Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lessons from the bare ground

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: What a gorgeous day! We’re enjoying the last little shiver of winter, 15 degrees when I went out to feed, and next week it could be 70 again. I took a long walk, picked up a few bits of trash in the pasture—-glass bottles, plastic lids, a big old iron wheel that we can use some time for something. I put them on the pile of recycleables. Last week, I lost a lamb to a predator. That morning, on my walk across the bare ground, I saw a streak of blood on the path but not a trace of the lamb. It was one of our biggest, so this predator is large and choosy. It left the little ones. And I couldn’t see any hair on the fence, indicating the predator might have jumped with it. A big cat? One of our neighbors photographed a mountain lion playing in her pond. Or, could an eagle swoop away a lamb? I saw an eagle in another neighbor’s pasture a couple of weeks ago. And what, pray tell, were my guard donkeys doing on that morning? Obviously, they were playing a game that didn’t include guarding sheep. So I moved the female donkey away from the male and so far so good. I’m also locking everyone up at night, which is not my preferred strategy. Would rather let them stay out. But today is bright and chilly, and the baby lambs are having a blast running around. They make me think about the future. My kids. Grandkids. The world we’re leaving them isn’t the world we inherited 50 or 60 years ago. A lot of what’s here is stuff we put down and it ain’t good. Trashy old wheel hubs. Chemical stuff designed to kill weeds or bugs or rodents or whatever. We kept the yards and fields tidy, but we’ve left stuff with side effects that hurt every living thing. So I see my daughter and her friends spending all their money buying organic, trying to find time and space to keep gardens, wearing themselves out with worry, as if there’s not enough to be worn out about when you have kids. Tomorrow, there will be a protest in Washington DC to demonstrate that citizens are sick of waiting for action on environmental problems. I hope the media is there and the message gets out.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Obama urges a fair start for youngsters with pre-K programs

By Charles Cullen

DECATUR, Ga. — President Obama chose Valentine's Day to give a speech misleading and confusing a generation of schoolchildren. Impressionable young minds were subjected to the idea that Commanders in Chief really do care about education and the task of elevating youngsters to a level playing field on which they may be judged by talent and drive, instead of prenatal economic circumstance.

I am, of course, joking, but it was striking to see the President act upon his State of the Union nod to Georgia and Oklahoma as models for opportunity to set a solid groundwork for success later in life. Advancement, in other words, through high quality pre-K programs.

Before an enthusiastic crowd in Decatur, Ga., President Obama on Thursday briefly outlined his plans to turn every city into a hotbed of exceptional early education. In attendance were Congressman Hank Johnson, newly elected Decatur Mayor Jim Baskett, and the Mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed. Obama acknowledged them all and then asked them to role up their sleeves to “make this a national priority,” laying out a case for the immediate necessity of his plans.

Echoing the sentiment of the State of the Union, Obama referred to education as the “true engine of American growth,” and was careful to point out that “fewer than three in ten four year olds” are enrolled in high quality early education programs.

For its brevity, Obama's speech was striking in its passion and specificity. This wasn't just a stopover in a red state. Taking issue with the idea that early education exists mostly as a way for parents to deposit their children under the watchful eye of an adult during work hours, he reminded the crowd that “this is not babysitting, this is teaching.” He also made the case that those children deprived of effective early education would suffer from it; partially because they would know that they were beginning the academic race already behind their peers. “They know they're behind at a certain point,” the President argued, “and they start pulling back.”

President Obama cited the need to train 100,000 new teachers in disciplines like science and technology. In an effort to further level the playing field — for all students — he asked that children with disabilities not be separated from non-disabled children. He also mentioned his administration's newly released “college scorecard” as a useful tool for students and parents as they continue the shared academic journey of the American student.

He acknowledged that teaching is a labor of love, noting that “behind every child who's doing great, there's a great teacher,” and “you don't go into teaching to get rich.” And he continued to argue for the universal benefit of this undertaking. Children's prosperity will benefit all of us, he reminded the crowd, “we'll all prosper that way.”

Those who've followed Obama will point out (rightly so) that his enthusiasm for excellent teachers and the value of education is nothing new. But there does seem to be a new or perhaps renewed urgency to his insistence that the United States accept education reform as a real and essential part of our efforts to move forward as a nation. Inaction, he seems to be saying, is unacceptable. And leaving things as they are is not an option.

