Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pigs, press, and pandemics

I really need to switch my morning wake-up call from NPR to one of the pre-set "soothing" waterfall sounds. As it is, lately every day when my alarm goes off, my sleep addled brain can't properly process all of the damn swine flu news without turning it into some bizarre, half-waking dream about The Stand.

I don't do well with disease and pandemics. To this day, I can't watch perfectly good shows like "House" (and that's saying something, because I loves me some Hugh Laurie) because any plot line involving Things That Could Feasibly Happen In Real Life tends to send me into panic attacks. It's not fun.

Still, I do what I think is an admirable job of keeping a lid on my hypochondrism, and maintain a fairly reasonable and realistic idea of how these sorts of things play out.

Which is why I'm getting a little overwhelmed with and pissed off at the current media coverage of the swine flu outbreak.

I understand that it's difficult to find the balance between sensationalism and practicality when it comes to something as potentially dangerous as a new virus. You want to strike a balance between proper preparedness and not getting irrationally freaked out. But there seems to be a lot of misinformation and/or misperception out there at the moment.

A new virus with the potential for pandemic is definitely something to take seriously, but I think it's also important that we keep in mind that regular ol' influenza kills thousands of people in this country each year. So far, swine flu ain't got nothing on that (and let's hope it stays that way). It's also been noted that we have two vaccinations that appear to be effective against the swine flu, and many of the cases in the US have so far been blessedly mild.

So I'm taking a wait-and-see approach to this and trying not to flip out with notions of a Spanish Flu-like outbreak.

That said, I can't help but wonder: Scientists have tracked the epicenter of the outbreak to the town of La Gloria, which is home to a large-scale pig farming operation (run by U.S. pork behemoth Smithfield Foods). Is there a connection between the factory and the virus? Conditions at places like that are notoriously foul, with little emphasis placed on proper animal waste treatment. In fact, that's the case across the border in the US as well.

According to an article over at Grist (worth reading the whole thing, btw):
In a statement issued late Sunday, Smithfield said it had “found no clinical signs or symptoms of the presence of swine influenza in the company’s swine herd or its employees at its joint ventures in Mexico.” The wording is interesting here—“no signs or symptoms,” but no information about actual testing of pigs for flu strains. Could pigs carry a flu virus without being visibly ill? Tara Smith, an epidemiologist at the University of Iowa who has done groundbreaking work around hog confinements and the emergence of the deadly, antibiotic-resistant MRSA staph infection, told me in an interview that one would expect to see at least some sign of sickness in hogs carrying a flu bug. Of course, precisely for biosecurity reasons, CAFO operators rabidly resist visitors. When I toured a CAFO-intense county in Iowa a couple of years ago and approached a massive, reeking hog building, an employee rushed to intercept me, claiming that germs from a single healthy human could wipe out an entire 10,000-hog confinement. Confined hogs, you see, are extremely immune-compromised. One hopes that health authorities have been allowed to inspect the Granjas Carroll facilities.

It’s important to note as well that non-symptomatic pigs can carry flu. Here is a line from the World Health Organization’s recently posted FAQ on swine flu: “The virus is spread among pigs by aerosols, direct and indirect contact, and asymptomatic carrier pigs” (emphasis mine).

The piece goes on to note that residents of La Gloria, including health workers, have noted large swarms of flies congregating on the piles of pig manure--and, according to a study published in the May-June 2008 issue of Public Health Reports, flies can and do sometimes carry the flu virus.

In fact, La Gloria residents were coming down with a "respiratory ailment," with symptoms matching what would later come to be identified as the swine flu, as early as February and it "infected 60 percent of the town’s 1,800 inhabitants."

Certainly these are facts worthy of concern, both in terms of how the situation was and is being handled in Mexico, and--perhaps more importantly--how we're all dealing with the possible connections between industrial scale food animal confinement operations.

