Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Heckuva Job

Once again the Department of the Interior is in the news, and, once again, it's not the good news kind. From today's NY Times:

The Interior Department has dropped claims that the Chevron Corporation systematically underpaid the government for natural gas produced in the Gulf of Mexico, a decision that could allow energy companies to avoid paying hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties.

The agency had ordered Chevron to pay $6 million in additional royalties but could have sought tens of millions more had it prevailed. The decision also sets a precedent that could make it easier for oil and gas companies to lower the value of what they pump each year from federal property and thus their payments to the government.

Interior officials said on Friday that they had no choice but to drop their order to Chevron because a department appeals board had ruled against auditors in a separate case.

...the Bush administration has come under fire on Capitol Hill for its record on collecting payments. While the Interior Department has sweetened incentives for exploration and pushed to open wilderness areas for drilling, it has also cut back on full-scale audits of companies intended to make sure they are paying their full share.

Administration officials knew that dozens of companies had incorrectly claimed exemptions from royalties since 2003, but they waited until December 2005 to send letters demanding about $500 million in repayments.
[Emphasis added]

The case itself is as complicated and convoluted as most government issues are these days, although the article lays out the facts and clarifies the convolutions nicely, but it boils down to this. To avoid paying the the full amount of royalties, the oil and gas companies buy or create a third company. The original company 'sells' the product to the new company, charging for the costs of drilling. The higher cost for the product lowers the royalty charge. It's a fiction-ridden set-up, a scam, if you will, and because of the way the system is set up, this government allows the oil and gas companies to get away with it.

What makes the situation even worse is that this particular case will set a precedent for not only future federal dealings with the oil companies on the collections of royalties, it also serves as a de facto precedent for states in their attempt to collect royalties. The oil and gas companies make out all the way around. And the American people lose out on billions of dollars in royalties for publically held resources.

Like Ruth said earlier, we've been getting more trickery than treat these days.

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Winning is What?

Must be Halloween, we have trick or treats in high places.

For the C-i-C, it's no longer 'cut and run', it's now, 'a Democrat win is the end of our Great Plan which would be working but I haven't got it in place yet.' He needs more time, I guess.

From one article in the Washington Post:

"However they put it, the Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses," Bush told a raucous crowd of about 5,000 GOP partisans packed in an arena at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, one of his stops Monday.

For the V-C-i-C, the enemy is killing U.S. soldiers to influence the election here. Up to this point, I guess it was just fun and games.

On Oct. 17, Cheney told Rush Limbaugh:

I was reading something today that a writer -- I don`t remember who -- was speculating on increased terrorist attacks in Iraq attempting to demoralize the American people as we get up to the election. And when I read that, it made sense to me. And I interpreted this as that the terrorists are actually involved and want to involve themselves in our electoral process, which must mean they want a change.

It made sense to him. Increased bombings are an effort to oust Republicans from congress. WTF?

And our friends in Baghdad?

Seventy percent of the Iraqi police force has been infiltrated by militias, primarily the Mahdi Army, according to Shaw and other military police trainers. Police officers are too terrified to patrol enormous swaths of the capital. And while there are some good cops, many have been assassinated or are considering quitting the force.

"None of the Iraqi police are working to make their country better," said Brig. Gen. Salah al-Ani, chief of police for the western half of Baghdad. "They're working for the militias or to put money in their pocket."

The declaration that we are even conceptually nearing a 'victory' in this disaster scenario can only work if your mind is shut tightly away from reality. Or if you have thrown your lot in with the Rethuglican party and can't bear to look at what it's doing.

Yesterday on C-Span the Saudi - American Relations symposium featured our ambassador from S.Arabia mentioning that a democracy was highly unlikely to bring a government into power in the middle East that would be satisfactory to American needs. Is there anyone in the White House listening or learning?

We badly need a functioning government. One more week, fellow sufferers.

from Ruth

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Monday, October 30, 2006

A Free Press Needs Your Help.

Our press has its problems, and we all have to wince when we see fiction reported as fact, but now a worldwide free press is getting a push into prominence by Amnesty International, which is calling on blogs to add their voices to a shoutout for freedom of expression.

Bloggers are being asked to show their support for freedom of expression by Amnesty International.

The human rights group also wants web log writers to highlight the plight of fellow bloggers jailed for what they wrote in their online journals.


"Freedom of expression online is a right, not a privilege - but it's a right that needs defending," said Steve Ballinger of Amnesty International. "We're asking bloggers worldwide to show their solidarity with web users in countries where they can face jail just for criticising the government."

As Diane noted in her post BLOG OVERSIGHT:

For the last three years, in an unprecedented historical phenomenon, we’ve been able to hear from frontline front-line soldiers directly. The combat, the boredom, the loneliness, the camaraderie, their beliefs, their frustrations, their accomplishments. From Iraqis they encounter, suspicion and hatred as well as smiles and gratitude.

...It has been a rich picture unlike anything you know about Iraq if all your information comes from newspapers and TV.

Now, the military has assigned a National Guard unit to monitor the Internet for possible violations of operational security - OPSEC, as they call it.

We take our freedom to express ourselves and to read a variety of viewpoints too much for granted. Because it is being encroached on, now is the time to stand up for our rights, and to let others know they need to as well. Now, before there are further restrictions on freedom of expression, bloggers need to join their voices together in insisting we can and should speak out for those who can't, and shine a bright light on the offenses against our world's free press.

from Ruth

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Put the Creatures back in Creature Comfort

Okay, I thought that critter line up a long time ago. When I was working with Senator Yarborough's office in the dark ages, I was the person in charge of environmental stuff. No one much cared about the environment then, in 1966-8, so I talked over with Richard Yarborough the fact that the Ivory Billed Woodpecker was endangered, and we decided to introduce a bill to give federal protection to the bird. As you may realize, that became the first bill to give federal protection to an endangered species, and Senator Yarborough went on to introduce the first general legislation that gave all endangered species that protection.

Of course, the thugs in office now don't like interfering with corruption of the environment and giving such responsible, stewardship role to the government. Where profits are concerned, rape is the recommended procedure - and we have increasing global warming which shows the cretin in chief's hand at work. Tony Blair actually is on BBC this a.m. pointing out that the collapse of our environment is reaching great depression levels of damage.

Who's in charge here? A civil engineer who has taken the role of mocking environmental concerns and giving industry veto powers over saving species. And here's how she operates

After she declared that the endangered Santa Barbara and Sonoma salamanders were no longer "distinct populations" entitled to protection, William Alsup, a judge on the U.S. District Court for Northern California, ruled that MacDonald had arbitrarily instructed Fish and Wildlife scientists to downgrade the two species even though an agency scientist concluded that "genetics state otherwise."

Two advocacy groups, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Center for Biological Diversity, provided the documents to The Washington Post. Francesca Grifo, who directs the union's scientific integrity program, said MacDonald's actions are "not business as usual but a systemic problem of tampering with science that is putting our environment at risk."

During a separate rulemaking concerning the threatened bull trout's habitat on the Klamath River, Fish and Wildlife officials debated via e-mail on how to respond to MacDonald. Her questions, they believed, reflected the concerns of Ronald Yockim, a lawyer representing three Idaho counties opposing a pending decision to protect nearly 300 miles of the river. After MacDonald's intervention, Fish and Wildlife officials opted to protect 42 miles instead.

John Young, a Fish and Wildlife biologist, wrote to several colleagues: "Yockim is an attorney representing various interest groups. It appears that Julie has shared our responses to her comments with Yockim, which have generated additional comments from Yockim. It seems to me it would be inappropriate to essentially continue the public comment period (it is closed) by contacting and responding to his follow-up questions/comments that he did not provide during the comment period."

'I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree', to remind you of Ogden Nash's limericks. 'But unless that billboard shall fall, I shall never see a tree at all.'

What a shame if a few dollars were to get in the way of saving species that we have threatened by thoughtless development.

If you have a chance, please take a walk and listen to the birds singing. It may be your last chance to do that.

by Ruth

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Blog Oversight

Those of us who blog expect to receive the full protection of the First Amendment, but there are some bloggers who aren't as fortunate. No, I'm not talking about bloggers who operate out of other countries that don't recognize the concept of free speech, but rather about that special class of US citizens known as members of the military. Yesterday, while hopping around the internets, I came across this article on military blogging.

From the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan to here at home, soldiers blogging about military life are under the watchful eye of some of their own.

A Virginia-based operation, the Army Web Risk Assessment Cell, monitors official and unofficial blogs and other Web sites for anything that may compromise security. The team scans for official documents, personal contact information and pictures of weapons or entrances to camps.

Included in the story was a reference to and a link to Milblogging, a site which contains 1,565 military blogs in 28 countries with 1,825 registered members. The home page of that site had entries on news articles about military blogs and news about military blogs, including a USA Today article which was in fact a recap of this column in the Boston Herald.

