Wednesday, May 30, 2007

bravo for higher gas prices

That's what Robert Samuelson thinks politicians should be saying, instead of launching investigations. And he's basically right. Heck, $3.20-something isn't even high enough if, as Samuelson points out, we want to put a dent in carbon emissions from cars or in our dependency on foreign oil.

Our gas and other energy costs are still far cheaper than almost all other countries, discounting a few places like Venezuela that have oil and discount it for domestic consumption and political benefit. Slapping much greater taxes on gasoline, natural gas, and other carbon-based non-renewable energy resources will make alternative energies more competitive and more attractive as investments -- and hey, you can dedicate the extra revenues from those new taxes to research on alternative energy.

So yes, I'll say it. Bravo for higher gas prices.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

special dispensation

Writing the day after American government types held the first official meetings with Iranians in 27 years, California Congressman Darrell Issa says we need to speak to Syria, too. Issa admits that he has been to Damascus "many times" since September 2001 -- most recently in April.

Funny, I don't remember reading reports of Issa being called a "traitor" for visiting with officials from Syria's regime. Oh of course, that's because he has a special status that makes his visits to "enemy" countries somehow different than when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi does precisely the same thing.

Issa is a Republican. So that's all right, right NBC? Fox? CNN?


Monday, May 28, 2007

if it feels good, do it

Are you a pervert if you help an old lady across the road and it feels really, really good? Not necessarily. In a classic "it's a Monday on a holiday weekend" article, the Post reports that scientists at the National Institute of Health have found that when you do an altruistic act, there is activity in the "primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex."

In other words, there is a scientific as well as a moral reason to know that it does feel good to do good.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

george w. bush is "al qaeda's enabler"

So sayeth Andrew Sullivan, here. And he's right. A few snippets.
... The president is right that al Qaeda remains a terrible threat to Americans. He is right to insist on this. But one core reason he is right is because he has been in the White House for the last six years. Al Qaeda surely never had a more helpful man in such a powerful place. After over six years of this presidency, Bin Laden is still at large. Five and a half years after Bin Laden's religious tools murdered 3,000 innocents, this president still cannot find or capture or kill him. Five and a half years after that dreadful day, al Qaeda's reach in the Middle East is more extensive than ever, centered in Iraq, where it was barely existent before the war. Over four years after invading Iraq, the security situation there is as grave as it has ever been. Tens of thousands of innocents have been added to the three thousand murdered on 9/11 - many of them unspeakably tortured and murdered by death squads or Islamist cells empowered by Bush's jaw-dropping negligence.

Here is Bush's gift to the victims of 9/11: two new al Qaeda safe havens - in Anbar and in Pakistan.

Is not the record now clear that, whatever their intentions, Bush and Cheney have actually advanced the day when Islamist terrorists will kill and murder more Americans?

(Yes, it is clear.)

If a Democrat had been responsible for endangering America in this fashion, the Republicans would have impeached him by now. If a Democrat had bungled a war as obviously as this president - a war, moreover, that he has described as an existential struggle for our survival - the Republicans would long ago have Carterized him.
And finally,

The gravity of the mistake this country made in 2004 by re-electing al Qaeda's best bet is only now sinking in as deep as it should. I fear, however, that we have yet to experience the full and terrifying consequences of that historic mistake.

And hey, Sullivan isn't even mentioning George Bush's even worse role as Climate Change's Enabler.

Worst. President. Ever.

the stolen election ... of 2008?

Journalist Greg Palast in an interview at Buzzflash talks about the 2008 election as if it were already stolen. How? Rove's voter suppression strategy. Read the interview and hear Palast describe how the GOP comes up with "voter fraud" by sending notices marked "do not forward" to the homes of black soldiers whose units are in Iraq, and squeal "voter fraud" when they get returned.

The Great US Attorney Massacre is the tip of the iceberg. The goal is permanently tilting the polls a few percentage points against the Democrats by squelching voting among minorities and the poor.

adding insult to injury

Andrew Bacevich, who has strongly opposed the Iraq War from before the invasion, lost his son (also called Andrew) in Iraq this month. Like the father Bacevich, the son Bacevich was an officer in the US Army. The father served in Vietnam, and the son lost his life in Iraq. So, unlike many of the hawks supporting the war (starting with the chicken-hawks in chief, George W. "AWOL" Bush and Dick "I had other priorities" Cheney and their progeny), this opponent of the war had already served his country in war and had an immediate family member doing the same.

Bacevich criticizes Democrats for not doing more to end the war. Although I agree with Bacevich's goal, I don't agree that Congress can end the war by itself. De facto President Bush sent the troops to Iraq and I don't see realistically how he can be forced to bring them back. Even if Congress passed some law requiring it, we know how this Administration feels about obeying laws they don't agree with.

But I agree with another of Bacevich's points in his op-ed piece in the Post today. I agree that it is simply a "vile accusation" to accuse people who oppose the war of aiding the enemy. But, schooled by the Karl Rove/Rush Limbaugh method of political discourse, people even wrote to Bacevich after his son was killed to accuse him of just that:
Among the hundreds of messages that my wife and I have received, two bore directly on this question. Both held me personally culpable, insisting that my public opposition to the war had provided aid and comfort to the enemy. Each said that my son's death came as a direct result of my antiwar writings.
"Vile" is not nearly strong enough a word to describe such people.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

terrorism cooperation insufficient

Italian and Spanish counter-terrorism officials have publicly criticized the US for being insufficiently cooperative on terrorism investigations and prosecutions. Other Europeans, at a counter-terrorism conference in Italy, said the US didn't share evidence because "Washington was placing too much emphasis on holding terrorism suspects in CIA custody or elsewhere instead of prosecuting them in criminal court."

Not to mention other nifty US tactics like snatching suspected terrorists from the territory of allied countries like Italy -- without permission of the Italian government. Wonder how we'd react if Italy did the same thing in Chicago?


