May 15, 2006

I Heart Bob Herbert

From behind the firewall of the NYT:

America the Fearful

By BOB HERBERT

In the dark days of the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt counseled Americans to avoid fear. George W. Bush is his polar opposite. The public's fear is this president's most potent political asset. Perhaps his only asset.

Mr. Bush wants ordinary Americans to remain in a perpetual state of fear — so terrified, in fact, that they will not object to the steady erosion of their rights and liberties, and will not notice the many ways in which their fear is being manipulated to feed an unconscionable expansion of presidential power.

If voters can be kept frightened enough of terrorism, they might even overlook the monumental incompetence of one of the worst administrations the nation has ever known.

Four marines drowned Thursday when their 60-ton tank rolled off a bridge and sank in a canal about 50 miles west of Baghdad. Three American soldiers in Iraq were killed by roadside bombs the same day. But those tragic and wholly unnecessary deaths were not the big news. The big news was the latest leak of yet another presidential power grab: the administration's collection of the telephone records of tens of millions of American citizens.

The Bush crowd, which gets together each morning to participate in a highly secret ritual of formalized ineptitude, is trying to get its creepy hands on all the telephone records of everybody in the entire country. It supposedly wants these records, which contain crucial documentation of calls for Chinese takeout in Terre Haute, Ind., and birthday greetings to Grandma in Talladega, Ala., to help in the search for Osama bin Laden.

Hey, the president has made it clear that when Al Qaeda is calling, he wants to be listening, and you never know where that lead may turn up.

The problem (besides the fact that the president has been as effective hunting bin Laden as Dick Cheney was in hunting quail) is that in its fearmongering and power-grabbing the Bush administration has trampled all over the Constitution, the democratic process and the hallowed American tradition of government checks and balances.

Short of having them taken away from us, there is probably no way to fully appreciate the wonder and the glory of our rights and liberties here in the United States, including the right to privacy.

The Constitution and the elaborate system of checks and balances were meant to protect us against the possibility of a clownish gang of small men and women amassing excessive power and behaving like tyrants or kings. But the normal safeguards have not been working since the Bush crowd came to power, starting with the hijacked presidential election in 2000.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, all bets were off. John Kennedy once said, "The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war." But George W. Bush, employing an outrageous propaganda campaign ("Shock and awe," "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud"), started an utterly pointless war in Iraq that he still doesn't know how to win or how to end.

If you listen to the Bush version of reality, the president is all powerful. In that version, we are fighting a war against terrorism, which is a war that will never end. And as long as we are at war (forever), there is no limit to the war-fighting powers the president can claim as commander in chief.

So we've kidnapped people and sent them off to be tortured in the extraordinary rendition program; and we've incarcerated people at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere without trial or even the right to know the charges against them; and we're allowing the C.I.A. to operate super-secret prisons where God-knows-what-all is going on; and we're listening in on the phone calls and reading the e-mail of innocent Americans without warrants; and on and on and on.

The Bushies will tell you that it is dangerous and even against the law to inquire into these nefarious activities. We just have to trust the king.

Well, I give you fair warning. This is a road map to totalitarianism. Hallmarks of totalitarian regimes have always included an excessive reliance on secrecy, the deliberate stoking of fear in the general population, a preference for military rather than diplomatic solutions in foreign policy, the promotion of blind patriotism, the denial of human rights, the curtailment of the rule of law, hostility to a free press and the systematic invasion of the privacy of ordinary people.

There are not enough pretty words in all the world to cover up the damage that George W. Bush has done to his country. If the United States could look at itself in a mirror, it would be both alarmed and ashamed at what it saw.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes

May 14, 2006

I wish I had read this sooner

But I will remember it in the years to come.

Of the roughly four billion stems we buy each year, 78 percent are imported, mostly from Latin America. One impetus for moving cut flower production to countries like Colombia and allowing the flowers to be shipped to the United States tariff-free was a misguided hope that such projects would provide an alternative to coca production.

While the drug war rages on, serious labor and environmental problems associated with floriculture have now moved south of the border. Imported flowers can't show any signs of bugs and fungus when they arrive at Miami International Airport for inspection. In their eagerness to make sure that their flowers pass muster, many growers in Latin America douse their crops in agricultural chemicals that are banned or severely restricted here at home.

On a flower farm in Ecuador, I saw workers dunk bunches of roses, blossom-first, into a barrel of fungicide just before shipment. The stench was so overpowering that I had to resist the urge to run outside for air. Chemicals dripped off the flowers, they sloshed on the floor and it seemed impossible that the workers — almost all women — could get through the day without getting covered in them, too.