When something good is happening in the military, you can rely on someone high up and behind the lines to try to kill it. Slowly. Bureaucratically. Bleed the life out of it.

That is what is happening to milblogging, the Internet phenomenon that lets soldiers in Iraq tell us what they see, do and think.

For the last three years, in an unprecedented historical phenomenon, we’ve been able to hear from frontline front-line soldiers directly. The combat, the boredom, the loneliness, the camaraderie, their beliefs, their frustrations, their accomplishments. From Iraqis they encounter, suspicion and hatred as well as smiles and gratitude.

...It has been a rich picture unlike anything you know about Iraq if all your information comes from newspapers and TV.

Now, the military has assigned a National Guard unit to monitor the Internet for possible violations of operational security - OPSEC, as they call it. No one is suggesting significant violations have occurred, and soldiers were already required to have their commanders’ approval to blog, and to submit to periodic review. A mechanism to ensure soldiers are doing their duty makes sense, but overzealous officers will find violations, real or imagined, and punish soldiers.

The new rules also say commanders in the field must approve in advance anything that goes onto a public Web site. So much for trusting soldiers to observe OPSEC, much as civilian reporters have been trusted to do under liberal embedding rules.

As a number of milbloggers have noted, it will be the death of milblogging. All of us will be poorer, less informed for it, and more reliant on official pronouncements and reports from Baghdad’s hotel-bound U.S. press.

Certain information (maps which show the entrance to military installations, the number of troops and their intended patrol route, the type of weapons available, etc.)probably shouldn't be posted on the soldiers' blogs, but I'm reasonably certain most soldiers understand that and wouldn't jeopardize their safety and the safety of their comrades by posting that kind of material. The problem is that the guidelines are so ambiguous that they can be applied arbitrarily, and they have been.

The chilling effect has already been felt as several military bloggers have simply stopped posting. More will no doubt follow. One valuable resource for information will be lost. This is hardly fair to the soldiers, and certainly not fair to the American public who are entitled to as much information about the war as we can get, which up to this point hasn't been much.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sunday Poetry: W.S. Merwin

The Speed Of Light

So gradual in those summers was the going
of the age it seemed that the long days setting out
when the stars faded over the mountains were not
leaving us even as the birds woke in full song and the dew
glittered in the webs it appeared then that the clear morning
opening into the sky was something of ours
to have and keep and that the brightness we could not touch
and the air we could not hold had come to be there all the time
for us and would never be gone and that the axle
we did not hear was not turning when the ancient car
coughed in the roofer's barn and rolled out echoing
first thing into the lane and the only tractor
in the village rumbled and went into its rusty
mutterings before heading out of its lean-to
into the cow pats and the shadow of the lime tree
we did not see that the swallows flashing and the sparks
of their cries were fast in the spokes of the hollow
wheel that was turning and turning us taking us
all away as one with the tires of the baker's van
where the wheels of bread were stacked like days in calendars
coming and going all at once we did not hear
the rim of the hour in whatever we were saying
or touching all day we thought it was there and would stay
it was only as the afternoon lengthened on its
dial and the shadows reached out farther and farther
from everything that we began to listen for what
might be escaping us and we heard high voices ringing
the village at sundown calling their animals home
and then the bats after dark and the silence on its road

W.S. Merwin

What are we doing there?

It isn't a comma but a life that doesn't go on, because of the sadly uncaring political needs of this cretin in chief.

I had another post yesterday which got lost in the ether, but in trying to reconstruct it, I found this article:

A single shot rang out and Staff Sergeant Jonathan Rojas dropped lifelessly into the cramped hull of his armoured car, pitching forward as bright red blood spurted from under his helmet.

His team reacted instantly.

Platoon medics piled in through the 17-tonne Stryker's rear door and one of his men stepped up to replace him in the squad leader's open roof hatch and guide the vehicle out of an east Baghdad slum.

"God damn it. He's hit in the head. He's shot in the f(expletive) head" -- "Roger, roger, gotcha" -- "He's got a pulse, got a pulse" -- "Is he breathing? -- "He's got a gunshot wound to the head. He's got pulse. He's not breathing."

For a fearful moment the crush in the crew compartment seemed like chaos, but Rojas' team was well drilled. Every soldier on board had a job to do as the platoon roared to the nearest US base, fighting to save their sergeant's life.

"He's not breathing" -- "We need to move" -- "Get the ramp up, get the ramp up, get the ramp up" -- "Go, go, go" -- "I need you up on top" -- "I need a weapon" -- "Here, take my weapon. It's got one in the breach, OK?"

"OK. I need immediate f(expletive) dust off at Loyalty, copy?"

Despite the platoon's efforts, it was clear that the hidden sniper had found his mark. Rojas was dead on arrival four kilometres (2.5 miles) away at Camp Loyalty and no longer needed a "dust off," or emergency evacuation by helicopter.

The sergeant, a 27-year-old from the industrial town of Hammond, Indiana, left behind a wife and two pit bull terriers.

Rojas' platoon from the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team washed the blood from the floor of their troop transport then gathered to salute his body as it was carried onto a Blackhawk chopper under a blue plastic shroud.

Afterwards, they headed back to the streets to continue their mission.

Then came this one:

Gunmen opened fire on a convoy of Iraqi Sunni pilgrims bound for the holy city of Mecca on Sunday, killing at least one person, while U.S. forces said they killed 17 insurgents preparing to ambush American troops.

The pilgrims were about 15 miles from the city of Baqouba when gunmen showered their convoy with machine gunfire, said a spokesman for Diyala province's Public Relations and Information Bureau, who asked not to be named, citing security procedures. Such killing are usually part of Iraq's growing sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

What gives any one, particularly a failure in everything he's ever done, the right to shed lives of our soldiers, or of anyone else?

Cut and run being the accusation, let me just say - when the Congress stands up and says that this war is unjust, uncalled for, and unproductive, it should be over - it is an undeclared war, which is unconstitutional, and it is time to declare victory and leave.

Diane quoted the following from a Malaysian editorial yesterday:

It remains to be seen, however, whether the American public will send a sufficiently strong message to their elected representatives, so that they understand it is no longer the time to talk tough, but rather to bring the boys home.

No one should have to die for a political agenda, and no one should have to die for a slogan. We have enough of death, and we need to regain our sense of real values. These kids should be able to afford to go to college and have health care, not die in foreign lands for the political prostitution at the White House.

from Ruth

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Apparently We Haven't Come A Long Way, Baby

Come on, boys, it's 2006, not 1956. Back then, few women entered politics on their own. Although I haven't done the research, right off the top of my head the only woman I could think of as holding a congressional office back in the 50's and 60's is Margaret Chase Smith, although there might have been others. Now, however, we have multiple woman senators and dozens of House members. You'd think by this time, the country, especially the men in the country would have gotten used to it. Clearly that is not so. From today's Sacramento Bee comes this article, written by a reporter at the McClatchy Washington Bureau.

Republicans suddenly are trying to make Pelosi a household name -- one that embodies what many conservatives and white, male voters dislike most about the Democratic Party -- in order to turn out their voters.

In debates, speeches, magazines and a few ads, on talk shows and the Internet, Republicans attack Pelosi as the face of a tax-raising, homosexual-embracing, abortion-promoting, war-fearing, criminal-coddling, government-expanding liberal party that would ruin America if it gains at least 15 seats on Election Day and takes control of the 435-member House.

...A 66-year-old feminist and mother of five who speaks softly, wears pastel suits and extols the virtues of mother- and grandmotherhood, Pelosi's first impression is non-threatening.

But her allies describe her as a relentless fundraiser and strategist who's been willing to put liberal abortion and gun-control politics on hold for the greater good of her party, and they say she can be ruthless when dealing with opponents.
[Emphasis added]

Right, so tell me, what color suit does House Speaker Hastert favor? And which designer? How many kids does House Majority Leader Boehner have? Any grandkids? What color are his eyes?

Why is it so startling that someone with a soft voice is good (or even 'relentless') as a fundraiser or as a strategist anxious to keep her party in position to take back some of the power the rest of Congress so cheerfully gave to the Emperor? Why does this make her ruthless?

And why does the press continue to write this way in 2006, especially a woman reporter (Margaret Talev)?

That's what we need to be worried about.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Bonus Critter Blogging: Bonobo!

Another Point of View

While the President has begun the removal of the term "Stay The Course" from the official White House Lexicon, it is clear that he has no intention of removing the concept from the prosecution of the Iraq War. We know that, and the rest of the world knows that. The rest of the world also knows what this whole morass has been about and what havoc it has wreaked. From the Malaysia's New Straits Times:

While there is no questioning Bush's dogged determination to finish the job, it is questionable whether any change in tactics would turn things around on the ground, since Iraq is nowhere near being the "free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself" that Bush has envisaged. It is unclear what new tactics could succeed in taming the insurgency and stemming sectarian violence. The dead end that the U.S. finds itself in suggests that regime change is not as easy as deposing a dictator and then imposing democracy at the barrel of a gun. But America's dilemma also proves that military occupation invariably provokes popular resistance. No new military tactic or strategy, however slick and masterful, is capable of reversing inevitable internal opposition to the foreign yoke. It's time to move beyond tinkering with tactics and acknowledge the shortfalls of America's Iraq policy and the inadequacies of the war on terror.

