Archive for January 4th, 2007|Daily archive page

No Time For Adventures

Imagine the President talking about Homelessness on New Years. Not George – Jacques – Jacques Chirac. This from the International Herald Tribune,

Dozens of otherwise well-housed, middle-class French people have been spending nights in tents along the canal in solidarity with the country’s growing number of “sans domicile fixe,” the French euphemism for people living on the street.

The bleak yet determinedly cheerful sleep-in is meant to embarrass the French government into doing something about the problem.

“Each person should have the minimum dignity in a country as rich as this,” said Bleunwenn Manrot, a 28-year-old woman with a newsboy cap on her head and a toothbrush in her hand. Manrot drove more than six hours with friends from her home in Carhaix, Brittany, to spend New Year’s Eve along the canal.

The demonstration has drawn enough media attention over the holidays for President Jacques Chirac to acknowledge it Sunday during his traditional New Year’s address to the nation. He asked the government to work in the coming weeks to “put in place a truly enforceable right to housing” that would give the homeless the legal means to demand a place to live.

Interesting are the statistics. The article goes on to mention the factoid that in France there were a total of about 86,000 “people living without a fixed address” in all of France. This is approximately equal to the total number of homeless in Los Angeles. I call this a factoid because it really doesn’t relay any information. We have to look at the total population in LA or better LA county (approx. 11 million, US Census) and the total French population (approx 61 million, CIA factbook). Thus the homeless rate in France might be around 18% of US levels. But remember, Unlike LA, Paris has almost 20 percent of the French population and probably the highest per capita homelessness in France. If one assumes a population of around 11 million in and around the Ile de France (Institute for Urban Planning and Development of the Paris Ile-De-France Region) than the numbers slide a little closer to the LA score.

Nevertheless, homelessness in America is far worse than in the much more socialist European countries. Both the social pressure and the political response show a far different reaction to homelessness than currently being presented in America.

Kevin Barbieux, the Homeless Guy has an excellent description of what homelessness is like in America right now He has a long post about the Room In The Inn (RITI) shelter program where churches try to make sleeping room available during the winter months.

Last night was Tuesday night, and that always means Cathedral of the Incarnation for Room In The Inn. There just happens to be an article able Cathedral and their RITI program in today’s Tennessean Cathedral is one of the shining jewels of the Room In The Inn (RITI) shelter program. There are some 150 churches providing shelter for the homeless through RITI, each with it’s own gifts and resources. Some are very big churches with thousands of members, and others are very small, with less than 100 churches. So, the experiences at the different churches can vary widely. Sometimes it seems like you’ve entered inauguration ball for the president of the united states, and other times you’ve entered a quiet family dinner. And depending on what kind of person you are, you may have a preference between one or the other. As the bible says, when you do for the poor, you are actually doing for Jesus. So some churches treat you like royalty – yet other churches, not so much. Sometimes the homeless kid around about creating a 5 Star rating system, like triple A has for hotels. The thing that seems to stick out to most homeless people, about what rates a church high on their preferences, is the personal contact they have with the volunteer church members. When the volunteers reach out and treat the homeless like real friends and family, treat them with love and respect, those churches rate higher, regardless of other aspects. A church may serve mediocre food, it may not have shower or laundry facilities, it may not even keep the heat on in the building over night, but with church people surrounding you with love, you can’t go wrong. “How ya feelin’?” “Hows your week been?” “Read any good books lately?” Nothing’s better than being treated like a normal person by people who genuinely care.

He goes on to discuss how the system works from the homeless perspective. Not a terribly appealing prospect. It also details exactly why the homeless always seem to have that annoying cough that some find so disturbing in busses or parks.

For the past several years, support groups have collected and given tents to the homeless in France. (Of course the weather in Europe isn’t even close to most of the winters in the US. Snow has become a rarity and this year in Dortmund there have only been a handful of frost mornings. Yes. It’s that warm.)

Naturally the RITI program is better than nothing. And it is far better than just wishing that the the problem would go away. But even the IDEA of a ‘right to a roof’ would be a neo-con nightmare. Can you picture Bush suggesting something like this? Can you even picture Nancy Pelosi arguing that this might be a good idea?

But Jacques Chirac, the French president did exactly that during his New Years speech. The law is already on the books, but he wants action. He raised homelessness to one of the major campaign issues spurred on by people like this.

No wonder the French didn’t have time for Iraqi adventures. They were too busy trying to solve domestic problems. The Americans found time to invade and rename Freedom Fries. Makes you think doesn’t it.

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Whoa There Little Doggie

In other news, Speigel-Online (German) is reporting that the Segway has been banned in Holland.

The countries police have, until further notice, banned the use of the amazing vehicle on public streets.

The reason: the Segway doesn’t have any brakes. At least none that can be defined as brakes, the Segway is turned and accelerated by the rider shifting weight. In order to brake, you simply lean back. A moped, and that is how the Dutch law classified the Segway, has to have brakes. Until this dilemma is solved and the appropriate regulations changed, Segways, of which there are several hundred in the land of Tulips, may not be used. With the exception of course on private property. Like Amsterdam’s main airport Schiphol where the military police use Segways to patrol the concourses. [my translation]

I’d hate to think how they’d classify a jetpack

He probably wasn’t using it anyway

Congratulations Minnesota!

Today America’s first Muslim will be officially sworn into Congress, the honorable Representative –(still) elect Keith Ellison. But there were – problems, controversies, teacup Kathrinas.

