Monday, June 24, 2013

The Elephant In The Room

Well, it’s been a Spartacus kinda Sunday over at Beit WP. I obtained a new lightweight, cordless, rechargeable, easily manageable weed-whacker, I caulked the kitchen window frame from the outside since it sprung a very minor leak during Friday night’s monsoon, and I fixed the toilet in my father-in-law’s bathroom. Junior son stopped by and see if Grandpa’s old shower head was salvageable (it wasn’t) but I was prepared with a new one which he easily screwed on because these arms too short to box with overhead plumbing. And besides, he offered.

For the record, he also brought back the BIG GIANT weed-whacker, but if you must know, it’s a heavy, temperamental two stage thing with buttons and levers and oil+gas mix and I said, “Feh! Forget it. You can keep it. I’m keeping the new one.” The delighted look that flickered in his bright blue eyes told me he painted this very complicated, bleak picture of weed-whacker maintenance so I wouldn’t want to keep it. But that’s fine. Frankly, I hate two stage motors; they’re a pain in the butt. He can deal with it. The new thingee is more than adequate to handle the grass around the mailbox that I can't get to with Deere John.

© Peter"big bassoon" Douglas
Meanwhile, the actual highlight of the week was Thursday night, when the Misha Siegfried Band came to town for a show at Whiskey Junction in Minneapolis. His coterie of adoring fans, including not one but TWO rabbis, made up most of the house, but we were a fair sized lot, ate and drank, and generally whooped it up. A lot. A good time was had by all, and I had the unmitigated pleasure of having lunch on Friday with Misha and Grandpa before he and the band headed out to a show in Rochester (MN not NY).) Nothing cheers this band mom more than getting to hug her bluesman son every so often. 

[End of Spartacus Mommy blog]

Meanwhile, back at the Supreme Court, SCOTUS is busy handing down decisions...or non-decisions. Abigail Noel Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the case arguing affirmative action is no longer warranted got lobbed back to the lower courts for re-evaluation. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the only dissenter on the decision, saying that the lower courts had indeed fulfilled the task given to them, and that the only reason the Texas "Top Ten" diversity program was effective was because of “de facto racial segregation" already present in Texas neighborhoods and schools. In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg wrote: 

I have said before and reiterate here that only an ostrich could regard the supposedly neutral alternatives as race unconscious....As Justice Souter observed, the vaunted alternative suffer from "the disadvantage of deliberate obfuscation."

Texas' percentge plan was adopted with racially segregated neighborhoods front and center stage.See House Research Organization, Bill Analysis, HB588...(April 15, 1997) ("Many regions of the state, school districts, and high schools are still predominantly composed of people from  single racial or ethnic group. Because of the persistence of the segregation, admitting the top 10 percent of all high schools would provide a diverse population and ensure a large, well qualified pool of minority students was admitted to Texas universities."

What struck me about the decision was not that it got sent back to the lower Circuit Court in New Orleans, but that it was a 7-1 decision. Of course, Justice Kagan had recused herself since she had been Solicitor General during earlier stages of the case's progress through the courts, prior to her elevation to the Supreme Court bench. Justice Clarence Thomas (of Anita Hill infamy), in his concurring opinion, compared affirmative action at the university level to segregation and slavery. He wrote:

"Slaveholders argued that slavery was a 'positive good' that civilized blacks and elevated them in every dimension of life," Thomas wrote in his separate opinion on Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. "A century later, segregationists similarly asserted that segregation was not only benign, but good for black students.....

“...Unfortunately for the University, the educational benefits flowing from student body diversity—assuming they exist—hardly qualify as a compelling state interest. Indeed, the argument that educational benefits justify racial discrimination was advanced in support of racial segregation in the 1950’s, but emphatically rejected by this Court. And just as the alleged educational benefits of segregation were insufficient to justify racial discrimination then … the alleged educational benefits of diversity cannot justify racial discrimination today.”

Maybe it's just me, but that was just a little strange. Not just the comparison to slavery, but the part about educational benefits not really existing. Clearly he doesn't view discrimination as a real part of living in this country, either. I have to wonder how the air is on Planet Thomas. Must be awfully rarified up there because last time I looked, racism was alive and thriving, especially in Washington, D.C. Okay, racism as an issue make you uncomfortable; how about elitist classism? Would that work better?

