Saturday, June 30, 2007

Bonus Critter Blogging: Bald Eagle

(photo by Michael Melford and published at National Geographic)

Unlike Son

Nothing would infuriate George W. Bush more than to be told he is not half the man his father was, yet that is exactly what is implied in an op-ed piece published June 26, 2007 in Switzerland's Tribune de Geneve which compares the two presidents when it comes to wars with Iraq.

The first Iraq war in 1991 carried out by George Bush Senior had been well prepared for. It was launched just after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The situation was favorable and the former-President was a skilled operator. He forged an unprecedented coalition against Iraq with the participation of the most influential Arab countries.

The former CIA director had acquired the experience to properly filter information and choose wise counsel, so as to better decide and maneuver. He was a head of state capable of measuring the risks - and when necessary - stopping in time.

Which is why he signed a cease-fire with Saddam - in order to save his boys from the morass, and consequently to be hailed as the liberator of "the tiny country" of Kuwait, which had been invaded by its large neighbor (although the backdrop for the war was oil and other strategic objectives). Conversely, G.W. Bush the Son is captive to a fever of stubbornness over wanting to succeed where he estimates his father failed, in line with the neocons who helped him conquer the White House.
[Emphasis added]

Ali Salah Hadid, the author of the piece and a former Moroccan diplomate, then ticks off the results of Mr. Bush the Younger's foolishness:

In fact G.W. Bush has become not only hostage to his entourage, but paradoxically, the ally of his enemies, since he empowered them to better fulfill their plans. This is certainly the case for bin Laden and other Arab dictators. Moreover, he has caused unconditional allies like Aznar, Berlusconi and Blair to lose both face and their positions. ...

He also failed by way of tanks and bombs to impose democracy on Iraq, while at the same time making it possible for Iran to become the greatest power in the Gulf and thereby giving it influence over the resolution of conflicts around the region: Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, the Near East and Kurdistan.

Quite skillfully, Iran allowed G.W. Bush to take sole responsibility for eliminating their sworn enemy Saddam Hussein, and waste billions of dollars bogged down as much in Afghanistan as in Iraq, where Iran without effort or expense has become master of the game.

The billions spent on a war that has proved at the very least disastrous and useless, could have been spent - at least in part - in the global battle against famine and AIDS, particularly in Africa. But this continent is more and more being aided and financed by China, to the great displeasure of America and to Europe - which continues to struggle to finalize the union.

Heckuva job, George.


Return Of The Boogey Man

It now appears by all accounts that the two cars packed with gasoline, gas cylinders, and nails found and "defused" in London's Theater District were in fact intended as a terrorist attack. Thankfully, the "plot" failed. The incident is being played for all it's worth in the US news media and in ways all too familiar since 9/11. For example, an article in today's NY Times has the following headline: "London Finds Linked Bombs, a Qaeda Tactic".

Now, you'd expect to find some hard information linking al Qaeda to this plot in the early part of the article. Your expectations would, however, be dashed. You have to read down to the sixth paragraph (hardly the lede) to find even a mention of al Qaeda, and the connection is expressed thusly:

But the idea of a multiple attack using car bombs — a departure from the backpack suicide attacks of the London bombings of July 2005 — raised concerns among security experts that jihadist groups linked to Al Qaeda may have imported tactics more familiar in Iraq. [Emphasis added]

Which security experts? Government officials? Academics? Halliburton employees? The sourcing is certainly vague.

The rest of the sentence isn't much clearer. In fact, it's so ambiguous as to be meaningless: "may" have imported tactics "more familiar in Iraq." That certainly doesn't add to the factual story, does it.

You then have to read another twenty or so paragraphs in the lengthy article to find the next mention of al Qaeda.

The presence of gas cylinders recalled a 2004 terrorist plot called the “Gas Limos Project,” in which Dhiren Barot, a British Muslim accused of being a leading Al Qaeda figure, had planned to use limousines packed with gas cylinders to blow up buildings. In a 39-page planning document, Mr. Barot, who was sentenced in November to a minimum of 40 years in prison, recommended the use of gas cylinders because they were highly destructive and easy to obtain. [Emphasis added]

Well, if Mr. Barot (who is only "accused" of being al Qaeda, apparently he's not admitted the affiliation) knew three years ago how destructive and how easy to obtain gas cylinders are, I suspect that lots of other people with all sorts of affiliations know the same thing.

And that justified a headline screaming "Qaeda" as the US heads into the Fourth of July holiday?

There is something seriously wrong with our press, and it doesn't look like it's going to get better any time soon.



Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging

(Photo by Jim & Jamie Dutcher and published at National Geographic)

Update: OK, so I screwed up and, in a fit of wishful thinking, posted this last night instead of tonight. So sue me.

The Death Of Stare Decisis

Today I'm discouraged. Yesterday I was stunned, but today...well, I'm discouraged. And angry. To see a stake driven into the heart of racial equality by the US Supreme Court by its rolling back of Brown v Board of Education means that we can expect all of the gains made in this country towards a truly just society rolled back. And to a large extent we can thank the spineless Democrats of the 109th Congress for this momentous shift.

Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor at Duke University, nails it when it comes to analyzing just how this could happen in his op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times.

THE SUPREME COURT term that ended Thursday confirmed exactly what many people had feared: that the testimony given by John Roberts and Samuel Alito at their confirmation hearings just months earlier was a lot of baloney.

During those hearings, the two presented themselves as open-minded jurists lacking an ideological agenda. Roberts likened a Supreme Court justice to an umpire, a neutral arbiter whose personal political views are irrelevant to decisions. Both Roberts and Alito promised fidelity to the court's precedents.

But instead, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito have behaved exactly as their opponents predicted. There was not one case this term in which the court was not ideologically divided, and not one in which Roberts and Alito did not vote for the result that their conservative backers would have wanted. In virtually all of these cases, they were joined by justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. ...

This term provides a powerful reminder of the importance of presidential elections in determining the composition of the court. If John Kerry or Al Gore had picked the replacements for William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O'Connor, it would have been a vastly different year at the Supreme Court.

It also is a reminder that the confirmation process is not working. Nominees come forward and murmur all the right platitudes, refusing to answer specific questions about their views. They promise to be open-minded, and they present witnesses who attest to their fairness. For Roberts and Alito, this was enough to secure their confirmation.

Heckuva job, Dems.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Justice Thomas's Views On Education

One of the recent 5-4 decisions of the US Supreme Court determined that a principal's right to discourage drug use in a school outweighed a student's right to free speech. The decision got it wrong, in my opinion, but it did raise some interesting side issues, especially because of the rather strange concurring opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas. One of those issues was explored in an op-ed piece written by Jonathan Zimmerman (himself an educator) for today's Los Angeles Times.

WHAT ARE schools for?

For the last decade, I've taught a history course with that title at New York University. My students and I examine the different purposes that Americans have assigned to public schools, including:

A. to teach the great humanistic traditions of the West;

B. to develop the individual interests of the child;

C. to promote social justice;

D. to prepare efficient workers.

Over the last four centuries, Americans have struggled to balance these goals — and many others — in their schools. To Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, however, there's only one right answer:

E. to instill discipline and obedience. ...

Ruling 5 to 4 in favor of the principal who censored the banner, the court decided that the school's interest in discouraging drug use outweighed the student's free-speech rights. But Thomas went further, insisting that the student had no right to free speech in the first place and that the history of American education proves it.
[Emphasis added]

The thrust of Mr. Zimmerman's essay is that the history of American education proves no such thing. While the first schools in America were in fact discipline factories, the new nation soon trashed that approach for a more humane one. In the Nineteenth Century, Horace Mann suggested that the education system needed to do more than beat children into submission. In the Twentieth Century, a new reformer appeared, John Dewey:

The early 20th century would bring another burst of change to American schools, centered on the question of democracy. To reformers like John Dewey, schools based on strict discipline — and its pedagogical companion, rote memorization — could never give citizens the skills they needed to govern themselves. Instead of fostering mindless obedience, then, schools needed to teach children how to make up their own minds — that is, how to reason, deliberate and rule on complex political questions.

While American's still haven't decided just what exactly schools should do, Zimmerman's point is that the history of American schools has never been all about discipline, as Justice Thomas erroneously claimed. The question, however, still remains: what is it that Americans want in their schools?

The question is an important one, especially these days when teachers are being forced to 'teach to the test' under the mandates of No Child Left Behind. Do we want a citizenry that avoids marijuana but is too fearful to speak out on important issues? One that can do basic math but can't see the importance of budget choices in Washington and the effect those choices have on the nation as a whole?

