Thursday, June 28, 2007

A bite to choke on

The immigration bill failed in a senate vote today, 53-46. The result is not a huge surprise, although Framer, despite predicting it's ultimate failure for weeks, found the final margin to be wider than he anticipated. Kudos for him for being on top of this from the get go. In particular, he noted early on the level of Democratic unhappiness with the bill (which did not get wide media coverage), and in the end 15 Democrats voted against it.

While the bill tried to provide something for everyone to like, it ended up providing something for everyone to hate instead. The border-wall bunch hated the entire route to citizenship proposal, and were concerned the enforcement provisions in the bill would never actually be ... well ... enforced. Given our history of (not) enforcing existing provisions, you can't really say their fears were unfounded.

Liberals, meanwhile, ended up seeing the provisions for guest-workers as a means to create an underclass within the labor force. Also, I suspect (as I noted before, and Framer did as well) there was a lack of enthusiasm for Democratic lawmakers to vote for a bill the President was so openly hoping to see come up for his signature. For anyone "on the fence", throwing the President such a lifeline when his popularity is at near-historic lows would have been a strong disincentive for voting in favor of the bill.

The vote outcome itself just reinforces how weak the President's position has become -- does anyone really think if this bill had come up for a vote three years ago, it would not have passed? I would say this really hurts the Bush administration, except it's hurting so much already how much more does yest another setback, even one of this magnitude, really mean?

So the status quo remains, which everyone seems to agree is not working, but which most everyone seems to prefer to the recently scuttled alternative. Apparently everyone felt things really could get worse after all. So what's next?

X4mr suggests trying to break the bill up into smaller chucks, focusing on pieces that might be passed. I am not sure I see this as being any better though. Both sides of the debate aren't going to give something to the other side without getting something back in return, of course ... so pieces have to be tied together. "I'll trade you more border security agents for a route to citizenship" for example. The problem is, certain pieces become very intertwined -- border agents, increased capacity to hold aliens, etc., and it may not make sense to pass some parts without others ... but then if a bigger chunk for one side gets proposed, the other side demands more in return, and the whole thing becomes too big to swallow again.

So the whole thing gets tabled, for this year at least, and it's hard to see either side agreeing to anything next year, when what looks to be a very heated Presidential race moves front-and-center. I expect it will be 2009 before we see the matter seriously addressed again.

Meanwhile, maybe we can all focus on something less divisive, such as impeaching Darth Cheney.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The new Jiajing Emperor

In a post at How the World Works discussing the extreme environmental difficulties plaguing China, Andrew Leonard references a citation describing the period of the Jiajing Emperor, one of the Ming Dynasty rulers:

In spite of his concentration on selfish whims and the menace on his borders, Zhu Houcong never let anyone usurp his power and authority. In his time the rich grew richer and the poor became impoverished, particularly in the Lower Yangtze area. Wealth bred leisure, which demanded luxuries and entertainment; it also encouraged the development of the theater, art, literature, and printing. The political vigor of the empire, however, began to decline, and the house of Ming showed signs of senescence.

It takes little effort to see the parallels between that period of Chinese history and our modern situation. As it was then, income inequality is becoming increasingly apparent -- the rich get richer (often regardless of actual merit, as can be seen in the millions and tens of millions taken in by poorly performing CEOs) and the poor get poorer. Our nation demands more luxuries and entertainment (represented by the increasing trade deficits, and the general populace being more aware of events regarding Paris Hilton than events pertaining to the Iraq war) while doing little or nothing to actually address the real problems the country faces (things such as education, infrastructure, health insurance, immigration, and more).

It wouldn't surprise me at all if some historical reference 500 years from now denotes the ruling period of Bush Dubya as marking the onset of our own period of senescence.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Why don't all the rules apply?

There's been a great deal of discussion about Vice President Cheney's novel understanding as to exactly which branch or branches of government his office belongs to. Recently he's been claiming that, because his office's sole Constitutional responsibility is legislative (to sit in on Senate discussion and break ties), Executive orders such as those involving audits of the manner in which classified materials are handled don't apply to him or his staff. (X4mr has a post with his views here).

It's worth noting, however, that Cheney's understanding as to which branch of government his office falls under has shifted in the last three years. Back in 2004, when one of the big issues in the national eye was whether or not Congress could force disclosure of Energy Task Force records, Cheney was adamantly claiming the records were protected via Executive privilege, and talking about how important it was the Executive branch defend itself against "continual encroachment by Congress". The Supreme Court eventually ruled in his favor.

Now, I may be just a wee bit confused here, but if one is going to claim something such as "Executive privilege", doesn't that imply one is, well ... part of the Executive branch? If not, the privilege doesn't apply. (Not to mention the budget for the VP's office is within the Executive branch, not the Legislative, but what's a few millions dollars here or there?)