Friday, May 25, 2007

sue everybody!

Imagine, if you will, a young man, aged 29, driving down the road. He hits another vehicle and dies and now his dad wants to sue people. OK.

But wait. The son was drunk, with blood levels TWICE the legal level for intoxication, and just for kicks there was also marijuana in the car. Oh, and he was speeding on the interstate. Oh, and he was talking on a damn cell phone. Oh, and he wasn't wearing a seatbelt.

So I wonder quite what the rationale is for suing the tow truck company that owned the tow truck this young man hit. And for suing the driver of a car who's car was stalled on I-64 and was getting help from the tow truck driver. And for suing the restaurant that served the driver.

Anyhow, that's what Dean Hancock, father of the late St Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock, is doing. But he should be more creative in his lawsuits -- after all, there are PLENTY of entities that had some connection to the accident.

First, he should sue the manufacturer of the driver's stalled car because if that car had been made better it wouldn't have stalled and Josh Hancock wouldn't have hit that tow truck in his speeding, drunken, seatbelt-scorning cellphone wielding stupor. Then for good measure he should sue the manufacturer of the tow truck itself because if it had been made out of Nerf-style foam the impact wouldn't have killed the drunken, speeding, cell-phone using, seatbelt-ignoring Josh Hancock. He should sue the maker of Hancock's SUV for not installing technology to lock the ignition to prevent somebody who is completely bombed out of his mind from being able to operate the vehicle. He should sue the maker of whatever booze Josh Hancock was drinking for supplying booze in the first place.

Finally, he should sue the corpse of President Dwight Eisenhower for authorizing the construction of the Interstate Highway System because without I-64, there could have been no wreck on I-64 to kill drunken Josh Hancock.

I tend to feel sympathy for the father of somebody who has died in an accident, even if the person who died was clearly completely irresponsible in his behavior, and clearly completely responsible for his own death. But such mass-blast lawsuits tend to erode the sympathy pretty quickly. Leave Eddie's Towing and the other victims of this legal shooting spree alone.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

four things about monica goodling's testimony

I. At her testimony before the House Judiciary subcommittee, Monica Goodling said she "crossed the line" in using political criteria to hire professional, civil service lawyers at the de facto Bush Administration's Department of (In)Justice. To be clear folks, when she says "crossed the line" she actually means to say "broke the law."

II. Alberto Gonzales, whose initials are probably the only quality he has that resembles a qualified Attorney General, clearly tried to influence Goodling's testimony. Or else why would he turn a meeting with her into a session where he describes HIS recollection of the Great US Attorney Massacre in some detail and then asks how she remembers it? That is known as tampering with a witness. And that is illegal.

III. I'm so glad to hear House Republicans Dan Lungren and Tom Feeney praise Goodling for having shown why she was worthy of her DOJ job, and for making people "proud" of her service. She was worthy of her job at the Rove-Bush-Gonzales DOJ because she was willing to put politics ahead of public service and the law. Feeney is "proud" of somebody who willingly and knowingly broke the law while in the service of the American people in the Department of JUSTICE for crying out loud, to further Karl Rove's strategy of using voter suppression (his so-called "voter fraud" initiative) to cement a permanent Republican majority, by hook or (mostly) by crook.

IV. Goodling was hilariously underqualified for her job. That's not really her fault, but it shows again how loyalty and ideology trump any other qualification for this Administration.


how much will you pay to drive 20 miles?

A poll by the Washington Post and ABC News "surprised" some experts by noting that people are willing to pay well over $4 a gallon for gas before curtailing their driving -- over $5 in the western US.

I'm not sure why they are so surprised. So much in American life relies on a trip in an automobile, especially if you don't happen to live in one of those rare urban centers with a combination of dense development and adequate public transport systems. I mean, if you live in some exurb like Reston, Virginia, the odds are pretty damn good that there is nowhere you can walk to easily or safely (sidewalks, anybody? Not so common in many 'burbs.) walk to even if you WANTED to. And you probably don't live anywhere close to your job, either.

So sure, if the choice is pay $4.50 for a gallon of gas or quit your job that is 30 miles (and 3 hours by public transport) away, or not go grocery shopping (5 miles away), people are gonna drive. That's the very definition of a product with inelastic demand. Sucks rather badly for the poor of course but we don't really care about that in George W. Bush's America, do we?

On the other hand, I would expect sustained higher gas prices to drag down demand for those absurdities of the American roads, SUVs...


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

there goes the neighborhood

Many in the town of Lockney, Texas are concerned about that burg's newest resident. Some guy called Samuel Fischer, who makes cabinets. Doesn't sound too bad. But Fischer moved there with his TWO wives and 24 children -- because he is a member of the polygamist Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, self-described Mormons that the official Mormon Church condemns.

Folks in Lockney are worried that other polygamist families will also move to their town. They know that Fundamentalist Mormon leader Warren Jeffs is awaiting trial for arranging marriages between church elders and underage girls, and I guess they aren't keen on that kind of element.

Can't say I blame them. The Fundamentalist Mormons aren't exactly open and friendly to non-church members. And pimping out young teen girls to already-married lechers, um that is to say using divine guidance to select caring mature experienced husbands to protect and nurture these needy young ladies has gotten the FunMormons into trouble in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona.

No surprise that this has spurred interest in Jon Krakauer's book "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith," that combines a look at 19th century Mormon history with accounts of today's FunMormons.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

another name in vote suppression

The McClatchey headline says, "Efforts to stop 'voter fraud' may have curbed legitimate voting."

Of COURSE it did -- that is the entire friggin' point. Karl Rove doesn't do this stuff for his health, you know.