Justice Thomas has announced his views on public education. Now it's time for the rest of the nation to revisit the issue.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Metaphor For Our Times

Yesterday, I posted on a NY Times article dealing with the often deplorable conditions immigrant detainees face when held by Homeland Security (here) and I concluded the post with, "Sounds a little like Guantanamo Bay, doesn't it?"

Today, the NY Times followed up on that article with an editorial on the Senate immigration bill, especially the amendment to the bill offered by Sen. Lindsay Graham. The editorial is headlined, "Gitmos Across America."

Sixty-two immigrants have died since 2004 while being held in a secretive detention system, a patchwork of federal centers, private prisons and local jails. Advocacy groups and lawyers say that the system not only denies detainees the most basic rights but also lacks the oversight and regulations that apply to federal prisons. Instead of fixing this broken system, the Senate bill that is lumbering toward final passage — after surviving a crucial procedural vote yesterday — is overloaded with provisions that will make it even harsher and more unfair.

One of the worst amendments comes from Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. It would impose mandatory detention of all people who overstay their visas. It’s a huge overreach that threatens to swamp the detention system, filling already-strapped prisons at great expense and inevitably leading to more abuses and deaths. And because it takes away the power of officials to decide who poses a genuine threat and who doesn’t, it would undermine efforts to catch and deport the truly dangerous. ...

Noncitizens are subject to our laws and to being deported if they do bad things. But this doesn’t mean the country must detain or deport everybody, or relinquish basic decency or even basic sense to achieve some imagined ideal of toughness.

While I'd love to believe that I was prescient, or that a NY Times editorialist reads this blog as often as I read the NY Times, I am a rational person and I believe neither. Instead, I think a new metaphor has emerged, much like "Viet Nam" became a metaphor for a military operation that has devolved into a quagmire.

Guantanamo Bay (or "Gitmo") represents one of the many horrifying facets of the Bush administration, a place that is "secretive", one that "not only denies detainees the most basic rights but also lacks the oversight and regulations that apply to federal prisons." It is a place of non-persons in the same way that Soviet gulags were.

The tragedy is that the metaphor is an apt one for this period in our history. How shameful is that?

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Rights Receive Partial Birth Abortion

Isn't this fun, watching the rightwing tilt of the Supreme Court diminish freedom of speech for schoolkids while making sure corporate rightwing Merkins can trash the opponent right up until the hand takes hold of the voting lever? And did anyone else notice that the right wing brought cases constructed around issues of religiosity to make sure the winger Supremes knew which way was Up?

Presidential elections and judicial selections matter, the Supreme Court demonstrated Monday in a series of 5-4 rulings that underlined the court's move to the right.

President Bush filled two high court openings early in his second term with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. They wrote the main opinions in rulings that relaxed rules on corporate and union political spending, limited students' speech and shielded the White House faith-based program from legal challenge.

Five justices — Roberts, Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — formed the majority in each decision. The court's four liberals, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens, dissented each time.

Kennedy, the only justice in the majority in all 21 of the court's 5-4 decisions this term, has voted with his conservative colleagues more often in recent close cases.
The campaign finance ruling, opening the way for deep-pocketed interests to broadcast so-called issue advertising close to elections, was a clear demonstration that changes in the court's lineup can alter a case's outcome.

In 2003, the court upheld the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which included a provision that barred interest groups from running corporate- or union-funded radio and TV ads that mention a candidate's name within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election.
Separately, Roberts endorsed First Amendment limits in his majority opinion in the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case. Schools can regulate student expression that advocates the use of illegal drugs, he said.
The principal of a Juneau, Alaska, high school suspended student John Frederick who displayed the banner at a public event, provoking a civil rights lawsuit.

The court did not go as far as the Bush administration and the school district wanted, allowing schools to tamp down any speech that officials determined ran counter to their educational mission.

Alito wrote the court's opinion that said ordinary taxpayers cannot challenge a White House initiative that helps religious charities get a share of federal money. (emphases added)

The "right to life" pretension was seemingly what gave the five neanderthals their cover to remove campaign reform, free speech for students, and give churches the right to your money via your government.

Big money took a step into the ring where it can spend itself into the oblivion of public interest, right up to the election, as long as it can find some other reason possible for running its ad. And that because these justices see themselves as the authority on women's bodies, and the arbiter of their wombs.

Schoolkids, though, lose the right to free speech when it's something to do with drugs, in this instance before the Court using a touch of religiosity to make sure the butter hits the right side of the Court's bread.

And faith based charity is immune to public protest. Your money is not your concern, if it sports that soupcon of the Supremes' favority victim, the Church Almighty.

We are in the soup, indeed. The fatuous five ruled that fetuses are much more important than rights, fear of kids bigger than free speech, and the church can pick your pocket. The Supremes gave a partial birth abortion to a lot of our rights.

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Tag, I'm it.

Curse you gently, Dirkgently. So here goes my round, and of course, here are the rules which if you get tagged you are supposed to follow, too. Since I'm about to drive off into the sunrise tomorrow, you can't even track me down and put a curse on me until the 4th, either.

Here are the rules:
1. All right, here are the rules.
2. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
3. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
4. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
5. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Now to tell you eight things about me, one of which is about the pictures of Fluffy here:

1. Fluffy has healed over now and except for the shaved leg is lovely although limpy. Fluffy is a stray that had been fixed so at one time had a caring owner. Don't know what happened, but when he showed up here I fed him, then about a month ago he was limping, turned out to have a ligament that had torn and had to be re-attached surgically. I've gotten help from a few people meeting the bill, but still am owing about $450. Any commenters can ask an address, and I'll let you help! I am a longtime volunteer with Animal Refuge Foundation, at

2. Brag; I have a playwriting award from the Maryland Council of the Arts.

3. My oldest is studying for the Bar exam in VA, so I am not allowed to take up his time or would tag him.

4. I used to manage the Chincoteague Pony Farm and take care of the stuffed Misty, and once had a complaint filed against me that I wasn't taking good enuff care of the dead horse. (I had let a chicken make a nest in her mock stall.)

5. I turned down the only political plums I was ever offered, one on the Montgomery County, MD, Central Committee, another as campaign manager for a shoo-in candidate whose voting record I just didn't support.

6. This was the dust storm we had in early spring, the view from my front porch, left fine W.TX dust everywhere.

7. I have a long drive ahead of me, about 950 miles, starting tomorrow a.m., to go to my nephew's (2nd) wedding in CO.

8. I am doing this at work, since el jefe is nowhere around, and will be out of town a lot of the rest of the summer, which gives me lots of free time. This is not a complaint. And when it's a crunch, like the past two months, it's a major crunch, so I am ready for free time.

And I am going to tag:\

1. Tena at
2. Barry from Alaska
3. Martha at Arfhouse
4. Lambert Strether at correntewire
5. Feral Liberal
6. Barndog
7. Gummo
8. trifecta

And off I go into the wilds, hope you all have a great time being Taggees. and Taggors. Or albatrossi.


Another Administration Horror Story

According to a horrifying story in today's NY Times at least 62 immigrants have died in Department of Homeland Security custody since 2004, many for lack of adequate medical attention. People with known conditions and who must take medication have not received treatment while being held. I say "at least" because apparently this system has no formal governmental oversight on such issues, so nobody has been keeping track of such details.

No government body is charged with accounting for deaths in immigration detention, a patchwork of county jails, privately run prisons and federal facilities where more than 27,500 people who are not American citizens are held on any given day while the government decides whether to deport them.

Getting details about those who die in custody is a difficult undertaking left to family members, advocacy groups and lawyers.
[Emphasis added]

And why is there no formal oversight? The Department of Homeland Security doesn't want any because it might affect how they operate (well duh!).

Detention standards were adopted by the immigration agency in 2000, but are not legally enforceable, unlike rules for the treatment of criminal inmates. The Department of Homeland Security has resisted efforts by the American Bar Association to turns the standards into regulations, saying that rulemaking would reduce the agency’s flexibility. [Emphasis added]

Sounds a little like Guantanamo Bay, doesn't it? The only difference is that these people are being held on American soil, but under this administration, I guess that doesn't matter.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Women's Rights Disallowed by Supreme Court

From the present make-up of the Supreme Court, with the dominance of justices who are opposed to women's rights, it is hardly surprising that the most recent finding of that court is in favor of the ability of Life Begins as Conception faction to influence elections. The weakening of election controls that seek to steer power to the voter is a side-effect, and a very bad one.

