Tuesday, January 30, 2007

oops, so sorry

De facto Republic* President George W. Bush now says that his reference to the "Democrat Party" during the State of the Union was a mistake, an oversight, and not an intentional slight. That might be more believable a statement if it weren't for the Republic* tendency going back three or four decades to refuse to use the proper form of the Democratic Party's name.

On the other hand, Bush did say something that I agree with completely. Such statements are fairly rare, so I feel I should note it when one happens. Bush said, "But I'm not that good at pronouncing words anyway."

I agree. You aren't that good at pronouncing words.

*Oops, sorry, my omission of "-an" is a mistake, an oversight, and not an intentional slight aimed at the Republican Party. Honestly.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

not my commander in chief

De facto President George W. Bush isn't my commander in chief, and he isn't yours either -- unless you are a uniformed member of the Armed Forces or a member of a National Guard unit that has been federalized. Historian Garry Wills points out this fact in an interesting essay in the New York Times.

Wills also points out that the "tradition" of Presidents exchanging salutes with military personnel only dates back to Reagan. Dwight Eisenhower knew the salute was for the uniform, and as President didn't get into that. But as Wills points out, our society and government have grown more militarized since 1941 - and these are symptoms.

Friday, January 26, 2007

krauthammer critiques bush's energy ideas

Charles Krauthammer often infuriates me, for example when he urged Al Gore to medicate himself. So when his column is 2/3 correct, it's worth a note. Today he wrote about de facto President Bush's lame energy policy in the State of the Union.

Krauthammer said the "20 in 10" idea of cutting gas consumption 20% over 10 years with various technological fixes was silly. He said he had a "20 in 2" idea - raise taxes till gas hits $4 a gallon. A fine idea, we should do it immediately. As Krauthammer points out, when gas prices spiked in the wake of Katrina, SUV sales dropped and people began paying attention to fuel economy again. Although Krauthammer didn't go into this, raising gas prices to $4/gallon or higher would also spur more research into energy alternatives by making them more cost competitive.

Krauthammer also calls for more nuclear power, a form of energy that doesn't contribute greenhouse gases. I've supported nuclear power for a long time.

In addition, Krauthammer advocates drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. I don't agree, but at least Krauthammer admits that ANWR is not going to be a huge source of gas, maybe 5% of the market, which he said in a tight market could be crucial. Maybe, but frankly I like the idea better of making the market tighter to force people to consider alternatives. Why damage the ANWR just to drag the oil era out a couple of years longer?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

intelligence, rudeness, and rudeness

Robert Novak, his pendulous lips quivering with indignation over the sheer lack of gallantry of the Democrats, accuses Pelosi and Reid of being rude in rejecting de facto President Bush's absurd proposal that Democratic chairs join with Republic* minority leaders in some sort of council. In other words, Bush invites the Democrats to share power after Republicans in Congress have lost theirs. Um, excuse me, but refusing to fall for a known con-man's attempt to make you give up something you have gained fair and square isn't rudeness. It's called being smart. Why start trusting Bush now when there is absolutely no reason to believe he will stick to his word and will really work with you? Ask Ted Kennedy about how he feels having worked with Bush in the early days of his administration on education.

Novak is a bit shortsighted when it comes to rudeness. Maybe he forgets the vicious personal attacks and refusal to cooperate on policy that the Republic* Congress showed towards Democratic President Bill Clinton? And he doesn't note the latest public rudeness by Bush in his State of the Union, again using the mildly pejorative "Democrat" instead of "Democratic" as the adjectival form of that party's name.

And as for further examples of rudeness, perhaps we can remind Novak of de facto (vice) President Cheney's blunt suggestion to Senator Patrick Leahy that he go fuck himself. Cheney also has a habit of disagreeing with people in such a way as to make them seem like morons. For example, on Wolf Blitzer's show the other day, in response to Blitzer's question about blunders and failures in Iraq, Cheney said "Wolf, Wolf, I simply don't accept the premise of your question. I just think it's hogwash."

And Wolf, you are an idiot for asking such a question. Nice.

*Nope, "Republic" isn't a typo. That's the equivalent of referring to the "Democrat" Party.

odd one out

Let's play a game, boys and girls. Which one of these doesn't belong with the others?

A) Dikembe Mutombo, who came from the country formerly known as Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) to America to study medicne, was discovered by Georgetown coach John Thompson, got very very rich playing basketball, and has pumped millions of his own dollars back into his impoverished mother country to help his fellow Congolese.

B) Sgt Tommy Reiman, US Army, "who repelled an enemy attack in Iraq with two legs full of shrapnel and bullet wounds in his arms and chest" and probably saved the lives of several of his fellow soldiers.

C) Wesley Autrey, a New York construction worker who at great personal risk saved the life of a student who had a seizure and fell on the tracks of the subway while a train approached.

D) Julie Aigner-Clark, who got rich by founding a company (Baby Einstein) that makes videos for babies, despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 2 years of age NOT watch television.