The schools in Texas may not be officially segregated, the reality it very different. Without programs like Top Ten, outstanding kids in lesser schools would never get a shot at affordable higher education. Come on, folks. We're talking about public education. The people in those school districts pay taxes just like everyone else. Living in a particular district should not in any way, shape, or form work against a kid getting into state university. 

Justice Ginsburg was right when she said you have to be an ostrich not to see that the alternatives aren't race unconscious. Her stand, that sending this back to the lower courts is a cowardly not to mention blind response, will probably come back to haunt the court when the case rises again...and it will. 

And if this doesn't make you shake your head and wonder what exactly these people on the bench are thinking, this should send you over the edge. In the fall, the court will hear National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, No. 12-1281, involving the constitutionality of President Obama's recess appointments to the National Labor Board. 

Now, recess appointments have been the prerogative of presidents since the Second World War. According to the Congressional Research Service, these are the numbers:
Ronald Reagan - 240 
George W. Bush-171
Bill Clinton - 139
George H.W. Bush - 77
Barack Obama -32

And suddenly the GOP wants know if it's constitutional?????????????????

The elephant in the room isn't the GOP; it's their less than discreet form of racism. These guys make Paula Deen look like Freedom Rider. 

Enough. It's really time to put an end to this constant obstructionism. It's unbecoming We, The People. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Don't mow the lawn while wearing a dress -
the weird factor is definitely less traumatic than the sweat factor.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Been There, Done That, Still Paying the Bills

I can't begin to tell you how much the president's decision to send arms to Syria thrills me. I didn't think I had it in me to be completely disappointed with President Obama,  but this pushes me closer to any edge to date. I cannot fathom how he could change his position ...even the use of chemical weapons. According to a whole lotta news sources, about 93,000 Syrians have died in this conflict. The NY Times  article on June 13th states:

The announcement said that American intelligence officials now believed that 100 to 150 people had died from the attacks, but officials cautioned that the number could be higher.
Let's see: 150 out of 93,000...that's about .16129032258064516% give or take a few decimals. Now 150 people are a lot of people, no argument there. But suddenly, the President is talking about arming people, supposedly with whom we have "relationships." I would strongly suggest Mr. Obama read a brief history of Afghanistan before our invasion. There's a lot to be learned from the last time we armed a tribal state. 

With Hezbollah now firmly implanted in Syria, and both Russia and Iran supplying weapons and military advisors to President Assad, it's clear to the rest of the world that if the rebels are to succeed they will need help. But would that help be best offered from other Islamic nations like Jordan, Egypt, or the Saudi Arabia? As co-religionists and as Arabs, they have a vested interest in the stability of the regions and if they believe Assad is a wild card, they are the ones who must step up to take him out. NOT a western coalition whose motives are, even in the very best light, suspect.

It's not like the rebellion is organized; it is not. There is no "Rebel Alliance" or other Hollywood-esque unified movement. It's like any other partisan action: ad hoc and unpredictable. The examples set in Libya and Egypt are pretty good indications of what to expect if they manage to topple the Assad regime: neither country has a functional government. And considering the length and breadth of this civil war, there is so much work to be done that unless a rebel alliance is formed, sectarianism similar to Iraq and Afghanistan will destroy what little is left. 

Meanwhile, just so you get a better idea of how desperate the things are, on June 8th, a man was brought to the Israeli border with a note in Arabic pinned to his clothing. It began, "Hello distinguished surgeon,"  went on in great detail outlining what procedures had been done and ended saying, "Please do what you think needs to be done. Thanks in advance." The man was taken to a hospital inside Israel where he recovering from additional surgery. The Israelis now have a field hospital at the Golan border to assist with wounded Syrians. Other Syrians crossing the border in search of medical assistance are treated and returned. Can you imagine an Arab hospital doing that for an Israeli? 

Which brings us back to the aid to Syria proposals. How about the US sending humanitarian aid so desperately needed? Can we get involved in sending in food, clothing, and medical aid?  How about stepping up to demonstrate what the word humanitarian really means?

