Monday, July 31, 2006

Senate should vote against inheritance tax cut.

Several weeks ago I wrote a post about Congress' attempts to get rid of the inheritance tax. In the post I pointed out that the new limits of $5 million per individual and $10 million per family would be more than adequate to save farms and small family businesses. It is really about the plutocracy wanting to be able to pass on more future taxes and deficits to everyone else's grandchildren.

I wrote at the time,

They had in fact wanted to eliminate the tax entirely, but were prevented from doing it last year because the vote was to be taken just as the Katrina images were coming out of New Orleans and Americans would have been outraged by a tax cut for dead rich people when the bodies of dead poor people were being collected on sidewalks. And this year, there is an election coming and the Republicans are reading the poll numbers. So, there is only one year there will be no estate taxes at all-- in 2010 due to old legislation passed during the earlier rounds of Bush tax cuts. But it will still be back in 2011 (Wonder, in the event that they don't get a permanent repeal passed, whether in December of 2010 we will see a bunch of billionaires move to Oregon and get themselves declared terminally ill and get lethal injections?) and that is a good thing. With the new limits, any further estate tax cut would be clearly a tax cut aimed at plutocrats (which there are many of in Congress, and many more in Congress who have been wined, dined and given airplane rides by plutocrats). The case can be made that this cut was as well, but luckily it stopped short of going all the way.

And they are still pushing at it. Having failed to get it through on a straight up or down vote, Congressional Republicans attached it to the minimum wage bill going through the house. Now, I'd have no real problem conceptually if they, for example, wanted to give small businesses a tax break in order to prevent them from laying off any workers (although the list of jobs in America that are worth $5.15 an hour but no worth $7.25 an hour is a very short list indeed), but that isn't what this is about at all. It's a way to try and sneak their inheritance tax cut through on an unrelated bill.

And the Senate should stop this turkey cold. It may be necessary to raise the minimum wage on a state by state basis (possibly by referendum) and this may not be a bad thing-- although the current minimum wage is too low in every state, an argument could plausibly be made that a living wage in, say, Connecticut is significantly different from a living wage in Arkansas. However, getting rid of estate taxes is a bad idea, a tax cut for the super-rich that Americans as a whole realize that we will all have to pay for in the future, foolish in the face of enormous deficits, and the Senate should vote to defeat this bill, whatever else it may or may not have in it.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Posting at Cold Hearted Truth

I have recently been added as a poster on a fourth blog, Cold Hearted Truth (at least on the blog's Senate page, which is a page devoted to tracking current races (not just Senate, also Gubernatorial and Congressional races). I will provide commentary on races that I see polling data for here in Arizona.

Unlike the other blogs that I post on, Cold Hearted Truth is decidedly not a liberal blog. The primary host of the blog is in fact a self-described RINO (a Republican with some libertarian tendencies on social issues). However, to his credit, he has welcomed in a very broad range of commenters, so that on the blog you will see discussions involving people from the far left (including at least one who is to the left of myself) to the far right-- and (this is amazing) very little in the way of put downs or attacks (although occasionally some 'left handed compliments.') That is one reason I've always liked going to CHT-- as much as I enjoy reading liberal blogs, I like having a place to go where I find an array of opinions. And unlike right wing blogs, I don't get attacked the minute I post a comment, although the comment may be attacked (which is perfectly legitimate).

About half of the boards on CHT are about polling of various political races (for example, I just put up a post on the Arizona Governor's race, because there was a poll taken on the GOP primary here (and it's hard to see how Republicans could find the poll results encouraging by the way). In fact, I have to be careful for a number of reasons about discussing Arizona Democrats, although I will certainly post polling results when there are any. And I will post them there, because it is a good site to look for polling results on.

The other half of the boards feature mostly political commentary (as I said earlier, the blog has a distinct lean to the right). Since I'm only posting on the Senate page, my presence there is limited to comments, but anyone can join and comment (all you have to do if you are not a member is hit the 'register' button before you can post-- and you don't even have to give a real email address, it's something CHT added to fight spam.

So go ahead and drop by over there, especially if you want to be challenged thoughtfully by someone who may not agree with you.

Nuclear proliferation

The U.S. House this week gave approval to a nuclear cooperation deal with India.

Though the agreement deals with civilian nuclear cooperation, and in any event India has already built nuclear weapons using material that they already have, some concerns were raised that this may send the wrong message.

And I agree that it might. But maybe we need to reconsider the message in the first place.

First of all I have no problem with the United States working cooperatively with India or any other friendly nation in a matter that is ultimately one of commerce. If the Indians want to purchase nuclear reactor parts and fuel and we don't consider it a security threat to sell it to them, then by all means we should sell it to them.

The problem that this raises is that as we consider that India is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and has in fact developed nuclear weapons, it seriously undercuts any grounds for objection we might have to China, Russia or other nations selling nuclear components or material to nations like North Korea or Iran, which we have in the past cited the non-proliferation treaty to argue against.

And certainly the Russians or the Chinese will take note of this congressional vote (which itself is only a small step in the sequence of events which will need to take place before a single American nuclear component or fuel rod is shipped to India) next time Condoleeza Rice or someone else tells them not to sell things like this to Iran and say, "Well, you're doing it." The perception that Iran is a bigger threat to peace than India is an American perception. The Chinese, whose relations with India have always been chilly and who fought a war with India in 1962, but have always had cordial relations with Iran and especially with North Korea, have much the opposite view to ours about which nation is a greater threat.

While this argument is valid, I would suggest that we consider a different approach entirely.

To begin with, we must realize that the idea that we can prevent anyone from developing technology that we had sixty years ago (including the ability to enrich uranium) is ridiculous. That genie left the bottle years ago. We must also realize that India, Pakistan and North Korea have essentially made a mockery of the whole idea of non-proliferation in the first place. If we want the world to take this all seriously, then we need to draw a new line, which acknowleges where we are now, not where we were during the Cold War, and which the world can get behind. Then show enough leadership to get the world committed, instead of mucking it up with a 'go it alone' agenda.

In fact, I made such a proposal a year ago. It was when I made my second post, On Nuclear Proliferation and Iran. I'm not sure very many people saw it because I didn't even advertise that I had a blog outside of my immediate circle of blogger buddies. And the proposal would otherwise have been very controversial, and certainly frought with danger, but it is realistic. If you read the whole post you will see the whole analysis, and with the benefit of hindsight I believe it would be better for the U.S. to work towards getting a commitment in advance from other nations than to try and do it ourselves, but here is what I said last year (with the inclusion of ideas to make it less unilateral):

How about a nuclear version of the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ that focuses not on the development of nuclear weapons, but rather makes it plain that any nation which uses them in war will be at war with the United States and a coalition of other countries that signed the 'anti-use' treaty (replacing the anti-proliferation treaty) and can expect a ‘regime change?’. How can a country avoid this? Simple, build your nukes, fight your wars, but DON’T USE THE NUKES IN THE WARS. Is this fail-safe? No. And where we can make it as difficult as possible for other countries to get nukes, we should still do so. But instead of invoking a now routinely violated line that countries should not build nukes (which Pakistan, India and North Korea have already made a joke out of), we have a better chance of making a new line stick, and I suspect it is a line which, despite its unilateralism, would be welcomed by the world. The beauty is that such a direct statement does not make any distinction between nations, either based on current or future alliances or rivalries. And in case a terrorist group blows up a nuke, develop the intelligence (which we already pretty much have) that can analyze the results and determine where the bomb came from. Uranium from different sources has different types of impurities so it would not be that hard to determine.

Is this controversial. Absolutely. But it is a more realistic approach than a haphazard approach of 'Tweedle-dee can build nukes and we'll help him build them, but tweedle-dum can't, because we trust tweedle-dee but not tweedle-dum.'

