Wednesday, May 31, 2006

AMBER alert ticker

I found this on Chuck's new blog, Bushmerika, Part II.

You will probably notice a line up at the top of the page showing if there is an active AMBER Alert. If you don't know what that is, it is a notification put out by local police agencies indicating that a child has been abducted and may be in physical danger, along with any information available about the abductor, the location and if applicable, vehicle description. If the background is yellow, then it means that there is an active alert at this time.

Dealing with pedophiles is a complex issue, and I've blogged on it several times in the past. I may soon put together another more comprehensive post on it. But the first and most important priority has to be protecting America's children, and the AMBER alert system has already resulted in the capture of dozens of suspects and the rescue of dozens of children.

Journalists in a dangerous place.

The biggest story today, of course, is about the car bombing in Iraq that killed four people, including two CBS cameramen, an American soldier and an Iraqi translator, and critically wounded CBS foreign correspondent Kimberly Dozier.

This brings to total number of journalists or others working to get the news out of Iraq killed there to just shy of six dozen.

It also clearly exposes the fallacy that some on the right are always repeating about how Iraq is safer than America, because it isn't (the right likes to compare specific American cities to all of Iraq, because that is the only way they can get the numbers to look favorable to them, despite the fact that comparing a whole country to a specific trouble spot is comparing apples to oranges). Journalists are certainly paid to go where the stories are, but let's face it-- you don't hear much about journalists (even local reporters) being killed while reporting on crime in Detroit or New York or Los Angeles. Not saying it's never happened, but it certainly doesn't happen often. For that matter, most national journalists work every day downtown in cities like New York, Washington and Atlanta. And it is very, very rare that you hear about any of them even getting mugged, much less murdered, except when they are specifically targetted (for example, by the zetas, who make a point of killing any reporters who report on them). But random events rarely kill journalists in America.

One could argue of course that for some reason the insurgents are targetting reporters for death (perhaps not wanting any coverage of themselves) but even if that were true, it would not explain cases like this or that of Woodruff-- reporters who are working closesly with U.S. troops (who are unlikely to publish where they will be or when). Either what happened to them is more typical in Iraq than some would have you believe, or journalists have just had an incredible run of bad luck, or we have a major security breach which has allowed the enemy to know exactly where our journalists are and prepare bombs specifically to kill them.

Not believing this third possibility, and with the law of averages starting to make the second less likely as the number of dead journalists in Iraq edges past seventy, I am inclined to believe the first possibility. Those on the right, either wilfully or because they are chronically stuck in the pre-war rose colored glasses that the Bush administration was then handing out, are having trouble even admitting that this war has not gone as planned, and are having even more admitting the plain truth that it is causing more deaths all the time while in effect leading us nowhere.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Either the Strength of Samson, or the Deception of Delilah

Hat tip to Dude at Blue Republic for this one.

I have to admit a mild level of surprise. The surprise is that last week when Pat Robertson made his comment about the tsunami that he predicts might hit the Pacific Northwest (Pat was due to say something stupid again) I pointed out how in cycle he is. Pat is usually so faithfully on cue every three or four months or so, that you could practically set your clock by him (for change of the seasons anyway). It had been since January that he had made the comment about Ariel Sharon's stroke being divine retribution for the Gaza pullout, so when he predicted that storms and a tsunami 'might' hit the U.S., I almost thought about not blogging about it, it being one of Pat's milder idiocies (though that 'might' caught my attention-- he seems to have learned from some of his previous mistakes). So, I figured that Pat would return to his grotto and hibernate until late summer or early fall before he would come out and say something stupid again.

But it was only this week that he did. Actually not in person, but via his website, where he claimed to have leg-pressed 2000 pounds.

I wonder if someone contacted the Guiness Book, because the present record for a leg press is 1,335 pounds by former Florida State University Quarterback Dan Kendra.

Leaving aside the question of how many phone calls the 73 year old televangelist is undoubtedly now fielding from major university football programs wanting to see if he has used up his NCAA eligibility, if this claim is true, it should certainly convince doubters that Robertson is indeed the elect man of God.

After all, to not only break a world strength record at his age, but to shatter it by leg lifting 50% more weight than anyone has ever lifted this way, could only be possible if he indeed received the strength of Samson.

And if that is true, then we clearly have the wrong strategy in Iraq. Instead of sending mere mortals to fight, we should send Pat. The Bible after all says that the original Samson slew a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. Now, Pat gets to regularly exercise the jawbone of an ass (every time he opens his mouth, in fact) but just imagine what Pat could do with all the arms we could give him? And if faced with hand to hand combat, he obviously has the leg strength that he could just drop kick a foeman over the next block.

It is inconceivable to believe that God would give Pat such superhuman strength just so he could do a simple leg-press, he must want him to use it to perform some amazing miracle. Perhaps next week you will hear of Pat lifting a car off of a trapped victim, or jumping up to the second floor of a building to rescue a child from a fire, or perhaps kicking down a tree to help clear a break ahead of an approaching forest fire. We will have to wait and see what he will do.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

This is, and has always been, a day to honor the nation's war dead, and to remember those who are now serving in the uniform of the armed forces of the United States.

As many who read this blog know, I have vociferously disagreed with our policy in Iraq, even when I can figure out exactly what it is. However, we should not in any way blame those men and women who are there, for whatever political mistakes have been made by the leadership in this war. They are doing what they are asked to do, and doing it well, and at great risk and loss, doing it successfully. Often they are doing this despite the periodically re-defined mission, an enemy that no one at the top planned to be fighting, and the by now notorious lack of adequate body and vehicle armor. They deserve our respect and our honor, and we should reserve whatever criticism we have for those at the top who have made mistakes, not for the ordinary people who wear the uniform of our armed forces. Even when they do something that is wrong-- and all week we've been hearing about the Haditha incident (and whoever is guilty of misconduct there-- including a cover-up-- should absolutely be held responsible for their actions), we should not let that specific instance reflect on the basic commitment to getting it done the right way that almost all of those in our armed forces share (and I've had both friends and family deployed to Iraq).

Let's also remember that most of them are still nineteen or twenty year old kids who would be turned away as too young if they tried to buy a beer at circle K, and who instead of sitting in a comfortable chair on a college campus, threatened only by their math assignment, or instead of doing their job and only having to pay attention to the bills when they get home, or instead of devoting their time to their families, have instead chosen to risk their lives, do the work they are asked to do on behalf of their country, and often sacrifice important time with their families.

We must also not forget the 'other war.' We are also fighting in Afghanistan. Maybe it is because we have less troops there and less casualties, or more probably it is because of the lack of controversy (no one seriously argues either the justification or the purpose of the war in Afghanistan, and the press probably finds agreement to be boring) but Afghanistan is hardly ever mentioned, and if so then it is invariably preceded by 'Iraq and...' But Afghanistan is much more than the 'other war.' It is the war that we were thrust quite literally into on September 11, and a place where Americans are fighting just as hard every day as in Iraq.

It is important on this day to remember the war dead, not only to honor them, but also to remind us that a decision to go to war should never be taken lightly or undertaken if there is any other option. War is a terrible thing, and no amount of flag-waving or patriotic sloganeering should be allowed to obscure that fact. Some wars are necessary (and as I've just pointed out, Afghanistan is a prime example), but to quote former President Jimmy Carter as he said last year when he was awarded a Nobel Prize for a quarter century of hard work in the interest of promoting peace and Democracy, 'War may sometimes be a necessary evil, but it is always evil.'

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Separation of Powers in the Balance.

Today, Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty and FBI Director Robert Mueller, threatened to resign en masse if documents seized this week by the FBI from the offices of Representative William Jefferson (D-LA) were returned. Congress, led by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) have demanded that the materials taken in the raid be returned unopened. President Bush has frozen them for forty-five days.

First of all, I would like to make it very clear that I believe that there is ample evidence (even in the absence of the raid) that Representative Jefferson is guilty as sin of accepting bribes while in office (that $90,000 found stashed in the freezer at the Representative's home gives a whole new meaning to the term, 'cold, hard cash') using his paid congressional staff to perform personal business and various other violations both of the law and congressional ethics. He is one of two Democrats who showed up last year on a list of the thirteen most ethically-challenged members of Congress. I don't care that William Jefferson is a Democrat. He's corrupt and he needs to go. If I lived in his district I would vote Republican just to get rid of him, unless the Justice Department does it sooner, which I hope they do. There should be no place in Washington for people with these kinds of ethics, and I hope he spends the next several years as Duke Cunningham's cellmate.

That said, the separation of powers makes it clear that while a Congressman is engaged in his official duties (and Speaker Hastert is right about this), he is exempt from being subject to the Justice Department or any other extension of the Executive branch. That is why Congress has their own rules to police themselves. Often those rules have been ineffective (hence the Abramoff scandal and other problems that I have been very critical of) and the most severe penalties-- expulsion of a member-- are virtually never even considered. Nevertheless, the Constitution sets out clearly that the Congress and the Executive branch are co-equal branches of government. That does not mean that Congressmen are above the law, but rather that whatever investigation occurs must be done while respecting the limits of their official duties. In that context, the Congressman's office, where he conducts his official business, must be respected. On the other hand, his home (including his freezer) is outside of those duties and is subject to search (and other than William Jefferson himself, no one has objected to that part of the investigation. That doesn't mean not to go after him either. The Justice Department was able to collect the evidence needed to prosecute Duke Cunningham and send him to prison, as well as they did to former Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL) a few years ago when he went to prison.