The answer, of course, is D. When de facto President Bush introduced her during the inevitable and overplayed "heroes" segment of the State of the Union, my reaction was "what the hell is she doing there?" Guess the White House had to find a woman hero and nobody else was willing. Read more about this gaffe from Timothy Noah at Slate.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

two things about the state of the union

De facto President Bush's energy proposals announced at the State of the Union are a bunch of crap. For example, he said his plan would reduce gasoline use by 20% in 10 years. Sounds good - but what he MEANT is that it would be 20% lower THAN CURRENTLY PROJECTED. Since gasoline use rises pretty much every year, that isn't a cut - it's just a smaller increase. A smaller increase in gasoline burned in the US will do absolutely nothing to help on climate change, and little to help on our dependence on foreign oil. Which will run out at some point anyway.

Likewise, he talks about raising the fuel efficiency standards - but didn't mention that this would be done by category of car, a massive loophole. So depending on the mix of cars purchased and the relative gains in fuel efficiency, "higher" standards could STILL lead to DROPS in the current fuel efficiency numbers. Again, this will do absolutely nothing to help on climate change, and little to help on our dependence on foreign oil. Which will run out at some point anyway.

Oh, and one other point about what to me sounded like a very tired, warmed-over collection of past failures, plus his pleading to be given just one more chance in Iraq. Bush's nice little gesture to Nancy Pelosi was immediately undercut when he again used a semi-insulting adjective, giving his congratulations to the "Democrat majority."

That's DEMOCRATIC majority, oh esteemed leader of the Republican -- or is that REPUBLIC? -- Party.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

cohen on cully stimson, alberto on habeas corpus

A bit late perhaps, but Richard Cohen has a good column about the indefensible slanders of Pentagon official Cully Stimson against the treacherous lawfirms that aid the enemy by representing detainees in Guantanamo.

Best para: I, for one, do not accept Stimson's apology. I think it is insincerely offered and beside the point. What matters most is that he retains his job, which means he retains the confidence of his superiors in the government. How anyone can have confidence in such a man is beyond me. There are only two explanations, one inexcusable, the other chilling. The first is that his bosses don't care. The second is that they agree with him.

Cohen thinks it is the latter - Stimson's bosses in the de facto Administration agree with him. I think Cohen's right. After all, this is an Administration that refuses to admit any limit on its power at all, that refuses to admit mistakes.

As for its contempt for legal niceties, read this exchange between Attorney-General/ Torturer-General Alberto Gonzales and Senator Arlen Specter (from the Washington Post), at a recent Judiciary Committee hearing:
Gonzales : The fact that the Constitution -- again, there is no expressed grant of habeas in the Constitution. There's a prohibition against taking it away.

But it's never been the case. I'm not aware of a Supreme . . .

Specter : Wait a minute. Wait a minute. The Constitution says you can't take it away except in case of rebellion or invasion. Doesn't that mean you have the right of habeas corpus unless there's an invasion or rebellion?

Gonzales : I meant by that comment, the Constitution doesn't say every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right to habeas. Doesn't say that. It simply says the right of habeas corpus shall not be suspended except . . .

Specter : You may be treading on your interdiction and violating common sense, Mr. Attorney General.

Yes, that is the Attorney-General of the United States basically saying that it is up to the US Government to determine who should enjoy our Constitutionally-granted rights.


bush's pro-rich health policy

I was going to write something about Bush's radio address pushing his stupid idea of offering tax breaks for people who buy private health insurance. (The poor can't afford the insurance and tax breaks are meaningless for them.) But then I read Paul Krugman's column and he says it so much better than I would. Read it here; a couple of excerpts below.
Going without health insurance isn't like deciding to rent an apartment instead of buying a house. It's a terrifying experience, which most people endure only if they have no alternative. The uninsured don't need an "incentive" to buy insurance; they need something that makes getting insurance possible.

Most people without health insurance have low incomes, and just can't afford the premiums. And making premiums tax-deductible is almost worthless to workers whose income puts them in a low tax bracket.

Of those uninsured who aren't low-income, many can't get coverage because of pre-existing conditions - everything from diabetes to a long-ago case of jock itch. Again, tax deductions won't solve their problem.
What's driving all this is the theory, popular in conservative circles but utterly at odds with the evidence, that the big problem with U.S. health care is that people have too much insurance - that there would be large cost savings if people were forced to pay more of their medical expenses out of pocket.
Mr. Bush ... is still peddling the fantasy that the free market, with a little help from tax cuts, solves all problems.

What's really striking about Mr. Bush's remarks, however, is the tone. The stuff about providing "incentives" to buy insurance, the sneering description of good coverage as "gold plated," is right-wing think-tank jargon. In the past Mr. Bush's speechwriters might have found less offensive language; now, they're not even trying to hide his fundamental indifference to the plight of less-fortunate Americans.

Monday, January 22, 2007

bill richardson and company

Bill Richardson says he's running for President, but I think he's really running for Secretary of State or maybe Vice President. Although I think Richardson would make a decent President, I doubt he can overcome the big leads of Clinton, Obama, and Edwards, and besides, bimbo eruptions would certainly begin should Richardson's candidacy gain traction.

