Partying at a Naturalization Ceremony

 Family, Featured, Places, Tampa  Comments Off on Partying at a Naturalization Ceremony
Nov 012009
 

Some of you will know that Lay’s been through a two and one-half year experience trying to get naturalized. Of course he had permanent status, and has lived here since he was 2 years old. In fact, he’s never been back to Laos. So it was past time to go ahead and get this over with, but little did we know what an ordeal it would be.

USCIS LogoU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the Department of Homeland Stupidity (ah, Security, I think I mean) responsible for processing these applications. In the course of the process we dealt with canceled appointments (on their part) that took months to reschedule, and the re-submission of certified documents that had already been submitted. As a person who often consults with organizations on their business processes, this had to be one of the most inefficient processes I’ve encountered. I could go on for days about that, but I’ll save that for a letter to my representatives in Congress.

I have no clue why we pay to man a customer service call center for this Agency. you call there and get absolutely no usable information. All they can ever tell you is that your application is “in-process,” and to call the local office. Calling there only gets you a rude local agent who also has no information to share.

But finally the letter arrived to show up this past Wednesday at the Convention Center for a Naturalization Ceremony. Lay’s parents and I attended with him. 468 people were naturalized at this afternoon ceremony, and one of the applicants was 88 years old. It appears there was another ceremony that morning, so it was a big swearing-in. Many people were clearly excited and proud.

I admit to being taken aback a little that some of them were waving the flags of their home countries, and the host asked people to stand as their countries of origin were called out, and this turned into a shouting and applause contest to see which country could respond loudest. I’m all for being proud of one’s heritage, but when taking an oath to renounce one’s citizenship in their home country, and swear allegiance to the U.S., maybe it would be best to not be showing quite so much national pride. Of course this was all encouraged by the host of the event, and there is where my real issue lays.

I expected a dignified, respectful ceremony. Unfortunately, the local agent who was serving as the Master of Ceremonies tried to turn it into some kind of big party within the swearing-in. I am all for the people who wanted to celebrate doing so after the ceremony, but I felt this part of the process should a lot more dignified.

First, he thought he was really funny, and whooped and hollered making it more like a high school pep rally. As he got the events started, he just started talking without calling down the conversation across the large room, so no one ever felt it important to be quiet and listen to him for the rest of the event, and he did offer information and instructions for some important things like Passports and such.     Continue reading »

Jun 062009
 

Don’t ask me why, but I got interested in determining what, if any, difference there is a between a State and a Commonwealth in the United States. (I guess it might have something to do with working on a project for the Commonwealth of Virginia.) The short answer is that there isn’t much of a difference.

Under the Constitution, all Commonwealths are also States, and as you know, all States in the U.S. have similar forms of government and supposedly equal powers. Four States refer to themselves as Commonwealths: Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Kentucky (Kentucky was part of Virginia until it became the 15th State). These four are Commonwealths mainly because the term is used in their Constitutions. The founding fathers were steeped in the political theories of Locke, Hobbes, and other English philosophers of the 1600s. So when men like John Adams in Massachusetts and George Mason in Virginia wrote their states’ constitutions in the 1770s, ’80s and ’90s (a politically sensitive time!), they used the word “commonwealth” to make a very clear point of the fact that their governments were based on the authority of the people, i.e. the entire body politic, and not The Crown. So they are Commonwealths simply because they elected to call themselves Commonwealths.

However, while most of the resources I found say there is no difference, WikiAnswers.com offered one slight difference, “in a commonwealth landowners do not have mineral or oil rights to their land. They don’t actually own their land but own its use. However this does not much differentiate their structure or self-government in any way from other states in the Union.”

The venerable Dictionary.com offers an alternate definition: a “self-governing, autonomous political unit voluntarily associated with the United States, namely, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands.” The degree of dependency varies from place to place, but we’ll use Puerto Rico as an example.

There are a few major differences between Puerto Rico and a typical American state:

  • The Internal Revenue Code does not apply to Puerto Rico.
  • Puerto Rico has no voting representation in Congress.
  • Puerto Rican citizens are not allowed to vote in presidential elections.

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens; they pay social security, can receive federal welfare, and can serve in the armed forces. I guess you’d consider it a limited partnership.