It is worth noting that Congress itself has respected the separation of powers. In both the Nixon and Clinton impeachments, the focus of the impeachment debate dealt with accusations of abuses of power or illegal activities, not with policy decisions. And that is why I have not jumped on the 'impeach Bush' bandwagon over Iraq that some on the left have pushed. Leaving aside the obvious (1. that this Congress won't impeach Bush and 2. if they did, then Dick Cheney would be President, with pretty much identical results), the main reason I don't support it is that as much as I detest the President's decisions on Iraq, and as much as I detest the selective cherry picking of information to butress a policy decision that had been made months earlier while pretending to engage in 'diplomacy,' these were policy decisions and it is up to the voters (who unfortunately failed to do so in 2004) to hold the President and Congress accountable for policy decisions, no matter how bad those decisions are. And perhaps ironically, Vice President Cheney, himself a proponent of stronger executive power but also a former member of Congress, criticized the Justice Department for overreaching in the case and advised the President that the documents should be returned.

The real threat here is that if it is established that the Executive Branch (through any arm) has jurisdiction over Congress, then it opens the door for the Executive Branch to gain supremacy over Congress. And that way leads, sooner or later to dictatorship. Should someone who was truly evil gain the Presidency (and remember that Hitler rose to power in a Republic, not by a coup or a revolution), they could then in theory use this power to threaten or silence the Congress into complacency or cooperation. The Founding Fathers envisioned this which is why they wrote the Constitution to prohibit it.

I believe that the Justice Department can get the goods on William Jefferson with or without raiding his office (as they did get the goods on Cunningham and Rostenkowski), and I hope they do. But in the long term scheme of things, a corrupt Congressman, as odious as it is, is less of a threat to the United States than to erode the separation of powers and make Congress subject to any part of the Executive Branch.

Friday, May 26, 2006

What is a dream worth?

Think about this real hard.

You have a once-in-a-lifetime dream to achieve something you have always dreamed of, trained for, and sacrificed a great deal to get the opportunity to achieve. And it's not cheap-- it cost you a lot of money-- maybe even as much as $75,000.

Is achieving it worth a man's life?

Apparently it is, for forty mountain climbers who walked past a dying man on Mount Everest in order to reach the summit.

The first man to the summit of Mt Everest cannot understand how New Zealand climber Mark Inglis and others on the mountain left British mountaineer David Sharp to die.

"All I can say is that in our expedition there was never any likelihood whatsoever if one member of the party was incapacitated that we would just leave him to die," Sir Edmund Hillary
[the first man to climb the mountain, in 1953] said yesterday.

The renowned adventurer was reacting to the decision by double-amputee Inglis, who was one of many who passed the dying Briton near the summit without trying to rescue him....

"[Inglis] radioed and [expedition manager] Russ said, 'Mate, you can't do anything. He's been there x number of hours without oxygen. He's effectively dead'. So we carried on.

"Of those 40 people who went past, no one helped him except for people from our expedition."

But Sir Edmund was in no doubt.

"On my expedition there was no way that you would have left a man under a rock to die.

"It simply would not have happened. It would have been a disaster from our point of view."

I will say that Inglis is only one of forty, and they all failed.

The argument is that he couldn't have been saved, and at high altitude a rescue would have been difficult. But Sir Edmund has an answer for that, too:

"You can try, can't you? This is the whole thing," Sir Edmund said.

"You are in a dangerous situation, there's no question about that.

"But at least you can try to rescue the life of a man who is obviously in a distressful condition."...

"I think the whole attitude towards climbing Mt Everest has become rather horrifying. The people just want to get to the top.

"They don't give a damn for anybody else who may be in distress and it doesn't impress me at all that they leave someone lying under a rock to die," Sir Edmund said.

And as to the assertion that Mr. Sharp's life could not have been saved? Well, a researcher isn't so sure:

A scientist who has studied oxygen use on Mt Everest believes British climber David Sharp could have been saved.

University of Otago scientist and mountaineer Dr Phil Ainslie said it might have been possible to revive the climber with bottled oxygen and even get him down to safety.

What might have determined Sharp's fate was the intense commercial pressure on Everest climbers, who generally had one very expensive shot at the peak, Dr Ainslie said.

At least 40 climbers passed Sharp, who was identified as being in difficulty and later died on the mountain.

Dr Ainslie, a lecturer in Otago's physiology department, said had Sharp been given oxygen by another climber he could have recovered something like 80 per cent of his capacity.

The line of 40-plus climbers that day probably had one shot at the summit: "There would have been a line like at the supermarket."

Maybe David Sharp could have been saved, maybe he could not. And I know how important a dream is. But no dream is worth a man's life.

And I will say one thing in defense of Mark Inglis. At least he radioed. Most of the other climbers apparently didn't even do that.

It's just too bad that Sir Edmund Hillary wasn't going back for a nostalgia climb, or to try and become the oldest, or something like that. Because then maybe David Sharp would have lived. Or maybe he still would have died. But he wouldn't have been passed by.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Justice served and justice not served.

Today a Houston jury convicted Enron Founder Ken Lay and former C.E.O. Jeffrey Skilling of conspiracy and fraud in the biggest corporate financial scandal in American history.

The jury found that Lay and Skilling lied to cover up financial irregularities and business failures. The collapse in late 2001 caused the loss of over $60 billion in the stock market, including $2.1 billion in pension plans, much of it in the pension plans of Enron employees who were forbidden to sell their shares even as Lay, Skilling and other executives were dumping millions of dollars worth of their own shares. The collapse cost the jobs of thousands of Enron employees, as well as the employees of the accounting firm Arthur Anderson, which also went under as a direct result of the Enron scandal.

Four and a half years later, Lay and Skilling were convicted. But each is still free, pending appeals after posting a five million dollar bond. They will be formally sentenced on September 11 (ironically, not only the five year anniversary of the attack on America, but also very nearly the five year anniversary of when Ken Lay dumped more than $15 million worth of Enron stock, for which he was convicted of insider trading). Although today's verdict will certainly be appealed (these guys have the money to hire lawyers until the cows come home) it is likely that they will be sentenced at that time to quite a long time in jail.

So, finally, in that case, justice has been served.

But what of those for whom justice has been denied?

What of the thousands of Enron employees (as well as Arthur Anderson employees), at least some of who are still unemployed or because of their age are having trouble finding work (and are now subject to the tender mercies of a social safety net that has been shredded by Republican cuts)? People who did nothing other than go to work every day and work their tails off trying to make Enron successful. Will they receive justice in this case? Maybe satisfaction, if they watch Lay and Skilling go to jail, but the daily diet of sidewalk concrete and bill collectors isn't going to change.

What of the former employees who lost billions in the collapse as the stock price imploded? Many of those employees were essentially paid in Enron stock as a part of their salary-- and when they were prohibited from selling it, they were stuck with a worthless piece of paper. Any time you buy stock, you are advised that it is entails a risk. But what if that stock is part of your employment package? Should simply accepting a job entail a similar risk with money that you rightfully earn? I will agree that some of the employees who put more than the required proportion of their pension -- in some cases, 100% -- of their pension plan into Enron stock were foolish, but let's face it-- not everyone is an educated investor and it is not fair for us to assume that people will all be smart investors. This is one reason why the President's Social Security plan failed to catch hold with the public-- the purpose of Social Security is not to be an investment portfolio that carries any sort of risk at all, but to guarantee that people too old to work will at least have food to eat and a roof over their head. If they want more, then they need to provide it themselves, but it guarantees survival when wages are no longer coming in. A pension plan is similar, except that the expectation is that instead of having a subsistence level retirement as Social Security is designed to provide, a person who works for years at a job and earns a pension should reasonably expect to have a better-than-subsistence level retirement. But the Enron workers were in essence to watch daily in late 2001 as their own graves were dug and they could do nothing at all about it. But will they ever recover that loss? Not bloody likely.

What about the other investors in Enron who believed what they were told about the company? Everyone from individual investors to corporations to public pension plans? They lost tens of billions of dollars simply because they believed what they were given to read. Even the smartest investor is only as good as the information they have available. Anyone who is investing in the stock market has a right to feel confident that they are being told the truth. Again, the investors who lost money in Enron may have some satisfaction at seeing Lay and Skilling convicted, and they may also be feeling a little more confident after the shock of what happened by seeing some of the reforms that have since been made, but it is unlikely that they will ever see even a fraction of what they invested in full faith and trust restored.

What about the consumers and California and other states who paid millions in higher energy bills due to what we now know was an artificially manipulated market that Enron created when things started to get desperate for them? By creating energy shortages, they drove bills higher, caused many people there to suffer from rolling blackouts on the hottest days of summer, and put the change in the bank (which only delayed the inevitable).