Cheney is obviously doing his utmost to shoehorn his position into some no-man's land that resides partly within the Executive branch (which is where every previous administration and VP would have placed it) and partly within the Legislative, and then trying to emphasize whichever role will allow him to get away with whatever underhanded, dirty little secret he is trying to hide from public scrutiny at the time. You can't really blame him -- he's a disgusting little weasel, so weaselly behavior is just part of his nature.

If, however, he wants to continue to have it both ways, then he can have it both ways ... meaning all rules apply instead of none of them. So, Mr. Cheney, why don't you start acceding to those Presidentially ordered audit requests (which the VP office did, in fact, accede to for the first two years, establishing a precedent if nothing else), and while you're at it you might want to find all those task force records your colleagues in the Legislative branch were asking for. I mean, since you are part of their branch (as you, yourself, have recently argued), you no longer have grounds to deny the requests.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

That didn't take long.

A few days ago I threw up a post discussing the events in Gaza, and my thoughts on the upcoming dissolution of one Palestinian state into two. In it, I predicted the West Bank would likely be receiving visits from suicide bombers inside of 12 months.

It appears I was optimistic.

In a NY Times article today, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar was asked about his intents regarding the West Bank, and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas' attempts to stamp out Hamas influence there after Hamas ran Fatah out of Gaza last weekend.

“If they continue to dismantle the local elections in the West Bank and punish Hamas there, the United States and Israel will face another surprise there,” Mr. Zahar said. Asked how, he said, “The way we defend ourselves against Israel and this occupation.” Pressed if that meant attacks and suicide bombings, he smiled and replied: “You said that.” Then he added: “We are ending the reign of the spies and collaborators in Fatah.”

Already, within a week, Zahar is intimating Hamas will resort to suicide bomb attacks not against Israeli's, but against fellow Palestinians. At this rate, we will see them occurring within 12 weeks, not 12 months.

Zahar has some points -- Hamas was chosen by the people of Palestine to represent the country. Abbas is tracking down and arresting elected Hamas officials and destroying Hamas facilities in the West Bank. Of course, there is one big pont Zahar fails to mention: this all has occurred after Hamas initiated open conflict in Gaza and killed a number of Fatah supporters, including throwing at least one out of a high window. If one starts an armed conflict, one can't be surprised when one's opponents respond in kind.

The behavior and rhetoric just emphasizes once again the nihilistic attitude so prevalent among so many factions in the region. If a group can't get everything it wants, it will make sure nobody gets anything they want. So the spiral continues, each act of violence and death begetting more instances of violence and death. Parties saying they will negotiate, meaning they are willing to accept what they want as long as they give nothing up in return. Iraq is the same way.

Four years ago, we went into Iraq amidst dreams of establishing some form of flourishing Arab democracy there (among other things, I know). I haven't checked on it lately, how is that going? Afghanistan may be marginally better, but no one can say it's going well.

Two years ago, when Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip it was described as an "opportunity" to help jump-start negotiations toward a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian problems, maybe help create a separate, democratic Palestinian state. Events last weekend might have put just a small damper in that plan.

Now, the situation in the West Bank is being declared an "opportunity" to help show how a separate, peaceful solution and a democratic Palestinian state might be created. Given our track record on helping establish democratic Arabic states in the region, I'm not holding my breath.

If you have read this far and are waiting for me to propose a solution, I am sorry to disappoint you -- I don't have one. I can't see one. Maybe complaining and bemoaning without offering any ideas makes me an intellectual nihilist, on this matter at least. I don't think so, though -- I still have hope a solution exists. Maybe if we stumble around long enough, we'll eventually trip on it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Stem Cell Stupidity

Congress has sent another bill (the Stem Cell Enhancement Act of 2007) to the White House which would widen the the ability of government to fund research using pluripotent stem cells, which are derived from human embryos. President Bush has carried out his announced intent and vetoed the bill, despite clear majorities favoring it not just in both houses of Congress but amongst the electorate as well.

A White House press secretary claimed the decision was about policy, not politics. A White House press secretary lied through his teeth, and probably smiled while he was going it. Policy implies some well thought out, overarching plan, but there is nothing well thought out about this decision. Unless stupidity is the administration policy ... which, come to think of it, explains a great deal about the past six years.

While announcing the veto, the President pushed increased funding for research into other means to develop pluripotent stem cells. In doing so, he was referring to a recently announced breakthrough by a team in Japan (and confirmed by other researchers) showing an easy means for creating pluripotent stem cells from skin cells. This is a huge, huge discovery, and could eventually be the perfect solution to all the moral issues opponents of stem cell research cite (since the harvesting of these cells destroys the embryo in the process). But ...

... the research so far has only been shown to work with mice. Given our chief executive's demonstrated lack of scientific acuity, he likely isn't aware a simple fact which, I am sure, immediately leaps out to you, dear reader -- namely, mice are not the same as humans.

