Monday, February 27, 2006

opposing plan b is part of plan a

Don't think the battle over the morning-after pill is just about abortion. It could be a first step against banning birth control pills too.

People working against allowing Plan B to be offered without a prescription say they do so because it causes "early abortions." Fact is, it works exactly like the regular birth control pills, in preventing implantation and ovulation, as described here. So if they succeed in getting the public to associate their lies to Plan B, the aggressive religious types can then try to oppose regular birth control pills. You will probably end up with states where women can't get an abortion (legally), can't use the morning-after pill, and can't even use the pill.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

sports reflects society

I had resolved to ignore the Winter Olympics. I could claim it is because it is a bunch of rich people playing games in the snow, leavened now with a bunch of young surfer-dudes indulging in the winter equivalent of riding the waves on boogie boards, and because poor countries (and poor people in general) are under-represented, etc. But the honest reason is, it's boring.

But that said, Mike Wise in the Post today flagged a nice story that I hadn't heard. Seems that during a cross-country race, Canadian skier Sara Renner had her pole snap. That's a crippling problem -- but seconds after the pole snapped, a man handed her a new pole, and Renner was off and the Canadian won a silver.

The guy who gave her the pole? The coach of the Norwegian team, Bjornar Hakensmoen. Norway finished fourth in the race -- in other words, his act of kindness cost his team a medal. Asked about that, he said "How can you be proud of a medal if you win when someone else's equipment is not working? You have to help." Nobody in Norway cares -- they think Hakensmoen did the right thing. Renner thanked Hakensmoen, who is a little embarrassed at receiving attention. Classy move.

On the less-classy side is (surprise) Barry Bonds. Seems he is requiring a waiver for one-on-one interviews, that the interviews can be used on Bonds' upcoming show on ESPN. ESPN will track his attempt to catch Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron in home runs. I'm a big baseball fan, but I'll skip that one. I hope Bonds' knee gives out completely and he can never swing a bat again. You think it's cruel to root for an injury? In this case, I disagree. Bonds' steroid use is responsible for him having unprecedented increases in his power and hitting numbers after age 35; without them he'd still trail Willie Mays, let alone be close to catching the (alcohol-fueled) Ruth and the clean-living Aaron.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

you say you want an evolution

Scientists have found new fossils in northern China of an early mammal that swam and burrowed, showing that mammals diversified long ago, even in the days the dinosaurs still ruled the planet.

So, is this evidence for evolution? Or is it another example of the extreme steps that some believe a deceptive and manipulative God is willing to use to see whether or not people really have faith in Him? In other words, a God who is so insecure that He has to test those who worship Him by planting tons of evidence supporting the Theory of Evolution to see if it will weaken belief in the biblical truth that Earth was created in 4004 BC?

counting prisoners

The Census Bureau decided it won't change the practice of counting the country's 1.5 MILLION prisoners as residents of the county where they are incarcerated. They said it would be too expensive to change.

I'm sure the fact that this practice artificially increases the representation in Congress and state assemblies of rural and presumably mostly Republican areas at the expense of urban and presumably mostly Democratic regions never even entered their minds. Care to buy a bridge?

Friday, February 24, 2006

dubai and cheney update -- lobbyists the common theme

Dubai Port Update
Bob Dole's post-politics Viagra-peddling was presumably pleasant (at least financially) for Senator Elizabeth Dole. But Bob's port-pushing activities on behalf of Dubai are creating serious friction for her.

Crude humor aside, this is just one unusually high-profile example of the incestuous relationship between politicians and lobbyists. The Doles aren't the first example of lobbyists literally sleeping with pols -- sometimes spouses of politicians are hired by lobbyists, and sometimes lobbyists sleep with pols and once in a while even become spouses. And if you believe the assertions that lobbyists don't lobby their spouses, well let me just say your naivety and faith in man is quite touching. Please contact me, I have some swampland in Louisiana I'm trying to sell.

