Saturday, March 15, 2003

A NATURE BREAK

We may well be about to begin the first week of active combat in the Third World War. All of Blogistan, as well as the mainstream media is full of points of view on what to do in Iraq and why. Everybody is shouting, and few are listening. The President's mind is made up. Saddam Hussein's mind is made up. Chirac's mind is made up.

Fortunately, every now and again I get a reminder that something exists beyond what we humans are busy doing to each other and, perhaps, something that will survive our own stupidity. I got a reminder of that this week.

Nebraska's location means it lacks a few geographical features I'd have if I designed my ideal place to live: it has no beach; the weather is too damn cold in the winter; there are few trees; and no mountains at all (the "Bohemian Alps" don't count). But, of course, the yin and yang of life means this lack in one area is made up in another. The Cornhusker state sits on the flyways of major bird migrations. Twice a year, especially in spring, we are blessed by the passing-through of two major migrations: the sandhills cranes, which stop over along the Platte River, and wild geese.

You have to go to Grand Island and Kearney (about a hundred miles west of here) to see the cranes. It's worth it, though. There are literally tens of thousands of them, either feeding in fields of stubble near the river or flying along the river seeking new forage (they eat bugs) or places to roost. At sunset they come in by formations, squadrons, fleets, all in massive, sweeping V-formations to land on safe islands in the river to rest for the night. There's nothing like it. If you find yourself driving along Interstate 80 for the next month or so, stop off at Crane Meadows near Grand Island. Take an hour to see the cranes. It will improve your mood tremendously.

Impressive though the cranes are, I am infinitely more inspired by the sight of the geese who pass over Nebraska on their way north this time of year. Imagine it: you are driving along a small rural road under a clear sky. Off on the horizon to the south, you see what appears to be a small whisp of cloud. As you drive, you notice the cloud is growing quickly. And it's heading your way. Unlike most clouds, it's shifting, changing shape quickly. Then you can make out the first individual formations: thirty, fifty, a hundred white specks, twinkling in the sunlight as their wings catch the rays of the sun and scatter them across the prairie. Behind them are more -- two, three, ten, twenty more formations, covering a mile wide. By the time your path and theirs intersect, the sky is covered from horizon to horizon with shifting V shapes of geese. Now you can see that some are darker than others: snow geese fly with Canada geese; Canadas with blue geese; all bound north for their summer lands with one purpose: to feed, to breed, to spend their lives doing what geese do, peacefully, without disturbing anyone else except that part of the natural food chain to which they belong. As one leader tires, another quickly takes its place with no wrangling or fighting: the others in its formation keep follwing. Should a few from one formation fall behind, another formation picks them up and they fly on. You stop your car -- you have to; you can't let this go unobserved. Now you can hear them calling to each other clearly; the unmistakable "honk" between individuals.

Sometimes it happens at night: I'll be in a parking lot and hear their call. I block the light from the sodium vapor lamps that are everywhere, and I can see them; the moonlight reflecting off the white wings of the snow geese among them. If I am very lucky, I'll see their sillhouette against the face of the moon, and I weep for joy.

All too soon they're gone, leaving no trace behind -- except the overwhelming sense of wonder that only nature can evoke.

Friday, March 14, 2003

MORE DRUG-INDUCED DRIVEL
He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a child -- teach him.
He who knows, and knows not that he knows, is asleep -- wake him.
He who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is a fool -- shun him.
He who knows, and knows that he knows, is wise -- follow him.

- Swami Sittinanda Dakhadabey
OVER THE RAINBOW, PART III

Glad to be back after a three-day absence due to my recurring back problems. It's not so much the back itself as it is the drugs they give you to relax the cramps. Boy, do they ever relax you. After a while, I'd rather put up with the discomfort than have my mind, such as it is, completely fogged for three to five days.

On the other hand, drugs do tend to make one think of things in an alternate reality frame of mind. That's how I came up with this idea:

The Nebraska Civic Responsibility Act of 2003

1. No person shall be eligible to receive any benefits paid by the State of Nebraska, unless exempted by paragraph (2) below, unless he or she can show proof at the time of application for benefits and annually on the anniversary of application for benefits thereafter, (a)that he or she has voted in the most recent general election preceding the date of application for the benefit sought, in his or her county of residence in the state of Nebraska, or (b) that he or she has performed at least eight hours of community service within the previous year in his or her county of residence in the State of Nebraska.