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Andrea Yates verdict.

Andrea Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity a few minutes ago for the drowning deaths of her children.

And that is a good verdict, because she is clearly a very sick woman, and not the cold, calculating killer that the prosecution tried to paint her as. It's bad enough that in a high profile case like this, a prosecutor apparently motivated by his need to pander to the 'hang 'em high' mentality that he was willing to ignore even basic common sense. Andrea Yates is not a psychopathic killer, but a woman with a disease of the brain. Does she need to be confined to protect the rest of society from her? Absolutely. But should she be sent to prison for the rest of her life? Absolutely not. Even her husband Rusty, who is the father of the children she killed, asked today after the verdict why the prosecution was trying to send her to prison when what she needs is treatment. It seems that we have become so obsessed with preventing some con artist from 'gaming the system,' much like Jack Nicholson's character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest that we have gone to the point where the truly sick are sent to prison, as she was after being found guilty after her first trial. But what has happened since has shown that our whole system is rotten to the core, and it is fortunate that after the case was over, the rottenness was discovered and she was given a new trial.

What we have seen in that case is a flaw in our justice system. Yates was found guilty at her first trial. The reason was largely because of the testimony of an 'expert,' Dr. Park Dietz, who claimed that she was basing her actions on a television show, an episode of 'Law and Order' in which a woman who drowned her children was acquitted by reason of insanity. Obviously, if this were true, then that would be enough to prove that she had thought things through ahead of time and had a plan to kill the children, and likely that her claims to insanity were part of a broader plan. That would be enough to show criminal intent and that is why the first jury found her guilty. Only one problem. The episode in question never existed. So either Dr. Dietz made it up, or he didn't even bother to verify what may have been a rumor he heard. Either way, it raises troubling questions about so-called 'experts' testifying on the stand.

The truth is, that most insanity claims fail in court. But the broader issue raised is that with both sides in a court case often able to call 'hired guns' who will testify as 'experts' to whatever the side that is paying them wants, our court system has become bastardized to the point where it is not so much about trying to determine whether a person is guilty and the best course of action, as about who can simply put on the best 'expert' At the very least we should have the right to expect the experts to BE experts.

And if a person is as sick as Andrea Yates, most prosecutors will arrange a plea deal. That might have happened here had the case not made national headlines, and especially in Texas any prosecutor who agreed to it, even if it was the right thing to do, would be roasted alive in the court of public opinion.

Monday, July 24, 2006

ABA: Bush is violating the Constitution.

The other day I put up a post on all the President's vetos (all one of them) in which I wrote,

There is another, more insidious reason the President has not previously issued a veto. That is because he has often accompanied the signing of bills that he does not like with 'signing statements' in which he claims the right to negate parts or all of them. The most obvious example of this was the prohibition on torture that the Senate passed. He signed it with a statement that he could ignore the provisions 'in the event of a national emergency.' Since he also gets to decide when it is a 'national emergency,' the effect of this is that he ignores the law and acts as though it didn't exist (essentially returning to the conditions that caused the Senate to pass the law in the first place.) What this makes it clear is that this President believes he is above the law.

In fact, I even used too strong a term. He isn't even saying he should be able to ignore the law in case of 'national emergency,' his signing statements have used the term 'national security.' What is national security? The President's hangnail? All we know is that he gets to decide when it is. So we have a President who decides when and to what extent he will obey the law.

I'm not the only one troubled by this. Today, the American Bar Association (yes, the same one that the President cited as having issued 'highly qualified' ratings for John Roberts and Samuel Alito), said that the President is violating the Constitution.

The ABA group, which includes a one-time FBI director and former federal appeals court judge, said the president has overstepped his authority in attaching challenges to hundreds of new laws.

The attachments, known as bill-signing statements, say Bush reserves a right to revise, interpret or disregard measures on national security and constitutional grounds.

"This report raises serious concerns crucial to the survival of our democracy," said the ABA's president, Michael Greco. "If left unchecked, the president's practice does grave harm to the separation of powers doctrine, and the system of checks and balances that have sustained our democracy for more than two centuries."

Of course it threatens the foundation of our democracy. If a President has the right to only follow the laws when he decides to, then he is by definition no longer a President but a dictator. And keep in mind that if this precedent is allowed to stand, then not only will George W. Bush be invested with what are effectively dictatorial powers, but so will every President who comes after him. The consequences of this are frightening to contemplate.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Doctor and two nurses charged with murder for 'mercy' killings post-Katrina.

Last week, the state of Louisiana filed second degree murder charges against Anna M. Pou, a doctor at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans, and Lori Budo and Cheri Landry, two nurses at the same hospital.

According to the complaint,

BEFORE ME, the undersigned authority, personally came and appeared Virginia B. Rider, Special Agent for the Louisiana Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who, having been duly sworn, did depose and say that Anna M. Pou, Lori L. Budo and Cheri A. Landry did violate La. R.S. 14:24(30.1), Principal to Second Degree Murder, on or about September 1, 2005, by intentionally killing multiple patients by administering or causing to be administered, lethal doses of morphine sulphate (morphine) and/or midazolam (Versed), at Memorial Medical Center located at 2700 Napoleon, New Orleans, Parish of Orleans, State of Louisiana.

This is a very complex case, and in some ways is unprecedented. We know that the conditions that existed after Katrina were apalling, and no one is contending that most, if not all, of the patients who were given these injections were in desperate straits, with their normal medication gone, the hospital itself severely damaged, and too sick to move to another facility. So if they had not received the lethal injections, it is quite possible, as the defendants contend, that they would have died and done so in a great deal of agony.

At the same time, the claim that this is akin to voluntary euthanasia is wrong. Let me start by saying that over the years I have changed my position to where I now support the right of terminally ill patients to be euthanized. I had a concern in the past about whether it was moral to take the life even of someone who is near death, but then it seems odd that we would deny a human what we give to a dog or a cat, and as such I have come to my current position of believing that it is the right of patients to make their own decisions on end of life issues. However, in the cases cited, the patients were too ill to even provide consent (though even if they had it would not have been considered legally valid in Louisiana), and their family members were not consulted. Not that there was any way to do that, but nevertheless the family members were not consulted.

I took the time this week to contact Compassion and Choices about their take on this. I received an email back indicating that they have discussed it quite a bit but are bothered by the fact that there was no consent, and as such will wait for the trial to take its course.

And take its course it should.

If in fact it turns out that the accused did kill patients, but did so in extreme and horrible circumstances that no doctor should ever have to face and did so as they believed out of mercy, then it might be appropriate that there is both a guilty verdict (thereby setting case law and making it clear that in the absence of consent this should not have been done) and a pardon (thereby acknowleging the circumstances and allowing this doctor and these two nurses, who by all accounts have always done their jobs very well, to go back to work saving lives, instead of sitting in prison for a decision that honestly none of us can say what we would do if we were in their shoes.)

The President Embarrasses America Yet Again.

Just suppose that you are a man working for a company, and you are at an important business meeting, where you are discussing matters of grave importance with your peers at other corporations. You walk up behind a female who is your equivalent elsewhere, whom you've only met briefly before and had some phone conversations with, and suddenly you grab the back of her neck and her shoulders and give her an uninvited back rub. Of course if you are a half way intelligent male (I like to think I am) you know better than to even think about something like that in today's society. And if you did it, you would probably be fired from your job (and would deserve it).

Whether she chose to call it sexual harrassment or not, it is clearly over the line. Yet that is exactly what President Bush did at the G-8 summit to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A 5-second video and series of photographs recently posted on and various blogs show Bush surprising Merkel at the G-8 Summit by quickly rubbing the back of her neck and shoulders. The chancellor immediately hunches her shoulders, throws her arms up and grimaces, though she appears to smile as Bush walks away.

