Monday, October 31, 2005

Sam the Sham

Last week, the right forced President Bush to withdraw Harriett Miers as his nominee to the Supreme Court.

And, as I predicted that day, he has nominated a radical conservative to the court. Samuel Alito, who once clerked for Antonin Scalia and shares the same general philosophy as his mentor, has been named as the replacement for Justice O'Connor.

This is the nomination that Democrats should filibuster. They did not filibuster John Roberts. They had no intention of filibustering Harriet Miers.

However, Alito, who has frequently been the lone dissenter on the circuit court he is on in Pennsylvania, is not John Roberts, who can be expected to listen to the arguments presented or Harriet Miers. He is instead an ideologue. A justice who, despite his low key approach and quiet demeanor, is likely to approach cases with a predetermined view, and unlikely to change it. As for what a few of those views are, just take a look at the record.

In Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1991), Alito was the only dissenter in a case that, among other things, threw out a Pennsylvania law that required women seeking abortions to notify their husbands.

We have also seen that he has ruled consistently in directions that are way out of touch with the American mainstream.

In the 1997 case, Bray vs. Marriott Hotel for example, we find that

Alito dissented from a decision in favor of a Marriott Hotel manager who said she had been discriminated against on the basis of race. The majority explained that Alito would have protected racist employers by “immuniz[ing] an employer from the reach of Title VII if the employer’s belief that it had selected the ‘best’ candidate was the result of conscious racial bias.” [Bray v. Marriott Hotels, 1997]

So according to the majority on the court, Alito apparently explained to them that even if open racism were used to help select a candidate, it was still the perogative of the employer to do so. Hmmm. With Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court, it will be possible for segregationists to employ CONSCIOUS racial bias in hiring. Any decision like that will be as bad as the Dred Scott decision, and turn the clock back to the 1950's.

Friday, October 28, 2005

What if the city is the dealer?

It has been a catch-22 for some time now. A number of states have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, and several have made it completely legal for medicinal use. But since Federal law still prohibits the production, transport or sale of marijuana, it requires someone breaking the law before even a legal medicinal user can obtain any. And not surprisingly, those who break the law are often criminals, so that even if someone who has a prescription does buy some, the chances are that their money is going directly to some local, national or international drug ring.

So this week, the city of Santa Cruz, California decided there has to be a better way for local medicinal marijuana users to get their prescriptions filled than standing on a street corners looking for dope peddlers.

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. Oct 26, 2005 — The City Council voted to create a department to coordinate the distribution of medical marijuana and vowed to fight federal drug regulators in court to establish it....

The City Council voted 4-2 Tuesday to create an Office of Compassionate Use, a five-member advisory board that would coordinate medical marijuana distribution within the city. User fees would fund the office, which likely would contract with pharmacies for distribution, (mayor) Rotkin said.

California law has allowed medical marijuana use since voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this summer that the federal government can continue to prosecute users.

Now it is true that they intend to seek Federal approval for the office, and so will wait until the outcome of a case going on in San Jose challenging the federal government's right to restrict states from allowing medicinal marijuana use is known.

Nevertheless, this is a step in the right direction. I have seen data which both support and refute the idea that marijuana can reduce the symptoms of diseases like glaucoma and cancer. It may be the equivalent of accupuncture-- in which the state of the mind plays more of a role in healing than anything done to the body, or it may be biochemical and actually directly promote healing. However in either case, those who suffer from these diseases and find relief from the use of marijuana should at least be allowed to alleviate their symptoms.

And, I myself would also not use medicinal marijuana even if I had a need for it because it is against the teachings of the leaders of my church. But what right have I to look into the eyes of a cancer patient wanting relief and tell them they can't have it because of a regulation? Or are we really such a heartless, crass and cruel society that we condemn them to suffer further because of an ideological position?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Prepare to Fight

With the announcement by Harriet Miers that she is no longer a candidate for the Supreme Court, it seems likely that there will be a bitter partisan fight in the Senate.

I say that, because it is clear from all of the conservatives I have listened to on air both in the days leading up to today, and today, that they will insist on a strict 'constructionist' judge. And rather than face another embarrassing defeat at the hands of his own party, it seems likely that the President will bow to their demands and name one.

And therein lies the conundrum. According to the memorandum signed by the 'gang of fourteen,' the Democrats retained the right to filibuster in extraordinary circumstances. Miers did not come across as bad enough to provoke a filibuster. Neither did John Roberts. So it is clear that Democrats are willing to accept a reasonable nominee from the Bush administration.

But that is not what the right wing wants. They remember the power trip they had a few months ago when it looked like they could actually change the way the government is run, sweep away the rights of the minority in the Senate so that it would be run just as the House is, with only the majority being able to do anything, and create a situation as close to one party rule as has ever existed in America. Never mind that fact that the Founding Fathers deliberately set up the Senate to be the deliberative body and NOT be the same as the House. And they are so obsessed with the idea that they are doing it in a way that in the end will almost certainly take them down with America.

First, consider for a moment how conservatives might come to rue the day if they do in fact pass a successful 'nuclear option' (hint: in 2008, Republicans have to defend 2/3 of the Senate seats up for election, and a Democratic swing that year would almost certainly set the stage for Democrats to use the very same rules changes that Republicans are so set on imposing, directly to the frustration of conservatives-- and if a Democrat were also elected President in 2008, (s)he could then appoint the most liberal, activist judges in the world and Republicans would then have power to do absolutely nothing about it); Even if Republicans don't lose both the White House and the Senate in 2008, anyone who thinks it will never happen is foolish. But 2008 is certainly a likely year that it could happen, just looking at the numbers.

Second, Americans are already pretty upset with all of the partisan divisions. And if the conservatives force President Bush to nominate a strict constructionist, it will be hard for them to then shift the blame for the inevitable partisan battle to the Democrats, who will be able to respond back that they did not oppose either Roberts or Miers. Had Democrats blocked both of them, or even one of them, things might be different, but since they did not (and Roberts got fully half the Democrats in the Senate to vote for him), the 'powder is dry' for a filibuster in which Republicans would still shoulder the lion's share of the blame.

Third, it is not certain that a vote on the 'nuclear option' to change the rules on filibusters would even succeed. For it to, Republicans have to get fifty votes (with Dick Cheney certainly breaking the tie). Now, before the filibuster vote that didn't happen a few months ago, there were three Republicans who had publically committed to vote with the Democrats (dropping the GOP to 52 votes). But heading into an election year, with the stakes much higher (and a face on them, namely a Supreme Court nominee), and with the whole matter having been forced by Republicans when they stopped Miers, it is very likely that three or more of the remaining Republicans could be pursuaded to defect. Granted, that might not happen either. But, it might, so essentially what the far right has done is forced a situation where the President and they may have to engage in a game of 'chicken' and hope they win. But if they lose, then the President will have been totally neutered for the remainder of his term (probably the reason he DIDN'T want a fight when he nominated Miers).

In any case, I am sure that this won't be pretty. But another piece of good news is that the delay has caused Justice O'Connor to stick around where she will still be the swing vote on a lot of issues.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

You don't get 'buyer's remorse' if you don't think you bought a Lemon.

According to the latest CNN/USA Today poll, if an election were held this November (as opposed to last November) President Bush would be headed to a very significant defeat. Fifty five percent of respondents indicated that if the election were this year, they would vote for John Kerry or whoever else the Democrats were running, while only thirty-nine percent would vote for the President. He had forty-two percent approval in the poll, so even some people who approve of the job he is doing are at least undecided about whether they would vote for him.

One number that can be extrapolated from this fairly easily is that of those people who voted for President Bush one year ago, fully a quarter are not sure that they would vote for him again-- and about half of those would in fact not, and would vote for John Kerry.

Now granted, it is not the election year and people can say whatever they want, but keep in mind that seven years ago, President Clinton, dogged by the Monica scandal and incessant Republican attacks on his foreign policy in his handling of the Kosovo war, had approval ratings well over sixty percent. True, those attacks rang hollow (hint: total U.S. deaths in the Kosovo conflict: zero, largely because we didn't go in without a postwar plan) but it is hard not to see that President Bush is doing much more poorly by comparison.

The Researcher Made me Do it.

Unfortunately, as we have seen, anything that has been invented can be manipulated.

And inventing a device that makes people walk by remote control, against their will is no different.

