Thursday, August 31, 2006

Health Insurance Options: Worse and Worser

The recently released Census Bureau reports on health and health care in America were pretty shocking, but not particularly surprising. The reports spelled out the numbers in a trend most people figured was there. Fewer people have adequate health care because fewer people have access to affordable insurance. An editorial in today's Washington Post notes the problem and then offers two possible solutions, both of which are quite dubious.

TUESDAY'S REPORT from the Census Bureau adds to the fear that the employer-based insurance system is in long-term decline. The share of people without medical insurance edged up from 15.6 percent in 2004 to 15.9 percent last year, bringing the number of uninsured to a record 46.6 million. That increase is particularly striking because it took place despite a strong economy. It cries out for an imaginative policy remedy.

...Poor Americans remain far more likely than rich ones to be without insurance. But the decline of insurance coverage among the middle class reflects pressures that weaken the system for everyone, and that are likely to get stronger. As health care has grown more sophisticated, health spending per American has doubled since 1975 in inflation-adjusted terms, driving up insurance premiums correspondingly. As a result, small companies and self-employed people think twice before buying insurance; companies that hire mainly young and healthy workers, or self-employed people who are young and healthy, frequently decide that insurance is not worth paying for. This exit of inexpensive patients from insurance pools drives up premiums for patients who remain, forcing yet more exits. Because of this vicious cycle, insurance for small firms or individuals grows prohibitively expensive. Add in the trend toward self-employment and the outsourcing of work to small contracting firms, and you can see why the traditional health insurance market is allowing a growing number of workers to fall through the cracks.

Congressional Republicans offer one reasonable idea to make health insurance more affordable: reduce the number of mandates requiring insurers to cover particular medical conditions. ...

A second option, which has been tried successfully in New York state and is being considered in Vermont and Massachusetts, is for government to backstop private insurers that sell coverage to small firms and individuals. To get around the problem that the customers who have not exited these markets are sicker than average, government can promise to reimburse insurers when the bills generated by a patient rise above, say, $50,000 in one year.
[Emphasis added]

The first suggested solution is a dangerous one, not a "reasonable" one. It's clear that the first exclusion insurance companies would invoke is coverage for mental illness. Since we now know that mental illness is just that, an illness not unlike cancer, diabetes, or hypertension, allowing this exclusion from coverage simply opens the door for the exclusion of the other expensive to treat diseases. It is these kinds of costs that drive people into what used to be an accessible bankruptcy system. That was the whole point to health insurance in the first place.

The second solution is simply another patch on a structurally weak system. Employer provided health insurance was a benefit fought for after World War II when there were plenty of jobs and employers had to compete with each other to fill them. Those jobs are simply not there at this time, and unions are simply not as strong as they were then. In the fifty years since that drive, the costs of health care have risen to the point that GM, Ford, and Chrysler tell us that they have to add from $1500 to $2000 to each new vehicle just to cover health insurance costs for their employees and retirees, which blunts the American auto makers competitiveness in the world market.

Sooner or later businesses of all sizes are going to have to come to the same conclusion that many progressives reached a long time ago. A single payer system akin to those of Canada and Great Britain is simply the best way to go. As soon as business leaders realize this, then perhaps real improvement on health insurance and health care costs can be made.

Hopefully the realization comes quickly.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Heckuva Job

Kenneth Tomlinson is being investigated again. Last year he was ousted from his job as head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for trying to convert the PBS and NPR to conservative mouthpieces. This year the State Department looked into the way he was using his office as head of an agency responsible for State Department broadcasts to foreign countries. From today's NY Times.

State Department investigators have found that the head of the agency overseeing most government broadcasts to foreign countries has used his office to run a “horse racing operation” and that he improperly put a friend on the payroll, according to a summary of a report made public on Tuesday by a Democratic lawmaker.

The report said that the official, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, had repeatedly used government employees to perform personal errands and that he billed the government for more days of work than the rules permit.

The summary of the report, prepared by the State Department inspector general, said the United States attorney’s office here had been given the report and decided not to conduct a criminal inquiry.

...Mr. Tomlinson, a Republican with close ties to the White House, was ousted last year from another post, at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, after another inquiry found evidence that he had violated rules meant to insulate public television and radio from political influence.
[Emphasis added]

You'd think after being fired from one government job would make Mr. Tomlinson a little more circumspect in his other government job. Apparently, however, that was considered unnecessary for "a Republican with close ties to the White House." Unfortunately, that probably was a sensible choice by Mr. Tomlinson. No criminal inquiry is on the way, and the Emperor has renominated him to the Voice of America position. That's how cronyism works.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

An Ominous Trend?

Now here's a wrinkle I hadn't counted on in the internets: targeted news. It seems that news web sites are capable of denying a reader a particular story based on where they live. The NY Times admits it has done so, and has even indicated how they did it.

The article that was selectively denied to web-based readers can be found here, but only if your server doesn't sit in Great Britain. It's a rather long article having to do with the investigation into the terrorist plot to blow up airplanes traveling from Great Britain to the US.

On Aug. 9, in a small second-floor apartment in East London, two young Muslim men recorded a video justifying what the police say was their suicide plot to blow up trans-Atlantic planes: revenge against the United States and its “accomplices,” Britain and the Jews.

...The ominous language of seven recovered martyrdom videotapes is among new details that emerged from interviews with high-ranking British, European and American officials last week, demonstrating that the suspects had made considerable progress toward planning a terrorist attack. Those details include fresh evidence from Britain’s most wide-ranging terror investigation: receipts for cash transfers from abroad, a handwritten diary that appears to sketch out elements of a plot, and, on martyrdom tapes, several suspects’ statements of their motives.

This brief excerpt from the early part of the article gives a general idea of the contents. Why deny this information to people in the UK? Well, it seems that the NY Times feared publishing it would violate a British law against publishing materials which would be prejudicial to defendants, as noted in a related article published by the NY Times in today's edition.

If Web readers in Britain were intrigued by the headline “Details Emerge in British Terror Case,” which sat on top of The New York Times’s home page much of yesterday, they would have been disappointed with a click.

“On advice of legal counsel, this article is unavailable to readers of in Britain,” is the message they would have seen. “This arises from the requirement in British law that prohibits publication of prejudicial information about the defendants prior to trial.”

In adapting technology intended for targeted advertising to keep the article out of Britain, The Times addressed one of the concerns of news organizations publishing online: how to avoid running afoul of local publishing laws.

...Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford University, said restricting information fit with trends across the Internet. “There’s a been a sense that technology can create a form of geographic zoning on the Internet for many years now — that they might not be 100 percent effective, but effective enough,” Mr. Zittrain said. “And there’s even a sense that international courts might be willing to take into account these efforts.

...Richard J. Meislin, the paper’s associate managing editor for Internet publishing, said the technological hurdle was surmounted by using some of The Times’s Web advertising technology. The paper could already discern the Internet address of users connecting to the site to deliver targeted marketing, and could therefore deliver targeted editorial content as well. That took several hours of programming.
[Emphasis added]

Now, I have to admit that the NY Times has a pretty good excuse for not providing the information to UK residents, at least in this case. Certainly the defendants in the terrorist case are entitled to a fair trial, and certainly the American and British public are entitled to have a those who would engage in terrorism caught, tried, and punished, especially if they can be caught before they actually carry out the action.

But now the NY Times has demonstrated that they can deny information to targeted audiences. And if the NY Times can do it, so can every other news source on the world-wide web. Will I, a California resident, be denied access to a story on a local candidate which might determine how I will vote? Will US citizens be denied a story on how a contractor is abusing local workers in a federally funded project in Iraq?

I suppose this story is old news to people in China and in other nations where internet access is strictly controlled. I guess I just didn't expect to see it happening here.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Importance of Being Secret

Yesterday, I posted parts of an op-ed piece by Leonard Pitts, Jr. on the current regime's reliance on classifying information to control the citizenry of this country (posted here). Today, I found an editorial on the same subject in the NY Times.

In 1971, Defense Secretary Melvin Laird punctuated his plea to Congress for more cold war appropriations with a graphic display of information that revealed the nation on guard with 54 Titan and 1,000 Minuteman nuclear missiles, plus 30 strategic bomber squadrons. In making his case, Mr. Laird exemplified the idea that a little transparency is no drawback in a democracy.

Thirty-five years later, the Bush administration, which has consistently demonstrated an extraordinary mania for secrecy, is blacking that public information out of history. That’s right: it has reclassified the number of missiles and bombers from the Nixon era as some fresh national security secret, even though historians and officials in the old Soviet Union long have had it available on their research shelves.

...The missile blackout is the latest symptom of a deepening government illness. National security has become the excuse for efforts to crack down on whistle-blowers and journalists dealing in such vital disclosures as the illicit eavesdropping on Americans. Last spring the director of the National Archives objected to a reclassifying initiative undertaken by intelligence officials that caused 55,000 decades-old pages to vanish from the public record. The process itself was labeled an official secret.

