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Extremism at the Gates

October 19, 2010 Leave a comment

The Hutaree Militia: faces of the new extremism.

This morning, the news that shots were fired at the Pentagon broke. I want to direct towards you to my immediate reaction: “Man, that is one step closer to a cataclysmic attack by right wing extremists. Nut jobs.” Then I stopped myself. Was that really my first reaction? WHEN did we get to a point in this country that my mind instantaneously went there? It is probably part fear-mongering media. Oh, and part political sensationalism. It is possible, though, that another part of it might actually be realistic fear? Disturbingly, I think that might just be the case.

Right-wing anger and fringe extremism began its resurgent crescendo during the lead-up to the 2008 election. President Obama received Secret Service protection earlier than anyone else in history during an election cycle. That was just the beginning. Then came threats against Democratic lawmakers during Healthcare reform. Then the Huturee Militia. Then James von Brunn and the Holocaust Museum shooting. So what’s next? A shooting at the Pentagon? It really does not seem so off-kilter when you put the last two years in context. It’s really shocking. This is not what America is about. Clearly, fringe elements are creeping closer and closer to the middle of society.

If we broaden our scope (to include nonviolent extremism), that point becomes even more pointedly clear. Look no further than the candidacies Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell. Sharron Angle, taking on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada, has suggested agitated Americans could take up arms against the government, told Hispanic students that they “look more Asian” and lambasted the idea of mandated maternity leave and care for autistic childern. Christine O’Donnell, running against Chris Coons in Delaware, has discussed her dabbling in witchcraft, faltered at naming one  (ONE!!!) Supreme Court decision she did not agree with in the past two years and, just today, questioned the validity of the separation of church and state.

Sharron Angle leads Sen. Reid 50%-47%. Christine O’Donnell (mercifully) now trails Mr. Coons 51%-40%.*

No matter where your political allegiances lie, I hope we can all admit that the mere contention of these candidates in Senate races signifies a shift to the more polarized ends of the political spectrum. It would not have even been conceivable 10 years ago. But these candidates, and their chances, are real. The anger that has propelled them to prominence is real. What does it all mean? I am not entirely sure. But I do know this: extremism, of all kinds, is closer to the gates of our society and political system than any other time in the past 50 years.

We should all, Democrats and Republicans, be on notice.

*It is important to note that Delaware is much more consistently a “blue” state than Nevada.

The Week in Fodder

July 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Admittedly, we are a few days late with last week’s Week in Fodder but we wanted to post it anyway. It was a big week here at the Fodder…. new guest bloggers, new web domain and new levels of traffic. Glad you’re all tuning in and I hope this Week in Fodder continues that trend. Ciudad Juárez, Trafigura, BP, Alberto Gonzales, teacher purges, 200 year old champagne, whales jumping on boats and so much more! Please enjoy.

World Views:

Legal Independence. For now.

Legal Independence: On Thursday, the International Court of Justice ruled that Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 was a legal, unilateral decision under international law. The UN’s ranking court based its ruling on the fact that international law did not prohibit, or make illegal, declarations of independence. This is a monumental decision for independence movements – Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Ingushetia – across the world; legal experts see this as a precedent for future declarations. The US was quick to support the decision and Serbia, as expected, rejected the ICJ’s ruling. This decision will undoubtedly lead to numerous more countries recognizing Kosovo as an independent state. Keep an eye on this story and its implications on Kosovar-Serbian relations and international law.

Bombs in Juárez: Last weekend, the raging drug war in Mexico took a turn for the worse. The infamous Ciudad Juárez was hit with a car bomb; the first in the conflict between major drug cartels and the Mexican government. This is just the most recent, and possibly most disturbing, escalation in a de-facto war that has claimed over 20,000 lives since 2006. A car bomb is not a tactic to be taken likely. It’s an attack used by al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and Taliban… not a drug cartel. We can only watch and hope that this first car bomb does not signal the beginning of a full-out guerilla war.

Trafigura: The oil firm Trafigura was fined the maximum penalty allowed by law, $1.28 million, for dumping toxic sludge in Côte d’Ivoire’s capital Abidjan in 2006. Originally, the Trafigura ship tried to offload the waste in Amsterdam but it was deemed too noxious to stay. So instead, the ship traveled to West Africa and dumped the waste in landfills around a city of 3.8 million people (2006 number). This is a case of pure, unadulterated corporate greed. I cannot say that I agree with the $1.28 million fine. I think a more fitting punishment would be the dismantling of the company, the selling of the scrap pieces and the profits given to the clean up of Abidjan. Despicable, Trafigura.

