Wednesday, August 31, 2005

We WILL rebuild New Orleans.

We will rebuild. Not only New Orleans, but also the Mississippi coast, and the many smaller cities and towns which people still call home.

Today though, unfortunately, I heard from at least two conservatives that they are against rebuilding. They don't want to spend the money. First a caller on Phoenix talk radio, and then from a right wing blogger that we should abandon New Orleans and other devastated areas to the sea, and one said to let the market determine where people would settle, the other to build it 100 miles inland. Of course, if we give up this fast, will we then abandon Los Angeles after the next really big earthquake? Florida and other low lying areas when they get flooded by hurricanes in the future? Kansas and Oklahoma next time there is a spate of tornadoes?

In contrast, President Bush (one of the few times I agree with him) echoed the words of Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and pledged to rebuild the city.

And we should. To simply accept the sacrifice of a major city is ridiculous (would these conservatives have been as quick to say this if, say, terrorists had destroyed a city with a nuclear weapon?)

Now, those who say that New Orleans will never be the same are correct. Let's build it better. Better, and safer. It has been done before.

The Dutch, most of whom live on land that was once the bottom of the sea, know just a little bit about flood control and living below sea level. The first dikes were built as early as 1300, and today, millions of people live below sea level. The Netherlands is the most densely populated country in Europe, and many live in a densely packed mass around Amsterdam and Rotterdam, much farther below sea level than New Orleans is.

In this century, large areas of Holland have flooded twice. Once during World War II, when some dikes were breached both by collateral bombing, and in some cases intentionally by both sides as defensive positions. The second time in 1953, during a major storm.

So, did the Dutch give up and move to the higher areas of the country? No, they did not.

But they did rebuild smarter. Now, they have giant hydraulic seawalls which are designed much like a ship's watertight doors. If one area floods, the seawalls will confine the flood to that part of the country. They also have state of the art pumps, (most of those in New Orleans are years or decades old) and a plan in place, with all necessary equipment, to quickly evacuate the entire population of areas that could be at risk if it becomes necessary.

Putting a plan like what the Dutch have done together, especially the seawalls, would be expensive compared to the meager budgets that the New Orleans district of the Corps of Engineers has been receiving (see my post from three days ago). But compared to the price we will now be paying for not having done something like this, the price is quite cheap. And it should certainly be put into the rebuilding plan. If there is one benefit to be found, it certainly won't be hard to obtain the land to put the seawalls on.

But, I commend President Bush for his statement today that, 'We will rebuild the great city of New Orleans.' And he is right. A far cry from the comment in the link above that:

You will rebuild? No, you won't. At least not if you are smart....I will raise holy hell with my Representatives if they talk about spending federal tax dollars to rebuild...

Oh, and if you personally want to contribute, follow the link on the left side of my page to the DNC site, they have a place there to donate to the Red Cross.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Your cell phone is safe-- but is your kids' science class?

As regular readers of this blog are aware by now, I have posted quite a bit on why Intelligent Design, a belief which I personally share (and I am not timid about saying that the 'Intelligent Designer' is in fact, God), is NOT the same thing as science, and therefore should not be taught in science classes until and unless it undergoes the same standards of testing as those scientific theories which are taught(including evolution); that is, a rigorous and ongoing evaluation of both existing and new evidence, including the construction of experiments which can be replicated. Every day, there is more evidence, in the form of DNA linkages, the discovery of fossils, replicatable genetic experiments, and the discoveries of new characteristics and enzymes in existing species, NONE of which contradicts evolution and much of which is in line with what it predicts. Yet, I see none of this with I.D. Its proponents simply want it to be put into the schools as an untested hypothesis.

I had been looking about for a current example of the scientific method, and today's news has a perfect example.

A hypothesis had been formed some years back that cellular phones might be causing brain cancers, based on a number of such cancers found in regular users of cell phones.

So, what was done? Was there a rushed and panicked response to ban cell phones? No. What was done was that a study was begun at the British Institute of Cancer Research. The results are in, and the study has concluded that there is no evidence that cell phones cause brain cancer. Of course the study only examined people who used them for one decade and there will certainly be more studies (as there should be), but the results are pretty convincing that the original reaction was way overblown.

Now, getting back to I.D., to put it in schools without any documented scientific evidence would be akin to having banned cell phones ten years ago with no documented evidence that they were dangerous. That would have been bad science, and so is I.D.

An ounce of prevention

Credit: I found the article referred to here on

Like many across the nation, our family today included the people in New Orleans and surrounding areas of Louisiana and Mississippi in our prayers.

The city of New Orleans tonight lies mostly under water, and this morning there were reports that flood control pumps, some decades old, had failed and a flood control levee had been breached. One can only wonder what would have happend had the city suffered a direct hit, devastation that would very likely have rendered one of America's major cities uninhabitable.

Unfortunately, it must be said, so I will say it here, that we should not forget what President Bush and Republicans in Congress have given the New Orleans district of the Corps of Engineers: massive budget cuts, especially for flood control projects.

In fiscal year 2006, the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is bracing for a record $71.2 million reduction in federal funding.

It would be the largest single-year funding loss ever for the New Orleans district, Corps officials said.

I've been here over 30 years and I've never seen this level of reduction, said Al Naomi, project manager for the New Orleans district. I think part of the problem is it's not so much the reduction, it's the drastic reduction in one fiscal year. It's the immediacy of the reduction that I think is the hardest thing to adapt to....

The House of Representatives wants to cut the New Orleans district budget 21 percent to $272.4 million in 2006, down from $343.5 million in 2005. The House figure is about $20 million lower than the president's suggested $290.7 million budget.

Well, cutting budgets for government projects: it's what Republicans do. And to be sure, the article says that a similar fight last year resulted in some cuts (although in fairness it is hard to see how they could have prevented the current disaster). But it should be pointed out that flood control projects bear the brunt of the cut:

One of the hardest-hit areas of the New Orleans district's budget is the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which was created after the May 1995 flood to improve drainage in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany parishes. SELA's budget is being drained from $36.5 million awarded in 2005 to $10.4 million suggested for 2006 by the House of Representatives and the president....

The district has identified $35 million in projects to build and improve levees, floodwalls and pumping stations in St. Bernard, Orleans, Jefferson and St. Charles parishes. Those projects are included in a Corps line item called Lake Pontchartrain, where funding is scheduled to be cut from $5.7 million this year to $2.9 million in 2006. Naomi said it's enough to pay salaries but little else.

And the irony is, it doesn't even make economic sense. The damage today is likely to be in the tens of billions of dollars, at least. If New Orleans were to receive a direct hit, the damage could easily be into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Yet, Republicans in Congress and President Bush aren't even willing to invest a fraction of a percent as much to prevent a re-run of what we saw today.

NOTE: I'm NOT blaming President Bush for the disaster in New Orleans. Obviously, it was hit by a huge hurricane, it is below sea level, and the problems with the flood control system go back decades. However, I am saying that fixing these problems require an investment of tax dollars, that he and Congress haven't made protecting America from natural disasters a priority, and the facts of the matter need to be publicized.

Monday, August 29, 2005

We live in the age of the corporate mercenary army

This weekend I had a conversation with a Republican friend of mine who seemed genuinely surprised that we have mercenaries in Iraq. Of course this is old news for most of us on the left, but it is also obvious (my friend says he gets most of his news form Sean Hannity) that the right isn't apt to report this sort of stuff. It got a brief play in the media after four Blackwater USA 'security contractors' (the preferred term they use) were murdered and their bodies burnt after their convoy was ambushed in Fallujah on March 31, 2004, but then was pretty much dropped by most of the national media. In fact, this had been reported first by Bill Berkowitz almost a month before the Fallujah incident. He focused on their recruiting efforts in Chile and South Africa-- two former dictatorships with armies who specialized in counterinsurgency ops but who now were out of a job. But the four contractors killed in Fallujah were Americans, as have been the majority of the security contractors killed in Iraq (you have to scroll all the way to the right edge of the screen to see job description and employer).

I actually knew about it from a somewhat personal source well before that, although not the full extent of it. Two friends of mine who served with local law enforcement agencies here in Northeastern Arizona before the Iraq war told me about an ad that they had seen circulated among police officers advertising for law enforcement professionals (with prior military experience a plus) who would be willing to work in regions of global conflict to provide security for up to $110,000 (according to the ad-- like most pre-war claims, it was a lie-- most 'security contractors' earn about $40,000-$60,000 in fact).

What has changed is that mercenaries today are no longer 'independent contractors' as they traditionally have been. Because they are now managed and formed into commando units by companies like Blackwater (as well as DynCorp and a few others), it is only necessary to contract with the company. Because rules of engagement for paramilitary forces are not well defined, our government has found them useful in missions that the traditional army might not be able to undertake for political reasons, for example, operations that carry a high risk of civilian casualties, military operations within the borders of the United States or against U.S. citizens, or operations in which it is foreseen that some of the traditional rules of engagement might not apply. If the mercenaries break some of the rules, there is either the benefit of deniability, or the ability to fire the 'security contractors' without admitting guilt.