A self-described "wackjob environmentalist" friend of mine sent me an email recently raising concerns about how the outbreak is being reported on:
  • Extensive infection in healthy adults, 20-40 (most other flus predominantly affect children and the elderly). This implies a high infectiousness/lack of resistance.
  • Very short period from infection to illness (2 days is what the CDC is citing).
  • Wide spread in a short amount of time, although the evidence suggests that it was present and circulating for over a month before anyone reported on it.
  • The international society for infectious diseases didn't get any reports on it until April 24th. ( ->search the archives). They monitor this kind of thing as a profession.
  • Virus is a combination of human, swine and avian flu strains. How exactly did three types of flu from different animal species mix?
I don't know enough about epidemiology to even begin addressing these questions, but they seem entirely worth asking. And one can't help but wonder what the possible health effects are of an industrial-scale industry that crams as many animals into as small a space as possible, doesn't seem to properly treat or deal with the waste produced from such operations, and produces animals with extremely compromised immune systems (the Capital Times has a refreshingly good article dealing with just that in today's paper).

So despite my desire to remain calm and rational, I can't shake the thought: Are we just beginning to reap what we've sown?

EDIT TO ADD: Coming through yet again, The Capital Times published an article detailing the severity, or lack thereof, of the current outbreak of swine flu. Comforting at least. Though it doesn't detract from the argument that industrial farming is incredibly dangerous in terms of the health of the animals and the workers.

And for some lighter fare, check out these stylish face masks for protection against disease.

(photo by Farm Sanctuary on Flickr)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gonna agree with Shep on this one

(NSFW unless on headphones)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

If Earth Day is every day, do we still need an Earth Day?

Today is Earth Day--a date set aside to pay special attention to our environment, a day with roots in the activism of the late '60s and early '70s but that has since spread to be celebrated in countries all across the globe. Which is a good thing, since this whole "Earth" thing is somewhat important for everyone living on it, y'know?

The first Earth Day looked a lot different than it does now, at least in the US. On this day in 1970, an estimated 20 million people took to streets, campuses, and town centers in one of the largest demonstrations in our country's history. As told by Elizabeth Kolbert, writing in The New Yorker:
The first celebration of Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, was a raucously exuberant affair. In New York, Fifth Avenue was closed to traffic. People picnicked on the sidewalk; dead fish were dragged through midtown; and Governor Nelson Rockefeller rode a bicycle across Prospect Park. Students in Richmond, Virginia, handed out bags of dirt (to represent the “good earth”); demonstrators in Washington poured oil onto the sidewalk in front of the Interior Department (to protest recent oil spills); and in Bloomington, Indiana, women dressed as witches threw birth-control pills into the crowd (no one was quite sure why).
Spurred on by Wisconsin's own Senator Gaylord Nelson and the man he hired to get the event coordinated, Denis Hayes, the original Earth Day exceeded even their expectations (for an informative look at the history of the modern movement, check out the documentary "Earth Days," which I had the chance to check out when it came to the Wisconsin Film Festival). Since then, awareness of the many and varied environmental issues facing our planet has only spread. It's not as though no one had been thinking or attempting to do anything about any of those problems before, but since that day in 1970, environmentalism has definitely gone mainstream.

And as with anything that does so, there have been ups and downs for the movement along the way. While we have seen an increased emphasis on creating products and services that are biodegradable, reusable, renewable, and non-toxic, plenty of companies have also used this sort of "green chic" solely as a means for cashing in, relying on what's called "greenwashing" to sell products that aren't really all that eco-friendly.

In a very cynical sense, I guess those of us serious about environmental action should be glad that corporations see this has something popular enough to even just imitate. It has also meant, at very least, that the percentage of products that actually are quite green has gone up considerably.

But there is growing discord from some corners of the movement over the commoditization of Earth Day and the green movement. And rightfully so. That anyone could see these things merely as means to a profit, and not as something to be done with care, forethought, and good intention, is fairly insulting to anyone who's worked hard for the cause.

