Thursday, August 31, 2006

Iran defies U.N., and what we should do about it.

Iran is set to defy a U.N. set deadline to cease its uranium enrichment activities.

And it is now clear that at best, the most we can expect the U.N. to offer in response is likely to be some toothless sanctions.

What this also shows is that we have a President who is stupid enough to draw a line in the sand without having either the military or political support to back it up. Yes, we could bomb the heck out of them, and we may end up doing that, but the fact is, they know they can survive a bombing campaign and that we don't have the ability to do anything beyond that.

In fact, Iran has seen North Korea already expose us as a 'paper tiger.' They have admitted to making nukes, and the U.S. does not have the ability to do anything much about it. So Iran is playing the same card.

It was not always thus. George W. Bush inherited the most frighteningly powerful military machine the planet has ever seen. And yet in the space of only five years, he has squandered it. It is overextended, and with the army and marines now again having to resort to involuntary callbacks just to keep enough forces in Iraq (to achieve, I don't know what anymore), the prospect of an American invasion and occupation of Iran grows increasingly dim (that word is, 'and,' not 'or.' Invade then we will have to occupy.)

Iran is enjoying pulling our tail. And we have a President who plays right into it. Iran has already achieved much in the region that they would not have been able to accomplish without the inadvertent help from George Bush, and they love to show they can 'stand up' to him.

So what should we do? First, realize that we can survive a nuclear armed opponent. The Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear warheads, and we survived just fine.

And what should we do about Iran, if not oppose them?

That's an easy one. Trade with them.

In Iran, 2/3 of the population is under thirty, and they don't remember the Shah, Ayatollah Khomeini or the revolution. Many of them hate living under the strictures of an Islamic society. Young people in Iran want reform, and they want a better life, which despite the countries' oil wealth they aren't getting. Ordinary Iranians don't hate us, and in fact the only way that Ahmadinejad got elected was that the mullahs who pull the strings there had to disqualify many candidates from the ballot and manipulate the election in ways that make Katherine Harris look like a picture of integrity. People in Iran want something else, and American and western goods, music and celebrities, while officially on the 'bad' list, are very popular in the subculture that exists among the youth in Iran. A current of wanting to break out of the vicelike grip of this society is bubbling just under the surface and the mullahs have to spend a great deal of effort now just to keep it under wraps.

And we have the perfect weapon to deal with Tehran. The same weapons that brought down the thousands of nukes in the former Soviet Union, and the same weapons that we haven't used against North Korea or Cuba (hint: alone among old line traditional communist societies, they still stand.)

Disney. McDonalds. Hillary Duff. MTV.

And with products, inevitably follow ideas.

I'm surprised conservatives (who are still railing for an invasion of Iran, as if we have some secret armies somewhere that are just waiting for the command) don't see this. If anyone would see it, I'd expect it to be conservatives.

Some conservatives praise free trade, suggesting that the market determines the direction of society, and point out that it was free trade that opened the door behind the iron curtain that evetually led the people there to replace their system with a free system. Other conservatives bemoan monetary mammon and the effect materialism has on the religious fervor and strength of society.

And that's why we should unleash our best weapon on Iran.

Let mammon go to work.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Did budget cuts contribute to the Comair crash?

According to a CNN story out just now, the Federal Aviation Administration violated its own rules in having only one air traffic controller on duty in Lexington, Kentucky on Sunday when 49 people died in the crash of Comair flight 5191. That one controller cleared the flight to take off on a runway that was too short.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday acknowledged that only one controller was in the tower, in violation of FAA policy, when a Comair jet crashed Sunday while trying to take off from the wrong runway in Lexington, Kentucky.

Forty-nine of 50 people aboard were killed.

The acknowledgment came after CNN obtained a November 2005 FAA memorandum spelling out staffing levels at the airport. The memo says two controllers are needed to perform two jobs -- monitoring air traffic on radar and performing other tower functions, such as communicating with taxiing aircraft.

In instances when two controllers are not available, the memo says, the radar monitoring function should be handed off to the FAA's Indianapolis Center.

The FAA confirmed to CNN on Tuesday that the lone controller was performing both functions Sunday at Blue Grass Airport in violation of the FAA policy.

The FAA should have scheduled a second controller for the overnight shift or should have shifted radar responsibilities to Indianapolis Center, FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said.

There is a big question which now has to be answered. Why was the air traffic control tower understaffed? Did it have to do with someone trying to save a few bucks to fit a tight budget that had been cut?

Maybe, maybe not. But this question needs to be asked.

Warren Jeffs Arrested

Good news this morning. After several months on the FBI's 'Ten Most Wanted List,' FLDS church leader Warren Jeffs has been captured. Jeffs was in a vehicle that was pulled over near Las Vegas just a few minutes ago.

Jeffs, the leader of the polygamist Fundamentalist LDS Church (which has nothing to do with the main LDS church, of which I am a member) is wanted on charges of arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old girl and a married man, and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution here in Arizona, and in Utah with two felony counts of rape as an accomplice, for allegedly arranging the marriage of a teenage girl to an older man in Nevada.

I wrote a post in July (The Real Lost Boys and it's Usually not a Happy Ending) in which I wrote,

Now, I want to say at the outset that what any number of consenting adults does, is not the state's business. However, in this case, we see girls who have been forced to drop out of junior high school being forced into marriages with men old enough to be their grandfathers. Neither the word, 'consenting' nor the word, 'adult' applies here, so this is child rape, pure and simple.

And I still stand by that. I don't support polygamy in my own life, but I don't think it should be illegal if it involves only consenting adults (particularly since in today's society it would be hard to figure out how to apply some arcane laws against it anyway, for example if an adult bisexual woman is sharing a home with a straight man, to whom she is legally married, and a lesbian woman). However, what the FLDS community did is child abuse. They force young girls, often no older than thirteen, to get married to old geezers who are old enough to be their fathers (or even grandfathers), and who then rape them, and when the old man inevitably dies, theyt can be 'reassigned' as property by Jeffs and the rest of the FLDS leadership. In fact, if their husband even fails to obey church leaders (for example, standing up for one of his daughters who does not yet want to get married) his wives can still be reassigned to other men. So there is little if any consent on the part of the women, and teenage girls are raped under the guise of marriage.

In the July post I actually focused more on the plight of boys and young men who are forced to leave Colorado City and Hildale, also at ages as young as 13, who being dumped on the streets with only a junior high school education and knowledge of a little bit of scripture often end up as transients, behind bars, drug addicts or dead. As I wrote in July:

The 'lost boys' as they are called, are teenagers, raised in the insular fundamentalist community where they have probably read the Book of Mormon only (this community is so fundamentalist that some families don't even read the Bible) and who usually about 15 or 16-- though some have been as young as 13, on the pretext of committing the smallest transgression, are dumped in some nearby town and left there. The families file runaway reports with the local police in order to protect themselves legally.

These boys have very few skills to make it in the outside world. They do probably possess rudimentary construction skills (when driving through Colorado City, as I have many times, it's not hard to pick out the polygamist homes-- large, unfinished homes that look like under construction hotels, except they aren't.) Their reading and schooling level is junior high level at best (and they know one or perhaps two books (if they come from a family 'enlightened' enough to read the Bible), as described above, mostly from memory, but know virtually nothing else that might be read about). They have been forbidden since infancy to speak to females except for their mothers (who they have several of), and so have no social skills at all when it comes to knowing how to talk to or relate to a female at or near their own age.

Many of them when they get out into the world, end up in prison, sexually abused by older men or women who 'take them in,' drug addicts, or dead. Others stay together and live in small groups, finding what work they can, in towns across southern Utah (very cosmopolitan to these boys, though my wife is from one of these towns, and thinks Flagstaff is a big city.)

One of the commenters in the July post suggested that they might also get picked off as easy prey by white supremacist and neo-nazi groups, which given the high level of activity of these groups throughout the intermountain west, it is hard to imagine that some of them haven't been recruited by hate groups.

So Warren Jeffs has presided over a community in which 13 year old girls are raped, and 13 year old boys are dumped on the street with nothing and told not to come back.

It is also worth noting that we are paying for these abuses. Though I generally believe that what fraud there may have been in individual welfare has almost been eliminated by a decade of welfare reform that has now led to cases where some families have been forced out onto the streets precisely because the rules have grown too stringent (and where the amount of taxes spent on corporate welfare, where abuse is rampant, is now is many times what is spent on individual welfare) it is no secret that plural wives and families in the community often apply for and get Federal welfare, claiming (as is in fact the case as defined by current law) that they are single and unemployed. There are some relatively responsible religions that practice polygamy (for example, under Islam a man can have up to four wives but there is a stipulation in Islamic law that he cannot have more wives than he can support).

Over the past three years, under the leadership of Arizona authorities, primarily Attorney General Terry Goddard, along with authorities in Utah, progress has been made in gaining control over the group. The resources of the church (which includes all the polygamist homes-- none of the people who live in them actually own their building) have been ordered by a judge to be controlled by a group of outside trustees for the benefit of the community and individuals within it. Where crimes are discovered, they have been prosecuted, and in particular Jeffs will now be prosecuted.

And that will hopefully be the beginning of the end for this nightmare of what amounts to sexual slavery, or of exile, for the children of Colorado City and Hildale.

As I've said many times, I don't care what any consenting adult does with any other consenting adult, but in this case, there is much justice that needs to, and I hope will, be served in our court system.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas Nothing.

