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I Love the Post Office
Published on October 3, 2011 by Sara Foss

Am I the only person who's disturbed by all this talk of gutting the U.S. Postal Service?

I love the post office! I can see where certain changes might make sense - perhaps we don't really need Saturday mail service anymore. And I think it's safe to say that the Internet has changed how people correspond, and made it possible to pay all your bills without affixing a stamp to an envelope. But there are still people without broadband Internet in this country, and the post office provides a valuable link to the rest of the world.

Also, the Post Office is just a cool place. When I was little, it was a community hub, and I greatly enjoyed going to check our post office box at the little red post office on School Street. I almost saw someone I knew there, and I prided myself on knowing the combination to the box and being able to check the mail myself. In college, the mailroom served a similar function. I often ran into my friends there, and when our house hosted a party, we taped our invitations to our friends' mailboxes. I'm sure today's students simply email their party invitations, but I have a hard time believing that the college mailroom no longer serves a purpose. Parents still send birthday cards. Don't they?

Rumors of the U.S. Postal Service's demise disturb me. The post office is a good thing. Stamps are cool. Although I was also a little disturbed by the Postal Service's recent decision allowing living people to be pictured on stamps. I don't know why this bothered me so much - maybe because I used to collect stamps? My fear is that the first living person to be pictured on a stamp would end up getting indicted for some sort of crime the very next day. Why do I think this? BECAUSE YOU JUST NEVER KNOW ABOUT PEOPLE. That's why. Better to wait until they're dead, and you're fairly certain that they haven't committed some great act of evil.

But I digress.

All I know is that every time I mail something, I'm much more appreciative for what we have. Let's not do anything rash.

In a lengthy essay, David Morris makes the case for saving the Post Office in On the Commons.

 


Bad Trend Alert
Published on September 27, 2011 by Sara Foss

Looks like health insurance costs are rising sharply.

Question: Wasn't health reform supposed to prevent this sort of thing?

I mean, what was all that talk about "bending the cost curve?"

Not that I understood a lot of that talk, because it sounded like it was lifted from a technical pamphlet written on Mars.

Of course, most of the provisions in the health care bill haven't gone into effect yet.

So maybe things will get better.

But my suspicion is that health care costs are going to keep rising.

 

 

 


Thinking About the Death Penalty
Published on September 22, 2011 by Sara Foss

The execution of Troy Davis made headlines throughout the country this week.

As a result, I've decided to re-post the New Yorker's 2009 article about the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, whose case prompted similar soul-searching about capital punishment and the unfortunate reality that innocent people have been sent to death row. The article raises numerous questions about Willingham's case, and is well worth a look.


Leaving the GOP
Published on September 8, 2011 by Sara Foss

Mike Lofgren retired on June 17 after 28 years as a Congressional staffer, including 16 years as a professional staff member on the Republican side of both the House and Senate Budget Committees. He recently penned this essay, titled "Goodbye To All That," about why he left the GOP. Lofgren isn't the only dismayed Republican out there, but his essay has been getting a lot of attention. Here's an excerpt:

"Barbara Stanwyck: 'We're both rotten!'

Fred MacMurray: 'Yeah - only you're a little more rotten.' -'Double Indemnity' (1944)

Those lines of dialogue from a classic film noir sum up the state of the two political parties in contemporary America. Both parties are rotten - how could they not be, given the complete infestation of the political system by corporate money on a scale that now requires a presidential candidate to raise upwards of a billion dollars to be competitive in the general election? Both parties are captives to corporate loot. The main reason the Democrats' health care bill will be a budget buster once it fully phases in is the Democrats' rank capitulation to corporate interests - no single-payer system, in order to mollify the insurers; and no negotiation of drug prices, a craven surrender to Big Pharma.

But both parties are not rotten in quite the same way. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP.

To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy."

