Month: December 2009

Here’s the beef

Very proud of myself.  This Thursday marked the culmination of a two-year dream to raise and process my own beef.  Dicky, an affable, professional butcher from Moore’s Meats, made a house call to our  farm, and killed, skinned and quartered a young steer, one of the fourteen thirteen cows in the herd I’ve been raising since last spring.

Naturally, for this city boy there was a degree of emotional discomfort to see a large, complex animal felled with a shot to the head, and transformed into meat before my eyes.  We are not so sentimental that we name our cattle, but the steer in question, #18, had a personality. He was fearless and curious and docile, if that makes any sense.

But  perhaps the best thing about the emotional aspect of this affair was that my stress level on the day was higher than the steer’s ever got. His heartbeat might have quickened a fraction when he smelled the strange man walking towards him, pointing a long stick … but that was it. #18 never had to experience the disorientation and panic of being loaded, transported, crowded and harassed in his last hours.

So that was a good thing. Also, the fact that he got to this nicely rotund body condition while eating an exclusive grass/hay diet.  He wasn’t stuffed with grain, and never saw an antibiotic. He had nothing to do with the massive, and massively ugly, industrial cattle production system. Since he came to our farm at about three months of age, he never left it. He spent no time standing up to his ass in mud and shit in a feedlot. No trucks, no gasoline, no corn or beans or fertilizer or herbicide were involved in his raising (OK. Maybe minimal amounts of gasoline).

Yay, me.

I ain’t gonna lie. This wasn’t easy. There was a good deal of labor involved, nearly all of it supplied by yours truly. When the grass is growing, I moved my herd to a new paddock every day by moving electric wire with portable step-in posts. And when the grass is not growing, the procurement and placement of hay, combined with doing constant battle with Kentucky mud (mixed with cow piles), is an unrelenting (and pretty unpleasant) challenge. As is doing all of this without the purchase of tractors, trailers, handling equipment, ATVs and four-wheel-drive trucks. That’s the trade-off. More labor in exchange for keeping expenses, debt, and  inputs to an absolute minimum.

My one big insight into agricultural endeavors, especially those involving “alternative” techniques, is that it takes years to see the true benefit of your efforts. Or detrimental effects. Going by the inspiration of books by Wendell Berry, Gene Logsdon, Joel Salatin, and others, and regular reading of crackpot (in the best sense) publications like Stockman Grass Farmer and Eatwild.com, I’m trying to do my humble part in a reinvention (0r rediscovery) of American agriculture. I  like to think I’m stumbling forward. It would be nice if my farming skills were not so rudimentary, but they are, and they will have to do ….

Rahm sez: “NAFTA = Good Times!”

Easy credit ripoffs. Good times!

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has been telling Democrats a win on the health issue will reverse the slide in public opinion, just as passage of another controversial proposal, the North American Free Trade Agreement, lifted President Bill Clinton in the polls.

Wall Street Journal, “Democrats pin 2010 hopes on bill”

In an only slightly different context a wise person said, “It’s scary to think that people this obscenely stupid are running the country.”

More on Jane, Grover and Rahm

All I know is the Hamsher/Norquist joint venture caused many Obama loyalists to pee their pants, and got a lot of positive comments on Jane’s own site. Not exactly surprising.

Someone asked about it on the President’s plane and was met with a predictably smug reply, that the Chief of Staff’s job was “very safe”.

And also: over the Christmas weekend the White House announced that the caps on Fannie Mae and Freedie Mac losses would be lifted. There was talk that they would be raised from $400 billion to $800 billion, but no. They have been raised, to, uh, infinity.

Did Jane Hamsher really whack Rahm Emanuel upside the head, as Cenk Uygur claims? If so, was it with a Nerf bat, or a 2 by 4 with a nail sticking out of it? Is he PISSED? Just mildly annoyed? More important, Will this be enough to shame the White House into taking any real judicial/investigative action with regard to Freddie Mac, like letting Inspector General Ed Kelley get back on the job? You know, 6 trillion dollars is a lot of money.

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odd couple: jane and grover join forces against rahm

Hugely unlikely bedfellas Jane Hamsher and Grover Norquist have teamed together to demand Rahm Emanuel’s resignation, over the White House Chief of Staff’s “activities at Freddie Mac, and the White House’s blocking of an Inspector General who would look into it.”

This is sure to raise the hackles of lefties who despise Norquist and of conservative-identified folks for whom Hamsher is the SheDevil incarnate. But after that settles down, what will it mean? Will a coalition of ideologically opposed outsiders be able to gain any traction at making life difficult for America’s Number One insider political figure? And will it change anything about the corporate ownership of the political process?

