Friday, December 28, 2007

Lost and Found

Sometimes I lose my faith in humanity.

I suspect anyone reading this will have already heard about the killings in Carnation, WA a couple days ago, where a woman and her boyfriend first killed the woman's parents, then for an encore when the woman's brother showed up with his family while the murderer's were hiding the original pair of corpses, they shot him, his wife, their six-year-old daughter and three-year-old son.

Six bodies, two of them two young to really understand what was occurring, all for reasons which remain unclear, although apparently a money dispute between the woman and her brother may have been involved.

How do you cold-bloodedly put a bullet into the head of a six-year old? A three-year-old? Especially children you have likely known, hugged ... perhaps just given a Christmas present to a short time before? How do people ever get to a point where this seems like a good decision?

Then there is this story about how a group of Panamanians spent their Christmas voluntarily searching through the mountains for a small plane crash, persevering in horrid weather that caused most searchers to turn back. They were fortunate enough to find the wreckage, along with the 12-year-old girl who had miraculously survived.

While most of the group stayed with the girl, helping keep her warm and awake, one brother made his way back down mountains, in the dark, the cold, the winds, the rain, returning with more help at dawn to extract the girl from the plane, after which the group spent five more hours struggling to move her to a location where a helicopter could airlift her out.

All for someone they had never met, never known.

I find my faith in humanity restored.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Joyous Kwanza, Happy Boxing Day

Since x4mr was nice enough to provide us a thorough overview of the origins of Christmas, I thought I would provide a similar (but much less thorough) introduction to a pair of Dec. 26 traditions.

I'm not sure if Kwanzaa really merits the term "tradition" yet though, as it was created from scratch just four decades ago. Dr. Ron Karenga, an activist in the civil rights movement of the 1960's, invented the festival as a means of uniting different African American cultures and celebrating their heritage. The festival begins Dec. 26 and runs for a week, concluding on Jan. 1.

The name of the festival derives from the Swahili word "matunda ya kwanza", meaning "first fruits". The extra 'a' was purportedly added to the original Swahili term in order to give the name of the festival seven letters - one for each of the seven principles of Kwanzaa: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith).

Kwanzaa is intended to be celebrated in addition to, rather than in lieu of, other traditional festivals of the season (such as Christmas or Hanukkah).

Boxing Day, on the other hand, has a much more established tradition within Commonwealth Nations, the tradition dating back to at least the middle ages. On the day after Christmas, lords, business owners, etc., would distribute gifts to their servants or employees, although the origin of the name itself seems unclear.

The day is celebrated differently (and named differently) in different nations of the Commonwealth. Some treat it as a national holiday, in some retailers are closed while in others it's a traditional day for big holiday sales and so on. In general, though, it's another excuse to eat lots of food and watch lots of sports (soccer in Britain, hockey in Canada, cricket in Australia, etc.) ... and, really, what more could one hope for on a day off?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Greenspan, Rand and Reality

NY Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman has a piece up today the housing bubble. I found it an interesting read, particularly this passage discussing Ayn Rand's influence on Alan Greenspan:

In a 1963 essay for Ms. Rand’s newsletter, Mr. Greenspan dismissed as a “collectivist” myth the idea that businessmen, left to their own devices, “would attempt to sell unsafe food and drugs, fraudulent securities, and shoddy buildings.” On the contrary, he declared, “it is in the self-interest of every businessman to have a reputation for honest dealings and a quality product.”

I have read before about Greenspan's allegiance to Rand's philosophies, particularly her belief in "unfettered capitalism" (Krugman's term). Krugman goes on to discuss how such a belief might have led Greenspan to discourage economic regulation in general and encouraged the bubble to develop.

Greenspan's belief in the honesty of businessmen seems naive to me. Yes, there is some level of truth to it when one is thinking about small, local businesses. It might also be true if all businesses always weighed long-term benefits/cost with the same care they weigh short-term gains.

In an ideal world this would extend to large, faceless corporations as well .... but it doesn't of course.

In an ideal world, where everything is transparent, maybe all businesses and businessmen could be trusted to do the right thing. However, in the real world (you know, the world where we don't "make our own reality"), given enough leeway large businesses inevitably seem to find a way to push beyond the boundaries. Ultimately, when everything goes bad, it never seems like those who most contributed to the problem end up being those who suffer most.

In an ideal world, unfettered capitalism might work, and markets might be perfectly efficient, and everyone might earn rewards in proportion to their hard work, and life would always be sunny and bright.

In the real world, market-based incentives are not always best, incompetence and nepotism thrive ... and sometimes capitalism needs to be fettered. Unless there is some realistic expectation of suffering consequences, businessmen have, with sad consistency, demonstrated a willingness to engage in improper behavior in order to rake in immediate profit, as long as it was others who were suffering any costs which might be entailed.

Rand herself was never able to live up to the ideas her philosophy espoused. Why Greenspan would expect "every businessman" to be rise to these standards, I don't know. I do know history had already demonstrated many counter-examples to his claim when he originally made it, and is in the process of showing to him once again just how misguided his beliefs were.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

End the strike now!

President Bush was quoted this morning, in response to a question about Hillary Clinton's notion of sending Bush pere and Bill on a world-traveling goodwill trip (hat tip Tim Grieve at War Room):

"It's what I do during my presidency," Bush said. "I go around spreading goodwill and talking about the importance of spreading freedom and peace."

You just know ... know ... there are some striking writers on their knees sobbing with grief at missing out on such a comedy-ready line.

Immigration matters

BusinessWeek has a recent piece discussing the impact of Republican immigration positions on some portion of Republican voters. In particular, they discuss how the emphasis all the current Republican presidential candidate's place on "enforcement-only" approaches is driving some members of the "fiscal" wing of the party to re-register as Independents, or even to actively support Democrats (Oh, the humanity!).

Arizona's new law features prominently in the article:

Arizona Goes After Employers

One state where employers are becoming especially concerned is Arizona. A new state law (, 12/13/07) scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1 will suspend for up to 10 days the operating license of any company caught knowingly employing an undocumented worker. If caught a second time, the company loses its license altogether. Business groups—including the Arizona Contractors' Assn. and an employer coalition called Wake Up Arizona—tried to fight the law on legal grounds, but their case was thrown out by a U.S. District Court. The business groups are asking for a preliminary injunction while the case is under appeal.

In the meantime, employers are looking to make a statement with their votes. "The Republican Party has held a corner of support from the business community, but the level of frustration is high," says David Jones, president and chief executive of the Arizona Contractors' Assn., which represents about 300 general subcontractors and suppliers. "They're so wrapped up in ideology that they're willing to throw anything else out the window. That's why the Democrats are starting to realize a potential friend in the Arizona business community."

The most strident advocate of the "throw the bums out" approach has recently ended his campaign, but that seems unlikely to lower the rhetoric. The Republican field seems to have decided winning the primary requires tacking waaaaaaayyyyy out to the extreme on this issue, and whoever receives the nomination is likely to find it impossible to then successfully tack back to the middle. It's not like Hispanic voters don't notice these things.

It seems so recently that conservatives would regularly accuse Democratic candidates of "catering to their extremist liberal base" or some other, similar, formulation. Now the shoe seems to be firmly on their foot, and they seem to be busily pelting said shoe with shotgun pellets.

A large majority of people prefer some form of comprehensive solution to the problem (and it is a problem), perhaps something similar to what x4mr recently proposed, or the bill which died this past summer. Particularly given the significance of the potential Hispanic votes in closely divided states (Florida, Arizona, New Mexico for example), it seems unquestionable this immigration rhetoric is hurting Republican chances (a topic ThinkRight has regularly addressed). Unless McCain somehow rallies to win the nomination, this will just be another weight around the neck of the Republican nominee.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A happy discovery

A blog post I saw somewhere yesterday mentioned a BBC radio show which, undoubtedly, will sound like the epitome of tedium for most people, but pegged my interest meter at the high end.

The show is titled In Our Time, and features a weekly episode where the host and a panel of three scholars discusses some esoteric topic for about 40 minutes. The most recent show, which I just finished listening to (you can subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes), discusses the Sassanian Empire, which was centered in modern-day Iran, succeeded the Parthians, fought the Romans, and lasted for over four hundred years before themsleves being overthrown by the Islamic expansion of the 7th century.