Speaking of Oil Firms…: Friday, in Louisiana, the former chief technician of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig testified that the onboard alarm system utilized to alert crews to the build-up of combustible gases was intentionally disconnected. The chief stated that the rig worked without the safety system functional for over a year because the leadership did not want crew “bothered” by false alarms. If this turns out to be a fraudulent rationale, and that is HIGHLY likely, BP is in even more trouble that it already is. Which leads me to another dismal public relations topic for BP: its role in the release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie Bomber. There have been questions, since his release last August, about whether BP lobbied the Scottish government to make the move in order to garner favor from the Libyan government for potential oil rights. It was even on the agenda between UK Prime Minister David Cameron and President Obama. We will see what a call for an inquiry by the Senate does to the investigation.

Honda’s Electricity: Earlier this week, Honda announced that it will start selling an electric car in 2012. Following Nissan into the burgeoning market, this is the first time that the major firm has set an exact deadline in which it will follow in the production of electric cars. I say cheers, to you, Honda. We’ve all seen/heard of Who Killed the Electric Car, the movie in which we heard the arguments about how the electric car was kiboshed by the major car companies. It finally seems that we’re turning the corner, led by Honda and Nissan, and investing in electric cars as a viable alternative to petrol powered vehicles.

American Matters:

Rep. Rangel cannot be smiling right now.

More Trouble for Rep. Rangel: It has been over three months since Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) stepped down as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee over allegations of ethics violations and other improprieties. On July 22, the House ethics subcommittee announced that it had found Rep. Rangel guilty of breaking ethics rules. So with the midterm election season heating up, the public House trial of Rep. Rangel will be a continued nightmare for the Democratic Party. Already fretting over their perception to the American public, the admonishing of a senior Party member for taking corporate sponsored vacations to the Caribbean could not come at a worse time for campaign officials across the country. That being said, Rep. Rangel deserves whatever is coming to him. The Democratic giant stepped way over the ethical line on more than one occasion.

Deficit Woes: The Federal government released its latest deficit predictions for 2011 on Friday. The Obama Administration believes the the national deficit will hit $1.47 trillion; slightly north of the deficit record of $1.4 trillion in 2010. While this looks like a drastic – catastrophic to some – number, it is actually $84 billion lower than Peter Orszag’s estimate in February. Crazy, I know. Those are titanic sums for anyone other than that US government.

Teacher Purge: On Friday, using results from its newly established teacher assessment system IMPACT, Washington, DC fired 241 teachers in one of the biggest school system purges in recent memory. DC schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee was quoted as saying, “Every child in a District of Columbia public school has a right to a highly effective teacher — in every classroom of every school, of every neighborhood or every ward, in this city….” According to Ms. Rhee and the IMPACT test, many teachers in the capital’s school system were not being effective. The Washington Teachers Union immediately responded to the firings by calling the IMPACT system a flawed form of assessment. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but you have to applaud the gall of Ms. Rhee in making the decision to lower the axe and undoubtedly infuriate a very strong union for what she sees as the good of children’s education.

End of the Climate Bill: The Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid admitted this past weekend that the Senate would not be able to pass a climate bill in its current session. In 2009, the House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R.2454) and put it on the Senate calendar for consideration. Capping emissions and establishing a carbon exchange system, the bill is (and would be) a major step forward in US climate regulation. It unfortunately looks like we will have to wait, until at least the next Senate session, for any passage of a climate law.

A Chapter Closed: I am sure most of you remember the firing of 8 federal prosecutors by the Bush Administration’s Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in 2007. Last Wednesday, after three years, the Department of Justice closed the book on their investigation into the alleged improper actions by the former Attorney General and his staff. Citing insufficient evidence to charge anyone, including former Senator Pete Domenici, the DOJ decided not to proceed with charges. It’s an official end to one of the Bush Administration’s last lingering political controversies.

Off the Beaten Path:

Cristal does not even hold a candle to 200 year old champagne.

Damn Good Bubbly: Let’s be honest, we’ve all rung in a New Year’s Eve or two with a gran reserva André (so classy it doesn’t even have its own website) at some point or another and thought “wouldn’t it be nice if we were drinking a bottle of Cristal instead?” Well, last week, divers working in a shipwreck at the bottom of the Baltic Sea found the ultimate prize of the aged champagne lottery: 30 bottles of champagne that pre-date the French Revolution. That’s right, it’s over 200 years old. Traveling to St. Petersburg, Russia, the cargo ship carrying the bubbly-vino sank and the depth, darkness and pressure seem to have kept the celebratory beverage in good condition; not only drinkable but sweet to the taste. So later this year, when you’re ready to make New Year’s plans, look for a nifty 200 year old champagne. Just be ready to shell out $68,000 for a bottle. No big deal.