Lofgren, I sense, is never going to work in D.C. again. He devotes most of his attention to the Republicans, but his critique of the Democrats isn't exactly favorite. Among other things, he writes:

"... Democrats ceded the field. Above all, they do not understand language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? - can anyone even remember it? No wonder the pejorative "Obamacare" won out. Contrast that with the Republicans' Patriot Act. You're a patriot, aren't you? Does anyone at the GED level have a clue what a Stimulus Bill is supposed to be? Why didn't the White House call it the Jobs Bill and keep pounding on that theme?

You know that Social Security and Medicare are in jeopardy when even Democrats refer to them as entitlements. 'Entitlement' has a negative sound in colloquial English: somebody who is 'entitled' selfishly claims something he doesn't really deserve. Why not call them 'earned benefits,' which is what they are because we all contribute payroll taxes to fund them? That would never occur to the Democrats. Republicans don't make that mistake; they are relentlessly on message: it is never the 'estate tax,' it is the 'death tax.' Heaven forbid that the Walton family should give up one penny of its $86-billion fortune. All of that lucre is necessary to ensure that unions be kept out of Wal-Mart, that women employees not be promoted and that politicians be kept on a short leash."

 


Dick Cheney's Memoir
Published on September 1, 2011 by Sara Foss

Dick Cheney's memoir just came out and, no, I don't plan to read it, because I never read political memoirs.

However, I'm enjoying reading what people have to say about it, and I especially enjoyed this news report, which informs us that Condoleezza Rice became the third Bush administration official to accuse Cheney of lying in the memoir titled "In My Time." According to Reuters, Rice said that she "kept the president fully and completely informed about every 'in and out' of the negotiations with the North Koreans," "countering the former vice president's assertion that Rice misled the president about nuclear diplomacy with North Korea."

Wait, you mean Cheney's kind of a jerk? Who knew?

Over at Harper's, Scott Horton posted a list of questions reporters should ask Cheney, about incidents that aren't really discussed in the book, and that "Cheney would perhaps rather not recollect." My favorite involves a relatively minor incident: the time Cheney shot his hunting buddy in the face.

 

 


To Catch a Terrorist
Published on August 22, 2011 by Sara Foss

It's always a bit startling to pick up a national newspaper or magazine and suddenly realize you're reading about your community.

Which is why the August issue of Harper's Magazine gave me a bit of a start. This issue, which I only recently got around to reading, contains an article, by Petra Bartosiewicz, that examines the FBI's relatively new policy of catching terrorists pre-emptively - before they've actually committed a crime. The article focuses primarily on a case I'm fairly familiar with - the arrest and successful prosecution of two Albany Muslims in connection with a terrorist scheme; this scheme was orchestrated by the FBI, with the aid of a Muslim informant. The defense claimed that the two men never would have done anything wrong, if not for the encouragement of the FBI and the Muslim informant, while the prosecution contended that the scheme helped reveal the criminal intentions of two dangerous men.

I was awakened by an editor on the morning the two men were arrested, and told to run up to the mosque on Central Avenue - one of the men, Yassin Aref, happened to be the imam there - and interview people. We didn't have a huge amount of information about what was going on, and there was a lot of confusion, but the members of the mosque were convinced that Aref was a good man who loved the U.S. I also attended some of the pre-trial proceedings, which were fairly interesting, and the Harper's article mentions one of the early bombshells: A translation error that made a key piece of evidence seem far less sinister than it had initially appeared.

The Albany Muslims have many local supporters; a woman I'm acquainted with keeps in touch with Aref, who is now in federal prison. The Harper's job does a good job of highlighting why people were outraged about the case, though I hasten to add that there are certanly people who feel the Albany Muslims were, if nothing else, quilty of money laundering. And it also puts the case into a broader context, and raises important questions about how the FBI builds terrorism related cases.

 (More)


What's Up With Obama?
Published on August 7, 2011 by Sara Foss

There's been a lot of discussion out there in the blogosphere, as well as the print media, about Obama, his leadership style, whether he's a disappointment and the impact of the dismal economy on his presidency.

This piece, published in the New York Times over the weekend and written by psychology professor Drew Westen, has been getting a lot of attention.

 


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