Saturday, April 29, 2006

Why would John Verkamp run against Jim Pederson anyway?

In a bit of controversy, Tedski (my favorite blogger on Arizona political issues) 'arm-wrestled' a small secret out of fellow blogger Kevin Spidel, namely that John Verkamp plans to run for the Senate in the Democratic primary against Jim Pederson. The winner would face Republican incumbent Jon Kyl in November.

Now, quoting Spidel on Verkamp, he says

You all know him as a former County Attorney for Coconino County, a former Republican Legislator, and now as a vocal opponent against the war, and for single payer healthcare around Arizona. He is a third generation native with a family business in the Grand Canyon. Still not enough to get who this is? Folks who have come to a PDA, antiwar meeting, or peace action know him.

Pardon me, but I remain unconvinced. And no, it isn't simply because he is a former Republican legislator (I supported former Reagan supporter Wesley Clark in his Presidential bid in 2004, and I support former Republican legislator Slade Mead in his current quest to become state Superintendent of Schools.) As more and more Republicans switch parties, it is likely that in the future we will see more Meads, more Clarks and perhaps more Verkamps.

The reasons I am unconvinced about Verkamp is about HOW he switched parties, combined with the disconnect between what his positions were four years ago (as a moderate Republican who did break ranks to vote with the Governor on the budget, but also supported a lot of the same garbage that the rest of the GOP did-- and single payer health care? Why didn't he push for it in the legislature if he is so big on it?) and his new status as an extreme progressive. Now, I don't want to discount the possibility that he may have become fed up (like many people I know, including at least a couple of voters I have re-registered as Democrats) with the excesses of the Bush administration and of his former brethren in the legislature, but somehow this one doesn't pass the sniff test.

Let's focus on the how he switched matter first. In 2002, the independent redistricting commission redrew the lines and because Flagstaff didn't get its act together, instead of continuing to dominate its own district as people had expected, it was lumped into a district with the Navajo reservation (which is about three quarters population wise of the district.) Verkamp (who did not join the legislature until 1999, and so was nowhere near term limited out) decided not to run for re-election to the Senate in the new district, concluding (probably correctly) that a Republican would have no chance of winning in it. Had he switched parties then, however, he would have had a decent chance to retain his seat. Navajos are willing to listen to a Democrat from the Flagstaff area portion of the district (Ann Kirkpatrick of Sedona is one of the district's representatives today in the House, and would not have gotten there without support on the reservation.) So if Verkamp was really a closet Democrat then he had every opportunity to switch that year, and he would likely have retained his Senate seat in the bargain. But he instead put his party loyalty to the GOP ahead of his own interests and declined to switch parties so he could run.

So what of his 'conversion?' People change, after all. One of the people I re-registered as a Democrat in the little town I live in had been a conservative for nearly his whole life, even voting Libertarian once because he felt that the Republican candidate that year for President wasn't conservative enough. But after four years of Bush, the guy was so angry about Iraq, about changing the surplus to a deficit, about corporate welfare and about the Republicans' do-nothing approach on health care, that he re-registered as a Democrat. Couldn't Verkamp have undergone a similar transformation? After all, he was one of the most moderate Republicans in the state Senate for many years.

He might have, but I remain skeptical. Why, for example, would he wait until now, when Jim Pederson has jumped out to the point where he is the putative nominee and his recent round of positive ads have cut Kyl's lead in half, to run for the United States Senate? I understand (and agree with probably more than someone just reading this post and otherwise unacquainted with my blog would imagine) the point of view that we don't want to work our tails off to elect a Democratic Senator and get a Zell Miller/ Joe Lieberman/ Ben Nelson type Senator who the Republicans can always count on to break ranks. However, I don't believe that Jim Pederson, who transformed the Arizona Democratic party from a chronic loser which hadn't won very much statewide or elected a Governor in over a decade, into an influential and dynamic party during his stint as chair, is a guy who would break ranks often and vote with Republicans. Work with Republicans, yes (and frankly most voters of any persuasion want the problems to get solved, don't we?), but undermine the Democratic leadership, absolutely not.

My concern is this: given that John Verkamp refused to break ranks with the Republican party even when it cost him his state Senate seat, why should I believe that his candidacy is anything more than a 'trojan horse' candidacy, which he may well have worked up to over the past couple of years by showing up at progressive meetings, and which is expressly designed to run a negative campaign attacking Pederson? Republicans have been known to try this sort of stuff before (I've seen it personally in other states) and earlier this year I got a call from a 'pollster' who was obviously a front for someone wanting to smear Pederson. So if that is their strategy, then what better vehicle than a "Democrat" running against him in the primary? What causes me to wonder the most about this is the timing; If Verkamp was serious about a Senate run, he would have begun months ago. Coming out now seems to be the response to Pederson's recent momentum. Now stop and think-- who would want to change the dynamics of the race right now?

He has the right to run, but any progressive should think real hard about what is going on before they opt to support him.

NOTE: Tedski makes a point in the comments that Wesley Clark was never a registered Republican, being registered in Arkansas when they did not have voter registration. However, in addition to Reagan, he also voted for Nixon and has admitted that he considered himself more to identify with the Republican party than the Democratic party. This article (which is not complimentary at all to Clark) makes it clear that he tilted towards the Republican side much more than towards the Democratic side until a couple of years ago, so that my description of Clark as a 'former Republican' is not entirely without merit. Therefore I'm not counting this as an error (so I still have a .981 fielding percentage) but definitely could have been played better. Thanks, Ted.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Spend nothing on Monday.

On Monday, thousands, maybe even millions of undocumented immigrants and their supporters will take action to demonstrate their economic impact. One proposed plan involves a one day strike, which many immigrant organizations don't support because of the question of striking when the whole principle is to recognize that these people are here wanting to work hard. A second plan, and one which is more universally supported is simply to spend no money on Monday.

I would like to put my voice behind this plan. As a supporter of immigrant rights, I also plan to spend no money on Monday.

I would like to encourage others to do the same. Make sure that you have enough gas in your car over the weekend, and in fact if you can, then try not even driving to work. Instead of eating out, bring in a sack lunch. Make sure you have what you want, or drink water, and don't even use the vending machine at work. Have dinner planned out and make sure that you have enough of everything. I intend to even not make any long distance calls or do anything else which would involve spending money, on Monday.

It's a small sacrifice (and one which may even benefit your bottom line) but of such small sacrifices great works can move forward.

Save mammograms for American women.

A couple of days ago, I posted on the decline in health insurance coverage rates for Americans both across the board, and especially in the lower middle class.

One point that I referred to was the fact that Americans get routine screenings less often, including mammograms.

So, what is the solution proposed by the Republican Senate? Senate bill S. 1955 which would eliminate the requirement that insurers cover the cost of mammograms.

So, instead of helping provide mammograms for women who don't have coverage, the Senate wants to 'equalize' things by getting rid of the coverage for those who have them now.

If you want to take action on this, follow this link to the American Cancer Society where they will give you information on how to contact your Senators about this issue.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

We could have averted this in 2002.

Today, President Bush asked Congress to give him the authority to set fuel efficiency standards on new vehicles.

Although I am glad to see that the President has just 'discovered' that we have a problem with this (we've had the technology to make cars that are 10-20 mpg more efficient for at least a couple of decades but auto makers have instead chosen to make bigger gas guzzlers), his approach is wrong, and Congress' approach has been wrong.

My objection to his approach is a simple one. Congress presently has the authority to pass new regulations, and handing over another of their duties to the executive branch to make these rules by fiat is wrong. It is true that President Bush has pushed the idea of executive power to the limit, but that is not a reason for Congress to abrogate another of their duties.

My objection to Congress is that while it is likely that new fuel standards will be passed-- now-- we should not let them forget that it was their misjudgement (dare we say paying back the auto and oil industries for campaign contributions?) that put us into this situation. If we look at their recent attempts to improve fuel economy we see that they are lazy and ineffective at best, and in the pocket of the automobile and oil industries at worst.

In August 2001, the House of Representatives passed the House Energy Bill that included an amendment offered by Richard Burr (R-NC) to save 5 billion gallons of gasoline from light trucks by 2010. This is the equivalent of raising the fuel economy of light trucks (i.e., SUVs, pickups, and minivans) by less than 1 mile per gallon, and amounts to saving only one day's worth of oil per year.

