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Journal: Republicans Seek Cancer Research / alter electoral college

Journal by cybermage

As part of a signature drive by Republicans seeking to fund cancer research, they are also collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to alter California's electoral votes in their favor. People are being asked to sign a petition for cancer research and are being handed the petition for the electoral scheme. See the video

User Journal

Journal: How Far Should Water Recycling Go?

Journal by cybermage

In much of the western U.S., water demand vastly outstrips supply. Some municipalities are moving toward a greater use of recycled waste water as a means to stretch supply. It sounds good in theory, but how far should it go?

I'm prompted to consider the issue by a story reported in The Record, a paper in California's San Jaquin valley.

The Environmental Protection Agency has some guidelines on the use of recycled water -- much of which is geared toward non-potable uses (e.g., irrigation).

Something I find disturbing about the whole discussion is just what is left behind in the treatment process. Check out Wikipedia for a primer on water treatment if you are unfamiliar with the process. The EPA mandates that most municipalities treat their water through the "Secondary Treatment" stage. Water treated to the Secondary level is by no means drinkable. The EPA recommends it only be used for things with limited human exposure such as irrigation of non-food crops.

The issues with reuse of treated waste water are two fold:

If we raise the standards for the quality of reused water so that it can be used in more ways, some municipalities will release more waste water into rivers and streams instead of going to the expense of complying with the new standards.

If we allow more reuse at current standards, we risk greater exposure to the "metals, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals" that Secondary treatment leaves behind.

I believe more has to be done to achieve greater reuse of waste water. I also believe that big government cannot simply raise the standards and mandate greater reuse without passing out some money to make it happen.

Many people complain about the constant rise in their property taxes. Many of those same people cheer when the Federal and/or State government pass laws that require county and local governments to do more.

I, for one, cannot believe we tolerate water treated to only the secondary level being released into the environment at all. Especially when the technology exists to take it a step further. There is an opportunity here for true leadership at the federal level to fund a massive works bill to raise water standards AND put people to work improving the treatment plans and distribution systems.

Imagine the water conservation that could be achieved with more advanced treatment. We could run secondary water mains that people could use to water their lawns, flush their toilets, and irrigate their crops. The technology exists, the need is clear and present, but municipalities cannot just have new standards mandated to them.

United States

Journal: Understanding The Writers Strike

Journal by cybermage

Unless you live under a rock, you already know that the Writers Guild of America is on strike -- a move aimed at crippling the Motion Picture and Television industries. Since many major news outlets are controlled by the same organizations the writers are striking against, it is not surprising that people are not hearing the pittance for which the writers are asking. What follows is a selection of videos to explain the issue.

First, a simple explanation of the issues:

YouTube Link

Now, some humor from the writers of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to drive the point home:

The Daily Show Writers:

YouTube Link

The Colbert Report Writers:

YouTube Link

To summarize, here are the issues discussed in the videos:

Back when home video was just starting out, the WGA agreed to a 4 cent (not percent) royalty per VHS tape of a movie or TV show. That same 4 cents has been applied to the now booming DVD market. Home video is anything but fledgling at this point. The writers would like the 4 cents bumped to an astounding 8 cents.

On Internet downloads, like those through iTunes and Amazon Unboxed, the writers receive no royalties at all. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. With the real prospect coming of many people watching TV exclusively on the Internet, the writers want to be cut in for their fair share. The studios assert that there's no money to be made from the Internet, but as The Daily Show's writers point out. Viacom is suing Google for $1 Billion for copyright infringement via YouTube. Viacom also claims that their online content, like TheDailyShow.com will generate $500 Million in revenue this year.

Want to do something to support the writers? Visit http://www.fans4writers.com/.

User Journal

Journal: Afghanistan Falling Into Taliban Control

Journal by cybermage

As the U.S. remains distracted by the conflict it started in Iraq, the mission in Afghanistan gets further and further away from being "accomplished".

The Guardian has the story on the Taliban's resurgence in Afghanistan, which no have a presence in 54% of the country with unchallenged control of several districts.

Worse yet, they seem to be winning the war for the hearts and minds of Afghans. The failure of NATO to finish the job has led to constant conflict with Taliban and al Qaeda forces. Many Afghans would rather have peace under Taliban rule than chaos that democracy (if you can call it that) has brought to their country.