I've been busy having some quality family time, so I've been away from the blogs for a couple of days. And guess what? I came back, and the world is still standing!

We've lost a planet, but other than that, the Solar System is remarkably unscathed. Of course, this is a bit of a bigger deal that it is for most people.

I am a friend of the Lowell Observatory, where we visit several times per year, and we even visited last year on the 75th anniversary of the discovery of Pluto. That is still the biggest accomplishment of the observatory, and my daughter and I got to actually see the original blink microscope and the slides that showed the first images of Pluto.

Of course the observatory will still be able to claim to be the discovery point of the first 'dwarf planet,' and a full 73 years before another was found.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Nevada caucus.

New Hampshirites are up in arms over the DNC plan to schedule a Nevada caucus during the eight days between the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary.

New Hampshirites of course have a tradition of being first, in fact the state law requires that New Hampshire's primary be scheduled 'a week before any similar contest.'

But traditions aren't necessarily always a good thing. Certainly that has not proven true for the Democrats; Although the Iowa caucuses have been held for almost a century before New Hampshire's primary, likely the modern era could be said to have started in 1976, when wins in Iowa and then New Hampshire catapulted the Governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter, to the nomination and eventually the White House. However, since then, the only elections the Democrats have won are the two when Clinton won (and in 1992, he actually lost the New Hampshire primary, but dubbed himself 'the comeback kid' for not losing to Paul Tsongas as badly as people expected he would.)

Prior to 1976, the Iowa caucuses were pretty much ignored, but now they are mandatory (just ask Wesley Clark, who skipped Iowa to focus on New Hampshire, where he was drubbed soundly by momentum John Kerry brought with him from Iowa.) Of course, given Iowa's predilection for hold caucuses as they have for 100 years, New Hampshirites have come to accept Iowa's position. And one point that is always made by supporters of the status quo is that New Hampshire and Iowa are two of the three 'purple' states in the 2000 and 2004 elections, having both voted for Bush once and against him once, while the other 47 states remained in the same column for 2004 that they had been in in 2000.

One could make that argument, but on closer inspection it is flawed. The 'purpleness' of both New Hampshire and Iowa is less due to a feeling of moderation than it is of the fact that both parties have roughly equal numbers of activists in those states. In primaries, the progressive activists show up and want to vote for the more liberal Democratic candidates, while Republican primary voters are usually more conservative than those Republicans who don't vote in primaries. This is even more true in caucuses. The fact that in those states the parties are roughly equal to each other in numbers, power and influence is irrelevant to whether the activists in either state represent 'the center' any more than they would in any other state.

As to the inclusion of Nevada for an early caucus (which is not a primary, which is why New Hampshire claims that its law is followed with respect to the Iowa caucuses), I would argue that the early Nevada caucus is more representative than either of the early primaries (and apparently the DNC agrees). It is probably true that Nevada won out over Arizona and other western states because of Harry Reid, but so what? If anything, that just shows that our first task here in Arizona as Democrats is to elect a Democrat to the Senate.

Nevada is a little redder than perfectly purple, having voted for George Bush in both 2000 and 2004 (though in neither case by a large margin, and in 2004 it was likely helped by Sproul and Associates, a Republican linked firm that was hired to register voters there and simply threw stacks of Democratic registration forms in the trash. On the other hand, the country was a little redder than perfectly purple in both elections, as George Bush won both times (I know, we could debate that, but let it stand for now as a statement of observation) and Congress has been Republican. And, except for 1976, when the state picked Gerald Ford over Jimmy Carter, Nevada has voted for the winner every single Presidential election since the last time it was on the losing side, in 1908 by picking William Jennings Bryan over William Howard Taft (that was the last time the Cubs won the World Series, so it really has been a long time). So if Nevada over the past couple of elections has been slightly Republican, it only reflects where the country has been.

So a narrowly Republican state like Nevada is exactly the kind of place that Democrats need to turn around in order to win. A candidate who appeals to voters in Nevada might arguably be better able to win than a candidate who appeals to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Here is my beef though. In 2004, the Democratic party 'front-loaded' the primary schedule. By March 2, just over a month into the primary season, John Kerry had chased all of his major rivals out of the race and wrapped up the nomination. After Iowa and New Hampshire, no one really got to vet him, just pretty much either vote for him or throw your vote away. After that, five full months went by until the convention, by which time a lot of the enthusiasm people once had, had died. This was all advertised as about 'fundraising.' And about giving the party someone to rally behind.

OK, Democrats all rallied around Kerry in the general. And he did have lots of time to raise money. Now, you can see how successful that was. Would it have really hurt to have states vote in ones and twos? stretch the meaningful primary season until, say, May, just to make sure that people will have a chance to know who is running and decide whether to support that candidate?

That would also allow a candidate to be more thoroughly vetted by voters.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Survivor: The Jim Crow Version

I really am angry at CBS right now. They have decided that they have a new way to get the ratings up for Survivor, a reality TV show that is beginning to show its age.

It's to segregate the show. A team of white people will compete against a team of black people, a team of Hispanics and a team of Asians. Ironically, I am writing this post while I am sitting on the Hopi reservation, which is surrounded by the Navajo reservation, so it's a good bet that at least 90% of the people within 50 miles from here would be told that they couldn't be on this show at all, because of race.

This is in a word deplorable. It wasn't all that long ago when sports teams, as well as schools, workplaces and housing were segregated. In fact, it may be technically illegal, but in a lot of cases there still is de facto segregation. As recently as the 1970's there were still legally segregated instututions in some places, and there are still country clubs where even Tiger Woods would not be welcome to play golf because they would look only at the color of his skin. Because of segregation, generations of people were lynched, forced out of a job, made to go hungry, or even had their entire communities burned to the ground. Children were forced to walk past a good school near their homes in order to attend a lousy one much farther away.

To make sport of this on a show called, 'Survivor' is ironic in the extreme, as under segregation, people had to fight every day just to survive.

Racial segregation is not a game. It is not something to make light of. It is not acceptable. It is hard to see how this could be considered anything other than bringing one of the worst ideas of the past (whether you call it Segregation, Apartheid, or whatever, it is still the same thing) to modern TV.

What is really appalling is that CBS and other networks continue to underrepresent blacks or other non-whites proportionately to their numbers in the population in their regular television shows. Presumably they will now use this stunt to claim that statistically they are doing better at it.

Disgusting. I can't call this anything else.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Mike Cacciopoli for Congress

After being undecided for most of the campaign here in Congressional District One, I've decided that I am supporting Mike Cacciopoli for Congress. I'd probably have done it about a month earlier except that I was waiting for him to say one thing, and he has said it, that if he does not win then he will endorse the winner of the primary. However, I hope that is moot, because I believe that Mike would be the strongest candidate we could field in the general, and would also be someone who I actually would feel represented ME in Congress.

Our incumbent is 'Richmond Rickey', Rick Renzi, a Republican from Virginia who decided to run here when the district was created in 2002. In fact, Renzi, whose deepest ties to the district were that he had once been a quarterback for NAU, hadn't lived anywhere near Arizona for twenty years when he heard there would be a northern Arizona district. So he bought a house in Kingman. Then it was announced that Mohave county would not be included within the boundaries of the district, so the next day the house in Kingman went on the market and he bought a house in the district. Renzi still resides pretty much all the time in Burke, Virginia, where his wife and kids live, he mostly uses his house in the district as a campaign headquarters.

Renzi defeated the 2002 Democratic nominee, George Cordova, by spending four million dollars running ads that accused Cordova of embezzling money from a business he was a partner in and wiring it to his uncle in Mexico. Of course if this were true, then Cordova would be looking out at the world from a prison cell right now, but it was not true. After the election, Cordova sued Rick Renzi for the lies he told, and Renzi settled out of court for an undisclosed sum of money. Oh, and the money? He's got it. That four million dollars was the subject of an investigation by the Federal Election Commission, which concluded that it was raised and spent illegally, and has landed him on the list of the 13 most corrupt congressmen. Renzi's attitude has been very DeLay-ish, essentially that "I won, so don't bug me with the details." And he's right. He has the seat. George Cordova has an out of court settlement. The rest of us have the shaft.

Then two years ago, Paul Babbitt, a former mayor of Flagstaff ran against him. Like a lot of people, I worked very hard for Paul. He's a good guy, and would have made a great Congressman. But he was not a very strong candidate. So Renzi won with over 60% of the vote, despite the fact that we have an 8% voter registration edge in favor of Democrats.

What about this year? We have five candidates, Mike Cacciopoli, Bob Donahue, Susan Friedman, Vic McKerlie and Ellen Simon.

McKerlie, though he is a nice guy and is right about the need to provide health care, often sounds like a Republican when you hear him speak. It won't matter because he won't win anyway.

Friedman, is sincere, hard working and very thoughtful. Unfortunately she is also not a very strong candidate. I had, when I was undecided, been considering voting for her, because I admire her commitment to principle and her willingness to go anywhere and speak to anyone on behalf of her convictions.

Donahue, who ran against Babbitt in the primary in 2004, is a Vietnam vet with the background to support his contention that he sees us in very much the same situation in Iraq. Though I don't agree with him on every issue, Donahue is someone I would have no problem working hard for. In 2004, despite being outspent in the primary 100 to 1, Donahue got a quarter of the vote. That should probably have been considered an early wake up call for the Babbitt campaign. And as hard as I worked for Babbitt, I can honestly say that if I were to have 2004 to do over again, I would work for Bob Donahue in the primary.