When the body count mounts in an expensive foreign war launched under false pretenses and when the promise of victory proves illusory, it is to be expected that American public opinion would turn hostile. It remains to be seen, however, whether the American public will send a sufficiently strong message to their elected representatives, so that they understand it is no longer the time to talk tough, but rather to bring the boys home.

Yes, I think that gets it nicely.

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Had Enough?

There's nothing like a little Molly Ivins to cut through the truthiness coming out of the White House. Her latest column skewers the boasting about the economy.

I just love listening to the Bushies play with numbers. When Bush took over in 2001, he had predicted a surplus of $516 billion for fiscal year 2006. Last week, the administration announced a 2006 deficit of $248 billion, missing its projection for this year by $764 billion. Bush said the numbers are "proof that pro-growth economic policies work" and are "an example of sound fiscal policies here in Washington."

This is highly reminiscent of Dick Cheney's recent observation about the Iraqi government, "If you look at the general, overall situation, they're doing remarkably well."

Bush's main talking point on the budget is that he "cut the deficit in half" -- that would be from 2004, the year the White House inflated the projected deficit for political reasons. Even conservatives disagree. Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation said, "The White House has a track record of projecting budget numbers to be a lot worse than they end up, which therefore helps them defeat the gloomy expectations and declare victory." If Bush does manage to make the tax cuts permanent, it will add more than $3 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years. The federal budget would be virtually in balance if there had been no tax cuts.

Bush's version of "doing remarkably well" includes a trade gap -- now a record $69.9 billion -- up 2.7 percent since July. "Short of a big correction in consumer spending, the best we can hope for is that the trade deficit stabilizes," Stephen Stanley, chief economist at RBS Greenwich Capital, told Bloomberg.com.

Just to give you an idea of how dependable the Bush numbers are, the Department of Health and Human Services put out a press release a few weeks ago telling senior citizens they will have "new options with low costs" and that monthly premiums in '07 will be the same as in '06.

"The Medicare prescription drug benefit ... just keeps getting better," burbled HHS. They seem to have been taking too much in the way of prescription drugs. Rep. Henry Waxman, one of the most singularly useful members of Congress, found that average premiums will actually increase by over 10 percent next year. And for the lowest-priced plans, average premiums will be up over 44 percent. "It is not merely confusing arithmetic, it is deceptive advertising," said Waxman.

National pollsters keep telling us that the Iraq War is the number one issue on voters' minds as we approach the election, but I suspect that's just because the average voter hasn't quite made the conscious connection between the federal expenditures for the prosecution of that war and the fact that his/her family is now forced to eat macaroni and cheese three nights a week instead of just one. Still, there is a certain restiveness among a lot of voters that suggests that connection is beginning to surface.

Ms Ivins concludes this October 24, 2006 column by asking the right question:

Bush's remarkably good economy is only good for the richest -- for the rest of us, incomes are stagnant and education and health care costs are skyrocketing. The Republican Congress blindly rubber-stamps policies designed to help only a few. Are you better off than you were six years ago?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Stem Cell Research

Since this came up at Atrios this a.m., I will explain further here why it is important that Claire McCaskill be elected in Missouri, where my 8-year-old grandson lives.

St Louis, MO, is the focus of a great deal of children's medical expertise, and the children's hospital there is a center for the treatment of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. Timothy, my grandson, has JRA and will never be able to run and play like other kids unless there are breakthroughs in the treatment of the disease. He takes several kinds of medicine, and it is necessary to re-balance medications constantly so that he can fight the pain and crippling in his joints.

The research vital to developing cures to his and other disease is hampered by restrictions that the present recidivists in the WH have put on the methods they can try. The general attitude of this WH toward science also discourages the kind of scientists who are bold and will dare to try out methods that are new and unique. Needless to say, our medical community is deteriorating under the administration and research scientists are particularly draining away to more civilized countries.

Sen. Talent has declared that his pro-life stance militates that he oppose the use of stem cells which could be used to create life. Of course, the frozen embryos that are discarded when they are not wanted, to everyone's knowledge, do not become living babies, they become dead matter. Only by utmost cynicism can anyone bar the use for research of potential waste material. There are rare instances when a couple that has surplus embryos, having achieved success with one, will allow other embryos to be donated to another, childless, couple, to be carried full term - the 'snowflake' child. No one is proposing to take those embryos. It is only the excess, unused, embryos that are destined for destruction that would be utilized to create stem cells for research into treatment of illnesses.

Incidentally, every fertile woman loses eggs monthly throughout her life, some fertilized, some not. I have myself lost an embryo at three months, it is not at all uncommon, but I don't confuse an unsuccessful pregnancy with a living child.

I would like to ask anyone who lives in Missouri, or who has friends or family in Missouri, to think about making life better for living, really precious, children and adults. Vote for forward looking, straight talking and intelligent, advocates of science - not the ignorant politically motivated obstructionist element that tries to present its putting obstacles in the path of good people as a respect for life. If they truly wanted more children, they could adopt any number, but of course, those would not be likely to be the billboard type with big blue eyes and pink cheeks. And if they wanted more people to carry pregnancies to term, they would surely work very hard to give working people a living wage, so they could afford those children.

I appreciate your helping out Timothy. Sorry, I don't happen to have a picture, but he has big, dark eyes and wavy dark hair, and a big, sweet smile. That is, he has a great big smile when he's not in pain.

from Ruth

Let's Talk

One of the most bizarre tenets of the current US regime is that it refuses to talk to putative enemies. Even before the famous "Axis of Evil" speech, the Bush administration has made it clear that negotiating with what it considered to be "rogue nations" would be a form of reward for such despicable behavior, and the US would have none of that. The results so far have not exactly been noteworthy, except in the negative sense. We have what can only be seen as failure in the Iraq War, a nuclear detonation in North Korea, and the continued processing of plutonium in Iran as a precursor to a nuclear detonation. Those failures are bringing out calls across the political spectrum for a shift in policy. The response from our Dear Leader to those calls is noted in today's NY Times.

The question arises: Is any of this cutting ice with the administration?

Officially, the administration is sticking to form. President Bush said as much during a news conference on Wednesday, when he was asked, again, whether he would be willing to work with Iran and Syria if it was determined that they could help bring stability to Iraq, their neighbor.
[Emphasis added]

While the article describes the internal debate which is going on in the White House, it is clear which side is currently winning the debate, given the President's comments that Syria and Iran know what they have to do. His answer was indeed "sticking to form": we don't speak with other nations, we issue orders. It doesn't appear that there will be any shift from "stay the course" in this area, either.

The results will be predictable, as the rest of the world knows:

...But the administration will continue to take hits over not talking to its enemies until it can demonstrably show that this strategy has had results, diplomats said. Said one European diplomat in Washington: “They’ve isolated Cuba for 40 years, and you see how well that’s worked.”


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Proud Support for Glenn Melancon for Congress

Maybe you haven't spent the past ten+ years being represented by nincompoops who sell their votes to the highest bidder, and don't do public interest anything. But if you have, you may share my pride in coming across an item in History News Network that shows the candidate I am backing against the incumbent having a fine and terribly principled discussion about the economic stance of the liberal vs. that of the antipoor. I am going to let you enjoy it without my trying to set the stage, even.

Here it is:

"......Histrionically, those with property and large incomes were not taxed. In fact governments went to great lengths to avoid upsetting the wealthy by using excise and poll taxes. These regressive taxes allowed the wealthy to keep much of what they earned and pass it on to their offsprings. According to Mr. Heuisler hypothesis, the pre-twentieth century world should have been one of general prosperity. We all know that this was not the case. It was a world in which a tiny elite enjoyed a life of relative material well-being, while the masses lead of life struggling to reach subsistence. The progressive income tax, the New Deal and the Welfare State provided for a more equitable distribution of wealth by shifting the tax burden to those who could best afford to pay. This “Robinhood” approach, to use the confiscation metaphor, not only helped those at the bottom of the scale by promoted the “Wealth of the Nation.” Who could argue that the “rich” have been hurt by the last fifty years of Liberal Economics? As Keynes pointed out, the jobless make poor consumers. Through programs like Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, Housing Assistance and other government programs the poor become consumers. Where do they spend this new found “wealth”? In the very businesses that decry high taxes. It is in everyone’s interest to keep the progressive tax structure. The supply-side model may put more money in the hands of investors, but they will simply hoard their wealth like the feudal lords of old if there are no consumers to buy the supply.