A Donkey and a Parasail: Well… the title of this little synopsis is self-explanatory. A group of entrepreneurial beach owners on the Sea of Azov hooked a donkey into a parasail and sent it up, up and away. The businessmen are now potentially facing animal cruelty charges over the incident. The donkey could be heard squealing in terror in the surrounding towns making children cry and prompting public outrage. Clearly this was a terrible thing to do to the poor animal… seems to have worked in getting people’s attention though. Got mine at least at the very least.

Slender Loris: The Horton Plains Slender Loris was caught on camera for the first time last week in the jungles of Sri Lanka. Discovered over 80 years ago, the Slender Loris is so rare that it was thought to be extinct. It is always great, especially in a world of declining ecosystems, to find out that a species is still alive and kicking. I suggest you watch the video below to familiarize yourself with the awesomeness of the Loris…

A Whale of a Boat Ride: Last week, as a couple whale watched in a sailboat off the shores of South Africa their voyage took a turn toward the dramatic. Breaching the surface, a 40 ton whale landed on Ralph Mothes and Paloma Werner’s yacht. There isn’t really words to describe what happened. Luckily no one was hurt. The incident was captured from a boat nearby. Shout-out to EB for showing me this story. Really, the video is too much for words…

Watch here.

Biking 10,000 Miles Plus: Tony Lucente, an IT guy at UPenn, embarked on an amazing journey from Philadelphia to the Artic Circle in Alaska! 10,370 miles in total, with an average distance of 400 miles a day, Tony recently completed the trip. He did it all to raise money and awareness about domestic violence and Native American women. Check out the featured video from NBC Philadelphia.

Photoshop Blunders: We all know that Photoshop, and all of its magic, contribute quite a bit to today’s world but it is always fun when corporations and countries get caught in wonderfully stupid Photoshop edits. The Telegraph ran a piece last week about recent and well-known Photoshop gaffes. From Iran to Microsoft… these blunders never get old.

Idiom of the Week: Shank’s Pony

The saying refers to when you find yourself without the option of taking the train, bus, plane or car and have to settle with walking to your destination.

Example #1: “I was hoping my rents would pick me up after the party. However, to my dismay, I had to take the Shank’s pony all the way home.”

Example #2: “That hitchhiker is probably looking at a ride on Shank’s pony if he wants to get anywhere.”

Video of the Week:

How to open a wine bottle using gravity, a shoe and a wall!

Song of the Week:

This week’s song comes to us from the Brooklyn-based singer Holly Miranda. I love the guitar and bell combination in this song. It’s the type of song that gets you going; definitely one for the car or before you go out. Hope you enjoy!

A Round of Applause for the Senate… Maybe

July 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Stricter regulations coming.

Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown surprised many in the political world last night by announcing his intended support for Senate bill S.3217 – the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010. Acting as a key political cross over, and joining two other Republican Senators, Mr. Brown’s support all but guarantees the 60 votes needed by Democrats to block any filibuster planned by Senate Republicans. The bill would be the most sweeping financial regulation in decades.

The three major facets of the proposed law will be strikingly visible to the public eye; a good thing for all Americans let alone the Democratic Party. The first authorizes a consumer protection agency that will deal with predatory credit card companies and credit lenders. This is a proactive and necessary change to a system that is completely inaccessible to the average American. The second will create a panel to watch over banks and investment firms and their use of derivatives. You remember those pesky financial instruments that made a major contribution to the economic meltdown, right? The final, and most important part of this bill would come into effect five years after passage. It will enact much more stringent regulations on banks and their debt to liquidity ratio; they must keep a much closer real money to debt balance. These are all steps in the right direction towards securing American financial stability.

The fact that Senator Brown, Senator Snowe and Senator Collins will come across the aisle on this issue is telling. These days, every issue is a political war-zone; with both sides taking potshots at each other. They must see enough merit in the measure, for every American, to risk the wrath of their constituents. So they all – especially Senator Brown, the oh-so-recent darling of the Republican Party – deserve a tip of the cap for breaking the deadlock and passing this vital bill.

Now, there is one caveat to all of this: the vote has not happened yet. In turn, these comments may be premature. When it does, though, expect a short comment from the Fodder. We’ll see if we still doff our caps.

A Word on Senator Byrd and Political Fluidity

June 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Always the impassioned orator.

On Monday, at the age of 92, the Senate’s President pro tempore and most senior member passed away. Senator Robert C. Byrd, during his record setting 51 year tenure, was a respected, influential and controversial lawmaker. Elected as a Representative in 1952, Senator Byrd spent the entirety of his political career crafting a spot inside the Congressional walls as a powerbroker and staunch Senatorial defender. Dogged by, at most generous, a pointedly misguided membership in the Ku Klux Klan during his youth; Senator Byrd had an eternal, negative first impression to shed. Because of that, he became a political shapeshifter; someone who changed his mind on issues, people and policies over time. In an age of political rigidity, Senator Byrd was a uniquely fluid political entity.