As for the other presidential announcements - I'm not quite sure what to make of the whole situation. On the Republican side, McCain I think simply looks too damn old and frail to win, and I think his embrace of Iraq will begin to hurt him. Giuliani has no chance of winning a primary -- like Arnold, his social stance is too liberal for GOP primary voters, and unlike Arnold, there won't be a recall election for de facto President Bush that Giuliani could enter without needing primary voters' approval. Sam Brownback is hoping to win the vote of those who think Bush is too liberal, but that may not be a big enough group. Jeb Bush has said he has no future. Isn't there another Republican out there? A least we likely won't have to worry about Rick "Santorum" Santorum or George "Macaca" Allen.

On the Democratic side, Clinton and Obama have star power. Unfortunately, Clinton also has high negatives, and I still don't like the idea of dynastic politics. Obama, not much experience. Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack has to be hoping the same lightning strikes in 2008 as in 1976, when another obscure former Governor called Jimmy Carter took the prize. John Edwards is running a smart campaign I think, and came out of the Kerry campaign relatively unscathed.

I hate that we're handicapping people 22 months before the election!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

what would jeb have done?

Palm Beach Post writer S.V. Date asks in the Washington Post today, "what would Jeb do?", imagining a Jeb Bush presidency in its sixth year.

Date notes (correctly) that Jeb is far more detail-oriented than the famously intellectually lazy, in-bed-by-ten de facto president George W. Bush. And he's almost certainly right that Jeb would have handled Katrina better than George. Hell, the cashier at your local grocery store also would have done a better job than George did.

But Date, who has a book out about Jeb and obviously must hope for his own financial reasons that Jeb really doesn't retire from politics with the end of his second term as Florida governor, still thinks that Jeb would have gone into Iraq.

If Jeb is so much smarter than George (and by almost all accounts, he is), would Jeb have allowed the Wolfowitzes and Feiths and Tenets of the world to bamboozle him into a war of choice in Iraq?

As for "what would Jeb do?", let's hope we never find out.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

ceos say, climate change is bad

Ten companies are joining with environmental companies in the "U.S. Climate Action Partnership" to urge the government to get off its ample duff and do something meaningful about climate change. They called for mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (10-30% over 15 years) - not just reductions in the rate of growth, which de facto President George W. "We Don't Need No Stinking Science" Bush seems to think is good enough.

It's a big group of companies. Alcoa, BP America, Caterpillar, DuPont, General Electric, Lehman Brothers, and four utilities (Duke Energy, FPL Group, PG&E and PNM Resources).

Yes, even big oil companies and electricity firms realize that climate change just might be bad for business. Maybe Bush'll get the message. And Congress should act quickly to pass something meaningful, with teeth, and dare Bush to veto it. If he signs it, good because maybe we can start trying to really do something. And if Bush vetos it, what the heck it's an issue in 2008.

Friday, January 19, 2007

a disinterested view of climate change? nope

An Australian engineer called Len Walker compares the current "near-hysteria" about climate change to a stock market bubble. Just a bunch of ill-informed people thinking they are experts and acting on that wrong basis. Oddly, Walker doesn't note that in this instance, almost all climate experts agree that climate change is happening and that human activities -- not frigging sun spots -- are the cause. But Walker notes that things have been cooler since 1998, so the climate bubble has probably burst anyway.

Walker writes, "We would not like to buy at the top of the sharemarket cycle, nor should we buy into a possible global warming peak without a responsible and wide-ranging debate." That may well be the single most absurd climate change statement I have ever read or heard.

Our man Len also repeats the usual canards about water vapor being the biggest greenhouse gas (true, but it is changes at the margin that are driving incremental changes that appear to be building momentum). Oh, and because those in the 1970's who were worried about a new ice age were wrong, people who worry about the planet heating up are also axiomatically wrong. Truly flawless logic, kind of along the lines of saying that because greenies didn't ruin baseball in 1980 we don't need to worry about the effects of steroids on the game in 2007.

No need to worry, no need to take action that might hurt the economy, says Walker, who identifies himself as a member of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, but somehow fails to note that (according to a Google search) he is the managing director of Linc Energy, a company that is involved in turning coal into gas (surprise!).

The "responsible and wide-ranging debate" Walker calls for I guess will be clearly decided in his mind when the Greenland ice sheet has completely disappeared, the Gulf Stream has switched off, when Bangladesh is a shallow gulf, when the wheat fields of Kansas have dried up and blown away, and when all the residents of submerged Nauru and Tonga have moved to Len's neighborhood in Australia.

I wish Walker was right, that this was just a bubble of opinion and that the only damage from worrying about climate change would be financial damage. Of course, the reality is much more bleak and the damage from NOT trying to mitigate climate change could be a civilization-ending calamity.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

closer than five minutes to midnight

Somehow, the whole Doomsday Clock gauging how close we are to nuclear destruction seems so 1980s. Sure, developments in Iran and North Korea are a bit scary... but we've avoided a civilization-crushing nuclear war for 60 years now.