True, the invention is now envisioned only to make theme park rides and video games more interesting. And also true, right now it is a rather clumsy device, still in its experimental stages and which requires the test subject to put the helmet on their head in the first place.

However, it is hard to imagine that after a decade or two of refinement, such a device wouldn't have much enhanced capability, perhaps replacing the helmet with a directed beam of energy, and refinements allowing the person at the controls to direct all of the subject's movements, not just the legs and feet. Certainly, this would prove tempting to people with evil motives. Criminals such as robbers and child molesters would be obvious examples, but perhaps of more concern in terms of the future of society itself is that if we don't now take action to limit our government's ability to control virtually every aspect of one's private and public life, the day when we are physically manipulated by someone, perhaps even hundreds of miles away with a joystick cannot be any longer considered the stuff of science fiction.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Just sell it Over the Counter.

The Arizona Daily Star reported that a rape victim in Tucson recently tried to get a prescription filled for 'Plan B,' the so-called 'morning after pill' but

While calling dozens of Tucson pharmacies trying to fill a prescription for emergency contraception, she found that most did not stock the drug.

When she finally did find a pharmacy with it, she said she was told the pharmacist on duty would not dispense it because of religious and moral objections.

"I was so shocked," said the 20-year-old woman, who, as a victim of sexual assault, is not being named by the Star. "I just did not understand how they could legally refuse to do this."

In fact, I don't understand why anyone would turn down giving this pill to a rape victim. Forcing someone who has been the victim of a violent sexual assault to carry the child who is the product of that assault is the equivalent of raping them again, every day.

And it's not like denying this pill will prevent rape victims from getting abortions. In fact, having it available would almost certainly put a lot of abortion clinics out of business.

Every time I read stories like this (or the one last year when the woman who had been raped in Texas was lectured about her sexual behavior by an Eckerd pharmacist) it makes me question why the Bush administration has dragged their feet on making it available, despite all the study that has been done in America and overseas saying that it is safe enough, over the counter.

If you sell it over the counter, then the whole issue of pharmacists deciding they know better than a rape victim what she should do about it, will be moot.

Time to put the cards on the table.

Credit to Buzzflash

and as reported on CBS News, apparently sealed indictments will be coming tomorrow.

The Washington Note reports that

1. 1-5 indictments are being issued. The source feels that it will be towards the higher end.
2. The targets of indictment have already received their letters.

3. The indictments will be sealed indictments and "filed" tomorrow.

4. A press conference is being scheduled for Thursday.

So much for those conservatives who claimed that there had been 'no law broken, no indictments.'

Monday, October 24, 2005

One Senator's 'technicality' is another's 'high crime.' Oops, same Senator, different year.

Even while the President has called the investigation into the Plame leak, 'serious,' some of his Republican allies have started taking shots at Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.

Of course, this has always been part of their defense, to attack anyone who dare question them. This is why the whole Plame issue has come up in the first place.

Over the weekend, Republicans launched a pre-emptive strike against possible charges for perjury.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas derided any potential perjury charge as a "technicality," and suggested Fitzgerald may be trying to show that "two years' of investigation was not a waste of time and dollars."

Other Republicans with close ties to the White House suggested that Fitzgerald was looking at perjury and obstruction charges because he was having trouble proving that officials knowingly leaked the identity of a covert operative.

So now Senator Hutchison thinks that perjury (lying under sworn oath) is a 'technicality.' If that is true, then why did she vote to remove the President of the United States from office in January 1999 on an article of impeachment that accused him of committing perjury?

I guess it's only a technicality of Karl Rove is lying under oath, about matters of national security. But if Bill Clinton is lying under oath, about sex, then it is the most serious matter to come before the Senate in over a century, since the Andrew Johnson impeachment trial in 1868.

Prince Richard the Lying-hearted.

Maybe, Karl Rove isn't the guy the White House is trying to deflect the Plame probe from reaching.

Maybe, it's Vice President Cheney.

Dover, PA vs. Darwin update (III)

I promised to keep on top of this story as the trial continues.

In the continuing saga of the new Scopes trial (blogged on previously here, here, and here.

The Defense opened their testimony this week. They called their star witness: Lehigh University Biochemistry Professor Michael Behe.

Behe, whose work includes a 1996 best-seller called "Darwin's Black Box," said students should be taught evolution because it's widely used in science and that "any well-educated student should understand it."

Behe, however, argues that evolution cannot fully explain the biological complexities of life, suggesting the work of an intelligent force.
He then goes on to advocate that teaching of 'Intelligent Design.'

There are several problems with this line of reasoning.

First, it is a given that we don't completely understand evolution (we learn more every day, especially with new DNA sequencing techniques that allow us to determine, for example, exactly where different species diverged from a common ancestor.) In fact, there are many things in science that we don't understand. That is what science is-- an organized inquiry into the unknown, in order to explain what is apparently unexplained by what we know now. So why not Intelligent Design as an explanation? In fact, there is no reason why not IF it is subjected to the same process of testing as all other scientific theories, including evolution, are subjected to on a daily basis. Professor Behe is welcome to propose the hypothesis, based as he says, on the complexities of life that there is an intelligent design in life, but in order to teach it as science, he must first design an experiment to test it. And Professor Behe knows that. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania in 1978, and like all doctoral candidates, was required to conduct and report on research using the scientific method-- testing a hypothesis to determine if his research results were valid or not.

The second flaw is that, even if he is right that some processes can't be explained by evolution (and he is right that evolution does not entirely explain everything that we observe now), this does not in itself serve to indicate that intelligent design is the answer. For example, there were quirks and inconsistencies observed in Newtonian mechanics as early as a hundred years after he published 'Principia.' With the development of more advanced methods of observation and of Quantum physics these inconstencies grew from being minor curiosities to matters of serious concern. Did this mean that Newton was wrong? Did it mean that in fact the old theories of Ptolemy were resurrected? Did it mean that some unseen intelligence was in fact manipulating the motion of objects by some invisible force other than gravity? No, it meant that there was more that needed to be explained. In 1905, an experiment was conducted to test whether an answer to the inconstencies suggested in the writings of a former postal clerk (who had failed physics) named Albert Einstein could explain the apparent contradiction. So the problem is that even if we accept that there may be something else at work besides evolution, this in itself does not favor intelligent design over the general field of other possible explanations (including explanations not yet considered-- no one in Newton's time could possibly have considered Quantum mechanical explanations because the equipment needed to observe it had not yet been invented).

As for Dr. Behe's colleagues in the biology department at Lehigh,

Lehigh's biology department sought to distance itself from Behe in August, posting a statement on its Web site that says the faculty "are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory." He earned tenure at Lehigh before becoming a proponent, which means he can express his views without the threat of losing his job.

Now, I support tenure, including for Dr. Behe, because one role of universities IS to push the limits on thought. And he certainly has a right to his opinion, and to express it in the classroom. However, there is a big difference between his freedom to advocate as he wishes in his classroom and the Dover school board's attempt to mandate that a particular opinion be taught in their classrooms.

The experiment that proved Einstein right was this: Einstein suggested that matter was a form of energy, so that energy (such as light) would be affected in the same way as matter by the force of gravity. During an eclipse of the sun visible from South Africa, if Einstein were correct, the sun's gravity would bend the incoming light from stars. Of course while the sun is out, the starry field behind it is invisible, but during the eclipse, they would be visible. If Einstein were correct, they would be visible, but those near the occluded sun would appear closer to it than they should. In fact, this was observed. And it was only after this that Einstein's theory was considered scientifically valid, because it had been borne out by experimental observation. Can we ask that 'Intelligent Design' be held to a lower standard than Einstein?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Not your parents' 'cycle.'

Today, Tropical storm Alpha, the twenty-second named storm of the year formed. At 11 PM Eastern time it had top sustained winds of 50 mph (a storm is named when it reaches tropical storm force, top sustained winds of 39 mph. A category I hurricane begins at 74 nmph). It is threatening the Dominican Republic although it is not considered likely to threaten the United States. The reason the storm is named Alpha (the first letter of the Greek alphabet) is because the National Hurricane Center ran all the way through its list of names, the first time that has ever happened (there are no storms with names beginning with letters q,u,x,y or z because of a shortage of names beginning with those letters).