Gotta keep that perfect record intact

Once again, the Bush government has taken action against someone who said something they didn't like.

In the latest hit, the Pentagon announced the firing of Bunnatine Greenhouse . Ms. Greenhouse is a senior civilian auditor of military contracts for the Army Corps of Engineers, and last year went public with her concerns about the no-bid contract given to Kellogg, Brown and Root for construction and other services in Iraq. KBR is a subsidiary of Halliburton, which Vice President Dick Cheney served as president of before leaving to serve on the Bush ticket. Ms. Greenhouse testified at a congressional hearing that the decision to award the bid to Halliburton was "the most blatant and improper abuse I have witnessed" in 20 years as a government contract supervisor. Despite initial denials by the White House, Cheney himself was later proven to have coordinated the deal, but which Republicans have swept under the rug by virtue of their control of Congress along with about a half dozen other serious scandals that would have resounded for months if they had occurred in the Clinton administration.

Also from the article on Ms. Greenhouse, As the senior civilian in charge of procurement at the Army Corps of Engineers, Ms Greenhouse developed a reputation as a stickler for proper procedure and won high marks in her performance reviews. Those reviews began deteriorating at almost the same time she began speaking out against the KBR contract, causing her lawyer to accuse the Pentagon of malicious retaliation.

The Joseph Wilson/ Valerie Plame/ Karl Rove scandal aside, does anyone sense a pattern here? Greenhouse follows after Teresa Chambers, fired as National Parks chief after going to the media about how she had been forced to cut back staff at most National Parks because she had not been reimbursed for the funding she had been forced to spend on protecting a few high profile National Monuments since 9/11, there was Sibel Edmonds who was fired after blowing the whistle on the failure of the FBI and the Bush administration to even hire translators who knew the languages of the documents they were supposed to be translating, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who said in a 60 Minutes interview in January 2004 that invading Iraq was discussed in the framework of a decision that had already been made during cabinet meetings very early in the Bush administration, well before 9/11, and was smeared and investigated commencing the next day (the probe ended in March 2004 with a determination of no wrongdoing on the part of O'Neill, but the smears remain out there), and many others (including members of the press) who have gotten on the wrong side of the Bush administration.

Is it possible that in these cases the people involved might have actually deserved the treatment they got? Sure, it is possible, despite the uniformly high marks all of these people got before criticizing Bush policy, but with the ongoing pattern of this (that sooner or later everyone who is in a position to question Bush policy from the inside is fired or otherwise retaliated against on some charge) it seems highly unlikely to just be a coincidence.

Whatever you may think about the Clinton administration, they never engaged in the politics of personal destruction and revenge against those who they angered them the way the Bush administration has (did you ever hear of them firing Monica Lewinsky or any of those other women who claimed that Clinton sexually harrassed them?). Today it is Bunnatine Greenhouse's turn to be fed to the wolves.

Is there no decency left in the world? Not on the far right.

Saturday, two soldiers from Tennessee, the latest casualties of our failed policy in Iraq were buried. Protesters showed up at the funeral, claiming the soldiers were killed as punishment for what the United States has done.

What? Were these protesters, who would not even allow the burial of the dead to proceed with dignity, anti-war protesters?

No, in fact anti-war protesters do show respect to the dead, and to the people who are attending funeral services for them.

The protesters were members of an anti-gay church which is claiming that the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq is punishment for the fact that gay people live in America.

The Rev. Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist in Kansas, contends that American soldiers are being killed in Iraq as vengeance from God for protecting a country that harbors gays.

Rev. Phelps and his congregation (which the article says is mostly related to him) have, of course, because of the sacrifice made by American soldiers during the Revolution, the right to say what they want, no matter how repulsive it is. And they did apparently go through proper channels to get a protest permit.

They had the legal right to do as they did, but this is the height of despicability.

The article goes on to say: The church members carried signs and shouted things such as “God hates fags” and “God hates you.”

And war supporters spend their time condemning Cindy Sheehan for wanting to know if a President who takes month long vacations while Iraq falls to pieces, could spare half an hour.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Just a short question

I have had reason to post this on a number of blogs recently, but I just have one question:

The 'intelligent design' hypothesis claims that the world is such a wonderfully complex and diverse place, with such a clockwork perfect interaction between the planet and the organisms on it, that such a beautifully synchronized system could not have come about without an intelligent creator.

Now, I see the beauty and perfection which they see, and I personally agree with proponents of intelligent design that there must have been such a creator, and in fact I believe that the creator is God (although I don't consider my or anyone else's belief to be the same thing as science, as I described on August 3).

I do however have one simple question for people who support 'intelligent design:'

Why aren't more people who see an intelligent designer's hand in the world, environmentalists? What would the 'intelligent designer' think of people who insist that the creator does indeed exist, but then spend a great deal of time and effort making it easier for themselves and others to damage, pollute and destroy what has been created?

Just a simple question, but it is asked in all sincerity, and I would like an answer to it.

It's not an owl habitat, it's Progress, don't you know?

A circuit court judge finally came out and called the Bush administration for violating the endangered species act for a 2002 decision in which "the State of Arizona was granted the right to issue pollutant discharge permits under the Clean Water Act without prior assurance that endangered animals would not be affected." For those of you in Arizona, let me remind you also that 2002 was the last year of the Jane Hull administration-- and no, I'm not a bit surprised that this sort of thing would appeal to Calamity Jane.

What this kind of ruling (hardly a new experience for the Bush administration, the first administration since pollutant standards were first established to actually raise the allowable levels of several pollutants, including Mercury, in the air you breathe and the water you drink) tells us is that there is a qualitative difference in the way progressives and conservatives view the rest of the species on our planet.

We who are progressives believe that it would be an inexcusably selfish act to destroy a species, denying it the right to exist just as we do, denying future generations of the right to share the world as we have it today, and setting ourselves up as Gods, having the power to determine what creatures will live and which will forever perish.

Conservatives, on the other hand, only see endangered species as an obstruction to making a buck.

Friday, August 26, 2005

We've done what we could do, now it's time to go.

After the WMD excuse was punctured, there was found to be no connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, and more terrorists came into Iraq than were there before we invaded, President Bush and his administration had to claim that we invaded to 'bring Democracy to Iraq.' Then, as the Washington Post reported in its August 14 edition,

"the document on which Iraq's future is to be built [the constitution] will require laws to be compliant with Islam. Kurds and Shiites are expecting de facto long-term political privileges. And women's rights will not be as firmly entrenched as Washington has tried to insist, U.S. officials and Iraqi analysts say...we set out to establish a democracy, but we're slowly realizing we will have some form of Islamic Republic

so we had lost hundreds and hundreds of troops merely to establish another fundamentalist Islamic republic.

But now it seems we don't even have that. Today, the Iraqi parliament voted to send a draft of the new constitution to the people that is certain to be opposed by Sunnis. In fact, Sadoun Zubaydi, a Sunni member of the drafting committee, put it this way, placing blame squarely where it is due:

“Bush’s hypocrisy is huge — in January he wouldn’t allow a postponement of parliamentary elections to allow all groups to prepare properly because he was trying to sugarcoat everything that happens here for his domestic audience,” Zubaydi said.

“Now, he’s calling the Shiites and issuing instructions that they should not ignore the group that was marginalized in those defective elections. ... To the last minute, this supposedly Iraqi process is being dictated by the U.S. government.”

This is likely to lead to more, not less, bloodshed and possibly civil war. It is hard to see how it will benefit the United States to be caught in the crossfire in any Iraqi civil war, and no matter what happens as a result, it would be hard to claim it is anything that it is worth losing the lives of so many American soldiers for.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Hugo Chavez offers to help lower fuel prices in the United States.

Pat Robertson's favorite foreign leader is now offering a hand in friendship to the United States, especially poor people here.

Hugo Chavez, the outspoken President of Venezuela who has now won three elections in the last seven years to become and remain President, is offering to sell cheap gas in communities in the United States where there are a lot of poor people. According to Chavez plan, he would take out the middlemen (mostly oil companies) and sell oil at or near the price that people pay in Venezuela (about 20 cents per gallon) plus shipping prices and a small profit, and sell it to the communites where a lot of poor people live. Considering the comments this weekend, this is an unexpected olive branch. We should jump at the offer. Just today, I paid $2.79 9/10 for regular unleaded gasoline.

Of course the administration will turn this down, not only because they don't like Chavez, but because a plan like this would cut into the profits of big oil (and look who we have for both President and Vice President).

But it is obvious that Hugo Chavez cares much more for people than does Reverend Pat.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Such a loving guy

Yesterday night, televangelist Pat Robertson suggested that the United States assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Begin with the fact that Mr. Chavez is not some dictator who took power in a coup-- he was elected in a democracy by the majority of voters in Venezuela, and then, despite the best efforts of his opponents to force a mid-term referendum on his administration, won a smashing victory again-- from the people of Venezuela.

But that apparently doesn't matter to this 'man of God.' He is willing to murder a man because he doesn't agree with him politically.

That is everything there is to say. Pat Robertson believes that he can play God and ask for the government to murder a man he doesn't like.