This article points to the role of political appointee Justice lawyer (now on the Federal Election Committee (FEC), another of Bush' infamous "recess appointees") Hans von Spakovsky in trying to curb the vote. In addition to supporting voter ID laws in states like Georgia, he wasn't shy in throwing his weight around within Justice to prevent anything counter to his anti-democratic (in BOTH senses of the word) views from getting through, and in ejecting Paul DiGregorio from the FEC because of the "bipartisan approaches" DiGregorio took while chairman of the FEC.

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richardson announces; this is news?

These news stories are kind of silly. Everybody who pays any attention to politics at all knew that Bill Richardson was running for president. His announcement is akin to Bud Selig calling a press conference tomorrow to announce that the Major League Baseball Season has begun.

The article avoids something that WILL be raised should Richardson somehow catch fire and become a significant contender. Women. There are stories and rumors alleging Richardson womanizes and acts coarsely towards women. Are they true? Beats me -- I don't hang out with Richardson. Are they relevant to his candidacy? Depends on the extent, the willingness of the other women, etc. But will these rumors be a campaign issue? Only if Richardson looks like a winner. He also reputedly has a pretty bad temper. But so do George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and John McCain -- that won't hurt him, assuming he doesn't blow up and smack a voter on TV.

You could do a LOT worse than Bill Richardson for President. He's smart, sophisticated, engaged, aware of international issues, even has executive experience as governor of New Mexico. But I still think he's running for Secretary of State.


gore was right

EJ Dionne is positive about Al Gore and his new book, "The Assault on Reason." But Dionne is engaged in wishful thinking to state (referring to Gore's book) that

"... the larger change is that the very process Gore describes -- of propaganda taken as fact, of slogans taken as arguments, of repetition substituting for logic and, yes, of lies and half-truths taken as truth -- is now well-recognized. What worked against Gore during the recount and what worked for the administration in the run-up to the Iraq war doesn't work anymore. That is an advance for democracy and for reason."

It is premature to say that it doesn't work. And for sure the tactic hasn't been dropped. Just look at the mainstream media's ass-kissing attitudes towards Rudy Giuliani - who was wrong in his reply to Ron Paul - and Mitt Romney, who even by politician standards has been truly heroic in his flipflopping since he was once a politician who out-liberaled Ted Kennedy on gay rights. And look at the ongoing slanders that the media repeats against John Edwards ($400 haircut, subtle intimations that Edwards is feminine or gay, etc) and the other leading Democratic candidates.

But Dionne is right that Gore was "right about the power of the Internet, right about global warming and right about Iraq." The electorate was right to vote Gore in as President in November 2000, including Florida voters who DID deliver a majority to Gore. But the right-wing Supreme Court couldn't abide that decision, and things have gone wrong ever since. I bet more than one of the five justices in the majority regret their decision. Right, Sandra and Anthony? And the mainstream media's campaign assassination campaign against Gore (and the flip-side, their love-fest with Bush) allowed things to be close enough for the Supremes to play their role.


Monday, May 21, 2007

two republican governors

Two sane Republicans -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (CA) and Gov. Jodi Rell (CT) write to complain that the de facto Bush Administration's Environmental Protection Agency is still blocking state plans to reduce carbon emissions. Even after the recent court ruling that carbon IS covered under the Clean Air Act, the EPA won't give California, Connecticut, and other states permission to reduce auto emissions at the state level.

Good for Schwarzenegger and Rell. But, despite their bravado that "It's high time the federal government becomes our partner or gets out of the way," getting out of the way isn't enough. We need Washington to be meaningfully involved in trying to mitigate climate change.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

two georgians seeing things differently

Two formerly politically prominent Georgians discussed religion on Saturday and came up with two different views.

Newt Gingrich, former GOP Speaker of the House and potential presidential candidate, gave an address to the graduating students at Falwell's Liberty University. And Newt, he of the cheesy science fiction novels with the steamy sex scenes, he of the multiple divorces, said "Basic fairness demands that religious beliefs deserve a chance to be heard. It is wrong to single out those who believe in God for discrimination. Yet, today, it is impossible to miss the discrimination against religious believers."

Apparently, it IS impossible to miss the discrimination against religious believers, because damned if I can see it. Last I checked, 534 of the 535 members of Congress professed to believe in various religions (all but Pete Stark who has publicly copped to being an atheist) ranging from Islam to Orthodox Judaism to Mormonism to a whole range of Christian sects, large and small. We get Christmas as a holiday. People can to go whatever church they want to. Televangelists are free to spout their lines on TV and radio.

Given the audience, what Newt REALLY meant was that fundamentalist Christians were being discriminated against in that they were not free to foist their religion upon the schools and government. But even THAT isn't discriminatory, since Catholics and Orthodox Jews and Mormons and snake-handlers are also not allowed to do so in most cases.

I doubt Newt really believes what he said. He's just shoring up his support among the theocratic wing of the GOP as he prepares a late run at the presidency.

Meanwhile, in a newspaper interview on Saturday former President Jimmy Carter, in addition to trashing the foreign policy record of de facto President George W. Bush, also criticized Bush's policy of giving federal grants to religious charities. In Carter's words, "As a traditional Baptist, I've always believed in separation of church and state and honored that premise when I was president, and so have all other presidents, I might say, except this one."

Gingrich sees discrimination against believers. Carter sees this de facto Administration not observing the separation of church and state. I see in Gingrich a person who wants to return to the political sphere and will say whatever he thinks his audience wants to hear to gain their support.


bay buchanan, free-lance psychiatrist or partisan attack dog?

In her new attack-book Bay Buchanan, battle-hardened sister of Patrick Buchanan and long-time conservative Republican strategist, has diagnosed Hillary Clinton with a narcissistic personality disorder that would make her a dangerous president. This, despite the fact that Buchanan is NOT a medical professional and probably has NOT spent much time observing Senator Clinton in person. (On the other hand, I'd love to see Bay's diagnosis of George W. Bush, where we DO have 6-plus years worth of real evidence that he would be a dangerous president.)