We, the People really do need to be very clear to our legislators that we are not going to stand for a pissing contest between Russia and the US. We should be done with pissing contests right about now. They are standoffs, ridiculous, and childish. Do we really need the McCain /Cheney War Machine back on the  road?  

Just a note here: I would also point out that all of a sudden the usual warmongering suspects are calling President Obama a warmonger when just last week they were calling him spineless and a coward.  Can you pronounce obstructionism, boys and girls?

The rest of the world had also better make it pretty damn clear to Mr. Putin that arming Syria is not exactly in his best interest, either.  That…and he really should return the Super Bowl ring. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Despite what my children may tell you,
I brake for turtles. 
Our Lady of the Pond

Monday, June 10, 2013

Peekaboo! They See You!

Last week, my friend Handy found himself a news messenger's Coach, a great dark blue canvas, and he got it for a steal. I countered by saying the messenger bag of my dreams is also canvas and leather, but from Ghurka. There was a discussion, and I googled the Ghurka website so I could send him a link.

No sooner than I had sent said link did I notice a new ad on the side my Facebook home page. Now Ghurka is not exactly Kate Spade, and few people are acquainted with the brand out here on the tundra, yet...... 

Currently, there’s a storm over the NSA information gathering on Americans. This is all part of the powers extended by the Patriot Act. At that time, Ziggy declared this to be a slippery slope and that the very nature of privacy would be challenged. "The Founding Fathers never thought of this one," he would say again and again. And he was right; they could not have thought this one up at all. 

The truth is that 
there is no electronic privacy. There never has been and never will be. The minute you write it online _someone_ you don't know has access to it. If you use any "check in" function, someone you don't know knows where you are. If you search for something on the web, your computer knows, your search engine knows, and your server knows. ....and all of them will immediately begin tailoring that which it shows you in the ad slots. 

Let's say you ordered a bunch of plumbing pipes and some fertilizer from Home Depot. Need uranium? You can order some right from United Nuclear easily enough.  Not only does the retailer know what you bought, the manufacturer does, too. Did you remember to click "doesn't want emails" on or order? Well, even if you did, the email address you used is now in the marketing pipeline. And you can bet your last Molotov cocktail the government knows, too. 

If you're not  terrorist, the NSA or whomever is watching, eventually figures that out. 

But what if you are a terrorist?

How do you think the spooks find the terrorists? Through tips from little old ladies like me?   Surveillance is what's used to keep the lunatics from blowing up the asylum. It seem to work most of the time, but not all of the time. 

The internet and electronic media has changed the entire nature of the game. No matter how many pseudonyms you use, you are never really anonymous. Every electronic entry can be followed back to a server. Mountains of data are no longer sifted through by humans; it's all done with algorithms and massive amounts of computers. It a never ending search for that needle in a haystack.

Now, you get to ask yourself: what is the price national safety? What constitutes personal privacy versus the public good?

This is not the easy question one might think? 

Did the government fail in not fingering the Marathon Bombers? There was tons of information that was missed because the powers that be asked the wrong questions. Should they not have had access to the cell phone and server records?

What goes on in a bedroom between two consenting adults is a matter of privacy. But what if an online child pornography site leads investigators to a bedroom where one of the participants is neither an adult nor consulting? Is that an invasion of privacy?  What if it's a predator luring young girls on Facebook (recent case too close to home....the cops got there in time and the child is safe) should that not be permitted?

Understand, I'm an not advocating for a nanny state here, but I do think the legal definition of privacy is about to change. I believe that SCOTUS will have to decide if information posted on the web is to be considered private. Is there a difference  between paper and data? What will constitute secure v. public? A safe deposit box in the bank may be quite private because it's  physical location,  but what about a blog with a password for entry? Is that to be afforded the same protection?
Fresh Philly photo by LMP-S

By the way, the Constitution does not, contrary to popular belief, guarantee privacy. The closest it comes is in the 9th Amendment which states, rather amorphously at that,

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Uh, I don't see privacy mentioned specifically there...but then again, most jurist seem to think the right to privacy is one of the "certain rights" mentioned. 

