News & Notes December 8, 2010

I haven’t been able to write much this past month due to some health issues.  I spent most of Sunday in the hospital and, hopefully, things are beginning to work out.  Since around election day I’ve had a terrible cluster headache.  I’m prone to these so I wasn’t too terribly concerned until it got even worse rather than improving.  I went to the hospital Sunday and discovered I’m suffering from high blood pressure.  I’m now testing myself every day to determine if this is a chronic condition which will necessitate medication.  I apologize for not being able to write much of late because of these issues.

Kirk has been keeping the blog going and my thanks to him for that.  The war being waged on Wikileaks scares me because the government could decide to do this against any internet site it decided it disliked.  Freedom of the press is essential in a free society even if we don’t like what’s being published.  A free people have the right to know what their government is doing in their name and if governments don’t want such things published then perhaps they shouldn’t be doing them.

We lost Elizabeth Edwards yesterday, a noble and strong voice for progressive issues she fought a the valiant fight against cancer.  She will be missed.

Thirty years ago we lost another voice that of John Lennon.  I recall my radio alarm clock going off that morning to instantly hear the tragic news.  His was a voice for peace, harmony and love.  Though he didn’t his voice and his message live on.

Julian Assange is not a terrorist

Julian Assange the embattled and now imprisoned owner of Wikileaks is NOT the bad guy with regard to the leaked U.S. diplomatic cables.

Any journalist on the planet would publish those cables if they had them. And in fact every news outlet on the planet are watching the Wikileaks website, reading every cable that’s published and splashing the contents across the airwaves and front pages of every newspaper on the planet.

The REAL criminal is the person or persons who stole the data and the U.S. government itself who allowed so many people access to confidential data.

So when Mitch McConnell says Assange is a high tech terrorist he’s wrong. Assange didn’t steal the data…it was given to him. And what is his terroristic goal? To get the U.S. to tell the truth…well yes that would be a terrible thing. I’m sure the government doesn’t want anything to do with ‘the truth’.

To those who says Assange is guilty of treason, they are wrong. Assange is not a citizen of the U.S. and treason is a crime against ones own country.

Assange is a web-based journalist…nothing more. Just like the NY Times who published the Pentagon Papers, he was given material and he published it.

I don’t see the difference except that the government is highly embarrassed.

People are screaming that U.S. lives are at risk…really? Whose? How? when you ask these people to present some proof to back up that statement all you hear is the sound of crickets.

Why have Visa and Mastercard stopped allowing Wikileaks to receive donations via their credit cards? Who brought pressure to do that? Why was Amazon essentially forced to stop hosting Wikileaks last week. Who brought pressure to do that? I’m not sure I believe they did that because of an SLA violation. Why is the Wikileaks website being electronically attacked? Who is responsible for that? Who is REALLY the high-tech terrorist here?

Cyberwar has been declared against Wikileaks and the most obvious candidate for the perpetrator is our own government. I mean come on…the timing is VERY convenient.

Julian Assange and Wikileaks are not the theives. Who stole the data and passed it to Wikileaks? That’s the person for whom the government should be searching.

The demonization of Wikileaks for what any newspaper or cable channel in the world would do is wrong and it needs to stop.

UPDATE: Paypal confirms they stopped sending funds to Wikileaks as a result of U.S. government’s position that Wikileaks is engaging in illegal activities. To date no civil or criminal charges have been levied against Wikileaks or Julian Assange by any U.S. law enforcement agency.

Labor’s obligation and opportunity: Philly organizer challenges unions to rally around Greens

( – promoted by John Morgan)

In an open letter to the leaders of the Philadelphia labor movement, the young and energetic organizer for UFCW Local 152 Hugh Giordano has challenged the city’s unions to have the courage to support the Green Party.  Giordano ran an exceptionally strong campaign as a Green for state legislature this year, raising almost $30,000 from unions and individuals and capturing over 18 percent of the vote in a three way race.  Now he would like to spread the same movement for honest politics, workers’ rights, and a clean environment (among other things) to the rest of Philadelphia, beyond his single district.

As the members of the party, which I am aiding in every way I can, build the organization for the 2011 local elections, Giordano has seized the opportunity make the area’s union leadership reconsider the popular path of supporting corporate Democrats.  In his words, “Why are we, the strong men and women of the labor movement, bowing down to the corporate bosses and politicians…Union brothers and sisters, when any one of us becomes ‘fearful’ or ‘controlled’ by a political party – it’s time to step down and pass the torch on.”