You see that fine gentleman, a man of religion, requested he be sworn in on the book of his faith – which just happens to be the Koran. (Please – feel free to insert appropriate gasps and snarls from the religious right here.) According to the Washington Post, he has also found a rather nice political solution. He won’t be using just any old – um – hotel version, he’ll be using Thomas Jefferson’s personal copy.

Yet the holy book at tomorrow’s ceremony has an unassailably all-American provenance. We’ve learned that the new congressman — in a savvy bit of political symbolism — will hold the personal copy once owned by Thomas Jefferson.

“He wanted to use a Koran that was special,” said Mark Dimunation, chief of the rare book and special collections division at the Library of Congress, who was contacted by the Minnesota Dem early in December. Dimunation, who grew up in Ellison’s 5th District, was happy to help.

This obviously means the end of the world as we know it! At least according to Virgil H. Goode (or bad depending on your point of view) from Virginia . Wonkette is probably a bit iffy on the good/bad thing and are already convinced that Thomas Jefferson hated America. As to the dishonorable Reprehensible Goode, they do an excellent job of summing up his position.

Last month, Rep. Virgil Goode wrote a crazy letter in which he promised to deport the Minnesota-born Ellison before him and his jihadist buddies took over the House and made our children into Arabs who had to pledge allegiance to the French flag and get gay married. Goode’s main concern was that Ellison asked to be sworn in with the Koran.

But perhaps you don’t believe Wonkette? Via TMPMuckracker, a portion of the evil Goode letter.

[…] The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country.[…]

The letter goes even slightly more guano-weird from there. But you should probably read it on your own.

I think the solution found by the honorable Representative –(still) elect Keith Ellison was perfect! An ideal solution to right wing silliness. Minnesota I congratulate you on your excellent choice of representatives. If every solution he comes up with is that creative, you have a winner.

And Jefferson probably doesn’t use that copy very often anymore anyway.

(Hat Tip to BitchPhD who pointed out the TPM letter.)

Those Pesky Terrorists again

The Washington Post headlined yesterday with a another article detailing detainee abuse in Guantanamo.

FBI agents witnessed possible mistreatment of the Koran at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including at least one instance in which an interrogator squatted over Islam’s holy text in an apparent attempt to offend a captive, according to bureau documents released yesterday.

In October 2002, a Marine captain allegedly squatted over a copy of the Koran during intensive questioning of a Muslim prisoner, who was “incensed” by the tactic, according to an FBI agent. A second agent described similar events, but it is unclear from the documents whether it was a separate case.

In another incident that month, interrogators wrapped a bearded prisoner’s head in duct tape “because he would not stop quoting the Koran,” according to an FBI agent, the documents show. The agent, whose account was corroborated by a colleague, said that a civilian contractor laughed about the treatment and was eager to show it off.

Of course the administration is more than willing to point out that there have never been official policies for abusing people. (They obviously don’t count having to work for someone like Rumsfeld as an official policy.) Indeed the administration will often go on to point out that those people detained in Guantanamo at the time these abuses were taking place were all top terrorists, really, really bad guys, a threat to national security and maybe even, golly I don’t know, Busch Garden vistors or panda pimps. Arguably, if they weren’t terrorists going in, the unofficial practices tolerated at Guantanamo and the other ‘black sites’ have probably convinced them it might be a good thing.

But we all know that America only jails terrorists right? Oh – in the heat of the moment some people might have gotten crushed under the wheels treads of justice, but that is over. 9/11 isn’t a theme the president spends as much time hammering home any more, the lynch jusctice is over. Muslims aren’t second class citizens.

There won’t be any repeats of ‘mistakes’ like the case of Khalid el-Masri, the German citizen held for months after being falsely accused of being a terrorist.

No more mistakes? Well – not quite. Speigel online has an English article (and a much more detailed German version) about a Syrian born German citizen held just prior to the New Year.

Majed Shehadeh wanted to pay a surprise visit to his daughter, who had just passed the California bar exam. The 62-year-old German businessman of Syrian descent planned to fly from Frankfurt to Las Vegas, meet his American wife there, and then drive to Bakersfield, California to spend New Year with their American-born daughter.

But when he arrived in Las Vegas last Thursday, instead of being ushered through immigration like thousands of other Germans who enter the US every year, Shehadeh was denied entry. US authorities put him in jail for four days, then sent him back to Frankfurt.

“I gave them my German passport and he looked to see which countries I visited,” Shehadeh told Associated Press Tuesday in a telephone interview from his home in Bavaria. “He found I had stamps that looked like Arabic and asked if they were fake.”

He was interrogated by Border Protection and FBI agents for more than 12 hours at the airport. “Nobody ever informed me why I was being questioned,” he told AP. “All that was ever told to me was this had to do with Washington.” According to Shehadeh’s wife Joanne Mulligan, officials told family members they had denied Shehadeh’s visa waiver, which grants citizens of several countries, including Germany, the right to enter the US without applying for a visa.

This business man, married to an American and with a daughter who just passed the California Bar Exam managed to get caught up in the anti-terror policies put into place to protect you – dear reader. I feel safer just thinking about it. Of course they didn’t actually torture him. The German version of the article does dramatize the fact that the police refused to give him his high blood pressure medication and thus he had nose bleeds and was worried about having a heart attack. I’d be worried about having a heart attack without high blood pressure.

I’m sure you feel much safer knowing that your government is protecting you. That your border officials are putting their butts on the line, sitting in airports everyday, ferreting out those evil-doers who want to sneak into America and cause mayhem. Or was it those who wanted to go to Cuba on vacation? Or … um… wait?! Who are the terrorists again? And whatever happened to that Obama Osama fellow anyway?