2. The following persons are exempted from the provisions of this Act:

a. Minors not having reached the age of 18. The parent or parent of such minor may receive benefits in the name of such minor so long as the parent meets all other criteria for receiving benefits on behalf of the minor child.

b. Persons on active military service in the State of Nebraska; persons serving in the Public Health Service of the United States in the State of Nebraska; persons serving in the Americorps, Peace Corps, or Vista Volunteers in the State of Nebraska;

c. Veterans of the United States Armed Services receiving veterans' benefits from the United States or the State of Nebraska.

d. Residents of other States who move to the State of Nebraska between the time of the most recent General Election in the State of Nebraska and the date they apply for benefits. Such persons must, however, show proof that they have registered to vote in the State of Nebraska prior to applying for benefits.

e. Citizens of other countries with legal residency in the United States. However, citizens of other countries with legal residency in the United States may be required to perform minimum non-military community service to receive state benefits.

f. Those persons over the age of eighteen and deemed mentally incompetent by a court or other competent legal authority.

It's a nice dream.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

JUST WHEN YOU THINK IT CAN'T GET ANY SILLIER

Here's the lead paragraph from CNN:
The cafeteria menus in the three House office buildings changed the name of "french fries" to "freedom fries," a culinary rebuke of France, stemming from anger over the country's refusal to support the U.S. position on Iraq.
Ye gods and little fishes.
Ditto for "french toast," which will be known as "freedom toast."

The name changes were spearheaded by two Republican lawmakers who held a news conference Tuesday to make the name changes official on the menus. [. . .]

"This action today is a small, but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France," said Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, the chairman of the Committee on House Administration.
The Onion is going to go out of business for lack of anything to write about. It can't compete with reality any more.

Monday, March 10, 2003

ALEA JACTA EST

Thus spake Julius Caesar as he crossed the Rubicon. "The die is cast" -- or so it would appear. Bush can't beg, wheedle, or bribe enough votes for a majority on his compromise to his compromise for a resolution for military force in Iraq in the Security Council, much less convince the French that they shouldn't veto any such resolution.

Now Bush has to take that gamble: he's said America will go it alone if the Security Council weenies out on him. It just did. He's been double dog dared to go ahead on his own.

Bush is in the place JFK would have been in had Krushchev not begun removing missiles from Cuba in 1962: put up or shut up. The consequences are every bit as grave, and potentially as devastating, if not as instantaneous. Interestingly enough, though, what started out as the US vs. Iraq has now turned into the US vs. the rest of the world. Saddam doesn't have to do a damn thing now except watch what happens. Even if he is tossed out, he's the big winner because he's been the catalyst for Bush to abandon the world community. I grant you, Bush was predisposed to abandon it anyway, and the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz gang didn't need much incentive. Still, Saddam made it easy for them.

Our whole future is about to be decided in the next seven days. God help us all.
CAPOZZOLA FOR SENATE

We on the Barricades try to keep our noses out of other Barricades' business. We figure folks in other states can handle their own matters pretty well. However, when someone asks for help, we'll jump right in and help 'em out.

There's a grassroots -- er, blogsroots -- campaign to run Jim Capozzola, the publisher of Rittenhouse Review, for Senate in Pennsylvania. Arlen Specter, the ever-delightful Republican incumbent, is up for re-election. I have no idea who the Democrat is who's running against Specter. Capozzola, for his part, has not officially stated whether he would run if nominated, or serve if elected. Nor has he issued a platform, although considering that Rittenhouse Review is pretty liberal, you can bet he'd be on the opposite end of practically everything from Arlen Specter.

But more than a chance to get another point of view on the ballot, this whole initiative has another wrinkle: it can show just how much "ooompf" bloggers can muster in a statewide election. Since I've been blogging (about seven months now) I've occasionally seen the proposition put forth that blogging is the real liberal alternative to right wing talk radio. Maybe -- but the question is, how much mass appeal do we have and can we really swing any power?

So Jim, you have the endorsement from the Barricades, even though most of us in Nebraska can't legally vote for you. It will be interesting -- if you really do run -- to see how many votes you get. Or if you can raise any money from the Blogger Party. I'm all for it. Call on us up here on the Barricades if you want us to do anything.
MORAL QUESTIONS I CAN'T ANSWER

Talk Left tells us that the CIA is holding the nine- and seven- year old sons of al-Qaeda mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and possibly being used as pressure to get him to talk and cooperate. The children are being held in the US by the CIA at the famous "undisclosed location." One hopes they are being treated well. Needless to say, this raises a lot of moral questions.