The full letter is printed, with Hugh Giordano’s permission, below the fold.

What We, As Labor Leaders, Must Do!

Dear Union Brothers and Sisters,

This letter is more of a “cry for action” rather than just an informational or ideological statement or platform. It is meant to be serious and intense, and I hope you take this letter in that form! This letter is being sent to as many union brothers and sisters as possible.

I have been involved in the labor movement now for about ten years, from non-union worker/union activist, to member, and officially becoming a union representative for UFCW Local 152. I have been a part of every aspect of the union movement, and now I must take the next step – Labor leader.

What do I mean by leader? Being a leader does not mean having the title of Business Manager or President of a local. It means standing up and saying what needs to be said against the status quo. There were numerous forms of this leadership before me, and their will be numerous ones after me – but I am worried about what is happening in today’s present labor environment.

Many of you might have heard about me in my run for State Representative as an Independent with the Green Party, and I am proud of that decision. I ended up getting the highest vote of any third party in Philadelphia and I am pretty sure I received the highest in a three way race. This is what needs to be done! I did this using basic union organizing skills and having a handful of unions behind me. Imagine what would have happened if I had all of the Philadelphia unions behind me?

Why do we support the Democrats and Republicans when all they do is take our money, use our man power, and then leave us out to dry? Why do we support CEO’s, corporate consultants, and corporate attorneys, when 365 days of the year when they are not running for office, they are fighting unions, breaking labor laws, and spreading their greed? But all of a sudden when they run for office as a ‘Democrat”, they have changed their ways? This just proves that the Democrats are as corporate as the Republicans.

Labor has the power to change this, and we must! Many labor unions still believe the Democrats are “labor’s friend”. Really? How can this be when they failed to pass EFCA, they bail out the super rich, failed to pass Single-Payer health care, pass horrible trade laws (NAFTA), attack pensions, and most of all – are in the pockets of the same people we fight everyday, the corporations! I am not writing this letter so I can fill it with boring facts, but the Democrats took 53% of the total “corporate” contributions – 53 %!

Why are we, the strong men and women of the labor movement, bowing down to the corporate bosses and politicians, when we could run for office, win, and do what we need to do – enact laws that benefit working people and poor people. We have the man power, money, and knowledge to run OUR UNION REPRESENTATIVES and win!

But here is the catch, we CANNOT run as a Democrat or Republican; those two parties are too corrupted and entrenched. We must strengthen and build a THIRD PARTY! Yes, we must do what our past labor leaders tried to do and that is build a party that is about us. Some of you might say, “That will never work, and it can’t happen”. Well I would say you are dead wrong!  The corporate Democrats ONLY win because we fuel them, but then they turn their backs on us. If we run with a clean and fresh party such as the Green Party, we can call the shots and be as progressive as we choose.

It amazes me how some local leadership bows down to the Democrats and “fears” them. Union brothers and sisters, when any one of us becomes “fearful” or “controlled” by a political party – it’s time to step down and pass the torch on. WE are the voice of working people, and WE should be telling these politicians what to do; not the other way around.

We owe the Democrats and Republicans NOTHING, because they have done NOTHING for our members, for our contracts, and for the movement. How much longer are we going to support a bunch of failures? WE don’t have to because WE can blackball them just like they blackballed our members and the movement. We gave them plenty of time and opportunities and each time, they spat in our face!

Here is what needs to happen:

*We have to come together and make a collective of progressive, fearless, and strong locals that will run with the Green Party.

*We have to talk about the issues we want passed in City Council and in the State Legislature.

*We then must pick union representatives to run for these seats in City Council and the State Legislature.

*We must stick together and focus on winning for once!

*WE CAN DO IT AND WE WILL DO IT!

The Green Party is the party of labor. They have a platform that is 100% pro-labor (repeal Taft-Hartley, NAFTA, and prosecute CEO’s who break the law). Other labor unions around the country are supporting Green Party candidates in local races, I say we RUN AS GREEN PARTY CANDIDATES. Here is the link, http://www.gp.org

It’s time we make history and do the right thing. We have an obligation our members, to our future, and we have an obligation to the men and women who died to form and join unions. If we keep on doing what we are doing, then we have slapped everyone in the face that fought for us.

Sincerely,

Hugh Giordano, Union Organizer

Would Christmas Exist?