I knew a little bit about Sassanian military institutions, but learned a great deal about their religious traditions, culture, influences, etc. Absolutely fascinating, absolutely terrific ... not to mention the British accents were mesmerizing.

It looks likes the entire backlog of previous shows can be found here, broken into categories labeled Science, Religion, Philosophy, History and Culture (a quick scan showed some broadcasts were placed in multiple categories). A small sample of titles includes:

* The Discovery of Oxygen - feuds and revolutions at the birth of modern chemistry
* Zero - everything about nothing
* The Devil - A brief biography
* The Mind/Body Problem - does the mind rule the body, or the body rule the mind?
* Tea - an empire in a teacup
* The Epic - from Homer to Joyce

I realize things like this will put most people to sleep, but for me it's a near-religious experience. I will be grinding through all of them over the next few months, as I find time.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

You, too, can be a terrorist

This account details a 17th-century trial for witchcraft in Bamberg, Germany (h/t Digby), during the course of which the accused was subjected to thumb screws, leg screws (also known as the Spanish boot) and strappado during the course of the "investigation".

For a week, including through five days of torture, the subject of the inquiry, one Johannes Junius, continually protested his innocence of all charges. Enough was finally enough, however, and he eventually "confessed" to everything, after which he was further tortured until he eventually bore false witness against fellow townsmen so as to end the torment.

His "evidence" was likely used against those he named, just as they were tortured until they named him, said "evidence" used to justify his torture ... and the vicious circle wound merrily along.

At least he didn't suffer water boarding.

If anyone thinks they wouldn't confess to anything they thought their tormentors wanted to hear when subjected to such abuse, they are childishly naive.

Framer, x4mr, TR, Liza, AZAce, et. al., when they take me in I plan to implicate all of you ... just so you know.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Republican obstructionism

How much gall does it take for the President to complain about not getting things done, while his own party sets records for blocking legislation (and the President declares he will veto anything that accidentally gets passed that doesn't match exactly what he wants)?

I'm not sure, but however much it is, the President has more than enough.

One would think getting crushed in the 2006 elections would have indicated to Republicans the voters wasn't happy with the direction they were leading country. Apparently not, as earlier this month Republicans set a record for most bills filibustered in a Congressional session. With the session not even half completed, and Republicans openly declaring their intent to continue their behavior, the new record, once established, will shatter the previous one.

Their obstructionist tendencies have become completely reflexive at this point (from the second linked article):

In fact, the Senate Republicans are so accustomed to blocking measures that when the Democrats finally agreed last week to their demands on a bill to repair the alternative minimum tax, the Republicans still objected, briefly blocking the version of the bill that they wanted before scrambling to approve it later.

Which would be funny if it were not so ... not funny.

The reason Republicans filibustered the ATM bill? Because the original version tried to recoup some of the billions of dollars of lost revenue from not applying the ATM by raising the tax rate on certain forms of income of hedge fund managers which is currently taxed at the capital gains rate of 15% (and which exploits an unintentional tax loophole to manage it) at 35% instead.

This post by ThinkRight is a good illustration of how conservatives will attempt to spin things. Of course, reality is different - Republicans demonstrated firm, unwavering willingness to do everything in their power defend the unwarranted lower tax rates for a small number of mega-millionaires at the expense of millions of middle-class families.

Yes, Republicans are the proud defenders of you average, middle-class ... multi-millionaire.

Maybe if a bunch more are voted out next year, the message will sink in.

Freedom and Religion

In his speech last week, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney quoted founding father and former President John Adams, saying "Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom."

It's clear religion can exist without freedom, as, for example, the Taliban have illustrated in Afghanistan in the past. However, if one wants to interpret this as saying open, free practice of religion requires freedom, then of course this statement is true - it's impossible to freely exercise anything, including one's religious views, without freedom.

As to whether or not freedom requires religion, on a theoretical level it clearly does not. As I noted in a thread at Arizona 8th, consider the possibility everyone in our country wakes up tomorrow and decides they no longer have a belief in religion. Nothing prevents them from practicing religion, they simply and freely choose not to. In such a situation, no religion exists, yet freedom has in no way been abridged.

Whether this is possible in a practical sense is a different matter. Clearly spritualism and faith is deeply ingrained within nearly all cultures (I'm not actually aware of any exceptions, but I am hedging my bets). Yet, is it necessary? Certainly, one of the benefits of religion is its promotion of some set of standards for individuals to lead moral lives. It's hard to see where freedom can exist for all in a society without such standards.

Still, ultimately creating a free society depends on enforcement of socially agreed laws, not on religion. You often hear concerns expressed about how our nation is becoming increasingly secular, and certainly demographic trends support those views - roughly 1/5 of Americans now self-identify as atheist/agnostic.

Somehow, freedom has managed to withstand the assault.

For anyone interested, or looking for a means to be lulled to sleep, Framer and I had a fairly lengthy exchange of views about this topic in comments to this post.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Romney hates me

X4mr beat me to the punch, and has a good post up explaining why a "secularist", a category into which I would unquestionably fall, might be very concerned by Romney's speech. I'd like to take a moment to note as of 2001 15% of Americans, minimum, fell into that category, with the numbers growing rapidly.

To put that in perspective, that's more than 10 times as many secularists as Mormons. Secularists would be second only to Christianity in terms of their views vis-a-vis religion in this country (a very distant second, admittedly). If you were to view secularists as their own religious sect (which Romney, incorrectly, does) it would rank third, behind only Roman Catholics and Baptists ... and given trends, secularists have likely moved past Baptists since the linked survey was completed and into second place.

In other words, that's a pretty big minority of people Romney is expressing intolerance for. There are considerably more secularists in this country than Blacks or Hispanics.

X4mr also does an excellent job of explaining why the John Adams "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom" quote doesn't mean what Romney would like everyone to interpret it as meaning. Sadly, he'll get away with it - the vast majority of his intended audience will seize on it as evidence our revered founding fathers always intended our government to be steered by religion, regardless of constraints built into the Constitution. "Oh, they really didn't mean that."

There is another statement out there, Article XI of this document, a document Adams very publicly avowed his support for and signed into law, supported unanimously by Senate, the opening clause of which states in no uncertain terms:

"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion ..."

Oddly, Romney didn't see fit to include that Adams statement in his address.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Lies and videotape (no sex ... yet)

The NYTimes has an article this morning discussing the CIA's decision last year to destroy videotapes of interrogations the agency had conducted with terrorism suspects. The agency destroyed the tapes during a period when it's secret detention practices were under investigation, and the tapes were never handed over to either the 9/11 commission, Congress or to the courts - all of which, at different times and for different reasons had made requests for information which the tapes would seem to have fallen into.

Legal concerns were among the major motivating factors to destroy the tape was:

"The videotapes showed agency operatives in 2002 subjecting terrorism suspects — including Abu Zubaydah, the first detainee in C.I.A. custody — to severe interrogation techniques. The tapes were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that video showing harsh interrogation methods could expose agency officials to legal risks, several officials said."

So, to be clear, the CIA engaged in activities it knew were, at best, skirting the edge of the law, and likely well beyond what the law would permit. It apparently disregarded legitimate requests from both our judiciary and our elected officials to turn the tapes over, and finally decided to destroy the evidence so as to not suffer (or limit) any potential consequences which might derive from their actions.

This isn't the first set of interrogation tapes to be lost. Tapes of interrogations of Jose Padilla conveniently went missing when they were requested as evidence earlier this year as part of his criminal case. But wait! There's more! As Glenn Greenwald documented last spring, this administration has compiled a lengthy list of documents and other evidentiary items which have wandered off or "been overlooked" or "accidentally deleted" or what-have-you at times coincidentally most convenient to the administration itself, and least convenient to whatever investigating body wanted them.

Of course, destruction of evidence only needs to be relied on when Executive Privilege claims simply won't do.

Still, I am sure there are some number of members of the alleged party of "personal responsibility" (as long as, you know, members of a Republican administration aren't actually held responsible for outing a CIA agent, or illegally torturing prisoners, etc.) who will say "why the fuss - we're talking about terrorists, after all."