Honestly, I have no idea. My hope is that it will.  And I’ve become comfortable with this for some time.  As a longtime reader of antiwar.com, whose masthead bears the names of both Pat Buchanan and John Pilger, and represents an alliance of libertarian, paleocon, and old-school lefty antiwar sentiment. Sometimes it gets weird.

Eventually, the corruption of the Washington D.C. political/corporate united front will collapse in on itself, and the two-party system will have a hard time containing the fallout. This move by Hamsher and Norquist might still be too early, or it might be perfectly timed. It remains to be seen.  But the contempt of the political class for what used to be called democracy has never been greater.  Whatever her motivations may be, I’m glad to see Jane rolling the dice on this one.

Update:  Didn’t take long for the firestorm of reaction, hurt feelings, and name-calling to break out (read the comments to this post), nor did it take long for Jane to issue what is sure to be the first of many apologia (I am not entirely sure what the plural for apologia is, sorry):

Rahm Emanuel is destroying not only the Democratic majority but the Democratic Party.  There isn’t enough pork in the world to hold his “Blue Dogs” in office with the legacy of bailouts that he has engineered, and that’s why his “big tent” is now collapsing in his wake.  Parker Griffin, and now (possibly) Chris Carney, may blame Nancy Pelosi for their defections to the GOP, but that’s pure demagogurery. The mess they are fleeing — the corrupt back-room deals, the endless bailouts — belong to Rahm.

The ground is shifting. You can feel it. And the Rahm dead-enders have become no different than the Bush dead-enders, completely unaware that the President whose malfeasance they are defending on the basis that one must not “consort with Republicans” is the one who ran on — consorting with Republicans.  It is knee-jerk authoritarianism in the extreme. Rick Warren is okay because Obama says so. Principles? Who needs them.

If Obama/Rahm want to triangulate against progressives (and they do), they’re not the only ones who can make cause with people on the other side of the aisle.  If that’s what it takes to shake up the corporate domination of our political system, we’ve done it before and we can do it again. Because working within the traditional political order to support “progressives” whose conviction lasts only as long as it doesn’t matter just doesn’t seem to be working.

She’s good. And she’s got my vote.

Anxiety of influence

Truly a terrific scene from Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, Taylor Hackford’s amazing 1987 documentary. The master shows the  student, better compensated by several orders of magnitude, who’s the boss. Priceless interaction. What can I say? I’m a fan of both of ’em.

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“Future prospective torturers can now draw comfort from this decision”

We suspect he's an Enemy Combatant, so this is OK!

News earlier this week, from the Center for Constitutional Justice

Today, the United States Supreme Court refused to review a lower court’s dismissal of a case brought by four British former detainees against Donald Rumsfeld and senior military officers for ordering torture and religious abuse at Guantánamo. The British detainees spent more than two years in Guantanamo and were repatriated to the U.K. in 2004.

The Obama administration had asked the court not to hear the case. By refusing to hear the case, the Court let stand an earlier opinion by the D.C. Circuit Court which found that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a statute that applies by its terms to all “persons” did not apply to detainees at Guantanamo, effectively ruling that the detainees are not persons at all for purposes of U.S. law. The lower court also dismissed the detainees’ claims under the Alien Tort Statute and the Geneva Conventions, finding defendants immune on the basis that “torture is a foreseeable consequence of the military’s detention of suspected enemy combatants.”  Finally, the circuit court found that, even if torture and religious abuse were illegal, defendants were immune under the Constitution because they could not have reasonably known that detainees at Guantanamo had any Constitutional rights.

Eric Lewis, a partner in Washington, D.C.’s Baach Robinson & Lewis, lead attorney for the detainees, said, “It is an awful day for the rule of law and common decency when the Supreme Court lets stand such an inhuman decision. The final word on whether these men had a right not to be tortured or a right to practice their religion free from abuse is that they did not.  Future prospective torturers can now draw comfort from this decision. The lower court found that torture is all in a days’ work for the Secretary of Defense and senior generals. That violates the President’s stated policy, our treaty obligations and universal legal norms. Yet the Obama administration, in its rush to protect executive power, lost its moral compass and persuaded the Supreme Court to avoid a central moral challenge.  Today our standing in the world has suffered a further great loss.”

No shortage of outraged commentary on this howling catastrophe, but I thought Digby put it pretty well:

So torture is a for[e]seeable consequence of the military’s detention of suspected enemy combatants. I guess it’s official.

