Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Boy, was Biden ever right

During the vice presidential candidates debate last October, Joseph Biden referred to Dick as "the most dangerous Vice President in our country's history".

This past week or 10 days, as he looks forward to leaving office next month, Cheney has been appearing in different venues unapologetically defending his views and the actions of the Bush administration for the last eight years, pressing the notion of the "unitary executive". He claims it was wrong for the Supreme Court to allow Guantanamo detainees to be allowed to challenge their continuing detention without charge in US courtrooms (since the SC is the ultimate arbiter of such matters, this claim is wrong by definition). He claims the US has not tortured prisoners, while subsequently admitting to a major role in causing prisoners to be water-boarded.

One of his claims in the Wallace interview which has been the subject of outrage is the following:

"(The President) could launch a kind of devastating attack the world's never seen. He doesn't have to check with anybody. He doesn't have to call the Congress. He doesn't have to check with the courts. He has that authority because of the nature of the world we live in."

This looks worse than it is, since the preceding paragraph has generally been left out. Here is the comment again, in full:

"The president of the United States now for 50 years is followed at all times, 24 hours a day, by a military aide carrying a football that contains the nuclear codes that he would use and be authorized to use in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States.

He could launch a kind of devastating attack the world's never seen. He doesn't have to check with anybody. He doesn't have to call the Congress. He doesn't have to check with the courts. He has that authority because of the nature of the world we live in."

I think most people would agree that if our nation was hit with a massive nuclear attack there is not going to be time for Congress to meet before determining our response. However, this statement does do a lot to help explain Cheney's mindset - he's pushing the idea the nation has been in a constant state of emergency since 9/11, a state where the President essentially has ultimate power on all decisions.

This belief is, of course, horse shit.

The administration, largely at Cheney's urging, has consistently engaged in illegal activities, ranging from torture to illicit wiretaps. Cheney's recent appearances are almost brazenly daring his successor to do anything about these actions.

It's a challenge which must be accepted, or Biden will have been proven more correct than even he knew.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Perhaps now it will all become clear

When the Bush administration and numerous supporters found time to focus on things other than pursuing needless wars, placing political hacks into positions they were not vaguely qualified for and various ways to expand presidential fiat at the expense of civil liberties, they often complained about how Bush was not getting enough credit for the supposedly burgeoning economy.

For all the economic growth which took place during the Bush year's according to various economic measures, people consistently reported that, on the whole, they were dissatisfied with their lot. The Bushies never seemed to figure out why, even though economists such as Paul Krugman repeatedly explained to them all that extra money was either going to corporations or being amassed in the hands of a very limited few, and not, in fact, "trickling down" the the citizenry as a whole.

Today, the Associated Press had an article laying out the numbers about as clearly as they can be presented, comparing data from 3 million households a year in the years 2005-2007 to data collected during the 2000 census. The key findings in the article:

* Median household income dropped in 79 percent of the cities and towns. Incomes dropped in the wealthiest communities as well as the poorest. Charleston, Ill., home to Eastern Illinois University, saw the biggest drop - 31 percent - to a median household income of just under $21,000.

* Nationally, incomes dropped by 4.3 percent during the period, to $50,007.

*The poverty rate increased in 70 percent of the cities and towns. Athens, Ohio, home to Ohio University, had the highest poverty rate, at 52.3 percent, in the 2005-2007 period.

Nationally, the poverty rate increased from 12.4 percent to 13.3 percent since the start of the decade.

* The unemployment rate increased in 71 percent of the cities and towns. Muskegon, Mich., a city of about 40,000 near Lake Michigan, had the highest unemployment rate, at 22.1 percent.

Nationally, the unemployment rate increased from about 4 percent in 2000 to 6.6 percent in the 2005-2007 period.

* Median home values increased in 92 percent of the cities and towns studied - doubling and tripling in many cities, mainly in California. Nationally, the median home value increased 26 percent, to $181,800.

Let's see ... lower incomes, higher unmployment, greater poverty ... no, I can't possibly see why people would think the great Bush economy wasn't helping them. Of course, all those negatives were offset by large gains in home values.

How's that working out?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Earmark follies

Saw a very good article today discussing earmarks, and how they can be used as a form of institutionalized corruption. The specific earmark at the center of the article concerns differing forms of skin-decontamination, and how even though the army prefers a new lotion-based product, it has been forced, through earmarks over the past several years, to continue purchasing a powder-based product ... even though:

a) The army has no interest in the older product anymore because
b) The newer lotion is seven times more effective, and
c) It already has enough of the powder product stockpiled to last until at least 2012.

So don't get me wrong ... I think there are genuine, useful purposes for earmarks. For example, if money can be generated for a weapons system the military genuinely wants and is technically feasible, then fine. However, spending on products which are unnecessary and demonstrably worse than the competition, solely to bring revenue to local constituents and contributors represents everything which is bad about the earmark process, and is pure corruption at its finest ... to say nothing of the additional risk such incidents may impose upon our troops.

I have some first-hand experience on this front. One of the software research projects I have worked with has been funded to the tune of several million dollars a year, despite the fact the army has no real interest in the project, which would serve no useful purpose even if it was viable. I have yet to see it achieve anything which has not already been done better and more cheaply by existing products/programs.

The military is well aware this is a waste of money, and also of the time of the personnel who are forced to oversee and evaluate the research in question. Still, each year the same U.S. Representative manages to earmark money to the same company, which returns the favor by contributing to his re-election coffers every year, and makes sure to praise him publicly at every opportunity.

Representative X will be attending their Holiday party later this month.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Charles Graner needs company

Salon has an article today discussing the circumstances of Charles Graner, who is about four years into a ten-year sentence for his role abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. He's spent about 2-1/2 of those years in solitary confinement, and is (according to the article) the only individual still serving time over the matter.

As the article points out, it has long since become abudently clear Graner and his compatriots (some of whom have served lesser time or had their sentences commuted) were acting on orders which emanated from some place high in the White House. Now, that doesn't make me feel all that sorry for Graner - any person who knew anything about morality and ethics knew what was being done was wrong by any standard, and "I was just following orders" has never been a valid defense - I do think he has some understandable reason to feel put-upon by the entire state of affairs.

As Graner's mother, Irma, says in the piece "They all did what they were told. And the ones that told them to do it escaped everything."

We have a responsibility as a country, as human beings, to change that, to make sure the ones who did the telling don't escape everything. Charles Graner deserves to do his time, or most of it ... but he deserves more companionship while he does.

Friday, November 21, 2008

When the chips are down ...

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is being sued by a group of law students over the Justice Department hiring practices at the time he oversaw it. The matter at the core of the suit was the Department's rejection of a number of Ivy league-educated law school graduates who applied for positions within the Department largely on the grounds of their apparent political leanings rather than for any reason related to actual qualifications.

Instead, a number of applicants were chosen from 3rd and 4th-tier law schools largely on the basis of their conservative politics rather than their knowledge of the law.

Normally such a case would be defended by the Justice Department's civil division, and even though Gonzales is no longer a Federal employee it would be entirely appropriate for the division to represent him, given he is being sued for actions taken while he was head of the Department. However, instead Gonzales has asked for private counsel, and Justice has agreed to foot the bill, at up to $24,000 a month.

So I guess all those lawyers with proper political backgrounds are great for hiring when you are busy illegally politicizing the Justice Department, but when it comes time to actually be brought to court over the affair one wants those hoity-toity well-educated lawyers to handle your defense.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Secret Service likely to be busy

To no real surprise, it came out last week the secret service has already been investigating an increased number of threats against the new President-elect. Already two "plots" have been broken up, although they apparently amounted to a lot of ranting and hot air rather than anything serious.

Which isn't to say racists with guns doing a lot of ranting and raving isn't threatening in and of itself.

Also to no surprise, the Secret Service announced there was a noticeable spike in threats at the time Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin was traveling the country spewing bile trying to draw a false image of Obama "pallin' around" with terrorists. Anyone who thinks Palin wasn't purposefully trying to stir up violent reactions is kidding themselves. Of course, if anything disasterous had acctually occurred to Obama or his family, she'd have claimed to as distraught as anyone at her words being "misconstrued".

No, I don't think Palin was hoping Obama would be shot ... but I do think she was aware of what her words might spawn, and simply didn't care. If winning the election meant increasing the likelihood of some nutcase killing her opponent, well ... that was a risk she was willing for him to take.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Bailout Follies

To no one's surprise, after voting down the first bill and seeing the Senate put pressure on them by passing a bailout proposal, the House went along last Friday and passed a similar bill itself. Arizona's delegation, which had unanimously voted against the original bill split 4-4 the second time around (Giffords, Mitchell, Pastor, Shedagg were the yes votes).

