30 March 2011

America the Beautiful

It's easy to forget about how well off we live in the United States.  Although our politics are increasingly divisive and partisan, our airwaves are filled with commercial propaganda, the wealthy have accumulated ostensibly ever amassing wads of cash, education, public transit and most other social programs besides medicaid are utterly under funded, our foreign policy dictates military action over diplomacy, and a host of other issues, we can write and say almost whatever we want about our presidents and our leaders.

The freedoms afforded to us in the Bill of Rights are incomparable.

In Belarus, Andrzej Poczobut, a reporter of Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland) has been arrested for the heinous crime of insulting the Belorussian president.

On Monday Mr. Poczobut was summoned to the prosecutor’s office in the Hrodna region.  He was issued an order of criminal proceedings against him for publishing articles in the newspaper and in his blog that violate Article 368 Part 1 of state law, "Insulting the President of Belarus."

In an interview with charter97.org, Mr. Poczobut wrote it is not clear so far, what was considered an insult of the Belarusian dictator; in the prosecutor’s office he was just told the titles of the articles allegedly containing “insults of and fabrications about Lukashenka”. Here are some quotes from the order on institution of criminal proceedings:

“In the period of 2010-2011 on the web at websites www.wyborcza.pl, belaruspartisan.org and poczobut.livejournal.com A. Poczobut posted texts created by him called “Time to tighten screws”, “Lukashenka has found a new target”, “Elections without choice in Belarus”, “Tell me “batska”, “That’s how Lukashenka ruled”, “Lukashenka: Yes, I’ve falsified the election”, “Freedom, Belarusian style. Confessed and released?”, “Pre-election populism a la Belarus”, “That’s how the Belarusian KGB intimidates” and a text without a title starting with “Thank you all…”, containing elements of public insult of the President of Belarus…”

According to the website, Poczobut says he understands that he is facing a prison term, but he is not going to flee the country.

“What are the reasons of opening the case N11025190007?  I think there are a few of them,” the journalist states.  “Firstly, personal reasons. My person provokes the warmest feelings from people in uniform. And secondly, international ones. It is a long time since the Union of Poles, where I am the chairman of the Main Council, was considered by “armed lackeys of Lukashenka” as potential hostages in bilateral Belarusian-Polish relations. Is Poland planning sanctions against our country? And we will smother Poles! This is so much the case, that such promises were made by diplomatic representatives of Belarus almost as plain-language messages. And thirdly, the reasons related to the web. Back on December 20 at his triumph press-conference on his new “elegant victory” Lukashenka promised “to bring discipline” to the web.  My dear mister Lukashenka, my dear victim of the crime, I am ready to answer for my words and deeds to the fullest extent of the law. And I hope that the time will come when the former president of Belarus A. Lukashenka would have to answer for the developments in Belarus in the last 16 years to the fullest extent of the law.”

Where I spend much time criticizing the US, I have to say that as as long as bloggers, media hawks, comedians, and journalists can openly insult our politicians, we have more freedom than Belarus.

By the way, Sarah Palin is an idiot; Pres. Obama is not an idiot but he may not know what he is doing.  There is a difference.  

Now that all of the compliments have been handed out, let's take a look at the some numbers from the US Census Bureau's poverty thresholds.  The poverty thresholds are the starting points for what is considered poverty level in the US.  So, a single person earning $11,161.00 per year or less is living in poverty in our fine country.

2009 Poverty Thresholds, Selected Family Types
Single Individual
Under 65 years
$ 11,161
65 years & older
$ 10,289
Single Parent
One child
$ 14,787
Two children
$ 17,285
Two Adults
No children
$ 14,366
One child
$ 17,268
Two children
$ 21,756
Three children
$ 25,603

To be single and considered to be living in poverty is the equivalent of about $30 a day for a single individual and $40 a day for a single parent with a child (the maximum levels to still be considered at poverty level).  In comparison, Apple pays their employees in China who assemble the iPad, and iPod products about $73 a week or $9 a day.

And on this day in history in 1981, John Hinckley, Jr, with Travis Bickle as his inspiration, tried to assassinate then president of the US Ronald Reagan.  Evidently Hinckley was totally mad.  In a letter to Jodie Foster, Hinckley wrote, " I will admit to you that the reason I'm going ahead with this attempt now is because I just cannot wait any longer to impress you.  I've got to do something now to make you understand, in no uncertain terms, that I am doing all of this for your sake!  By sacrificing my freedom and possibly my life, I hope to change your mind about me.  This letter is being written only an hour before I leave for the Hilton Hotel.  Jodie, I'm asking you to please look into your heart and at least give me the chance, with this historical deed, to gain your respect and love."