The Supreme Court loosened restrictions Monday on corporate- and union-funded television ads that air close to elections, weakening a key provision of a landmark campaign finance law.

The court, split 5-4, upheld an appeals court ruling that an anti-abortion group should have been allowed to air ads during the final two months before the 2004 elections. The law unreasonably limits speech and violates the group's First Amendment rights, the court said.

The decision could lead to a bigger role for corporations, unions and other interest groups in the 2008 presidential and congressional elections.
On Monday, Justice David Souter, joined by his three liberal colleagues, said in his dissent that the court "effectively and, unjustifiably, overruled" the earlier decision.

This is a court that has a very biased attitude, and its decisions are determined not by judicial considerations but by its majority's prejudices. That a woman cannot be an independently functioning individual has become quite obvious in their record.

The Department of Justice, the Supreme Court, the executive branch, are under the control of a dangerous faction that wants to rule without laws, and without lawful grounds. We need to get them out of office as soon as possible.

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The Press And Its Obsession

You'd think that 231 years after this nation was founded by people who made it clear they wanted no part of the religious tyranny that forced many of them from Europe, and 47 years after a brilliant young Catholic senator successfully convinced the country that it was his policies and not his religion that should be assessed in considering him for president that this country would finally have grown up on the issue. Perhaps it has, at least for the most part, but our press isn't quite so astute. It persists in injecting the candidate's religious beliefs into the campaign coverage.

This time around it's Mitt Romney's Mormonism and, at least in today's NY Times, Rudy Giuliani's Catholicism. leaders say they are frustrated by prominent Catholic politicians like Mr. Giuliani who argue that while they are personally opposed to abortion, they do not want to impose their beliefs on others. ...

The presidential campaign of John Kerry, a Democrat, suffered in 2004 when about a dozen of the nation’s more than 200 bishops declared that they would deny him communion because of his abortion stance. A debate ensued among the bishops over whether it was right to enforce doctrine at the communion rail and whether the church had ventured too far into partisan politics.

Is this really news worthy of coverage in the NY Times, the "newspaper of record"? Are there people who won't vote for Mr. Giuliani because of his religion? Probably, just as there are those who won't vote for Mr. Romney because he is a Mormon. But is that a good enough reason to keep bringing the issue up?

The result of such a heavy emphasis on religious fervor is that political candidates on both sides of the aisle and the abortion issue feel compelled to seek the favor of the fundagelicals and of moderate Christians by proclaiming their religious bona fides at religious gatherings.

Look, a political candidate, if successful, has to take an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws of this country. If she or he cannot freely take that oath, then they shouldn't be candidates. I think most Americans understand that basic concept. Apparently the press doesn't.

Quite frankly, I've come to the belief that the media is meddling in the election campaign, raising such an issue as a means of belittling the candidates they don't quite favor. This week it's Mr. Giuliani's turn.

Enough already.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sunday Poetry: W.D. Snodgrass

Heart's Needle

Child of my winter, born
When the new fallen soldiers froze
In Asia's steep ravines and fouled the snows,
When I was torn

By love I could not still,
By fear that silenced my cramped mind
To that cold war where, lost, I could not find
My peace in my will,

All those days we could keep
Your mind a landscape of new snow
Where the chilled tenant-farmer finds, below,
His fields asleep

In their smooth covering, white
As quilts to warm the resting bed
Of birth or pain, spotless as paper spread
For me to write,

And thinks: Here lies my land
Unmarked by agony, the lean foot
Of the weasel tracking, the thick trapper's boot;
And I have planned

My chances to restrain
The torments of demented summer or
Increase the deepening harvest here before
It snows again.

W. D. Snodgrass

Meddling By Proxy

It isn't enough that the current administration has broken a country by an illegal war and interfered in an entire region already a tinderbox to foment another war. Now it even injects its will into an international organization set up to protect human rights. From a June 20,2007 op-ed piece in Switzerland's Le Temps:

Over the past few days and on an issue that has been much abused of late, Geneva has been the theater for a powerful moment in multilateral democracy. By consensus, the United Nations Human Rights Council has just approved its institutional structure, which is meant to strengthen the protection of human rights. The moment is historic given an international context that could have contributed to the Council's failure.

The “package” proposed by the President of the Human Rights Council, Luis Alfonso de Alba, is imperfect. But it gives the means for the Council - which has at times been the focus of ridicule during the first year of its existence - the means to win for itself credibility. ...

And the intense negotiations of the past few days have served to expose to the light of day the international architecture of power. It was completely clear on Monday evening that decisions are no longer being made in Geneva, but in Beijing, Washington and other capitals in Europe. non-member of the Human Rights Council - the United States - was very active in seeking to encourage Canada to act as a Trojan horse and torpedo the consensus.

Washington, said one attendee, pushed in vain for Poland to do the same. It was another attempt to divide Europe following the example used for the anti-missile shield. The most worrying aspect of this attitude of the White House, which is a long way from reflecting American sensitivities regarding human rights, is that Washington is prepared to undermine the Council without even offering something to replace it with.
[Emphasis added]

The White House, still angry that the US doesn't have a seat on the Council, decided that the best response was simply to destroy the council and recruited Canada and Poland (who do have seats) to do the dirty work. It almost worked, but the consensus prevailed.

Why would the US want to take down an international human rights council? Could it possibly have something to do with the egregious violations of human rights in Guantanamo Bay and the renditions to black prisons in Europe?

Oh, surely not! This is America and Americans don't do that sort of thing.

Or do we...

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What Are You Doing Outside the House?

You haven't probably read Echidne's op-ed in today's Dallas Morning News, so here is the link. And may I say, it's really telling. Hecate considers it depressing, but on the other hand, I think it's great that it's getting published. It's a treat to have my independence stamped with approval for a change, and Dallas is a great place for that to happen.

An important parenting study came out in March. It tracked the effects of good fathering on 19,000 children born in 2000 and 2001 and found that by age 3 a child would have more emotional and behavioral problems if the father had not taken time off after the birth.

Don't recall reading about it? You don't remember seeing experts lined up on the morning news shows to explain how crucial the findings were, or advocacy groups noting how this proves it's important to support paternity leave?

That's probably because, although such a study was indeed published, it got virtually no media attention.However, another study, published the same month, did get that kind of attention, from outlets ranging from ABC's Good Morning America to The New York Times. The key difference was that study was not about fathers at all. It was about daycare and its possible deleterious behavioral effects on children, especially when compared with children reared by stay-at-home mothers. It found that children who had attended high-quality daycare had better vocabularies as late as age 10 but also exhibited more "problem behavior," with their teachers more likely to report aggression and disobedience. The researchers stressed that the children's behavior was "within the normal range and was not considered clinically disordered."
But the popularized message was a little different, at least as seen in the headlines selected for reports on the study. The Times chose "Poor Behavior Is Linked to Time in Day Care." The International Herald Tribune picked "Study Links Extensive Child Care with More Aggressive Behavior in School." And the Telegraph of the U.K. went with the even more guilt-inducing "How Nurseries 'Still Breed Aggression.' "

You're supposed to worry.

Now what could possibly explain the difference in the media treatment these two studies got? As Caryl Rivers speculates in her new book, Selling Anxiety: How the News Media Scare Women, could it just be that studies that appear to support traditional roles for women tend to get picked for instant popularization?

This phenomenon doesn't just apply to studies about daycare with the potential to guilt-trip working mothers. Rush Limbaugh, also in March, cheerfully reported the results of a Swedish study that seemed to show a correlation between poor health and a more gender-equal distribution of societal resources. That same study was picked up by the British Independent.

The popularized message was that feminism makes you sick.

Neither Mr. Limbaugh nor the Independent paid any attention to an earlier study by the same researchers showing the reverse. They also ignored other studies finding a positive correlation between greater gender equality and better overall health.

It seems that a researcher can garner more press just by publishing a study with results that social conservatives wish to hear. And if the research doesn't suit conservatives' worldview, they can always find a way to twist it. Take, for example, the "Queen Bee" syndrome: the idea that women in managerial positions wish to remain the only females at that level of power and achieve this by sabotaging the careers of other women. The "Queen Bees" were a hot topic of discussion in conservative circles of the Internet a few months ago.

Why? Because a sociological study, not about "Queen Bees" at all, found that women rated the promotion chances of a fictional female manager as lower than did the men in the same study, and the researchers of the study decided to call this "prejudice."
It could very well be that the women in the study rated the fictional female manager's promotion chances as lower because women, in general, get promoted less often than men. The study summary points this out. But this is not the interpretation the media ran with.