What else could she do? Her immediate reaction shows what she thought about it.

Of course, if Bill Clinton did this (and he never had the gall to initiate inappropriate physical contact a foreign leader in front of the world) it would be an impeachable offense. But the people who think Bush can do no wrong will probably laugh it off. And no, this isn't an impeachable offense but it definitely rises to the level of a national embarrassment. As am American, I would like to express my apologies to Chancellor Merkel and to the German people for having this kind of dope supposedly representing me on the International stage.

By the way: Look at the leer on the guy in the background. Is he a secret service member? He's obviously 'in' on it.

Cross-posted at Night Bird's Fountain.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Great Debate

Actually it was a candidate's forum. This evening, the Little Colorado River Democrats hosted a debate for Democratic candidates running against Rick Renzi in Arizona congressional district 1.

Five Democrats are running. The 'presumed' front-runner (as annointed by the media and the national party in the absence of any data) is Ellen Simon, but she missed the debate because she was in Washington chasing campaign dollars (pretty much lost my vote, which was ripe for the picking when she made that choice-- that's how Rick Renzi does things, and I don't think we can beat Rick Renzi by running Rick Renzi against him.) I did talk to her husband, who was there, and the president of our club read a fax she sent but other than that, she was mostly present only by being the subject of barbs by some of the other candidates.

The four candidates who were there had a lively forum. They were Mike Cacciopoli, Bob Donahue, Susan Friedman and Vic McKerlie (although we drew randomly for it, they ended up sitting in alphabetical order across the stage.) Winslow city councilwoman Sue Bumpus moderated the debate and the panel was composed of reporters from the Arizona Daily Sun, the Winslow Mail and the Navajo Times.

Clearly Cacciopoli was the most inspiring speaker, and I would have to say that he won the debate. He did say a couple of things that raised a few eyebrows, including his call for a special prosecutor to be called to investigate whether Bush broke any laws before and during the Iraq war. A friend of mine who described herself as 'anti-Cacciopoli' before the debate said that he may have opened a window for her. For me too-- he is right about nearly every issue-- but I'm having a tough time with a huge one.

And that huge one is that he won't necessarily endorse the winner. We both know that means that if he loses and Ellen Simon wins then he probably won't endorse her (as being a 'party' candidate, as opposed to a grassroots candidate. One of the questions from the audience asked whether each candidate would support any of the others, and Mike was very hesitant to answer this question.

Susan Freidman came across as sincere, progressive and thoughtful (which those of us who have talked to her before know is the case). She has worked very hard over the years for the party, and she did run for the legislature one year. She has very little charisma, but she is right on the issues.

Bob Donahue, who also ran in the 2004 primary against Paul Babbitt, is a Vietnam veteran who made it clear that he believes that we are repeating the same mistakes we made there in Iraq. On social issues, he seemed to trend more to the center. He also has thought things through quite a bit, and made a very strong case for raising the minimum wage, cutting through the rhetoric of Republicans who claim it will cost jobs by asking how many jobs that today pay $5.15 an hour aren't in fact worth $7.00 an hour. And his point is accurate-- very few of them aren't worth that. In places where the job market is tight (though not here, unfortunately) even traditional minimum wage jobs (i.e. burger flipper) often pay $7 or more an hour.

Vic McKerlie sort of unimpressed me. He's a good guy and he's right about the need for health care for all Americans, but his first question was about proposition 200 (the Republican party's 'baby' on last election's ballot which as interpreted by Jan Brewer will likely disenfranchise a lot of Navajos and other minority voters) and he wasn't even sure what 'prop 200' was. Then on so many other issues, and especially on immigration and Iraq, he sounded like he's been listening to Rush, or at least reading Republican talking points. If he is the nominee I will support him but I became convinced last night that I won't support him in the primary. That's OK, because he probably won't win.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Not exactly Veto Genovese.

President Bush finally vetoed a bill.

He vetoed the bill providing for Federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Now, I suppose that you think this post is going to be about stem cells. But it's not. I've read probably close to a dozen posts on stem cells today on various blogs ranging from extreme left to center-right, so the topic has been pretty well covered by now. If you can't find a post on stem cells somewhere then you aren't looking very hard (and I've blogged on them before).

This post is going to be about vetoes.

The President has not vetoed a single bill in five and a half years, until today.
There are several reasons for this.

The first one is obvious enough but bears repeating anyway. The President is a member of the same party as is predominant in the House and Senate. So, most of the legislation they have sent him, he's signed enthusiastically. For awhile, Tom DeLay could get pretty much any product that he wanted, on the customers desk. So when the President wanted a bill, DeLay delivered the votes. So of course, President Bush never vetoed a bill, because he and DeLay had choreographed what they wanted in them months ealier.

There is another, more insidious reason the President has not previously issued a veto. That is because he has often accompanied the signing of bills that he does not like with 'signing statements' in which he claims the right to negate parts or all of them. The most obvious example of this was the prohibition on torture that the Senate passed. He signed it with a statement that he could ignore the provisions 'in the event of a national emergency.' Since he also gets to decide when it is a 'national emergency,' the effect of this is that he ignores the law and acts as though it didn't exist (essentially returning to the conditions that caused the Senate to pass the law in the first place.) What this makes it clear is that this President believes he is above the law. If there was one thing that Watergate showed, it is that the President is not above the law. But then that Congress was far more willing than this one to hold the President accountable for breaking the law.

This being an eleection year, however, and with the President's ratings in the toilet and DeLay gone, it's not so surprising that Republicans in Congress would like to show that they are independent. And the President would have a tough time issuing a signing statement that included a national security exemption to a bill on stem cell research. At the end of the day though, the house failed to override his veto, indicating that he still has the ability to tell them what to do, at least in terms of the end result.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

So inefficient you have to pay for it.

As Lebanon has become a war zone, with Israeli airstrikes around Beirut and throughout the country, and heavy fighting in the south between Israeli army units and Hezbollah guerillas, many nations have ordered evacuations of their citizens. And they've been getting them out. Over three thousand Danes, along with very large numbers of French, Russians and others.

Except not very many Americans. Not that they aren't there, they just aren't getting out. It seems the same paralysis that affected our Federal government last year after Katrina (and still is, as refugees remain spread out over at least a dozen states, many still waiting for FEMA trailers that were promised last year), has defined our response in this emergency. And no, you can't just blame Israel for that either; They have allowed foreign ships to evacuate refugees, and other nations have had far better success in getting their citizens out.

Our response, in contrast, was not only to not get them out, but then to announce that they would be billed for the cost of an evacuation. Yes, that's right-- the law says to force people who are running for their lives trying to escape from a war zone to sign a slip of paper saying that they will be billed, before they can get out. And if they can't pay, then that's tough-- I guess they will be left standing on the dock with bombs falling behind them. So much for the notion that the primary duty of a government is to protect its citizens.

Luckily, after taking some real serious heat on this issue, the President waived the fee. A tad late, suggesting that in fact he wouldn't have if there had not been such a collective exclaimation of horror from across the nation:

The announcement came after stranded Americans, along with politicians and their families back home, expressed anger with the situation.

Some complained about the process and what they saw as the slow pace at which the State Department is evacuating Americans from Lebanon. Others were outraged that the evacuees were going to have to pay for the ride.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the government would have charged evacuees commercial rates to take them out by plane or boat.

The Bush administration claimed that this was the result of a 1956 law. But it is actually in accordance with the administration's initial interpretation of that law. In past conflicts, Americans have not been billed for such emergency actions.

