Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Keeping Big Bucks Afloat Takes More Than Rate Cuts by The Fed

If consumer spending (based on exuberance of the irrational sort) keeps going, will it buoy up the rest of the economy? Most opinions on the financial pages appear to be hoping that will do it. "Go shopping", as the occupied White House enjoins.

The quarter point rate cut just announced (Breaking News at just won't do it.)

It would probably be enough that pocketbooks kept being emptied over the mall stores - if deals were not being reneged on in the upper offices. When major purchases - investors in businesses - are blowing up everywhere, it isn't just a speck in a portfolio, it's money not being made. A reverse 'ka-ching', if you can imagine that.

In North Texas, a major builder backed out of a land purchase and the owner had already torn down the golf course he was operating there. That's playing out in court still. Outside Chicago, farmers looking to cash out their property are finding builders are reining in - in droves, and dollars. There are deals not being made, meaning those Sovereign Investor funds are not making the bucks they promise, and the backers are more than restless. They're panicky.

The interest rate cut Wall Street believes will buffer the economy from housing market woes is unlikely to boost hard-hit banks and homebuilders much in the near term, analysts say.

The Federal Reserve policymaking committee is expected to approve cutting a key short-term rate at least a quarter percentage point Wednesday to help the economy get through a deeper-than-expected housing slump and credit crunch that accelerated in August.

Investors are betting the central bank will reduce the federal funds rate, the rate banks charge each other for overnight loans, to 4.5 percent. Over the next 12 to 18 months, lower short-term rates will aid the overall economy because many equity credit lines and some credit card rates are pegged to short-term market rates.
Jefferson Harralson, a banking analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. who follows banks such as Bank of America Corp. and Wachovia Corp., said an acceleration in losses from defaults "seems to be a given, whether or not a rate cut occurs."

He says home equity lines of credit will be less likely to default if rates are lower. But that's hardly a revenue cure for banks in an environment in which housing prices continue to fall and foreclosures continue to rise.

"The home equity business isn't going to be a growth business," Harralson said.

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Spooky Stuff

from TimesLeader in PA.

Too scary for me.


Do Let the Door Help Her Along On the Way Out

Personalities are something I generally avoid, but for doing a totally poor job, this appointee has got to rate high as they come. Karen Hughes is finally going to stop trashing the U.S.'s reputation by being its representatives, and applause is called for.

As the croniest of cronies, this woman has embarrassed us abroad very much like the occupier of the White House has embarrassed the country everywhere and for all time.

Karen Hughes, who led efforts to improve the U.S. image abroad and was one of President Bush's last remaining advisers from the close circle of Texas aides, will leave the government at the end of the year, she told The Associated Press.

Hughes said she plans to quit her job as undersecretary of state and return to Texas, although improving the world's view of the United States is a "long-term challenge" that will outlast her.

"This will take a number of years," Hughes said in an interview to announce her departure. She was informing her staff of her decision Wednesday morning and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was announcing it.

Bush had picked Hughes two years ago to retool the way the United States sells its policies, ideals and views overseas. A former television reporter and media adviser, Hughes' focus has been to change the way the United States engages and responds to criticism or misinformation in the Muslim world.

"Negative events never help," Hughes said when asked how events like last month's shooting of Iraqi civilians by private U.S. security guards in Iraq affects the way the world sees the United States.

Heading the broad category of U.S. outreach known as public diplomacy, Hughes sent Arabic speakers to do four times as many interviews with Arabic media as in previous years and set up three rapid public relations response centers overseas to monitor and respond to the news. She nearly doubled the public diplomacy budget, to nearly $900 million annually, and sent U.S. sports stars Michelle Kwan and Cal Ripken abroad as unofficial diplomats.

Polls show no improvement in the world's view of the U.S. since Hughes took over.(Emphasis added.)

Hughes should be used in future training sessions in the State Department and throughout the government as an example of how badly the country can be hurt by nasty ignorant representatives. Her remarks usually drew gasps of astonishment by the breadth of their nerve and depth of their misapprehension of facts. Like the rest of the cabal, Karen Hughes exhibited deep and abiding concern for corporate welfare, and distaste for the public interest. This isn't some one habituated to drawing room behavior, and she offended everyone. I personally am sure this was what her appointment was intended to do. As a representative of the worst presidency in history, she was an appropriate choice.

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Uh-Oh, Blackwater!

Today's NY Times provided me with my first chuckle of the day. It seems the State Department and the Defense Department have decided to place some controls on a few of the out-of-control private contractors on their respective payrolls.

All State Department security convoys in Iraq will now fall under military control, the latest step taken by government officials to bring Blackwater Worldwide and other armed contractors under tighter supervision.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates agreed to the measure at a lunch on Tuesday after weeks of tension between their departments over coordination of thousands of gun-carrying contractors operating in the chaos of Iraq.

The "make-nice" lunch certainly came at a critical time. Since the last bloody Blackwater incident, the American public has finally come to understand just what the consequences of this version of governmental outsourcing too often involves. The US Congress has finally decided to look into it, and the Iraqi Parliament has finally decided to do something about it.

In Iraq, the government approved a draft law to overturn an order imposed by the American occupation authority in 2004 granting the employees of foreign contractors immunity from Iraqi law. Also on Tuesday, the State Department confirmed that some Blackwater employees questioned in connection with the Sept. 16 shooting had been granted a form of immunity in exchange for their statements. However, officials insisted that the immunity was limited and that it did not foreclose the possibility of prosecutions.

Democrats in Congress complained that the State Department appeared to have bungled the Blackwater investigation and said they feared that no one would be held accountable for the Iraqi deaths. “It feels like they’re protecting Blackwater,” said Representative Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat.

So, since apparently the State Department has bungled everything having to do with Blackwater, the Defense Department, which is supposed to be in charge of all things military, will take control. The only problem is that the Defense Department hasn't been all that swift in overseeing its own private contractors.

...the Defense Department has had its own difficulties controlling its nearly 130,000 contractors, who handle a variety of jobs including interrogations of prisoners and transportation of fuel and ammunition. Auditors have uncovered numerous instances of cost overruns, sloppy work, theft and corruption in the tens of billions of dollars in logistics and reconstruction contracts in Iraq.

Yeah, that ought to take care of the problem.

Clean cups!

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Enjoy Halloween

Goblin Valley! My next Halloween, maybe. And my costume today - I'm a cave. Black outfit with petroglyphs. (And the usual bats in belfry.:-))

This is in Utah and was visited by The Camping Machine:
In the 1950's the State of Utah, wanting to preserve and protect this unique area, bought the land and made it a State Park.

Today Goblin Valley State Park is a very nice, out-of-the-way destination for those looking to experience unusual topography in the high desert Colorado Plateau. The 'mushroom'-shaped rocks those cowboys saw were later referred to as 'goblins,' giving the park the name it has today.


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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Name The Butterfly!

GEt your bids in now, to name a butterfly and contribute to more research!

Nah, I didn't suggest 'Ruth' and 'Diane' - but is there a Flutterby anywhere?

In an apparent first for butterflies, the Florida Museum of Natural History is auctioning the naming rights for a newly discovered species online to raise money for butterfly research.

University of Florida researchers George Austin and Andrew Warren discovered the new species of owl butterfly earlier this year. The discovery is significant because the species is large and colorful, and is the first butterfly from this group to be named in more than 100 years.

Rather than naming the butterfly themselves, the customary practice when new species are discovered, Austin and Warren decided to auction the naming rights of the new species to raise money to support continued research on Mexican butterflies at the McGuire Center. Researchers at the Alfonso L. Herrera Zoology Museum at the National Autonomous University of Mexico are partners in the process.