Over and out.

29 March 2011

March 28th in History

March 28, 1979 America's worst commercial nuclear accident occurred inside the Unit 2 reactor at the Three Mile Island plant near Middletown, Pa.  The accident began about 4:00 a.m. on March 28, 1979, when the plant experienced a failure in the secondary, non-nuclear section of the plant. The main feedwater pumps stopped running, caused by either a mechanical or electrical failure, which prevented the steam generators from removing heat. First the turbine, then the reactor automatically shut down. Immediately, the pressure in the primary system (the nuclear portion of the plant) began to increase. In order to prevent that pressure from becoming excessive, the pilot-operated relief valve (a valve located at the top of the pressurizer) opened. The valve should have closed when the pressure decreased by a certain amount, but it did not. Signals available to the operator failed to show that the valve was still open. As a result, cooling water poured out of the stuck-open valve and caused the core of the reactor to overheat. 

As coolant flowed from the core through the pressurizer, the instruments available to reactor operators provided confusing information. There was no instrument that showed the level of coolant in the core.  Instead, the operators judged the level of water in the core by the level in the pressurizer, and since it was high, they assumed that the core was properly covered with coolant. In addition, there was no clear signal that the pilot-operated relief valve was open. As a result, as alarms rang and warning lights flashed, the operators did not realize that the plant was experiencing a loss-of-coolant accident. They took a series of actions that made conditions worse by simply reducing the flow of coolant through the core.

Because adequate cooling was not available, the nuclear fuel overheated to the point at which the zirconium cladding (the long metal tubes which hold the nuclear fuel pellets) ruptured and the fuel pellets began to melt. It was later found that about one-half of the core melted during the early stages of the accident. Although the TMI-2 plant suffered a severe core meltdown, the most dangerous kind of nuclear power accident, it did not produce the worst-case consequences that reactor experts had long feared. In a worst-case accident, the melting of nuclear fuel would lead to a breach of the walls of the containment building and release massive quantities of radiation to the environment. But this did not occur as a result of the three Mile Island accident.

Detailed studies of the radiological consequences of the accident have been conducted by the NRC, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (now Health and Human Services), the Department of Energy, and the State of Pa.. Several independent studies have also been conducted. Estimates are that the average dose to about 2 million people in the area was only about 1 millirem. To put this into context, exposure from a chest x-ray is about 6 millirem. Compared to the natural radioactive background dose of about 100-125 millirem per year for the area, the collective dose to the community from the accident was very small. The maximum dose to a person at the site boundary would have been less than 100 millirem.

1978 In Stump v. Sparkman, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-3 to uphold the judicial immunity of an Indiana judge against a lawsuit brought by a young woman who had been ordered sterilized by the judge when she was a teenager.

In 1971 Judge Harold D. Stump, of the Circuit Court of DeKalb County, Indiana, acted on a petition filed by Ora Spitler McFarlin, the mother of fifteen-year-old Linda Spitler. McFarlin sought to have her daughter sterilized on the ground she was a "somewhat retarded" minor who had been staying out overnight with older men.

Judge Stump approved and signed the petition, but the petition had not been filed with the circuit court clerk and the judge had not opened a formal case file. The judge failed to appoint a guardian ad litem for Spitler, and he did not hold a hearing on the matter before authorizing a tubal ligation. Spitler, who did not know what the operation was for, discovered she had been sterilized only after she was married to Leo Sparkman and unsuccessfully tried to have children. Linda Sparkman (nee Spitler) then sued Judge Stump.

The Supreme Court ruled that Stump was absolutely immune because what he did was "a function normally performed by a judge," and he performed the act in his "judicial capacity." Although he may have violated state laws and procedures, he performed judicial functions that have historically been absolutely immune to civil lawsuits.

In a dissenting opinion, Associate  Justice Potter Stewart argued that Stump's actions were not absolutely immune simply because he sat in a courtroom, wore a robe, and signed an unlawful order. In Stewart's view the conduct of a judge "surely does not become a judicial act merely on his say so. A judge is not free, like a loose cannon, to inflict indiscriminate damage whenever he announces that he is acting in his judicial capacity."

Ten years ago the authors of a book on the Oklahoma City bombing revealed that during prison interviews, Timothy McVeigh had shown no remorse for what happened, and called the 19 children who died "collateral damage."