As Media Matters points out, Buchanan was able to blather about her prognosis unchallenged on Hannity & Colmes AND on MSNBC Live. Buchanan isn't merely promoting her book (which I will not name here -- suffice it to say that it is published by right-wing Regnery Publishing and takes the attitude toward Hillary Clinton that you would expect), she is ALSO working in a senior role for the presidential campaign of right-wing anti-immigration GOP no-hoper Tom Tancredo -- which was not mentioned on either interview.

I too am not a medical professional. I know practically nothing about Bay Buchanan than what I've seen of her on TV. So I feel well qualified to offer my own personal diagnosis of Ms Buchanan.

She, like Charles Krauthammer, is afflicted with a severe case of hypocrisy, which is only manifested towards Democrats.

Prognosis: It will continue until her death, unless she decides she could make more money attacking Republicans (very unlikely).

I hope Krauthammer (who IS a trained medical professional, making his statements about Al Gore needing lithium when Gore was speaking out against invading Iraq even more insidious and underhanded) will publicly criticize Buchanan for her absurd, politically motivated assessment of Hillary Clinton's mental health, exactly as he did when writer Michelle Cotter offered her own diagnosis in the New Republic about Dick Cheney's mental state.

But you know, I suspect intellectual honesty and consistency on the question of non-professionals offering diagnoses of politicians' mental conditions will not be something Krauthammer is interested in. Come on Charles -- prove me wrong!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

more on the attorneys

Fired US attorney David Iglesias tells the LA Times about a lunch he had a few weeks before the 2006 elections with a top New Mexico Republican lawyer called Patrick Rogers. Seems Rogers raised the whole voter fraud issue, and Iglesias told him "that in reviewing more than 100 complaints, he hadn't found any solid enough to justify criminal charges."

Guess Iglesias had one last chance to convince the Republican Party that he deserved to stick around. And couldn't. Surprise, surprise. Iglesias is under no illusions, saying that "all roads lead to (Karl) Rove," the master of electoral deception and dirty tricks, and the person pushing US attorneys to produce evidence of voter fraud.

Iglesias' account squares also with that of John McKay in Washington State, who has also said he had been pressured to bring voter fraud charges. But McKay said, "Suffice it to say that we thoroughly investigated [the election] at every appropriate turn. My job is to look at the evidence, and frankly, there wasn't any evidence of a crime."

That obviously wasn't good enough. Rove isn't really interested in voter fraud, but in suppressing the vote. Iglesias and McKay either didn't understand, or weren't ready to stoop to dubious measures to satisfy their political measures.

Which ironically DOES distinguish them from the "loyal Bushies" that Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling and others identified who have replaced McKay, Iglesias, and the other two dozen US attorneys to be forced out under odd circumstances over the past two year. Because loyal Bushies don't let the law get in the way of their political desires.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

20 months but who's counting?

Twenty months left in the de facto Bush Administration but who's counting? Conservative Republican congressmen, that's who. Bob Novak quotes an anonymous "prominent" Republican House member as saying "We're not hostile to the administration. We just want it to be over."

I half agree -- I want it to be over. But I am hostile to the administration. And the polls show most Americans feel much the same way.

torture, again

Another point from the Republican presidential debate: the candidates all flunked the torture question. Except John McCain. Showing a spark of his integrity remains un-flip-flopped, McCain said in response to the bogus "ticking bomb" question, "We could never gain as much from that torture as we lose in world opinion."

He's right. So are a couple of retired US generals, who agree that in torturing (and in using other hammer-to-kill-a-fly tactics) we create more terrorists than we kill. Heck, even Don Rumsfeld seemed to realize that. Not that he changed his tactics.

Plus, torture does not work (even the Israelis think so, and they aren't exactly shy about being tough) and in addition to the terrible damage it does to our reputation in the Middle East and indeed around the world, it dehumanizes those we ask to torture on our behalf.

And finally remember - a society that becomes comfortable with torturing "terrorists" or the "enemy" may make the transition to applying said tactics to others they may deem a threat. It's a slippery slope; we should keep off it.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

the department of injustice show

We'd heard the stories before about Alberto Gonzales and Andy Card trying to get then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to legitimize a White House eavesdropping plan -- while Ashcroft was in the hospital, in serious condition. But former Justice #2 Jim Comey's account of that March 2004 evening yesterday was gripping.

After Ashcroft, with Comey at his side, refused to concede the point (one of the few positive things Ashcroft has done) Gonzales and Card tried to browbeat Comey into a late-night White House meeting. But Comey wisely took a witness (then Solicitor-General Ted Olson) and the thuggery failed.

As the Post noted in an editorial, this is yet ANOTHER example of the de facto Bush Administration's proclivity to ignore its own lawyers. Legal advice to the Bushies is only good advice if it matches squarely with their political desires. The sinister Republican campaign against (non-existent) voter fraud is another example, this time their own appointed US attorneys getting the axe for being insufficiently enthusiastic in pursuing these bogus charges. As Harold Meyerson notes today, it's amazing there is anybody left working at Justice.

I hope the professionals there DO stick around. This Administration has only 20 months left, and the professional lawyers will be needed to help root out the underqualified ideologues that Rove and Company are trying to plant there.

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at least one breath of truth in the republican debate

In the GOP presidential debate, anti-Iraq War Texas Congressman Ron Paul got something right when he suggested that it was US policies in the Middle East that provoked the attacks of 9/11. Rudy Giuliani was angry about that, but Paul stuck to his guns and said we ignore this fact at our own risk.