We most definitely should be funding research in this area, but in addition to funding current stem cell research, not in place of it. Even if the skin cell reprogramming research eventually pans out (and I sincerely hope it does), we are talking about years of research and development to reach the point where such cells can be developed and used for human research. The approach may not work with human cells, or it may work, but the resulting cells aren't pluripotent, just to name two things which might derail the process. Meanwhile, our government won't be making any significant further progress down the trail we already know works for generating pluripotent cells.

Research could be set back years.

Stock market investors are told not to put all your money into a single company. Instead, you are encouraged to diversify, to invest in a wide range of different companies, and across different industries. Science research works (or should work) similarly -- you don't bet everything on one approach. Instead, you put some resources into a variety of approaches, giving yourself more opportunities to hit it big, and to protect yourself from a single catasrtophic failure.

Somehow, this simple concept, one which most any sixth-grader is capable of understanding, seems to be beyond the grasp of our current head of state.

President Bush has repeatedly stated his objection to such research in moral terms, and this argument would care significant weight with me (I would understand it, even though I would disagree with it), if it weren't for the simple fact the embryos used for any additional research would be destroyed regardless!

Here is the relevant text from the bill (pay special attention to item #2):

(b) Ethical Requirements.—

“Human embryonic stem cells shall be eligible for use in any research conducted or supported by the Secretary if the cells meet each of the following:


    “The stem cells were derived from human embryos that have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for the purposes of fertility treatment, and were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals seeking such treatment.


    “Prior to the consideration of embryo donation and through consultation with the individuals seeking fertility treatment, it was determined that the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded.


    “The individuals seeking fertility treatment donated the embryos with written informed consent and without receiving any financial or other inducements to make the donations.

The bill essentially says "lets take some embryos which are going to be destroyed anyhow, run through the incinerator, and instead of wasting them like that lets put them to some use, so someone else might be helped". Somehow, the President feels this violates his morals ... yet the President is wrong, even on moral grounds.

The President's veto is not going to save a single embryo. They are going to be destroyed, not saved. Not single additional child will be born, who other wise would not have been, as a result
of his refusal to sign the bill. At the absolute best, his position will be morally neutral -- no additional harm or benefit will have derived from it.

However, if a single person suffers a single extra day because research which might otherwise have helped him was delayed by this veto, the President will have caused irreparable harm. In the worst case, that harm might include untold number of deaths. Where is the morality in that?

To most of the nation, taking something which is otherwise going be destroyed and putting it to some use, particularly a use which might, ultimately, be of incalculable benefit, would simply be a no-brainer decision. Of course you would do it.

Unfortunately, our current President has no brains.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A tale of two countries

With Hamas essentially executing a military takeover of the Gaza Strip, and President Mahmoud Abbas responding by dissolving the government and creating a new one in the West Bank, we now effectively have two semi-autonomous Palestines - one which the US and Israel (and other bodies, such as the European Union) have announced they will work with, once which they ... well, they aren't quite sure what to do with.

Ever since Hamas gained a large majority in the national elections about 18 months ago, both the US and Israel have been pointing out that while, yes, free elections are great and all, they also have consequences. In this case, the consequences have included withholding money and goods needed by Palestinians, particularly in the strip, where 1.5 million people are crowded into 139 square miles. By comparison, Tucson has about 1/3 the population in more than 1-1/2 times the space.

Hamas has attempted to blame the deteriorating conditions, especially in the Strip, on US and Israeli influences, particularly the refusal to turn over funds earmarked for Palestine, and needed to support the government. While the lack of funds has certainly been among the main contributors to the problem, it's hard to argue with the US/Israel stance in this matter, given Hamas' expressed intent to destroy Israel and replace it with a Palestinian state. Given Hamas has offered a 10-year truce but has never backed off this founding principle of the organization, has never given any recognition of Israel's right to exist, it seems ridiculous to then be surprised at Israel's reaction. "Yes, we plan to destroy you. In the meantime, would you mind forking over some money for a few years so we can stabilize and improve our national infrastructure, the better to carry out our aims in a decade or so?"

So, barring intensive Israeli military intervention in Gaza with the intent to crush Hamas and weaken it for some time to come, we are going to be left with a competition of sorts: which version of Palestine will turn out better? The "Islamist" Gaza area, or the western-backed West Bank?

Given Gaza is effectively cut off and under siege (Israel controls checkpoints in and out, even on the Egyptian border) this shouldn't be much of a competition. It's hard to see how anything can turn out well in Gaza, and it certainly behooves all interested western parties to do their utmost to see things turn out not just better than Gaza (after all, nearly anythung would be better than Gaza in it's current state), but exceedingly well under Abbas. However, there are several reasons this may not be that easy:

1) Corruption. The reason the voters went with Hamas in the first place was because, even though they were aware of the probable repercussions of a Hamas-led government, they were even more fed up with the long-standing history of corruption in the Abbas-led Fatah movement. What good was having international funding come in if that money went to line the pockets of ministers and other officials?