Robertson on Monday: "If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it,'s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war" (watch Robertson say it)

Robertson on Wednesday: 'I didn't say, 'assassination,'

Does he think people are stupid, or what?

Die and be a slogan

This is apalling.

We all know that the term, 'operation Iraqi Freedom' was a cute, catchy little slogan thought up to put a smiley face on this war. In fact, with the apparent outcome of that war the creation of an Islamic Republic where women will have less rights under the law than they had even under Saddam Hussein, the name is a farce.

But to stoop so low as to advertise it by putting the slogan on tombstones of the dead -- with or without approval from their families-- is despicable.

The vast majority of military gravestones from other eras are inscribed with just the basic, required information: name, rank, military branch, date of death and, if applicable, the war and foreign country in which the person served.

Families are supposed to have final approval over what goes on the tombstones. That hasn't always happened.

Nadia and Robert McCaffrey, whose son Patrick was killed in Iraq in June 2004, said "Operation Iraqi Freedom" ended up on his government-supplied headstone in Oceanside, Calif., without family approval.

"I was a little taken aback," Robert McCaffrey said, describing his reaction when he first saw the operation name on Patrick's tombstone. "They certainly didn't ask my wife; they didn't ask me." He said Patrick's widow told him she had not been asked either.

"In one way, I feel it's taking advantage to a small degree," McCaffrey said. "Patrick did not want to be there, that is a definite fact."

There is nothing they won't stoop to to promote their war.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Recommitment to the mission: WHAT mission?

Today President Bush reaffirmed his dedication to the war in Iraq, in order to 'defeat terrorists.'

He has to, since with the Iraqi constitution both missing two deadlines, and clearly pointing towards some sort of an Islamic republic in which women in particular will have less rights in matters like inheritance, divorce and custody than they had under Saddam Hussein, the whole 'Democracy' argument is becoming increasingly hard to hold together.

Of course, it was never about terrorism. If it were, why would we have taken the focus off of the world's number one terrorist, who was never in Iraq? And why, if we thought that terrorism was such a big deal in Iraq, did we let Iraq's top terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, walk free because we didn't even think while planning the war that he was worth including as a target?

And here is the real question: HOW will keeping our army in Iraq do a darn thing to prevent terrorists from attacking us here? The senior leadership of al-Qaeda are free somewhere, probably planning more terrorist attacks. The networks they use to implement them are not in Iraq either, a pretty out of the way place if you want to get people, weapons or money into the United States. And, as we saw in the London train bombings, they only need a small number of people to carry them out (ditto Madrid and 9/11) so it is hard to argue that because several thousand terrorists are fighting against us in Iraq, that precludes a small number from operating elsewhere.

So, in short, our army in Iraq is doing nothing at all to save America from terrorists, especially since Iraq has now become a rich recruiting ground FOR the terrorists.

We are not safer from terrorists, and the best outcome we can hope for in Iraq is a stable, cleric run Islamic state, not a Democracy (worse potential outcomes mostly involve civil war).

So, why did we go there again?

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Iran may be building a nuke, but Bush can't stop them

Today, I was at the state Democratic convention and I had a good conversation with a friend of mine about Iran.

Of course, Iran has become much more bellicose over the past few months, going from denying it had any nuclear ambitions to admitting that it has produced centrifuges and other critical equipment, and in fact has made multiple copies of this equipment and dispersed it around the country.

Why the new belligerency?

Well, for one thing, it is clear that belligerency works, especially with the Bush administration. While Iraq's Saddam Hussein eventually knuckled under to the demands to let the inspectors back into Iraq (and still became the victim of 'regime change'), North Korea kept ratcheting up the level of confrontation with Washington and has been rewarded by American retreat, first by Washington stopping spy planes from flying over or near North Korea in the days leading up to the Iraq war, and then by Washington announcing that over the coming years it plans to reduce the American troop levels in South Korea. North Korea is still belligerent, and clearly is safe from an American invasion. The lesson has not been lost on Iran.

The second reason is even more to be laid at the feet of the Bush administration. Had Iran been this bold about developing nuclear weapons two or three years ago, then they would have been in for a regime change. And, in fact, it is clear from the fact that America is building over a dozen bases in Iraq (an inordinately high number for such a small country) that we had eventual plans to use Iraq as a staging ground for an invasion of another country (clearly Iran, although Syria may have been in the picture as well). However, we are now stuck in a mess in Iraq, and the best outcome we can hope for in Iraq is that Iraqis rally around the new constitution, which would create what amounts to an Islamic Republic not all that different from Iran, and in which Iran will hold more influence than we will. Not much of a base. What is more, though, is that the army we would have had to threaten Iran with if they did not comply (or even invade if we really had to consider them a nuclear threat) is 1) bogged down in the quicksand of Iraq, 2) badly overextended and not meeting its recruiting goals, and therefore 3) not capable of mounting an invasion of another country, especially one three times as large as Iraq and which has not been weakened by a decade of sanctions and 'no-fly zones.'

Conservatives will claim that the opposition to the Iraq war by liberals has emboldened Iran. That is ridiculous, especially seeing how much difference that made when liberals were shunted aside by the Bush administration's hell-bent determination to invade Iraq. What has emboldened Iran is our failure in Iraq, pure and simple. They know we could bomb the crap out of them, but that is all, and they apparently have made a calculated decision that they could survive such a bombing campaign, and surviving it, will be able to stand up against Washington.

That is what we get for having elected a President who squandered our now amazingly finite looking military. The good news is that if Iran develops a nuke, we do have an alternate strategy: to not go to war with Iran because we can learn the lesson of history that it wouldn't be the end of the world.

We can deduce that Bill Frist thinks 'Intelligent Design' is popular.

Recently Senate Majority Leader and prospective Republican Presidential candidate Bill Frist enraged some of his most ardent supporters with his change of stance on stem cell research (I discussed this in the post, Frist Flop on July 29). So he has to mend fences, and it seems he is off to work early on it, telling reporters after speaking to a rotary club meeting that he agrees with President Bush and supports the teaching of 'intelligent design' in schools so that students can better understand the 'controversy.' Of course, I said what I thought about Sen. Frist in the earlier post, but one highlight of the news this week is that even Trent Lott called Frist a backstabber.

Maybe in a civics class, if need be, but as I detailed on August 2 and then again on August 8, intelligent design (and I say this as a person of faith) is not science. It is a belief. It is my belief. But even if it were everyone in the world's belief, science deals with experimentation and the results of testing hypotheses. Just having a hypothesis (which is what 'intelligent design' is, scientifically) is NOT having a theory (which needs some solid evidence to support it) and therefore is not something which should be taught in a science classroom.

We have already gone from the unquestioned scientific and research leader on the planet to rough parity with the Europeans, the Japanese and lately the Koreans. This is due to a combination of budget cuts to universities (see my post In defense of public funding for basic research on July 30), as well as the policy of the Bush administration of considering science as something which can be bent to fit ideology on everything from global warming (see The scientific method unfortunately works to Terri Schiavo, and simply ignored if it doesn't fit that ideology.

Of course, the drift of the country towards a dogma based conservatism is accelerating. I also found this article interesting:creationists set to open museum. Now, they have every right to open their museum, which is dedicated to the use of 'science' to support the idea that the universe is no more than 10,000 years old. Of course, anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of science understands their complete poppycock (just think about what kind of intelligence would have taken the time and effort to set unbelieveable numbers of photons heading towards earth in a steady stream just to fool us into thinking there were stars and galaxies farther away than 10,000 light years). The danger is not, however, from kooks like these, but from policymakers who probably know better, but in order to appease the kooks and win their votes, are willing to hamstring science and scientific research in America while the rest of the world hurtles past us. In time, we may lose our position in the world, not because anyone beats us out technologically, but because we shackle ourselves and watch the rest of the world evolve around us (oooh, there's that word that creationists hate again).

Friday, August 19, 2005

Trading honor for a pack of lies.

"I wish I had not been involved in it,"

That is how Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as the chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, described the events leading up to and following Powell's speech to the United Nations on February 5, 2003. Wilkerson then went on to say that it was "the lowest point in my life." The full interview with Wilkerson will be on a CNN special next Sunday evening. I won't be able to see it, but I hope that CNN makes the transcript available.

Powell's speech, which laid out in front of an international audience the 'evidence' that Iraq's Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and claimed that there was no other option left other than war, is his lasting legacy, the moment which more than any other defined Colin Powell for both America and the world.

It is a tragic legacy. Colin Powell was always a just and honorable man, yet he gave a speech riddled with inaccuracies, distortions and outright lies.

How did it happen? Wilkerson gives some hints:

"(Powell) came through the door ... and he had in his hands a sheaf of papers, and he said, 'This is what I've got to present at the United Nations according to the White House, and you need to look at it,'...It was anything but an intelligence document. It was, as some people characterized it later, sort of a Chinese menu from which you could pick and choose."

David Kay, who was once the CIA's chief weapons inspector in Iraq, says it even more bluntly: "In fact, Secretary Powell was not told that one of the sources he was given as a source of this information had indeed been flagged by the Defense Intelligence Agency as a liar, a fabricator..."

