Friday, February 29, 2008

On this day 20 years ago...

On February 29, 1988, my 23 year-old son, Jeff, broke his neck. He was in the back seat of a BMW wearing a seat belt. The driver, who apparently thought he was Mario Andretti, failed to follow the road around a curve and drove the BMW into an embankment at high speed.

My son recovered consciousness but couldn't breathe because his airway was blocked. He observed that his fingertips were blue. Apparently out of nowhere and quite miraculously, a passerby opened the car door and gently straightened out Jeff’s neck so he could breathe. He held his head in position until the ambulance arrived and Jeff’s neck was stabilized.

When the family gathered at the hospital the next day, we were told that Jeff would most likely be paralyzed, but there was no way to know how extensive or how permanent the paralysis would be. At first, Jeff couldn’t move his limbs and also suffered from sensory loss. There are more details at Jeff’s post, My Broken Neck: A 20 Year Anniversary.

Jeff spent months wearing a “halo” and still has the marks on his temples where it attached to his skull. He slowly regained mobility and the sensory loss lessened.

Ten years later, in May of 1998, Jeff and I ran a marathon together. It was his first competitive race and his training consisted of several eight-mile runs on an indoor gym track. We didn’t break any records.

A few years later, Jeff entered his first full distance triathlon and is now doing them all over the world. He shares his athletic experiences here.

On February 23rd, Jeff participated in the Ironman Malaysia Triathlon. It was tough in the heat and the mosquitoes came out as the sun set. Here he is, halfway through the 26.2 mile run:
With very little training, he managed to finish in approximately 14 hours and considers it a warm up for the Ironman South Africa on April 13th.

There’s a lot more to Jeff than his competitive races. A Google search will satisfy the curious.

I’m just so grateful that Jeff recovered and that he is packing so much into life and getting so much out of it.

(photo of Jeff from his blog; photo from Malaysia triathlon, thanks to Jeff’s girlfriend, Michelle)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

In defense of Ralph Nader

Some Democrats won’t speak to me because I don’t hold Ralph Nader responsible for George W. Bush’s election in 2000.

In January, 2005, my friend, Tod Brilliant, and I arranged a venue in Healdsburg for Ralph to come talk with us and raise funds to pay off the debts related to his run for president in 2004. Everything he had to say made sense.

Ralph Nader has always made sense to me. I realize that many Democrats think he was a “spoiler” in the 2000 election, resulting in GWB’s running our country for eight disastrous years. To them, Nader’s run in 2000, 2004, and 2008 doesn’t make sense.

Here’s what I ask these Democrats:
1. Is there any substantive issue on which you don’t agree with Ralph Nader? The answer is always, “No.”
2. Why do you blame Nader instead of blaming the Democratic Party for moving so far to the right that Nader stands almost alone in support of Democratic principles? Typically I don’t get an answer to this question.
3. Why don’t you blame the Democratic Party for not supporting public funding of campaigns so that those who are running for office can afford to listen to the citizens? Again, I usually don’t get a response.

Yesterday I posted "The Paul Wellstone Way." Wellstone, whom I admire very much, urged us to vote for what we believe in. For those that believe that Ralph Nader best exemplifies the principles Democrats should stand for, he deserves their support.

On February 25th, I posted ”Zinn and Nader .....hold presidential candidates' feet to the fire." Nader came up with 12 questions to ask Clinton and Obama, questions they should be addressing. I even got some flack for this post.

If the issue of whether or not Ralph Nader is a plus or a minus for our country is worth your time, I urge you to read the following and make up your own mind:

1. Transcript of Ralph Nader's February 24th interview on "Meet the Press."

2. Chris Hedges’s February 26th Truthdig article in support of Nader running for president, "Pariah or Prophet?"

3. "Robert Scheer debates Ralph Nader," a transcript of their conversation on The Nation cruise in July of 2007. Friends who were on the cruise told me they thought Nader won the debate. The debate was presented as “Truthdig Editor Robert Scheer goes head to head with progressive icon Ralph Nader, who denies the charge that he has been a spoiler and challenges the value of the Democratic Party.”

Scheer’s final comments: “Ralph Nader has been one of the great citizens in this country’s history. And I don’t think he cost Gore or Kerry the election. I agree with that analysis, I think that they shot themselves in the foot. And I think they should have run a more vigorous, progressive campaign. In Gore’s case, no one has mentioned it, but he distanced himself from Clinton, who was enormously popular, and he failed to carry his own home state. And if you can’t carry your own home state, you haven’t done something right in that connection. So I agree with Ralph that he should not be held responsible for the state of the country, in any negative way. I think he has been an incredibly useful person, I’m not being condescending here—this is heartfelt. I think he’s a great person. And I do think he has the right to run. ...”

I’ve already decided that Ralph is a plus for our country. I haven’t yet decided whom to vote for, but if I take the late Senator Paul Wellstone’s advice, I’ll be voting for Ralph Nader.

Sidebar: If The Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles captures the feelings of a majority of Democrats, Tuesday's cartoon makes me sad.

(photo of Ralph Nader: World Prout Assembly)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Paul Wellstone Way

My friend and blogging buddy, Chris Borland, and I have been exchanging e-mails about how to successfully convey the liberal message to the public.

Again and again, I share my experience of going to Camp Wellstone (link to my June 6th, 2007 post). Chris, I, and others don’t have to reinvent the liberal message wheel. It’s already available, thanks to Wellstone Action!.

Wellstone Action! was started by the David and Mark Wellstone, shortly after the tragic death in 2002 of their parents, Paul and Sheila Wellstone, and their sister, Marcia.

Recently I’ve been seeing references to Paul Wellstone’s message, including in Ralph Nader’s "Meet the Press" interview last Sunday and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne’s February 22nd op-ed, "A Page from Paul Wellstone," which opens with, “If you want to talk about candidates borrowing from each other, consider how much Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are taking on loan from the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, the affable populist killed in a plane crash shortly before the 2002 election.”

