Friday, May 26, 2006


Wal-Mart Health Plan of the Day

In the so-called ‘Value’ plan, a part-time Wal-Mart employee could have to pay up to 58% of his/her salary for an individual plan and up to 93% for family coverage. —Press release from


Career dilemma of the Day

Question for actress Sarah Michelle Gellar—

After kicking butts for so many years as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is playing a porn star a step up? —"U.S. journalist" at the Cannes film festival according to film critic Simon Houpt

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Simply appalling cosmetics

Don't say I didn't warn you!


Yachting in the Chagos Islands

Last week I wrote about the declaration of the British High Court in London in favor of the right of return of the native Chagossians. The natives, who happen to be black, were forcibly evicted from their islands in the Indian Ocean in the 1960s at the request of the U.S., which leased Diego Garcia from the British to build an air base.

Yesterday National Public Radio (NPR) got around to reporting the matter. Anchor Steve Inskeep introduced the segment by summarizing the facts of the eviction and then said wonderingly—

Now a British Court has called their eviction "illegal, repugnant and a breach of accepted moral standards."

Reporter Deborah Amos followed with a sympathetic account of the Chagossians but kept reminding us of the security issues at the airbase—

It is now one of the largest and most important U.S. bases in the world, home to 2,000 military personnel, long-range bombers and surveillance aircraft ....

At American insistence the British cleared the population to ensure maximum security....

Even last week's High Court ruling is a bitter victory. The judges' opinion could open the way to resettlement on some of the 65 islands in the Chagos chain. But it is unlikely islanders will ever live on Diego Garcia again. The U.S. government opposes any resettlement on security grounds. While the U.S. military recruits outsiders to work on Diego Garcia, former residents are barred from applying for those jobs. [my transcription]

NPR has not quite told the whole story. Not only are the Chagossians barred from jobs at Diego Garcia—which are apparently much better handled by Filipinos and Mauritians—they are in fact barred from setting foot on any of their home islands, though a British court has ruled otherwise.

The coconut threat

Chagossian Jacques Gervais Florian gave this account, in which you will see what has become of the rule of law—

5. I was on the crew of the Mauritius vessel Le Gentilly which left Mauritius for a fishing campaign on 5 June 2001. The vessel reached the Chagos waters on or about 10 June 2001 and we began fishing on 12 June 2001.

6. On the same day, we were near the Chagos island called Six Islands {Egmont Islands}. A group of us, all native Chagossians, decided to step on the island to get some coconuts.... We had been on the island about ten minutes when we saw a ship, the Pacific Marlin, rushing towards us. The officer on board, Glen Quelch, approached us and ordered us off the island immediately. He spoke in a threatening and condescending manner causing us all to feel belittled. We politely informed Mr. Quelch that we were all Chagossian and had been allowed by the High Court of London to be on the Chagos islands. He replied that the judgment was not binding on him and that he was the one to decide whether we could be on the island or not. He then stated that he had decided that if we did not leave the island in three minutes, we would be prosecuted and liable to pay a fine of £200,000. His statements offended us all and made us feel that our efforts to go to the High Court in England had been worthless if not implemented. All of us are extremely poor so we had no choice but to return to the boat before the three minutes expired.

7. This experience was very frustrating particularly since I have seen sailors and yachtsmen landing on various Chagos islands without any problems and without being questioned by BIOT [British Indian Ocean Territory] officers. The difference between people allowed on the Chagos islands and us, besides the fact that we are Chagossian, is that we are black and they are white. I feel that this plays a significant part in the BIOT officer’s attitude towards us. He seemed furious that we dared to tell him that we had a right to be on the islands, a right which he vehemently denied.

Security concerns

Well, I'm sure Mr. Florian completely misunderstood the situation. Surely the colonial officer had only the security of the islands in mind. The coconut problem has been acute.

But come to think of it, the islands are so lovely and there's so much to do that it's almost unthinkable that they should be wasted on natives who have nothing better to do than eat coconuts. Here's what Eric Toyer and Lynne Sands of the Amarula found

We were soon greeted by Richard and Kathy off the 53 ft, Chuck Payne designed sloop Mr. Curly, who had been at Chagos for the past 3 months (another 3 months to go), as have many of the other 30 or so visiting yachts. It is easy to see why this remote region is such a magnet for visiting yachts with its stunning islands and clear water, offering fantastic diving, snorkelling, fishing and a totally relaxing Robinson Crusoe style existence.

Ah, yes. There's nothing quite like "going native." Of course, no matter where you go these days, there's no escaping bureaucracy—

The only form of bureaucracy here being the British patrol ship which visits every couple of weeks to collect an $80 fee (which allows up to 3 months stay) from each yacht and to take away the rubbish. For most of the yachties this is a very cheap fee as they generally stay for a minimum of 3 months and with no shops closer than a minimum 3 days sail north to Gan (Maldives), they live off their provisions and the fish they catch each evening. Days are passed by communal gatherings at camp sites ashore and for the adventurous, energetic types there is a volleyball court set amongst the palms.