The real clock to worry about is the climate change clock, which is now at about two minutes to midnight. Unlike nuclear-armed countries, mother nature can't be deterred from reacting to ever-increasing greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. Unlike nuclear disarmament, significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be complicated and will require cooperation from dozens of countries and billions of people. And nobody denies the awful risk of nuclear war -- but we still have Exxon and the de facto Bush Administration and many others who don't want to countenance any serious steps to mitigate climate change.

We may not blow ourselves up. But we are running a real risk of cooking ourselves, and our planet.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

cully and alberto on detainees and lawyers

Pentagon official Cully Stimson says "so sorry" for his slander of major law firms who represent Guantanamo detainees pro bono. Stimson says his comments didn't reflect his "core beliefs." Pardon me for doubting the sincerity of the apology.

Remember, STIMSON was the one who raised the topic, out of the blue, during his radio interview. Most GOP political appointees really aren't that spontaneous on their own -- you know this was a planted idea, not just Stimson free-associating on the air.

Stimson also said, in his apology,"Regrettably, my comments left the impression that I question the integrity of those engaged in the zealous defense of detainees in Guantanamo. I do not." "Left the impression?" Nope. Stimson was pretty damn clear in impugning the patriotism of those lawyers during his interview. He left the impression that he thought those lawyers were bad people the way slamming a Louisville Slugger into your car door will leave an impression. Not very subtly.

Stimson, and then on cue the Wall Street Journal, have already smeared these law firms, and implied that they are in the pay of foreign terrorists. Finding the reaction a bit hotter than expected, or satisfied that the slander has been planted, old Cully has been ordered to walk it back a bit with what is essentially a non-apology.

Meanwhile, torture advocate and Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales said that the legal challenges of these lawyers has delayed the administration of justice for the Guantanamo detainees.

We call that "due process," Mr. Attorney-General. It is legal, it is a good thing, and it isn't limited only to the Scooter Libbys and Ken Lays of the world.

What has really detained the administration of justice for these detainees is the de facto Bush Administration's repeated efforts to create a special legal structure that it can control 100%, to make damn sure anybody they prosecute will be found guilty without the Administration having to release any evidence.

Certainly, part of the reason is the case against some (many?) of these guys will likely turn out to be incredibly weak, since many of the detainees (many have been quietly released and repatriated) have turned out to be not terrorists, but victims of personal vendettas, fingered by their enemies in Afghanistan just to settle a score -- and maybe collect a few thousand dollars in reward money -- with no followup to see whether they really were terrorists.

"the sky was raining burning paper and body parts"

A bad day in Baghdad, even by Baghdad standards. I'm sure escalation I mean a surge will put this all to rights real quick.

Sixty killed in this university bombing, it appears. And in 2006, 94 people died from violent causes per day throughout Iraq, over 34,000 total.

Freedom is on the march. Right now, most Iraqis want freedom from being blown up, whether by Shiites or Sunnis or foreign fighters or the US military. Freedom from seeing the sky rain burning paper and body parts.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

bush-league budgeting

De facto President George W. Bush the Disastrous challenges the Democratic (yes, that's "Democratic" Bush, not "Democrat". Or should we start referring to "Republic" policies?) Congress to balance the budget. Seems the time is right to do so - mostly, of course, because now the Republicans don't control the whole shebang.

And just to show his sincerity, Bush says that the budget should be balanced while his gift-wrapped-for-the-rich tax cuts should be made permanent. And you know he wouldn't want any cuts in the rapidly growing Pentagon budget - which doesn't even include the hundreds of billions of dollars we are pissing away in the sands of Iraq on Bush's absurd Middle Eastern "project."

But Democrats should do somethings to close the deficit gap. They should repeal the most egregious of the tax cuts. And they should look closely at Pentagon spending. The needs of 2007 are not the same as 1987 when we still faced a large conventional and nuclear-strategic threat from the Soviet Union - we should budget for a military better able to respond to today's needs, not one full of carrier groups and armored divisions.

Oh, and a few dollars should be found to better fund climate studies, suffering in the Bush Administration because of its unfortunate habit of disproving the head-in-the-sand, everything's just fine attitude of the climate change deniers.

Monday, January 15, 2007

my eyes, my eyes

Go out into a public place, and look around you and find a blank spot -- maybe a wall, or a table in a fastfood restaurant. Look at that blank place, and cherish it, because America's enterprising advertising executives look at that same blank place and see it as a perfect spot for an ad.

Think I'm exaggerating? Have you seen the eggs stamped with ads for CBS TV shows like CSI?
And while you're at it, enjoy the relative silence on your bus, and hope that they don't start running advertisements, the way (incredible) some school buses are for their height-challenged consumers, formerly known as children.

When I see or hear advertising that annoys me - and a CBS promo on an egg would certainly qualify - I tend to think that I won't buy that particular product. But despite that conscious thought, I can't honestly say whether subliminally it gets to me. And obviously advertisers see this as some way to force people to LOOK at their damn ads, since we watch less advertising-supported TV than we used to.