I am not opposed to some form of throwing taxpayer money into the system. The situation is clearly dire, and by all accounts Federal reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, one of the chief originators of the bailout proposal, is an expert on the Great Depression ... so I accept the thesis something needed to be done, as galling as that is on many levels.

What I don't accept is that this was the only approach to be tried. While there has certainly been a great number of modifications added, the original framework - give $700 billion to the Treasury department to spend as it deems best - remains. As far as I can tell from what I have read, no other approach was ever considered at all, much less considered seriously.

Why not? Numerous other bright, well-respected economists have, since the original proposal came out, giving variations of the line "Well, it's better than nothing, but X would be a better approach". I am no economist, so take anything I say below with a large heaping spoonful of salt, but two other proposals which seemed reasonable to me included:

* Give money directly to the commercial banks. The idea was to encourage the commercial banks to lend money to each other again, thus unlocking the "credit crunch" which is supposedly breaking down the commercial gears.

* Use the money to purchase actual foreclosed homes. The idea was that by purchasing these assets outright it turns the bad investments into good ones. The money eventually would make it's way back to the companies holding the mortgage notes. Hey, if trickle-down economics is supposed to be so great, what's wrong with a trickle-up approach? As an added bonus, families would get out from under mortgages they can't sustain.

Either of these approaches (and others I have seen as well) would be more palatable to me than throwing money directly at the Wall Street companies that got themselves in trouble in the first place.

I'd be more understanding if the entire affair had been proposed and voted on in a 48-hour period. As things went, however, there was time (maybe not plenty of time, but time) to consider alternatives ... but apparently this never occurred.

What does it say about the Bush administration that it's first response to a crisis is a proposal that basically says "Give the Secretary of the Treasury $700 billion no strings attached" and the response of the Democratic Congress is to attach a few strings and then go along? Nothing good about either.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Free speech != Freedom from taxation

Aliance Defense Fund, a Phoenix-based group, organized a form of clerical protest yesterday, encouraging a number of pastors across the country to use their sermons to explicitly express views as to how members of their congregation should vote in this year's presidential election.

The purpose of this organized demonstration is to bring a challenge to the 54-year old law which prohibits charitable and tax-exempt groups from openly supporting any candidate for public office. The hope is the government will bring a lawsuit against one or more of these pastors and their churches, a suit which the ADF hopes to win.

The Post article has several quotes from participants, including "The point is the IRS says you can't (openly support a political candidate during a sermon). I'm saying you're wrong."

The entire affair has been portrayed as a matter of "Free speech". However, you don't get free speech without also assuming some responsibility. In this case, the ADF and the 33 pastors who participated in the protest yesterday want the right to express themselves in the political arena without the associated responsibility of actually contributing money (taxes) to support the political structure.

Gosh -- I'd like to have all the privileges of being a citizen without paying any taxes too. Doesn't mean it's going to happen, or should.

There is no suppression of speech here. Any pastor and church which wishes to participate in the political process is free to do so at any time ... with the proviso they pay taxes on the income they receive (and, I believe, property they hold). There is no Constitutional right to tax-exemption. The courts have continuously held, in cases such as Branch Ministries v. Rossotti and United States v. Christian Echoes National Ministry such exeptions exist at the grace of Congress. What Congress provides, Congress may also restrict, or remove altogether.

The ADF should be granted what it wishes for -- all 33 ministries which participated yesterday should be immediately slapped with tax assessments for the full 2008 year on all taxable incomes and properties. When the suit is challenged, appealed, and lost, the ADF and all 33 ministries should be forced to pay the costs the government incurred in defending the the suit.

After all, with the bang-up job all those deregulated corporate financial geniuses have done, we're going to need every extra dollar we can find.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Who says Zimbabwe is a 3rd world nation

Reading the news this morning, I ran across this story on the reprehensible state of health care in Zimbabwe, where medicine is unavailable and the system is in such general collapse, the best advice local doctors could give was "don't get sick".

Of course, given a 2005 Harvard study found nearly half of all bankruptcies in the US have been triggered by health crises, even among the insured, that same advice could be given to our citizens as well.

Further, as the DNC recently helpfully pointed out, McCain has been among those consistently voting to make it more difficult to claim bankruptcy protection. I suppose if you are among those who lose count of how many houses your family owns, a major medical bill isn't such a concern.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Safety first

After being so disgusted at the way our Democratic Representatives and Senators rolled over for Telecom companies, I decided to take some time off. After a lengthy break, with Obama's veep announcement today and the national conventions fast approaching, it seemed like a good time to step back up to the plate.

Various news sources are reporting Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware will run on the ticket with Obama. Of the "safe" options, I think he's the best choice. He brings a sense of experience and gravitas to the position, and while Deleware is likely to vote Democrat no matter who the VP is, Biden's long-time service on the Foreign Relations committee and general recognition for his knowledge of foreign policy matters definitely helps shore up a perceived Obama weakness.

I can understand why, being the first major party Presidential nominee of non-white male extraction, Obama might feel he is already sufficiently challenging to the societal norms. Still, I would have liked to have seen Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius on the ticket. While she wouldn't help on foreign policy matters, she would shore up different areas, such as bringing actual governing experience to the slate, as well as possibly helping among women voters. She would also provide a decent chance of carrying Kansas, which in a close race could make all the difference.

If you are looking to make history, go big ... historical barriers are not often broken by those choosing to "play it safe".

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pathetic dogs

Congressional Democrats rolled over like abused dogs and exposed their cute, furry bellies to be stroked by the President today while signing off on a "compromise" wiretapping bill that gives the White House virtually everything it wants, including effective immunization from prosecution for telecom companies which blatantly and repeatedly violated individual personal privacy laws.

What's worse is there was no reason or need to make this horrid deal. None. Whatsoever. The previous (bad) temporary agreement expired in February, and its not like there have been huge issues since then, or even a lot of political pressure on Dems to come to an agreement, any agreement. The FISA law which has been in effect since the 70's has been more than sufficient. The next time I see masses of Americans rallying along the Mall in support of providing lawsuit immunization for big corporations will be the first.

I assume telecom lobbyists made enough monetary promises to buy what they needed. Sometimes I wonder why we even bother.

Monday, June 16, 2008


McClatchy is out with part two of its series on US abuses of prisoners, this time focusing on events at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, incidents which have been overshadowed by Guantanamo, but which McClatchy says may have been worse.

Two prisoners at Bagram were beaten to death. One of them suffered ... well ...

I played soccer somewhat seriously for more than 25 years before retiring from the game six or seven years ago. I have had multiple surgeries to both ankles and knees. Dozens of stitches to them. My shins have been smacked so often I have lost all feeling in them - I can (and have) had gashes to the bone there and had no idea until someone pointed out I was bleeding. I have at least some small idea of of the type of beating one's legs can take.

Nothing like this though ...

According to the article detainee Dilawar died at Bagram on Dec. 10 2002. The army medical examiner reported he had been repeatedly struck on his leg to the point the tissues in it were "falling apart" and had "basically been pulpified".

Of course, we don't torture prisoners. The administration says so.

The paragraph toward the end of the story has this boiler-plate statement from the Pentagon:

"The Department of Defense policy is clear — we treat all detainees humanely. The United States operates safe, humane and professional detention operations for unlawful enemy combatants at war with this country."

I'll laugh ... after I am done vomiting.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Much, much too late

As everyone knows by now, the Supreme Court finally got around this past week to telling the administration "hey, you can't just torture prisoners indefinitely ... at some point you have to, you know, actually provide a reason for imprisoning them."

Dear leader declared from Italy that while he might disagree with the decision he would abide by it. I am not sure why he should all of a sudden feel bound to abide by our Constitution, a flimsy piece of paper has not stopped him before. Of course, in the same set of comments where he graciously agreed he might be bound by the ruling he also suggested his administration would immediately start looking for ways to legislate around it.

I'd admire his stick-to-it attitude much more if it was dedicated to something like a reasonable national health care policy, a responsible approach to resolving issues along our border with Mexico, lowering the national debt or developing a coherent energy policy rather than finding excuses to detain people indefinitely so we can torture them whenever it suits our whim.

Even if dear leader goes against form and does actually obey the Court's decision, it's too late, the damage has been done.

Without question some number of the prisoners are bad, evil individuals who deserve to be locked away for life. However, it's also indisputable some number are guilty of nothing other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most fall somewhere in between. One question would be should we resort to torture even with the "worst of the worst" (answer: no, we should be better than that), and another has been how many even merit that appellation. The administration has in the past claimed all of them do, that it has infallibly managed to send only those guilty of the worst crimes, or, at least, planning to commit the worst forms of misdeeds, to Guantanamo.