Ellen Simon is considered the 'insider' choice. I don't know if that's true or not, and really I don't care. I've heard her speak when she visited one of our meetings and she's not Paul Babbitt. Unfortunately, she is also not a candidate that I feel I can support in the primary. She is right about many issues, including the most important issue of our day. She says point blank that we have to get out of Iraq and as soon as we can-- and we agree on that. On some other issues she has unrealistic solutions: For example, on her own website, she supports a balanced budget amendment to 'reduce' deficits. Aside from the fact that this is an oxymoron-- if you balance the budget then the deficit is by definition zero, if it is merely 'reduced' then the budget is not balanced, I am always skeptical of people who propose a Constitutional Amendment as the solution to anything. It is good rhetoric, but the founding fathers made it intentionally difficult to amend the Constitution (one reason why we've only amended it 18 times since the Bill of Rights), and it sounds to me like a surrender; In other words, she doesn't trust herself to do the right thing if she is in Congress in regard to revenues and budgetting. Does that mean that she would go along with more tax cuts for the rich then, what has unbalanced the budget in the first place? And of course if there is a balanced budget amendment then Republicans will not want to roll back the Bush tax cuts, so it is likely that any balanced budget that was produced by negotiation, even if it did reverse some of the tax cuts, would likely result in more cuts of the types we've seen over the past few years that have devastated everything from our national parks to veterans health care. She never really answers that concern. On balance though, her issue positions are good ones, and if she wins the primary then I would not have a problem supporting her in the general based on them. However, she has another problem that started small but by now threatens to consume her campaign.

The other problem she has is one that it would have been easy to answer when it first came up, but has snowballed because she did not confront it publically. It is about her husband and allegations made by his ex-wife in regard to child support. Now, I understand that Ellen Simon is not her husband. And I also understand that an ex-spouse may say anything, and it may or may not be true. However, her failure to answer this has caused me to believe that she can't win against Rick Renzi (we've seen how Renzi fights; does anyone seriously believe that if she doesn't respond now, that he won't use it in the general? He's the king of negative ads. How a candidate responds to bad press in a primary can tell you how they will respond to more of it in the general. Bill Clinton, when hit with the Gennifer Flowers accusation, went on 60 minutes with Hillary Clinton, spoke directly and forthrightly that they were just like any two married people, had had problems in their marriage, but were going on together. Then after that, every time Bill Clinton was hit with a new accusation (whether it was true or not) his campaign had a rebuttal out immediately, often so soon that the rebuttal was part of the original story. But the point is he confronted it immediately. Sure there were people who every time some new story came out, swore to never vote for Bill Clinton, but they were mostly the same crowd every time, and the people who heard his rebuttal and then having heard both sides decided to move on and listen to the issues, outnumbered them. Simon said at a meeting I attended on August 10 where she was asked about this, that her political advisors have told her not to confront it. Her declaration that "I will not be swiftboated" aside, she will. That's exactly the advice that John Kerry's advisors gave him. And even if she is successful at rebutting it later, the election this year if she is the nominee would be about Ellen Simon and Blaine Tanner and Pamela Tanner (her husband and his ex), not about Rick Renzi, and that is what Renzi wants.

And what about Mike Cacciopoli? He has raised some of the child support issues. Not that I'm thrilled about attack ads in primaries, but let's face it-- this is not a secret, and Rick Renzi will use it whether he does or not. More the point though, I like the way that Mike frames issues-- direct, blunt and to the point. There are times when I may take issue with him (for example, while I agree that we need to leave Iraq, I'm not sure that asking for a special prosecutor to investigate the run up to the Iraq war and then impeach Bush if he is found to have manipulated intelligence is smart politics-- even if you are successful, then you have divided the country more than he ever did, and your reward for all that effort is that Dick Cheney becomes the President.) However, even when I disagree with him, there is no question where Mike Cacciopoli stands, and he rejects the Republican rhetoric and way of speaking about every issue (one good example, is that he isn't against 'illegal immigration,' he is against 'illegal employment' and isn't afraid to advocate sending people to prison who hire illegally. And he's right. No amount of border security, or making life hard on people who come here without documentation will ever prevent them from coming here seeking a better life-- after all, they have nothing right now. So as long as jobs are available, they will come. The only way to prevent it is to 1) increase legal immigration until it is at a realistic level given the job market, and 2) put people in prison who hire illegally. Mike understands this. He can forcefully and directly articulate a progressive point of view, and stands in sharp contrast to Rick Renzi.

I had not been willing to endorse Mike though unless he was willing to commit to endorsing the nominee in the event it is any of the other candidates. He was asked that question at the Cottonwood forum and said that yes he would. Mike won't be a Joe Lieberman.

I'd like to finish by quoting from an email that one of my friends sent out on why she made the decision this week to support Mike. She's a lot more direct than I am.


In this time, when the very foundation of our Democracy is at stake (I mean, could you even imagine a decade ago that we would even be debating issues like under what circumstances it's OK for the Government to ignore the courts and tap your phone line anyway, or when it is OK to torture prisoners?) we need somebody bold to speak boldly to the issues, which is why I support Mike Cacciopoli for Congress. He's the best candidate, out of five good candidates.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

How to know when its a push poll and what you can do

The talk today around the Arizona blogosphere has to do with 'push-polling.' Push polling, which is certainly unethical, though legal is the process by which a person (usually either a known activist, a consistent voter or a member of some identifiable 'swing' group) is called and asked to participate in a short 'poll.' It usually takes about twenty minutes, and at first the person is asked a number of questions that relate to a particular race. Then at the end of the push poll, they are asked some 'questions' that are very damaging to one of the candidates (i.e. 'would you be more or less likely to vote for candidate X if you knew....')

There are several reasons for these polls. One is to gauge the relative strength of candidates as perceived by voters, through 'test' marketing negative messages, to actually bringing these smear tactics right into a voter's home via what sounds like an innocent 'poll.'. Sometimes it is to test the power of a negative message (this being the reason why sometimes known activists, such as myself, are called-- they figure if something will weaken our faith in the candidate then it will certainly score points with marginal or undecided voters.) Often many, many thousands of people are called, while in fact it is rare that any legitimate poll would ever need a sample size anywhere near this big. It is a new way to run a smear campaign, pure and simple.

And today, voters down in CD 8 have all been discussing push polls. It seems that a push poll targetting Patty Weiss, one of the two front runners for the Democratic nomination, was run, and at first the assumption was that it had been paid for by the campaign of Gabrille Giffords, the other front runner. But now, it appears to have been commissioned by the National Republican Congressional Committee. Why would the NRCC go to those lengths to influence a Democratic primary? Well, first they are apparently trying to cause a split in the ranks. Secondly, they obviously have a 'favorite' candidate (though we won't know yet whether it is Weiss or Giffords.)

I would like to tell you how to identify push polls. First of all, unlike a real sample, their objective is not randomness or accuracy, it is a campaign tool. As such, if they are targetting you, then they will call your household and ask for you by name. There is your difference. Push polls, in order to hit the most likely voters, or at least the most persuadable voters, start with a list of names first. A real poll would never do this.

Second, once someone has asked for you by name and it turns out to be a pollster, so that you know that it is a push-poll, pay very close attention and get the name of the polling organization that they represent. The law says that they have to provide this information. Then search for information on the company. For example, I got a push-poll call on the A.G. race, in which a company wanted to smear Terry Goddard. So when they identified themselves as 'FMA,' I went online. I found that 'FMA' is a Republican polling service based in Virgnia (Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates. And that is what to do. Learn who is sponsoring the poll, and then trace it back.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Another body parts scandal. What should we do about the ghouls?

I am an organ donor. It was very easy to do, I just had to tell them when I got my driver's license and they put the little sticker on the back. And I've also made it very clear to my wife that if she ever has to make that decision, that I would love to be able to save someone else's life before they pull the plug.

And I fully believe that being an organ donor is a very important thing to do. It is a simple fact that people die waiting for an organ, simply because other people don't take a few moments to make that decision, or for whatever unknown reason want their liver, heart, or kidneys buried or cremated with them (hey, I'm a believer in Christ and therefore I believe in resurrection, but does any one really believe that if your body is missing a liver, you will die again, from blood poisoning caused by the failure of the liver to clean your blood when you reach heaven?)

I have a personal reason as well for being an organ donor. I had a friend named Rob Oliver quite a few years ago. Rob ruined his liver with alcohol. When I knew him, he was clean and sober, but his liver had already been destroyed. Rob died when it finally gave out altogether, like so many others, on the transplant list waiting for an organ donor who had a liver that matched his. So being an organ donor is the least I can do, too late for him but perhaps in time for somebody else if I have an unfortunate early demise.

My father had also wanted to be an organ donor. When he died in 1991, his body was too riddled with pharmaceuticals to be useful for transplants, but his eyes were donated to a medical school. He would have been happy that they at least used that part of him, and perhaps to train the next generation of doctors (he was a doctor.) And many people will their bodies to medical research. That is a good thing. It is true that many doctors today are trained by software programs that simulate human anatomy. And in some ways this is good, in that it is a lot cleaner and in some cases can be made clearer than a cadaver. And the software is much better than it was a few years ago, when the ADAM program only allowed one version of a male and one version of a female. Random differences between individuals can now be written into the software program. However, no matter how good a software program is, it is only like having a very good flight simulator or a very good program that simulates driving. Ultimately the only way a medical student will learn is by actually doing some work himself or herself on cadavers. Either that, or have a live patient the first time. I much prefer a cadaver be used before the young intern operates on me.