So, rest your eyes on that blank window in your office while it's still just a window, and hope that it doesn't become a place for a transparent poster promoting the virtues of Prozac. And remember, Muzak isn't as bad as non-stop advertisements being aimed at your poor exposed ears.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

newsflash - u.s. team heading to iran

A specially-picked team of experts, after a briefing at the State Department, has flown to Iran. Progress on the diplomatic front? Signs of sanity in the de facto Bush Administration? A realization that sometimes, you DO have to talk to your enemies?

No such luck. It's the U.S. national men's wrestling team, heading to Iran -- a wrestling superpower -- for the Takhti Cup tournament.

We had ping-pong diplomacy with Mao's China back in the 1970s. Somehow, I doubt Bush will allow wrestling to play such a role.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

asking for alternatives?

It's very odd that de facto President George W. "Iraq" Bush insists that critics of his Iraq surge plan offer alternatives. Two points.

First, as our not-so-dear leader has repeatedly pointed out over the past eternity I mean six years, HE is the Commander-in-Chief. (He likes that title so much that he even insisted that the head of US military commands stop calling themselves CINC, or Commander in Chief.) It is the Commander-in-Chief, and his generals, who are responsible for such military decisions. Not members of Congress, the media, or the public.

And second -- since when has Bush ever listened to what anybody ever told him anyway? Hell, most recently he even ignored the advice of his own generals in deciding to "surge" in Iraq. Why should anybody waste any time considering an alternative?

disney's hate radio

Daily Kos recently ran an interesting post about a blogger's efforts to convince advertisers to avoid KSFO, a Disney-owned ABC network San Francisco talk radio station where the hosts suggested things like assassinating Nancy Pelosi, killing Muslims by the million, and hooking car batteries to people's testicles. Need I say this is a right-wing station?

But Disney/ABC, rather than ask its shock-jocks to be nice, instead went after the blogger. Nice.

provocation and alienation in iraq

Juan Cole asks, did the US just provoke Iran, with the attack on Iran's consulate in the Kurdish part of Iraq? The question is, was that intended by the de facto Bush Administration to provoke Iran into doing something stupid, to justify some sort of attack on Iran? I was surprised to hear the Secretary of State say that attacking the consulate and arresting the diplomats was okay. I thought we generally frowned on that sort of thing? I guess we only do when it is OUR diplomats.

In the process, the US also alienated the Kurdish regime. That's real bright, since they are the only people in Iraq who actually kind of like what the US has done.

Friday, January 12, 2007

"...the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since vietnam"

That was the assessment of de facto president Bush's "new" Iraq policy from Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska that we should expect to run for President in 2008, to Secretary of State Rice. Dana Milbank's column includes many other scathing senatorial quotes about the surge announced by Bush on Wednesday.

again the ugly side of the bush administration

I didn't hear the radio interview, but the Washington Post editorial page picked up on the comments of Pentagon official Cully Stimson, a "deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs." Stimson, out of the blue, said that it was "shocking" that major American law firms were representing detainees. When asked who was paying their fees, he went all mysterious and said they should explain themselves. Oh, and Stimson named names.

That is pretty dark stuff. Stimson basically called these law firms traitors, and all but said that they were collaborators with terrorist organizations. He also said that he thought this would become a big story in the media soon. That would only be, of course, if the de facto Bush Administration is able to get its usual right-wing media chorus to take up the song. Watch the Drudge Report, Fox News, and the other usual suspects in the GOP's media empire to see if this happens.

But you shouldn't be surprised that the Bushies don't much care for giving detainees legal representation. After all, Bush's own home state of Texas is notorious for grossly inadequate legal counsel for poor defendants, which is why you sometimes see a drunken real estate lawyer representing some poor inner city kid in a case that could result in the death penalty. Why treat detainees in Guantanamo any better than people in Texas?

again the ugly side of the bush administration

I didn't hear the radio interview, but the Washington Post editorial page picked up on the comments of Pentagon official Cully Stimson, a "deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs." Stimson, out of the blue, said that it was "shocking" that major American law firms were representing detainees. When asked who was paying their fees, he went all mysterious and said they should explain themselves. Oh, and Stimson named names.

That is pretty dark stuff. Stimson basically called these law firms traitors, and all but said that they were collaborators with terrorist organizations. He also said that he thought this would become a big story in the media soon. That would only be, of course, if the de facto Bush Administration is able to get its usual right-wing media chorus to take up the song. Watch the Drudge Report, Fox News, and the other usual suspects in the GOP's media empire to see if this happens.