2) Syria. The despotic government here has no interest in seeing any kind of flourishing, semi-democratic state along its borders. Any such state would simply be a symbol to it's own people of how much better off they might be. Syria has already shown a willingness to intervene in Lebanon, and while they would be less explicit in their actions in the West Bank (no troops would be sent, for example), they certainly wouldn't hesitate to act (i.e., more assassinations).

3) Fervent Islamists. As with Syria, these people have no interest in seeing a flourishing semi-democracy anywhere in the Middle East. They don't have anything better to offer, they just don't want the "corruption" of western ways. Unlike even Syria, which at least has it's own national status to consider, these individuals have nothing to lose, are only interested in destruction, and are currently demonstrating this every day in Iraq.

Sadly, even if things in the West Bank start off well, I am afraid, over time, individuals who fall under category three above will begin to arrive in the area, and the faster things might improve, the sooner the response. I expect, within a year, to be reading about suicide bombers killing Palestinians. The more things change ...

Friday, June 15, 2007

Still more immigration

Various news outlets are reporting today the stalled immigration bill is likely to be revived, with the NY Times reporting it could be brought up again as early as next week.

Senate Leader Harry Reid had indicated, when tabling the bill last week, that he would not bring it up again unless some number of Republican votes could be guaranteed in support of it (I have seen both 15 and 25 as the number in question). President Bush was lobbying hard for the bill, including a lunch meeting on the hill with Republican leaders. I have to admit, I didn't expect much to come of it, but apparently I was wrong.

Should the bill be brought to the floor again, it still comes across as a strange alignment of interests to me. While there is opposition to the bill from all sides, the most vocal and vociferous disagreement has come from the right. There are unquestionably some number of voters on the right for whom this is the make-or-break issue, as in "if this bill gets passed I will never vote Republican again". I haven't seen anything like that level of intensity from opposition on the left.

As such, I find it interesting the President seems to feel he can ensure whatever number of votes from his party that Reid thinks he needs. I wouldn't think, given the President's low popularity numbers and the level of dissent that seems to exist amongst some Republican supporters, that Republicans would have much incentive to change their positions from the first vote. Also, as Framer at Arizona 8th has pointed out, why would Democrats be in a hurry to help an exceedingly unpopular President pass legislation he will undoubtedly characterize as a big "win" for his administration?

It's possible Dems feel the legislation is worth it, and any "win" the President might claim would be phyrric at best, given the dissension the bill's passing would cause in right-wing ranks. Who knows? It's become obvious I certainly don't.

In related matters, news is getting out the Department of Defense has requested, regardless of the fate of the overall immigration bill, that one clause contained with the bill be fast-tracked. The clause in question would provide citizenship to children of illegal immigrants (or undocumented aliens, or whatever term you want to use) who enlist in the military. This is a response to the Army and Marines once again missing their recruitment quotas last month.

Apparently enrolling in a job which, as the recruitment failures make clear, not enough citizens are willing to do, and one in which the perks include the opportunity to get shot at regularly, and have a bomb explode near your vehicle on any given day, still qualifies as "amnesty" to some in the anti-immigration crowd. Maybe if such enlistees are actually killed in combat, this group can be begrudgingly convinced to have them declared citizens posthumously.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Who are the REAL terrorists?

The U.S. Fourth circuit handed down a significant decision recently, ruling the government could not continue detaining Ali al-Marri indefinitely without charges.

For those unfamiliar with the case, some background can be found here. The short version is al-Marri was in the U.S. legally when he was arrested in Dec. 2001.He was initially charged with using illegal documents to open bank accounts, but shortly before his trial was to open the administration declared him an unlawful combatant, and placed him under military detention, where he has languished since.

The distinction is significant. As an "unlawful combatant" his rights to a lawyer have been limited (and at times non-existent). He is able to be held indefinitely without charges or trial. Etc., etc.

Not surprisingly, left-wing writers are hailing the decision and right-wing ones are decrying it. Both Glenn Greenwald and Anonymous Liberal have excellent posts (lengthy, but well-worth reading) discussing the matter, while Andrew McCarthy of the National Review and Orin Kerr give right-leaning perspective.

It's notable McCarthy and Kerr both commit the same logical fallacy which right-wing writers have been making for years, namely equating mere accusation with guilt. McCarthy describes al-Marri as "an al-Qaeda-trained terrorist embedded here by the terror network", while the opening sentence of Kerr's also associates al-Marri with al-Qaeda: "What Should Happen to Al Qaeda Cell Members Discovered in the United States?" Of course, none of these claims ever have been actually demonstrated, we are for some reason expected to simply accept them on trust.