While I am tempted to argue that once again the NY Times is a day late and a dollar short, at least the Gray Lady has pointed out the danger inherent in such reclassification. After all, their reporters are among those facing prosecution for writing alerting us to the various governmental programs spying on Americans. And while I much prefer the passionate language of Mr. Pitts' column, I also appreciate this more formal editorial because it appeared in a paper with a much wider readership.

Hopefully the NY Times will translate this editorial into strong support for the journalists on its staff to continue with the investigating and reporting of all such travesties perpetrated by the Emperor and his minions, and will publish those stories on the front page where they belong.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sunday Poetry: Walt Whitman

I Hear America Singing

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measure his plank and beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the dockhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her, and to none else,
The day what beckons to the day -- at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
SInging with open mouths their strong melodious song.

Look Out! Here Comes Another Chair!

And another shrill columnist displays an unseemly passion against what the Emperor is doing to this country. Leonard Pitts, Jr. of the Miami Herald is the culprit this time, and his piece can be found in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

George W. Bush is the first Information Age president.

Like Kennedy, he arrived a little late; he was not in office when information access became the currency of daily life. Yet he was the first president to understand the potential and exploit the power of that development. Unfortunately, he does so to our detriment. While Kennedy used television to expand presidential influence, Bush has controlled information toward a more dubious end: the curtailment of that great threat to imperial power, the informed electorate.

On Monday, the Washington Post ran a fascinating story based on a report from the National Security Archive, a research library at George Washington University. According to the report, the Bush administration has been blacking out of previously public documents information on the nation's strategic military capabilities....

Now maybe you wonder what the problem is. This is sensitive information we're talking about, right? Can't have that falling into just anybody's hands, right?

The thing is, it's already in "anybody's" hands: It dates back half a century to the Cold War. We're talking about memos, charts and papers that have over the years been cited in open congressional hearings, reported in newspapers, used in history books. We're talking about information our government long ago deemed innocuous enough to provide even to its former enemy, the Soviet Union.

And now -- "now!" -- we're supposed to believe it's suddenly so sensitive it has to be classified Top Secret? Please.

...Anyone who doesn't see a pattern here has not been paying attention. From its 18-hour blackout of news that the vice president had shot a man, to its paying a newspaper columnist to write favorable pieces, to its habit of putting out video press releases disguised as TV news, to its penchant for stamping Top Secret on anything that doesn't move fast enough, this administration has repeatedly shown contempt for the right of the people to know what's going on. At a time when information is more readily available than ever, this government is working like 1952 to enforce ignorance.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Pitts has pretty well nailed it. While he does not imply that there is something even more sinister going on (like hiding the number of missiles we actually have so that if more missiles are added in contravention of treaties we've signed, no one will know), he does quite properly come down hard on the intentional hiding of information from the citizens of this country. This is not the first time declassified or even unclassified information has be classified unnecessarily by the regime, and it is beginning to look like it won't be the last.

The effect is especially chilling now as the war drums are being re-tuned for what appears to be some kind of military effort against Iran. Yet a great segment of our population still don't get it. Mr. Pitts' concluding line stands as a strong warning to those who sheepfully go along with this regime:

It's not just information they're trying to control.


It's Silly Season...

...But in some places it's really silly season.

Election campaigns can frequently be annoying as the airwaves and telephone lines are filled with reminders of the candidates and what they stand for. It's for good reason that this period of time is known as "Silly Season," and it will only get worse as we get closer to the November election date. Occasionally, however, a candidate comes along who puts the emphasis on the silly part of the term. This year that candidate is Katherine Harris. This is what she said on Friday at a campaign stop (from the Washington Post):

Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) said this week that God did not intend for the United States to be a "nation of secular laws" and that the separation of church and state is a "lie we have been told" to keep religious people out of politics.

"If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin," Harris told interviewers from the Florida Baptist Witness, the weekly journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention. She cited abortion and same-sex marriage as examples of that sin.

...Harris told the journalists "we have to have the faithful in government" because that is God's will. Separating religion and politics is "so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers," she said.

"And if we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women," then "we're going to have a nation of secular laws. That's not what our Founding Fathers intended, and that certainly isn't what God intended."
[Emphasis added]

Her remarks were clearly offensive, historical revisionism aside. Jewish Americans had to be appalled, not to mention Americans who are Buddhist, Muslim, pagan, agnostic, or atheist. The idea that officials are annointed by God also seems to indicate that voting is nothing more than an exercise in faithfulness. That Ms. Harris was out of line was duly noted by a number of Republicans who suggested that her views were certainly not that of the GOP.

Apparently Ms. Harris took the chastening to heart, because yesterday her campaign issued the following clarification (from an AP story):

Harris' campaign released a statement Saturday saying she had been "speaking to a Christian audience, addressing a common misperception that people of faith should not be actively involved in government."

The comments reflected "her deep grounding in Judeo-Christian values," the statement said, adding that Harris had previously supported pro-Israel legislation and legislation recognizing the Holocaust.

Yeah, that oughta get it.

While Ms. Harris' campaign has given liberals ample opportunities to chuckle, statements like these are both horrifying and frightening. Hopefully the decent Republicans in Florida see them the same way.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Bonus Critter Blogging: Neighbors

Too much with us, late and soon.


Yesterday I posted an excerpt from a Saudi op-ed piece on the current use of the term Islamofascism here. After posting it, I rememberred another column I had recently read on the same subject and I finally found it. It was written by Geoffrey Nunberg, the author of "Talking Right," which is high up on my 'to read' list. Written originally for the LA Times, I found it in the Minneapolis Star Tribune of August 22, 2006.

It wasn't the first time President Bush had described the United States as at war with "Islamic fascists." But coming in his remarks about the arrests of two dozen terror suspects in Britain last week, the phrase signaled that the administration was shopping for new language to defend its policies at a time when the evocations of the "war on terror" don't seem to stem rising doubts about the wisdom of "staying the course" in Iraq.

Hence the appeal of using "Islamo-fascism," as people often call it, which links the current conflict to images from the last "just war": Nazi tanks rolling into Poland and France, spineless collaborators sapping the national will, Winston Churchill glaring defiantly over his cigar, the black ink spreading across the maps of Europe and Asia in Frank Capra's "Why We Fight" newsreels.

...The phrase "Islamo-fascism" has been around for more than 15 years. But it was only after 9/11 that neocons and other hard-liners seized on it to justify a broad-based military campaign against Islamic governments and groups hostile to the West.

Actually, the term "Islamo-fascism," if taken literally, doesn't make sense. The "fascist" part might fit Saddam Hussein's Iraq, with its militaristic nationalism, its secret police and its silly peaked officers' hats. But there was nothing "Islamo" about the regime; Iraq's Baathists tried to make the state the real object of the people's devotion. the mouths of the neocons, "fascist" is just an evocative label for people who are fanatical, intolerant and generally creepy. In fact, that was pretty much what the word stood for among the 1960s radicals, who used it as a one-size-fits-all epithet for the Nixon administration, American capitalism, the police, reserved concert seating and all other varieties of social control that disinclined them to work on Maggie's farm no more.

Back then, conservatives derided the left for using "fascism" so promiscuously. They didn't discover the usefulness of the elastic f-word until the fall of communism left traditional right-wing slurs such as "communistic" and "pinko" sounding quaint.

...Of course, it's the point of symbolic words such as "fascist" to ease the burden of thought -- as Walter Lippmann observed, they "assemble emotions after they've been detached from their ideas." And it may be that Americans are particularly vulnerable to using "fascism" sloppily, never having experienced the real thing close up.

But like "terror," and "evil" before it, "Islamic fascism" has the effect of reducing a complex story to a simple fable. It effaces the differences among ex-Baathists, Al-Qaida and Shiite mullahs; Chechens and Kashmiris; Hezbollah, Hamas and British-born Asians allegedly making bombs in a London suburb.
[Emphasis added]

Nunberg is a linguistics professor who is very interested in how words are used, and he has found a rich field in how the current regime uses language to keep its policies from being examined too closely. Lord knows they've been successful at that. By equating the terrorists to the hateful Nazis of World War II, the term also implies that Muslims are capable of perpetrating the same kinds of heinous crimes. "They" (where "they" are Muslims) must therefore be defeated in the same way. It does indeed sound like the 21st Century version of the Christian Crusades.

This hardly qualifies as a sensible, thoughtful foreign policy. And, as the op-ed piece I cited yesterday showed, the rest of the world has noticed.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

This bowl is empty. Kindly rectify the situation.