Thought for today "Those who say they give the public what it wants begin by underestimating public taste and end by debauching it." — T.S. Eliot, American-Anglo poet and critic (1888-1965)

Over and out.

25 March 2011

Income inequality and the Great Recession

Back in December when congress was debating whether to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 10%, Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont gave what ought to be remembered as an historic speech on the floor.  He argued for eight hours that extending the tax cuts made no sense what so ever.  He wasn't alone in his criticisms.

The Joint Economic Committee had issued a report analyzing income inequality, the poverty gap, in the time of the Great Recession.  Here is an excerpt of their findings (italics indicate my comments):

  • Income inequality has skyrocketed.  Economists concur that income inequality has risen dramatically over the past three decades.  (In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the average yearly income after taxes for the top five percent has risen over 75% since 1970.  In contrast, the average yearly income for the bottom 50% has risen about 10.5% since 1970, cf chart below).
  • Middle-class incomes stagnated under President Bush.  During the recovery of the 1990s under President Clinton, middle-class incomes grew at a healthy pace.  However, during the jobless recovery of the 2000s under President Bush, that trend reversed course.  Middle-class incomes continued to fall well into the recovery, and never regained their 2001 high.  The first year of the Great Recession dealt a sharp blow to middle-class families, who had not yet recovered from the pain of the last recession.
  • High levels of income inequality may precipitate economic crises.  Peaks in income preceded both thee Great Depression and the Great Recession, suggesting that high levels of income inequality may destabilize the economy as a whole.
  • Income inequality may be part of the root cause of the Great Recession.  Stagnant incomes for all but the wealthiest Americans meant an increased demand for credit, fueling the growth of an unsustainable credit bubble.  Bank deregulation allowed financial institutions to create new exotic products in which the ever-richer rich could invest.  The result was a bubble-based economy that came crashing down in late 2007.
  • Policymakers have a great deal of leverage in mitigating income inequality in order to stabilize the macro‐economy. In the decades following the Great Depression, policy decisions helped keep income inequality low while allowing for continued economic growth. In contrast, policy decisions made during the economic expansion during the Bush administration failed to keep income inequality in check, and may have exacerbated the problem. Policymakers working to rebuild the economy in the wake of the Great Recession should heed these lessons and pay particular attention to policy options that mitigate economic inequality. 

What the report detailed was that while the rich have continued to grow richer, the middle-class have lost ground previously regained during the Clinton years.  The lower-class have not gained.  The lower-class remain the invisible members of society.

Are these numbers indicative of an obstinate allegiance or belief in supply-side, trickle down, economics?  George H.W. Bush referred to supply-side economics as voodoo economics when running against Reagan in 1980 for the republican nomination.  Yet George W. Bush in January of 2006 declared, "by cutting the taxes on the American people, this economy is strong, and the overall tax revenues have hit at record levels."

This promise has not been borne out.  The result of the decrease in tax revenue has been the ever widening poverty gap.

In order to make up for the loss of revenue, congress and states are facing staggering cuts to programs that help the most needy in the country.  Wisconsin is facing record cuts in Education, public assistance, and public transit.  Wisconsin also forfeited the opportunity to create an inter-city high speed rail line.  Compare this lack of forethought to the recent construction of the Beijing–Shanghai High-Speed Railway that allows a traveler who begins in Beijing to reach Shanghai (~800 miles) in about 3 and a half hours.  Chicago to New York City is about 700 miles, so think about traveling from Chicago to NYC in about 3 hours.

Governor Walker and the rest of the republican legislature seem as unwilling to budge as Dick Cheney, who seemingly still believes in voodoo economics, "I became a believer (in voodoo economics). If you fast-forward, in 2003, where we cut the capital gains rate, the rate on interest, did the across-the-board cuts in the income tax, and passed by a single vote. My vote."

Scott Walker's vision for Wisconsin is that the state will be a bastion for supply-side economics.  "We're going to start sending a message, a slow but steady message, that we're lowering the tax burden."  As his 2011-2013 biennial budget reveals, the first step is cutting social programs that aid the needy.  The formation of the WEDC has also been praised in the Journal Sentinel and bipartisan observers.  All it really boils down to is another attempt at patronage.  The appointed advisers of the WEDC are not state employees but have access to state health insurance and the state retirement plan.   