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Outrage Is Not Being Ignored

In a recent post, I told you about a horrible event in the halls of justice in Texas, when a man was executed because an appeal had been refused for being filed minutes late. Today there is action to make sure that doesn't happen again, and to punish the person responsible for the atrocity.

It may be impossible
to remove the stain that Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, has placed on the state's judiciary. But two lawyer-driven actions might keep it from spreading.

More than 300 members of the Texas bar joined a petition last week asking Judge Keller's court to adopt modern procedures and allow e-mailed filings in death penalty cases. Of course it should.

Electronic filing in life-or-death cases might have avoided Judge Keller's disgraceful decision Sept. 25 in which she refused a condemned man's plea for a 20-minute extension beyond the court's usual 5 p.m. closing. The man, convicted killer Michael Richard, was executed minutes later, despite indications that he had a strong basis for appeal.
Separately, lawyers across the state are seeking to have Judge Keller disciplined as a result of her decision to bar the courthouse door. One of the complaints filed with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct accurately states that she is a "source of scandal to the citizens of the state." It might add that she makes the nation's leading death penalty state look overeager to carry out its grim business.

While nothing can bring back the man who was executed, at least the actions taken can signify that justice is not going to be ignored by the legal community. A disciplinary action will warn future judges that they can't blithely ignore filings and let the terrible consequences fade away afterwards.

Here I am tempted to go all Woody on you and say what Judge Keller ought to face, but since I believe in our legal system I will just ask for it to act in her case.


Easy Answers

I keep forgetting that there are reasons that election campaign time is called the "silly season." Fortunately, candidates always remind me of those reasons. This AP report, published in today's Los Angeles Times is a pretty good example.

Apparently "what to do about Iran" has become a major touchstone in the presidential race on both sides. The comments made by the various candidates, unfortunately, have tended to be, well, silly.

Republicans Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney have taken a hard line, speaking openly about a possible military strike in Iran, even as they say they support diplomatic measures to persuade the country to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

Democrats say they favor multinational diplomacy, combined with economic incentives as well as sanctions. They've repeatedly criticized President Bush for refusing to negotiate with Iran, and say they would consider military action only after exhausting other options. ...

Rand Beers, who has worked as a national security adviser to both Republican and Democratic presidents, sees a subtext to all the rhetoric.

"For Republicans, Iran represents a much more comfortable foreign policy subject to talk about than Iraq. It's a hard-nosed, hawkish credentialing and branding issue," Beers said. "On the Democratic side, there is far less saber rattling. They are trying to distinguish themselves from Bush and promote a dialogue and find common ground with Iran, which there may not be."

What Mr. Beers has to say is accurate enough, as far as it goes, but there are several underlying assumptions that he, and the candidates themselves (for that matter) are operating under that are not acknowledged or questioned.

The first assumption, of course, is that Iran is evil. That assumption was crystallized best in the now infamous "Axis of Evil" speech given by the president. It is assumed that Iran harbors and sponsors terrorists and that it is doing everything it can to further destabilize Iraq, even though that would actually be against Iran's own interests. While the current Iranian regime may be detestable for any number of reasons, I don't see much evidence that it is actually stupid.

The second assumption, and the one I think is the most dangerous in the long run, is that the US has the right to determine who gets to do what anywhere in the world. Help India further develop its nuclear plans, sure. Allow Iran to have any kind of nuclear power (energy or bombs), eh, not so much. That region of the world is too important to US interests in the free flow of oil to allow any self-determination.

A third assumption, the one that must not never be acknowledged by any candidate, is that the state of Israel (which itself has nuclear weapons), doesn't want Iran or any other Islamic state to have nuclear capability of any kind. No candidate wants to challenge Israel on such an issue. It wouldn't be prudent.

Look, we have international options in place to help keep the nuclear nightmare to a minimum. The IAEA has inspectors, the UN has mechanisms in place to resolve such disputes, agreements like the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty contain the teeth to ensure compliance. Why is it necessary for the US, whether the current administration or the next, to raise the specter of military action at all? Are we really itching for yet another fight?

Yes. It really is "silly season."

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Warming Up to the Future

The middle of the country has always had environmental problems of its own, but it would help if we were represented by elected officials with the good sense to recognize and deal with them intelligently. Today our TX senators got a nice solid push into a good direction for them.

With farm issues gaining, momentum in the Senate, Texas Sens. Kay Hutchison and John Cornyn will soon get the rare chance to reverse decades of bad agriculture policies. By joining with reformers such as Sens. Dick Lugar and Frank Lautenberg when the Senate takes up a farm bill next week, the Texans can create saner priorities.

The proposal from Mr. Lugar, of Indiana, and Mr. Lautenberg, of New Jersey, would gradually eliminate crop subsidies to all farmers. The plan also would reinvest some of the savings into land-conservation incentives and into programs that help small farms sell products locally and grow alternative energy sources.

This alternative presents a refreshing contrast to the business-as-usual plan the Senate Agriculture Committee passed. It would maintain crop payments to farmers – including those who earn up to a million bucks – keep subsidies focused on big crops such as corn and wheat, and do too little to promote land conservation and alternative energies.

Texas' senators undoubtedly are hearing from big farm interests that favor the Agriculture Committee's bill. But more Texas farmers would benefit from the Lugar-Lautenberg bill.

For example, their proposal would replace subsidies for crops such as corn and wheat with an insurance program for all crops. The shift would lead to most Texas farmers with crop insurance paying much less for their insurance. While we don't like everything about this feature, farmers need some guarantee against the vagaries of nature and other risks. This would do it, and at a cheaper cost to taxpayers. What's more, a broader pool of Texas farmers would benefit.

Family farmers in East Texas, the Valley and elsewhere would benefit in another way, too. The reform bill would finance a program to help them sell their fruits and vegetables directly to schools in cities such as Dallas and San Antonio.

Also, the numerous Texas companies developing alternatives to corn-based ethanol stand to gain because the proposal invests substantially in such research. Companies in Dallas and elsewhere are hotly pursuing alternatives such as switchgrasses.

Finally, Panhandle farmers wondering how much longer the Ogallala Aquifer will supply water for their land will like that the bill gives incentives to turn farmland into grasslands. The latter can be used for grazing or hunting instead of corn, whose thirst for water takes a toll on the Ogallala.

Ms. Hutchison and Mr. Cornyn know that the current system has problems, but they're leery of the counter-proposal. We hope they move away from supporting the business-as-usual plan to one that creates a new day for farmers. Chances like this don't come around often.

There is real potential to do the right thing for our state, and a lot of its people. It would really make even greater sense than simply throwing money at the farmer-industrial interests, and if they don't make the right choice these senators are not going to be let alone by the state's major paper.

Drying out is something that's been happening all too often in the west, and no Texan can be sanguine about the rate our ground water is being sucked up. From the fires just coming under control farther to the west, and the huge drought hammering the Southeast, we have learned another lesson. Our water can't continue to be taken for granted. We have got to plan for more careful conservation for our future.

The Southern California fires have been largely corralled, but only after doing more than $1 billion in damage and forcing the evacuation of at least half a million people. While that crisis is waning, at least temporarily, on the other side of the country another one builds in the Atlanta region, as the drought threatens to dry up the taps of 5 million people in mere months.

Why didn't they see these disasters coming? Technology has given humankind a significant degree of control over nature, but we by no means have mastered it, nor is complete dominance possible. Yet we contemporary Americans seem to think that our money and our machines will allow us to live as large as we'd like, indefinitely.

The San Diego fires are nothing new, having been a part of that region's ecology since before men settled there. What is new is that people are building houses in fire-prone wilderness areas, where they can still live out the exurban dream.