Somehow the most prominent analysis was the office "Queen Bees" theory, never mind that the women in the study were randomly drawn from the general population and unlikely to be female managers in the first place.

We have so much encouragement, it's amazing. Step right up and buy the product of my choice, ladies, I get so used to hearing. I am so glad to see Echidne do this and to see my local paper feature it.

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Yeah, Right

One of the characteristics of the current administration is that the President doesn't like to hear bad news or opinions that differ from the one he holds. That's why this story in today's NY Times is curious. It suggests that Mr. Bush is going to get lots of opinions on the status of the surge in Iraq come September when he faces a deadline set by Congress.

Last month, Congress set a deadline for the American commander in Iraq, declaring that by Sept. 15 he would have to assess progress there before billions more dollars are approved to finance the military effort to stabilize the country. The commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, said in recent days that his report would be only a snapshot of trends, strongly suggesting he will be asking for more time.

But even before he composes the first sentences of the report, to be written with the new American ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan C. Crocker, the administration is commissioning other assessments that could dilute its findings about the impact of the current troop increase. The intent appears to be to give President Bush, who publicly puts great emphasis on listening to his field commanders, a wide range of options.
[Emphasis added]

It almost sounds like the President is going to be seeking alternatives to his current policy, which would be astounding, given the past six plus years. Is this a dramatic turn-around for how the White House conducts its business? I find that highly unlikely. I think it more a case of continuing smoke and mirrors, which the article itself hints at:

Advisers to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and senior members of Congress who have discussed the issue with Mr. Gates have described one of his central goals as trying to turn down the heat in Iraq, transforming the war from the central national security crisis confronting the nation to an important but manageable long-term foreign policy and military issue. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has expressed similar views, but it is unclear whether Vice President Dick Cheney or President Bush will try to squeeze every possible month out of the troop increase. [Emphasis added]

Changing the name of the policy, rather than the policy itself, would allow the President to continue in pretty much the same fashion, and my bet is that is exactly what he will try to do. Why else build the elaborate palatial embassy in the Green Zone? Why else construct heavily fortified permanent bases throughout Iraq? This administration wants a continuing military presence in the Middle East, and Iraq has been designated as the location.

This gathering of diverse opinions is just another ruse, much as the commissioning of the Iraq Study Group was. Once the report from that group was produced, the White House then proceeded to call in other opinions, ones more in line with what the administration wanted.

September 15 is just a date, the war still a comma, the deaths of more US soldiers unfortunate, but unavoidable.

Nothing new here, just a call for clean cups.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Bonus Critter Blogging: Yak

(Photo by Daniel Miller and published at National Geographic.)

Gitmo Justice

It appears from this AP report that the Bush administration has developed a system of justice for Guantanamo Bay detainees that closely parallels its theory of preemptive war.

An Army officer who played a key role in the "enemy combatant" hearings at Guantanamo Bay says tribunal members relied on vague and incomplete intelligence while being pressured to rule against detainees, often without any specific evidence.

His affidavit, submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court and released Friday, is the first criticism by a member of the military panels that determine whether detainees will continue to be held.

Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, a 26-year veteran of military intelligence who is an Army reserve officer and a California lawyer, said military prosecutors were provided with only "generic" material that didn't hold up to the most basic legal challenges.

Despite repeated requests, intelligence agencies arbitrarily refused to provide specific information that could have helped either side in the tribunals, according to Abraham, who said he served as a main liaison between the Combat Status Review Tribunals and the intelligence agencies.

"What were purported to be specific statements of fact lacked even the most fundamental earmarks of objectively credible evidence," Abraham said in the affidavit submitted on behalf of a Kuwaiti detainee, Fawzi al-Odah, who is challenging his classification as an "enemy combatant."
[Emphasis added]

And wasn't that the whole point? This government isn't interested in fair trials for those it has held for years. The trials are only being held because the US Supreme Court has implied that 'disappearing' people just isn't a very nice thing to do. So the dog-and-pony show framework was developed.

Mr. Abraham's revelations bring to mind the late Ed Davis who, when he was Chief of the LAPD many years ago, suggested a way to end airplane highjackings was to immediately hold the trial of the accused and hang him right there on the runway. Chief Davis never got the chance to try out his new system, but President Bush unfortunately is getting that chance several dozen times over.

The question now is whether the Supreme Court as it is presently constituted is going to allow Mr. Bush to continue that parody of justice.

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Giving Up

It's rather wonderful to listen to the maladministration making great play of the announcement that North Korea is any minute now going to dismantle its nuclear facilities. This is becoming a familiar theme. It is about the third time for these intentions to be heralded by the cabal as its accomplishment through negotiations. It's the little details that make it really, really silly. If you remember, which the cretin in chief thinks you won't, the nuclear facilities were supposed to be at least beginning to be dismantled before we let up our hold on funds that were realized by counterfeiting and other kinds of theft by the North Korean government.

Those funds we had put a hold on have been released, and no conditions for their release have yet been met.

Russian news agencies, citing unnamed finance ministry officials, reported Saturday that the North Korean funds had reached Dalkombank, a bank in the Russian Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk.

Bank officials could not be located to comment on the reports, while no one answered phones at the Central Bank or the Finance Ministry.

Russia's deputy foreign minister said Friday the funds would be fully transferred sometime next week.

North Korea had made the money's release a main condition for its disarmament, and used the financial dispute as a reason to stay away from six-party nuclear talks _ involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S. _ for more than a year, during which it conducted its first-ever nuclear test explosion in October.

Hill said Saturday that talks could begin before the reactor was fully shut down.

"I would expect it to happen soon after shutdown begins," Hill said, adding the exact timing depended on scheduling by the host nation, China.

KCNA said that during Hill's trip, "both sides shared the views that they would start implementing the (February) agreement on the premise that the issue of the
remittance of the funds is finally settled."

North Korea is to ultimately get aid worth 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil and other political concessions after it fully disables the reactor.

KCNA also said the two sides would seek to hold a meeting in early August of foreign ministers from the six nations in the nuclear talks on the sidelines of an Asian security forum in the Philippines.

We let them keep the spoils, N.Korea - 1, U.S. - 0. We began the aid package, N.Korea - 1, U.S. - 0. We haven't had any shutdown, au contraire, there has been a nuclear test though of a dubious nature, N.Korea - 1, U.S. - 0. We are resuming talks without dismantling occurring, N.Korea - 1, U.S. - 0.

Can't wait to hear what the idiots call this new item in N.Korea's goody bag. If they stay true to form, Victory. At least, on the surface, nobody died.


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The Rules Don't Apply

The President and Vice-President have made it clear that they both are above oversight from any source, even when the President himself has issued an order requiring the executive branch to submit to oversight from an independent federal watchdog. From today's Los Angeles Times:

The White House said Friday that, like Vice President Dick Cheney's office, President Bush's office is not allowing an independent federal watchdog to oversee its handling of classified national security information.

An executive order that Bush issued in March 2003 — amending an existing order — requires all government agencies that are part of the executive branch to submit to oversight. Although it doesn't specifically say so, Bush's order was not meant to apply to the vice president's office or the president's office, a White House spokesman said. ...

As a result, the National Archives has been unable to review how much information the president's and vice president's offices are classifying and declassifying. And the security oversight office cannot inspect the president and vice president's executive offices to determine whether safeguards are in place to protect the classified information they handle and to properly declassify information when required.
[Emphasis added]

The key to the President's argument that the oversight doesn't apply to him (or the Vice-President) is that he never intended it to. It's sort of like his signing statements: he'll execute only those laws he likes and only when it suits him. The only difference is that his signing statements are explicit; in this case his intention is implied, but, hey! it just makes sense. The imperial presidency isn't bound by rules of any kind.

Several security experts said they were not aware that the president had exempted his own office from the oversight requirements.

But they said it fit what they saw as a pattern in the administration of avoiding accountability, even on matters of national security.

And this is surprising how?

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging

Jocabel just doesn't pose, but here she is. As noted, she's not a very attractively patterned tortoiseshell that some one didn't like enough to keep, but she came to visit and stayed at my little remote corner of the world. She's very lovely to me, and the vet says that finally she's started accepting the attentions there, but my neighbors tell me she disappears if they try to get friendly with her. I guess she had a hard life sometime.


Schadenfraude Hurts

Okay, we all get at least a shot at being thoroughly proud of being right. Or as Brooks prefers (NYT today, cited at Eschaton by Agent Orange at 7:54 a.m.), the event that 'gave liberals a chance to feel superior' is occurring, as a matter of fact, lots of them, allatime.

