August 29, 2006

Remembering The Storm II: A Year After Hurricane Katrina

As politicians from both sides of the aisle converge on New Orleans, Gulfport, and Biloxi to make themselves seen and heard, and while the President makes statements a year after the storm that amounts to the same statements that he made in the storm’s wake: essentially absolving himself and the federal government of any and all responsibility with regard to the storm while simultaneously touting the reconstruction money sent to the Gulf Coast as his own, the victims of Hurricane Katrina in both Louisiana and Mississippi are struggling and praying to see a few dollars of the so-pledged billions to rebuild their homes, their communities, their businesses, and their lives.

The cars may have been towed away and the mud washed over, but the homes still stand in ruin, and parts of the gulf coast are still in horrible states of disrepair, with local governments and development corporations failing to offer the victims anything near their homes’ value in trade for a spot to build a casino or strip mall-and that’s if they’re lucky enough to get an offer from someone. Many survivors still live in FEMA trailers that they only recieved a few months ago, waiting for word from the authorities as to whether or not they’re eligable for help. The story on the gulf coast a year later isn’t completely bad, though-there’s signs of life all across the storm-ravaged region, but it would do us well on this anniversary to look back and remember not only the failed conservative policies that favored the insurance and business interests that subsequently abandoned, under-insured, or completely washed their hands of the people who lived on the gulf coast, the dissection of FEMA-touted at the end of the Clinton Administration by both parties as the “one thing the federal government is doing right,”-in the name of “homeland security,” and champion private industry who happily leave the poorest and most vulnerable high and dry because they’re not “profitable” while similarly dismantling the public social service programs aimed to give even those Americans the faintest glimmer of the hope and opportunity that their wealthiest countrymen see every day.

This series of articles is another look back at how we got here, and a look forward at where we’re going, and whether or not we’re ready to get there.

[ Katrina’s Second Crisis ]
Source: TomPaine.com

[ When Government Shrugs: Lessons of Katrina ]
Source: The Progressive

[ Bush’s Broken Promises to Katrina Victims ]
Source: The Progressive

[ Planning for Disaster ]
Source: TomPaine.com

August 26, 2006

Remembering The Storm: A Year After Hurricane Katrina

I’ve been watching the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall on the gulf coast with some trepidation, as the sores and wounds that were ripped open by the storm haven’t quite yet closed, and the lives ravaged by the hurricane have most definitely not healed. The infrastructure is still in shambles, and while people are slowly returning and making New Orleans their home again, crime is still an issue, the poorest and most vulnerable-those hit the hardest by the storm-are still left in limbo around the country wondering, even a year later, if they should come home and what life they’d have if they did, and the city is definitely not ready for another major storm, even as one lurks in the Atlantic, making threatening motions towards the same region that Katrina did a year ago.

A lot of work is still left to be done in the gulf region, and a lot of lives still left to be pieced together. A lot was lost, and a lot has been gained. There’s good news and bad news, but all around there is more concerning news, concerning that the resources and money needed to bring the city back to stability and hopefully improve the conditions before the storm aren’t making it there, and concerning news that the issues that we as an American people promised ourselves we’d address after the storm have most certainly not been addressed.

Below is a collection of articles and commentary, required reading, if you will, if you’re as concerned as many Americans are about not just how poorly the federal government responded to the emergency, but also how the lives of millions have been changed since and how far we have to go.

[ They Called It Katrina ]
Source: TruthOut

[ Trying to Make It Home: New Orleans One Year After Katrina ]
Source: TruthOut

[ Katrina’s Bulldozer Politics ]
Source: TomPaine.com

[ Botched Katrina Response Still Haunts Bush ]
Source: The New York Times

New Method Makes Embryo-Safe Stem Cells

The new method, which allows an embryo to multiply into multiple cells before harvesting only a single cell to produce a stem cell line without stopping the rapid cell division that will eventually turn into a viable embryo, has been met with much praise and desire for additional testing from the scientific community, who sees the possibility as a way to subvert the ethical and social concerns of the conservative right (specifically with regard to frozen embryos that have been left behind from in-vitro fertilizations and are no longer wanted by the donors) as well as make progress with the kind of scientific research that can very well save lives.

And the Bush Administration’s response? “Nice try, but not good enough.”