In the words of a University of California San Diego professor, we're putting subdivisions "right in the middle of a fuel tank."

Atlanta has a somewhat more plausible excuse, as it has never endured a drought as severe as the one that now torments it. Still, even as the lake that supplies water to the city steadily evaporated this summer, the people of Atlanta carried on as if something would turn up to save them. Now, rainless and facing the stark possibility that the water will soon be gone, Georgians are finally waking up to their emergency.

The legislature said this week that it would start building new reservoirs. "Frankly, we should have been doing this before now," said House Speaker Glenn Richardson. He's right about that. Atlanta has grown spectacularly over the past 20 years, with little effort made to provide for the water needs of the burgeoning population.

Here in North Texas, previous generations of civic leaders, having learned the hard lessons of the 1950s drought, built sufficient reservoir capacity to see us through our own recent troubles. But we keep growing and need to continue to provide for future needs. This is especially serious, given climate projections indicating that the American West is becoming permanently drier.

The environment can't be ignored and it will take great steps forward to keep from turning into wasteland.

We particularly need leaders with the good sense to start conserving now, and not leave our coming generations to go looking for new sources. We have enough here, for now. In Atlanta we can see what happens when no steps are taken to keep control of the resources we know will be needed.

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Justice Must Not Be Blind, Deaf or Dumb

The view of death sentences which can easily be a mistake has spread into many of the legal community's deliberative bodies, and the ABA is speaking out on the subject, as well.

On Friday I posted about mistaken judgments that had led to long prison terms. These cases ruined lives, or large parts of lives, and they should not have happened.

Serious problems in state death penalty systems compromise fairness and accuracy in capital punishment cases and justify a nationwide freeze on executions, the American Bar Association says.

Problems cited in a report released Sunday by the group include: spotty collection and preservation of DNA evidence, which has been used to exonerate more than 200 inmates; misidentification by eyewitnesses; false confessions from defendants; and persistent racial disparities that make death sentences more likely when victims are white.

The report is a compilation of separate reviews done over the last three years of how the death penalty operates in eight states: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

The ABA said every state with the death penalty should review its execution procedures before putting anyone else to death.

The ABA, which takes no position on capital punishment, did not study lethal injection procedures that are under challenge across the nation. The procedures will be reviewed by the Supreme Court early next year. State and federal courts have effectively stopped most executions pending a high court decision.

The time has definitely come to take a hard look at the prospect that lives ended have not always been the lives of the criminals who committed the crimes condemned. Our system is imperfect, and judgements can be wrong.

Killing the innocent should be prevented by all the means we have and if any question can be raised, it should be.

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How Times Have Changed

Here's a Monday morning exercise to go with your first cuppa. First, read the following excerpt from an editorial in today's NY Times.

America’s allies and increasingly the American public are playing a ghoulish guessing game: Will President Bush manage to leave office without starting a war with Iran? Mr. Bush is eagerly feeding those anxieties. This month he raised the threat of “World War III” if Iran even figures out how to make a nuclear weapon.

With a different White House, we might dismiss this as posturing — or bank on sanity to carry the day, or the warnings of exhausted generals or a defense secretary more rational than his predecessor. Not this crowd.

Four years after his pointless invasion of Iraq, President Bush still confuses bullying with grand strategy. He refuses to do the hard work of diplomacy — or even acknowledge the disastrous costs of his actions. The Republican presidential candidates have apparently decided that the real commander in chief test is to see who can out-trash talk the White House on Iran.

"Pointless invasion." "Bullying." "Disastrous costs." Notice the tone? Quite shrill, isn't it?

Now, try to imagine an editorial with the same tone on the issue of starting another war back in late 2002 or early in 2003. Try to imagine that leading up to the editorial, the NY Times and the other major newspapers had not carried the Judith Miller-esque claims of Iraqi WMDs and that nation's capacity to deliver them over wide areas. Try to imagine stories that were based in fact rather than on White House press releases. Would the US still have embarked on King George's Excellent Adventure?

Possibly, but it is just as likely that with real reporting, the American public might have been skeptical of any connection alleged between Iraq and 9/11. Congress might not have been so quick to authorize military force on the issue. Thousands of American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis might still be alive and many, many more might not have been maimed. Our economy might be in better shape. We might have had some real domestic problems solved. The administration might have been exposed for the vicious and incompetent gaggle that it is.

Yes, it's good to see the NY Times and the other media finally doing their jobs.

It would have been even better if they had never stopped doing their jobs.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sunday Poetry Blogging

Getting in the spirit of Halloween, I ran across an interesting post that went with use of the Edgar Allan Poe poem I am featuring here. Both worth your while.

The Congueror Worm
by Edgar Allan Poe (1843)

Lo! 'tis a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theatre, to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.
Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly-
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
Invisible Woe!
That motley drama- oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore,
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.
But see, amid the mimic rout
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes!- it writhes!- with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And seraphs sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.
Out- out are the lights- out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
While the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, "Man,"
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.

Video here

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Restricting The Flow Of Information

When this administration isn't pulling the veil of total secrecy over its activities, it's placing a restrictor plate over any information that just might get out. Most recently, FEMA held a fake news conference over its response to the California wild fires. When the fakery was exposed, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff was forced to excoriate the people at FEMA who came up with the idea, not because it was dishonest, but because it was "dumb," so dumb, in fact, that even the press corps figured it out.

This week, however, there was another bit of restrictor plate imposition reported, one in a long line, and an editorial in today's Sacramento Bee provides a handy list of some of them.

From polar bears to public health, government scientists' views keep running into political Wite-Out at the White House.

The latest example in a stunning array of them came last week when the Associated Press reported that the White House made significant edits in testimony about the impact of climate change on public health. Deleted sections, which the AP said covered more than half of the original text, included a list of specifics in which "climate change is likely to have a significant impact on health."

They included the effect of more frequent hot weather on vulnerable populations, the impact of extreme weather, more air pollution in drought-stricken areas and the greater likelihood of vector-borne and water-borne diseases. ...

Unlike many of us, Gerberding seemed unconcerned by the hubbub. "A mountain out of a molehill," she said. If that's the case, she should look back over this administration's "molehills." They're all over the map, from department to department, coast to coast. Stacked atop one another, they form a mighty mountain of misinformation.

In July, former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona testified that he had been unable to speak freely about major issues such as stem cell research during his tenure from 2002-2006. "Anything that doesn't fit into the political appointees' ideological, theological or political agenda is ignored, marginalized or simply buried," he told a House committee.

In March, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife "Foreign Travel" memo surfaced warning Alaska employees not to speak about climate change and the possible extinction of polar bears without explicit authorization. It set out a process for an "official spokesman" to be designated who understands "the administration's position on these issues."

Last year, James E. Hansen, a top NASA scientist, said the administration tried to stop him from calling for speedy reductions in greenhouse gases. "They feel their job is to be this censor of information going out to the public," he told the New York Times.
[Emphasis added]

While hardly an exhaustive list, the one provided by the editorialist does give a pretty clear picture of how this administration has intentionally and consistently sought to suppress information that might in any way contradict the "official" (desired) position. By keeping the public uninformed, "catapulting the propaganda" works ever so much better.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bonus Critter Blogging: Lowland Gorilla

(Photo published at The National Zoo website.)

Limited Travel

Some things can just brighten an otherwise dreary day. Reading this article in France's Rue 89 had that effect on me.

At three pages and with twenty-seven appendixes, the French complaint filed on Thursday by four human rights organizations against Donald Rumsfeld is detailed and damning. The former American Secretary of Defense from 2001 to 2006 is accused of torture, in particular with respect to the prisoners of Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

This is the fifth complaint against the man considered one of the architects of the Iraq War. Two criminal complaints were dismissed in Germany (the second, however, will be appealed next week) and two more have been filed, one in Argentina and one in Sweden.