But supply-side economics has been tried and nearly proven to be a failed economic theory.  In an article in The New Yorker (2007), The Tax Evasion: The Great Lie of Supply-Side Economics, economist James Surowiecki argued, "The supply-side argument that, in the United States, tax-rate cuts pay for themselves ... has little or no support within the mainstream economic profession, and no hard empirical data to back it up. Myriad studies have demonstrated that both the Reagan tax cuts of the nineteen-eighties and the tax cuts put through under the current Administration shrank government revenues and led to bigger budget deficits."

In the absence of true empirical data to support supply-side economics, what is the motivating force for the ostensibly ubiquitous notion of applying it across the country in an attempt to create more jobs and guide us to recovery?

It may come down to a simple concept as old as human society.  As a local prominent attorney recently explained, "It comes down to this, greed.  And not just greed for money, most of the people (making the decisions) don't need it, it's greed for power."

In meetings around the country, wealthy power mongers approach cuts to capital gains taxes, estate taxes, and income taxes as beneficial to society, while blind to the society all around them that struggles and withers.  The lower-class are invisible because the wealthy refuse to see them. As Ralph Ellison wrote, "When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination--indeed, everything and anything except me."

In every great society there comes a time when Spartacus and the slaves form an uprising, when the populace can no longer stand more pain and despair.

Is that time nigh in America?

Over and out.

23 March 2011

The Fifty-First Dragon

By Heywood Broun

Of all the pupils at the knight school Gawaine le Cœur-Hardy was among the least promising.  He was tall and sturdy, but his instructors soon discovered that he lacked spirit.  He would hide in the woods when the jousting class was called, although his companions and members of the faculty sought to appeal to his better nature by shouting to him to come out and break his neck like a man.  Even when they told him that the lances were padded, the horses no more than ponies and the field unusually soft for late autumn, Gawaine refused to grow enthusiastic.
The Headmaster and the Assistant Professor of Pleasaunce were discussing the case one spring afternoon and the Assistant Professor could see no remedy but expulsion.   “No,” said the Headmaster, as he looked out at the purple hills which ringed the school, “I think I’ll train him to slay dragons.”
 “He might be killed,” objected the Assistant Professor.
 “So he might,” replied the Headmaster brightly, but he added, more soberly, “we must consider the greater good.  We are responsible for the formation of this lad’s character.”
“Are the dragons particularly bad this year?” interrupted the Assistant Professor.  This was characteristic.  He always seemed restive when the head of the school began to talk ethics and the ideals of the institution.
“I’ve never known them worse,” replied the Headmaster.  “Up in the hills to the south last week they killed a number of peasants, two cows and a prize pig. And if this dry spell holds there’s no telling when they may start a forest fire simply by breathing around indiscriminately.”
“Would any refund on the tuition fee be necessary in case of an accident to young Cœur Hardy?”
“No,” the principal answered, judicially, “that’s all covered in the contract. But as a matter of fact he won’t be killed.  Before I send him up in the hills I’m going to give him a magic word.”
“That’s a good idea,” said the Professor.  “Sometimes they work wonders.”