Essentially the Bush Administration claims to be holding out for more scientific testing, but isn’t particularly pleased with the discovery of the new method. Why? Well, it means that the scientific community outsmarted their conservative ideology, for one thing, but it also means that the life-control mindset has to be adjusted; now the Adminstration has to focus on the potential risks to the developing embryo in order to block additional funding for the research, and in the end show their true colors: that of a “culture of death,” who will do anything they can to make sure that anything even approximate to reproductive rights and science are stifled and swept under the rug-that ideology always takes its palce before scientific discovery, even if the lives of millions of Americans and millions more around the world hang in the balance.

[ New Method Makes Embryo-Safe Stem Cells
Source: The Associated Press (courtesy of Yahoo! News)

Marine Reservists Facing Combat Duty

Not just any reservists, either, the Marines’ Ready Reserve, or soliders who have been placed on inactive reserve-who do not participate in drills or training exercises, who have most often served at least one tour in Iraq already and are being offered a chance at civilian life with the possibility of being called up in an emergency.

The last time the Ready Reserve was activated was in 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq.

The fact that these soliders are being called up involuntarily, in groups of a thousand or more at a time, is a frightening prospect, and is a stark reminder of both how bad the war in Iraq is going, how pointless the entire conflict has been up to this point, and how we could similarly be looking at a military draft in the near future if volunteers to fight this no-man’s war keep lagging.

An analyst I heard on the radio recently pointed out that this war isn’t going to be over anytime soon. Leaving is a horrible option because it would spin the country into chaos and truly make it what Bush’s war has made it-a safe haven for terrorists without the kind of infrastructure that could drive them out and keep order, but staying for another year or so won’t make as much difference as it’ll maintain the status quo, with civilians and American soliders dying by the day. To make the kind of progress that President Bush is calling for, American troops will be in Iraq for several years, perhaps even a decade or longer. He pointed out that while discussing these prospects with reporters, he could see kindergarden-age children running and playing up the street from his office, and thought to himself that at least one of those children will probably serve and die in Iraq. It’s a saddening and frightening concept, that today’s children will suffer for the war-hungry aggression and diplomatic blindness of their parents.

[ Marine Reservists Facing Combat Duty ]
Source: The Washington Post

Once-Powerful Christian Coalition Is Falling Apart

And it’s about time.

The Christian Coalition is losing chapters, members, and money, and I’m glad to see it happening. This doesn’t necessarily mean a turn of people to progressive politics, as this decline has been happening for a while, but I do think that many people are sick and tired of the kind of lifestyle management that evangelical christian fundamentalists in America have been responsible for, and the kinds of backwards-headed and wrong-minded public policy they’d like to see enacted; from the Ten Commandments on the steps of every public building to the insistance of prayer in school. (sorry Jewish boy, you’ll just have to sit in the corner and be isolated or convert)

Giles predicted further defections and said the coalition was now left with only a half-dozen strong state chapters and a weak presence in Washington.

“In our prime, we were rated the seventh-most powerful lobbying organization in the country,” he said. “Now, there’s not even any blip on the radar screen.”

At its peak, the coalition had a presence in every state, but in some cases a modest one.

The coalition’s president, Roberta Combs, insisted her organization — which is $1 million in debt — would survive the defections, and was unapologetic about her interest in new directions.

I specifically like that part in the middle, about not being a blip on the radar screen. Perfection in words right there-and they shouldn’t be a blip on anyone’s radar screen. Religion is about communities, about people in their hometowns and states making community decisions, not about reaching the long arm of the pulpit into the bedrooms and living rooms and onto the computers of the millions of Americans who have nothing to do with their communities, their specific community values (as backwards as some of them can be, like refusing to allow multiracial people in their churches for example) or their own opinions of right and wrong. The American people are tired of their social progress and dialogue being dominated by people who saw the 1950’s as the highlight of American society, and long for a return to a time when the only people they saw around them were just like they were.

[ Christian Coalition Losing Chapters ]
Source: The Associated Press (courtesy of Yahoo! News)

‘Morning After’ Pill Is Cleared for Wider Sales

Finally, the FDA has put science before political ideology and approved the Emergency Contraceptive Pill, known as “Plan B” or the “Morning After Pill,” for over the counter sales in pharmacies around the country. Sadly, the over-the-counter availability is only for women 18 and over, and women under 18 will still have to obtain a prescription, (or find someone over 18 to purchase it for them) and both groups will still have to speak to a pharmacist to have it given to them. This brings up a whole other world of debate, however, even as it is a significant success-pharmacists around the country are letting their personal ideals prevail over their medical duties and are harassing and humiliating women for filling their birth control prescriptions or up until now filling prescriptions for the emergency contraceptive pill.