[ Reply ] [ Return to Comments ]

Glenn's histrionics (#8156)
by Bill Heuisler on February 10, 2003 at 9:08 PM
Mr. Melancon has evidently learned his history at Boston U. under the grim tutelage of Howard Zinn. Some of his lines are near quotes from one or another Zinn polemic. Others are...

His second sentence: "Histrionically, those with property and large incomes were not taxed."

He might have something. Does Boston U. have a theater group?
Bill Heuisler

[ Reply ] [ Return to Comments ]

He DOES Have Something: Truth! (#8165)
by Tom Kellum on February 10, 2003 at 11:21 PM
Mr. Melancon DOES have something. Something that Mr. Heuisler was not able to refute. Something that so rattled Mr. Heuisler that all he could in response is engage in two ad hominen attacks: one on the great Howard Zinn, and one on Mr. Melancon.

It is odd that there are still some people in this country who pine for the economic mess that Reagan put us in. Debt farther than the eyes can see. Now, President HappyCrack is repeating the Reagan model. Yessir, transfer all of that money to the rich (don't forget the Carlyle Group), and then there won't be any left to give to those left-wing state universities who pay professors to indocrinate students with an idealized fantasy of what the first 150+ years of our nation's history was like for everyone except the families of rich, white, property-owning males.

No thanks, Mr. Heuisler. That may be what you want to go back to, and "President" Bush is doing his best to get you there; but I'm not interested.

[ Reply ] [ Return to Comments ]
RE: Glenn's histrionics (#8166)
by Glenn Melancon on February 10, 2003 at 11:23 PM
Your rebuttal is an ad hominen attack?

Surely you do not wish to argue that America was a better place before Liberalism–no food regulations, no work place safety regulations, no environmental protection, no women’s suffrage, no civil rights for African Americans, no unemployment benefits, no Social Security? Which of these progressive programs would you repeal? Or maybe you would like to cut the size of the military during war time?

I will admit that Soviet style central planning was a complete failure, if you admit that the mixed US economy was a roaring success. No Liberal wants to institute the policies of Joseph Stalin. We simply want a system that creates opportunity. FDR laid a foundation on which Americans can be proud. Rejecting Fascism and Communism at a time of despair, the Americans of the 1930 created the opportunities that many enjoy today. Goldwater and Reagan (and now George II) wanted to destroy that legacy. To return to the policies of the nineteenth century would be an utter failure.

[ Reply ] [ Return to Comments ]

RE: Glenn's histrionics (#8176)
by Bill Heuisler on February 11, 2003 at 12:56 AM
Mr. Melancon,
You brought up histrionics - a refreshing change-of-pace.
And it was big of you to admit the failure of Soviet Communism ten years after it imploded. Government planning doesn't work.

As to your pseudo-history, no one mentioned Liberalism but you. Government does not create opportunity, individuals do. The 1964 Civil Rights Act passed with a majority of Republican votes and only a minority of Democrats, women's sufferage passed while Republicans were in control and only months before Warren Harding was inaugurated. The rest of your list was put into place with the aid of Congresses and Presidents of both parties.

Now let's focus on the HNN comment about Americans being suspicious of W's tax cuts. You seem fixated on how terrible the United States has become under Reagan and the Bushes and how wonderful Socialism would be. You've apparently read Howard Zinn and therefore hate this country and our free-market system as it has evolved. That's fine, but has nothing to do with the article.

The article in question opposes President Bush's tax cuts and proposes taxing each American "transaction" from paycheck to death. Do you favor more taxation? Income? Sales? How much more?
My position is that we need the tax cuts - we need to keep more of our own money. Throughout history most free societies have been destroyed from within by profligate spending and onerous taxation. If you want to give more money to government, be my guest, but brush up on your American History...and stay calm.
Bill Heuisler "

There is more, too, at the above link.

If only we have voters come out to put him in office, Dr. Melancon, a history prof at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, would represent us in Congress. I hope so.

posted by Ruth

Business As Usual

It's getting to be a ritual: Congress leaves town on one of its many recesses and the President makes one of his many recess appointment. This time it was Richard Stickler for the Mine Safety & Health Agency. From today's NY Times:

Despite being twice rebuffed by the Senate, President Bush has named Richard Stickler, a stolid mining industry careerist, to run the mine safety agency whose serial ineptitude has been laid bare this year by the deaths of 42 mineworkers. Waiting until the Senate left town for the elections, Mr. Bush resorted to a recess appointment to place Mr. Stickler at the heart of enforcing new safety reforms that, in earlier hearings, the appointee himself had claimed were not at all that necessary.

To the contrary, these reforms became a crying need brought home to the nation from the depths of the Sago mine disaster in West Virginia, where 12 workers died in January. Sago presented a clinic in failed government oversight. The new law would double a miner’s emergency oxygen to two hours; mandate electronic devices to track trapped miners; and repair the damage originally done by the administration in cutting more than 200 mine safety inspectors in the name of budget economy.

Mr. Stickler points to his six years as Pennsylvania mine safety chief to rebut criticism that he is the latest example in the administration’s dangerous history of packing safety agencies with pro- industry regulators. But the bulk of his career was in corporate management of mines. Miners and lawmakers have cited the federal agency’s own data in warning that injury rates at his mines were higher than the national average. The administration’s pro-industry tack is a running scandal exemplified by Steven Griles, a mining lobbyist who was appointed deputy secretary of the interior. Mr. Griles devoted four years to rolling back mine regulations and then returned to lobbying for an industry long known for its patronage clout with politicians.
[Emphasis added]

While the President's act was not too surprising, the arrogance it displayed right before an election was. American's may have a notoriously short attention span, but the deaths of more than forty miners this year, many of which might have been prevented had particular safety regulations been in place and enforced, hasn't been erased from the public consciousness, especially in those states involved in the mining industry. Apparently his loyalty to large campaign contributors is stronger than his loyalty to those Republican members of Congress running for re-election. We've long known that loyalty was stronger than that for the health and well-being of average Americans. In any event, he's just added another weapon to the Democrats' campaign arsenal.

Heckuva job, George.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Once upon a time and long, long ago and far, far away, there was a revolution in this country because our forefathers demanded freedom from an unjust and arbitrary ruler. A major reason for the Revolutionary War was to establish freedom of the press. [Arbitrary search was another goodie.] Did you grow up being taught that we were right to be proud of that war and its glorious result of independence and freedom from rule by fiat - from that other George. Remember knowing with an inner glow inside, that you had achieved a government of the people, by the people and for the people which as long as America was an independent nation would not perish from the earth? Do not read on if you don't want to be confronted with nasty brutish truths.

1. The Pentagon declares that paying U.S. taxpayer funds to publish propaganda in Iraq is a legitimate function of this government:

Declaring it "within our authorities and responsibilities," the top U.S. general in Iraq, George Casey, announced that the Lincoln Group program that covertly places stories written by U.S. troops in Iraqi newspapers will continue. Navy Admiral Scott Van Buskirk is also reviewing the Iraq propaganda program. His review was previously described as finished but not public; the LA Times reports that it hasn't yet been completed. Van Buskirk's report "could pave the way for the Pentagon to replicate the practice ... in other parts of the world." '

2.'How does this work exactly? According to the paper, the Pentagon delivers "storyboards" to the PR firm in Washington with stories it wants placed in Iraqi media. Then, says the Los Angeles Times, the Lincoln Group's Iraqi staff or subcontractors "sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives when they deliver the stories to Baghdad media outlets." To be specific, an August 2 article in the independent Addustour newspaper titled "More Money Goes to Iraq's Development" appeared under the descriptor "Media Services" (as if it came from Wire Services) when in fact the paper received $1,500 from the Lincoln Group.'

3. From WaPo:

'Although it ranked 17th on the first list, published in 2002, the United States now stands at 53, having fallen nine places since last year.

"Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of 'national security' to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his 'war on terrorism,' " the group said.'

4. Media Matters points out that the WaPo ombudsthingie reports that Abramoff gave funds in return for favors to Dems as well as thuglicans, while her reporters are publishing the facts that refute that statement.

5. From Here Now: The NYTimes apologizes finally for reporting without question the WH statements about WMD's that were reason no. 1 for going into Iraq, as does WaPo.

'In an editor's note in yesterday's newspaper, the Times said it found "a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been" about the war and specifically its coverage of claims about weapons of mass destruction. These claims were based on information which largely came from Chalabi.'

6. From that radical shrill organ, the New York Review of Books, an article by Micahel Massing:

In late September, the Government Accountability Office—a nonpartisan arm of Congress—issued a finding that the Bush administration had engaged in "covert propaganda," and thereby broken the law, by paying Armstrong Williams, a conservative commentator, to promote its educational policies. The GAO also faulted the administration for hiring a public relations firm to distribute video news segments without disclosing the government's part in producing them.[1] The auditors' report, which followed a year-long investigation, presents chilling evidence of the campaign that officials in Washington have been waging against a free and independent press. Only months before, it was revealed that Kenneth Tomlinson, the President's choice to head the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, had paid a Republican operative to monitor the political leanings of guests on Bill Moyers's show Now, as part of a broader effort to shift PBS's programming to the right.'