Well, that is adventurous.1 And to have the British Navy as your own personal garbage collector is really more than one would expect—especially for such a nominal fee!

The British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) officials have quite frankly been maligned. For instance, here's the side of them that Al and Beth Liggett of the Sunflower experienced

Grand Finale. The BIOT officials and the crew of the Pacific Marlin, the Fisheries Patrol boat, threw a big party aboard the ship for all the yachties. They did a bar-b-que on the deck that included steak, chicken, hot dogs, pork fillets. For once--no fish! We were hoping for salad, but with the mob aboard I think the cook had second thoughts. However, we did have a cup of pistachio ice cream--it was terrific!

The following night we did turn about and hosted the Pacific Marlin crew and BIOT guys ashore for a pot luck. A couple of the fellows went fishing that day and got some nice wahoo, dorado and yellowfin tuna. We offered fresh sashimi, freshly smoked fish and the good old standby: bar-b-que fish fillets. But we had to eat desert first--the ice cream they brought in wouldn't hold either in temperature or quantity until after dinner.

It's unfortunate about the salad; it would have made the whole affair. And you would think British officialdom could manage an ice chest. But I guess that's what "roughing it" means, really.

Security of course was much in evidence. Again, the Liggetts' account

We were surprised to see a US Navy airplane flying patrol over the atolls nearly every day.... I'm sure the patrols were a fact of heightened security due to the Afghanistan situation, and the fact that US B-52 bombers were flying out of Diego. We could hear the patrol planes on VHF 16 challenging ships in the surrounding waters for identification. Often the Navy P-3 planes would come in fairly low over the atoll for a look at the yachts at anchor. I bet it was a pretty sight! .... Now and then we had jet fighter planes buzz the fleet doing wing waggles or a barrel roll. Our own private air show!

I enjoy a good wing waggle myself now and again.

Islanders chances not good

By now I'm sure you've come to understand fully the U.S. position regarding security. The interests of the Free World cannot brook coconut-eating Negroes canoeing about the last vestige of the British Empire in the Indian Ocean.

The NPR story noted the flim-flam the British had played on the U.N. at the time of the islanders' removal. The British simply maintained that the islands were uninhabited. The CIA's World Factbook entry, last updated May 16, concurs

no indigenous inhabitants
note: approximately 1,200 former agricultural workers resident in the Chagos Archipelago, often referred to as Chagossians or Ilois, were relocated to Mauritius and the Seychelles in the 1960s and 1970s; in November 2000 they were granted the right of return by a British High Court ruling, though no timetable has been set....

Previous post
The appalling week in review - 2 (The "Royal Prerogative" and the Chagos Islands) (5/15/06)



1This reminds me of the scene in the film Auntie Mame in which Mame's nephew Patrick introduces Mame to his betrothed from the Connecticut country club set. The young lady amuses everyone by recounting the "absolutely ghastly" experience she had during a ping-pong tournament in which she stepped on and squashed the ball. [back]

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Factlet of the Day

There is no town, city, or state anywhere in America where an individual or family working full-time and earning the minimum wage can afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment at the fair market rental rate established by HUD. —Gerry Roll writing in "Understanding poverty and homelessness in America"


Market Failure of the Day

Voucher supporters had envisioned a system in which parents would choose only good schools, so the worst ones would fall by the wayside due to market forces. But that hasn't proved to be the case. —Amanda Paulson writing in "Milwaukee's lessons on school vouchers"

Milwaukee, Wisconsin has 15,000 voucher students. But in March the cap on that number was raised to 22,500 and signed into law by a Democratic governor—all without the slightest evidence that the voucher program is providing any educational benefit.1

What we do know is this—

The voucher program has given new life to venerable Catholic and Lutheran schools in the city, and has spurred the creation of dozens of new schools - many of them religious - that rely solely on voucher students. All told, about 70 percent of the voucher schools are religious. Some of those schools, like Hope, show signs of excellence, but not all.

In one of the worst instances, a convicted rapist opened a school, which has since shut down. Reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tried to visit all 115 schools then in the program last year, and found a mixed bag. Nine schools refused to let reporters in, and the paper cited "10 to 15 others where ... the overall operation appeared alarming when it came to the basic matter of educating children."

One school was opened by a woman who said she had a vision from God to start a school, and whose only educational background was as a teacher's aide. Others had few books or signs of a coherent curriculum. Yet they've been able to enroll students.

Well, of course they've been able to enroll students! That's parental choice, you know.

The program is targeted to lower income families. Lower income families are, more often than not, less educated families, so it's vital that they make educational choices for their children, isn't it?

Of course the true effect—and current intent2—of the voucher program is to put public money into the coffers of religious schools and starve the public schools. Proponents hope to raise generations of little Christo-Republicans from the lower classes, though they'll also be happy to fund private religious education for the wealthy if they can get away with it.

Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you," so Christo-Republicans and capitalist idealogues have decided to see what they can do with such readily available raw material. It helps enormously if the experiment can be paid for with public funds without any measure of—or accountability for—the outcome. Progressives should be outraged.