To this day, I believe that Colin Powell believed what he said, and if one could ask him I believe he would regret his propagation of a lie. As Secretary of State, he had an absolute right to know what anyone else in the administration knew, yet they knowingly fed him lies, and therefore fed him to the wolves.

Colin Powell always was a good soldier, so I wouldn't expect him to come out and criticize his commander in chief, even in the face of such an outright betrayal. But the biggest mistake that he ever made, and I suspect that he even realizes it now, deep down inside, was to join the Republican party. A party who eats their own (see my post on Katherine Harris from a couple of days ago to get an idea of how fast they can turn on you).

To paraphrase MacArthur, a man who could have been anything, even the President (and Lord knows he would have chased bin Laden to the ends of the earth after 9/11 before anything else became a higher priority), is now just an old soldier fading away.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Baghdad gasoline mambo

With gasoline in the United States now (depending on where you live) anywhere from way over $2.00 to just a bit over $3.00 a gallon, many Americans are feeling the pinch.

Added to that, the fact that we as taxpayers have been asked to spend billions of dollars building schools, roads and hospitals in Iraq, even as the schools in our own communities are always underfunded, roads are crumbling, and hospitals (like the one closest to me, which would be in Holbrook Arizona) are closed.

Under these circumstances, at least one would hope that the Iraqi government, our supposed 'partners' in the process, would chip in a few bucks when they have it.

Well, not exactly. After benefitting from the largesse of the American taxpayer (even to the extent of our people driving around Baghdad in a pickup truck handing out wads of cash), they have chosen to spend their money (now swollen by the high price of oil) to subsidize five cents per gallon gas!!

Yet, we still have to pay through the snoot! You'd think that if they were that flush with money, they could afford to take some of the burden for building what is, after all, their country off of us. But Noooo. They would rather spend it to create nickel a gallon gas. Not even sure why. I guess so the next suicide car bomber can spend about a dollar to make sure his tank is full and he gets that extra 'pop' when he detonates his car full of explosives next to a convoy full of American soldiers.

Anyone who is not outraged by this, is truly blind and deaf.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Republicans: the ultimate fair weather friends

Remember Katherine Harris? The darling of the Florida Republican Party. The woman who handed the White House to George Bush.

Oh, yeah. THAT Katherine Harris. Now Congresswoman Katherine Harris. And little more than a month ago, buoyed by their sweep of southern Senate seats last year and her demonstrated ability to raise funds nationwide, the far right was all jacked up about her running for the United States Senate against Senator Bill Nelson. Their own rock star, about to get a starring role in Washington. So when she announced that she would indeed run, Republicans were quick to get behind her.

Only one problem. Early polls show that she is running behind Senator Nelson.

Now, this is August, mind you. August 2005, more than a year before the election. Anybody will tell you that a great deal can happen in that time to completely reshape a race. And it is rare this early on for any challenger to be running close to an incumbent. And with Harris' proven vote-getting ability, it should be nothing to get upset about, right?

Well, not if you are a Florida Republican. Today we learn that Republicans are recruiting right wing TV jock Joe Scarborough to challenge Harris in the Republican primary.

Maybe it's because they know that next year will not be a good year to be a Republican unless a miracle happens in Iraq and at the gas pump.

Maybe it's only because they know that George Bush's administration has been a disaster, and Harris, more than any other single candidate for office next year, is responsible for giving us this mess.

Maybe it's because the same 'chicken hawks' who are willing to send our troops into a place they weren't willing to go themselves, are now turning into cowards at the idea that they might lose, and there will be no 'Katherine Harris' working behind the scenes to swipe the election if their candidate out in front IS Katherine Harris.

Whatever the reason, Katherine Harris is finding out that if you are a Republican who is behind in a poll, your friends start to bail as soon as it gets a little cloudy.

Field of Greed

There is good news if you are a corrupt Republican these days.

The good news is that you've got a crowd to hide among in the spotlight.

Today, Ohio Governor Bob Taft was charged with a crime for failing to report thousands of dollars in 'gifts.' If convicted he faces up to six months in jail for each count.

Not that he would be the first one to walk through the prison door though. GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff spent a night in a Los Angeles county jail last week after being indicted on fraud charges, and is being questioned in connection with a murder, which I wrote about on Friday. And Ohio Congressman Bob Ney, who was already under investigation for taking a $100,000 golf trip to Scotland at Abramoff's expense, now has to explain why he went so far as to put remarks into the congressional record not so long before the murder attacking the victim, a man who he had no dealings with and could only have gotten his information from Abramoff and his associate.

Another Republican congressman, outspoken conservative Duke Cunningham, has already announced he is quitting Congress in the face of mounting evidence of corruption.

What is more, they have helped to take the heat off of Karl Rove, who is under investigation for intentionally compromising our national security by giving out the name of a CIA operative during time of war. The media may have forgotten Rove for the moment, but you can be sure that the special prosecutor hasn't forgotten him.

Is the Majority Leader in the House still the ethically deficient Tom DeLay? By golly, it is. He sure is off the front page, crowded off of it. But the large majority of Republicans in the house got money, much of it tainted by scandal and corruption from Tom DeLay's PAC, and they can't 'wish it' away.

For a party that was jawing about how important it was for our leaders to 'set an example' by holding to a higher standard, the only 'higher standard' they have held to is that they have sold themselves for the really BIG money.

There may be a few honest ones among them, but even they are damaged by the fact that corruption and dishonesty has become a common trait of so many Republicans. It's time to dump out the whole plate of them in Congress and start over.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A darn scary underreported story

Rarely would I credit a troll for inspiring me to put up a post, but I have to do that. In responding on an anonymous troll, I tangentially was led into a subject which most of us living in border states are very much aware of, but which has been little reported in the national media.

The story is about the war underway in Mexico. Until a few years ago, northern Mexico was a relatively quiet area. The biggest concerns to Americans were illegal immigrants coming in from the area, stolen cars going the other way, and drug smuggling. But it was safe enough to go there, and to live near there. Sure, the local officials were corrupt, but as long as you knew the meaning of 'lubre la mano,' you didn't have much to worry about.

That is not the case anymore, however. There is a violent drug war underway, and it is happening not only in Mexico, but in the United States. Many local officials are either part of it, or they have been silenced, as has the press, by gunning down reporters who report on this. Lately the action has been in and around the town of Nuevo Laredo, a border town near Texas where on July 28, small armies of armed men fought a pitched battle with rocket launchers, heavy machine guns and grenades, prompting the United States to close its consulate there for several days. In other words, this is not just a rumble, this is an actual war. And as many as thirty Americans have been killed or kidnapped in both Mexico and the United States.

What is more, it's here, in the form of another bogeyman we created (i.e. Osama and Saddam, couldn't have gotten where they were without the help of the United States.) In this case the bogeyman is not a man, but an organization. The organization is called the Zetas, an elite paramilitary group. The Zetas were trained as commandos by Americans, mostly to interdict drugs in Mexico, but some of them are also known to have been members of 'death squads' in southern Mexico and central America during the 1980's.

But now, they operate with impunity in both the United States and Mexico. A U.S. Justice Department memo says the U.S.-trained units have recently moved operations into Houston, San Antonio and the states of California, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. They have been operating in Dallas for at least two years, according to the feds.

According to law enforcement authorities in both countries, Zetas operate special training camps in the Mexican states of Tamaulipas and Michoacán, where newly recruited Zetas take intensive six-week training courses in weapons, tactics and intelligence gathering..

How does a young Zeta work his way up the organization? Simple. Go to America and kill a border patrol or police officer. U.S. law enforcement have reported bounties offered by Los Zetas of between $30,000 and $50,000 for the killing of Border Patrol agents and other law enforcement officers," the bulletin said. "If a Zeta kills an American law enforcement officer and can successfully make it back to Mexico, his stature within the organization will be increased dramatically.

and then there is this description: The Zetas have also brought their cold-blooded killing tactics to the U.S., say federal law enforcement authorities – murdering rival drug dealers and sometimes innocent bystanders.

In other words, these are bad guys. Real bad guys.

What has President Bush done about it? Ignored it. What about the press? Ignored it too. Maybe because they are afraid of being murdered if they report on it, like the Mexican reporters were?

OK. The problem has been defined. What should we do?

First, we have to increase border security. That is obvious. And not by some kooky citizens militia that creates more problems than they solve, but by paid, professional border agents. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano have already recognized this, and showing some leadership in the absence of any from Washington, have authorized the use of state funds to hire more border patrol agents.

Second, make the Kerry-McCain bill the law of the land. I posted on this on July 12. By giving them an incentive to report themselves and pay a fee, we get a handle on who is already here, and until we get tough and start throwing people who hire illegals in prison, anyone who says, 'don't come here but we have a job waiting for you if you do,' is living a pipe dream. Without prison time for the employers, we will always have a supply of jobs which will draw yet more illegals.