If you’re willing to take six minutes to self-administer a dose of hope, watch this video:

If you want to know more about all this exciting stuff, check out Wellstone Action! The Executive Director is Jeff Blodgett, who was Wellstone’s campaign manager from 1989 to 2002. His recent article, "Populism, Organization and Conviction: How Paul Wellstone Won Elections" is well worth reading. Then wander on over to the Advisory Committee. You’ll be amazed at who’s on this committee. The Organizing Corner offers tools and resources for building a volunteer infrastructure based on the radical notion that, as Paul Wellstone said, "people get organized because they, too, have a vision."

I also highly recommend reading Paul Wellstone’s The Conscience of a Liberal - Reclaiming the Compassionate Agenda (2001). The first chapter, “This Time, Vote for What You Believe In,” is timely.

(the bus Paul Wellstone used in his campaigns:

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Gail goes electric

I have a new electric motor scooter. It’s an Oxygen Lepton, made in Italy. Its top speed is 28 mph and has a range of up to 31 miles on a 5-hour charge.

My younger son Rody found it for me at Thunderstruck Motors in Santa Rosa, California. It has replaced my 1976 Yamaha Chappies. I’ve owned three all these years so I would never run out of parts, but they have two-stroke engines and are notorious polluters.

The good news is that I only need a one-time license and won’t need to renew my motorcycle driver’s license when I turn 70 in a couple of years. It's quiet and I'm glad not to be riding something that emits puffs of blue smoke.

Possible bad news: It weighs 230 pounds, more than twice as much as I weigh. I’m going to need to make sure that I don’t lose muscle strength so I can maneuver it when the engine is off.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Today's must read: Scott Horton's inside report on CBS's coverage of the conviction of Don Siegelman

CBS: More Prosecutorial Misconduct in Siegelman Case Alleged

Excerpt: "The CBS piece, for which I was repeatedly interviewed, came through on its promise to deliver several additional bombshells. The most significant of these was the disclosure that prosecutors pushed the case forward and secured a conviction relying on evidence that they knew or should have know was false, and that they failed to turnover potentially exculpatory evidence to defense counsel. The accusation was dramatically reinforced by the Justice Department’s failure to offer a denial. It delivered a fairly elaborate version of a “no comment,” and even that came a full twenty-four hours after it had conferred with the prosecutors in question. The gravity of the accusations made and the prosecutors’ failure to deny them further escalates concerns about the treatment of the former Alabama governor."

Howard Zinn and Ralph Nader team up to create an action plan to hold the Democratic presidential candidates’ feet to the fire

Full disclosure: Zinn and Nader are only teamed up in this post because I think joining together their ideas on how to get the frontrunning Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, to address crucial issues makes sense.

On February 23rd, Howard Zinn’s article, "Election Madness" was posted at Information Clearing House. Zinn describes “election madness” that seizes the country every four years: “I'm talking about a sense of proportion that gets lost in the election madness. Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes-the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth. ”But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice….

“Today, we can be sure that the Democratic Party, unless it faces a popular upsurge, will not move off center. The two leading Presidential candidates have made it clear that if elected, they will not bring an immediate end to the Iraq War, or institute a system of free health care for all….

”They do not propose what the present desperation of people cries out for: a government guarantee of jobs to everyone who needs one, a minimum income for every household, housing relief to everyone who faces eviction or foreclosure.

”They do not suggest the deep cuts in the military budget or the radical changes in the tax system that would free billions, even trillions, for social programs to transform the way we live….

“We should not expect that a victory at the ballot box in November will even begin to budge the nation from its twin fundamental illnesses: capitalist greed and militarism.” [emphasis mine]

Enter Ralph Nader: His advice: Email or write Obama and Clinton and challenge them to address what Nader describes as "Candidate Taboos," which he lists in an article published in Counterpunch on January 15th. He describes 12 taboos including the following:

* You won't hear a call for a national crackdown on the corporate crime, fraud, and abuse that have robbed trillions of dollars from workers, investors, pension holders, taxpayers and consumers. Among the reforms that won't be suggested are providing resources to prosecute executive crooks and laws to democratize corporate governance so shareholders have real power. Candidates will not shout for a payback of ill-gotten gains, to rein in executive pay, or to demand corporate sunshine laws.

* You won't hear a call for our income tax system to be substantially revamped so that workers can keep more of their wages while we tax the things we like least, such as pollution, stock speculation, addictive industries, and energy guzzling technologies. Nor will you hear that corporations should be required to pay their fair share; corporate tax contributions as a percent of the overall federal revenue stream have been declining for 50 years.

* You won't hear a call for a single payer health system. Almost sixty years after President Truman first proposed it, we still need health insurance for everyone, a program with quality and cost controls and an emphasis on prevention. Full Medicare for everyone will save thousands of lives a year while maintaining patient choice of doctors and hospitals within a competitive private health care delivery system.

* You won't hear a consistent clarion call for electoral reform. Both parties have shamelessly engaged in gerrymandering, a process that guarantees reelection of their candidates at the expense of frustrated voters. Nor will there be serious proposals that millions of law-abiding ex-felons be allowed to vote.

Other electoral reforms should include reducing barriers to candidates, same day registration, a voter verified paper record for electronic voting, run-off voting to insure winners receive a majority vote, binding none-of-the-above choices and most important, full public financing to guarantee clean elections.

Nader concludes, “ Voters should visit the webpages of the major party candidates. See what they say, and see what they do not say. Then email or send a letter to any or all the candidates and ask them why they are avoiding these issues. Breaking the taboos won't start with the candidates. Maybe it can start with the voters.”

Regardless of who wins in November, let’s take Howard Zinn’s advice and devote our time and energy in “…[E]ducating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.”

(Photos of Howard Zinn and Ralph Nader: World Prout Assembly)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Update on "60 Minutes" segment on the conviction of former governor of Alabama Don Siegelman

You can watch it here.

Action Alert: Watch CBS's "60 Minutes" this evening

This evening at 7 pm (PST/EST) I will be watching the “60 Minutes” segment on "GOP Operative: Rove Sought to Smear Dem."