Related Post
Dismantling public education at home and abroad (5/8/06)



1Texas Freedom Network says that was on purpose—

No comprehensive academic data has been collected on the program since 1995. In 1995, the legislature eliminated funds for data collection and program evaluation when it expanded the voucher program to include religious schools.


2According to People for the American Way (PFAW), the concept of vouchers was developed in the mid-1950s by economist Milton Friedman, a true believer in "markets." The notion was immediately used to secure government funding to help white children get out of newly integrated public schools and into private, all-white "academies." [back]

Monday, May 22, 2006


Canada's first female victim of war in Afghanistan returns

The body of Canada's first female soldier killed in Afghanistan was returned to Canada Saturday night. Canadian Press (CP) reports,

The Conservative government's recent decision to ban the media from covering the arrival ceremonies of war casualties back in Canada prevented reporters from attending the solemn ceremony.

About a dozen journalists and cameramen joined 15 local residents who struggled to get a glimpse of the ceremony through a barbed wire fence. The television cameras were able to broadcast live images through zoom lenses despite the distance.

The parents of Capt. Nichola Goddard will open her funeral to the public and media—

"There have been so many people involved in Nichola's life and we have been so overwhelmed by the messages of support and sympathy we have received from across Canada and, indeed, the world," they said Friday.

"It seems that not only we, her family, but all Canadians, the nation she died for, need to bring some closure to this awful story."

Related post
Canadian Conservatives hide fallen soldiers (4/26/06)


Simile of the Day

Several guards suffered "cuts, scrapes and bruises, just like a good football game." — Col. Mike Burngarner, Guantánamo's chief of detention operations as quoted in "Breaking point: Inside story of the Guantanamo uprising"

Sunday, May 21, 2006


"First" of the Day

On May 20, 2006,

Saturday marked the first time the FBI has ever searched a congressman's Capitol Hill office.CNN report of the search of Rep. William Jefferson's office in the Rayburn Office Building.

So Rep. Jefferson (Democrat - Louisiana) is the first Congressman in American history accused of a crime of which a search of his office would aid the investigation and for which there was reasonable cause to search! Or ...

I have no sympathy for Rep. Jefferson if he's guilty of the bribery charges (and since one of the bribers has just pled guilty to bestowing $400,000 worth of goodies upon Rep. Jefferson, it's hard to suppose that he isn't.) But this story has suddenly become much bigger than Congressman Jefferson's guilt or innocence. That is the little picture.

The big picture has two aspects. First, it is no harder to believe in Jefferson's innocence than to believe that this extraordinary search of a Congressman's office occurred for any other reason than that Jefferson is a Democrat. The Republicans are so up to their ears in excrement that any news of a Democrat that takes their own sorry behavior off the front page, however momentarily, is worth a pact with the Devil, or even Karl Rove.

And the pact? Such a groundbreaking intrusion into the premises of the Legislative Branch by the Executive Branch must surely have had the foreknowledge and consent of the Republican leadership. Rove might have held up the vision of Democratic embarrassment if Republican Congressional leaders would turn a blind eye to the broader institutional issues raised by the search. Tradition be damned! We have Democrats to fry! Have you ever seen "conservatives" for whom tradition means so little?

I hope that's what happened. I really do. Because, on the other hand ... what if the Congressional Republicans didn't know? What if there were no behind-the-scenes permission given at all, no tacit consent?

That a judge signed the search warrant is not important. What is important is that the Justice Department asked for one. Have there been other requests to search offices of the Congress that were rejected by a judge? Or that were granted but not acted upon? Or was this request for a warrant to search a Congressman's office a "first" as well?

The power of the Executive Branch, checked only slightly by the Court, has completely overwhelmed the Congress, which this search epitomizes. And not only has the Congress been unwilling to fight for itself as an institution, it has been stripping power from the Court and handing it to the Executive Branch—the Attorney General, the Justice Department, Homeland Security and ultimately the President.

I do not know how anyone could interpret this search other than as a show of Executive power. It appears from what has leaked from the search warrant documents that there is plenty of evidence against Jefferson without this intrusion.1 Congressman Jefferson can't be the only politician on Capitol Hill with something, maybe, to hide. It should begin to occur to them just how vulnerable they are to the whims of the Justice Department. If it hasn't, this search should have focused their minds.

If the old Democratic Speaker of the House "Tip" O'Neill from Massachusetts were still around, I don't believe there would have been a search of a Congressional office without the consent of the House. And if the White House had insisted on a search without one, Tip might have passed a resolution to send the Sergeant at Arms and the Capitol Police to search the White House.

Related posts
The Tennessee Waltz: FBI cleans up Democrats (5/28/05)
Rhetorical Question of the Day (4/28/06)



1According to the AP (per the Washington Post), Jefferson's attorney protested—

"There were no exigent circumstances necessitating this action. The government knew that the documents were being appropriately preserved while proper procedures were being followed. We are dismayed by this action. The documents weren't going anywhere and the prosecutors knew it."

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