But you shouldn't be surprised that the Bushies don't much care for giving detainees legal representation. After all, Bush's own home state of Texas is notorious for grossly inadequate legal counsel for poor defendants, which is why you sometimes see a drunken real estate lawyer representing some poor inner city kid in a case that could result in the death penalty. Why treat detainees in Guantanamo any better than people in Texas?

the ignorant shall teach us

The school district in Seattle suburb Federal Way has put a moratorium on showing "An Inconvenient Truth" because a parent with the improbable name of Frostie Hardison said "The information that's being presented is a very cockeyed view of what the truth is. ... The Bible says that in the end times everything will burn up, but that perspective isn't in the DVD." Frostie also said that since Al Gore isn't a teacher, he doesn't belong in school, but I suspect if it were a Billy Graham movie about God's mercy in the modern age, old Frostie wouldn't object.

The school board, suffering from a very bad case of no-spine disease, say that teachers have to show a "credible, legitimate" opposing view. One school board member, David Larson, said in his best Orwellian fashion that preventing the showing of the movie would encourage debate. Not sure how silencing one side -- the side with the vast preponderance of scientific data in its favor -- can be seen as encouraging debate.

This is all very discouraging. As a society we've really allowed this alleged journalistic requirement to treat both sides of each and every issue equally to go too far. The media is in large part to blame by setting up essentially every news story as "one view, the opposite view, gosh who could be right" with little effort to weigh the relative merits of the two views. (If it's three views, that's too complicated...)

You know, there are people who say the Founding Fathers were less motivated to throw off the shackles of Mother England by a jones for freedom, and more by the desire to protect their status as the elites of the thirteen colonies and to protect their riches (the Founding Fathers were a rather wealthy group of gentlemen, after all). I wonder if Federal Way requires both views of that story? Somehow, I doubt it. Likewise, they probably don't require a presentation by the Hollow Earth society to counteract the spherist view that the Earth is a solid globe. And they probably don't pay much attention to the American Indian view of manifest destiny, nor to those who believe in ESP.

Modern American society also holds that slavery is wrong, and that having sex with children is immoral. Shall we expose our students to the opposite point of view on these topics, too, oh school board of Federal Way?

Anyway, I think we can tell where the school board really comes out on climate change. Board President Ed Barney said that first, students should listen to global-warming skeptics. Then, distorting and oversimplifying the message of "An Inconvenient Truth" (and I'll bet you $5 Barney hasn't seen it), "if they think driving around in cars is going to kill us all, that's fine, that's their choice." Old Ed also wants teachers to mention evolution because the theory of evolution is, after all, "only a theory."

Truly, the ignorant shall teach us.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

it's a mistake

Let's boil de facto President Bush's big bold speech about Iraq and the 21,500 troops down to the essence. It's all been just a big mistake.

It was a mistake to let ideologues untrained in intelligence analysis set up their own office in the Department of Defense to read raw reports and spin them into a fantasy theory that Hussein's Iraq had an active weapons program and huge stockpiles.

It was a mistake to believe the self-serving assertions of Chalabi and other Iraqi exiles looking for an Uncle Sam-sponsored ride into Hussein's Presidential Palace.

It was a mistake - actually, it was a lie - to link Iraq to 9/11 and Al Qaeda.

It was a mistake to believe Iraqis would treat the American military as liberators.

It was a mistake to believe that Iraqi army units would defect.

It was a mistake to assert, as did senior Pentagon civilians like Paul Wolfowitz and Doug "dumbest fucking guy I ever met" Feith, that post-war Iraq would be easier to manage than Bosnia or Kosovo were because they hadn't had a war of militias.

It was a mistake to force the Army to go into the war with at least two fewer divisions than the bare minimum they wanted (and at least 100,000 fewer than General Eric Shinseki said would be needed), based on Wolfowitz's and Rumsfeld's belief that surely you wouldn't need more troops to consolidate victory in Iraq than needed to defeat Hussein's army.

It was a mistake to conduct almost no planning for dealing with Iraq after the collapse of Hussein's regime. Iran was better prepared for the post-Hussein situation than we were.

It was a mistake -- and a lie -- to asset that the reconstruction of Iraq would be easily covered by oil revenues, and as Andrew Natsios told Ted Koppel, would only run the US taxpayer $1.7 billion.

It was a mistake to staff the Coalition Provisional Authority with a bunch of Republican hacks whose primary qualifications were working as campaign staffers and/or having a well-connected Mommy or Daddy, while simultaneously refusing to let Iraq experts at the State Department to be there.

The whole "project" was a bad, bad idea, based on erroneous or fallacious data, and it was badly executed by overconfident zealots who insisted they knew better than military professionals how the war should be fought (and ignored the occupation, thinking Iraq would be a functioning democracy in just be a few months), and insisted they knew better than diplomatic and regional experts what the aftermath would be.

And it is a mistake to think that a "temporary" addition of 21,500 troops for a few months will reverse the situation in Iraq or undo all the damage caused by this half-assed war.

It's a mistake.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

ideas for improving america's image abroad

Another brilliant idea has been revealed by the de facto Bush Administration for improving the image of the US abroad. It will be announced today -- the Benjamin Franklin Award for Public Diplomacy (whatever that means), which the State Department apparently hopes will convince businesses and nongovernmental groups to help polish the US image.

