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.