On top of that, cadaver tissue has been found to be useful in many other cases than just organ transplants. Burn victims are now routinely given skin transplants from cadavers, and just last year a French medical team even did a face transplant from a cadaver for a woman whose face had been mauled by a dog. Bones from cadavers have been used to create natural replacements for joints, and also in reconstructive surgeries.

It is for that reason that I find stories like the one out today, that a company in North Carolina in order to make a buck may have allowed tissue infected with HIV or hepatitis to be cleared for medical use, to be very disturbing.

And this isn't the first time. Because there is big money involved with body parts, we saw recently a gang in Brooklyn charged with the theft of body parts for sale, including some belonging to the late Masterpiece Theater host Alistair Cooke, who died at the age of 95 (clearly they were just looking to make a quick buck from people who were equally unethical and would be willing to transplant or otherwise use 95 year old body parts). We also saw for example, that St. Vincent Hospital in Los Angeles in 2003 violated the most fundamental precept of organ transplantation, the waiting list, by bumping a Saudi national who flew in from Saudi Arabia (and who remains anonymous), and who was at the time at number 52 on the list for a new liver ahead of two people who were there at St.Vincent hospital, including number one on the list who was an indigent black man, nine from other hospitals in Los Angeles and also 40 other people. The second article linked below gives the reason for this, as apparently the Saudi embassy paid the hospital $340,000 up front, along with a lot of under the table payments to various hospital personnel who were willing to be bought for the right price. The list is supposed to involve a combination of factors, including the immediacy of the need, the time already on the list, the goodness of the fit, and the distance from the donor, but it is absolutely NOT supposed to include wealth, social standing or ability to pay.

Then there was also the UCLA cadaver scandal-- in which cadavers donated for medical research were apparently 'parted out' to sleazy underground dealers who sold the parts for as much as $200,000 per cadaver to pharmaceutical and medical industry representatives. On top of that, we have since learned that hundreds of homeless people, mostly blacks, have 'disappeared' from a skid row near the UCLA medical center over the years. Police are investigating whether some of them were murdered and sold either to the medical school there or to other body parts traders. Meanwhile, earlier this year up to a hundred people in the Atlanta area have been informed that they may have received diseased tissue that was stolen from corpses in funeral homes and never properly screened for a variety of diseases.

I believe that before any more stories like today's come out, we should seriously look at the profit that is being made in the sale of body parts. Then we should either nationalize the whole industry (I know conservatives cringe about this, but frankly this is an industry where perhaps no profit SHOULD be made), and that is the solution I would favor, or if we don't do that, then allow the people themselves to be able to share in what are now obscene profits. Do I believe that people should be able to simply sell their own organs, even if it is with a clause which is only effective at death? Well, I have serious concerns about how this could be abused, but since apparently the system is being abused anyway, it seems the lesser of evils. I mean, if you are really worth $200,000 doesn't it stand to reason that you should be at least as able to access it as some 'used parts' dealer?

If you want to be really crass, consider an option to allow insurance companies to give people an option when they purchase a life insurance policy to get some exchange on the medical value of their body, perhaps by agreeing that if they are willing to give the control over their body (perhaps after the removal of a few nonvital parts that could be buried or cremated for the benefit of loved ones) to the insurance company in exchange for either lower premiums or a higher payment at death. An alternative would be to include a clause allowing their loved ones to consider this option after death (though that is probably the worst idea-- given a choice between, say, burying the body or giving it up for a hundred thousand dollars, would undoubtedly lead to a great deal of regret and second guessing no matter which option was chosen.)

I don't pretend to have the answer to any of this, but I do know that the system we have now is enriching unscrupulous and greedy profiteers to the detriment of both the quick and the dead.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Suspect arrested for 1996 murder of JonBenet Ramsey

I've been wrong about something for nearly a decade. I've believed for ten years that John Bennett Ramsey, and his wife, Patsy Ramsey, murdered their daughter, JonBenet, and managed to avoid prosecution mainly because they were rich (very rich-- at least at the time of the murder, it was reported that John Bennett Ramsey was a billionaire). Patsy Ramsey joined JonBenet when she died in June of ovarian cancer, still living under a cloud of suspicion. But today it turns out that a 41 year old former teacher, John Mark Karr, has been arrested in Thailand (where he was already in prison after being arrested for an unrelated sex crime-- which in Thailand almost certainly involves a child; I will put up a post next week sometime about child sexual exploitation but that would divert from the topic of this post.) I doubt if John Bennett Ramsey (a billionaire whose most recent headlines were made when he ran in Michigan as a Republican candidate and lost) ever reads liberal blogs but I will say it anyway: I was wrong, and I'm sorry for some of the things I've said and written over the past ten years.

Now, I've said before that justice is for sale in America-- in that the amount of money that you can pay, as well as celebrity status-- for your defense may have as much to do with whether you are ever found guilty or go to prison as the evidence.

And we've certainly seen evidence of that. In the trials of O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake and Michael Jackson, the defendants were able to hire very expensive legal representation, and together with the star power of their celebrity status, may (or may not) have gotten away with murder or child molestation. On the other end of the scale, in the large majority of cases involving convicted felons whose convictions are later overturned because it turns out that they did not commit the crime in the first place, the defendants have one thing in common-- they were represented by a public defenders office. That isn't to say that all public defenders are poor lawyers or are lazy-- I've known of some public defenders who were very dedicated to giving their clients the best defense they could-- but it is also true that those lawyers who are at the bottom of the barrel-- they passed the bar exam (maybe barely) but are consistent losers, just don't get hired by law offices or prosecutors, and often end up as public defenders. And public defenders are often overworked and have a low budget to work with. As just one example, DNA tests are often just too expensive for a public defender's budget to afford as a rule.

So, I believed quite bluntly that the Boulder, Colorado D.A. did not file an indictment against the Ramseys (who at the time were not only the prime, but in fact the only known suspects in the case) because they knew he could spend more on his defense than the entire budget of their office (remember this happened shortly after Los Angeles prosecutors got outgunned by O.J.'s 'dream team.')

The problem as it turns out was that the Ramseys were the only suspects in the case. Certainly there was plenty of reason to suspect them, but as we've seen in some cases in other places, police sometimes believe they 'have their man' and focus only on one suspect (generally a family member) pretty much to the exclusion of any other possibility. Often, they turn out to be right, as for example in the case of Scott Peterson. However, there are other cases when the 'fixation' by police agencies on a particular suspect results in a trial by press of that individual while the real culprit avoided suspicion (as it was for Richard Jewell). And clearly this case is in that second category.

So we have identified two problems with our system. Unequal justice based on one's ability to pay, and failure by investigators to investigate alternatives to their prime suspect instead of devoting 100% of their effort just to that one person.

And in John and Patsy Ramsey's case, those two flaws together have belatedly produced justice. The police wrongly focused on only one theory ten years ago, specifically that John or Patsy had murdered their daughter. Graphologists even claimed that the writing in a ransom note matched Patsy's handwriting (meaning that I may not trust a graphologist next time I hear one on TV). But then John Bennett Ramsey had an asset that the rest of us would not have had in the same set of circumstances-- the resources to fight it (so that, for example, the police could not even interview him or his wife until they gave the defense attorneys copies of the evidence they had collected to that point.)

Justice has now been served. It is now known that John Bennett Ramsey, whatever else he is, is not a murderer. His daughter was brutally ripped from him at a young and tender age, and his wife died much too young as well after they spent the last decade with a cloud hanging over their every move. There are some things that no amount of money is enough to compensate for. And John Mark Karr had ten more years to prey on kids around the world. In fact, he apparently posted information on the internet that led police to him, or he'd be out there still, with John Bennett Ramsey continuing to take the blame for the murder he committed while he molested, raped and perhaps killed more kids.

But let's not forget the thousands of others who have found themselves in a similar situtation, as suspects in crimes they did not commit, and who don't have the resources to fight it. In our quest for law and order, let's not forget that justice still must be just.


It is starting to look like Karr may have made the whole thing up to save himself from a Thai prison, where he was awaiting trial on another sex charge. Obviously if that happens then it focuses suspicion right back to the Ramseys. But I pledge to be more circumspect when discussing their guilt or innocence in the future.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I never thought I'd be defending Madonna in a post, but here I stand.

A story out today is really disturbing me. It is about how German police plan to watch this weekend's Madonna concert in Dusseldorg to see whether Madonna repeats a stunt in which she appears to mock Jesus Christ by wearing a crown of thorns in front of a mirror shaped like a cross.

Prosecutors plan to keep an eye on Madonna's weekend concert in Duesseldorf to see if the pop diva repeats the mock crucifixion scene that has drawn fire from religious leaders.

Johannes Mocken, a spokesman for prosecutors in Duesseldorf, said Tuesday that a repeat of that scene during Sunday's concert could be construed as insulting religious beliefs.

Now, as a person of faith, I do believe that what Madonna is doing is in very poor taste. And I believe that it is deeply offensive to many people. I have no intent of purchasing the video of the concert or certainly of attending it.