From that day on Gawaine specialized in dragons. His course included both theory and practice.  In the morning there were long lectures on the history, anatomy, manners and customs of dragons.  Gawaine did not distinguish himself in these studies.  He had a marvelously versatile gift for forgetting things.  In the afternoon he showed to better advantage, for then he would go down to the South Meadow and practice with a battle-ax.  In this exercise he was truly impressive, for he had enormous strength as well as speed and grace.  He even developed a deceptive display of ferocity.  Old alumni say that it was a thrilling sight to see Gawaine charging across the field toward the dummy paper dragon which had been set up for his practice.  As he ran he would brandish his ax and shout “A murrain on thee!” or some other vivid bit of campus slang.  It never took him more than one stroke to behead the dummy dragon.
Gradually his task was made more difficult.  Paper gave way to papier-mâché and finally to wood, but even the toughest of these dummy dragons had no terrors for Gawaine.  One sweep of the ax always did the business.  There were those who said that when the practice was protracted until dusk and the dragons threw long, fantastic shadows across the meadow Gawaine did not charge so impetuously nor shout so loudly.  It is possible there was malice in this charge.  At any rate, the Headmaster decided by the end of June that it was time for the test.  Only the night before a dragon had come close to the school grounds and had eaten some of the lettuce from the garden.  The faculty decided that Gawaine was ready.  They gave him a diploma and a new battle-ax and the Headmaster summoned him to a private conference.
“Sit down,” said the Headmaster. “Have a cigarette.”  Gawaine hesitated.
“Oh, I know it’s against the rules,” said the Headmaster,  “but after all, you have received your preliminary degree.  You are no longer a boy.  You are a man.  Tomorrow you will go out into the world, the great world of achievement.”
Gawaine took a cigarette.  The Headmaster offered him a match, but he produced one of his own and began to puff away with a dexterity which quite amazed the principal.
“Here you have learned the theories of life,” continued the Headmaster, resuming the thread of his discourse, “but after all, life is not a matter of theories.  Life is a matter of facts.  It calls on the young and the old alike to face these facts, even though they are hard and sometimes unpleasant. Your problem, for example, is to slay dragons.”
“They say that those dragons down in the south wood are five hundred feet long,” ventured Gawaine, timorously.
“Stuff and nonsense!” said the Headmaster. “The curate saw one last week from the top of Arthur’s Hill.  The dragon was sunning himself down in the valley. The curate didn’t have an opportunity to look at him very long because he felt it was his duty to hurry back to make a report to me.  He said the monster, or shall I say, the big lizard, wasn’t an inch over two hundred feet. But the size has nothing at all to do with it. You’ll find the big ones even easier than the little ones. They’re far slower on their feet and less aggressive, I’m told.  Besides, before you go I’m going to equip you in such fashion that you need have no fear of all the dragons in the world.”
“I’d like an enchanted cap,” said Gawaine.
“What’s that?” answered the Headmaster, testily.
“A cap to make me disappear,” explained Gawaine.
The Headmaster laughed indulgently. “You mustn’t believe all those old wives’ stories,” he said. “There isn’t any such thing. A cap to make you disappear, indeed! What would you do with it? You haven’t even appeared yet. Why, my boy, you could walk from here to London, and nobody would so much as look at you. You’re nobody. You couldn’t be more invisible than that.”
Gawaine seemed dangerously close to a relapse into his old habit of whimpering. The Headmaster reassured him: “Don’t worry; I’ll give you something much better than an enchanted cap. I’m going to give you a magic word. All you have to do is to repeat this magic charm once and no dragon can possibly harm a hair of your head. You can cut off his head at your leisure.”
He took a heavy book from the shelf behind his desk and began to run through it. “Sometimes,” he said, “the charm is a whole phrase or even a sentence. I might, for instance, give you ‘To make the’—No, that might not do. I think a single word would be best for dragons.”
“A short word,” suggested Gawaine.
“It can’t be too short or it wouldn’t be potent.  There isn’t so much hurry as all that.  Here’s a splendid magic word: ‘Rumplesnitz.’  Do you think you can learn that?”
Gawaine tried and in an hour or so he seemed to have the word well in hand. Again and again he interrupted the lesson to inquire, “And if I say ‘Rumplesnitz’ the dragon can’t possibly hurt me?”
And always the Headmaster replied, “If you only say ‘Rumplesnitz,’ you are perfectly safe.”
Toward morning Gawaine seemed resigned to his career. At daybreak the Headmaster saw him to the edge of the forest and pointed him to the direction in which he should proceed.  About a mile away to the southwest a cloud of steam hovered over an open meadow in the woods and the Headmaster assured Gawaine that under the steam he would find a dragon.  Gawaine went forward slowly.  He wondered whether it would be best to approach the dragon on the run as he did in his practice in the South Meadow or to walk slowly toward him, shouting “Rumplesnitz” all the way.
The problem was decided for him. No sooner had he come to the fringe of the meadow than the dragon spied him and began to charge.  It was a large dragon and yet it seemed decidedly aggressive in spite of the Headmaster’s statement to the contrary.  As the dragon charged it released huge clouds of hissing steam through its nostrils.  It was almost as if a gigantic teapot had gone mad.  The dragon came forward so fast and Gawaine was so frightened that he had time to say “Rumplesnitz” only once.  As he said it, he swung his battle-ax and off popped the head of the dragon.  Gawaine had to admit that it was even easier to kill a real dragon than a wooden one if only you said “Rumplesnitz.”
Gawaine brought the ears home and a small section of the tail.  His school mates and the faculty made much of him, but the Headmaster wisely kept him from being spoiled by insisting that he go on with his work.  Every clear day Gawaine rose at dawn and went out to kill dragons.  The Headmaster kept him at home when it rained, because he said the woods were damp and unhealthy at such times and that he didn’t want the boy to run needless risks.  Few good days passed in which Gawaine failed to get a dragon.  On one particularly fortunate day he killed three, a husband and wife and a visiting relative.  Gradually he developed a technique.  Pupils who sometimes watched him from the hill-tops a long way off said that he often allowed the dragon to come within a few feet before he said “Rumplesnitz.”  He came to say it with a mocking sneer.  Occasionally he did stunts.  Once when an excursion party from London was watching him he went into action with his right hand tied behind his back.  The dragon’s head came off just as easily. 