Of course, this has been provably wrong for some time, as some number of detainees have already been determined to not be guilty of what they were accused of and released ... generally after spending months or years in a prison where they were regularly abused.

McClatchy Newspapers published the first part of what will be a five-part series today detailing the findings of its eight-month investigation into the prisoners at Guantanamo. McClatchy has been, throughout, the best source of truly investigative reporting regarding the war and its motives, and this piece is yet another must-read. As it makes clear, administration officials have known for years that many, perhaps most, of the prisoners kept in Guantanamo had no reason to be there and were not sources of operational intelligence. However, in an administration which could not bring itself to admitting it was anything less than infallible, releasing these prisoners, or even moving them to another location where they might be treated humanely, was never an option to consider.

Instead, we set up a system where individuals have been held for reasons they were not told based on evidence they could not see provided by individuals they could not know about. Kafka would be so proud.

Darth Scalia has already predicted this ruling will lead to more deaths. Of course, this claim will never be able to be proven either way. What is provable is our nation has resorted to torturing innocent individuals. We have violated nearly every human right imaginable, all purportedly for the "best" of reasons.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Hopefully this latest ruling will help take their first steps down the road out of the abyss.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Unmentioned history

Barack Obama has clinched the Democratic nomination, and the NY Times is reporting Hillary Clinton will officially throw her support behind him this Friday. A black man as the Presidential nominee of a major U.S. Political party is unquestionably an historically significant event, and there has been much ink spilled and syllables uttered discussing the importance of his victory.

Even internationally this seems to be the case ... while listening to an international call-in show on NPR people from all over the world were commenting on how closely people in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, wherever had been following the race, and how significant Obama's victory was.

All of which is true ...

Had Clinton won the nomination it would have been nearly as historic. I say "nearly" because we have already seen women as the leaders of other major Western powers, Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel coming immediately to mind. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any black man who has held a similar position among the generally considered major states.

... but ...

As important as Obama's victory might be in a historical sense, what is more import in my mind is the lack of race as a major issue of either his campaign or his opponent's.

That's not to say race was completely excluded. Obviously it came up a different times during the campaign. Equally obviously some number of people voted for Obama because he is black, and some number voted against him for the same reason. How many voted each way we will never know.

However, at no point in during the campaign was race ever a singular, major issue. Health care was ... Iraq policy ... Experience vs. change ... any number of other topics ... but Obama did not ultimately win (or lose) the race because of his skin color, just as Clinton did not either win (or lose) the race because of her gender. The vast majority of voters, those who voted for him and those who voted against didn't see Obama as black, or colored, or a man of color, or even a man.

They saw him as a candidate ... one with positions they liked or didn't, but a candidate rather than a black candidate. Enough saw him as the best candidate he now has the opportunity to be president. He won based on his positions, his eloquence, his ability to convince voters to support him.

Which is how it should be, of course... but I confess I am surprised I lived to see the day.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sympathy for some, not for others

So Clinton staff and supporters are, not surprisingly, complaining about the decision on how to seat delegates from Michigan and Florida ... and I guess that's their job, since the decision essentially removes any last hopes Clinton had to win the Democratic nomination. Until Clinton actually concedes, her staff and supporters should be pressing hard for anything that might advance the cause of their candidate, as long as it doesn't reflect negatively on her opponent.

Regarding the states themselves, I have some sympathy for Florida's plight. It's my understanding Republicans in the state were the major force behind moving the primary date up, and that while numerous Democrats did vote in favor of moving the date, even had they voted against it wouldn't have made a difference. By state law, all candidates had their names on the ballot, and while I do believe the final gap in the state would have been considerably narrow had the candidates actively campaigned there (Clinton finished with 50%, Obama with 33%), at least the case could be made it was a level playing field - no one campaigned, and all names were on the ballot.

Michigan is a different matter ... the Democratic governor and legislature pushed for the early date, in contravention of clear party rules, rules they were informed would be enforced prior to their ever moving the date. They moved the date anyway, then are shocked ... shocked ... that the consequences they were told would ensue were actually applied.

If the voters and delegates of Michigan are upset about this (and they should be) then the proper direction to express their ire is toward Governor Granholm and the state officials who voted to change the date even after they were told any delegates would not be seated.

Trying to claim all the Michigan delegates should be seated, with the results standing as they were, a position pushed by various Clinton staffers and supporters, is not just laughable, but derisively laughable. If anyone actually made that case in front of me, I would consider them not even worth listening to. They wouldn't even be wrong. Obama and Edwards did the "right" thing by having their names taken off the ballot (something Florida law prevented) while Clinton chose to leave her name on. To think being the only real option on the ballot other than "Uncommitted" didn't have a major effect on the tally is ridiculous. To further claim Clinton should get the 54% of delegates she won while Obama should get none (since his name wasn't on the ballot) is ridiculous.

The last primaries are Tuesday. Once those are done, there will be serious pressure placed on any unpledged superdelegate (including Arizona's CD8 rep) to pick a side and announce it by the end of the week, or start of next week at the earliest ... at which point in time everyone needs to pull together and focus on McCain. Even if Dems win more seats in the House and Senate (which looks likely), it will be hard to achieve much on Iraq, spying on citizens, torture, bad health care policy or anything else Republicans favor and Democrats oppose while a Republian wields the veto stamp.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

End game

For the last month or six weeks Obama has been playing a winning Rook-and-pawn end game against Clinton, and while his technique hasn't been flawless, it has been sufficient to steadily grind towards the win, despite stiff, solid defense from his opponent.

With the results from Oregon and Kentucky, and counting pledge super-delegates, Obama crept past the majority needed to claim the race, assuming no last minute surprises vis-a-vis Florida and Michigan, or a wave of super-delegates switching back to Clinton. It's not all over until the opponent resigns, but the final stage of the game is clearly at hand now.

This has brought out a spate of articles I have read in a number of places recently about the bitterness Clinton supporters feel about the result, and how many are considering not voting at all, or even voting for McCain in the general election ... to which I have just one comment.

Get over it.

First, lets be fair to Clinton herself, who has consistently urger her backers to support Obama should he win the nomination (Obama has done the same in reverse). No, this is a matter of supporters, the vast majority female, who are expressing their disappointment at how the country "wasn't ready" for a female candidate, and how "betrayed" they feel by women who somehow had the temerity to think someone might not be the best candidate just because they were of the same gender.

I don't dispute Clinton had some extra hurdles to clear by dint of her sex, but it's not like being black wasn't a drawback in some areas for Obama (take a gander at the voting patterns in West Virginia and Kentucky, for example).

I found particularly amusing the hypocrisy of the woman who spoke about people not realizing how damaging it was when Obama portrayed Clinton as representative of "the old way of politics", how that created bitterness in strong Clinton supporters, and in the same breath noted she was unlikely to vote for Obama because the White House "wasn't a place to learn on the job". Surely no Obama supporter could take those words to be derisive.

As someone noted in one of the articles, the end of a long, hard-fought race is not the time to gather the most accurate polling date. People are understandably disappointed at seeing all their efforts and hopes come to an end, Clinton more so than anyone ... I still expect, in the end, most of these folks will come to terms with matters and realize another four years of Bush policies will do nothing to help this country, and end up voting for Obama, even if they don't do so enthusiastically.

However, it does point out the importance of wrapping this up once the final primaries are done in June, and not waiting for the convention to finalize matters. Get the super-delegates committed in June, and there is enough time for the mourning/healing process to run it's course. Wait until September, and their may not be.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Al-Qaeda's favored candidate

John McCain has recently taken to referring to Barack Obama as Hamas' favorite candidate, apparently because Obama has advocating dialog with Hamas leadership to try to further finding a solution to the Israel-Palestine problem. Our glorious President joined in yesterday, equating Obama to Neville Chamberlain attempting to appease Hitler.

Hamas is certainly an unsavory organization, but like it or not it also has a political aspect, and is the party duly and freely elected to head the Palestinian government ... and currently does so in the Gaza Strip. As such, it behooves us to engage them - no peace is likely to be found in the region if we refuse to do so. Even McCain himself recognizes this ... or, at least, he did two years ago:

"They're the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another, and I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy towards Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things that they not only espouse but practice, so . . . but it's a new reality in the Middle East. I think the lesson is people want security and a decent life and decent future, that they want democracy. Fatah was not giving them that."

That's some pretty bent-talking there, slamming someone for holding the exact same view you have previously expressed ... of course, that was before McCain become the Republican candidate for President and had to sacrifice his actual beliefs to the party extremists.