Third, legalize marijuana. I support doing so anyway because I don't think marijuana is so dangerous that it by itself should be illegal, but right now that would be a huge blow up front to this enemy, once people could start growing it legally in America. We could then focus our drug interdiction efforts on more dangerous drugs (like Meth), and focus our anti-marijuana efforts on education (which has already showed its worth by sharply reducing tobacco use among teens). Just tonight, we have breaking news that what may be the largest marijuana bust in US history was made at a farm in the town of Strawberry, Arizona. It is certainly a success, and a blow to these guys, but even law enforcement officials will tell you that for every pound of marijuana that gets stopped, three or four pounds (whether grown in America or smuggled in) get through.

Fourth, we need to do the hard work of bringing our army home from Iraq and going out and hunting these guys, in the country in which they have set up shop-- the United States.

Fifth, we need to use our leverage with Mexico (especially since the Kerry-McCain bill is something they want) to allow them to let U.S. commandos go in jointly with Mexican soldiers to take out these training camps.

Sixth, we need to puncture their power base by working to increase the living standards in Mexico and Central America, thereby denying them the recruits they now thrive on. One sided deals like CAFTA won't do this, since they only allow for the creation of more sweatshops where people work for pennies and a few very rich people get richer. What will work is to sign trade deals in which the countries we sign them with agree to uphold wage, workplace safety and environmental standards commensurate with what we hold our own manufacturers to.

Then we will start getting a handle on this situation.

Like I said in the heading, this story should scare the pants off of you. THIS is what we need action on, not Iraq.

And if the next time you hear the word, 'zetas' it is in connection with some hideous crime in America, then just be sure to remember that George Bush is the guy who turned a blind eye to them, and they are part of his legacy to America.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Roberts showed his real views

Today, the Ronald Reagan library and archives released over 5,000 pages of documents relating to Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts.

And they certainly cast light on his views on some (if not all) of the subjects that are of the most concern to many people.

For example, in a memo on November 21, 1985, Roberts criticized the Supreme Court's decision prohibiting "meditation or voluntary prayer" in Alabama schools. Roberts said the ruling's conclusion that "the Constitution prohibits such a moment of silent reflection -- or even silent 'prayer' -- seems indefensible."

Of course the reason behind the ruling is that in such a setting, 'voluntary' is often accompanied by intense pressure from both peers and school officials, as it was in Alabama under the law that the court threw out. The court decided that school should not be a place for coercion. Just that simple. This ruling, notice, did not affect such events as the use of a prayer by one person at an event like a game or a graduation, since no one is then forced, or can be coerced, into participating. But apparently Judge Roberts believes that there was no problem with that.

Much more disturbing, however, was Roberts' take on a 1983 ruling in which the Washington state supreme court found the state guilty of discrimination for paying women less than men for jobs of "comparable worth."

Roberts wrote about three Republican congresswomen who objected to the ruling (ironically, led by Olympia Snowe of Maine, one of the Senators who will be voting on his confirmation) "I honestly find it troubling that three Republican representatives are so quick to embrace such a radical redistribute concept. Their slogan may as well be 'From each according to his ability, to each according to her gender,'"

It is hard to see, aside from the complete insensitivity that John Roberts shows here in regard to the matter of unequal pay, how this statement, in particular its last line, can be considered anything other than blatantly sexist. The implication is that only men are able, and that working women are asking for money that they don't deserve. I'm not even female, and I find this line absolutely insulting, almost akin to suggesting that we should go back to feudalism.

Troubling. Very troubling.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

How do you spell Hypocrites?

Kudos to Martha who posted these on the DNC blog:

It seems like not a day goes by when some right winger claims that 'support the troops' means 'support the President's foreign policy' and that anyone who disagrees is 'unAmerican' or is 'helping our enemies.'

In fact, some of those kinds of statements come from the very same crowd quoted here:


"You can support the troops but not the president."
--Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"Well, I just think it's a bad idea. What's going to happen is they're going to be over there for 10, 15, maybe 20 years."
--Joe Scarborough (R-FL)

"Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?"
--Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/6/99

"[The] President . . . is once again releasing American military might on a foreign country with an ill-defined objective and no exit strategy. He has yet to tell the Congress how much this operation will cost. And he has not informed our nation's armed forces about how long they will be away from home. These strikes do not make for a sound foreign policy."
--Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)

"American foreign policy is now one huge big mystery. Simply put, the administration is trying to lead the world with a feel-good foreign policy."
--Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"If we are going to commit American troops, we must be certain they have a clear mission, an achievable goal and an exit strategy."
--Karen Hughes, speaking on behalf of George W Bush

"I had doubts about the bombing campaign from the beginning . . I didn't think we had done enough in the diplomatic area."
--Senator Trent Lott (R-MS)

"I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. A month later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our over-extended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today"
--Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is."
--Governor George W. Bush (R-TX)

Now, for the record, I also (as a Democrat) was opposed to our intervention in Kosovo because I didn't (and still don't) think that it was up to the United States to send troops to 'fix' everyone's problems (and had at least one letter published condemning it), but these remarks make it clear that these people have no principles, adjusting their argument to take which ever side of something their party is on. Even Soviet Communists would be proud of how chameleon-like conservatives can be, shifting from righteous indignation to mindless support, on a dime if need be.

And also, for the record, Clinton and General Wes Clark did plan it well enough to finish things off in about six weeks, had an exit strategy (we still have a handful of peacekeepers there, but no significant commitment) and most importantly: did so with exactly ZERO American combat deaths. That's right, NONE.

Those darn taxes (or not).

Here is the Republican response to these reasons your money seems to never be enough.

Housing: Yeah, we are in a housing boom. Great news for developers, real estate agents and people who need to sell a house. If you are lucky enough to work in the construction agency, that is pretty good news for you too. But if you are trying to save the money for a starter home, or paying ever escalating rent (especially in a place like Phoenix or LA) then, well, just keep in mind that millions of people around the world live in a box, and be happy with what you have (unless you are also homeless, in which case, you can get affordable housing by committing a felony.)

Gasoline: Well, you elected two guys from Big Oil as President and Vice President. And under their leadership, they have gotten to drill in environmentally sensitive offshore areas in the Gulf and California, gotten permission to drill in ANWR, and are now selling their crude oil for upwards of $60 a barrel. They can claim it has to do with refinery capacity, but enough oil is still being refined to get everywhere, and besides, they said that ten years ago, which is plenty of time to build more refineries, if that was anything more than an excuse. Gasoline crisis, what gasoline crisis? If you are a major investor in Big Oil, this is a great time to be getting up in the morning. (come now, you didn't really think that the President and the Veep would forget who their friends are in order to hold gas prices down for the rest of us, do you?)

Pharmaceuticals: These keep rising and rising and rising. But never fear, the Republicans have an answer: Beginning in 2008, you will need a passport to get in from Canada or Mexico (and this is NOT about catching terrorists, who always have their paperwork in order, or undocumented immigrants, who sneak across). So now, they will crack down on people who object to the drug companies right to selectively gouge Americans by buying their prescriptions more cheaply elsewhere. And, all those trillions of dollars the Pharmaceutical companies will be getting from the Federal Government courtesy of the prescription drug bill passed last year by Congress, may not hold prices down but you can bet it will buy enough TV ad time to stop anyone who wants to reign in drug prices.

Other Health Care costs: Republicans always claim that we have the best healthcare system in the world. That may or may not be true (the bottom line is that people in other industrialized countries that have socialized medicine live longer, have lower infant mortality, a healthier population and also spend less on healthcare), but even if it is, the Republican argument is essentially this: We have a 'Cadillac' healthcare system that is the best in the world and we would be foolish to change. But: They forget to point out that this means that you have no other option than to PAY 'Cadillac' prices, even if you are on a 'Chevrolet' budget. There is no 'Chevrolet' option, you HAVE to pay for a Cadillac. Of course, if you don't want to go broke paying for treatment if you have cancer or a serious injury, you always have the right to drop dead (well, maybe not-- with their opposition to voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill, it is clear that they want to make sure the hospital can squeeze every cent they can out of your first).

Food, clothing, etc.: Republicans can save you lots of money here, by cutting farm subsidies, and shipping your manufacturing job to Asia. Then, someone will make your new pair of jeans for 15 cents in a sweatshop somewhere, then send it to the United States where you can buy it at Wal-Mart from someone who is on food stamps because their job at Wal-Mart doesn't pay enough to feed a family.

Taxes: Have remained steady or dropped for the past decade, resulting in a record budget deficit (money that will need to be paid back later). Of course, facts (record highs for each of the things on this list, except for food and clothing) don't matter to Republicans who are the reason your dollar won't stretch as far, they are still in a state of denial, singing the familiar refrain that it's those doggone taxes.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Would the 'party of morality' excuse a murderer, if the price is right?

By the way, kudos to DNC research for this story.

Tonight, Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff is in a Los Angeles county jail after being indicted on five counts of fraud relating to their purchase of SunCruz, a fleet of gambling ships in Florida in September 2000.

Abramoff, a Bush pioneer who raised over $100,000 for the Bush 2004 re-election campaign and thousands more for Republican candidates for Congress and other offices, and who is being separately investigated in a case in which he defrauded Indian tribes of millions of dollars which ended up in the campaign coffers of Tom DeLay and other Republican congressmen, and partner Adam Kidan, bought SunCruz for $147 million from founder Gus Boulis. Amid bitter legal fighting over the sale, Boulis was shot to death five months later in 2001 what police called a hit.