Winning Friends

I figured that sooner or later one of our friends in the Arab Middle East would respond to the Emperor's sloppy use of the term "Islamofascist," but I didn't expect it to be our best friend, Saudi Arabia. Surprise! From Saudi Arabia's Al-Riyadh:

President Bush used the expression "Islamo-fascism," and American media has tried to switch around the phrase to read "fascist Islamists." Since September 11, the American administration has focused on blaming everything on Islam, both as a religion and as an ideology, rather than a particular sect of Muslims … similarly in Britain, which while disingenuously toying with expressions such as "religious tolerance," "mutual interest," and "religious co-existence," and so on, in reality it behaves completely opposite of this, agitating against Islam and coming to America’s defense by openly opposing Islam as a religion and an ideology, rather than simply taking action against Muslims who are terrorists …

...The West still deals with Arabs and the Islamic world with the mindset of a colonizer with guardianship over Arab land … for if we conclude that America simply looks upon the [Arab or Persian] Gulf and Iraq as oil fields with abundant natural resources, then how to explain Washington's attention to Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Somalia, and Sudan, for are these producers of petroleum or other strategic economic commodities? Unfortunately, the attitude of the Western colonizer toward the Arab world remains, and this is what drives U.S. behavior; this is what has motivated America and Britain into a headlong rush to the East …

...All Islamic peoples must awaken to action in partnership with the Kingdom to defeat the idea of "fascist Islam," circulated politically and through the media by America … and when we say that Islamic peoples, governments and institutions must confront these declarations, we mean that these must oppose American attempts to make Islam out as the enemy of non-Muslims and mobilize countries against Islam and its children.
[Emphasis added]

The article contains a rather nice summary of the past slicing and dicing of the Middle East map by the colonial powers, and it is clear from the cited section that many in the region see the current US and British actions as a repeat of that history. One can hardly blame them, especially with so many coalition troops in the area.

What is important, however, is the reaction to the buzz word selected by the Emperor: fascism. Its use is no more accurate than the use of the same term in the '60's by the radical left. The usage isn't intended to be accurate, just inflammatory. That Muslims would also be inflamed by such an open insult shouldn't come as any surprise, but apparently our current regime couldn't have imagined the consequences of such language.

Heckuva job, Georgie.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Some Say It's An Election Year

Well, here we go again. The war mongers are getting all het up because the intelligence community isn't giving them the information they want, even though the information they want is probably bad information. The last time this happened it involved Iraq. This year it's Iran. From today's NY Times:

Some senior Bush administration officials and top Republican lawmakers are voicing anger that American spy agencies have not issued more ominous warnings about the threats that they say Iran presents to the United States.

Some policy makers have accused intelligence agencies of playing down Iran’s role in Hezbollah’s recent attacks against Israel and overestimating the time it would take for Iran to build a nuclear weapon.

The complaints, expressed privately in recent weeks, surfaced in a Congressional report about Iran released Wednesday. They echo the tensions that divided the administration and the Central Intelligence Agency during the prelude to the war in Iraq.

The criticisms reflect the views of some officials inside the White House and the Pentagon who advocated going to war with Iraq and now are pressing for confronting Iran directly over its nuclear program and ties to terrorism, say officials with knowledge of the debate.

...Officials from across the government — including from within the Bush administration, Congress and American intelligence agencies — spoke for this article on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a debate over classified intelligence information. Some officials said that given all that had happened over the last four years, it was only appropriate that the intelligence agencies took care to avoid going down the same path that led the United States to war with Iraq.
[Emphasis added]

Once again, the major US newspaper has resorted to unnamed sources for an article that contains some frightening news. Some readers, including me, find this to be totally unacceptable. Because it is clear that many within the Administration and Congress are actually pushing for an excuse to go to war yet again, and because it is an election year with November just over two months away, we need to know just who is making this push and why. It is beginning to look like the NY Times is once again allowing itself to be used by the regime to justify a war.

All of this may be nothing more than frightened Republicans looking for an edge on the fear issue they so love to haul out when things are going bad. If that is the case, then we need to know about that. Name names. Let us make the assessment.

And if this is really about another war, then we need to know that as well, but we need information we can trust, not the anonymous mutterings of some official who may or may not be in the know.

Bad job, NY Times. Very bad job.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Campaign Season

Sometimes the campaign season brings some good things to the public. This week California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger, who is running for re-election and who appears to have a comfortable lead, signed a bill that has some positive implications for California energy development. From yesterday's LA Times:

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that aims to make the state one of the world's biggest producers of solar energy.

The legislation, which cleared the state Senate last week, calls for the installation of 1 million rooftop solar panels on homes, businesses, farms, schools and public buildings by 2018.

The solar power systems would generate 3,000 megawatts of power and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 3 million tons, equivalent to taking 1 million cars off the state's highways and making California the third-biggest solar power producer, after Japan and Germany.

There are several interesting things about this article beyond the righteous movement towards solar energy in one of the nation's largest states. The first is that a governor who has spent the last several years of his term catering to big business and the conservatives in California has decided to move back to the center for the election. Whatever his reasons for signing this bill, at least he signed it. This is good news for California.

The second is the placement of this article. What is cited above is the entirety of the article (which came off the Reuters wire) and it is buried deep within the paper. Anyone who doesn't read the paper in its entirety would have missed it. This is bad news for Los Angeles and for California.

Still, the bill has been signed into law, and with its implementation California should make great strides toward securing reliable energy and cleaner air.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Test Drive

The Emperor held a press conference yesterday (announced just two hours before it was scheduled to occur) to try out a new campaign theme. It turns out that the theme wasn't actually new, just repainted to cover a few of the dings and dents. From the NY Times:

“These are challenging times, and they’re difficult times, and they’re straining the psyche of our country,” Mr. Bush said in an hourlong news conference. “Nobody wants to turn on their TV on a daily basis and see havoc wrought by terrorists.” was the president as political strategist whom television viewers got a glimpse of Monday, with Mr. Bush laying out what he believed Republicans should focus on this election year and rehearsing an argument that used Iraq as a foil, by contending that the early withdrawal advocated by some Democrats would embolden terrorists everywhere.

... When Mr. Bush referred to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Monday in reference to a question about Iraq, a reporter pressed him, “What did Iraq have to do with that?”

“Nothing,” Mr. Bush responded somewhat testily, adding, “Nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack.”
[Emphasis added]

The Iraq War and the debacle it turned out to be has strained more than Americans' psyches. Their pocketbooks, for example, have reached the breaking point, yet the president said nothing about the billions that continue to be flushed away in what now appears to be a face saving exercise. Instead, he once again managed to link the war in Iraq to terrorism by suggesting that withdrawal would "embolden terrorists everywhere," thereby straining the credulity of sentient beings everywhere.

That shiny new model put on display turned out to be the same junker he's been driving for more than five years. It's clear he intends to keep driving it until at least early 2009.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Campaigning By the Numbers

I read a rather stunning commentary piece by Peter Wallsten and Tom Hamburger in yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune. In this rather long article, the two Los Angeles Times political reporters detail the extent to which the Republican Party has gone to refine what used to be called Get Out The Vote (GOTV). It isn't just about hammering on red meat issues, it's also about bringing home the bacon. The part that struck me, however, is the sophisticated data collection system used by the GOP to target independent and wavering Democratic voters with a personally tailored appeal.

Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats in the House and six in the Senate to take power. And Republicans may well suffer some setbacks. But if the GOP retains control of Congress despite such a gloomy political climate -- or even if it keeps control of just one chamber and narrowly loses the other -- party leaders can rightfully argue that their long-term goal of constructing a lasting political majority remains viable.

The Republican fortress has many underpinnings, such as gerrymandered congressional districts that favor the GOP, an intellectual infrastructure that churns ideas through conservative think tanks and media, an ever-stronger political and policy-based alliance with corporate America, and the most sophisticated vote-tracking technology around.

Some of the GOP advantages are recent developments, such as the database called Voter Vault, which was used to precision in the San Diego County special election. The program allows ground-level party activists to track voters by personal hobbies, professional interests, geography -- even by their favorite brands of toothpaste and soda and which gym they belong to.

Both parties can identify voters by precinct, address, party affiliation and, often, their views on hot-button issues. Democrats also use marketing data, but Voter Vault includes far more information culled from marketing sources -- including retailers, magazine subscription services, even auto dealers -- giving Republicans a high-tech edge in the kind of grass-roots politics that has long been the touchstone of Democratic activists.
[Emphasis added]

That both parties have developed ways to manipulate voters as the election date nears is certainly no surprise. Marketing tools have been used and refined ever since the Kennedy-Nixon campaign. The extent of the sophistication, however, was a little startling, although it shouldn't have been. After all, extensive data gathering is easily possible in this brave new world of ours.

What disturbs me more, however, is the fact that such data is so easily obtainable and usable. I have this vague uneasiness that somehow things are going terribly wrong when it comes to the privacy area, especially since we have an administration so insistent on collecting data on all of us via wire taps, telephone records, and who knows what else. I can't help but wonder if the refusal to obtain warrants by the NSA has a more sinister basis.