McCain was right the first time ... only a moron (and our President certainly qualifies on this count) would speak in absolutes about such matters, and fail to recognize the infinite shades of gray in between. Not surprisingly, Eggplant has drawn the wrong lesson from Chamberlain's errors. The mistake was NOT in opening discussion with Hitler's government, but rather in agreeing to Germany's forceful annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia in exchange for "Peace for our time" ... a time which lasted less than 12 months.

Talking to someone or some organization is NOT the same as "giving them everything they want".

Meanwhile numerous studies and stories (here, here and here for just a few examples) have noted how the US presence in Iraq has helped al-Qaeda garner new recruits (although this appears more difficult now in past years). Bent-talk express himself has voiced his support for being in Iraq 100 years if necessary ... which certainly seems like it would make him al-Qaeda's favored candidate.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Copper or water

There was a meeting in Elgin last night to discuss the state of debate over whether or not mining corporations will strip still more mountains south of Tucson searching for copper ore.

I have heard estimates of up to $8 billion worth of copper in the area, based on today's prices ... and if prices go up (which, given the demands of the emerging Indian and Chinese economies seems the way to bet) the value of that copper will only go up as well.

That's a lot of money coming into the area, and also a fair number of jobs. A no-brainer, one would think, particularly given the recession right now, huh? Not so fast.

Not surprisingly, a number of farmers and environmentalists are less than thrilled at the notion. There is a bigger problem, however. As x4mr noted in early April the real concern isn't just the ugliness of open pit mining and the waste it produces, but rather water ... or, more particularly, lack thereof. This link provides a short overview on how much water mines used in 1997 ... hint: a lot.

If Tucson were located where Seattle is, say, that wouldn't be such a big deal ... sadly, that's not the case. Tucson is, in fact, located in a desert, a fact the mining companies (and, for that matter, golf resort owners) try to get everyone to overlook.

Since those who graduate with science and engineering jobs and quickly get out of town in search of the actual well-paying jobs ... you know, jobs like those TREO and other organizations repeatedly promise Tucson is on the verge of getting, but which continuously fail to arrive, through no fault of TREO et. al., of course ... fail to offset the influx from retirees and other sources, the metro population figures to to keep on expanding beyond the 1 million mark it hit last fall. All those people need water ... jobs are nice, but water is a necessity.

Giffords and Grijalva have both come out against the mining, and it's my understanding Giffords was at the Elgin meeting to discuss what she was trying to do to prevent it. Since this falls within her district, Grijalva can provide advice and support, but it's really up to her to lead any fight. Given how favorable current law is toward mines (the statutes in question date back to the 19th century), it's an uphill struggle. How it turns out will effect everyone in Southern Arizona, one way or another.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Complain, complain, complain

Tuesday was a disappointing day for Hillary Clinton, as a smashing defeat in North Carolina was only minimally offset by a narrow victory in Indiana, a state she had hoped to win by double digits. Barack Obama widened his lead in both the popular vote and the delegate count. It's reached the point where even if the DNC caves and allows the Michigan and Florida delegates to be counted (I can't see it happening, but if ...) she would be unlikely to win.

There was a great deal of speculation, from talking heads and in the blogosphere, she might finally be willing to step out of the race ... but Clinton has ended that notion, at least for another week, by confirming her intent to stay to the bitter end. This decision hasn't been met with popular acclaim by anyone other than Clinton supporters, and not even all of them.

I don't understand the wailing, rending of garments and gnashing of teeth.

Obama has reiterated the decision does, and should, lie only in Clinton's hands. As Clinton pointed out yesterday, anyone who voted for her in the primary should think twice before voting for McCain if Obama wins the nomination. Obama has made similar statements in the past, noting how unlikely it was his supporters wouldn't vote for Clinton in November should she be the nominee.

I recall, during nearly every Presidential race in the last 30 years, a great deal of discussion about how meaningless late primaries were, and the need to find some means to make every state count. There have been proposals about rotating primary dates by state, or region, and other ideas as well ... yet we finally have a primary that will run to the wire, where every state and vote actually matters ... and suddenly it's the end of civilization.

What people seem to overlook are the good points. How much coverage has there been of McCain? Some, but not much. The Presidential news is completely dominated by Obama and Clinton, and has been for months. Meanwhile, huge numbers of voters continue to turn out and express their choice, energized by the contest.

If Clinton concedes soon, well and good ... but I refuse to get worked up over the matter.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Eager ears are listening

Remember back in January and February, when there was a great deal of huffing and puffing and general hoo-hah over the desperate need to renew the Protect America Act or President Bush would not be able to protect our country. The Act was allowed to expire on Feb. 17, and from all the overblown rhetoric, one can only presume it's a miracle of God we all are still alive despite such folly.

Of course, when the house passed a bill which (unlike the Senate version) did not include immunity for past indiscretions which Telecom companies may have committed, it became apparent that protecting the business issues was even more important than protecting the country, as Bush immediately threatened a veto for any bill without the immunity clause. Not that we didn't all know where his priorites lay, but it was nice of him to spell it all out so clearly for us.

Back to the PAA and eavesdropping ... as it turns out, the Act was never necessary ... the required tool has always been in place, in the form of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which (among other provisions) allows for requesting wiretap permission in front of a secret court, and also makes allowance for immediate wiretapping when time is critical, and retroactively applying for a warrant within 48 hours.

Our government made steady use of this law last year, gaining a record 2,370 eavesdropping warrants last year. That's 9% more than 2006, and more than double from 2001. Meanwhile, a grand total of four requests were denied (even one of those was only partially denied). That's a 99.83% success rate. How, exactly, is this an overwhelming burden on our government? Given those figures, consider how ridiculously unfounded those four requests must have been in order for the court to have denied them.

On the other hand, for a President who is used to getting his way 100% of the time, having someone say "No" to you even once, much less four times within a year, is tantamount to letting the terrorists win.

Monday, April 21, 2008


China has begun a program of "patriotic re-education" of Tibetans, where the benefits of Chinese rule are stressed, and the Dalai Lama is reviled. Thank goodness we don't resort to such obvious propaganda tactics here.

No siree ... nothing like that here. Nope. Instead, we engage in sophisticated data manipulation to stampede the country into an unnecessary and unjustified conflict. Should some few prove resistant to such tactics, we simply shout them down as "unpatriotic" or "anti-American".

When three, four, five years later those dissenters turn out to have have been correct in nearly every particular, and the shouters equally wrong, anyone who has the temerity to point out such matters is "unpatriotic", or "anti-American". Besides, to leave with the job undone, even though a job which should never have been started in the first place, would "dishonor" those who died in the cause.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice taunted Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, for residing safely in Iran while directing Mahdi Army forces to fight against US and Iraqi army forces. From his front-line command post in the White House, President Bush had no comment.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Blind Pig Finds an Acorn

Not even President Bush, no matter how desperately he strives, can manage to be wrong all the time ... and he made the right decision this week when he quickly responded to an emergency call from the World Bank for $500 million more in food aid by pledging $200 million more from the U.S.

There has been a fair bit of discussion recently about the rising cost of food here at home, but matters are far worse elsewhere, and there have been outbreaks of food riots in Egypt and Mozambique. As the cost of fuel helps drive prices higher, things will only degenerate.

The most important part of the President's statement, however, wasn't the pledge of more money, but rather the push to loosen current U.S. law, which requires all food purchased for aid purposes to be bought here and shipped to its foreign destination.

That requirement limits the effectiveness of the aid in a multitude of ways. Not only does the greater shipping distance mean less money spend on actual food (particularly given the increased cost of shipping is a major cause of the current crises) and more time for food to arrive where it is needed, but it also prevents the ancillary benefits which might come from providing some monetary influx to farmers in African nations, for the companies there which would handle the shipping, etc.

It all makes sense ... unless you are, say, a member of the US shipping industry, in which case the suffering of people of a different nationality means little compared to the extra money in your wallet ... as group representative Gloria Tosi told the NY Times last fall, expecting shippers to give up some of their little pot of gold, even if it might save some hundreds or thousands of lives, is "politically naive".

She's right of course ... but it's also the right thing to do. Let's hope this is an issue the President and Congress can manage to find some actual bi-partisan agreement on.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

VP of Torture

It came out this past week Vice President Vader was ultimately responsible for signing off on and even "micromanaging" the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" against suspected terrorist agents during a series of meetings in 2002 and 2003 which included, among others, such noted figures as Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and then CIA Director George Tenet.

What's remarkable is the sheer lack of newsworthiness about the revelation. It's been something everyone has "known" for years, it's just a question of the details being confirmed.