It really isn't up to Microsoft or the Sierra Club to improve our image abroad. In any case, I can think of a few more likely ways to make that image better.

One way would be to stop invading countries for no provocation, on weak or completely fabricated grounds. Invading Afghanistan did NOT hurt the US image. Invading Iraq did.

Another way would be to stop inflicting our demands on how the rest of the world behave. For example, we shouldn't insist that anybody taking our money for population control programs not mention abortion, and shouldn't insist that our money helping against AIDS be accompanied by a naive, ineffective insistence on abstinence rather than sex education and condoms.

And finally, we shouldn't moan about how something might hurt our economy as an excuse not to take action. The most egregious example is our refusal to do anything meaningful on climate change -- compounded in this instance by our refusal to even agree that the scientific debate on whether humans are responsible for climate change is settled. (The answer? "Yes.") It is very unbecoming for the richest country on the planet to refuse to even consider the slightest bit of sacrifice, it is unbecoming for us to act as if having a large-screen television or a gas-guzzling Hummer SUV were more important than the possible collapse of human civilization.

I think reversing these actions would do more to help our image abroad than giving an award to some American company that sponsors an orphanage.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

false alarm

Don't you just hate it when sprinkler parts closely resemble C4 explosives?

Actually, this points out the limitations on strictly technical approaches to stopping terrorist attacks. Lots of false positives, and no assurance that you are not missing something that comes in a different port, or is a different kind of plot like that of 9/11, using something not normally seen as a weapon.

Monday, January 08, 2007

not this amt

Sebastian Mallaby doesn't like the idea of getting rid of the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), saying it is progressive because 90% of its take is from people making over $100,000. Crunch the numbers further and I bet you find that the lower end of the $100,000+ club are paying disproportionately (as a share of THEIR income, which is the number that counts) compared to those making a million or much much more.

I wouldn't even mind keeping a revamped AMT. But when it was written in the late '60s, it was supposed to catch the very very rich, who were dodging taxes. As Mallaby writes, it hit 20,000 families in 1970, and probably 23 MILLION in 2006. But Congress having foolishly forgotten to index it for inflation, it is now catching people in the upper middle class -- and the very very rich, enjoying the benefits of their tax breaks and greater shelters, of course are finding ways around it anyway. Revise the AMT to return the limit to a higher income level and make it stick on the really rich. But don't leave it in place as a creeping tax hike on the moderately well-off.

As for the loss of revenue -- well, the Bush tax cuts for the rich have cost us far, far more than revising the AMT would. That's where the revenue loss has come. We shouldn't keep on soaking the moderately well-to-do in order to subsidize the very very rich.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

mavericks on iraq

What is it with self-proclaimed mavericks and the inclination to send more troops into Iraq. John "Maverick President Wanna-Be" McCain has been going on and on about putting more troops there, even as the generals quietly disagree and Colin Powell points out that there's not much to be gained absent a clear, achievable mission. Not to mention the fact that there aren't enough troops to "surge" with.

And now Joe "I'm an Independent but Screw with Me and I'll Go GOP" Lieberman is also pressing for it, and also saying he buys de facto President Bush's absurd line that this is all part of some larger war on terrorism.

If it weren't for the fact that Lieberman's vote could sway control of the Senate back to the Republicans, I bet Harry Reid and a lot of other Democrats would love to kick Lieberman out. But for now, they have to grin and bear it.

And speaking of mavericks, General David Petraeus gets to take over in Iraq now. He asked a fine, fine question back in 2003 as the US-led invasion began: "Tell me how this ends."

Good luck to Petraeus, who has a good reputation but is perhaps not a typical Army officer. But it's hard to be confident that he can turn things around, especially as long as HIS boss (Dick Cheney, I mean George Bush) is unwilling to admit to the realities in Iraq and change tactics or strategy to fit. Saying "we are committed to victory" isn't a strategy. It's a slogan. And it's wishful thinking.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

governor arnie the rino

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (it still seems odd to have "governor" in front of A.S.) was sworn in for his new term Friday in California. Schwarzenegger's big accomplishments in the past year include passing the toughest legislation of any US state to reduce carbon emissions, and raising the state's minimum wage. This year, he is expected to announce plans to extend medical insurance to over 6 million California residents who don't have it.

Sounds reasonable. This is the sort of politician, who is also not anti-abortion and is not hostile to gays, that right wing Republicans denigrate as a RINO -- Republican In Name Only. That sort of attitude is beginning to drive some Republicans away, in Kansas for example, where a bunch of former Republicans ran as Democrats in 2006 and defeated loonie-right GOPsters.

Schwarzenegger isn't RINO. He's SANE. Not all of his Republican rivals can make that claim.

Friday, January 05, 2007

big oil using big tobacco's tactics; billions could be losers

A watchdog compares Exxon-Mobil's anti-global warming propaganda campaign with that of the tobacco industry's. Deny the science, hire nutjobs I mean "skeptics" to espouse views not shared by many if any reputable scientists, support front groups to create the illusion of a debate on the facts, etc. And it works well too, since over 60% of Americans believe there is significant scientific dispute over whether human activities are responsible for the global warming that is now well underway.