However, what the police are doing is much more sinister.

It is not, nor should it be, up to the state to police speech, or for that matter religion. True, in Germany, there may not be an equivalent to what it says in our constitution that the state shall favor the establishment of a religion, nor are there the same types of free speech laws in Germany as there are here (for example, in Germany it is illegal to display a swastika). And this is not the first time that Germany has done things like this-- for example, they consider scientologists to be a dangerous cult (and I've been hard on scientologists myself at times: see paragraph four of this post for example). That is one thing, but their persecution of scientologists in Germany is not justified.

The heavy police presence to watch Madonna and the threat of prosecution is intimidation and frankly, given that it is, I hope as a matter of fact that she DOES repeat her performance from Sunday, not because I like it, but because I dislike political intolerance or intimidation. Whatever Madonna's sins are, they are of the type that will be sorted out sometime after she leaves this world, not in the Dusseldorf prosecutors office.

One would think that with Germany's past history, they would err on the side of tolerance, but again, that doesn't seem to be happening.

A timeline for a withdrawl

Israel has announced that it will withdraw its forces from Lebanon in ten days. The U.N. peacekeeping force and Lebanese army have indicated that they will coordinate their assumption of peacekeeping duties with the Israeli withdrawl. And the ten day timetable guarantees that there will be no repeat of the eighteen year Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon that lasted from 1982 until 2000.

A timetable for a withdrawl, and at a pace that allows an orderly transition of power, and to those who are supposed to exert authority in the region. Not a hard concept. I wonder why our President can't see the wisdom in it as more and more Americans die in Iraq.

Monday, August 14, 2006

This is our year, if we don't blow it. So let's not blow it.

Never have the stakes been higher.

We have an election which occurs as our country is stuck trying to hold together a foreign country essentially composed of three nations (Shiite, Sunni and Kurd) which is ready to fly apart (with the sort of results that would have occurred if we had forcibly tried to hold the former Soviet Union or Yugoslavia together when they went their natural way and gave birth to several other nations). John Murtha, who for decades has been a staunch proponent of the military, has a plan that Democrats are rallying behind (belatedly, to be sure, but late is better than never) to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq in an orderly fashion and in a way that will allow the Iraqi government, should they still want to fight out what I consider to be a futile effort to hold three nations together, will be able to take over what we have been doing.

We are mired in an enormous debt that will again become an enormous problem as interest rates continue to rise (recall that in 1992, the personal income taxes paid by everyone west of the Mississippi went to pay interest on the national debt, and for no other purpose at all), and yet the President and many of the Republicans in Congress, far from wanting to address the debt, want to cut taxes further and only add to the problem.

We have the most expensive health care system in the world continuing to explode upward in price while the quality of access drops for the forty-six million people who can't afford insurance, and even for tens of millions more who can.

We have seen America's lead in science nearly evaporate as we have the first administration ever that tries to force scientists to produce falsified data in order to fit their ideology and punishes those who don't go along with that.

The good news is that the public realizes this and according to many polls are ready to sweep Republicans out of control on Capitol Hill and elect Democrats to replace them. What Democrats need now is not to trip ourselves up as we enter the sprint to the finish line, a sprint which we enter ahead, but not comfortably so. A mistake could still cost us the race.

Unfortunately that is not such an easy thing to achieve. We've seen how in Connecticut, after Ned Lamont defeated Joe Lieberman in a Democratic primary, fair and square, the defeated candidate instead of conceding gracefully and working to see the winner retain the seat for the Democrats, announced that he will run as an independent for the seat. Republicans, who have a token candidate on the ballot there, have decided to abandon their own nominee in order to support Lieberman and try to reverse the verdict of the Democratic party in Connecticut.

So what about here in Arizona? Well, this is a Republican state on balance, though Democrats can win here. I'd like to take you back to two races in particular. The Republican race for Attorney General in 1998 and the Democratic race for Congressional District One in 2002.

In 1998, the GOP here saw a very nasty primary between Tom McGovern and John Kaites. That opened the door for an unknown Phoenix attorney named Janet Napolitano to win in November (Republicans closed ranks and won all of the other statewide races that year). Of course, the rest is history as Janet performed ably in the position and used it to launch a successful bid for Governor in 2002, and is now cruising along with approval ratings that consistently fall in the 70% range. Had McGovern (who won the GOP nomination) and Kaites not had such an angry primary and had they managed to unify their supporters after the primary, it's possible that the most successful Democratic politician in Arizona would not have been elected in her first race. Instead, she served a term as A.G., likely two terms as Governor and after that, who knows (though by a happy confluence of the stars, if she wins, as she is likely to, her term ends in 2010, when John McCain will be older than the hills and either have won or lost the Presidency-- in the latter case he will either be vulnerable or ready to retire). I of course am glad that things turned out as they did, but I point this out as an example of how internecine bickering can cause long term consequences to the detriment of the party where the bickering occurs, consequences that could conceivably affect the national political landscape decades later.

In 2002, we had a brand new congressional district up here in the Northern part of the state. We have an 8% Democratic registration edge, but it is a very competitive district. In a multi-candidate primary, several candidates split the vote, and the surprise nominee of the party was George Cordova. As I wrote in a comment on a post on Tedski's wonderful blog, Rum, Romanism and Rebellion,

In 2002, we had an open district in CD 1 (which is 43-35% Democratic in voter registration). After a hard fought multi-candidate primary, the nominee was a surprise winner, a guy named George Cordova. The Republicans nominated Rick Renzi, a Virginian who had moved to Arizona only to run for the seat.


And that is WHY there are fifteen (rather than fourteen) seats that Democrats have to win to take back the house. I did not work for or vote for George Cordova in the primary. I did vote for George Cordova in the general election, but I did not work for him then. Neither did a lot of Democrats who had supported other candidates. I regret it every day I realize that Richmond Rickey is now my 'representative' (he still lives with his family in Virginia pretty much all the time-- the house he owns in Flagstaff is more of a campaign headquarters.)

In fact it turns out that the ton of money that Renzi raised and spent in that election was illegal. Cordova actually sued him-- and settled out of court-- for outright lies that Renzi told in commercials about him, accusing him of embezzling funds from his business partners and wiring it to his uncle in Mexico (which would be a felony if it were true, and Cordova would be in jail, but it was not true.) Renzi, meanwhile, is on the list of the '13 most corrupt members of Congress', a list which includes Duke Cunningham (who is now in prison after a bribery conviction), William Jefferson (the guy with the 'cold cash' stored in his freezer) and Bob Ney (who just quit the other day as investigators get closer to him).

Now, let's look at this year. The specific comment that caused me to post my rant on Tedski's blog was a comment by a person from Congressional district eight that they would not support a particular candidate there if that person is the nominee. Come on guys, you have a real chance to pick up an open seat down there since the Kolbe retirement. Just don't blow it like we did up here four years ago. So maybe you will wake up on Sept. 13 and realize that you don't like who the nominee is. Would you rather get Randy Graf representing you?

And what about up here in Congressional district one? A lot of people are tired of Renzi. Everything from his continued residence in Virginia to his rubber stamp support of Bush on key votes to the stories now starting to get out about how corrupt he is (although it is front page news in the districts of the other congressmen on that list-- and I suspect that if Renzi was a Phoenix area congressman his corruption would be front page news too.) So we now have a chance to win here (although Renzi and his big money are still favored-- meaning that if we have a chance to win we have to all pull together to achieve it.)

We have five candidates running up here for the nomination to oppose Mr. Renzi. I blogged about a candidate's forum that we (the Little Colorado River Democrats and the Navajo County Democratic Party) sponsored in which four of the candidates (Mike Cacciopoli, Bob Donahue, Susan Friedman and Vic McKerlie) attended. Most of the friction involves the fifth candidate, Ellen Simon. On the day of the debate she was in Washington raising funds, but she did make the effort to visit our last meeting of the LCRD and speak to us, so I don't feel that she was specifically blowing us off. A number of questions were raised. She did not answer all of them to my satisfaction, but if she is the nominee then I will certainly support her in the general (in the interest of full disclosure, when I first wrote this post, I was an undecided voter, mainly because I was having trouble with the issue of whether my first choice would commit to endorsing the winner in the event that he didn't win. He has since said 'Yes,' he will (see comments) so therefore I am no longer undecided, and I now support and plan to work and vote for Mike Cacciopoli.) There are two very disturbing trends that I see however.

The first is that there have been cases of retaliation by some people against other people who don't support the same primary candidate who they do (and no, I'm not naming names because that's irrelevant to the substance of the problem. If you want gossip, then go to Wonkette). The fact is, we will need to be able to work together in November. Are there times when I have a disagreement, or even a chronic personality conflict, with other Democrats? Sure, that is true for everyone. But in the end I know that we have to work together. We are already outnumbered in Arizona, and we can't afford to start fighting with each other or throwing each other overboard. To retaliate against someone who is working for a candidate we don't agree with in the primary is petty, mean spirited and the sort of thing that we see happening a lot in the Bush administration (with the Plame case being the most glaring, but in no way the only example of it). I'd like to think that as Democrats we have a stronger moral character than to engage in those kinds of tactics. Anyone who has done this kind of thing does indeed have the moral character of George W. Bush.