Of course, as we have been hearing for years, global warming models have predicted more and bigger Atlantic hurricanes. And those who continue to deny the reality of global warming (meaning they choose not to look at photographic or other evidence) will claim that this is part of a 'cycle.'

Well, a 'cycle' means to repeat what has been observed in the past. So not worse than in the past. Not a bunch of new records. But we had them. Not only with Alpha being number 22, but with Wilma being the record twelfth actual hurricane of the year and breaking a record with its central pressure reading 882 mb, the lowest ever recorded. In fact, three of the seven lowest pressure readings were taken this year, with Katrina and Rita also making the list at one time in their journey. The proximate cause of all this is for the reason why global warming models predicted bigger hurricanes: record high water surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic ocean. And of course, NASA climatologists are saying that 2005 is on track to be the warmest year ever for the planet.

That's a pretty tall order of records (following last year's unprecedented spate of hurricanes to rake Florida.) So the whole 'cycle' argument starts to look more like a spiral out of control.

Of course I did get a chuckle out of one right wing talk show I tuned into last night. The host couldn't deny global warming, so he claimed that the Martian icecaps are melting faster, that Venus is getting hotter, that Jupiter is suddenly reflecting more light, and that Pluto is apparently giving off more ice from its surface (indicating an increase in solar energy) now (of course if this last one were true, it would be almost impossible to measure reliably from an earth based platform, but I digress). If true, this would mean that the sun is getting hotter. Now, I have not heard these 'fact's before (and I keep up with scientific literature), so I would blow it off as the ramblings of another nutcake on the right desperate to preserve a position that has more and more evidence stacked up against it all the time (and if it IS true, then 1: Lord Help Us and 2: Why wouldn't it immediately become the top international priority), but then I realized that it is the typical conservative mode of operation:

If something isn't working according to how your ideology claims it should, then blame it on the Democrats in Congress (doesn't matter that they don't actually have the ability to prevent much of anything right now, blame them anyway). If that doesn't work, then blame Clinton. If that doesn't work, then blame Carter. If that won't fly, then blame FDR. And if that isn't good enough, then blame the SUN!

Allan Affeldt for Mayor of Winslow, AZ

I have blogged occasionally on more local issues. I have even blogged in support (or rather more in opposition) to one of the mayoral candidates in New York.

However, if anyone who resides in Winslow (which I technically do not, but go to every day for work, and often go to with or without my family to go shopping, etc.) is reading this, I would like to comment on the local mayoral and city council recalls.

In the mayoral recall, I support Allan Affeldt. Hands down. I know Allan, and he has not only done a great deal to revitalize the community in Winslow, but he is a very progressive, concerned individual of the type we need more of in elected office. Allan also has the vitality to move Winslow forward while preserving the fundamental nature of the community. Jim Boles has been mayor for eleven years. During that time, he has worked deals under the table and behind closed doors (for example, in the case of the WalMart supercenter, the issue isn't whether it will be built or not-- when it was put on the ballot a majority of the citizenry supported it-- but the fact that even though a lot of people on the street knew it was coming years ago, it was denied at the highest levels until it was no longer possible to deny it.) He got rid of the fire truck that could reach a two story fire without leasing a replacement, and again without telling anyone, so that when a couple of two story buildings burned (including the one with the 'corner' mural) all the fire department could do was to watch it burn.

Also, while Mr. Boles is (like Allan Affelt) a registered Democrat, one gets the feeling it is not from conviction, but simply because Winslow is a Democratic town. Mr. Boles has endorsed and helped raise funds Jake Flake and Rick Renzi, so in his case party registration is clearly just a matter of convenience. And that is a lot like Mr. Boles. He is not a man driven by principal, but by a man driven by, well, Jim Boles. I even know people who have had him over to their house who have told me the same thing. I know Allan to be a man of personal integrity and guided by principle, and in his case, principles which I share.

In the council race, I support maintaining Judy Howell over Stephanie Lugo. I don't know much about Ms. Lugo, but I can tell you that what has been out of the open over the past few years has largely been due to Judy Howell. She is often on the losing end of 6-1 votes in the council, but hers is a voice that needs to be there. I have had the opportunity to talk to Ms. Howell. She is a woman of strong opinions, and we don't always agree about everything, but I don't doubt her sincerity. Hopefully Winslow will soon have a mayor who has an open door policy and we won't need a 'bomb-thrower' on the city council. But until that day occurs, Ms. Howell needs to remain, if for no other reason, than to stir the pot enough to bring the gunk on the bottom up for a periodic airing.

You can read the opening statements made by the candidates at the candidates' forum the other night right here. The rest of their answers will be published on Oct. 26.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

President Hot Potato

A measure of how far the President has fallen:

Republicans disparage Bush visit.

President Bush flew cross-country to help dedicate a new Air Force One exhibit at the Ronald Reagan presidential library, but his appearance at a GOP fundraiser while he was here irked top California Republicans.

They said Bush's appearance Thursday night at a $1 million Republican National Committee fundraiser was poorly timed because of the upcoming Nov. 8 special gubernatorial election.

"Unless President Bush is coming to California to hand over a check from the federal government to help us with the financial challenges we face, the visit seems ill-timed," said Karen Hanretty, a spokeswoman for the state Republican Party

Wow. Can you imagine a Republican President being told he was not welcome at a GOP fundraiser? Of course, the point is very specifically and accurately made. California is a very liberal state, with a huge edge in terms of voter registration favoring Democrats and a state which has twice rejected Bush's brand of conservatism by landslide margins, so it is likely that Bush's appearance will only remind people of why they don't like Republicans. This can only hurt, and in no way help, the fate of Governor Schwarzenegger's proposed package of 'reforms' that will be on the ballot on Nov. 8.

And here is an even more direct assessment of how popular Bush is in California:

During a campaign stop Wednesday in Anaheim, Schwarzenegger addressed why he was passing on the opportunity to sit with Bush.

``We're in high gear right now for our campaign,'' he said. ``So of course, right now, it's all about paying attention to that. So this is why I couldn't really accept the invitation to be part of the ceremony at the Reagan Library out there....

Leading California Democrats on Thursday asked Schwarzenegger to break from his special election campaign long enough to meet with Bush. Democrats criticized the governor's decision, saying Schwarzenegger is putting politics ahead of the needs of the state.

Talk about a zany world. The Republican governor runs away from a meeting with the President, while Democrats wish he had gone to the meeting.

Of course, California has moved so far to the left that it is almost unrecognizable to conservatives. There are still a few conservative areas (after all, California is an immense state, home to one out of every eight Americans,) but the shift in this state from the days of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan is so sharp that the third paragraph, in which a spokeswoman for the state GOP suggests that the only good reason for President Bush to visit California is to deliver Federal money, shows how far to the left the state has drifted.

A story that shows the problems with high tuition at institutions of higher learning.

Apparently Wal-Mart Heiress Paige Laurie is no longer a graduate of the University of Southern California.

Laurie, the granddaughter of Wal-Mart co-founder Bud Walton, has returned her degree, nearly a year after Elena Martinez told ABC’s “20/20” that she had written term papers and done assignments for Laurie for 3½ years.

“Paige Laurie voluntarily has surrendered her degree and returned her diploma to the university. She is not a graduate of USC,” the school said in a statement

Now here is the kicker:

At the time of the “20/20” broadcast, Martinez said she dropped out of USC because she couldn’t afford the tuition. She said she learned a great deal by doing Laurie’s class work.

So the student who was smart enough to do the work (obviously, since Laurie was granted a diploma) won't get one, because she couldn't afford the tuition (although I would think the $20,000 should have helped, but apparently it wasn't enough) but the spoiled brat (get a hint-- elsewhere in the article it says that her parents put her name on a stadium and his father named his business Paige Sports Entertainment company) came very close to outright buying a diploma from one of the nation's premier universities.

With tuition jumping upward at a double digit clip at even public universities (together with enrollment caps in the face of budget cuts from legislatures and Congress) and the cuts in student loan programs pushed by the Bush administration, going to a university is on its way to becoming the exclusive purview of the superwealthy (along with a handful of great athletes who earn athletic scholarships).

But the good news is that poor people who are smarter than they are can still get the education by doing their homework, if they are dishonest enough.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Hurricane Center was targetted by the budget knife

We have seen the disastrous effects of budget cuts in terms of both the prevention of great destruction, and the ineffective response in the aftermath, of Hurricane Katrina. Recently I have blogged on the budget cuts at the Center for Disease Control as the world collectively prays that the bird flu virus won't undergo the few mutations needed to create a pandemic.

