Monday, May 30, 2005

By Their Actions Shall You Know Them

I've whined a lot about how us liberal Christians get smeared because of the unconscionable behavior of the Religious Reich. After all, we progressives are better than that; we have more compassion, sensitivity, and rationality than those whack-jobs. Just about the time I get sufficiently full of myself, something knocks me upside the head and tells me to get over myself.

Today it was an email summary of my local network news program. I've stopped watching television, all television, because it seemed so irrelevant, but I still haven't gotten around to cancelling that damned email alert. Today's intrigued me enough to check out this story.

BALTIMORE -- Medical ethicists are intrigued by a communal group called Jesus Christians, many of whose members have donated one of their kidneys to total strangers.

The Jesus Christians base their surgical donations on the apostle Paul's New Testament letter to the Romans, which says Christians should present their bodies as "living sacrifices."

They also point to John the Baptist, who urged those who had two coats to give to those who had none.

Medical ethicists say peer pressure within religious groups can be a concern, but note that faith can be a valid reason for an organ donation.

Instead of holding jobs, Jesus Christians live on gifts and spend their time handing out literature and volunteering around their communes in the United States, Australia and England.

My first response was "cult!" but, as I thought about it, even if it were a cult, it was doing something I don't know that I would have the courage to do. These people were living their belief system to the benefit of strangers. They were taking the words of the Bible literally, but in a way that gives life rather than sucks it out.

I went to their homepage and discovered that they in fact are 'end times folks.' Still, even though I don't agree with some of their premises, and I wouldn't leave my current spiritual home, I am impressed with the integrity of their movement.

And I am also embarrassed by my tepid nature when it comes to living the life Jesus asked us to.

Memorial Day

Traditionally, Memorial Day was a day of mourning. We mourn the men and women who sacrificed their lives in defense of our freedoms. This Memorial Day is even more poignant for us because we not only mourn the loss of those fallen soldiers, but also the loss of our national integrity. We've lost our nation and everything it purportedly stood for.

We learned (from the Times of London) via the 'Downing Street Memo' that our Administration engaged in 'fact fixing' as early as the Summer of 2002 to support their intended invasion of Iraq, even as the Administration pretended to the UN that it would go along with the Security Council in pressuring Iraq to to cooperate with weapons inspectors.

Now we learn (again from The Times of London) that both the USAF and RAF had increased bombing dramatically even earlier:

THE RAF and US aircraft doubled the rate at which they were dropping bombs on Iraq in 2002 in an attempt to provoke Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse for war, new evidence has shown. The attacks were intensified from May, six months before the United Nations resolution that Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, argued gave the coalition the legal basis for war. By the end of August the raids had become a full air offensive.

Further, later in the article we learn the following:

They opted on August 5 for a “hybrid plan” in which a continuous air offensive and special forces operations would begin while the main ground force built up in Kuwait ready for a full-scale invasion.

In other words, the US and Great Britain fully intended to go to war, legality be damned, even before May, 2002. We were lied to, although by now, most Americans, whether they currently oppose the war or they currently support the war, will admit that.

That is bad enough. However, the soldiers sent to this war were sent without adequately armored vehicles, without their own personal armor, and frequently without adequate ammunition. And when (if) they come home, they will have to continue to fight: for adequate medical care and disability benefits as a result of the injuries they sustained while serving. This Administration has broken every key promise made to our soldiers.

I was struck by this editorial from the Star Tribune.

In exchange for our uniformed young people's willingness to offer the gift of their lives, civilian Americans owe them something important: It is our duty to ensure that they never are called to make that sacrifice unless it is truly necessary for the security of the country. In the case of Iraq, the American public has failed them; we did not prevent the Bush administration from spending their blood in an unnecessary war based on contrived concerns about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. President Bush and those around him lied, and the rest of us let them. Harsh? Yes. True? Also yes. Perhaps it happened because Americans, understandably, don't expect untruths from those in power. But that works better as an explanation than as an excuse.
As this bloody month of car bombs and American deaths -- the most since January -- comes to a close, as we gather in groups small and large to honor our war dead, let us all sing of their bravery and sacrifice. But let us also ask their forgiveness for sending them to a war that should never have happened. In the 1960s it was Vietnam. Today it is Iraq. Let us resolve to never, ever make this mistake again. Our young people are simply too precious.


Sunday, May 29, 2005

Is Our Children Learning?

The "No Child Left Behind Act" (also known by educators as 'No Child Left Alive Act' or 'No Child Left Untested Act') is one of those bizarre federal bills that the current Administration rammed through with the help of Senator Ted Kennedy. I suppose, to be charitable, that Mr. Kennedy thought that draconian measures were needed to remedy the sad state of affairs of American education. From what I can tell, the results are (once again, to be charitable) mixed.

The testing seems a bit tricky, however. It emphasizes the famous "Three 'Rs" of the Nineteenth Century and also seems to encourage 'teaching to the test.' While even I know that having the ability to read, write, and calculate is a good foundation for education, learning to think critically and how to find information that is necessary for the Twenty-first Century should be the hallmark of education, something that the act in question seems to assume will naturally flow from language and arithmetic skills. Such an assumption I believe to be unproven.

Apparently a California State Assemblywoman agrees with me. Jackie Goldberg (Los Angeles) has introduced a bill to add a section to the California Education Code.

SECTION 1. Section 60050 is added to the Education Code, to read:

60050. (a) Neither the state board nor a governing board may adopt instructional materials that exceed 200 pages in length.

(b) The Legislature encourages the use of technology and multimedia materials in order to comply with subdivision (a) and reduce the cost and weight of textbooks.


Prohibits the State Board of Education (SBE) and the governing board of any local education agency (LEA) from adopting any instructional material that exceeds 200 pages in length.

Encourages the use of technology and multimedia materials to create higher interest and more up-to-date information from varied sources.


Textbooks should provide an overview of the critical questions and issues of a subject, and then become a roadmap to guide students to other means and sources of information. Students need to begin learning to use these means and sources in school so they can consider the advantages and hazards of information acquired from these sources and use them wisely.

Through the Digital High School program, all high schools have been equipped with computers. The K-12 high-speed Internet has provided high-speed Internet connectivity to every county office. California needs to make every classroom in California a state-of-the-art technology/media classroom, and prepare students to live and work in the 21st century environment.

(I included the analysis section so that the notion of limiting textbooks to 200 pages wouldn't appear so ludicrous.)

Ms. Goldberg's reasoning is that the textbooks should consist in teaching students how and where to find the necessary information, rather than just summarize the information on a single source basis. She was interviewed on my local NPR station May 27, 2005 and expanded on the intention of her bill. She used the example of reading a novel. Knowing the historical and social context against which Charles Dickens was writing is useful when reading one of his novels. Such information is available on-line in the forms of journal entries written by people who lived in the Nineteenth Century. Learning how to find those journal entries and how to view them differently than an opinion piece written by a book reviewer are two very important skills.

She also opined that the students would read the textbook and novel outside of class. In the class, the teacher would guide them in searching the internet for that material. This approach, of course, requires that each classroom have adequate computer equipment for each student.

The interview is actually quite interesting and is available here. Again, the date of the interview on "Air Talk" is May 27, 2005. The audio is about eight minutes long.

Educators and legislators need to start thinking along these lines, and they will, once they are freed from the strictures of the "No Child Left Behind" mindset.

[Note: Ms. Goldberg's bill has passed the California Assembly and is now in committee for assignment to the appropriate State Senate committees for consideration]

Saturday, May 28, 2005

More on the Stem Cell Research Bills

Well, the House stem cell research bill that President Bush threatened to veto still managed to pass, but it lacked fifty votes or so to be veto-proof. Senator and Minority Leader Reid and other Democrats are now pushing Senator Frist to bring Specter's stem cell research bill to a vote. Senator Reid apparently is convinced there are enough votes to pass S 450 to be veto-proof. That still doesn't solve the problem of the House not having the votes, even if Reid's ability to count is still intact.

A new PAC has been formed to push for the bills, and their web site is located here. I urge you to go to the site and sign the letter they intend to mail to each member of Congress.