As Gawaine’s record of killings mounted higher the Headmaster found it impossible to keep him completely in hand.  He fell into the habit of stealing out at night and engaging in long drinking bouts at the village tavern.  It was after such a debauch that he rose a little before dawn one fine August morning and started out after his fiftieth dragon.  His head was heavy and his mind sluggish.  He was heavy in other respects as well, for he had adopted the somewhat vulgar practice of wearing his medals, ribbons and all, when he went out dragon hunting.  The decorations began on his chest and ran all the way down to his abdomen.  They must have weighed at least eight pounds.
Gawaine found a dragon in the same meadow where he had killed the first one. It was a fair-sized dragon, but evidently an old one.  Its face was wrinkled and Gawaine thought he had never seen so hideous a countenance.  Much to the lad’s disgust, the monster refused to charge and Gawaine was obliged to walk toward him.  He whistled as he went.  The dragon regarded him hopelessly, but craftily. Of course it had heard of Gawaine.  Even when the lad raised his battle-ax the dragon made no move.  It knew that there was no salvation in the quickest thrust of the head, for it had been informed that this hunter was protected by an enchantment. It merely waited, hoping something would turn up.  Gawaine raised the battle-ax and suddenly lowered it again.  He had grown very pale and he trembled violently. The dragon suspected a trick.  “What’s the matter?” it asked, with false solicitude.
“I’ve forgotten the magic word,” stammered Gawaine.
“What a pity,” said the dragon. “So that was the secret. It doesn’t seem quite sporting to me, all this magic stuff, you know.  Not cricket, as we used to say when I was a little dragon; but after all, that’s a matter of opinion.”
Gawaine was so helpless with terror that the dragon’s confidence rose immeasurably and it could not resist the temptation to show off a bit.
“Could I possibly be of any assistance?” it asked. “What’s the first letter of the magic word?”
“It begins with an ‘r,”’ said Gawaine weakly.
“Let’s see,” mused the dragon, “that doesn’t tell us much, does it? What sort of a word is this? Is it an epithet, do you think?”
Gawaine could do no more than nod.
“Why, of course,” exclaimed the dragon, “reactionary Republican.”
Gawaine shook his head.
“Well, then,” said the dragon, “we’d better get down to business. Will you surrender?”
With the suggestion of a compromise Gawaine mustered up enough courage to speak.
“What will you do if I surrender?” he asked.
“Why, I’ll eat you,” said the dragon.
“And if I don’t surrender?”
“I’ll eat you just the same.”
“Then it doesn’t mean any difference, does it?” moaned Gawaine.
“It does to me,” said the dragon with a smile. “I’d rather you didn’t surrender. You’d taste much better if you didn’t.”
The dragon waited for a long time for Gawaine to ask “Why?” but the boy was too frightened to speak. At last the dragon had to give the explanation without his cue line. “You see,” he said, “if you don’t surrender you’ll taste better because you’ll die game.”
This was an old and ancient trick of the dragon’s. By means of some such quip he was accustomed to paralyze his victims with laughter and then to destroy them. Gawaine was sufficiently paralyzed as it was, but laughter had no part in his helplessness.  With the last word of the joke the dragon drew back his head and struck.  In that second there flashed into the mind of Gawaine the magic word “Rumplesnitz,” but there was no time to say it.  There was time only to strike and, without a word, Gawaine met the onrush of the dragon with a full swing.  He put all his back and shoulders into it.  The impact was terrific and the head of the dragon flew away almost a hundred yards and landed in a thicket.
Gawaine did not remain frightened very long after the death of the dragon. His mood was one of wonder.  He was enormously puzzled.  He cut off the ears of the monster almost in a trance.  Again and again he thought to himself, “I didn’t say ‘Rumplesnitz’!”  He was sure of that and yet there was no question that he had killed the dragon. In fact, he had never killed one so utterly.  Never before had he driven a head for anything like the same distance.  Twenty-five yards was perhaps his best previous record.  All the way back to the knight school he kept rumbling about in his mind seeking an explanation for what had occurred.  He went to the Headmaster immediately and after closing the door told him what had happened. “I didn’t say ‘Rumplesnitz,’” he explained with great earnestness.
The Headmaster laughed.  “I’m glad you’ve found out,” he said.  “It makes you ever so much more of a hero. Don’t you see that? Now you know that it was you who killed all these dragons and not that foolish little word ‘Rumplesnitz.’”
Gawaine frowned. “Then it wasn’t a magic word after all?” he asked.
“Of course not,” said the Headmaster, “you ought to be too old for such foolishness. There isn’t any such thing as a magic word.”
“But you told me it was magic,” protested Gawaine. “You said it was magic and now you say it isn’t.”
“It wasn’t magic in a literal sense,” answered the Headmaster, “but it was much more wonderful than that. The word gave you confidence. It took away your fears. If I hadn’t told you that you might have been killed the very first time. It was your battle-ax did the trick.”
Gawaine surprised the Headmaster by his attitude.  He was obviously distressed by the explanation.  He interrupted a long philosophic and ethical discourse by the Headmaster with, “If I hadn’t of hit ’em all mighty hard and fast any one of ’em might have crushed me like a, like a—” He fumbled for a word.
“Egg shell,” suggested the Headmaster.
“Like a egg shell,” assented Gawaine, and he said it many times. All through the evening meal people who sat near him heard him muttering, “Like a egg shell, like a egg shell.”
The next day was clear, but Gawaine did not get up at dawn.  Indeed, it was almost noon when the Headmaster found him cowering in bed, with the clothes pulled over his head.  The principal called the Assistant Professor of Pleasaunce, and together they dragged the boy toward the forest.
“He’ll be all right as soon as he gets a couple more dragons under his belt,” explained the Headmaster.
“The Assistant Professor of Pleasaunce agreed. “It would be a shame to stop such a fine run,” he said. “Why, counting that one yesterday, he’s killed fifty dragons.”
They pushed the boy into a thicket above which hung a meager cloud of steam.  It was obviously quite a small dragon.  But Gawaine did not come back that night or the next.  In fact, he never came back.  Some weeks afterward brave spirits from the school explored the thicket, but they could find nothing to remind them of Gawaine except the metal parts of his medals.  Even the ribbons had been devoured.
The Headmaster and the Assistant Professor of Pleasaunce agreed that it would be just as well not to tell the school how Gawaine had achieved his record and still less how he came to die.  They held that it might have a bad effect on school spirit.  Accordingly, Gawaine has lived in the memory of the school as its greatest hero.  No visitor succeeds in leaving the building today without seeing a great shield, which hangs on the wall of the dining hall.  Fifty pairs of dragons’ ears are mounted upon the shield and underneath in gilt letters is “Gawaine le Cœur-Hardy,” followed by the simple inscription, “He killed fifty dragons.”  The record has never been equaled.