Still, the overwhelming consensus seems to be that we need the holiday now more than ever, to continue building real awareness of the issues, to have a special day set aside to recognize the efforts of those people who work year-round to find practical, revolutionary solutions to the problems we face, and to bring new people into the fold. (Grist has a great series of interviews with various environmentalists about their perceptions of the Earth Day holiday, and it's well worth a look.)

It's good that we have a far more progressive, environmentally aware administration in the White House now. It's good that more and more people are taking the issues of climate change, pollution, overpopulation, etc. far more seriously. It's good that we're able to find ways to combine economically viable business models with green practices. And it's good that we still take this day to remind ourselves of the struggle--all that we've accomplished, and how very much work remains to be done. Because we need all the encouragement and motivation we can get to tackle such a monumental and important issue.

Happy Earth Day, all. And keep fighting the good fight--all year round.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Van Hollen: Open carry yes, just don't bark or brandish

There has long been debate in the state of Wisconsin over the legality of openly carrying a firearm. Our Supreme Court has already ruled on the matter of concealed carry, and determined that the current ban does not violate the state constitution. But in cases wherein a person who was openly carrying a legally registered gun was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, things have been a little murky.

So it was perhaps understandable that Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen would issue a memorandum addressing this very issue, in the hopes of clearing up some of that legal gray area.

Only, I can't quite tell if he actually managed to do that. You can read the memo here (.pdf). The gist of the note is that Van Hollen asserts the legality of open carry in the state--which we already knew. In trying to decide whether the act of open carry constitutes "disorderly conduct" or not, however, he wanders around a bit before essentially deciding that "it depends."

Which is, y'know, fair enough and all, but wasn't the point of the memo supposed to be to lay out some more solid guidelines?

The illustrious Illusory Tenant lays it out nicely for us:
Van Hollen continues:
The same concepts should apply to handguns. The state constitutional right to bear arms extends to openly carrying a handgun for lawful purposes. . . . If, however, a person brandishes a handgun in public, the conduct may lose its constitutional protection.
Now I'm lost. Perhaps the concept has remained the same, but the facts are altered dramatically for more easily portable weaponry.

"Brandish" means "wave or flourish as a threat or in display," the least disorderly of which would be "flourishing in display."

To flourish is to make an ostentatious gesture, the determination of which ostentation, I suspect, could be wildly subjective...

So a Wisconsinite may, with impunity, stiff-arm a cocked and loaded (but non-ostentatious) handgun up and down Water St. of a Friday evening so long as she doesn't "bark" at the other pedestrians?

Somehow I doubt it.
If anything, Van Hollen's memo succeeded only in maintaining the status quo. We already knew that open carry was legal in Wisconsin, and the only big problem is that many law enforcement officials slap disorderly conduct charges on people for the mere act of doing just that.

Personally, I'm not entirely comfortable with people being allowed to just march around on public property with a handgun strapped to their side (I have far less of a problem with hunting rifles), and suspect the whole issue could be cleared up by disallowing that entirely--but I'm also realistic enough to understand that that's not likely to happen any time soon.

So in the meantime, it would be wise to decide what does and does not actually constitute disorderly conduct. Mowing the lawn with your legally registered firearm holstered to your person? Being that you're on your own property, I would definitely agree that that's hardly disorderly. But when someone takes a piece out into the public sphere? Kind of ridiculous and, I would agree, worthy of some attention by police.

Gun rights advocates, like John Pierce, a founder of, often argue that the act of open carry is a political one, done to make a point: "People who open carry do not do so to get attention. They do so to make a political point, in many cases, just like a same sex couple going out of their way to hold hands in public."

First of all, you have to go way more out of your way to carry a gun than to hold someones hand, and same-sex PDA on its own cannot be used as a weapon in an argument or lead to someone getting accidentally shot. So I'm not entirely sure the two are exactly analogous.