I can see, for example, billing someone who defies an evacuation order, either during a war, or for example ahead of a hurricane, if the direct result of their refusal costs the state money (i.e. having to extricate them later). I can see billing a lost hiker if their misfortune is a direct result of their own hard headedness (though not if it is reasonably not their fault, for example if they fall down a steep slope or get caught in a freak snowstorm). But the Bush administration take on the law is akin to if the government began billing Katrina survivors who are still in refugee camps for the ground they are sleeping on every night. Maybe I shouldn't get so sarcastic because with this crew, who don't believe the government should do anything for anybody if at all possible, they might just be dreaming up something like that.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The price of thumbing your nose at the world-- they won't be there when you need them.

A few weeks ago, I blogged on how Zarqawi's cellphone contained the numbers of some members of the government that we helped set up.

In that post I wrote,

"You're either with us or you're with the terrorists."

Those were the words of George W. Bush when describing the war on terror. And it is in a larger degree, a reflection of the conservative view of the world, the one you see on all those old westerns, war movies and cop shows, where there is no shade of grey, only larger than life heroes who stand for everything that is good, decent and right, and villainous villains that stand for nothing but evil. There is no room in this view for moral relativism, or the idea that the good guys might be fighting for anything other than a righteous cause....

Where the conservative view falls apart however, is that the idea of 'with us or against us' rarely if ever applies in the Byzantine world of Middle Eastern politics....

It is in fact that way across the middle east. The United States is just one of many players in an arena full of shifting allegiances, where the enemy of my enemy is my friend, until I make friends with my enemy, when his enemy becomes my enemy. People who live there understand that.

And President Bush's predecessors understood that. That is why his father was able to broker a coalition to go after Saddam in 1991, even including Syria. Not only did Syrian tanks take part in the invasion of Kuwait, but the fact that Syria was in the coalition probably reduced the resistance the coalition faced as the Iraqis had to divert troops to their northern border even though in the end there was no invasion from Syrian territory. He could not have done that if he hadn't at least kept the lines of communication open. Bill Clinton kept them open with the Iranians and in fact a gradual thaw in relations was happening during his term. And when Israel did withdraw from southern Lebanon several years ago, it was after receiving assurances that guerillas (at that time) would not launch rockets into Israel-- assurances that given the support Hezbollah has always had from Tehran, had to have involved Iran. And even keeping some sort of a channel open to the leaders of terrorist groups themselves, have at times been useful in for example, gathering information on rival groups and arranging the release of prisoners (yeah, we never negotiate with terrorists-- if you believe that then you probably believe WMD's were found in Iraq.)

George W. Bush, however, by taking a largely black-and-white view, and further by taking a 'my way or the highway' approach on everything from terrorism to Iraq, has painted himself into a corner. So we now see today's article, U.S. options few as Mideast erupts.

WASHINGTON - The United States has few options and limited leverage as old animosities in the Middle East overtake hopes for peace and democracy.

One problem is there aren't many people the U.S. can talk to....

The United States has no diplomatic relations with Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in the Gaza Strip, militant groups fighting with Israel. The United States also has no relations with one of their backers, Iran, and only limited dialogue with the other principal backer, Syria.

Another problem is that the people the United States can talk to aren't able or willing to do as much as President Bush would like.

Moderate arab governments might be useful to us in say, Iraq, but are more afraid of their own people if they made a deal to help us end a war that would leave Israel pretty much unscathed, than they are of us (and there's always that darned oil addiction that gets in the way-- they know we won't stop trading with them because we aren't willing to pay $5 a gallon at the pump). The Europeans, who have their own large and politically powerful Muslim populations, certainly feel that the goodwill that they had towards America in the days after 9/11 has been squandered by an American administration which wanted to use them as 'supporters' but refused to even ask their advice on how to fight the Afghan war or deal with Iraq, where they believe that we are now reaping the seeds that George Bush sewed. The only real card that Washington holds anymore is that we can talk to the Israelis more firmly than probably anyone else, but the Israelis also have a mind of their own, and it is unlikely that Israel is in any mood to talk right now. If negotiations occur later, bringing that one card to the table won't make for a very strong hand by Washington, particularly in a Middle East where the view that they have of us will be filtered through the past and present in Iraq.

Clearly, a new war in the Middle East endangers everything from our efforts in Iraq to the already weakening economy. But George W. Bush has very little he can do about it. That's because when you burn your bridges, they aren't there when you need them.

The consequences of this, fall where they may, is that we are now past the 'cowboy diplomacy' stages of the Bush administration and now have to deal with the fallout from electing a rigid and stubborn [mule] to do a job that requires a diplomat.

Seems Munsil is willing to accept fraud, and is willing to exploit a tragedy for political gain.

I'd like to thank two of my blogger buddies, Tedski over at Rum, Romanism and Rebellion, for first bringing this to my attention, and Blue Republic blogger forum for helping me think through this post and laying it out.

Len Munsil, the leading GOP candidate for Governor writes on his blog criticizing Governor Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Terry Goddard:

Arizona is No. 1 in the nation in crime, and has been for the entire time Janet Napolitano and Terry Goddard have been in office. At least two serial killers and rapists are on the loose in the Phoenix area, causing some communities to be "paralyzed by fear." He then goes on to criticize the Governor for being against littering and the Attorney General for filing suit against Wal-Mart for consumer fraud.

Leaving aside the obvious (namely, that we were on top of that list before they came in, which is interesting because Republicans pretty much ran the state for over a decade), I'd like to point out a couple of other things.

First, both the Governor and the Attorney General have pushed for more funds for local police. It is the Republican legislature that has chosen not to appropriate them.

Second, the reason we are at the top is pretty plain-- we have 962 motor vehicle thefts per 100,000 population, way ahead of the rest of the nation. Of course, Arizona's population centers are much closer to Mexico than the population centers in the other border states (except maybe California, which has a relatively short international border), so the reason why is hardly a mystery. In fact, our rate of motor vehicle theft is so out of whack that it is just a smidgen below the burglary rate (so that for every whatever else is stolen, a car is stolen). Ultimately this is a border security problem, which the Governor has been working hard to address (contrary to GOP protestations).

Third, if you want to blame the incumbents for high crime rates, then consider that sheriff Joe has been running his 'tent city' for decades, long before they came in, and a lot more criminals have experienced Sheriff Joe's green bologna than have had anything to do with either the Governor or the Attorney General. Seems like his prisons aren't much of a deterrent-- especially for car thieves.

Fourth, it appears that in Munsil-land, there is only room for certain crimes. So presumably if he becomes Governor he won't bother to tell people not to toss trash on our highways, and he fully supports the rights of retailers to defraud their customers. Heck, if you follow that to its logical conclusion, he will make fraud legal so that it won't show up as a crime, and therefore our crime rate will go down, and he will run again in four years taking credit.

However, these points are relatively minor. The really disturbing thing here is that he is blaming the Governor and the Attorney General for the two psychopathic murderers who have been roiling Phoenix for the past few weeks. Leaving aside the fact that until we catch these guys (and I hope its very soon), we have no idea of who they are or what set them off. So to blame anyone without some level of information is very wrong indeed, and to then use the murders of at least ten people to make political points is despicable.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Mideast war

There is a new war now going on in the middle east, or perhaps I should say yet another chapter of a very, very old war, with the Israeli army fighting (separately) Palestinians in Gaza and Hezbollah guerillas in Lebanon. In the process of this war, rockets and missiles have been launched into civilian population centers (by Hezbollah) and infrastructure, government buildings and a major international airport have been bombed (by Israel).

While there is no question that Israel has been responsible for a lot of provocations and has certainly ratcheted up the stakes in this war with their invasions of Gaza and Lebanon, it has become increasingly harder for me to condemn anything that they do. That is because every time things cool down and there is some semblance of peace, it always seems to be the Palestinians or Hezbollah who break the cease-fire.