As I've said a couple of times before, Ron Paul is right. Al Qaeda's stated top reason for opposing the US isn't some incomprehensible or jealous distaste for our "freedoms" no matter how often de facto President Bush says so. It was because of the ongoing presence of US troops in the Holy Land of Islam - Saudi Arabia. NOT that that makes the attacks of 9/11 or on the USS Cole or on the embassies in East Africa excusable -- they were still despicable acts. But you at least need to understand your enemy and examine his motives. Platitudes like "they hate our freedom" won't protect us nor will they break a terrorist outfit.

Paul is a little extreme in his libertarian views for my taste (he was the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate in 1988). But he deserves major credit for not knuckling under to the Republican party line and for stating what should be obvious -- terrorists don't just attack the US because we have MTV, the right to vote, and shopping malls.


jerry falwell checks out far too late

Jerry Falwell has died. It's a not very charitable thing to say, but it's too bad that hadn't happened about 50 years earlier. Falwell has been a corrosive force in American politics, founding the so-called Moral Majority and lending a veneer of Christian respectability to racism. Falwell lead the charge to politicize American churches, to the ultimate detriment to both churches and the American political system -- and possibly even to the Republican Party in the long run. The John McCain of 2000 was right that Falwell was an "agent of intolerance." His subsequent decision to speak at Falwell's poorly-named Liberty University speaks to McCain's descent into brown-nosing.

In recent years, perhaps Falwell's most outrageous statement was in the aftermath of 9/11, when he said that a country that tolerates pagans gays and lesbians and the ACLU essentially had it coming.

If I believed in hell, I'd hope Falwell rots there.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

scientology makes you crazy

Maybe you've seen the YouTube video of BBC reporter John Sweeney losing it in an interview with a top "Church" of Scientology official Tommy Davis. It doesn't look good, and the Scientologists have been showing it all around as "proof" of Sweeney's bias against them.

But you can read Sweeney's account here of what he had gone through while he was working on a story about that so-called church. For example,

While making our BBC Panorama film "Scientology and Me" I have been shouted at, spied on, had my hotel invaded at midnight, denounced as a "bigot" by star Scientologists and been chased round the streets of Los Angeles by sinister strangers.

Back in Britain strangers have called on my neighbours, my mother-in-law's house and someone spied on my wedding and fled the moment he was challenged.

As Sweeney points out, the Scientologists show a sweet and cuddly side, with deluded celebs like Tom Cruise and John Travolta at the fore. But they also have their "sinister and dark" side. For example, their practice of forcibly cutting members off from their families. Not to mention the fact that, unlike almost any other significant religion, you pay every step of the way in Scientology for their "help." That makes Scientology quite the profitable little operation.

Not to mention their absolutely bizarre belief in alien overlords and intergalactic spirits. Reminds you, doesn't it, that Scientology was founded by hack science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, who only decided to switch his "Dianetics" book marketing campaign from being a self-help volume to a religion because he realized that as a religion, he could avoid paying taxes. Truly a divine inspiration.


Monday, May 14, 2007

smelling the coffee

Hey, the Post now understands that the unifying link for the Great US Attorney Massacre is -- Karl Rove's Voter Fraud initiative. And that the massacre probably extends beyond the 8 fired last fall. And that the GOP's reason for the voter fraud initiative appears to be weak, given the bipartisan Electoral Assistant Commission's finding in its draft report that "there is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud." (A finding subsequently weakened at GOP insistence in the final report, surprise surprise.)

So much for this being a little matter of no consequence, eh?


Sunday, May 13, 2007

a (negative) force for (absolutely no) change

The G8* is working on a statement about climate change that would be released at the upcoming summit in Germany next month. Some of the elements in the draft paper include commitments to try to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees celsius (3.6 F), to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over half by 2050 (50% reduction from 1990 levels), and an acknowledgment that the UN is the appropriate place to deal with this global issue.

And the de facto Bush Administration is trying to delete all of the above. Oh, and it also is trying to scratch language that recognizes that dealing with climate change is an imperative, not a choice.

So, in case you needed reminding, this Administration remains pigheaded and shortsighted. Rather than risk an economic hit (which need not be great -- after all, research and development of new energy sources and new conservation measures open up new opportunities, too) or ask the American public to consider driving a slightly less massive and fuel-hoggish SUV, the Big Oil Administration is blocking meaningful action. And it isn't clear that we can afford such a delay.

*a group of seven democracies (US, Japan, Germany, UK, France, Italy, Canada (hey, how'd they get in there?)) and one dictatorship (Russia) that get together every year to discuss Big Issues.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel

Let's offer some cautious congratulations to the legislators and governor of Washington State -- they have just enacted the nation's first law making it a crime to drive and send text messages on your cellphone, Blackberry, or whatever.

Why? Because it's extremely dangerous, is why. As Governor Christine Gregoire said in signing the law, “Would you read a book or newspaper while you were driving? No! Then why would you text while driving?” Washington also banned the use of cellphones without a headset yesterday.

The "DWT" (driving while texting) law isn't a bad start, but it's flawed. First, the fine is only $101. That's peanuts to your usual high-powered, me-first professional type who would see such a paltry fine as merely a cost of doing business. And second, this law makes DWT a "secondary offense". That means a cop can't pull you over just for DWT, but you can be cited for that if he/she pulls you over for something more serious, like speeding. In a lot of places, seatbelt laws work the same way.

But there is a BIG difference between DWT and not wearing your seatbelt. Your failure to wear your seatbelt does not make you more dangerous to anybody but yourself. But your refusal to leave that god-damn cellphone or Blackberry alone while you drive VASTLY increases the danger you and your vehicle pose to me, you, all the other cars on the road, and any pedestrians on the sidewalk nearby.

I'm serious. A University of Utah researcher has found that driving while talking on a cellphone is MORE DANGEROUS than driving while DRUNK. It increases your odds of an accident by five times compared to driving while NOT using a cellphone, researcher Frank Drews found. And it didn't matter whether the test subjects were using a hand-held cellphone or a hands-free unit.