Cheney Update

Speaking of lobbyists, in a recent speech Bill Moyers pointed out how the Cheney's-Got-A-Gun fiasco , Bill Moyers in this speech pointed out how the whole sordid incident represented the nexus of power, wealth, lobbyists, politicians, and access in America.
Watching these people work is a study of the inner circle at the top of American politics. The journalist Sidney Blumenthal, writing on, reminds us of the relationship between the Armstrong dynasty and the Bush family and its retainers. Armstrong's father invested in Rove's political consulting firm that managed George W. Bush's election as governor of Texas and as president. Her mother, Anne Armstrong, is a longtime Republican activist and donor. Ronald Reagan appointed her to the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board after her tenure as Ambassador to the United Kingdom under President Ford, whose chief of staff was a young Dick Cheney. Anne Armstrong served on the board of directors of Halliburton that hired Cheney to run the company. Her daughter, Katherine Armstrong, host of the hunting party, was once a lobbyist for the powerful Houston law firm founded by the family of James A. Baker III, who was chief of staff to Reagan, Secretary of State under the first George Bush, and the man designated by the Bush family to make sure the younger Bush was named President in 2000 despite having lost the popular vote. According to Blumenthal, one of her more recent lobbying jobs was with a large construction firm with contracts in Iraq.

It is a Dick Cheney world out there – a world where politicians and lobbyists hunt together, dine together, drink together, play together, pray together and prey together, all the while carving up the world according to their own interests.
Indeed. Meanwhile, here is a harsh British assessment of Cheney's-Got-A-Gun -- US gun culture, the lame nature of the hunt (they chased the farm-raised birds in cars), machismo, deferments, and hobnobbing with the rich and famous.

And a great quote from Sen. Chuck Hagel: "If he'd been in the military, he would have learned gun safety."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

that ports thing

I'm surprised at the tone-deafness about this UAE ports thing. As the Post reported, nobody in the de facto Administration thought that selling management of ports to a Middle Eastern company would be controversial.

Sure, the sale was reviewed by professionals. Sure, Dubai Ports World (DPW) is a reputable, legitimate company that operates other ports. Sure, the United Arab Emirates is a friend of the United States and has cooperated against terrorism. Sure, responsibility for port security will be left, to paraphrase Jon Stewart, to the woefully inadequate people at the Department of Homeland Security.

But it's ironic that an Administration that every so often reminds everybody we're "a nation at war" by saying "Boo" to us all with fearmongering stories of Arab terrorists sailing nuclear bombs into our ports didn't realize that letting New York and other ports be operated by a company owned by an Arab government might strike a nerve.

The fact that the terms of the approval gave the company exceptions to requirements that they hold business documents in the United States, where they would be accessible by subpoena, probably didn't make some of the opponents of the proposal any happier. Bush's case -- he is even threatening to veto a piece of legislation for the first time over this -- isn't made any easier by the statements by former Department of Homeland Security official John King, who said that Al Qaeda could try to intimidate DPW officials into hiring Al Qaeda sympathizers and getting visa, work permits etc for them.

I don't know whether or not that is an exaggeration. In any case, I have a different concern. Do we want to let a company owned by a foreign government -- ANY foreign government -- operate US ports? I don't like the idea of giving another government (British, United Arab Emirate, Brazilian, whatever) potential indirect control over the operations at major US ports like New York and New Orleans.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

the ongoing campaign against the press and whistleblowing

More on how the de facto Bush Administration is doing its damnedest to suppress news reporting -- they say that journalists can be prosecuted for receiving and publishing classified information.

Great quote from the Post story:
"Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, who first disclosed the government filing on his Web site,, said yesterday, "The idea that the government can penalize the receipt of proscribed information, and not just its unauthorized disclosure, is one that characterizes authoritarian societies, not mature democracies."
As Slate columnist Fred Kaplan points out in his article about the prosecution of the AIPAC lobbyists, a standard that just receiving classified information exposes us ALL theoretically to prosecution -- or at least, those of us who read the news.

Really of course the target is journalists and the media, and whistleblowers within the government. Just don't publish or release anything the Bush regime doesn't want published or released and you'll be just fine. Shades of 1984.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

there is no tax-cut fairy

Today the editorialists of the Washington Post got it right: there is no tax-cut fairy. When you cut taxes, you don't raise revenue. And creating a new office at Treasury to use voodoo economics to prove otherwise won't change the basic facts.

Monday, February 20, 2006

happy presidents' day

So today is Presidents' Day -- or is it?

To honor the day (whatever day it is), here are a few random lists about the Presidents of the United States of America.

