Friday, June 30, 2006

partisanship and the war on terror, part 19

Yesterday's House resolution criticizing the New York Times for publishing a story about the de facto Administration checking international financial transactions is another example of the utter cynicism the GOP shows in the war on terror. Once again, as Mad Dog Cheney and George aWol Bush did earlier, Republicans acted as if the Times' "revelation" had disrupted anti-terror activities and meant that terrorists would be bombing the Gateway Arch in St. Louis any day now.

That's a load of crap. The international banking system and governments have monitored large international financial transactions for thirty years looking for criminal and later terror-related shifts of money, as former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke pointed out in the New York Times today. That is why terrorists rely on other methods to move money around.

This wasn't news, just like the news that we've been listening in on terrorists' phone calls was not news and did not surprise any self-respecting terrorist with two-thirds of a brain. As Clarke asks, how stupid does the de facto Administration think we are.

authoritarianism delayed for now

The Supreme Court's ruling yesterday that military tribunals for terrorists weren't legal because the president doesn't have the authority to create such new courts (courts designed NOT to protect the rights of defendants) showed that there are some limits on power. We elected a president*, not a king.

Obviously, the ruling that the Congressional authorization for the de facto Bush administration to go into Afghanistan does NOT equal a carte blanche to do whatever they want just because they claim it's connected to the war on terrorism will bring further into doubt the legality of the NSA's domestic eavesdropping and other Cheney-Bush liberty-eroding, presidential-authority-boosting, constitution-shredding policies.

The 5-3 vote (really 5-4 since new Chief Justice Roberts voted with the Administration in an earlier appeal) also shows how close the Court is to tipping. I pray that the health of John Paul Stephens and the other members of Thursday's majority remains good until January 2009.

*Well, actually we didn't ELECT this president either, but you get my point.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

2004 and other electoral shenanigans

The authors of the book, "Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen?" call for an investigation of that election. I'm not a conspiracy theory fan. I believe Oswald killed JFK, I believe Elvis is dead, I believe the moon landings really happened. But I'm suspicious of the fact that ALL the exit polls were wrong in EXACTLY the same way on that dark election day in November, ALL to the benefit of George W. Bush. Hell, in other countries like Ukraine American and other foreign observers use statistically-valid exit polls to prove an election was fixed. But we just pretend it couldn't happen here and ignore the statistically-valid exit polls, and "adjust" them to fit the "actual" results.

I don't recall where I saw this, maybe in a letter to the editor, but somebody in discussing some OTHER Republican/Bushite abuse recently wrote that ignoring the various small and not-so-small abuses of power is the way a tyranny can become well established.

How do you like the taste of bananas? Fixing elections, one more sign of becoming a banana republic. With nukes.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court made a terrible ruling in validating Tom DeLay's Texas mid-term redistricting scheme. The decision might be legally sound -- the Constitutional mandate can be seen as requiring redistricting no less than once per decade -- but it is awful politically. This could create an open season in any state where control of the governor's office and legislature falls to one party -- the temptation to "pull a DeLay" and redistrict to change the balance of the Congressional delegation of the state will be very powerful. Republicans will be encouraged by DeLay's success, and Democrats infuriated and goaded into retaliation. And be sure big money interests will get involved, too.

This can't be good. We need a better way of drawing Congressional districts, to create more competitive races and force both parties closer to the middle.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

iraq was supposed to be easy and cheap, too

Matt Yglesias reminds us of how the de facto Bush Administration told us about how cheap the war in Iraq would be. Remember, the highest single cost expected was to be the paint job we'd have to apply to our tanks after they were stained by all the rose petals the liberated Iraqis would fling their way.

Well, that was wrong, too. As Yglesias reports, this war looks likely to cost us well over one TRILLION dollars -- more than TWICE the cost of the Vietnam war (in current dollars).

So the bull about how the war would pay for itself with Iraqi oil revenues? How the budget to rebuild Iraq would only be $2 billion? Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz saying total costs could maybe be $50 billion? Complete and utter lies.

just because you don't like what the science says doesn't make it untrue

The difference between tobacco companies denying the data that clearly shows the health risks of smoking or even second-hand smoking (the Surgeon-General's new report says proof of the damage caused by second-hand smoke is crystal clear) and the gas, oil, and auto companies (and the de facto Cheney-Bush Big Oil Administration) denying the scientific data showing the risks AND role of human activities in climate change is simple.

Smoking kills individuals, and people who are physically close to them. Unchecked climate change threatens our very existence as a civilized species.

So gosh, maybe it would be good to try to do something about that, eh?

Monday, June 26, 2006

greenland is melting

This report from Greenland is truly depressing.
By all accounts, the glaciers of Greenland are melting twice as fast as they were five years ago, even as the ice sheets of Antarctica — the world's largest reservoir of fresh water — also are shrinking, researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Kansas reported in February.
Scientists fear the climate, stable for thousands of years, may begin to oscillate wildly. What does that mean? Possibly mass extinctions, crop failures, and human starvation. Nothing so serious that we should do anything to possibly risk putting a dent in Exxon's profits by trying to do SOMETHING to reduce our carbon output. That would be reckless.

give it away give it away give it away now

Fortunes are being given to charities, with uber-investor Warren Buffet deciding to give away most of his $44 billion fortune, largely to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This upsurge in mega-charitable giving comes at a time when, as Ben Stein noted in the Sunday New York Times (behind their firewall, sorry), we have the LOWEST level of taxation on wealthy Americans in over 60 years. Coincidence? I think not.

The head of General Motors back in the 1950s was paid about $600,000, very very good money in the 1950s (many many millions today). But he paid taxes of $450,000! Current CEOs are paid ever more obscenely AND have lower tax rates (not to mention some who even get their companies to pay them extra to cover their taxes!). They SHOULD give fortunes to charity.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

perle tells bush not to go wobbly

Archneocon and sucker at the federal tit Richard Perle asks the question, Why did Bush go wobbly on Iran and back off the imminent-attack rhetoric? The answer? Because Condi Rice, her effete cookie-pushers at the State Department, and those soft-headed Europeans prefer negotiation.