What about the millions in contributions that Enron gave to campaigns? Obviously, the most visible beneficiary of this is none other than President Bush. The Center for Public Integrity, a Washington-based nonprofit group, said Ken Lay and his wife had given $139,500 to Bush's political campaigns over the years. Other Enron employees had given another $460,000. But it isn't just Bush. Many other politicians-- mostly Republicans but a few Democrats as well-- were beneficiaries of Lay's and Enron's largesse over the years. This raises a number of disturbing questions. First, do we have people in office today who were essentially put there by Enron? Considering the closeness of the 2000 election, the case can be made the President may very well only be there because of the small (in the general scheme of the election) but not insignificant edge given him by Enron. And there are others who the same question could be asked about. Second, how much influence does a C.E.O. or other boss have over political donations? I am an advocate of open records on campaign financing (and sometimes visit sites such as fund race and open secrets which give you information on who gave how much political money and to whom) and would never suggest that we do anything to limit access to this information. But everything has a price, and the price here is that it opens the door for an unscrupulous employer to pressure employees (even if just by means of subtle rewards) for giving money to a candidate, or perhaps in other cases, not giving money to a candidate. And even if the boss says nothing on the subject, those employees who want to 'suck up' to the boss and stroke his (her?) ego are more likely to donate money to candidates the boss approves of than disapproves of. A third disturbing question is this: Enron itself donated a ton of cash, not only to political causes but to all sorts of causes, even to the extent of buying naming rights to the Houston Astros' new baseball stadium. What business does a company in as much trouble as Enron have giving away that much money?

Justice was done today in the trial of Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. But it almost certainly will never be done in the lives of all those who they destroyed.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Remembering Lloyd Bentsen

Lloyd Bentsen has passed away this morning at his home in Houston.

Bentsen, who served in the United States Senate from 1971 until 1993, was also the 69th Secretary of the Treasury, a post which he held for two years in the Clinton administration.

Bentsen had served his country for most of his life, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross during World War II. Bentsen was also the last Democrat to represent Texas in the United States Senate.

But Bentsen is best remembered for his debate with Dan Quayle. In fact, Bentsen had been a friend of Jack Kennedy, having even gone to his wedding in 1953.

So Bentsen, who had heard that Dan Quayle had compared himself to Kennedy (in an attempt to deflect criticism of his age), was ready when Quayle compared himself to Kennedy.

The quote was, "I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."

Fifteen years after that debate, a NewsMax story ran which claimed that the two men never met each other despite the fact that Bentsen was in Congress while Kennedy was in the Senate. But today, one of the press relations people who was helping Bentsen prepare for the debate related that Bentsen was miffed at Quayle's comparison to Kennedy, who he said he not only knew, but had attended his wedding. I verified that this story was false with a call this morning to research department at the Kennedy library. They verified that indeed, Lloyd Bentsen was on the guest list for the wedding. How well he knew him is a matter of debate (there were 800 guests at the wedding) but the facts bear out that he did know him and as such that the NewsMax story was false.

Bentsen also had a genuineness about him that politicians today would do well to heed. While he was in the Senate, Bentsen had held a series of breakfasts with lobbyists, which they donated money to his political committee and then were able to attend the breakfast. The story was blown up into a major scandal, dubbed 'Eggs McBentsen' in the media. So how did Bentsen handle it? Easy. He confessed, and said, "I don't make a lot of mistakes, but I made that one and it was a doozy." And as there was no actual crime committed, that was the end of the story. He'd confessed to everything that the journalists were digging for, so there was no more story and they had nothing more to do, so they moved on to something else. What you see today are politicians who make mistakes (just like the rest of us) but then they deny, deny and deny which only gets the media hounds digging deeper, deeper and deeper. Maybe they should take a cue from the way Bentsen handled it.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Union Organizers Arrested at Basha's.

I just now got this in my mailbox:

This press release was sent out this afternoon.

Mike Vespoli
UFCW Local 99
2401 N. Central Ave.
Phoenix, AZ. 85004

Two women ordered arrested by Bashas

Dozens of workers picket Basha-owned A.J.s over "broken health insurance promise."

(May 21, 2006 Phoenix, AZ) Two women were arrested Sunday morning as part of the Bashas corporation ongoing effort to silence worker concern over unprecedented increases in health insurance premiums.

The two women, Sarah Gresoski, 23, and Teresa D¹Asaro, 39, both members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, were meeting with employees at the Basha-owned A.J.s at Uptown Plaza in Phoenix. Such meetings are allowed and protected under federal law.

The A.J.¹s store manager made a "citizens arrest" of the two women apparently after consultation with unnamed company officials. Phoenix Police Officers then were called to take the women into custody and charged them with "criminal trespassing."

Following the arrests upwards of 60 employees and union members launched a picket line in front of the A.J.s store....

For the past three days UFCW members have been meeting with employees at Bashas-owned stores across the Valley including Bashas, A.J.s, and FoodCity....

This is disappointing to me personally. Eddie Basha has always been a friend to the Democratic party of Arizona, but clearly either he is no longer in charge or he has gone from simply running a non-union store to active union busting. I believe that the right of workers to organize in collective bargaining units is a fundamental right that every employee in America should have, whether it is exercised or not.

Until and unless I hear that this situation has been resolved, I will limit my shopping to stores other than Basha's (even though in Winslow, I have a choice of Basha's, Safeway or Wal-Mart to shop at for groceries, and I'm already boycotting Wal-Mart.)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Spurious logic at work.

Students at Basha high school in Chandler are getting an unexpected-- and unwelcome surprise.

The new policy is to make them pay extra for Ketchup beyond the first three packets in the lunchroom. The schools complaint is that lately some of the students have taken packets of ketchup from the cafeteria and begun stomping on them in the halls, having contests to see who can make the red stuff squirt the farthest.

So the school has begun charging for the packets. But in a not very well thought out process, they have also banned bottles of ketchup from school grounds. They will however let people bring an unlimited supply of packets of ketchup with them.

What kind of logic is that? In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it seems unlikely that students would stomp on bottles of ketchup, and as for the unlimited supply of packets they can bring in (I'm sure the local McDonald's loves that part of the policy), it seems self defeating.

But that is logic for you. Have a minor problem that you can't seem to fix (what happened to detention, anyway?) so you restrict everyone's rights, and do it in a way that makes it seem that it isn't about the 'problem,' but actually about getting a few more quarters out of the students.

And this is a high school, that is supposed to be teaching them constructive thinking?

Pat was due to say something stupid again.

America's favorite caricature, Rev. Pat Robertson, has been notably absent from Deep Thought for a few months (since declaring that Ariel Sharon's stroke was a punishment from God.)

In fact, since the search feature on Blogger seems to have broken down and limits searches to recent posts, I've been working on compiling an index of old posts (which I will post when it is complete) and it is remarkable how faithful Pat is. Faithful as in, whenever he hasn't shot his mouth off for a couple of months, he shoots it off again, just like clockwork. I've gotten him on the Sharon comment, on his saying that black people will only vote for white Democrats if they are named, 'Bubba,' on his proposing the assassination of Hugo Chavez, and on his telling residents of Dover, PA not to pray to God in the case of a natural disaster because they have 'rejected God' (by voting for a school board which did not want to waste any more of the district's money by pushing that Intelligent Design be taught as science rather than a religious doctrine.) I've also blogged on the incident post-Katrina when FEMA briefly helped funnel monetary donations to Pat, and on the questionable African business dealings of his charity.

Compared to some of this, what he said this time was a relatively tame and low level 'Faux Pat.'

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- The Rev. Pat Robertson says God has told him that storms and possibly a tsunami will hit America's coastline this year.

The founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network has told viewers of "The 700 Club" that the revelations came to him during his annual personal prayer retreat in January.

"If I heard the Lord right about 2006, the coasts of America will be lashed by storms," Robertson said May 8.

He added specifics in Wednesday's show.

"There well may be something as bad as a tsunami in the Pacific Northwest," he said.

Storms on the Atlantic coast? Every year the U.S. gets hit by a hurricane or two, and the Atlantic coast is more often a target than even the Gulf Coast (last year being a particularly nasty and freakishly unnatural year). Further, the devastation of last year, while unlikely to be repeated in terms of its magnitude, is just a 'high' year of what we are now moving into-- a very active hurricane cycle, compounded by the effects of global warming which has heated the surface temperatures of tropical waters and thereby helps strengthen hurricanes. Pat may have heard this from God, but he could have asked any meteorologist and the meteorologist would have said the same thing.

As to the tsunami prediction, that is more interesting. First, of course, we should note that Pat said, "MAY be something as bad as a tsunami."

First, didn't God tell him if there would or not? True, in scripture there are times when the Lord promises some sort of destruction contingent on the repentance of the people, but Pat didn't seem to be tying this to repentance. I guess he has learned by some of his past mistakes and is hedging just a bit.

As far as that there may be a tsunami in the Pacific Northwest, you don't need to go to God to learn that either. Earthquakes are quite common around the Pacific, and as such while in any given year the chances are quite a bit higher that there won't be a tsunami than that there will, it is one of those events that sooner or later will happen. So Pat is saying that something may happen, which is what any planetary geologist will tell you too.

But even if it does, there is not too much reason to worry. For one thing, since tsunamis in general are quite common in the Pacific, the international community has put in place an early warning system in the Pacific (a system which was tragically lacking in the Indian Ocean a year and a half ago). So it is likely that most communties could be evacuated. That is especially true in the Pacific Northwest, where the combination of a sparsely populated coastline, the presence of the coastal ranges immediately behind that coastline, and population centers that are located behind the coastal ranges on inlets and (in the case of Portland) river valleys, meaning that a tsunami when it does hit this area (where I've been several times, and where my wife and I took part of our honeymoon) is likely to cause few or even no deaths. There could be some property damage, but with only small communities along the coast, it is likely that the effects would be localized and nothing like the scale of the tragedy that we saw in Asia.

