Friday, April 22, 2011

Rule of Law under seige

     Rule of law is under siege in some parts of the United States.

     I never thought that conservatives,who prize freedom of contract, privacy rights and rule of law, would take on absolutist powers to nullify contracts between parties. Conservatives, as classical liberals, view the right to contract as a inviolable part of the free market economy.  But under the leadership of its conservative governor, Michigan is striking down valid contracts with teachers.  Isn't that considered 'statist' and overreach of power?

      This did not start with the Republicans.  Michigan's former governor,  Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, appointed Mr. Robert Bobb, to be emergency manager of the Detroit Public Schools to help close a massive deficit.  Bobb uncovered numerous instances of fraud at the school system - by rooting out corruption, he was trying to stop the fiscal bleeding.  Then the conservative Republican Rick Snyder took over as governor. He wanted immediate action. The Detroit school system has a $327 million deficit.  So just how did  Robert Bobb  handle the problem?   He issued layoff notices to all the teachers in March. More 5,000 notices went out.
     Brilliant. Just what we need. In a city struggling to compete, he fires the educators. Then Bobb gets an $80,000 raise . That's just for one year. His raise costs more than a teacher's total annual salary.  The Michigan Citizen wryly observed that everyone but Bobb is being asked to sacrifice to close the deficit. The manner in which Bobb is trying to close the deficit - privatizing the schools -- raises some additional questions.  Bobb is a public employee - but he also receives huge payments from foundations that promote school privatization.  He gets $280,000 in public money a year - and the rest comes from private foundations. This year he will earn close to half a million.  The Broad Foundation paid him $56,000 last year alone.
     There is a lot of money to be made in privatizing schools.  Bobb wants to place 41,000 students in Detroit in the hands of charter schools - and pay the schools to educate them. He would give the private schools no-bid contracts of course.   So it looks like he's sending a huge amount of business to charter schools -- the very ones promoted by the foundations that pay him.  Does anyone else see a problem here?  I have been supportive of charter schools in the past, but I'm rethinking my support. This looks underhanded and unethical.  To Bobb's credit, he has helped the school system by uncovering many instances of fraud and theft that contributed to the schools' massive deficit. But is he part of the problem?   Bobb is not acting alone - he was ordered to close half the public schools by the Michigan Education Department (which answers to Snyder).  The state wants to prevent Detroit schools from declaring bankruptcy, which could grant the district relief and save the teachers. If the district doesn't declare bankruptcy and continues its belt-tightening, students will be packed 60 to a room as schools are closed. Bobb, throughout this crisis, is collecting on his contracts with charter school advocates while getting paid by the government.  Weird, right?

      It sounds unethical - but that didn't bother Gov. Granholm and it doesn't bother Gov. Snyder. Apparently, in the minds of some people, unionized teachers are the enemy. It's incredible. Teachers are the ones who teach us to read, write, do math, they model social skills, they mentor us. They teach us about life, kindness, sharing as well as instructing us on the Pythagorean theorem, how to conjugate verbs and modify nouns, how to design an experiment using the scientific method and how to parse a newspaper article to find bias. There are good teachers, bad teachers and so-so teachers, but we need them.  What the Republicans have done is betray every ideal libertarians hold - employing massive statist controls - in service of the libertarian ideal of full privatization.

Why would they do this? And while the Republicans push to lay off unionized teachers - because of the budget deficit - Snyder simultaneously proposes giving corporations a $2 billion tax cut.  Is he serious? Does he think this makes any kind of sense? 

     Today's conservatives, the descendants of the classical liberals, are a study in contradictions. They promote the free market, but the free market is based on the private right of contract. By eviscerating the worker's right to negotiate contracts through their unions, the conservatives have actually set a precedent for voiding the private right of contract, the basis of classic liberalism, of conservatism.  They are sowing the seeds of the demise of their own ideology. It is inevitable. I have never seen a political ideology that didn't fail when tested in the crucible of real life.  

For an interesting take on this, read more here:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Cattle starving in Japan

A few souls braved the risk of radiation to check conditions in Fukushima. Livestock had been forgotten. The owners, afraid of the radiation clouds emanating from a nearby nuclear plant, fled without making any provisions for their livestock. I thank the animal activists who risked their health for this. More details here 

In this farm, the cattle were slowly starving to death. It is painful to see. Japan's struggle isn't over yet.
We need to pull together. The same team went back later to find some townspeople had visited the farm to feed the cattle, but then the Japanese government issued a ban on travel to the area. Evacuation is mandatory.  It was deemed to dangerous for humans to travel across a 20 kilometer radius. The volunteers can no longer get in. Update here

 For more of my posts on Japan click here: Best political cartoons on Japan disaster
  and  here.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Asia Noreen Bibi - Chickenpox on Death Row