Presidents who have been impeached, but were not removed from office:
Andrew Johnson
Bill Clinton

Presidents who would have been impeached and removed from office if they hadn't quit:
Richard Nixon

Presidents who should be impeached and removed from office, along with their VP:
George W. Bush

Presidents whose son or grandsons later assumed the presidency:
John Adams (son John Quincy Adams, 24 years later)
William Henry Harrison (grandson Benjamin Harrison, 48 years later)
George H. W. Bush (son George W. Bush, 8 years later)

Most rockingest Presidents:
Bill Clinton
The Dead Kennedys
The Presidents of the United States of America

A few Presidents who caused or were involved in constitutional crises:
Thomas Jefferson
Andrew Jackson
Abraham Lincoln
Woodrow Wilson
Richard Nixon
George W. Bush

Wartime Presidents:
James Monroe (War of 1812)
James Polk (Mexican War)
Abraham Lincoln (Civil War)
William McKinley (Spanish-American War)
Woodrow Wilson (World War I)
Franklin Roosevelt (World War II)
Harry Truman (World War II, Korean War)
Lyndon Johnson/Richard Nixon (Vietnam War)

Presidents who falsely lay claim to the title, "Wartime President":
George W. Bush

Presidents with particularly bad luck, who didn't die in office:
John Adams
Jimmy Carter

Only Presidents not to win an election:
Gerald Ford
George W. Bush

Presidents most likely to clear brush:
Andrew Jackson
Teddy Roosevelt
Ronald Reagan
George W. Bush

Presidents most people have never heard of:
Martin Van Buren
William Harrison
Zachary Taylor
Millard Fillmore
Franklin Pierce
James A. Garfield
Benjamin Harrison
Warren Harding

Five great Presidents:
George Washington
James Monroe
Abraham Lincoln
Franklin Roosevelt
Harry Truman

Presidents who have done the most damage to the United States:
Jefferson Davis (Confederate President)
Richard Nixon
George W. Bush

native americans and wildlife

Interesting little piece in the Washington Post's science column today. University of Utah archaelogists have discovered that Native Americans in an area near the San Francisco Bay hunted several species to local extinction long before Europeans showed up. As Jack Broughton put it, "The general public probably buys into the 'Pocahontas version' that Native Americans were inherently different and more in tune with nature. The evidence says otherwise."

This shouldn't be seen as a slam against American Indians. The noble savage stereotype of them, which the "in tune with nature" bit was a big part of, was frankly demeaning and insulting. It reduced them to the status of minor hunters and gatherers, incidentally making the European conquest of the Americas more "acceptable" since the myth arose that we took over an empty and underutilized hemisphere. It ignored the fact that before Europeans and small pox arrived in the Americas that there were hundreds of different societies, including flourishing agriculture-based civilizations in many areas in North, Central, and South America. Evidence like this study just proves one sad fact: that like humans on other continents over tens of thousands of years, Native Americans were also capable of short-sightedly destroying animal populations and mismanaging their environment.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

bird flu reaches india

The H5N1 avian influenza has now reached India. Over the past couple of weeks, it has popped up in Egypt, Nigeria, Italy, Austria, and other places. It's just a matter of time before it makes its way to the Americas.

Every new place this virus establishes itself in bird populations creates that many more opportunities for the virus to lodge itself in the body of a human (or maybe a pig or some other domestic animal) who also has some other influenza virus, with the possibility of recombining or mutating into a form more transmittable from human to human. Not likely perhaps in more industrialized societies like Austria, but in places like Egypt, India and Nigeria (not to mention China, Indonesia, and Vietnam) where people even in cities are in closer contact with domestic animals, there are many more occasions for such virus-swapping.


administration prefers soothing science fiction to cold science fact

Scientists at a conference lament the de facto Administration's blinkered self-serving view of science. One scientist, Cal Tech president David Baltimore, pegged it when he said he realized the Bushies' theory about the "unitary executive" and its restrictions on government scientists were part and parcel of its campaign to suppress freedom of expression -- or to be more accurate, to suppress speech that does not agree with its political, religious, and business ethic. People may of course speak as much as they like about how good this Administration is, how swimmingly the war in Iraq is going, how all we need to turn around the deficit is more and more tax cuts for the rich, how killing (excuse me, "privatizing") Social Security will make us all able to live happily in retirement, dining on the very tastiest of pet foods while enjoying the brisk temperatures in an (unheated) home in winter.

Expressions about climate change in particular have been quick to catch the wrath of the Administration. And even more troubling is the fact that best-selling author Michael Crichton, whose novel "State of Fear" says that climate change is NOT happening, was a guest of the White House, revealed in Fred Barnes' new hagiography of the de facto President. Barnes said Bush is a "dissenter" on climate change. That's accurate, and it isn't surprising that Bush would prefer to hang out with (bad) science fiction writers than listen to his own government's scientists hair-on-fire pleas for action. Crichton's popularity has undermined efforts to pass laws to cut carbon emissions; hosting him at the White House just adds to his (undeserved) credibility.