The torture inflicted involved more than dressing Condi up in kinky latex and whips, and even more than tying the terrorists to chairs, propping their eyes open with toothpicks and forcing them to watch around-the-clock reality television (which would either have forced confessions, true or not, or reduced the participant to the blithering state many of our fellow citizens sadly reside in). No, we're talking about all forms of physical abuse, up to and including sleep deprivation and water boarding.

For those who brush off the effects of water-boarding, or like to hide it behind euphemisms such as "enhanced interrogation techniques" or "simulated drowning", I encourage you to read this thread, written by someone who decided to find out for himself what the process was like last December. It's worth noting that, prior to conducting the experiment, the author favored the use of the technique. His thoughts after the experiment I leave for you to discover.

Don't just read the initial post ... there are a number of interesting questions and responses by the author throughout.

As has been noted, here and elsewhere, many, many times, these are techniques applied to individuals who have been found guilty of absolutely nothing. They have not been tried. They have not had a chance to confront their accusers in an open court. Many of them have been arrested under rather flimsy circumstances. A number which have been found to be innocent have been released.

This week a number of protests were organized around the world to highlight China's human rights' abuses, timed to coincide with the running of the Olympic torch prior to the Beijing Olympics this summer. Some of those protests were planned for San Francisco and the Golden Gate bridge ... something I am sure the Chinese government found quite hypocritical. Why should they be asked to adhere to standards we clearly refuse to hold ourselves to?

Eight years ago we were a beacon for the world, not perfect, but at least striving to be better, and encouraging other nations to join us in that search. Today, we are a bully who threatens and bullies smaller nations and takes away their lunch money if they don't mold their foreign policy to fit our self-interest.

I am not a pacifist ... there are just wars, and our presence in Afghanistan is, in my mind, fully justified. The leaders of that nation knowingly provided safe haven to a coterie of people who viciously attacked and killed our citizens. By doing so, it provided a legitimate cassus belli.

However, there are unjust wars as well, and Iraq unquestionably falls in that category (as will our future war with Iran, should McCain win election this fall ... but that's another issue). Our presence there, our continuing unjust occupation, and our continuing violation of basic privacy and civil liberties, both abroad and at home, have destroyed our nation's credibility for a generation, at least ... if we can ever regain it at all.

When trust is violated, it's rare to ever get it all back, no matter how contrite and sincere the subsequent remorse ... and this administration hasn't just violated trust, it's thrown it on the ground, ground it's heels on it, spat and shat upon it ...

Ultimately, it's not just the prisoners of Guantanamo, or those individuals who have suffered rendition, who have been wrongfully abused by this administration, it's all of us, the nation in it's entirety. When this leadership team came into the White House there was a great deal of talk and blather about the new "CEO" administration. I wish they had stuck with that ... at least then they might have limited their torture to our economy.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Uneducated effects

X4mr had a post a week ago about the increasing degree of anti-intellectualism in this country, one of the indicators of which is the high school drop-out rate, which is around 25% nation-wide, but up to 50% in the worst urban areas.

So what happens to those drop-outs?

Not surprisingly, a disproportionate number of them are poor, minority and male. In 2001, only 50% of black males, 51% of American Indians and 53% of Latinos graduated within four years. Those numbers do rise as a few more trickle through the system in more than four years.

It becomes a vicious cycle, though. The poor drop out, and the drop outs remain stuck in poverty. Fifty, even 30 years ago it was possible, even without a high-school diploma, to find a job on a factory line somewhere which paid well. A lot has happened since then, however, and many of those jobs have vanished, either to technology, or outsourcing. Today, those jobs don't exist, or if they do they are being held onto with a death grip by the current job occupant, who is desperately hoping the job won't go away as so many others have before he (or she) retires.

Those who do find jobs are generally in the most tenuous of positions. Their jobs are likely to be among the least necessary, and thus first cut, when economic trends angle down rather than up. Just this week it was reported our economic recession saw 80,000 jobs lost in March, and nearly 250,000 since the turn of the year. Those axes, so far, have fallen almost entirely on the uneducated - while the unemployment rate for those with a Bachelor's degree or higher remained flat at about 2.1%, for those without a high school diploma it's reached 8.2%, up from 7.3% in February.

Our military has a target of 90% of first-time enlistees having a high-school diploma. In 2007, for the third straight year, the percentage of recruits who had graduated with a regular high-school diploma declined. Hey, the one's who graduate, at least, aren't stupid - they know there's a war on. Military enlistment figures again failed to meet their goals in terms of raw numbers, which is likely to mean lower standards for recruitment, and maybe the only place where job opportunities for high-school dropouts are rising. Why not send them over to Iraq? It doesn't take a diploma to eat a bullet (or a mortar round, grenade fragment, IED) for the cause.

Without much in the way of job prospects, other means must be found ... 59% of federal inmates and a stunning 75% of state inmates are high school dropouts. I know it's often said half-jokingly, but there is an element of truth - at least in prison they know where their next meal is coming from, they have clothes to wear, shelter. Of course, there are some drawbacks to this as well, such as curfew, lack of freedom, a few other things ...

It would be nice if there were, say, some opportunity available for customized job training to help these individuals learn skills their employers need. For those with a lot of time to read a fascinating account of how this pans out in Tucson, at least, I point you to Something Else.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

First-hand observations

I had an opportunity to listen to John McKay discuss his feelings and beliefs about the 2006 Attorney General scandal, the same issue Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolton were recently cited for contempt of Congress for failing to testify about, and which Congress is now taking the Administration to court over for it's refusal to press the contempt charges.

Given the amount of time which has passed, I'd prefer Congress should just send the the Sergeant-at-Arms to arrest Ms. Miers under the inherent contempt statute, but that's a different matter.

Back to McKay. What makes his thoughts on the subject particularly compelling to me, in addition to the fact he was one of the Attorney General's directly affected by the mess, is his background. His family among the prominent Republican families where he lives, and had had, prior to being named Attorney General, been actively involved within the Republican party. Whatever else he might be accused of, he can't be accused of party-based bias.

As McKay noted, though, upon being named Attorney General he tried to lay the pasty aside and follow the law rather than a party agenda ... an approach anathema to this administration.

He said when the events first occurred he didn't have much of a strong opinion, but as time has passed and more information has come out, he is now strongly of the opinion at least some of the firings were clearly politically motivated. In particular, he cited David Iglesias of New Mexico (who refused to pursue an alleged voter-fraud case), Carol Lam of Southern California (who was actively pursuing several high profile cases against Republicans in the area, and Todd Graves of Missouri (another failure to pursue voter fraud).

McKay noted he felt the Graves case was especially egregious, given his successor rushed to bring the voter fraud charges up shortly before the election that November. Five months after the election, in April 2007, the case was summarily thrown out of court, something McKay noted is extremely rare, and which points to the weakness of the claim.

McKay was asked about his own firing, and did feel his case was similar to that of Iglesias and Graves. In the 2004 elections Democrat Christine Gregoire defeated Republican Dino Rossi in the Washington Governor's race by a mere 129 votes after a recount which initially saw Rossi as winning (the two are scheduled for a rematch this fall). He talked about the pressure he received to bring voter-fraud charges to court over the race, but said on looking at the evidence there just wasn't anything there. He didn't feel, however, there was the level of evidence in his case that the matter was key to his firing as there is for the Iglesias and Graves removals.

All-in-all an interesting discussion. While he never came out and said as much, McKay's tone on several questions definitely implied disgust with the Bush administration and the whole sordid tale. The investigation has been stalled long enough, and if it takes marching Miers in under armed guard to get her to testify, well, it's time to do it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Carville symbolizes Clinton attitude

This past week former Democratic presidential candidate and current New Mexico governor Bill Richardson gave his endorsement to Barack Obama in the nomination battle. As has become apparent, this does not sit well with Clinton supporters.

Given Richardson server as both UN ambassador and Secretary of Energy under former President Clinton, some amount of strain can at his announcement is to be expected. Richardson described his discussion with Hillary when he let her know of his plans as cordial, but heated. One Clinton staffer noted that Richardson's announcement came too late to make a difference, presumably alluding to the fact that states with significant Hispanic voting populations such as Texas (Richardson is the nation's only Hispanic governor) had already had their primaries. Snide, yes, but of course the Clinton campaign has an interest in playing down the announcement.

The reaction of Clinton adviser James Carville is a different matter.

The New York Times reported Carville described the act as "An act of betrayal", and went on to say "Mr. Richardson’s endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic."

Just how much does Carville think Richardson was paid for his endorsement? On exactly what grounds does Carville consider Richardson to be a disciple of Hillary? When, exactly, is she scheduled for her cross-fitting? Inquiring minds want to know.