It turns out now, however, with a new monster hurricane (tying records as the 21st named storm and 12th hurricane of the season, and breaking the record for the lowest pressure) out there threatening Florida, that budget cuts, beginning during the Reagan administration and continuing through decades since have also hit the National Hurricane Center hard, compromising its ability to both monitor, forecast and warn people in the path of these storms.

MIAMI - Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center have struggled for more than a decade to issue accurate storm reports using broken equipment, an overbooked airplane fleet and tight budgets, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Key forecasting equipment used by the center has broken down or been unavailable for nearly half of the 45 hurricanes that have struck land since 1992, The Miami Herald found after an eight-month investigation.

“It’s almost like we’re forecasting blind,” said Pablo Santos, a science officer at the National Weather Service’s Miami office, which assists the hurricane center during storms. “We’ve never really had the equipment to do it"....

The equipment problems include broken devices such as data-transmitting buoys, weather balloons, radar installations and ground sensors, as well as hurricane hunting airplanes that are overbooked and unavailable to fly weather-observation missions.

“We need help,” (Hurricane Center director Max) Mayfield said. “We need more observation (equipment). There’s no question.”

Now, these problems go back decades, so it would be unfair to wholly fault the Bush administration. However, what we do see is a consistent pattern.

Those who want to shrink government have had the upper hand in budgetting since the days of Ronald Reagan and David Stockman. Even when Democrats were in control, they would cut budgets because of the fact that they would be attacked for raising taxes if they sought instead to pay for things like this. A lack of backbone aside, apparently it never crossed their mind to follow the 'have your cake AND eat it' solution that we have seen from the Bush administration, borrowing enormous sums of money mostly from foreign bankers, and especially the Chinese to fund things like the Medicare prescription drug sop to the pharmaceutical industry and the Iraq war while making token cuts in other programs. These token cuts however have had a profound effect in, as we see, more and more areas. And I will say this about Democrats who voted for the budget cuts for the National Hurricane Center. In many cases I hold them more responsible than Republicans. This is because twenty years ago, computer models of global warming forecast that Atlantic hurricanes would become more numerous and more powerful in the future. That future arrived with a vengeance last year in Florida and this year along the Gulf Coast. At least Republicans could use the excuse that they were blinded by ideology. But progressives knew this was coming, and if they voted to cut the budget of the Hurricane Center then they deserve a pox on their house.

The problem is with people whose first impulse is to cut funds. I have no problem with auditing agencies like these to make sure that money is not being wasted, but the people (mostly Republicans) who have over the years used waste as an excuse to slash budgets across the board have now caused much of our Federal government to waste away to the point of ineffectiveness.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Ciao at the CIA

According to the Washington Post, lawmakers are wondering why the CIA is losing so much talent , especially in time of war.

When Porter J. Goss took over a failure-stained CIA last year, he promised to reshape the agency beginning with the area he knew best: its famed spy division.

Goss, himself a former covert operative who had chaired the House intelligence committee, focused on the officers in the field. He pledged status and resources for case officers, sending hundreds more to far-off assignments, undercover and on the front line of the battle against al Qaeda.

A year later, Goss is at loggerheads with the clandestine service he sought to embrace. At least a dozen senior officials -- several of whom were promoted under Goss -- have resigned, retired early or requested reassignment. The directorate's second-in-command walked out of Langley last month and then told senators in a closed-door hearing that he had lost confidence in Goss's leadership....

the Senate intelligence committee, which generally took testimony once a year from Goss's predecessors, has invited him for an unusual closed-door hearing today. Senators, according to their staff, intend to ask the former congressman from Florida to explain why the CIA is bleeding talent at a time of war, and to answer charges that the agency is adrift.

"Hundreds of years of leadership and experience has walked out the door in the last year," said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), "and more senior people are making critical career decisions as we speak."

They may wonder why the CIA is losing so many career officers, but I do not wonder why that is at all.

Start with Goss himself. Although he once was a covert operative, that was many years ago, and since then he became a politician. And one has to think that he was chosen for the job not so much because he was a former CIA officer all those many years ago, but because he was a Republican Congressman. Bill Clinton and other former Presidents knew better than to appoint cronies and party hacks to positions where the security of the United States was of vital concern, so he appointed professionals who knew what they were doing and were already part of the organization. Vietnam era covert operative-turned-politician Goss apparently fits in at the the CIA about like a snake would fit in to a burrow full of prarie dogs-- and with the same results.

It's not just Goss though. Even if Bush had broken with his pattern elsewhere in government and appointed a professional for the job, they would still be leaving.

Another reason so many are leaving is the intentional distortion of what was actually in many cases good intelligence to create a threat that didn't exist in Iraq for purely ideological and personal reasons, and then to smear the agency when it turned out that the lies and distortions were, well, lies and distortions. If you work your heart out and then your work is bizarrely twisted and distorted, and then you are blamed by the very people who twisted your work out of shape in the first place, would you want to stay?

Yet another reason is Plame case. It isn't just about the fact that a senior White House advisor, one who the C-in-C places his full trust in, apparently intentionally and knowingly destroyed the career of one CIA operative for nothing better than crass political reasons (although this would be reason enough). It also involves the fact that every CIA operative who has worked overseas (and that includes Plame, through her front company) has developed contacts among the local populace. People who risk their lives, often in societies where the most brutal dictators and local warlords hold sway, who provide information, whether for pay or for the hope of someday creating a better society, or for whatever reason. When Karl Rove and Scooter Libby betrayed Valerie Plame, they betrayed far more than her. They betrayed anyone in another country who may have been doing business with her. We probably will never learn their names, but you can be sure that many of them are in re-education camps, prisons, torture chambers or most likely dead and buried by now. They betrayed the agency. All of our operatives have similar contacts, and none of them can assume that what happened once, won't happen again. They betrayed America. No wonder professionals want to leave the agency.

Of course there is some good news in all this for the far right. If they get enough professional CIA agents to leave, they can hire college Republicans for the CIA. You know, dirty tricksters and people willing to spy on Americans right here at home, whether it is legal or not. The kind of people we cleaned out of the CIA after the Nixon era ended. For an administration awash in cronyism, what could be better?

A Myth Exposed

Stan Collender over at the National Journal has a great take on 'why fiscal conservatives are angry.'

Writes Collender,

It's not really that hard to figure out why fiscal conservatives are so angry at President Bush and his administration.

Hurricane Katrina provided an extraordinary opportunity to prove that smaller government could also be more effective. If the Bush administration had not just been cutting programs but had also been taking steps to make sure they worked when needed, the fiscal conservatives' insistence that spending can be cut without sacrificing efficacy would have been proven true....And the name "Katrina" would have been a badge of honor used when the government succeeded at something rather than an emblem of how badly it failed.

What we got, however, was a very different turning point in the history of federal budgeting and budget politics. The federal government's failure to get the job done after Katrina will now be seen as a symbol of the damage indiscriminate spending cuts can cause. Those who want to cut spending will now have to explain why what they propose to do will not result in "another Katrina."

The failure was further compounded by President Bush's response: in the wake of the natural and political disaster, he immediately abandoned the smaller government experiment. Not only did the president instantly ask Congress to appropriate $50 billion -- a more than 10 percent increase in the overall level of domestic appropriations -- he then made a nationally televised address saying that he would spend whatever it took to deal with the situation.

Let's not let them forget that. Because whether it is this year or next that there is an epidemic, a third big disaster (after Iraq and Katrina) is poised to hit the US and the Federal budget, yet (as I blogged on recently on Night Bird's Fountain), the budgets for preventative health (including stockpiling antiviral medication) for the Center for Disease Control, have been slashed over the years of the Bush administration. Adding funding now, as the threat is upon us, is too little, too late to make up for the harm that may have already been caused.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Iraqi election.

Today, the new Iraqi constitution became official, being ratified by a vote of the people there.

Now, whatever problems I may have with it and the direction that it takes Iraq, and I have blogged about them in the past, this is nevertheless a good day.

It is a good day because with any luck, it will get us closer to getting the heck out of there.

I don't even have a problem if the Bush administration declares it to mean that victory has been attained in order to get us out, so long as we get out, and today is not soon enough. Over 1900 American troops have lost their lives in what is ultimately a futile war against Muslim religious fanatics.