It would be easy to dismiss this clown as just a clown, except that there are at least a million (and according to his organization as many as seven million) people who listen to him every day and do what he says and vote like he tells them to. In that context, this 'nut' has to be taken seriously.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Human Genome Project Complete; A Triumph for Public Research Funding.

Today marks a milestone in science. British scientists announced analyzing the final sequence of DNA in the Human Genome Project. Paradoxically, of the twenty three pairs of chromosmes in the human body, the last one to be analyzed was Chromosome 1.

LONDON, England (Reuters) -- Scientists have reached a landmark point in one of the world's most important scientific projects by sequencing the last chromosome in the Human Genome, the so-called "book of life".

Chromosome 1 contains nearly twice as many genes as the average chromosome and makes up eight percent of the human genetic code.

It is packed with 3,141 genes and linked to 350 illnesses including cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

"This achievement effectively closes the book on an important volume of the Human Genome Project," said Dr Simon Gregory who headed the sequencing project at the Sanger Institute in England.

The project was started in 1990 to identify the genes and DNA sequences that provide a blueprint for human beings.

And let's call it what it is: a triumph for publically funded scientific research. Several privately funded ventures set out to do the same thing, but they all were overwhelmed by the size and complexity of the project and came up short.

As I wrote in a post last July entitled, In Defense of Public Funding for Basic Research,

There are those who say that any research worth doing will appeal to private donors or for profit corporations, and so the government should not be in the research business.

Yet, when we think of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of the past century-- the splitting of the atom, landing a man on the moon, the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA, all of these were accomplished with the support of government, not of private industry.

That is not to say that private industry doesn't have a role to play in carrying out basic research. Once the private enterprises involved accepted the fact that publically financed institutions (in this case, a group of several government funded research institutions around the world acting in concert) were providing the heavy lifting for the project, a productive partnership developed. Unlike such projects as building an atomic bomb and landing a man on the moon, the immediate profitability of the genome project has generated a lot of support from private industry, primarily in the biomedical field. And that is good. But, as the article on the role of private industry points out:

Substantial public-sector R&D investment often was needed in feasibility demonstrations before such start-up ventures as those by Celera Genomics, Incyte, and Human Genome Sciences could begin. In turn, these companies furnished valuable commercial services that the government could not provide, and the taxes returned by their successes easily repay fundamental public investments.

This makes at least three points: 1) The initial investment before the project was raised to profitability was provided by government (in this case, primarily the British government); 2) private industry does have its place, just not as the driver of the program, and 3) in the long run, this is a win/win situation, and I suspect that over the long term the British and other governments will get a substantial return on their investment as the sales of pharmaceuticals and other technology or information that come from this project produce much in the way of tax revenue.

But the really best argument in favor of public funding, the argument that really hits the ball out of the park here, is that the genome, now completed, is free and accessible to anyone who wants to look at it. Suppose for a moment, that a private company had in fact carried out this project and sequenced the entire genome. Do you suppose they would simply open it up to free inspection, and tell potential competitors, 'Here?' They would have guarded it like Colonel Sanders guarded his secret recipe, and if they let any of it out at all, you can be sure that it would have only been in pieces, and at a hefty price. In the long run, research into applications would be limited only to that company, and to those who they chose to give the information to. And to compound matters, competitors, not willing to allow that situation to continue permanently, would have certainly begun their own DNA sequencing project. So, the same research would probably be done half a dozen, a dozen or even more times, resulting in a tremendous waste of academic resources. But now, none of them will have to do that, they can go to the public database of the project, and go get anything and everything they want either for free or for a nominal fee.

I respect the ability of private industry to conduct research into those areas that immediately benefit them, but for a project of this magnitude and scope, public financing is still the best avenue to take, and one which today celebrated an enormous achievement.

Cross posted at Night Bird's Fountain.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Latest Kyl ad-- jumps into Jim Pederson's shoes.

I just saw the latest Jon Kyl ad in which he promises straight talk about illegal immigrants.

He says that :

Border security should be tightened.
Employers should be punished if they hire illegal aliens.
No amnesty should be given, but families should have a chance to become legal.
Felons should not be given these opportunities.

Gee, isn't this part of the Pederson plan? As I recall, Jon Kyl had a plan a couple of months ago, and it was focused on asking illegal immigrants who were here to just go home and apply to come back in.

Sounds like Kyl has been reading the polls, so he is now abandoning his own (already dead) plan and adopting his opponent's plan.

I have a better idea if that sounds like a good plan. Vote for the guy (Jim Pederson) who has had it all along, even before the polls started showing that people supported these ideas.

Why is the right so paranoid about Al Gore-- maybe its because he's NOT running.

In Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, Obi-Wan Kenobi, while in a duel to the death with his former student Darth Vader, says just before Vader strikes him down, "You can't win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." And so Al Gore seems to be becoming, which is why the right is so desperate to drag him back to 'mortality,' expending far more effort to speculate negatively about Al Gore than it would seem anyone would normally expend on a defeated Presidential candidate (after all, how often do you see them speculating on John Kerry or Michael Dukakis in the same way, despite a multitude of evidence that Kerry actually does plan to run for President in 2008?)

The former Vice President and 2000 Presidential candidate is now promoting a new movie, An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary which lays out his long fight to educate people about the facts of global warming, and which not only profiles Gore's efforts but the whole issue itself, and does so using logic, facts and hard science. Of course Gore has had environmental issues at the top of his list of priorities for decades, so it is hardly surprising that he would be lending his credibility to a movie about global warming, but it is interesting watching just how desperately the right wants to diminish this man or get people to question his motives.

Usually, when someone with a celebrity background (including politicians) speaks out for a cause, immediately there is a flurry of attacks and questions about their motives by their political opponents. In Gore's case, they are having trouble doing that. He has become much more of a difficult target since losing the 2000 election (the purpose of this post is not to rehash that, I'm sure everyone knows and has an opinion as to how-- but it was certainly the closest and most controversial Presidential election since 1876 or perhaps 1800, and we will leave it at that.) For one thing, he has become very rich: Gore is now a senior adviser to Google Inc., a member of the Apple Computer Inc., board of directors and co-founder and chairman of an investment firm. So any idea of attacking his commitment to environmentalism and other causes as 'being in it for the money' is ridiculous, and the right knows that. So they haven't even tried to push that angle of attack. Gore has never been accused of being unfaithful to his wife or committing other serious moral transgressions, so that line of attack is also closed.

So they are seizing on the only line of attack they have left-- speculating that it is a prelude to a possible Presidential run in 2008. After all, if you can tar someone as 'a politician' who is doing whatever (s)he is doing for purely personal political reasons, and you've got your grounds to call into doubt whatever that person is speaking on behalf of.

The problem with this argument when used against Al Gore is that it is not only stale, but there is no evidence at all to support it. The first piece of evidence that is not true is this: Al Gore announced in 2003 that he was not running for the 2004 nomination (despite similar speculation, compounded by the fact that he had for a time been pondering a run), and he kept his word and did not. He has now said that he is not a candidate for 2008, so based on the fact that he stuck to what he said the first time, it seems likely that he will stick to it this time as well (even aside from the fact that he had a well-earned reputation for earnestness during his years in the Senate). His early opposition, almost alone at first, to the Iraq war in mid-2002 at a time when the President's approval rating was in the eighties, and most politicians in Washington were either supporting it or cowering from the fight makes it clear that he is made of tougher stuff than the typical Washington politician.

Further, look where he is going to promote the movie: Right now, he is in California (where he premiered the film last night), and is scheduled to go to New York, Utah and France. Notice that New Hampshire and Iowa are not on that list. Further, it is hard to see why a person running for President would make his stops in California and New York (media and fundraising centers for sure, but if he was looking to raise funds he wasted the opportunity last night-- meaning that fundraising isn't his goal--, and states where the media coverage is likely to be more national than focused on the 'swing voters,' activists and voters in states with early primaries that politicians know they have to court to win a nomination.) He got the media coverage he was looking for in California and will in New York, but it is coverage of the movie, not the type that would be as useful if he were running for President. Utah-- the most Republican state in the country-- hardly a place where a Democrat looking to run for President would go, but exactly the sort of place that a guy who is looking to change the minds of people about an issue would want to go-- to speak to people who don't already agree with him about it. And France? Lots of U.S. Presidential primary voters there, I'm sure. But as this is an international issue, he is campaigning for the movie internationally as well as nationally.