Except we're not. As this Washington Post article (and this) make clear, even actually being declared innocent by US intelligence wasn't sufficient to earn Murat Kurnaz his release from imprisonment, where he was kept for four years for no cause whatsoever. It took a personal plea from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to achieve that.

Meanwhile, who knows what indignities Kurnaz suffered. I'm sure any videotapes have been destroyed.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Zogby poll follow-up

There was a small burst of comment last week, both in the blogosphere and the MSM, when a Zogby online poll purported to find Clinton trailing all major Republican presidential candidates in potential-head-to-head match-ups.

If the data were valid it would certainly be newsworthy, but for a number of reasons (which I discussed here), the poll results did not appear credible.

Sure enough, a subsequent traditional Bloomberg poll from 11/30 to 12/3 continues to show Clinton beating both Giuliani and Romney in head-to-head contests (for that matter, Obama beats them both as well). The results are quite consistent with prior polling, and further supports the notion the Zogby poll suffered from bad sampling.

It would have been interesting to see daily result breakouts to see what effect, if any, Giuliani's public financing of his affair had on the polling. The incident was just breaking as the poll started, and garnered a fair bit of publicity as the poll went on.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Green families

A number of news sources are discussing a recent study finding divorced families are worse for the environment. The idea is there is an economy in energy use (electricity, gas, etc.) and other resources when people are unite din one family as opposed to split in two.

Now, I agree with the interviewee at the end of the linked article who opines no one is going to stay in an unhappy marriage for the sake of the environment. I just wanted to use this as an excuse to note myself, Framer and ThinkRight, among many, are doing our best to support the environment.

X4mr, on the other hand, is clearly blowing it for all of us.

Clinton disconnect

I've seen discussion lately about the possibility of a "reverse coattails" effect if Hillary Clinton garners the Democratic presidential nomination. The idea seems to be Democratic members of Congress who won seats in 2006 in traditionally Republican districts are concerned the prospect of a Clinton presidency will cause conservatives to rally to the polls, voting against not just Clinton but the Democratic congress-person as well.

Reading this makes be think both sides are having metal disconnect issues concerning Clinton.

One the conservative side, no matter how much one might dislike Clinton's views, she's indisputably the most "centrist" of the leading Democratic candidates ... or all the Democratic candidates for that matter. Not that any conservative would be happy with any Democratic president (just as I am not likely to be thrilled if a Republican wins next year), but I would still think a truly informed conservative voter would be much more concerned about the prospect of a Edwards administration, say, than they would be about a Clinton one. If Obama or Edwards wins office there will be a much sharper "yank" to the left (in my opinion) than if Clinton wins.

From the liberal side, there is concern about Clinton's views, that she's not "progressive enough" ... and I share those concerns. She won't be getting my vote in the primary. Still, to label her as "no different" than the Republican candidates, or to call the prospect of a Clinton candidacy as "Bush's third term" (which Liza does in comments in this thread, with Roger agreeing, and I have heard the expression elsewhere) is going much too far.

There are reasons conservatives are up in arms over Clinton. Yes, a lot of those reasons are historical, but that history includes some real differences on positions. Anyone who doesn't think Clinton is far more likely to promote "progressive" policies on health care, foreign policy, stem cell research, immigration, education, etc. than any of the Republican candidates has blinders on. She may not be as progressive as desired, but if she wins the nomination she'll be more progressive than the alternative, and by a significant margin.

More credit that isn't due

I posted last month about the inappropriateness of the administration trying to claim some of the credit for recent stem cell research which may allow the cultivation of pluripotent stem cells without the need to destroy human embryos.

Late last week, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, who knows a great deal about spin but apparently very little about science, authored a column lauding Bush's foresight on the matter, and claiming vindication for his his approach. Krauthammer ends the piece by lauding "moral disquiet" of scientist James Thomson, who is one of the leading researchers of embryonic stem cells and who led the Wisconsin team which announced the breakthrough last month (along with a separate Japanese team).

Well, Thomson had an op-ed piece of his own at the Washington Post yesterday, where he correctly trashes the Krauthammer column as the complete piece of s*** it is. He notes the Japanese team developed it's research independent of any decisions by Bush or his administration, and that teams in a number of other countries unaffected by US limitations are progressing far faster than US researchers are.

Thomson also notes the impossibility developing stem cells with the same properties of ESCs without first understanding what those properties are, a process the President's policies can only have hurt, not possibly helped.

In other words, this research has proceeded despite, not because of, Bush's "line in the sand", and in all likelihood has been hampered by those limitations, although we can never know for sure. If there had been more government funding for more stem cell lines, might this achivement have been reached three years ago?

Thomson (and his co-author Alan Leshner) conclude their piece by pointing out the uncertainty that their research will fully pan out, something we won't know for several years, minimum, and encourage Congress to override the President's veto of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. It won't happen - too many Republicans in Congress are more committed to supporting the President and furthering their own ideologies than they are to actually furthering a policy a considerable majority of their constituents support.

Maybe though, just maybe, the Thomson op-ed will help stop the wave of idiocy trying to allot some credit to the President for a breakthrough his policies did nothing to help, and much to hinder.

Recent interesting stuff

Some posts from other sites I have found particularly interesting:

1. x4mr has a terrific post on some of the issues with for-profit prisons.

2. ThinkRight, who has experience in the mortgage lending field, has been making a number of posts about the recent crisis and some possible approaches to dealing with it. The most recent are here and here.

However, the most interesting, and horrifying, doesn't deal directly with the crises itself, but rather a victim of mortgage-related fraud. The post is here. Make sure you click through the link he provides and read the full Seattle Times piece.

3. How The World Works provides a pair of YouTube clips of British comedians discussing the subprime lending crises, it's causes, potential impacts, etc. Quite funny in the typical dry, British way, and educational as well. (Note: you will likely have to sit through small ad to access the post, it's well worth the inconvenience.)

I'd like to include something from Arizona8th, but they, like I, have been in hibernation the last few days. Wake up! :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A poll by any other name

AZAce over at Arizona 8th had a post up yesterday about a new Zogby poll showing Clinton trailing all major Republican candidates. Of course, AZ8th isn't the only site to post this, as numerous other bloggers and news outlets have jumped all over the data.

At first glance this looks to be significant news, deserving of prominent display. After all, it would represent a roughly 10-point slide by the presumed Democratic front-runner in a very short span of time.

However, what AZAce didn't mention (and I suspect simply missed, because it isn't noted until you get to the small text all the way at the bottom - I missed in on my first fast read-through) is that this latest poll is not a traditional phone poll, as all the prior surveys Zogby cites were, but instead an online interactive poll. This changes things considerably.

First, there are clearly some self-selection issues with online polling (old folks, poor, etc., are less likely to vote in it). This can be adjusted for with proper weighting, but it does take more care.

Second, Zogby's interactive polls do not, shall we say, have the best reputation for accuracy. In general, they have been shown to be far less accurate in predicting actual outcome margins than traditional phone polls.

Third, a more traditional poll done by Gallup about 10 days earlier showed Clinton with a small, but steady, lead on all Republican candidates.

Given the result of the Gallup poll is entirely consistent with across-the-board trends over the last several months, while the Zogby interactive poll represents a dramatic break from those trends, it might be best to wait for a few more sets of polling data to come in and confirm the Zogby result before concluding the entire dynamic of the race has suddenly shifted.

If I were to place a bet, it would be that the Gallup poll will be found to be consistent, and the Zogby results an outlier.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Presidential quotas

Apparently, at a recent fund raiser, Mitt Romney answered a question about the possibility of including a member of the Muslim faith within his cabinet by saying he “cannot see that a Cabinet position would be justified” based on the percentage of Muslims in the U.S.

I wasn't aware any positions within our government were alloted by religious belief (or lack thereof - atheists will want their seats in the cabinet too), and in fact I thought the Constitution explicitly prohibits such calculus (although apparently the US Attorney General's office didn't get the memo).

Still, leaving aside such trivial items as our nation's founding document, as well as the fact Republicans are allegedly against the used of quotas in hiring, school admissions, etc., one could certainly make a pretty strong case, based on the fact that only about 1.4% of the US self-identifies as Mormon, that one "cannot see that a Presidential position would be justified" for Romney, based on the percentage of Mormons in the US.