If the President finds a way to use this in order to get us the heck out of there, I will be only too happy to congratulate him.

But, I doubt if he will. But hope springs eternal.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Prison that Follows Prison

If someone has been convicted of a felony, they are generally sentenced to prison. But what happens when they get out? Once they have served their time in prison, and have further satisfied whatever conditions are imposed by the court, be it probation, restitution or community service, haven't they then, according to the law, paid their debt to society?

Well, not necessarily. Some, but not all of their rights are restored. In some cases, this may even make sense-- for example, a convicted murderer or armed robber may be barred from purchasing a firearm, on the reasonably good assumption that they are likely to be a greater threat towards the rest of us than someone who has not committed these crimes in the past.

However, in some cases, we seem to be going beyond the pale in meting out punishment AFTER the punishment that the legal system decreed has been paid. In other cases, we are, simply by the mechanisms we put in place in society, setting them up to fail and return to crime (a career choice which is, after all, always available if no other options are).

For example, we say that convicted felons have the right to seek employment. However, we have for years cut the budgets for prison programs that seek to educate inmates about a trade (I have first hand knowledge of several educational institutions that suspended or ended their prison programs because of state or Federal budget cuts). We have also cut funding for job placement programs and halfway houses for prisoners. So, not surprisingly, when people who get out of a long term in prison with nothing to show on their resume other than a long stint in prison, have trouble getting a job, they often find that the easiest, and perhaps the only, way to earn a living wage, is through returning to a life of crime. This is called, 'recidivism.'

Now, I'm not going to stupidly sit here and say that if we funded more of these things, you wouldn't still have recidivism. Some people are habitual criminals and you could hand them a million dollars in cash and make them the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company, and the next day they would still be out running a con, knocking over a liquor store or beating someone up or raping or killing someone.
People like that need to be in prison, and there is little anyone can do to change that. But I am saying that regardless of the success rate (or failure rate) of rehabilitation programs, we as a society have an obligation to TRY. Because except for lifers or people on death row, the rest of the prison population will sooner or later be out among the rest of us, either rehabilitated or not.

Further, even when felons do try their best to change their lives, more hurdles are put up criticizing they and their benefactors. I lived in New Mexico when former house speaker Manny Aragon helped a felon from his community who was released from prison by hiring the man to work for his business and providing him with a home until he could get on his feet. When an article on this appeared in the paper, Aragon was visciously attacked by Republicans who saw an opportunity to 'get' the speaker, and called it 'coddling a criminal' for this act of good faith towards his fellow man. Right now, here in Arizona, we have the case of a man convicted of murder in Tucson in 1974 named James Hamm being opposed by a coalition of lawyers and others in terms of his application for a law license. Now, I understand that what Hamm did is the ultimate crime, and that no matter how remorseful he is, his victim won't come back, but if society collectively believes that the years he spent in prison were not punishment enough, then we (collectively) had the chance to sentence him to a more severe punishment-- a longer prison term, or even death. But he was not sentenced to any of these. Instead, he became one of the vanishingly few who not only became rehabilitated, but earned a law degree (turning his life around as much as it could be turned around). This isn't the first time Hamm has been in the paper either. A couple of years ago, Hamm had been approved (based on his college credentials) to teach a class at Arizona State University. A barrage of critism caused the University to revoke the contract. Apparently, some people believe that a felon has the right to seek employment, except when they actually get hired, when they should be punished further for their past by being fired.

Now, if we say that the justice system is meant to punish, then we should stick by a sentence and then once the terms of that sentence are met, accept that the perpetrator has been successfully punshed. If we don't like the sentencing guidelines, then we have the freedom to adjust them, and this has been done periodically. If we instead say that the purpose of the criminal justice system is to correct behavior that is unacceptable in a civilized society, then we have to acknowledge success in correcting behavior when a better person, one who can contribute to society legally and gainfully, comes out of prison than the one who went in.

So either way, whether we demand that the justice system punish, or that it correct, we have a definition of success. Once that definition has been met, we should, like the hopefully wiser former prisoner, look to the future rather than dwelling on (and in all likelihood increasing the chance that they will therefore return to) the past.

And what of the ultimate American right, the right to vote?

Well, laws regarding the rights of felons to vote vary widely from state to state. On one end of the spectrum, Alabama, Florida, Virginia and Kentucky have lifetime bans on felons voting. On the other end of the spectrum, Vermont and Maine allow even felons currently in prison to vote by mail. Other states are in between, some allowing felons who have finished their sentences (possibly including their probation) to vote, while some require that they apply for reinstatement before being able to vote. Now my question here is this: I can see the logic for preventing a felon, particularly one who has committed a violent crime, from buying a gun since the chance of recidivism in this case directly could lead to another person being harmed. But how does this justify preventing them from voting? Are they worried that a felon who slides into recidivism might intentionally vote for a corrupt politician like Tom DeLay?

Many people, when they hear the word, 'felon,' have a visceral reaction (particularly if they or someone close to them has been a crime victim), an almost violent gut reaction of fear and loathing towards felons (making, incidentally, no distinction between violent felons like murderers or rapists or nonviolent felons like embezzlers, auto thieves or drug dealers). I understand that is most people's reaction, but we have to get beyond that because to protect society from those who have harmed others requires that we work on constructive solutions that will prevent them from doing it again and add them to the ranks of society's law abiding citizens, instead of making them wear the proverbial scarlet letter on their foreheads.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Reaching Science and Technological Parity, going the Wrong Direction

This week, China launched two 'Tyconauts' on their first fully orbital flight.

Of course, this is a feat that the United States achieved more than forty years ago, so no need to worry about being overtaken by the Chinese Space Program, right?

Well, actually not so right.

China (as well as India, South Korea and the EU) have invested quite a bit of money and energy into their scientific and technological sectors.

Last week at a conference I attended, I learned that China is right now producing 800,000 engineers per year. The United States produces just about 100,000. True, China has three times our population, but even if one assumes that means they need three times as many engineers, they are still producing them over two and a half times as fast as we would be if we had their population. A new university with about 50,000 students is being opened in China an average of every two weeks. And unlike in past years, when many of their best and brightest came here to study and sometimes stayed here, they are now staying home.

Last year, we got a little bit of a hint when there was a production problem that limited the supply of flu vaccines. The production problem occurred at a factory in England, because most of our vaccines are produced outside of the United States. Especially in the biological sciences, we have not only achieved parity on the way down, but fallen behind many other nations.

There are a number of reasons for this. One of them is that we seem ideologically restrained in biology. For example, we cut off federal funding for research into cloning of human embryos, a potential source of cures for many diseases, so researchers at the University of Seoul got there first. We limited research on stem cells, a related technology, so the focus of research shifted to Europe, where even American pharmaceutical companies have begun investing in labs where the government is more interested in funding research than in limiting it.

This leads to a second reason. Funding. Our school districts and universities are always having to waste a great deal of energy fighting over a limited pie of funding (a pie that has decreased significantly with the Federal and in many cases state tax cuts that reduced what was spent on them). If half the effort that was devoted to lobbying for funds to conduct research was actually used in the research it was pried out of Congress and legislatures for, we wouldn't be falling behind. And our private corporations know it, when they invest more and more in foreign research institutions instead of American universities. What cutting edge research we still have, is largely being done in California, where the voters last year had more foresight than the Federal government and voted to spend their own tax money to fund stem cell research. Even high schools in many of these countries prepare students to conduct research at the highest levels, while we are still mired in a debate about teaching evolution in the biology classroom (a debate settled for over fifty years in Europe, Japan and the rest of the industrialized world).

Of course in some areas, we are still the unquestioned leader (largely thanks to government funding), especially those with military applications. But even there, our shortage of incoming talent is sooner or later going to have an impact when we can't keep up with better trained people in other countries (imagine what would happen to our lead if China devoted the efforts of even half of those 800,000 engineers per year to militaristic purposes. It's not a pretty picture).

America has been blessed for much of our history. But our failure to invest in and promote science education is likely to bring an end to that blessing, sooner or later.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Root of the Problem is Conservatism Itself.