All you have to do is look at any political race in the past decade to find the rigidity that runs the current political system. It happens on both sides of the aisle. During the 2008 Presidential primaries, former Massachusetts Govenor Mitt Romney was labeled a “flip-flopper” by every conceivable liberal outlet. Change your mind on an issue or three and get labeled with the American political kiss of death. Senator John Kerry went through the same labeling game during the 2004 Presidential election. The fact of the matter is this: Americans, on whole, find those that change their position over time to be weak. Politicians know this and use it to win votes and campaigns. What would Senator Byrd have to say about this? I’m sure he would have a strong thought or two on the matter.

The politics of flip-flopping.

At the very least, it is worth thinking about why, when a legend leaves us we stand and applaud his fluidity in the political realm yet lambast possible legends in the making for the same trait? Yes, I know, it might not be the same. Mr. Romney nor Mr. Kerry were members of the KKK; but, maybe, just maybe, that’s what makes Senator Byrd’s reversal of course all the more poignant. From KKK member to civil rights advocate is not a tiny shift in philosophy; it is monumental change in fundamental beliefs. From ardent supporter of the Vietnam War to an outspoken detractor of the War in Iraq; time, mitigating circumstances and understanding changed his views over the years. These are, of course, the starkest and most blatant of Senator Byrd’s political changes during his time in Congress. There were others as well. Some may call him a flip-flopper or a political transient. I call him something else: human. We learn, we adapt and we change our views. That is the course of everyday life for every American, European, African or South American. Why should it be any different for those who make our laws and are accountable to the very people that are continually politically fickle?

So please, read about Senator Byrd and his political and personal struggles and successes. We can all take a lesson in humility and the understanding that passions, views and convictions change as we experience life’s bumps and bruises. His did. Yours will too.

Senator Byrd will lie in state in the Senate on Thursday, July 1st, 2010.

Kagan and the Court

June 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Elena Kagan's new office?

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan began the arduous process of Senate confirmation yesterday. On May 10, President Obama nominated Ms. Kagan to the High Court. As potentially the fourth female and eighth Jewish justice in the 221 year history of the Court, Ms. Kagan is already a historic appointment. Currently, as the United States Solicitor General, Ms. Kagan is arguing cases in front of her future colleagues. With an impressive resume – Princeton, Harvard Law, Dean of Harvard Law Review, President Clinton’s White House – Ms. Kagan seems like an ideal choice to help craft the law of the land. There is, however, one tiny detail that has been, and will be, drawn out during the confirmation hearings: Ms. Kagan has never, at any level of the judicial system, sat on the bench.

As President Obama’s second Supreme Court nominee in the last year, we can clearly see a trend developing in the Administration’s ideal judicial personality. While Justice Sonia Sotomayor had a discernible judicial record at the time of her nomination, she was known in legal circles as a free thinker who used her personal life experiences, understanding of the average American and intuition to help guide her decisions. What we know of Ms. Kagan’s legal views almost certainly point to her being of the same mold as Justice Sotomayor. While the fact that Elena Kagan has never sat as a judge may be a “red flag” for some, history completely nullifies this argument against her nomination. In fact, of the 111 Justices in the history of the institution, 40 have never had any judicial experience before ascending to the Court.

Today is the second day of the Senate Judiciary hearing in which Ms. Kagan will be extensively questioned on every conceivable topic. The first day was exceedingly uneventful. Other than Ms. Kagan promising a “modest” tact if confirmed, Senators spent most of the day decrying the current Court rather than grilling Ms. Kagan on any subject. The overall expectation is that she will likely endure a relatively smooth process. There will, of course, be tough questions. For example, Ms. Kagan is an ardent admirer and supporter of the Israeli judge Aharon Barak. Mr. Barak, who advocates for a stronger Israeli judiciary, has become an enemy of the conservative base in America that has such strong ties to Israel’s establishment. For this reason, Ms. Kagan is sure to answer a myriad of questions on the subject.

We will see how the process progresses. If Elena Kagan does end up sitting for the Court, we will see a new breed of Associate Justice established before our eyes. Two justices, within a year, that use real life experience rather than that accrued at law school, to power their judicial oversight. We’ve heard enough about the Court and its Ivy league leanings. Its time we look towards the Obama Administration’s idea of a new kind of High Court Justice and see if it, in fact, changes the way the Court does business.