Surge failure

No, no, not the Iraq surge ... rather, the citizenship surge.

Not surprisingly, this past summers debate on how to deal with immigrants, legal or otherwise, inspired a number of individuals to turn in their citizenship applications in hopes of
becoming citizens in time to vote in next year's elections. However, despite a large increase in the application fees, an increase allegedly intended to help develop the necessary infrastructure to speed the process along, new applicants are being told the backlog for processing is now reaching 16 to 18 months.

For those who are to lazy to count, the elections are less than 12 months away.

As the linked piece notes, this isn't a backlog due to visa limits or any other issue. This is simply a matter of not having enough people on hand to deal with the influx. Once again our "corporate administration" proves its core competency is incompetence.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Official Republican Policy

In the run-up to the 2006 elections there was a great deal of invective about Jim Pederson's willingness to sink a great deal of his personal money into his Senate campaign, numerous postings in comments about his wanting "to buy the election", etc., etc.,

Apparently "buying elections" is now official republican policy.

The linked articles discusses the ramifications of the difficulties the RNCC is having in raising funds for the 2008 races, where it currently finds itself at a roughly 12.5-1 disadvantage in cash on hand compared to the DNCC. The discrepancy is especially start when compared to the vast advantage in funds the RNCC had is past years, even 2006.

Among those ramifications is Republicans are actively seeking candidates who can "self-finance" their campaigns, without help (or, at least, much help) from the party fund raising institutions.

That lack of funding is a real issue when looking at the 2008 campaign map, where 17 Republicans have already retired or announced plans to not run for re-election next year, with more such announcements on the way. That's a lot of open seats to defend without much money to do it, not to mention some number of incumbent candidates who will find themselves in hotly contested elections, and it won't leave a whole lot, if any, left over to challenge sitting Democratic incumbents, no matter how new or how vulnerable they might seem.

If this guy decides to run, he might want to save his pennies or win the lottery ... or both.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Credit where credit isn't due

The NY Times has a follow-up article on the recent announcement of a stem cell research breakthrough which may allow the creation of pluripotent stem cells without the need to destroy human embryos. The article provides some historical background, and some context as to what the breakthrough potentially means for future research and development in this country.

Midway through the article comes this:

On Tuesday, senior aides to Mr. Bush said he drove the experiments by holding his moral ground.

“This is very much in accord with the president’s vision from the get-go,” said Karl Zinsmeister, a domestic policy adviser to Mr. Bush who kept the president apprised of the work. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that the president’s drawing of lines on cloning and embryo use was a positive factor in making this come to fruition.”

Of course, this completely overlooks two points:

1. While the recent announcement was a joint one between teams from Japan and Wisconsin, it is in fact the Japanese team which has been the primary moving force in this line of research. It was their seminal announcement last year of a method which worked in mice that both teams built on to apply to human cells.

Bush's views and policies had nothing whatsoever to do with the Japanese research.

2. These developments would have been entirely impossible without initial research with actual embryonic stem cells. You can't create a method for developing cells with the same properties as embryonic stem cells unless you actually know what those properties are.

Bush's policies have done nothing whatsoever to promote research of pluripotent stem cells in this country, much to hinder it. There is a reason the leading research in this field comes primarily from Japan and South Korea.

Sadly, there is nothing unusual in this President taking credit for accomplishments he had nothing to do with, or weren't complete. "Mission Accomplished" anyone?

Just out of curiousity ...

The Star had an interesting article today about legitimate AZ businesses working to help smugglers get illegals across the border and deeper into the country.

Soooo ... lets say, hypothetically, Giffords were to introduce some piece of legislation to help address this issue (a special investigative unit, extra penalties/fines, whatever) ... anyone care to wager just how much time would pass before the first conservative blog had a post up citing it as evidence she was "anti-business"?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Compassionate Conservatism in action

This has already been posted about in a number of place, but apparently the US Army is attempting to recover some of the bonuses it paid to soldiers who were injured in combat seriously enough to not be able to fulfill their terms of enlistment.

As noted at the link, Dem Congressman Jason Altmire has already introduced legislation to prevent this practice, which should never have occurred in the first place. I'm sure by challenging the army on this, he will shortly beheld up as yet another Democrat who "doesn't support the troops".

After all, once they are severely wounded and can't hold a gun or take a bullet anymore they're no longer "troops" but civilians, so Conservatives don't feel the need to pretend to care about them anymore.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Extremist != Disagreement

Fellow blogger ThinkRight has a post up proclaiming Giffords isn't a moderate, but rather an extreme left-wing wactivist who wants to take away all our guns, open our borders to anyone who wants to visit, raise the taxes to 110% of income and destroy all industry so we can revert back to living in harmony with nature.

Well, he doesn't go quite that far. In making his case, however, he cites the fact she supported the resolution by Dennis Kucinich to impeach Dick Cheney last week as an example of an "extremist" position.

Polling results from just this month indicate 43% of voters feel Cheney should be impeached. A further 9% feel he has committed impeachable offenses, but should not be impeached. Let's see ... 43+9 = 52. Hey, what do you know - a majority of voters in this country think Cheney has committed impeachable offenses. For the record, that's far more than ever felt that way about Clinton, which didn't stop Republicans from, you know, actually impeaching him.

In all fairness, TR was against impeaching Clinton, so he's consistent at least.

However, this does bring up the matter of what qualifies as "extremist". I mean, when your position is actually in line with the majority view it certainly can't be labeled as "extreme", but must, at least, be labeled as "mainstream". I don't see how this can even be quibbled with, debated, or even "agree to disagree" - when your view is the majority view, labeling it "extreme" is simply ... well ... wrong.

Still, is there some metric to be applied? Without any real thought at all, it seems to me that I tend to (unconsciously) use the following metrics:

If there is a matter where one position garners more than 50% support, then any view which has less than 25% support is "extreme". Any view with less than 10% support is "fringe".

That seems pretty crude, though, and I am sure if I thought about it long enough I could come up with counter-examples from my past which disprove it. It does seem like an accurate rough guide to my thought process, though.

In the end, I may disagree with TR's views regarding Cheney impeachment, but his opinion is, by no means, extremist. After all, 48% of voters don't think Cheney should be impeached.

Skin Cell Stem Cells

The NY Times, among others, has an article this morning discussing a possible new manner of gathering pluripotent stem cells for research purposes which doesn't involve the destruction of human embryos. I recall the announcement last year by the Japanese team of a method which worked in mice, and claims they saw no reason the approach would not work with human cells. Apparently they were correct.

This is a great step forward as, if the approach is ultimately found to be successful, it removes any real ethical concern to embryonic stem cell research.

Still, it unsurprisingly a spawn of ignorant posts and associated comments from certain parts of the blogosphere such as this one.

The author, who links to the same Time piece, is wrong in her very first sentence: "And once again, the news has nothing to do with embryonic stem cell research:"

I fact, the breakthrough has everything to do with embryonic stem cell research. The two groups are claiming to be able to create cells with the same properties as embryonic stem cells, just via a method which uses skin cells as the starting point rather than blastocysts.

The comment that really gets to me though, is the statement (oft-repeated by those opposed to embryonic stem cell research) "... to date, there have been no “cures” developed on the embryonic stem cell research front. Not a single one."

She's correct of course, but is intentionally obfuscating the matter by not discussing why there are no cures. It's a straw man claim. She knows that, she just doesn't care, which is generally true of most any pundit who makes a similar statement.

Cures or treatments don't just magically appear, they are developed over the span of years. It's been less than ten years (as a comparison, research in adult stem cells has been going on for decades, since the early 60's) since the seminal paper describing how embryonic stem cells could be isolated and developed (and thus viable for research purposes) was written (1998).

After that, you have to do the initial basic research and get it published and reviewed. Then you need to get approval for animal trials, get those results analyzed and published, then apply for permission for human trials, do those, analyze and publish again ... and only then, if the results seem promising, can you actually talk about developing a formal cure or treatment approach.

This is a 12-15 year process minimum. We're in year nine. It's like asking a 12-year-old why they haven't finished their college degree yet. Saying they haven't finished their degree may be factually true, but lies by inferring it's a failure on their part rather than just a function of the process.