We saw in the case of the New Orleans flood control levees, that despite a 2001 FEMA report detailing that a major hurricane hitting New Orleans was one of the 'three most likely, catastrophic disasters' that could hit the United States, funding for the levees were cut in order to finance Iraq, tax cuts, and some of President Bush's other priorities. Now it turns out that the same has been true of the funding for the Center for Disease Control, as the spectre of an Avian flu outbreak which could dwarf the 1918 pandemic which killed over 20 million people comes into focus.

Other countries have been stockpiling antiviral medicines. It turns out, however, that the United States has only enough for 2.3 million people. There is a plan unveiled recently in response to the Avian flu threat to build up the stockpile to cover 20 million (IF there is time to do so), but that is expected to take years, years which we may not have, and in any case, it may not even be enough.

So why do we have these kinds of problems, in New Orleans and with antiviral medication?

Call it a failure of conservatism.

I don't blame conservatives personally, but rather the philosophy which leads them to believe that government is overfed, needs to be slashed, and that any problem that is non-military in nature, can be better served by the private sector.

Of course, this is nonsense. There is no profit to be made in stockpiling drugs which may be used this year, or they may not be needed for several more years. There is no profit to be made in providing them at all to poor people without health insurance (the price for a course of the antiviral medication oseltamivir, marketed by Roche as Tamiflu and one of the two known antiviral medications known to be effective in treating Avian flu, is $75 in the US). There is no profit to be made in selling it ahead of products like Viagra or diet pills that earn the pharmaceutical companies billions. But in a case like this, it should not be about profit, but about the responsibility of Government to protect its citizens.

This is where conservatives fail. In a national emergency like this, people should be able to turn to the one institution that is supposed to have both the authority and the ability to access anyplace in the country: the Federal Government. But as we saw six weeks ago, and are seeing again here, that the successes of conservatives to cut, delay and hamstring the Government has weakened it to the point of ineffectiveness.

Then today, we learn, that whoever the fault may have been for the infighting between FEMA and the governor of Louisiana in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, 9,000 homes meant for victims have been parked, uselessly, in a Birmingham, Alabama staging lot for six weeks. SIX WEEKS! Hard to blame that on the governor of Louisiana, it is pure and simple, incompetence on the part of FEMA.

When conservatives win, everyone loses.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The more I learn about Miers, the more inclined I am to support her.

It's hard to learn much about Miers from the record, but the past does have some clues.

In the early 1990's, Miers served one term on the Dallas City Council. In one controversial vote, she voted in favor of a resolution maintaining sanctions on South Africa, then under an apartheid government.

in 1991, Miers voted in favor of a council resolution reaffirming economic sanctions Dallas had imposed against South Africa, then under a white minority-rule apartheid government. The council adopted the resolution by a 6-2 vote with three absences.

At the time, President George H.W. Bush was considering repealing federal economic sanctions against the country.

A 1989 city ordinance prohibited Dallas government from buying goods that originated in South Africa or conducting business with firms that sold goods or services there for use by the police, military or prison system.

Also, while on the council, she sponsored a resolution shortly after the massacre in Tianenmen square, in support of the students who demonstrated there.

In one of her first meetings as a council member, Miers sponsored a resolution "recognizing democratic aspirations of students and civilian population in Beijing, China." The council ratified the resolution 10-1...

"It's important for the city to let those people know we realize what they're going through," Miers said at the time, a few weeks after the Chinese government violently quashed pro-democracy rallies centered in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Foreign policy issues aside, Miers was one of 10 Dallas council members to unanimously approve a 1989 agenda item that revised minimum height, weight and vision requirements for Dallas firefighters to facilitate "promotion of certain ranks in the Fire Department," particularly women.

The agenda item's title: "Implementation of Fire Department Affirmative Action Plan."

Also, in 1990 Miers testified in a lawsuit that the Dallas City Council had too few black and Hispanic members, and that increasing minority representation should be a goal of any change in the city's political structure.

True, not everything is rosy from a liberal perspective. She Abstained from an otherwise unanimously adopted 1990 resolution urging Congress to pass legislation bolstering AIDS emergency treatment programs and provide funding to local governments for such programs. Before the vote, Miers said she had a conflict of interest, although no record detailing that conflict was available

But the more I read about her background, the more I am convinced she would be an open minded advocate on the court, and not a doctrinaire conservative. And given George W. Bush, it is hard to imagine that he would nominate someone who would give us a better opening than this.

I believe that progressives should line up solidly behind Miers and push to get her nomination through the Senate.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Mr. Screen Genes

Today, IBM announced that it won't use genetic information to make decisions in such matters as hiring and benefit calculations.

LOS ANGELES - International Business Machines Corp., the world’s largest computer maker, on Monday pledged not to use genetic data to screen employees and applicants in what it said was the first such move by a major corporation to safeguard a new category of privacy.

IBM also said it would refrain from using the data in determining eligibility for health-care or benefits plans.

The pledge comes as Congress debates a proposed privacy bill that would bar health insurers and employers from discriminating against people with a genetic predisposition to disease....

“Genetic information comes pretty close to the essence of who you are, it’s something you can’t change,” IBM’s chief privacy officer, Harriet Pearson, told Reuters.

“It has nothing to do with your employment, how good your contributions are, how good of a team member you are, so making a policy statement in this case is the right thing to do,” she said.

This points up the more frightening aspects of the matter. I am happy that IBM saw fit to make this pronouncement, but there are hundreds of thousands of potential employers, as well as insurers and others who would love to have this information available. And available it is, as any blood sample, urine test or even an envelope contains the necessary information for anyone to extract your complete DNA sequence. If you get arrested, even if it is for a misdemeanor, or on a charge which is thrown out for lack of evidence, your DNA is added to a national database (supposedly limited to law enforcement use, but who can guarantee that it won't end up elsewhere?) Obviously, it would save employers and insurers money if they could, for example, choose not to hire someone who was at a high genetic risk for cancer or early-onset Alzheimer's disease. But this brings up questions beyond privacy (although that is a crucial one, and at the center of the current debate).

The question it brings up is this: In a capitalist (as opposed to a socialist) society, the assumption is that everyone is allowed to compete for a job, with the most qualified people at the top of the list. In theory, at least, almost anyone can become qualified if they work hard enough. Of course, the United States is neither a pure capitalist nor a pure socialist society, but on that scale it is much closer to the former. We acknowledge that there are those who may never be able to become qualified because of, for example, a birth defect or serious injury, and make provisions (at least in most cases) to take care of them, but we fall far short in many ways both for them and for those who were born into situations where the opportunities for advancement are limited or negligible.

However, we now see that there is a very thin line protecting us from adding to the list of those who may be denied opportunity, those who simply by their genetic make-up have what might be called, 'inferior genes' (this is frighteningly close to eugenics).

And not all corporations have taken as mature an attitude about this as IBM.

Four years ago, railroad conglomerate Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. agreed to abstain from submitting its employees to genetic testing after being sued by federal regulators.

The legislation in front of Congress, H.R. 1227, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, is necessary because of just such situations. There will be those companies who respect the privacy of an employee's DNA, and there will be those who do not. Over time, as those who are willing to take advantage of this situation gain a competitive advantage, there will be pressure of the law does not say otherwise for others to change their policy and do the same.

The The Genetic Alliance, a Washington-based patients advocacy group, called IBM’s policy “remarkable” and predicted it would spur other U.S. corporations to follow suit.

I hope they are right, but we still need the legislation. Please contact your Congressperson and urge them to support H.R. 1227.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Liberal with a capital L.

Ever since 9/11, some Democrats, especially those who have been afraid of being called 'unAmerican' or what is even worse, 'liberal' since the new era of McCarthyism began mid 1980's, have fallen over themselves to get on board for things they know (or should know) are just plain wrong, like the Patriot Act, the war (especially to keep sending money there since the whole WMD thing has been exposed as a farce) and CAFTA.

Now I don't have a problem with a Democrat who has an honest difference of opinion about something from the rest of the party voting their conscience (like for example, Harry Reid has consistenly been against abortion rights. Like 99% of Democrats, I don't agree with him about that-- see my post The success of liberals in stopping abortion for an analysis of why there are better ways to fight it than to ban it, but I can respect him for it-- and obviously his Democratic colleagues in the Senate, nearly all of whom are pro-choice, respected him enough to make him Majority Leader anyway). I can even respect a consistent hawk like Joe Lieberman because he has been consistently a hawk (would never vote for him though in any kind of a primary).