Perle asks why de facto President Bush backed off his statement early on that while he was in charge, "the worst weapons will not fall into the worst hands". Perle is clearly chomping for war against Iran. But there is another country much farther along the nuclear war that Perle conspicuously doesn't mention -- North Korea. Kim Jong Il is demonstrably loonier and more dangerous that Ahmadinejad, but Perle doesn't advocate war against the North Koreans.

Perle tries to flatter Bush into war against Iran, talking about his "soaring speeches" advocating freedom for Iranians and comparing W. to Ronald Reagan.

Perle is right on one thing -- Iran is a nation of young people, many of whom strongly dislike the rule of the mullahs, and would love to see a more liberal, more democratic government in Iran. Supporting those aspirations is fine. And to support them, we should TALK TO IRAN.

Remember in the 1980s there was another regime that featured rule by a self-selected elite, a regime that was also pursuing nuclear weapons illegally, a regime that locked up political opponents. It was South Africa. Back in the 1980s, Perle and the Reagan administration (and Thatcher in Britain) advocated engagement with the apartheid regime as a way to bring about change, rather than isolating the South Africans completely. In hindsight, that policy was helpful.

Iranians want to be closer to the US. Talking to the regime will only strengthen our position there. In contrast, there is nothing we could do to better solidify support for the regime (and for REAL international terrorism, not the anti-occupation insurgency in Iraq that the de facto adminstration calls terrorism) of the mullahs than attack Iran.

thrown a curveball

Interesting report about how the Iraqi defector named Curveball fed us so much bad intelligence. Many of our intelligence analysts KNEW it was bad but, because Curveball was telling us what we (and by "we" I mean the people in the de facto Administration who were pushing for a war against Iraq) wanted to hear.

Again we see the Bush Administration for what it really is. A peculiarly Republican blend of stupid and dishonest, with a dash of zealotry and arrogance.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

the climate change parade

Parade Magazine this weekend runs an article by climate change author Eugene Linden on how climate change is already affecting regular Americans, and how you can help reduce your carbon output by becoming more energy efficient. Would also save you a few bucks.

a farewell to spelling

Longtime TV producer Aaron Spelling died Friday, aged 83. Let us honor Spelling for the thousands of hours of quality television he bestowed upon us.

"Starsky and Hutch," with its penetrating insights into the interplay of ethnic Americans in a gritty urban environment, particularly Huggy Bear, perhaps the most Othello-like tragic figure to ever appear on American television. "Charlie's Angels," which showed that women could be taken seriously as crime-fighters, and weren't just pretty tools to be manipulated by faceless men to their own advantage. "Dynasty," which depicted the difficulties and heartbreaks faced by families who suffered and struggled and sacrificed to put oil in our gas tanks. "Melrose Place," which introduced us to California style apartment architecture. "The Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island," masterpieces of psycho-drama, where regular Americans learned Important Lessons about their Daily Lives. And finally, "Beverly Hills 90210," which introduced America to Tori Spelling, daughter of Aaron, whose rare beauty is only exceeded by her remarkable thespian talents.

Oh well, at least he never invaded Iraq.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

world cup over for the usa

Italy did its best to help the US, beating the Czechs 2-1. But two egregious defensive errors -- one of them compounded by a terrible decision by the ref to call a penalty -- bounced the US out of the World Cup, losing 2-1 to Ghana.

Not as bad as '98, but... I know it was a very difficult group (Ghana the toughest of the qualifying African teams), but I'd hoped the US could sneak through.

they don't care about your personal information

Because if corporations DID care, they would do things like encrypt data on company laptops, which are at a much higher risk of being stolen than a desktop or mainframe computer. Like that one from the Veteran's Administration...

saturday night's all right for fighting...

... and apparently many bozos like to take video of their fights and put it on the internet. That's gross.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

living is (un)easy by the big lake

Gosh, why wouldn't the good people of southern Florida not trust in the big hill surrounding Lake Okeechobee that passes for a flood control system? Surely it couldn't be undermined by rising waters and heavy rain, could it?

Advice for the people downstream and near from the big lake -- don't stay at home if a hurricane passes your way. Because as the Post noted, 'Portions of the dike "bear a striking resemblance to Swiss cheese," according to the engineers' report, which extensively cites Army Corps of Engineers documents.'

The same engineers' reports puts the chances of a failure of the dike at 1 in 6 every year! Yikes. Sooner or later, that '1' will come up. And will that return southern Florida and the Everglades to their original form?

polygraph -- not a science

Different federal agencies administer their own polygraph tests for security clearances, and come up with different conclusions for the same people. Further proof that polygraphs are BS. Even an expert polygraph administrator and proponent admits 'that interpreting polygraphs is more "art than science" and that examiners at different agencies range from "Rembrandts" to "finger-painters."'

He also said that after the Aldrich Ames scandal (remember him? A drunk CIA agent who gave Russians secrets, and passed several polygraphs?) the CIA testers have to browbeat people and brag now about how they "catch" people that other testers don't. I'll bet a lot of those "catches" are false positives.

Monday, June 19, 2006

data mining not all that useful

So say the experts -- unless you have a clue in the first place, data mining all of our phone and internet records for clues about terrorists is ineffective. And of course, is a gross violation of our privacy. For no good reason. Typical authoritarian Bush policy. And no doubt the false positives (a good example of a false positive, google Condoleeza Rice & Al Qaeda and it generates millions of hits but clearly she isn't associated with the terrorist organization) will create unnecessary work for anti-terror types AND potentially screw up some innocent peoples' lives.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

usa 1, italy 1, referee irregularities 2

I've reflected a bit now on the USA-Italy tie in the World Cup. The American team was 1000% more effective than in the Czech debacle (a result that looks even worse given how handily Ghana handled the Czechs on Saturday), actually attacked Italian defenders, played physical defense, and generally acted as if they had a pulse. My main quibble with Bruce Arena is that, with the US down to nine players late and tiring, I would have taken off Brian McBride (a fine player and deserving starter, don't get me wrong) for Eddie Johnson. Johnson's fresh legs would have made him look even quicker during the last 15 minutes of the game and Johnson is the sort of player who might, just might, steal a goal on a solo effort.