No, the reaction of of the Clinton campaign is the reaction of someone who feels they were "owed" something and didn't get it, sulking 10-year-olds denied a much-desired toy or a sleepover outing with a friend. The truth is Richardson owed neither campaign anything other than his sincere opinion ... and the fact the decision was clearly a difficult and painful one for him simply points out how heartfelt his choice is.

The reaction of the Clinton camp, and Carville in particular, points out why it's the right one.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Third-world Venture Capitalist

I first heard about kiva.org maybe two years ago. It was my first exposure to the concept of micro-lending, and I found the concept intriguing ... for various reasons, however, it was never quite intriguing enough for me to join in.

Still, I would poke back every couple of months or so, and look at some of the options, and even created an account last summer ... but still didn't take that last step.

The last couple months, though, the wife and I have talked about it off-and-on, and tonight we finally took the plunge. We both connected to the site, did some research separately, and found some candidates we liked. In the end we contributed $100 in $25 amounts to two separate women in Nicaragua, and $50 to a group of three women in Peru. We also kicked in $10 to help Kiva pay it's bills.

Not a huge amount overall for us, but maybe enough, along with a number of other people around the country and the world, to help some families make a better life for themselves and their families. As an added bonus, it was a nice bonding experience for the evening as well, and something we plan to do on a monthly basis for the foreseeable future. Hopefully we have invested wisely and the loans will be repaid so we can roll them over into more loans.

I encourage anyone who might read this to take a look at Kiva site. The organization has an excellent reputation, and the site is pretty easy to get around. You, too, can become a venture capitalist, just like those guys on Sand Hill road.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

All quiet on the (South)Western front

A little over two years ago I was drawn into the blogging milieu by the race for Arizona's 8th district, an affair made interesting by the retirement of the incumbent. The Democratic side soon coalesced into a hotly-contested three-way primary in which the Giffords organization machine managed to overrun former former TV personality Patty Weiss and military hero Jeff Latas (who was the only one of the three to declare before Kolbe announced he was stepping down).

As hotly contested as the Democratic primary was, it never approached the bitterness of the Republican primary, which eventually saw border hardliner Randy Graf win the nomination despite opposition from Kolbe and the local GOP money men. That bitterness certainly helped ease the way to Giffords' victory in the fall.

All-in-all, though, with two hotly contested primaries, followed by an anticipated general election, the local blogs were continuously abuzz with posts and comments, some thoughtful and insightful, many ... not so much. Good times .... good times.

This time around it's very different. With an incumbent now in place there was never going to be a serious primary on the Democratic side, while the Republican's twisted whatever arms were necessary to clear the path for challenger Tim Bee. With neither primary contested, there is a notable lack of discussion about the race. It seems all parties seem content to keep their guns loaded until mid-summer arrives. While the 2006 race felt like a marathon, this year's is shaping up to be a sprint.

In some ways that may make the fireworks, when they arrive, that much larger and louder ... there will be a lot of pent-up energy to be released and a lot less time to release it in ... but it sure does make things quiet now.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

An overdue fight

The US House of Representatives has finally decided to assert itself and push back on the ever-increasing reputed powers this administration has claimed it possesses. A couple days ago, the Judiciary committee filed a lawsuit in federal court to force former White House aides Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolton to testify before Congress on what they knew (or didn't know) concerning the Attorney General firing scandal.

The Bush administration has been blocking their testimony, claiming Executive privilege allowed him to do so, despite the fact neither is any longer a part of the administration, nor are the matters in question ones where such privilege has traditionally been considered to apply. The House originally asked for their testimony last summer, but it wasn't until last month they finally got around to pressing contempt charges - charges which U.S. Attorney Michael Mukasey promptly declared would not be pressed by his office, which would be responsible for prosecuting the case.

So Congress has taken the only option short of impeachment, and taken the case to court.

The response from the White House was predictable, with spokeswoman Dana Perino referring to it as "partisan theater" ... and maybe she's right, insofar as the matter Miers and Bolton have been asked to testify about is concerned. On the larger issue, however, she's not just wrong, she's so far off base she's not even wrong.

The real, important issue here is the ruthless expansion of spying and secrecy powers Bush, Cheney et. al. have promoted for seven years now, nearly unchallenged up to this point ... and there is nothing partisan about that agenda. Should a Democrat win election this year, or some time in the future, Republicans in the House will have (and should have) the same right to expect co-operation in it's investigative and oversight role that this Congress is finally trying to enforce.

It's worth noting that a little over a decade ago, Bill Clinton became the first President to assert Executive privilege and have that claim overturned in court, over l'affaire Lewinsky. Hopefully Bush will become the second.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Is it a sign?

Democrat Bill Foster won a run-off election last night to win the seat for the Illinois 14th district, long held by former Republican speaker of the house Denny Hastert, who retired mid-term last year so he could spend more time with his family and make a lot more money a lot faster by getting out of dodge before new laws requiring a longer delay before an ex-congressman can begin lobbying former compatriots kicked in at the turn of the year.

Republicans can't be cheered by the news.

The district is counted as Republican +5, meaning there is a fairly solid built-in edge for the party. After having been represented by Hastert for over two decades, and having Hastert's active support for Republican candidate Jim Oberweis, the race was initially considered to be a fairly safe hold. However, just within the past few days the race was shifted from leaning Republican to toss up, and Foster actually ended up winning by a fairly respectable 6% margin.

Or, in other words, he performed 11% better than expected.

The two are slated for a rematch in the fall ... but unless something drastic happens, there is not much reason to expect a different result. Just another sign the Republicans are finding themselves looking for a miracle this year, as it appears to be all that might save them.

Friday, March 7, 2008

I feel prescient

The New York Times has a piece this morning about discussions among Democrat movers and shakers about some kind of "do-over" for the Michigan and Florida primaries.

I'm feeling mildly prescient, since I mentioned this about three weeks ago. I even calculated the estimated costs correctly (well, close enough ... I said $30 million, the article says $28 million). I'm sure others had the idea before me ... but I'm still gonna take credit, gosh-darn-it. Nice to know leading Democrats are stealing my ideas.

Here's where we differ, however:

Ms. Granholm (the governor of Michigan - Sirocco), a Clinton supporter, said Thursday that there would be a noisy protest at the Democratic convention if the Michigan delegation was not seated. But she left open the possibility of a new Democratic primary, as long as the taxpayers or the state party do not have to foot the bill.


In Florida, Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat who supports Mrs. Clinton, and the state party chairwoman, Karen Thurman, who is neutral, said the national party or some other source should pay for any do-over.

So let's get this straight. The two state parties, knowingly and willfully, violated clearly defined rules in setting their original primary dates. They were told if they did so, their delegates would not be counted at the national convention.

It's not like any of this happened in secret. The rules were set, they broke them, and they are being held accountable. Yet the state organizations seem shocked - SHOCKED! - those rules were actually enforced.

I'm completely ok with the state taxpayers not paying more for a new set of elections. The state parties, not so much. The problem was created by those state parties. Their decisions are the reason their state delegates are not being counted. To try to avoid all responsibility and pass the bill along to the national committee or some other group is pathetic.

If the state parties want to be represented, they need to step up, admit they made a mistake, and help make up for the repercussions of their decisions - including foot all, or at least a big chunk of, the costs of a new set of primaries.

Monday, March 3, 2008

It's her decision

Much as I hope Obama sweeps the primaries tomorrow (unlikely) and Clinton opts to withdraw shortly after (even less likely), don't count me among those "encouraging" her to do so.

One of the things I have always found tacky in sports in when fans or, worse, sportswriters/broadcasters insist on opining athlete X needs to retire because he's getting old, skills are slipping, we want to remember him (or her) in their prime, etc. Ultimately only the player and the teams get to make the decision on that, and they should be left to make that decision on their own. After all, you don't hear them opining about how columnist so-and-so has been getting trite the last few years, and needs to retire his byline.

I feel much the same way about those calling for Hillary Clinton to step out of the race, which has been coming in increasing volume and pressure from Obama supporters. While there may be good reasons to favor it (let's stop fighting each other and start fighting McCain), it still strikes me as self-serving and slightly distasteful.

Clinton remains a viable candidate who, while an underdog, still can seriously hope to win election. Despite a hiccup in late-January, early February she has plenty of money for continued campaigning.

Moreover, this opportunity likely represents her one-and-only shot to gain the Presidency, clearly something she has been working hard to achieve and laying the groundwork for not just the last 15+ months, but the last 15 years. She turns 61 this year. Should Obama win the primary and the general, she's looking at 69 before she seriously runs again. Even if McCain were to win, she's looking at 65 - young by McCain's standards, but not anyone else's ... and that's assuming she gets through the primary four years from now after losing in this one.