But, then, my tin foil chapeau may have gotten a little too tight.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sunday Poetry: More Robert Ward

A Moment

This afternoon tranquil light sifts green, gold
draws leaves, tones the impressionists coveted
and never precisely described. But this is too much

for canvas, words, best to simply enjoy, let illumination
bathe away tension. A flicker's click-click-click stitches
a sough; long grass near the back fence stirs: either

the breeze or a cat's stealthy passage...the squirrel
prancing the fence's rail top makes the question moot.
Tabbytoes hunts again. A steady, if inept hunter. Popcorn

heated to bursting, bush tits pop into existence midst
the walnut's pendant leaves, vanish back, pleasing
to watch, though obscure in motivation; texture

shaping the afternoon. Though the sun's slanting
away now, heat enough to stir honey's heavy scent,
pleasing as any perfume. The garden could be watered,

cultivated, but so much movement, such mystery,
suggests that tomorrow will be a better day for labor;
some moments are only to be enjoyed, lived, treasured.

Credibility Gap

I'm certain that the current regime really doesn't care much about how the rest of the world views the US and its policies. I'm even more certain that the current regime especially doesn't care about how small countries in the Middle East without vast oil reserves view the US and its policies. And that I find that disturbing because I don't think it's simply a case of "they hate us for our freedoms." It's more like they loathe us because we might very well bomb their country back into the stone age.

A little more than five years ago, almost all of the nations of the world mourned with us after the terrorist attack of September 11. All of that good will has been lost, and deservedly so. The US no longer enjoys the trust and the credibility it once held. An editorial in Tunisia's Tunis Hebdo gives ample evidence of that in responding to the news of the British bust of a terrorist plot.

But beyond the emotions provoked by the event, relayed continuously and in a way that didn't fail to resuscitate the obsession with terrorism and the destruction that goes with it, and along with all the unbearable images that one could not possibly support, there are nonetheless questions that with all necessary care, common mortals must not fail to ask.

At the very moment that Lebanon and Palestine were being subject to Zionist barbarity with the blessing of the indecent Bush-Blair tandem, we are told (could this be a coincidence?) that this "big catch" was made possible thanks to amazing detective work and an investigation that reaches back six months. All of which didn't fail to cause doubt and skepticism among a majority of British Muslims who see only a subtle attempt, yet another set-up, designed to distract global opinion from the methodical genocide taking place in the Middle East.

Even the reputable British press began to point out the lack of transparency, in a case where the proofs looks far too skimpy.

...After all, how can one grant the benefit of the doubt a "couple" who have had the macabre ingeniousness to give birth to a plot of unprecedented scale, plunging Iraq into the abyss of despair and decline ... and this under the very nose of the U.N., which too has been drained of all credibility? …

How can one explain that at a time when Great Britain maintains its highest-possible terrorist alert, followed by a number of other capital cities, the White-House chief and the boss of 10 Downing Street have not even considered, as would normally occur, shortening their vacations? The last of the two, imperturbable, enjoying his time under the Caribbean sun in Barbados … an indecent bit of leisure that apparently drove 150 members of parliament to sign a petition demanding an end to the parliamentary summer break and a meeting to discuss the Blair government's position on the Israeli-Lebanese conflict.

Let's suppose that the aborted plot was actually the handiwork of "Islamo Facists," according to the "measured" expression by President Bush, why then be astonished, after having sown the seeds of hatred among Arabic-Muslim youth, that one collects a harvest of human bombs prepared to give their lives as an offering to make up for the affronts that they are subjected to by Bush. He who, king of contradiction and incoherence, after having supplied the Hebrew State with precision bombs and fuel to destroy the Land of the Cedar, pretends to be shocked by the scale of the damage. And he even had the nerve to send Condi to shed a few crocodile tears in Beirut [yet] while in Israel, the U.S. Secretary of State stood like a piece of marble, when Olmert stated his intention to continue his fatal offensive.

Instead of calming emotions, the U.S. President and Blair's blind "follow-my-leader" attitude, are in fact building factories for terrorist and other jihadists. To regild their tarnished reputations, some politicians who, by virtue of long experience with semantic distortions, would not hesitate, to paraphrase Khrushchev, to ask the advice of a good gastroenterologist, to find out what else can be done to push even more down the throats of their citizens. And the metaphor is worth its weight in gold.

That's what it's come to under BushCo, Inc.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Bonus Critter Blogging: Hummingbird

Nick Myrman

Amazing catch.

Supporting the Troops

This falls into the "Republican Hypocrisy" category.

From today's NY Times:

As many as 61,000 military widows whose husbands died of causes relating to their military service lose out on thousands of dollars a year in survivor benefits because of a law that dates from the 1970’s.

...A 1972 law created the Survivor Benefits Plan, a Department of Defense retirement income fund similar to a life insurance policy. The plan, in turn, pays benefits calculated according to a dead service member’s rank and length of service.

In addition, widows of veterans who died of service-related causes receive monthly cash stipends from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Known as the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation stipend, it is currently $1,033 plus $257 for each child.

But under the law, which placed restrictions on the plan that it created, the payment to widows enrolled in the Survivor Benefits Plan is reduced, dollar for dollar, by the amount of the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation stipend.

For example, a widow who would be entitled to $1,000 from the Survivor Benefits Plan and the $1,033 Dependency and Indemnity stipend receives $1,033, not $2,033.

Widows whose husband paid into the plan are reimbursed their premiums, without interest, but the amount is taxed and does not make up the losses from the plan.

The Department of Defense opposes changing the law to allow both payments, arguing that survivors should not receive two separate benefits for a single death.

But widows and their supporters say that the Pentagon’s opposition to a change in the law really stems from its cost, especially at a time of rising expenses for the war in Iraq.

They also argue that because service members paid into the Survivors Benefits Plan, its benefits should not be reduced.

... Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, who has pushed for five years to change the law, said he had allies in the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan. The $9 billion price tag needed to insure a full payout under both plans sounds expensive, Mr. Nelson said, but is less than the price of a single aircraft carrier.

“Widows and orphans are made as a result of war,” he said. “They are victims of war. They are giving the ultimate sacrifice, and the nation has an obligation to care for them.”
[Emphasis added]

How crummy is that?

The Senate has passed a bill correcting this outrageous state of affairs, but somehow it never makes it through the House. Once again the correction has failed to make it into a Defense Appropriations bill in the House, but apparently a bipartisan group is pushing to have it added. How odd that the House could easily find the money to build a fence along the Mexican border, but can't find a roughly equal amount of money to help the widows and children of service members who died as a result of that service avoid poverty.


Friday, August 18, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

I obviously need a bigger bed.

When in Doubt, Build a Wall...

...the All-American answer.

It really wasn't that long ago that President Reagan called upon the leader of the Soviet Union to tear down the Berlin Wall. But that was then. Now, building walls appears to be the solution du jour for just about everything. Israel was given the green light by the United States to wall off the Palestinians from the Israelis (and from Palestinian work places). The US House of Representatives voted last December to build a state of the art wall along the Mexican border to keep out those pesky illegal immigrants. Now, the US is walling off portions of Baghdad in attempt to separate the warring factions from each other. From France's Le Monde:

The American and Iraqi armies on Tuesday, August 15, started building a wall around Al-Dora, a neighborhood in southern Baghdad. Soldiers have erected prefabricated concrete walls in order to "prevent terrorists from entering," according to the American army.

Though Al-Dora is a vast, mixed neighborhood, the operation consists in this case of isolating the majority Sunni area to protect them from incursions by Shiite militias. Since Baghdad fell prey to civil war and the transfers of Shiite and Sunni populations began, Al-Dora has been one of the neighborhoods most affected by inter-communal violence.

Acknowledging the failure of the security plan launched in June called "Forward Together," on August 11 the American army and Iraqi security forces unveiled a new strategy that consists of separating the neighborhoods of Baghdad along sectarian lines. "We will concentrate on sectarian borders, go into these areas, to clean them, ensconce the security forces, bring in economic assistance and work with local leaders so that the people feel secure," explained American general George Casey, the commander of the multinational force. The objective is to "clean Baghdad before Ramadan" at the end of September.
[Emphasis added]

Security by ghettoization: that's certainly a novel approach! And it makes clear that no matter which euphemism the US regime chooses to use, the proper term for what is going in Iraq is civil war, as Le Monde has properly called it.

How odd that I haven't come across this latest security plan in the US press. I must not be paying attention.