Charles Cullen is a writer in Atlanta, Ga.

State of the climate, revisited

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: A reader comments regarding my blog entry, “State of the Climate”, which refers to scientists that apologize for the corporations. Her comment reads: Wow, Margot - what scientists are you reading/listening to? Apparently just a very small sliver, and none of the better thinkers. What sort of scientist would "believe that it doesn't matter if species die, or even entire oceans"? Certainly not the conservation scientists/biologists I've read or worked with! Or that "meat from obese, corn-fed cows and hogs can make healthy food for people"? Is it possible you're confusing the statements of people obsessed with corporate profits and year-end bonuses for those of the true researchers and innovators on which the future of our overburdened planet may well depend? Of course the scientists I refer to are “people obsessed with corporate profits and year-end bonuses” as she puts it. And they work in our universities today. At this very moment, they’re working on ways to make crops immune to 2,4D so that farmers can use more of it. 2,4D, you remember, is part of Agent Orange used to defoliate jungles so that soldiers could find them. It’s a poison that poisons people as well as plants. To greenwash the 2,4D story, they’ve pulled The Nature Conservancy in. TNC will evaluate the benefits of plantings around a Texas 2,4D manufacturing factory. Never mind that 2,4D will be carefully controlled in this factory, but then released to be sprayed in fields all over the planet. TNC, who we would hope are the “true researchers and innovators on which the future of our overburdened planet may well depend” opines: “Nature provides benefits, often called ecosystem services, which we all depend on.” Other ag scientists are convincing the media and politicians, at this very minute, that meat raised in Confined Animal Feeding Operations, fed on corn and other grains, is the only way to feed a growing population. Here’s their carefully worked statement about Bowman v. Monsanto: “The Supreme Court will decide a case this term that has the potential to jeopardize some of the most innovative biotechnology research in the country and alter U.S. patent law in a way that would have profound consequences for a range of industries — from agriculture to medicine to environmental science — that rely on the patent system to make their R&D investments economically viable.” That’s how corporations confuse science. Check out

Editorial: Save the Postal Service

The announcement that Postmaster General Patrick Donahue plans to stop delivery of first class mail on Saturdays, starting in August, marks the latest turn in a long-term scheme to privatize the US Postal Service and break its unions.

The cutback to five-day-a-week delivery is supposed to save $2 billion but it is only one of a series of cuts being pushed by right wingers who are hoping to degrade the Postal Service so they can carve it up and let private carriers such as UPS and FedEx take over the profitable package delivery and overnight mail services.

The “austerians” also propose closures or cuts in hours at rural postal offices, closure of processing centers where mail is sorted and privatization of postal truck routes, with plans to slash as many as 220,000 of the Postal Service’s 650,000 employees. Among the targets for job losses are members of four major unions — the American Postal Workers, Letter Carriers, Rural Letter Carriers and Mail Handlers, all of whom are resisting the cuts even as they have cooperated with efficiency measures.

Although the Postal Service’s financial woes are popularly blamed on the loss of first-class mail volume due to competition from email (see the cover story by Andrew Leonard), a closer look reveals that the financial troubles have much to do with extortion by Congress.

In December 2006, the lame-duck Republican Congress passed HR 6407, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. The bill required the Postal Service to make payments of $5.5 billion per year between 2007 and 2016 to pre-fund postal retirees’ health benefits 75 years into the future. No other agency or company is required to pre-fund such obligations that far into the future, the postal unions have noted. The Postal Service not only was forced to use its limited borrowing authority to make those payments to the US Treasury, but it also effectively uses postal workers’ retirement funds to subsidize the national debt in a manner similar to the raiding of Social Security trust funds.

The same law also prohibits the Postal Service from raising its rates to cover the actual cost of delivery, or seeking new revenue streams. A recent 1-cent increase in first-class stamps only covers the increase in inflation. A nickel increase might erase the deficit.

Before the bill was passed in 2006, the USPS was profitable and debt-free. From 2007 to 2012, the Postal Service reported losses of $31.8 billion, with 85% of those deficits a direct result of the pre-funding mandate, the Delivering For America coalition reported. Pre-funding of retiree health benefits accounted for 94% of the Postal Service losses in the first half of fiscal year 2012.