To see McCarthy at the National Review bemoaning our alliance with the devil in Palestine just isn't funny, it's a big loud shoutout for the Left and its rational view of the idiocy of this administration.

In the Palestinian civil war, the Bush administration has unabashedly cast its lot with Fatah. The United States, in the midst of its own global war against Islamic radicalism, is promising additional millions in foreign aid for a cabal which maintains its own jihadist wing, and which is so thoroughly corrupt — having pocketed much of the foreign aid billions that poured in over the last two decades — that Palestinians opted for the more transparent Hamas terrorists when given the option.

Fatah is the creation of the late terror master, Yasser Arafat. It is currently led by Abbas, formerly Arafat’s close aid. When last we left Abbas, the administration’s favorite “moderate,” he was laying a wreath at The Great Man’s grave — the Palestinians, by the way, have turned the site into an Arafat shrine, telling us everything we need to know about them.

Abbas proceeded to urge a throng of 50,000 Palestinians to re-aim their guns at the “occupation” (that would be Israel) instead of turning them on each other: “[W]ith the will and determination of its sons, Fatah has and will continue,” he brayed. “We will not give up our principles and we have said that rifles should be directed against the occupation.... We have a legitimate right to direct our guns against Israeli occupation....”

That was less than six months ago — despite administration assertions on Monday that Abbas is “a partner who is committed to peace.” And none of it was a surprise. When Abbas was seeking election in 2005, he declared to a cheering mob in Gaza that Palestinian terrorists being sought by Israel were “heroes fighting for freedom.”

Welcome to the other side of the Big Lie, where we have been watching the cretin in chief and his toadies sell the U.S. and its interests downriver. It was no surprise to find out we are now arming the Sunni militia members who were killing our troops so recently. This is an executive branch that seems quite impervious to its oath to uphold and defend the constitution, to protect the public, faithfully to execute the laws. Its interests are not the same as those of this country, and it will take the side that is not ours when that suits its ends.

Schadenfreude is painful, though. We literally can't wait until a public spirited and honorable administration is in power again. The country is losing more of our troops and our treasure every day as this idiotic maladministration tears downhill into more and worse damage all the time. Andrew McCarthy, welcome to the Rational side. Join us to work for the U.S. of A.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Thursday Birdblogging

Feral Liberal has let us use this wonderful shot of a Redwinged blackbird nest with chicks. I like it for several reasons, but one of the main ones is that you can tell great care is being taken not to alarm the birds.

Hungry chicks with mouths open must appeal to us all. And you know the mother blackbird is out there working herself to the bone for them.

As all of us love these lovely shots, I'm also including a reference to mom on the nest from feral liberal's stash of great shots;

Here is a picture of the full sized bird:

Thanks to


Growing Dilemmas

While most of our farmers would really disagree if told they were being pampered, it is the U.S. policy of subsidies that has caused World Trade talks to break down again this morning. Our subsidies are presently being protected from scrutiny which Canada has requested, accusing the U.S. of exceeding its commitments to WTO for many years.

The U.S. blocked a World Trade Organization investigation of its agricultural subsidies Wednesday, delaying a Canadian complaint that U.S. payments to farmers exceeds WTO rules.

According to the Geneva-based trade body's rules, a panel's establishment can be blocked only once.

Canada alleges that the United States has exceeded in six of the last eight years the $19.1 billion it is permitted to spend on the most contentious forms of agricultural subsidies. Canada also accuses the U.S. of offering export credit guarantees in breach of WTO rules.

Ottawa accuses Washington of exceeding its WTO commitments in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2005 by an average of $5 billion per year.

It said the highest single-year payments amounted to over $27 billion.

The figures are higher than any previously estimated on U.S. payments to American farmers that fall under WTO's "amber box" -- the most trade-distorting form of subsidies. They include direct payments linked to distribution, export credits, marketing assistance loans and price guarantees.

In Geneva, the developing world insists that the dominant trade nations must allow their agricultural imports to exist. An example that has much pervaded international news recently is the subsidization of our cotton growers to eliminate completely the cotton produced in the impoverished African nations.

Talks between trade powers to salvage global trade talks collapsed on Thursday, throwing the future of the World Trade Organisation's struggling round deeper into doubt.

Ministers from the United States and the European Union (EU), representing rich nation interests, and Brazil and India, for the developing world, were quick to blame the other side for the failure.
Washington has demanded that any deal that significantly cuts U.S. farm subsidies must open new export markets around the world in agriculture, manufacturing and services.

But Brazil and India said Washington was not prepared to go far enough to warrant additional concessions on their part in manufacturing goods or in lowering barriers to imports of U.S. farm goods.

The weather disasters, such as the one that today has our local North Texas and Oklahoma farmers viewing a ruined wheat crop which promised to be the best in many years, are tragic and mind-numbing.

And as Xan anticipated with dread, the price of corn is going down as farmers rush into producing it because of the reports that ethanol production is making it the new oil boom.

What if I had worked all year at something and now couldn't collect a penny for it? That's the sort of discouragement a farmer faces on a regular basis, and in a farming community everyone's livelihood is affected. We all can feel for them. The grinding poverty of the continent of Africa, though, has been subsidized by our support for our own farm communities.

I can't say it's terrible to help out our own farmers. When we are sacrificing our other workers to the globalization ethic, though, it seems mighty lopsided that we can support one economic area but blithely pitch another one into the briarpatch.

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Those Activist Judges

Republicans have always loved vilifying judges as "activist" whenever decisions issued that seemed too "liberal." In the last ten years, some have even gone to one key element of their base, the fundagelicals, and had them sponsor rallies against such judicial independence. "Activism" that is practiced by conservative judges, however, is apparently perfectly all right. The prime example of the acceptable activism can be found in recent decisions of the US Supreme Court, which (thanks to the timidity of the Democrats in the 109th Congress) now has a conservative majority. An article in today's NY Times makes it clear that this kind of "activism", which involves the disregard of precedent, may very well shape at least the next decade in this country.

Both Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. assured their Senate questioners at their confirmation hearings that they, too, respected precedent. So why were they on the majority side of a 5-to-4 decision last week declaring that a 45-year-old doctrine excusing people whose “unique circumstances” prevented them from meeting court filing deadlines was now “illegitimate”?

It was the second time the Roberts court had overturned a precedent, and the first in a decision with a divided vote. It surely will not be the last.

...the question is not whether the Roberts court will overturn more precedents, but how often, by what standard and in what terms.
[Emphasis added]

Among the issues this Supreme Court will be facing in the near future are campaign finance reform, the standing of taxpayers to file suit against the federal government for failure to uphold the separation of church and state, and, of course, abortion rights. In all three areas, there are earlier Supreme Court decisions which stand as precedent. Those precedents have already decided the issues and are supposed to stand as the guiding principle for future cases when those principles arise. Precedents can be overturned, but only under very special circumstances. The most famous case to do so in my life time was Brown vs. Board of Education which overturned a line of cases which allowed for "separate but equal" treatment of African Americans. It was determined that it was time for this nation to turn away from governmentally endorsed racism.

The questions raised in the article and highlighted above are crucial. I fear that the answers will not be very happy ones for this nation.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

We're Number Two!

We're Number Two! It's just wonderful that the U.S. has strained forward in its efforts to lower our polluting levels, that we've restrained the industries fouling up the air and waters, that we've pulled back from our wandering ways ... oh, wait.

China was the big success, pulling out ahead in its own polluting excesses.

China has overtaken the United States as the top emitter of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, because of surging energy use amid an economic boom, a Dutch government-funded agency said on Wednesday.

Other experts have estimated that China will only surpass the United States in coming years. The rise to number one emitter may put pressure on Beijing to do more to help a U.N.-led fight against global warming.

"China's 2006 carbon dioxide emissions surpassed those of the United States by 8 percent," the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency said in a statement. In 2005, it said China's emissions were 2 percent below those of the United States.

While its citizens are having to wear breathing masks to go out in the polluted air and can't eat the seafood in its rivers, China forges ahead with its new distinction as the dirtiest kid on the block. And what steps forward are the Chinese taking in fighting pollution? Naturally, fighting against the few who dare to combat it, like all good developing industrial nations.

For the past five years, village doctor Zhang Changjian has rallied farmers here against a chemical factory dumping pollutants into a river.

This spring, they won a rare victory. A court found the pollution exceeded acceptable levels and ordered the Rongping Joint Chemical Plant to pay damages of about $85,000. But the farmers have yet to see any of the settlement. Mr. Zhang has been the target of police harassment, and the county government has closed down his clinic.