In March 2002, Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ) introduced an amendment to the Senate Energy Bill that would have increased fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks to 36 mpg by 2015. Instead of taking this meaningful step to require the industry to produce cars and trucks that can go farther on a gallon of gas, the Senate overwhelmingly chose to support an amendment conceived by Senators Levin (D-MI) and Bond (R-MO) that punted the issue to NHTSA and added loopholes that would actually increase oil use. The Levin-Bond amendment was passed by 62 votes, effectively killing the Kerry-McCain amendment. If Kerry-McCain had been enacted, we could be saving 2 million barrels a day--almost as much oil as we currently import from the Persian Gulf--by 2020. The Senate then displayed convoluted logic by first passing the decision on fuel economy standards to NHTSA and then voting for an amendment that permanently exempts pickup trucks from the agency's future rulemakings.

The House and Senate energy bills were then "conferenced" in the Energy Conference Committee, which is made up of members of both the House and Senate, to reconcile any differences into one bill. In September 2002, the Levin-Bond amendment and the pickup truck exemption were removed from the conference energy bill. A version of the Burr amendment that calls for a less than 1 mpg increase in fuel economy by 2012, plus an additional requirement for the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to study fuel economy further, remained in the conference bill. The 107th Congress adjourned in November 2002 without passing a final energy bill. As of April 10, 2003, hearings by the 108th Congress on the new energy bill were under way.

This was the only recent year in which such a concerted attempt was made.

Now, the McCain-Kerry standards, together with those in the house bill, would have significantly reduced our use and almost certainly have spared us much of the sting that we are feeling today.

So, Congress should not give it's power to set fuel standards to the President, but they do need to pass them. If not, then it is the purpose of the people to get rid of them and elect people who will do the job that needs to be done.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Uninsurance rate in the middle class jumps upward quickly

We know that during the Bush administration, the number of people without health insurance has increased substantially. But a new report out shows where the largest number have been, and it has been a staggering increase.

Among people in the middle income bracket, the rate of people without health insurance has jumped from 28% in 2001 to 41% of the people in this income group in 2005. This compares to an increase of 4%, from 49% without health insurance to 53%, among people earning less than $20,000 per year, and an overall increase from 24% of the population without health insurance in 2001 to 28% last year.

WASHINGTON - The percentage of working-age Americans with moderate to middle incomes who lacked health insurance for at least part of the year rose to 41 percent in 2005, a dramatic increase from the 28 percent in 2001 without coverage, a study released on Wednesday found.

Moreover, more than half of the uninsured adults said they were having problems paying their medical bills, with 20 percent of working adults paying off medical debt —often $2,000 or more, according to a report by the Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based private, health care policy foundation....

It represents an explosion of the insurance crisis into those with moderate incomes,” said Sara Collins, a senior program officer at the Commonwealth Fund (emphasis added).

Collins said the study also illustrates how more employers are dropping coverage or are offering plans that are just too expensive for many people.

I know people trying to pay off bills as high as $80,000 on a moderate incomes. And for the idea that not helping people obtain health insurance saves the taxpayers money? Well, consider these facts from the article:

The study of 4,350 adults also found that people without insurance were more likely to forgo recommended health screenings such as mammograms than those with coverage, and were less likely to have a regular doctor than their insured counterparts...

The study also found that 59 percent of uninsured with chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes either skipped a dose of their medicine or went without it to save money. One-third of those in that group visited an emergency room or stayed in a hospital overnight or did both, compared to 15 percent of their insured counterparts....

That study found that cost prevented 41.1 percent of uninsured adults from seeing a doctor, compared to 9.2 percent of individuals with coverage.

Meanwhile, 51 percent of women without health insurance haven’t had a mammogram in two years, compared to 22.8 percent of women with insurance

And 76.3 percent of uninsured men between the ages of 40 to 64 haven’t had the PSA test, which detects prostate cancer, in two years. That compares to 52.2 percent of their insured counterparts.

Cost of prescription meds, doctor visits, mammograms, PSA tests etc: tens of dollars. Cost of ER visits, hospital stays etc. that some of these people are using as an alternative when things get bad enough that they are forced to go? Thousands, even tens of thousands. And you can be sure that much of it is not paid by them, it is still passed on to either the government or to patients with insurance.

So, yeah, that is fiscal conservatism at work isn't it? The old adage, 'a stich in time saves nine' apparently doesn't apply to how conservatives think about health coverage.

Maybe this will get their attention:

“The jump in uninsured among those with modest incomes is alarming, particularly at a time when our economy has been improving,” said Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis, who helped write the study.

“If we don’t act soon to expand coverage to the uninsured, the health of the U.S. population, the productivity of our workforce, and our economy are at risk.”

Not that I would consider that the Bush economy is anywhere near as good as the Clinton economy, or even the Reagan economy were, but as it struggles back to life, this could threaten even what recovery there has been.

A rare day-- the President provides leadership on an issue that he's also right about

I recently blogged that as a matter of fact, the President was fundamentally right in his approach to immigration, proposing a guest-worker program and opposing members of his own party who have been putting forward impractical and stupid solutions like building a wall, making being here illegally a felony and probably the stupidest of them all, the Kyl-Cornin bill, which requires that all illegals return home and enter the legal process (we already send them home when we catch them, so this bill accomplishes exactly nothing, except to waste paper and make people think they are doing something).

So, Tuesday, the President met with a bipartisan group of Senators to try and hammer out something that will work.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush met Tuesday at the White House with a bipartisan group of senators to discuss ways to overhaul immigration, a chat that earned the president kudos from two men normally among his staunchest critics.

The discussion came as an immigration bill sits stalled in the Senate and as Majority Leader Bill Frist prepares to bring the issue back to the Senate floor by Memorial Day.

After the meeting, the senators said Bush expressed support for a package that would create a guest-worker program and would determine ways to address the status of more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the country...

Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy called the meeting a "bipartisan coming-together" and said, "We still have a ways to go, but I certainly appreciate the president's involvement and his willingness to be engaged."

Kennedy was joined by another of Bush's most outspoken critics, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who acknowledged he wasn't "in the habit of patting the president on the back.

"This was really good, a good, good meeting," Reid said. "He laid out what he believes are the important issues of the legislation, and I think they are there."

In fact, when he was running for President in 2000, George W. Bush campaigned on immigration reform.

This and second amendment issues are about the only issues where I believe that the President is right (well, OK-- also he was right to invade Afghanistan after 9/11 and continue to hunt bin Laden.)

Hopefully something positive will come of this discussion.

I'll be back to bashing Bush tomorrow I'm sure, but on the rare occasions when he does something right, it's appropriate to say so.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Now, what exactly are we standing for in Iraq, anyway?

Last week, Chicago Tribune journalist Cam Simpson was honored by the International Press Club award for outstanding investigative journalism.

NEW YORK -- A Knight-Ridder journalist killed while covering the Iraq war and a Chicago Tribune correspondent who investigated a human trafficking network to supply foreign labor in Iraq were honored with Overseas Press Club Awards for excellence in international journalism.

Tribune correspondent Cam Simpson was honored for best international reporting in the print medium showing a concern for the human condition. His series, "Pipeline to Peril," told the story of 12 Nepalis coerced into going to Iraq for U.S.-funded work. They were kidnapped and killed by insurgents.

The late Knight-Ridder journalist Yasser Salihee and two colleagues, Hannah Allam and Tom Lasseter, were named the winners of the Hal Boyle Award for best newspaper reporting from abroad for "Iraq: America's Failing War."

So what was the series that earned Simpson the award? Bet you haven't read it, unless you live around Chicago.

It can be found here:

It focuses on human trafficking, in which U.S. contractors, with the blessing of our government, are luring people from poor countries, mostly Asians, to Iraq, and once there, placing them into forced servitude, often after being charged 'fees' so exhorbitant that they earn none of the pay that they have been promised, and passports are confiscated to prevent them from leaving (although if they do leave, they are invariably killed by terrorists, as happened to the 12 Nepalese in the original series). Some female workers are forced into prostitution.

One of the most damning of the series is linked to here.

WASHINGTON -- Three years ago, President Bush declared that he had "zero tolerance" for trafficking in humans by the government's overseas contractors, and two years ago Congress mandated a similar policy.

But notwithstanding the president's statement and the congressional edict, the Defense Department has yet to adopt a policy to bar human trafficking.

A proposal prohibiting defense contractor involvement in human trafficking for forced prostitution and labor was drafted by the Pentagon last summer, but five defense lobbying groups oppose key provisions and a final policy still appears to be months away, according to those involved and Defense Department records.