And after two games, the US is in a position to get through to the second round, though they'll need help.

But the referee on Saturday, wow. Jorge Larrionda gave a red card to an Italian defender who threw an elbow into McBride's nose in the first half. It was a pretty bad elbow (McBride was bleeding), and a fair call. I was thinking, hey for once refs aren't screwing with the US team in a game with a major power like Italy. But the red cards that Larrionda dropped on Mastroeni and Pope were simply TERRIBLE calls. Mastroeni deserved a yellow for his late tackle. Pope's foul was awfully soft for a yellow, let alone for a second yellow which sent him off.

Larrionda was suspended before the 2002 World Cup right for unspecified irregularities. Italy is in the middle of a major bribery scandal involving referees. Germany also has a refereeing scandal. Can I suggest to FIFA that it reveal what irregularities were present that scratched Larrionda from the 2002 World Cup, and how Larrionda's character was redeemed sufficiently for him to officiate in the 2006 World Cup? Because his officiating simply stunk. The two US red cards were appalling (but disallowing Beasley's goal for McBride's offside was unfortunately the right call) and may have cost the US the chance to win and draw even with Italy, Czech, and Ghana in the group.

where is our victory in afghanistan?

Remember Afghanistan? Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban (unlike Iraq) sheltering camps full of terrorists that planned and conducted attacks against the USA? I strongly supported de facto President Bush's decision to go into Afghanistan after 9/11, and we took Kabul pretty quickly.

So it may be disconcerting that, nearly five years later, we have to launch airstrikes and counteroffensives because the Taliban isn't quite defeated yet. Oh, and Bin Laden? Still at large.

Do ya think that the fact that we didn't send adequate troops into Afghanistan because the Bushies were already planning their war of choice against Iraq might have been a factor? If we hadn't begun to focus on Iraq we could have had the extra troops to capture Bin Laden at Tora Bora and to have completed the rout of the Taliban. Instead, we are actually conducting more air strikes in Afghanistan nowadays than in Iraq.

Victory in Afghanistan? Too early to tell.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

disasterous disaster planning

According to the Department of Homeland Security, only ten states have adequate disaster plans: Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont.

According to DHS's Nationwide Plan Review, "The current status of plans and planning gives grounds for significant national concern." Not very reassuring.

Sure, disaster planning is hard. Some disasters are pretty easy to foresee and should be able to be planned for, and STILL aren't. The most obvious example of failed planning was demonstrated by the poor federal, state, and local response to the Katrina-induced flooding in New Orleans, a very predictable scenario (DHS Secretary Chertoff's absurd, lying assertion that nobody foresaw such an event notwithstanding).

I see a couple of problems with disaster planning. One is that there is no profit in it, and in a country where "tax" is a four-letter word, resources are scarce, and it's natural (if short-sighted and lazy) to want to spend what you have on immediate needs than on preparing for something that may never happen. Another problem is the patchwork of local government in the US. Federalism has a lot of merits, but when a disaster strikes and you have federal, state, county, and city/township level governments trying to respond (or trying to plan), things get complicated.

But these are factors to deal with NOT excuses for inadequate planning. The first obligation of government is to protect the people from physical harm, whether at the hands of an invading army, criminals, or natural disaster.

everybody's a winner?

Robinson secondary (junior and senior) high school in northern Virginia's Fairfax County had dozens of "valedictorians" at its recent graduation. The principal said it's because in a school like Robinson (which even has its own Wikipedia entry) with nearly 700 graduating seniors, it would be unfair to limit recognition to one valedictorian. Not to pick only on Robinson -- other schools do the same in the region, although practice varies by school district.

Lame. One valedictorian is enough. Having a 4.0+ GPA isn't a terribly miraculous event in this day of grade inflation and bonuses to the GPA as reward/incentive for taking advanced placement classes. You CAN recognize other good students -- that's called the honor roll.

Does each and every valedictorian at Robinson deliver a valedictory address? THAT would make for a marathon graduation ceremony.

Some schools in the region have gone the other direction -- eliminating the valedictorian and salutorian, to relieve the (no doubt college-admission induced) pressure and competition among students for those slots. A bit lame, but better to cancel the race than to make it meaningless by overly-generous use of the V-word.

Friday, June 16, 2006

knock knock, no longer necessary

Perhaps the first case where O'Connor's absence definitely changed a Supreme Court decision. By 5-4 (with Roberts and Alito on the winning side), the Supremes said cops can use evidence obtained in searches following illegal "no-knock" entries. So, with the stroke of a pen (keyboard?), there goes one more constitutional protection for the citizen against the state, compliments of the conservative Republican Party.

I'm sure this won't bother you because you won't ever do anything illegal, right? Or never even be thought to have done anything illegal? Nor anybody in your family? No theft, drug cartels, right? No incorrect political thoughts or suspicious lack of support for the regime, right? Those aren't crimes, you say? Maybe not for now. We've all been warned by Ashcroft and Ari Fleischer and others in the de facto Bush Administration that we have to be very careful how we think and act lest we lend aid and comfort to the enemy...

Our benevolent leaders have already demonstrated a willingness to lock up even American citizens for a long time without a trial just on suspicions. So don't worry your little head about it, and go back to watching "American Idol" and reruns of "CSI", but be careful about web sites you visit and people you telephone lest it provoke a visit to your home by cops that may not even feel the need to knock any more.

This is not a "conservative" judicial decision, but an "authoritarian" one. This is a decision that overturns centuries of common-law precedent. This is a radical decision, and a clear case of judicial activism. But authoritarian Republicans are fine with judicial activism when it moves the law the way THEY want it to go. Libertarian Republicans, big-business Republicans, this is the cohort you have allied with. Congratulations.
Tom Toles drew it better than I could put it.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

emergency room emergency

From the Post:
Emergency medical care in the United States is on the verge of collapse, with the nation's declining number of emergency rooms dangerously overcrowded and often unable to provide the expertise needed to treat seriously ill people in a safe and efficient manner.
That's the grim conclusion of three reports released yesterday by the Institute of Medicine, the product of an extensive two-year look at emergency care.
So we can't expect much help in the event of a big terrorist attack or worse yet, a pandemic flu epidemic. That's because ERs are expensive and less profitable than boob jobs and prescribing drugs for depression and restless leg syndrome. Unlike toys, restaurants, and cable TV, medical care does not lend itself well to being a purely for-profit sector.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

good news?