Secondly, if "people who open carry do not do so to get attention," then they're naive. Lugging around a weapon will always draw attention to yourself, whether it's a handgun, a rifle, or a sword. To think otherwise is just silly. But I believe him when he says that it's also done to make a political point, and in Wisconsin, they have that right.

Just as our police have the right to ask them a few questions about what they're doing packing while shopping at Menards.

It seems like what this comes down to is the need for more discretion--by both sides--and far clearer language in the law. Not just a memo.

(photo by barjack on Flickr)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunday Brunch: Puppy!

Yesterday, me and my fella hopped on our bikes and pedaled our way downtown to enjoy the first outdoor farmer's market of the season. We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day, too! I remember first outdoor market days of years past that were dreary and cold and rainy, so the 70 degree and mostly sunny weather was a most welcome change.

As we rolled up to the square and went to lock up our bikes, we caught a glimpse of this sleepy little boxer pup, who was so thoroughly zonked out in her mother's lap that I had to wonder if there was even a small trace of wild animal left in her bones. Anyway, the image was too friggen adorable not to share, so here it is, your moment of zen:
And a close-up:

Friday, April 17, 2009

The healthy man does not torture others

I feel a little sick to my stomach. It's not as though many of the facts contained within the recently released Bush-era torture memos are new to us. Several of the techniques described within had already been admitted to, sometimes rather flippantly, by the last administration and its officials.

Still, seeing so many of them spelled out with such clinical--and often blatantly hypocritical--language is difficult to absorb without being left with some nausea.

I applaud the ACLU for doggedly pursuing the release of these secret memos, and I applaud the Obama administration for going ahead and making them public, despite heavy pressure from vested interests like Gen. Michael Hayden and Michael Mukasey and several others who claim the move will harm the country's ability to gather intelligence.

But I am more committed than ever to making sure those people who ordered and justified these disgusting and illegal interrogation methods are held accountable for their actions. I can understand Obama's decision to "assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution."

After all, prosecuting individual operatives for these actions would be both time-intensive and not at all a way to get at the root of the problem. So I sincerely hope that the rumors are true, and neither Obama or Attorney General Eric Holder's statements on the matter close the door on going after those people truly responsible for these reprehensible techniques. Obama specifically said:
This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.
If he's just talking about the individual CIA agents, fine, but I would have to vehemently disagree that "nothing will be gained" by properly investigating and, if need be (and I suspect there will be a great need), prosecuting those officials responsible for ordering, drafting, and justifying torture.

What a farce we'd make of the rule of law if we simply let bygones be bygones is cases as egregious as this. These memos strongly implicate those behind them of war crimes, and there can be no hope of regaining any moral authority in the world if we do not hold the appropriate people truly accountable.

Glenn Greenwald, as usual, lays it out quite well:
But the decision of whether to prosecute is not Obama's to make; ultimately, it is Holder's and/or a Special Prosecutor's. More importantly, Obama can only do so much by himself. The Obama administration should, on its own, initiate criminal proceedings, but the citizenry also has responsibilities here. These acts were carried out by our Government, and if we are really as repulsed by them as we claim, then the burden is on us to demand that something be done.
You can sign a petition urging Holder to assign a Special Prosecutor for this case here.

And you can speak out against the use of torture, the tricky linguistic maneuvering used to justify certain types of torture as not really being all that bad (I'd like to see Cheney volunteer for a nice waterboarding session), and allowing those responsible to get off scot-free.

If we're going to bother having standards in this country, why not do everything we can to hold to them?

(photo courtesy remuz [Jack the Ripper] on Flickr)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ain't no party like a teabaggin' party

This whole teabagging movement, aside from being hilarious for their completely unaware use of the term "teabagging," is more than a little baffling to me.

Government has been prone to wasteful spending for years, and people's interpretations of what equals wasteful and what equals necessary has varied for just as long. Still, you'd think that the massive deficit left to us by the last administration's eight years in office would have been more than enough to tick off these fiscally fired up folks.