But for the first time, Donald Rumsfeld has been legally assaulted while in the country in which the complaint was filed. Arriving in Paris on Thursday, he gave a lecture on Friday morning, without specifying the duration of his stay. Owing to the universal jurisdiction defined under the 1984 United Nations Convention Against Torture and enshrined in French law ten years later, his presence here obliges France to act unless she rejects the complaint.
[Emphasis added]

Jus some Gallic frivolity? Hardly. Apparently the French Court is willing to act on the complaint.

At the Court of First Instance in Paris, no more information was given out than necessary. Laurence Abgrall, the assistant prosecutor of France, told Rue89 that "the complaint should not run up against any major difficulties," but before being heard, "we're checking to make sure we have jurisdiction."

"The issue is whether or not Donald Rumsfeld has immunity. We are currently checking to see if he's still in France. But I can't tell you anything more about it."
[Emphasis added]

That makes four countries (so far) where travel might be unwise for any member of the current administration: France, Germany, Sweden, and Argentina. None of the four are members of the Axis of Evil (so far), and none of them have been threatened with a military attack (yet).

It also is a pretty good indicator that at least some in the world agree that members of the current administration have committed crimes as defined by international law. I just wish that more members of the 100th Congress felt that way.


Racist Fiction Poisons Your Beautiful Mind

Some stereotypes that I have encountered about our immigrant communities have been proved so wrong that I forget even rational people can hear them so many times that they begin to think they're true. As in the recent debacle about some media stating that al Quaeda was destabilizing Iraq before we made war there, there are statements that take hold and don't get enough attention that poison our minds. It's time to spread the truth.

Today I was glad to see a local columnist take on a piece of fiction that I know isn't true, but which she had been finding people spouting as if it were. The fiction; that illegals are draining our funds.

Illegal immigration continues to be a very emotional issue in many U.S. communities, where the impact on schools and hospitals is most felt.

Daily, I get e-mail from readers who complain that illegal immigrants do not pay their fair share of taxes and are a drain on the system.

So I decided to take a look at just where some of the money goes. Several major studies at the national and state levels have been released that show illegal immigrant workers contribute to our economy far more than they take from it.
A 1997 report from the National Academies of Science, for example, found that immigrant workers had contributed about $30 billion into the Social Security and Medicare systems by 1996.

The majority of these workers will never claim any of it.

And a report last year by the Texas state comptroller found that the state's estimated 1.4 million undocumented workers paid the state $1.58 billion in taxes and fees in 2005.

Conversely, immigrants cost Texas about $1.16 billion in public services, such as health care and education, the report showed.

Now comes new research from Dr. David Molina, an economics professor at the University of North Texas, who has followed the money in this issue and has found some surprising results.
Dr. Molina has sifted through federal documents and papers in search of the
Earnings Suspense File. That's where money from mismatched Social Security numbers has been going since at least 1986, he said."This is not even remotely new," he said, and "it's created this huge fund for Social Security. The federal government has been making buckets of money off it."

He estimates at least 250 million records are contained in the ESF. "My guess is that there's about $150 billion to $200 billion in it, and they know no one is going to claim it." Meanwhile, health care leaders, such as Dr. Ron Anderson at Parkland Memorial Hospital, have long complained that it should be coming back to the states to help offset some of the growing health care demands placed on them.

Instead, it remains at the federal level, and local and state governments end up carrying the burden, Dr. Molina said.

The kind of funds that the government has quietly been accumulating from our dreaded illegals could go a long way toward paying for, say, health care for all of us.

Another fiction that was disproved not too long ago is that crime is high in immigrant communities. Not so.

Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, according to a study released Monday by a UC Irvine professor for the
Immigration Policy Center, based in Washington D.C.

UCI sociology professor Ruben Rumbaut found that immigrants of all national backgrounds were incarcerated at much lower rates than their American-born counterparts, according to the 2000 Census. The numbers applied to both legal and illegal immigrants.

His study also described a precipitous drop in crime rates nationwide throughout recent years – a period during which immigration has been at all-time record high. "While immigration is going up, crime is going down," Rumbaut said. "I think it's important to get the facts out there."

The facts can make a great deal of difference in attitude toward immigrants, illegal and not, but those facts are seldom presented. Instead, we hear radical anti-immigrant emotions squawking the opposite of what is true, in the press and on call-in shows, and in comments on blogs. It would be a good idea, whenever we see and hear them, if we countered them with reality.

Lies take us into unjust wars. They can also make things very hard on the innocent. Esteem for reality makes us better people. Please held spread the truth.


Some Are Welcome ...

...Others, not so much.

While residents threatened by wildfires in San Diego Country scrambled to pack cars and evacuate, there were some people not fortunate enough to get to a safe place. Many of them were migrants from Mexico, here illegally and therefore apt to want to stay as invisible as possible. That invisibility has cost at least four of them their lives. In one of the more bitter ironies of this wholesale tragedy is that one of those unfortunates was found by his countrymen who were here to assist in the fire fighting efforts. From an article in today's Los Angeles Times:

Santana and his fellow crew members are bomberos from Tijuana, Mexico, among the first contingent of firefighters to come north to fight a major blaze. The team of about 40 is assigned to the Harris fire, near the border in San Diego County.

Their grim discovery Thursday was an eerie reminder of what others in their country are willing to risk for a new life in the U.S.

"It's the consequences of the United States being a First World country and that Mexico is not," Santana said Friday. "It's sad."

"He's not the first one and he's not going to be the last one that is going to be found," fellow bombero Jose Manuel Villarreal Salgado recalled thinking.

Sure enough, three other bodies, all believed to be those of illegal immigrants, were found by the U.S. Border Patrol farther down the road.

One of the firefighters blamed Mexico for the waves of workers entering the US illegally.

"It's a Mexican problem because they cannot provide stable jobs and good wages for the workers," Salgado said. "Mexico has the capacity to help and they don't. Government officials just stuff their pockets with our money." [Emphasis added]

Sound familiar?

Another of the fire fighters, however, had a different assessment:

Santana argued that Americans profit on the backs of Latino laborers. But the Mexicans, he said, do not always benefit; they cannot always send enough money back to their families.

I suspect both gentlemen are correct. Neither nation has taken the steps to solve the immigration dilemma, and the results, while not as dramatic and shocking as the wildfire, are just as devastating.

The assistance of the Tijuana bomberos was desperately needed and certainly welcomed. It was also very gracious, given the rhetoric against their compatriots they surely must have heard over the past several years. When the fire is contained, they will return home. So will some of their countrymen, only without any fanfare.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday Catblogging

These two kitties are lost and can be found at the Los Angeles shelter at

You can go to the site and view all the lost animals.

Hope that you find one that either you lost, or you would like to find.


Project Innocence Wins Another Release of an Innocent Man.

Two very big events happened today. In Dallas, a man was released who had served too much time (although any time is too much) for a crime he did not commit.

In Georgia, a man who was convicted of oral sex with a minor, while he was a minor himself, was released.

A man exonerated by DNA evidence was ordered released from incarceration Friday.

Eugene Ivory Henton was exonerated of a 1984 sexual assualt after DNA evidence showed he was not the perpetrator. He accepted a plea bargain and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

He was released from prison but later jailed on drug and assault convictions. His past wrongful conviction led to harsher punishments on those convictions.

Tarrant County, earlier this year, reduced his sentence to time served for a drug possession with intent to deliver conviction. Judge Lana Myers reduced Mr. Henton's sentence on a aggravated assault charge to 10 years, which he has served.