Logically, DWT would be even MORE dangerous. It equally pulls your mind away from what should be your main task -- driving -- and even more than cellphones, requires that you remove your eye from the road and at least one of your hands from the wheel. DWT and DWC ("driving while cellphone-talking") should be treated like drunk driving. Cops should be able to pull people over if they see you DWT or DWC even if you aren't speeding or doing anything else that warrants a friendly roadside conversation. They should have fines that start in the thousand dollar range, and better yet, being busted for DWT or DWC should put points on your license.

I don't want to be killed in a head-on collision with your porker of an SUV because you're too damn impatient to wait till you're stopped to read that stupid text from your girl/boyfriend about what slasher flick to see tonight. So, if the cellphone rings or the Blackberry buzzes while you're driving, do the right thing and leave it alone till you're parked somewhere. Heed the words of Jim Morrison, and keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel.

Friday, May 11, 2007

"pretty much aboveboard"

Ohio Republicans may be tired of the Toledo Blade, which has done a lot to cover the GOP's ongoing scandals in that state, including "Coingate." The latest Blade revelation, which Al Kamen notes today, is about Ohio Congressman Paul Gillmor. Gillmor bought a million-dollar house in the suburbs of Columbus, on an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course. OK -- Gillmore, the 28th-richest member of the House, can certainly afford that. And it is legal, if stupid, to waste money on golf, too.

Turns out the house isn't in his district, but that's legal too. Although didn't the Ohio GOP threaten to try to stop Ted Strickland from running for Governor last fall based on some absurd problem that Strickland actually lived in a different house than his campaign said? But both houses were in Ohio, which seems to be relevant for running for Governor of that state...

But back to Gillmor. Funny thing about this legally purchased house, which isn't in his Congressional district (he has a condo in Tiffin but is rarely seen there, apparently) but that's legal too, is that the house is NOT in Gillmor's name. In fact, it is in the name of some company called Zenith Holding & Trading Corp., a subsidiary of a big Ohio lobbying firm, Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease. VSPS has a PAC, too, which over the past 10 years has kicked in $6,500 to Gillmor's campaigns.

Gillmor, when asked, said this was transparent because the Toledo Blade was able to trace ownership to him. Well, "transparent" might be if the house were actually in Gillmor's name. Gillmor also said this was all "pretty much aboveboard", which certainly meets or even exceeds Republican ethical standards.

What would the GOP and the right-wing noise machine do with this info if it were about a Democrat? I'm just asking, is all.

substances, substances, substances

Today's summary of Substances In the News...

Legal and Profitable

I know it may shock you, but occasionally pharmaceutical manufacturers sneak a peak at their bottom line when deciding what do do about a drug -- such as, whether to admit that a painkiller is really, really, really addictive. That is what Purdue Frederick has admitted that it did with regard to the painkiller OxyContin.

Now, the fact that a painkiller is highly addictive should not disqualify its use. In the United States, we are too quick to take a moralistic tone about opiates and other painkillers -- out of fear of having somebody become addicted, we are extremely careful about "managing pain". In the absurd extreme, many patients who are in the terminal stages of a disease -- in other words, will soon die -- are denied adequate levels of painkillers. WTF? If somebody has some horrible cancer and his or her life is being measured in weeks, dope them up and let them be comfortable. And tell the DEA to back off.

But back to hillbilly heroin I mean Limbaugh's Choice I mean OxyContin. Seems Purdue held some data back about its addictive qualities for fear of creating bad press. Drug companies MUST comply with disclosure requirements -- OxyContin is a useful drug but doctors have the right to know about its side effects, including the level of addictiveness, when choosing whether and how to use it. And lest you think the $635 million Purdue and three of its executives will pay is adequate penalty, well consider that since 2000 revenues from OxyContin have topped $9 billion (billion, with a 'b').

Legal, Profitable, but Not Suitable for Viewing

The Motion Picture Association now tells us that for new movies, depictions of smoking will be a factor in deciding what a rating will be. Smoking TOBACCO, that is, a legal (albeit dirty, expensive, and unhealthy) product. Oh give me a break. Are you really worried about some character lighting up influencing little Johnny and Becky more than their parents' habits, or those of their friends and the other kids in the neighborhood? More than the advertising for cigarettes found in many magazines that enjoy significant readership among the under-18 crowd? More than Marlborough sponsorship of racing cars?

But still, pretty significant (but not too graphic) levels of violence will still be OK for PG-13 and even PG ratings. I'd rather that the kids see characters smoking cigarettes and even engaged in (non-explicit) sexual activities than blowing each other away with guns.

Legal, Profitable, and Deceptive

And now 29 states are urging Anheuser-Busch to warn people who buy their new alcohol plus caffeine mixtures about the dangers of mixing uppers and downers. I've never tried Spykes, Tilt, or Bud Extra -- but the attorney generals of these 29 states said that these booze-spiked concoctions look like Red Bull and other so-called energy drinks, and their flavors -- mango? chocolate? and packaging appeal to teens.

Appeal to teens? Forbid the thought, says Anheuser piously. Surely, just because it is fruity and sold in convenience stores and looks like Red Bull and comes in bottles small enough to slip into your pocket, this couldn't be considered an entree to drinking for the teensters?

Maybe they can use a cartoon character called Spyke to warn teens against the dangers of these delicious, cheap, mildly alcoholic buzzes, and give away lots of free products too.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

this ungodly long presidential season

David Broder is a good example of what can happen to somebody who is too close to a situation for too long -- kind of a victim of a journalistic Stockholm Syndrome, where his identification with what passes for the Washington Establishment has made him a sad parody of his former self.

