job of fact checking the candidates.

Source for HTML version (and the history of this project): The Obama Viral Email Project

Additionally, if you receive an email smear about Barack Obama, the Obama campaign wants you to forward it to:

They are keeping tabs; please forward it on if you get one.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Incarceration Crisis Revisited -

(Cross-posted to Raising Kaine)

From the Washington Post comes the unsurprising news that more than one percent (1%) of all the adults in America are in jail or in prison. Record-High Ratio of Americans in Prison.

With more than 2.3 million people behind bars at the start of 2008, the United States leads the world in both the number and the percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving even far more populous China a distant second, noted the report by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States.

The ballooning prison population is largely the result of tougher state and federal sentencing imposed since the mid-1980s. Minorities have been hit particularly hard: One in nine black men age 20 to 34 is behind bars. For black women age 35 to 39, the figure is one in 100, compared with one in 355 white women in the same age group.

Last March Jim Webb surprised a lot of people by telling George Stephanopolous on This Week that
We've -- this is a chance to put a lot of issues on the table. One of the issues which never comes up in campaigns but it's an issue that's tearing this country apart is this whole notion of our criminal justice system, how many people are in our criminal justice system more -- I think we have two million people incarcerated in this country right now and that's an issue that's going to take two or three years to try to get to the bottom of and that's where I want to put my energy.

Talk about a voice crying out in the wilderness. Is anybody else even paying attention to this enormous social calamity? Can a society be called healthy which incarcerates so many of its members, and at least half the time for non-violent crimes rather than for actual crimes of violence or chronic recidivism? Something's wrong with this picture.
The article tells us
when it comes to preventing repeat offenses by nonviolent criminals -- who make up about half of the incarcerated population -- alternative punishments such as community supervision and mandatory drug counseling that are far less expensive may prove just as or more effective than jail time.

Florida, which nearly doubled its prison population over the past 15 years, has experienced a smaller drop in crime than New York, which, after a brief increase, reduced its number of inmates to below the 1993 level.

How about the money involved in jailing so many people?
over the past two decades, state spending on corrections (adjusted for inflation) increased by 127 percent, while spending on higher education rose by 21 percent. For every dollar Virginia spends on higher education, it now spends about 60 cents on corrections. Maryland spends 74 cents on corrections per higher-education dollar.

Despite reaching its latest milestone, the nation's incarcerated population has actually been growing far more slowly since 2000 than during the 1990s, when the spate of harsher sentencing laws began to take effect. These included a 1986 federal law mandating prison terms for crack cocaine offenses that were up to eight times as long as for those involving powder cocaine. In the early 1990s, states across the nation adopted "three-strikes-you're-out" laws and curtailed the discretion parole boards have in deciding when to release an inmate. As a result, between 1990 and 2000, the prison population swelled by about 80 percent, increasing by as much as 86,000 per year.

For over 20 years I've represented criminal defendants in the Virginia courts. Most of my clients have been lower income, minority, under-educated individuals with drug and alcohol problems. Some have significant mental health issues and are referred to as dual diagnosis.

Criminal defendants do not exist in a vacuum. Many have at least one child, at least one significant other (some have an impressive array of significant others, but I digress), and one or more parents or grandparents whose lives will be affected by their incarceration. Few things are more disheartening than watching a mother of young children go to prison for two or three years because her drug addiction is out of control and she steals to support it. It's difficult to tell distraught parents and dependents of such people that they may have to do without them for a few years. An extraordinary number of grandparents are raising their children's children or even their grandchildren's children. In these fractured families the children are at extremely high risk for early involvement in drugs, sex, and alcohol. The grandparents, lacking any financial contribution from incarcerated parents, are stretched to the limit.

There are diversion programs, and access to them has increased over the years. My only quibble with the article's statements about such programs is that they "may" be a better alternative. They ARE a better alternative. Diversion programs require the inmates to engage in counseling, critical self-analysis, job training, and proper management of their finances. Participants are required to pay their child support, address their addictions, learn new behaviors and take personal responsibility for their actions. Does anyone think warehousing people for years is even equal to the positive aspects of a diversion program?

Not everyone in a diversion program succeeds. Sometimes my clients are brought back before the court - it may be years after their diversion - for probation violations. Sometimes life's problems catch up with them and they decompensate, fall of the wagon, and re-offend. Mental health professionals understand this, that recovery from addiction is often a two steps forward/one step back type of process.

I could spend the next two hours highlighting my pet peeves with the criminal justice system. There are far too many offenses which have been labeled felonies, and far too many offenses which are actually symptomatic of social diseases or mental health disorders but which are aggressively prosecuted. There are few resources available for defendants who are genuinely mentally ill. Most diversion programs will not take dual diagnosis inmates. If they are bipolar, schizophrenic, suffering from other disorders requiring medication, then they are SOL when it comes to getting any help. We warehouse our mentally ill inmates and then kick them out into society to re-offend. Still, however, inmates who are eligible for diversion programs more often than not benefit from them. There are some good outpatient treatment programs and some good alternative diversion programs which gradually release inmates onto probation and into society. Some of my clients have gone through such programs, and years later I encounter them in the role of counselor to another inmate seeking diversion.