The religious and conservative right, again with the lifestyle control, are still hopelessly trying to connect emergency contraception with abortion and promiscuity and everything else that’s “bad and evil” in their war on sex and sexuality, and claimed that the FDA has “caved to abortion-rights groups.” How about “caved to scientific evidence?” I think that’s a bit more appropriate.

While this is a victory not just for women and progressives around the country who were tired of seeing conservative ideology seep into public policy as a means of controlling people’s lives, there is still work to be done to get emergency contraception, which has been deemed safe for over-the-counter sales by literally every advisory panel and study done into the matter, available freely over the counter and hanging on the shelves of your local pharmacy. While we can celebrate this victory, we can’t move forward blindly with the assumption that just because a woman is under 18, a broken condom or a sexual abuse is anything less than an “emergency.” Access to the pill should be free for all women, but this is definitely a positive move and a step forward for not just women’s rights, but human rights.

[ ‘Morning After’ Pill Is Cleared for Wider Sales ]
Source: The New York Times

Evolution Major Vanishes From Approved Federal List

I’ve often railed about the obsessive need of the conservative right to control the lives and thoughts of the American people, to press their ideology on every individual American regardless of whether its right or wrong, whether they want to accept it or not, or whether its congruent with a person’s beliefs or personal ideology. To the social conservative, it’s not up to the individual or the community to decide what’s right or wrong, it’s not right for you or I to decide how we should live our lives, when we should raise a family, where we should live and who we should be able to marry, it’s up to their own sense of moral self-righteousness, based in either their religious beliefs or a fascist sense of crusading destiny that makes them believe that only they can keep America from going to hell in the proverbial handbasket.

And that mindset strikes again. The Department of Education apparently doesn’t believe that Evolutionary Biology is a worthwhile topic of study in American colleges and Universities, or at least they have no plans on supporting students who wish to study it but also want to apply for the Federal SMART grant, a college grant designed to assist low-income college students trying to make their way to and through college. Is it just that the Bush Administration doesn’t believe in science? Or doesn’t believe in evolution? Or is it simply that the Bush Administration will use whatever power necessary to keep people from studying what they deem improper, specifically low-income students who need the help the most? Or is it, perhaps, just another form of conservative thought control?

Students cannot simply list something else on an application form, said Mr. Nassirian of the registrars’ association. “Your declared major maps to a CIP code,” he said.

Mr. Nassirian said people at the Education Department had described the omission as “a clerical mistake.” But it is “odd,” he said, because applying the subject codes “is a fairly mechanical task. It is not supposed to be the subject of any kind of deliberation.”

“I am not at all certain that the omission of this particular major is unintentional,” he added. “But I have to take them at their word.”

Scientists who knew about the omission also said they found the clerical explanation unconvincing, given the furor over challenges by the religious right to the teaching of evolution in public schools. “It’s just awfully coincidental,” said Steven W. Rissing, an evolutionary biologist at Ohio State University.

Jeremy Gunn, who directs the Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief at the American Civil Liberties Union, said that if the change was not immediately reversed “we will certainly pursue this.”

People use the quote that “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” to justify American action in the middle east or the so-called “war on terror.” I think it’s far more applicable here at home.

[ Evolution Major Vanishes From Approved Federal List ]
Source: The New York Times

The Most Trusted Names in News (Really!)

Alternet has put together an impressive list of journalists who can seriously be considered the “no bullshit” reporters; people who dare to tell it like it is, tell both sides of the debate and allow you to make up your own mind, or at the very least who aren’t tainted by the political poison that many journalists today (especially the likes of those who desk-pound hour after hour on Fox News) tend to swallow. Larisa Alexandrovna, the author of the collection, says it best at the very beginning of her piece:

American journalism is not represented by the media establishment, which has essentially been co-opted into an extension of government-sponsored propaganda, or else has demeaned itself into a Vanna White-style superficiality, spinning content in order to sell another product.

But in a media era where propagandists and shills are ascendant, there remain a number of journalists who sustain the principles on which our free press was founded: to protect the governed from their elected officials and from the unelected corporate elite, always determined to skirt the law and undermine the social contract.

What the mainstream press has shamelessly proven — more so over the last five years, is its complete contempt for its readers and viewers — by presenting nifty parcels for purchase, as though facts can be diced and repackaged and still maintain their original meaning.