But today his column correctly identifies a real problem -- the absurd presidential primary system. It's getting even worse, as Florida leapfrogs all the Super-Duper Tuesday states and moves its primary to the last Tuesday of January. Expect New Hampshire and Iowa, with their divine right to vote first, to move forward even sooner. At this rate, the primaries for the 2012 party nominations could happen the same week as the 2010 Congressional elections.

I don't think Congress should get involved in this -- it is for the Democratic and Republican parties to resolve. But I wish they would. As Broder pointed out, we are likely to know the nominees by early February. Oh no, 8+ months of the direct campaign after 16 months of the longest primary season in human history? I don't think I can stand it. And I worry about what both parties (especially the Republicans) will do with 8 months to trash their opponents. Eight months for opposition research? The GOP will tell us about every time Obama pulled a girl's hair in 3rd grade, or how Hillary once smacked her little brother for reading her diary.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

update from justice

A couple of stories from the de facto Bush Administration's Department of (for Republicans Only) Justice.

Some schmuck called Jay Apperson got a job with the DC federal prosecutor's office. And Apperson didn't have to go thru the usual "rigorous vetting process that the vast majority of career federal prosecutors face." Why not? Because his buddies at Justice told the DC federal prosecutor that Apperson was OK.

This despite some examples of dubious judgement: "When he was counsel to a House subcommittee in 2005, Jay Apperson resigned after writing a letter to a federal judge in his boss's name, demanding a tougher sentence for a drug courier. As an assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia in the 1990s, he infuriated fellow prosecutors when he facetiously suggested a White History Month to complement Black History Month."

Another sign of the politicization of Justice? Maybe.

Meanwhile, the world's best known Regent University Law School graduate, Monica Goodling, now will get a limited immunity deal to discuss the Great US Attorney Massacre before the House Judiciary Committee. Committee Chairman John Conyers said he thinks this will help get the truth about the massacre and the "possible politicization in the department's prosecutorial function."

Remember, that is the crux of the issue -- not firing a few attorneys, but the reasons behind the firings. Specifically, failure to show enough zeal in prosecuting Democrats right before elections (or in Carol Lam's case, too much zeal in prosecuting Republicans), and failure to support Karl Rove's voter suppression campaign. THAT is the problem with politicizing Justice's prosecutorial function.


Monday, May 07, 2007

an unlikely president for france

I am surprised to see who is to be President of France -- former Kid in the Hall and veteran of "That 70's Show" Kevin McDonald.

Yeah, I know the press all says Nicolas Sarkozy was the winner -- and it is true that his name was on the ballot. But ask yourself -- have you ever seen Kevin McDonald and Nicolas Sarkozy together? Of course not. You say, "But McDonald is Canadian." Sure -- which is why he speaks French well enough.

Until somebody can prove it, I am forced by the evidence available to conclude that Kevin McDonald is the next President of France. Wait till he names Scott Thompson as Minister of Culture, Bruce McCullough Minister of Defense, Mark McKinney Finance Minister, and David Foley as Minister for the Environment...


Saturday, May 05, 2007

some predictions on iraq

Reading Juan Cole's Informed Comment can be kind of depressing. Not the professor's fault; it's depressing because it is informative about the realities in Iraq today.

Today, Cole has an interesting piece from an unnamed guest, who offers 19 predictions for what will happen over the rest of 2007 in Iraq. I urge you to read the whole thing, but a few snippets below...
As US troops replace withdrawing Brits in the Shiite south of Iraq, we'll see major problems for our forces in an area where they have no experience.

A coordinated rocket attack will hit the Green Zone.

More kidnappings of Americans.

The Maliki government will continue to refuse to share power with Sunnis or Kurds.

Rising rates of suicide among over-extended, over-stressed American military personnel.

Bush will use either the success or failure (much the more likely) of the surge as a reason to refuse to bring any troops home.
Not a pretty picture.

what to do with norris hall

Virginia Tech has to decide what to do with Norris Hall, where Seung-Hui Cho killed 30 people (and himself). I agree with one student quoted, that the school shouldn't tear the building down. In general, I tend to NOT want to destroy sites of such tragedies/atrocities, partly because you then have to ask yourself, where to stop? Why not also tear down the dorm where Cho killed two? Why not raze every building where somebody killed somebody else? How do you decide? (Comparisons to Oklahoma City and the WTC aren't appropriate -- those attacks destroyed the buildings anyway.)

Best suggestion -- name it after professor Liviu Librescu, who held the door shut while his students escaped out a window before Cho forced the door open and killed him. There is a petition to rename the building after the elderly Holocaust survivor. That is a great idea.

dealing with climate change doesn't have to break the bank

At least, that's what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says. All the people who are saying that reducing carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions would ruin our economies, de facto President George Bush, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, and China's leadership notable in those ranks, don't look at some other facts.

First, they ignore the costs of NOT trying to mitigate climate change. The IPCC admits there would be big costs -- like higher prices for gas and power. But there are immediate benefits, too -- a cleaner environment and probably better health for us humans, animals, and plants.

And second, they ignore the benefits of change. Bush, OPEC, and the others with a big stake in the carbon economy act as if there is no possible advantage to quitting the current energy economy before the last hydrocarbon is burned. Of course, the owners of horse & cart concessions in the 1890s also thought that internal combustion could never replace animal power...

But the R&D needed for lower-carbon energy (which would become economically competitive if the environmental costs of carbon were accurately reflected in the price of burning a gallon of gas or a ton of coal) would definitely bring its own benefits, economic as well as environmental. For one example, look at the world's leader in solar power -- Germany. Over 50,000 people in Germany have jobs related to solar power, and Germany, along with equally cloudy Japan, are well placed to make a handsome profit from the increasing attention to solar and alternative energy sources.


Friday, May 04, 2007

save us!