If enough pressure is brought to bear on House members, they may develop enough of a spine to warn the President against the veto, or vote to override it, regardless of how they voted the first time.

Please: do this NOW.

That Silly Badger

I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, so I always try to keep track of what's going on 'back home,' especially in politics.

Back in the day, it was a pretty interesting political landscape. Milwaukee had a socialist mayor for years (hence the fantastic public park system), and inevitably had a pretty even mix of Democrats and Republicans scattered throughout the rest of the elected positions. Splinter parties did well, too. Robert LaFollette, who, with Teddy Roosevelt, helped the Bullmoose Party get its legs, was from Wisconsin. The concept of a "Progressive Party" did well there.

Russ Feingold is a current Wisconsin Democrat. He worked with Sen. John McCain to pass a bill that would try to clean up the money flows in campaign financing. Unfortunately, Wisconsin also has Rep. James Sensenbrenner (Republican).

His latest contribution to America is H.R. 1528 , which is a pretty dramatic attempt to 'protect' children from the evil drug lords. The bill requires jail sentences for people (including parents and siblings) who observe drug usage and fail to report the crime to the police. The reach of the bill is staggering.

Bill Piper is director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, and he has an excellent critique of the bill on Alternet.

Sensenbrenner, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman, has introduced legislation that would essentially draft every American into the war on drugs. H.R. 1528, cynically named "Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act," would compel people to spy on their family members and neighbors, and even go undercover and wear a wire if needed. If a person resisted, he or she would face mandatory incarceration.

Here's how the "spy" section of the legislation works: If you "witness" certain drug offenses taking place or "learn" about them, you must report the offenses to law enforcement within 24 hours and provide "full assistance in the investigation, apprehension and prosecution" of the people involved. Failure to do so would be a crime punishable by a mandatory minimum two-year prison sentence, and a maximum sentence of 10 years.

But wait, there's more!

H.R. 1528 also establishes new draconian penalties for a variety of non-violent drug offenses, including:

Five years for anyone who passes a marijuana joint at a party to someone who, at some point in his or her life, has been in drug treatment;

Ten years for mothers with substance abuse problems who commit certain drug offenses at home (even if their children are not at home at the time);

Five years for any person with substance abuse problems who begs a friend in drug treatment to find them some drugs.

These sentences would put non-violent drug offenders behind bars for as long as rapists, and they include none of the drug treatment touted in the bill's name.

The bill is currently in committee, where I hope it dies.

I guess I forgot that Senator Joseph McCarthy was also from Wisconsin. There was another man who didn't worry too much about privacy and civil rights issues.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Dear Mr. President

The main stream media still hasn't done much with the Downing Street Memo which summarizes a meeting between officials of the British and US governments regarding 'fixing' facts in order to justify the Iraq War months before presenting the case to the UN and to the United States Congress. The few stories that have come out since May 1, 2005 (the day the Times of London published the story) have all been buried deeply in the papers, or mentioned only briefly on television news.

There are some in our Congress who don't think that's good enough. John Conyers is one of them. He and 88 colleagues wrote to the President asking about the veracity of the memo and requesting a response. As is usual with this administration, there has been no response. Mr. Conyers has now requested that US citizens join in the request for more information.

Dubbed the “Downing Street Memo,” but actually comprising the minutes of a meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair and other top British government officials, the memo casts serious doubt on many of the contentions of the Bush Administration in the lead up to the Iraq war. With over 1,600 U.S. servicemen and servicewomen killed in Iraq, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and over $200 billion in taxpayer funds going to this war effort, we cannot afford to stand by any longer.

I believe the American people deserve answers about this matter and should demand directly that the President tell the truth about the memo. To that end, I am asking you to sign on to a letter to the President requesting he answer the questions posed to him by 89 Members of Congress.

This Memorial Day weekend, I urge you to go to Mr. Conyers' web site (linked above), read the letter, and sign it. At this point, it is the very least we can do.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Remembering Anew

One of my online friends and fellow bloggers is traveling in Germany with his bride to meet the bride's extended family. He posted this on May 19,2005. Because it is so compelling, I am reproducing it in its entirety (with Rorschach's permission).

Thursday, May 19, 2005
Ich Bin Ein Berliner...

as the old Kennedy joke goes.

Seriously, though, I wonder if there is any better place in the world in which to ponder the dangers and consequences of militarism and self-righteousness than Berlin (other than, say, Iraq). Although there are, of course, strong tendencies in Germany to want to bury and deny the past, the city displays a strong commitment to remembering what happened here and to trying to understand how and why it did.

The newly opened Holocaust Memorial, appropriately situated just down from the Brandenburg Gate, is a profound disappointment. I´m sure plenty of images are available online, but suffice it to say that it´s a non-representational installation piece consisting of dozens upon dozens of coffin-sized granite slabs of various heights. Walking between them, one soon is swallowed up, as the ground slopes down and the slabs tower overhead.

In concept, I like it. In practice, what happens is that families stop on the fringes and find the shorter slabs there fine places to stop and picnic. Doesn´t seem terribly effective or appropriate to me. In fact, if one does come away with any serious desire to meditate on the horrors of the genocide, one must have already done the heavy lifting already. The monument doesn´t help.

In the final analysis, I cannot think of a much less appropriate memorial to the victims of the Holocaust than a great place for kids to run around and play hide and seek.

On the other hand, there is the Topography of Terror. This exhibit/museum (I´ll explain momentarily) shows the true power of responsible commemoration. As a matter of fact, its commitment to responsibility, to being a living and active agent in the fight against terror and militarism, is the very reason why it stands incomplete, defunded by a city that is not entirely ready to face its demons.

Even without a building to house it, this museum asserts its right to exist. Built along a still-standing section of the Berlin Wall, which also is a stretch of Wilhemstrasse, where the foundations of the old SS and SD buildings have recently been excavated, this memorial involves a great many outdoor placards, very text-heavy, detailing precisely how the Nazis worked.

The "People´s Courts" were instrumental in this, handing down obscene verdicts, which reached a 50% capital punishment rate by the end of things, driven by Party operatives who swore to issue verdicts completely in line with the will of der Führer. (Dare I bring up the travesty of justice presently embodied in our own arbitrary "detainments" and "extraordinary renditions," which answer to no law?)

The Topography of Terror leaves you exhausted, forcing you to face the imprisonment and torture of pro-Communists, gays, Jews, Roma, Sinti, and on and on. It presents the faces of the students who were executed for distributing all of six leaflets opposing the Nazis, and of the cartoonist who was shot for mocking their Leader. It reminds you of all the little baby steps that are necessary and sufficient to the production of hundreds of thousands of goose-stepping murderers.

We need to keep all this in mind, in the US these days.
And today, we visited the Memorial of the Soviet Soldiers, in what was East Berlin. It remains as it was, thanks to the insistence of the USSR that it be kept so as a condition of reunification. Truly impressive, and not just because its architecture is a prime example of Soviet gigantism. The sculptures representing the sacrifices of the Soviet people--all of them--during World War II drive home just how different the war was for them than for the US, and just how much we owe them in the defeat of the Nazis. Remember: Twenty times as many Soviets died in the war as did American and British combined.
That´s the latest from Berlin.

And don´t fret. For all the seriousness of this post, I am still finding time to sample the local brews... Posted by: rorschach / 8:22 AM

I hope readers go visit Rorschoch's blog and see some of the other treasures he has there.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Absolutely Chilling

On May 19, 2005, Michael Chertoff, the new Secretary of Homeland Security, spoke to the Center for Strategic and International Studies about what he envisioned his task was. The full text of his speech is here, and I urge you to read the entire speech and the Q&A which followed.

In the meantime, I am going to highlight some of the sections which most concerned me because it seems to me that, his protests notwithstanding, we can expect further erosion of our rights to privacy and the unilateral imposition of American regulations on every other nation in the world.

In my own prior job as head of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, we put people overseas to work with prosecutors and investigators in Europe precisely because we needed to build up a network of law enforcement that would parallel the network of terror. So this is not new, but as we are poised here two years after the Department was formed, it's a good time to start to think about how do we take this to the next level; how do we move beyond simply partnering on an individual episodic basis to building a true partnership that will operate in a mission-oriented focus, where we will work together with our allies overseas to accomplish a mission that will secure the entire world.