D.C. Madame, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, One Smart Cookie

 Business, Crime, Culture, Politics, Society  Comments Off on D.C. Madame, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, One Smart Cookie
Apr 302007
 

This is gonna be a lot of fun to watch. Deborah Jeane Palfrey says she wasn’t a pimp, but ran a legitimate and legal escort service. The government, it appears, has not gone after a single one of her johns (wonder why), so she’s going to illicit their help in her defense.

Former Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias was caught with his hand the cookie jar, and has already resigned. As I believe Ms. Palfrey expected, Mr. Tobias claims he only received legal and legitimate massages from Ms. Martin’s contractor.

Her gambit is to call on a bunch of high profile beltway officials who will have to get on the stand and say they never paid for sex, only for legal massages and escort services (no happy endings here folks…nothing to see, move along). Since it doesn’t appear the government has any tapes of these guys making their propositions, I’d say the government’s case may just fall flat on its face. Good for her.

Fighting Abroad and Fighting At Home

 Congress, Corruption, Politics, War  Comments Off on Fighting Abroad and Fighting At Home
Nov 102005
 

Tomorrow, America will observe Veteran’s Day in honor of the sacrifice and contributions of the more than 25 million men and women who donned the uniform to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. The occasion will surely be marked with remembrance of, and respect for, a future generation of veterans — the 160,000 soldiers fighting in Iraq and another 18,000 soldiers currently deployed in Afghanistan. Regardless of the respectable differences that exist regarding the Iraq war, the nation is united in honoring a current generation of soldiers who continue to showcase the courage, bravery, and skill worthy of the honor bestowed upon previous generations of American soldiers. There is increasing widespread concern, however, that as soldiers return from their overseas assignments with physical and mental impairments, the Department of Veterans Affairs may not have the capacity to properly serve them. Because "soldiers in Iraq are surviving wounds that in earlier wars would have been fatal," there will continue to be an increasing need for the Bush administration to provide the necessary resources to "care for those who shall have borne the battle," a mission the administration has not yet properly prepared itself to fulfill.

A NEED THAT HAS NOT BEEN MET: National Adjutant of the Disabled American Veterans, Arthur Wilson, recently wrote, "[I]nstead of honoring its commitment to those whose service and sacrifice have kept us free and safe, our government has launched a devastating assault on benefits for America’s veterans." The frustration results from watching an administration incompetently deal with the need to fund veterans health care and disability services. When President Bush released his annual budget in February 2005, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) said, "If this budget — and its misguided proposals — were enacted, it would devastate VA health care." The American Legion offered similar criticism. A few months later, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) warned, "There is a train wreck coming in veterans’ health care." Rather than address the issue, VA Secretary Jim Nicholson claimed, "I can assure you that VA does not need" additional funds. But then in June, Nicholson came back to Congress and admitted the department didn’t have the sufficient resources to deal with the incoming number of wounded soldiers. Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) called it an "embarrassment." The Senate then voted to approve an extra $1.5 billion for veterans’ health care. Yet, given the increasing demand for VA services, the need still has not been fully met.

UNPREPARED FOR PTSD: As soldiers return from the battlefront, many are reporting that they are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. "PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur after life-threatening events such as combat. Victims often suffer with nightmares, flashbacks, sleeplessness and anger and feel detached or estranged." As one soldier described his experience, "My nightmares are so intense I woke up one night with my hands round my fiancee’s throat." Studies show 20 to 30 percent of combat vets will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and a recent Army study of veterans returning from Iraq suggests that as many as 240,000 could suffer from some degree of PTSD. USA Today reported that more than "one in four U.S. troops have come home from the Iraq war with health problems that require medical or mental health treatment." Veterans receiving disability checks for PTSD jumped 80 percent from 1999 through 2004, from 120,000 to 216,000. That increase alone cost the VA an additional $2.6 billion in benefits." Secretary Nicholson seems to recognize the problem, recently stating that many of the wounded "will be in the VA system for the rest of their lives." But whether the VA is ready to make a lifetime commitment to these veterans remains to be seen.

Continue reading »

V.P. Fights Against Outlawing Torture

 Congress, Crime, Politics, Society, War  Comments Off on V.P. Fights Against Outlawing Torture
Oct 252005
 

The Bush administration wasn’t happy when the Senate overwhelmingly voted to limit and define U.S. interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects. Vice President Cheney is now attempting to exempt the Central Intelligence Agency from this measure. His proposal "states that the measure barring inhumane treatment shall not apply to counterterrorism operations conducted abroad or to operations conducted by ‘an element of the United States government’ other than the Defense Department." The CIA is believed to be involved in several torture scandals in Iraq, including situations where detainees have died, but has refused to release any data on detainee abuse. "This is the first time they’ve said explicitly that the intelligence community should be allowed to treat prisoners inhumanely," said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "In the past, they’ve only said that the law does not forbid inhumane treatment."