Tennessee's Governor Finds Money For Private Prison Amid Cuts

TennCare, Higher Education To See Deep Cuts

POSTED: 12:00 pm CDT March 21, 2011
UPDATED: 2:44 pm CDT March 21, 2011
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has found nearly $31 million in recurring money to keep open a privately run prison in West Tennessee while making deep cuts to other areas such as TennCare and higher education.  Former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen sought to close the Hardeman County Correctional Facility at Whiteville by December.  

But lawmakers added the money needed to run the prison through June, and Haslam in his budget address last week announced plans to restore permanent funding for the facility operated by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America.  "We went back and weren't certain that we would adequately be able to take care of the prison population that we needed to and do it at a cost that would make sense," Haslam told reporters after a tour of a community college in Nashville last week. "We could have saved some money by closing that, but in the end we didn't think it was the right thing to do for the corrections system." 

Haslam's conclusions stand in contrast to Bredesen's view expressed last year that keeping the prison open was "not really justified."Bredesen considered -- but ultimately decided against -- using his line-item veto power to eliminate the extra $15 million for the facility included in the current year's budget to keep it open through July. Bredesen said Republican-controlled Legislature's decision to overrule him on the prison was "a case of everybody wants to run government like a business until you actually run government like a business."  Haslam said he agrees with Bredesen's businesslike approach to governing, but that spending cuts were found in other areas. 

"We did make a lot of those hard decisions," Haslam said. "In the end you have to evaluate one versus the other and make the one you think are right when you're the governor."  