Meanwhile, Lake Erie is in the middle of a vary rare event, an ice-free winter...

those cartoons and tolerance

Flemming Rose, the editor of the Danish newspaper that published those cartoons depicting Mohammed that have sparked such a furor, today explains why he decided to commission and run the cartoons.

He discusses freedom of expression and self-censorship as among his motivations. One thing he said strikes me as particularly applicable, not just to questions of Islam but about all religions and the respect they are due.
But what does respect mean? When I visit a mosque, I show my respect by taking off my shoes. I follow the customs, just as I do in a church, synagogue or other holy place. But if a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission. And that is incompatible with a secular democracy.
Well said. And that doesn't just apply to Muslims.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

rummy piles on the media

De facto Secretary of Defense/intelligence cooker/apologist for torturers/Saddam-hand-shaker Donald Rumsfeld yesterday urged the government to respond more quickly in the media to counter the message of terrorists and extremists.

Rumsfeld also accused the US media of aiding and abetting the enemy by reporting on things like the Pentagon's paid propoganda placements in the allegedly free Iraqi press. He also complained about press coverage of things like the torture at Abu Ghraib for hindering our hearts-and-mind campaign in the Muslim world, and said the media "seems to demand perfection from the government but does not apply the same standard to the enemy..."

There is a reason the media criticizes mistakes and abuses by our government -- that's because (in theory) the US government and its agencies work for the American people. We (thru the Supreme Court) elected them and we (for the moment) have a right to know what they are doing and to challenge their mistakes and abuses. The press is (more or less) doing that in criticizing the Administration's mistakes (Katrina response), abuses (torture at Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, unwarranted domestic wiretaps) and malfeasance (faked intel, outing Valerie Plame, and oh so much more).

As for countering the message of terrorists and extremists, well one nifty thing we could try is to quit killing Muslims in large numbers.

I don't think Rumsfeld is stupid. He knows he's being disingeneous by complaining that the media holds the (theoretically) duly-elected American government to a far higher standard than hate-crazed violent theocratic third-world terrorists. But it is another insidious attack on the free media, for which this de facto Administration has shown little tolerance, as demonstrated by its campaign to prosecute not just whistle-blowers but even non-government people who receive classified information. This case involves the prosecution of a couple of lobbyists for Israel, but CLEARLY the intended target for this not-so-subtle signal is the American media.

What's really scary about this Republican pattern of abuse, abrogation of power, and dismissal of opposition is the inherent assumption that they don't have to worry about DEMOCRATS ever being able to use such powers. Guess they feel pretty comfortable that between abuse, intimidation, Fox News, and Diebold voting machines, they needn't worry about Democrats winning the White House or control of either house of Congress.

We live in ugly times.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

worse than cheney, worse than expected

As fun as it is to jump on de facto Vice President Cheney for shooting his hunting companion and trying to hide it (he is allegedly "profoundly affected" by it, but I remain skeptical that anything can touch that oil-soaked heart), it pales compared to the true ongoing tragedy -- climate change.

Scientists now believe the ice sheet on Greenland is melting even quicker than believed, and began as long as 30 years ago. The pace of melting has DOUBLED in the past five years. One climate researcher says sea levels could conceivably rise as much as 16 feet in the next century, which would be devastating.

Dick Cheney once sneered that energy conservation was a "personal virtue." Conserving energy -- specifically, reducing the use of carbon fuels -- could give us the chance to mitigate this slow-motion train wreck. Don't know if it's too late or not, but shouldn't we at least TRY?

Won't happen as long as Big Oil controls the White House.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

was cheney hiding an affair in south texas?

Cheney finally accepts blame for something. I never thought I'd see the day.

But what was REALLY happening on that ranch in south Texas? Rumors begin to appear that the reason for the long delay in notifying anybody was Cheney's effort to hide the fact that he was out hunting with a lady friend, the American Ambassador to Switzerland, Pamela Willeford. Apparently Lynne Cheney doesn't approve of her beloved husband's relationship with said grande dame.

And RJ Eskow at Huffington Post has more on what he is calling Cheney's Chappaquiddick. Two guys out drinking and hunting with two ladies who weren't their wives.

If this rumor had been Clinton or Gore, the Republican Congress would be drawing up impeachment papers already and threatening the Secret Service if they didn't reveal the truth.

Wonder if this is will prove the perfect excuse for Karl Rove to get his boss to convince Dick Cheney to resign?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

is iran next? who knows

I'm not convinced that the de facto Administration is really preparing for war with Iran. Yes, the nuclear thing is troubling but 1) Iran is still years from a bomb and 2) I can't believe even Six-Gun Cheney and Rummy believe we are ready for a war with Iran, still mired ass-deep in Iraq. But nevertheless, people are worrying about it. This article in the Guardian says thousands of Iranians would die in a surprise air strike.