And let me tell you where I would like to see us go with this at the end of this next stage of development. We need to have a world that is banded with security envelopes, meaning secure environments through which people and cargo can move rapidly, efficiently, and safely without sacrificing security. And in that kind of a world, it would be possible with the proper security vetting, with the proper technology, with the proper travel documents, with the proper tracking of cargo to move relatively freely from point to point all across the globe with the understanding that those within the security envelope we have a high confidence and trust about so that they don't have to be stopped at every point mechanically and re-vetted and rechecked. And those outside the envelope would be those on which we could focus our resources in terms the kind of in-depth analysis and the kind of in-depth vetting that is necessary to make sure bad people can't come in to do bad things.

In other words: "Our way. Period." The effect this may have on imports or tourists be damned. You get passports which contain a chip that our INS reader can scan (as well any other machine reader held by another individual), or you don't visit Disney World or attend a conference at any university.

[The]technology is obviously going to be critical. We need technology for screening cargo. We can use it for screening people, as well. We're doing a lot of work in this country. The Europeans are doing a lot of work. We ought to make sure we get on the same page with that work for two reasons. First of all, we maximize our resources if we have fully available to us all of the ingenuity and talent across the globe of people who are thinking about ways to use technology.

Secondly, we've got to be compatible. It doesn't make a lot of sense, for example, to have radio frequency chips that use different kinds of modalities in the United States and Europe and in Asia because we're simply going to make it hard for us to interconnect, so that to the extent that we can start to build common platforms and common technological approaches, again, we will move ourselves closer to this concept of a security envelope. And we will also save ourselves some money and some effort and some time.

Finally, law enforcement -- as I've indicated, intelligence sharing and law enforcement sharing has been critical to dealing with the threat of terrorism globally. We need to continue to advance on that front. We've done a lot. I know, for example, in Europe, the Europeans themselves through the EU mechanism and Europol have been working to try to have greater connectivity among their various law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies. We need to build on that. We need to encourage it, again, because that free flow of information and cooperation gives us an ability to network in a way that lets us match the network of the enemy.

Mr. Chertoff has already told us that he worked hard to insert American police investigators in other countries. Now, he expects the payoff. I don't have a problem with co-ordinated efforts to short circuit terrorists who would do our country or any other nation harm. I do have a problem with insisting that all nations submit to our various 'enforcement agencies' determining what we expect by way of cooperation from other nations. Like most Americans, I respect our sovereignty. I also respect that of other nations. We have become bullies under this current administration, and I think much of our daily problems are due to that.

There are number of ways in which the private sector can really add value and play a major role in this process. One is, of course, technological -- to the extent we have tools that are more efficient in screening, that's often an area where the private sector contributes.

Second, where we do -- and I want to be very careful about how I say this -- where we do screening, and we do need a certain amount of limited information for screening, some of that's available in the private sector. Now, it may be that it should remain in the private sector, that we don't want the government to accumulate a lot of data, but that we want to figure out a way to deal with the private sector so that we can get a signal or a flag that there is, for example, with respect to a traveler a reason to be concerned without actually having to dive into the underlying data and get access to things that I think people might be reluctant to have their government see. So I actually think the private sector can help us construct an architecture that will be privacy -- pro-privacy and privacy protective, while giving us the ability to see results that will be important in terms of deciding who we have to focus on.

Finally, the private sector can deal with it this way -- you've got a lot of people traveling almost always for private business, as we talk about trusted traveler programs getting more of the kind of information that allows us, for example, to let people move freely through airports, as we talk about biometric types of identification which maybe become available on a voluntary basis, the private sector can create a marketplace for this. If people, in fact, see value in having a biometric card and volunteering some information for it in return for getting some kind of trusted traveler status, that will create a marketplace for the technology and a marketplace for the systems that we need to drive that forward. So that's another area where we look to the private sector.
[emphasis added]

And here, of course, is the bottom line. This man and his ideas (clearly those of the current administration) are dangerous, are hazardous to our health as a democracy and as a nation of the world.

I find this chilling and unacceptable.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Apparently Some Christians...

aren't Republican.

President Bush invited himself to be the commencement speaker at a small, Christian college in Michigan. Apparently not all of the graduating seniors and faculty members were overjoyed at having Mr. Bush speak:

But some said they were pleased to have an opportunity to show that, despite the high profile of evangelicals' in GOP politics, there are nuances to Christians' views when it comes to war, tolerance and the environment.

"We want to make sure the world knows that this is an academic institution, and there are lots of views," said Larry Louters, a chemistry professor who said he did not sign either of the two open letters to Bush that were published in the local newspaper, the Grand Rapids Press. The second letter, signed by about a third of the college's 300 faculty members, was published Saturday.

"We believe your administration has launched an unjust and unjustified war in Iraq," the letter said. "As Christians, we are called to be peacemakers and to initiate war only as a last resort."

The letter cited "conflicts between our understanding of what Christians are called to do and many of the policies of your administration." In the earlier ad, signed by alumni, students and faculty, the protesters said they were disturbed by the choice of Bush as commencement speaker.

The protests illustrated that "the Christian faith can speak to both parties, and the Republican Party doesn't necessarily have everything to say about the Christian faith and how it impacts policy," Louters said.

Two things in that article struck me as curious. First, the school had planned to invite a different speaker, and the White House talked to the powers that be at the school and got them to invite the President. Michigan was a state that Mr. Bush lost to Mr. Kerry. Apparently, the off-year elections are beginning to worry the Administration.

Second, the White House had allotted forty-five minutes for the speech, a bit long for a commencement speech, but not by much. The President spoke for only fifteen minutes. Could it be that all the press reports of the ads taken out against his presence scared the President? He couldn't very well vet the audience at a graduation ceremony the way he has at his Social Security stops.

In any event, it was heartening to this liberal Christian that some of my colleagues are willing to call bullshit on the Religious Reich.

Some More Orwell

As Congress re-examines The Patriot Act in order to determine what changes are needed before extending its life, perhaps Congress should also take note of the latest in library technology.

Before long, patrons wanting to use Naperville Public Library System computers without a hassle will have to prove their identity with a fingerprint.

The three-library system this week signed a $40,646 contract with a local company, U.S. Biometrics Corp., to install fingerprint scanners on 130 computers with Internet access or a time limit on usage.

The decision, according to the American Library Association, makes Naperville only the second library system in the country to install fingerprint scanners.

Library officials say the added security is necessary to ensure people who are using the computers are who they say they are.

Officials promise to protect the confidentiality of the fingerprint records. But with Congress contemplating an expansion of the USA Patriot Act, which gives federal authorities access to confidential library records, and cameras watching the streets some Chicagoans drive or the sidewalks they stroll, privacy advocates are concerned about yet another erosion of personal liberty.

"We take people's fingerprints because we think they might be guilty of something, not because they want to use the library," said Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

Many Americans don't have home computers because they can't afford them. They use the library set-up as the only way to go on-line and get news, do research for their high school term paper, or send email. Having computers in public libraries makes sense.

Unfortunately, The Patriot Act as it now stands allows government agencies such as the FBI to comb through library records to see who is reading/seeing what. The new technology being put into place in the Naperville Public Library will make that much easier.

It looks like a central data base on all Americans is now just a mouse click away.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Damn the Illegals...

but ignore the people who hire them.

The Washington Post has an interesting article on a sweep at some 'sensitive' sites:

The Department of Homeland Security yesterday arrested 60 illegal immigrants who worked at 12 critical infrastructure sites in six states, including seven petrochemical refineries, three electric power plants and a pipeline facility.

There is no evidence that any of the workers -- who come from Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala -- have any terrorist ties, said officials with the DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

The Department of Homeland Security apparently had enough information as to the workers' illegal immigrant status to justify the raid. Why didn't the employer of said 'illegals' have that information (assuming for the moment that they did not).

The workers were all employed by Brock Enterprises of Beaumont, Tex., which provides maintenance workers to nuclear plants, chemical manufacturers and other industries. The company cooperated in the probe and is not a target of the investigation, ICE officials said. Many of the workers got the jobs by presenting phony documents to a hiring consulting firm that worked for Brock, officials said (emphasis added).