The lobbying groups opposing the plan say they're in favor of the idea in principle, but said they believe that implementing key portions of it overseas is unrealistic. They represent thousands of firms, including some of the industry's biggest names, such as DynCorp International and Halliburton subsidiary KBR, both of which have been linked to trafficking-related concerns.

Did the suddenly renewed attention to the issue get anything changed? Well, you be the judge: Today, Simpson wrote a follow up story in which our commander in Iraq has ordered this to end:

WASHINGTON -- The top U.S. commander in Iraq has ordered sweeping changes for privatized military support operations after confirming violations of human-trafficking laws and other abuses by contractors involving possibly thousands of foreign workers on American bases, according to records obtained by the Tribune.

Gen. George Casey ordered that contractors be required by May 1 to return passports that have been illegally confiscated from laborers on U.S. bases after determining that such practices violate U.S. laws against trafficking for forced or coerced labor. Human brokers and subcontractors from South Asia to the Middle East have worked together to import thousands of laborers into Iraq from impoverished countries.

Two memos obtained by the Tribune indicate that Casey's office concluded that the practice of confiscating passports from such workers was both widespread on American bases and in violation of the U.S. trafficking laws.

The memos, including an order dated April 4 and titled "Subject: Prevention of Trafficking in Persons in MNF-I," or Multinational Forces-Iraq, say the military also confirmed other abuses during an inspection of contracting activities supporting the U.S. military in Iraq.

Forced prostitution and forced labor. Why not call it what that is? Slavery.

Of course, our biggest 'friends' in the region are nations like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, nations where slaves are still bought and sold quite openly, and the royal households are full of slaves. So now it's nice to know that slavery (one of the few human rights abuses that was never allowed under Saddam) is now coming to Iraq, and we're bringing it. I wonder if any of the inflated no-bid contracts that we gave to Halliburton out of our tax money, may have gone to buy a few slaves.

Though this series was published by the Chicago Tribune late last year, it was not picked up by the major media outlets (who apparently don't want to publish news this bad because they still want to play cheerleader for a failed war). It wasn't until the twin stories that followed it of Salihee's murder by terrorists, and the award for the series, that newspapers have been forced to carry it (for example, there was a short story on it in today's Arizona Republic-- on page A-7).

American contractors being paid by our government, participating in the slave trade.

I wonder if that noise I hear is half a million United States soldiers, who gave their lives over 140 years ago to get rid of slavery, turning over in their graves.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Happy Earth Day to You!

In honor of Earth Day, I have decided to check in on what our Republican friends plan to do about global warming. After all, it is largely their constituents who are now suddenly faced with prolonged drought, as the warming of the atmosphere causes the jet stream (the boundary between cold and warm air) to shift northward, driving the winter storm track with it, so that from the rockies to the deep south, there is likely to be a drying trend across the sun belt (in fact, one which has already begun but will only continue and get worse). The recent wildfires in Texas and Oklahoma are only the most recent manifestation of this. And the highest water temperatures on record the past two years in the northern Gulf of Mexico are also likely to get worse, strengthening hurricanes as they head towards the Gulf Coast.

There is only so long that you can deny what is, and so they have to have a plan.

And, they do. They plan to change the weather.

No, that isn't a typo. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) proposes to invest Federal funds in weather modification.

And while it's still a bit of a long shot, Uncle Sam could be called in to sponsor research to find ways to blast dangerous storms out of the sky or put rain clouds over parched land.

Blow up hurricanes with big bombs. Move the clouds. It would take Republicans from Texas to come up with these sorts of ideas.

How about small measures, like increasing fuel standards on cars?

No, Republicans say that would be too costly and questionable.

Friday, April 21, 2006

This is what conservatives are saying about George Bush

I ran across a post by conservative columnist Peggy Noonan linked to in the comments section of a blog I often read. Titled, Don't wait, Calibrate: Learn to bend, Mr. Bush, you won't break, it has some interesting and surprising observations, coming from a former Bush Sr. speechwriter who also had a prominent role in the Reagan White House.

Mr. Bush's feelings, assumptions and convictions set theme, direction and mood. All decisions as to declared destination go to him. He seeks a sense of control by making and sticking to the decision. When he won't budge, the White House won't budge. When it clings to an idea beyond evidence and history, it is Mr. Bush who is doing the clinging. When he stands firm, it stands firm....

We all like a president who says "The buck stops here." Mr. Bush never ducks the buck. But he puts severe limits on the number and kind of people who can hand it to him. He picks them, receives their passionate and by definition limited recommendations, makes his decision, and sticks. All very Trumanesque, except Truman could tolerate argument and dissent...

George W. Bush, on the other hand, does not tolerate dissent, argument, bitter internal battles. He is the decider. He decides, and the White House carries through....Bruce Bartlett has written of how, as a conservative economist, he was treated with courtesy by the Clinton White House, which occasionally sought out his views. But once he'd offered mild criticisms of the Bush White House he was shut out, and rudely, by Bush staffers. Why would they be like that? Because they believe that as a conservative, Mr. Bartlett owes his loyalty to the president. He thought his loyalty was to principles.

No suprise, in fact, because we all know that this is the way that this White House has always operated. It has contributed both to the harshly partisan tone in Washington (yes, Republicans are in the majority, but that doesn't mean that Democrats should just bend over and get out of the way, which this White House seems to think that they should) to our low standing in the international community. It was on full display in the run up to the Iraq war, in which we now know from the revelations in former cabinet secretary Paul O'Neill's book, the Downing Street memo and elsewhere that the decision to go to war in Iraq was made very early in the Bush administration (even well before 9/11 according to O'Neill) and all the fake appeals to U.N. sanctions, diplomacy or otherwise were just window dressing on a decision that had already been made.

Noonan finished out, pointing out the positions that many Republicans, not just Bartlett, have found themselves in:

There are many stories like this, from many others. It leaves friends on the outside having to self-censor or accept designation as The Enemy. It leaves a distinguished former government official and prominent Republican saying, in conversation, "Those people aren't drinking the Kool-Aid, they're sucking it from a spigot!"

I said in my last post (on Don Rumsfeld in regard to his forcing Gen. Shinseki into retirement for disagreeing with him):

An effective leader doesn't punish people for suggesting an alternative that they might not agree with.

Apparently that is an indictment of the President as well.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The difference between Don Rumsfeld and Les Aspin-- one of them took responsibility.

In all the furor over Don Rumsfeld, it is worth pausing to remember 1) why he stands accused of incompetence, and 2) what happened the last time a Defense Secretary stood similary accused.

I. Why he stands accused of incompetence:

What has Don Rumsfeld done that has shown his incompetence? Well, the list is pretty well documented by now, but let's collect the highlights in one place for public viewing.

1. It has been reported over and over by now that when General Eric Shinseki recommended that we plan on occupying Iraq with 400,000 troops in order to prevent any insurgency from getting started, he was not only ignored, but was promptly 'retired' by Rumsfeld because this contradicted the 'Rumsfeld' doctrine that we could do it with a small, mobile force. Of course, conservatives like to mention the occupation of Germany and Japan after WWII as examples of 'successful regime change,' but it is worth noting that right after the war ended, Germany was occupied by allied troops whose number was about one sixth of the population, and Japan was also occupied by literally millions of soldiers. This prevented a revolt in either country. Rumsfeld committed two acts of incompetence here: i) He failed to grasp what was needed and heed advice from Gen. Shinseki, and ii) by making an example of Gen. Shinseki and forcing him to leave, the Secretary effectively short circuited anyone who might have wanted to make a similar suggestion. An effective leader doesn't punish people for suggesting an alternative that they might not agree with.

2. Rumsfeld's remarks on February 7, 2003 to U.S. troops in Aviano, Italy in regard to the Iraq war:

"It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."

He's right that it's unknowable. But clearly he underestimated the enemy, as the President has said that the conflict is likely to still be going on when he leaves office, meaning that six years won't be enough time. True, a lot of people underestimated the enemy in Iraq, but the Defense Secretary is one of the very few who has an obligation to get it right.

3. Body armor and adequate vehicle armor. Maybe we weren't prepared going in, but why is this the issue that just won't go away? He's had three years to fix the problem but it's still not fixed. And the price for this is paid in American lives.