Once Again A Call To Methodist Bishops to Denouce Torture

 Politics, Religion, Society, War  Comments Off on Once Again A Call To Methodist Bishops to Denouce Torture
Sep 282005
 

I have, several times in the past, called on the U.S. Bishops of the United Methodist Church, to write George Bush and denounce the practice of government sponsored torture. To the best of my knowledge, only five have done so. In light of the recent revelations, I am, again, calling on these Christian leaders to denounce toture. I will be much aggressive this time in that I plan to make a phone call to each.

I have previously posted the contact information for the fifty U.S. Bishops in PDF and Excel format. I ask you to join me in calling on them to write the White House, and take a stand against torture.

Dear Bishop:

Most Americans agree that torture should not be permitted. Few seem aware, though, that although President George W. Bush says he is against torture, he has openly declared that our military and other interrogators may engage in torture “consistent with military necessity.”

Are we, as Methodist charged by our founding principles to be socially responsible, going to continue to close our eyes – even as this behavior continues to be exposed?

We have come a long way since Virginia patriot Patrick Henry loudly insisted that the rack and the screw were barbaric practices that must be left behind in the Old World, “or we are lost and undone.” Can the leaders of Methodism consult their own consciences with respect to what Justice may require of them in denouncing torture as passionately as the patriots who founded our nation?

On September 24, The New York Times ran a detailed report regarding the kinds of “routine” torture that US servicemen and women have been ordered to carry out (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/24/politics/24abuse.html). This week’s Time also has an article on the use of torture by US forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. Those two articles are based on a new report from Human Rights Watch, a report that relies heavily on the testimony of a West Point graduate, an Army Captain who has had the courage to speak out. A Pentagon spokesman has dismissed the report as “another predictable report by an organization trying to advance an agenda through the use of distortion and errors of fact.” Judge for yourselves; the report can be found at (http://hrw.org/reports/2005/us0905/). Grim but required reading.

See if you can guess the author of the following:

“In this land that has inherited through our forebears the noblest understandings of the rule of law, our government has deliberately chosen the way of barbarism…

There is a price to be paid for the right to be called a civilized nation. That price can be paid in only one currency – the currency of human rights…When this currency is devalued a nation chooses the company of the world’s dictatorships and banana republics. I indict this government for the crime of taking us into that shady fellowship.

The rule of law says that cruel and inhuman punishment is beneath the dignity of a civilized state. But to prisoners we say, ‘We will hold you where no one can hear your screams.’ When I used the word ‘barbarism,’ this is what I meant. The entire policy stands condemned by the methods used to pursue it.

We send a message to the jailers, interrogators, and those who make such practices possible and permissible: ‘Power is a fleeting thing. One day your souls will be required of you.”

— Bishop Peter Storey, Central Methodist Mission, Johannesburg, June 1981

The various rationalizations for torture do not bear close scrutiny. Intelligence specialists concede that the information acquired by torture cannot be considered reliable. Our own troops are brutalized when they follow orders to brutalize. And they are exposed to much greater risk when captured. Our country becomes a pariah among nations. Above all, torture is simply wrong. It falls into the same category of evil as slavery and rape. Torture is inhuman and immoral, whether or not our bishops and rabbis can summon the courage to name it so.

You forfeit your moral authority when you keep your heads down and eyes averted to this behavior. The question is this: Are we up to the challenge of confronting the evil of torture, or shall we prove Patrick Henry right? Is our country about to be “lost and undone?”

I once again call on each of you to decry the government sponsored torture that is clearly taking place. We, as Christians and Methodists can do no less. It is, as a leader of the Church, your obligation to speak up loudly and denounce these activities. As Bishop Story noted, one day too, our souls will be required of us.