Peter Baker in the Post today talks about the spate of "good news"for the White House recently. Let's look at that.
In a White House that had virtually forgotten what good news looks like, the past few weeks have been refreshing. A Republican won a much-watched special congressional election.(1) President Bush recruited a Wall Street heavy hitter as Treasury secretary.(2) U.S. forces killed the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.(3) And now the architect of the Bush presidency has avoided criminal charges.(4)
(1) Yep, the GOP held Duke Cunningham's seat in San Diego. Despite the national Republican Party pouring $5 million into this special election, the GOP candidate won by an unimpressive 49%-45% margin in a heavily Republican district. Yes, it is MUCH better news than losing the seat would have been. But it's hardly an all-clear signal.

(2) Silk from a sow's ear. Why did de facto President Bush even NEED a new Treasury Secretary? Because of increasing dissatisfaction with the state of the economy and the utter lack of presence of the current Treasury chief (name him, I dare you) meant Bush really had to try hard for a big "name", which Paulson is. This was a defensive move. Not a bad one, but purely defensive, and one made out of political weakness.

(3) Killing Zarqawi IS good news. That was one guy who deserved his fate. But it happened three years after Bush declared "Mission Accomplished". It happened after over 2500 US deaths and who knows how many Iraqi deaths. It happened in a country still wracked by violence, instability, sectarian killing, and uncertainty. It happened in a country which did NOT in fact have weapons of mass destruction. Basically, killing Zarqawi in today's Iraq situation is good news, the way having your second basemen hit two home runs in game six of the world series which you lost 10-2 is good news. Good, but not the whole picture.

(4) Rove isn't indicted. Gosh, if they are celebrating the lack of criminal charges for Karl Rove as GOOD NEWS, why stop there? Every day the White House could issue a press release announcing that nobody was indicted for revealing the name of a CIA agent, or for illegal spying, or for torture, or for shoplifting, or for snorting cocaine, or for selling nuclear weapons to Quebec. Good news, guaranteed.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

being anti-torture is a no-brainer

What do megachurch megamillionaire pastor Rick Warren, renowned Holocaust survivor and Nobel-Prize winning writer Elie Wiesel, and Cardinal McCarrick have in common? They are joining with other religious leaders in urging the de facto Bush Administration to "abolish torture now -- without exceptions." This is as part of a new organization called the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

Good for them. I agree with their statement, which says in part, "Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of our nation. What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed?"

But it is pathetic and sickening that the leaders of the United States should even have to be told that torture is immoral.

Monday, June 12, 2006

czech 3, usa 0

Wow, was that a tough game to watch. Coupled with Italy's 2-0 win over Ghana, the US team pretty much has to beat Italy and Ghana to get through to the World Cup's second round.

The US team CAN beat Italy. But not if they play like they did against the Czechs. DaMarcus Beasley in particular puzzles me -- he doesn't look like the same player that had such a fantastic tournament in 2002.

coulter news. stolen election not news.

Howie Kurtz lavishes attention on Ann Coulter, asking whether it is time for the media to stop lavishing attention on Ann Coulter. One guy ("Today" executive producer Jim Bell) said they reported on her because "She made news."

But did she really? I mean, Coulter (massively over-rated as a beauty) writing and saying hateful, libelous things about liberals isn't really news, that's like saying George W. Bush went to Crawford to clear brush. It's old news and really not worthy of attention. Coulter is just a nasty hag who has learned that when she rings the bell by lying and saying outrageous things about Democrats and foreigners, that the media salivates.

But the mainstream media is all over Coulter's new book and her vile accusations about 9/11 widows. Meanwhile, they completely ignored Robert Kennedy Jr's long, detailed exposition in Rolling Stone about the stealing of the election in Ohio in 2004. As a commentary in the Seattle Post Intelligencer noted, the main stream media decided it wasn't "news". But Coulter's screeds are. I see.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

revealing classified information

Robert Kaiser, an editor of the Washington Post today asks the question, should the Post publish classified information? I think the answer is an overwhelmingly clear "it depends." It depends on whether publishing said information will endanger lives. It depends on whether the information will reveal illegal activities by the Government. It depends whether the information is classified legitimately, or if it is classified only because revealing it would embarrass the government, which is NOT a legal reason to classify something.

Unsurprisingly, Kaiser makes the case for publication. He points out correctly that "Secrecy and security are not the same." He lists many examples of lies and illegal acts just by the current de facto administration that we would never have known about if reporters hadn't obtained and written about classified information. The fact that our intelligence agencies really didn't know whether Iraq had WMD (they DIDN'T). Torture and abuse by US personnel at Abu Ghraib. Secret prisons. NSA eavesdropping on thousands of Americans, and monitoring who we make phone calls to.

None of this endangered anybody, except politically. Terrorists already knew we were monitoring THEIR phone calls. Yes, the media should continue to report on classified information. No, that stupid 1917 law shouldn't be interpreted in a way that the RECIPIENT of classified information is subject to prosecution.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

england vs. paraguay, sweden vs. trinidad

Watched my first game of the World Cup today, a rather uninspired England win over Paraguay. I thought Joe Cole looked good intermittently, but really it seemed the early goal (an own goal off a Beckham free kick) took pressure off England in a bad way. Paraguay had a couple of good shots from Valdez but didn't threaten much.

The ref whistled the back-up Paraguay goalie Bobadilla for holding the ball too long -- something you don't see much. Main thing for England -- to play poorly and still get the win. This and a win over Trinidad should see them reach the second round.

The Sweden-Trinidad & Tobago game was much better. Sweden were clearly the better team, but they couldn't get the ball in the net. Goalie Shaka Hislop made several great saves, the Trinidadian defenders played tough, and Trinidad even had a chance or two at the other end even after defender Avery John was (unfairly) sent off. The result was a draw, but it was clearly a victory for Trinidad, playing in their first World Cup.

end of the american dream?