Will America's next president do anything to finish the war in Afghanistan? Will it be too late by then?

United States

Journal: Rockefeller Taking Telco Money As He Pushes Their Immunity

Journal by cybermage

Think Telco execs don't think they did anything wrong complying with the government's warrantless wiretap requests, well take a look at to whom they're donating their money.

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virignia) has found himself on the receiving end of 10s of thousands in donations from telephone company executives this year. A level of donation that is is stark contrast to an previous year.

We all know what the telco exec's are hoping to get in return: Immunity from prosecution. So far, it seems likely that that is exactly what Rockefeller will deliver.

I realize this is all business as usual, but in this day and age of instant news and blogosphere firestorms, isn't there something we can do about such blatant corruption?

User Journal

Journal: Saddam Offered To Leave Without A Fight

Journal by cybermage

One month before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein offered to go into exile in exchange of $1 Billion. Contrast that with the Bush Administration's current request for another $195 Billion to continue the war.

The Evening Standard has the story, which, if confirmed, may be the biggest crime of the whole war. The report comes from a taped conversation between president Bush and then Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar at the President's Crawford, Texas ranch.

However, according to the tapes, one month before he launched the invasion Mr Bush appeared convinced that Saddam was serious about going into exile.

"The Egyptians are speaking to Saddam Hussein," said Mr Bush.

"It seems he's indicated he would be prepared to go into exile if he's allowed to take $1 billion and all the information he wants about weapons of mass destruction."

It is possible that Bush took him up on the offer and Saddam reneged; but given the White House's refusal to comment on the story, it is more likely that one of the few remaining justifications for the invasion, the removal of Saddam, may be yet another made-up excuse.

User Journal

Journal: Yet Another Excuse For War With Iran 1

Journal by cybermage

Each day seems to bring another excuse Bush can use to justify his forthcoming war with Iran. Today comes news of Iran firing shells into Iraq. That's an actual, honest to God, act of war.

Reuters has the story of the shelling. It seems that independence minded Kurds are not only a thorn in Turkey's side, but in Iran's as well. As a result, Iran is shelling rebel positions on the Iraq side of the border.

If the Bush Administration wanted to, they could use this issue as another excuse to start a war with Iran. Under International Law, It could be argued that the U.S., as the occupying force in Iraq, even has an obligation to defend Iraq from Iranian aggression.

Don't think the shelling is enough to justify war? How about the guns and money crossing the border to support the insurgency. Then, of course, there are reports from British soldiers in the south that some insurgents are Iranian Military elements.

Paints a bleak picture, doesn't it? Well, it gets worse. It seems talk of a limited strike to take out Iran's nuclear facilities has mushroomed into plans to strike some 10,000 targets with a goal of regime change.

What can we do with a madman at the helm? Well, for one thing, examine the evidence that will be used to justify the war. Tell everyone you know what's being planned in their name. Blog about it. Raise awareness. Do everything you can to soften the hard edge of the White House/NeoCon/FoxNews propoganda machine.

Iran is playing a dangerous game in Iraq -- a game that could justify a strike back from the U.S. without congressional action. There is little we can do to stop either administration's provocations, but we can work to keep the wool from being pulled over the eyes of ourselves or our neighbors.

User Journal

Journal: Gonzales Resigns

Journal by cybermage

With an announcement scheduled for this morning, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has resigned.

CNN has the story of Gonzales' resignation as the culmination of a process began when nine U.S. Attorneys were dismissed for seemingly political reasons.

CNN believes Bush will move to replace Gonzales with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. It is unclear whether he will formally nominate him or take advantage of what remains of a congressional recess to put him in office directly.

Further Reading:
      Time: Bush Needs Gonzales To Avoid Prosecutors
      Congress Alleges Illegal Activity During And After Attorney Firings
      Contempt Meet Disdain
      Justice Department Working To Shrink Voter Rolls
      Gonzales Plans Annual Political Reviews For U.S. Attorneys

User Journal

Journal: Illegal Immigration Myths And Facts

Journal by cybermage

As the Department of Homeland Security prepares its "no match" assault on American businesses that employ illegal immigrants, it's time to examine common misconceptions about the role illegal immigrants play in American business.