Correcting the Course

Yesterday, a federal judge issued a decision that many of us have been screaming for with respect to the warrantless NSA wire tapping. Judge Anna Diggs Taylor found the program illegal, and, most importantly, based her decision on constitutional grounds. From the lead editorial in today's NY Times:

Ever since President Bush was forced to admit that he was spying on Americans’ telephone calls and e-mail without warrants, his lawyers have fought to keep challenges to the program out of the courts. Yesterday, that plan failed. A federal judge in Detroit declared the eavesdropping program to be illegal and unconstitutional. She also offered a scathing condemnation of what lies behind the wiretapping — Mr. Bush’s attempt to expand his powers to the point that he can place himself beyond the reach of Congress, judges or the Constitution.

...She said Mr. Bush violated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act when he ordered the National Security Agency to spy without a warrant on international phone calls and e-mail by Americans and foreign residents of the United States. She noted that the surveillance law was passed to prohibit just this sort of presidential abuse of power and provided ample flexibility for gathering vital intelligence. She also said that the program violated the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as the rights of free speech and association granted by the First Amendment.

...But for now, with a careful, thoroughly grounded opinion, one judge in Michigan has done what 535 members of Congress have so abysmally failed to do. She has reasserted the rule of law over a lawless administration and shown why issues of this kind belong within the constitutional process created more than two centuries ago to handle them.
[Emphasis added]

By citing the US Constitution as the primary basis for her decision, this brave judge has effectively shut out any congressional attempts at jiggering with the FISA law to retroactively legalise this unconscionable intrusion into the liberty of Americans. The regime has already promised to appeal, and if it loses at the District Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court will have another important case to hear. This is how the system of checks and balances set forth in the Constitution is supposed to work.

What is also so heartening about this decision is that the New York Times editorial board understands what is at stake. For too long, most major news outlets have given the Emperor and his minions free reign when it comes to matters dubbed "national security." It's nice to see that the press is finally fullfilling its role as envisioned by the founders of this nation.

I'm beginning to see grounds for optimism that we'll get through this nightmare.

NOTE: Judge Taylor's decision can be found in pdf format here.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Where Science and Scientists Are Welcome

It's hard to imagine, but it actually is true: the US is beginning to be on the wrong end of brain drain. Instead of luring scientists from other nations, many US scientists are moving out of this country to others where the atmosphere for scientific inquiry is actually welcomed and well-paid. From today's NY Times:

Singapore, notably conservative on most social issues — including a ban on most types of chewing gum — is emerging as a hotbed for stem cell research, thanks to liberal laws in that field and equally liberal government financing.

Lately the tiny island-state’s ambition of joining the ranks of Boston and the Bay Area as a biotech hub has been getting a hand from an unexpected quarter: the White House. Bush administration policies that restrict federal money for stem cell research have prompted an increasing number of top scientists to pack their bags and head for this equatorial city.

...Scientists say President Bush’s veto last month of legislation to raise limits on federal financing for stem cell research was the latest in a series of setbacks, which they say are stifling the research environment and eroding the edge in basic medical science that the United States has held since World War II.

Shrinking research grants, a greater corporate emphasis on quick profits and the political firestorm over stem cells have left many American scientists frustrated and discouraged. Waiting in the wings with encouragement and cash is authoritarian Singapore, which has begun to earn a reputation as a haven for biomedical freedom.
[Emphasis added]

The anti-science stance of the current regime has been clear almost from its start. Stem cell research is only the latest chapter. Administration plants riding herd on scientists at NASA and other agencies have blunted news on global warming and what could be done about it by this country, one of the major contributers to the green house effect. Budget cuts for these same agencies have stifled any meaningful research into such areas as alternative energy sources to replace our dependency on oil.

Scientists have responded in a totally understandably fashion: they are leaving to find a place that will honor their work. Right now, that place is Singapore.

How embarrassing is that?

And how damaging...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Security and Politics: Round Two

Last Saturday, I posted on the fact that national security was going to be a major campaign issue for the November elections. I didn't think that was such a bad thing as long as there were some serious and honest discussions of the issue. Well, national security continues to dominate the headlines, but I'm not so certain we are going to get the debate I had hoped for. Today's Washington Post has an article on the President's claims to success in that matter.

President Bush said yesterday he has made the nation safer but warned that it remains threatened by terrorists, accelerating an election-year debate over his leadership in the global fight against Islamic extremists five years after the attacks of Sept. 11. ...

The back and forth illustrated the emotional punch of the terrorism issue as both parties head into fall campaigns with Bush's popular standing lagging and GOP control of Congress at stake. Republicans have argued successfully to voters in the last two election cycles that they do a better job fighting terrorists, but polls have shown a sharp drop in faith in their handling of the issue. The White House believes the reported London plot offers an opportunity to remind voters that the danger from terrorism remains stark, while Democrats see an opportunity to argue that the Iraq war has distracted from the hunt for al-Qaeda.
[Emphasis added]

I think no rational person in this country doubts that terrorism is a threat. Anti-Americanism appears to be rampant, especially in the Middle East. The problem is that much of that Anti-Americanism at the present time has been caused by the disasterous foreign policy of the current regime. The Emperor's claim that he has made the US safer is laughable when seen in that light. Still, Democrats can't just let such bizarre assertions go unanswered.

That the Democrats are beginning to understand that was made clear by some remarks made by Senator Hillary Clinton as noted in an article in yesterday's Washington Post.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a possible contender for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2008, on Monday criticized the Bush administration for failing to do enough to protect the country from terrorists.

..."We've done some things right," the New York senator said at a community event in Schenectady. "Obviously we've beefed up airport security in some ways, but as we've learned over the last week not in every way that matters. We still have not done what we need to do to protect our ports, our borders, our bridges, our transit systems, our rail lines, it's a long list."

"I don't think our long-term strategy for homeland security is yet what it needs to be," she said.

Senator Clinton also commented on the bizarre 40% cut in funding for security measures in New York City, but I would have been happier if she had pounded a little harder on the fact that the dollars we are now wasting in Iraq could be put to better use in real security measures based in the US. I suppose she is trying to avoid the obvious blowback on her support of the war all along.

Sooner or later Democrats are going to have to face down that canard as well. All they have to do to defuse that response is to point to how poorly the war was run right from the start. Enough books have been published in the last six months to give them the cover they need. After all, most Americans now see this regime as a primer in incompetence.

The elections are less than three months away. The Democrats should start speaking out on the issue the Republicans have always claimed. People are not as stupid as all of the politicians seem to think they are.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Last Bastion

The only part of the federal government standing between the country and a dictatorship has been the federal courts. Congress has spent the last five plus years giving the Emperor additional powers to the point that the legislative branch has in effect ceded its role in government to the White House. Only the courts have dug in their heels against the Emperor's over reaching, but some members of the bench (appointed by the White House and approved by the GOP controlled Senate) have not been so forthright. Because the Senate has caved on those appointments, the President has continued to nominate individuals from the far right to the bench. Today the NY Times takes issue with the latest nomination.

...any message about the importance of interparty cooperation has not reached the White House’s judicial selection team or Republican leaders in the Senate. The latest judicial nominee they have dug in their heels to defend is a far-right lawyer who received a unanimous “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association. The Bush administration should withdraw his nomination and four others that are in limbo, and replace them with nominees who do not appeal exclusively to the most extreme wing of the Republican Party.

Michael Wallace, a former lawyer for Senator Trent Lott, the Mississippi Republican, has been nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans. Mr. Wallace has a long record of insensitivity to civil rights. He argued in favor of letting Bob Jones University, which discriminated on the basis of race, keep its tax-exempt status, and he has a troubling record on voting rights. When the A.B.A. interviewed 69 lawyers and judges who knew him, it heard repeatedly that he was hostile to poor people and minorities. Of the 69, more than one-third expressed “grave concerns” about his judicial temperament.

...Given that track record, a unanimous finding of “not qualified” should set off alarm bells. Instead, Senator Arlen Specter, the Judiciary Committee chairman, has been trying to make the A.B.A. the focus. Disturbingly, he is talking about requiring it to divulge to the Senate the confidential interviews it conducts about nominees. That could undermine the A.B.A.’s ability to evaluate judges, since it could discourage lawyers from speaking freely.
[Emphasis added]

Senator Specter, who likes to present himself as a maverick who will stand up to the White House, has proved himself to be anything but. For all his brave talk, he has caved in to the regime time after time after time. His attempt to attack the ABA in this matter is proof of that.

Democrats have not been doing their job either. The refusal to filibuster the most outrageous of nominations for the federal bench, including those to the Supreme Court, has shown unbelievable cowardice in the face of the White House arrogation of power. This isn't about bipartisanship, nor is it about the right of a sitting President to appoint judges who share his political philosophy. No one, including the President, has the right to shelve democratic principles.

The people of Connecticut took out an incumbent for being too cozy with the President. The people of the rest of the country are fully capable of doing the same thing.