And this Boston Globe article describes the steps Iran is prepared to take to retaliate, including long-range missiles, commando squads, and use of friendly terrorist cells.

There are certainly fewer better ways to foment state-sponsored terrorism (which is better funded and better protected than Al Qaeda therefore more dangerous) than to go off attacking countries willy-nilly...

more questions about cheney

More on the Cheney shooting story. Apparently, nobody was drinking (I feel compelled to pass that on). And all joking aside, a hunting accident is not exactly a crime against the nation. (Condoning torture, shredding the Constitution with assertions of unchecked presidential power, starting wars based on faked intelligence -- THOSE are crimes against the nation.)

But there are curious elements to the Whittington shooting. First, the Secret Service turned away a local deputy on Saturday evening. Does the Secret Service's power extend to the point where they can keep away local law enforcement seeking to investigate an incident like this? Is the de facto Vice President immune to law enforcement? Apparently so... just as the President has unlimited power to spy on us and start wars, according to Darth Cheney.

Second, the way this was revealed -- by Katharine Armstrong, at the Armstrong family's instigation NOT Cheney's, to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times -- also shows who really wears the pants in the White House. The White House press people routinely reveal little mishaps that happen to Bush (bike accidents, near-death experiences with killer pretzels, barfing on a Japanese prime minister's lap (oops, wrong Bush), etc) but its press operation can't get Dick Cheney's permission to say that the Vice President of the United States of America just SHOT somebody? The Post says the Vice President's office acts "autonomously." That's a nice way to say that King Cheney feels beholden to nobody.

And now poor old Whittington has had a heart attack caused by a pellet near his heart!

Monday, February 13, 2006

more on cheney shooting spree cover-up

A Vaguely Logical reader yesterday asked a very good question: Was Dick Cheney drunk when he shot Whittington on the Armstrong Ranch? It's a fair question AND it could explain the 24-hour delay in making the news public... long enough to pump some coffee thru Cheney's veins and get the booze out.

Today de facto White House press toadie Scott McClellan had to defend Darth Cheney and the White House's failure to disclose the incident until the Armstrong family decided it would be impossible to cover up and called a Corpus Christi newspaper to report the shooting.

The White House press was not impressed by McClellan's description of the process by which this famously media-shy, media-manipulative White House decided to let the Armstrong's reveal the news. Maybe that's because they hoped she wouldn't?

A simple rule of thumb. When an elected government official shoots somebody, under any circumstances, that's news.

a monday avian influenza wrap-up

A smattering of avian influenza articles caught my eye over recent days. Recombinomics has two interesting articles -- this one suggesting that there might be more efficient human-to-human transmission in Iraq, and this one describing bird dropping from the sky, also in Iraq. Both very disturbing.

In a possible preview of bad things to come, this Yahoo story describes the shunning a village in Kurdish Iraq has been subjected to after a few cases were reported there.

All of the above links were directly or indirectly found from a blog called The Coming Influenza Pandemic. Lots of links every day to articles about this story from around the world. This blog also has interesting news about the flu.

Finally, a blog called Effect Measure is a public health blog published by professionals in the field -- and understandably, it now includes a LOT about avian influenza. This post from over the weekend describes the rapid geographical spread of H5N1 in birds -- latest if you haven't heard include Cyprus, Italy, Bulgaria, and Nigeria. It closes with this cheerful note:
Because east - west spread will be slower, the timing of this is still open but the speed with which the virus is now moving bodes ill.

The evolution of the H5N1 question as a matter of human health now depends on imponderables. We know too little about the biology of host range, transmission and virulence to be able to predict what this subtype can do, much less what it will do and when. But the world is now set up for a pandemic should the virus's biology permit it. Every community should be thinking hard what the consequences would be and begin to prepare.

The assault on "Big Government" that has taken place in the western democracies in the last three decades has done more than reduce "bureaucracy." It has also dealt a blow to feelings of community solidarity, the status of public service and the infrastructures of public health and the social services. Coping with a serious influenza pandemic will require all of these resources and quite a bit of good luck.

Good luck is in the hands of Fate. The rest is up to us.
Here's hoping our country's GOP-fueled ideological revolt against useful but non-profitable services like public health systems doesn't come back to bite us all in the collective butt.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

cheney shoots man; cover-up?