In fact, USPS reported a $100 million operational profit during the first quarter of FY 2013 (ending Dec. 31). It earned $17.7 billion in revenue and had $17.6 billion in expenses, excluding $1.4 billion in payments for health benefits for future retirees. The decline in first-class mail was more than offset by gains in standard mail and in package deliveries.

We agree with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who worked to pass a bipartisan bill in the Senate last year that would have allowed reforms without cuts in postal service. “The postmaster general cannot save the Postal Service by ending one of its major competitive advantages,” Sanders said. “Cutting six-day delivery is not a viable plan for the future. It will lead to a death spiral that will harm rural America while doing very little to improve the financial condition of the Postal Service. Providing fewer services and less quality will cause more customers to seek other options. Rural Americans, businesses, senior citizens and veterans will be hurt by ending Saturday mail,” Sanders added.

David Morris of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis wrote at that closing local post offices and ending next-day first-class mail delivery to local areas could place a significant burden on the most vulnerable of our citizens. William C. Snodgrass, owner of a pharmacy in North Platte, Neb., told Morris his store mails hundreds of prescriptions a week to residents in mostly rural areas of the state that lack local pharmacies. If first-class delivery were delayed to three days and Saturday mail service also were suspended, a resident whose medicine was mailed on Wednesday might not get it until the following week. “A lot of people in these communities are 65 or 70 years old, and transportation is an issue for them,” said Snodgrass. “It’s impossible for many of my customers to drive 100 miles, especially in the winter, to get the medications they need.”

The Senate passed the bill last year that would update the Postal Service’s business model, allow it to ship beer and wine, recoup more than $11 billion it overpaid into pension funds and protect rural post offices. But the House has resisted action. The Republican platform calls for privatization of the Postal Service and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has proposed HR 2309, which would set up a new authority with a mandate to restructure the Postal Service and reduce costs “in order to bring the institution back to fiscal solvency.” That is, break the unions.

In March 2012, a USPS witness at the Postal Regulatory Commission acknowledged that a study ordered (but later stopped) by the Postal Service indicated that the combined effects of all the service cuts under consideration, including elimination of Saturday delivery, would reduce mail volume by 10.3%. “The practical effect of such a drastic reduction in mail volume would mean that the lost revenue from customers could actually EXCEED the projected savings,” Delivering For America noted.

“USPS executives cannot save the Postal Service by tearing it apart,” said Cliff Guffey, president of the American Postal Workers Union. “These across-the-board cutbacks will weaken the nation’s mail system and put it on a path to privatization.”

Bob Sloan of the Voters Legislative Transparency Project noted that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), with the support of right-wing “think tanks” financed by the Koch brothers and other right-wing billionaires, had been pushing for privatization since the 1990s and the “point man” behind the Postal Accountability bill was John McHugh (R-N.Y.), who had been promoting “postal reform” legislation since 1996. He was the sponsor of HR 6407 in 2006.

From 2003 through passage of HR 6407 in 2006, the right-wing cabal worked diligently, getting articles published in favor of privatizing the USPS.

A trio of independent studies by actuarial companies in 2010 found that the Postal Service had a surplus of between $50 billion and $75 billion in its Civil Service Retirement System pension account and up to $7 billion in its Federal Employees Retirement System account.

Rather than shrinking the Postal Service by cutting services and degrading the delivery network, the Postal Service should develop a new business model that looks for new revenue streams.

As more American order products online, there is tremendous potential for boosting USPS revenues from parcel deliveries.

Congress also should relax the constraints on the types of products and services the Postal Service can provide.

Congress also should give the Postal Service more flexibility in pricing its products to reflect the actual cost of providing services.

Remember that providing postal services is a constitutional responsibility. Article 1, Section 8, directs Congress “To establish Post Offices and post Roads.” Nothing about subsidizing oil companies.