Many people complain that Christmas is too commercial. The Christian community continues to remind us that Jesus is the reason for the season although it highly unlikely that the historical Jesus was born on December 25th since the Gregorian calender didn’t exist 2000+ years ago.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that Christmas has both a secular and a sacred component. Suppose it didn’t. Would Christmas exist (perhaps under a different name) as a gift-giving holiday?

Is there something wrong with giving gifts to family or friends that one cares about (the so-called commercial or secular Christmas) once a year?

Must one celebrate the religious component of Christmas for Christmas to be Christmas?

Many people from other religious traditions and belief systems celebrate Christmas. Christmas is big in Japan but there are very few Christians in Japan…it’s celebrated, almost entirely, as a gift-giving holiday.

We do tend to forget that many of the religious holidays are just the early church usurping the pagan holidays.

Some people say the end of year holidays have a dark side and maybe they’re correct. People without families or friends, the homeless or very poor often get very depressed around Christmas. We know the suicide rate increases.

Is it OK that holidays like Christmas and Easter have secular gift-giving components combined with Christian religious components or should they be separate?

I don’t have any concrete answers. But as for me…I do know that it’s going to be a full moon on the night of the Solstice which occurs at 7:38 pm EDT on 21 December and I’m looking forward to celebrating the solstice. Christmas Day will be spent quietly at home with my cats. New Years will find me awakened from a deep sleep by some crazed looney with a pot and a wooden spoon as the big moment arrives (I live such a rock star life). My family of dear friends will arrive in mid-January as we get together and spend a night of sharing, food and laughter at my annual post-holiday, holiday party.

I have no problem with a commercial Christmas. I think taking one day a year to tell those you care about that they are special is not a bad thing. I have no issue with those who wish to observe the religious aspects either, though it’s not my cup of tea. I can respect another’s belief system without having to share it.

So now…what do you all think?

Obama Caves On Tax Cuts, Social Security

Oh for the days when we had a Democrat in the White House…  Barack Obama doesn’t compromise he caves.  Instead of hanging Republicans for voting against unemployment compensation for the poor and tax cuts for the rich and stupid voters who voted for these legislators the President caved completely and, in the effort, agreed to a back door method for destroying Social Security.  Democrats will never, I repeat, never, recover if they agree to kill Social Security.  The payroll tax reduction agreed to will do just that according to expert Nancy Altman:

Given that unwillingness to raise taxes by less than a nickel on every dollar earned over $1 million, I find it unfathomable that a more conservative Congress, in two years, in an election year, will increase the payroll tax by 2 percent on the very first dollar, and every other dollar up to the cap, earned by virtually every single worker in the country. Consequently, I think we have to assume that the payroll tax holiday will be extended beyond the two years the president is proposing and quite likely could become permanent.

That means that the federal government will have to continue to transfer $120 billion to the Social Security trust funds each and every year even as it has to transfer more and more interest payments as the trust funds continue to grow and as interest rates return to more normal levels. Unless Congress acts to restore Social Security to solvency, the Treasury bonds held in trust will have to be redeemed, again on top of that new $120 billion transfer from the general fund, starting fifteen years from now, assuming Congress even continues to make the $120 billion every year before that point.

and:

A permanent two percent cut in Social Security contributions doubles the 75 year projected shortfall. Scrapping the cap (eliminating the $106,800 maximum on earnings), tonally eliminates the shortfall today. If FICA is cut by 2 percent, scrapping the cap gets Social Security only halfway there.

The net effect will be the end of the program by actually creating a crisis where none now exists.

As for the Republicans voting against the people once again, these are the same folks who campaigned all year against the deficit and the Medicare cuts right?  I mean I wasn’t sleepwalking through those 50,000+ commercials I saw?  The brazenness of their campaigning about cutting the deficit then turning right around and voting to keep a $60 billion annual hole in it is astounding.  The stupid white men who voted for them and now have lost their unemployment insurance concerns me none.  How do have sympathy for those who consistently vote against their own economic interests?  This what they elected Republicans to do just last month after all.  My biggest issue is how the GOP voted against these bills knowing full well that a feckless, weak kneed, spineless Democrat in the Oval Office would cave to their minority demands instead of standing up for the people.

Because I feel the need to stir the proverbial pot…

I have a simple question.

Suppose tomorrow somehow proof was presented that God or Jesus simply did not exist and that all Christian/Jewish based religions are simply the invention of long-dead men.

Would we still have Christmas?