De facto Vice President Darth Cheney shot a fellow hunter on Saturday, reinforcing the perception that this Administration truly is the The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.

Although I always thought Cheney was the kind of guy who could shoot another person when he wasn't expecting it, this incident was reportedly an accident. Supposedly the guy (an old Texas political hack/millionaire lawyer called Harry Whittington) got in the way. Luckily for him, Cheney's crack medical team (mostly cardialogists I imagine) treated Whittington. But the guy was shot on Saturday, and it wasn't reported until Sunday. What are they trying to hide? What REALLY happened on the Armstrong Ranch?

Enquiring minds want to know.

katrina report -- leadership failure; white house response -- that's yesterday's news

A preview in the Washington Post today of the report on the poor response to Hurricane Katrina, to be released Wednesday. Looks like the report lays much of the blame on senior officials at the White House and Department of Homeland Security, including DHS Secretary Chertoff.

The report, titled "A Failure of Initiative," is apparently surprisingly critical, given that it was prepared by House Republicans. The report hammers DHS and the White House for failing to take the initiative to act quickly as the levee broke in New Orleans.

And the White House's initial response, from White House spokesman Trent Duffy? "The president is less interested in yesterday, and more interested with today and tomorrow so that we can be better prepared for next time."

Typical. For the de facto Bush Administration, there are usually two types of response to criticism. One is character assassination; see the treatment of Ambassador Joe Wilson as a prominent example of this method. But it's hard to assassinate the character of a hurricane, or of a House committee, so here they initially are resorting to another tried-and-true method: "let bygones be bygones."

Duffy's statement is of course absurd, since to be better prepared for today and tomorrow you NEED to closely examine the lessons of yesterday.

Three more years. Let's hope there are no more disasters for them to mismanage, and that their head-in-the-sand attitude to climate change doesn't mean we lose one last chance to mitigate that potentially-greatest-of-all calamities.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

three great tragedies

An update on three of the many tragedies being inflicted upon us or exacerbated by the current de facto Administration...

Scientific Censorship
NASA scientist James Hansen again talks about the censorship being imposed upon government scientists by the Bushie politicos. The topic Bushies most fear is climate change, but as the flap about the young political hack at NASA who had falsified his resume shows, it extends even to scientific theories like the Big Bang. This Administration, kowtowing to its lunatic religious fringe and catering to Big Oil, simply refuses to deal with scientific realities. And unfortunately we could be missing a chance to mitigate the effects of climate change as a result, a price the entire planet will pay.

A second tragedy is the warping of our Constitution and the balance of powers by an overweening Administration that claims the President is all-powerful in times of war, and also insists that we are in a Long War. Specifically they defend the NSA's domestic surveillance program, without judicial warrants. Not everybody likes it -- former House member Bob Barr, an extremely conservative Republican from Georgia, has been one of the most outspoken critics of the NSA spying. He was not warmly greeted at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference Friday. Bob Barr dared to voice the idea that just because the current President is One of Them, conservatives should not automatically assume that anything he says or does is right and righteous. As Barr said, "Do we truly remain a society that believes that . . . every president must abide by the law of this country? I, as a conservative, say yes. I hope you as conservatives say yes."

Barr correctly dismissed the disingeneous allegation this time voiced at the conference by conservative professor and Patriot Act author Viet Dinh that anybody who opposes Bush's unwarranted spying is opposed to national security, saying "That, folks, was a red herring. This debate is very simple: It is a debate about whether or not we will remain a nation subject to and governed by the rule of law or the whim of men."

I was not a fan of Bob Barr when he was in the House. His role in the Clinton sex impeachment was unforgiveable. But I give him full credit for refusing to give this President a pass merely for being a fellow Republican, and for sticking to his insistence that we have not given up our constitutional rights simply because Congress authorized Bush to go into Afghanistan.

Financial Chicanery
A third tragedy of this Administration is the fiscal ruin it is bringing on us by slashing taxes repeatedly on the rich (not to mention the class-war element as it reduces services to the middle class and poor). Well, the Administration has a solution to this problem too. Speaking at the same conference as Bob Barr, de facto Vice-President and pro-torture advocate Darth Cheney discussed the Administration's proposal to create a new Division on Dynamic Analysis in the Department of Treasury. What would this new division do? It would "prove" that Bush's tax cuts have increased revenue and spurred the economy to new heights, and no doubt would further "prove" that even more cuts would bring about even greater prosperity. Maybe it could even take things to the logical conclusion and decide that GIVING money to the rich instead of taxing them at all would make us even MORE well off.