II. When was the last time a Defense Secretary was accused of incompetence, and what did he do?

You remember, Bill Clinton's first Secretary of Defense, Les Aspin. After spending a lot of effort on gays in the military and coming up with the 'Don't ask, don't tell' policy, Aspin was accused of failing to provide adequate armament to American troops in Somalia (never mind that the mission there was inherited from the Bush administration.) In a well-publicized episode, eighteen American soldiers were killed in a firefight with the forces of a local warlord, and eventually were rescued by Italians who had armored vehicles that the Americans were lacking. So, Aspin resigned. Clinton then nominated a more competent Defense Secretary and as a result, we did not lose another American in combat during the Clinton administration, despite conducting operations in Haiti, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

Ultimately, one measure of how competent a leader is, is how willing he is to get rid of proven and repeated incompetents in his organization. Can you imagine a CEO of a fortune 500 company who would put up with a person in an important position who had made as many mistakes as Don Rumsfeld has?

Hmmm. Let me think about that one again.... no wonder George W. Bush's business ventures never made any money.

Correction: IndyVoter points out in the comments that the rules of engagement in Somalia were changed when Clinton took office at the request of the Secretary General of the U.N.. In accordance with Deep Thought's announced policy of publically identifying errors before correcting them, we now have made 6 errors on 309 posts (I put 5 in 308 in the comments but I have a log and after checking it, it is six in 309) so we have a .980 fielding percentage.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Not a laughing matter

Today, Parade magazine did a little digging, and announced that their Tom Cruise poll was hacked. recently conducted an online poll asking readers whether they thought Cruise was responsible for his disastrous public relations year of couch-jumping, sonogram machine buying and psychiatry bashing, or if it was the media's fault. Eighty-four percent of respondents said the media was to blame for his tough year and that Cruise did not bring his image problems on himself....

"We did some investigating and found out that more than 14,000 (of the 18,000-plus votes) that came in were cast from only 10 computers," Parade publicist Alexis Collado wrote in a press release. "One computer was responsible for nearly 8,400 votes alone, all blaming the media for Tom's troubles. We also discovered that at least two other machines were the sources of inordinate numbers of votes."

Parade also speculated how the results could have come to be.

"It seems these folks (whoever they may be) resorted to extraordinary measures to try to portray Tom in a positive light for the survey. There is even a chance they wrote a special 'bot' program for the sole purpose of skewing the results, rather than casting the votes by hand on a computer. Sounds like a pretty devoted group of people, don't you think?"

This might be worth a chuckle, except for the ease with which they hacked into this poll. Now, granted it was an online poll, and we can surmise that the security measures involved were not the greatest. However, it should raise a warning flag.

In passing the Help America Vote Act, Congress specified that no 'paper trail' was necessary. As such, we have to simply trust the accuracy and integrity of the process and the machines involved. We have seen in the past how voting machines have been subject to mechanical and programming errors. But now we also have to consider the possibility that someone could actively try to hack into one or a lot of voting machines and affect the elections. I know people who believe that is what happened in 2002 (in the state of Georgia) and in 2004 (in several locations.) Now, my purpose here is not to rehash the same old stuff, but to point out how necessary it is that we work to ensure a paper trail.

To begin with, we must absolutely push absentee and early voting. This guarantees a paper trail. Another thing that we can do is accurately canvass neighborhoods ahead of the election so that if results in a precinct differ significantly from the canvass, we can if necessary obtain sworn statements from enough voters to prove the results wrong. And we must push, at the national, state and local level to guarantee a paper trail.

Because if we don't, let's just say that there are people out there with much more at stake in elections and with far better resources available to them to fix the results with, than the Tom Cruise fan club has.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Analyzing Ahmadinejad's jabberings.

There has been a lot of talk lately about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's seeming to push the envelope towards a military confrontation with the west over Iran's nuclear program.

There are those who believe that he is insane. I don't believe that. There are those who believe that somehow he is in collaboration with the west. I don't believe that either.

I believe that he is rational. But he is like most politicians: he is first playing national politics (in his case, Iranian politics), then regional politics and finally international politics.

Within Iran, hardliners including Ahmedinejad have a problem in that most of the nation is under thirty, have no memory of the Shah or in may cases of Ayatollah Khomeini, and are increasingly unhappy living in a strict Islamic society. They want reform. So, in order to stop criticism domestically, Ahmedinejad is doing what every politician does from time to time-- seek to unify the populace against some real or perceived threat. In this context, the concerted efforts of the west and of the United States in particular against Iran's nuclear program serve his purpose. While the country is apparently being drawn towards a military conflict, there are few within Iran who would be willing to criticize Ahmedinejad. Keep in mind that Iran is not Iraq-- in Iran, there is still some level of freedom of association and of the press, and it is possible for a candidate to lose an election, so criticism does carry risk with it. And as such, a lack of criticism is good for those who are in power. What he is doing is no different substantively than when Bush and other Republicans play the '9/11 card' to shut off meaningful debate on anything.

After national politics, there are regional politics. The invasion of Iraq created a power vacuum in the Muslim world. Most muslims, especially the Palestinians, are seeking a leader, especially one who they believe will be able to defeat Israel. In fact, none can, but it is not hard to see that by taking a hard line against Israel, Ahmadinejad is hoping to be the new 'big kid on the block.'

In fact, I addressed this when I wrote in November (Iraq is the reason we won't invade Iran)

As to Ahmadinejad's rhetoric, we have to keep in mind the context. Right now, the middle east is in political turmoil. Iran is a major player in middle eastern politics and has benefitted more than anyone else from the ouster of Saddam, but they want to parlay this gain into becoming the single dominant regional power. And one sure fire way to gain political points across the region is to take a hard line against Israel. The real victims of this are the Palestinians, who have at times placed their hopes and dreams on Krushchev, Nasser, Qaddafy, Assad, Saddam, and any number of other tough talking strongmen throwing their weight around in the middle east. Invariably these hopes and dreams are dashed, and they end up worse off for betting on some swaggering savior instead of negotiations with Israel. It seems that Ahmadinejad is playing the same game, and hopefully the Palestinians will not be so gullible this time around.

Every word that Ahmadinejad has spoken since then, seems to reinforce my belief that he is trying to comandeer the Palestinian cause for his own ends, and to have Iran emerge as the dominant regional power.

As for international politics, as I mentioned before, they run in third place. But let's focus on the actual issues between Iran and the U.S. for a moment.

If Iran steps up to challenge America, right now is the best chance they will ever have to do it. The reasons are right here:

1. Our military machine, which everyone in the world was afraid of, has been squandered in Iraq. The truth is, we are toothless in terms of having the ability to invade and occupy Iran. That wasn't true five years ago, and it may not be true five years from now, but as of right now, we don't have the ground force necessary. Ahmedinejad knows that. So does President Bush.

2. True, we could bomb the crap out of them, but they have probably made the calculated gamble that they could survive a bombing campaign. And in the crazy world of middle eastern politics, we could bomb every important facility they have into dust, and if they take our best shot and survive, then they come out politically stronger for it and enhance their political standing in the region. See what I said earlier about playing regional politics.

3. Ahmedinejad and the rest of the Iranian leadership hates America, and they hate George W. Bush. The more radical things that they can say and survive, the weaker they can make him look, especially among muslims. He handed them the opportunity to embarrass him, but they aren't a bit shy about taking it. Kim Jung Il proved that you can be bellicose and stick your head in the lion's mouth while his dentures are out, and that is essentially what we have now.

Now, we do have a strategy that we can use to defeat Iranian fundamentalism over the long run, but it isn't a military strategy. And if they build nukes, well so did the Soviet Union and they succumbed to the same strategy.

Be the best society we can be. Be a society that others want to emulate. Enjoy our freedoms and use them. And, even get American capitalism involved and use constructive engagement. Some of our best weapons against these types of societies (and it is ironic that conservatives don't realize it) are McDonald's, Disney and pop music. Think about it-- there are only two completely unreconstructed old line Stalinist communist states left in the world-- the two we have a product boycott on (Cuba and North Korea).

So give the hardliners like Ahmadinejad something they really wouldn't be able to handle. Open a theme park in Tehran.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Here's your bone for the week, but it could be a juicy topic.

For those of you who may wonder about my absence this week, it is because my wife had an operation yesterday. We went down on Tuesday for the pre-op, and had hoped to be able to come back today. Unfortunately there were some complications and it did not go as smoothly as we had hoped, so we are hoping to go home on Sunday. Although there are lots of places around the valley where I can get online, I don't anticipate any other postings to Deep Thought or any other blogs until next week.

Here is something to chew on though:

Our legislature passed a bill the other day banning the sale of unfertilized eggs. An attractive young woman with a high IQ can earn as much as $30,000 by donating some eggs to an infertile couple.