I’ve been following the tragic story of the imprisonment of former governor of Alabama, Don Siegelman, since June of last year, posting about it on June 30th, “Where is the outrage?”, July 1st , "Read Rove's lips," and July 15th, "Keep your eyes on the Siegelman case."

Scott Horton, who blogs for Harper's at No Comment, has done the best job of keeping up with the Siegelman case, with his 2007 posts available here. He also covers the conviction and incarceration of Siegelman in "Vote Machine" in the March, 2008 issue of Harper’s.

If you think Rove is out of the picture now that he’s no longer Bush’s advisor, think again. On April 10, 2007, TPMuckraker post included Rove’s responses to questions after his speech on "voter fraud" to the Republican National Lawyers Association convention in April of 2006:

QUESTION: In 2008, what states do you think are going to be the swing states?

ROVE: You know, I think in 2008, there will be a number of states which will be competitive that are familiar states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, maybe not Florida, Colorado, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nevada, Iowa, New Mexico….

“So a lot in American politics is up for grabs…. [This is an understatement: think of the consequences to the Bush Administration if the executive branch and Congress are in Democratic hands and we citizens put pressure on both of them to hold Bush's cabal accountable.]

“I intend to observe it with a great deal of interest….”

I suspect Rove is going to do a lot more than observe the 2008 presidential election.

(photo of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman: That's Politics)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

"A perverse belief in Harry Potter has gripped Kinshasa"

Last Wednesday, I posted "Recommended reading: Planet of Slums." The following description of what’s happening in Kinshasa, the capital and largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo, caught me by surprise:

Kinshasa, a city of 6 million, is described by its own inhabitants as a “cadaver, a wreck.” Less than 5% of Kinoans earn a regular salary. According to Mike Davis, the author of Planet of Slums, “Kinshasa, like the rest of Congo-Zaire, has been wrecked by a perfect storm of kleptocracy, Cold War geopolitics, structural adjustments, and chronic civil war.”

“The Little Witches of Kinshasa” are described on pages 191-198 in Chapter 8, “A Surplus Humanity?” As a result of the collapse of Kinoan society, “The bitter frustration of the people led to an imaginary yet vicious mentality of sorcery….” As a result, literal, perverse belief in Harry Potter has gripped Kinshasa, leading to the mass-hysterical denunciation of thousands of child “witches” and their mass expulsion to the streets, even their murder.”

The same fictional character who enchants our safe, well-fed children (and adults) stands for something else in a country where the basic care and protection of children has broken down.

(photo of Kinshasa: 3 Quarks Daily)

Friday, February 22, 2008

How long will we let the Republicans hold the fear card?

This morning, Glenn Greenwald, who blogs for, posted "GOP politics in a nutshell": “A new House Republican ad warns that we'll all be slaughtered, and soon, by bad dark people, unless we give the government all the new unchecked powers it's demanding.”
The ad:

On Feb. 7th , I included this FAQ in my post:

Question: Isn’t our safety from terrorist attacks threatened if the “Protect America Act” isn’t extended?

Answer: No. The FISA bill that the Protect America Act would replace is still in place. It allows for emergency (warrantless) electronic surveillance when the Attorney General determines that it’s necessary. Then, within 72 hours of the AG’s authorization, he/she must obtain a judicial order issued by the FISA court. That’s our protection, folks.

On February 14th, Greenwald posted "FISA 101."

“Every President until George Bush was able to defend the nation by engaging in surveillance under FISA. That even includes the Great and Powerful Warrior Ronald Reagan, who vanquished the incomparably nefarious Soviet Union while adhering to FISA. It was only George Bush who claimed that we would All Die unless FISA was modernized, and it was modernized -- repeatedly, to his satisfaction and at his direction.

“FISA and the Protect America Act both equally allow eavesdropping on the Terrorists Who Want to Kill Us. The material difference is that FISA requires warrants for eavesdropping on Americans (after the fact, if necessary) while the Protect America Act allows the President to eavesdrop on any Americans without having any oversight at all. The difference does not relate to the ability to eavesdrop on the Terrorists but on the nature and level of oversight from that eavsdropping. Moreover, the FISA Court is and always has been a rubber-stamping tribunal that does not ever block any surveillance on any suspected Terrorists.

“Thus, we're not all going to die under FISA. We're not ‘going dark.’ FISA is a modern law that was re-written at George Bush's direction and which he himself said allowed for full surveillance on all of the evil Terrorists and all of their complex, super-modern means of communications. None of this has anything to do with the Government's ability to listen in When Osama Calls. It is only about whether the nation's largest telecoms will have pending lawsuits, brought by their customers for breaking the law, dismissed by Congress. Is that really so hard to understand and explain?”

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Update to Threat to the Net

Thanks to my friend Troy Seman for sending this to me, you can still access Wikileaks here (as of 8:30 this morning PST):

Threats to the Net

Within the past couple of days, two news items portend an ominous trend toward restricting our access to information on the Internet.

The first is a federal judge's order shutting down Wikileaks, a whistleblower website that enables the anonymous leaking of confidential government and corporate documents., the best source of information about threats to the Net, has posted articles here and here.

Even The New York Times editors weighed in on the closing of Wikileaks this morning in "Stifling Online Speech": “A federal judge last week ordered the disabling of, a muckraking Web site. That stifles important speech and violates the First Amendment. It should be reversed, and Wikileaks should be allowed to resume operations….”

“Julius Baer Bank and Trust, a Cayman Islands branch of a Swiss bank, sued Wikileaks charging that it had illegally posted documents stolen by a former employee. The site said the documents ‘allegedly reveal secret Julius Baer trust structures’ for money laundering, tax evasion and other misdeeds.

“Federal District Court Judge Jeffrey White ordered Wikileaks’s domain name registrar to disable its Web address. That was akin to shutting down a newspaper because of objections to one article. The First Amendment requires the government to act only in the most dire circumstances when it regulates free expression.” [emphasis mine]

The second article in today’s Washington Post, "Army Blocks Public's Access to Documents in Web-Based Library" is equally alarming. “ The Army has shut down public access to the largest online collection of its doctrinal publications, a move criticized by open-government advocates as unnecessary secrecy by a runaway bureaucracy.