The Innocence Project, which worked to exonerate Mr. Henton, said he struggled after his release on the sexual assault charge and could not find work and tried to earn money selling drugs.
Judge Myers ordered Mr. Henton to be released "as soon as possible." It was unclear how soon that would be.

A criminal justice system that continuously sends innocent people to jail for large portions of their lives seems to be ending with the use of DNA.

Today also, the Georgia Supreme Court took note of the trend away from cruel and unusual, and much too often unjust punishment. It freed a man convicted of a crime for having oral sex with a consenting minor, as a minor himself.

Wilson was convicted in 2005 of having oral sex with a consenting 15-year-old girl when he was 17.

He has served two years in prison.
The Georgia high court upheld the decision of the Monroe County judge. In a 48-page opinion, the court said the "severe" punishment Wilson received and his mandated sex offender registration make "no measurable contribution to acceptable goals of punishment."

Other examples abound.

Willie "Pete" Williams had no idea when he was pulled over by police that the criminal justice system was about to steal away half his life.

Willie "Pete" Williams, 45, spent half of his life behind bars for a 1985 rape he did not commit.
Earlier this year, after DNA science proved his innocence, the 45-year-old with a graying mustache stood again before a judge -- who this time exonerated Williams.

The accumulating number of people freed from jail because of evidence overlooked at their trials, combined with DNA evidence, has led the Dallas Morning News to call for an end to the death sentence.

A man who spent a dozen years in prison for a rape he didn't commit was freed Tuesday, the third inmate to be released because of problems with the Houston Police Department's crime lab.
During his trial, a crime lab analyst testified that no body fluids were found on the victim's bedsheet. This summer, the Innocence Project paid to have a New Orleans lab retest the bedsheet. Semen that lab found matched the DNA of a man already in prison.

Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal apologized to Taylor in court Tuesday, and several council members echoed his regret.

All of these were black men, which I expect you knew while you were reading this far. Our prisons are full of people who were wrongly convicted, and much more care needs to be taken in charging and sentencing. We know with a sinking sensation that before DNA was brought into the proceedings, innocent people died because of their inability to win against a stacked legal system.

Project Innocence has made large incursions into the justice system. Its proceedings need to be incorporated into that system, and used for real justice's sake.

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Oh, Blackwater!

Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice has had to face some tough questions (and a Code Pink protestor) on the Hill this week.I have a hunch there are even tougher questions that could be asked in light of some emails that ABC News has obtained about her department's cover-up of a Blackwater incident from two years ago. An article in today's Los Angeles Times describes the content of some of those emails.

Even as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended her department's oversight of private security contractors, new evidence surfaced Thursday that the U.S. sought to conceal details of Blackwater shootings of Iraqi civilians more than two years ago.

In one instance, internal e-mails show that State Department officials tried to deflect a 2005 Los Angeles Times inquiry into an alleged killing of an Iraqi civilian by Blackwater guards. ...

One department official taking part in a chain of e-mails noted that the "findings of the investigation are to remain off-limits to the reporter." Another recommended that there be no mention of the existence of a criminal investigation since such a reference would "raise questions and issues."

Of course knowledge of such an investigation would "would raise questions and issues," all of which could have and should have been addressed two years ago. Instead, the State Department chose to cover up the issue, a hallmark of this administration. As a result, the Blackwater thugs continued out of control and innocent Iraqi civilians continued to be gunned down.

Heckuva job, Condi.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thursday Birdblogging

Tower of London edition of Raven, your special for the coming Holiday, Halloween.

This from,GGLG:2005-23,GGLG:en%26sa%3DN

And now for seasonal raven poetry.

Edgar Allan Poe
The Raven
[First published in 1845]

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.'

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore -
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
`'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door -
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; -
This it is, and nothing more,'

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,' said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you' - here I opened wide the door; -
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!'
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!'
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,' said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
'Tis the wind and nothing more!'

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door -
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door -
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning - little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door -
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as `Nevermore.'

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered - not a feather then he fluttered -
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before -
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.'
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.'

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,' said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore -
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of "Never-nevermore."'

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore -
What this grim, ungainly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking `Nevermore.'

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,' I cried, `thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he has sent thee
Respite - respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -
On this home by horror haunted - tell me truly, I implore -
Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore -
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!' I shrieked upstarting -
`Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! - quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!


Give Us Your White, Your Anglos, Your Protestants - the Rest, Forgeddaboudit

The occupied White House has disengaged itself thoroughly from any pretense that it is acting on principal. It has now come out against measures that were its own, and that it espoused, until they were taken up by a Congress that it can't control.

The latest, the DREAM act, actually incorporated measures the cabal had promoted in its own immigration reforms.

Previously, in vetoing SCHIP, the cretin in chief denied his own promised health insurance for millions of kids.

Even the WaPo editorial board choked on this latest lie.

The Dream Act, sponsored by Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), would have addressed a small but especially deserving fraction of the estimated 12 million people in this country illegally. Those who entered the country before age 16, lived here for at least five years and graduated from high school with unblemished records could obtain conditional legal status for six years. During that period, they would have to spend at least two years in college or the military. Only then would they qualify to become legal permanent residents.

In its policy statement yesterday, the administration asserted that it was "sympathetic" to the plight of these young people but insisted that the measure "falls short" because it would create "a special path to citizenship that is unavailable to other prospective immigrants -- including young people whose parents respected the nation's immigration laws." Of course, the administration-backed comprehensive immigration reform measure, which failed earlier this year, also provided for special, expedited treatment of young people in this category.[Emphasis added.]

Kids don't vote, and neither do illegal immigrants, so the war criminals can play this one against its increasingly alienated racist core. What is gained? Another talking point about Congressional lack of achievement. Add to that, the abysmally racist element is pleased, I guess, but not fooled.

That the highest offices of this land have been used for purely political purposes for the past two terms cannot make even the most cynical GoPervs happy. The public has not been blinded by the lies, and the public is seeing the huge gap between rhetoric and action very clearly.

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Our Ms. Brooks: Commit Them

It's Thursday, which means this week's Rosa Brooks column is up in the Los Angeles Times, and our hero is quite shrill this week.

Forget impeachment.

Liberals, put it behind you. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney shouldn't be treated like criminals who deserve punishment. They should be treated like psychotics who need treatment.

Because they've clearly gone mad. Exhibit A: We're in the middle of a disastrous war in Iraq, the military and political situation in Afghanistan is steadily worsening, and the administration's interrogation and detention tactics have inflamed anti-Americanism and fueled extremist movements around the globe. Sane people, confronting such a situation, do their best to tamp down tensions, rebuild shattered alliances, find common ground with hostile parties and give our military a little breathing space. But crazy people? They look around and decide it's a great time to start another war.

That would be with Iran, and you'd have to be deaf not to hear the war drums. Last week, Bush remarked that "if you're interested in avoiding World War III . . . you ought to be interested in preventing [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon." On Sunday, Cheney warned of "the Iranian regime's efforts to destabilize the Middle East and to gain hegemonic power . . . [we] cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its most aggressive ambitions." On Tuesday, Bush insisted on the need "to defend Europe against the emerging Iranian threat."

Huh? Iran is now a major threat to Europe? The Iranians are going to launch a nuclear missile (that they don't yet possess) against Europe (for reasons unknown because, as far as we know, they're not mad at anyone in Europe)? This is lunacy in action. ...

The U.S. is full of ordinary people with serious forms of mental illness -- delusional people with violent fantasies who think they're the president, or who think they get instructions from the CIA through their dental fillings.

The problem with Bush is that he is the president -- and he gives instructions to the CIA and military, without having to go through his dental fillings.