I wrote a letter to the governor the other day suggesting that she veto it for four reasons:

1. This is a brand new societal issue. There is no societal consensus on this, neither moral nor legal, and it isn't up to the Arizona legislature to try and create one.

2. A woman owns her body. Other than the physicians involved, no one else should be in a position to advise her on this.

3. The technology allowing this has allowed previously infertile couples to bear children (the egg is fertilized with the biological father's sperm and then implanted into the previously infertile mother, or a surrogate. Why does the Arizona legislature want to rip this option away from them?

4. Insofar as the most common egg donors are young women in college who are trying to pay their way through school, the Arizona legislature has contributed to the circumstances that have caused this to proliferate here. By failing to fund higher education, they have forced our universities to raise their tuition by up to 30% over the past four years. For them to criminalize an innovative solution that these women have found to obtain funding from a private source is at best hypocritical.

Now, I realize there are other issues involved here.

For example, we do ban sale of body parts that might otherwise be done in a way in which rich people might exploit desparate poor people, such as the sale of kidneys; but then the loss of a kidney puts additional strain on the remaining kidney and substantially increases the risk to a person of serious health consequences or an earlier death. A better analogy might be the sale of blood. It used to be that blood services would pay people to donate blood. They don't now, but that was a consequence of the fact that with the need to screen the blood supply for AIDS and other diseases, and the known fact that IV drug users had in the past been frequent blood donors when they were paying for it, they were better able to control the supply when they quit paying for it. But egg donation, like blood donation, doesn't significantly endanger a person and any health consequences are likely to be temporary and minor.

Another issue involved is that egg donation is certainly by its nature discriminatory. For example (and we already have institutions of higher learning where the student body is over 60% female), men obviously can't donate. They can go to sperm banks, but the pay there is very limited in comparison. Also, there are certain characteristics that women can get paid better for. High intelligence is at the top of the list. However, beyond that, white, blue eyed, tall, athletic blond women get paid the most, followed by other white women, asian women, hispanic women and with black women and Native American women at the bottom of the scale. This is all based on the market of what egg buyers are looking for.

Nevertheless, I don't believe that it is right to ban the sale of unfertilized eggs.

I will be back next week.

UPDATE (April 18):

According to Enviro Hanky, the Governor did indeed veto this bill today. I will be sure to thank her.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

My Grand Jury Experience.

NOTE: I would like to thank Navajo County Attorney Mel Bowers for reviewing this post to check for accuracy and to make sure that nothing in this post compromises any ongoing criminal case or investigation.

Recently, (this past Thursday in fact), I completed my three month term as a member of the Navajo County Grand Jury. Other than a brief mention that I was called for potential duty in my January 10 blog entry on Jim Weiers' ethical troubles, I have said nothing about about this during the time that I served on the Grand Jury. I would like to address what I learned (which was a great deal) here.

To begin with, a lot of people don't understand the difference between what a Grand Jury does, and a regular jury. A Grand Jury hears some of the evidence about a large number of cases, and decides if there is 'probable cause.' Probable cause is whether there is enough evidence that 1) a crime was committed, and 2) that the person or persons under investigation committed the crime, to issue an indictment. An indictment means that the case will go forward into the criminal justice system, where a higher level of proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, is needed to obtain a conviction. It is true that a judge can also hold an evidentiary hearing and to move an issue forward, but Grand Juries usually hear the more serious cases. Most of the time, we heard testimony from one person, generally a law enforcement officer (who may not have been involved in the actual case but is reading a report by the officer who was), trying to convince us that there was enough evidence to indict. And most cases were pretty clear, but a few were not, and we issued several 'no bills' (a vote to not indict) over the course of the term. It is also true that we vote separately on each charge, and in some cases we indicted on some charges and not on other charges. In order to serve on a Grand Jury, we have to be willing to uphold the law. So, for example, I favor decriminalization of marijuana for adults, including decriminalizing its production, transport and sale, but in cases involving marijuana, the question was not 'do you think this should be a felony' but rather 'is this a felony according to current statutes?' As such I voted to indict a number of people on marijuana related charges (and there were a lot of them) because I was sworn to uphold the law even though I personally disagreed with the law I was voting on (and no, I don't personally use it or advocate its use).

We heard cases from all over the county (although cases from the reservation, unless they involve non-tribal members, are handled through the tribal court system except for really serious cases which are moved into the federal courts.) Because our county is nearly two hundred and fifty miles from the Utah border in the north to the far south (the county lines here are terrible and were drawn in the early 1900's with the explicit goal of splitting the reservation and denying Navajos control over any county government), some members had to drive for hours each way to get to Holbrook, the county seat. Luckily, I only had to drive fifteen miles each way.

My observations were as follows:

1. I've been told by people in the criminal justice system that about half of the cases are drug related. So I kept a running tally. I was excused for two weeks for various reasons, but on the weeks I was there, we had 121 cases, and 51 of them were drug cases, or cases which at least involved illegal drugs. Throw in alcohol related cases (such as DUI related charges or crimes committed under the influence of alcohol), and it does in fact jump up to half or more. Probably at least eighty percent of the drug cases involved either marijuana or methamphetamine (meth). Many people had both. I should add that while I mentioned above, I disagree with the current laws on marijuana, my complaint with laws on methamphetamine is that they are probably not tough enough. Check out this site for information on current attempts to toughen laws on meth. Meth kills, it destroys lives and it is doing to our communities what crack was a dozen years ago. In fact, I was living in Torrance County, New Mexico, between 1994 and 1997 and there was a case there in which a man who was jacked up on meth and driving through on the freeway imagined that his teenage son was the devil, cut his son's head off and threw it out onto the freeway. Arizona law discriminates between marijuana, 'narcotic drugs' (cocaine, most prescription drugs, opiates) and 'dangerous drugs' (meth, and other artificially manufactured drugs). Right now, dangerous drugs are a higher class of felony, but people can go to prison for the production, sale and transport of either, and also will get out of prison and likely have few other options than to return to the same life that got them into prison (see the prison that follows prison for a discussion I did on this topic.) We have a serious problem with meth, probably just like the rest of America.

Observation #2: There are a lot of mistakes. Advice if you are ever on the wrong side of the law (hopefully no one who reads this blog will be): Challenge everything. If you have an attorney, tell him or her to challenge everything. Some of the indictments we got were riddled with errors. In fact, we were asked on one occasion to return an indictment for assault (a class three felony) when after hearing testimony it turned out that nothing even remotely like assault had even been committed (there were some property crimes, but that was all). On another occasion, we got an indictment to consider that was complete nonsense when reading through it. There were quite a few other errors besides these. Luckily, we all asked questions about some of these mistakes. But I can see how things get thrown out on 'technicalities'-- for example, an indictment says a crime was committed in the vicinity of an address when in fact that particular crime occurred several miles away (yes, we had at least one of those that had to be corrected as well.) To be honest, I was surprised by how many mistakes there were in indictments, ranging from minor English errors to major errors like the assault that never happened, considering that they are supposed to have been prepared professionally by people with law degrees. Some of them were very well written, but some were not at all. The County Attorney makes the point that some people write better than others, and that a proposed indictment does not become an indictment until a Grand Jury accepts it, but it is also true that Grand Juries are not all the same. On ours, there were about three people who probably asked 90% of the questions and caught 90% of the mistakes that were caught, so if this is typical then the law of averages says that sometimes there will be Grand Juries who don't ask many questions or look very hard for mistakes. In any case, why should the Grand Jury be the proofreaders?

Observation #3: The idiots in the Legislature who preach about doing 'more with less' are just that-- idiots. We had a lot of cases that were two or three years old, because (and we were told this up front) the office had been shorthanded for awhile. Now, I happen to know through my political work and talking with some of the county commissioners that they have been on a budget that is beyond tight, to a point approaching malnutrition, and one reason for the extended shorthandedness was because of hiring freezes and some limited layoffs that occurred county wide. This is a direct result of legislative budget cuts. Just as Arizona's K-12 teachers are paid 50th in the nation, our counties (and Navajo county is no exception) are chronically shortchanged by people whose philosophy about government is to try and find ways to starve, shrink, and where possible get rid of it instead of thinking about government as a useful tool in society and a way to guide progress for the common good. Not that I expect that Jake Flake or some of the others down there read this blog, but I will say it again. No, I DON'T want another tax cut. I want government that is well-funded and capable of carrying out its duties. I have no problem with governmental accountability, but in order to be accountable, you have to fund it above the level of 'just keeping it going.' And until we elect a legislature that isn't afraid to change the paradigm from one of 'how far can we cut taxes/budgets' to 'how can we guarantee that government receives and is then accountable for the funding it needs to function well,' we will continue to see these sorts of systemic problems. I'm sure that this played into why there were so many mistakes in the indictments.