Yes you can expand this thought experiment to any religion you like but Christmas is a BIG example and is contemporaneous.

So if religion didn’t exist would we still have a Christmas or a Christmas-type holiday?

In many cultures, religious holidays are just that…religious. The Eid holidays of Islam do not really have a secular component. Most Jewish holidays are religious in nature including Hannukkah even though it has it’s gift giving component it’s primarily a religious observance.

However many Christian holidays, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, even Mardi Gras stem from a usurpation of pagan rituals by (what was at the time the only Christian religion in town) the Roman Catholic church. It’s no happenstance that Christmas is right around the winter solstice, a big pagan holiday. It’s no happenstance that Easter is right around the Spring solstice – hence the bunnies and the eggs (symbols of fertility), another big pagan holiday. Mardi Gras is the day before Lent and Halloween is the night before All Saints Day.

But the question is would we still have a gift-giving (secular) holiday if Christmas didn’t exist? Would the pagan holidays have survived for 2,000+ years?

People make a ruckus about Christmas being too commercial but is taking a day once a year and giving a gift to those you care about really such bad thing, even if that’s all it’s about? Is celebrating a new spring and a new season of renewal a bad thing in and of itself?

Does having a religious component to these holidays add or subtract from the way we feel about family and friends?

For many people, myself included, have no family that cares about them and so the holidays are especially hurtful and painful. An invisible God gives me no peace or relief to that pain…people preaching that I’m a bad person and I’m going to hell sure don’t help my state of mind…my friends however are a different story.

So I’d be interested to hear…do the religious components of a holiday add a lot to it or is it the time we spend with those we love that are REALLY what the holidays is about?

Is Jesus the reason for the season or is he just one part of it?

Republicans Hold Jobless Hostage For the Rich

The real Republican agenda was exposed yesterday when they released a letter the GOP Senate delegation signed agreeing to hold all pending legislation hostage for their tax cuts to the richest Americans.  They will not allow any legislation to move forward until they get their way just like a five year old screaming in Toys R Us until they get their toy.

No sooner did the GOP leadership leave the Slurpee Summit then they reneged on any sort of bipartisanship.  A clueless Barack Obama is Charlie Brown to the Republican’s Lucy as they, once again, yanked the football and made him look like a fool.  He is a fool for continuing to believe they have the country’s interests at heart, that they actually want to cut the deficit or that that they can be trusted.

Didn’t the entire GOP team campaign on deficit reduction this year?  Didn’t they also cry for job creation?  Anyone who believed those claims was also a fool.  The Republicans created the massive federal debt and thinking they’d cut the deficit means being on acid.  This party exists for the rich and the rich are the people are funded those hundreds of millions worth of ads all fall.  Wall Street executives wrote $20 million checks to the likes of Crossroads GPS and the other Republican front groups just for this sort of stand:  tax cuts for the rich trump everything else.

As 2 million Americans lose their unemployment benefits and another 5 million stand to do the same next year what is the number one policy agenda item for the GOP?  Extend the tax cuts for the richest 2% of the country.  Never mind they’re responsible for $700 billion of the deficit these hypocrites demand the unemployment benefits be paid for but not the tax cuts.  Allowing them to expire will pay for the checks to those Wall Street threw out of work yet Wall Street will still get their massive tax cuts.  Working people get screwed so the rich can benefit.

Now explain to me why you voted Republican this year?  Yes, you’re Charlie Brown falling on your butt too.

On Asking And Telling, Or, 115,000 LBGT Troops? How Many Is That, Exactly?

I took a couple of weeks off, as Thanksgiving and snow came around (a subject we’ll address in a day or so), but we are all again occupied as lots of things we’ve been talking about  either will or won’t come to pass, and it seems like all that’s happening all at once.

Today we’ll take on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT); this because the Pentagon’s top leadership just came out and reported that revocation of the policy, following a period of preparation, would be their preferred way to go.

There will be lots of others who will take on the question of what’s right and wrong here, and exactly how implementation might occur; my interest is, instead, to focus on one little fact that makes all teh rest of the conversation a lot more relevant.

That is the fact that about 70,000 LBGT troops serve in the military today, DADT notwithstanding, and, that if it wasn’t for DADT, almost 45,000 more troops would be serving that aren’t today.

And that one little fact leads to today’s Great Big Question: exactly how much military would 115,000 troops be, exactly?