Since withdrawing from the Gaza strip six months ago, Israel has on the whole showed restraint in the face of rocket attacks and other actions against their territory (and the fact that some of the rockets have come from Gaza, despite the fact that until a week ago there had been no Israeli occupation in Gaza since the pullout, shows that for many Palestinians it isn't about fighting 'occupation' at all, but about killing Israelis). And the announcement just before this all started up again, now buried and forgotten under the rubble of war, that Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had agreed on the text of a joint declaration that implicitly, though not explicitly, recognized Israel, was earth shattering in itself, and showed that ever so slowly, the wheels of progress were beginning to turn. I had blogged following the stunning victory by Hamas in January's election about how I was optimistic in the long term (though pessimistic in the short term) about the prospects for peace, as Hamas would, because of the day by day mundane matters of running a government, be forced to soften their views and eventually at least in fact, if not in word, recognize Israel. And the joint declaration of two weeks ago seemed to bear this out, as it was historic in being the first time that the leaders of Hamas had ever expressed a willingness to put their name on a document that in any way recognized Israel.

So why are things so very different this week? It began when Hamas failed to crack down on attacks against Israel by Islamic Jihad and other groups. Israel responded by airstrikes against members of these groups, where they could be found, and also against Palestinian government offices, which they did back when Yassir Arafat was President and was failing to restrain militants. Hamas responded by calling off their self-imposed 'truce,' and in an obviously well planned attack, Palestinian militants operating out of the Gaza strip dug a tunnel under the border, and kidnapped an Israeli soldier. Israel blamed Hamas, and statements to the contrary, this seems to be a particularly good assumption because Hamas has a much better organization in the strip than other terror groups, and the military precision with which the attack was carried out seems to indicated a well-organized, disciplined group with generous support, hence Hamas. Since then of course war has broken out. The Israelis know their soldier is being held somewhere in Gaza, and his recovery is their top priority. Whether Hamas was trying to placate their own base (who still want to annihilate Israel) after agreeing to the document, whether they believed that seizing the soldier would lead to negotiations for an exchange of prisoners, or whether they simply planned to use him for propaganda purposes, it is clear that they made a disastrous miscalculation.

The second theater of this war is in Lebanon. After the Gaza battle broke out, Hezbollah guerillas in Lebanon began firing rockets into towns in northern Israel. This caused Israel to attack into Lebanon to cripple Hezbollah's capabilities to launch more rocket attacks. In the ensuing fighting, the guerillas proved themselves to be more adept at short range fighting than Israel had estimated (another disastrous miscalculation, this time by Israel) and they captured two more Israeli soldiers. Israel responded with a full scale invasion of the area and airstrikes against not only Hezbollah, but Lebanese government targets (the Lebanese government is weak and sponsors Hezbollah partly because they don't have any choice not to, but would likely sponsor them even if they could do anything about them.) Hezbollah launched two long range missiles, which the Israelis didn't know they had, into the city of Haifa, deep inside of Israel (likely they had planned to launch them at a time when such an event would have really embarrassed the Israelis, such as when a U.S. leader was visiting, but with the Israeli army on the move in southern Lebanon, were faced with a 'use them or lose them' situation). Israel quickly learned from their intelligence network that Hezbollah planned to fly the captured soldiers out to Iran, and bombed the Beirut airport to prevent the flight. The bombing closed the airport for the forseeable future and probably won't help recover the soldiers (who could easily be transported across the border into Syria, and then flown to Iran when their captors believe they have sufficiently covered their tracks.)

What we see then is one escalation, then another and then another. However, as I said above, while believing that Israel has certainly contributed to the current situation, I have to support their right to respond, since response requires a first act, and unfortunately, it seems that (with the exception of the 1967 war) every time something like this starts, the first shot always seems to be taken by their opponents.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Catch either of these guys, do the right thing, and also get $100,000

Police sketch of the 'Baseline rapist' who has killed six.

There are serial killers every now and then, the ones who keep a community on the edge. Sickos who get people, especially women, to start locking their windows at night, looking over their shoulders, and rarely to venture out alone.

Phoenix police however are now baffled by the appearance of two serial killers, apparently both operating in the same area at the same time.

One of them is someone who has shot 34 people over the past year, killing four. All of the victims were either walking or riding bicycles. Apparently at least two different guns were used, and the shooter rarely misses, so they believe that the shooter is a good shot. No one has seen the suspect, so that is about all the police have to go on right now. Based on his pattern, police believe that the suspect may be a west valley resident. He may be driving a light colored Sedan.

The second is the so-called 'Baseline rapist,' who has raped a lot of women, attacking twenty times, and killing six. In fact, today they announced that he has been tied to another homicide several months ago in Tempe, which is odd because the Tempe police claim to have solved that one and have a suspect, who they say confessed, already in jail for that crime. Obviously, either an innocent man is in jail in Tempe facing murder charges, or Phoenix police are so clueless in their pursuit of the Baseline rapist that they are claiming he committed a murder that someone else has already confessed to. The Baseline rapist was named because a number of his crimes occurred along Baseline road, and police believe that he may be a resident of east-central Phoenix.

Police are certain that the two are acting independently and have nothing to do with each other (although one fear is that having them both making headlines at the same time could spur a perverse sort of cross-valley murder contest.)

If you see or know anything about either of these killers, a reward of $100,000 is offered.

The only previous case I know of where two serial killers operated in the same community at the same time is when Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer were operating in Seattle.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Real Lost Boys (and it's usually not a happy ending).

I've decided to add another link to my 'other sites' listings. I'm doing it because of a tragedy that has been underreported in the recent rush of stories about the FLDS church (no connection at all to the actual LDS church, to which I belong, and which banned polygamy in 1890) and its leader, Warren Jeffs, who is now on the FBI's ten most wanted list for, among other crimes, child rape, for his role in forcing underage girls to get married to old men who already have multiple wives.

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

What has not been reported much is what has happened to the 'lost boys.' We are talking about those boys who have been raised in the polygamist community, consisting of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah (what amounts to a border straddling community is one of the ploys they have used for years to dodge various court orders and other matters that involve jurisdiction). If you do the math, you will realize that in order to maintain a polygamist community, they have only two choices. One is to go out and convert a bunch of females (one reason why it is highly advisable for women to avoid stopping there when traveling alone, especially with baby girls-- my wife once had to stop there with my two young daughters, who had to use the restroom on their way back from my mother in law's house, while I was working, and 'uncomfortable,' and even 'threateningly uncomfortable' are mild compared to the creepy kind of terror she felt as some of the men in the store looked the young girls over). In today's day and age, such kidnappings or very hard sell conversions are rare though, and they don't want to involve Federal Authorities, so while there are plenty of rumors that this used to happen, it apparently isn't happening now.

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

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

Many of them when they get out into the world, end up in prison, sexually abused by older men or women who 'take them in,' drug addicts, or dead. Others stay together and live in small groups, finding what work they can, in towns across southern Utah (very cosmopolitan to these boys, though my wife is from one of these towns, and thinks Flagstaff is a big city.) And ironically, as white males, they don't even qualify for any kind of affirmative action, so that they don't have any preferences when trying to find work either.

A past they can't go back to, a present they don't understand and have trouble surviving in, and a future that is devoid of hope.

And that is where the link comes in. It is a link to the Diversity Foundation, an organization founded by Sandy, Utah dentist Dan Fischer, himself a former FLDS member (more on that here). Fischer has taken in about fifty of the boys.

Fischer wants to stop the church's most extreme practices, so he can stop cleaning up the mess. In the high stakes legal game to end the FLDS as an institution, he could be the unwitting sculptor of a new legal definition for freedom of religion. Fischer maintains that, while they have the right to practice their beliefs, religious institutions don't have the power to disrupt and exploit lives.

Polygamy's enemies have long argued the practice means exploitation for young women and even girls trafficked among older men. The Lost Boys lawsuit is perhaps the first to point out that young men can suffer polygamy's effects as well. They may not lose their sexual innocence, but ejected from a religious community and mindset they've known from infancy, they can be rendered homeless and hopeless.