I am willing to accept that phony documents were provided. I am not willing to accept that the HR department Brock Enterprises had no way to check on the authenticity of the documents.

Until the feds start going after the employers of illegal immigrants, illegal immigration will continue. Any immigration bill that doesn't take this into consideration will be a stupid one, and, in my opinion, a rascist one on its face.

Where's the Veto-Proofing Guy?

Yesterday I posted about the dueling stem cell research bills which were introduced in the House of Representatives. Shortly after I posted, I heard the news that the President was not happy. He has promised to veto any bill that might involve funding for research that involved new stem cell lines obtained from 'embryos.'

"I'm a strong supporter of adult stem cell research, of course. But I made it very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life, is - I'm against that," said Mr. Bush, speaking in the Oval Office during a brief appearance with the Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. "And therefore, if the bill does that, I will veto it."

Keep in mind that this president has not vetoed any bill to date. He hasn't had to because he has had a totally compliant Republican Congress. Apparently some cracks in the wall of that complicity have developed.

Mr. Castle said he warned Mr. Bush about the measure [HB 810] a couple of months ago, when he was invited to the private quarters of the White House with other Republicans for cocktails and a chat on Social Security.

The congressman recalled the conversation this way: "I said: 'Mr. President, I appreciate how strongly you feel about Social Security, but before I answer anything about Social Security, I just want you to know that there are those of us here in Congress who feel very strongly about embryonic stem cell research. I just wanted to let you know that we have a bill, and we're going to be pushing as hard as we can.' "

Senator Specter, who has re-introduced a similar bill in the Senate [S 471], must not be real thrilled, either:

"The United States is being left farther behind every day, this morning by South Korea," Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and chief sponsor of a Senate bill identical to the House measure, said Friday.

Mr. Specter, who runs the subcommittee that controls federal financing for medical research, promised to "bring the matter to a head" this year. "I don't like veto threats, and I don't like comments about overriding the veto," he said, "but this issue is going to be the focal point of my subcommittee's appropriations bill."

If you go here, you can look up the two bills I've referenced: S471 and HB 810. You will notice that each bill has sponsors that cut across party lines. You will also notice the long list of sponsors for HB 810.

Even so, in order for either bill to over-ride a promised Presidential veto, it will have to have the support of two-thirds of the members of each body. That's where the Veto-Proofing guy comes in. That, of course, would be you. Call your senator and insist that she/he support S471 when it comes up. Call your representative NOW and insist that she/he support HB 810. The House Bill is scheduled to be voted on this week.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Stem Cell Bills

While Senator Specter's bill has pretty much been buried, and will stay buried until the Judicial Nominees dust up settles (one way or the other), the House of Representatives has two bills up for a vote next week.

TheWashington Post indicates that 'dueling bills' were introduced, apparently to appease conservative "pro-lifers."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., had agreed earlier to allow a vote as soon as next week on a bill by Reps. Mike Castle, R-Del., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., to lift President Bush's 2001 ban on the use of federal dollars for research using any new embryonic stem cells lines.

But after Castle and other moderate Republicans angered conservatives by sponsoring polls in their districts on the issue, Hastert and Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said they would pair the bill with a separate measure to encourage umbilical cord stem cell research.

To see the two House bills, go here. The bills are HR 596 and HR 819. The Castle-DeGette bill is clearly the one I favor because it lifts President Bush's ban on working with new stem cell lines. The other bill deals only with umbilical cord stem cell research, which has not been as fruitful.

The vote next week is timely because Korean researchers are claiming an important breakthrough.

Because the stem cells come from embryos that are clones of individuals, they would be exact genetic matches and less likely to be rejected by a patient's immune system. Scientists want to obtain such stem cells from patients with certain disorders and illnesses to study the origin of diseases and to develop replacement cells that would be identical to those a patient has lost in a disease like Parkinson's.

Dr. Hwang said he had no intention of using the method to produce babies that were clones. "Our proposal is limited to finding a way to cure disease," he said. "That is our proposal and our research goal."

I urge you to let your Representative know that you favor the Castle-DeGette bill, especially now that there are exciting breakthroughs being made all over the world.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Karmic Payback

It appears that the United States has less than twenty-four hours to decide what to do with an illegal immigrant by the name of Luis Posada Carriles.

CNN mentioned the story today.

Weeks after sneaking across the border from Mexico and going into hiding in Miami, fugitive Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles was whisked away by U.S. Homeland Security agents.

Why Homeland Security? Why not the INS? Well, it seems that Mr. Posada Carriles has a "history:"

Cuba and Venezuela have been after Posada for decades over his alleged role in blowing up a Cuban airliner in 1976, killing 73 people.

But wait, there's more:

Declassified FBI and CIA documents made public Tuesday link Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles, who is seeking asylum in the United States, to a plot to bomb a Cuban airliner in 1976 and indicate that he was on the CIA's payroll for years.

So now the government has a dilemma. Venezuela and Cuba want this man because they believe he is a terrorist, and, in light of the documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, it appears he may very well be a terrorist. Much of the current US foreign policy revolves around the "War on Terrorism" meme. However, it looks like this gentleman is one of "our" terrorists. What to do? What to do?

Back to the CNN transcript. Wolf Blitzer had Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald on for his take:

Well, what I'm going to write for my column tomorrow, Wolf, is that I think if the Bush administration is smart -- and that's not always the case -- but if it were smart in this case, it could use this and turn the tables on Castro, and turn it from a propaganda-defeating to a propaganda victory.

What do I mean by this? Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, are turning this into a major propaganda bonanza. They're saying, here we have the U.S., allegedly the world champion against terrorism, harboring a terrorist. This is hypocritical, this shows the U.S. is not serious.

Now, if the Bush administration wanted to turn this into a propaganda victory, what it should do is deport Mr. Posada Carriles, perhaps not to Cuba, not to Venezuela, not a country where he would be fried by a kangaroo court, but to another country that would take him, and then turn the tables on Fidel Castro and say, now it's your turn to arrest and deport the 77 terrorists and other lawbreakers that Cuba is harboring that the FBI is looking for, and the hundreds of other international terrorists that are living a peaceful and happy life in Cuba, which by any international standard has become sort of a Club Mediterranean (ph) for international terrorists."

Merciful heavens, and I thought I was cynical. Still, the Administration has only until Thursday to make its decision. Political asylum? Deportation to Venezuela (with whom we have an extradition treaty)? Mexico? The Hague? It's bound to be an interesting decision.

UPDATE: 5/20/05

It appears the government is holding its cards close to the chest. The NY Times reports that Posada Carriles has been charged with "illegal entry."

Homeland Security Department officials said Thursday that they had charged Luis Posada Carriles, the violent anti-Castro militant, with illegally entering the United States.

The charge could be the first step in the deportation of Mr. Posada, 77, who resurfaced outside Miami and was arrested on Tuesday after 45 years of shadowy combat against Fidel Castro.

It also represents a legal and political dilemma for the Bush administration.
Mr. Posada, who served both the Central Intelligence Agency and Venezuela's spy service in the 1960's and 1970's, is wanted in Venezuela in connection with the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner off the coast of Barbados that killed 73 people. The government of Venezuela wants to extradite him under international law.

The report makes clear that the US definitely does not want to deport the man to Venezuela.

Oh, and a correction of sorts to my post: the reason that the Department of Homeland Security has the matter is that the INS is now part of that department. My bad.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Popping Kudzu

One of the unfortunate side-effects of engaging too much with consensual reality is an increased consumption of alcohol. I mean, really: being faced with an official British memo about how facts "were to be fixed" by the US Government to make initiating a war against Iraq easy to sell (said memo taking nearly two weeks to be noticed by US main stream media); non-stop coverage of the Terri Schiavo matter; followed by non-stop coverage of the death and burial one Pope and the election and installation of the next; followed by non-stop coverage of a run-away bride; followed by non-stop coverage of Newsweek's blurb (apparently not adequately sourced) about flushed Holy Books--all this can only lead to drinking more beer than is good for a person.