President Obama just delivered his State of the Union speech, and he had some great proposals that don’t stand a chance of getting through the teabagger House. We will have more on that in the next issue, but in the meantime, as Congress enters another round of negotiating over budget cuts to stave off the “sequester,” don’t forget to make it clear to your member of Congress and senators that any vote to reduce Social Security benefits, including the “chained CPI,” will get them a primary challenger who will get your vote, regardless of whether President Obama signed off on it. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2013
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Selections from the March 1, 2013 issue

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Bowman vs. Monsanto

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: Today, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear Bowman v. Monsanto, a case that tests the patenting law. That’s about all you can say for it, because unless the Supremes overturn the entire history of Monsanto’s carefully-built legal structure, the decision will bring no changes to family farmers. The structure unfolded over roughly two decades, sort of like this: 1. Monsanto developed a soybean variety that could survive repeated drenching with Roundup, a powerful herbicide that killed every green thing in its path. Monsanto patented the seed, arguing that it was innovative. Then they sold it to farmers and, eventually, food processors, arguing that it was the same as normal soybeans. Indeed, if you buy non-organic soy milk, soy sauce, chocolate made with soy lecithin or any other soy products you are eating this innovative patented soybean. 2. Monsanto’s bean wiped out the ordinary beans all over North America. The first year they were out, farmers stopped cleaning their own seeds and saving them to re-plant. This changed centuries of tradition overnight. 3. Monsanto tested the strength of their patent in court. Many, many times. In 2002, the Supremes ruled that any seed could be patented, whether or not it was “innovative.” Now, Monsanto sees a new chance to test their legal structure, using a case against an old bean farmer from Indiana. As NPR began their story, “Why do so many people hate Monsanto? Is it because this multinational corporation pioneered some enormously successful genetically engineered crops, including corn, soybeans and cotton? Maybe, but I suspect that much of the passion is inspired by Monsanto's hard-line approach to ownership of those crops. Monsanto claims those seeds — and all offspring of those seeds — as its intellectual property. Farmers aren't allowed to save and replant any part of their harvest; if they do, Monsanto takes them to courtand demands large damages. Critics call the company bullying and ruthless.” So what this farmer, Bowman, did, is buy some cheap seeds that were not covered by Monsanto’s label. No patent fee, see? But, since all the beans in Indiana—94%--are Roundup-Ready, patented seeds, he knew they’d have the GMO trait. He sprayed them with Roundup, they survived, he took them to market and then refused to pay the patent fee. Monsanto sued. There ya go. It could be argued that one gene does not a patent make. Sort of like patenting a note on the scale and demanding a fee every time someone plays, say, a G. Or like patenting a color and demanding a fee from artists when they use, say, red. But the law has become so corrupt that an argument for patenting a G or the color red just might fly. Obviously, we need new strategies to kill this legal GMO monster. Farmers need to sue on the basis of side effects of this system, like cotton farmers needing to hand weed half the cotton crop because weeds can’t be killed by Roundup any more. Or folks with allergies should sue on the basis of not being able to kill ragweed with normal herbicides any more. Or farmers with cancer should sue on the basis of exposure to 2,4D or other known carcinogens that USDA has approved for our fields.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Paterno family implements a flawed PR strategy flawlessly

By Marc Jampole

The family of Joe Paterno engaged in a media blitz this week in an effort to convince people that the Penn State sexual abuse report by ex-FBI director Louis Freeh was inaccurate when it said that Joe-Pa was part of the cover-up.  First the family released its own report, titled “Critique of the Freeh Report: The Rush to Injustice Regarding Joe Paterno,” which lambasts the Freeh report and its accusations against the venerated Penn State football coach. Next, Paterno family members signed themselves up for as many media television and radio talk shows as they could. I heard Jay Paterno several times and found him to be articulate, very sympathetic and earnest about what he called the facts.  For a few days, Paterno once again was one of the two or three news stories dominating media coverage.

All in all, the Paternos and their attorneys and public relations counselors did a stellar job of implementing their PR plan.  From the technical standpoint of controlling the media and articulating a set of messages, it was a flawless execution of strategy.

Too bad they didn’t think through the strategy first, because it was wrong.

First of all, it was wrong from the ethical standpoint. The Paternos created another news cycle of stories, thereby inflicting another cycle of pain on the dozens of damaged boys and men victimized by the monster Sandusky.

Let’s assume, though, we’re talking about a business decision only, and not an ethical one. A business decision focuses solely on what’s best for the business (and not the collateral damage that might be inflicted on others). In this case the business is the Joe Paterno legacy and the money that the Paterno family can make from it. From the business standpoint, it was a terrible decision, ranking among the worst since the chairman of BP pretended not to have facts about a disastrous oil spill that as head of the company he should have had or when the chairman of Mylan Inc. claimed that a Federal Drug Administration (FDA) investigation was completed even after the FDA said it wasn’t.