In comments to that same post, some moron says: "Now we have one less reason to kill babies. Expect the leftards to get angry."

No baby has ever been killed to further embryonic stem cell research. Some number of embryos have been destroyed .... however, those embryos were going to be destroyed anyway, stem cell research or no. The embryos used for these purposes were among those headed for the incinerator. Even if one is among those who think a simple blastocyst is a human being, it doesn't change the fact those blastocysts were to be destroyed with or without stem cell research being involved. That being the case, what possible rational argument can be made against their destruction possibly being used to generate some good in the end?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Gaza siege

The NY Times this morning has a short article and associated multimedia presentation about the effects of the current lock down on regular Palestinians within Gaza, something I talked about a little bit last week.

Surge, al-Sadr, speculation

The NY Times has an article today discussing the decreasing number of attacks in Iraq, which have reportedly fallen to levels not seen since Feb. 2006. The number of Iraqi deaths in October is expected to be the lowest monthly total since then as well. Meanwhile, US troops deaths in Iraq, which had been at record or near-record highs through the end of August, dropped to 38 last month, the lowest figure since Mar. 2006.

In discussing the various factors involved, the 11th paragraph begins: "Moktada al-Sadr, the anti-American cleric, has ordered his militiamen to stand down."

If one only read this article, one might think this was a recent development. As in, "things are going sooooooo well, even al-Sadr thought it was safe enough to stand down his militia."

One would be wrong. In fact, al-Sadr called for the militia stand down at the end of August.

Let's connect some dots. The surge began in January of this year. Throughout the year, as US troops levels increased there was no indication they were having any clear effect in decreasing violence. Each month, US casualties were higher than the corresponding month in 2006 (which was already a high-casualty year). As late as August, Iraqi civilian casualties were high, but September saw a significant drop, which apparently continued last month.

Through the summer there were comments about the lethality of explosively formed penetrators, supposedly provided by Iran ... which most certainly was not providing them to primarily Sunni groups, such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, but rather to Shi'ite organizations, such as, just to pick a random example, al-Sadr's militia brigades.

So which is the bigger factor, the surge or al-Sadr's proclamation? There will, of course, be a spate of articles, talking heads comments, blog posts, etc., which claim the former, but the numbers don't bear that out. The surge occurred over a period of months during which violence and casualties were extremely high. Al-Sadr opens his mouth, and immediately violence and casualties drop spectacularly.

Sometimes the timely words of a self-interested lunatic mean more than a few 10's of thousands of American soldiers. Unfortunately, he could open his mouth again and reverse the trend nearly as quickly.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Long talk with an old friend (part II)

Part I is available here. As with Part I, any comments in quotation marks are my best recollection, and portray what was said with good accuracy, but should not be taken as verbatim quotes.

* * *

As part of the same rambling conversation, my friend mentioned the electricity situation in Gaza. For those who are unaware, an Israeli air strike in the summer of 2006 knocked out the only power plant within the Gaza strip. Since then, Gaza has been largely reliant on fuel for generators and Israeli sources for its electricity.

However, fuel supplies are running dry, and the Israeli government recently indicated it planned to stop sending electricity to Gaza, although those plans were at least temporarily placed on hold last week by a ruling from Israel's Supreme Court.

"It's not as simple as not having lights or air conditioners," my friend said. "It's all the things you never think of, you take for granted. People in hospitals will die. Medicine which needs refrigeration will spoil. Almost all of the water in Gaza comes from the ocean. Without electricity, the desalination plant can't run, there will be no water."

She also discussed her frustrations with the situation.

She felt she had been in her position long enough she was no longer effective in it - that as she became acclimated to the day-to-day problems thrown in her way they no longer outraged her, and without that outrage her effectiveness decreased.

She gave an example of a colleague of hers arriving recently in Jerusalem, and on arrival being asked why he was there. As soon as he mentioned he hoped to work to further peace between Israelis and Palestinians he was sent back to the US and told he was not welcome to return for a 10-year period.

"When I first began, I'd have been furious," she said. "This time, I just divied up the extra work among everyone and we all continued on."

She talked about the difficulties of making treks to Gaza. Israel doesn't allow people to cross into Gaza unless they have some powerful reason for doing so, such as overseeing what money a group has sent to Gaza is being spent on. To go on a certain day she has to apply long in advance to be placed on a list. On the specified day she has to arrive at the checkpoint and go through a two-hour process to get clearance to pass through, and a similar process coming back. Any approval is only for a single day, so just getting through the border takes up a big chunk of your allotted time.

She discussed how blase she had become about having guns pointed at her. I've had guns pointed at me a handful of times in my life, and can vividly recall each of them. She clearly has lost count.

"I think I can do one more year, then it will be time to move on to another lost cause," she told me. "Maybe immigration issues here."

I'm of two minds about this. In the abstract, my friend is exactly the person I would want in Jerusalem working on such matters. She is bright, caring, driven, tactful, trustworthy, dedicated ... name a trait you would want in an individual working on the ground to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and she has it in spades. I can't think of anyone else I would prefer in that position ... in the abstract.

In reality, she's my friend, and I'll be glad when she and her family are back in the states, and she (hopefully) no longer has guns pointed at her on a regular basis.

* * *

In part I my friend mentioned her belief that, if elections were held again Palestinians would never vote for Hamas, but Hamas will never allow more elections because they also know they would lose. Certainly, events like this just support that view.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I link this poll because it cofirms my biases

A Zogby poll conducted this past summer, with results only recently released, finds liberals are far more likely than conservatives to expose themselves to media content (television, radio, movies, etc.) which contains views contrary to their own. Conservatives tend to stick solely to outlets which confirm their already held views. (The poll itself addressed a wider range of issues, comparing individual politics with a range of entertainment preferences.)

There is some other interesting stuff in there - supposedly everyone likes classical music, which helps explain why there are so many classical stations on FM radio.

Unfortunately, other than the overview on the linked page above and the press release the page links to, there is nothing more about the data underling the conclusions.

However, the page does provide a link to this PDF file which provides some interesting information about the demographics involved in the study. In particular, I found the following through-provoking:

* It's within the margin of error, but more moderates agreed with the statement "Security is more important than liberties" than agreed with "Liberties are more important than security".
* I was similarly surprised to see most moderates agreed with the statement "The American Dream is for those who help themselves".
* I knew "An abortion is a private decision between a woman and her doctor" would be favored over "Abortion is murder", but not by such crushing margins. Even 25% of conservatives agree with the former statement.
* I was surprised at the margin by which moderates favored the statement "Government it too involved in regulating morality".
* I was shocked to see moderates favor privatizing social security by a 5% margin.
* I was shocked and dismayed to see 61% of moderates favored "It's important to teach evolution side-by-side with other theories on the origin of man".
* Conservatives continue to skew older.

Anyhow, I suspect just about anyone can find something which will surprise them in the demographic data. It's worth spending a little time looking through.

Long talk with an old friend (part I)

Over this past weekend I had the opportunity to catch up with someone I've known nearly 30 years. For whatever reason, the last couple years whenever we ran into each other one or both of us were hurrying off to somewhere, so this was an opportunity not to be missed.

She is married to an Israeli citizen, lives in Israel, and has spent a number of years working for a Palestinian-affiliated group hoping to promote the peace process, so I was very interested in her take on the current state of affairs. Not surprisingly, she wasn't optimistic.

We discussed the elections which brought Hamas to power, and she had a different take on matters. I am presenting her comments as quotes, but they should be taken as reasonably accurate recollections of what she said, rather than a verbatim word-for-word recounting.

"(Tip O'Neill) said 'all politics are local', and that's what the election was. People, especially in their first election, don't consider foreign relations in casting their votes, they worry about who will do best filling the potholes in the roads outside their homes."

"They knew Fatah was corrupt, they knew what Fatah was, they knew Fatah left the potholes. They'd had years of Fatah. They hoped Hamas might do more to make things better locally. They didn't think of the election, their first election ever, as a referendum, on their foreign policy views."

"Now, if there were a vote again, and Hamas won again, then I think the international community would have a legitimate concern ... but if an election were held again, Hamas would never win. Which is why Hamas won't allow more elections."