In a recent discussion of the disproportionate impact "no match" will have on California, it occurred to me that there's quite a bit of misunderstanding in regards to the role illegal immigrants play in American society. Let's see if we can't clear some of that up:

Myth: Illegal Immigrants Are Taking Jobs Away From Americans.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there was 7.1 unemployed Americans in July or an unemployment rate of 4.6%.

Full employment, if it could be attained, might mean a reduction in the unemployment rate to 3-4% before rising labor costs drove the jobs overseas; but, more than likely we're as close as we're getting to Full Employment while we are willing to compete with third-world labor rates.

It is estimated that there are over 7 million illegal immigrants holding jobs in the U.S. Many of those workers work in low skill, low wage jobs that many Americans do not want. When you look at unemployment by the sectors of the economy where illegal immigrants can be found (construction, agriculture, Non-Durable Goods, Hospitality), there's less than 2 million unemployed Americans. Now, before you say that those 2 million people lost their jobs to illegal immigrants, consider this bit of analysis:

More than a third of illegal immigrants live in just three cities: New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. But even in these places, economists believe there is minimal impact on wages. That's because many Americans from other parts of the country choose not to move to areas with large numbers of immigrants, because they want to avoid competing for jobs.

Myth: Illegal Immigrants Tax Social Services

It is undeniable that illegal immigrants use some parts of social services in this country. For example: Their children, often American born and entitled anyway, attend school; and, they go to the hospital when they get sick.

However, a study into the cost of government services for illegal immigrants found that "the costs that illegal-immigrant households bear on the federal government are less than half that of other households". It should be noted that that was a study arguing against amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Myth: Illegal Immigrants Hold Down Wages

A study by the Center for Immigration Studies suggests that competition from illegal immigrants reduced the wages for comparably skilled Americans by 7.4% over the past 20 years.

Logically, on its face, there is some truth to that, and this article has some statistics to back it up:

Pay in construction and hospitality, sectors known for relying heavily on immigrant labor, have not grown as quickly as pay in other areas, state Department of Labor and Employment figures show.

Average construction wages rose 1.2 percent from 2001 to 2005, after adjusting for Denver-area inflation. Hotel, motel and restaurant pay increased 4.2 percent. Contrast that with the finance and health care industries, which saw inflation-adjusted gains of 6.3 percent and 8.9 percent.

However, the article goes on to make some other important points about low-skilled labor:

Without immigration, companies likely would replace employees with automation and manufacturers would move more work offshore. Businesses say they might boost wages if the cheap labor force dried up, but they also would raise prices for consumers and probably open fewer new restaurants or factories. And that means fewer jobs.

Lower wages paid to illegal immigrants keep more jobs and manufacturing in the U.S. Everyone would pay higher prices for just about everything without illegal immigrants. That kind of inflation will produce more unemployment as people are forced to cut out expenses like eating out, seeing a movie, etc. Remove illegal immigrants from the equation and wages wont rise; the jobs will simply disappear.

Myth: Food Prices Will Not Soar If Americans Did The Work

First of all, Americans won't do the work. Californian growers are having a hard time keeping illegal immigrants doing the work. Last Year's use of the National Guard to tighten border security produced worker shortages on California farms. California produces nearly half of all fruits, vegetable and nuts grown in the U.S. and the industry freely admits that 80-90 percent of their workers are likely illegal.

According to the American Farm Bureau, farmers actually see about 22% of the retail price of the food they grow. If farmers saw a 25% increase in their cost of production as a result of having to hire only Americans to do the work and only their wholesale price rose accordingly, consumers would see food prices rise 5%, but more likely a higher fraction of the 25% would be passed up the chain likely resulting in a 10-15% rise in food prices.

Farmers are already paying an average of $9.31 an hour for field workers and are forced to hire illegal immigrants to do the work. That's well above minimum wage. At some point, we have to recognize that Americans don't want these jobs; or, we have to accept that if the pay were raised to the point that Americans would do the work, the food could be imported cheaper.

A Final Thought

I am constantly amazed by the advocates of "free trade" and "market forces" who turn around and begrudge the contribution of illegal immigration to our economy. I've spoken to libertarians who practically in the same breath call the minimum wage market interference and argue that cheap illegal labor takes jobs away from Americans. Is it their hope that in the absence of illegal immigrants Americans will settle for lower wages? Reduced supply of labor will drive the price of labor higher. Higher domestic labor costs makes overseas manufacturing and automation more attractive. That's all Economics 101.