Observation #4: A few police officers will cut corners (not what you want when you are deciding on matters that affect people's lives). On one occasion, we heard from a police officer who mentioned a person's prior criminal record and the representative from the county attorney's office had to advise the jury to ignore that comment and told the police officer he shouldn't mention that. So five minutes after that case ended, we had the same police officer back on the stand in regard to another case involving someone else, and he did exactly the same thing (and got the same warning.) He should know the law on this, and the first time could have been an honest mistake but I really felt the second time was intentional. Now, the evidence was easily sufficient even without that, so I have to question what his motives were. There were also cases in which the investigation seemed to be particularly slipshod, with even basic information either not collected or not put into the report, which is unfair to the cop testifying when he has to look in the report and can't find the answer to a question such as 'how tall is this person' or 'did someone verify that the item this person had was the one stolen?' I have a lot of friends who are police officers, and I believe that most of them act honorably and do the best job they can, and certainly deserve respect and support (support meaning better equipment and higher pay-- our cops are underfunded by our misers down in Phoenix as well) for the dangerous and thankless job they do. But I'm also convinced that there are some of the other kind out there, and we saw both types testify.

Observation # 5: There are a lot of stupid criminals. Some of the people we heard about took pictures of themselves breaking the law, committed a string of crimes in which they left personal items behind at every scene, or were really dense in other ways, which made the cop's job much easier. Incidentally, people who made false statements to police were rarely charged with making them (I asked about this and was told it is a misdemeanor and it is generally charged separately) while at least as far as I could tell, a confession often led to more charges. Now, I do believe that a person should be charged with whatever crimes they have committed, but just a personal note-- it seems that people who lie to police may end up better off (especially in terms of having a stronger case) than the ones who turn themselves in and confess. I know, that this can be taken into account at sentencing, but let's be honest-- is it?

In any case, I am glad to have had this opportunity. I learned a great deal about how the system works, both for better and worse.

Cross posted at Night Bird's Fountain.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Why are we puffing up a two bit bully?

We now see a report that the US is Exaggerating the role played by Jordanian born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq.

The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to internal military documents and officers familiar with the program. The effort has raised his profile in a way that some military intelligence officials believe may have overstated his importance and helped the Bush administration tie the war to the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In Iraq, the hope is to agitate the Iraqis against 'foreigners.' Leaving aside the obvious hypocrisy in this effort coming from the foreign nation that invaded the country in the first place, it is true that most Iraqis don't support Zarqawi or al-Qaeda. However, most of those fighting the insurgency are fighting to free their country from American and British occupation. Wouldn't you, if a foreign power occupied America (the 'Red Dawn' scenario?) That is something that we don't get. Just as the Judeans rebelled against the Romans, the Spanish guerrillas harrassed Napoleon and the occupied nations of Europe all had resistance movements against Hitler, people don't like being occupied by a foreign power. True, in some cases, Zarqawi's band has taken control of some neighborhoods, but the main occupying force remains the United States.

The other reason I think we are exaggerating his role has to do with our own domestic politics. It has always been this way-- in order to justify aggressive action against another country, we have to have a bad guy to go after. Thus Vietnam was not Vietnam, but it became Ho Chi Minh, Panama was not Panama but Noriega, Yugoslavia was not Yugoslavia but rather it became Milosevic, Iraq was not Iraq but Saddam Hussein, and Iran is not Iran but Ahmadinejad. It is much easier to stir people up to support action against a man than against a land.

There is no question that Zarqawi is a bad man, as bad as they come. His indiscriminate attacks against civilians and other atrocities make that pretty clear. But it is a mistake to try and oversimplify the Iraqi insurgency and claim that it is all Zarqawi's doing, in fact that would be giving what amounts to a small time operator way too much credit. Most estimates put the number of men available to him at any given time at around five hundred or less, and to claim that our occupation force in Iraq of over 130,000 Americans plus thousands more from Britain, South Korea and other countries has been unable to defeat a group of five hundred men with no local support would suggest that our military is incompetent, while in fact our military is exceptionally competent at every level except the highest level of command (where unfortunately, competence has not been a mainstay).

It may also be that they are drawing a bead on Zarqawi and want to pump him up so the trophy will look bigger. I actually hope that this is the case because if we catch or kill him, then 1) the world would be better off without him, that is just the plain truth of the matter, and 2) it will, depending on whether Bush takes the opportunity or not, either give us the cover to get out, or increase the pressure to get out even if he doesn't want to, since he would have joined Saddam as a 'mission accomplished.' And anything that gets us out of Iraq, is a good thing.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

They can't get a repeal of clean elections through up front, so they are trying to sneak it through.

Those righty rascals are at it again, trying to make and end run around Arizona's clean elections law.

A "strike all" amendment to SCR 1013 on judical retirements, proposed by Russell Pearce (which should be enough in itself to tell you everything you need to know about what it is worth) replaces the entire bill with a revision of the Arizona clean elections law that essentially guts the whole thing.

They never give up, do they?

In fact, our clean elections law has largely spared Arizona's citizens from the dirty, nasty sorts of smear campaigns that we see in races for Federal offices, has protected the integrity of elections by ensuring that candidates who run clean can compete on an even field, and most importantly has spared us the same kind of big money scandals that we see now playing out on the national scene. In fact, Arizona's model for elections is something that if anything, should be replicated in Federal elections (not that that will happen with the present Congress-- they like their big contributors too much).

But if anyone has a reason to question why we need to keep our clean elections law, I have three answers for them: Duke Cunningham, Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay.

Do we really want any of that interjected into our state politics?

Yeah, if the President did it personally, then it was legal. Here's what else it was.

According to lawyers representing Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, the source of the Plame leak was the person who told Libby to leak it to the press. And it was not, has had been speculated, Libby's boss, Dick Cheney, but rather Cheney's boss, President Bush himself. The President's staff has not denied a report that he personally authorized Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, Scooter Libby to leak information on Valerie Plame ten days before it was declassified (and it was declassified while the scandal was erupting-- given how hard it is to get them to declassify anything, even the timing of that has to be seriously questioned). This confirms what conservative columnist Robert Novak, who originally broke the story said last December at a luncheon of the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, North Carolina:

"I'm confident the president knows who the source is. I'd be amazed if he doesn't."

"So I say, don't bug me. Don't bug Bob Woodward. Bug the president as to whether he should reveal who the source is,"

Well, the source has been revealed.

So what is the response from conservatives? Mostly to say that if the President leaked it, then it's legal. The President has the authority to authorize the release of classified information any time he wants to.

True enough, he does have that right. So it is legal. However, to authorize (but hide behind an 'anonymous source' cover) the naming of an undercover CIA operative purely for reasons of political retaliation against a person who challenged the administration's lies on Iraq (and as we now know, correctly challenged them) can be described by a whole lot of other adjectives, I can think of so many that I have to alphabetize them: an abuse of power, appalling, cheap, childish, cowardly, craven, deplorable, despicable, disgusting, galling, grudging, gutless, lamentable, malicious, mean, nasty, pathetic, petty, pusillanimous, selfish, shameful, shocking, small-minded, sordid, spineless, stupid, timid, treasonous, unacceptable, unethical, unpardonable, and weak.

Yes, if the President of the United States authorized this personally, then it was legal so in that sense there is no scandal, but it is hardly befitting a President of the United States. But it seems to fit this one's sad, sorry little behind.


I was reminded on some other blogs of the following.

Recall what the President said about the leak:

"If there's a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is,..."If the person has violated law, that person will be taken care of." -- Feb. 10, 2004

And also, that when asked in June 2004 if he would fire anyone who had leaked Plame's name, the President answered, "Yes. (Houston Chronicle, 7/19/05).

Considering these direct quotes, is there anyone at all who would today not call the President a liar? If this doesn't qualify as a smoking gun that the President is a liar, then there is nothing at all that would.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Sad day-- a reasonable compromise is demogogued to death.

I was very disappointed to hear that a proposed compromise immigration bill had broken down in the Senate.