Fischer requires that the boys keep out of trouble and go to school while they live with him. Some of his opponents claim that he is using it to promote his dental business. Whether he is or not is actually immaterial-- if he wasn't doing this, there is no one else who would.

I think this is important enough to put up the site, because until a couple of years ago, this was going on just as much, but was completely ignored and not covered. Still pretty close to that.

Attorney General Sues Wal-Mart for Consumer Fraud.

Last April, I blogged (Wal-Mart hires ethics director) about how the world's wealthiest but most ethically challenged retailer was hiring an ethics director to help it clean up its image after being caught on the wrong side of both the law and basic human decency over and over and over.

So did the ethics training help?

Well, apparently it didn't do much, at least according to Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, who filed suit against Wal-Mart on Thursday (and also against Auto Zone) for consumer fraud, after both companies allegedly violated state law by failing to post prices on some items. Prior to 1993, the law had stated that prices had to be stamped on each item. It was revised in that year (because of the use of optical scanners) to state that the price had to be listed nearby. What Goddard's investigators comfirmed however was that in some cases the prices were not listed, while another (generally lower price) for a similar item (which the customer would likely not notice unless (s)he looked very carefully at the bar code) was listed where a customer would logically look.

To be honest, this one did surprise me just a little bit. Wal-Mart has never had a problem giving the shaft to their employees, nor with giving the shaft to the American labor force (by outsourcing jobs), nor with giving the shaft to foreign workers (by using sweatshop labor), nor with giving the shaft to the taxpayers (by paying their employees so low that they have to depend on welfare or other state benefits to get by on).

But this is the first time I specifically have heard of them giving the shaft to customers. But it probably won't be the last. For a company this unethical, it's hard to imagine that they wouldn't figure out some more ways to screw the customer.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

It's not just the Iraqi army that is being infiltrated by terrorists. So is ours.

A report out today makes it clear why the military is now meeting their recruiting goals, and it's not good news: neo-nazis are infiltrating the military.

"There is mounting evidence that military recruiters and commanders, under intense pressure to meet manpower goals with the country at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, have relaxed standards designed to prohibit racist extremists from serving in the armed forces," the [Southern Poverty Law Center's] Chief Executive Richard Cohen told Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a letter...

The military toughened its peacetime policy toward extremists in 1996, after decorated Gulf War veteran Timothy McVeigh was convicted of detonating a truck bomb that killed 169 people in Oklahoma City.

But the Montgomery, Alabama-based center said in a report that military officers were proving less likely in wartime to weed out extremists, especially those in combat units....

"We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," the report quoted a Defense Department investigator as saying.

The center said young civilian extremists are encouraged by adult leaders to enlist in the military to gain access to weapons and training and to recruit other military personnel.

"The reasons are obvious: soldiers are trained to be proficient with weapons, combat tactics and explosives, to train others in their use, and to operate in a highly disciplined culture that is focused on the organized violence of war," the center said...

The Defense Department investigator quoted in the report said he has identified 320 extremists over the past year, only two of whom have been discharged.

Investigators also uncovered an online network of 57 neo-Nazis on active duty with the Army and Marines, spread across five military installations in the United States, the center's report said.

This is pretty frightening in itself. We know how incompetent our Federal government is in terms of matters like this. You know, a fixed budget. As I pointed out when homeland security funds were diverted for this coming year from high terror target risks to places subject to natural disasters, they are always preparing to fight last year's battle. And the older the story is, the more it is ignored.

Which is why the next Timothy McVeigh is probably getting his training right now, at our expense.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Stephen Hawking's question

Recently Yahoo, in order to drum up interest in 'Yahoo questions,' began asking a sequence of ten celebrities or people known as deep thinkers to ask a question, for the community to answer (no, I didn't get asked to submit one, despite the title of this blog.)

Award winning astrophysicist and author Stephen Hawking was asked, and not surprisingly came up with a very insightful question.

He asked, In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years?

Hawking's groundbreaking research on black holes and the origins of the universe has made him one of the best-known theoretical physicists of his generation. Author of the global best-seller "A Brief History of Time," Hawking is known for proposing that space and time have no beginning and no end.

Lately, he has been pondering the fate of humans.

In a speech June 13 in Hong Kong, Hawking said the survival of the human race depends on its ability to find new homes elsewhere in the universe because there's an increasing risk that a disaster will destroy Earth.

He said that if humans can avoid killing themselves in the next 100 years, they should have space settlements that can continue without support from Earth.

If you would like to answer Hawking's question (you have to be a registered member of Yahoo!), you can go here.

I answered it, and the rest of the post is my answer:

Given the fact that we are up against a suddenly limited world-- limited space, limited resources, limited time to do anything about it, we should change our paradigm to where unnecessary waste of resources is considered socially unacceptable. This could mean higher taxes on things like gasoline and water, with the taxes going to finance research and construction of more efficient means of transportation, water use and space utilization. There was a time when the earth was wide open to a person with a dream, and it still is, but 'wide open' (implying resources just available for the taking) must be replaced with the description that the world is 'full of opportunities and needs awaiting a dream' to fulfill them.

Also, the biggest of all wastes, war, in which massive amounts of resources are used simply to destroy other creations and resources (including most importantly human resources), must be considered as archaic as, for example, the medieval torture chamber, slavery and witchcraft trials. This means that the U.N. has to have the teeth to enforce resolutions (perhaps by expanding the security council to 21 with 11 permanent members-- Japan, Brazil, India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Indonesia being given 'veto' power, but with 'veto' now meaning a 'double veto'-- that two permanent members of the council must exercise a veto in order for it to stick, or one permanent member with a majority of the ten non-permanent members. In addition to focusing on expanding the power of the U.N., it has to be stated explicitly that the developed nations of the world must foster development, hope and wise use of resources in the underdeveloped nations of the world. Desperate people without hope are the most likely to follow leaders who desire war.

Further, once developing nations are fully developed, it will end many of the immigration problems we see today, as well as serving the world as a whole as the underdeveloped world today is wasting resources through inefficiency. Pollution is the tangible product created by this inefficiency.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The price of making threats you can't back up.

Most of the international news today has been over the North Korean missile launches. The launches of six missiles, one long range Taepdong-2 type missile, which failed, and five smaller missiles which represent no threat at all, and were apparently launched for the purpose of having some successful launches in the event of a failure of the big one, was done on the Fourth of July, and at very nearly the same time as the space shuttle launch, to send a very clear message that it is a provocation of America.

In fact, North Korea knows it can get away with pulling Washington's tail right now, and will continue to do so. Belligerency has paid off for Pyongyang over the past few years, as they threaten us and we take a step backwards, and there is no reason for them to stop. They can't feed their people, but they always try to gain a few propaganda points by shaking a fist in America's face.

In the past, North Korea has had at least two very significant military deterrents. The first was that they have thousands of heavy artillery pieces within range of Seoul, and could quickly launch a devastating barrage of artillery that would destroy the South Korean capitol within hours, before we could take them all out. The second is the presence of China. The Chinese view their communist brethren in North Korea much like a troublesome little brother, who they'd like to take out and whack upside the head themselves for some of the antics they pull (and may be doing that periodically behind the scenes). And starving North Koreans crossing the border illegally into China has become a serious immigration problem for the Chinese. However, they are still officially an ally of China, and the Chinese would no more put up today with an American army overrunning North Korea than they did in 1950. The North Koreans feel emboldened by this fact, and sometimes act like a feisty tyke, standing in front of big brother and shouting insults, secure in the knowlege that no matter how much big brother may hate it, he won't let you give junior the pop in the mouth that he so richly deserves.