The real problem the right has with Al Gore is this: they see him as a threat. Everyone would love to have an icon to speak for them in the press-- a person who is larger than life, and whose reputation is so large that it is hard to tear down, and a person who is listened to beyond those who necessarily agree with them. Unfortunately, such icons are rare. The only one I can think of today, who automatically gets listened to even by those who don't agree with them is Colin Powell-- even though he was much diminished by his role in the run up to the Iraq war. Ex-Presidents can sometimes be icons. Had Ronald Reagan stayed healthy, he might have become one. Of the ex-Presidents we have now, maybe Jimmy Carter comes closest. This is not based on what he did as President (he was, after all a one-term President who other than Camp David and an energy policy which in hindsight was visionary but was never implemented, did not accomplish much while in office and left under the twin clouds of 'malaise' and the Iran hostage crisis). His status as almost an icon is instead because of the remarkable way he has redefined the role of an ex-President. Of course, ex-Presidents have traditionally come closer to Gerald Ford-- occasionally coming in off the golf course for a softball interview. But Carter has recast the role of ex-President into the role of 'activist' (in fact, Richard Nixon began to change what the ex-President's role was, but Carter has set the standard). Does anyone think that Presidents Bush I and Clinton would have been called on to lead the tsunami relief effort if Jimmy Carter had not paved the way?) Carter comes close to the status of 'icon.' Close, but maybe not quite there. Bush I and Clinton themselves have potential but both have a huge negative-- Bush I suffered through the same sort of 1-term Presidency that just didn't quite have it that Carter did, and Clinton is still remembered for his one liner beginning "I did not..." and the political witchhunt that followed it.

Gore, on the other hand, could very well achieve icon status. His loss, ironically is the reason. Had he won, his legacy would have been measured in part by his Presidency (the same thing that is holding Nobel prize winner Carter back). By losing, and in a way that even the most hard core of Republicans has to admit was a tough loss to take-- and then bowing out gracefully as he did in his concession speech, Gore came out of the 2000 debacle without the White House but with his reputation intact. By not running in 2004 and 2008, he does far more than maybe set the table for some Presidential bid, whether he ever decides to run or not, on down the road. He holds all the cards that an ex-President holds as far as being able to speak with authority (and for that matter, he was a highly visible veep during eight of the most prosperous and successful years of our Republic-- but without the weight of the Lewinsky affair which compromises Clinton). The nagging suspicion that he may have in fact fully earned the Presidency but was denied it by a confluence of bad luck, ineptness on the part of local officials or perhaps something deeper than that (as I said, we won't speculate on that here), only enhances his stature.

It is for this reason that his detractors are always whispering, trying to suggest that Gore is always planning to 'run for President.' They want to be able to drag him into the muck with all the rest of the 'politicians' so they can diminish the man, and therefore diminish what he is saying. What makes ex-Presidents so appealing as icons is the 22nd amendment-- they have little or nothing more to gain for themselves, so if they stand for something, it must be out of personal conviction. With Al Gore declining now twice to run, he achieves virtually the same stature as an ex-President without accumulating any of the warts that a President will inevitably accumulate while in office. As time goes on, the last barb they have to throw at him-- that he is a 'politician,' becomes smaller, less sharp and more ineffective. And that is a scary thought to those who may now have to face him as an opponent-- not in a traditional campaign, but a battle of ideas.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The silly logic of the right.

Unfortunately, living in an isolated rural area as I do, my radio pickings are somewhat limited (especially since I prefer a news/talk format). True, there is NPR radio from Flagstaff (and they have an English (?) lady on there with a wonderfully pleasant radio voice, of the type that even when she is telling you bad news it doesn't seem so bad). But mostly, the stations here carry conservative talk shows. So if you turn on the radio in the morning you can generally find Rush on at least three stations, and not much else in the way of talk. So sometimes I even listen to Rush, usually to amuse myself with picking apart his primitive one-dimensional logic.

So today, he was talking about the President's speech (not surprisingly, he disagrees with the President on this one-- on those rare occasions when I agree with George W. Bush, you can be sure that Rush is wrong.) Then his logic veered towards the ludicrous. He cited an overnight poll that said that 2 out of 3 Americans thought it was a good speech. So, he said, 'let's test that... let's see if the President's approval ratings shoot upwards.'

Hmmm... he is thinking that if people approve of the President's position on the issue de jour, they will approve of the President. For example, I approve of the President's immigration plan, so does that mean I now approve of the job that President Bush is doing? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!

This is the same President who frittered away the biggest surplus we've ever had and replaced it with record deficits, who plunged us into an ill-conceived and ruinous war by using carefully cherry picked intelligence reports, who has cut funding for everything from our national parks to flood levees in New Orleans (pre-Katrina), who failed during Katrina, who has spent more time on vacation and fundraising than any President within recent memory, who has repeatedly understated to the American people the extent to which the government is spying on them, and who hasn't even been able to fire a demonstrated incompetent like Donald Rumsfeld.

Do I now approve of his performance because he is right about immigration? No, I don't. You may as well ask me if I like having a cavity filled at the dentist if they give me a free toothbrush on the way out the door.

So no, the President's approval rating won't jump up at all because this is still a failed Presidency.

But according to the logic of Limbaugh, that means that the polls must be wrong.

What is scary is how many people listen to a guy with that kind of logic, and figure he is a deep enough thinker that what he says forms the basis for what they think and say about it.

The effects of years of budget cuts.

In a little noticed story out yesterday, NASA had another screw-up.

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- A robotic NASA spacecraft designed to rendezvous with an orbiting satellite instead crashed into its target, according to a summary of the investigation released Monday.

Investigators blamed the collision on faulty navigational data that caused the DART spacecraft to believe that it was backing away from its target when it was actually bearing down on it.

The only thing remarkable about this was, well, its unremarkability. Over the past few years, we have seen the failure of several Mars missions, a special probe designed to collect comet dust and return it to earth, and of course the Columbia tragedy.

Of course, there have always been mishaps in space, while pushing the frontiers of science and technology. It is a risky adventure, and those who engage in it deserve our respect. We all saw the Challenger explode ten years ago, and we probably saw Tom Hanks re-enact the now hazily distant but all too familiar saga of Apollo 13.

But what is disturbing is that the numbers have turned around. During the 1960's and 1970's, most of our space missions, manned or unmanned, were successful. The inevitable failures were the exception, but not the rule in the early exploration of space.

Today, we see all manner of failures, and on those rare occasions when we see a success (as I blogged about in one of my very first blog posts), it seems to be the rarity, not the more numerous failures.

What has changed since the 1960's and 1970's compared to today?

How about: The missions are often more dangerous or problematical. Well, not so fast. We sent unmanned probes much farther out into space in the 1970's, including one that managed to swing by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune in a sort of giant pinball arrangement on its way out of the solar system. Besides, most of the mishaps have involved Mars missions (with the sojourner rovers being about the only successes of note there). But going to Mars was accomplished with very little complication by the 1970's era Viking landers, and today's mishap had to do with an unmanned mission that was heading towards a satellite in earth orbit. So it's hard to argue that the missions are more dangerous or difficult, because in general they are not.

Well, then, what about the techological changes? What about them? Isn't technology supposed to simplify things instead of making them more complicated?

How about the quality of the engineers? It is certainly true that the geniuses, headed by Werner von Braun, who gave us those early rockets have long since retired. But today we have a whole new generation of geniuses. We certainly have schools who can give them and do give them the same education (or perhaps an even more modern one) than the early NASA engineers had. After all, look at how many of those quality engineers Raytheon has?

Ah, there is the problem. Not that you can blame Raytheon for hiring the best people they can get (or any other company, for that matter), but you can blame our government.


Our government has changed from one where in the 1960's and 1970's a philosophy of 'do what it takes to make it work,' to a philosophy of 'make it work for as little as it can take.' NASA started to suffer budget cuts during the Reagan era, and its budget has continued to decline since. At the same time, additional bureacrats (largely due to unspecified mandates about 'accountability') have popped up more concerned with the budget than with the overall mission of the agency.

Not that the engineers that NASA gets are bad engineers, because they're not, but it is certainly true that NASA gets second pick, after private industry, because of their low relative budget. We may not have noticed (as much) in the 1980's, because many of the original veterans were still around, and even when you starve an agency it takes a few years for the long term effects to be felt. But felt they now have been.

Conservatives love to argue that their budget cuts won't impact the service level of government. Well, at least in this case it appears that they are dead wrong about that.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Too bad the President isn't as reasonable in his approach to other issues.

I agreed with President Bush again tonight. I agree with him every time he talks about immigration. I just wish he would never talk about or do anything about all the other problems we have. But on this one, he is right on track.

Tonight, he talked about a number of immigration related proposals and actions. The first of these is that he has said that he is adding 6,000 national guard troops at the border. These troops will be under state control but be funded by the Federal Government. Of course, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson declared states of emergency on the border months ago that allowed the deployment of the guard, while making the point that securing the international border is a Federal, not a state, responsiblity. So here in Arizona, we know that the President has finally recognized and signed onto the Governor's plan, as is also the case in our neighbors to the east, but I guess if you live in the other forty-eight states it sounded like a new proposal. Regardless, it is part of his overall set of proposals, and it should be. I'm not necessarily thrilled myself about putting troops on our border with Mexico, but as long as our border patrol is overwhelmed by the scope of the task they have (not just involving illegal aliens, but also involving more and more smuggling of methamphetamines, cocaine and other high potency drugs, as well as the growing threat posed by the zetas and other paramilitary organizations, it is appropriate for us to put the troops there.

A second point that the President made was to reiterate his support for a guest worker program. He has said this for years, and it is one of the main reasons why I believe that this President is right about this issue. These people are already in the United States, working here and trying to do nothing other than provide a living for their families. Let's not treat them like criminals, instead give them a way to live, work, pay taxes and otherwise be productive members of our society.