The bill proposed that undocumented workers who were here for over five years (and could prove it by showing utility bills, paychecks or other paperwork) would be put on a path to citizenship which would take 11 years, those here longer than two but less than five years would have to check in at a border crossing but would be allowed to stay and become citizens in no less than thirteen years, and those here less than two years would be required to leave. Additionally, the bill would impose sanctions on employers, without which there is no chance at all of stopping illegal immigration-- as long as there is a supply of jobs, people will come.

The compromise bill makes sense, because it recognizes the reality of the fact that there are anywhere from ten to twenty million undocumented workers already in this country, and passing meaningless laws saying that being here illegally is now a felony won't achieve anything at all about it-- I mean, what would we do then? Put them in prison? Then who do we let out of our already overcrowded prison? And we have no clue who they all are or where they are. We might catch them in ones and twos and tens and dozens, but that won't make a dent in the overall supply. Only a bill which provides some sort of incentive for them to identify themselves will do a thing about the fact that we generally don't know who they are.

And as I've blogged on before, our failure to do anything about undocumented aliens except call them undocumented and deport them when we catch them, has contributed to the fact that they have not assimilated culturally as past generations of immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere have done. Doing things like learning English or opening a small business actually increases the possibility that they will be identified as illegal aliens, so they don't do these things, and not assimilating culturally, become as likely to identify with the Mexican flag as the American flag.

As to the earned path to citizenship, the eleven to thirteen year time frame does two things. The first is that it counteracts the problem described in the last paragraph, being a long enough time to allow people who have no longer anything to fear, to become more American. It also is designed to muffle the impact on partisan politics. Over the course of eleven or thirteen years, both major parties will have time to explain themselves to these communities if they want to, and in any case almost all of the lawmakers who pass any law today, will be either dead, retired or very secure in their districts by 11 or 13 years from now.

It is too bad that the Senate decided that they would rather demogogue the issue by pushing for tough sounding laws that in fact do very little, like making illegal immigration a felony.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Fossil fills gap leading into the development of land animals.

If you are a regular reader of Deep Thought, you may recall about how I blogged extensively on evolution and the recent trial in Dover, Pennsylvania. And even before that, I wrote Just science belongs in science class, about why evolution qualifies as science and in the absence of a scientific test, creation, intelligent design or others similar theories do not qualify, regardless of personal beliefs (my own included).

Now, proponents of I.D. often point out that evolutionary theory contains 'gaps' or 'holes' and as such it is an 'unproven theory.'

True, it does contain gaps and holes. And it has not been scientifically proven. I addressed this criticism head on in the linked post though:

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

No theory is proven or absolutely accepted as fact. In science theories are tested all the time. The idea that there is some sort of 'conspiracy' to always produce results that support the establishment theory is ridiculous-- becoming the 562nd scientist to carry out an experiment in support of established theory is not much of an achievement, but being the first one to come up with a way to show that it is either wrong or needs to be modified, is an achievement-- so scientists are always trying to disprove what has been postulated by other scientists.

And evolution has to be honest probably been the most scrutinized theory in the history of science. There are, in fact, many people who for either religious or other reasons desperately want to prove it false. And yet, every time I read a paper by one of them, the logic is just not there.

In contrast, the 'holes' that people like to point to in the theory eventually are filled in. And one of the biggest, the question of how fish evolved into amphibians and moved onto the land, just took a big leap forward in terms of being 'filled.'

NEW YORK - Scientists have caught a fossil fish in the act of adapting toward a life on land, a discovery that sheds new light on one of the greatest transformations in the history of animals.

Researchers have long known that fish evolved into the first creatures on land with four legs and backbones more than 365 million years ago, but they’ve had precious little fossil evidence to document how it happened...

It sort of blurs the distinction between fish and land-living animals,” said one of its discoverers, paleontologist Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago.

Experts said the discovery, with its unusually well-preserved and complete skeletons, reveals significant new information about how the water-to-land evolution took place.

“It’s an important new contribution to (understanding) a very, very important transition in the history of life,” said Robert Carroll of McGill University in Montreal.

The creature is called, Tiktaalik roseae and looks like a cross between a fish and a crocodile.

And in its discovery, evolutionary theory is tested. Following the scientific method, it establishes a hypothesis (prediction) that such a fossil (as well as others filling 'gaps' in the record) exists. Until yesterday's announcement, this was just an implied prediction, but if evolution were true, such a fossil would have to exist. So, it has been shown to exist, thus validating the prediction and strengthening the theory of evolution.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Even the pollsters have closed the book on this, judging by the attention they are paying.

How secure do the national folks think that Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano is?

Well, secure enough that even the pollsters aren't paying much attention to this race.

For example, today Rasmussen released a poll predictably showing the governor way ahead of three potential Republican opponents.

The surprise was that the Rasmussen organization appears to not even have updated their own records in several months. The three Republicans that they named in the poll (which was taken just late last week) were John Greene, Don Goldwater and Jan Florez. Goldwater is still running, but on his name only and has virtually no support that I can see outside of a few blocks in Paradise Valley. Like a lot of 'celebrity names,' he is probably better known in Washington than he is in most of Arizona. Greene dropped out several weeks ago because after months of campaigning his negligible support was matched only by his lack of funds. Florez is probably the closest of the three to being a serious candidate, but her support level is still pretty low.

Further, the most likely nominee for the Republicans, Len Munsill, isn't even in the picture for the Rasmussen organization. Munsill, the director of a conservative think tank, got into the race later than the other candidates but should win the Republican nomination easily. Not that it will matter, because he will still get beaten soundly by Governor Napolitano in November.

If they pay this kind of attention, no wonder Rasmussen's numbers for Presidential approval always are two or three points higher than the rest of the polls. They're just stuck in last year somewhere.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

DeLay Quits. Democrat will win seat.

So 'the Hammer' is gone.

He is citing poll numbers in his upcoming re-election campaign. That is a hoot-- DeLay saying that he is making a decision to quit based on polls. In April, no less. Imagine that. The man who intimidated friend and foe alike, bent the rules to get what he wanted and punished any who might dare step out of line, and thought ethics were for everyone else but him, is quitting because he is afraid he might lose an election. If you believe that, I've got a house to sell you in New Orleans.

My most profound observation is that by his hold on power being pried off one finger at a time, he has hurt his supporters, friends and party much more than if he had simply done the honorable thing and announced last year that he was retiring.

First, it was the indictment last year. The fawning syncophants of the right droned on about how this was politically motivated, and how the Abramoff scandal was nothing, just minor trouble that would soon blow over.

Then DeLay stepped 'aside' from his post as majority leader. Not down, mind you, just aside. The first thing that happened is that all the pundits who claimed that there was 'nothing' there shone forth as the fools they were. Powerful leaders don't yield their jobs over 'nothing.'

Then a few months later, he had to permanently step aside. But by then, he was no longer able to install his protege, Roy Blunt of Missouri (who was next in line in the leadership and had replaced him without question when he first stepped aside) as majority leader. Part of it was that by then Blunt had been seriously examined and was found to be covered with the stench of scandal himself, but that wasn't all of it. It was also that DeLay had had another finger pried off the wheel of power, and the House Republicans weren't as afraid of him anymore as they were of the voters if DeLay or Blunt remained as their leader.

So then DeLay ran an aggressive primary campaign to defeat three other Republicans in the primary. That was just about a month ago, but now he is quitting. What this does is pretty much hand the seat to former Congressman Nick Lampson. It is true that DeLay had generously absorbed some Democrats into the district (as well as 1/4 of Lampson's old district) when he 'DeLaymandered the lines-- he figured at the time that as the Majority Leader he could win anyway. This would normally be a swing, maybe marginally Republican district, but because DeLay waited until now to quit, even if the Republicans can recruit a respectable candidate, Lampson has such a huge lead in fundraising (a lot of money came to his campaign when it looked like he was running against DeLay), organization and name recognition, that it is hard to imagine any scenario in which he would lose. And that in itself will probably prevent any high profile Republicans from seeking the seat. Had DeLay quit much earlier, his party would have a chance to retain his seat, but now it is an all-but-sure Democratic pickup.

Even to the end, Tom DeLay was a disaster, especially to his supporters.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The perks of being the son of the Senate President.

Anybody remember Abner Louima?

In case you forgot, Abner Louima was a Haitian immigrant who was sodomized by New York City police detective Justin Volpe (assisted by other officers) with a broomstick. And Volpe was sentenced to thirty years in prison for the crime. And for a crime like sexual assault, this is an appropriate sentence. Louima was also later awarded $8.75 million to settle a civil case against the City of New York.

Anybody ever hear of Clifton Bennett? No? Perhaps you have heard of his father, State Senate President Ken Bennett.