In this context, President Bush's description of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as the 'axis of evil' which would require 'regime change' was pretty stupid. Threatening a country and then attacking them, as he did with Iraq, is inconsistent with American values and what we stand for, and I've blogged quite a bit about Iraq. But threatening someone who you don't have the means to carry out the threat is worse-- by first publically announcing that it had a nuclear program, then withdrawing from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, announcing that it actually has nukes, threatening to shoot down our spy planes just before the Iraq war started (Bush's response was to ground the spy planes, which rewarded North Korea directly for making that threat), and now with the missile launches, they continue with one provocation after another after another, by which they hope to (and have) exposed America as a 'paper tiger,' and Bush as an emperor with no clothes. Far better to not have issued a threat than to be caught drawing a line, and then not being able to do anything when someone steps over it.

And we are even less able to do anything about it now than we were five years ago. One could always make the point that we COULD work out a way to take out the artillery near Seoul quickly (even if we had to use a nuclear weapon to do it), and we COULD make some kind of an arrangement with the Chinese to sit tight, even if it required massive concessions on our part, but we had to make them, but right now, our army is so scattered around the world, that even if we were able to find an antidote to the North Korean deterrents, we frankly could not spare the 'boots on the ground' to take over the country, and the North Koreans know it.

And don't think this is lost on Iran, either. As they've seen over the past five years, Saddam try to wriggle out of things and end up getting skewered behind what turned out to be a fake deterrent, and North Korea in contrast being increasingly bellicose and developing the real deterrents of nuclear weapons and now working on the delivery systems to land them in the United States, don't think that Iran's recent belligerency isn't correlated with what they see going on both around them and in other parts of the world.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Blog Birthday

Last year, on July 5, 2005, I started Deep Thought.

Not knowing what the form of the blog would be, I actually registered under the name 'The Institute of Deep Thinking' (hence the URL) but shortly thereafter shortened it to what it is now. The first post (linked here) discussed what I wanted the blog to become and what some of my thoughts were on it: It said,

And what, pray tell, do we do here? Easy enough, we think. We write. We exchange ideas.
We do what we can to survive the next 1,295 days. We plan for the future, a future better than what we have now.

A future in which people respect each other, help each other, and in which we as a society have the moral fiber to refuse to just allow any one of us to 'slip through the cracks.'

A future in which the United States of America is once again the leader of the world, not because of threats, force and intimidation, but because of achievement, generosity and leadership.

A future in which every member of our society has the same opportunity to succeed, a society in which each person can and does achieve his or her potential, and a society in which no young person ever has to feel that their situation is hopeless or that they will never reach their goals.

A future without racism, sexism, homophobia or any other form of prejudice, and a future in which the lingering effects of these evils have been scrubbed from or society, like an unneeded wart.

A future in which we make the necessary tax investments in schools so that our children will truly be able to bring a better future.

A future in which no one who is sick or injured will be denied health care because they cannot afford to pay.

We are not Republicans here, nor are we the kind of Democrats who fight with Republicans over the crumbs of a shrinking pool of bad ideas. We have our own ideas. Big, Bold, Brash, Bright Ideas!

That is it in a nutshell. We've tried to stay positive, although I've never been shy about pointing out the failures of the Bush administration or of the Republicans in Congress or the Arizona legislature (and they are legion).

This post will be number 373, although I've not tried to average a post per day (I've taken some vacations and some days I just don't post, while on some other days I've had as many as four posts). I've also been invited and have posted on Night Bird's Fountain, The Coalition for a Republican Free America, and Bushmerika (part I). So I don't rightly know how many posts I've written over the past year (although in some cases I've put the same post on more than one blog.) I would also be ungrateful if I didn't mention that this year I was honored to receive an invitation to join Ass Kickers in Exile, which I would have very much enjoyed, but had to decline because it would have (at that time) been the fourth team blog I was a contributing member to in addition to maintaining this one, and I do have a day job and a family and other commitments (one of the most important of which is that I am a precinct committeeman and an active member of the Democratic party; if anyone doesn't just want to write, but wants to do more, I'd highly recommend contacting your county party about becoming a precinct committeeperson.) Of course, it has to be noted in this framework that anything I say on any blog speaks for myself only.

I also don't know how many times I've been visited. Some people have suggested putting up a site meter, but I haven't done that. For one thing, I don't have the technical wizardry to install one, and for another thing, I've heard a number of people complain that it slows down their sites. But those are both excuses that I could get around if I really wanted to; neither of those is the main reason, the truth is that I just haven't been that interested in how many people come and visit. Maybe that will change (especially if my wife remains unemployed much longer and I have to consider doing something I have resisted and selling advertising on my blog), but right now, knowing what my volume is just isn't that important to me.

I'm not sure how many total comments I've had (I'd have to go back and add up the numbers manually and I'm not going to do that). The most I've had was 162, back when the mobs were burning bookstores and European businesses over those cartoons showing Mohammed. I personally found the cartoons detestable, but being an advocate of free speech, I found them online and put them on the blog when most of the major media were declining to show them, and got a ton of comments. I'm sure that if I had a site meter, it would have jumped up by a lot on that day.

I continue to periodically announce that if I make a substantial factual error in a post (as opposed to in the comments, which are not necessarily researched), then I will give the person who points it out credit. Right now, I have had six factual errors in 372 posts, so that equates to a 'fielding percentage' of .984. Actually I could get by with saying there were five errors, as the first time that someone pointed out an error, it later turned out that I was in fact correct, but still should have been more on top of it.

Finally, as we begin year 2, I would like to thank all of you who have visited this site, taken the time to read it and leave your thoughts, and wish you well and hope that you will come back this next year.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Gosh, maybe I do need to be more conspiratorially minded.

If so, then congratulations to Chuck.

Yesterday, I put up a post about how Zarqawi's cell phone contained the numbers of Iraqi government officials. The thrust of it all was that we don't understand the sea of shifting allegiances which is the middle east.

I then discussed the paragraph in the linked article in which Zarqawi's wife claimed that the United States made a deal with Osama bin Laden himself to rat out Zarqawi, in exchange for a reduction of direct U.S. pressure against bin Laden.

My response was this:

What? The United States making a deal with bin Laden to help nail Zarqawi? I don't believe it, and probably neither do you. And I'm certain that isn't the case.

In the comments though, Chuck called me on it. He requoted that line and then said,

Well, ummm, Eli, uhhh. with the obvious implication that with this crew anything is possible.

I still doubt it, but in that context, a story out today that late last year the CIA disbanded a unit created specifically to hunt for bin Laden and began focusing on more widely dispersed al-Qaeda groups is troubling. I still think that the two are unrelated, but the story out today has to make me stop and think, just a day after I said that such a thing wasn't possible.

Read this document. It was worth fighting for 230 years ago, and it is still worth fighting for today.

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident:

That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and, when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them, and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing, with manly firmness, his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining, in the mean time, exposed to all the dangers of invasions from without and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies, without the consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the military independent of, and superior to, the civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution and unacknowledged by our laws, giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us;

For protecting them, by a mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states;

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world;

For imposing taxes on us without our consent;

For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury;

For transporting us beyond seas, to be tried for pretended offenses;

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries, so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these colonies;

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments;

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow-citizens, taken captive on the high seas, to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrection among us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms; our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in our attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them, from time to time, of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity; and we have conjured them, by the ties of our common kindred, to disavow these usurpations which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too, have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity which denounces our separation, and hold them as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these colonies solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that, as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Zarqawi's cell phone contains numbers of government officials

"You're either with us or you're with the terrorists."