As Greenwald's piece explicitly makes clear, though, a major principal of our system of government is to not take such assertions on trust. Our founding fathers were well aware of the dangers of granting a government the ability to simply collect citizens off the street without needing to give a cause for doing so, and they specifically set up checks and balances to prevent such abuses. Now, more than two centuries later, individuals such as McCarthy and Kerr (and, perhaps most perniciously, John Yoo) are advocating the executive branch should have such rights, rights out founders fought to get rid of.

We hear repeatedly how this is a "different kind of war we are fighting" and how "different rules apply", and that may be so. Why is it, though, the people who always seem to spout such lines inevitably advocate "new" methods which strip rights from individuals, which make us a less free society? Couldn't our "new" method of fighting this war involve adding rights?

It's true in past wars captured prisoners did not have access to the courts. It's also true, however, in past wars it was much easier to make a clear distinction between who was and was not a combatant. As those lines blur, it may be true we need a new approach to dealing with the problem, but if so I want an approach that errs on the side of extending our rights and liberties, not curtailing them. McCarthy, Kerr, Yoo and their ilk certainly are not "terrorists", but they scare me a lot more in the long run than the al-Marri's of the world.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Throwing bad money after bad

President Bush has just finished meeting with Republican Senators regarding the proposed immigration bill, which failed to get sufficient votes for cloture last week. Framer at Arizona 8th had a series of posts on the matter discussing why it failed (see his entries for June 5-7) from his perspective, and there is of course a lot of analysis elsewhere.

I have said elsewhere that, while I may not like some of the specifics of the proposed bill, I like the general outline; I.e., some mixture of enforcement, citizenship and guest-workers. It's virtually the only thing the President and I agree on (which I tell him every time he and I talk). While on some level, I appreciate his additional efforts, I just don't see how he wins from this.

The President has no political capital to spend -- he's wasted it all profligately on Iraq. As a result, his credibility and popularity are at near-record lows (Nixon saves him from bottoming out). Unlike a couple years ago, when he was flying high and everyone was looking to catch a ride on his coattails, there is no incentive whatsoever for Republican Senators to come over to his views.

Framer correctly noted there was a fair bit of liberal resistance to the bill for various reasons, but it remains true that most (or, at least, the most vocal) opposition came from conservatives screaming "amnesty" and "enforcement". With his meeting today, Bush places the Senators from his party in the position of either very publicly breaking with their President over an isue he clearly feels is important, or maintaining their current views (which seem to be popular with their base voters, at least). Given the lack of capital noted above, I'm betting the base wins. Another public defeat, on top of everything else (Iraq, prosecutors, Libby) can only weaken the administration even further.

Which brings me around to my real point -- while, in this specific case I might find myself in agreement with the President's aim, his continued mulishness in the face of dissent is just yet another symptom of an ongoing problem. Bush's determination to force through his desires, despite any opposition from Congress, despite the views of the electorate, despite foreign opinion, despite anything, has led this country to disaster.

Friday, June 8, 2007

A museum for everyone

The creation museum has opened in Petersburg, KY, and has been placed at the very top of my "things to do" list the next time I find myself in the area.

The museum cost $27 million to build, and features animatronic dinosaurs amongst a host of other exhibits. Apparently, our forefathers used saddles to ride triceratops, something I most definitely did not know before seeing this picture (other pictures of the museum can be found here). The pictures come accompanied with this description of a visit to the place.

How could anyone pass this up? For die-hard, conservative Christians and committed Creationists, it would seem this is a must-see for the purported "educational" value. For others such as myself, it's must-see for the heights of unintentional comedy it scales. (I easily reach Serious Funny, bordering on Wicked Funny).

Why habeas corpus matters

The Senate Judiciary committee just passed a bill which would restore habeas corpus rights to those detained at Guantanamo. It was mostly a partly line vote, with Dems on the "aye" side and Reps on the "nay". The exception was Arlen Specter, R-PA, who voted with the Dems (damn that terrorist-loving RINO).

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley and Keith Olbermann had an exchange on Olbermann's Countdown show last night explaining why habeas corpus isn't just some trivial matter which can be ignored without consequence (transcription courtesy of mcjoan):

Olbermann: ... It is easy to imagine Americans who are patriotic but scared, who could just sort of dismiss habeas corpus and other civil liberties as luxuries that make us weak right now. Explain why that's exactly backwards, why they're not luxuries, why they're necessities that make us strong.

Turley: First of all, habeas corpus is sometimes treated like some trick by a Philadelphia lawyer. It is actually the foundation for all other rights. When the government throws you into a dungeon for what you say or who you pray to, it's habeas corpus that's the right that allows you to see the enforcement of the other rights. So without habeas corpus, the rest of it is just aspirational and meaningless. ...