When a chemical factory in rural China started dumping pollutants into a nearby river and cancer rates soared, village doctor Zhang Changjian, above, organized a campaign that called national attention to local farmers' plight. He drew inspiration from the movie "Erin Brockovich," starring Julia Roberts, based on a true story of a woman's crusade for justice after similar pollution in California.
A quiet man with a crop of stubby, graying hair, Mr. Zhang, 46 years old, refuses to be cowed. He continues to dispense medicine and monitor Rongping, often circling the factory in plastic slippers, a camera clamped to his belt. "Our food is still poisoned," says Mr. Zhang, pointing out the factory's wastewater spilling into the foul-smelling river that eventually flows into the East China Sea. "The farmers can't sell their crops and they're too poor to move."

Water pollution is among the most worrisome byproducts of China's rapid economic growth. Factories and cities dump some 40 to 60 billion tons of wastewater and sewage into lakes and rivers each year, according to Chinese government estimates. About 30% of China's rivers are so dirty they aren't fit for industrial or agricultural use, according to official statistics.

These are appropriate friends for the White House cabal. When you can't run roughshod over the people because of some one protecting them, why just shut down anyone who tries to protect them.

When corporate interests are the BFF of the executive branch, all sorts of abuse becomes the order of business for that government. We are going to have to be very alert and very protective of our interests to keep this kind of operation from happening here. Signing statements to the contrary, the role of government is to protect, not to destroy, the public.

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No Surprise Here

President Bush has announced that he will dust off his veto pen to use for only the third time in his presidency. From an AP report published in the Los Angeles Times:

President Bush has chosen to use his veto pen three times -- twice on the stem cell issue where politics, ethics and science collide.

Pushing back against the Democratic-led Congress, Bush plans to veto a bill Wednesday that would have eased restraints on federally funded embryonic stem cell research, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

At the same time, Bush will issue an executive order directing the Health and Human Services Department to promote research into cells that, like human embryonic stem cells, also hold the potential of regenerating into different types of cells that might be used to battle disease.

Well, that makes everything all right, then: he'll push for research using other cells to find cures because, of course, we can't possibly do both. And the fact that the legislation passed by both the House and the Senate contains more stringent ethical guidelines than anything the President has proposed (no surprise there, either) means nothing when it comes to snowflake babies. After all, the destruction of "human" life is the most important thing in the world, at least before birth.

After birth? Eh, not so much, as evidenced by the third veto the president issued during his time in office: the timeline for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

I hope the Democrats vote on over riding the veto. That way we can take the names of those who choose to ignore the wishes of the 70% of Americans who wanted this stem cell bill to pass and publish them all over the country in time for the 2008 election.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Some Commandments Worth Observing

How really good it feels to have something positive to say about the Vatican. Yes, you heard me right. While the poor benighted critters in dresses make all sorts of idiotic pronouncements showing that they have not 'grown in wisdom and understanding' since taking their vows, today something came out of that morass that makes sense in connection with religion.

The Vatican concerned itself with safety on the highways, and put out some rules relating to responsible driving, and they can be proud of doing something to preserve life and sanity on the road.

The Vatican on Tuesday issued a set of “Ten Commandments” for drivers, telling motorists not to kill, not to drink and drive, and to help fellow travelers in case of accidents.

An unusual document from the Vatican’s office for migrants and itinerant people also warned that cars can be “an occasion of sin” — particularly when they are used for dangerous passing or for prostitution.

It warned about the effects of road rage, saying driving can bring out “primitive” behavior in motorists, including “impoliteness, rude gestures, cursing, blasphemy, loss of sense of responsibility or deliberate infringement of the highway code.”

It urged motorists to obey traffic regulations, drive with a moral sense, and to pray when behind the wheel.

Cardinal Renato Martino, who heads the office, told a news conference that the Vatican felt it necessary to address the pastoral needs of motorists because driving had become such a big part of contemporary life.
The “Drivers’ Ten Commandments,” as listed by the document, are:

1. You shall not kill. etc.

There are more commandments, all of them good sense. Amazing.

The eminence's good sense probably relates to having actual experience with driving, and in Rome, at that. Direct experience is so obviously a factor for understanding, perhaps the Vatican will receive more revelations of this variety and recognize them as such. But I don't expect that infallibility will ensue from that, either.

Good works, Cardinal. Pass along some good sense upwards to the Papal apartments, would you please?

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Something I Hadn't Ever Considered ...

... until the New York Times brought it up.

It's pretty hard to pass by an article with this kind of headline: "States Face Decisions on Who Is Mentally Fit to Vote". Cheap-shot jokes about the mental fitness of those who cast their votes for George W. Bush in 2004 aside, the issue is certainly an interesting one. We don't bar the blind from voting, or quadraplegics. If mental illness is just that, an illness (and therefore a form of disability), should the sufferers of that illness be barred? Does it make a difference if the diagnosed mental illness is obsessive compulsive disorder? Alzheimer's? What about cases in which the citizen is determined by a court to be incompetent when it comes to money decisions, requiring the appointment of a guardian for that purpose? Does that mean that citizen should have his voting rights lifted as well? What about those adjudicated as criminally insane? The NY Times article suggests these are the kinds of questions that various states are finally having to deal with:

The issue is drawing attention for two major reasons: increasing efforts by the mentally ill and their advocates to secure voting rights, and mounting concern by psychiatrists and others who work with the elderly about the rights and risks of voting by people with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Two possible solutions (both short on details, unfortunately) is described in the article:

This summer, recommendations for national standards will be released by a group of psychiatrists, lawyers and others led by the American Bar Association, suggesting that people be prevented from voting only if they cannot indicate, with or without help, “a specific desire to participate in the voting process.” ...

[A] 2001 ruling in Maine, allowing people to vote if they understood the nature and effect of voting and could make a choice, was considered a model. How to assess such qualifications, however, is controversial.

The whole issue is a tough one, especially when elections tend to be so close and the risk of fraud in these cases is a very real potential. Still, disenfranchising a whole segment of the population because of some kind of mental incompetence just feels wrong to me.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Big Business Loves Them Some Ethanol

A push from Congress and the White House for huge increases in biofuels such as ethanol, is prompting the oil industry to scale back its plans for refinery expansions - which could keep gasoline prices high, possibly for years to come.

With President Bush calling for a 20 percent drop in gasoline use and the Senate now debating legislation for huge increases in ethanol production, oil companies see growing uncertainty about future gasoline demand and little need to expand refineries or build new ones.

Oil industry executives no longer believe there will be the demand for gasoline over the next decade to warrant the billions of dollars in refinery expansions - as much as 10 percent increase in new refining capacity - they anticipated as recently as a year ago.

Biofuels such as ethanol and efforts to get automakers to build more fuel-efficient cars and SUVs have been portrayed as key to countering high gasoline prices, but it is likely to do little to curb costs at the pump today, or in the years ahead as refiners reduce gasoline production.

When I saw that Jeb Bush had become involved in ethanol development, it was the clincher to several hints I've seen that ethanol is being taken over by big business as its next source of abusing the use biofuels as an excuse to keep oil prices high comes as no surprise.

It's time to walk when you can, bicycle when you can't walk, and generally find alternatives to the private vehicle use that has gotten us into this mess. While I am proud of the Honda Civic that gets me around, I now leave it parked whenever I can.

While 'shower with a friend' is my favorite motto, this morning rather than showering then putting up a huge umbrella to go out to feed the cat and get the paper, I just wore a shower cap and carried a bar of soap. Envigorating. I recommend it.

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Monday Fluffy Blogging

Well, Fluffy is home and getting spoiled, you can see he's just a touch from healed in the top one, some of what's left of his teeth (he seems to have led a rough life as a stray) in the bottom picture.

I am convinced he studied the Cat Manual on Getting an Indoor Life, and picked the section that said Try Limping Bigtime (while rubbing on her leg for attention)under the main heading Go for Petting Before Mealtimes. He's reached professional status.

Thanks for all the help and all the good wishes.


Gee, You Think Maybe?

The fallout from the Department of Justice "Saturday Night Massacre" is now being felt in federal courtrooms as defendants now argue that prosecutions have been brought for solely for political reasons. You didn't need 20/20 vision to see this coming. From an article in today's Los Angeles Times:

Defense lawyers in a growing number of cases are raising questions about the motives of government lawyers who have brought charges against their clients. In court papers, they are citing the furor over the U.S. attorney dismissals as evidence that their cases may have been infected by politics. ...