The second is that some people have said publically that they might not support the nominee if it is one of the other candidates. This move by losing primary candidate Alfredo Gutierrez a few years ago (he luckily did eventually come around on it) nearly cost us the Governor's race. Just think how much different Arizona would be today had Matt Salmon been elected four years ago; for one thing he'd have signed that bill the legislature wanted to pass in Janet's first year that would have cut the budgets of schools and other state agencies by fifteen percent across the state and likely resulted in massive layoffs and salary cuts for already underpaid teachers and state employees (with a corresponding drop off in quality of service). Luckily, the concerns that a candidate who loses the primary might not endorse the winner appear to have vanished, and that is the best news I've had-- well in eight hours (since my wife, who's been unemployed for months thanks to the Bush economy, told me she now has a job).

Let me finish by clipping another part of the rant I put up on Tedski's blog:

No matter what you may think of a nominee, consider this then: If Republicans retain the house, then Denny Hastert is still speaker. Two more years of a rubber stamp Congress that will do as the President wants and give him his agenda on everything from Iraq to the budget. If Democrats gain fifteen seats, then Nancy Pelosi sets the agenda and George W. Bush will have to do something he has not had to do as President of the United States-- sit down with Democratic leaders in Congress and negotiate instead of getting his way all the time.

What if Democrats get less than fourteen seats? How many less will still be huge-- if it's very close then they may still be able to form a coalition on some issues with the handful of Republican moderates who remain in Congress-- at least forcing Bush to negotiate a little (the hard right just kicked another one out last week in Michigan in a primary). And if Democrats get more than fifteen seats? Every seat they get will strengthen the speaker's hand.

I know. I screwed this up four years ago. And all of you are paying for my mistake.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Why our society is stronger

A few days ago I had a chance to talk to a friend of mine who has different views than I do about a number of topics.

It started with a discussion on abortion. As I've discussed here many times (such as in one of my very early posts The successes of Liberals in stopping abortion), abortion has gone down by about a third since peaking in the early 1990's, due not to bans, but due to education, family planning and birth control (and if abortion opponents wanted to really work on preventing abortions, they'd consider at least some kind of assistance for uninsured women who can't pay the delivery room charge-- a Guttmacher Institute study found evidence that some women who don't even want an abortion get one because it's the only option they can afford (I blogged on that in this post in March). While I personally consider myself against abortion (so that for example, when my fifteen year old got pregnant several years ago she agreed with me on the first day that there would be no abortion-- though it would still have been her right if she'd had one, but I'm glad she didn't), I don't believe that banning it is the best way to fight it. That discussion then led to a broader discussion of drugs and alcohol. My friend actually told me that he believes that Prohibition should have remained the law of the land (well, I will give him one thing-- at least he's consistent).

This did get me to thinking though about why I am grateful to live in the free Republic of the United States of America. Recently we have been bombarded with images of the middle east. The Islamic fundamentalists who fight against us often are motivated to fight and die for a better vision, as they see it of the world. Now, consider a view expounded to me once by a proponent of that vision:

Back before 9/11, when CNN and other organizations still ran message boards where people could discuss political topics with others who might not agree with them, I remember being online and exchanging ideas with a young man on the web who was living in Pakistan and was quite sympathetic to the Taliban and others who wanted a strict Islamic society. He was not the stereotypical blindly ignorant fanatic that some might suppose; in fact he was quite literate and well educated and had spent several years in America, and he made probably as good a case as one could make:

He pointed out that in such societies, there is very little crime, and that people are much more moral than they are in America. He saw the west as decadent, and overrun with sin, immorality and corruption. He said that in Afghanistan (as well as Iran and other countries) there was almost no adultery, fornication, pornography, and alcohol and drug use, and the people all prayed and went to their mosque several times per day. Then he went on to argue the advantages of this society in terms of family values, children being taught in the home, etc. (of course he was a male, always an asset in such a society-- remember that if a woman in Pakistan cheats on her husband the authorities look the other way when he sets her on fire and burns her to death).

So, given that, with very few exceptions the people there are all very religious, all go to mosque, and none of them commit most sins that are common occurrences here, why is our society better? Don't we have all of the types of debauchery and immorality that he talked about in abundance?

Of course we do. But our society is still the stronger society. Here is why:

We have the freedom to choose in our society. Adultery, fornication, pornography and alcohol use are all legal in America (at least for adults). Drugs are still illegal, but people who are simply users (as opposed to sellers or producers) of such drugs are generally sent to a treatment center before they go to prison if they relapse. Of course when people are free to choose there will always be those who choose poorly. The other side of this though is that when people choose what might be considered the 'moral' choice (though different societies may not agree on exactly what is 'moral') they do it because it's the right thing to do, and not because they are afraid of what will happen if they don't go to the mosque every day or commit one of the other transgressions I listed (the penalties for which can range from public flogging through amputation and on up to death by stoning.)

The other day I was listening to a man who was talking about trusting his children and he said, "I trust them between this corner and that corner, because that's where I can see them." I feel very bad for him then. I'd like to be able to trust my kids when they have to make choices on their own, not just when they are afraid of the rod.

Here is a demonstration of which type of society is better on 'moral' issues: I don't smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol. Why is that? It's not because it's illegal, because it isn't. It's because I choose not to do those things. Consider that if I were caught with a bottle of booze in some places, I'd be given a public flogging. Now, which is more likely? That I, being a nondrinker in a place where I can go to circle K and buy it, would start drinking if I ever moved to a place where it would garner a flogging, or that a nondrinker from over there would start when and if they moved to someplace where it was legal and readily available?

Further, there is the documented fact that Prohibition on alcohol gave us Capone, keeping marijuana illegal has enriched everyone from Mexican drug lords to American street gangs and seriously added to our border security issues, and back when abortion was illegal it enriched young hoods who had a coat hanger and didn't know the meaning of sanitation (and likely would again if it were banned again).

That doesn't mean that there shouldn't be such a thing as crime. A society with no laws is anarchy. But before we make any new laws restricting individual freedoms and choices, we must be very careful to weigh whatever the supposed benefits are of this restriction and keep in mind that freedom to make choices is the most fundamental freedom that we have. That is what distinguishes a society like ours from societies like Islamic fundamentalism, Fascism or Soviet Communism. All three of these types of societies liked to claim they have peace on their streets and that people live according to at least a code of ethics. That's true, albeit out of fear of what will happen if they don't, but it is true at what a terrible price in freedom!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Terror plot foiled

Today, police in England and Pakistan, with some help from authorities in the United States broke a plot to assemble bombs on ten aircraft bound for the United States and detonate them on board the ten flights.

And thank God that they were caught. Clearly the police agencies involved did a very good job at protecting their citizens.

What the right now is saying though is that this justifies the NSA spying program. They point out that apparently wiretapping of phones was useful in uncovering the plot and making these arrests.

And so it was. This does NOT in any way justify the use of illegal wiretaps to spy on American citizens who are accused of nothing.

These conversations would still be monitored if the government followed the law, including the requirement that all wiretaps must be approved by and a warrant issued by FISA, a court that deals with when these wiretaps are legal. And in over two decades, FISA has failed to issue exactly four, out of the thousands of requests it gets. Since the warrant can actually be issued up to 48 hours later, there is no reason at all to suggest that following the law would in any way impact on the war on terror.

Again, I'm glad they caught the terrorists, but this is not and should not be used as a means of further restricting individual rights and freedoms upon which this country was founded.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Statement of philosophy-- Peace and War.

I've been in New Mexico for the last couple of days (coincidentally, both mine and my wife's birthday) and it's given me some time to consider a post dealing with what my philosophy is in the most important issue we are faced with, in this-- and any-- age, that of peace and war.

In general, I have been an outspoken advocate of peace in most wars, such as our present war in Iraq. However, I've been at odds with many of my friends on the left-- and for that matter, surprisingly in agreement with many who I normally argue with on the right, about the justification for the current invasion of Lebanon by Israel (though I will differ with some on the right by saying once again that I do not believe that people who oppose Israeli policy are anti-Semitic; Mel Gibson is anti-Semitic, not people who simply disagree with the current Israeli policy in Lebanon or for that matter towards the Palestinians).

Or put another way, last year when former President Jimmy Carter accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, he said, "Sometimes war may be a necessary evil, but it is always evil."

And he is right. On both clauses.

Certainly no decision to enter into a war should be arrived at lightly, nor made if there is any chance of negotiating a lasting agreement between the parties. If a decision is made to go to war, then people will die, and that includes that civilians will die. Men will die. Women will die. Children will die. Babies will die. Many more will be disfigured, mentally damaged (and not just from physical trauma) and will suffer the loss of family members. Many more will become refugees and lose their homes. Huge amounts of resources will be wasted, and for no other purpose than to destroy what has been built, perhaps built over years, generations or even centuries.

For this reason, if it is possible to avert a war by means of negotiation between the parties, that is the best course to follow.

But then, is war sometimes necessary, and if so when?

The classic case that is always made of a 'necessary war' is World War II. And it is certainly true that the leaders in Europe, after their policy of 'appeasement' failed and gave Hitler Austria and Czechoslovakia without firing a shot, realized that his insatiable appetite for conquest required that war eventually be entered into. Even then, in the hours after Hitler invaded Poland, there were active debates within both the English and especially the French governments about whether honoring the agreement to defend Poland was worth going to war for, and in fact England declared war about twelve hours before the French. And it is certainly true that if they hadn't, Hitler would undoubtedly have simply absorbed Poland and continued to strengthen himself before conquering more and more territory, and that had he succeeded, much of the world would today be living in a scarcely believable Nazi hell.