Everyone in the world should be advised that if they don’t want to be tortured, they shouldn’t let themselves be suspected of being an enemy combatant. And if they foolishly allow themselves to be suspected enemy combatants, they should realize, regardless of any laws or treaties to the contrary, that they’ll be tortured. After all, nobody can be expected to know ahead of time which people are legally “persons” or which prisoners are allowed constitutional rights. It’s up to innocent people not to allow themselves to be caught in this Catch 22 in the first place. Good to know.

Any guesses who said this way back in January?

I was clear throughout this campaign and was clear throughout this transition that under my administration the United States does not torture.We will abide by the Geneva Conventions. We will uphold our highest ideals.

“It’s scary to think that people this obscenely stupid are running the country”

a flag you can actually buy at adbusters.com

Glenn Greenwald has a pretty much spot-on look at the deepest underlying issue in the health care debacle, the blurring of the lines between the corporate and public sectors. With the exception of party loyalists (both Republican and Democrat), it’s pissing off just about everyone in a major way, both those who identify as conservatives and as progressives. Each group has a different name for the problem:

Whether you call it “a government takeover of the private sector” or a “private sector takeover of government,” it’s the same thing: a merger of government power and corporate interests which benefits both of the merged entities (the party in power and the corporations) at everyone else’s expense. Growing anger over that is rooted far more in an insider/outsider dichotomy over who controls Washington than it is in the standard conservative/liberal ideological splits from the 1990s. It’s true that the people who are angry enough to attend tea parties are being exploited and misled by GOP operatives and right-wing polemicists, but many of their grievances about how Washington is ignoring their interests are valid, and the Democratic Party has no answers for them because it’s dependent upon and supportive of that corporatist model. That’s why they turn to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh; what could a Democratic Party dependent upon corporate funding and subservient to its interests possibly have to say to populist anger?

He’s not the only one to notice. See here and here and here. And just ‘cos it made me spit up my coffee a little bit, this little priceless observation from Jane Hamsher:

Rahm Emanuel has managed to convince enough of the people that any inadequacies in this bill will be forgotten if the Dems can claim a “w” and pass any piece of shit health care bill. And that if Congress just spends 2010 naming post offices, any objections that Americans might have to paying 8% of their incomes to private corporations who will use the IRS as their collection agencies will just disappear.

It’s scary to think that people this obscenely stupid are running the country. All the while, the painfully obvious left/right transpartisan consensus that is coalescing against DC insiders of both parties appears to be taking everyone by surprise.

$57,077.60 a minute

afghan strategy chart
An extremely reassuring chart

On Tomdispatch, Jo Comerford of the National Priorities Project lays out the costs of the Afghan “surge” and it comes to, oh, $57,077.60 a MINUTE!

Some of the more jaw-dropping facts:

[A]dd up the yearly salary of a Marine from Camp Lejeune with four years of service, throw in his or her housing allowance, additional pay for dependents, and bonus pay for hazardous duty, imminent danger, and family separation, and you’ll still be many thousands of dollars short of that single minute’s sum.

…. we might have chosen to direct the $30 billion in surge expenditures toward raising the average individual monthly Food Stamp allotment by $70 for the next year; that’s roughly an additional trip to the grocery store, every month, for 36 million people. Alternatively, we could have dedicated that $30 billion to job creation. According to a recent report issued by the Political Economy Research Institute, that sum could generate a whopping 537,810 construction jobs, 541,080 positions in healthcare, fund 742,740 teachers or employ 831,390 mass transit workers.

…. [I]f you received a silver dollar every second, it would take you 960 years to haul in that $30 billion. Not that anyone could hold so much money. Together, the coins would weigh nearly 120,000 tons, or more than the poundage of 21,000 Asian elephants, an aircraft carrier, or the Washington Monument. Converted to dollar bills and laid end-to-end, $30 billion would reach 2.9 million miles or 120 times around the Earth.

And the numbers being bandied about are, big surprise here, lowball estimates. What we are looking at is a trillion dollar price tag for the war. Singular. Not a trillion for both Iraq and Afghanistan. Just Afghanistan.

Comerford concludes:

At just under one-third of the 2010 U.S. federal budget, $1 trillion essentially defies per-hour-per-soldier calculations. It dwarfs all other nations’ military spending, let alone their spending on war. It makes a mockery of food stamps and schools. To make sense of this cost, we need to leave civilian life behind entirely and turn to another war. We have to reach back to the Vietnam War, which in today’s dollars cost $709.9 billion — or $300 billion less than the total cost of the two wars we’re still fighting, with no end in sight, or even $300 billion less than the long war we may yet fight in Afghanistan.

But if you’re like me, one look at that chart and you know it’s gonna be worth it!

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