“Army officials moved the Reimer Digital Library behind a password-protected firewall on Feb. 6, restricting access to an electronic trove that is popular with researchers for its wealth of field and technical manuals and documents on military operations, education, training and technology. All are unclassified, and most already are approved for public release…

"'All of this stuff had been specifically approved for public release,' Aftergood [a member of the public who used the digital library] said. 'I think it's a case of bureaucracy run amok. And it's a familiar impulse to secrecy that needs to be challenged at every turn....'

"Army officials said yesterday that they were compelled to limit access to the Reimer library site to comply with Department of Defense policies that call for tightening the security of military Web sites and to keep better track internally of who is accessing them and why….

"'They can configure Army Web sites however they like,' Aftergood said. 'What they cannot do is to withhold information from the public that is subject to release under the FOIA. . . . What we really want to do is to persuade them to adopt a reasonable policy of openness…..'"

(Wikileak hourglass: Ivo)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Recommended reading: Planet of Slums

Last night I started rereading Planet of Slums (2006) by Mike Davis. It’s a stunning book, worthy of a more careful reading than my first effort.

Based on this book, I believe that the two biggest threats facing our world are global warming and the incredible growth of “megaslums.”

According to Davis, “There are probably more than 200,000 slums on earth, ranging in population from a few hundred to more than a million people….”Megaslums” arise when shanty-towns and squatter communities merge in continuous belts of informal housing, usually on the urban periphery”(p. 26).

Davis’s book is full of references to official reports, books and articles about the growth of slums around the world. The 2003 United Nations report The Challenge of Slums looks worth reading. You can download it here.

(Planet of Slums book jacket: Maritimes Indymedia, Challenge of Slums book jacket: UN-HABITAT)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bubbles and Obama

Several weeks ago, I read "The Next Bubble" by Eric Janszen in the February, 2008 issue of Harper's Magazine.

The next bubble got most of my attention. Janszen predicts that “There is one industry that fits the bill: alternative energy, the development of more energy-efficient products, along with viable alternatives to oil, including wind, solar, and geothermal power, along with the use of nuclear energy to produce sustainable oil substitutes, such as liquefied hydrogen from water.”

I didn’t pay much attention to this statement: “Supporting this alternative-energy bubble will be a boom in infrastructure—transportation and communications systems, water, and power…. After last August’s bridge collapse in Minnesota, it took only a week for libertarian Robert Poole, director of transportation studies for the Reason Foundation to renew the call for “highway public-private partnerships funded by tolls….” [emphasis mine]

Toll roads? Privatized highways only for those who can afford them? I’ve saved several articles about toll roads, including The New York Times January 19th article, "Work is Afoot to Take the Free Out of Freeway." And I joined forces with others here in California to fight the successful battle to stop a six lane toll road through San Onofre State Beach.

Now I’m learning that there’s more than public highways, open to everyone, at stake. It appears that presidential candidate Barack Obama is calling for a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank. The weekend edition of Information Clearinghouse posted "Barack Obama Fronts Wall Street's Infrastructure" by Bruce Marshall. I don’t know enough about the author to simply swallow everything in the article, but I’m now paying attention to public-private partnerships, “PPPs.”

I found another online article, "Barack Obama and the Gentrification of America - The Manchurian Messiah?" by Xenophon. Excerpt: “Soon, when the Messiah Obama is president, the NIC [National Investment Corporation], under the guise of the National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank (NIRB), will begin the process of national gentrification by collateralizing our roads, schools, public utilities and housing turning America into a feudal zone of private toll roads, school buildings, water and gas lines. We will have to pay tolls and taxes on everything. Welcome to gentrified America.”

Marshall and Xenophon are searingly critical of privatizing our infrastructure and Obama for supporting it. Will a NIRB create yet another bubble that will inevitably burst? I don’t know. I’m opposed to privatizing infrastructure but support Obama. However, I know that it’s important to be open to new information.

(caracature of Obama : Publius Pundit)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Observations on the state of the nation, starting at home

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my twin grandchildren, now a year old, celebrating their first birthday here:

My son and his wife have protected their infants from viewing either television or computer screens based on the belief that it is not good for them. We grandparents have honored the prohibition.

Yesterday, The Washington Post published an article by Susan Jacoby, "The Dumbing of America." Jacoby states that “Americans are in serious intellectual trouble -- in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations.”

The main problem? Video. Jacoby: “First and foremost among the vectors of the new anti-intellectualism is video. The decline of book, newspaper and magazine reading is by now an old story. The drop-off is most pronounced among the young, but it continues to accelerate and afflict Americans of all ages and education levels.”

Regarding infants’ exposure to videos, Jacoby says, “Despite an aggressive marketing campaign aimed at encouraging babies as young as 6 months to watch videos, there is no evidence that focusing on a screen is anything but bad for infants and toddlers. In a study released last August, University of Washington researchers found that babies between 8 and 16 months recognized an average of six to eight fewer words for every hour spent watching videos.”

In a recent conversation with my friend Tod Brilliant, he lamented that the early promise of the Internet was that it would restore the lost art of reading. That’s when the Net was full of text and no videos. Alas, now Tod sees the Internet as just one more way to expose everyone to videos.

Chris Borland, who blogs at The Democratic Activist, and I have been pondering how to be effective in getting the message out that liberals are community-interested in contrast to conservatives, who are self-interested. We’ve been focusing more on the medium, Save the Internet, than on the message. Both matter.

I don’t have any answers at this point, I’m just thinking out loud.

(banner: Save the Internet)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Fashion and FISA

Call this a strange juxtaposition, but both fashion and FISA are on my mind right now.

Fashion: I recently subscribed to Vanity Fair for its great articles. I’ve become fascinated by the ads, which take up three-quarters of the magazine. Last night I came across this one in the March issue. It’s a Balenciaga, a fashion house started by Christobal Balenciaga in 1914. I’m definitely not up on fashion if this outfit is the latest thing.

FISA: Maybe the reason I’m so hopelessly out of fashion is that I care way more about what’s happening to this country. For those of you (whether you dress in the latest fashions or not) who want to know more about the consequences of the Protect America Act lapsing today and Bush’s dire warnings that this could result in a terrorist attack worse than 9/11, read Glenn Greenwald’s February 14th post, "FISA 101" (click "Enter Salon" at the top right of the ad after a few seconds).

(photo: Vanity Fair)

Friday, February 15, 2008

What has happened to our country in the last thirty-five years?

Almost thirty-five years ago, there was a bipartisan effort to hold Nixon accountable. Fast forward to today, and there is a bipartisan effort to refuse to hold President Bush and Vice-President Cheney accountable for acts far more egregious than Nixon’s.

Compare the description below regarding how Congress acted in 1973-1974 regarding impeaching Nixon to its non-action in failing to even consider impeaching Bush and Cheney.

My source is Chapter 1 in Impeach the President - The Case Against Bush and Cheney, (2006), written by Judith Volkart, a Constitutional law attorney.

“…[I]n October, 1973, the Senate took the first step leading to Nixon’s impeachment with a unanimous and bipartisan vote of those present (77-0) to create a select committee with subpoena power to investigate the allegations of illegal campaign activities.” (p. 18). [emphasis mine]

“In early February, 1974 the House voted 410-4 to empower its Judiciary Committee to begin an impeachment investigation of Nixon….” (p. 19) [emphasis mine]

(photo and caption: One pissed off liberal)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

It's kayak rolling tonight

For the past seven years, I’ve helped people learn to roll their kayaks. It’s a wonderful experience. So, this evening I’ll be in the pool rather than posting something political.

Here’s a quick lesson on how to roll a kayak:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What's going on in the world where we aren't looking?

We focus on the military disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq and worry about whether or not the Bush Administration will attack Iran.

According to John Feffer, we’re missing Asia's Hidden Arms Race, posted yesterday at

In 2003, I read John Feffer’s North Korea South Korea - U.S. Policy in a Time of Crisis and posted about it here. Feffer is an expert on military policy and Asia and co-director of the Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Asia's Hidden Arms Race focuses on the nations who have been participating in the Six Party talks about North Korea’s nuclear program: the U.S., Japan, China, Russia, and the two Koreas.

According to Feffer, “…[I]n the shadows an already massive regional arms race is threatening to shift into overdrive. Since the dawn of the twenty-first century, five of the six countries involved in the Six Party Talks have increased their military spending by 50% or more. The sixth, Japan, has maintained a steady, if sizeable military budget while nonetheless aspiring to keep pace. Every country in the region is now eagerly investing staggering amounts of money in new weapons systems and new offensive capabilities.”

The whole article is worth reading. There’s also a chart showing the increase in military expenditures in the six countries. Russia leads the pack with a 300% increase from 2000 to 2006.

Which country is the chief driver of the global arms spending? According to Feffer, the United States. And he expects it to continue to be even if a Democrat is elected November because “The Democratic frontrunners for the presidential nomination have also called for troop increases and have said nothing about slowing, freezing, or even cutting the military budget.”

(photo of a Russian military corps marching on Victory Day, May 9th, 2006:

Recommended reading: Chris Hedges on "The War Against Tolerance"

When I first started blogging a year ago, I posted "Does fear of Islam stalk the land?" about the beliefs of three of my friends who are indeed afraid of Islam, aka Muslims. I still find their fear disturbing.

So does Chris Hedges. Go to my November 30th post for more information about Chris.

On February 11th, Chris posted "The War Against Tolerance." It’s pretty alarming. It describes three self-described former Muslim terrorists who have converted to Christianity and are touring in this country spewing “…[R]acist filth about Islam on behalf of groups such as Focus on the Family

“These men stoke these irrational fears. They defend the perpetual war unleashed by the Bush administration and championed by Sen. John McCain. McCain frequently reminds listeners that “the greatest danger facing the world is Islamic terrorism,” as does Mike Huckabee, who says that “Islamofascism” is “the greatest threat this country [has] ever faced.”

It’s hard to read stuff like this, but we need to.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Democratic Activist Takes Over

I’m out of steam. I hope you’ll go to my friend Chris Borland’s blog, The Democratic Activist and check "This could be it ! Conyers can be moved...."

Impeachment isn’t really off the table if we citizens stand up and demand it. Chris gives us some background and easy directions on how to take action.

If you still aren’t convinced that impeachment is imperative, I urge you to read Scott Horton’s February 3rd post, "The Case for Impeachment."

(banner: True American Patriots)

Some bad news, some possible good news that depends on you

First the bad news. The Senate is expected to vote for telecom amnesty and warrantless eavesdropping today. Glenn Greenwald, who blogs at comments on this ignominious erosion of democracy, "Amnesty for Bush and lawbreaking telecoms." Read it and grieve for our country.

Now the good news. According to, House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers appears to be open to calling for the impeachment of Cheney. What will it take? Last Thursday, Conyers met with two members of Code Pink. At that meeting, Conyers expressed his concerns about what might happen following an impeachment, the danger of installing a Bush replacement or losing an election. But he said he's listening to several advocates for impeachment, including former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman and David Swanson of He hinted he could be swayed by a convincing argument, leaning out of his chair for dramatic effect.

So it’s up to us. provides a plan of action: So let's help Chairman John Conyers decide! We know Conyers agrees with all of us on the legal grounds for impeachment because he made this case himself in his 2006 book, "The Constitution in Crisis." Where Conyers needs persuasion is on the politics of impeachment, so we have addressed his concerns here.

We'd like you to email Conyers (and other Judiciary Committee Democrats) with the link above, but please don't stop there. Contact information is available here (scroll down).