He has said that he does not support 'amnesty,' which he described here as an 'automatic path to citizenship.' I agree that it should not be automatic. Citizenship is something that we in America value, so it should be earned. If someone fails to abide by certain standards (for example, committing a felony in America while a non-citizen should probably be grounds for failing to achieve citizenship), then they should not be granted it automatically. For those who earnestly want to become Americans, America is still big enough to receive them. I reject the small-minded thinking of those who claim that it is not. One thing when he did not mention but which must be part of any long term solution: legal immigration quotas must be adjusted to meet the needs of the labor market. If there is one lesson we can take from capitalism, it is that where there is a market, that market will put pressure on the system until it is satisfied. If we continue to set immigration quotas unrealistically low, then we are setting ourselves up for a future that looks like today, no matter what we do.

Overall, though, I have always thought that President Bush's vision on immigration was reasonable and rational. As long as he maintains those views, this is one of the very few areas where I hope he succeeds. This week, the Senate is likely to pass an immigration bill that will resemble the President's plan. Then we will have to convince the House Republicans that his plan is a good one, and that they should abandon their hard line anti-immigrant approach.

I would also add one other item that he did not talk about, but which has to be part and parcel of our immigration plan. That has to do with port security. Right after 9/11, it was pointed out that less than two percent of cargo containers entering America is inspected. Today, that figure has hardly budged. Yet, illegal immigrants from China and other Asian countries do not generally walk across our southern border-- they mostly come in hidden in cargo containers. And if you build a wall? Then the Mexicans will likely as not start shipping themselves in inside cargo containers too. Yet the President has not asked, nor has Congress appropriated, the funds to inspect all (or even significantly more than we have in the past) of the cargo containers that enter American ports.

A complete lack of class

Fans of the San Jose Sharks booed the Canadian national anthem prior to the start of last night's playoff game against the Edmonton Oilers.

While the booing of anthems in both countries occurred on occasion during the early days of the Iraq war (when US-Canadian relations reached their all time low) it has been at least two years since such a display occurred. The incident last night seems to have been a singular example of poor taste.

I've been an outspoken advocate of free speech on this blog, even defending for example the right of the Danish anti-Islamic cartoonists to publish their cartoons and the right of Holocaust denier David Irving to publish his book. And those who chose to boo during the national anthem of another country have the right to do that too. But don't expect me to call them anything other than classless, stupid ignoramuses.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The penalty for sexually assaulting 18 children-- one month in prison, three years of probation.

On April third, I put up a post entitled, The perks of being the son of the senate president about the sweetheart deal that Yavapai County prosecutors cut with Clifton Bennett, the son of state Senate President Ken Bennett, and a co-defendant, dropping all but one of thirty-six counts of assault (already watered down from sexual assault-- as I discussed in the post last month) against Bennett for sodomizing eighteen boys aged 11-14 with broomsticks and flashlights at a 'leadership' camp for gifted students. In that post, I pointed out that what Bennett and Kyle Wheeler, counselors at the camp did, is the same crime that former New York police officer Justin Volpe was sentenced in 1999 to thirty years in prison for doing to Abner Louima.

Well, today, the rest of raw justice was served. Even that one count was knocked down to a misdemeanor which could even be erased (pending completion of the sentence) by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Thomas O'Toole (I gather the case was moved to Maricopa County due to the publicity that surrounded the case in Yavapai County.) Bennett will serve thirty days in prison and Wheeler 45, plus two hundred hours each of community service, and three years of probation.

Does this sound like a misdemeanor to you? (quoted verbatim from today's print issue of the Arizona Republic:

Several of the 18 victims left the courtroom, angry and frustrated. Since the assaults, many have had trouble sleeping and going to the bathroom, their parents say. Their grades have slipped, and many are undergoing counseling.

Keep in mind that these victims were children. WHO THE HECK SODOMIZES A CHILD WITH A BROOMSTICK?!! I mean, someone was really sick just to think that one up. AND WHO THE BLOODY HECK LETS THE PERPETRATORS OFF EASY like this? As justification, it was pointed out that these boys were sodomized through their underwear or nightclothes. That is supposed to be a defense?

And here is the really scary part of it: knocking it down to a misdemeanor means that they may even get to work with kids again:

(keeping the crimes as felonies) would have prohibited Wheeler and Bennett from getting jobs that put them in contact with children. But now, they can get those jobs. And we wonder why child molesters keep popping up in our schools.

Oh, and Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk insists that the reason they got the deal they got in the first place was not related to the fact that Clifton Bennett's father is one of the most politically powerful men in Arizona.

Yeah, right. If you or I sodomized eighteen children with broomsticks, we'd be getting a sentence more like the one Justin Volpe got (which we should get, if we did what they did.) So this unbelievably good deal has nothing to do with Ken Bennett... Uh, huh, and if you believe that then I can get you a great deal on a house in New Orleans (or maybe some prime wooded land near Overgaard).

There is one other way that the families are seeking justice. According to today's article, eleven of the victims have hired lawyers, and six have already filed lawuits against Bennett, his father (who is a multimillion dollar oilman who just happens to run half of the legislature in his spare time) and the operators of the camp.

Now, I'm not usually a fan of lawsuits. The only time I've ever hired a lawyer to sue anybody was after I was run into by another driver, and after several weeks of being jerked around while trying to deal directly with the other driver's insurance company, which kept transferring the case file to another, then another, then another person, I said the heck with it and called an attorney, who did in fact handle that situation to my satisfaction.

That said, this case is exactly why those who push for tort "reform" are wrong to do so. In a case like this, the only way justice is likely to be served is through the civil courts. Take that away, and these guys really do get 'in like Flynn' and can walk away scott free from eighteen cases of sexual assault with only a misdemeanor and thirty days in jail. Other than through the civil suits though, justice has most decidedly not been served in this case.

Meanwhile, somewhere in a small prison cell in New York, another day went by just like yesterday went by, and just like tomorrow will go by. Justin Volpe is counting down to the day later this year when he will be able to mark only twenty three years left on his sentence. Too bad for him, he wasn't related to anybody rich enough or powerful enough to get him a 'deal.'

Friday, May 12, 2006

It's not about spying, it's about trustworthiness.

The Bush administration has defended the latest NSA spying program to make national headlines, the fact that the administration asked, and at least three major long distance companies complied, that the companies turn over copies of the complete list of phone calls made by tens of millions of people. When they made them, how long, to whom--- all in the records. Luckily for me, I have Qwest, which was asked to do the same by the government, but refused, citing the confidentiality of their customers (meaning they come out of this smelling like a rose).

Today the President defended the new program as necessary in the war on terror. However, there are two problems with this answer.

The first one should be obvious, except for knee-jerk neo-cons, for whom GWB can do no wrong. Right now, under legislation passed in the 1990's, the Government already has the right to get a warrant and obtain this information (or for that matter, to go even farther if they want to, like actually listening in on the conversations) of people suspected of terrorist links. All they need is a FISA warrant, and incidentally only four of those have ever been denied during the existance of the FISA court. So if this was really about tracking terrorists, they would only need to get a copy of the known phone records of the known terror suspects (and there must be some, if we believe this government, otherwise what else would they be looking for on everyone else's list?) Perfectly legally. But they did not. Which brings us to my second point:

Everytime something like this leaks out, the White House puts their spin on it. But wasn't it just a few weeks ago when they told us that only phone conversations with one end in a foreign country were even being monitored? There is a basic issue of trust here. The President keeps admitting things, but then saying 'that's all there is,' which lasts until the next big revelation showing that he was lying when he said that what had previously been revealed was 'all there was.'

I have just one question: Are we done yet, Mr. President, or will we see more information come out which directly contradicts what you are saying today?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Hugo Chavez's main opponent is farther to the left than he is

Quite a bit has been written, including by me, about Latin America's accelerating movement towards the left. So how fast is it happening? Well here is one measure-- you know Hugo Chavez, that bogeyman of the Bush administration, whose support by the impoverished masses overwhelmed the rich at the ballot box? Well, he is at least thirty points ahead of any potential challenger in the polls now ahead of this December's election (one reason why the few remaining righties are talking about boycotting the election) but he may have one challenger who has a chance to beat him: Teodoro Petkoff, a former leftist rebel, who is running against Chavez-- from the left.

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - A former leftist rebel, who is seen by many opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as the only hope of defeating him in a December election, said on Friday he will stand against the highly popular leader.

Teodoro Petkoff, the fourth hopeful from Venezuela's weak and fragmented opposition to stand for the December 3 presidential vote, is considered by some to have the leftist credentials to dent Chavez's support among the poor.

"I didn't discover poverty because Chavez showed it to me," said Petkoff, 74. "Many years before Chavez was born I was walking the poor neighborhoods and villages of this country."

That's right. Venezuela has moved to the left so rapidly that Hugo Chavez is now being run seriously against as being too conservative.

At this rate, the USA will pretty soon be the only country left in the Western Hemisphere where genuine conservatives even have a chance of winning an election (and before anyone makes the point, I blogged even before the Canadian election that Canadian conservatives are much more like American liberals in many ways, while Canadian Liberals are outright socialists.

And in Mexico, Lopez Obrador has a fair-to-good chance to win the Presidency.