No, it's her dream, and it's a dream she's had a long, long time. It's hard to lay down a dream, especially when there remains a reasonable chance of that dream still being attainable. Only she should decide when (or if) she's willing to let that dream go any sooner than she is forced to.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fear-mongering at its finest

ThinkRight has a post about a recent Republican ad describing how we will all die horrible deaths if we don't immediately give the President everything he petulantly demands in terms of wiretapping, etc. He follows it with another post listing a press release Senator Kyl discussing the same matter, and ascribing the same horrible eventualities.

It's enough to make you wonder how we've managed to survive the last two weeks.

Both the ad and the press release are misleading or downright false. For example, Kyl's statement:

"So long as a call is routed through a U.S. telecommunications network – which virtually all calls are these days because of changes in technology – U.S. agents now need to obtain a warrant in order to monitor a call between a Taliban chief in Pakistan and an al Qaeda leader in Afghanistan. "

... is simply wrong. There is no limit whatsoever on monitoring of communications between foreign individuals in foreign locations. None. What's more, Kyl either knows this, in which case he is outright lying, or he doesn't, in which case he's incapable of very basic reading comprehension (i.e., he's a moron). Actually, those aren't mutually exclusive.

Warrants are needed when a communication involves a U.S. citizen (or legal permanent resident) who is currently within the U.S. Foreign communications, fair game, doesn't matter where they are routed through. Even if a U.S. citizen within the country is involved, intelligence agencies can still monitor the communications. However, they must then retroactively (within 48 hours if memory serves) apply for a warrant in front of a secret FISA court. These applications are reputedly rarely denied.

No, the real goal of the administration and it's mouthpieces such as Kyl is made open in this statement:

"And Congress must protect the private companies who cooperate with our intelligence agencies to collect the information. Allowing litigation against these companies not only will promote highly damaging leaks about terrorist surveillance programs; it also will ensure that U.S. agents will not receive full cooperation from the telecommunications companies they rely on for access to these calls."

In other words, those Telecom companies who for years let us illegally listen in on your phone calls, read your email, etc., are frantic they might actually be held responsible for their actions, and god forbid we can't be having actual accountability - what kind of bad precedent would that set?

Recall, that "full cooperation" the companies gave so nobly, so patriotically, came to a screeching halt when the bills weren't paid on time. Qu'elle surprise. What Republicans are demanding is amnesty for the telecoms in the truest, purest sense of the term.

Weren't these guys against "amnesty" before they were for it?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Test Anxiety

The NY Times has an intriguing article today about the conflict people have between getting DNA screening to help determine what illnesses they may have a predisposition for and the fear of letting that information get out to their insurance companies.

The sheer fact this is even a concern is a sever condemnation of the way health insurance works in this country.

At issue is the fact people are worried getting a DNA screening through traditional medical channels would make that information part of their public health record, information which insurance companies might then use to deny access to health insurance (or companies might use to turn away job applicants, a different, but related, matter).

As the article makes clear, there are few, if any, examples of this actually occurring. However, given the propensities of the health insurance industry, no one can reasonably deny this is a legitimate concern. For a recent example, I refer the reader to this LA Times story discussing how Health Net canceled a woman's insurance while she was in the middle of costly chemotherapy treatment ... and how policy cancellation was a key component of the company's bonus plan.

Should information from DNA screenings become public, one can hardly blame the insurance companies for using the information to weed out applicants with increased risk of costly conditions. After all, we are a capitalistic society, and that's the way capitalism works - maximum your income and minimize your expenses. In the end, the bottom line for the insurance companies is the health their bottom line, not the health of their policy holders.

Somehow, conservatives see this as being a good thing in the long run ... and if some people, through no fault of their own, but rather as a result of genetic pre-disposition or, worse, simply being poor and unable to afford health insurance end up not being covered ... well, that's ok with them apparently.

A national health-care plan would have a far different set of incentives than a private health insurance company. It would have an incentive in promoting healthy life-styles and preventive medicine. It would not be driven by the notion of making a profit, even at the expense of the patient. It would (at least in theory) not be as tethered to making money for stock-holders and executives, but could instead pump that money back into the system.

Even with a national health care plan, there would be niches for private insurers to fill, to provide faster access to surgery for needed, but not life-threatening, conditions for example, or a higher level of service. Of course, to encourage people to spend more of their hard-earned money on top of what they would pay in taxes for the national plan, these companies would, just maybe, have to actually show they care about their customers.

It's ludicrous that people are, in many instances, refusing to get testing to find possible issues which could be addressed early because they know that information can, and likely will, be used against them. What they don't know might kill them, but what they do know could end up ruining them financially. It's not a decision anyone should have to make.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wisconsin winnings

So Obama continued his February roll with a decisive win in Wisconsin last night (Hawaii too, but Wisconsin was the focus). Clinton responded with a notably ungracious non-concession speech, which the Obama campaign let go for about 15 or 20 minutes before deciding if she wasn't going to be generous neither were they and had Obama start his speech, effectively knocking Clinton off the air.

Yes, folks are getting a bit testy out there now ...

Obama's 17-point margin was about double what was expected based on polling data, and the results showed Obama seriously cutting into or even winning demographics which have been seen as Clinton strongholds:

* He beat Clinton among women, 51-49.
* He beat Clinton among voters with familiy income less than $50 K, 51-49.
* He lost among Catholics, but only by two points, 49-51.

Clinton did retain a big margin in one of her key demographics, winning the vote among those 65 and older 60-39. The race this fall is not going to be decided by voters 65 and older.

I think the Wisconsin result is a precursor of things to come. The state, in many ways, set up for Hillary - it's predominantly white, working class, a stronger union state than most, more conservative than many states that vote Democratic. It's worth recalling the last two presidential elections, the margins were very close ... and it definitely seems like, from the results, the state is declaring whom they would like to see if Dems want to win comfortably there, especially when you realize about 25% of the primary voters were Independents - yet another category Obama smashed Clinton in.

Meanwhile, Obama is crushing the opposition on the money front too, apparently having raised $36 million in January to Clinton's $13.5 million and McCain's $12 million according to the NYTimes.

I tuned in to some post-primary TV analysis for about 20 minutes last night, just long enough to listen to Chris Matthews try to push some panelists to declare the race over. No one was going that far, but with Texas showing as a dead heat it seemed clear some were starting to lean that way. John McCain seems to be in that camp as well, as his victory speech apparently saw him start hammering Obama and omit mention of Clinton.

I'm not willing to go that far yet ... but I'm hoping.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Do it again

There's a lot of discussion in the Democratic camp about what to do with the Michigan and Florida delegates. Clinton and her supporters, unsurprisingly, are arguing they should be seated. Obama supporters point out the DNC rules were violated, both states were told their delegates would not count, and they opted to move their primary dates up anyway ... why reward bad behavior.

Clinton got most of the delegates in both states, and given the constraints one can see why - with no one campaigning in either state name recognition was always going to be the deciding factor, and given how early both primaries were held (which is what led to this issue in the first place) her name recognition was still far higher than Obama's. Further, her name was the only one of the leading candidates to appear on the ballot in Michigan. Of course she won, and of course she now wants those delegates, since without them she's likely to lose.

On the other hand, there is a point that the will of the voters in those states should count too ... after all, it's not the voters who decided to move the dates up. Furthermore, with the Obama camp arguing that super delegates should adhere to the will of the majority of general primary voters, it would be inconsistent to not include the will of those who voted in these two populous states.

Sooooo ... let's have a do-over.

There's time. The Democratic National Convention is not until late August. There is plenty of time to pick a date in, say, late July for both states and schedule primaries for them, primaries which would count. Heck, given the state of the race the two primaries would probably be more influential for being held late in the season rather than early. There would be plenty of time for both campaigns to gear up advertising and re-create whatever ground operations they need there.

No, time isn't an issue. Money is the issue. My guess is it would cost something on the order of $30 million to hold new primaries in both states. So, ask both campaigns to kick in $5 million (or, perhaps, since Obama has more money available at this point, maybe $6.5 million from him, 3.5 million from Clinton), have the DNC contribute $5 million, and the states foot the rest.

If the states aren't willing, then say to hell with them - they knew the penalties, and their votes don't count.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The wheels of justice turn ...

... they just turn at a glacial pace.

The House of Representatives finally got around to issuing contempt citations for Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolton for refusing to respond to a summons to testify about their knowledge of the fired U.S. Attorney scandal.

Hey, it only took eight fricking months to finally take this much needed step. Good thing they expedited it.