1. Call his office at 202-225-5126, or use the toll free capital switchboard, 800-828-0498, and say you would like him to begin Cheney impeachment hearings immediately. Tell him the hearings must be on impeachment because that's the only way to force the White House to comply with Congressional subpoenas. The phone in his office was reportedly ringing once every second, 60 times per minute, all day long on Monday. Let's ring it faster on Tuesday.

2. Print our petition and fax it to Conyers at 202-225-0072 with your name and address at the end. Or you can send two free faxes per day by going to FaxZero.

3. Urge your Representative and Senators to sign onto Congressman Robert Wexler's letter to Conyers (which he plans to deliver on Friday) here.

We know we're asking a lot, but we're not alone - our friends from Code Pink are fasting for impeachment and meeting with Conyers on Tuesday to discuss opening Cheney impeachment hearings.

Want to do more? Start planning now to visit your congress member's office when they're back in their district between February 16th and 24th. Find ideas here.

Join (or create) your Congressional District Impeachment Committee here.

(exclamation points: Behance)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Why stopping the six lane toll road through San Onofre State Beach means a lot to me

On February 8th, The New York Times reported, "Park Toll Road Plan Rejected in California." “After a marathon public hearing in which hundreds of people spoke, the California Coastal Commission voted late Wednesday to deny approval for a toll road through a popular beach state park.

"The 8-to-2 vote against the road, which would bisect California’s fifth-most-visited state park, San Onofre State Beach in north San Diego County, was seen as a significant victory for the region’s environmental movement and a major setback to a 20-year-effort to ease traffic congestion in the increasing sprawl of southern Orange County."

I celebrate this victory because I got involved in the effort to stop the toll road, admittedly too little, too late, but I like to think that my effort, though small, contributed to the preservation of San Onofre State Beach.

On January 24th, I went to a meeting to learn more about the threat to San Onofre State Beach and posted about it here. Then on February 4th, I posted an action alert, "Help Save California's State Parks," sent a link to quite a few people and wrote a letter to the Coastal Commission. Thanks to the many people who e-mailed me that they had sent a letter to the Coastal Commission.

The bigger message for me is that citizens can come together and make a difference. Some of us some of the time feel hopeless about affecting the 2008 election, stopping US imperial overstretch with wars of choice, etc. This victory, saving one state park in California, gives me hope.

You can watch the Coastal Commission hearing about the fate of San Onofre State Park here (go to agenda item 8 b. and click on the icon to the right of the b.)

(San Onofre State Beach: Visit USA)

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Have you heard of Infragard?

This past Friday I heard the following news item on Democracy Now!:

The Progressive is reporting that more than 23,000 representatives of private industry are working quietly with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. The business leaders form a group known as Infragard that receives warnings of terrorist threats directly from the FBI before the public does. According to one whistleblower the FBI has given members of InfraGard permission to shoot to kill in the event of martial law.’

The article by Matthew Rothschild is the cover story for the March issue of The Progressive, "Exclusive! The FBI Deputizes Business."

Rothschild is editor of The Progressive and author of You Have No Rights: Stories of American in an Age of Repression.

Read the article. Then ask yourself if you think it’s a good idea for the FBI to be working with Infragard. According to Rothschild, the ACLU is alarmed.

(Infragard logo: Bad American)

Friday, February 08, 2008

Who is Steven Bradbury?

Steven Bradbury's name is popping up in all sorts of blogs these days. Who is he? According to the White House website, Steven G. Bradbury is the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel U.S. Department of Justice.

Yesterday, Dan Froomkin, who blogs for The Washington Post, linked to several recent articles about Bradbury in "Nominee Watch":

Holly Rosenkrantz writes for Bloomberg: "President George W. Bush said the Senate must vote on his backlog of more than 200 nominees promptly and stop treating them like 'political pawns.'

"'The confirmation process has turned into a never-ending political game where everyone loses,' Bush said in a statement at the White House in Washington. 'It is clear that the process is not working.'"

Paul Kiel writes for TPM Muckraker that at the heart of this controversy lies Steven Bradbury, who has been the acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel for more than three years.
"Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and [Dick] Durbin, the Senate whip, revealed that, in negotiations with the White House late last year before the Christmas holiday, the President refused to strike a deal on nominees unless Reid allowed him to recess appoint Bradbury. Reid said he'd offered to confirm 84 of the pending nominees, but the White House said no dice. . . .

Jim Oliphant blogs for Tribune Newspapers: "Who is Steven Bradbury? "Bradbury is the acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department. The critically important office provides legal advice to the White House and it was this office that, at various times during the Bush administration, green-lighted controversial anti-terror policies involving extreme interrogation methods and the warrantless wiretapping program.

"Bradbury was nominated in 2005. He's been doing the job in an acting basis ever since because the Democratic-led Senate has made it crystal-clear they won't vote to approve him. Durbin said that Bradbury signed off on legal opinions approving abusive interrogation practices such as waterboarding and complained that the Justice Department won't hand over those memos.
"The Senate was so fearful that Bush would use a recess appointment to make Bradbury's position permanent that it stayed in session over the Christmas break, having Sen. Jim Webb come in daily to bang the gavel. . . .

"'When the president is willing to vote so many of his own people -- including four Assistant Secretaries of Defense and the Fed -- off the island for one nominee, you know that person must be special. And special he is,' Reid said. 'Mr. Bradbury is the lawyer who loves to give the president the answer he wants regardless of the law, regardless of its impact on our nation and regardless of what it does to our standing in the world.'"

In a letter to Mukasey this week, Durbin described his concerns about Bradbury -- and about whether his continued service as the head of the Office of Legal Counsel violates the law.

(photo of Bradbury: White House website)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Action Alert: Call your Congressional representatives TODAY to stop passage of the warrantless eavesdropping law

This morning I received the People's E-mail Network urgent message to contact my representatives TODAY to stop passage of the “Protect America Act.”

From PEN: Please AGAIN call all your members of Congress, toll free at 800-828-0498, 800-614-2803 or 866-340-9281, and submit the No Immunity of Any Kind Action Page to back that up with an email message. 1) Tell them NO immunity and YES to making FISA the exclusive means or surveillance.