I have to confess, I hadn't considered the notion the Palestinians wouldn't realize the international significance of their choice when casting their votes ... and I still think, on some level, most of them were aware of it. The stated goals of Hamas are not exactly secret. Still, faced with two bad choices between:

* A corrupt group with some international legitimacy, or
* A (possibly) less corrupt group which has made serious efforts to help local citizens, but which had little (if any) international legitimacy,

it's not so unreasonable they might have opted for the devil they didn't know and hoped for the best.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Misguided Mantra

It's become a matter of faith among Republicans that, should Hillary Clinton win the Democratic nomination next year, a horde of ravenous Hillary-hating zombies will match down the streets of America chanting for blood and voting for Republican candidates.

How desperate must party feel about it's chances to place it's best hope not on the strength of its own candidates but rather on the perceived lack of viability of the leading opposition candidate - "Yeah, all our choices suck, but if you nominate Hillary we can still win! Boo-Ya!"

Still, two years ago they might have been right. These days, not so much.

You still hear pundits, on TV, in the newspaper and in the blogosphere harping on "Hillary's negatives", how high they are, how they make her unelectable, etc., completely ignoring clear trends showing those numbers dropping steadily over the last 12 to 18 months.

In hypothetical head-to-head matchups as far back as 2005, McCain led Clinton 43-41 Quinnipiac University poll. Last December, McCain led 50-36 according to Bloomberg. In a Dec. 2004 Quinnipiac University poll, Giuliani led Clinton 45-43. Last April, Giuliani led 48-42 via Bloomberg.

In polling taken the middle of last month, Bloomberg shows Clinton leading Giuliani 47-41, leading McCain 48-38.

In fact, a CNN poll from last week shows Hillary with the second lowest set of negatives, only Barack Obama scoring lower by one percentage point. Every major Republican candidate scores higher - Giuliani 1% more, McCain 6% more, Thompson 13% more, Romney 16% more.

The next time we here a TV talking head discussing, say, the teeming masses of John McCain haters who will turn out to vote against him should he win the Republican nomination next year will be the first time we hear about it.

Conservatives may chant their mantra as much as they like, they can close their eyes and _wish_ with all their hearts that what they hope for turns out to be true ... but the actual data doesn't care about what Republicans hope for, and the data indicates Republicans might want to look for something else to pin their hopes on.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

My debate teacher would have failed him

ThinkRight has a post up today about Fred Barnes, editor of The Weekly Standard and regular Fox News contributor, arguing Republicans "have a chance" in the 2008 Presidential race.

TR provides a link to the full audio, and summarizes Barnes' case with the following four points:
  1. Hispanics – instead of alienating the Haispanic vote by the recent stance on illegal immigration, the Republicans must hit the issue at hand instead of anti-Hispanic rhetoric. The Republicans need to explain the cause and effect of illegal immigration & stay off the race issue.
  2. Voter turnout – get out the vote & not let the base & the middle stay home. The Dems have the Soros money & the labor union workforce that is paid to GOTV, so the Republicans need to rally the troops. Hillary may do this for the GOP.
  3. Ohio – no President has won without Ohio. Not much we can do here from Southern AZ, but support candidates that may have great machines that could use the cash.
  4. Bush – Bush's approval ratings are around 35% & no party that had a sitting president with such low numbers has won the presidency. However, some presidents with high numbers have not delivered as well (Clinton & Ike).
In a larger sense Barnes is, of course, correct - Republicans do have a chance, and a good one, of retaining the Presidency next year. However, the case he makes for it is astonishingly weak.

Point 4 is incoherent - somehow the fact past sitting Presidents with high approval ratings couldn't help their party maintain control of the White House is supposed to provide optimism for a party who's leading figure possesses record-setting negatives? Huh?

Barnes is also simply wrong regarding Ohio. As just one example, Nixon won Ohio by about seven points in the 1964 campaign, but Kennedy won the election. In a more general sense, it is certainly true Ohio is likely to be a key battleground state in next year's election, but it's perfectly feasible to draw up reasonable scenarios where either party loses Ohio but still wins the election.

I agree with Barnes as to the importance to the GOP of finding some means to mend its deteriorating image among Hispanics, but I am of the opinion it will be unable to do so in time for the 2008 election. Continued bitterness over immigration policy, or vetoing of new SCHIP legislation will help ensure that. Maybe by 2010.

Finally, no matter how he tries to slice it the Republicans have had the edge in GOTV operations for most of the past two decades. Analysts from both parties have cited this advantage as being key reasons for Bush victories in both 2000 and 2004. Rove was renowned for his ability to organize in this realm, it was a large part of his purported "genius". Democrats showed in 2006 they were narrowing the gap again, but they won't close it entirely by next year.

Barnes also gets in a shot at Clinton, but here too he seems to be grasping at straws. Of course, he's not the only one who is pinning his hopes for Republican victory on an "anti-Hillary" movement rather than any actual strength of the potential Republican nominee, but I think I will save that topic to post tomorrow.

Historical figures

From USA Today:

Meanwhile, Bush reached an unwelcome record. By 64%-31%, Americans disapprove of the job he is doing. For the first time in the history of the Gallup Poll, 50% say they "strongly disapprove" of the president. Richard Nixon had reached the previous high, 48%, just before an impeachment inquiry was launched in 1974.

Dead-end game

After months of inaction, the House Judiciary Committee yesterday forwarded Contempt of Congress charges against former White House aides Joshua Bolton and Harriet Miers to the full House of representatives.

Considering the original subpoenas Bolton and Miers refused to comply with were issued last summer, and the committee voted to find both in contempt on July 25, it can hardly be said matters have been rushing to a head. Still, I guess it took a while to scribe the 862-page document forwarded to the full House describing why the committee feels the two need to be charged.

Bolton and Miers each cited Executive Privilege in refusing to comply with the subpoenas. I am not a lawyer, but it does seem their case is very weak:

* The Supreme Court has found the privilege is "not absolute".
* Bill Clinton, as President, had his privilege claims overturned by the court and was forced to testify over a matter (the Lewinsky affair) which was of far less significance to the national well-being than concerns of politicization of the U.S. Attorney General's office.
* It would seem in order to assert such privilege one must, at a minimum, appear. Some questions asked may clearly not be covered by the privilege claim, in which case Bolton and Miers would be expected to answer.

I would certainly expect the full House to vote in favor of bringing contempt charges against both Bolton and Miers on a straight party-line vote ... at which point it would be the responsibility of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Colombia to prosecute the case. Hmmmm ... a Bush-administration attorney responsible for prosecuting contempt charges against two former Bush aides in a matter concerning Bush's politicization of the AG department. Anyone want to guess the odds of the case actually being prosecuted?

White House press secretary Dana Perino seemed insouciant in responding to reporter's questions on the matter yesterday afternoon, predicting "It won't go anywhere."

Of course it won't - she knows the fix is in.

Assuming this scenario plays out as expected, Dems should remember this in early 2009. If a Democrat wins the Presidency a year from now, the matter can always be revisited then - and should be.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fits of whimsy

Apparently frustrated by no longer having his every childish whim treated as imperial demand by the House and Senate, The Worst President In History is now planning to increase his use of Executive Orders to implement his ludicrously unpopular policies.

So ... what does this mean?

First of all, the Supreme Court has ruled (in this case) the President can't use orders to create new law. Since that time, Presidents have typically noted some law they were abiding by when issuing an order, to give it at least a veneer of legality. Most orders aren't controversial, and it's worth noting only two have ever been overturned in court (the above case and one issued by Clinton in 1996).

That limitation, however, still leaves plenty of room for misuse and abuse. Perhaps the most infamous Executive Order in our history was #9066, which resulted in tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans (and German- and Italian-Americans as well) being rounded up after the US entry into WWII and spending years in internment camps.

Given this administration's history of ignoring constraints on its power, it's quite easy to envision scenarios where it issues Executive Orders privatizing social security, drilling in the ANWR, or whatever - pushing policies Bush knows he no longer has any chance at all of getting through Congress. As a practical matter, any order would be virtually impossible to overturn - lawsuits would be appealed past the end of his term of office, and any attempt to counter his order by passing a bill in Congress would be vetoed, said veto upheld by the Republican minority.