Olbermann: The right to bear arms, to believe your religion or to not believe any religion at all, to say what you want, these rights get people fired up, no matter what side of the debate they're on. Is not habeas corpus essential to all of them? You don't have that, it doesn't matter what the second amendment says?

Turley: That's right.... all those rights are meaningless [without habeas corpus] because it's habeas corpus that allows you to get to a court who can hear your complaint. So without habeas corpus it's just basically words that have no meaning, and this president has shown the dangers of the assertion of absolute power. He has asserted the right to take an American citizen, declare them unilaterally an enemy combatant and deny them all rights. The courts have said otherwise and now Congress will say otherwise. [Any transcription errors mine.]

The administration has battled for years to remove habeas corpus rights from all categories of individuals, including US citizens. This has led to the perpetual imprisonment of people at Gitmo (most of whom don't even qualify as "accused terrorists", as they haven't been charged with anything), extraordinary rendition and torture (for which 26 US citizens are being tried in absentia in an Italian courtroom, in a case opening today) and tucking people away in secret detention centers (the author of this last article, Warren Strobel, is one of the guys who got things right).

Bush et. al. have provided a perfect discrete example of the abuses which not only can, but will, occur when this fundamental right is abrogated. Amongst those eight on the committee who voted against the bill (and who apparently feel Americans don't need no stinking rights) is John Kyl, R-AZ. I imagine if Senator Kyl were picked up off the street tomorrow and thrown in jail without charges (hey, I can dream, can't I?) he would likely reverse his views on the matter.

Addendum: More on our secret detention centers, where apparently age is no barrier to being "disappeared".

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Right on cue

As I predicted yesterday (along with lots and lots of other people, I know), the right-wing pundits are already up in arms over the Libby sentencing.

William Kristol, founder and editor of the conservative Weekly Standard has a piece up wondering why Bush hasn't pardoned Libby yet:

"So much for loyalty, or decency, or courage. For President Bush, loyalty is apparently a one-way street; decency is something he's for as long as he doesn't have to take any risks in its behalf; and courage--well, that's nowhere to be seen. Many of us used to respect President Bush. Can one respect him still?"
I can answer that question: No. Although it's hard to believe the President's failure to pardon an individual found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of committing perjury when testifying about a federal crime is really the reason one should have lost said respect. I mean, the illegal wiretapping wasn't enough for you? The removal of habeas corpus rights didn't do it? The rendition? The torture? The Iraq war failures? Really? This is the final straw in regards to losing respect for the President?

The National Review, another conservative mouthpiece, has an editorial up advocating a Libby pardon. My personal favorite is:

"There has always been solid justification for a pardon. Although he tried mightily, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald never found enough evidence to charge Libby or anyone else with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act or the Espionage Act in the CIA-leak affair."
Well, duh. That was the reason the perjury case was brought against Libby in the first place -- the prosecutor felt, in no uncertain terms, his criminal investigation was blocked by Libby's repeated refusals to tell the truth regarding the affair. A jury deliberated carefully and agreed. That's why Libby faces 30 months in prison.

Little Green Footballs supports a pardon, as does potential GOP Presidential candidate Fred Thompson favors a pardon (hey, he can make that a central element of his campaign -- "Elect me, and I'll free Scooter!", there's a rallying cry), and so on.

Let's be clear - perjury is serious. If individuals are given license to freely lie under oath, our entire system of law falls apart. Conservatives felt it was serious enough to impeach a sitting president when he perjured himself about a personal sexual affair. Libby's perjury involved naming a covert CIA agent, endangering her and who knows how many agency assets she may have had contact with. Since it's one of "their own" (I.e., wealthy, educated, white, male, and , most importantly of all, conservative) apparently the rules shouldn't apply.

Addendum: Not surprisingly, lots of people are blogging about this subject. Anonymous Liberal has a quite lengthy post here about the matter, in particular decimating the National Review piece point-by-point. It's well worth a read.

How NOT to make a case

Framer at Arizona 8th had a post yesterday which referenced a Washington Post article, which itself referenced the recent non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates as to the potential costs and benefits of the proposed immigration bill.

The article discusses the total costs of the bill, throws out a figure of $126 billion over ten years, and is generally accurate as far as it goes. My quibbles are it what it leaves out.

The article goes into great detail to spell out the figures of what new immigrants would cost - $15.4 billion for Medicare and Medicaid, $3.7 billion for food stamps and child nutrition programs, and so on. When all is said and done the grand total (derived from actually looking at the figures in the CBO report) comes to $53.6 billion. No question, that's a big figure.