Observer columnist Paul Harris writes that the gap between the rich and the rest of us in the USA is widening rapidly -- and it is harder and harder to bridge the gap.

Conservative Republicans scream "class warfare" whenever somebody proposes anything to help the poor at the expense of the rich. It's curious how the party that is full of people who refuse to believe the evidence supporting evolution in nature is so anxious to embrace social Darwinism in human society with their "let-them-eat-cake" attitude towards the disadvantaged and unlucky. Because luck is a big part of being rich. Luck in who your parents are. Luck in having a good idea at exactly the right time. Getting the big break. No, getting rich in business isn't just luck, ability certainly factors in. But luck is a huge factor, folks.

Nobody's talking about 90% marginal tax rates or anything like that. But we could at least stop the Insane Clown Posse I mean de facto Bush Administration policy of giving more and more tax breaks to the rich. The defeat of the estate tax repeal effort last week in the Senate was good, but the rich are still way, way ahead. As uber-investor and well-known rich man Warren Buffet said, "If class warfare is being waged in America, my class is clearly winning."

an exciting opportunity to rise high in the name of science

Always wanted to climb up in the world? Ambitious about science? Here's your chance. University College London researchers want volunteers to go to a clinic at a Mount Everest base camp (17,300 feet above sea level) so they can study how the body reacts when oxygen is scarce.

All expenses paid vacation to rural Nepal, a no-lose proposition!

stop the topless cop!

In Arkansas, a female sheriff's deputy was fired and faces charges for going topless at a campground. Loud and belligerent, I expect from cops, but not that!

Friday, June 09, 2006

terrorist plot in suburban maryland

Terrorism plot unveiled, no accomplices arrested.

You wouldn't expect that headline, would you? You would figure if a guy was arrested for building a bomb in a home owned by a friend, a bomb he intended to use against a public building to advance his religious and political cause, the investigators might want to arrest the friend, too? And they'd arrest anybody else the guy was associated with, right? As they have done in many cases here in the USA.

If they'd been Middle Eastern types with beards, this is exactly what would have happened. But they weren't, judging from their names. The one guy (Robert Weiler) planned to bomb an abortion clinic. I know Weiler's planned bombing would probably not have killed more than a handful of people. But somehow, I suspect the anti-terror forces would swooping down on this much more aggressively if the guy's name had been Ahmed.

good riddance

Oh yeah, al-Zarqawi's dead. Good riddance, nothing good to say about him. But Bush was right not to be too celebratory. He was one thug, not the sole cause of the insurgency in Iraq. The insurgency will end when the root causes end, or if a security apparatus becomes powerful enough to defeat it. Of course, in a place like Iraq, that would mean something resembling a police state.

You know, like Saddam's.

don't bring out your dead

Interesting story, if a bit morbid, about what to do with all the bodies should a true flu pandemic break out. Unsurprisingly, mortuaries aren't equipped to handle thousands of deaths at the same time. One person compared a bad pandemic (US deaths near 2 million) as the equivalent of dropping nuclear bombs on 20 cities. On one hand, there's no radiation with flue. On the other hand, radiation isn't contagious!

If I should buy the (chicken) farm in a flu pandemic, you can burn my body or bury it or whatever's easiest, I don't/won't care!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

a grimsley discovery

Could this be the answer to my question about why baseball writers acted as if the steroid era were over? That it's because we are now in the human growth hormone era?

Aging relief pitcher Jason Grimsley has admitted to using HGH, steroids, greenies, the whole works. Think he's unique? Nah. I mean, he wasn't the only guy in the locker room drinking the "leaded" (with amphetamines) coffee, was he?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

there he goes again

Once again, Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell is doing his damndest to suppress the vote in Ohio, this time thru draconian new rules on voter registration that practically criminalizes routine efforts to register new voters. As an Ohio Dem Party spokesman Brian Rothenberg put it, "It appears that Ken Blackwell finally figured out how to deal with long lines on Election Day. He's just trying to outright deny people the right to vote now."

Just like in 2004. In the words of Ronald Reagan, Blackwell "there you go again."

Oh, an added element -- Blackwell is running for Governor.

So remember -- Republicans really don't want people to vote. And they will take great steps to prevent those demographically suspected of being Democrats from voting too easily.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

four things to wonder about

#1 -- Gay Marriage Debate
The made-for-TV, demogogic anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment debate is rejoined in the Senate. Remember, if two gays get married, it will have NO EFFECT on your marriage (unless you were engaged to one of them, I guess). The wonder here is how long the national Republican party assumes it can play the theocratic part of their base for fools like this.

#2 -- Estate Tax Repeal
A better thing to be outraged about is the Paris Hilton/Wal-Mart Relief Act, aka GOP efforts to kill the estate tax. Remember, as you consider your views on this and before you fall for the line of crap the Republicans are feeding us on this. Fewer than 1% of estates pay ANY TAXES at all. The first $4 MILLION left by a couple is completely EXEMPT. NO family farm has EVER been sold to pay estate taxes. Even if you ARE lucky enough to have a rich relative with a family business die and leave it to you, you would have FOURTEEN YEARS to pay the tax. And finally, the billions in lost revenue ($776 billion over a decade) will have to come out of OUR pockets. Do you wonder why the GOP wants to give Paris Hilton and the Waltons such a huge a tax break on unearned inheritances? The answer -- because THAT is their real base. The only thing the de facto Bush Administration is good at is giving the rich tax breaks.

#3 -- Holocaust
Richard Cohen wonders why God didn't do more to stop the Holocaust, and finds himself incapable of reconciling the evil of the Holocaust with the existence of a compassionate, caring God...

#4 -- Whitewashing Baseball on Steroids
Jeff Pearlman at Slate wonders the same thing as me: why do sportswriters act and write as if the steroid era in baseball is over? Pearlman notes performances (and physiques) by Albert Pujols, Jason Giambi, and Roger Clemens.