It was just plain stupid for the Paternos to think that releasing an obviously partisan report would move people to exonerate Paterno. If the Paternos had engaged me as their PR counsel, I would have told them to shut up and do nothing for the time being because whatever they said would only make people believe more ardently what they currently believe about the scandal. We won’t know for certain until someone does a legitimate survey, but early reaction in the media suggests that the Paterno plan did fail:  While ardent Paterno supporters have rallied behind the report, those convinced by the Freeh report are criticizing the Paternos, although always with a great deal of respect.

It’s something I call the “mirror” effect, when the new facts or new point of view do nothing but convince people of what they already believed. The new information in a sense holds a mirror up to the people consuming the information. What people see in the mirror is themselves—or to be more specific, their point of view.

Unless the Paternos’ report had showed that Freeh lied or neglected to include exonerating facts, it was bound to have a mirror effect on the public. Too much has already been written and opined on the subject.  Media saturation has already cast in stone both the facts and the way that most people are reacting.

Not only did the Paternos’ PR campaign probably not convince anyone  (or convinced very few) of Joe-Pa’s innocence, it created an additional news cycle, so for one more time, the news media preoccupied itself with the horrible scandal. That can’t help Joe-Pa’s reputation or Penn State’s (even if we forget about the victims).

In any crisis situation, we look for a key fact that pretty much sums up the argument the client wants to make. For example, years ago we had to close down a large factory in a small town and expected trouble from elected officials and problems with the workers. As it turned out, if all the employees of the division had worked for free during the prior two years, the company would have still lost money. That was the key fact we told everyone, and what could have been harsh criticism disappeared. Everyone had the common sense to understand that the business was just not viable. 

In the Penn State child abuse situation, the key fact is the conversation that Joe-Pa had with his assistant Mike McQueary in which McQueary told the head coach he caught Sandusky with a boy in the showers. Paterno kicked the matter to the administration and then neglected to follow-up aggressively to see what was being done.

No matter how hard the Paterno family tries, they can’t get away from that key fact, which establishes that Joe-Pa was culpable.  But that key fact also limits the extent of Paterno’s culpability. No matter what the truth really was, his guilt is tied to the one act (really several acts bundled into one) of not following up on the McQueary accusation.

As time goes by, the public is going to remember fewer of the details of the Sandusky scandal. Paterno’s involvement, tied up as it is in the one action, will seem less terrible, especially when compared to Sandusky’s and perhaps several high-ranking Penn State administrators.  Over time, the football-loving public would weigh Joe-Pa’s legendary reputation and won-loss record against this one (terrible) mistake. Paterno would (and probably still will) end up to be revered as a great, if flawed man. That may not help the current Paterno business franchise today, but nothing can help the current reputation of Joe Paterno except time. 

The impatient and seemingly insensitive Paterno family would have been better off letting the sleeping dog lie.

State of the Climate

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: Attaboy, President Obama! You mentioned Global Climate Change in the State of the Nation address last night. I didn’t stay to watch the punditry or the response, too busy thinking. If there’s any hope we should be hoping, it’s that the scientists are wrong about global warming. They’re wrong about so many things. They believe, for example, that we can pour poisons on the farmland year after year and still raise good, healthy crops. They believe, for example, that the meat from obese, corn-fed cows and hogs can make healthy food for people. They believe that it doesn’t matter if species die, or even entire oceans. So let’s hope that the planet’s climate isn’t changing and that they’re wrong about this. Of course, for me, as one that farms and lives outside much of the time, the proof is indisputable. We have, for example, armadillos in mid-Missouri. This was a species that we excitedly pointed out in Texas when the kids were little, 30 years ago. And we have consistent 105-plus degree days in the summer, too hot to bother watering the tomato plants. This weekend, busloads of college kids will gather for marches in several major cities. One march is in Washington, D.C. and another in Chicago. When I heard “Grant Park” it reminded me of the Vietnam protest days. It took ten years, but we stopped the war. Global climate change—not immigration, abortion, drones, nor even gun control--is the issue of this new generation of activists and kids. Good luck and safe travel to all of them.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Products of the Year a pay-for-play PR trick parading as “People’s Choice” for art of selling

By Marc Jampole

This week’s Parade magazine, in the Sunday issue of virtually every daily newspaper across the country, dedicated its cover and feature story to Products of the Year, which is an annual award given to new consumer products. 

