Bonus Critter Blogging: Bald Eagle
(photo by Michael Melford and published at National Geographic)
A place for a tired old woman to try to figure things out so that the world makes a bit of sense.
Labels: The Unitary President
Labels: Free Press
Labels: Supreme Court
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)
Labels: Cut and Run
Labels: Homeland Security
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.
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.
Labels: Iraq War
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.
Labels: Humane Treatment of Animals
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.”
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.
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.
Labels: Supreme Court
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.
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.
Labels: Stem Cell Research
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.
Labels: Voter Fraud
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.
Labels: Humane Treatment of Animals
Labels: Justice Department
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.
Labels: Veterans' Administration
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.
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.
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.
Labels: The Unitary President