The younger Bennett and another camp counselor apparently did much as Volpe did, shoving broomsticks and flashlights into the rectums of eighteen boys ages 11-14 at a youth camp in June. Turns out that Bennett probably won't have to go to jail at all if he agrees to plead guilty to a single count of (non-sexual) assault. The boys were honor students and among the state's top youth who were attending the camp to learn student government leadership skills.

The son of Arizona's Senate president confessed that he and another counselor shoved broomsticks and flashlights into the rectums of 18 boys in at least 40 incidents at a youth camp in June.

Now Yavapai County prosecutors say they will drop all but one assault charge and likely recommend little or no jail time if 18-year-old Clifton Bennett agrees to plead guilty.

A similar agreement has been offered to co-defendant Kyle Wheeler, 19, who faces an additional assault charge for choking three of the boys until they passed out.

The plea agreements were first presented in court last week and could be completed at a hearing Monday.

Prosecuting attorney James Landis explained the plea agreement in court, saying the "broomsticking" was a hazing ritual and a punishment, not sexual assault.

But legal experts, sex-crimes prosecutors and victims'-rights lawyers say the acts clearly fit the definition of sexual assault.

The pleas, which describe the assault charge as "a non-dangerous, non-repetitive offense," have outraged parents who say their sons were victims of violent sexual attacks. The boys, who were 11 to 14 years old at the time, have had trouble going to the bathroom, sleep with clothes on, are afraid at night, and have undergone sexual-assault counseling...

"Our biggest concern is that these kids are going to do it again," said the mother of an 11-year-old Tucson boy. "My son had something shoved up his butt seven or eight times. If that's not sexual assault, what is?"

Landis said in court that the case was never viewed as "sexual in nature," in part because prosecutors could not prove Bennett and Wheeler had sexual intent. Parents of the victims said Landis told them privately that the incidents occurred while the boys had on clothes or swimsuits and that there was no evidence the defendants are homosexuals.

"We would certainly start from a different perspective if it was girls (as victims)," he said in court.

This is an outrage. For many reasons:

1. What does the gender of the victim have to do with it?

2. Most sexual assault cases are not based on intent, and in fact in many cases, the sexual orientation of the assailant has nothing to do with it (for example, Justin Volpe was a married man who was not a homosexual.) Rape is a crime of violence and power as much as it is a crime of sex. Like murder, there can be many motivations for rape (and as I recently blogged, child molestation, which this is, is rape. Period.)

In fact, the article addresses this:

But experts who specialize in sex crimes say sexual intent is rarely a factor in charging sexual assault; and sexual orientation has nothing to do with it.

"They could have been charged with sexual assault," said Sue Eazer, supervisor of the Pima County Attorney's Special Victims Unit. "Sexual assault is oftentimes not motivated by sexual desire."

Eazer said she has prosecuted several sexual-assault cases involving objects being shoved into children's body cavities....

The Yavapai County case has national implications for the legal system, said Andrew Vachss, a lawyer specializing in child cases and a best-selling author who uses profits from his books to fund legal work for abused kids.

"This is a theory of prosecution that is based on taking the word of the perpetrators," Vachss said in a phone interview from his New York office. "That's what you have juries for . . . Let the perps tell a jury, 'I inserted a foreign object into the rectums of little boys, but I had no sexual intent.' "

Vachss, who was asked to comment on the case by The Arizona Republic, said most state laws on sexual assault require only insertion, not intent.

3. Does anyone at all doubt that if Clifton Bennett's father was not Ken Bennett, that the punishment would be much harsher? Unlike the Louima case, there were multiple victims and the victims were children. True, the younger Bennett is agreeing to plead guilty and he is not a police officer, but no prison time is a slap in the face to every citizen who pays for the state to even have a criminal justice system.

[Vachss] called the issue of intent a "red herring" meant to distract from the fact that a deal is being cut.

"The bottom line is you don't have to prove sexual intent when you have such gross assault," he said. "It looks like one of the most sweetheart deals of all time."

That pretty much sums it up. You or I would never get such a deal (nor should we if we used a broomstick to sodomize eleven year olds) but I guess if your dad is the President of the State Senate, you can pretty much do what you want with impunity.

We have a legislature who elected as their leader a man who is willing to do whatever it took to cut this kind of a deal with the prosecutors (how would you feel if you had an eleven year old genius who had 'earned' the right to attend this camp and get a broomstick shoved up his anus by Clifton Bennett?), and a house that elected Jim Weiers as leader (in case you had forgotten, he hid the whereabouts of an accused child molester from Mesa police).

Whoever your legislators are, if they voted for people like this to serve as their leaders, you have to seriously question either their judgement or their ethics.

I only hope that our best and brightest youth who attended this camp learned something about government. Because maybe one day they will run for an office like County Attorney and make sure that this kind of deal doesn't get cut in a case like this.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

What they did on April Fool's Day.

On April Fool's Day,

George Bush slept in and didn't realize it was April already. But he is still a fool.

Richard Cheney told Dick Whittington, "Don't worry, I'm watching you... April Fool! BANG!!

Condi Rice said that we had made 'thousands of tactical errors in Iraq.' Then she said 'April Fool.' (unfortunately, this is accurate).

Al Gore said he will run for President in 2008. Then he said, 'April Fool.'

Donald Rumsfeld told the President that things are still on track in Iraq. The President believed him.

Congress passed a law giving undocumented workers exactly one year to apply for guest worker status. There is a secret provision in the law stating that one year from today, once we know who they are and where they live, they will all be rounded up, told 'April Fool,' and put on a plane out of the country.

The Arizona legislature agreed to quit complaining and fund English learner programs. Just below where the Governor is supposed to sign the funding, it says, 'April Fool.'

Wal-Mart hiring ethics director.

Ethics really isn't that hard to figure out for most people. There are certainly situations that may require some hard thought, prayerful consideration, or seeking out advice, but for the most part, if you follow the law, try to do what is right, and be honorable in your dealings with people, you will be considered 'ethical.'

And it certainly should be that way for a large company with a board of directors all putting their heads together. And that is why the overwhelming majority of corporations are never faced with ethics violations. There are a few violators that keep showing up again and again and again, however. And the king of all of them is the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart. Over the past few years, just some of the ethics violations that Wal-Mart has either acknowleged, pleaded guilty to (in case of ethical violations which were also crimes) or otherwise accepted responsibility for include discrimination against female workers, assigning underage workers to do hazardous jobs and work during school hours, intentionally operating at a loss in some locations in order to force local competitors to go out of business, and hiring undocumented aliens in 23 states.

This list does not even include the numerous violations that are under current investigation such as forcing employees to skip their lunch breaks and continue working, or sending out a memo advising managers of ways to can employees who were approaching retirement age so that the company could welch on their retirement benefits. It has also been known for some time that in some locations, Wal-Mart's 'benefits' package for new employees includes a welfare application form (probably an acknowlegement that many people who work at Wal-Mart earn so little that they are still elible for help from the government.)

And it is also no secret that a great deal of the items that you buy on the shelves at Wal-Mart are produced in overseas sweatshops where workers, including children, are exploited for literally pennies per hour.

So according to Fortune Magazine, Wal-Mart is hiring an ethics director to try and clean up its image and (at least according to Wal-Mart) improve its ethics. I hope that this is in fact their goal, and it is not just to improve their P.R. but by now I've been disappointed so often by Wal-Mart that I will have to see results before I will believe them.

NEW YORK (FORTUNE) - Wanted: Corporate executive to serve as a point person on business ethics at the world's largest retailer. Law degree a plus, spotless reputation a must. Some travel required. Candidate must also not mind living in northwest Arkansas.

Does that sound like the ideal job for you? If so, contact the headhunters at Martha Montag Brown & Associates, who are seeking to find Wal-Mart's new director of global ethics.

That Wal-Mart needs to beef up its ethics organization is not too surprising. The Bentonville, Ark. behemoth has been bloodied on several fronts lately -- an $11 billion class-action discrimination lawsuit, employee pay and health benefits, and former vice chairman Tom Coughlin's alleged expense account padding have all provided ample fodder for the retailer's growing chorus of critics.

Most corporations are in fact pretty ethical (I know that is hard for some of my friends on the left to believe, but it is in fact true-- we tend to focus on the unethical ones, and Wal-Mart is a clear #1 in that category). And being ethical, most corporations wouldn't need to worry about having to hire someone from outside to fix their ethics. I just hope that they are serious about this, and that they succeed.
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