I've always assumed Pujols and Clemens were using steroids. Differences between Pujols and Barry Bonds -- Pujols started steroids before hitting the bigs, so we can't make the comparisons between the bulked-up Pujols and his leaner younger version because there never WAS a leaner version. And Pujols is a much, much nicer person so nobody is willing (yet) to do a "gotcha" on him.

Roger Clemens is doing the pitcher equivalent of what Bonds has done, i.e. performing at an incredibly high level far beyond what most 40-plus players can do. And just LOOK at Clemens' body -- he is every bit the steroid taker as Bonds, surely. And Giambi is bigger now (after being smaller in 2005) so why not assume he's back on the 'roids? I do.

Monday, June 05, 2006

2004 was fixed, too

Another account of how the 2004 election was manipulated -- stolen -- by the GOP. The latest Rolling Stone has a long article by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr about the theft of the 2004 election.

It focuses on Ohio, with its intimidation of black voters, arbitrary decisions by Secretary of State for Ohio Ken Blackwell, a hard-core conservative who had no problem interpreting laws creatively to disenfranchise Democratic voters, highly irregular patterns in rural states where obscure Democratic judicial candidates got MORE votes than John Kerry, precincts in GOP areas with 98% turnout, precincts in Democratic strongholds with 7% turnouts, long lines in Democratic precincts due to a lack of voting machines, adequate machines in GOP neighborhoods...

And a brief discussion of the mathematical unlikelihood of the huge differences between the exit polls and the reported results in a dozen states, including Ohio (probably really won by Kerry), Florida (ditto), Nevada (ditto), and New Mexico (ditto).

Read it and remember it.

It makes me sick.

and now for some good news?

Today the deputy assistant to the president and director of the White House's Office of Strategic Initiatives, Peter Wehner, had an op-ed in the Washington Post which pointed out all the good news going on. Let's look at Wehner's assertions, shall we? My comments are indented and italicized, the rest is Wehner's.

And Now For Some Good News
As if the craven mainstream media weren't enough in the GOP's pocket already.
By now Americans know the litany: The nation is engaged in a difficult and costly war in Iraq; Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon; gas prices are high; the costs of reconstructing the Gulf Coast region are huge; illegal immigration is a major problem -- and more.
And more -- that phrase covers multitudes. Here are a couple of other things Wehner forgot. Republican corruption in Congress. Gay-bashing by the GOP for short-term political gain. Plamegate (you know, the outing of a loyal employee by a political hack for partisan gain).
These issues are real and pressing. But they aren't the whole story -- and they ought not color the lens through which we see all other events. We hear a great deal about the problems we face. We hear hardly anything about the encouraging developments. Off-key as it may sound in the current environment, a strong case can be made that in a number of areas there are positive trends and considerable progress. Perhaps the place to begin is with an empirical assessment of where we are.
An empirical assessment from a White House political operative is not likely to be "empirical" to put it mildly. And it isn't.
Social Indicators: We are witnessing a remarkable cultural renewal in America. Violent crime rates remain at the lowest levels in the history of the Bureau of Justice Statistics' survey (which started in 1973). We are experiencing the sharpest decline in teen crime in modern history. Property crimes are near the lowest levels in the history of the federal survey. Welfare caseloads have declined almost 60 percent since 1996. Both the abortion rate and ratio are at the lowest levels we have seen in the 30-year period these data have been tracked. African American and Hispanic fourth-graders posted the highest reading and math scores in the history of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test. The use of illegal drugs by teens has dropped 19 percent since 2001, while the use of hallucinogens such as LSD and ecstasy has declined by more than half.
Then why all the conservative bitching and moaning about how the country is going to hell on sex and drugs? Complain about this crap to energize the conservative voter in November, then claim victory for improvements in the op-ed pages of the Washington Post.
The teen birth rate has fallen for a dozen consecutive years.
But the Administration is trying to undo that by making access to contraceptives more difficult for kids, including Plan B. It has been SEX EDUCATION and CONTRACEPTIVES that have reduced pregnancy rates, NOT calls for abstinence.
The percentage of high school students who reported having had sex is significantly lower than in the early 1990s. The divorce rate has fallen steadily for over a decade. And teen smoking has dropped by almost 50 percent since the late '90s.

There are areas of concern, to be sure. Births to unmarried women are at an all-time high,
This is wrong. Births to unmarried women haven't gone up. Births to MARRIED women have DECLINED dramatically over the past 40 years, which means the percentage of births to unmarried women is up. But not in absolute numbers.
and in many respects our popular culture remains a cesspool.
Gosh, this isn't a very positive thing to say. Our culture is a cesspool? Who do we blame that on? The party that holds the White House and Congress?
But context is important. Between 1960 and the mid-'90s virtually every social indicator got worse -- and in many cases staggeringly worse.
Empty assertion with no proof, simply wrong.
Then things began to turn around, almost as if a cultural virus created its own antibodies.
The Economy : The American economy is the strongest in the world and growing faster than that of any other major industrialized country. It grew at an annual rate of 5.3 percent in the first quarter -- the fastest growth in 2 1/2 years. It has added more than 5.3 million jobs since the summer of 2003,
Having lost however million jobs in the first 2 years of Bush' administration -- they are cherry picking their starting point to make the data look better.
and employment is near an all-time high. The unemployment rate (4.6 percent) is well below the average for each of the past four decades.
Couple of comments. Household income is stagnant for all but the top 10% or so. This DESPITE more people working. Many more women work out of economic necessity, too.

