Saturday, May 12, 2007

An Iraqi Mothers Torment

With Mother's Day in the United States tomorrow, I thought it was important to post this blog from Iraq about an Iraqi Mothers Torment.
When life becomes a dreadful nightmare you have nothing to hope but to wake up. How can I wake up when a reminder pops up out of the news, personal life and even more; from any person I meet every day or perhaps every hour.

The taxi driver that I am going to tell you about is an example.

Few weeks ago I was leaving my home town city Fallujah heading to Baghdad. I was saying to my self:

“Better or worse at least I can see something different”

It was a disparate attempt to convince my self that it will be a better life when I go back to work after a day off (usually I do have these arguments with my self.. whatever”.

Back to the man, the short version of his story is:

He has three sons… the elder one is Akram and two other kids.

Akram was killed with other civilians in one of the car bombs in Fallujah.

The second son went to his secondary school and never came back.

The third son, he is 16 years old, lost one of his eyes as he was buying something to his family from a mini-market not far away from his house and a passing by military convoy were targeted by a road side bomb and shrapnel injured the kid in the eye.

The real tragedy is the mother… he says she keep thinking when ever the door knocks especially after sunset that her missing son is coming back… she heard from someone that kidnappers usually release the hostages at night. The driver had to inform all his neighbors not to knock the door after sunset, his wife health deteriorate after she run to the main door and she finds out it is not her beloved missing son.

He was asking for help to treat his son eye… bitterly I couldn’t find any humanitarian organization that can help him… or maybe I didn’t search enough as I don’t have that much time to spare…

These men are amazing… how brave and patient they are… yet they give me the example and the will to continue living…

Violence In Pakistan Threatens Musharraf Government

Violence in Pakistan claimed 28 lives after Pro-government gunmen and those opposed to military rule clashed in Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan.
A political crisis threatening President Gen. Pervez Musharraf exploded into violence Saturday when clashes between pro-government gunmen and the opposition killed at least 28 people and thwarted a major rally against military rule.

The violence in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, was the worst in a two-month crisis shaking the government under Musharraf, a vital U.S. ally who provoked the turmoil by ousting the head of the Supreme Court on March 9.
We constantly talk about Iran and their desire to gain nuclear weapons but Pakistan already has them. It is a country whose citizens support Al-Qaeda in large numbers and supported the Taliban in Afghanistan. If the current Dictator in Pakistan is toppled it will immediately become the most dangerous country on earth.

Gas Prices At Record Highs

With gas prices close to $4.00 per gallon in some parts of the United States, the amount of disposable income for families is down and anxiety up.
Sixty percent of employees confirmed that the price of gas has significantly reduced the amount of money they have to spend on other things, while 45 percent reported the need to pay off debts more slowly or not at all. Finally, 26 percent indicated that the cost of gas has necessitated going without basics such as heat or air conditioning, or even cutting back on food purchases, over the past few months.
With oil companies reaping record profits while still enjoying tax subsidies, it is unconscionable that people are deciding between food and gasoline. Why exactly are prices rising so quickly? They say that refinery capacity is down causing the price spike but Hillary Clinton has called for an investigation.
"We need to investigate whether we need stronger inspections or other processes in place to ensure that refiners, number one, are leveling with us when they talk about refineries being down, and number two, that they invest adequately in maintaining and improving their facilities to avoid this in the first place," Senator Clinton said. "I think that the series of factors that go into this problem really deserve attention because ultimately the oil companies are making more money than they have ever made before. They are not reinvesting it the way they need to in refinery capacity, modernizing refineries and improving their processes. That means that they don't use those profits to keep our gas supply as affordable and regulated as possible and I'd like to know why."
The American public is being screwed by big oil. It's time the American people fight back. We must demand our tax dollars are used to create alternate sources of energy not wage war. Our dependence on foreign oil is the most pressing national security issue we face yet we seem to do nothing to end it. How much per gallon will it take for real citizen action?

Edwards New Campaign

John Edwards was the first to admit it was a mistake to vote for the Iraq War. He is also the only one who seems to be talking about the substantive issues facing America's Middle Class. He puts policy behind the rhetoric. I have not decided who I will support for the primaries but his actions are a welcome change from the normal political spin we see all too often. I applaud him for what I see is a real sincerity. I hope to grow the site enough so that the readers of this site can have a real influence on the 2008 election. With knowledge comes power.