Monday, August 14, 2006


Beltway pundits come in various forms, stripes, sizes, what have you. However, one generally doesn't expect a federal government official to engage in that profession, yet apparently at least one person on the federal payroll (to the tune of about $140,000 per year) supplements her income by appearing on various television shows as a "conservative analyst." Al Kamen's column In the Loop discusses her role in today's Washington Post.

A Loop Fan writes: "Please explain to your readers how a government official who is paid by hard-earned taxpayer dollars is allowed to moonlight as a Republican mouthpiece on television."

The anonymous inquiry included a photo of Labor Department deputy assistant secretary Karen Czarnecki appearing on Fox News as a "conservative strategist." She's also a regular "conservative analyst" on the PBS show "To the Contrary" and, according to her department biography, has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, Canadian Public Broadcasting and C-SPAN.

So how does Czarnecki, who has worked in the Reagan and Bush I administrations and at the Heritage Foundation, do it? Easy. We're told it's quite possible to hold forth on "intelligent design," the meaning of the latest election returns and most any political issue without running afoul of ethics regulations or the Hatch Act's provisions on politics and government employees.

The ethics laws restrict income that certain political appointees can earn on the side, and the Hatch Act bars political activity while on duty or in a federal building, or using your official title or position.

...Her punditry is not sanctioned by the department, and her appearances aren't booked by Labor. "Ms. Czarnecki involves herself as an active citizen on her own time engaging in activities that any citizen engages in," a Labor Department spokesman said. "It's no different than a person on the street doing a TV interview on Election Day."

Her television role was cleared by career ethics staff at the department. She apparently files leave papers, even if for a couple hours, before heading off to the studios. The quick appearances are supposed to be freebies, but we understand the regular PBS gig does supplement her government pay.

It may be legal, but it still smells bad. Why the media buys into this kind of overt chicanery and then hides behind the excuse that she is not identified as a Republican, merely as a "conservative" is a mystery to me. The fact remains that she is part of the Administration, even if that is not made clear each and every time. This most definitely is different "than a person on the street doing a TV interview on Election Day."

Besides, aren't there enough pundits outside of government who can do the same job? I hear Bob Novak is usually available.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Sunday Poetry: Robert Ward

Lyric Poem with Metaphors

A crescent moon lying low, the horizon holding
all that's holy, and the mountains shaping
the sky. Day behind, day before. A mountain
pass carved from lava spilled from the Earth's
heart. A pine forest burned and the snags still
standing, the mountains remain, implacable,
hard as rock. The road winds up, down, all
around, still passable, but should She writhe,
restless in Her sleep, even that would fall
away. The River rising, springing, Athena,
full born, from the rock, attended by many
small, sprightly mammals, still runs Her
course, finds Her way to the sea. All's right
with the world. Touchstones. As the wind
rises, westward, and the small rains do down
rain, so the heart seeks home: and all's right,
for the wind rises fair in the west; She smiles.

Robert Ward

Look Out! Here Comes Another Chair!

The defeat of White House friendly Jospeh Lieberman by a political rookie is still resounding throughout the nation's capital and beyond. The talking points are pouring out as the GOP tries to determine just the right meme to hang on the Democratic Party as the November elections near. Right now, the favorite seems to be linking the victorious Ned Lamont with Al Qaida. From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Someday Americans will know for sure whether Sen. Joseph Lieberman's primary defeat last week was a turning point in American attitudes toward Iraq or just a footnote in Connecticut history. But it's plain that the Bush administration has drawn its own conclusions and regards the election as an important and worrisome vote of no-confidence in its own foreign policy.

Exhibit A is the astonishing behavior of Dick Cheney. The normally reclusive vice president took time off from vacation in Wyoming to conduct a conference call with reporters on Wednesday and accuse Connecticut Democrats of subverting national security and giving comfort to "Al-Qaida types."

It's bizarre enough that a sitting vice president would decide to meddle in the politics of the opposition party and try to tell Democrats how to choose their own candidate for U.S. Senate. But it's downright outrageous that Cheney would yet again try to draw misleading parallels between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaida. Time and again White House officials have backed off that assertion when challenged frontally -- only to find some new way to insinuate it again a day or a week later. For the record, one investigation after another has shown that Saddam regarded Osama bin Laden as a rival, not an ally, and that Al-Qaida took root in Iraq only after the U.S. invasion created fertile soil for terrorists there.

If Ned Lamont's victory does have any lasting significance -- and the Karl Rove operation plainly believes it does -- it's precisely because it was a referendum on the Bush policy toward Iraq.
[Emphasis added]

While an argument can be made that Lieberman's loss was due to a number of factors (his enabling of the White House to get whatever it wanted; his open disdain of his fellow Democrats; his losing touch with the people in Connecticut who sent him to the Senate to actually represent them), the war in Iraq and Mr. Lieberman's enduring support of that disaster surely has to rank near the top. Over 60% of the American public wants that war over and the troops out of there. Mr. Lieberman got caught in that crossfire and the result was that a man with little political experience who clearly was learning the ropes of campaigning as he went along beat him.

I think it hardly coincidental that the news of the British bust of a cell of terrorists was released just the day after the election in Connecticut. That link between Iraq and Al Qaida had to be made concrete, and only this White House would be crass enough to emphasize it in such a dramatic fashion.

Nicely done, STrib.

A Different Kind of Trial for Prisoners

A major problem for the California prison system has been the finding that the incarcerated have woefully inadequate medical care. Basic medication like antibiotics are unavailable, and even when available can't be given because of a lack of professional staff to write the script and then oversee its administration. That's why a recent article in the NY Times gave me chills when I read it.

An influential federal panel of medical advisers has recommended that the government loosen regulations that severely limit the testing of pharmaceuticals on prison inmates, a practice that was all but stopped three decades ago after revelations of abuse.

The proposed change includes provisions intended to prevent problems that plagued earlier programs. Nevertheless, it has dredged up a painful history of medical mistreatment and incited debate among prison rights advocates and researchers about whether prisoners can truly make uncoerced decisions, given the environment they live in.

...The discussion comes as the biomedical industry is facing a shortage of testing subjects. In the last two years, several pain medications, including Vioxx and Bextra, have been pulled off the market because early testing did not include large enough numbers of patients to catch dangerous problems.

And the committee’s report comes against the backdrop of a prison population that has more than quadrupled, to about 2.3 million, over the last 30 years and that disproportionately suffers from H.I.V. and hepatitis C, diseases that some researchers say could be better controlled if new research were permitted in prisons.

...“It strikes me as pretty ridiculous to start talking about prisoners getting access to cutting-edge research and medications when they can’t even get penicillin and high-blood-pressure pills,” said Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, an independent monthly review. “I have to imagine there are larger financial motivations here.”

The article goes into some depth in describing the scandalous testing done on prisoners in the 1970's, especially at one prison. There was no oversight of the programs, and many prisoners from that period continue to suffer the consequences of the clinical trials in which they participated. Because of those programs, most clinical trials were stopped at the prisons.

Now, a panel suggests reopening that door under stricter guidelines and federal oversight. The ethics of the whole idea still haven't been fully addressed. While testing is part of any research, and while that research needs to continue, it's hard for me to see how those who are incarcerated really have the basis for an informed consent. Many can't read, many more have less than adequate education. They are locked away in a system which doesn't provide even the most basic of medical care. The prisoners may not be nice people, but surely they are still entitled to certain basic rights.

I think this is an horrendously bad idea. If PHARMA wants test subjects, let them go to the general public outside the prison walls, those who at least have a shot at medical care.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Bonus Critter Blogging


Just Hanging Out

Security and Politics

On the one hand, politicizing the matter of homeland security is crassly cynical and manipulative. On the other hand, debating how best to provide security for the US is not only a sensible campaign tactic, if handled honestly and with candor it is also a useful tool for the American voter when it comes to making choices. That is the dilemma that is facing both parties' candidates this season.

An article in today's Washington Post shows only that both parties are concerning themselves with only the first part of the dilemma.

More than a dozen Democrats ... criticized the GOP yesterday for refusing to implement all of the recommendations put forth by the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission. At the same time, Democratic leaders in Washington moved on several fronts to accuse Republicans of exploiting terrorism fears for political gain -- and to warn that Democrats will respond to weak-on-security attacks of the sort launched by Vice President Cheney on Wednesday.

...The politics of terrorism, however, remain uncertain this fall. The latest Washington Post-ABC News polls indicated that terrorism had dropped lower on the list of voters' concerns heading into the final three months of the campaign, trumped by such issues as gas prices and Iraq. Few candidates were talking about terrorism as a major part of their campaign plan before the London plot, other than to tout support for stronger homeland security measures, which virtually every lawmaker backs. Schumer twice cited the Washington Post-ABC poll -- which showed Democrats with an edge when people were asked which party they trusted to handle terrorism issues -- as evidence the political tide has turned.