7. Noted in USA Today:

'The New York Times reports today that Republicans buried a provision in a recent military spending bill that devotes $20 million "to pay for a celebration in the nation’s capital 'for commemoration of success' in Iraq and Afghanistan." Appropriators had put it in the 2006 spending bill, but with no sign of a letup in the violence in Iraq they extended the provision so the president can spend the money in 2007.'

Our media is no longer the publisher of believable news, and our leaders are complicit in denying the American public basic freedoms.

There's an election coming up.

Do Not Let This Continue.

Call, email, visit.

Let your friends, neighbors, family know. We're not far from losing the very freedoms this country fought for and can't take for granted anymore.

Posted by Ruth

What Gorilla?

One issue that is not getting much play in the current campaign is that of health care and insurance costs, yet this is one of those meat and potato issues closely aligned with the American public's view of the economy. I find the silence on this issue somewhat puzzling. Although it is not as sexy as the Foley scandal, or as explosive as the Iraq War, this particular cost is a clear concern for most Americans, as a recent poll made clear. From today's Los Angeles Times:

Frustration with the rising costs of health coverage surged sharply this year, helping to explain why many voters remain uneasy about the economy despite falling gasoline prices, low unemployment and a soaring stock market.

The annual Health Confidence Survey, released today by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute, found that more than half of those surveyed — 52% — were dissatisfied with health insurance costs, a sharp increase from 33% last year.

About 6 in 10 said costs of their health plan — such as premiums, deductibles and co-payments — had gone up in the last year. Of those who said their costs had risen, more than half said they were saving less as a result.

Retirement plans took a big hit, with 36% of those who reported higher costs over the last year saying they had reduced their contributions to 401(k) plans. Of that group, 28% said that because of health-related costs, they had trouble paying for such basic necessities as housing, heat and food.
[Emphasis added]

Employers who provide health insurance for their employees cut back on their contributions to that benefit as the costs soared, which meant higher copayments and deductibles, and lesser coverage for the employees. Many employers are simply not offering health insurance as a benefit, leaving the entire burden for health care costs on the individual.

Sooner or later, the whole issue will have to be addressed, and not just in bandaid fashion. Some states and municipalities are experimenting with a programs to provide a single-payor universal coverage, but the patchwork approach is not going to be of much value to the national economy. It's time Congress quit ignoring the problem. This gorilla is beginning to smell.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Flip Flop

Well, at least it's nice to know what the latest slogan is going to be. Against a reflective, intelligent candidate that the Democrats had in Kerry, winner of the purple heart against a deserter, flip flop was the theme. It was obviously Rovian, and appealed to the mindset he'd fixated on for the GOP - an anti-intellectual element that didn't like those highbrow types who looked to work things out with an international community, and believed in things like the constitution and Geneva conventions. Quaint, pointy-headed intellectuals that the barroom crowd wanted to see 'Dance' while the sixshooters worked the gravel under their feet. I don't think anyone reading this ever imagined that there were so many out there with such low ideals, or such disdain for their country.

There's the basis for your new slogan. It's being given to you this time, it seems, by CNN - the 'wuss factor'. See the latest 'poll';

Do you believe the Democrats' 'wuss factor' is real?

Yes 47% 25081 votes

No 53% 28836 votes
Total: 53917 votes

Of course, simple honesty will lead you to say, there is a kind of reality in the perception that the lowest forms of life will hone on. There are stereotypes like the 'schoolmarm' image of those somewhat educated souls who came into small towns all over the South and West, educating the children of plain and often rough communities while having practically no intellectual life of their own. There are images like the Audey Murphy soldier, braving enemy fire to keep evil from sweeping across the world. Images like the Southern Colonel, fulminating like Sen. Byrd, grand sweeping gestures and big words, beaten but still holding court.

Then there are the Nixons, the Agnews, the DeLays, the Abramoffs, the Roves, the w's, the Cheneys, the gollums. Hey, if you were like that, you'd look for something to accuse your opposition of, too. You'd need something to divert the attention of those voters who otherwise would see you as a lowering of expectations that they grew up with, their ideals and their country's proud sons. "Flip Flop", "Cut and Run", "Wuss Factor", "Nattering Nabobs of Negativism" - with vituperation you can bring simple minded people to take your side even though you are not going to do anything at all for them or their children.

It's enough to make a proud person turn away in disgust and not want to deal with the stupidity of it all.

Let's get in there and fight. It's GOTV time, folks. If you haven't started yet, you've already missed two days of early voting in Texas, and you're too late to get an absentee ballot. If you want to see this country back on the right track, look at what is in control - and Just Say No. Get to work, folks, please, for my grandkids and yours, if any.

from Ruth

Let the Games Begin

It's nice to know the adults are in charge. From an editorial in today's Washington Post:

REP. JANE HARMAN (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, took a step last week that she knew would be thermonuclear: Without the assent of the panel's chairman, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), and in contravention of a previous understanding, she released an unclassified summary of a report about former representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.). Later that day, in barely disguised retaliation, Mr. Hoekstra suspended a Democratic committee staff member's access to classified documents, ostensibly based on the flimsiest of suspicions that the aide had been involved in the leak of a separate, classified document.

The editorial gives a nice summary of the events that provoked this bit of tit-for-tat, and really should be read. What is clear is that Rep. Hoekstra did indeed go "thermonuclear" in a nasty bit of revenge. Rep. Harman released an unclassified summary of information gathered on a self-admitted felon. She did so in violation of an agreement among members of the panels, which certainly is not the most ladylike thing to do. However, the retaliation so far exceeded the first "violation" that it tells more about Mr. Hoekstra and the way he and other House committee chairman have chosen to run Congress than it does about Ms. Harman.

First of all, why wasn't the unclassified summary of Cunningham's activities released earlier? By the time it was released, Mr. Cunningham had long been sentenced and had moved into his new quarters. The release certainly did not affect the FBI investigation or any trial. The document did not contain any information that would compromise national security. Why was it hidden away?

The answer to that is probably the same as the answer to why the NIE wasn't released in unclassified-summary form long before the press finally got hold of it. Both items contained information that would have proven embarrassing (at the very least)to the GOP led government. The White House and, now, clearly the GOP leaders in Congress, thrive on secrecy in order to govern, which is certainly not good news for a democracy. One wonders just how much is hidden away that would demonstrate the extent of corruption and malfeasance of the current regime.

Finally, Mr. Hoekstra's response was that of a coward. Instead of confronting Ms. Harman directly, he went after an innocent third-party, an aide, and besmirched that aide's reputation.


Monday, October 23, 2006

Whose immorality?

Hope you all had the fun of watching the Cretin in Chief this a.m. decrying the Dems' 'use' of the figures on deaths in Iraq for political purposes. Let me be the first to announce that I regret and reject any words spoken about the multiplying figures of deaths in Iraq that are spoken FOR THE PURPOSE of making political gains.

Example one: The President, who wants us to Stay the Course, [which has evolved into Adjusting the Course] - 'As he heads out on the campaign trail, haunted by an unpopular war, President Bush has begun reassuring audiences that this traumatic period in Iraq will be seen as "just a comma" in the history books. By that, aides say, he means to reinforce his message of resolve in the long struggle for Iraqi democracy."

Example two: The wingers who are positing that it is the insurgent aim to create a figure as high as the 9/11 deaths to impact our election - as in; 'Iran has a definite purpose in trying to get the body count in Iraq up to 3,000; they believe that number will do enormous damage to President Bush during the mid-term elections Nov. 7. '

Example three: Our Iraqi government in the Emerald City; 'Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Reuters, "The report is unbelievable. These numbers are exaggerated and not precise." Iraqi government officials put the total Iraqi death toll since the war started at 40,000.'

Example four: Cynical references to their Support for the Troops while voting against them, making loss of life truly a 'comma'; With a Veterans group rating, scores "which party truly supports the troops was made remarkably clear: The 44 Democrats and Jeffords had an average military-support grade of B+, while the 55 Republicans, who beat their chests with disgusting regularity about how strong they are on military issues, averaged a pathetic D." from Paul Rieckhoff, Executive Director and founder of Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), see -

Listening to the idjut in the WH this a.m. trying to condemn my party for its regret for the mounting deaths he has caused - that just makes me sick. First to send them to die and then to mock their deaths as only a comma was bad enough. But to now use their deaths to accuse his opponents of being cynical comes full circle in the upwardly mounting atrocities of this moronic war.

from Ruth

Cheap Tricks

One of the ways to win an election is to make sure your opponent's supporters don't show up to vote. That can accomplished in all sorts of ways, none of them nice, and most illegal. Generally, if you get caught, the most you face is a hefty fine. Do a Wikipedia check on "Curt Pringle" to see what I mean. This past week, an Orange County, California candidate for Congress tried his hand at this campaign tactic. Unfortunately for him, his dirty trick got noticed three weeks before the election. While the State Attorney General is still investigating, it looks like the candidate is in some hot water. From the Los Angeles Times:

At a chaotic sidewalk news conference Sunday, Orange County congressional candidate Tan Nguyen defended a letter his campaign sent to 14,000 registered voters that warned in Spanish that immigrants could be jailed or deported for voting.