What the Post article completely fails to mention, and the reader wouldn't know unless they took the time to actually review the full CBO report, is that $53.6 billion dollar all those dern immigrants is gonna cost us is more than offset by the $65.7 billion dollars in addition federal revenue said immigrants are expected to generate. Put another way, all those folks "doing nothing but taking money from the system that should go to real Americans" are, in fact, actually expected to put $12.1 billion more into the system than they take out. (I'll save you some time -- the relevant data can be found in table 3, pages 6-7, and table 5, page 27.)

If you're going to make a case based on someone's figures, it's best to take all their figures into account. There may be many good reasons to fight the bill (Framer has a more recent post on the subject here, and I know there are reasons liberals don't like the bill either), but implying potential new immigrants will cost us money when the data you use says exactly the opposite (which is what the Post article does) is not the best approach to take.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

This and That

1) Senator Craig Thomas (R-WY) has passed away following a battle with leukemia. He was 74. My sincere condolences to his family.

2) "Scooter" Libby has just been handed a 30-month sentence for committing perjury in regards to the Valerie Plame affair. The defense has been arguing for probation while federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was asking for 30-37 months. Clearly, Judge Reggie Walton sided with the prosecution in this matter. My guess is we'll see all those "rule of law" advocates on Fox talk shows screaming bloody murder about the length of the sentence -- remember, "rule of law" isn't supposed to apply to elite, Caucasian, Christian, conservative males. Just to the "little people".

Judge Walton scheduled another hearing next Thursday to address the issue of whether or not Libby can remain free on bail while appealing the decision. Typically this is not allowed in Federal cases, but this isn't a typical Federal case either. Should Libby be allowed to remain out on bail, it's extremely unlikely he would serve any actual jail time -- by the time the appeals had tun out, President Bush would be ending her term of office and would be likely to provide a pardon for his perjuring pal.

3) I know it may not be very "liberal" of me, but I don't have a real problem with the "point" system as proposed for potential immigrants.

The main objection seems to be the (lack of) weight provided for potential immigrants who have family members who are already US citizens. As things stand, out of a maximum 100 points, having a family member who is a US citizen is worth 10. Far more points are available for education, or for possessing needed job skills.

A number of people, especially Hispanics, are up in arms, and phrases like "separating families" are getting thrown about. This claim would make sense to me if there weren't provisions to extend citizenship to spouses and minor children of individuals who gain US citizenship. Frankly, we should be providing significantly more weight to, say, a candidate with a Masters degree in mechanical engineering rather than, say, a candidate who has a junior high education and no necessary job skills, but who's Uncle already happens to be a citizen.

4) A New York Times article this morning mentions the discovery of chicken bones discovered along the Pacific coast of South America that predate the arrival of Europeans. This is significant because chickens are not native to the Americas, and it had been previously thought chickens were likely not introduced prior to the arrival of the Spaniards in the late 1400's.

A minority had argued chickens were instead introduced to the New World by earlier Polynesian travelers, and this new finding strongly bolsters that view. The bones (and some associated pottery shards) date between 1304 and 1424.

It had been known since Thor Heyerdahl navigated the Kon Tiki from South America to Polynesia in 1947 that trans-Pacific journeys between the two cultures were at least theoretically possible, but apparently this is the first firm archaeological evidence for contact between them.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Get him outta here!

No, I am not referring to the President or Darth Cheney, although the sentiment applies to both of them as well.

The Associated Press is reporting this morning a federal grand jury has issued an indictment against William Jefferson, a Democrat who represents Louisiana in Congress. It's long overdue.

Here is a summation of Jefferson's corrupt history, via wikipedia:

FBI investigation of bribery and fraud

On 30 July, 2005, Jefferson was videotaped by the FBI receiving $100,000 worth of $100 bills in a leather briefcase at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Arlington, Virginia. Jefferson told an investor, Lori Mody, who was wearing a wire, that he would need to give Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar $500,000 "as a motivating factor" to make sure they obtained contracts for iGate and Mody's company in Nigeria. A few days later, on 3 August, 2005, FBI agents raided Jefferson's home in Northeast Washington and, as noted in an 83-page affidavit filed to support a subsequent raid on his Congressional office, "found $90,000 of the cash in the freezer, in $10,000 increments wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed inside frozen-food containers." Serial numbers found on the currency in the freezer matched serial numbers of funds given by the FBI to their informant.

Late in the night of 20 May 2006, FBI agents executed a search warrant at Jefferson's office in the Rayburn House Office Building.

The affidavit used to support these raids included, among other allegations:

  • The FBI videotaped Jefferson receiving a stock certificate from Mody for a company set up in Nigeria to promote iGate's technology. Jefferson predicted the deal would generate $200 million annually after five years.
  • Jefferson told Mody that he wanted a similar financial stake in the business in Ghana.
  • Jefferson sought $10 million in financing from Mody to take over iGate and install "confidants" on the new board. In two payments, Mody wired $89,225 to the ANJ Group LLC, a company controlled by Jefferson's family.
  • Jefferson lent $4,800 of the money Mody gave him to an unnamed congressional aide. Another $4,900 was given back to the FBI by one of Jefferson's attorneys.
  • The FBI claims it has uncovered "at least seven other schemes in which Jefferson sought things of value in return for his official acts."