The Democratic candidates can and should discuss homeland security, but they should do it in terms that makes sense to the voters. The current regime has been all about spying on citizens and handing out lucrative contracts to friendly businesses (see this WaPo article for an example). In the meantime, none of our ports are adequately protected: only a miniscule number of containers are actually examined, and technology to assist in examining those shipments is woefully underfunded. Chemical factories and nuclear power plants have no recognizable security plans in place.

We learned this week that terrorists operating out of the United Kingdom had planned an attack on several flights to the US, flights that were to land in New York, Washington, D.C., and California. The former two cities were, of course, the sites of the 9/11/01 attack. Yet more money has been earmarked for Indiana and Kansas and less for those major metropolises under a very strange and complicated formula put out by the Department of Homeland Security.

No agreed upon protocol for emergency communications between first responders has yet been implemented and funded. Basic infrastructure remains nakedly vulnerable. The list can go on and on, and should be a litany recited by the Democrats everytime the issue of security comes up.

What the Democrats can and should do is talk about the nuts and bolts of what can and should be done to provide security. Americans will understand that talk and appreciate it.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

Sleepy Cat

And Now For the Real Deal

Earlier this morning, I cited the Washington Post editorial (scroll down to "Oh, Balderdash!") and emphasized that our current regime was still not looking at the ultimate causes of terrorism against the US. My emphasis was on the long-term, not the short term problem of terrorism. Still, even I recognize that we really do need to work hard to avert any strike against the US. I was just as horrified and sickened by 9/11/01 as every other American. Here's the question: what's the best way to do that? An editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune gives a much more satisfying response than had the Washington Post.

Candidate George W. Bush loved to lampoon the Clinton administration's emphasis on law enforcement and the legal system as tools against terrorism. They were too wimpy for him; a good, strong military action against a terror-sponsoring state was more his kind of action. And so military action we got. In Afghanistan it was essential, but in Iraq it was not. There it has increased manyfold the number of terrorists targeting the United States and worldwide animosity toward it.

Meanwhile, patient, meticulous police work in Britain and elsewhere identified and monitored this plot by a smallish, nonstate group of criminal terrorists until the need to take them down became urgent.

...British officials said Thursday that their long-term efforts against this group involved close cooperation with police services in numerous nations, including the United States. That is the way you take out most terrorists, not with bombs and missiles but with time-tested law-enforcement techniques.

Following 9/11, that's precisely what European leaders sought to tell the Bush administration. They'd had decades of experience dealing with similar threats, and they are good at it -- as the British demonstrated again this week. The Europeans saw reliance on the language of war as unhelpful, suggesting a quick, major confrontation that would end the threat. Everyone, from frightened public to counterterrorism officials, they believed, would be better off and act more effectively if they understood this was a struggle that would go on perhaps for decades and would more often than not involve work far less romantic than sending forces off to battle.

We're rapidly closing in on 3,000 deaths and tens of thousands more severely injured Americans as a result of our stupid and illegal invasion of Iraq, and the terrorists continue, now strengthened in numbers because of our stupd and illegal invasion of Iraq.

It's time for the country to put some adults back in charge.

Oh, Balderdash!

I give the editorial in today's Washington Post a 5: undanceable, but some interesting lyrics.

The announcement by British authorities of the arrests of some would-be terrorists shocked all of us, I'm sure, but only for a little while. That there are still Al Qaeda plots in operation is no real surprise, if only because the head man is still un-arrested. Apparently he's not even a person of interest to our current regime. The Emperor would rather listen in on our telephone conversations and read our email than worry about capturing Osama bin Laden.

The WaPo editorialist, however, does seem to understand at least some of this:

But if the inquiry fills out the outline provided yesterday, it will serve, first, as a chilling reminder of how many people remain committed to murdering innocent civilians; and, second, as a reassuring reminder of the solid police work (in this case, in Britain) unseen by most of us. There will continue to be legitimate questions about the workings and organization of homeland security departments here and abroad and about whether vast sums appropriated since 2001 have been spent wisely. But the emergence of one terrorist plot from the shadows should bring to mind the many men and women in the United States and elsewhere working every day with determination, and usually without credit, to block such plots.

...In our view, point-scoring from either side isn't very useful. Over the past couple of years, as the threat seemed to recede, maybe it seemed okay to shape positions on terrorism based on polling results and electoral prospects. Now, we're reminded, that isn't acceptable, and neither are the stale and unproductive either-or arguments the nation gradually slid into. We have to conduct intensive police investigations and protect civil liberties; protect the ports and take the fight to the enemy and reach out to broader Muslim communities. And we need to understand that no approach is going to make the nation absolutely safe anytime soon.

As long as we continue in the occupation of Iraq and as long as we allow Israel to bomb and occupy Lebanon, the "broader Muslim communities" will continue to see the US as on a 21st Century Crusade against Islam and will continue to be the nesting places of the next generation of jihadists.

Yes, Virginia, there are those who wish to harm this nation. Rather than undercutting the reasons for such animosity, however, this regime has chosen instead to give our putative enemies more fuel for the conflagration.

Heckuva job, George.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Democracy Is On the March Everywhere...

...but the United States.

Generally we think of winning elections at the ballot box. That's just the American way, right? Not necessarily, according to an editorial in today's NY Times. It is also possible to win elections by keeping people away from the ballot box.

Missouri is the latest front in the Republican Party’s campaign to use photo ID requirements to suppress voting. The Republican legislators who pushed through Missouri’s ID law earlier this year said they wanted to deter fraud, but that claim falls apart on close inspection. Missouri’s new ID rules — and similar ones adopted last year in Indiana and Georgia — are intended to deter voting by blacks, poor people and other groups that are less likely to have driver’s licenses. Georgia’s law has been blocked by the courts, and the others should be too.

Even before Missouri passed its new law, it had tougher ID requirements than many states. Voters were required, with limited exceptions, to bring ID with them to the polls, but university ID cards, bank statements mailed to a voter’s address, and similar documents were acceptable. The new law requires a government-issued photo ID, which as many as 200,000 Missourians do not have.

Missourians who have driver’s licenses will have little trouble voting, but many who do not will have to go to considerable trouble to get special ID’s. The supporting documents needed to get these, like birth certificates, often have fees attached, so some Missourians will have to pay to keep voting. It is likely that many people will not jump all of the bureaucratic hurdles to get the special ID, and will become ineligible to vote.

...Unduly onerous voter ID laws violate equal protection, and when voters have to pay to get the ID’s, they are an illegal poll tax. They are also an insult to democracy, because their goal is to have elections in which eligible voters are turned away.
[Emphasis added]

I thought this country had finally gotten beyond the bigotry of poll taxes, but clearly I was wrong. Supressing the vote is apparently cheaper and more effective than vigorous campaigning, and if it was good enough for our grandparents, it must be good enough for us.

The real voter fraud is that being committed by the Republican legislatures who think up these schemes. Hopefully our judiciary is still independent enough to root out this nonsense and return the voting booths to all voters.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Not Really So Surprising

Ned Lamont's win over Joe Lieberman in yesterday's Connecticut primary, while it may shock the Beltway pundits and scare certain incumbent Democratic Congresscritters, was not really so surprising. Senator Lieberman had not served his constituents well, and certainly had not served his party at all. The most iconic symbol trotted out by his opponents was a satirically sculpted representation of the kiss Lieberman received from George W. Bush. The conventional wisdom is that Senator Lieberman lost because of his unremitting support for the Iraq Invasion and his hint that Democrats who didn't support the Emperor on this issue were compromising national security. His position on Iraq certainly was a key issue in the race, but more for what that position said about where Mr. Lieberman's priorities lay than on the war itself.

I think the editorial in today's NY Times comes pretty close to analysing the actual reason for Mr. Lieberman's defeat.

The rebellion against Mr. Lieberman was actually an uprising by that rare phenomenon, irate moderates. They are the voters who have been unnerved over the last few years as the country has seemed to be galloping in a deeply unmoderate direction. A war that began at the president’s choosing has degenerated into a desperate, bloody mess that has turned much of the world against the United States. The administration’s contempt for international agreements, Congressional prerogatives and the authority of the courts has undermined the rule of law abroad and at home.

Yet while all this has been happening, the political discussion in Washington has become a captive of the Bush agenda. Traditional beliefs like every person’s right to a day in court, or the conviction that America should not start wars it does not know how to win, wind up being portrayed as extreme. The middle becomes a place where senators struggle to get the president to volunteer to obey the law when the mood strikes him. Attempting to regain the real center becomes a radical alternative.