On the other hand, that was sixty years ago and the world is much changed, so it is only worth bringing up as history that most everyone is familiar with. What about today's wars?

To begin with, a war which is justified may not be easy, and a war which is not justified may in fact be easy. So the idea of deciding whether a war is justified based afterwards on the course the war takes is the cowards way out. Examples of 'easy' wars which I believe were either never justified or in which U.S. forces should not have been committed include Grenada, Panama and Kosovo. These conflicts resulted in very low U.S. casualties (though there were many casualties among the civilian population, especially in Panama). On the other hand, the present conflict in Afghanistan is an example of a 'hard' war which I believe is nonetheless justified (though it has been fumbled and botched severely-- more on that later).

I believe that a war is justified only when a nation (or an ally which it is sworn to defend) is in fact attacked, not going to war pretty much guarantees more attacks, and there is no prospect of negotiating with the attackers to prevent more attacks. At the same time there must be an examination of why the war occurred in order to determine what can be done to prevent a repeat of it in the future.

To that end, I do (as I said earlier) consider that our present conflict in Afghanistan was necessary to enter into. Recall that prior to 9/11, Osama bin Laden had organized the African Embassy bombings, the attack on the U.S.S. Cole and a number of other terrorist incidents around the world. Clearly 9/11 was an attack on the U.S., and clearly bin Laden was not planning to stop his attacks (nor has he, as the murderous attacks in Bali, Madrid and London show.) And George Bush did one right thing-- he gave the Taliban, the regime that was harboring bin Laden, a chance to hand him over before ordering an attack.

From that moment, the war was mismanaged. Despite the fact that at that time we had nearly universal support from the world, George W. Bush made it clear that he was only interested in those who would pursue the whole war in his way, and refused to even consider advice from other foreign leaders-- some of whom know quite a bit more about Afghanistan than we do. Then, after making alliances with local warlords of dubious dependability (something the other leaders might have reminded him about) he sent them in to actually get bin Laden at Tora Bora instead of U.S. marines. This allowed bin Laden to spread enough of his influence and cash around to make good his escape. Then came the biggest error in Afghanistan. The biggest mistake we made there IS the war in Iraq. As Afghanistan slipped onto the back burner, and we were content with fighting a war of attrition, the mood palpably changed, and the dubious warlords began considering their options again. Our investment became an afterthought, returning Afghanistan roughly to the state it was in following the abandonment of the country after the Soviet War-- a society impoverished both economically and by its isolation, that allowed al-Qaeda and the Taliban to flourish the first time-- as they are starting to do again now. Our international backing began to dwindle (exacerbated by such events as when George Bush takes a country like Canada, which had lost five soldiers in a friendly fire incident supporting Americans in Afghanistan, and informs them that they are being punished for not backing us in Iraq). With attacks and hostility towards the Americans on the rise in Afghanistan, we may have lost our chance to create a model for the region. Right now, I believe that with a renewed focus on Afghanistan, there could still be hope, and as long as bin Laden is alive we should pursue him, but if the intent is to ignore Afghanistan some more (which seems to be the case with the recent announcment that we are disbanding the special unit tasked with hunting for him there), then we are in a downward spiral and in that case it might be best to withdraw. And Iraq is still going, which makes it seem as though this is the case.

In Iraq, there was no justification for war. Saddam Hussein absolutely did not attack us, and he was comfortably in the same 'box' he had been in since 1991. He didn't even control all of Iraq, as the Kurds had effective autonomy in about 10% of the country. The weapons of mass destruction we all heard about were not there. He tried repeatedly to negotiate. Even if you believe it was a ploy, shouldn't we have taken the time to check it out first? And shouldn't we have let Hans Blix finish finding out whether the WMD's were in Iraq? Yeah, I believed that they were there based on news reports of the day (though that in itself is no more a reason to go to war than it would have been a reason to go to war against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and it is not a good enough reason to go to war against Iran even if they do have a nuclear program), but now we learn that those news reports reflected only the view that the White House wanted us to see-- cherry picking of intel reports, and even going so far as to republicize the claim of Iraqi politician and colossal liar Ahmed Chalabi (who is still wanted in Jordan for bank fraud of over $25 million) that they could be ready to launch in 45 minutes-- the same Ahmed Chalabi who it later turned out was a double agent working for the Iranians (and the Iraq war clearly does have at least one winner-- Iran). The White House has a duty to consider all the intelligence available, including the reliability of such intelligence. And if we'd let Blix (who went to Iraq in accordance to a U.N. resolution that we pushed) do his job, he'd have discovered what we now know already. Then there is the claim that the war in Iraq is part of the war on terror. Yet, at the time, they came up with actually much less in terms of claims that Iraq had anything to do with terrorists (and in particular al-Qaeda) than our 'allies' in the region like Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Kuwait. Well, it may not have been about terrorists then, but it is now. And our presence is doing as much to fuel terrorism there as it is to fight it. So then it was about Democracy. That is why we now have elected fanatics in Baghdad leading anti-American demonstrations and burning American flags. So apparently the reason we've lost 2,500 American troops in Iraq is simply to lend the cloak of legitimacy to anti-American fundamentalists who may even be in Parliament in the morning and passing on information to those fighting us by the afternoon (as we discovered after Zarqawi was killed) Yeah, but remember-- no matter how much they hate us and support terrorists, they're elected. And we are fighting those who want to get rid of that same Parliament. Maybe Hugo Chavez has it wrong. Just convince George Bush to invade Venezuela, and we'll be paying American troops to fight Mr. Chavez' "anti-democratic" opponents. At this point, I believe that it is pretty much inevitable that Iraq, a creation of British and French Colonialists who divided up the Ottoman Empire after World War I without regard to cultural, ethnic or religious boundaries, will sooner or later fly apart as happened with the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. It is hard to see how the United States can prevent it, or for that matter exactly what we can achieve any more in Iraq. Best to follow the Murtha plan for withdraw and use any influence we have to ease the transition into three separate nations-- Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni, with as little bloodshed as possible.

So that brings us to the current war in Lebanon. Why do I support Israel's right to invade Lebanon to go after Hezbollah guerillas? Simple enough. Go back to what I said at the beginning of the article. Israel has been attacked across the border by the Hezbollah guerillas, if they did nothing then it is likely it would happen again and again and again (just like the small scale rocket and mortar attacks that have gone on for the past six years), and besides, how can you negotiate with someone whose stated objective is to wipe your country off the map-- literally? For that matter, Hezbollah is a Lebanese organization, so their original attack into Israel (from Lebanese territory that Israel withdrew from in 2000) could in no way be considered in the context of 'occupied territory.' It was squarely an attack across the border, with the prospect only of more down the road. I've seen some suggest that Israel should have been a 'punching bag' for Hezbollah and just 'suck it up' when attacked, as they did when Saddam Hussein's scuds hit them in the 1991 Gulf War. The difference of course was that at the time others were doing something about Saddam Hussein, whereas had Israel not responded, I doubt if I'd have seen many who now criticize their actions demanding that Hezbollah launch no more border attacks or return the captured soldiers. I could be wrong, but then I've not yet seen some of them even acknowlege that Israeli civilians even have the 'right' to not fear missile attacks. Nor do I fault Israel, as many have done, for the scale of their response. If anything, as the last few days have shown, the initial response was if anything too 'measured' (our own failures in Iraq and elsewhere should have convinced them that sooner or later they would need to commit ground troops). They have done everything they could to limit civilian casualties by their policy of leafletting, even though this makes their airstrikes inevitably militarily less effective, and have tried to target specific buildings. But let's keep in mind that they are fighting an opponent which chooses to set up military installations in apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, and wherever else they can hide behind children. So to not attack these places at all is in effect to not attack Hezbollah at all. That, and the fact that the Israelis have much more fire power, is why there are about 1000 deaths in Lebanon vs. 100 on the Israeli side. Yet it would be far higher if Israel was simply doing the 'indiscriminate bombing' that its opponents accuse it of (keep in mind that what you saw in World War II was true 'indiscriminate bombing,' when civilian casualties ran into the tens of thousands from a single bombing raid, and into the millions over the course of the war.) What about the proposal then that Israel simply accept a cease-fire and go back to their side of the border? Well, the answer is that they did exactly that in 2000, and you can see how well that worked-- namely, it didn't work. Unless the Lebanese army is bolstered internationally with weapons, training and perhaps some Egyptian or other units embedded in its ranks and is serious about keeping order, then Israel would be foolish to withdraw from Lebanon, and I will continue to believe that until someone can argue that this time it would be different from the last time. There is no question that Hezbollah has provided a much stiffer level of resistance than Israel had anticipated, but that does not change my assessment of whether this war was justified. You can lose a war and still be justified in fighting it (though it appears that Israel is scratching out a very difficult and small victory) . Now, as I said, 'occupied territory' is not any kind of issue in the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict. However,