The result is increased weight (bad for the back), enlarged girth (bad for the heart), diseased liver (bad for the whole body), and perhaps the worst, beer breath (bad for the social life). And that's not all: given that there doesn't seem to be any shift in paradigm when it comes to consensual reality, more consumption of beer seems like the only way to avoid ripping one's eyes out, so the next case becomes two.

Fortunately for us mortals, there are some among us who recognize the nature of consensual reality and who are anxious to help the rest of us cope. Enter our modern heroes, the scientists.

Study: Herb Helps Curb Binge Drinking

BOSTON -- A group of 20-something drinkers seemed to lose the urge to binge-drink when they took pills made from kudzu, that ubiquitous vine that blankets the South, researchers reported.

Researcher Scott Lukas, with Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, had no trouble finding volunteers for the study, which required them to hang out in an "apartment," complete with television, recliner and fridge stocked with beer. This apartment-style laboratory was set up in the hospital, and the volunteers were told to spend a 90-minute session drinking beer and watching TV.

Those who took kudzu pills drank an average of 1.8 beers per session, compared with the 3.5 beers consumed by those who took a placebo.
Lukas was not certain why, but speculated that kudzu increases blood-alcohol levels and speeds up its effects. In other words, the drinkers needed fewer beers to feel drunk.

Think of the magesty of such a study! Kudzu, the bane of southern highway maintenance departments, has a high and holy use for modern America, and it is only an arm's length away.

I say, "Huzzah!" and (of course) "Kudos!" to those plucky and imaginative scientists. And I also say, "Barkeep, another half-glass of Sam Adams. Larry King is up next."

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Lying Liars...

And now, the latest mendacity from the Bush administration: Secretary of State Rice made a surprise visit to Iraq today.

Here is a portion of her pep talk to the soldiers:

Rice, making her first visit to Iraq as secretary of state, spoke to hundreds of U.S. troops and diplomats in Baghdad.

"I want you to keep focused on what you are doing here," Rice told the diplomats and troops who gathered in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces. "This war came to us, not the other way around."
[emphasis added.]


Given the recent release of a memo/minutes of meeting between Great Britain and the US Administration in July of 2002 and Richard Clark's testimony ( see my post "Crickets" for the cites), and given that no WMDs have been found, which was the reason given to both the US Congress and the UN, this statement would be laughable if it weren't for the fact that more than 1,600 American soldiers and thousands of Iraqis are dead as a result of the American action.

Does Ms. Rice (or her speech-writers) think we are that stupid?

Clean cups! Clean cups!

Top Ten Ways To Tell....

Here's something that started my day with a cheery bang. Used by permission of the poster at Eschaton.

Top Ten Ways to prove the fundies aren't Christian:

10. Real Christians rely on Scripture, not insane ramblings that an English clergyman pulled out of his ass wholecloth in the 1830s (the "Rapture"). Followers of this belief are not Christians; they should be referred to as "Rapturists" and correctly identified as a cult entirely separate from Christianity.

9. Real Christians recognize that Christ's mission was to offer salvation without endless rituals of atonement, and thus grasp that the mandates of Leviticus are inoperative for a true Christian.

8. Real Christians, even while some may view the "Rapture" as a somewhat fascinating topic, realize that it is beside the point for a true follower of Christ; that by following Christ's teachings, their salvation is assured regardless of whether a "Rapture" ever occurs or not.

7. Real Christians embrace the faith for the ways in which its teachings can enrich their lives, not out of fear or because they're giving in to God's blackmail.

6. Real Christians recognize that just because a self-proclaimed minister says something, it doesn't necessarily make it true. Real Christians accept that all humans are fallible, including ministers (many of whom, in the evangelical sects, never received any formal training but instead heard the "calling" of the life of luxury leading a mega-church can provide).

5. Real Christians understand that on the Day of Judgement, they aren't going to be asked to explain the sins of other people. This frees them up to work on and correct their own bad behavoir, and relieves them of the need to take over government and impose their crackpot theories on everyone else.

4. Real Christians recognize that Biblical proverbs and allegories need not be literally factual in order to impart wisdom.

3. Real Christians accept that God hates all sin, and does not single certain ones out for extra reproval. They further recognize that as all are sinners, we're all in the same boat.

2. Real Christians follow Christ's original admonition to "love thy neighbor"; not the new-n-improved Falwell New American Version of "love thy neighbor...unless he's a fag. If he is, persecute the hell out of him." (General, take note...I see a new Republican Jesus slogan...)

1. Real Christians actually DO believe that God is omnipotent and omniscient, and that therefore He is capable of punishing sin at the time and in the manner of His choosing, without their assistance. Real Christians would NEVER presume to usurp God's position of supreme moral judge by taking it upon themselves to punish those sins of their neighbors which do not damage anyone else in this temporal world.

Whoever said "stop calling them Christians" was right. They aren't. They are Rapturists and God-Usurpers. I suggest that they henceforth be referred to as "the Rapturist Right".


Saturday, May 14, 2005

A Not-So-Free Press

Early on in the Republic, after the Constitution had been drafted and ratified, many felt that some important rights had been left out. Congress met to deal with this, yielding the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

James Madison proposed the following language for the first of the amendments:

Madison's version of the speech and press clauses, introduced in the House of Representatives on June 8, 1789, provided: ''The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.''

As the amendment wended its way through Congress, the language was changed and additional rights added to get to the final version:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Although the final version is more direct, I wish that Congress had retained some of Madison's eloquence, especially that part about a free press being "the bulwark of liberty." Then, perhaps, current journalists would have more of a sense of the duties their profession has in a democracy.

This has been a rough couple of years for journalists in terms of ethics. Several reporters have been caught inventing rather than covering the news. A few have accepted money from government agencies to help push the current administration's agenda:

There's always been a busy revolving door operating in Washington, in which members of the press cycle in and out of administration positions. And even in their capacity as journalists, some pundits, and conservatives in particular, have enjoyed unusually close working relations with the White House.

For instance, last week it was disclosed that Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, as well as Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, helped Bush with his inauguration address -- an address the two men praised publicly without revealing their hand in crafting it.

However, the recent episodes suggest a new trend in which pundits don't wait for the revolving door to spin but simply get paid by the government to act as policymakers while remaining members of the press corps.

Armstrong Williams, Michael McManus, and Maggie Gallagher received payment from the government and never disclosed that payment in their newspaper columns on subjects related to their government gigs. Apparently it never occurred to any of them that this just might be a conflict of interest.

Apparently those revolving doors are also used by legislator. One Nevada state state senator found an outside job moonlighting for a Las Vegas television station.

CARSON CITY -- Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, has a contract to consult with the news director at KVBC Channel 3 on news content, including on issues going on in the Legislature.

Rogers [the station owner] said Thursday that he sees no conflict with hiring Cegavske, who he said is retained for about $3,000 a month to help the KVBC newsroom "so we know if something big is happening."

Now isn't that convenient? Not to mention cheap...I mean, to get the news from the state legislature might require actually hiring a real journalist to cover the issues. Fortunately, enough of a flap arose that Ms.Cegavske eventually resigned from the television gig.

Now, getting our news from people paid by the government to shill, or directly from people who are part of the government certainly doesn't seem to fit with the ideal of "the bulwark of liberty." But wait, there's more! It's possible to not get the news at all.

I've already commented ('Crickets') on the unseemly delay in publishing the damning British memo from the July, 2002 meeting between the US and Great Britain. Even after this story appeared on the media radar, it was considered not front page news and was buried inside the paper. This is, unfortunately, not an unusual state of affairs.

Some reporters at ABC admitted as much here :


Brides gotta run, planes gotta stray, and cable news networks gotta find a way to fill a lot of programming hours as cheaply as possible. (CNBC gets to talk about the booming April retail sales numbers, and the NRA's television network will replay the Secretary of State on Larry King over and over.)

We say with all the genuine apolitical and non-partisan human concern that we can muster that the death and carnage in Iraq is truly staggering. And/but we are sort of resigned to the Notion that it simply isn't going to break through to American news organizations, or, for the most part, Americans.