"There has been no crime committed, so why is there a criminal investigation three weeks prior to a very important election?" asked Nguyen outside his campaign office in Garden Grove. It was his first public appearance since the controversy erupted last week. "What is going on? Who is fueling this investigation?"

...His speech was punctuated by outbursts from a crowd of roughly 50 that angrily demanded more information about the letter's authorship. Nguyen maintained that the letter was sent without his knowledge. But he added that, after firing the staffer he said was responsible for it, he was asking her to return because he believes the mailer was fair.

In the letter, registered voters with Latino surnames in Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Anaheim were warned "that if your residence in this country is illegal or you are an immigrant, voting in a federal election is a crime that could result in jail time…."

Former U.S. Atty. William Braniff, a lawyer for Nguyen's campaign, said Sunday that the controversy was caused by the news media and others who inferred that the word emigrado, or immigrant, included U.S. citizens. In fact, Braniff said, emigrado in the letter merely referred to U.S. immigrants who have legal status but not citizenship — and thus do not have the right to vote.

Braniff declined, however, to say why the campaign had used letterhead closely resembling that of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform without the group's permission and why it was signed by a fictional "Sergio Ramirez."
[Emphasis added]

What Mr. Braniff, the campaign's lawyer, is attempting is some awfully specious parsing. If the news media inferred that the Spanish word referred to all immigrants, including citizens, why wouldn't the immigrants themselves? And if the letter looks like it came from an organization which would know about these things, why wouldn't the reader of that letter assume that the information was true?

For all of Candidate Nguyen's whining that all of the hysteria this close to the election is suspect, he should have known better. Getting caught at this kind of dirty trick is always a possibility, especially in a contentious campaign.

The bitter irony of this is that Mr. Nguyen is himself an immigrant.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sunday Poetry Blogging

Today, Denise Levertov, because, today, I feel like it.


Brilliant, this day -- a young virtuoso of a day.
Morning shadow cut by sharpest scissors,
deft hands. And every prodigy of green --
whether it's ferns or lichens or needles
or impatient points of buds on spindly bushes --
greener than ever before. And the way the conifers
hold new cones to the light for the blessing,
a festive right, and sing the oceanic chant the wind
transcribes for them!
A day that shines in the cold
like a first-prize brass band swinging along
the street
of a coal-dusty village, wholly at odds
with the claims of reasonable gloom.

Denise Levertov

Why Our Options Are Limited...

and why none of them are pleasant.

October has been a deadly month for the US soldiers in Iraq, and there doesn't seem to be any respite in sight. Only now, with the mounting death toll, the dropping political polls, and the looming of the mid-term elections, is the Emperor conceding that there might have to be some alterations in tactics (but not alterations in goal or strategies). Changing course is going to be difficult, and not just because of the regime's stubborn refusal to admit that everything done in connection with this war was wrong, from its inception to its prosecution. This regime has no sense of a viable and realistic overarching foreign policy. It sees the Iraq war in isolation, not having any real impact on anything else, including the very region it is tearing apart. As a result, there are some options which might be workable, but which are unacceptable to BushCo and/or unavailable to us.

Here's one example among many of what I mean. This editorial appeared in the October 12 edition of Mexico's La Jornada.

The nuclear test presumably carried out October 9 by North Korea has generated strong reactions around the world. From Beijing to Moscow, from London to Paris, from Washington to Seoul, the condemnation has been unanimous. Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted that the North Korean bomb "is a mighty blow to nuclear nonproliferation." United Statesian chief executive George W. Bush categorically asserted that the atomic action of Pyongyang "constitutes a threat to international peace and security. The United States condemns this act of provocation."

In their indignation, the Russian and American presidents forget that their countries are key cheerleaders of the nuclear race. Although the dictatorial penchant of Kim Jong-il's dictatorial regime cannot be denied, the firepower of the Russians and United Statesians is far more frightening: the two nations have some 15,300 nuclear warheads between them, and they have carried out a little over 700,000 underground and aboveground detonations since 1945.

...The North Korean test is nothing compared to what the members of the so-called Nuclear Club have done, and yet no one has urged sanctions against Russia and the United States, or China (400 nuclear warheads), France (348), or Great Britain (185). Those five countries have carried out a total of 2,200 nuclear tests. Neither has punishment been demanded for the tolerated nuclear powers: India (40), Pakistan (50) and presumably Israel (200), which have relied on the complicity of the nuclear powers.

According to the thinking of the international community, only civilized, democratic countries should have access to military nuclear technology. But in the strictest sense, this criteria excludes almost every members of the official nuclear club. Over the past 50 years, United Statesians, Russians, Chinese, British and the French have shown signs of barbarity against other nations, and their neighbors or former colonies and have carried out nuclear tests indiscriminately.

...How is it possible, on the other hand, to have decided that giving North Korea and Iran access to nuclear energy is much more dangerous than giving it to Pakistan, India or Israel, all of which have spent the last half century warring with their neighbors, and whose governments are some distance from being completely democratic?

Here's the connection (which probably isn't very clear at this point): Iran could be very helpful in calming things down enough in Iraq for the US to begin withdrawing troops. Iran (and Syria) could also assist militarily to keep a modicum of stability in Iraq until an Iraqi government could be formed that would actually be viable when it comes to securing against the civil war which is consuming the country.

Unfortunately, we've labeled Iran a member of the Axis of Evil, and we've spent a great deal of time demonizing and threatening Iran (and North Korea). Add to the mix the fact that our regime doesn't negotiate with "our enemies" and you can see that we have essentially shut the door on one possible option in ending the madness.

The rest of the world sees this clearly and, quite frankly, sees no real reason at this point to bail us out. Until we give the rest of the world solid and sincere evidence that we actually want a rational resolution of the situation, they won't step up to any kind of multi-national peace effort.

Frankly, I'm not very optimistic at this point.

But, Ignorance Is Bliss

As I warned Diane, I am a little time challenged right now. Visits from son at DFW, sister and brother-in-law who are RV'ing after he retired from Los Alamos, and a crunch at work are pulling more strings than I have. But am early up this a.m., and after reading and reacting to a WaPo editorial which ignores basic facts, read Diane's post about our quaint White Man's Burden view of the Middle East.

It was the ignorance, as we call in in the South, dominating their views that inspired this cabal in our White House to make unilateral war on Iraq, claiming it would be paid for out of their oil resources and they would be delighted [candy + flowers]. With a few Chalabis [reminiscent of the chorus of Greek drama - the chorus always being wrong] providing an uncorroborated pretence of intelligence, the idjuts sailed in as only the truly stupid can. They have made a complete disaster out of an unpleasant situation which earlier ignoramuses had created out of a primitive tribal loose confederation. If you want to get a pretty good idea of what we started out with, Lawrence of Arabia, even the movie, is recommended.

Well, didn't I go on. Now, to the WaPo editorial that just throws me over the edge:

'But if, as appears more likely, Iraq's civil war deepens and spreads, the United States should abandon attempts to pacify Baghdad or other areas with its own forces. It should adopt a strategy of supporting the Iraqi government and army in a long-term effort to win the war. The elements of such a strategy might include substantially upgrading the training, advising and support missions -- which have been woefully undersupported so far.'

What do we know about the Iraqi army? that it is thoroughly infiltrated by Shiite militias and other elements unfriendly to the US, and much of the training and equipping of it disappears with the forces - who tend to melt off into the general populace - as in recent reports that kidnappings and executions were allowed to happen before the army moved in to mop up.

[For examples go here and also here.]

So what is the WaPo advice to allow our military to provide cover to those Iraqi operations besides an admonition to participate in their civil war on the side of the forces that are hardly acting in a bipartisan fashion, and often as agents of one or the other independent militias. Is this as stupid as I think it is? That is a rhetorical question.

Looks like the idjuts at the helm are about ready to admit that 'Stay the Course' is failing even as a bumper sticker. While they try to mop up after themselves, it would be helpful if our media and commentators in general would look before they, too, leap into the quagmire made by completely wrong assumptions based on completely arrogant ignorance.

from Ruth

Just A Coincidence, I'm Sure

I have a couple of educators in the family, and they refer to the President's education act as "No Child Left Alive." Many other teachers I've spoken to have blistered my ears with less civil descriptions of the federal requirements which essentially now require teachers to teach with only one goal in mind: getting the students to pass standardized tests.

Not everyone is so disgusted with this shift in pedagogy. One family in particular is quite pleased, as suggested in an article in today's Los Angeles Times:

A company headed by President Bush's brother and partly owned by his parents is benefiting from Republican connections and federal dollars targeted for economically disadvantaged students under the No Child Left Behind Act.