User Journal

Journal: Another Day, Another Free Speech Arrest 2

Journal by cybermage

Police in Asheville, NC arrested a man for standing on a bridge overlooking the highway holding an "Impeach Bush" sign that could be read by vehicles passing by on the highway. He was charged with obstructing the sidewalk.

According to the Ashville Citizen Times, police are now looking to change the charge to something involving public safety saying:

"The intent was public safety and the banner being a hazard," Asheville police Capt. Wade Wood said. "That's basically to the benefit of the motoring public."

The protestor, Jonas Phillips, describes the event in a blog entry:

On Wednesday August 15, I was standing alone with my sign for about 10 minutes, when I was approached by Police Officer Russell Crisp. He asked me how long I was planning to stay there and I told him just a few more minutes because I had to go to work at 8:00. He asked for my ID and I obliged. I asked him if I was doing something wrong, and he said that his Sergeant was on the way and he was going to wait for him. SO, I went back to my sign holding over the interstate.

A few minutes later Sergeant Randy Riddle showed up with a paper in his hand. He spoke briefly to Crisp, then walked over to me and told me to put down my sign, put my hands behind my back, and that I was under arrest! I was shocked and almost thought he was joking until he told me again to put down the sign and put my hands behind me and I was under arrest. So I peacefully agreed and he cuffed me. I asked him why I was being arrested, he told me I was in violation County Ordinance 16-2, (the print out in his hand that he didn't bother to read to me or show me.) He told me I was obstructing the sidewalk. I told him I was not and that officer Crisp had witnessed a guy walk by me moments before.

Riddle yelled at me, "You were obstructing the sidewalk!" and "I'm sick of this shit!" then he said, "Here's your 15 minutes of fame buddy!" I looked back to see his name plate and he said in a mean condescending tone, "Yea, that's 'Sergeant Riddle' get it right!" He then put me in Officer Crisp's police car. Riddle took my sign with him and I was taken downtown and booked by Crisp. I was never read my Miranda rights.

While at the jail I was asked several times about what groups or organizations I was with, like a local group Veterans for Peace. And more specifically the Southeast Convergence for Climate Action group that had protested at the Bank of America on Monday. I was told by officer Crisp that since that protest the police had pulled out this ordinance. I was searched, and they took pictures of me and my tattoos. Since I haven't been in trouble in 15 years, I was given a court date and allowed to sign a written promise to appear in court.

Again we see an example of local yahoo initiative to curtail dissenting speech. At the risk of repeating myself from a story yesterday, Many will hear this news story and will store away the fact that expressing their political views on a sign will get them in trouble with the law, and they'll think twice before they do it themselves.

User Journal

Journal: Republican War On California? 1

Journal by cybermage

As the Department of Homeland Security prepares for an assault on businesses that hire illegal immigrants, Californians in particular can look forward to economic and social devastation.

The San Francisco Chronicle has an editorial that really draws the issue into sharp contrast.

Within weeks, the Dept. of Homeland Security, in concert with the Social Security Administration, is planning to send out waves of "no match" letters to employers. If an employee's Social Security information does not match those on file with the federal government, the employer will be required to fire the worker within 90 days, if the discrepancy can't be resolved. If the worker isn't fired, the employer will be subject to a $2,200 fine per worker, and stiffer penalties later on.

California's agriculture industry has a hard time employing sufficient people to pick crops with the use of illegal immigrants. It will be downright impossible without them. Food will rot in the fields; farms will go bankrupt; and, prices in stores will skyrocket.

While the editorial is excellent, it misses something obvious in its analysis of the Bush Administration's game plan: Strikes, Crime and Riots. If the administration is successful in its bid to drive illegal immigrants from the workplace, the immigrants will not return home: They will just join the ranks of the unemployed in this country. People sympathetic to their cause will go on strike. Illegals without jobs will either turn to crime or find themselves homeless. If enough rage builds in some immigrant communities, we could see riots.

All this activity will get news coverage, and it will embolden the right-wing, anti-immigration conservative wing-nuts who want to deport anyone who's in the U.S. illegally. Right-wing talk radio will be abuzz about how the immigrant menace needs to be rounded up. Come election season in California, if people are scared enough they'll vote for Republicans who'll be preaching anti-immigration, law and order stuff.