No wonder conservatives want to build a wall. It's not to keep out people, it's to keep out ideas.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Will a Rapist become President of South Africa?

I was thankful when South Africans, after years of apartheid, earned the right to elect their president. And their first choice, Nelson Mandela, proved to be the right choice-- his idea for a 'truth and reconciliation commission' almost certainly averted waves of reprisal killings and other continuing violence to settle scores between families, tribes and individuals stemming from the country's decades long civil war.

Unfortunately, since Mandela left office, South Africans have elected a series of incompetents, buffoons and corrupt leaders to follow him. But none of them may leave as bad a taste as the man who wants to become South Africa's next President, Jacob Zuma. That's right, the same Jacob Zuma who was acquitted of rape yesterday on the basis that his victim, an HIV-positive family friend, was 'inappropriately dressed.'

Then to top it off, Zuma explained that he showered after having sex with the woman so he would not get AIDS, and downplayed having sex without a condom. Of course, AIDS has been running rampant in South Africa for several years, especially after the harm done by former President Thabo Mbeke who refused to even acknowlege the disease and even refused free AIDS drugs offered to his country by the west, as if denying the existence of AIDS would make it disappear. In fact, Zuma was the head of the AIDS commission under Mbeke, and obviously doesn't take it much more seriously.

Besides not taking AIDS seriously, South Africa and Zuma also have a problem taking something else seriously-- violence against women.

South Africa is battling one of the world's highest rates of rape due to deep-seated sexism and rampant violence, and the biggest HIV caseload, with some 5 million people infected.

In a ruling activists said reinforced dangerous stereotypes about AIDS and women, the judge said an "inappropriately dressed" complainant flirted with Zuma before agreeing to sleep with him, then later fabricated a rape story.

"This is huge setback for women's rights," said Dawn Cavanagh, advocacy coordinator for activist group Gender AIDS Forum. "The judge is feeding into stereotypes about women."

The plaintiff's sexual history was made the focal point of the case, as well as her dress-- rather than Zuma or what his actions were. Apalling? yes. Disgusting? yes. Likely to change anytime soon? probably not.

What is very frightening is the very real prospect that Jacob Zuma might become the next President of South Africa. He has a lot of support. And some of his supporters were making themselves heard at the trial:

They said Zuma had not done enough to quell sexism among his supporters, who during the trial burned pictures of the complainant outside the court and yelled "burn the bitch."

"Just look at this handsome man," said 38-year-old Eugenia Yantcho, brandishing a photograph of Zuma after the verdict on Monday. "How could you say he would rape anyone?"

Yeah, that's it. If he's handsome, he couldn't be a rapist? What kind of logic is that? Heck, Ted Bundy, a handsome guy who looked sharp in a suit while defending himself on TV, got a number of marriage proposals in prison while he was waiting to be executed after murdering an estimated 38 women. And just last year, there were women who wanted to marry Scott Peterson. I don't know which is worse-- that kind of twisted logic, or those few really sick women who follow it.

What is worse, his successor as Deputy President and very likely Presidential rival, is a woman. I will give the South Africans credit for one thing though. In America, when people are sexist, they usually hide it behind some sort of 'code.' In South Africa, they wear it like a badge:

Several of Zuma's deeply conservative supporters -- many wearing the traditional dress of his Zulu tribe -- held placards reading "No woman for president," a reference to Phumzile Mlambo-Nguka, the woman who replaced Zuma as deputy president.

"We don't want a woman president. God didn't create women for that," said 19-year-old Moscow Mashegoane. "We want Zuma."

Now, I don't know anything at all about Phumzile Mlambo-Nguka, but the fact that she is 1) a woman in a country where a strong female role model would do a world of good, and 2) is running against Zuma, makes me hope that she wins.

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I created this avatar tonight. I've been a bit slow on getting one, but it seems that avatars are the latest way of defeating the evil spambots (or at least so says an email I got earlier today from Blue Republic.)

Hard to think of and then create something that indicates 'Deep Thought' but this is good enough.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Our rate of infant mortality is unacceptable.

We know we have a problem with our health care system in America.

But now it is clear where some of the worst of the problem is falling: on babies.

CHICAGO - America may be the world’s superpower, but its survival rate for newborn babies ranks near the bottom among modern nations, better only than Latvia.

Among 33 industrialized nations, the United States is tied with Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia with a death rate of nearly 5 per 1,000 babies, according to a new report. Latvia’s rate is 6 per 1,000.

Of course Latvia at least has the excuse that it was a former Soviet Republic, and so is only now becoming a truly 'modern' nation after decades of communism. And we are tied with four other nations, three of which also were part of the former 'second world.' All of the other modern, industrialized nations-- yes, even Russia itself, do better on this account than the United States. Japan is first on the list, with 1.8 deaths per 1,000.

Of course, as we have been reminded many times, the United States is the only industrialized country in the world without universal health care. Why does this have much to do with it? Simple-- most newborns are born to younger women, and the people who are most likely to not have much and be working jobs which do not provide insurance are young workers, both male and female. At this time in life, money is hard to come by, prenatal care is not as high a priority (since paying for it may mean skimping on some other necessities-- like food or heat) and then after birth, visits to the doctor and hospital are likely to be delayed, in some cases until it is too late. As I blogged a couple of months ago, there is a direct correlation between income level and abortion rates, in that study data now confirms that many poor women choose abortion not because they even want one, but simply because they can afford it but can't afford the hospital bill associated with childbirth. What this story out today shows is that the problems that these women face before birth, may continue after birth. In particular, if a child is born needing specialized care, they may simply be unable to pay for it. The child is not immediately in danger, so mother and child are discharged from the hospital, but the child is still at an elevated level of danger, and with thousands of dollars in bills piling up on a twenty-something year old's wage level, it is not hard to see why these children don't get the proper medical care during their first year of life.

People may accumulate wealth later in life and have no problem providing for themselves or their families, but by this time, their babies are either grown, nearly grown, or they lost their children early in life.

And the study does confirm this link:

The U.S. ranking is driven partly by racial and income health care disparities. Among U.S. blacks, there are 9 deaths per 1,000 live births, closer to rates in developing nations than to those in the industrialized world...

The researchers also said lack of national health insurance and short maternity leaves likely contribute to the poor U.S. rankings. Those factors can lead to poor health care before and during pregnancy, increasing risks for premature births and low birth weight, which are the leading causes of newborn death in industrialized countries.

True, there are other issues in additon to lack of national health care but this certainly plays into it. As I blogged two weeks ago, the rate of people without health insurance in the lower middle class (including a lot of the women who are now bearing children) jumped upward from 28% just four years ago to 41% without health care insurance today.

What can we do about this?

The proposal I made in my March 13 post bears repeating.

As such, I would like to ask conservatives if they would object to a very limited but very complete universal coverage bill: a bill which covers all hospital, physician, technician and prescription costs associated with pregnancy, delivery and if necessary complications directly arising from pregnancy and birth, including to correct birth defects and any complications arising to the mother. I might also add to this universal coverage within the first year of life.

Don't we owe this much to our children?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Even the Fish Story is a Phony.

George Bush, as has been widely reported by now in the blogsphere, was asked by a German magazine what his best moment in office was, and he answered catching a big perch.

BERLIN (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush told a German newspaper his best moment in more than five years in office was catching a big perch in his own lake.

"You know, I've experienced many great moments and it's hard to name the best," Bush told weekly Bild am Sonntag when asked about his high point since becoming president in January 2001.

"I would say the best moment of all was when I caught a 7.5 pound (3.402 kilos) perch in my lake," he told the newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.

Note incidentally that the New York News changed the wording to reflect what the fish actually is: a largemouth bass. But the original interview question here, at the end of the page (in German) makes it clear that he said, 'perch.' (Perch in German is 'barsch')

There is so much that could be said. First of all, given his failures in areas including Iraq, catching Osama bin Laden, creating good (as opposed to Wal-Mart) jobs, the deficit, energy, health care, and the environment, there was not much he could point to in the way of actual accomplishments. So I guess with that backdrop, the fish is probably the best thing he's done. One would wonder why he would answer with an achievement that would remind people of the criticism he endured last year about being on vacation more than any President in recent memory.

Clearly not a fisherman though. A 7.5 pound perch would be pretty near to a record, if not a record. So it probably wasn't a perch. In fact, it was, as the white house quickly fed the New York News, a largemouth bass. And not just any largemouth bass. Read the following (this stuff is funnier than anything I could come up with even if I tried):

Read paragraph sixteen of this profile of Steve Bridges (the Bush impersonator).

In paragraph sixteen, the writer is talking about he President's past, and he writes,

In the midst of his 1999 campaign run, the man who was once a Yale cheerleader scuffed up and spit-polished his Texas twang. Shortly before he was elected, he bought a sixteen-hundred-acre pig farm in Crawford, Texas, and transformed it into an old family homestead, complete with a man-made lake stocked with largemouth bass cross-bred so that they’re easy to catch.

So he made a lake, then stocked it with fish that were specially bred, easy-catch fish. So now he says his biggest thrill was catching one. That means that even the fish turns out to have been what amounts to a carefully choreographed set up. But he doesn't even realize it.

Has this man EVER achieved anything that wasn't in some way, set up for him, handed to him or the path lubricated for him?