Missouri lawyers have invoked the controversy in challenging last year's indictment of a company owned by a prominent Democrat, on suspicion of violating federal wage and hour laws. The indictment, which came two months after the owner announced that she was running for political office, was obtained by a Republican U.S. attorney who also has been criticized because he charged workers for a left-leaning political group on the eve of the 2006 midterm election.

Although US Attorneys are appointed by a sitting president, most of us had assumed that the DOJ was above politics when it came to enforcing federal laws. After the revelations in congressional hearings on just what the real priorities were for the Department of Justice under this administration, that assumption doesn't appear to have been valid. As a result, defense attorneys would be committing malpractice if they didn't raise the issue of the potential political reasons for the prosecution. And that's a shame for any number of reasons.

Perhaps the biggest impact will come in political corruption cases. Regardless of the political leanings (and/or donations) of the defendant, if the charges can be proved, that defendant deserves punishment. As Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California), himself a former DOJ prosecutor, pointed out in the article, corruption cases are hard enough to prove up. Now, they may be impossible.

For those career prosecutors in the DOJ, the effect must be demoralizing, and the effects on the department will surely be long-term. In other words, another part of the government has been broken by this administration.

Heckuva job, George.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sunday Poetry: Jose Luis Borges

To a Cat

Mirrors are not more wrapt in silences
nor the arriving dawn more secretive ;
you, in the moonlight, are that panther figure
which we can only spy at from a distance.
By the mysterious functioning of some
divine decree, we seek you out in vain ;
remoter than the Ganges or the sunset,
yours is the solitude, yours is the secret.
Your back allows the tentative caress
my hand extends. And you have condescended,
since that forever, now oblivion,
to take love from a flattering human hand.
you live in other time, lord of your realm -
a world as closed and separate as dream.

Jorge Luis Borges

Extra Bucks to Cheat Americans Out of Jobs

The present executive branch has been spectacularly ill managed. One of the huge offenses was recently discovered at Walter Reed, where veterans have been disserved by turning over their care to contract employees. Today we have news that mail had gone undelivered to the veterans there for as much as a year, by contract employees. A commenter at Eschaton guessed that the mail was addressed in English, which was the problem.

It seems that the CIA has discovered a threat, which it is set up to do. Betcha thought I was going to say that its was those durned illegals working inside the government that were a threat to our security. Nope. It is the Homeland Security Department, using contract employees who are costing us huge amounts that threaten the budget further.

We've spent countless billions of dollars since 9/11 to bolster defenses, improve spying capabilities and chase evil-doers to their remotest lairs. But there's a remaining, gaping hole in America's security picture: the one in our wallets.

The CIA moved this month to plug that hole, announcing a 10 percent cut in its private-contracting workforce. The agency recognized that outsourcing can be a net money-loser and poses security risks by reducing the CIA's ability to retain its most valued and experienced staffers.

Other government agencies in charge of our frontline defenses also need to scrutinize their private-contractor workforce and ask whether they're really better off relying on temps to keep the nation safe and secure.

The Department of Homeland Security, where contractors account for 60 percent of personnel, shares the CIA's problem of sagging staff morale and mounting expenses linked to outsourcing. Surveys show that job satisfaction at homeland security is lowest in the entire government.
Contractors also have divided loyalties, answering to boardroom executives and stockholders, not taxpayers. Their primary mission is to make profits.

We encourage efforts to downsize government and increase efficiency. But there's a careful balance to be struck, especially when it comes to national security.

The CIA deserves praise for questioning the conventional wisdom on contractors.

I guess at this point I should declare to the Dallas Morning News, well, I'll be hogswallowed. Its usual pro-business bias is becoming one of the casualties of the cretin in chief's war against the working man, and against common reason. There is no excuse for this race to contract out all of the jobs that otherwise would provide good employment opportunities with our government.

When it goes to the extremes of costing our taxpayers extra dollars to put the swill in the trough, the complete anti-American character of the White House shines through. True colors, green, not red-white-and-blue little lapel flags.

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Who Could Have Imagined?

It's back to square one in the Israel-Palestine saga. The dissolution of the Palestinian "Unity Government" and the internal civil war between Fatah and Hamas which provoked that dissolution was not all that surprising, given the Israeli and US decision to force Hamas out of power no matter what the cost. An article in today's NY Times looks at the cynical approach which is still in play.

With the two Palestinian territories increasingly isolated from each other by a week of brutal warfare between rival factions, Israel and the United States seem agreed on a policy to treat them as separate entities to support Fatah in the West Bank and squeeze Hamas in the Gaza Strip. ...

As Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, who arrives in the United States on Sunday to meet with American officials, said, a Fatah government, shorn of Hamas, “can be a new opening.”

After the failure of the Palestinian unity government, Mr. Olmert said in an interview with The New York Times, “I suggest we look at things in a much more realistic manner and with less self-deceit.”
[Emphasis added]

Prime Minister Olmert's comments reach beyond the disingenuous to the mendacious when he talk about "self-deceit." The policy of the US and Israel since Hamas scored its stunning electoral victory was to deceive the rest of the world. Instead of according Hamas a seat at the table so that the organization would actually have to learn the art of governing instead of blowing things up, the two countries decided to squeeze Hamas out by depriving the Palestinian government of the money it needed to effectively govern both the West Bank and Gaza.

The problem with the plan is that it not only didn't work, it also didn't deceive the rest of the world as noted in a June 14, 2007 editorial in France's Le Monde (in translation at Watching America).

Bitter and disenchanted is how Alvaro de Soto describes himself, in a report written at the conclusion of a two-year mission as the U.N.'s special Middle East envoy - a report that was to remain confidential. It is an overwhelming look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Extremely severe in its conclusions, the draft is a stunning indictment of a diplomatic failure. And while not sparing Europe or the U.N., it points to the Bush Administration as bearing the heaviest responsibility for its backing of an Israeli policy that has lead to a dead end. It was a policy that sought - even encouraged - the inter-Palestinian violence that today has resulted in a violent offensive by the Islamists of Hamas to take control of the Gaza strip. ...

This American obstinacy precipitated the failure of the Palestinian government of national unity and ruined the global peace effort launched by Saudi diplomacy, which envisaged an across-the-board normalization of relations between the Arab countries and Israel in exchange for the creation of a Palestinian state on the basis of its 1967 borders.

Mr. de Soto estimated that hereon in, it will be increasingly difficult if not "impossible" to create a Palestinian state.
[Emphasis added]

Secretary of State Rice can make dozens of trips to the Middle East, but until this cynical policy is changed, nothing she can do or say will bring about a resolution of the Palestinian issue, which means that there will be no stability in the Middle East. Apparently, that is just what this administration wants.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Bonus Critter Blogging: Moth

(JohnJS has come through again with another wonderful picture.)

Right Answer, Wrong Reason

According to an AP report published in USA Today, homeland security isn't important enough to require that its workers receive decent wages. The silly House Democrats passed a bill that would add funds to the Department of Homeland Security budget to cover the added cost, but because that was more money than the White House wanted, a veto is assured and, because the GOP members of the House have decided once again to march in lockstep with the president, will block the extra funds.

What was interesting in this article, however, was a mention of an area that the GOP congress critters balked at following the orders of deciderer-in-chief:

...the White House is giving a free pass to a politically sacrosanct bill funding veterans' programs, due for a House vote Friday afternoon, even though that measure exceeds Bush's request by $4 billion, or 7%.

Earlier, the White House signaled its desire to veto the veterans funding bill for violating Bush's budget "caps." But Republicans on Capitol Hill have made it clear that with troops overseas, they're not interested in facing off with Democrats over veterans spending and that any veto would have been overridden.

Note the language used by the Republicans: not that shortchanging the veterans whose legs and arms and heads are being blown off in Bush's Boutique War is evil, but that the Republicans don't want to look bad in the run-up to the next election.

Well, they ought to be concerned. They have a terrible record to run on when it comes to the treatment of those who have served in the military. Like just about every other federal agency touched by the Bush administration, the Veteran's Administration is broken, although many of the political appointees to that department are doing just fine, what with the bonuses and all. The VA can't possibly cope with the extensive injuries, visible and not-so-visible, from this war on the niggling budget it has been given the past six years.

And what that means to the nation as a whole is appalling. Woody Guthrie's Guitar has a post up at Walled-In-Pond that details just how serious the problem is, replete with links that shows just how "concerned" the Republicans have been in the past.