Supposedly the American people vote on these awards, but in fact, the final voters comprise 50,000 shoppers across the country, making the awards more of a survey than anything else. This year, 26 companies were honored in a variety of categories, e.g., food, beverages, personal care and household care. Parade found six trends in the products that won Product of the Year awards:
  1. We’re nostalgic, meaning we (the American people as incarnated in the 50,000 fortunate survey participants) like reintroduction of old products.
  2. We want no-hassle healthy food.
  3. We’re spending more time outside.
  4. People are interested in products for menopause
  5. We see the value in green, meaning we want environmentally friendly products and packaging.
  6. We’re sensitive about our mouths. In other words, there are a lot of new products for our mouths that the 50,000 liked.
As the Parade article notes, these are the awards that marketing mangers want because they can proudly display them on product labels. An award for the industry, perhaps, but our corrupt fascination with the process of process of buying—grand sacrament of the religion of consumerism—convinced Parade editors to make the centerpiece of one of its 52 issues. But then again, most music, movies and television shows are carefully crafted (sometimes with the help of computers) products meant to be consumed as entertainment, and we seem to have an unending thirst for Grammies, Emmys, Oscars and dozens of other imitator awards that have popped over the past few decades.

And thus Parade asks us to stand proudly with the product manager of the 26 winners. Except for one thing: A trip through the instructions for nominating a new product for the prestigious award reveals that finalists have to make a payment of $7,000 and winners are expected to fork over $63,000 for the rights to use the Product of the Year logo.  

In mentioning these payments, the Products of the Year organization reminds us that “Considering that all Finalists receive the results of the nation’s largest study on innovation (an $80,000 value) and all Winners are included in the PR campaign (over $3Million of media exposure), entering for your chance to win the nation’s vote is, to put it bluntly, a no-brainer.” Rarely has the naked sell about a naked sell been so overtly—well—naked.  

Let’s say that there are four finalists for each winner (we never find out), that’s a total kitty of about $2.33 million for the Product of the Year organization, unless it is getting some bucks from Parade; it wouldn’t surprise me which way the funds were flowing on this scam.

How can these people promise a $3.0 million PR campaign when their gross may be as little as $2.3 million? Don’t lose any sleep—these guys will make their car payments. When PR people say, “$3.0 million in media exposure," they usually mean the equivalent of placing $3.0 million in advertising which: 1) isn’t a lot; and 2) you can get with a $50,000 PR program with ease. As it seems these folks have done.

That this kind of organization preys on the ego needs of marketing managers and large companies is not surprising. Even if they have to pay for it, these large companies can smugly trot these awards out to Boards of Directors, securities analysts and shareholders. Perhaps the award can get them more shelf space in supermarkets and other retail outlets, a growing challenge for consumer goods companies.  They can also tell their customers, but why the consumer should care is beyond me.

And what do these companies do about the consumers who go to the Products of the Year website and see that it’s 100% dedicated to selling consumer companies on making an application for a pay-for-play PR opportunity. It seems to matter little that many people know the award is a pay-for-play that is little more than a survey by an entrepreneurial marketing company.

Pretty soon we’ll be able to have an entire calendar of holidays that are totally focused on shopping. Including those holidays created to sell more consumer products, we have a pretty full calendar:
  • Product of the Year celebration
  • Mother’s Day
  • Father’s Day
  • Back-to-School Saturday   
  • Black Friday Eve (AKA Thanksgiving)
  • Black Friday
  • Small Business Saturday
  • Cyber Monday
  • Super Saturday
  • Day After Christmas
That’s 10 holidays dedicated to shopping, which aren’t quite as many days as the Catholics dedicate to saints, but remember that the American religion of consumerism is only about a century old. Give us time.

Clarification about drones: they should be used only on a real battlefield

By Marc Jampole

One of my Twitter followers asked a rhetorical question on Twitter and the OpEdge blogsite in response to my recent blog on drones being used to kill American citizens.   The question: Terrorism = war? If so, drone kill is ok.