Apparently not. Apparently it took a New Deal style stimulus plan to do it for the teabaggers. This would be the stimulus plan aimed at pulling the country out of the abominable mess left by the last administration's hard-on for deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthiest among us.

Now, at this very moment, a group of people are gathered at the state capitol here in Madison (and in many other cities across the US) to throw themselves a tea party. They've had enough of this Obama and his crazy ideas about spending on infrastructure and social services, job creation and environmental protections! Tax cuts for those making under $250k a year? Outrageous!

My source on the ground tells me that local talk radio host and great admirer of her own reflection Vikki McKenna has just asked the assembled crowd, "For how many of you is this your first protest? That's right, we've never had reason to before."

If that's true for even one of the people there, consider me deeply depressed by it. They've never had a reason to protest before? Not over the falsified intelligence and needless invasion of Iraq? Not for the massive, warrantless wiretapping program perpetrated on American citizens by their own government? Not for the brazen disregard for the vital importance of our natural resources? Not for the rampant politicization of our nation's Justice Department? Not for the lying, outing of CIA agents, and law-breaking that happened at the highest levels of government?

Nope. It took a stimulus plan and a right-wing, corporately funded campaign claiming that said plan is akin to dirty, dirty socialism to mobilize these individuals.

Regardless of the fact that several of the services many of them rely upon to get through their days in relative safety and to make ends meet (Medicare, Social Security, police, firefighters, etc.) would qualify as dirty, dirty socialism by their own definition.

Regardless of the fact that this "grassroots" movement is having its strings pulled and paid for by major conservative political organizations (like Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks), somewhat negating the whole "grassroots" part of the claim.

Frankly, I'd take far less issue with this teabagging business if they just up and admitted to where they're getting their financial and logistical support from. But the fact that the movement's biggest cheerleaders--like Fox News' histrionic Glenn Beck--seem so intent on painting this as something put together entirely by "regular folk" is extremely disingenuous.

There are real issues of tax fairness and need for tax code revision facing Americans today. The corruption and incompetence that lead us into the current Recession call out loudly for serious fixes. But, instead of addressing these issues with reason and thoughtfulness, the teabaggers have simply opened their mouths and swallowed what's being fed to them by the very interest groups and organizations that would be most targeted by real efforts at reform.
P.S. As a side note, the photos included in this post were taken by my source on the ground at the Madison tea party. Like his own caption said, "It isn't a REAL protest until the Hitler signs show up." That and references to white slavery, I guess.

Also, can I just say, kudos to Julaine Appling of Wisconsin Family Action, who has been the voice behind many of the state's most anti-gay movements of past years? It must have taken a great deal of personal strength on her part to attend and speak at a pro-teabagging rally.

EDIT TO ADD: OK, enough of the silly double entendres. Take a look at this informative break-down of what's included in the Obama stimulus plan the teabaggers seem to dislike so much.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The ending that still haunts

One-hundred and forty-four years ago on this day (April 9, 1865), General Robert E. Lee offered the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia--and, essentially, the Confederacy--to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. They met at the McLean House in Appomattox, Virginia, an area that had seen some of the earliest fighting of the American Civil War as well.

It was a joyous occasion for some, and a time of deep sadness and regret for many. Upon hearing that Lee had officially surrendered, the Union soldiers assembled near the house began to cheer and fire their guns in celebration, but Grant ordered them to stop out of respect. Some years later, as he reflected upon that momentous historical event, Grant wrote the following:
What General Lee's feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassable face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter [proposing negotiations], were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.
Grant's terms of surrender were generous, and his order to mute any celebrations in the face of the defeated army were considerably kind. It is remarkable to note the downright quiet and almost familial atmosphere that marked the end of such a long and bloody conflict. But it was, I think, all-together appropriate. The war had been a terrible means to reach the end of having a more just and equitable country.

The situation in the US should never have allowed for the institution of slavery in the first place, and had that not been existent and therefor a major wedge issue leading up to the war, we might have avoided the conflict all together.