“Dad, if I were you, I wouldn’t tell that story. Now I have no doubt that there might be a lot of truth in it, but you know how funny these people are. You know you always used to tell us when we were children:  “Never smarten up a chump.”

–“Victoria Whipsnade”, to her father, “Larson E. Whipsnade”, in W.C. Field’s You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man

As we so often do, let’s set a stage: we use the 115,000 figure because we have the academic work of UCLA’s Gary J. Gates informing our estimate, and that estimate was updated in May of 2010.

A stage having been set, let’s move on to painting some pictures:

These days the Army organizes themselves around Brigade Combat Teams (BCT), and a BCT might normally be assigned somewhere between 2500 and 4000 soldiers, and 115,000 troops could equal more than 30 BCTs.

It appears that more or less 12 BCTs and two more Combat Aviation Brigades are on the ground in Iraq today, which works out to about 49,000 troops in total…and that means 115,000 LBGT troopers could theoretically fill every billet in Iraq, and then replace themselves after a year, with about 15,000 left over.

The Navy is organized around Carrier Strike Groups, which each consist of one of the 12 aircraft carriers now in service and the additional ships they require to complete their missions.

Those aircraft carriers require crew to operate the ship’s basic equipment, Marines who provide security and other functions, additional crew to operate the “Air Wing”, which is the organization on board responsible for flight operations, and, because carriers also serve as the “traveling headquarters” for the Admiral who is commanding the Strike Group, a few more crew to serve as the Admiral’s personal staff.

Add it all up, and a carrier can have a crew of almost 6,000 on board…and that means there are enough LBGT forces available to occupy every bunk on every carrier in the Navy, from the actual bed in the Admirals’ Cabin all the way down to the “stacks of racks” way down belowdecks for the ordinary Sailors and Marines.

Even beyond that, there would be enough people left over to crew every one of the Navy’s 100 or so submarines-and you’d still have about 30,000 sailors left over to maintain the ships and their associated aircraft when they return to port.

The Air Force, as with the other Services, is composed of components drawn from Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard forces. As it turns out, the entire Air National Guard is 106,700 strong. Our 115,000 LBGT troopers could fill every one of those slots-and that would still leave enough personnel to completely fill the Air Force’s pilot training schools for seven years after that.

The Marine Corps’ fighting forces are designed to work with the Navy to combine a variety of capabilities into self-sustained “over the beach” units that can, if required, take and hold beaches, ports, or airfields, or build a base of their own and hold it, until a larger force can come in and expand the foothold, so to speak. (The Corps refers to one of these units as a “Marine Expeditionary Force”, or an MEF.)

To provide this capability worldwide, the Corps maintains three MEFs, one on the East Coast, one on the West Coast, and one stationed in the Pacific, based in the Hawaiian Islands and Guam.

115,000 Marines would equal almost half of the entire Corps, Active Duty and Reserve, and that’s more troops than two of the MEFs combined, which might typically comprise 45,000 Marines each, more or less…which means if the LBGT Marines needed to, they could most assuredly take and hold some serious real estate, more or less anywhere in the world-and if they ran into trouble, they could send back home for another 25,000 LBGT troops to help make their point.  

So there you go: the next time someone’s talking about how much national security might be threatened if we change DADT, you can tell them that there’s a cost to national security from keeping DADT as well.

How much of a cost? If you pulled those 115,000 potentially affected troops from the Army, DADT could cost us two Iraqs worth of troops, with 15,000 reinforcements left over, and if it was just the Navy, it could affect enough sailors to crew every aircraft carrier and submarine and 30,000 more besides.

If you removed that many personnel from the Air Force it would affect more people than the entire Air National Guard and seven years’ worth of new pilots combined-or, if you prefer to look at it through the prism of a eagle, globe, and anchor, it could be enough LBGT Marines to take and hold darn near anything, from the halls of Montezuma, to at least somewhere near the shores of Tripoli.

I don’t want to pay that price, and apparently the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff don’t either…so hey, John Mc Cain…why don’t we just get over this imaginary Great Big Deal and move on to some real ones?

Does God send natural disasters as punishment?

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Color me Shocked!

Senate Republicans threatened Wednesday to block virtually all legislation until expiring tax cuts are extended and a bill is passed to fund the federal government.

So much for curbing the debt and the deficit…well if it comes at the expense of the rich at least.

So much for needing to “work together”.

Why does this “or else” strategy not surprise me. So predictable and so disappointing.