Democrats are so thoroughly spooked by John Kerry's loss —- and Republicans so inspired by their stay-the-course Commander in Chief —- that what is hands down the biggest story every day in the world will get almost no coverage. No conflict at home = no coverage.

Instead, think of the Bolton confirmation hearing, the Ways and Means Social Security kickoff hearing, and the evening tribute dinner for Tom DeLay (and the conservative movement) as classic Beltway set pieces, complete with (semi-)compelling casts of characters, dramatic arcs, conflicts galore, and pure unadulterated entertainment.
(May 12, 2005)

Poor James Madison must be spinning in his grave.

Friday, May 13, 2005

What Fresh Hell: Another Update

I've written a couple of posts (here and here) about the shameful use of HIV+ children in foster care in clinical drug trials.

Apparently enough people have been outraged by this that Congress is finally looking into it.

WASHINGTON May 13, 2005 — A congressional panel has begun investigating whether the government has adequate safeguards to protect foster children used in federal research after an Associated Press story detailed the use of child wards in some AIDS drug experiments.

The House Ways and Means Committee's subcommittee on human resources will hear testimony on the subject next Wednesday, saying its goal is examine the policy of using foster children in research and "whether adequate protections are in place."

"This hearing will explore issues surrounding the placement of foster children in clinical drug trials, including under what conditions participation is permitted," said Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif., the subcommittee's chairman.
"We are concerned about recent allegations involving the enrollment of foster children in such trials. This hearing will help us assess whether there is any substance to these allegations and if so, what response is appropriate," he said.

While the children got access to some pretty nifty health care, some of the little human guinea pigs died when higher doses of medications were tested. I hope the panel makes some strong findings, strong enough that prosecution at the federal and local levels will be possible.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

What the Bible Says... and about the current Administration and its policies:

Social Security:

On Wednesday, the administration's point man on Social Security, Allan Hubbard, said the approach Bush favors would mean smaller survivor benefits than projected for many children and widows.

"Seek Justice,
Undo oppression;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow."

(Isaiah 1:17)

The Bankruptcy Law

Lobbyists for the credit card industry say the legislation is needed to close loopholes that make it too easy for people to wipe out their debts when they could repay some of them.

Consumer advocates say it would allow some rich debtors to continue to hide wealth through homeownership while bankruptcy relief would be denied to many people with low or moderate incomes who have fallen on hard times because of illness, job loss or divorce.

"What do you mean by crushing the people,
By grinding the face of the poor?"

(Isaiah 3:15)

Medicaid Cuts

with Medicaid singled out for a $10 billion reduction in the four-year period beginning in 2007.

"He who oppresses a poor man insults his Maker,
He who is kind to the needy honors Him."

(Proverbs 14:31)

Tax Cuts for the Wealthy

And no Republicans expressed second thoughts about passing pricey tax cuts during the president's first term.

"I am convinced that without tax cuts, the recession would have been deeper and longer," said Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah.

"The Lord enters into judgment
With the elders and princes of his people:
It is you who have devoured the vineyard,
The spoil of the poor is in your houses."

(Isaiah 3:14)

Just sayin...

Transparent and Verifiable

Because the country has been so deeply divided the past five or six years, and that divide has reached chasm proportions, elections have tended to be acrimonious both during the campaign and after the ballots have been counted. Both the 2000 and 2004 elections were close, so close that the former required Supreme Court intervention, and the latter is still being litigated in Ohio and Washington.

Democrats feel that both presidential elections were stolen. Republicans believe that the Washinton gubernatorial election was stolen. The means used for the larceny? Ballots: the actual, individual votes and the way in which they were counted (or not counted).

Congress responded to the outcry over the 2000 election by passing the "Help America Vote Act of 2002." Hanging chads, dimpled ballots a problem? Well, we'll go to electronic voting machines and give the states the quatloos to buy those Diebold machines election commissions have been jonesing for.

That should have meant that the 2004 elections would be incontestable. Unfortunately, new problems arose. Exit polls (a usually fairly reliable tool used not only by candidates but also the media) simply did not match up with the certified results. They weren't even close. Folks much more conversant with statistics and analysis than I am have told me that the results were simply impossible.

One of the problems was that there was no way to verify the machine counts. No hard, countable paper ballots existed to compare to what the machine said. Why would we want to have such paper ballots, especially after 2000? Well, given the frequency with which electronic data bases have been hacked recently (Nexus Lexus, for example), resulting in the dispersal of individuals' private information into the hands of identity thieves, having a concrete way to make certain that there has been no tampering with the software programs on the machine would be a start. One of those concrete ways would be a paper receipt.

Senator Hillary Clinton (joined by Senators Boxer, Kerry, Lautenberg, and Mikulski) has introduced the "Count Every Vote Act of 2005." The complete text of the bill can be found here in PDF format. The entire bill is long and complicated, but one key provision looks to help remove the potential for election fraud by requiring the paper trail:

‘‘(i) The voting system shall produce an individual voter-verifiable paper record of the vote that shall be made available for inspection and verification by the voter before the vote is cast.

‘‘(ii) The voting system shall provide the voter with an opportunity to correct
any error made by the system in the voter verifiable paper record before the permanent voter-verified paper record is preserved in accordance with subparagraph (B)(i).

‘‘(B) MANUAL AUDIT CAPACITY.—The permanent voter-verified paper record produced in accordance with subparagraph (A) shall—

‘‘(i) be preserved within the polling place, in the manner, if any, in which all other paper ballots are preserved within that polling place, or, in the manner employed by the jurisdiction for preserving paper ballots in general, for later use in any manual audit;

‘‘(ii) be suitable for a manual audit equivalent to that of a paper ballot voting
system; and

‘‘(iii) be available as the official record and shall be the official record used for
any recount conducted with respect to any Federal election in which the system is used.’’

Surely the company that gave us receipt-spitting ATM machines can figure out a way to do this without printing our names on the receipt of a cast ballot. Then contested elections can use the saved "paper ballots" for a manual recount at which all candidates can be present to be certain there is no further fraud.

Senator Clinton's bill, SB450, contains many other important provisions, including how to handle provisional ballots (a subject for a future post). The bill is currently in committee. Hopefully it will make it out to the Senate floor with no drastic changes.

As some wise person indicated at Eschaton recently we can justify this bill by saying something like, "Look, you Republicans don't trust us Democrats, and we Democrats don't trust you Republicans. Having a way to check the count is in both of our interests."


Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Just before the British elections, on May 1, 2005, The Times of London published a classified memo which reflected a meeting between British and American officials concerning Iraq. The memo is dated July 23, 2002, and occurred while the UN Weapons Inspectors were still trying to do their jobs in Baghdad.

This memo served as a kind of ‘minutes’ of the meeting:

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action. (Emphasis added)

The entire memo is a fascinating read on just how the British and US governments colluded in justifying the military action taken months later. Even more fascinating (because more educational) is the exegesis of the memo provided here by an ex-CIA employee. Ray McGovern served 27 years as a CIA analyst.

In emotionless English, Dearlove tells Blair and the others that President Bush has decided to remove Saddam Hussein by launching a war that is to be "justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction." Period. What about the intelligence? Dearlove adds matter-of-factly, "The intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy."

At this point, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw confirms that Bush has decided on war, but notes that stitching together justification would be a challenge, since "the case was thin." Straw noted that Saddam was not threatening his neighbors and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.

In the following months, "the case" would be buttressed by a well-honed U.S.-U.K. intelligence-turned-propaganda-machine. The argument would be made "solid" enough to win endorsement from Congress and Parliament.

Actually, politicization is far too mild a word for what happened. The intelligence was not simply mistaken; it was manufactured, with the president of the United States awarding foreman George Tenet the Medal of Freedom for his role in helping supervise the deceit. The British documents make clear that this was not a mere case of "leaning forward" in analyzing the intelligence, but rather mass deception—an order of magnitude more serious. No other conclusion is now possible.

So, that memo was written July 23, 2002. Presumably the meeting being described occured some time before then, perhaps a week before. It's interesting to recall just what was happening at the UN just prior to the mid-July, and then what happened from July, 2002 until the start of Shock and Awe.