With investments from his parents, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, and other backers, Neil Bush's company, Ignite! Learning, has placed its products in 40 U.S. school districts and now plans to market internationally.

...Most of Ignite's business has been obtained through sole-source contracts without competitive bidding. Neil Bush has been directly involved in marketing the product.

In addition to federal or state funds, foundations and corporations have helped buy Ignite products. The Washington Times Foundation, backed by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, head of the South Korea-based Unification Church, has peppered classrooms throughout Virginia with Ignite's COWs under a $1-million grant.

Oil companies and Middle East interests with long political ties to the Bush family have made similar bequests. Aramco Services Co., an arm of the Saudi-owned oil company, has donated COWs to schools, as have Apache Corp., BP and Shell Oil Co.

Neil Bush said he is a businessman who does not attempt to exert political influence, and he called The Times' inquiries about his venture — made just before the election — "entirely political."

The company's modules, ironically, do not include mathematics or reading, yet many districts are cheerfully ponying up for one or more of these portable classrooms (the "cows" alluded to above). One teacher quoted in the article complained that there was no district money for paper or scissors, yet they could find the financing for one of these "cows," which cost over $100,000 a piece.

The article also notes that the purchase and placement of the "cows" is usually done by sole source contracts, frequently instigated by local leaders or school board members who just happen to be Republican donors.

It's nice to see a literal mom-and-pop store doing so well. If only our school kids were doing as well.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

That the President of the United States and members of the US government do not have even the most basic knowledge of Islam is pretty shameful. I'm not the only one who feels that way. People in the Arab world are appalled as well. From an editorial in Lebanon's Daily Star:

The account of Jeff Stein [national security editor at Congressional Quarterly ] of the ignorance of American officials when it comes to the basics of Islam is cause for concern. Given that the "war on terror" is currently being fought by U.S. troops on two fronts, in Afghanistan and Iraq, one would think that all American decision-makers would be well-acquainted with the basics of those countries and their cultures. But Stein, who has long had access to Washington insiders, has revealed that a number of congressmen and top intelligence and law enforcement officials know little about the "enemies" with which the U.S. is at war, and that many don't even know the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni.

For over three years, the United States has had a presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which have mixed Sunni-Shiite populations. The mere fact of America's presence in these countries ought to have improved cross-cultural understanding. One of the reasons that this has not happened is that American officials on the ground administer their policies from heavily fortified compounds inside places like Baghdad's Green Zone. With key decision-makers operating in these cocoon-like environments, often knowing alarmingly little about the countries that they are trying to shape, it's no wonder that the policies the U.S. continues to pursue so doggedly are flawed.

This lack of basic knowledge is especially worrisome when it comes to Iraq, where violence between Sunnis and Shiites threatens to erupt into a full-scale civil war. Without an understanding of the dynamics at play, how can the United States ever hope to restore stability to the country? Official ignorance is also troubling in view of the fact that the Bush Administration continues to hint at an expansion of the "war on terror" in our region, through a military strike on either Syria or Iran.

From our view here in the Arab world, it seems as though the American government is unleashing a super-efficient killing machine without clear understanding or even a clear objective. That kind of aimlessness - caused in part by ignorance about this part of the world - could turn the imaginary "clash of civilizations" into self-fulfilling prophecy.
[Emphasis added]

What is so humiliating is that the editorialist's view of the situation is actually quite accurate. This regime, in its arrogance and anti-intellectualism, doesn't have a clue about all sorts of things, and it continues to plan on further misadventures on our dime.

The Unopposed Candidate

The incumbent's dream: going into an election with no one to run against. Absent a corruption scandal, such an incumbent knows that he or she has a job forever (or until retirement, whichever comes first), so not only does he or she not have to campaign, he or she doesn't really have to do anything while serving. While this might be healthy for the incumbent, it certainly isn't for the constituents that incumbent is supposed to be serving. In California, this scenario isn't a rare anomaly, thanks to the 2000 redistricting, it's a pretty common thing. The LA Times takes note of this state of affairs in an editorial published today.

Because of a cynical bipartisan agreement after the 2000 census, Democrats and Republicans represent frequently convoluted geographical footprints meticulously designed, it would seem, to ensure that no incumbent party will ever lose another election, no matter which way the political winds are blowing. In 2004, for example, not a single one of the 153 redrawn congressional, Assembly or state Senate seats changed political hands, and only three of the 53 House victors won with less than 60% of the vote.

Having carved out their spoils, Yalta-like, the two parties are loath to venture into each other's territories, even with polls showing that people want change. The cities of Diamond Bar, Chino and Rowland Heights all voted for Al Gore in 2000, and the Italy-shaped 42nd District that envelops them abuts the land-splotches of Democrats Linda T. Sanchez, Joe Baca and Grace F. Napolitano, yet no Democrat bothered to muster the 3,000 signatures necessary to take on Miller. One-candidate elections are supposed to be for fiefdoms like Myanmar, or the city of Vernon.

What is so disturbing about this state of affairs is that even when the incumbent steps down, the only real race to fill that seat occurs in the primary as members of the same party fight it out to take over the fiefdom for as long as they choose to serve. Given the shifting demographics in California, this is hardly healthy. The editorialist suggests the obvious solution to this:

The solution to this unseemly state of affairs remains simple — put redistricting in the hands of retired judges, just like it was in the 1990s, and stop letting the major parties define the terms for their own cartel. Alas, voters turned down such a reform in last year's special election. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is still committed to an overhaul of the redistricting process, and we wish him well. It'd be a shame to let California devolve into 53 one-party states.

The electorate turned away that reform in the last election only because it was part of the governor's package of propositions and the public was both tired of having to do the legislature's work and sick of the governor's refusal to deal with the legislature in any kind of meaningful way. A few more editorials like this, however, and such a reform just might be in the cards. One would hope so.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

What Spike and Home Boy would look like if they actually posed for me.

Ah...Those Voting Machines

With the election coming up in less than three weeks, we still haven't solved the various security issues with the new electronic voting machines. Fears of hacking, vote manipulation, loss of votes, and outright fraud still have not been put to rest. It seems that at least once a week a new horror story emerges. In today's Washington Post yet another article describes yet another glitch.

The FBI is investigating the possible theft of software developed by the nation's leading maker of electronic voting equipment, said a former Maryland legislator who this week received three computer disks that apparently contain key portions of programs created by Diebold Election Systems.

Cheryl C. Kagan, a former Democratic delegate who has long questioned the security of electronic voting systems, said the disks were delivered anonymously to her office in Olney on Tuesday and that the FBI contacted her yesterday. The package contained an unsigned letter critical of Maryland State Board of Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone that said the disks were "right from SBE" and had been "accidentally picked up."

The disks themselves were not actually Diebold disk, they were from a third party contractor used to test the program, but they did contain parts of programs used by Diebold, some of which were still in service in various districts. Whoever had the disks certainly had an opportunity to get into those parts of the program and to design ways to hack further into the program.

Many Americans have lost all confidence in this new voting technology, and are perfectly willing to throw the whole system out and go back to the good old fashioned paper and pencil (or punch card, or whatever) system because at least there was some control over the ballots.

Although I am a Luddite in many respects, this isn't one of them. I think electronic voting machines can work, and can work well, but only if somebody kicks Diebold and any other contractors around until they come up with a secure system which can be backed up. And there are other reasons to work with this new technology. One of them was expressed compellingly in a letter to the editor printed by the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

I speak with slurred speech because of a disability, I cannot use a pencil to mark a ballot, but I work, live and participate in our community. My opinion counts. That's why I vote. Now, for the first time in my decade of voting, I will be able to vote privately and independently.

New machines, which feature touch screens, headphones with sound and other features to help people with a variety of disabilities, are expected to be at all Minnesota polling sites.

I work as a counselor at Opportunity Partners, a nonprofit organization that helps people with developmental disabilities and other special needs become more independent. We work hard to remove barriers so our clients can have a job, a nice place to live, hobbies and friends.

The advent of the AutoMARK voting machine has removed a barrier for me and many other people who live with disabilities. Recently, another barrier -- this time, a legal one -- was removed for people with developmental disabilities. In the past, people who were not their own guardians were not allowed to vote. Today, thanks to a change in state law, people with developmental disabilities can participate in an election just like anyone else unless their right to vote has been specifically revoked by a court order because of the severity of their disability.

Think of it: being able to vote privately and independently for the first time because technology has helped overcome a disability. Surely a country that can put together the Hubble Telescope can figure out a way to secure some voting machines so that all citizens can exercise the right to a secret ballot.

In 2005, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, and other Senators sponsored a bill that was take care of some of these problems. Key to the bill was the requirement of a printed receipt which showed the votes cast by the voter which had to be retained by the election site until the election was fully certified. Any challenges would require those receipts to make sure they tallied with the machine's figures.