We might also have avoided, or at least significantly lessened, the deep racial divisions and tensions that still, unfortunately, exist to this day. It took 142 hard years from Emancipation to the election of our first black president. And even still, we have a long way to go.

There are citizens of this country who, all these years later, still find themselves embittered by the defeat of the Confederacy. Head south of the Mason-Dixon, and the topic becomes all the more charged. To some, they are the conquered people, mistreated and dismissed by the conquerors. It would be easy to write this off as misplaced anger over the embarrassment of being the side that upheld slavery--and in some cases, it is absolutely that. But for some, the feeling has nothing to do with the so-called "peculiar institution." It has everything to do, instead, with deeply seeded divisions of class and culture that have been pervasive since even antebellum times.

These divisions can be seen, even now, in the voting trends and demographics of different regions of the country. And they cannot be easily summed up or dismissed by saying they're simply the result of racism, or any other 'ism. Though that is sometimes at least part of the case, the situation is usually a bit more complex.

What's important for all sides of the debate to recognize is that we are all products of our culture, all prone to various prejudices and misunderstandings. And we must all work hard, everyday, to open our minds and get passed these stumbling blocks, so that future generations can continue to become less and less susceptible to those outmoded and detrimental attitudes.

Grant saw that when he, a man so cold and calculating in battle that he'd been nicknamed "The Butcher," allowed the defeated Southern soldiers to be fed, to retain their horses and sidearms, and to go home unharmed.

It's important to hold accountable those who are truly responsible for crimes and atrocities--and to call people out when they display bigotry and bias--but it's just as important to recognize when it's time to simply put your foot down and do what you can to end the cycle of violence. We should all take that lesson to heart.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Change fail

As a friend of mine sometimes likes to say when something outrageous and silly happens, "Really? We're doin' this now?"

It appears that the Obama Administration's Department of Justice has not only embraced some of the more ridiculous claims of the Bush Administration when it comes to the wiretapping and surveillance of domestic communications, but has actually gone even further.

Not cool.

Glenn Greenwald lays it out like this:
...EFF -- which was the lead counsel in the lawsuits against the telecoms -- thereafter filed suit, in October, 2008, against the Bush administration and various Bush officials for illegally spying on the communications of Americans. They were seeking to make good on the promise made by Congressional Democrats: namely, that even though lawsuits against telecoms for illegal spying will not be allowed any longer, government officials who broke the law can still be held accountable.

But late Friday afternoon, the Obama DOJ filed the government's first response to EFF's lawsuit (.pdf), the first of its kind to seek damages against government officials under FISA, the Wiretap Act and other statutes, arising out of Bush's NSA program. But the Obama DOJ demanded dismissal of the entire lawsuit based on (1) its Bush-mimicking claim that the "state secrets" privilege bars any lawsuits against the Bush administration for illegal spying, and (2) a brand new "sovereign immunity" claim of breathtaking scope -- never before advanced even by the Bush administration -- that the Patriot Act bars any lawsuits of any kind for illegal government surveillance unless there is "willful disclosure" of the illegally intercepted communications.

This is absolutely unacceptable. Obama and his staff have already done a lot of good for this country, rolling back many of the more egregious pieces of legislation passed under Bush and pushing for many progressive programs, but that by no means buys them a free pass to get crazy in other areas.

And crazy they've gotten, in terms of basically reaffirming and actually expanding upon every single one of the Bush DoJ's radical secrecy powers.

There is simply no reason whatsoever that the government needs to be or should be allowed to spy on its own citizens without warrant. The sheer volume of information gathered through such means alone is grounds for criticism, as no amount of man or computing power could possibly sort through it all to find the potentially relevant tidbits. But even more important is the issue of legality and civil rights. We the People have the right not to be eavesdropped on at the whim of government.