When Mr. Lieberman told The Washington Post, “I haven’t changed. Events around me have changed,” he actually put his finger on his political problem. His constituents felt that when the White House led the country into a disastrous international crisis and started subverting the nation’s basic traditions, Joe Lieberman should have changed enough to take a lead in fighting back.
[Emphasis added]

An indication of Mr. Lieberman's real agenda is the fact that, having lost the Democratic primary, he intends to run in the general election as an independent. That cynical rejection of his constituent's wishes might very well cost the Democrats a Senate seat. Hopefully the Democratic Party will counter that rejection by fully funding the campaign of their new nominee, Ned Lamont. If it doesn't, there is going to be hell to pay for every election hereafter.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Federal Bureau of Idiocy...

...and Extortion.

It appears that 9/11 really did change everything, including rules of basic human decency. The latest evidence for how far this nation has devolved was contained in a lengthy article in yesterday's LA Times.

As federal officials took him into custody in December, they told the 24-year-old Moroccan — a permanent resident who had moved to California nine months before the terrorist attacks — that he would be taken to a detention facility in Arizona. He could fight deportation from there, but it would take at least two years, they said. And they assured him he would fail.

Ouassif was scared. He cried. But he was not surprised.

Just three weeks earlier, an FBI agent had laid out a stark choice in a furtive meeting near an East Bay commuter rail station: If Ouassif signed on as an informant in the government's war to root out terrorism, all his problems would disappear. If he declined, Ouassif would almost certainly be deported.

...lawyers and local Islamic leaders in California cite at least a dozen recent cases of clients who were aggressively encouraged to become informants after they were detained for minor visa violations.

"They are trying to cultivate and exploit innocent people, enticing them, bribing them, tricking them in all these ways to snitch and spy," said Shakeel Syed, executive director of the 70-mosque Islamic Shura Council of Southern California.
[Emphasis added].

No one would deny that the FBI should be investigating those who would do the country harm, but this kind of forced recruitment for that task smacks of the KGB. No wonder Muslims around the world (and now even in this country) see the Great War on Terra as nothing more than an anti-Islamic Crusade.

I've pretty much stopped reading the LA Times since its make-over to keep the parent corporation happy, but it is nice to see that some real journalism still takes place there. Nicely done. Much more like this and I might be forced to re-subscribe.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Compassionate Conservatism: Welfare

Even though the 1996 Welfare Reform Act has been successful in moving the poor off of welfare rolls, the GOP controlled Congress has not been sufficiently impressed. As a result, they have gotten even more draconian with the rules. From the Washington Post:

A decade after the government set out to transform the nation's welfare system, the limits on college are part of a controversial second phase of welfare reform that is beginning to ripple across the country. The new rules, written by Congress and the Bush administration, require states to focus intensely on making more poor people work, while discouraging other activities that might help untangle their lives.

By Oct. 1, state and local welfare offices must figure out how to steer hundreds of thousands of low-income adults into jobs or longer work hours. They also must adjust to limits on the length of time people on welfare can devote to trying to shed drug addictions, recover from mental illnesses or get an education.

This second generation of change reverses a central idea behind the 1996 law that ended six decades of welfare as an unlimited federal entitlement to cash assistance. The law decentralized welfare, handing states a lump sum of money and the freedom to design their own programs of temporary help for poor families. Ten years later, the government is tightening the federal reins.

Many state officials and advocates are furious. "You had fixed block grants in exchange for state flexibility," said Elaine M. Ryan, deputy executive director of the American Public Human Services Association, which represents welfare directors around the country. "Now you have fixed block grants in exchange for federal micromanagement. . . . That was not the deal."

...Last December, buried in a sprawling bill meant mainly to cut federal spending, Republicans finally got the welfare changes they wanted. They compel states to find jobs for fully half their adult clients, and they increase the required work hours from 20 hours per week to 30. Then, in late June, the Department of Health and Human Services issued strict new rules defining what counts as work -- and who must be counted.
[Emphasis added]

What the jackanapes in Congress and the White House seem unable to understand is that moving people off the welfare rolls, but not out of poverty, is not what was intended in 1996. Many people on public assistance are there not out of laziness, but rather out of desparation. Many have medical conditions preventing immediate return to the work force. Many lack the education for anything but the most menial of minimum wage jobs and they have children to support. Denying states the flexibility to deal with these issues is to deny basic human needs and compassion to those who are most at risk.

The whole point of the 1996 change was to change the alleged subculture of eternal welfare entitlement. That was accomplished rather quickly. Now the act has been amended to punish those with the misfortune of being poor and uneducated, or poor and sick. Yet no draconian measures have been "buried in a sprawling bill meant mainly to cut federal spending" to cut welfare payments to the oil industry, or to agribusinesses.

Meanspirited and hypocritical: a good description of today's Republican Party.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Sunday Poetry: Emily Dickinson

Today is my 60th birthday. Mickey Mantle once said that if he had known he was going to live this long he would have taken better care of himself. I hope he didn't mean that. I sure don't feel that way at all. Anyway, from Emily:

Up Life's Hill with my little Bundle
If I prove it steep --
If a Discouragement withhold me --
If my newest step

Older feel than the Hope that prompted --
Spotless be from blame
Heart that proposed as Heart that accepted
Homelessness, for Home --

Some People Just Never Learn

We are watching Israel get bogged down in Lebanon in much the same way the US has gotten bogged down in Iraq, and the US and its allies have gotten bogged down in Afghanistan. All of this has been predictable for the simple reason that the Israel, the US, and its allies, are fighting one kind of war, and their opponents are fighting another. An op-ed column in Greece's Kathimerini sets out the issue nicely.

If there is anything we can learn from the unorthodox war currently under way in Lebanon, it is that Israel’s military machine is too large to tackle Hezbollah.

No army and no nation-state can effectively take on fighters dressed in civilian clothes who fire off rockets from among the civilian population.

Today’s armies are designed to face each other on the battlefield, with clear targets and measurable results. In an unconventional war, fire power acts as a boomerang. It leads to hordes of dead civilians and political repercussions that are diametrically opposed to those intended. Moreover, the victory of a conventional army is never completely secure. The strategic observation of veteran diplomat Henry Kissinger - Richard Nixon’s secretary of state during the Vietnam War - still applies: “The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose.”

This can be seen very clearly in Iraq. Apart from the fact that soldiers are not trained for complex operations, a conventional army is too cumbersome and unrefined to carry out a policing mission. First of all, military thinking generally dictates “shoot first, ask questions later.” Secondly the structure of an army is such that it can never achieve “surgical precision” in its operations. The aim of conventional wars has always been to wreak the greatest possible degree of destruction upon one’s enemy. However, using a war machine to root out guerrilla groups always has the reverse results from those that were intended, as history has shown.

Hezbollah seems to have realized this and is now exploiting the power of its rival to attain its own results.

That pretty well nails it. I can, however, hear the objections to this analysis already. What is Israel supposed to do? They can't be expected to just sit back while Hezbollah lobs rockets into Israeli towns, or Hamas fighters stroll into Israeli marketplaces with bombs strapped to their bodies. I think the past three weeks have shown that the solution that Israel has chosen (like the solution the Emperor has chosen in Iraq) is simply the wrong one.

Perhaps diplomacy, either through the United Nations or other reasonable third parties, might provide a better avenue to peace. It certainly can't have any worse results than the current approach has shown.

And Now the Governors Get It

It's been pretty clear that right from the start the current regime was going to do everything possible to make the White House the center of all power. It has effectively bullied the Congress into a rubber stamp, and with various appointments at all levels of the federal judiciary is well on the way to reducing the courts to the same status. The next step is clearly the states, and one of the moves intended to take over power at that level has to do with the National Guard. From today's Washington Post:

The nation's governors on Saturday launched a bipartisan drive to block a move to expand the president's authority to take over National Guard troops in case of natural disaster or homeland security threats.

At a closed-door luncheon on the opening day of the annual summer meeting of the National Governors Association, the chairman, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), told colleagues that a provision in the House-passed defense authorization bill would end the historic link between the states and their Guard units.

...Huckabee told reporters that the move to shift control of the Guard to the president during national emergencies "violates 200 years of American history" and is symptomatic of a larger federal effort to make states no more than "satellites of the national government."

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, the senior Democrat, called the proposal "one step away from a complete takeover of the National Guard, the end of the Guard as a dual-function force that can respond to both state and national needs."

The provision was tucked into the House version of the defense bill without notice to the states, something Vilsack said he resents as much as the proposal itself.

Under the provision, the president would have authority to take control of the Guard in case of "a serious natural or manmade disaster, accident or catastrophe" in the United States.

Huckabee said he does not know if President Bush wants that authority, but said "the administration is supporting this."
[Emphasis added]

Governor Huckabee is disingenuous if he thinks that the Emperor might not want that authority. Either that, or he is being politically careful with his language. The fact that the administration is supporting the bill is evidence that the White House does in fact want all military authority centralized and under the thumb of the president. The military completes the trifecta of governing power.

So much for the conservative mantra of "states' rights," eh?