Friday, May 11, 2007

General Batiste - Protect America, Not George Bush

Rudy Giuliani Tells The Truth

Today in an appearance before Houston Baptist University, Rudy Giuliani reaffirmed his pro-choice stance as well as his support for civil unions for gay couples and some forms of gun control.
At an appearance at Houston Baptist University, Mr. Giuliani said that he favors abortion rights, certain restrictions on gun ownership and gay rights — he is for civil unions, he said, although not for marriage between people of the same sex.

During last week’s debate among Republicans vying for their party’s 2008 presidential nomination, the former New York City mayor was criticized for his halting and apparently contradictory responses to questions about his views on abortion rights. Critics have said that he is trying to run from a record that is much more liberal than the views of the Republican Party’s core voters on the issue.
I give him credit for saying what he truly believes, unfortunately the base of the Republican Party will run from him in droves. The theocratic elements of the party, which is a large percentage of its primary voters, will not be able to see past these positions.
He said that while his views might put him at odds with many in his own party, he said he did not believe many of them would base their votes on a single issue.
Has he been to a Republican convention? Where exactly does he see this moderate element coming from? The Republican Party has been taken over by a bunch of theocrats who only support those that run in lock step with them. Rudy's days of being the front runner are numbered. I'm sorry Rudy you are simply not crazy enough for them but it was a good shot.

Inflation Is Moderating

Wholesale prices minus food and energy remained steady in April.

As long as you don't eat or drive you are fine. Nicole Richie must be excited about this report but the rest of us know that every time you go to the gas station the price is up. Reports like this make me laugh.

Chicken From China?

Thousand of pets are dead as a result of poor standards by China. They deliberaltely allowed melamine, which is a runoff from coal, into products used in pet food. Now China wants to send us chicken.
In China, some farmers try to maximize the output from their small plots by flooding produce with unapproved pesticides, pumping livestock with antibiotics banned in the United States, and using human feces as fertilizer to boost soil productivity. But the questionable practices don't end there: Chicken pens are frequently suspended over ponds where seafood is raised, recycling chicken waste as a food source for seafood, according to a leading food safety expert who served as a federal adviser to the Food and Drug Administration.

China's suspect agricultural practices could soon affect American consumers. Federal authorities are working on a proposal to allow chickens raised, slaughtered, and cooked in China to be sold here, and under current regulations, store labels do not have to indicate the meat's origin.
Why would this even be considered? What American companies stand to make a huge profit feeding us bad chicken? Eat up!!!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Retail Sales Weak in April

Retailers, including Wal-Mart, posted weak sales in April. The results were worse than forecast and show the pressures on middle and lower class Americans. With gas prices rising daily and a housing market on the verge of collapse, consumers stopped spending.
Consumers are feeling pressured by higher gasoline prices and a sluggish housing market, particularly low and middle income consumers," said Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics LLC, a research company in Swampscott, Mass.

Analysts had already expected last month to be weak after an early Easter motivated many consumers to do their holiday shopping in March, siphoning away part of April's business. But sales were much softer than expected, raising concerns that retailers will also see disappointing results in the months ahead.
With a negative savings rate and consumer debt at an all time high, most families simply do not have the ability to keep spending at their present rate. Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the economy and if that spending keeps slowing there is a very real chance that the U.S. economy will slip into recession.

Giuliani to Admit His Pro Choice Stance

With revelations this week of his contributions to Planned Parenthood, Rudy Giuliani has decided to campaign as a pro-choice Republican.
After months of conflicting signals on abortion, Rudolph W. Giuliani is planning to offer a forthright affirmation of his support for abortion rights in public forums, television appearances and interviews in the coming days, despite the potential for bad consequences among some conservative voters already wary of his views, aides said yesterday.
He hopes to de-emphasize the results in early primary states, such as Iowa and South Carolina, where his pro choice stance will have a very negative impact and instead focus on the mega primaries of Feb 5, 2008. He is hoping that the large, more moderate states like NY, NJ, Florida and California can propel him to the nomination.
The shift in emphasis comes as the Giuliani campaign has struggled to deal with the fallout from the first Republican presidential candidate debate, in which he gave halting and apparently contradictory responses to questions about his support for abortion rights.