Now, Ms. Brooks is wrong about the US Constitution not providing for situations such as this: a sitting President can be removed if it is found that (s)he is medically incapacitated. Presumably so can a Vice President. She is, however, right about a possible solution to our problem:

If a "court or jury finds that [a] person is mentally ill and . . . is likely to injure himself or other persons if allowed to remain at liberty, the court may order his hospitalization."

That works for me.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Assistance for California

A site for assistance to the firefighters and victims.

The California Fire Foundation

A non-profit public benefit organization

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”
-- C.S. Lewis

The California Fire Foundation was created as a way to recognize the courage of firefighters, and the perseverance and sacrifice of fire victims. Formed in 1987 by California Professional Firefighters, the California Fire Foundation’s mandate includes an array of public education and victim assistance projects:

California Firefighters Memorial. Design, build and maintain a memorial to fallen firefighters at the State Capitol in Sacramento. The Foundation is the official recipient organization for proceeds from state license plate and tax check-off funds earmarked for the Memorial.

Firefighter Families. Organize special funds to provide emergency assistance to families of firefighters killed in the line of duty.

Victim Assistance. Provide a resource center to assist victims and families devastated by fire and other major disasters, and organize a special fund to provide emergency assistance to fire victims.

Public Education. Provide information about fire safety and the toxic effect of fires and conduct public outreach and education about fires and fire safety.

The California Fire Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit charitable organization, operated by California Professional Firefighters, and headquartered in Sacramento, California.




(800) 890-3213



Fire Losses May Overwhelm Insurance Industry But Not Their Excuses

Anyone who's already made the comparison of California wildfires to the Katrina disaster, probably also has had a little suspicion that more disaster will follow. The insurance claims rejections after Katrina took the grounds that the policies didn't cover floods, and named anything they possibly could just flood damage. No, there wasn't a flood, but it fit the companies' needs so they invented one.

What will be the grounds for denying claims after the wildfires? I suspect some grounds will be arson. Who's insured for arson? And if your house was about to be repossessed, as so many California homes are, I suspect your fire damage might well be viewed as suspicious.

The insurance industry's plight has already begun to attract attention at the financial pages in the media.

Right now, thousands of dislocated Southern California homeowners are fretting about the fate of their residences, but the biggest headaches could come months after the wildfires ravaging the area are extinguished.

Consumer advocates warn that insurance firms could take a hard line with their policyholders in the wake of the wildfire disaster, by skimping on claim payments or going so far as to refuse to write new policies altogether.
At least for now, most consumers should not fear getting dropped by their insurance company. Under California law, insurance companies are required to renew their homeowner policies at least once if they live in a declared federal disaster area. After that term expires, insurers may then drop their clients.

Earlier Tuesday, President Bush declared seven California counties disaster areas.

In the end, some consumers may get dropped, warns Amy Bach, executive director of the California-based consumer group United Policyholders, which deals primarily with the insurance industry.

But, she added, even if some firms cut back in California, others may well step in. "Hopefully the market will [eventually] stabilize," said Bach.

The concept of insurance originally was shared costs for damages, with those who incurred losses making claims on the fund for repairs. The insurance industry instead has grown into a vast investment fund for shareholders. Denying claims, as the movie "Sicko" brought into sharp focus, is seen as loss control - not the purpose of taking out insurance.

The industry is making policies increasingly less desirable in all fields, and in healthcare particularly. Almost 50% of all bankruptcies result from losses to insured parties with medical problems.

Building in disaster prone areas has long been a drain on public funds, as floods, storms and fires have called for rescue. This may be a time to end public support for preventable disaster losses. We may soon be facing this necessity. Homeowners in California have a lot more facing them.

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Jonathan Turley Gets It

Jonathan Turley's op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times should be mandatory reading for the Senate Judiciary Committee and for all the other senators as well. Mr. Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, makes the case that Michael Mukasey, President Bush's nominee to head the Justice Department, should not but probably will be confirmed as Attorney General. And he places the blame for this shameful state of affairs directly where it belongs: on Senate Democrats.

For Mr. Turley, and for many of us appalled and shamed by the use of torture by American authorities, the key moment in the confirmation hearings came when Mr. Mukasey was directly asked about the use of "water boarding."

The senators pushed Mukasey to go beyond the Bush administration mantra. He refused and then said something that made many of us who were listening gasp: "I don't know what is involved in the technique," he said.

There are only two explanations for this answer, either of which should compel the senators to vote against confirmation. The first is that Mukasey is the most ill-informed nominee in the history of this republic. Torture, and water-boarding in particular, is one of the top issues facing the Justice Department, the subject of numerous lawsuits and one of the most obvious, predictable topics at the hearing. It has been discussed literally thousands of times in the media during the last six years. To say he is unfamiliar with the technique is perhaps the single greatest claim of ignorance since Clarence Thomas testified at his confirmation that he really had not thought enough about abortion to have an opinion on the subject.

The second possibility is, unfortunately, the more likely explanation: Mukasey is lying.

What shocks Mr. Turley, and what should shock all of us, is that Mr. Mukasey's answer doesn't seem to bother the Democrats on the committee.

...Democratic leaders are still supporting the nominee as if torture is some marginal or ambiguous question. Even Democrats such as Chuck Schumer, who have been vocal in their criticism of the use of torture, have showered Mukasey with compliments for his "independence," as if an independent mind means that one no longer needs a moral backbone. It seems that with polls running against the GOP, Democrats hope to win the World Series without ever leaving the dugout: They want to denounce torture but won't expend the political capital it would take to fight a time-consuming and risky confirmation battle.

...This confirmation vote should be about torture. It is truly a defining issue, not just of the meaning of torture but of the very character of our country. It is the issue that distinguishes a nation fighting for the rule of law from a nation that is a threat to it. If members of the Senate consider torture to be immoral, they must vote against Mukasey.
[Emphasis added]

Sadly, if the past 10 months are any indication of Democratic leadership, Mr. Mukasey will be confirmed, and quickly.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Safer Kitties

In case of fire, please, you want one of these on your window.



Terrorism Charges Don't Hold Up But DOJ Won't Let Go

The mind-numbingly confused episode in District Judge Fish's courtroom that he declared a mistrial was worse than simply incoherence. In declaring a mistrial, the judge allows the charges to be brought again, and tried again, at huge public expense.

Charges brought are that the Holy Land Foundation was channeling money to Hamas. The proof included unnamed Israeli secret agents (the accused has the right to know who his accuser is in U.S. courts), bumperstickers and keychains with Hamas symbols found in offices where the Holy Land Foundation funds were directed, pre-1995 (when Hamas was declared a terrorist organization) donations to charitable Middle Eastern organizations (that fed the hungry and helped with living expenses and other such monstrous acts in addition to Hamas activities) - which did not convince the jury.

Hate acts similar to Anne Coulter's saying Jews need to be "perfected" seems to be the criminal standard in this trial. In its editorial deploring this acquital, the Dallas Morning News cites a video of one of the accused appearing in a skit that featured chanting "Death to Jews is precious". Not very nice, true enough. I don't like being told I'm a honky who persecutes non-white Americans, either, but when I hear "death to honkies" I guess I just don't see it as plotting a serious terrorist activity.

Going overboard is something I grew up with in a redneck home, and I've heard 'the only good nigger is a dead nigger' from people I owed respect. There are boundaries we all should stay within but don't always. Should I now be tried as a terrorist sympathizer for saying the charges brought by our government were overblown and simply wrong, and the prosecution should do something productive rather than blow them all up again?

The government is declaring it will bring those charges again, and try the case again, which is almost as much of a waste of time and money as the first few trials, all of them unsuccessful, in which our rightwing Justice Department now claims it has a victory in that it froze funds that otherwise would have freed up Hamas funds from its charitable works. Sorry, I'm not seeing the dancing in the streets because banks collected some extra interest on Holy Land Foundation Funds while Hamas used other funds to do its good works.