A wonderful and complete time line can be found here

Iraq, knowing full well the US intentions to attack, capitulated a step at a time to each of the UN Security Council demands. The US response to the capitulation was always "that's not enough." All of this culminated in the March 20, 2003 invasion of Iraq.

But invading Iraq was clearly on this Administration's mind long before July, 2002. Testifying before the 9/11 Commission, Richard Clark, recognized as an expert on terrorism by President George H.W. Bush, in whose administration he served, made it clear that Bush wanted to go after Saddam on September 12, 2001. The text of his CBS interview after that testimony is here.

"The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.

"I said, 'Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection.'

"He came back at me and said, "Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report."

Clarke continued, "It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report out to CIA and found FBI and said, 'Will you sign this report?' They all cleared the report. And we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, 'Wrong answer. ... Do it again.'

Now, I think it fairly clear that the release of the damning British memo so close to the British elections was a calculated attempt to weaken, if not destroy, Tony Blair, and it appears to have been successful. And, to be fair, it is entirely possible that this kind of information simply wasn't accessible in this country to the mainstream media before the November,2004 election. It is available now, and has been since May 1, 2005. Today is May 11. Other than blogs and a brief article or two internet sites, it still hasn't been publicized in this country.

The silence is telling.

UPDATE (I hate when this happens):

Well, FINALLY SOMEBODY commented on the British memo. Interestingly, the thrust of the article is not the contents of the memo, but the fact that some Democrats wrote the President and asked him about the contents, but CNN still left enough in the article that the right questions can be inferred:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Eighty-nine Democratic members of the U.S. Congress last week sent President George W. Bush a letter asking for explanation of a secret British memo that said "intelligence and facts were being fixed" to support the Iraq war in mid-2002 -- well before the president brought the issue to Congress for approval.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Specter of Stem Cell Research

About a week ago, I posted on some research being done in the fight against Alzheimer's Disease. In that post, I mentioned that in all probability, stem cell research wouldn't lead to any dramatic breakthroughs in halting that disease.

There are, however, a great number of promising developments in cures for other conditions, such as Parkinson's, cancer, spinal cord injuries and diabetes that could come about in stem cell research. Unfortunately, the current administration yielded to the pressure brought by the Religious Reich and forbade any federal funding for stem cell research using any stem cell lines not in existence at the time of the executive order.

As a result of private research, more than 60 genetically diverse stem cell lines already exist. They were created from embryos that have already been destroyed, and they have the ability to regenerate themselves indefinitely, creating ongoing opportunities for research. I have concluded that we should allow federal funds to be used for research on these existing stem cell lines, where the life and death decision has already been made.

Scientists told us within a few months that there really weren't "more than 60 genetically diverse stem cell lines" that were in existence and viable, which meant that a huge crimp in the research ensued. This kind of research is hugely expensive, and without federal funding, not likely to be done.

People struggling with the ravages of conditions that might be helped didn't give up. They convinced states to consider funding this kind of research. A California ballot initiative to fund stem cell research in the state passed, and the state has selected a commission which is currently formulating plans (including selecting a city to host the research institute). Massachusetts passed what appears to be a veto-proof bill, and the Illinois Legislature is considering putting the matter to the voters via referendum in 2006.

While these developments are hopeful, they take time, a commodity that is frequently in short supply for those suffering. The current budgetary problems that most states face with federal Medicaid budgetary slashes are on the front burner, pushing initiatives like this to the back burner. At this point, state initiatives really aren't a replacement for funding at the federal level.

That's why I was so pleased to hear that Arlen Specter (yes, that Arlen Specter) was re-introducing a stem cell research bill to the Senate. Co-sponsors include Orrin Hatch and Dianne Feinstein. Specter, who has lost a lot of hair because of chemo therapy for cancer personalized his interest:

Specter, a co-sponsor of stem cell legislation in the last Congress, said he believes the United States needs to place more emphasis on health care research.

"I do not think that we are spending the right priorities with respect to our health care budget," he said. "I don't choose to unduly personalize it, but I have to find some way to excuse my hairdo."

The bill also attempts to confront some of the concerns voiced about reproductive cloning by outlawing it, but, perhaps wisely, it doesn't deal directly with some of the other ethical dilemmas posed by critics of stem cell research.

Fortunately, some from the scientific community have begun working on that problem. A set of guidelines have been issued.

The new guidelines deal largely with ensuring ethical creation of new stem cell lines, and they establish standards for obtaining donor consent, ban payment for donated embryos and standardize methods for handling and sharing stem cell lines between research labs.

In all cases, the guidelines recommend, donors should give their consent before any material -- eggs or sperm -- can be used to create an embryo that would generate stem cells. The effect of that rule would be to eliminate some stem cell lines already in use because they were obtained from embryos created with sperm from anonymous donors who were not informed about their use.

I have no doubt that the Religious Reich will claim that all of this is nonsense, since it stem cell research deals with "embryos," the code word for baby humans. Still, I think we are beginning to move forward and I believe that most Americans are in favor of that direction.

Hopefully, when the bill comes onto the Senate and House floors, people will let their Senators and Representatives what they expect from them in huge numbers.

I never thought I would ever say this, but "Way to go, Arlen!"

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Religious Reich

During the 2004 election campaign, I was stunned by the news that some members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy had suggested that politicians who had evidenced being pro abortion should be denied communion until they cleaned up their act.

Amid questions of how Catholic leadership will respond to the pro-choice senator, Kerry's archbishop -- Boston's own Sean O'Malley -- has refused to clarify a statement last summer that pro-choice Catholics are in a state of grave sin and cannot take communion properly.

At the tail end of the Teri Schiavo media circus, I was deeply saddened by this article , in which it was announced that Judge Greer had been asked to leave his church.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer left his church last week after the pastor wrote him a letter suggesting "it might be easier for all of us" if he leave.

Greer, whose orders on the Terri Schiavo case have brought him criticism, is a Southern Baptist who attended Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater.

Then, today I learned of an even more horrendous action taken by a church. As noted at Daily Kos,

The minister said if you supported John Kerry or the Democratic Party, you are against the Church. 9 members said the minister led the charge to excommunicate them because of issues of abortion and homosexuality.

He said they had to repent and agree to vote Republican. 40 other members resigned in protest.

Agree to vote Republican? Wha?

Back in my youth, I recall the brouhaha that broke out when it became clear that the Roman Catholic John F. Kennedy would be the Democratic nominee for President. The conservatives howled about the US of A suddenly becoming a Vatican puppet. "Separation of Church and State!" shrieked more than one anti-Catholic bigot. When Kennedy won the presidency, I had hoped that would put that kind of wingnut litmus test to rest.

Yet, here we are with a new breed of Pharisees clamoring against people whose views are different than their own divinely inspired truths. Now, however, it is more vicious. Instead of trying to short-circuit an election campaign, the new Whited Sepulchres are denying the very spiritual sustenance Christians require to face the dangers and temptations of modern life, and the basis for that denial of service is a tendency to vote against a particular political party or a failure to adhere to certain clearly prescribed political views.


Update (May 8, 2005, 1:40PM)

It appears that all the attention that Rev. Chan Chandler has received for his ousting members of his congregation with Democratic leanings has had an unsettling effect.

The Rev. Chan Chandler didn't directly address the controversy during the service at East Waynesville Baptist Church, but issued a statement afterward through his attorney saying the church does not care about its members' political affiliations.

Isn't it interesting that the statement was issued by his lawyer, rather than mentioned in his sermon during the service? I can't help but wonder whether the threat of losing a tax exemption is involved.


More Orwell

Last month, I posted this in reaction to the US Government's latest attempt to save us from terrorists. I suggested that it appeared the technology and the will was now in place to start the march toward National Identification Cards. It appears that my paranoia was not so displaced after all.

Up until this point, individual states have had the power to regulate the issuance of driver's licenses, but

both Houses of Congress have now voted to change that. Negotiators are working out the details of a plan to set strict national standards for licenses that would deny the permits to some non-citizens. The new requirements were attached to a spending bill for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They would force states to require proof of citizenship or legal presence, a bona fide U.S. address, and a Social Security number. Officials issuing the licenses would also be required to check the legal status of non-citizens against a national immigration database, save copies of any documents provided, and store a digital photograph of each applicant.