A different kind of Yes Man.

It's a complicated task, looking at the nomination of Mike Hayden to replace Porter Goss as CIA chief.

As I had blogged in October, one of the biggest problems at the CIA was Goss.

What I said in that post was this:

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.

A political hack called to do one of the most important jobs in America.

Luckily, Goss is gone. And Mike Hayden does have one advantage that Goss did not have-- he isn't a crony. Clearly as an active duty military officer, he is qualified for the position.

On the other hand though, we should not forget the excesses of the CIA in past decades and how Hayden might relate to them.

During the early 1970's (in other words during the days when the President's father ran it) and earlier, and again starting in the 1980s, the agency clearly overstepped its bounds. In addition to domestic surveillance (which got ridiculous that there was even a report at the time that the CIA was opening the FBI's mail) the agency was involved in assassination plots, creating hyperinflation in Chile by printing a great deal of counterfeit money and flooding the country with it, and dealing with a lot of unscrupulous characters with little or no thought to what they might become and whether we should be building them up (Saddam and Osama being just two of hundreds of examples.)

What we need is a CIA chief who isn't afraid to challenge the President on Constitutional grounds, and on grounds of what the long term consequences may be. Not that there aren't reasons when covert action is necessary, but clearly our history has been one of 'shoot first, worry about the result later.'

We need a CIA chief who will challenge the President about foreign policy decisions if we are in the wrong, or if there is a good chance that the results will create more problems for us later. Just yesterday I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about Iran, and it came up that had we not interfered with the Iranian revolution of 1952 and put the Shah back in place (another CIA operation) because we were worried that the secular government established in that year might not be sufficiently anti-communist, then we would not today, and for the past quarter of a century, have been dealing with the consequences of the 1979 revolution, because there would almost certainly not have been one.

Simply because 'we don't like your government' is not a reason for us to take overt OR covert action against another country. Yet, this administration has seemed all to willing to do so, everything from the pre-determined Iraq war to how eagerly the Bush administration jumped in support of the coup plotters who for one day took power from Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

We need a CIA chief who will challenge the President on domestic surveillance matters. This should not be the purview of the CIA anyway, but this administration seems to take an 'end justifies the means' approach to these sorts of things. And given Hayden's past support of a domestic surveillance program, yeah, we should be worried.

We need a CIA chief who will challenge the selective clipping of intelligence, as well as blaming the agency when things go bad. We know by now that the problem in Iraq was not that all the intelligence was bad (though some was), it was the selective cutting and pasting of only that intelligence which supported the President's decision to invade Iraq, a decision which as Paul O'Neill's book and the Downing Street memo have both made clear, was made even before the intelligence on alleged weapons of mass destruction was assembled. But then it was sliced, diced, cut, thrown away, parsed and molded to fit the predesignated outcome. There was intelligence stating what we know now-- that Saddam had no actual WMD-- but that didn't fit the plan so it was thrown away. Is Hayden the kind of guy who would insist on the President seeing ALL the intellegence? Probably not. And therein lies the problem.

Hayden will join an administration full of 'yes men.' Ah, but he won't be the same kind of yes man. Instead of saying, 'yes,' because he's afraid he will lose his job, I believe, based on his defense of the domestic spying program, that he will say, 'yes' because he actually BELIEVES his 'yes answers.'

But either way, he isn't what we need to fix the CIA.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Not 'English Only'. What we need is 'English And'

This year my daughters and I have been studying a little bit of Spanish. I had originally conceived of the idea that they might begin learning it a year ago, when we were visiting my cousin and her family in California. They are a fully bilingual family. Her husband is from Nicaragua and they speak both English and Spanish quite regularly around their house, and in fact that is a good thing in Southern California-- because there are so many people there who speak both languages, if two people apply for a job and one of them is bilingual and the other speaks only one language, guess who gets hired?

I speak some Spanish, although it is mostly of the 'street Spanish' variety that I picked up from living in various places in New Mexico for a total of thirty-two years.

So we signed up for a beginning Spanish class at the local community college, but we encountered some resistance from an administrator. Children under age fourteen are in general not permitted to take academic classes (although I planned on attending every day with them, and we had the permission of the instructor.) Luckily we found a way that we could get instruction from an individual who voluntarily did it on his own time.

However, this got me to thinking about how we are focused on the wrong question in America. We are focused on the question of 'should every one learn English' and the proponents of this idea are called, 'English only' advocates. I believe that instead of English only, a better plan would be 'English AND.' A recent poll showed that only fourteen percent of Americans believe that learning a second language is of value, and because of this, we wait until high school to even teach it. This may be a fatal flaw in our national educational philosophy.

In most countries, children in elementary school are taught another language. And not just a few short words or phrases, but to actually be able to communicate in it. Of course in many places in Europe, this is a necessity, as you could drive a hundred miles in virtually any direction and be surrounded by people who spoke another language. But it is also true that in many Asian nations, students are taught English or another language (but most commonly English) at an early age, and as such are prepared by High School to converse easily in at least one, and maybe more other languages.

In America, in contrast, we believe that until children can understand complex English sentence structure (i.e. High School) there is no purpose to their learning another language. And even at that, I was even having a conversation with another parent who told me that his daughter, a straight A student in High School, had passed a year of Spanish here, but still struggled in Spanish that she took at the University she is attending, and certainly wasn't ready to actually sit down and carry out a conversation with someone in Spanish. Further, by High School, students minds are less adaptable to being able to actually think in another language, which means that a second language, no matter how well it is learned, will always be a 'second language' (whereas, in my cousin's household, her daughter who will graduate next year with high honors spoke both languages fluently even by the age of five, and has no problem moving back and forth as the situation requires.) On top of this, the foreign language requirement in High School, such as it is, requires one more tough academic class for native English speakers, meaning that they will have less time, energy and ability to devote to their actual English class (along with their math class, their science class, etc.) Then we wonder why their math/science achievement scores fall below those of students in other countries, especially in Europe and Asia (big clue-- students in those countries don't have to study another language in High School, having already mastered it before they begin).

Why should we care? Most of the eighty-six percent of Americans who don't consider learning another language an important skill would probably argue that they do just fine in their chosen line of work only speaking English. And they would be right. But the world their children will be going into is different from the one they grew up in. Today, globalization of trade through organizations like the World Trade Organization, as well as the growth of the internet, means that people will be communicating much more with people from other countries than they have in the past, especially in vital areas like information technology, commerce and criminal enforcement. And when those contacts are made, the people who will facilitate the communication will be people who speak more than one language-- in other words, foreigners. As just one example, trade between the United States and China will be a trillion dollar per year industry by the middle of this century. And who will facilitate that trade? People who speak both Mandarin and English. In other words, Chinese (quick, how many Americans do you know who are fluent in Mandarin?) In Chinese universities students are taught all of their subjects in English. There will be no shortage, in other words, of talented and well educated Chinese who speak fluent English.

In contrast to the unskilled immigrants coming over our southern border, we now see skilled workers, especially in high tech industries, returning home after earning their advanced degrees at U.S. universities, or in many cases just staying there in the first place. China, as an example, is opening a new university the size of Arizona State University every two weeks on the average. India is also full of high tech workers who earned their degrees in America and have returned home. Of course, India has the advantage that Gandhi, in his admirable wisdom, resisted pressure from those who wanted to make the official language of India (used in newspapers, official documents and taught in all schools) Hindi, Bengali or any of the dozens of local languages. Instead, he chose English-- the language of the hated colonial masters, but one which was equally hated everywhere, thereby not conveying 'chosen' status on any particular group, and a language which guaranteed that an Indian from any part of India could communicate with an Indian from any other part of the nation-- and now serves India very well in the world of international business.

What should we do? First, we should begin teaching second languages at a much younger age. It might require a significant investment in our elementary schools (already starved for cash) and another reason we need to get away from the 'how much can we cut government' philosophy that we have been living under and towards a 'how can we make schools and other public institutions most effective?' Second, and this is a very good compromise in my opinion to the whole 'English learning' issue-- we should view only knowing one language (whatever language that is) as unacceptable, and implement 'English and.' This would require that people who speak another language to learn English (as proponents of 'English only' want) but would also require that students who speak English would learn another language as well and would learn it in elementary school (I personally believe that given the demographics of the U.S. as well as our geographical position in the world that Spanish would be the most logical choice for most students, but local school boards would have the option to offer whatever second language(s) fit their students, regional demographics, economy and instructional staff). In such a set up, instruction would not only be given to help students learn the second language, but also then at least some (particularly that focusing on history and culture of the places where the second language was spoken) would be given in that language, as they do in European countries. This would also solve another conflict that we have locally. I live near the Navajo reservation, and the conflict between parents who want to maintain their traditional culture (including its language) and the pressures of the outside world (especially the 'English only' requirement that the outside world is trying to thrust into schools) is intense. An 'English And' instead of an 'English only' requirement nationally would solve this problem as the reservation schools could then be free to offer instruction in both languages.

If we don't do this however, that 'giant sucking sound' that Ross Perot talked about a few years ago won't necessarily be jobs (though we will lose a lot of jobs as well in areas like commerce and service industries). It will be economic strength, technological ability and commercial leadership as the business and creativity of the world is taken over by people from other countries who can communicate with each other while we become a backwards, mono-lingual country.
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