Dennis Lormel, who created the FBI's Terrorist Financing Operations Section and is now a terrorism consultant, said the collapse of the trial is a blow, but far from a death knell for similar cases.

"Obviously, it's a disappointment," he said. "But this should have no effect on the overall war on terror or terrorism financing. Regardless of the guilt or innocence, that charity was used to provide Hamas with funding. The government already won in this case, in that this charity's assets were frozen and that kept them from sending more money. At trial, your standard is different, and they didn't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt."

Before retrying the case, prosecutors "need to ask jurors why they reached the decisions they did, and assess their performance," he said.

Counterterrorism expert Fred Burton, vice president for counterterrorism and corporate security at Austin-based Stratfor, a private intelligence firm, said it's best to view the prosecution as part of a disruption strategy. The verdict didn't come out as hoped, but "you have in essence tied this organization up in knots for a long time."

"Even though it may not be viewed as a success on the front page of the paper, behind the doors in Washington it will be," he said.

The failure to secure convictions on the most serious terrorism support charges comes on the heels of two high-stakes losses in other similar terrorism financing cases.

Earlier this year, an Illinois jury acquitted a Chicago-area businessman on charges that he and a co-defendant aided Palestinian terrorists. Two years earlier, a Florida professor also was found not guilty on similar terrorism-support charges, and the jury deadlocked on other charges. [Emphasis added.]

When this bunch of winger activist at "Justice" uses all the public funds it wants to to pursue an organization that has not been involved in direct terrorism, and probably not even indirect, but cuts off funds to actual homeland security activities like local police and community help, we need to be putting them on trial, not non-white charities. New Orleans is being left to rot, the law is broken so that fences can be thrown up in Arizona ((see Diane's post), but our funds are being thrown at ludicrous charges against the Holy Land Foundation.

Some 'perfecting' seems to be the least we can do about this wastrel bunch that chooses laws to ignore and tries to persuade the public it's got the goods on us terroristic sympathiser types.

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Does Not Play Well With Others

The Secretary of Homeland Security, like his boss, apparently doesn't believe in either the rule of law or the seperation of powers, both key to American Democracy. That much is clear from this report in the NY Times:

Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, waived several environmental laws yesterday to continue building a border fence through a national conservation area in Arizona, bypassing a federal court ruling that had suspended the fence construction.

Citing “unacceptable risks to our nation’s security” if the fence along the border with Mexico was further delayed, Mr. Chertoff invoked waiver authority granted him under a 2005 bill that mandated construction of the fence.

He ordered work to continue on 6.9 miles of fence along the border through the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in Cochise County in southeastern Arizona.
[Emphasis added]

In a stance quite typical of this administration, Mr. Chertoff has decided that he need not follow any inconvenient rulings on the issue, even if one of those rulings came from a federal judge.

In a ruling on Oct. 10, Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle of the federal court for the District of Columbia held up construction of the fence, finding that the government had failed to carry out the required environmental assessment. The decision came in a suit brought by the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife.

In a statement yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security said it “disagrees with the court’s ruling” and was confident of eventually winning the case. It noted that two federal land management agencies had authorized the department to proceed with the fence.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Chertoff might very well win the case, but it's generally considered necessary to let the appellate process play out. That's how the rule of law works. Mr. Chertoff apparently believes, as does his boss, that law is for the little people. His job is to stop pesky illegal immigrants from breaching the borders, because, as we all know (Terra!Terra!Terra!), that is how the 9/11 miscreants entered the US.

I hope Judge Huvell has the ovaries to slap a contempt of court charge on one of the real terrorists in this country.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Judging The Justices

There was a fascinating op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times in which the authors, Thomas J. Miles and Cass R. Sunstein (both of whom teach at the University of Chicago Law School), evaluate the U.S. Supreme Court from the standpoint of judicial activism vs judicial restraint. Because both Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito are both new to the Court and have made too few decisions to look at, they were not included in the authors' survey. Their conclusions, while not all that surprising, were still interesting.

First, their methodology:

... we examined all cases in which members of the court, using settled principles, evaluated the legality of important decisions by federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Labor Relations Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Food and Drug Administration.

We used clear and simple tests to code the decisions of these agencies as either "liberal" or "conservative." For example, we counted an environmental regulation as "liberal" if it was challenged by industry as too aggressive, or as "conservative" if it was challenged by an environmental group as too lax. ...

We used equally simple tests to code the decisions of the justices. If a member of the court voted to uphold conservative and liberal agency decisions at the same rate, we deemed him "neutral," in the sense that his voting patterns showed no political tilt. If a justice showed such a tilt, we deemed him "partisan." If a justice regularly voted in favor of agencies, we deemed him "restrained," because he proved willing to accept the decisions of another branch of government. If a justice was unusually willing to vote against agencies, we deemed him "activist," in the literal sense that he frequently used judicial power to strike down decisions of another branch.

OK, that seems fair enough, given the parameters of the study. Now, here are the results:

The Judicial Neutrality Award, for blind justice, goes to Justice Anthony Kennedy. From Kennedy's voting patterns, we are unable to detect even the slightest political tilt. He upholds liberal and conservative decisions at an identical rate -- slightly more than two-thirds of the time. Justice David H. Souter, a fellow GOP appointee, is the runner-up.

Justice Clarence Thomas is the winner of the Partisan Voting Award for the most politically skewed voting pattern. When the agency decision is conservative, Thomas votes in its favor 84% of the time. But when the agency decision is liberal, Thomas votes in its favor merely 38% of the time -- a remarkable 46% swing.

Partisan voting can be found among some of the court's more liberal members as well. Justice John Paul Stevens is the runner-up -- with a 40% swing. When the agency decision is conservative, he votes in its favor 46% of the time; when it's liberal, his validation rate soars to 86%. Stevens' partisan voting rate is nearly the mirror image of Thomas'.

The Judicial Restraint Award, for the most humble exercise of judicial power, goes to Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Overall, he votes to uphold agency decisions more than four-fifths of the time. Notably, Breyer votes to uphold conservative decisions 64% of the time.

The Judicial Activism Award, for aggressive use of judicial power, goes to a most surprising winner: Justice Antonin Scalia. He upholds agency decisions only about half the time. This is an impressively low number. Under established principles, to which all members of the court subscribe, agencies are supposed to get the benefit of the doubt.

According to our tallies, the remaining justices were neither distinctively neutral nor distinctively partisan. Former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was almost as neutral as Kennedy and Souter. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's votes had a liberal tilt, but not as much as Stevens', and the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist's votes had a conservative tilt, but not as much as Thomas' or Scalia's.
[Emphasis added]

Most of the results didn't particularly surprise me, although Justice Breyer as the most restrained did cause me to blink. Of course, with two new justices, next year's study (and I hope the authors repeat it) should be even more interesting as we see the results of Mr. Bush's selections.

In the mean time, I'm looking forward to the next time someone from the reich wing makes a comment about "damned judicial activists."


SMU Threat Remains At Liebury Site.

The Liebury is still tangled in conflict while the occupier of the White House keeps his heels firmly dug into the ground on the issue of letting the public have records that he claims as his private property. At SMU, meanwhile, professors and church officials are still trying to keep the dreaded obscenity away from their school.

The waiting game for the Bush library to be officially awarded to SMU has turned into something of a punch line for school President Gerald Turner.

"A business leader recently told me that every major deal he ever made was within two weeks of completion – five or six times," Dr. Turner told the SMU faculty in August.