Haslam has noted that the state is having to make do without $2 billion in federal stimulus money that has flowed to the state in recent years. His budget proposal includes a $133 million in recurring expenses, topped by $40 million in cuts at the state's expanded Medicaid program and $20 million at public colleges and universities. 

CCA President and CEO Damon Hininger in a conference call with Wall Street analysts last year took a wait-and-see approach to term-limited Bredesen's decision on the Whiteville prison.  "Obviously there's going to be a new governor in the governor's mansion in January of next year," he said. "The Legislature will take it up and determine if that's appropriate to not fund those beds."  Hininger gave $2,000 to Haslam's gubernatorial campaign and inauguration, while CCA gave the maximum $7,500 corporate contribution to swearing-in festivities, according to campaign finance reports.

Company officials met with the governor at his Capitol office the week before his budget address, according to Haslam's official schedule.A CCA spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment.Sen. Dolores Gresham and Rep. Barrett Rich, both R-Somerville, said they were pleased that the governor has included the funding in his budget.  "There's a need, unfortunately, for that kind of institution," said Gresham, who is the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. "And we happen to have one in Whiteville, so let's not waste what we have."

Rich said closing the prison could lead to shorter prison sentences among inmates and would have a negative impact."Keeping people in prison for the specified period of time is essential -- I believe it curbs crime and protects the people of Tennessee," he said. "Also, there's a lot of jobs in my district and in Hardeman County and southwest Tennessee that would be affected."

Another war, another attack on a sovereign nation

Don't be fooled by the big 'D' that accompanies Pres. Obama's name in political discussions.  What the President is doing in Libya is as much of a declaration of war as our actions were in invading Afghanistan and Iraq.  So the difference between Mr. Bush (R) and Mr. Obama (D) is increasingly blurred by the latest convoluted initiation of air strikes against a sovereign state. I'll repeat that last bit for emphasis, the US has chosen to bomb a sovereign nation.  This is an egregious act of war.

It's obviously ludicrous to point this out but just for the sake of analogy let us suppose that another country bombed the US in the same way that we are currently bombing Libya.  It would be a massive attack on our soil.  Congress would immediately reconvene and would not dare hesitate to declare war on the intervening state.

So we are now at war, intervening in another country's internal affairs.  This is wrong in so many ethical ways.

First, we've attacked a sovereign state that posed no threat to the US.  That in itself should be decisive.  Additionally, Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution states that congress has the power to declare war.  Congress has not passed any resolution for us to have engaged in this war.  There was no debate, only a presidential order.  The Constitution does not allow the president to declare war.

Then, there's the cost of this military exercise.  The latest figure is that our operations in Libya are running upwards of $300 million a day.   According to an independent report released this month by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, "... the no-fly zone would cost at least $400 million to set up, and up to $100 million per week to enforce.  Each Tomahawk missile costs more than $500,000, bringing the total price for Saturday night's initial volley to at least $55 million."

And yet everyone in America has been told to make sacrifices.  While the working class sacrifices, the military budget climbs toward $700 billion, the poverty gap increases, and our foreign policy devolves into constant overreaching attacks on autonomous nations.  In much the same way that Afghanistan has no optimistic ending in sight, this action seems utterly void of a positive outcome. 

What is the reasoning behind the actions of an ostensibly rational, educated president?  What could possibly validate or support the rationale to drop bombs on an independent state that does not constitute an immediate threat to US security?  Is this a moral decision?  Gadhafi has ordered military reprisals, the killing of his own people, to quell the uprisings and attempts at a coup, and we need to put an end to that brutality.

If that were the case, there must be hundreds of cases of oppression of the same magnitude or larger, Rwanda, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, etc. where the US has far more compelling reasons to get involved but we have chosen not to.  Most of the other situations noted above contain far more civilian casualties and brutality of innocents than does the week old uprising in Libya.

Here is the real, and perhaps the only, reason the US is currently bombing a sovereign state: Libya possesses the largest oil reserves in Africa.

There it is.

Unfortunately, this could cost Mr. Obama a second term.  In which case, the US will be burdened with an even bigger dolt in any of the republican candidates mentioned so far (Palin must be having a real goose right about now).

Why the President didn't call congress back into session to debate the ramifications of our actions is beyond reason.  It will be very difficult to get out of this commitment without more egg on Uncle Sam's face.

Already the Arab nations that voted for the UN resolution have started denying that the resolution approved any attacks.  The US is going to end up on the wrong side of this no matter the outcome.

That can't be good.

Over and out.