Meanwhile, I'm trying to decide which bothers me more: that one simple search on Google has totally impacted what I see on Facebook....or that the government harvests our cell calls. I'm not sure which is the bigger privacy issue.

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Living in turtle country during egg laying season?
Keep a broom in the car so you can hurry them across the street 
without picking them up.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Any Stranger......

My personal all-time fave

Well, well, well, Madame Bachmann is calling it quits. Amazing. She announced her decision not to seek re-election at 2:30a.m. central time on May 29th while she was on fact finding mission in Russia (there is nothing you can say that hasn't already been said even more snarkily) ....and no, I don't think it was a 60th birthday offering to Steve(z"l). Nope, she's got her eye on a different prize...maybe on the other side of the capitol. 

I think she thinks Al Franken is a good target. I think this might not be a bad thing. "WHAT? "you say.  "ARE YOU NUTS?"

Mazel tov, Al and Franni!
Not in the least. If she is going to run for something other than animal control warden in the 6th district, let it be a senate seat. The GOP will never nominate her because she's a well established moron. They'll nominate some piece of white bread to stand there and pretend he's running. She'll get her like minded, little brain friends to put up for a true TeaBag nomination. That will split the GOP vote faster than Lincoln could split a rail...and Al and Franni go back to Washington where he does a fine job representing the sane side of Minnesota and she can show off grandbaby pictures.

Meanwhile, back on the tundra.....

Now that Madame isn't running, neither is Jim Graves. Seems he thinks that just not having her as congresswoman is enough and he no longer feels compelled to waste his money on a run in what is a traditionally very conservative district....even before the gerrymandering. The current speculation is that since a Republican is the likely winner in any race out there, the Dems aren't going to waste their $$$ in the 6th.

See that hump at the top of the 2nd?
That's us. 
The 2nd, however, may be another matter.  A big chunk of the suburban St. Paul area was part of the 5th, with Betty McCollum serving as our fearless leader in Congress. I like Betty. She has her head in the right place...on top of her shoulders instead of up her butt like so many of members of the House of Representatives. But that was a problem for the GOP who decided to gerrymander Minnesota. In an operation worthy of Dr. Frankenstein, little Mendota Heights was brutally severed from our delightfully urbane St. Paul 5th District and unceremoniously appended  onto the the rural 2nd where former career Marine John "I never had a thought that wasn't paid for" Kline is our representative. Semper Fi?  More like semper fi ad pecuniam vestibulum.

In all fairness, I've signed up for his emails and have even attended one of this "telephone town hall" meetings. Good Lord! That man can spend an entire hour talking and say absolutely nothing.  I sent him a query asking about his position on firearms background checks. In his boilerplate reply advising me to read Minnesota state law on the topic, the following sentenced also appeared: 
However, we must not legislate in haste after a tragedy; instead, we must take a thoughtful, comprehensive approach to addressing violence in our society. 

He never mentions what that might happen to be. Why would he? He has no idea.

Back in the last go 'round, the Dems ran Mike Obermuller...but he forgot to campaign in Mendota Heights. No one knew who he was, much less what he stood for. He had ZERO name recognition in our neighborhood. In fact, some people said they were horrified to hear Kline was running unopposed! It took me a dozen phone calls and emails to get a lawn sign. One might think.......

Now, they're talking about running him again. Oy. Better they should light the campaign war chest on fire and toast marshmallows over the flames. That would be a better use of the money. 

But wait, there's more!

Weird emails started showing up in the Wifely Person inbox.  I was a little taken aback. Okay...I laughed. I thought it was funny. The best of the lot said,  "If we formed a 'draft the Wifely Person' committee,' would you be interested in running against John Kline?"

Excuse me? 

No one has ever "drafted" me for anything more critical than lawn raking or garbage detail, although both might be useful skills in Congress. As my big brother astutely pointed out, politicians have to know when to keeps their mouths shut. If you read this blog, you know that's not my strong suit.

Still, it's very flattering to be asked by more than one person, and to the best of my knowledge, none of them are related to each other or to me.  For the record, the short answer to the above mentioned question is a resounding "Not Happening!"

I'll keep you posted. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Some days you just have to suck it up and mow the rice paddy in the back anyway. 
Wait too long, and you're gonna have to hire a thresher.