Then this month, asked again when an announcement would come, he responded, tongue-in-cheek: "We're about two weeks away."

Southern Methodist University launched its campaign for the George W. Bush Presidential Library five years ago. It beat out other competitors to become the sole finalist in December. Since then, campus leaders have said they expect to hear from the White House within weeks or months or "very soon" that SMU will indeed host the library.

A lead architect has been named, and the library has even been mentioned in a recent job posting by the school. But still, no announcement.
The Faculty Senate passed a resolution this semester urging more openness on presidential records. An executive order issued by Mr. Bush in 2001 allows presidents since Ronald Reagan to protect documents from public release indefinitely.

SMU professors say the issue isn't being debated as fervently these days.

"They have pretty much stopped talking about it with a sense of resignation," history professor Kathleen Wellman said, adding that people assume "it's a done deal."

There are professors on campus who support the project, but others say they dread a library on campus for such an unpopular president whose administration has approved domestic wiretapping and imprisonment without habeas corpus rights.

Meanwhile, some Methodists are seeking to overturn a church decision that allows the library and institute to be built on SMU land. A petition has been circulated opposing the project.

"The president says this [institute] is to promote his values and his policies. ... Breaching the Geneva Convention is not a Methodist value," said the Rev. Andrew Weaver, who's led the opposition.
In College Station, neighbors took Texas A&M University to federal court in early 1996 over plans to relocate a swine farm with hundreds of pigs near their homes to make room for the elder George Bush library.

A pig farm would certainly be a more desirable facility, but the smell of cash seems to be leading SMU's president away from his school's best interests.

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Dejas Vu

Here we go again.

The White House is offering statements that sound remarkably like those that issued from late 2002 into early 2003. Back then the statements were about Iraq. These days it's Iran. An article in the NY Times describes the current salvos fired by the cowboys in charge.

Vice President Dick Cheney, ratcheting up the administration’s warnings to Iran, today branded that country’s government “a growing obstacle to peace in the Middle East” and declared that United States and its allies “will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”

...his most serious comments were aimed squarely at Iran, which he accused of being “the world’s most active sponsor of state terrorism.” Experts at the conference said the vice president’s language, while stopping short of threatening military action, seemed designed to prepare Americans for what the administration might do if Iran did not cooperate. “The language on Iran is quite significant,” said Dennis Ross, who served as a Middle East envoy for both the first President Bush and in the Clinton administration, and is now a scholar at The Washington Institute. Referring to Mr. Cheney’s remark about “serious consequences,” Mr. Ross said, adding that it was a strong statement and that “does have implications.”

Is the White House preparing us for a war with Iran? Probably not, at least not a full-scale war. We don't have the army for it. It, like Iraq, has been broken by the current debacle and I suspect it will take years to recover. What I suspect the White House has in mind are a few "surgical strikes" on targets such as the suspected nuclear development sites and perhaps a few military installations close to the Iraq border.

The result, of course, will be more shock than awe, especially in the world at large. Russia and Iran, along with the other Caspian Sea nations, have already issued a declaration that any military activity against Iran will not be tolerated. Europe, while it may agree to ratchet up the sanctions on Iran because of the nuclear issue, will certainly not support another war in that volatile region. And Middle East countries will be hard pressed to convince their people that this isn't just another attack on Islam by the Great Satan.

It's hard to see an up side for another such adventure, but that apparently never enters into this administration's calculus. And, given the recent spinelessness in the 110th Congress, the White House just might get away with another war.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sunday Poetry: Leo Yankevich

No Flowers, No Doves

When we entered the burning city

charred corpses greeted us.

A child's hand dangled from a scorched tree

and the twisted wreckage of a bus

mocked the stillness of the sky.

Gunner gagged, Ski scratched his head,

neither understanding why

he had to liberate the dead.

Leo Yankevich

(This poem was published at War Poetry.)

A New Third Rail For Governors

New York Governor Elliot Spitzer has found a new way to ruffle feathers in his state. He recently announced that New York should and would issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. He didn't bother warning the legislature about the announcement so even Democrats were taken by surprise. The howling must have been audible to all but the heaviest of California sleepers, according to this editorial in today's NY Times.

In an effort to make New York’s highways safer, Gov. Eliot Spitzer has stepped in the middle of a bitter national argument about immigration. Opposition to the governor’s plan to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants — from New York legislators, presidential candidates and even some in the news media — has ranged from skeptical warnings to something close to demagoguery. What is getting lost in all the fury is that Mr. Spitzer’s plan is actually a practical step to make the state and the streets safer.

The nation is badly in need of immigration reform, but that reform must come from Washington. What governors can do in the meantime is to make the best of a badly flawed system. In this case, Mr. Spitzer is trying to make certain there is a safe driver behind the wheel of every car. That is no small matter. More than 40,000 people die in car crashes in the United States every year, more than 3,000 of them in New York State. ...

Critics of Mr. Spitzer’s plan are trying to paint it as a threat to national security. But as the governor outlined in a speech on Friday, there are important ways in which the opposite is true. His plan would give faces and addresses to many of the one million people who are not here legally, who live in the shadows. It would also make it vastly more difficult for someone to get more than one license. Richard Clarke, an adviser under the last four presidents, mostly on national security issues, has said that making driver’s licenses available to immigrants regardless of their legal status would promote security because “it is far preferable for the state to know who is living in it and driving on its roads."
[Emphasis added]

I think the editorialist and Gov. Spitzer are absolutely correct on this issue. There is a legitimate state interest in making certain that those behind the wheel of a car know what they're doing and have proved it. As to the issue of identifying residents of a state for security reasons, perhaps the federal government should be the one to take the lead, but, sadly, neither the last nor this Congress have done anything to accomplish decent and humane immigration reform, so the states have once again had to step in.

Nicely done, Gov. Spitzer.

I suspect that his legislature will be slapping him around for this rather audacious move, but at least the issue will be confronted.


Oddness Abounds

Mercury is retrograde: that is, I suppose, as good an explanation as any for some of the downright weird stuff that I've been reading in newspapers lately. This morning provides a perfect example. George Will has written a column entitled "Separation of Powers," which I read in today's Sacramento Bee.

Mr. Will is not exactly my favorite columnist, but occasionally I cut him a break because he is an ardent baseball fan. When I saw the headline for today's column I decided to actually read what he had to say. I'm still scratching my head. Apparently Mr. Will is opposed to the line-item veto on constitutional grounds, which is an opinion I happen to share. It's a violation of the 'presentment clause', which talks about Congress presenting a bill to the president who must either sign "it" or veto "it." The Constitution does not provide for partial vetoes.

Here's Mr. Will's analysis on why the line-item veto is a bad idea:

...were a president empowered to cancel provisions of legislation, what he would be doing would be indistinguishable from legislating. He would be making, rather than executing, laws and the separation of powers would be violated. ...

Realistically, the line-item veto probably would be pertinent to less than 20 percent of the budget. And the line-item veto might result in increased spending. Legislators could get credit for putting in what presidents would be responsible for taking out. And presidents might use the pork for bargaining, saying to individual legislators: If you support me, I won't veto the bike path you named for your Aunt Emma.

Well, true enough. It's hard to disagree with that analysis. But, I would remind you, that was written by a conservative and written during a presidential campaign in which several of the leading Republican contenders are trying to outdo each other in proclaiming the need for the line-item veto.

Here, however, is where it really gets weird:

After a century of the growth of presidential power, and after eight years of especially aggressive assertions of presidential prerogatives, it would be unseemly to intensify this tendency with a line-item veto.

Good grief! Has the president even lost George Will?

Maybe in his next column Mr. Will could provide an analysis of the constitutionality of signing statements. Then I would really be convinced that the End Times approach.