Tom Toles on target again...

penalized before convicted

The Washington Madam scandal currently underway points to a couple of issues. First is the fact that prostitution is illegal. I don't see why two (or more) people can have sex together after one person spends a couple of hundred dollars on wine, dinner, and a show, but to do the same with cash instead is illegal. It should be legalized, regulated (nobody under 18, health regulations, preventing it from becoming a public nuisance by prohibiting street walking, etc), and taxed. Then Palfrey wouldn't have to go thru the charade (which smells like blackmail) of getting prominent names to testify on her behalf that her escort service didn't offer sex. Which I doubt anybody believes.

But second, among the many many things Palfrey has said, she hits another good point: "Let's concentrate on forfeiture, this whole situation of seizing one's property before one is even convicted of anything, or, in this case, charged."

That is a valid concern. The Government is allowed to seize any of your assets they think were derived from certain illegal activities BEFORE getting a conviction. Yes, that's right. You can be charged with selling drugs for example, and the Feds can sell your house, your car, your college-age daughter's condo (bought in your name), all of that stuff before you are put before a jury of your peers. Now, it's bad enough to penalize somebody before obtaining a conviction. It's even worse when police raid the wrong person's house and make the wrong arrests, and have already SOLD all their stuff before they can prove the mistaken identity.

I'm sympathetic to doing something to prevent all assets being sold off before a conviction. But they shouldn't be disposed of by the government until the case is resolved. And in Palfrey's case, a judge should give her access to some of her money so she can mount a legal defense. After all, some friend of the judge's might be on that list!

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

the political nature of the mess at justice

Well what do you know? Not only were the Republican apparatchiks at Justice firing political appointees for insufficient commitment to the Party (i.e., for not being enthusiastic enough in suppressing the vote among likely Democratic populations), they were also applying ideological and political tests to hiring CAREER employees at Justice. Monica Goodling, did you realize that was illegal? Didn't Regent University Law School cover that particular bit of ground?

Do you see a pattern here? This isn't about Gonzales' incompetence. This isn't about rearranging political appointees for the President's pleasure. This is about burrowing in at Justice to ensure that a permanent cadre of Party members (with shiny Federalist Society plaques in their home offices) remain to promulgate permanent Party control.

Where else in the Federal bureaucracy is this sort of illegal activity underway? I see no reason to assume this is purely a Justice problem, although clearly Justice would be a key agency for this sort of thing...

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returning to a tried and tested lie

You may have forgotten that de facto President Bush has admitted on several occasions that Al Qaeda had NOTHING to do with the attacks of September 11, 2001. But now the President has returned to his dishonest ways (which Cheney never abandoned), making the bogus claim that we have to stay in Iraq in a speech he delivered yesterday.

Bush said "The primary reason for the high level of violence is this: Al-Qaeda has ratcheted up its campaign of high-profile attacks." And he also said that the question was not about a civil war (hey, he admitted it was a civil war!), but it was "whether we stay in the fight against the same international terrorist network that attacked us on 9/11."

Two minor problems here. First, the violence in Iraq is OVERWHELMINGLY instigated by (and against) Iraqis who have nothing to do with Al Qaeda. And second, don't let Bush's little connection between Al Qaeda attacking the US on 9/11 and their exaggerated activities in Iraq distract you from the fact that Al Qaeda had ZERO presence in Iraq before we invaded in 2003.

Remember: Saddam and Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Nothing. We invaded Iraq to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction, which turned out not to exist.

And remember further that Al Qaeda is not particularly important in Iraq compared to the various Sunni and Shiite militias and insurgents. Even Fox News white House correspondent Bret Baier sounded a note of skepticism, saying at Tony Snow's press briefing that "This morning the president said that al-Qaeda seems to be a bigger problem than sectarian violence. That seems to fly in the face of what we've heard in recent weeks and months on the ground in Iraq."

In response, Snow lamely said "Well, you've got a shifting series of circumstances."

That's true. The shifting circumstance is that three-plus months into Bush's "surge," violence is as high as ever (ask families and friends of the 100+ US service personnel killed in April, plus all the Iraqis) and they need to try something to deflect attention. What better than to return to Al Qaeda.

Gosh, maybe we should have tried harder to capture him in 2002 in Afghanistan, instead of switching resources to Iraq for a Republican war of choice.

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another pandemic candidate

It isn't just bird flu that medical scientists fear could cause a global pandemic. A nasty strain of tuberculosis that is resistant to most drugs is also popping up in places like Russia and South Africa.

Bird flu becoming a human pandemic would be just plain bad luck. But with TB, it is a case of doing it to ourselves -- failing to properly use antibiotics to completely knock out a particular case of TB just makes the microbe that much more resistant to the drug. I wonder whether the modern practice of filling our cattle, hogs and poultry full of antibiotics regardless of whether said cow or pig or hen is sick will contribute to making some nasty microscopic creature emerge already resistant to existing medicines?


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

news: well-paid employees bring value

Remember how Circuit City fired its highest-paid salespeople a couple of months ago precisely because they were the highest paid? Well, now new financial figures are in and it doesn't seem to have helped Circuit City. They will report a loss for the first quarter and analysts think the firings were responsible.

Surprise, but the highest paid floor staff were also the BEST sales people for Circuit City. Industry analysts see them losing sales to competitors with staff better able to help advise people with these big-ticket items.

You know, I'm sure the assumption among Circuit City management is the same as it is at other corporations -- the highest-paid MANAGERS are paid better because they are good, and deserve that money. But their inability to make the same connection to the peons they hire at a pittance to actually do what Circuit City is supposed to do -- sell real items to real people -- very much brings into question their own competence.

Circuit City, hoist on its own petard. And its stock is down. Woo hoo again.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

happy law day!

Ruth Marcus does a nice job of noting many of the laws that de facto President George Bush and his outta-control administration have undermined or ignored. Do you think Bush even thinks of that when he does his tightlipped little proclamation for Law Day? Naaah.