Mortgage rates remain near historical lows, homeownership remains near a record high, and sales of new and existing homes reached record levels in 2005.
True, just hope it isn't an asset bubble.
Real disposable personal income has risen almost 13 percent since President Bush took office;
But disparities in income distribution have increased dramatically, much of that disposable income rise is for the top 20% of the income earners.
and core inflation rose just 2.3 percent over the past 12 months. The Dow Jones industrial average has risen from under 7300 in 2002 to above 11,000 for most of this year.
Again picking a low point for best comparison.
Tax revenues are at an all-time high -- and so is total household net worth.
Umm, this isn't true, unless you count ALL taxes, including state and local taxes, in order to give the misleading impression that tax cuts increase revenue. This simply is not true.
National Security : Perhaps no nation has ever been as dominant as the United States is today
This is true, and raises the troubling question of, why? Why do we need to spend as much on military spending as the ENTIRE REST OF THE WORLD COMBINED??? Why do we need a military that is ready to fight the Soviet Union when the USSR is no more? Can't we use some of this money elsewhere? On healthcare say, or to develop alternative energies to free us from reliance on foreign oil AND to fight climate change?
-- and we are using our military power to promote great purposes.
That of course is strictly a judgement question. Not sure the unprovoked war against Iraq qualifies as a "great purpose."
As a reference point, it's worth recalling that the 1930s and early-'40s were regarded by many as the twilight of freedom. Democratic societies were threatened both internally (by a depression) and externally (by Nazism and fascism). There were only a dozen or so democracies on the planet.
Today we are witnessing one of the swiftest advances of freedom in history. In the past four years more than 110 million people have joined the ranks of the free -- and for the first time freedom is taking root in the Middle East. Once ruled by cruel dictatorships, the people of Afghanistan and Iraq are now governed by constitutions and are participating in national elections. The governments of the two countries once provided safe haven to terrorists; now they are engaged in a mortal struggle against them. This struggle is longer and harder than any of us would wish, but by any standard or precedent of history, Afghanistan and Iraq have made remarkable political progress.
First, the Iraq statement is a lie -- it didn't shelter terrorists, it wasn't involved with Al Qaeda. Second, the success of democracy in those countries is still very very much in doubt, to put it mildly. Wishing does NOT make it so.
Kuwait's parliament has granted full political rights to women. Arab intellectuals are pushing for a rapid acceleration of democratic reform. After almost 30 years, Syrian troops left Lebanon in response to the Cedar Revolution. And Libya has abandoned its program of weapons of mass destruction. The biggest nuclear-smuggling ring in history, run by Pakistan's A.Q. Khan, is being rolled up. The government of Pakistan has cast its lot with us against al-Qaeda.
Progress in Kuwait is vastly overstated, and well over half its residents are without the vote. Intellectuals are PUSHING for reform in the Arab world, but it is happening basically nowhere because, as in the US, intellectuals have no power. Reform in Saudi Arabia? No way. Egypt? No chance, Mubarak is there till he dies. Syria? Don't make me laugh.
Islamic terrorists have been denied sanctuaries, their networks are being broken up, their leaders are being incapacitated and they are on the run. Our homeland has not been attacked since Sept. 11, 2001.
True, no domestic terror attack since 2001. But if you take CREDIT for having no attacks since then, must you also also accept BLAME for that terror attack? Look what happened in Canada this past week. Canadian intelligence warned Parliament of impending attacks, the government and its law enforcement agencies worked hard and managed to disrupt the attack and arrest bad people. In the US, Richard Clarke and others tried desperately to get the President's attention, but were ignored. We may not have been able to prevent the attack (although the Clinton Administration put on a fullcourt press and DID foil a plot for New Year's Eve 1999/2000) but the Bushies didn't even TRY.
And we have set aside decades of mistrust to put relations with India, the world's most populous democracy, on a new and fruitful path.
Actually, this isn't a bad thing at all. India is important. Although it does raise the question of why we condone Indian (and Pakistani and Israeli) proliferation but not that of North Korea or Iran.
This account does not mean that everything is going smoothly. Every day we are reminded that hardships are real. Grave threats persist. Missteps have been made along the way. And more can always be done. But we are witnessing significant progress on many different fronts, and there are authentic grounds for optimism.
The Sept. 11 attacks, two wars, a recession and the worst natural disaster in our history have been turbulent and draining events. History-shaping periods often are -- and so, not surprisingly, the nation is unsettled. Yet the United States is a deeply resilient and hopeful country. The trajectory of events is in our favor -- and with the passage of time, all this will become clear enough.
OK what was omitted? Health care is a shambles, we spend more more more and get less less less, and 45 million Americans are completely uncovered and are one accident or illness from financial ruin or death. Climate change is picking up and this Administration has wasted over 5 critical years -- not just wasted, it has actively fought AGAINST doing anything on perhaps the most critical issue that faces the human race. People in the Administration are advocating the use of NUCLEAR WEAPONS against Iran, ironically to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons ten years from now.

Oh, and our civil liberties? In shreds. The NSA is spying on us without cause (assuming you aren't a terrorist -- and besides, the terrorists know the risks and are careful), people including American citizens can be locked up indefinitely without charge, we condone and even ENCOURAGE torture conducted in my name and yours, and we don't punish the true villains when photos of our state-sanctioned torture emerge. We run secret prison camps, and the de facto President and the administration ignore laws duly passed by Congress. Actually, I'm surprised Wehner didn't include any of this as GOOD news. I guess Wehner realizes that despite the Administration's assertions that all of these are legal and are done for our own good, that people really aren't very keen on them.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

no gore in 2008, and another day in the life

The man who would be president if not for poor ballot design in Palm Beach and the constitutional coup by the US Supreme Court today said he would not run for President in 2008. Al Gore said on ABC today that he is focused on his campaign to raise awareness and get some action started on climate change, a worthy cause.

It's probably just as well. Recently the mainstream media has begun to revive the character assassination techniques and the focus on absurdities it used so well against Gore in 2000. It wasn't enough to assure his defeat -- five Republican Supreme Court votes did that -- but was enough to bring his numbers down close enough so that Rove and company could steal the election on Bush's behalf.

So, as we wonder who might run in 2008, let's look at a few of today's headlines with an eye to what would have been different if Al Gore were in his second term.

Twelve Students Among the 19 Dead in Iraq. Wouldn't have happened at all, because President Gore would not have launched this tragi-comic war of choice against a defanged, contained dictator.

Top general vows full probe into Iraqi deaths. Again, wouldn't have happened at all.

Can Gay Marriage Help GOP? This might well have been a headline. There's no question a GOP faced with midterms in a second Gore term would have been every bit as ready to bring bigotry and hatred into the equation as always to serve their electoral purposes, not caring about the corrosive effect this has on our society.