Here are my FAQs:

Question: Why shouldn’t the telephone companies be granted immunity if they acted in “good faith” by turning over all our phone and e-mail records to the government when asked?

Answer: “Good faith” is not a sufficient defense to violating laws. None of us could get away with it.

On January 17th, Glenn Greenwald posted ""Lawbreaking telecoms still conniving to obtain immunity from Congress." Excerpts: “Manifestly, retroactive immunity is something available only to the largest, lobbyist-using corporations, and is not something that ordinary Americans would ever even get a hearing on. ....

“...[I]mmunity would be a complete evisceration of the rule of law, bizarrely protecting telecoms from the consequences of their lawbreaking and putting an end to any real hope for investigating and obtaining accountability for years of illegal spying on Americans by the Bush administration. When you put all of that together, telecom immunity embodies every form of lawlessness and corruption which are destroying our political culture….

“In fact, the ability of the rich and well-connected to obtain immunity from lawbreaking is one of the hallmarks of corrupt oligarchy, one of the surest signs of the breakdown of basic justice.”

Question: Isn’t our safety from terrorist attacks threatened if the “Protect America Act” isn’t extended?

Answer: No. The FISA bill that the Protect America Act would replace is still in place. It allows for emergency (warrantless) electronic surveillance when the Attorney General determines that it’s necessary. Then, within 72 hours of the AG’s authorization, he/she must obtain a judicial order issued by the FISA court. That’s our protection, folks.

(Cartoon: Image Shack)

Letter from Jack Balkin to Senator McCain regarding waterboarding as torture

Jack Balkin, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment and director of The Information Society Project at Yale Law School, sends Senator John McCain the following letter:

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

What Do You Say Now, John McCain?

Dear Senator McCain:

The White House has now admitted that the United States has waterboarded, that President Bush believes the practice is not torture, and that it violates neither the anti-torture statute, the McCain Amendment (which you sponsored) nor the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (which you voted for).Will you condemn the White House for its latest admission? Will you say to the President what you said to Rudy Giuliani back in October?

"All I can say is that it was used in the Spanish Inquisition, it was used in Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia, and there are reports that it is being used against Buddhist monks today," Mr. McCain, who spent more than five years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, said in a telephone interview. Of presidential candidates like Mr. Giuliani, who say that they are unsure whether waterboarding is torture, Mr. McCain said: "They should know what it is. It is not a complicated procedure. It is torture."

And if that is so, Senator McCain, do you agree that the Administration is subject to criminal liability under the torture statute and the War Crimes statute? Do you agree that the United States, under the leadership of George W. Bush, has committed war crimes and has stated that it sees no obstacle to doing so again?The country awaits your answer.

(simulation of waterboarding outside the Justice Department in Washington November 5, 2007: Nan Carrow Webdesk; photo of Jack Balkin: Yale Tomorrow)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Congress surrenders power of the purse

I’ve been gathering articles about Bush's use of signing statements to circumvent laws for several years. Many of them are illegal, i.e., impeachable offenses.

The most recent one is almost unbelievable if George Bush gets away with it. Congress will no longer control the purse strings.

Dan Froomkin, who blogs for The Washington Post at the White House Watch, linked to Bruce Fein's Washington Times opinion column (scroll down to “Signing Statements Watch”) about Congress’s surrender of the power of the purse over national security affairs to the White House. Fein is a conservative. He appeared with The Nation's Washington Correspondent John Nichols on Bill Moyers’s "Tough Talk on Impeachment" Fein’s article: "Power of the purse purloined?"

Froomkin also reports: "After Bush issued his latest signing statement, [Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.] signed onto a bill that would nullify presidential signing statements, becoming the fourth co-sponsor for a bipartisan bill introduced in June by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

"'The president's job is to sign or veto legislation passed by Congress,' Tester said in a press release last week. 'He doesn't get to add small print allowing him to pick and choose what he wants.'

"Specter's Senate Bill 1747 and its House twin (with 58 co-sponsors) assert that Congress has the constitutional authority to write legislation, while the president's role in enacting legislation is limited to signing it or vetoing it. Both bills direct that 'no federal or state court shall rely on or defer to a presidential signing statement as a source of authority.'”

(Bill of Rights revised (click to enlarge):

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Election Night Life - Super Tuesday with The Young Turks

Starting at 1 pm today, PST, I’ve had Brave New Films' "Election Night Live - Super Tuesday," the online reporting of the 24 presidential primaries, running in the background on my office computer.

The Young Turks are moderating the coverage. Below is a EST schedule of the guests who will be interviewed.

4:00 Liveblog starts
6:00 Video starts, Senator Sherrod Brown
6:20 Senator Ted Kennedy
7:10 Anna Burger, SEIU
7:30 Joe Garofoli, San Francisco Chronicle
7:40 Dolores Huerta
7:50 Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood
8:10 Melody Barnes, CAP Action Fund
8:50 Jane Hamsher, Firedoglake
9:00 Howard Dean, DNC
9:30 Senator Barbara Boxer
9:40 Eli Pariser,
10:00 Alexandra Acker, Young Democrats

10:10 Joe Conason,
10:20 Trailer Premiere, This Brave Nation
10:30 Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation
11:30 Todd Beeton, MyDD
11:40 Keith Boykin/Malia Lazu, Daily Voice
12:00 Joan McCarter, Daily KOS
12:20 Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post

You can sign up for e-mail alerts of upcoming shows.

(photo of Young Turk Cenk Uygur: Huffington Post)

Monday, February 04, 2008

My fax to Senator Feinstein urging her to change her mind about the FISA bill

It’s now or never, folks. Below is my letter that I just faxed to Sen. Feinstein: 202.228.3954 and 415.393.0710. Go to The Democratic Activist for great suggestions on what you can do.

Gail Jonas
State Bar #74601
P.O. Box 973
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 433-6845
fax: (707) 433-8314

By fax only

To: Senator Dianne Feinstein

Re: Extending the Protect America Act

Dear Senator Feinstein:

I realize that you have been adamant that the Protect America Act needs to be extended.