Something we won't see, however, is an Executive Order to attack Iran. The administration thinks it already has sufficient authority to do that, regardless of what the Constitution might actually say.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Now for something completely different

Apropos of virtually nothing I have discussed in this blog, if this technology pans out it will change all our lives unimaginable ways.

That's a pretty big if though. I'll have to remember to check back on this in the summer of 2009.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Feeling a draft

Apparently things are going so well in Iraq the US State Department is having to turn away applicants in record numbers, as hundreds of young staffers surge to be associated with the ongoing success in Baghdad.

"A lot of our personnel, particularly the younger staffers, see an Iraq posting a a prestigious resume-enhancer," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. "We don't have one-tenth of the positions it would take to fill all the requests. Honestly, being able to pick-and-choose the best-of-the-best is a nice problem to have."

Oops ... my bad ... that's not our reality .... that's some other reality the Republicans created.

In our reality, which is, unfortunately, the only reality we all share, matters are slightly different .... as in up to 300 diplomats were recently informed they were being considered to fill one of 40 to 50 vacancies in Iraq, and refusal on their part would be grounds for dismissal.

Now, outright refusal to do something your boss tells you to do, assuming it's legal and relevant to your job, is usually a perfectly reasonable basis for getting fired. On the other hand, most of us who took "civilian" jobs don't expect to get sent to war zones involuntarily either.

I've said before I am not, in principle, opposed to a draft - one constant throughout this war has been the administration's absolute refusal to spread the impact of it across the nation as a whole. Instead of raising taxes to help pay for the war the President pushed through massive tax cuts, primarily for the wealthy (yeah, that makes sense - we know we're going to have to layout billions of dollars we didn't originally budget for, lets pay for it by decreasing our incoming revenue). As the strain on our army has become increasingly apparent, the administration has responded not by re-instituting a national draft, but rather by increasing the length of time units stay on rotation overseas.

This might have made sense four years ago, when we were going to be greeted by rose-throwing natives and the total cost of the war was going to be $50 billion. Four years down the road, however, as the only thing the natives are throwing at us are grenades, and the cost approaches $1 trillion, it makes no sense whatsoever.

If you're going to institute a draft for the state department, lets be fair about this and open it up to everyone - including the children of wealthy Republicans, sitting Senators and Representatives even.

Let's see how long we stay in Iraq then.

Once more, with feeling!

Congress passed a revised version of the SCHIP bill this past week, with the Senate expected to pass a similar version next week. The bill would come up before the President shortly after, and he is expected to once again apply the veto stamp ... at which time the Kabuki show will start once again.

The new bill addresses several issues Republicans had given to explain their votes against the original bill:

* The income cap to qualify is lowered to 300% of the poverty level for a family of four, or about $60,000, down from a 400% cap in the original bill.

* Adults covered under the current program would be phased out over a one-year period, instead of the two years in the original proposal.

On one point, the Democrats didn't budge however - the bill still allocates $35 billion over five years. The administration said it could see it's way to spending $20 billion (up from $5 billion), but not a penny more.

There's no question Democrats organized the vote so soon after the President's veto in an attempt to keep the issue in front of the voters, and they can be expected to keep pounding away at it as long as the administration keeps vetoing bills - even Republicans who vote against the bill acknowledge their votes are hurting them.

As this poll points out, the President's approval rating on health care, 22%, is 4% less than his approval rating on Iraq. Further, not only did 81% of respondents favor expanding the S-CHIP program, but 74% are willing to pay higher taxes to do so.

Tom Price (R-GA) defended his vote against the bill by labeling it "a massive tax increase". The program would cost $35 billion over five years. That's not a massive tax increase ... this is a massive tax increase - any bets on which way Price votes when it comes before Congress?

Representative Robert Harper once said, in 1798 (referring to a naval conflict with Barbary Coast pirates), "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute." Modern Republicans apparently have updated that to "Billions for needless wars, but not one cent for children!".

Doesn't have quite the same ring, does it?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

It's supposed to be "safe FOR democracy"

"Where can anybody be safe from Bush's democracy?"

- Mohammed al-Samarrae, discussing the death of his pregnant cousin in a US air strike in Iraq.

Two borders

(1) Over at x4mr's blog he has invested a number of posts in discussing what he refers to as "the border", a state lying somewhere between sleep and alertness. In more technical terms, it's the boundary between alpha and theta sleep, and also the point at which our brainwaves reach the same frequency as the lowest-frequency version of the Schumann resonance.

For those who visit it, the border is apparently a weird, wonderful and terrifying realm, a place where life-changing events can and do occur for those lucky, or unlucky, enough to experience them.

For whatever reason I have never been to the border ... apparently my sleep habits preclude it, and I just ram on through without ever noticing the border is even there. I seem to be in the majority in this regard.

Anyhow, what brought this to mind was an article in this morning's NY Times discussing the role sleep apparently has in helping us remember things ... and now I am wondering what it is those who have made journeys to the border remember that the majority of us do not, and why they have a need to remember it.

(2) Salon has an article (you may have to sit through a brief ad to get access) today about the more physical border to our south, and the possibility some of the same mercenary companies involved in Iraq may shortly be assisting along the US-Mexico border as well.

Blackwater, which is seemingly about to be evicted from Iraq for killing civilians and lying about it, is planning to open a large military-style training facility in the desert east of San Diego. Meanwhile, the company has been been lobbying for at least a couple years to get a stake in the border protection, as has rival DynCorp.

Maybe I'm being illogical here, but if we as a nation feel we need to spend more money on border security, why don't we agree to spend it on, you know, hiring and retaining more border patrol agents rather than funding private security companies with dubious track records? Or is national security yet another thing the administration thinks should be privatized, even if it costs more? (Which, presumably, would relegate the Border Patrol to yet another form of "socialized welfare".)

I'm not sure we need more guys with guns running along the border shooting at people while being outside any formal chain-of-command. That niche is already filled ... and while I think those guys are extremist kooks, at least they aren't taking millions of my tax dollars to provide their "services".

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Framer at Arizona8th has an excellent post last night concerning the SCHIP debate, and I wanted to respond to it.

As to the question of using children in advertising, both parties have done so in the past when they felt it would help make their point, and both parties will continue to do so in the future. However, Framer actually missed the point of having the Frost and Wilkerson families in the ads.

As Framer correctly notes, both the Frosts and the Wilkersons qualify under the current SCHIP standards. However, the point of using both families in the ads was the original funding increase proposed by the President was not sufficient to even maintain coverage for all children currently in the program - an estimated 700,000 current participants would have been cut. The Frosts and the Wilkersons have legitimate concerns they might lose the benefits if the proposed bill is not passed.

Framer also points to a poll indicating a majority feel most of the benefits should go to families with income leves less than 200% of the poverty level -- and hey, what do you know, they would under the proposed bill!

The Congressional Budget Office notes 84% of the 3.8 million otherwise uninsured children who would gain insurance under the program qualify under current state standards, with "a large share" living under the poverty line.

Further, while lower-income families do not pay premiums within the program, those with incomes closer to the program limit do pay some form of monthly premium, helping insure those who need the most help get the most help.

Framer also has issues with the funding mechanism, and here I partly agree with him. I am not opposed to higher cigarette taxes - if it helps encourage people to stop smoking that is just an ancillary benefit in my mind. However, I would like to see some other form or forms of funding involved as well, so that it's not entirely based on cigarette taxes.

Finally, Framer accuses Democrats of addressing the issue emotionally ... and again he has a point ... but to which I say yeah, Democrats are going to continue to pound Republicans over SCHIP emotionally as well. Remember all those (logic-laden, unemotional I am sure) "you don't support the troops" charges levied for years at liberal lawmakers? Consider "you don't support the children" a response to that.

I realize it's petty, but it's nice to let conservative lawmakers have a taste of their own medicine for a change. It's even nicer when one is on the better side of the argument both emotionally and from a policy standpoint.

A slightly unrelated point - Framer is careful to not call the vetoed bill "bi-partisan", instead quoting an article which refers to it as "the bill written by Democrats and some Republicans would allow".