Clearly, however, that is not the case for most of these decisions on the part of most of the Democrats who voted for them not based on conviction, but based on polls and being gun shy about being targetted by the far right. Maybe they did vote for the war because they believed the faulty and slanted intelligence being shoved at them by the Bush administration. Fine. I believed the administration's assertion that there were probably WMD's back then too, although I thought they should have let Blix find out, and also exhaust all diplomatic options, before rushing to war. But once it became clear that it was a lie, it was time to stand up and call it a lie. I believe that if John Kerry had answered a firm, 'NO' to the question about whether he would have voted for the war resolution knowing what he knew then about the intelligence being false, he would be President today. Instead he answered a very tenuous 'yes,' then had to defend his answer, then changed it about three weeks later, confirming the concerns that people had about his firmness and commitment to take a stand, and is still the junior Senator from Massachusetts.

The heck if they are targetted by the far right! It's time to just stand up and yell that the emperor has no clothes. Everything the man touches turns to garbage (name me ONE policy success, foreign or domestic, that the Bush administration has achieved in five years), so if someone can't find the gumption to stand up and point that out, they shouldn't be nominated to run for a position where part of their duties ARE to speak out. Besides, if the far right can target a guy like Charlie Stenholm by calling him a liberal and win, then it is clear that they will apply that label to any Democrat anywhere, no matter what their voting record. So voting with them won't spare a Democrat. But maybe standing up and wearing the label with pride, will.

And if it doesn't, I was once given a bit of advice when facing a 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' sort of choice: You are always better off being damned for what you do. I can further attest to the wisdom of that from personal experience.

That advice works in life as well as it does in politics.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Glad to be part of a good team

I feel blessed to join a good team of bloggers over at Night Bird's Fountain together with Lizzy, NyGreg, Dorsano, Mack and Barbi.

I plan to still keep grinding out Deep Thought as well. One thing I will say for the Bush administration and the rest of the Republicans in Washington. They give me new material to blog about almost every day.

I have to go to Tucson tomorrow for work (about a five hour drive) so I won't be on again until Saturday. And I'm sure that by then, something new will have popped up to blog about.

If the fox gets indicted, then the weasel is next in line to guard the henhouse.

Last week, I posted on how the Republicans, after Tom DeLay had to step aside because of his indictment, turned to one of the most corrupt politicians in Washington, Roy Blunt of Missouri, to act in his position as Majority Leader.

Under the circumstances, is it surprising that the news today that the two men were partners in a scheme to move campaign donations around in a way that personally enriched both men?

WASHINGTON - Tom DeLay deliberately raised more money than he needed to throw parties at the 2000 presidential convention, then diverted some of the excess to longtime ally Roy Blunt through a series of donations that benefited both men's causes.

When the financial carousel stopped, DeLay's private charity, the consulting firm that employed DeLay's wife and the Missouri campaign of Blunt's son all ended up with money, according to campaign documents reviewed by The Associated Press.

Now, we know that DeLay has been involved with questionable financial transactions for years, and that the same is true about Blunt. So the fact that they worked with each other to obscure the money trail on the way to their personal and family bank accounts is hardly surprising.

What is surprising, or at least concerning, is that Republicans who claim to uphold high standards, chose to elect two men like these as their leaders. I can understand how Republicans in the Senate were as surprised by the revelations about Bill Frist last week as anyone, and he had already been selected as Senate Majority Leader, but DeLay (who has been reprimanded three times in past years by the House Ethics Committee) and Blunt (as I posted last week, already recognized as one of the most corrupt Congressman) were well known to be sleazeballs of the first magnitude, so one has to question both the integrity and the judgement of Republican Congressmen who supported these two.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Dover, PA vs. Darwin update (II)

Proponents of Intelligent Design are always trying to draw a line between their hypothesis and the politically charged and discredited label, 'creationism.'

However, as I blogged about a week ago, two reporters agreed to testify to the veracity of stories they wrote saying that members of the Dover school board did in fact discuss 'creationism' during the meeting they held adding intelligent design to the biology curriculum. Now, there is more evidence that in fact intelligent design is still the same old creationism.

Yesterday, in the new Scopes monkey trial, Barbara Forrest, a professor at Southeastern Louisiana University, testifed that a textbook that the Dover school board had approved for use in their biology class, titled 'of Pandas and People,' is in fact just an edit of a creationist textbook in which the term, 'creationism' has been written out and replaced with the term, 'intelligent design.'

Forrest reviewed drafts of the textbook as a witness for eight families who are trying to have the intelligent design concept removed from the Dover Area School District’s biology curriculum...Forrest outlined a chart of how many times the term “creation” was mentioned in the early drafts versus how many times the term “design” was mentioned in the published edition.

“They are virtually synonymous,” she said.

You'd think they would at least find a textbook from someone who started from scratch and wrote their own textbook.

Forrest also made the following observation about the general thrust of advocates for Intelligent Design:

Forrest also said that intelligent-design proponents have freely acknowledged that their cause is a religious one. She cited a document from the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that represents intelligent-design scholars, that says one of its goals is “to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.”

It is true that there is no evidence that the Dover school board had read this statement from the Discovery Institute, but lack of evidence of collusion isn't a defense against the charge that they were once again trying to put creationism into the Biology classroom.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A picture says a thousand words

The picture on the left shows the minimum ice cover over the Arctic in 1979. The picture on the right was taken this Sept. 21.

Of course there are those who will continue to deny global warming when it is staring them right in the face. Features like the prolonged drought in the southwestern United States (which will continue and become permanent) and the increase in the strength of Atlantic hurricanes were predicted in models twenty years ago, but when it mattered, they stoned the prophets.

Unfortunately, the window to actually do anything about it is closed. We can adapt to it, we can still ameliorate its effects, we can learn to deal with the new reality, but it is too late to prevent this. And even to minimize its effects, we will need to clean out of office the people who probably DO know about it, but have made the ultimate in selfish decisions to actually sacrifice the health of our entire planet and its ecosystem in the interest of maximizing profits in the here and now.

Any idiot who by now, in the face of literally mountains of evidence (including at least one very famous newly bare mountain at that) is still denying global warming deserves about as much of a hearing as people who are still claiming that no one actually saw Elvis in the casket. In the words of a British scientist who recently spoke out about it,

“There are a group of people in various parts of the world ... who simply don’t want to accept human activities can change climate and are changing the climate. I’d liken them to the people who denied that smoking causes lung cancer.”

Well, there are still a few of them out there, too, puffing and hacking their way to the tomb. But the debate has moved on beyond their cherished pipe dreams now, to the more substantive issue of how best to prevent and treat nicotine addiction.

But I bet that most of our leaders, even those who raise questions about global warming, knew enough not to invest in any beachfront property for their retirement.

SUV sales down by a lot.

In the past, people who pushed for conservation of fuel were derided by conservatives as 'latte liberals,' or some such tripe.

Of course, now, faced with the reality of fuel shortages and gas settling in at either just below or just above $3.00 a gallon, depending on where you live, we see the President finally, IN THE FIFTH YEAR OF HIS ADMINISTRATION, and two so far unsuccessful energy bills later, utter the word, 'conservation.' Well, better late than never. And considering how hard it is for this President to ever change course on anything, it is a red letter day.

Far more interesting though, is another change that is happening with only the 'free market' to propel it. Several years ago, John Kerry and John McCain cosponsored a bill to require Detroit to raise fuel efficiency standards by 2 mpg for each new vehicle. It was opposed by the oil companies and the automakers, who claimed that it was an 'infringement on consumer choice' (I have YET to meet anyone who refused to buy a car because it got too many miles to the gallon, but I digress.) And I will limit my discussion of Kerry-McCain to saying that if it had passed back then, we would be in a much better position today.

That said, we are not. But we find that result happening anyway. People are avoiding large SUV's and other vehicles that get poor gas mileage.

Here in rural Arizona where people drive a lot, I have seen more SUV's and fullsize pickups with 'for sale' signs on them than I have in a long time.

But what is really amazing is referenced in the article I just linked to.

Sales of the perennial best-selling SUV, the Ford Explorer, dropped by 58% compared with September 2004. Its larger kin, the Ford Expedition, which gets 14 mpg in city driving, saw sales drop 61%. Ford stopped producing its even larger SUV, the Excursion, last month.