In addition to the health hazards that such chemicals pose, the runoff of pesticides and fertilizers into streams and aquifers threatens already fragile water resources. This has prompted agencies like Canada's International Development Research Center to invest in long-term projects to study the extent to which these chemicals persist in the environment. All this for a flower? When I watched Ecuadorean workers move through a field of baby's breath — a filler that is nothing but an afterthought in most arrangements — dressed in full protective gear to shield themselves from chemicals, I realized that something had gone horribly wrong with the Mother's Day bouquet. I couldn't stomach the idea of buying those flowers for my mom. But until recently, there weren't many alternatives.

One is the new VeriFlora label, which establishes sustainable agriculture and labor standards for flowers grown anywhere in the world for sale in the United States. Two farms in California and two in Latin America have been certified so far, representing about 250 million stems per year that enlightened consumers can send their mothers. Some of those flowers are organic, and others are grown using the least toxic methods available with a commitment to move to organic practices eventually. All growers are monitored for compliance with local labor laws.

[...]

Try this experiment: Call your florist and say that you'd like a dozen pesticide-free roses delivered to your mother. Explain that you also want an assurance that the woman who picked them wasn't forced to work unpaid overtime or take her children to work to help her meet her quotas.

Silence? Yeah, that's the response my florist gave, too. But my mother didn't raise a shrinking violet. I said that I would find certified flowers somewhere, and eventually I did. Mom, your roses are coming from an Internet florist that sells only organic bouquets. I don't know what the woman who picked them will do with her day off, but at least I know that she gets a day off. I wish a happy Mother's Day to both of you.

May 12, 2006

I hate the Telecoms

Good Gawd...we are stuck. Currently Sweetie and I are held prisoner by a $175 per phone cancellation fee to Verizon Wireless. But come July 25th, we are out of there. The question is, who do we turn to? Cingular? Nope...they are AT&T. Sprint-Nextel? Working Assets? We can't use Qwest in Nevada, so what Telecom do I turn to that will actually consider the rights of its customers? Shall we all join in the class action lawsuits that must surely be coming?

When I, along with millions of other Americans, read yesterday that all our phone call records (cell, domestic, long distance, and no warrants for them, of course) have been turned over to the NSA (Now Spying on Americans) part of me was angrier than hell. What country am I living in, after all?

Bush was hurriedly thrown in front of the cameras to assure us that, as always, we should TRUST him, that they are only spying on "known" al Qaeda and al Qaeda "associates." WHAT? Tens of millions of domestic call records turned over to the government. Are they saying that there are tens of millions of al Qaeda in the United States? Excuse me, but if these al Qaeda are "known" why the hell haven't they been picked up? Someone please answer that question!!

And the telecoms went along with this. Why? According the USA Today article, the government threatened them with pulling their contracts.

The NSA, which needed Qwest's participation to completely cover the country, pushed back hard.

Trying to put pressure on Qwest, NSA representatives pointedly told Qwest that it was the lone holdout among the big telecommunications companies. It also tried appealing to Qwest's patriotic side: In one meeting, an NSA representative suggested that Qwest's refusal to contribute to the database could compromise national security, one person recalled.

In addition, the agency suggested that Qwest's foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government. Like other big telecommunications companies, Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.

I am not sure that's the real reason. Take a look at the ad to the right. Net Neutrality. The telecoms want to create a tiered Internet where web page owners who can pay for speed will get faster loading pages, etc. Right now the Internet works much the same way that phone service works. We all pay our monthly charges and we all get the same service. You pick up the phone, dial the number, and voila! your call goes through at the same speed as George Bush's or Paris Hilton's. It doesn't matter who you are or who you are calling.

Currently the same sort of system applies for web hosting. When we pay our monthly web hosting fee, it doesn't matter who we are, what the content is on our pages or anything. My web page doesn't load faster than Amazon.com's, nor does their web site load faster than mine. Both load at the same speed. But, if the telecoms have their way, not only will we be paying for access to the web, owners of web site will ALSO be required to pay fees that will allow their pages to load quickly. If they can't afford it, too bad. Their sites will be choked off. Even the big names on the Internet (Amazon.com, Google, etc) are against this, yet, it appears that our Congress Critters are in bed with the Telecoms. Click on the ad to the right. Learn more. Sign the petition to protect Net Neutrality, call your legislators.