See, the Republican pro-rich-people wing needs something like this, because entities that are not in its control like the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office inconveniently keep on noting the fact that surprise! tax cuts reduce tax revenues and increase our budget deficit.

So to summarize... science and economics are being creatively interpreted to meet the biases and interests of the GOP's religious and rich wings respectively. And the NSA's spying is good for America and anybody opposed to it like Bob Barr is a Bin Laden-worshipping Enemy of America. Although the conservative consensus particularly on that last point is showing signs of weakening...

Three more years. I hope we can survive it.

Friday, February 10, 2006

more on the los angeles plot and nsa spying

So even our intelligence guys think the announcement by de facto President Bush about a thwarted terrorist attack in LA was nothing but politics. Gosh, what a surprise. They said there was "deep disagreement" within intelligence circles about whether the "plot" to attack the Library Tower was anything more than just talk. One guy said the announcement was just designed to deflect attention from criticism over the NSA's warrantless domestic spying.

No less surprising was de facto Vice President/Torturer Extraordinaire Darth Cheney's suggestion yesterday that the GOP make the NSA eavesdropping controversy into a POSITIVE campaign issue. You really gotta hand it to this crew -- when handed lemons, they take the lemons, call them oranges, make something they insist is chardonnay, and sell it as if it were the finest champagne. Following Karl Rove's idea that GOP should use this to show they are Tough on Terror, and the Democrats are therefore Pro-Terrorist. In this case though, with even many conservatives uncomfortable with the unwarranted spying, it may come out more like a bitter ale.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

a plot thwarted?

De facto President Bush today laid out how his administration thwarted a terrorist attack on Los Angeles in 2002.

Let's see how many more thwarted terrorist attacks are revealed by the White House over the next few months, in the run-up to the fall elections.

Hey, I hate to be so cynical about our government but haven't we seen this sort of GOP politicization of terrorism before? Remember how the Republicans used 9/11 against Democrats in the fall 2002 elections, including the shameful painting of Senator Max Cleland (who lost three limbs in Vietnam, the same war Bush dodged thru joining the National Guard and going AWOL) as being soft on terrorism because Cleland supported union rights for Department of Homeland Security employees? And Keith Olbermann's study showing the correlation between political problems for the Bushies and elevating terror alert levels?

(Hey, I can't find that October 12 entry on Olbermann's blog at MSNBC, but I can find the entry for October 11 and October 13. Even when I enter the code for the link from when I blogged about this in October, I just get Olbermann's dormant blog. Cover-up? WTF?)

The fact that the White House didn't alert LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa before making their announcement today is classic. Hey, why tell the opposition (Villaraigosa is a Democrat) what you're doing before making a self-serving and impossible-to-disprove announcement like this?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

what a great story

You know some small-town residents like to make a lot of noise about the corruption and immorality of big-city dwellers. But only a small town like Lonoke, Arkansas, could come up with a scandal THIS juicy. As AP reports, "The mayor was arrested in a corruption probe, the police chief is accused in a drug-making scheme, and the prosecutor says the chief's wife took prisoners from jail to have sex with them -- and more arrests could be coming."

This MUST become a made-for-TV movie. If the chief's wife is really hot, it could be a ratings blockbuster.

the vote

You see the hassles people in places like Haiti go through to vote and you realize how much we take it for granted here.

But that's OK with the ruling class because our taking the vote for granted makes it easier for the vote to be manipulated in the favor of the current GOP dynasty.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

torture is always wrong

Five reasons why torture is always wrong:

1. Torture violates the dignity of the human being.
2. Torture mistreats the vulnerable and violates the demands of justice.
3. Authorizing torture trusts government too much.
4. Torture dehumanizes the torturer.
5. Torture erodes the character of the nation that tortures.

The writer is a theologian; the website is But you don't have to be a Christian to agree with the moral and logic of the case against torture.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

"civil liberty infringement engines"

Turns out that warrantless surveillance of communications between people in the US and overseas has resulted in the emails/phone calls of about 5000 Americans being read or listened to by intelligence analysts. And of those, only 40 or so have required any follow up.

Is such a broad search based on "reasonable" suspicion? Is this worth the violation of privacy and the erosion of civil liberties (not to mention the erosion of checks on an overpowerful executive branch) that such unauthorized searches constitute? Legal and security experts believe that this massive false-negative rate seriously undermines the (feeble, imho) argument of program defenders that this unwarranted domestic surveillance is legal.