It's too late for this November's elections, but we need to urge the next Congress to put this issue high on the agenda.

About Damned Time!

There's nothing like an election to get politicians' attention, especially when one party stands to lose its majority in at least one of the two houses of Congress. When the cause of that potential loss is as clearly identifiable as it is in this election, suddenly that issue becomes worthy of scrutiny. The American public has made it clear that it believes the war in Iraq is a disaster and that it wants US troops (and the billions of US dollars we keep throwing down that rat hole) out of Iraq sooner rather than later. Republican lawmakers are now willing to re-examine the matter after more than three years of rubber stamping everything on the regime's wish list and demonizing every Democrat who has suggested that a timed withdrawal is the only way out. From today's Washington Post:

The growing doubts among GOP lawmakers about the administration's Iraq strategy, coupled with the prospect of Democratic wins in next month's midterm elections, will soon force the Bush administration to abandon its open-ended commitment to the war, according to lawmakers in both parties, foreign policy experts and others involved in policymaking.

Senior figures in both parties are coming to the conclusion that the Bush administration will be unable to achieve its goal of a stable, democratic Iraq within a politically feasible time frame. Agitation is growing in Congress for alternatives to the administration's strategy of keeping Iraq in one piece and getting its security forces up and running while 140,000 U.S. troops try to keep a lid on rapidly spreading sectarian violence.

Few officials in either party are talking about an immediate pullout of U.S. combat troops. But interest appears to be growing in several broad ideas. One would be some kind of effort to divide the country along regional lines. Another, favored by many Democrats, is a gradual withdrawal of troops over a set period of time. A third would be a dramatic scaling-back of U.S. ambitions in Iraq, giving up on democracy and focusing only on stability.

Many senior Republicans with close ties to the administration also believe that essential to a successful strategy in Iraq are an aggressive new diplomatic initiative to secure a Middle East peace settlement and a new effort to engage Iraq's neighbors, such as Syria and Iran, in helping stabilize the country -- perhaps through an international conference.

One point on which adherents of these sharply different approaches appear to agree is that "staying the course" is fast becoming a dead letter. "I don't believe that we can continue based on an open-ended, unconditional presence," said Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, a centrist Maine Republican. "I don't think there's any question about that, that there will be a change" in the U.S. strategy in Iraq after next month's elections."
[Emphasis added]

More than 2700 soldier deaths and 600,000 Iraqi deaths later, our esteemed representatives are finally getting the picture. The war was a mistake misbegotten in lies to begin with, and its prosecution a deadly comedy of errors from the start. Both sides of the aisle in Congress are finally ready to do something about it. While it is shameful that it took a looming election to get somebody's attention, at least it happened.

Like I said, it's about damned time.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Double Dare You

A propos of Diane's thoughts on N. Korea and the risks we run by alienating the rest of the world, this a.m. our Dear Leader has shown the unparalleled stupidity of drawing a line in the sand and double daring N. Korea to cross it. Maybe he's into what we used to call 'second childhood', this new absurdity is school playground level politics.

From Yahoo:

'President Bush said Wednesday the United States would stop North Korea from transferring nuclear weapons to Iran or al-Qaida and that the communist regime would then face "a grave consequence."

Bush refused to spell out how the United States would retaliate. "They'd be held to account," the president said in an ABC News interview.

In light of North Korea's Oct. 9 test detonation of a nuclear bomb, Bush warned that any transfer of nuclear material elsewhere in the world by the North would be considered a grave threat to the security of the United States. He previously used "grave threat" in relation to Iraq's Saddam Hussein, whose government was toppled in the U.S.-led war in 2003.

"If we get intelligence that they're about to transfer a nuclear weapon, we would stop the transfer, and we would deal with the ships that were taking the — or the airplane that was dealing with taking the material to somebody," the president said.

Asked how he would retaliate, Bush would not be specific, "You know, I'd just say it's a grave consequence."

"The leader of North Korea to understand that he'll be held to account. Just like he's being held to account now for having run a test," Bush said.

The United States repeatedly has said it does not intend to attack the North. But the Bush administration also has refused to take any military option completely off the table.'

There's more still at the link, and well worth the read.

When what was at one time the leader of the free world has become a sabre-rattling dunce, it's scary even for this regime. But these antics, which probably are more of the politics of being down by 60+% points with the election coming up rapidly, will only back this country further into its corner with a rogue nation that has already called D.L.'s bluff with its first nuclear test, seems to be readying for another, and is voluble in its disdain for the D.L.'s threats.

It seems our dunce at the helm is heading us straight into a conflict that can only do more damage, and cost more young lives of several nations' youth. The place in history for w looks more and more like the Danse Macabre.

from Ruth


Generally speaking, most politicians make the mistake of thinking the American public is stupid, naive, and totally uninterested in foreign affairs. A recent poll should dispell that misconception. From an AP story published in the Sacramento Bee:

Americans are anxious and frustrated over the state of U.S. foreign relations, a survey indicates, with large majorities worried that the country's foreign policy is making the world increasingly dangerous for the United States and its people.

...The indicator registered 130 on a scale of zero to 200, with zero being the most secure and 200 the most anxious.

That indicates "that apprehension and unease about the country's international position are at high levels and that the public mood may be nearing a tipping point," said veteran survey researcher Daniel Yankelovich, chairman of Public Agenda, the nonpartisan public policy institute that released the study Wednesday.

These are some of the survey's findings that reflect a disconnect with current U.S. government policy:

-87 percent of Americans believe the threat to national security is exacerbated when other countries and cultures view the United States in a negative light; 78 percent believe their country is seen as arrogant.

-52 percent believe democracies reduce conflict and violence, but 64 percent believe democracy can't be imposed and that countries have to be ready for it.

-20 percent think the United States can do "a lot" to nourish a democratic system in Iraq; only slightly more, or 24 percent, feel that creating democracies should be a very important goal for the United States.

On a grading system, fewer than one in three respondents gave the U.S. government an A or B in achieving its objectives in Iraq or Afghanistan; and fewer than one in four graded A or B on becoming less dependent on other countries for energy and having good relations with Muslim countries.

The survey said energy independence registered higher than any other issue on whether the government should be held accountable for its failures.

The survey seems to show that most Americans have a pretty firm grasp on what the current regime's foreign and domestic policies have resulted in. Most believe that we are less safe in the world and at home. Most believe that dependence on foreign energy has contributed to our insecurity and that our nation's leaders have failed to rectify that situation. Most believe the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are failures.

Sooner or later (preferably, sooner), American political leaders are going to have to start paying attention to the electorate. To ignore findings such as these could be hazardous to their electability.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Wisdom? Sounds UnAmerican To Me

Lest we forget, that North Korea has detonated a nuclear advice is a concern of the whole world. While our Dear Leader would like us to believe that this is just a slap in the US face by a member of the Axis of Evil, the fact is that adding nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula is a pretty serious problem. As the world's sole super power at the present time, the US has to take the lead in trying to resolve the problem. Unfortunately, our Dear Leader is no more sensible than the North Koreans' at this point. The world needs someone to start showing some leadership, some wisdom on this, as noted in this October 16th editorial from the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad.

States that are misbehave cannot be rewarded for their misbehavior. If the alleged nuclear test is a fact, the use of sanctions is appropriate. But it doesn't solve the problem with North Korea. The Stalinist regime in Pyongyang has shown on several occasions that it won't hesitate to parry the hard-line reaction of the world community with harsh counter measures. The alleged nuclear test is the best proof of this.

If sanctions are not accompanied by diplomatic consultation, we can expect the following scenario. Humanitarian conditions will deteriorate in the country, the number of refugees crossing the Chinese border will increase and the regime will dig its heels in even deeper. To obtain hard currency, it will attempt to sell its (alleged) enriched uranium and nuclear technology to terrorists or rogue states. It has already sold missiles to Iran, Syria and Pakistan. But nuclear material [uranium or plutonium] is far more lucrative. If the need is great enough, the stuff can be smuggled out of the country through cunningly hiding it amongst other goods. Dictator Kim Jong-il can also increase the pressure on the region by issuing direct threats.

...One of the world's last communist regimes may be trying to blackmail an entire region, but that in and of itself cannot be a reason to reject talks with the regime. The problem lies particularly in its relations with the United States, which have been completely ruined since "9/11" occurred and President Bush embarked on his confrontational course. Direct talks, which were still possible under President Clinton, have been ruled out by the White House.

A policy of sanctions alone brings with it the danger of having the opposite effect. No matter what, sanctions must be accompanied by diplomacy. The six nation talks between South and North Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the United States must resume quickly. Unfortunately, talks between Washington and Pyongyang are unlikely, but what has intransigence gotten us but escalation? North Korea is primarily responsible for this, but someone must show some wisdom.

Hopefully the other other nations in these talks will push hard to reinstitute these talks and quickly. Mr. Bush has already demonstrated that he is not terribly interested in taking the initiative, and for good reason: diplomacy is not his strong suit.