- Is removing these children from their homes in Pakistan kidnapping?

- What is the morality of holding these children somewhere and telling their father that they are in US custody and their continued well-being depends on his cooperation, even if the US has no intention of harming them?

- Is it worse to threaten to harm two children in order to gain information that may save the lives of thousands, than to save the children and expose thousands to future attacks?

- If we have to harm the children to make Shaikh Mohammed talk, should the people who harmed them be shot so they can't talk?

Be as complete in your answers as you can. Support your answers with quotes from the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, and the writings of Ayn Rand. You have three hours. Please remember that this is a pass/fail exam. You may begin.
YOU CAN'T FIRE SOMEONE FOR FILING WORKERS' COMPENSATION

I try not to get tied up in the technicalities of the law in this space -- it's my haven for ranting and raving about everything else. But it's long been a major irritant of mine that a worker who files a claim for workers' compensation can be fired solely for filing that claim. Nothing protected him under Nebraska law. In this regard, Nebraska was the only state in the region which still had this hangover from the 1890s.

Now the Nebraska Supreme Court has finally brought state law into the 20th century. In Jackson v. Morris Communications Corp., 265 Neb. 423, the NeSCt finally ruled that there is a cause of action by an employee who is terminated for filing a claim under the workers' comp laws. The Court hit the nail on the head nicely:
The Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act was promulgated to serve an important public purpose, and a rule which allows fear of retaliation for the filing of a claim undermines that policy. We are convinced that the unique and beneficent nature of the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act presents a clear mandate of public policy which warrants application of the public policy exception. Thus, we recognize a public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine and allow an action for retaliatory discharge when an employee has been discharged for filing a workers’ compensation claim
Now I have an answer to the many clients who tell me they're afraid of being fired for filing a comp claim. Good job, Supremes!

As a side note, my buddy who thinks I am a GOP spy asked me whether the above ruling would have been possible if Ben Nelson (my favorite Democratic senator from Nebraska) had not been governor and appointed the majority of the current Supreme Court. Probably not. The Republican he ran against in 1990 was the Republican who gave us LB775, the Nebraska Corporate Bribery and Kickback Act, which so pissed off the state that she lost handily. So, to give credit where credit is due, thanks to Ben Nelson for picking a good slate of Supreme Court justices. We'd like to see more of that in you!


Sunday, March 09, 2003

PEASANT'S INSURANCE

That's peasant, not pheasant.

Mark Kleiman, a professor at UCLA and one of the more thoughtful bloggers out there, has renewed my interest in this practice of corporations towards its employees. Here's how it works: the company takes out and pays for a group life insurance policy, known as "corporate owned life insurance" (COLI) on the lives of its employees, from janitors to secretaries to cubicle peasants.

Hence the names "janitors' insurance" or "peasant's insurance."

Isn't that great, you ask, that the company cares for its employees so much as to provide life insurance for its employees? Well, it would be except for one minor detail: the employee never knows his life is insured, and his family never sees penny one of the proceeds if he dies. For example, according to Amitai Etzioni, a professor at George Washington University, and the New York Times, one company's peasant insurance policy paid the company $339,000 -- tax free -- on the employee's death, while his family received nothing. Zero. Zilch. Zip.

To the corporations, it's an economic decision. They insure the life of the lady at the Quick Shop, just as they would insure the Slurpee machine. It's to protect their investment.

But it goes beyond that. In addition to receiving tax free income when the employee is good enough to die while employed, corporations can borrow against that insurance -- again, tax free. They can even deduct the interest on these loans.

One would think that perhaps the income from this practice might be turned around to the good of the employees. Maybe underwrite health insurance for employees, or higher wages? Etzoni writes,
Mark Elam, the acting president of the American Council of Life Insurers, wrote to The Wall Street Journal that corporations use the benefits they gain from the employee's death to help finance health care for retirees. He cited no evidence to this effect.

In fact, in the case of Felipe Tillman [the $339,000 case cited above], as well as many others, The Wall Street Journal reports that death benefits were used to fatten executive compensation
Boys and girls, this may well be a good economic investment. But it's just plain wrong. People are not slurpee machines, to be depreciated and written off as losses. Why the hell isn't the Democratic Party screaming about this?

But what am I saying? This is Nebraska, where the Democrats allow a bill requiring one day off in seven to die in committee without a whimper. Slurpee machines don't get a day off. You can insure a slurpee machine. That tells us where our politicians rate workers.