Or as the legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow put it: “If we were to do the Second Coming of Christ in color for a full hour, there would be a considerable number of stations which would decline to carry it on the grounds that a Western or a quiz show would be more profitable.”

Agreed, wholeheartedly. And wow, I miss Edward R. Murrow. I was never around to see this great journalist, but I can only wish someone would adequately follow in his footsteps. And Alexandrovna has a nominee in the form of Keith Olbermann, of MSNBC’s Countdown. But she doesn’t stop there. She also gives credit where credit is due to Lou Dobbs, who may be disagreeable politically in many regards, but at least tells it like it is, and moves on to investigative reporters like Sy Hersh, Laura Rozen, and Charlie Savage. It’s an excellent list, full of reporters whose names can be seen in the bylines some of the most groundbreaking and important stories in recent memory.

[ The Most Trusted Names in News (Really!) ]
Source: Alternet

Feinstein Unveils Democrats’ Plan to Cut Greenhouse Gas

I’m incredibly happy to see the Democrats taking the lead on the issue of global climate change. People have already begun to see the effects, from intense hurricane seasons around the world (in the US in the past several years, and Typhoon Saomai that hit China this year, for example) to storms of tornadoes across the midwest, to record lack of sea ice year after year, to polar bears turning to cannibalism because a lack of stable ice keeps them from their food sources. The head-in-the-sand crowd have all but given up on decrying climate change as something that’s not happening, but now they’re scrambling and looking for pseudoscientific explanations for why it might be happening, including improbable and improvable theories that the earth is actually cooling, climate change is due to an increase in solar activity, and other off-the-wall theories that fly in the face of real experimental evidence obtained by actual climatologists who are concerned with the toll on the global climate that human action is taking.

The Democrats have long been the environmental party-the political wing of the government concerned with preserving our natural resources, eliminating energy dependance on foriegn and unstable countries, and riling against business and development interests who would turn national parks into condominiums and pave through them with walking trails for those who could actually afford said condos, but they’ve been something of lacking on the issue of climate change. Everyone agrees that we have to do something, painful as it might be to give up our addiction to foriegn oil or to cut back on greenhouse emissions, but it has to be done.

Feinstein’s plan has some excellent points:

The bills would require carmakers to improve mileage and would coax power producers to meet emission standards, while extending California-style green-technology programs nationwide.

“There now is a scientific consensus that global warming is happening and we can’t stop it,” Feinstein said during an interview. “The effort we have to make is to restrict it.”

Parts of her speech touched on legislation already introduced, such as a requirement that cars, sport utility vehicles and light trucks get another 10 miles per gallon within 10 years.

But Feinstein also called for new provisions, in particular a proposal to bring agriculture and forest managers into a market system for greenhouse gas emissions known as “cap and trade.” This would allow farmers and landowners who plant trees or convert crops into bio-fuels to earn emission credits that could be sold to companies that exceed emission limits.

That could help alter the politics of the climate change debate in farm states and perhaps in some corporate circles, although coal producers have made clear that they will fight any program along the lines that Feinstein is proposing.

Internationally, the program would put the United States in a position to lead, Feinstein said, and would help coax countries such as China and India to hold down their emissions, too, despite fast-growing economies.

I’m glad to see Diane Feinstein unveiling a real plan, and not just revealing what we can do to make a difference in climate change, but to also put the Republicans on the defensive of the issue, the party who has flip flopped between being concerned with the issue but not enough to do anything about it and having their collective heads in the sand on the issue. Now we have to see if the energy and auto industries, who both wield enormous power in Washington, will go along with the ideas, or do everything they can to destroy any environmental progress that America could possibly make-as they have in the past.

[ Feinstein Unveils Democrats’ Plan to Cut Greenhouse Gas ]
Source: SFGate.com

Pastor Leaves After Church Turns Away Biracial Boy

I don’t see how these people can call themselves Christians.

Seriously, this isn’t so much a massive political commentary, nor am I going to go on at length to espouse what’s obviously clear in this article. I’ll make this short and sweet:

Hatred is still here in America, still to be fought against, and still a serious, permenent force in American life; that it lurks in the corners, in the shadows of the light of just beyond the range of our lantern of justice and hope. It’s still there, people. Stop ignoring it, stop pretending it’s not there, stop pretending it’ll go away if minorities would just stop complaining about it. It’s there.

[ Pastor Leaves After Church Turns Away Biracial Boy ]
Source: Religion News Blog