Mr. Giuliani’s aides were concerned both because the responses opened him up to a new round of criticism from abortion critics, who have never been happy with the prospect of a Republican presidential candidate who supports abortion rights, while threatening to undercut his image as a tough-talking iconoclast who does not equivocate on tough issues.

The campaign’s approach would be a sharp departure from the traditional route to the Republican nomination in the last 20 years, in which Republicans have highlighted their antiabortion views.
Will he also reverse his stance on gay rights? While he was Mayor he was a strong supporter of the Gay Community and actually lived with a Gay couple after his second marriage ended. Somehow I doubt he will go that far and instead will throw his gay friends under the bus.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Women Under Attack: The Talibanization of Iraq

Iraq was once one of the most progressive countries in the Middle East for women. Since the invasion of Iraq, fundamentalism has grown and women are subjected to Taliban like restrictions and violence.
"The violence during Saddam's time was ... committed by the government, Saddam's family, people in power. Now the violence is ... being committed by everyone around you," says Salbi, who founded the group Women for Women International in 1993. That organization now operates in nine countries, including Iraq, to help women survivors of war and civil strife rebuild their lives.

But today, most of her friends have left the country. Women for Women International keeps its locations secret and takes all sorts of security precautions. Salbi herself stopped traveling back to her homeland two years ago. "At first I was able to say I knew 10, 20 women who had been assassinated," she says. "Now, I've lost count. ... They are pharmacists, professors, reporters, activists ..."
Our war of choice has left the women of Iraq vulnerable to violence, afraid to leave their homes and subject to harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Does this sound like liberation to you? This war has destroyed a country and its people, leaving them vulnerable to daily violence, high unemployment and a lack of basic services. Does that sound like freedom to you?

Majority of Iraqi Lawmakers Now Reject Occupation

Yesterday for the first time a majority of the Iraqi parliament voted to end the occupation of Iraq. That news was ignored by the U.S. media.
On Tuesday, without note in the U.S. media, more than half of the members of Iraq's parliament rejected the continuing occupation of their country. 144 lawmakers signed onto a legislative petition calling on the United States to set a timetable for withdrawal, according to Nassar Al-Rubaie, a spokesman for the Al Sadr movement, the nationalist Shia group that sponsored the petition.
During last weeks Republican Debate Tommy Thompson said:
Number one, I believe the al-Maliki government should be required to vote as to whether or not they want America in their country.

If they vote yes, it gives us a legitimacy for being there. If they vote no, we should get out.
This vote was yesterday but so far no Republican lawmakers have called for our exit as a result of this vote of the Iraqi Parliament. Most Iraqis feel the reason we are in Iraq is for the oil. If we refuse to leave when they have voted to end the occupation, everyone will believe this was a war for oil. The Iraqis have spoken, it is time to come home.

The Surge Will Last into 2008

The surge will last well into 2008 according to Commanders in Iraq who said it is unlikely they will know if the surge is working until later in 2007.
"The surge needs to go through the beginning of next year for sure," said Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the day-to-day commander for U.S. military operations in Iraq. The new requirement of up to 15-month tours for active-duty soldiers will allow the troop increase to last until spring, said Odierno, who favors keeping experienced forces in place for now.
A surge that is not working is the Republicans worst nightmare. As the U.S. death toll mounts and no visible signs of progress are achieved, the people of the United States will grow even more weary of a war that most are now against. This is Bush's War and the American electorate will take out their frustrations with this failed policy on the party they hold responsible. The problem for Republican lawmakers will be when to throw in the towel and denounce the war. Since a majority of Republicans still support the war, they risk alienating members of their own party but since most Americans are strongly against the war walking the tight rope gets more and more politically dangerous. Members of the Senate who must run state wide have the most to lose and will most likely be the first to jump ship. This will be a very interesting summer, unfortunately these political games are costing lives. The war is lost, the American people know that and said that in the mid term elections of 2006. It is time that President Bush acknowledges this failure and brings our troops home.

Older Americans Filing Bankruptcy In Higher Numbers

The fastest growth in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy filing is among those 55 and older. Chapter 7 bankruptcy allows for the liquidation of assets to pay creditors as opposed to Chapter 13 filing which allows debtors to pay off debts over time.
Researchers John Golmant and Tom Urlich conclude that rising healthcare costs and mortgage debt are key factors.

Golmant and Urlich expect increased bankruptcy filing rates for older Americans to continue, based on the reduced income retirees face coupled with rising healthcare costs, according to the report.

Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy, agrees with the report's conclusions but notes the study ends at 2002 and the figures since then "have gotten worse."
This study points out the economic problems facing those later in life when there are less options available to solve the problem. The new bankruptcy laws, which were written by the credit card companies, make it much harder to just dispose of your debts and start over. It is time for both national health care and revisions to the bankruptcy laws. Do we want a nation of bankrupt seniors? Is this what we want for our parents in their golden years? Is this the reward for a lifetime of hard work? With the housing bubble about to burst and a possible recession in our future, these numbers will only grow.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Agriculture Secretary: Melamine in Human Food Is OK

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said that animals that ate melamine tainted feed are safe for human consumption.
Consumers face little risk from eating pork, chicken and eggs from farm animals that ate feed mixed with pet food scraps contaminated by an industrial chemical, government scientists said Monday.

Mixing in material contaminated at low levels diluted it such that humans who eat the animals won’t be harmed, the scientists said.

“We literally found that the dilution is so minute, in fact in some cases you can’t even test and find melamine any more in that product,” Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said in Chicago, speaking to the Organic Trade Association.
Can we believe what they are saying? Do they have enough scientific data on melamine in humans to make this declaration definitively? The situation with the pet food recall has put a spotlight on extreme deficiencies within the Food and Drug Administration. Will corporate lobbying keep reforms from being enacted? It will take an outcry from the American public to thwart efforts by corporate lobbyists to keep the status quo.

Understanding the Sub Prime Mortgage Crisis

Many people have heard of the subprime mortgage crisis but have no idea exactly what that entails or how it impacts the middle and lower classes. In summary subprime mortgages are made to those with weak credit who might not otherwise qualify for the mortgage they are seeking. The reason for the crisis and the unfolding explosion of foreclosures is that these loans were often given without verification of income or assets and usually at higher interest rates.

With the explosion of home prices in many areas of the country, many families wanted to experience the American dream of home ownership. As the prices skyrocketed but wages remained flat, more and more people simply did not qualify for traditional mortgage loans. They instead turned to these so called subprime mortgage programs. Many families were allowed to secure mortgages with 100% financing and without income verification. A family making $50,000.00 per year could now get 100% financing on a $400,000 loan. Most families felt they could swing the payments and if not they would sell at a huge profit since home values were rising so quickly. Then the bottom fell out. As more and more of these type of loans went into foreclosure, the housing market slowed and values dropped. This left many families with homes worth less than the loan.

How exactly did this all happen? Some of it was fraud on the part of the lender and some on naivete on the part of the borrower. Mortgage originators are normally paid based on the size of the loan but can increase their commissions with either more origination fees (points) or higher interest rates. Many borrowers were simply not savvy enough to understand the specifics of what they were signing. The fallout from the subprime mortgage collapse will be felt throughout the economy as more and more homes go into foreclosure and buyers become skittish to purchase homes during the current downturn.

Read the NY Times article from today on this subject.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Mother's Day For Peace

Middle-Class Life Under Bush: Less Affordable and Less Secure

Some sobering statistics from the Bush years:

Health care Costs up 80% since 2000
Gas Prices have doubled since 2000
College Education Costs are up 44% since 2000
Housing Affordability has hit a 15 year low
Median Household Income has Declined $1273.00 from 2000
Worst Job Creation record Since Herbert Hoover
3 Million Manufacturing Jobs Lost since 2000
Unemployment has increased 7.1 percent and long-term joblessness has nearly doubled.
The Gap Between Rich and Poor has Grown
The Poverty Rate has grown 12% since 2000
Budget Surplus of 236 Billion turned into huge deficits
National Debt Increased three trillion dollars since 2000
Trade deficit has doubled since 2000
Additional 1.1 trillion more debt to foreign nations since 2000

If this is what they call success I would hate to see what they call failure.
Read the rest of the statistics, and the research to back them up, from the Democratic Policy Committee here.

Tax Abatements for the Rich

There is a new building going up in the Chelsea Section of Manhattan. Chelsea is one of Manhattan's best neighborhoods and is home to a large Gay population. This is not an up and coming neighborhood. It is an extremely desirable neighborhood and has seen prices climb to exorbitant levels. A recently investigated a new building being built called the Chelsea Stratus.