De facto vice president Dick Cheney in December told CNN that this program "has saved thousands of lives," offering no further details. The Vice-Torturer and Snoop-in-Chief will have to excuse my skepticism. This de facto Administration has been quick to publicly flaunt its "successes" in the war on terror -- you know, the quick announcement of the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed back in 2003, Ashcroft's ridiculous announcement from Moscow of the arrest of Jose Padilla, the arrest or killing of a couple of dozen of Al Qaeda #3s... is there any reason to expect that if this domestic spying program had really thwarted an attack and saved thousands of lives that it would NOT have been splashed all over the news? Some press conference of Bush looking heroic and determined in front of a backdrop that reads "President Bush -- Saving Your Lives"? Modesty has not been a fault of this gang.

So the program may or may not be effective,and probably IS a violation of the Constitution. What else about it?

NSA IS SAVING ALL THE STUFF THAT'S BEEN INTERCEPTED. Yes, the NSA is apparently NOT deleting anything, and as the post quoted one lawyer of an intelligence official, many are"uncomfortable with the mountain of data they have now begun to accumulate."

DETAILS OF PROGRAMS ARE BEING HIDDEN. Not everybody in the de facto Bush Administration is comfortable with the expansion of this program. (Yes, there are even honest political appointees in this gang, not everybody is John Yoo.) And one senior intelligence official said it is becoming obvious that decisions are being taken in secret and hidden from other parts of the NSA/intelligence community. Cabal, anybody?

THEIR TECHNIQUES ARE INEFFECTIVE. NSA relies on computers to do pattern analysis of phone calls and emails, largely because terrorists long ago quit using easily traced phones. But despite NSA's impressive technical capability, the technology for this is simply not adequate. Jeff Jonas, a scientist who invented a data-mining program being used by the government said these techniques "are so far from reaching the level of accuracy that's necessary that I see them as nothing but civil liberty infringement engines."

So, we have a program that is being kept secret even from key inside officials, that has a false-positive rate of at least 99%, that relies on technology that simply isn't adequate, and is generating scads of information that is being saved even after the Americans in question have been exonerated of any involvement in terrorism.

What's not to like?

Friday, February 03, 2006

long war

CIA head honcho Porter Goss said of the disclosures of secret overseas CIA torture camps, "the damage has been very severe to our capabilities to carry out our mission." He added: "It is my aim and it is my hope that we will witness a grand jury investigation with reporters present being asked to reveal who is leaking this information. I believe the safety of this nation and the people of this country deserves nothing less."

Bullshit. The real reason for wanting this probe is to discourage the press from daring to look into illegal and immoral activities by the Administration. Same with the probe into who revealed details about the NSA domestic spying activities.

Meanwhile, in recent days both de facto President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld have said that we're in a "long war" against terrorism and a "militant ideology." And remember, Bush and his legion of Alberto Gonzales/John Yoo-style Justice Department lawyers say that being in a state of war means the President, and "commander in chief," can do essentially what he wants -- torture people, listen to phone calls domestically without warrants, detain people indefinitely without trial, including American citizens.

So, is this the beginning of a decline into dictatorship? Jacob Weisberg in Slate asked that question recently, wondering if we were an "elective dictatorship" on the make. I wonder the same thing, although considering the current Bush was APPOINTED in 2000 by his Daddy's cronies on the Supreme Court, I dispute the "elective" part of the story...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

honest conservative lawyers

Yes, there ARE conservative lawyers with a conscience and a sense of what is right and wrong. Some of them even served in the de facto Bush Administration, as Newsweek reports. But many have encountered difficulties... for the anti-Bushism crime of intellectual honesty.
These Justice Department lawyers, backed by their intrepid boss Comey, had stood up to the hard-liners, centered in the office of the vice president, who wanted to give the president virtually unlimited powers in the war on terror. Demanding that the White House stop using what they saw as farfetched rationales for riding rough-shod over the law and the Constitution, Goldsmith and the others fought to bring government spying and interrogation methods within the law. They did so at their peril; ostracized, some were denied promotions, while others left for more comfortable climes in private law firms and academia. Some went so far as to line up private lawyers in 2004, anticipating that the president's eavesdropping program would draw scrutiny from Congress, if not prosecutors. These government attorneys did not always succeed, but their efforts went a long way toward vindicating the principle of a nation of laws and not men.
These were the guys who were not pet lawyers, who refused to happily roll over and bark when asked by Bush/Cheney, not guys like David Addington and John Yoo who found the legal justification, no matter how tortured, for the President's illegal desires on torture and surveillance. These weren't civil servants either -- they were political appointee lawyers, just like Addington and Yoo and Alberto "The Torturer" Gonzales.