And yet? That's exactly what they have been, and likely will continue to be doing. The insult to injury is that the government is now saying that we have no recourse to hold them accountable for these illegal actions. It's essentially the DoJ giving American citizens the ol' Scalia va fanculo.

Greenwald again sums it up well:
Thus: how the U.S. government eavesdrops on its citizens is too secret to allow a court to determine its legality. We must just blindly accept the claims from the President's DNI that we will all be endangered if we allow courts to determine the legality of the President's actions. Even confirming or denying already publicly known facts -- such as the involvement of the telecoms and the massive data-mining programs -- would be too damaging to national security. Why? Because the DNI says so. It is not merely specific documents, but entire lawsuits, that must be dismissed in advance as soon as the privilege is asserted because "its very subject matter would inherently risk or require the disclosure of state secrets."

What's being asserted here by the Obama DOJ is the virtually absolute power of presidential secrecy, the right to break the law with no consequences, and immunity from surveillance lawsuits so sweeping that one can hardly believe that it's being claimed with a straight face. It is simply inexcusable for those who spent the last several years screaming when the Bush administration did exactly this to remain silent now or, worse, to search for excuses to justify this behavior.
Couldn't have said it better myself. Heck, even Keith Olbermann is deeply displeased with the move, and he's been one of Obama's biggest cheerleaders. You should know you've messed up pretty royally when you've pissed off such a loyal supporter.

So are we going to sit back and continue to allow this sort of gross violation of our rights to go unchecked? I sure as hell hope not. Thankfully, we've got organizations like the EFF and ACLU getting our backs, but it's going to take all of us standing up and speaking out, working to hold the appropriate people appropriately accountable, to make the big difference.

Otherwise, we have no right to call ourselves a democracy.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Yes we can vote in local elections

Tomorrow is election day - there are no historic candidates for national office to cast your ballot for, but the issues and people you will be choosing are just as important, if not more so, because they more directly represent you and your hometown.

So get out to your polling place and score one for democracy and all that. And be sure to first, y'know, look into the items that will be on your ballots.

I'm happy to make a few recommendations, of course, for what it's worth:

Dane County Supervisor
I can't honestly say I'm at all excited about this particular choice. Neither candidate exactly thrills me. Incumbent Kathleen Falk has a lot to answer for in her handling of the 911 center and its various failings over the past year. But challenger Nancy Mistele has done a marvelous job of painting herself as an exploitative, opportunistic, one-hit wonder, and a decidedly less appealing candidate than Falk. Which is saying something. I'm optimistic that Dane County voters will see what I see and keep Falk around for a bit longer - but that they'll hold her accountable for the terrible mistakes that have been made, and if she doesn't shape up, maybe find an at least half-decent candidate to face her next time.
  • Kathleen Falk (I) ☑
  • Nancy Mistele ☐
State Supreme Court Justice
I see this one as a no-brainer, and I'm hoping that the majority of my constituents are on the same page, and just as frustrated as I am that the last two supreme court elections were absolute travesties. Current Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson has been a diligent, thoughtful, and lawful member of the bench since 1976. Challenger Randy Koschnick has proven himself to be someone willing to distort the record of his opponent for his own political gain, and whose judicial record is filled with strange contradictions and decisions. I highly recommend an even brief perusal of Illusory Tenant's excellent posts on the subject for more in-depth analysis. Seriously people, we've already put two chuckleheads onto the bench of the highest court in the state. Let's not swing for the strike out.
  • Shirley Abrahamson (I) ☑
  • Randy Koschnick ☐
Garver Arts Incubator Referendum
I wrote about this fairly recently, and I haven't changed my mind. I think voting yes and allowing the Common Wealth Development folks buy the property and fix it up so that it can be a place for artist studios, performance space, etc., would be a great opportunity for Madison. It's like getting a second chance at creating an Overture Center that the community would actually use and benefit from--without the shady investment plan.
  • Garver Arts Incubator - Yes ☑
  • Garver Arts Incubator - No ☐
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
On the one hand, you have a candidate (Tony Evers) committed to bettering our public schools, holding them to higher standards and making sure that our children are well-served by the system. On the other hand, you have a candidate (Rose Fernandez) that seems committed to channeling money away from the public schools and into the voucher/charter program. While Evers boasts several decades of service to our public schools, including his current title as Deputy State Superintendent of Public Schools, Fernandez can only seem to boast of her efforts to thwart public education. Hooray. For more on the saga, check out Folkbum's excellent coverage of the race here and here.
  • Rose Fernandez ☐
  • Tony Evers ☑
I'm not going to make any endorsements for local Common Council races, but if you live in District 2, I will point you toward a recent interview I conducted with both of the candidates in that race. Also, as always, the League of Women Voters has put out their question and answer sessions with candidates for statewide races, and it's well worth checking out.