Former aides plead guilty

In January 2006, Brett M. Pfeffer, a former aide to Jefferson, implicated him in a corruption scheme involving an Internet company being set up in Nigeria. Pfeffer was president of an investment company in McLean, Virginia. In return for political support for the deal, Jefferson had legal work directed toward his family's operations. It was also said that a daughter of his was put on retainer of the Virginia investment company to the tune of $5,000 a month. Jefferson also is said to have arranged for his family a 5% to 7% ownership stake in the Nigerian Internet company. Pfeffer pled guilty to charges of aiding and abetting bribery of a public official and conspiracy on 11 January 2006 in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. On May 26, he was sentenced to eight years, but was "cooperating in an ongoing probe and may be eligible for a sentence reduction afterward", according to a prosecutor.

On 3 May 2006 Vernon Jackson, 53, CEO of Louisville, Kentucky based iGate Inc., admitted to bribery of a public official and conspiracy to bribe a public official during a plea hearing in U.S. District Court. According to the Associated Press, "court documents make clear that Congressman William Jefferson (Democrat-Louisiana) is the accused congressman, without naming him." Jackson's plea bargain requires his cooperation in the ongoing investigation against the congressman he admits bribing. The total amount of the bribes is between $400,000 and $1 million, according to court documents of the Jackson proceeding. On September 8, Jackson was sentenced to 7 years and 3 months in jail.

As can be seen, the evidence against Jackson dates back nearly two years and covers a wide-range of shady transactions -- Jackson seemingly spent so much time setting up opportunities where he could receive bribes, it's a wonder he managed to find time for re-election.

Somehow Jackson managed to parlay two small assets -- his minority status (Jefferson is black) and the heavy-handedness of the FBI raid on his Congressional office -- into some degree of public sympathy, and managed to garner enough votes in his district to be part of a two-candidate run off election last fall. Jefferson managed to defeat Democrat Karen Carter in the runoff and was re-elected to his seat. (Full disclosure: I donated money to the Carter campaign.)

I don't know what it says about the voters of Louisiana that, despite the ton of bricks hanging over Jefferson's head they re-elected him anyway. I don't know what it says the Congressional Black Congress apparently felt Jefferson merited a standing ovation earlier this year.

I do know if Congressional Democrats are serious about cleaning up ethics issues they need to make sure their own back yard is pristine. This is a long-needed step toward cleanliness.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Iraq != South Korea

As has been well-reported, President Bush recently made comments to the effect he envisions a US role in Iraq similar to the role the US has had in South Korea. It's probably just as well I wasn't near him when he made those remarks -- I'd hate to be smacked down by his Secret Service detail for boxing him on the ears and berating his stupidity.

Some history: after WW2 the Korean peninsula was divided into two parts, US and Russian occupation zones. In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, the US intervened (as head of a UN-backed force), established a beachhead at Pusan, eventually drove the invaders all the way back north near the Chinese border, when the Chinese joined the fray and pushed things back south again. The line eventually stabilized pretty close to the original border between the two Koreas, and after several more years of largely stalemated fighting an armistice was reached in 1953. (It's worth noting no formal declaration of was was ever made by the US.)

Compare the above synopsis with the current situation in Iraq. In Korea, we were responding as defenders of an invaded nation, requested to intervene by the South Korean government. The United Nations supported the intervention (Russia was boycotting the UN at that time, and thus wasn't available to veto the resolution), as did the South Korean populace. After the war, there was popular support amongst Koreans for US troops remaining to help secure the border.

In Iraq, we were the invaders, no governmental body asked us to intervene, we entered without UN support, and the populace has never indicated any desire for a long-term US troop presence. (Not to mention we no legitimate casus belli to invade Iraq in the first place, but hey, what's an unnecessary, unjustified war or two between friends?)

Only our current President could find the two situations comparable.

In poll after poll, one of the greatest concerns Iraqis (and Arabs in the region in general) have had is they fear the US intends to stay permanently in Iraq. This is among the most common justifications given for supporting attacks on US troops. The US had generally denied this (for example, in 2004 Bush said "Iraqis do not support an indefinite occupation and neither does America.") while simultaneously establishing large mega-bases that seemed to belie those denials. Iraqis were afraid actions spoke louder than words, and those fears certainly seemed justified now.

War-supporters have harped on war-critics ever since the invasion (well, before the invasion, really) that criticism of any kind -- of the President, of the war, of the
intelligence, anything -- only served to "embolden the terrorists". President Bush has now done far, far worse than embolden the terrorists. He's proved them right.