That case has not been solved but police are now questioning Abramoff and Kidan in connection to the murder.

Now here is where it gets interesting. Republican Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio, on March 30, 2000, put pressure on Boulis to sell by entering a statement into the Congressional Record attacking Mr. Boulis and in support of Abramoff, who raised thousands of dollars for the Congressman. Why would a congressman from Ohio go so far as to use his official power to pressure a participant in a private business deal in Florida? Was it the money? If in fact Abramoff and Kidan are tied to the murder of Gus Boulis, will the Republicans in Congress who have received money from him, and President Bush, return the money as tainted? They haven't said they would yet, with the indictments out today against Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Kidan (who the police are still looking for as of this writing?)

Thursday, August 11, 2005

That's what you get when you elect Big Oil.

Remember 2000, when two guys who had strong ties to the Oil industry, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, were ran on a ticket together for President and Vice President? Republicans refuted the concerns that they would not do enough to keep oil prices down because of their ties to big oil by arguing that their knowledge and contacts both domestically and internationally would help keep prices lower.

Well, that was when gas cost less than half of what it does today.

Keeping prices down through the use of Iraqi oil was also cited on occasion as a 'benefit' of the Iraq war. Still waiting on that one.

And now we see that it is going to get even worse.

And who is benefitting from all of this misery and $66 a barrel oil? That's right, Big Oil.

Sad, but the best defense you can make of this is that the President is incompetent.

Why we can only trust liberals to lead the fight against Islamicist terrorists.

This week there has been a story out in the New York Times that Republicans have jumped all over quoting House Intelligence Committee chairman Curt Weldon about the failures of the Clinton era Justice Department in preventing 9/11. According to Weldon, changes made by former Justice Department official Jamie Gorelick prevented intelligence agencies from sharing information about terrorists, including Mohammad Atta and other 9/11 hijackers, who were known to the CIA in 1999 but which that agency was barred from sharing with the FBI and other agencies during late 2000, a year before 9/11.

Aside from the obvious bias in the report (consider the source: Weldon is a Republican congressman who, just like anyone in his position, plays partisan politics), even if we accept every accusation that Mr. Weldon makes at face value, the conclusion that 9/11 can be laid at the foot of the Clinton administration is gravely flawed.

To begin with, even if the decision not to share the names was in fact made a full year before 9/11, for eight months of that time (in other words, most of it) the President was George W. Bush, not Bill Clinton. And John Ashcroft and his Justice Department could easily enough have reversed the policy at any time merely by the stroke of a pen, but apparently they did not consider that there was a need to do this. Secondly, the information was filtered upward, where the connections still could have been made. In fact, President Bush was handed a memo on August 6, 2001 at his ranch specifically stating that bin Laden was planning attacks in the United States. The memo was prepared for him by the CIA, the agency which did know the names of Atta and other hijackers, so if there was a problem with connecting the dots, it was within the CIA, not between the CIA and other agencies.

Of course, whatever may have been known before 9/11, the White House itself in the days following has said that an attack of this magnitude and by this mode of attack was beyond imagining. I'm not so sure of that, but if we let their claim stand, then what is far more troubling is how they have pursued bin Laden in the days since 9/11 (when the deed had been done and there should be no excuse for not pursuing him to the ends of the earth, if need be).

For starters, how hard did the Bush administration pursue bin Laden? Well, not very well. After less than a year, the focus was shifted squarely to Iraq, leaving what amounts to a stalemate in the fight with al-Qaeda and their supporters in and around Afghanistan. Even when U.S. forces had bin Laden surrounded, we 'outsourced' the job to local warlords (who we well knew, from decades of experience, had fickle loyalties) and who let bin Laden escape. Not to be outdone in Iraq, the Bush administration followed up this 'coup-de-gaffe' with letting Zarqawi get away too, for good measure.

Of course, those on the right have never taken bin Laden seriously as a threat. Certainly not on August 18, 1998, when Bill Clinton launched missiles at a meeting of al-Qaeda officials eleven days after the African embassy bombings that targetted two U.S. embassies and killed hundreds of people. I never forget to take the opportunity to remind the right wing that their response was one of outrage, not directed at the murderers of people on what is legally U.S. territory, but at Bill Clinton, for launching missiles, which took Monica Lewinsky off the front pages for a day. Of course, Monica was on the front page for most of 1998, so apparently they wanted Bill Clinton to do nothing against our enemies, in order to not divert any headlines from the all-important Monica scandal.

As we can see, fighting a guy like Osama bin Laden has never been a priority for the right. And it isn't right now, either. Right now we have 10,000 troops searching for bin Laden and 135,000 in Iraq. Draw your own conclusions.

What may be the real reason that Bush has done as little as possible to catch bin Laden? Consider the by now pretty well documented contacts between neocon icon Grover Norquist and radical Islamicists. Also consider that in fact these Islamicists have much the same social agenda as conservatism: A theological outlook in which morality is the foundation for society, in which schools and other social institution are based on a religious underpinning, and in which such perceived immorality as abortion and homosexuality is elevated to the level of a crime. Islamicists also espouse a society in which government is fundamentally weak and real decisions are made by a council of Clerics, and religious institutions also oversee and decide on the distribution of social welfare. True, the name of God is different, but the basic structure is very much the same.

Honestly, do you TRUST neocons to run the war against terror? To paraphrase an old saying, it is hard to get a man to fight very hard against his brother, and conservatism and Islamicism are brothers in spirit if not in fact.

The Islamicists are fighting against having a secular government, so why would Americans who are against having a secular government put much of their heart into the fight?

At best, conservatives have proven themselves incompetent in the fight against terrorists. At worst, they are just too close ideologically to trust not to be harboring a certain level of sympathy for the Islamicists.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Darwinian theory stands on its own two feet.

Not back yet, but I have a few minutes and a network connection, so I feel the need to respond to a column by rightist columnist Kathleen Parker, who suggested in an editorial this weekend that teaching 'Intelligent Design' in science classes alongside evolution, as suggested by President Bush last week is OK, and that it should not be a threat to knock evolution off its pedestal.

I addressed the reason why it is not science and therefore should not be taught in science classes last week.

However, I would like to suggest that in fact, contrary to the view apparently held by Ms. Parker and others that there is some widespread conspiracy of scientists to defend Darwin at all costs, (she puts it as, 'there is no dogma like no dogma'), in fact scientists are always challenging orthodoxy and looking to refute what is presently believed. Sure, scientific 'dogma' has been proven wrong before. In the best known example, Copernicus overthrew the writings of Ptolemy (whose views of an earth centered universe had held for over a thousand years, although there were contemporaries and predecessors of Ptolemy, such as Hipparchus, who had guessed correctly that the earth revolved around the sun). In fact, Darwin himself overthrew much of the Aristotelian view of biology. Just look at it this way: there is no scientific achievement in becoming the fifty-first person to design an experiment that verifies what has already been verified fifty times. But design one that refutes the conclusion drawn from the last fifty times, and then put forth an alternative conclusion that is consistent with the results of both your experiment and the other fifty, now that is worth doing. Every scientist is well aware that what made Einstein a genius was that he did not simply accept that Newton's view of the universe was an absolute which could not be challenged. Then, he went to work and developed the theory and described how the evidence could be collected which would challenge it. We are now at the centennial of that transforming event.

However, proponents of I.D. are at best scientifically lazy, putting forth a conclusion without producing any new evidence to back it up. In fact, in the early days after the discovery of the structure of DNA, creationists actually were better scientists, raising valid questions about how strands of DNA could have assembled themselves into living organisms or evolved into different ones, under conditions similar to those on the primitive earth. Scientists actually had to show how that was possible, or it would indeed have undercut Darwinian theory. They did, and have since developed genetic engineering and patented dozens of artificially created organisms that do everything from produce drugs to clean up oil slicks, a benefit of the pure research that this question helped push forward.

At worst, the proponents of I.D. are trying to push a theory that is not science and was not arrived at by scientific experimentation or observation into the science classroom, diluting the time that students have to study science (ever notice how, unlike the 1960-1970's, when US scientific achievement was without rival, more and more significant discoveries are being made outside of our country, and we now only have parity with the Europeans, Japanese and lately the Koreans)?

The best parallel I can come up with for proponents of Intelligent Design (which I believe to be true, insofar as I believe that God directs evolution, but that is my belief and not a scientifically established fact) are UFO enthusiasts. In fact, most astronomers, biologists and other scientists believe that in the vastness of space, it is almost unimaginable to believe that the occurence of intelligent life is such a rare thing that we should be the only ones (a view reinforced by the discovery that planetary systems are faily commonplace). However, despite the deeply held convictions of many who are absolutely convinced that the earth has been and is being visited by intelligent extraterrestrials who have developed technology to travel beyond the stars, no scientist would suggest that we mandate including a discussion of flying saucers or abductions by space aliens in a science class. Sure, 'unidentified flying object' includes the word, 'unidentified,' but there are many far more logical explanations, be it flocks of birds, cloud or other atmospheric phenomena, conjunctions of planets, manmade satellites, classifed or experimental craft (many eyewitnesses in the 1960's near White Sands Missile range described a set of UFO's that looked like balls with knobs on them-- and then recognized them in 1969 when the lunar module landed on the moon), optical illusions, or perhaps more internal explanations, i.e. drugs, people telling lies, the list goes on. But all of these potential explanations are more logical than to suggest that it's a spaceship from another star system!