I have before me your letter dated December 14, 2007, in which you justified your support of the nomination of Judge Mukasey to lead the Department of Justice. Yet Attorney General Mukasey will not say that waterboarding, long recognized as torture, is torture.

I assume you are now concerned about having the top law enforcement official who is not willing to take a position on an issue as crucial as whether or not this country condones torture.

Before you vote to extend the Protect America Act, I urge to consider the irreparable harm you could do to our democracy if this act passes. A video, “Trust Us,” is circulating widely. In it, your colleague, Senator Russ Feingold, clearly lays out the risks of trusting the government regarding our private communications.

I have faith that most of our elected officials are open to new information. I hope you are one of those in whom I can have faith.


Gail Jonas

Action Alert: Help save California's state parks

I’ve been so busy trying to stop the extension of the warrantless eavesdropping bill that I almost neglected alerting readers to the need to help preserve our state parks.

On January 24th, I attended a meeting about the proposed six lane toll road through San Onofre State Beach, posting about it here. I came away from that meeting knowing that those of us who love California can’t afford to ignore the risk to our state park system.

The Coastal Commission is meeting on February 6th to consider whether or not to approve construction of the toll road. If this project is approved, it becomes a precedent for wiping out state parks for roads, desalination plants and other infrastructure.

Here’s what you can do:
1. Write a letter to Commissioner Patrick Kruer and e-mail it to She will take it to the meeting. Here’s my short letter:

Commissioner Patrick Kruer
California Coastal Commission
45 Fremont Street, Suite 2000
San Francisco, CA 94105

Re: Opposition to Consistency Certification for Foothill South Toll Road

Dear Chairman Kruer:

I strongly oppose the proposed Foothill-South Toll Road through San Onofre State Beach. I urge the California Coastal Commission to reject a finding that the project is consistent with the federal Coastal Zone Management Act.

Governor Schwarzenegger does not represent the people of this state when it comes to state parks. His position that the Foothill-South Toll Road won’t produce environmental damage is consistent with his belief that state parks simply don’t matter. In addition to supporting a six lane toll road through the middle of San Onofre State Park, he is proposing the closure of 48 state parks.

California’s state parks, especially those adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, are our natural jewels, attracting residents and tourists from all over the world.

As a resident of California who would rather live here than anywhere else in the world, I urge the Coastal Commission to preserve what is special about California – its state park system.

2. Go to Save San Onofre- How You Can Help.

(photo of San Onofre State Beach -

Sunday, February 03, 2008

On this day.....

One year ago, my youngest grandchildren, Rody and Sophia, were born. I posted this a day after their birth. Here they are at their birthday party.

Nineteen years ago today, my granddaughter, Tiffany was born. She’s formally dressed for the dinner honoring her father, Jeff Jonas, as the volunteer of the year a couple of years ago for the Nevada Multiple Sclerosis Society. Tiffany graduated from high school at age sixteen, attends college, and is unusually nice and helpful. Ninety-three years ago today, my mother was born. I previously posted about my mother here. Although she’s no longer alive, her gift to me of the love of nature and reading has sustained me all these years. She’s sitting, and her older brother Ray is standing.

ClintObama Inc.

February 5th is "Super Tuesday." Twenty-two states, including California and New York, will be holding their primaries at which 50.9% of the Democratic delegates will be selected.

So what’s the big deal? According to Jon Spitz,* it’s no big deal whether Senator Hillary Clinton or Senator Barack Obama win. Hey dude! We have a woman and an African-American running for office. Isn’t this a big deal? According to Spitz, yes and no.

The physical differences between them are obvious, and as Jon states in his article, ClintObama Inc., “This [neither contender is a white man] is indeed an unprecedented situation in US presidential politics and I think generally deserving of the attention it gets.”

But Spitz thinks it “…[W]ould be a big mistake to believe that either of these two candidates, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York or Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, really represent any great change from the corporate controlled government we have long suffered.”

Read the whole article here.

*I’ve posted links to Jon’s previous articles here, here, here, here, and here)

(photo of Jon Spitz provided by him)

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Action Alert: The Senate switchboard need to be swamped with calls from constituents who oppose warrantless eavesdropping and telecom immunity

It appears that the Senate will vote this Monday, February 4th, on extending the "Protect America Act," which will give the government carte blanche to listen to our phone calls and read our e-mails. The bill will also grant the telecoms immunity from prosecution for illegally turning our records over to the Bush Administration.

Any immunity offered to telecoms is binding, whether or not the “Protect America Act” is ever revoked by a future Congress and president.

What you can do: Go to The Democratic Activist.

1. Watch Senator Russ Feingold’s 30 minute video clip, “Trust Us.”
2. Follow the simple instructions on how to contact your senators.
3. Send the link to The Democratic Activist to at least 10 friends.

(photo: Banderas News)

Friday, February 01, 2008

Water: Where does it come from? Who gets it? How is global warming affecting our water supply?

Last night I attended a forum on water, sponsored by the Raven Performing Arts Theatre here in my hometown, Healdsburg. The panelists addressed the problems of the likelihood of a diminishing water supply due to global warming and the need for even more water as the population in Northern California increases.

As I left, I picked up a citizens guide to protecting and restoring our watersheds, Basins of Relations, recently published by the Water Institute. The author, Brock Dorman, was one of the forum panelists. He spoke eloquently and poetically about treating our watersheds with respect.

Basins of Relations contains numerous links to websites that will help us choose not to use so much water. The 20 page guide is well worth the $7 purchase price. You can order it here.

This evening, I finished reading the "Drying of the West-The American West was won by water management. What happens when there's no more water to manage?" in the February issue of National Geographic. Recommended reading.

Hopefully, those of us who live where increased severe and sustained droughts are likely to occur will start paying attention to this issue and what we can do to decrease the impact of too little water and too many people. And let’s not forget the flora and fauna that are also going to suffer.

(photo: The main source of our water, the Russian River - Russian River Watershed)