There have been a number of votes in which every Republican + Joe Lieberman voted one way, and every other Democrat voted the other way, and the administration has never hesitated to use that one vote to apply the label "bi-partisan". A lot more than one Republican voted in favor of this bi-partisan bill, and the longer the minority continue to block it, the more it's going to hurt in 2008.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Money matters

For some reason there has been a lot of griping about Tim Bee not resigning his position to run in CD 8 ... griping I don't understand. If Bee feels he can run a credible, substantive race while also retaining his influential seat in the Arizona Senate, more power to him -- as blogger ThinkRight regularly notes, it may be a long, long time before a Baja Arizonan leads the Senate again.

As long as Bee files financial reports, I don't see how his remaining in the Senate can hurt anyone else in the race, most notably Democratic incumbent Gabrielle Giffords. If anything, the extra demands on Bee's time can only help her.

Well, the reports are out. The Star has an article this morning discussing AZ 8 fund-raising figures for both Giffords and Bee, and x4mr already has a post up about the matter. The early scoreboard shows Giffords raising $250K last quarter, with $1.1 million tucker away, while Bee raised $135K, with $120K on hand.

A pair of posters have already (as I write this) thrown in their $.02, with ThinkRight opining Bee's early fund-raising figures are quit good for an exploratory campaign, while Roger feels the figure is disappointing for the Bee camp.

Count me firmly on Roger's side of the debate.

Calling Bee's campaign "exploratory" is sophistry at its finest. Everyone knows Bee will run, and any claims from his staff to the contrary are purely to allow Bee to retain his position as head of the state Senate for as long as possible. Being "exploratory" didn't hurt or help his fundraising in any way, shape, form or fashion.

Bee did suffer from some handicaps, in that his campaign was just getting underway as the quarter began. However, if memory serves the comittee was formed in June, meaning Bee had the entire quarter to raise money.

Furthermore, the first quarter of fundraising is the "easy" quarter. This is the money you get from all your friends, contacts, business associates, etc., the money you use to build the foundation of your campaign organization. From this point on, raising money only gets harder. For a comparison, in her first quarter of fundraising, a period in which she only had five weeks (having declared in late Nov. 2005), Giffords raised over $250K.

Another comparison - the $250K Giffords raised last month was, by far, her worst quarter of the year. You can expect to see that figure kick up again as 2008 turns the quarter. At this time last campaign Giffords was six weeks from even declaring ... she went on to raise $2.5 million for the race.

Bee and his campaign will never admit it ... but if I were a betting man I would lay a lot of money that yes, they are very disappointed with their initial fundraising efforts. If they hope to unseat Giffords, they are going to have to do better.

Correction: ThinkRight, in comments, notes the Bee exploratory committee did not officially kick off until late Aug. As such, fundraising efforts only cover the last five weeks of the quarter.

It doesn't change my opinion the amount raised remains disappointing, both for reasons noted above and in the comment thread, but it does attenuate it good bit.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Are we done yet?

The Washington Post has a story today about a debate within the army and the administration over declaring "victory" against al-Qaeda in Iraq. The consensus seems to be AQI has taken some heavy hits in recent months, severely damaging its capacity for terror operations, and some folks want a public declaration to the effect, while others, having seen similar "Mission Accomplished" and "Last Throes" statements turn out poorly in the past, are taking a more cautious view.

Of course, there is another reason to not declare victory as well, which the article mentions but I am going to discuss here anyway ...

It's unquestionably a good thing that AQI has been significantly reduced in effectiveness by our recent operations there. Hopefully the pressure on the organization really has cracked it, to the point of being irrecoverable. If so, however, it raises two points in my mind:

1. What, exactly, does it say about our occupation that "declaring victory" over a terrorist organization in Iraq which never existed prior to our occupation is seen as a sign of progress and optimism? I mean, AQI only ever came about in the first place because we decided to invade Iraq. No invasion, no terrorists.

It's like saying "this was an offshoot of our bad planning and poor decision-making, but we've mostly fixed the direct problem (although it's true a multitude of other, related problems still exist), so lets declare victory. Huzzah!"

2. As the article notes, one reason given for not declaring victory is if there are no terrorists left it opens up the question of why we still need troops there. I.e., if it's not the terrorists doing all the shooting and killing and bombing, aren't our troops just trying to referee a civil war?

Of course, it has been true for a considerable time the vast majority of violence perpetrated in Iraq has had nothing whatsoever to do with AQI or any other recognized terrorist organization, and has had everything to do with factional conflicts within Iraq. This can't be admitted, however, or what little public support still remains for keeping our troops over there would collapse even further.

It's all a pipe-dream. The chances our troops are going to exit Iraq within the next two years is roughly the same as our cars being pooped on by dive-bombing pigs. Endless rationalizations for the war follow the same life-cycle: creation, promotion, prove to be false, discard in favor of yet another rationalization ... and the cycle of death continues unabated.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Maybe kids ARE better off without insurance

A new study has been released with some startling conclusions -- even when children do have insurance and see doctors, the quality of care they receive is quite poor, particularly in regards to preventative care.

Now the President and all those shrieking right-wing bloggers who have been stalking the Frost family to the point even Time magazine has noticed have another reason to support their misguided case against expanding the SCHIP program - they are trying to save them from poor medical care.

As various sites have noted, Malkin herself was singing another tune a few years ago when she found her family in a situation similar to what the Frost's are in now (minus the two handicapped children within the Frost household).

Digby responds:
"Apparently, that's not enough. Malkin and her husband are lucky enough to qualify for wingnut welfare and have healthy children. Bully for them. They got theirs and are now railing against the "choices" made by two working parents who make 45,000 a year. But I think she and her stalker squad are going to be surprised to find that most people don't see things their way --- this smug judgmentalism and rank callousness is not the American way. That's not what freedom is all about."

There remains the open question as to whether or not the entire anti-Frost campaign was originally orchestrated from the offices of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell ... although the email mistakenly sent to a Democratic staffer sure seems like compelling evidence.

Conservatives are in a losing position on health care, and somewhere, deep in what remains of their hearts, they know this, so they respond in their usual, time-tested manner - yell louder, smear the messenger and ignore inconvenient details which conflict with their made-up reality. By now, it's a Pavlovian reflex.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Well, she's right in one instance at least

Ann Coulter is flogging a new book, and in doing so did an interview with the New York Observer, some snippets of which are available here.

Coulter of course is known for her outrageous statements, but one really leaps out at me.

"If we took away women's right to vote, we'd never have to worry about another Democrat president. It's kind of a pipe dream, it's a personal fantasy of mine, but I don't think it's going to happen. And it is a good way of making the point that women are voting so stupidly, at least single women.

It also makes the point, it is kind of embarrassing, the Democratic Party ought to be hanging its head in shame, that it has so much difficulty getting men to vote for it. I mean, you do see it’s the party of women and 'We’ll pay for health care and tuition and day care -- and here, what else can we give you, soccer moms?' "

One can, of course, turn this around and ask why the Republican party has so much difficulty getting women to vote for it, and I am sure there a joke just waiting to made there about Coulter's own gender and voting propensities, but I'll leave that to the pros.

Really, though, the statement is a good, brief summation of what values are important to Republicans, or to leading Republican pundits at least - and apparently issues like health care and education don't make the list because they aren't "manly" enough.

No, no, all that seems to matter is the seemingly endless capacity to demand more war, more military spending, more death, destruction and devastation without any apparent plan for actually bringing things to an end. Oh, you'll hear platitudes - "we'll make things safe for Democracy", or "War on Terrorism" or whatever, but any set of actual, realistic, measurable metrics which would denote final success or failure ... not so much.

Heck, even when such metrics are set, then found to not be met, the results are simply ignored. Witness the events of last month.

If I had to choose between providing funding for health care, tuition and day care for working mothers, or funding for the continued armed occupation of a nation which had nothing to do with terrorism before we invaded it, I'll take the former, thanks ... if that places me in "the party of women", I can live with that.

It's better than being in the party of corrupt, fear-mongering, war-mongering, minority-bashing, gay-bashing, mostly white men ... and Ann Coulter.

I don't know if women in general, or even single women in general, are voting stupidly ... but I do know one specific single woman who is.