A one bedroom apartment which is around 900 sq.ft. has an asking price of over 1 million dollars. The property tax on your condo is less than $100.00 per month tax abated for 10 years. The actual monthly taxes on this condominium without tax abatement would be $2000.00. The loss in tax revenue for one year is over $4.5 million dollars and $45 million over the life of the tax abatement. I pay double in taxes on my co-operative apartment in Yonkers, NY which is a suburb of NYC. My apartment, although very nice, is nothing compared to the elegance of the Chelsea Stratus. Is there anyone else that has a real problem with this? I can understand tax abatement in areas needing gentrification but to abate taxes in one of the finest neighborhoods in Manhattan seems insane.

The reason for this post is to highlight the inequalities of our current tax system. The Bush tax cuts went to the highest earning Americans at the expense of our national budget and social programs to help the poor. How can we as a society sit back and allow these inequities? It is time for Americans to vote based on the economic class they find themselves in, not the economic class they hope to become.

National Guard Equipment Not in Kansas But In Iraq

The Governors of many states have been voicing their concerns that states would not have the tools necessary to respond to natural disasters due to national Guard equipment being sent to Iraq. Those fears became reality over the weekend as a huge tornado devastated a Kansas town.
"We’re missing about half of our trucks from the National Guard units,” Sebelius said. “Clearly trucks to haul this debris away would be enormously helpful. We are missing flatbeds. We are missing Humvees, which are used to get people to safety and security and to haul equipment around. We are missing a number of our well-trained National Guard personnel. The equipment that we continue to harp on that has been sent overseas when our troops are deployed and not restored at the same level could be enormously helpful.”
With tornado and hurricane season upon us, can we really afford to be so badly prepared at home?

Read the rest of this article here.

Giuliani The Choice Of Gay Republicans

It appears that Rudy Giuliani is the choice of Gay Republicans in the crowded Republican field for President. The problem I have is that the Republican Party makes bashing Gays a major part of their platform and some gays still support them. How can you openly support a party that does everything it can to limit your rights?
David Keeton, a small-business owner in Dallas, and his partner, Rob Schlein, said they supported Giuliani because of his record as New York mayor and his response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

"I'm an American first, then a Republican second, and gay falls in third or fourth," said Keeton, who wore a Ronald Reagan pin on his lapel.
People like Mr. Keeton make me sick. How can you be so stupid as to say being gay is third. Will your being Gay ever change? Being Gay is an innate part of who you are. Is your relationship worth less than a heterosexuals? Why are willing to give up your self respect to be part of a party that at its core does not want you? I believe Gay Republicans are like the battered women who can't seem to break free from their abuser. What makes it worse is the financial support that they also provide.
Both said they recently met former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at a fundraiser and had their picture taken with him. They were offended when Romney told the crowd that he opposed gay marriage and civil unions.

"We're part of the Republican Party, but he just alienated people who had paid $1,500 for a table," Keeton said.
Mr. Keeton, you stupid fool, they all oppose gay marriage and civil unions and you just gave them $1,500.00 to advance their prejudicial views. Nice going moron.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Poisoned Medicine Courtesy of China

This is a very long article but worth the investment of time. I did not realize it was this easy to poison our medication. China was responsible for the poisoned pet food and now it seems that Chinese companies have been responsible for counterfeit medications that have killed people all over the globe. China has almost no regulations governing either pet food or pharmaceutical manufacturing. Congress needs to act to limit supplies from China until proper regulations are in effect. The problem is that China owns nearly 1 trillion dollars of our national debt. How can we force China to do anything when they finance our national debt?

20 Million Chickens Held Out Of The Food Chain

The FDA has required that 20 million chickens be held from the food chain pending additional investigations into melamine tainted feed that was possibly fed to the chickens. The FDA will try to determine whether or not the chickens pose a threat to human health. Hogs that may have eaten tainted pet food are also being held from the human food chain.
Investigators found last week that about 5 percent of feed used at some smaller chicken production operations came from pet food tainted with the chemical melamine, Williams said. Larger manufacturers, because they usually use special feed for the chickens they raise or contract for raising, are unlikely to have exposed their animals to large amounts of the tainted pet products, he said.
The FDA needs full funding to insure that our food products are healthy. In the age of terrorism it is unconscionable that less than 1% of all foreign food products are inspected. The rate for food manufacturing plants within the United States is not much better. Additional resources for the Food and Drug Administration are needed immediately to keep our food supply safe.