Yours in Peace,
John Masters

Defining Characteristics of Facist Governments – Scary

 Corruption, Election, Politics  Comments Off on Defining Characteristics of Facist Governments – Scary
Sep 232005
 

The reconstruction of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama provides a fascinating picture of how the Bush administration actually works. His government represents an odd melding of corporatism and cronyism, more in tune with the workings of 1930s Italy or Spain. In fact, if one looks at fascist regimes of the 20th century, it is appears that the Bush administration draws more from these sources than traditional conservatism. Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:

  • Powerful and Continuing Nationalism – Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
  • Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights – Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
  • Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause – The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.
  • Supremacy of the Military – Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
  • Rampant Sexism – The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.
  • Controlled Mass Media – Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
  • Obsession with National Security – Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
  • Religion and Government are intertwined – Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.
  • Corporate Power is protected – The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
  • Labor Power is suppressed – Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.
  • Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts – Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.
  • Obsession with Crime and Punishment – Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.
  • Rampant Cronyism and Corruption – Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.
  • Fraudulent Elections – Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

(Source: The Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism, Dr. Lawrence Britt, Spring 2003, Free Inquiry)

Perhaps it is unfair to characterise the Bush Presidency in these terms, because it would imply the existence of a coherent governing philosophy.

Summary Of Katrina Disaster

 Politics, Religion, Right Wingnuts, Society, Weather  Comments Off on Summary Of Katrina Disaster
Sep 122005
 

As I’m sure you all know, the main stream media is giving wall-to-wall coverage of Katrina. The blogosphere is also providing plenty of coverage, with some of the best known bloggers actually getting directly involved in the relief efforts down on the coast. Most certainly, this is the biggest disaster to hit the U.S. in history. Therefore, all the coverage is warranted.

I thought I would make this post about Katrina, and try to move on to other things. It is a horrible disaster, and we all need to know what is going on, and understand how over government agencies are (or are not) responding to this disaster. That being said, I think there’s some fatigue to all the coverage. I’m not going to promise I won’t post about what’s going on along the Gulf Coast again, nor that I won’t continue calling your attention to the ways that the government failed us…but I’m going to try to move on to some other things.

I live in Tampa Florida about eight blocks from the Bay. A storm like the one in New Orleans would flood my house, so I’m not being callous to this situation, nor trying to forget it. How the recovery efforts are being managed is of keen interest to me, and how people are coping with the disaster is something I will most likely someday benefit from. So I am most certainly paying attention, and being sympathetic, but I’ll leave the coverage to people who are actually there.

I do want to point out some issues. The Republicans that are attempting to stay loyal to W are pausing only long enough to take one foot out of their mouth as they put the other one in. We all know about Santorum commenting to some kids in the Astrodome that losing their home, and being displaced to another state with nothing must be like Summer Camp. If its so cool, why wasn’t he staying there.

I’ll never get over the fact that W could rush back to Washington early from a previous vacation to sign the stupid Teri Schaivo legislation, but couldn’t bring himself to head back to D.C. early to be prepared for the worst natural disaster to ever hit the U.S. And don’t forget his mother’s comments about the people in the Astrodome…how they were under-privileged anyway, so this was all working really well for them. The absolute arrogance of this family astounds me. I hate to wish ill on anyone, but I hope they go broke someday, so they can get a taste of what the real world is all about.

Then, of course we have obviously allowed the administration to use FEMA and DHS as a place to repay a lot of political Debt’s, and have put in a bunch incompetent inexperienced cronies to run the most important government agency. At least Mike Brown finally resigned today. It was very obvious that FEMA’s current administration was ill prepared and late in responding. They can try to place the blame wherever they want, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out they were simply unprepared.

Someone found their 2004 schedule for disaster exercises. Of 222 exercises run, only 2 dealt with hurricanes, and one of those dealt with a hurricane combined with a terrorist attack. I know, terrorism is much more glamorous than hurricane relief, but guess which one has affected more Americans.

One of the primary claims by the Administration was that they couldn’t move into the area because the Governor of Louisiana hadn’t yet declared a state of emergency. That is just a plain bold-faced lie. That had been done two days before landfall. Although I don’t think it matters anyway, an experienced FEMA team would have prepositioned resources, and if the official declarations hadn’t been made, they would have called the Governor with instructions.

I guess its just the lies of Karl Rove and his henchmen, trying to shift the blame that really pisses me off, but I get even more aggravated when I realize that people hear the crap and believe it absolutely…without any question.

They have suspended most all the rules governing government procurement, and Katrina is just another boondoggle for Cardinal Cheney’s friends at Haliburton.

And we can’t let pass all the big religious right wingnuts blaming it all on gay people and the Southern Decadence celebration. I’ve gotta tell you, if that’s who God really is, I want no part of him. (Never mind that the site of most of Decadence wasn’t flooded.)

So, now, hopefully on to other things…always remembering the people that are suffering.