I find it interesting that this amendment was tucked inside a military appropriations bill, one that is on its face bullet-proof. I suppose the rationale offered for this nifty move is that the amendment also involved the security of Americans. After all, the 9/11 bombers had valid state driver's licenses, even though many of them were at the time in the US illegally.

I suppose a federal government has to be involved in the whole illegal immigration 'problem' we face, but I strongly believe much more is behind this.
So does the ACLU . Timothy Sparapani, an ACLU Legislative Counsel, had this to say about the amendment:

"The Real ID Act was sold as an illegal-immigration fix bill, when in fact it reduces every American’s freedom. The provisions of this bill could not have passed on their own. Sadly, their inclusion in a ‘must pass’ bill means that immigrants and citizens alike will face an unnecessary loss of freedom and privacy."

It is clear that once the federal government can regulate the issuance of documents necessary to prove one's identity, the next step has to be an actually federally issued ID. Tied to that little card with its little chips embedded within will be everything the government knows about the individual carrying it: medical history, travel history, employment history, credit history, purchasing history, and on and on.

The most obvious problem with such a central repository of data is the fact that identity theft, far too easy to commit already, now can become a permanent slam dunk. However, there is, to my way of thinking, a more serious threat: complete loss of privacy. I'm sorry, 9/11 didn't change things that much.

And, given the way my luck has been running lately, I'll probably get stuck with one that has a number ending in -666.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

What Fresh Hell: An Update

(See below for my first take on this story)

It appears that I may have been unfair to the New York City agency charged with taking care of foster children. They weren't the only folks who took part in this "clinical trial"

The Washington Post reports that a number of jurisdictions were enrolled:

Government-funded researchers tested AIDS drugs on hundreds of foster children over the past two decades, often without providing them a basic protection afforded in federal law and required by some states, an Associated Press review has found.

The research funded by the National Institutes of Health spanned the country. It was most widespread in the 1990s as foster care agencies sought treatments for their HIV-infected children that weren't yet available in the marketplace.

The practice ensured that foster children, mostly poor or minority, received care from world-class researchers at government expense, slowing their rate of death and extending their lives. But it also exposed a vulnerable population to the risks of medical research and drugs that were known to have serious side effects in adults and for which the safety for children was unknown.

Several studies that enlisted foster children reported patients suffered side effects such as rashes, vomiting and sharp drops in infection-fighting blood cells as they tested antiretroviral drugs to suppress AIDS or other medicines to treat secondary infections.

In one study, researchers reported a "disturbing" higher death rate among children who took higher doses of a drug. That study was unable to determine a safe and effective dosage.

Well, yes, world-class health care is a good thing for the children. Monitoring the testing and the side effects (including death) would be involved, one would assume. Unfortunately, in this case, one would be wrong.

While the program required that advocates for the children be appointed and be involved, in all too many cases, no such advocates were appointed and were involved.

Who in federal government was monitoring the program? Who was supposed to? This is unconscionable.

Republican Wet Dream

I guess the slow simmer folks have been tending when it comes to regulating the internet is finally reaching a boil. Federal Election Commission hearings regarding regulating the net from the standpoint of elections are on, and all comments and proposed regulations are due the first week in June.

Several of my favorite bloggers have decided to get actively involved. Atrios, at his Eschaton blog had the following on May 4, 2005:

[S]tart from the principle of parallelism. Don't regulate the Internet any more stringently than any other medium. (quoting Adam Bonin at a Daily Kos Post)

To me, it almost starts and stops there. Sure, there are idiosyncratic differences across various types of outlets which may require medium-specific rules, but the basic point is in those two sentences. It's ridiculous that some people desire that a medium which requires no money in which to participate - for which there are no real gatekeepers - be effectively more regulated than radio/tv/print/etc.

What got all of the current interest in and paranoia over regulating the internet started? A complaint was filed with the FEC over what some saw as violations of the McCain Feingold Campaign Reform law during the last election. Candidates and campaigns paid some bloggers for good press and apparently got it.

The case was decided in September and the judge's opinion
was pretty clear:

On September 18, 2004, in a dense, 157-page decision, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled . . .

“To permit an entire class of political communications to be completely unregulated . . . would permit an evasion of campaign finance laws .

The “entire class of political communications” to which the Judge refers is the Internet — blogs, websites, and even emails

On October 28, 2004 the Federal Election Commission (FEC) voted not to appeal this ruling. This means the FEC is now required to draft regulations controlling political expression through websites, blogs, and emails. These new regulations could compel political bloggers to register with the government, fill out complicated forms, and keep detailed records.

That certainly is a daunting prospect. There are millions of blogs out on the internet. I look on many of them as the current equivalent of the samizdat found in the old Soviet Union. Many are overtly political, others simply photo albums. Some contain critical reviews of arts, movies, news reports, while others are closer to personal journals or essays on the topic du jour.

I think the very free-form nature of bloggery is what scares so many of those in power. The completely unrestrained, unbridled exercise of free speech sometimes leads to the kind of revolution of thought and action that will destroy the status quo. It also can be the breeding ground of vicious and unwarranted attacks on character, of deliberate misinformation, and of totally uncontrolled fund raising.

What Atrios and Kos are trying to do is to make certain that any new FEC regulations are not as overly burdensome and restraining as might be anticipated in the above citation. I think this is a reasonable approach, and I appreciate the fact that two of the largest and most reliable progressive bloggers are spending what I suspect is a great deal of time on the issue.

Still, I can't help but be a little worried. It seems to me that allowing the FEC to promulgate even sensible regulations on blogs just might be opening the door for other government commisions or entities to institute further restrictions or restraints on what is the freest and most democratic forum known to modern humankind.

I sincerely hope I'm wrong.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Family Diseases

Every family seems to have a particular disease running through it. For some it's cancer. Others have a lot heart disease, or diabetes. In my family it's Alzheimer's Disease. My paternal grandfather died of it. My father died of it nearly five years ago. A year and a half ago, my older brother died of it two years after the diagnosis was made. Obviously I have a vested interest in Alzheimer's research and periodically comb the net to see where we're at with that horrible mind stealer.

The doctors and researchers I have actually spoken to all seem to agree that this disease probably won't benefit from stem cell research. Still, the news isn't all bad.

Newsday recently described some current research involving gene therapy. The treatment described requires actual surgery at various parts of the brain to insert the genetic material. Sure, this is drastic, to say the least, but there were some very promising findings.

Moreover, he said, it would never be practical to perform brain surgery on millions of patients. Already, 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's, and with the country's population aging, a staggering 14 million may have it by 2050.

But if the gene-therapy approach ultimately works, it could revive interest in finding easier methods, he said.

A baby step, but at least a step.

The second article deals with a study in Spain involving the use of a cannabinoid for treatment. The obvious eyebrow-raiser is the chemical involved: a derivative of cannabis, i.e. marijuana.

Scientists showed a synthetic version of the compound may reduce inflammation associated with Alzheimer's and thus help to prevent mental decline.

They hope the cannabinoid may be used to developed new drug therapies.

The research, by Madrid's Complutense University and the Cajal Institute, is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The article quotes several of the researchers on the issue of the chemical involved. All of them indicated that smoking joints is not going to be particularly helpful because so much of the chemical would be needed that the inhalee would be loaded-plus all of the time. While that might seem like an improvement over Alzheimer's, it really isn't.

Unfortunately, we're still a long way from some major breakthrough, but at least we're moving. Hopefully, governments who help fund such research will continue to do so. Hopefully, big pharmaceutical companies will also get seriously involved, leaving the Viagra-type development on its own for a while.

An Apology

I'd like to apologize for the post below ("The Cost of Oil"). Blogger kept screwing up my html links (as you will notice) and nothing I could do would correct the problem. I inadvertently hit the post button. Then I hit the delete button. While the draft I was working on was deleted (along with it's button), the damned post on the blog DIDN'T go away.

I've asked the blogger people for help. I'm sure that help will come soon. Any day now.

When it does, I will re-write the post.


Ah, the kind folks at blogger have apparently fixed the problem. My gratitude overwhelms me. Thank you.