Effort to Repeal Estate Tax Said to Be Faltering. Costs of Iraq war and Katrina recovery force another look at a levy that boosts revenue. First, Gore would have publicly opposed and GOP efforts to repeal the estate tax, which would have made it a much harder sell since it affects less than 1% of the population, people with names like Rockefeller and Ford. Second, Iraq war costs wouldn't be an issue. And yes, Katrina would have happened anyway, but it is difficult to imagine that FEMA would have made the same hash of it under Gore as it did under Bush. For one thing, Gore would not have ignored the situation as Bush did -- he would have gotten engaged, learned the facts, and tried to lead. In other words, he would have been smart and wonkish, the sort of thing that gets him crucified in the mainstream media.

Cards place Pujols on 15-day DL. OK, I can't really find a way to blame this on Bush. But you get my point.

bird flu, human to human

The recent Indonesia example is the most prominent one, but experts are acknowledging there are more human-to-human transfers of H5N1 bird flu than have been officially announced. I'm sure they are being cautious but one effort to link a Vietnamese victim to bird flu by saying it was from eating duck soup 16 days earlier (and NOT from his sick brother) is particularly absurd.

H5N1 clearly has not mastered the trick of human-to-human transmission. But it has made a few successful leaps. Will this be just an intermittent thing that will disappear again? Or will it make the final recombination or mutation that will make the virus efficient at going from one person to another?

no more s&m in europe

And now Montenegro has formalized its divorce from Serbia, ending S&M (Serbia and Montenegro!) in Europe. Unlike Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia, Montenegro has left Serbia's embrace peacefully, and the Serbian government has recognized the reborn state; Montenegro was independent from 1878 until the creation of Yugoslavia (at the time, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes) after World War One. The last real question regarding the former Yugoslavia is the status of the Albanian-majority province of Kosovo. The last joint act for Serbia-Montenegro will be their team in the upcoming World Cup in Germany.

I wonder if Milosevic, before his richly deserved death, ever regretted the rabble-rousing Serb ultranationalism that he indulged in, which kicked the last props out from under the multi-ethnic state that Tito had managed to keep going. Now, instead of being the leading ethnic group in a large confederation, his Serbs are reduced almost to their pre-WWI borders, and are way back in the queue for membership in the European Union.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

gay bashing, encore

Today, de facto President and Bigot-in-Chief George W. "I'm the Decider" Bush as expected used his weekly free advertising I mean radio address to the nation to oppose allowing gays to marry, and urged the Senate to pass an amendment to the Constitution to prohibit gay marriage.

Wow, when did we last hear Bush speak about this? Oh, about three hours before the election in November 2004. As conservatives have complained, the day after his re-selection was confirmed in Ohio, Bush dropped gay marriage like a hot tamale and started his ill-fated campaign to kill Social Security. Gay marriage wasn't put on the back burner, it was returned to the freezer, to be brought out at a suitable time. And the time is now -- five months before mid-term Congressional elections, and at a time when Bush's popularity is sagging with his conservative base.

I would think it would bother conservatives that intolerance is seen as a way to energize them to support somebody. I know there are many conservatives who have no problems with gays, minorities, etc. But the fact is, Republican candidates routinely resort to racism and homophobia in their election campaigns. As the Post reported today,
In one North Carolina congressional district, for instance, Republican challenger Vernon Robinson has aired a radio ad attacking Democratic Rep. Brad Miller with mariachi music playing in the background: "Brad Miller supports gay marriage and sponsored a bill to let American homosexuals bring their foreign homosexual lovers to this country on a marriage visa. If Miller had his way, America would be nothing but one big fiesta for illegal aliens and homosexuals."
Classy. Notice the subtle use of Mexican imagery, and working the words "aliens" and "homosexuals" into the ad. How can any gay or Latino or black possibly support this party?

open to dissent?

Anybody who believes the hiring of Henry Paulson as Treasury Secretary or Tony Snow as press spokesman means the White House is going to be more open to dissenters is falling for a Rovian line of BS. If they'd asked Paulson, who has spoken out about the need to fight climate change, to head the Environmental Protection Agency, that would be news. But he's going to be focusing on financial stuff, not the environment.

Come back in six months and see if Paulson or Snow are really making any difference, and if the dissent they had occasionally voiced in public BEFORE joining the de facto Administration has continued. Somehow, I doubt it. As this article noted, de facto President and Decider in Chief Bush thinks certitude is a virtue, and he isn't prone to changing his mind.

Consistency, the hobgoblins of small minds. They don't come much smaller than Bush's.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

there's nothing in new york, right?

The Department of Homeland Security really thinks New York has no national monuments or icons?
New York's grant plummeted from about $207 million to $124 million. A DHS risk scorecard for the city asserted that the home of the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge has "zero" national monuments or icons.
Then shouldn't they logically have reduced funding to defend New York City to nothing?

Really, this is absurd. Scoring DHS at "zero" for national monuments and icons doesn't pass the laugh test. That's like rating New Orleans as having "zero" exposure to hurricanes.

DHS spending has always grossly overallocated money to places like Boise and Corpus Christi and Nashville, where I suspect the terror risk is relatively low, while shortchanging NY, DC (both already hit by terrorism) and other big (and dare I say, Democratic) cities like SF, Chicago, and Boston that are MUCH more likely to attract Al Qaeda's attention.

covert spies wanted

Yes, in this speech, de facto president Bush was right. We DO need to develop good cover spies.

And we need to make sure we don't reveal their identities while haveing little temper tantrums, Mr. de facto vice president/quail killer Darth Cheney. Especially the ones under "non-official cover" - you know, like Valerie Plame.

you pay me, i pay you

You complain about athletes' salaries. But CEO/senior executive pay is much more egregious. They even get massive bonuses when they fail to meet the laughably low standards set in their contracts!

Why? Partly because these compensation boards they establish are peopled by fellow CEOs and senior execs, who are naturally sympathetic to shoveling more dough at their counterparts who may very well serve on THEIR compensation board some day. Meanwhile, taxpayers and shareholders pay for scratch-my-back sharing of the wealth.

So the least we can do is tax the hell out of their estate when they die!