Magnetic yellow ribbons. That's what supporting the troops is all about for some folks. That, and winning elections.


Losing The World

The view of Darfur U.N. President Ban Ki Moon, expressed today in the WaPo op-ed he did, strikes me as one that needs to be taken into account.

The deprivation of growing capacity in the Texas/Oklahoma area has made severe differences here, and has deprived many farming communities of the livelihood they enjoyed/expected for generations, and it is possible that something many consider to be 'the heartland' may be disappearing.

Those communities that lived off of the land are having to depend on the rest of the country to help them out.

Just over a week ago, leaders of the world's industrialized nations met in Heiligendamm, Germany, for their annual summit. Our modest goal: to win a breakthrough on climate change. And we got it -- an agreement to cut greenhouse gases by 50 percent before 2050. Especially gratifying for me is that the
methods will be negotiated via the United Nations, better ensuring that our efforts will be mutually reinforcing.

This week, the global focus shifted. Tough but patient diplomacy produced another win, as yet modest in scope but large in humanitarian potential.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir accepted a plan to deploy, at long last, a joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur. This agreement, too, is personally gratifying. I have made Darfur a top priority and have invested considerable effort, often far from public view, toward this goal.
It would be natural to view these as distinct developments. In fact, they are linked. Almost invariably, we discuss Darfur in a convenient military and political shorthand -- an ethnic conflict pitting Arab militias against black rebels and farmers. Look to its roots, though, and you discover a more complex dynamic. Amid the diverse social and political causes, the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change.

Two decades ago, the rains in southern Sudan began to fail.
It is no accident that the violence in Darfur erupted during the drought. Until then, Arab nomadic herders had lived amicably with settled farmers. A recent Atlantic Monthly article by Stephan Faris describes how black farmers would welcome herders as they crisscrossed the land, grazing their camels and sharing wells. But once the rains stopped, farmers fenced their land for fear it would be ruined by the passing herds. For the first time in memory, there was no longer enough food and water for all. Fighting broke out. By 2003, it evolved into the full-fledged tragedy we witness today.

In our farming communities, what we see is the re-orienting of agriculture into those efforts such as industrial farming and mammoth animal farming that requires a no-benefit and low-paid workforce. Can you say 'immigrant'? This is a far cry from the large part of the country that lived on, and lived off of, their farms until they couldn't keep them anymore.

When the war is between the industry of farming and the working force of this country, what will happen in our mid-America? And can we see it happening now.

Incidentally, our agriculture is a far more powerful interest in this country than the ecology. I believe that is another battle yet to come.

As I have been bounced off a few walls for saying previously, it isn't going to be pretty. (Okay, that's a snide aside, which seems also to be happening a lot. And I really prefer issues)

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An Unsettling Practice

How's this for a real-life horror story? A developmentally delayed American citizen was arrested for a minor crime and "mistakenly" deported to Mexico. From an editorial in today's Los Angeles Times:

Arrested for trespassing at an airplane junkyard, Guzman was questioned while in the custody of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and, perhaps because of his disability, mistaken for an illegal immigrant. He was turned over to immigration authorities, who deported him to Tijuana. He then promptly disappeared. Despite their frantic attempts to find him, Guzman's family has not heard from him since May 11. What that means is that Guzman's trespass has earned him a sentence of banishment and disappearance, a fate common in third-rate dictatorships but abhorred in civilized nations. And the federal government's response has been to evade responsibility and to refuse the family's pleas for help.

This is what happens when the police are expected to act as immigration officials as well as cops. Mr. Guzman was brown, probably Spanish speaking only, and he wasn't carrying a green card. Ergo, he was an illegal and no longer the Sheriff's Department's problem.

And the Feds? Not their problem either, even though Mr. Guzman was born in the United States.

So much for the beacon of liberty claptrap.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Hillary Or Not-Hillary?

It's encouraging to see the Lone Star State beginning to emerge from the cancer that gave us the cretin in chief and his lackeys, the legislature that was cashiered by its leader so they couldn't vote him out, and other fun and games that have come to be associated with Texas.

Now, a hard look at political leanings in the march toward the next, hopefully redemptive, presidency show that voters are more inclined toward Hillary Clinton than the rest of the field. I'm glad to see that the long rightwing hate campaign has not had the effect the Rovians had intended. Seeing who's putting out the hate mongering, it would be nice to know that Senator Clinton has gained stature from the comparison.

Republicans who think Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at the top of the presidential ticket would help GOP fortunes in Texas next year might want to reconsider, according to a new poll.

Mrs. Clinton leads Democratic rival Barack Obama among Texas Democrats and would pose a surprisingly strong challenge to a Republican in the 2008 presidential contest, the poll finds.

The survey, sponsored by the nonpartisan Texas Lyceum, found that Mrs. Clinton is virtually tied among Texas voters with Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

"You're hearing a lot of people on the Republican side saying if Clinton is at the top of ticket, in Texas it will be another big year for Republicans," said Daron Shaw, a University of Texas professor and director of the Texas Lyceum Poll.

"The key to that strategy is that Hillary Clinton is so polarizing and so unpopular, it would drive voters away from the Democratic ticket," he said. "That doesn't seem to be true."
Many Texans remain undecided in next year's presidential sweepstakes, according to the poll. But the survey suggests that Mrs. Clinton would fare well against a Republican in a hypothetical matchup.
According to the survey, if the 2008 presidential election were held today, 36 percent of Texans would vote for Mr. McCain, 35 percent for Mrs. Clinton and 29 percent undecided.

While the GoPerverts lead by a percentage point against Hillary Clinton, that the state has produced no more push for the party of greed and corruption is wonderfully reassuring. That the voters can see for themselves that the party line is all lies, has taken an awful lot of failure. But those failures and the corruption are beginning to tell.

Maybe, like Dallas last election, we can look forward to Democrats able to start cleaning up the mess.

When oil tycoon and animal lover Boone Pickens decides to grow wind, there's life and hope.

Billionaire T. Boone Pickens is planning to cash in on the wind energy boom by building the world's largest wind farm in West Texas.

The oil tycoon and Oklahoma native is offering a $6 billion plan to install large wind turbines in parts of four Panhandle counties.

Pickens spokesman Mike Boswell today said the Mesa Power project would produce up to four-thousand megawatts of electricity.

Experts say the facility would generate more than five times the 735 megawatts produced at the present largest wind farm near Abilene.

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The Uniter

I'm beginning to think that Rosa Brooks just might be reason enough to actually resubscribe to the Los Angeles Times. Her column in today's edition has just the right snark and bite to take the edge off the work week as she reminds us that George W. Bush did manage to get one thing right. It turns out that he is in fact a uniter, not a divider.

YOU KNOW YOU'VE got a problem when only the Albanians welcome you with open arms — and even then you need to take your watch off to keep them from stealing it.

This is what it's come down to for President Bush, a duck so lame he's nearly quadriplegic. Six and a half years into his interminable presidency, the whole world is sick of him. ...

The GOP's Republican primary candidates are competing to distance themselves from Bush, and more and more conservatives are in open revolt. Some, like economist Bruce Bartlett, fume at the explosion of government spending under Bush. Others, like Sen. Chuck Hagel and a growing cadre of Republican foreign policy experts, are appalled by Bush's mishandling of the Iraq war and other national security issues.

Others, such as Richard Viguerie (conservative direct-mail pioneer) and former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr (the House's lead prosecutor during the Clinton impeachment), are so angry at what they see as Bush's constitutional abuses that they've started channeling (and in Barr's case, joining) the ACLU. "Since 9/11," they assert, "the executive branch has chronically usurped legislative or judicial power and has repeatedly claimed that the president is the law. The constitutional grievances against the White House are chilling." Even the three harpies of far-right punditry — Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin and Laura Ingraham — have denounced Bush's favored immigration bill as soft on illegal immigrants.

Oh yes, then there are the courts. Last week, judges in two of the administration's military commissions announced that the commissions lacked jurisdiction to try Guantanamo detainees. This week, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals — one of the nation's most conservative courts — gave Bush another slap in the face, declaring that "the president lacks power to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain" terror suspects in the United States.

Then there are the military and defense establishments, which are increasingly taking positions opposite those of the president. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates thinks Guantanamo should be closed. So does former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Uniformed officers complain openly that Bush has broken the back of the military. And no one, including the generals charged with overseeing military operations in Iraq, seems to think that Bush's "surge" is succeeding.

Funny? Hell, yes! But the humor is dark. I mean, look what it took to get us to this point. Still, laughing sure beats the alternative.