GM’s full-size SUVs, due to be replaced with more fuel-efficient models next year, fell 56%. Sales of its Hummer H2 – so heavy it doesn’t fall under the EPA’s fuel-mileage ratings system -- were off by 31%, but the brand’s smaller new SUV, the H3, is off to a brisk start. It’s rated at 16 mpg in city driving.

Toyota moved 46% fewer of its immense Sequoia sport-utilities, rated at 15 mpg city, and sales of its smaller SUVs were off sharply as well. Sales of Honda’s largest SUV, the Pilot, fell 26%. Nissan sold 20% fewer of its 13-mpg Armadas

ALL of the major auto manufacturers are just having trouble selling large SUVs. And it is clear why:

"People see $100 fill-ups and wonder what the hell they are doing," (auto analyst David Healy of Burnham Securities Inc.) said. "Even the rich who can afford it realize that maybe these vehicles don't do much more than a sensible vehicle could."

And we could have gotten here just so much less painfully if we had paid attention to sensible conservation measures just a few short years ago.

Avian Flu

Since Katrina, we have seen charges and countercharges about how unprepared everyone was. We have learned that in spite of a 2001 FEMA report that pinpointed a major hurricane hitting New Orleans as one of the three most catastrophic and most likely major disasters facing the United States, and a recommendation by the chief engineer for the Corps of Engineers New Orleans district, Al Naomi, to strengthen the levees, nothing was done other than to cut the budget for even the maintenance and minor upgrades that were scheduled. I have blogged on how this was anticipated and ignored before.

However, that is in the past. In the past few days, however, we have read alarming reports of a new global avian flu epidemic just starting to affect humans in Indonesia and parts of Asia, and how sooner or later, it is considered highly likely that we will be facing a serious worldwide pandemic. It may be as soon as this winter, or we may get a year or two of respite. And there is still the chance that it will subside without spreading beyond its Asian cradle, but that chance seems to be growing smaller with each report

The time is now to take action to be as prepared as possible for when it gets here. I hope that we see the President provide the leadership necessary to make sure that we have enough antiviral medication on hand, and that we press ahead as quickly as possible with finding a vaccine and that when one is found, it is distributed as quickly as possible.

If the epidemic comes and we are prepared, then I will be the first one to congratulate the President for getting us that way. But if we are not, then there will be no excuse, because we can certainly see it coming.


It now appears that the President is prepared to take agressive action to prevent a pandemic. And if he does, I will fully support such action.

Monday, October 03, 2005

When the President has to choose from a position of weakness, it's a good day

This may come as a surprise, but I am thinking that the nomination by President Bush of his personal lawyer, Harriet Miers, to the Supreme Court could be very good luck for us as Democrats. Clearly, he is in no position politically to fight out a tough confrontation in a Senate confirmation fight, and it shows in his choice.

We know that Miers has never been a judge (and therefore has no record-- remember that lawyers say and do what they are paid for), which may mean a great many things. We can safely assume that she is a typical Republican party hack (but we knew that no matter who Bush nominated, it would be some brand of conservative), and that she has said on record that the Shrub is the most brilliant man she has ever met.

Read that again. Miers is sixty, never married, and thinks Shrub is a genius, in fact the biggest genius she has ever met. Or at least she has SAID that's what she thinks. This tells me all I need to know.

Since no sixty year old lawyer is actually that stupid or challenged for intellectual experience, but all experienced lawyers are experts at playing to the audience, I consider this to be flattery. Pure and simple. And, it worked. Today, it worked. She told the emperor his clothes looked great, and he gave her what she wanted, ahead of a great many more qualified lawyers, in fact even ahead of her predecessor as his personal lawyer, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (I've never cared for Zap Albert, but there is no question that he would have been a more qualified choice).

Look at what this appointment says.

It says, that experience and qualifications mean nothing, it's not what you know, it's who you know.

It says, quotas are strictly in place. Do you honestly think that such an undistinguished lawyer as Miers would have been considered if she were a man? But with increasing pressure to choose a woman with the departure of Justice O'Connor, it is clear that gender played a role in the decision. Now, do you seriously think that the Bush administration will be taken seriously next time they argue against affirmative action?

It says, at least as defined by the Bush administration, the best way for a woman to jump up to the top is still by stroking a man's ego.

It says, when Republicans talk about qualifications, merit, and earning your way to the top, these are empty words. As Democrats we may talk about fairness, equality and diversity as goals we are working towards, but at least we MEAN what we say!

It says, that those who have pointed out since the Michael Brown debacle that the Bush administration is a virtual study in cronyism, riddled with incompetent political hacks, are right. And those who have been trying to deny and defend the Bush administration against the cronyism charge, are fools.

As to the matter of the hapless Miers on the Supreme Court, there are two things to consider.

The first is that during the administration of Bush's father, the elder Bush, during a period when his approval ratings were low, opted to avoid a bitter confirmation hearing over a vacancy on the Supreme Court by choosing the 'stealth' candidate, a judge of very few published opinions, named David Souter. No one was sure exactly what he thought about a great deal of subjects. He said very little during his confirmation hearing, and was confirmed easily. Souter is now part of the court's liberal wing. I would be surprised if Miers is another Souter, but I'd rather take my chances on an unknown than someone I know would be bad, such as Samuel Alito or Michael Luttig. Ironically, if the decision was to select a woman, Miers may have been appointed ahead of hardcore conservative Edith Jones, who was also the runner-up for the Souter nomination.

The second is that not being a strong and 'principled conservative' in the mold of an Antonin Scalia or a William Rehnquist, Miers, even if her inclinations are to be a conservative (and what else could we expect from Dubya), is not likely to be a leading intellect on the court, and could be persuaded away from opinions that conservatives like Scalia would never budge on, if a sufficiently good argument were made. Any of the other three judges, or at least a dozen more that Mr. Bush could have named would have been such 'principled conservatives,' which Miss Miers is not. As time goes on, her ties to Bush will become more and more distant, and I believe that she is likely to be one of those judges who may be persuadable.

As a couple of aside details, if the President had nominated one of them, very likely the whole 'gang of fourteen' compromise would have broken down, leading to a vote on the 'nuclear option' and putting us back where we were not that long ago. Also, by not picking someone from a circuit court, he denies himself the chance to move a younger conservative up the ladder.

She will certainly be grilled at confirmation, but all in all, I think that as Democrats we may have dodged a bullet.

Let us pray that she is the last Justice of the United States Supreme Court that Mr. Bush nominates this term.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The news from Iraq: the same as the old news from Iraq

During the past month, as the attention of the United States has been focused on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it has diverted attention from more of the same bad news in Iraq.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Focused on its own troubles, America might have turned away for a while, but the situation in Iraq has not improved. In fact, there has been a surge in violence.

In the month since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, at least 55 U.S. soldiers have been killed. The Iraqi death toll is many times greater, though much harder to calculate. Sunni insurgents have terrorized many parts of Iraq, especially those occupied by majority Shiites, with a relentless series of suicide attacks, roadside bombs and shootings. Attacks on Thursday and Friday of this week alone have left more than 100 Iraqis dead.

And what is the news from that part of the world today? Well, there is a new US-Iraqi offensive in Western Iraq, at least the third such offensive in just the past couple of months, while attacks against US troops were reported in Baghdad, Taji and Beiji-- areas that had previously supposed to have been 'cleared.' There was a report out that Iraq prisoner abuse has continued, ironically in the same week that Lynndie England was sentenced. Aside from the obvious conclusion that prosecuting a few low level perpetrators hasn't solved the problem, so we need to look higher up the chain of command for the root of it, it makes the same point as the rest of the news:

There is a good reason why people are paying less attention to Iraq. It's because the news is just a repeat of old news. What this shows is that we are going around in circles and getting nowhere.

I have made the analogy before that, according to the Bush administration, we had 'turned the corner' on the insurgency with the capture of Saddam, then we had 'turned the corner' on the insurgency with the transfer of sovereignty on June 28 of last year (note that we have lost more troops since then than we had before then). Then, we had supposedly 'turned the corner' with the offensive last year in Fallujah (although we still have been attacked in Fallujah). Then we had supposedly 'turned the corner' in January with the elections. But the fact is, if you keep 'turning the corner' then all you are doing is driving around the block, wasting fuel and going nowhere significant, which is about what we are doing now in Iraq.
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