'Occupied territory' is an issue between Israel and the Palestinians, and clearly Israel as the occupier can't expect peace that doesn't include withdrawl from the 'occupied territory,' though again there are some on the Palestinian side who consider every square inch of Israel itself to be 'occupied territory' which is why there has not been any negotiation between Israel and the new Hamas-dominated government. Israel, as a test case of its new policy, withdrew from Gaza, and was quickly attacked. Nonetheless, it is a statement of fact that sooner or later, Israel is going to have to find someone on the Palestinian side who has the personal integrity, authority and ability to make an agreement stick and make and follow an agreement with them, and that such an agreement will include withdrawl from the West Bank as well as Gaza. This actually represents a slight modification of the position I held in December of 2005 when I wrote Abraham had two sons about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the post, I was quite critical of both Israel's wall and its West Bank settlement policy, but I also said that I believed that while the wall was wrong, it had stopped attacks on Israel. And it has stopped attacks-- by suicide bomber What this war has made clear however is that there are many ways to attack Israel. Hence the Sharon-Ohlmert policy of withdrawing behind the wall won't end attacks on Israel, and Tel Aviv is only a few miles from the West Bank. In fact, Israel has two secure borders-- with Jordan and with Egypt, but those are the result of negotiation with Jordan and with Egypt. Attacks across them are very rare indeed, and when they do happen (such as the occasional rocket that is fired into the Israeli city of Elat from the Jordanian city of Aqaba across the bay) Israel does not respond because they know the Jordanian authorities are right on top of it, and either catch the perpetrators or beef up police presence in the area to prevent another attack. These borders provide a model for how borders might eventually work. However, as a precursor, Israel must be willing to work with whoever the Palestinians choose to represent them (and as I blogged in February, that may well be Hamas someday. In fact, before the current war between Israel and Hamas broke out a month ago, Hamas had agreed to put their name on a piece of paper that at least mentioned Israel-- a small yet monolithic step for them. I hope that this in fact does portend a better future (if you read my January post, I did predict a rocky road in the short term-- though making some obviously wrong predictions, such as a Likud victory in the Israeli election-- but gave some reasons to be optimistic in the long term.) But it is, again, a fact that until an Israeli leader and a Palestinian leader who can both with confidence truly represent their countries sit down together and bargain that war will continue at anywhere from a simmer to a boil, and this needs to happen. But I believe the pieces are in place where it will happen sooner than we might expect.

So I hope this clears up some of the views I have on current conflicts. I believe that peace is always better than war, but there are times, when a nation is attacked, that war may become a 'necessary evil.'

Lamont Defeats Lieberman in Connecticut

Last night, in a Democratic primary in Connecticut, Ned Lamont, a 'cable guy' who became a millionaire in that business, and who had served as a city councilman and held no other elected office, beat three term incumbent Senator and former Vice Presidential and Presidential candidate Joe Lieberman 52%-48% in a hotly contested Democratic primary. Lieberman has vowed to run as an independent for his seat. I believe it is a mistake to do so-- he ran as a Democrat and Connecticut's Democratic voters made it clear that he does not reflect their values. He should accept that judgement, endorse Ned Lamont, and move on. As Dick Cheney told Lieberman during the Vice Presidential debate six years ago after Lieberman said he had no private sector job experience, "I'm trying to help you get there, Joe." For perhaps the first time in history, advice from Dick Cheney is something Lieberman should take.

I have a number of thoughts on this race. The first is the most obvious-- the country is against the war in Iraq, and Lieberman's support of the Iraq war, including in an interview last year in which he claimed that 'much progress' was being made, despite the obvious fact that we've been hearing that for years now and the 'progress' only seems to be a hardening of Iraqi attitudes towards Americans, cost Joe the nomination. Even other Democrats who voted with the President on the war, notably John Kerry (who himself was burned two years ago by his failure to admit he made a mistake) have now made it clear that they believe they were deceived (as many in the country were) by the hand-picked faulty intelligence that was used to 'sell' the war. And one reason why John Murtha has credibility on the issue is that he was willing to go to the mat supporting the war and the military for a long time, but finally came to the realization that he had like many others been sold a bill of goods. But not Joe. He was for continuing the Iraq war, and that is out of step, not only with Democratic primary voters, but with a clear majority of all voters, according to a new CNN poll out this morning.

Other Democrats, including President Clinton and Christopher Dodd, Lieberman's Senate partner from Connecticut, stumped on his behalf in the closing days of the campaign. And in fact they probably did make a difference, as the polls showed Lieberman down 13% about a week ago and he lost by four. So apparently a visit from Bill Clinton is worth 9 points right now-- I mention that only to draw a contrast to the President; Bush visits only for fundraisers for the party faithful, but he does not go out and campaign with Republicans running for Congress or the Senate right now-- so a visit from Bush is a liability.

Which brings us to Lieberman's own liabilities. If a visit from Bush is a liability, then how about a kiss? Last year while walking down the Senate aisle at the State of the Union address, President Bush pulled Senator Lieberman aside and kissed him. This put into stark perspective Lieberman's status as 'The President's man' who could be counted on to disrupt any attempt to create a Democratic policy alternative on Iraq. "The Kiss" became a major theme in the campaign, with a float showing mockups of 'the kiss' being driven around Connecticut during the campaign. All of which leads me to ask, given that we have the Republican equivalent to Joe Lieberman, John McCain representing us here in the Senate and wanting to run for President (incidentally Lieberman and McCain count each other as among their closest friends in the Senate), whether we could get that guy ('Connecticut Bob') to create a mock-up of 'the hug' that McCain gave Bush two years ago for when McCain runs for President:

Expect now that other Democrats who supported the war (and probably more than a few Republicans) will do everything they can to distance themselves from their former support. Hillary Clinton is going to be at the top of that list, although by now she has been so firmly associated with support for the war that if she changes her stance now it will be a clear 'flip flop.'

If there is one message that the Lamont victory sends it is a very clear and indisputable one: Out Now!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

"Random recreational violence."

Recently I put up a post about the pair of serial killing sprees that have terrorized people in the valley for several months.

Today, two suspects are in custody in one of the cases, and that case has been solved. Dale Hausner, 33 (top) and Samuel John Dieteman, 30 (bottom) were taken into custody last night outside their apartment in Mesa and are each facing multiple counts of first degree murder in addition to numerous other charges. The two 'serial shooters' alternated between being shooters, as they used their single shot .410 gauge shotgun to target victims who 'looked to be transients' while the other drove their silver Toyota Camry as the getaway car. Incidentally, though they targetted victims who they thought were transients, not all were-- for example, their last victim, 22 year old Robin Blasnek, was a mentally challenged woman who lived in a group home.

Police say they are certain they have the right men in custody. But Friday, as information about the suspects' lives began to emerge, Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris said he still couldn't answer what everybody really wants to know: Why someone would do such terrible things.

"Unfortunately," Harris said, "some people get personal enjoyment out of being evil."

And evil it is. What is really disturbing is the term that one of the two suspects used to describe his reason for doing the shootings-- "random recreational violence."

Beyond that, this turns out to continue a trend I've written about in the past (Kill some time, kill a man) in which we have now reached the point in which today's violent society, the 'instant gratification or reset' mentality of some of today's youth, and the dehumanization of the homeless which began when Ronald Reagan claimed they were all out on the street by 'choice' or because they were too lazy to find a job, has produced a deadly confluence in which people who are either transients or (as in this case) appear to be transients to the killers, are simply popped off for 'random recreational violence.'

Further, as I wrote in the January post (following an attack by youths who beat several homeless men, including one to death, on the campus of the University of Florida) about the increasing level of violence targetting the homeless,

Many of the attacks have involved weapons, such as knives and bats, while others have involved straightforward beatings with fists or with feet. What is disturbing though is that the profile of the attackers often is like those who are being sought in this case-- young, usually white males who apparently are looking to amuse themselves. In one case last year, the teens had been watching a copy of the video 'bumfights,' which was made by people who had paid homeless people to fight with each other, and then distributed 300,000 copies. The video was criticized for 'dehumanizing' homeless people. Apparently correctly. It is hard to imagine what must be going through minds of these youths (who often, when caught, it turns out have come from relatively affluent families) who try to kill an afternoon by killing a man.

And that fits the profile in this case as well. Though Hausner, at least, does appear to have had a troubled background (and now has a terminally ill two year old daughter, who does not live with him but who unfortunately was visiting Hausner last night when he was arrested; the girl was returned by police to her mother) both suspects apparently came from families in which they never experienced poverty, and so apparently bought into the misconception of transients as all being that way by choice or because they were lazy. Of course that is a misconception, as many homeless people today were living in a home not so many years ago, and then living 'paycheck to paycheck' when the floor fell out from under them. And the social safety net that would at least have put them in some temporary housing had it happened in the 1970's, has since been sawed away from under them. I've met myself at least two of these folks who are homeless not because they are lazy but because they worked every day of their lives but had lost everything, and just recently my mother in law, who lost her job at 58 last year, was forced to sell her house and move to Colorado (where she is now living in a trailer, thanks largely to my sister in law's help, while she looks for a job). In fact, you may be closer than you think to being in the crosshairs of these kinds of wild youths. As I also wrote in January,

Now, the life of a homeless person is already a very difficult one, even without these two legged wolves out prowling the streets....

With the changes in the bankrupcty bill, it is now possible for millions in the middle class to become homeless simply by having a major medical expense which they can't pay, having the court take their house and sell it to pay the medical creditors, and then ending up on the street. And out of the millions who are now living on thin ice and don't even recognize it, there are thousands who it will happen to.

Hope you are not among those thousands.

Incidentally, the Baseline Killer is still out there, so let's continue to pray for the people in and around Phoenix, and if you live there be sure to contact the police if you have any information about this character:
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