My response is that even if terrorism is war, that definition in itself doesn’t make it legal or moral to use drones in civilian populations or to hunt down U.S. citizens.

Terrorism is a type of warfare that takes advantage of one of the loopholes in conventional warfare in the 21st century: Don’t attack civilians if you can avoid it and don’t invade countries that are not parties to the dispute. By operating while concealed in civilian populations, often in peaceful countries, terrorists take advantage of these humane rules. It makes it harder to seek out a battle terrorists. On the other hand, a terrorist army is so small that the long-term damage it can do is much less than an army with an air force and bombs. If you don’t believe me, then ask the Iraqi people.

My point, which I may have not made as clearly as I could have the other day, is that drones are okay on the legitimate battle field but not to hunt people in civilian settings.  And drones are never okay against a U.S. citizen. Now if that citizen is in an airplane attacking a U.S. ally and we shoot him or her down, that’s fine. But by virtue of singling out the U.S. citizen in a non-battlefield environment, we have changed the context from hot warfare to peacetime (or wartime) crime. And when we’re talking about crime, we’re talking about due process.

My opinion may or may not have a firm basis in international law. That doesn’t matter to me. I know what’s right and fair, and hunting down U.S. citizens instead of capturing them and bringing them to trial is neither right nor fair. I‘m not willing to pervert our way of life to take out a terrorist.  It lowers us to their level—makes us no better than they are. Besides, it’s not needed: we were winning the war against Al Qaida before we started using drones.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Missouri Lawmakers on the move--Farmers, too

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: One of the best things about politics is the four-day weekend. Marshall and I drove through Jefferson City Thursday evening to find our favorite restaurants closed—the lawmakers had all gone home & there was no business. We’ll find the same thing if we visit the capital on Monday. Some of the General Assembly don’t ooze back until Monday night or Tuesday. In that four-day weekend, the citizens’ e-mail boxes are full of ACTION ALERTS. The Pollution Protection Act is moving. That’s Senate Bill 41. Also, the bill to count energy from old dams as part of the Renewable Energy Standards is moving. House Bill 44. Missouri has 3 old dams, still creating electricity for the state: Keokuk, Ozark Beach and Bagnell. Since these dams have been in existence for decades, far longer than the nuclear plant or most coal-burning plants, they have proven themselves. We should use more water-produced electricity. But they should not be part of the NEW renewable energy standard (RES) count. That was created to bring NEW renewable to the state, like small dams, windmills and solar. We need new production to offset production that’s driving global warming. Final arguments against Medicaid are being heard and arguments for a law to force Missouri electrical consumers to pay the electric bills of consumers of the future. Ameren wants to make it possible to bill consumers to raise money for speculative additions to the grid, like a new nuclear plant. Today, in contrast, utilities have to raise money for new equipment by borrowing, selling bonds or issuing stock. To make our positions clear, we citizens get on the phone and rattle off a message to the legislative answering machines. We send e-mails and faxes, then we write letters to the editor and send copies to our legislators. Even though the fields are resting, this is the busiest time of year for politically active farmers. But there’s still time for fun. Next week, in Auxvasse, there’s the annual loafer’s week at the community center. Every noon, one of the groups hosts a lunch-time fundraiser and folks turn out to play cards, eat, drink coffee and complain to each other. It’s a pretty wonderful tradition. And, last weekend was the annual wagon, draft horse and mule auction in Boone County. Prices are up—way—and I saw a lot of good animals taken out of the ring without selling because the owners opted to keep them rather than take what I thought was an excellent price. I asked one of the good old boys what he thought was going on. He said he thinks demand is about the same, but fewer folks are raising draft horses and mules. So prices go up. I came home with a new harness, but the wrong size. I have to call the dealer and get a bigger one. My neighbor Barb came home with a new, shiny, four-wheeled cart. “You buying that for yourself or your grandchild?” asked the fellow sitting next to her. She said she had to think about it for a long time before answering, “for myself, I guess.” We had a great time yesterday with our equines and new equipment, just trying it out. The critters—a horse, a pony, a donkey—had as much fun as we did. Lucky we squeezed it in when we did. Today, it’s letters-to-the-editor-writing day and, again, it’s raining.