The Administration's goal is two fold, placate their xenophobic base and seize control of the largest state in the union. Think I'm crazy? Check out this story of a ballot initiative in California to divvy up electoral votes by congressional district.

Everything the administration does is about gathering and consolidating power in Republican hands. Don't forget that for a moment.

User Journal

Journal: Criminalization Of Free Speech Continues

Journal by cybermage

In another patriotic stomping on free speech, a man in Kent, Ohio has been charged with littering for putting up an "Impeach Bush" sign.

The story of this incident is really one of poor judgment. It would probably not be an issue if Kevin Egler, the poster of the sign, had placed it on his own property. Instead, he posted the sign along the road on the right-of-way like any other sign you might see during political season.

Most municipalities and/or states, regulate the timing of the placement of such signs along the road to ensure they are not a constant eyesore. When campaigns step outside those guidelines, they are simply asked to remove the signs. That was not the case here, and that is the important part of the story. In this case, authorities charged Mr Egler with littering -- a charge that could lead to a $500 fine or 60 days in jail.

The worst part of a story like this is what the effect is has on the population's psyche. Many will hear this news story and will store away the fact that expressing their political views on a lawn sign will get them in trouble with the law, and they'll think twice before they do it themselves. What they should be doing is rallying to Egler's side and put up lawn signs of their own.

People must be willing to defend the freedoms of others as if they were defending their own or this nation is doomed. Always keep this poem in mind when you hear these stories:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -
        because I was not a Socialist.

        Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out -
        because I was not a Trade Unionist.

        Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -
        because I was not a Jew.

        Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me.

User Journal

Journal: GOP Used Tax Dollars To Boost Campaigns

Journal by cybermage

In a possible violation of the Hatch Act, the Bush Administration used federal funds to boost efforts to elect Republican candidates in key battleground states.

McClatchy Newspapers has the story of efforts within the administration to use federal dollars to bolster the campaigns of republican candidates. The strategy, a clear violation of the Hatch Act, works like this:

Political operatives in the White House coordinated political briefings in the Treasury and Commerce Departments that outlined the campaigns that needed assistance. Cabinet officers from those departments then make appearances with the candidates at which they announce grants the federal government is giving within the candidates district. The appearances and the grants were funded with tax payer dollars.

In the months leading up to the 2002 election, then-Commerce Secretary Don Evans, Bush's former campaign finance chairman, made eight appearances or announcements with Republican incumbents in districts deemed by White House aides either as competitive districts or battleground presidential states.

During the stops, he doled out millions of dollars in grants, including in two public announcements with Rep. Heather Wilson, a New Mexico Republican in a competitive district.

The House Oversight Committee is investigating the issue but will no doubt run into more claims of executive privilege until Bush runs out the clock.

User Journal

Journal: Couple Wins $80,000 Over Anti-Bush Shirts

Journal by cybermage

A Texas couple who were removed from a July 4th rally for wearing anti-bush t-shirts settled their lawsuit with the federal government for $80,000.

The Associated Press has the story. The couple attended a rally where president Bush was to give a speech wearing their home-made protest shirts and were arrested for trespassing.

Their arrest, it seems, is part of official government policy:

The ACLU said in a statement that a presidential advance manual makes it clear that the government tries to exclude dissenters from the president's appearances. "As a last resort," the manual says, "security should remove the demonstrators from the event."

Sounds like a good way to make money if you ask me.

Reprinted with permission from apathy.net.

United States

Journal: Pentagon Agrees: al Qaeda Will Not Take Iraq If US Withdraws

Journal by cybermage

Pentagon war games confirm what was reported here two weeks ago: al Qaeda will not take over in Iraq if the U.S. leaves. This is in direct contradiction to Bush's claims to the contrary.

The Washington Post reports on the Pentagon's war gaming of such scenarios.

The Pentagon believes that were the U.S. to leave now, "three developments would be likely to unfold. Majority Shiites would drive Sunnis out of ethnically mixed areas west to Anbar province. Southern Iraq would erupt in civil war between Shiite groups. And the Kurdish north would solidify its borders and invite a U.S. troop presence there. In short, Iraq would effectively become three separate nations."

These developments do not include either al Qaeda or Iran taking over any portion of Iraq as president Bush's scare-mongering has repeatedly suggested.

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