Would that be possible? Maybe. But without any scientific evidence, I put such theories about UFO's and the theory of Intelligent Design into the same bucket (along with astrology, psychic prophecy, bigfoot and ESP)-- conjectures that lack the necessary scientific evidence to mandate that they be part of the science curriculum that my children will learn in school.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Keeping a promise

I'll be gone from Deep Thought for a few days.

Back when my kids were five, I took them to Carlsbad Caverns. They were really disappointed that we didn't get to be there at just the right time to watch the bats come out, which they do at pretty much the same time every night. So, I promised them that someday we would go back and watch the bats.

Someday is this weekend.

So, I hope that you all have fun reading and posting on what is up here right now.

Keeping promises isn't that hard. I wonder why some of our elected leaders think it is such a hard thing to do.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Pick a mission, any mission.

It would be a lot easier to explain to the friends and families of people who have been deployed to Iraq over the past two plus years (and I count myself in both categories) why our army is there, if it actually was made clear exactly what the mission is. Unfortunately, it seems each new 'mission' seems to last a season, get old and fall apart, and be replaced by a new 'mission.'

Of course, as we all knew, the whole cover of trying to resolve the problems by the use of 'diplomacy' during the run-up to the war in Iraq was a fraud, and the Bush administration had already long since determined that we would invade Iraq, even as early as its first days in office, according to former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who describes how it was discussed during Bush cabinet meetings. Such recent revelations as the Downing Street memo and how Karl Rove was willing to go so far as to commit treason in order to discredit a person who questioned the Bush administration's lies about Uranium from Niger only confirm what most thinking people knew months ahead of the Iraq war-- that the Bush administration rushed into a war at all costs, and then (and since) has grasped at any justification they could use at the time.

First, it was weapons of mass destruction. We know how that turned out. Of course, if that were the justification, we would never have let mobs burn and loot all of the government buildings in Baghdad (except the Oil Ministry, which we protected with a whole battalion of troops). Not only documents about WMD, but documents about Saddam's party organization, informants, war crimes, information about terrorists, and information about prisoners were in those buildings that we allowed (in fact that Dick Cheney encouraged) to be burned and looted. I wondered about that at the time and did what little I could to point it out to people in power before the documents were all gone. So, we were left with no documents that might have cast some light on the WMD matter, but just physically searching in empty holes. Were the war planners in our administration really this stupid, or did they actually want those documents destroyed because they KNEW they would show there were no WMD?

Then, it was the fight against terrorism (ignoring, of course, how we took the heat off of Osama to go focus on a country a thousand miles away from him). They had a new bogeyman, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. They were quick to point out how he had entered Iraq, before the war, in December 2002. And not only that, they were quick to point to Ansar-al-Islam, a terrorist group that maintained a base in Iraq. Well, that one also started to collapse under its own weight. First, the only evidence they could find linking Saddam to al-Qaeda was a dinner meeting that one of his diplomats and a senior member of al-Qaeda had had in Prague once upon a time. Of course, many, many countries had (and still have) closer links to al-Qaeda than that, starting with our good 'friends' the Saudis. By the time Zarqawi had entered Iraq, it was over a year since we had started the buildup to invade Iraq and two months after the U.S. Senate resolution authorizing the use of force. So to claim he was the justification was ridiculous. Not only ridiculous, but remember that they thought during the planning of the war that Zarqawi wasn't even worth including as a target. As for the terrorist base, it was located deep behind Kurdish lines and along the border with Iran, more than a hundred miles from any spot under the control of Saddam Hussein or his army.

So, then it was to bring 'Democracy and freedom to Iraq.' Leaving aside the fact that we have never invaded a country just to change their form of government (and no one would have supported this at the start of the war if it was the real reason), we find that the new Iraq is likely to be neither as Democratic nor as free as Bush has been proclaiming. Recent reports make it clear that the new Constitution will either be based on Sharia, Islamic law, or something very much like it. Many Iraqis, especially women, will actually have less (that's right, less) freedom in matters like inheritance, divorce, custody and the right to choose a career, than they did in Saddam's brutal, but secular, Iraq. It remains to be seen what shape the final Iraq will take, but it doesn't look much like it will be an Iraq that it was worth losing hundreds of American troops to create. And, last week, a freelance American journalist reported that the new Iraqi police force in the city of Basra, which we created and which the Bush administration has pointed to as an example of how we can fight insurgents ('help the Iraqis learn to help themselves,' or some such poppycock), is itself infiltrated, and in fact is significantly manned by, insurgents loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr (oh, that's a surprise). Sort of like how the Chicago police department was not much help to Elliot Ness, because wherever they went, Capone knew they were going. The journalist, Steven Vincent, was found shot dead, apparently the price for his 'expose' (of course, if he is right about the degree of infiltration of the Basra police force, then it's not like we could do anything about it short of firing the whole force and starting over from scratch).

So this week, Bush got a gift, of sorts. When the 'free and Democratic Iraq' excuse started to unravel, last month he made a speech saying that Iraq is a central front in the war on terror. So yesterday, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the new number two in al-Qaeda (they seem to get a new number two sort of like 'the Village' got a new number two every week in the Patrick McGoohan series, The Prisoner (Good job, if you got that reference)) promised 'tens of thousands of American deaths in Iraq'. Of course this is bluster and he has no way of causing that many casualties, but as we have seen during the past couple of weeks, they can still cause a lot of them. Bush jumped on it though to bolster his claims that Iraq is a central front in the War on Terror.

In fact, he is somewhat correct for a change. Iraq has become such a central front, not because we chose it that way, but because the terrorists have. They are now coming from all corners of the Islamic world, for the express purpose of killing Americans. Some conservatives, in a bit of perverse logic, claim that this is a good thing, because if they are there killing our troops, then they aren't here killing their families. However, as the London train bombings show, there being terrorists in Iraq doesn't preclude the likelihood that some other terrorists are not in Iraq, and that they are perfectly capable of operating in both places at once. We saw on 9/11 how much devastation nineteen terrorists could cause, and there is no reason to believe that, no matter how many terrorists may be flooding into Iraq to shoot at our soldiers, they couldn't spare a small number (who may already be here) to carry out an attack. Heck, if we are now fighting terrorists in Iraq, I could blame President Bush personally-- for his July 2, 2003 comment when the insurgency was just beginning and there were a handful of attacks on American troops. He said, 'bring it on.' That's right. He dared foreign enemies to launch more attacks on American troops. Well, they did.

Like I said at the beginning, both our troops and the American public would find it easier to support the mission, if the mission didn't change every few months.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Tracking this registered sex offender could have saved yet more lives.

On July 7, after a convicted and high risk sex offender named Joseph Edward Duncan III was named as a suspect in three murders in addtion to kidnapping and sexually assaulting two children (and later murdering one of them), I posted a question on why don't we monitor convicted sex offenders by the use of electronic tracking devices similar to what Martha Stewart has to wear (apparently to make darn sure that she doesn't slip off to Macy's and buy some silk patterns).

Today, I was reminded of this post by two news stories that came out. The first is that Martha and her lawyer have made an agreement to extend her time under house arrest. The second, and much less noticed, was a tragic story that came out of California that a fingerprint links Duncan to the murder of another child in 1997.

Duncan was first convicted of sexually assaulting a fourteen year old boy in Tacoma, Washington in 1980. So he has been on record as a dangerous sexual predator for twenty-five years now. So now that we have the technology available to keep track of his and other convicted sexual predators' movements, why are we still using it on Martha Stewart instead? I'm all for registries, but as we have been reminded tragically of late, the registries are only accurate as far as the sex offenders take the time to notify the state of. In fact, if a sex offender does move somewhere with the goal of committing a crime, it is unlikely they will update their information (which could lead to their becoming a suspect faster).

I have had feedback on this post and another one I made last Tuesday that argues that we shouldn't do this because 1) there are websites that tell people how to remove a tracking device without setting off the automatic alarm, and 2) It is an unconstitutional violation of privacy.

I disagree on both counts.

In the first case, yes, there will always be some techno wizard who will figure out how to beat anything (and maybe put it online) but that is not a reason to let go of the idea. First of all, sex offenders, aside from being predominantly male, pretty much mirror the population, and most people don't have either the technical skills nor the knowledge of these sites to be able to access them and use them. Second, no one is suggesting that we stand pat with the technology that we have now. The manufacturers of tracking devices (especially if financially motivated by the prospect of 'serving' tens of thousands of high risk level registered sex offenders) could easily enough access the websites in question themselves and make the necessary modifications to foil them. Yes, this cat and mouse game can continue endlessly, but I expect that it is a very small proportion of sex offenders indeed who are so internet savvy and handi-capable (they would need both) that they could get them off, and if I tell you that you can for sure track 99% of sex offenders, or even 90% of them, that is a huge reduction in the risk factor.