In response, House Republicans had a sit-in, most of them leaving the chambers for the vote and terming it a "witch hunt". If I were Harriet, I wouldn't put up with being called such names by such people.

There was a nice side-effect of the Republican pouting though - the House adjourned without resolving the FISA issue, meaning the current temporary bill lapses this weekend, despite all our President's foot-stomping over the need to get a new bill or he can't protect us, even as he threatened to veto another temporary extension, or a bill which didn't include telecom immunity, which clearly demonstrates his priorities are, in order:

1. Getting his way.
2. Protecting his telecom friends from the angered reactions of their repeated law-breaking.
3. (At best) Protecting the country. I suspect this is actually well down his list.

I suspect the country will get along just fine without the administration minimally less fettered abilities to spy on U.S. citizens within in the U.S. without benefit of court oversight, and without the telecom companies being pardoned for their misdeeds.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Omentum and other things

Obama continued to roll last night, sweeping three more primaries and taking the delegate lead for the first time over Clinton.

Recent reports in various papers report a Clinton campaign team in increasing turmoil. She replaced her campaign manager two days ago, and the deputy campaign manager resigned yesterday. The Clintons have loaned $5 million of their personal funds to the campaign as Obama continues to pull ahead in the fund raising race at a record clip. Even previously "committed" superdelegates are talking off-the-record of switching their allegiances.

The Clinton campaign seems to be bunkering in with a Rudy Giuliani approach - hoping to take the large state primaries of Texas and Ohio on March 4 to stop the Obama march, which by then is expected to have garnered a full month of uninterrupted victories. Even Clinton campaign staffers are admitting if she doesn't win both, her campaign is likely doomed. We saw how well this approach worked for Rudy9/11.

I have seen some Clinton campaign remarks trying to downplay the effect of the recent String of Obama wins, pointing out how his win in Iowa didn't carry over to New Hampshire, but the circumstances are entirely different. First of all, the win in Virginia last night was especially indicative, as Obama swept every voting demographic, showing strength with constituents outside his "base". Clinton has yet to show anything similar in any primary.

Second, going into New Hampshire only one state had been settled, and there was only one week in between. Going into March 4 Clinton will be facing a full month of losing primaries, along with the associated "Obama on a roll" stories. Unlike in New Hampshire, Obama can be expected now to significantly outspend Clinton on advertising in both of the big states. The Obama wave after Iowa was a small swell. The Obama wave going into next month won't be a tsunami, but it will be a nice 40-footer, and much harder for Clinton to break.

In other news ... the US Senate yesterday decided sure, we're fine with expanding the wiretapping of US citizens, even though we already have the FISA act which allows federal agencies to conduct wiretapping without a warrant if time is of essence, and get the warrant retroactively. Just as an added bonus, they decided to throw in retroactive immunity for all the communications companies which violated the law by allowing the government to tap their systems without warrants.

The House did pass a bill without the immunity clause, and the two bills still need to be reconciled. One hopes the immunity clause dies there, but one shouldn't be holding one's breath.

Finally, the government presented a tortured legal justification for waterboarding yesterday. I'm not sure how to feel about this ... certainly, I don't find the justification at all convincing, but on the other hand if it might one day allow me to legally justify waterboarding the Senators who voted in favor of the wiretapping immunity legislation (particularly the Democratic ones) I could be persuaded to see the usefulness of the technique.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

DNC in a bind, McCain looking fine

The much-anticipated super-Tuesday primaries went off largely without a hitch (except in New Mexico, where weather and lack of ballots apparently were issues), and by now the results have been hashed over and hashed over until they have been turned into just so much ... well ... hash.

On the Republican side, John McCain has now firmly grasped the front-runners mantle, and barring catastrophe will be the Republican nominee, much to the consternation of Rush, Anne and other such screeching screed-mongers. Huckabee did well enough in the south and bible belt to merit serious consideration as a potential VP for McCain, but not well enough to be considered a long-term threat. Meanwhile, the Romney campaign is reportedly to have serious discussions today about whether to stay in the race.

I think he drops out ... he's sunk a lot of personal funds into the race, clearly is not gaining traction, and given neither McCain nor Huckabee apparently care for him, he is not likely to have much influence at the Republican convention no matter how many delegates he might have.

Meanwhile, as expected neither Clinton nor Obama landed a decisive blow, although Clinton may have gained a very small edge in delegates awarded last night. Numbers should be out later today (I hope). In general, reports are Clinton won among women, Hispanics and older voters, Obama was favored by the young, men and Blacks.

I do think Clinton needed a "knock-out" more than Obama yesterday, for several reasons:

1. The upcoming slate of states seems to favor Obama more than Clinton.

2. Fund-raising seems to have tilted heavily in Obama's favor over the last month. If the race continues into the late Spring, and Obama continues to hold a significant fund-raising advantage, that's going to be a factor.

3. The more spread-out schedule now helps Obama more, in my opinion. Clinton possesses a name-recognition edge, and with so many states to campaign in at once, it was difficult for Obama to make a strong impression in all of them.

However, now the pace slows down again, and the campaigns will be able to focus their time and energy on specific states again. Generally, trends have shown the more uncommitted voters see of Obama and Clinton, the more they tend toward Obama (New Hampshire being a notable exception).

All-in-all, though, the Democratic race now looks like it will go the full distance ... and it's entirely possible the convention could be reached with, say, Obama ahead, but by a margin close enough that counting the Michigan and Florida delegates would swing things in Clinton's favor ... in which case, the convention might become the ugliest any of us will see in our lifetimes. The DNC has only itself to thank for that possibility.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A memorable event

Twenty-two years ago today I walked into the Flandrau planetarium for a lab associated with a Planetary Science class I was taking. Heading in I noticed there were a number of large televisions set up around the planetarium, and some classes of young school children already arriving, but none of this really registered on me.

Some 90 minutes later I exited the lab classroom back out into the main area, and stepped into chaos - just moments before the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded in large, bright, billowing clouds of smoke for several hundred local first-, second- and third-graders to see on all those thoughtfully provided TVs. I, and many of my classmates, were immediately pressed into service as supplemental emergency crowd control.

It's really the first "I remember where I was" moment in my life. I wasn't born yet when Kennedy was shot, and am too young to recall MLK. I only have vague recollections of the moon landings. I wasn't really into music, so John Lennon's shooting didn't have as much impact on me as it did many of my friends. I do recall the famous Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson pass which led to the phrase "Hail Mary" being introduced to football jargon, but that pales in comparison.

No, for me, Challenger was the first such event. I can recall the images, the noise, clearly, as if it had all happened yesterday, or maybe, at most, last week.

We, as a species, have an imperative to explore. Not everyone possesses this trait ... but enough of us do that there is never a shortage of people willing to take that next step into the great unknown, to see what lies over the next hill, up the next river, across the next ocean. With our geographical frontiers now being largely discovered, many of those looking for new vistas to explore are looking for them internally - how can one improve one's memory, or live longer, or sleep less.

Space remains out there, waiting for us. It's a hideous, harsh, dangerous place, unbelievably cold, filled with cosmic radiation, completely unforgiving. Any little mis-step will kill you. All things considered, our safety record in space exploration has been excellent.

Yet we no longer reach for space. We first landed a man on the moon nearly 40 years ago. The last time a man walked on our moon was over 35 years ago. Our technology has become immeasurably better, yet our goals have become immeasurably smaller.

Twenty-two years ago I had hopes and expectations I might live to see us walk on Mars, pull mineral resources from asteroids. I am older and wiser now, and have no such dreams.

We talk of landing a man on the moon again maybe 10 years from now ... wohoo! Better than nothing I guess, but all it would mean is we would have once again reached the point we were at in 1969. There is speculation of manned lunar bases, treks to Mars. Worthwhile goals in my opinion, and I desperately hope they occur ... but I am a cynic now, and will believe it when it happens, not before.

We can not allow ourselves to be limited to just this one rocky orb circling this one small star in a large, dangerous galaxy. We must find some way to spread out, first to our solar system, then beyond, even if such trips take thousands or millions of years. If we don't, our species will die out, either slowly (through resource depletion and, eventually, the sun's destruction) or quickly (by, say, passing near a super-nova ... who knows, that event could already have occured and we have but years to live) ... and we will disappear from the annals of the universe having left no mark or trace of our existence, other than some odd radio signals which some distant, alien intelligence might one day stumble upon and wonder about.

Kennedy said we needed to go to the moon not because it was easy, but because it was hard. For some reason, we seem to have lost our appetite for achieving the "hard" things, and strive for lower-hanging fruit instead. We need to change that. We need to go back, not just to the moon but beyond it, not just because it is hard, but because it is necessary.