It's rarely a good thing to be compared to Big Tobacco. Difference is, Big Tobacco's lies "merely" sicken and kill millions of individuals. Exxon-Mobile's smokescreen to prevent action to mitigate climate change could be a civilization-destroying act.

And who will be around to buy gasoline then?

no changes in the white house attitudes

The kindler, gentler, more bi-partisan de facto President George W. Bush is a mere will-o-the-wisp, a mirage, a fantasy. If you want to see how the White House is still up to its old tricks, check out the signing statement made on the postal reform bill in December.

The bill reasserted and strengthened the requirement to have a warrant before the government can open somebody's mail. But Bush, in a statement almost surely written by Cheney legal aid David Addington, one of the intellectual powers behind the "unitary executive" idea who probably thinks even President Putin's powers are inadequate, nevertheless said they will interpret the law to open mail "to protect life, guard against hazardous materials or conduct 'physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection.'"

Without warrants, naturally. Which, to be sure, they don't need if there is real suspicion of a bomb or similar imminent threat. But otherwise, the law says, "hey you need a warrant." And Bush goes, "you're not the boss of me, I'll read mail if I think it's necessary."

They're already listening to our phone calls and reading our email, I guess we shouldn't be surprised that they want to read our snail-mail, too.

republicans speak up, to my amusement

Democrats dominated the news today, taking over in the Senate and House, but I was struck by three quotes I read today from Republicans.

Republican Congressman Adam Putnam said "We plan to engage in a rigorous, substantive, policy-oriented debate on the issues facing this country. We will certainly work together when we can, and have respectful disagreements when we can't."

A fine, fine idea, Congressman. But a question occurs to me. Why did you feel like you had to wait until you were back in the minority to do that, instead of engaging in rigorous, substantive, policy-oriented debates during the 12 years of Republican rule? Oh, I forgot. That's because the GOPsters took orders from Gingrich and DeLay (and thru DeLay, from K Street lobbyists) and Dick Cheney, and changed the rules to make meaningful input into debates by the minority party essentially impossible.

A GOP Congressman from Wisconsin, Paul Ryan, said "We're going to return to our roots, especially on economic policy, taxes and spending. The era of big-government spending is at an end in the Republican Party."

Of course, that's only true because they don't control the purse-strings anymore. Again, who was holding a gun to the GOP's head during its 12 years in charge of Congress and six years of complete control in Washington to make them cut-taxes-and-spend-spend-spend??? It's easy to pledge never to drink and drive again when you've had your license taken away.

And Al Kamen noted how when pressed by a CNN journalist a few days ago whether the inability to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden -- remember him? Tall guy, lives in caves, hates America, masterminded the 9/11 plot? -- was a failure, White House homeland security advisor Frances Townsend hemmed and hawed, finally saying "Well, I'm not sure. It's a success that hasn't occurred yet. I don't know that I view that as a failure."

'A success that hasn't occurred yet'? What a positive way to put it! Such a can-do attitude! Success is right around the corner! Iraq is just this far (holds fingers close together) from being a wonderful, peaceful, pro-American and pro-Israeli bastion of democracy, if you just wish hard enough.

If you believe that, you must be on more drugs than William Rehnquist was during his first ten years on the Supreme Court. Rehnquist, Baby Bush, Limbaugh -- all the best politician drug addicts are Republicans.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

crocodile tears flow from the eyes of downtrodden republicans distraught that the minority in the house doesn't get fair treatment

Dana Milbank's "Washington Sketch" today is about how a group of minority Congressmen -- Republicans, nowadays -- introduced a bill for minority rights in Congress. It sounds like for once journalists actually called these people on the bullshit they are peddling, asking them why the REPUBLICANS didn't do more to preserve the rights of the minority party when the actually controlled Congress.

As Milbank put it, these grandstanding Republicans were "outraged by Democrats' refusal to bestow on Republicans the rights that Republicans refused to bestow on Democrats. "


That said, I do think the Democrats should consider improving the rights of the minority party in Congress. But they should wait until they've accomplished some business first, such as repealing Bush's tax cuts for the rich.

more to ford than that pardon

Christopher Hitchens reminds us that Gerald Ford had a few little problems while President beyond pardoning Nixon. He abandoned Kurds in Iraq, gave the green light for Indonesia's brutal invasion and occupation of the former Portuguese colony on Timor, and inexplicably refused to meet Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

wow, obama used drugs

So Barack Obama used drugs as a teen. Big fucking deal. He didn't indulge himself on Daddy's nickel with booze and cocaine while dodging military service. And he didn't lie about it or cover it up, unlike the current Decider-in-Chief, who will only cop to being "irresponsible" in his youth, which lasted until his 40th birthday.

Considering whether Obama is qualified to be president or not is fine; it's legitimate to ask if he is experienced enough. But drug use as a youth, candidly written about in a book aimed in part at young black kids with single parents, in itself shouldn't be disqualifying.