Those were the words of George W. Bush when describing the war on terror. And it is in a larger degree, a reflection of the conservative view of the world, the one you see on all those old westerns, war movies and cop shows, where there is no shade of grey, only larger than life heroes who stand for everything that is good, decent and right, and villainous villains that stand for nothing but evil. There is no room in this view for moral relativism, or the idea that the good guys might be fighting for anything other than a righteous cause.

And there is certainly a case that you can make and I would agree with, that whatever the root causes may be behind, say, an Osama bin Laden or an Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, they have committed crimes that are so heinous that they don't deserve to be considered anything other than the vilest of villains and treated accordingly. As such, I was happy to write on my post on Zarqawi's death

And it is a good thing that he is dead. Zarqawi was a murdering monster who won't be mourned by anyone except for a handful of fanatics.

Where the conservative view falls apart however, is that the idea of 'with us or against us' rarely if ever applies in the Byzantine world of Middle Eastern politics. We should have learned that the hard way at Tora Bora, where bin Laden apparently bribed or otherwise 'convinced' the Afghan warlords we sent in to finish him off, to let him escape the noose. The fact that their allegiance to the United States was pretty much limited to a combination of how much we paid them at the time plus the fact that right at that time we had the baddest army in the area didn't prevent our leadership from sending them-- instead of Americans, to actually finish the job. And at least on a small scale, whether it was bin Laden's past relations and influence with them, his stash of cash, or his known network of supporters who could avenge his death, he was able to get them to do something that American marines would never have done, and conveniently be looking the other way when he made his move.

What we now learn is that the government we worked so hard to install in Iraq, is probably just as fickle. Zarqawi's cellphone tells the tale. Apparently, it was recovered in the air strike where we took him out, and on it are the personal numbers of some very highly placed senior Iraqi officials, including ministry employees and members of parliament.

The obvious implication that Iraq's top terrorist was working hand in glove with important government officials is disturbing, but it is also predictable. No one there feels loyalty to the United States. In fact, they probably don't even feel much loyalty to Iraq, a country which never existed in its present form historically and is the result of British and French colonialists who drew arbitrary lines on a map when dividing up the spoils of the Ottoman empire after World War I. Their loyalties are likely to their families, clans, and ethnic/religious group (Sunni, Shiite, Kurd) pretty much in that order. Beyond that, their loyalty to the muslim religion is certainly a bigger factor than any loyalty they might feel towards the state or the government which leads it (even when they are the government which leads it.)

It is in fact that way across the middle east. The United States is just one of many players in an arena full of shifting allegiances, where the enemy of my enemy is my friend, until I make friends with my enemy, when his enemy becomes my enemy. People who live there understand that. The Jordanians (who helped us finger Zarqawi, after he put out contracts on their royal family and blew up some bombs in Amman) understand that. Even the Israelis understand that. But we don't understand that.

And as proof that we don't understand that, consider your reaction to the following line in the story:

Meanwhile, al-Zarqawi's wife told an Italian newspaper that al Qaeda leaders sold him out to the United States in exchange for a promise to let up in the search for Osama bin Laden.

What? The United States making a deal with bin Laden to help nail Zarqawi? I don't believe it, and probably neither do you. And I'm certain that isn't the case.

But she isn't nuts. It may seem that way to us, but in the contorted politics of the Middle East, where she is from, these kinds of things can and do happen, more often than you might suppose. She doesn't understand our way of thinking, but neither do George Bush and those making decisions at the top understand the way people there think.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Pro-Death position of Focus on the Family

There are times when I really wonder about the logic of the religious right, when a new situation comes up that has nothing to do with anything they have fought over before, and they choose what can only be described as the pro-death position. And this is one of those times.

A federal advisory panel unanimously voted that Gardasil, a vaccine against cervical cancer, be mandated to be given to all girls at the ages of 11 or 12 (before the onset of sexual activity). Just last year, it was discovered that about 70% of cervical cancer cases are caused by a virus (the human papillomavirus) that is transmitted sexually-- though usually the cancer develops years or decades later, and Merck developed the vaccine that will prevent this virus from infecting women who have been vaccinated. If the panel's recommendations are followed, this could save the lives of millions of women. And as the first time an actual cure for any kind of cancer has been developed, I would think that most people would be excited about this. I know that I am. I have two ten year old daughters and I want them protected.

Now, there are some reasons why some people are against it, that while I disagree with, I can understand and see their logic. The cost, for one. At $360 per shot, and a battery of three shots required before the vaccine is effective, I can see why some cost conscious conservatives might be against mandating the shots. I'm sure that Merck is already listening to the cash registers ring in their heads. The mandatory nature, for another. I think it is stupid to turn down shots, but unlike for example measles or typhus, the virus that causes cervical cancer requires a specfic act (sex) to transmit, so there is no immediate public health hazard caused by an unvaccinated girl, and I suppose that if someone is stupid enough to opt out of the shots for their child, the state (and by extension school districts) should not make them mandatory.

So why is the religious right against this? Well, in a nutshell they believe that it will encourage pre-marital sex, especially in teenagers.

"You can't catch the virus, you have to go out and get it with sexual behavior," said Linda Klepacki of Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group based in Colorado Springs. "We can prevent it by having the best public health method, and that's not having sex before marriage."

Stupid, stupid and three more shades of stupid.

To begin with, no one had any inkling at all that cervical cancer was linked to the human papillomavirus until just about a year ago. And even then, it didn't make headlines for more than a day or two. And in all of that time, kids were having sex without any knowlege at all that doing so might expose them to the virus or cervical cancer. So, why would having a vaccine that would protect the female partner from a virus that they've probably never heard of cause the teens to think any different about sex? If they are going to have it, they will have it still, if not then they still won't. Think about it: telling them, 'Well, now you're protected against a virus you didn't know about before I gave you those shots' isn't going to change one iota of whether they will or will not have sex.

Second, since there is no positive incentive (as described a moment ago) then the incentive must be negative-- i.e. 'if you have sex then you might get cervical cancer.' Leaving aside my belief that fear should not be used as a tool to get people to be 'moral' (there is a difference between fear and an education about the facts), these people already know they could die or become permanently sick from aids, syphilis, herpes and a host of other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. So adding cervical cancer to the brew is unlikely to change any minds that haven't already been changed. In fact, I doubt if telling teenage girls that they might get cancer in forty years from something they are doing today will make much of a difference at all-- the surgeon general's report on smoking came out in 1964, and over the next three decades, smoking, which had been a mostly male activity, jumped through the roof with young women, to the point that by 1990 more teen girls smoked than teen boys. The decline since then has been due to a variety of reasons including education about tobacco and a perception that it is 'uncool,' together with better enforcement of tobacco laws and high tobacco taxes that have put it out of the price range of most teens, not fear of cancer.

Third, the virus can just as easily be passed on to a girl who is a virgin until marriage, if her partner has it. And since cervical cancer only happens in people who have a cervix to get cancerous (females), it is likely that just as many men as before will carry the virus. So the position of Focus on the Family will still cause even women who chose to not become sexually active in their teens to be unvaccinated and still be subject to exposure to the virus and cervical cancer later. Of course, they could get vaccinated before getting married, but let's be honest, how many newlyweds can afford a thousand dollars in shots? Does Focus on the Family pledge to pay for the shots for any woman who didn't get them in school and maintains her virginity until marriage?

Fourth, since cervical cancer doesn't usually strike until later in life, the price that these girls will pay for whatever they did in their youth, won't happen until they are mothers or grandmothers. So a family will lose a mother or a grandmother. And when it does, I'd like Focus on the Family to explain to a child who has just attended the funeral of his or her mother who has died from cancer why their opposition to this vaccine was the 'right' thing to do. Oh, I know, it will be decades into the future, but that is a tragedy that will happen (over and over) one day that we can simply prevent today. Except that Focus on the Family will fight hard to make sure it does happen. And that is why in this case especially, they truly do have the 'pro-death' position.
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