More important than taking my word for any of this, of course, is going out and looking into the issues and candidates for yourself--and, of course, voting.

P.S. On a somewhat related note, I will be getting interviewed about local elections, my lack of sleep, and other thrilling topics by the intrepid Dan Potacke (aka comedian Alan Talaga) tonight at the Frequency as part of his "Halloween in April: Its Like Christmas In July Except Not" themed talk show. More about the event here. If you're in the neighborhood and in the mood for happy hour drinks, a free show, and me likely making an ass of myself on stage, then please do stop on by!

(photo by Theresa Thompson on Flickr)

Friday, April 3, 2009

Go Hawkeyes!

Iowa! IOWA!

Now I just have to ask, what the hell is wrong with us, Wisconsin, when Iowa beats us to the pro gay marriage ruling?

But heck, we'll take all the victories we can get, nation and worldwide. You know what they say about Iowa being a sort of bellwether for the rest of the country, right? Well, let's hope that it rings true in this case, too.

My deepest congratulations to all of the Iowa couples who've finally won a fuller--and long overdue-- equality in their state.
"The decision strikes the language from Iowa Code section 595.2 limiting civil marriage to a man and a woman. It further directs that the remaining statutory language be interpreted and applied in a manner allowing gay and lesbian people full access to the institution of civil marriage."

(photo by mattindy77 on Flickr)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Spring cleaning

Well, as you may have noticed (at least, I hope you've noticed - otherwise I might recommend some sort of serious pick-me-up to get you awake and alert again), things around the ol' blog-stead have changed a little bit.

See, I got tired of the same, tired design, and my good buddy Ryan over at the CDP recently tricked out his site, so being the Keeping Up With the Communists type that I am, I decided that I wanted to follow suit. Fortunately, he was able to recommend a great designer for the job, and I can't say enough good things about him. If you need affordable, competent help designing something of your own, I highly recommend Aaron Miller of Different Damage.

I'm still in the final stages of getting all of the links and widgets and gizmos and jeejaws moved over here, so please be patient. And of course, if you see anything that's really out of whack, feel free to let me know. Far as I can tell, though? It's mighty pretty.

On another note, I'm gearing up to see my first movie of the Wisconsin Film Festival tonight ("Earth Days" - 9:15pm at the Wisconsin Union Theatre). I am so psyched that we have such a top-notch festival right here in town, and many many kudos go to Meg Hamel, its director, for making that so. You can keep up with reviews, podcasts, and general updates about the fest either over at Dane101 or via my Twitter feed, if you feel so inclined.

A little further out, I've also been asked to be a "Celebrity Reader" for Literacy Network's "24/7" event on Saturday, April 18th over at Borders West (my slot, specifically, is at 8:00pm). I question their definition of "celebrity," but I'm more than happy to help! Come check out this great event for an even better cause, and feel free to donate a little something to help.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Happy April Fools

Today is my brother's birthday. Truly, he is the biggest April Fool of them all, and I love him.

Beyond that, I have no hilarious jokes to play on you via my blog today. Only these fantastic images that I would like to share. Enjoy!
The Lost Albatross