As to the second objection, we already acknowledge as a society that conviction of a felony results in the curtailment of certain rights. For example, a convicted felon will show up on the Justice Department's background check list if that felon tries to purchase a gun, and be denied the right to buy it. Parole is also a way we keep tabs on them, just at weekly or monthly intervals instead of continuously. The proof that it is not an unconstitutional violation of privacy is right in front of us: tracking devices exist and are in use regularly. When they were first introduced, this objection was made, but the courts held that it was really no different from parole, just on a fulltime basis (but without the requirement to show up at a parole meeting). For that matter, we agree as a society that (apparently) Martha's crimes (lying to an FTC investigator about an insider trading deal involving a relatively small amount of stock) are sufficiently serious to warrant keeping tabs on her whereabouts 24/7, so why are Mr. Duncan's crimes any less serious? By my count, if he had been wearing a tracking device while out of jail, he might have been deterred from committing (or if not deterred, then caught quickly) four kidnappings, numerous rapes and other sex acts on minors, and five murders.

Just science belongs in a science class.

Today, President Bush created a controversy when he said that schools should teach both evolution and intelligent design in science classes. He is wrong though, and appears not to understand exactly what science is.

Now, I want to preface this by saying that I believe that as a matter of fact, God DID design our universe, and create the earth and all things that are in it. Science is only investigating the mechanisms by which He did so. If you want to learn more about my Church, go to Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

However, that is my own belief, which is based on my faith (and faith is a belief in things which we do NOT see or have a perfect knowledge of). It may or may not be your belief. And even if it were everyone's belief (as the idea that the sun was some kind of a deity once was), it would still not qualify as science. Science does not deal with beliefs, it deals with observed data, and the conclusions that this data has led to by the use of the scientific method. If you can show me some specific, measurable, scientific evidence that God did what I believe (in fact, what I know) He did, then it belongs in a science class. But lacking this, it does not, any more than it belongs in a gym class (where people study physical education) or in a French class (where people study French). Of course, it is entirely possible that it may come up tangentially in a discussion in ANY of these classes (and I'm certainly not against saying the word, 'God' in a school if it comes up in such a freethinking discussion), but it should not be MANDATED by the President or by a local school board or by anyone else unless we can show that it is directly part of the subject taught. For that matter, theology is taught in a variety of churches, but no one would suggest mandating that every Sunday school class that discusses creation should include a description of Darwin's observations.

Now, after this point is made, the next step is that people who want to push non-science into a science class will invariably claim that evolution is 'an unproven theory' and so it is no more 'scientific' than intelligent design.

Conceded that evolution is an unproven theory. But then, so are most theories in science (for example, no one has formally proven the Theory of Gravity either-- we just know it works as described by Newton). There is more and more evidence all the time to support evolution (be it the discovery of fossils, genetic experiments, observation of natural selection, DNA linkage, etc.) while I have yet to see any purported evidence that it is false that holds up under closer scrutiny.

The best parallel to the scientific method in a non-science setting is the practice of law. A theory is put forward (i.e. that a person committed a crime). Evidence is collected to support or refute that theory. Ultimately a decision is made to either accept or not accept that theory (with the knowledge that we may have accepted a false theory, although hopefully not, and so hence there is an appeals process so that the theory undergoes continued scrutiny). A competing theory may be offered (i.e. that someone else committed the crime), but unless the defense can submit some hard evidence in its favor, it is not likely to be taken seriously by the jury.

In that framework, the Theory of Evolution was put forward based on the original observations of Darwin. Since then, it has been looked at critically for decades but has held up under all of the attempts to prove it false. Intelligent Design (which is not, incidentally, in contradiction with evolution) needs to be similarly supported by some kind of observable evidence before it meets the standard by which it can be taught in a science class.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Team, guys, Team!


I just posted on the optimism that the narrow race in Ohio's deep red second district engenders.

But, there is also a threat out there. A threat embodied by this story Indiana Senator Eyes 2008 Presidential Run about Evan Bayh's White House ambitions.

Now, I have nothing at all against Senator Bayh, believing that he is doing a fine job in the Senate. Read that again, a fine job in the Senate.

In 2004, Senators Kerry, Lieberman, Graham and Edwards all ran for the White House (in fact the last two gave up their seats, which went to Republicans, for the privilege). In 2008, in addition to Bayh, Senators Kerry, Feingold, Clinton and Biden are all reported to be (or have themselves said they are) looking at running for the top job. Other Senators, including Senators Obama and Feinstein, have come up from time to time as potential candidates.

Certainly we need a Democrat in the White House, and I don't blame any of them for wondering if they can be that person, but ultimately we need to gain control of the government as a whole, and they should think very hard before pissing a good thing away in the vain hope that they will win an elimination tournament for the White House.

History has not been kind to U.S. Senators who run for the White House (from either party). One reason for this has been that in the Senate, they will have thousands of votes, and on complex bills that contain thousands of lines, and opposition researchers are sure to find 'flip-flops,' votes in which subsequent history has shown them wrong, and other evidence of what can be cast as either indecisiveness or poor decision making. Not only do they lose in their runs for the White House, but they often, by running for President, make the home folks wonder if they have become 'too Washington,' and especially in the case of those from red states, they lose in the next election. Bayh need not look any farther than his father for evidence of that-- ran and lost in the 1976 Presidential primary, then in 1980 suffered the embarrassment of losing to Dan Quayle. Other Democratic Senators from red states who were bitten by the Presidential bug and paid the price in their next Senatorial election include Frank Church and George McGovern.

Beyond this, though, it is imperative that we field STRONG candidates across the board. No matter how successful a Democrat is in winning the White House, the way Congress and the Senate dragged the Clinton administration through impeachment proceedings and other measures designed to diminish the capacity of the President to govern shows that we need to win more than the White House.

That is where teamwork comes in. We need strong candidates for every position, not just for the position of top dog. To win a majority in the Senate, we must first maintain the minority of seats that we have. In fact, 2008 presents a golden opportunity to gain control of the Senate (unlike 2006). That year, 22 of 33 seats up will be held by Republicans, including many freshmen. If we have a strong ticket from the top down, we could have a banner year.

We have the same problem here in rural Arizona. We are having trouble recruiting a candidate to run against state senator Jake Flake, despite the fact that he won only 55-45% against a 25 year old candidate in her first race and who got into the race very late. But, we have no shortage of Congressional candidates who want to run against Rick Renzi, our rent-a-congressman who bought a house in Flagstaff but who has never moved from the Virginia house he and his family have lived in for many years. I think it should be easier to beat a state senator than a U.S. Congressman, and Renzi won last time with 65% district wide, but everybody wants to run for Congress.

There is precedent for teamwork. Our Attorney General, Terry Goddard, once lost narrowly for Governor and wanted to try again in 2002. But since then A.G. Janet Napolitano wanted to run, Terry chose, for the good of the party, to run for the position she was leaving instead. He won relatively easily (being well known across the state) and she also won, and both of them have done a very good job in their current position (not just my opinion-- they both have about a 70% approval rating), so next year we will be strong in Arizona with the two of them at the top of the ticket. Terry Goddard will get his crack at running for Governor one day-- I am sure of that-- but in the meantime he exemplifies class, and above all a TEAM player.

Hope for the Future

Today, after running a tough campaign, Democratic candidate Paul Hackett lost narrowly to Republican Jean Schmidt. The margin was 3,500 votes out of 112,000 cast.

Obviously, I'm a bit disappointed that he didn't win, but I am also pretty excited about the result. The RNC pumped in half a million dollars and promised to 'bury' Hackett. There was a last minute smear campaign (the Schmidt campaign sent out a press release claiming that Hackett's claim to be running to become the first Iraqi Freedom veteran to serve in the House was false, citing Republican Ron Kirk of Illinois, who was a naval reserve officer; One problem-- Kirk's office denies that he ever served in Iraqi Freedom, and bluntly told that to the Schmidt campaign prior to the press release-- but they released it anyway, knowing that it was a lie). Pity Schmidt: she just won tonight, and she already has at least one member of her own party who doesn't trust her.

To be honest, Hackett made a mistake in calling the President a 'chicken hawk'-- it may be true, but it gave some Republicans who may have been looking a reason to vote against him. Even without all this, we are looking at one of the 'safe' districts. A district that went 65% for Bush last time around (in fact, where the 2004 election was won) and where the last Democrat to run got 28% of the vote.

However, Hackett came close to winning. In fact, he won the four more rural, smaller counties in the district handily, winning nearly two to one in Scioto county, the largest of these, and by solid margins in the others. He lost in the Republican suburbs of Cincinnati, but still won over 40% in even the most Republican areas.

What this really proves is that any congressional district in the country CAN be competitive if we find and field the right candidate. The Democratic Party has committed to filling every ballot slot, and if we recruit and run strong candidates in all of these 'red' districts, the chances are good that we can win at least a few. More to the point, we make it clear that the Democrats are a national party. That is very important, and is the real message of tonight.
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