      Just when things seemed like they could not get worse for Asia Noreen Bibi, they did.
While fasting for peace during Lent, she contracted Chickenpox. 
Bibi has been in solitary confinement in a Pakistan prison for three months and in prison for two years. She is a Christian and Muslim neighbors accused her of blasphemy  and demanded her execution. The court sentenced the mother of five to death by hanging on Nov. 8, 2010 for defending her Christian faith.  The Muslim extremist community, apparently very influential in rural Pakistan, assassinated the province governor for seeking a pardon for Bibi. Then they assassinated the Christian minister of minority affairs in Pakistan, a gentleman who had called international attention to Bibi's case.  Christians sentenced to death under Pakistan's blasphemy law have always been murdered before they are executed. 

     Yet Bibi is still alive. She cooks her own food, even in prison, out of fear of being poisoned. She's alone, separated from her family, surrounded by religious enemies. If anyone deserves asylum, it's her.
 Instead of asylum, she got Chickenpox.  This irritating and potentially disfiguring disease causes hundreds of small, itchy, fluid-filled blisters to appear all over the body. Eventually, they burst and form craters that eventually heal.   The trick with Chickenpox is to avoid scratching the blisters, which can easily lead to a more infection.  Anyone who has ever had Chickenpox will remember the itchiness even years later. It's constant, like a mosquito buzzing in your ear. But you can't scratch -- you might get an infection or leave a scar.

     Well, if anything can take your mind off potential assassination and looming execution, I suppose Chickenpox will do just fine.  Bibi has contracted a case of the Chickenpox that has left her gravely ill. The question is -- how did Bibi, stuck in solitary confinement for three months, get exposed to this disease?

     I can't help but remember the original cause of Bibi's arrest. She is a farm worker. She worked the fields with a number of other women.
When they were thirsty from working in the fields, Bibi fetched water for them. They refused and said water from a Christian was impure. She defended her faith. They accused her of violating Pakistan's blasphemy law. The penalty is death.  All this took place over a simple act of kindness. 

     For all she has suffered, Bibi is a martyr for freedom of religion.  
Happy is the age that needs no martyrs.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Asia Noreen Bibi - target of suicide bombers?

The religious extremists of Pakistan meted out a death sentence on Asia Noreen Bibi using trumped up charges of blasphemy. But that's not extreme enough for some.  The extremists are calling for one of their own to assassinate Asia Noreen Bibi before the state executes her.  Are they really going to have a suicide bomber detonate himself right in prison?
It's as if they find murder enjoyable. Maybe they get an adrenaline rush out of it.
Suicide attack planned on Noreen Bibi

Bibi, the mother of 5, has been afraid to even eat the prison food, since many Christian prisoners in Pakistan, jailed under the blasphemy laws, are killed before the state execution. Perhaps it saves the government the embarrassment of engaging directly in such savagery.

For more information about the case of Asia Noreen Bibi, see my previous post. Asia Noreen Bibi

Monday, April 04, 2011

Plan B - Who will feed the world

Scientific American calls Lester R. Brown "the persistent prophet." 
Brown, an agricultural economist and futurist, fits the title.

His best-selling book, Plan B, has evolved through to its fourth incarnation on how humanity can save the environment and why we must.
He has moved from a place of hope, telling us we can change, to a place of urgency, telling us we must change, and immediately, and in drastic ways. This white-haired oracle believes his message so deeply that he is giving it away for free. Here's your copy: Plan B 4.0

Brown can easily make more money by making his followers buy the book - but he's far more interested in saving the world. He's putting his money where his mouth is.  He's up to the challenge. Are we?

Brown's plan calls for us to to eliminate 80% of net carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 (Gulp, that seems rather soon!) to halt climate change. To do that we probably need to replace our coal and oil with wind farms, solar energy and geothermal. He also wants to have the international community pitch in to provide basic universal health care and primary education to the world's poorest nations. It actually doesn't cost that much compared to the billions we waste on less important things.

If you don't believe the situation is urgent, just read the first few chapters. He's quite convincing, and he echoes the theme by Jared Diamond, author of "Collapse" that our civilization is following the pattern of demise based on a dwindling food supply.

Some readers might laugh at the term "dwindling food supply." Just like at the stacks of food on sale at grocery stores or the fact that most Americans are overweight. The problem is - our country is fat because we are disproportionately consuming the global food supply.  We are a nation out of balance. We live like McDonald's reflects reality. We are not taking responsibility for our actions. We are not eating responsibly.

 Brown doesn't dwell on America's eating habits. He focuses on things that are easier to change  - getting support for wind farms and solar energy.
But my darling youth cartoonists from have been more than willing to critique the American appetite.  They know a hungry world cannot be a peaceful world.  Here are a few gems: