Friday, May 29, 2009

The future is here today.

There is an article on today entitled, Why our 'amazing' science fiction future fizzled.

It features a shot from the new "Star Trek" movie, and then reads,

(CNN) -- At the 1964 New York World's Fair, people stood in line for hours to look at a strange sight.

They wanted to see the "Futurama," a miniaturized replica of a typical 21st century American city that featured moving sidewalks, computer-guided cars zipping along congestion-free highways and resort hotels beneath the sea.

Forty years later, we're still waiting for those congestion-free highways -- along with the jet pack, the paperless office and all those "Star Trek"-like gadgets that were supposed to make 21st-century life so easy.

Well, I couldn't disagree more.

First off, let's forget "Star Trek" because Star Trek is set in the 23rd century, not the 21st, and I suspect that if you check back in 200 years you will see things that no one alive today has even imagined, although even today modern cell phones bear an uncanny resemblance to those old Star Trek communicators. True that the communicators worked even deep underground on planets where there were no satellites or cell phone towers, but it's hard to imagine that in 200 years people won't solve that problem.

The article does go on to mention that some of the futuristic devices (like jetpacks to fly around with) have been invented, just not put into practical application.

It also points out that teleportation has been carried out in a laboratory on the scale of subatomic energy particles (photons), but is not in practical use. Again, even Star Trek transporters aren't due for another 200 years if you believe the series and it is certainly reasonable to think that early research going on today could well lead to practical application (say to transport a human) in 200 years or less.

What about the moving sidewalks and computer guided cars and undersea hotels? I could certainly take the easy way out and point out that the 'typical 21st century city' is presumably more in line with the mid 21st century than the early 21st century (keep in mind that television would certainly be an example of what nineteeth century dwellers would have called a technological marvel but which was 'typical' in the 20th century; however Philo T. Farnsworth didn't invent it until 1922 and didn't apply for the patent on it until 1927.)

However, I would suggest that we won't see the moving sidewalks much beyond where they already exist (such as airports and some luxury hotels, where people often need to walk long distances carrying luggage) and while there may eventually be a few undersea hotels they will be very limited, and the reason has to do more with twentieth century perceptions than twenty-first century lack of progress.

In 1964 when the world's fair was held, nobody cared much about pollution or the environment. The earth's resources were there for man's exploitation, there seemed to be an almost limitless supply of "Wilderness" (especially in the ocean) and pollution like the fossil fuel-fired smoke that made streetlights burn at noon in places like Pittsburgh was seen as a sign of industrial progress, not anything to be concerned about. In fact, people were so dismissive of the health effects of breathing all that smoke that the majority of the adult population smoked tobacco so that they could get all the benefits of a walk in the smog without even going outside. Energy wasn't thought to be a big problem (especially with the limitless energy of the atom being harnessed by mankind.)

Things have changed a bit since then. Quite a bit.

We have become much more aware of the environment and the need to limit our impact on it. And we've done a great deal to clean it up. I live a couple of miles from a major coal fired power plant and the day and night sky here are clearer than they probably would have been in 1964 even if the plant didn't exist then (which in fact, it didn't.) Nuclear energy causes different-- but no less severe-- impacts on the environment and since Three Mile Island and Chernobyl it's not the magic bullet for solving our energy problems that it was thought to be in 1964. Moving sidewalks in every city would be a tremendous waste of energy (besides, we've become much more aware of how much the couch potato ideal of the 1960's-- then called 'creature comforts'-- was damaging our health-- not even having to walk from one point to another is yet another fantasy that many of us wouldn't even want even if it were practical.) Where they make sense (airports) they exist. Elsewhere, they are not consistent with today's urban plan. I bet the people who thought of the 21st century city never foresaw bike paths and hiking trails (and certainly they did not foresee so much open space) in the middle of major metropolitan areas. And if you really do hate to walk on the sidewalk, then the answer is to buy a Segway.

The undersea hotels won't exist, for a similar reason. We've learned that the ocean is a very delicate ecosystem and there is already a lack of sustainable coral reefs in the world (presumably you'd want to build a hotel where there would be something to see.) Clearly it would also be expensive to build an undersea hotel, but that's not to say that there will never be one, though I'd be surprised to see anyone undertake a venture like that during a recession.

In regard to the computer guided cars, we already have computers in our cars that can determine the best path to go someplace, and computers monitoring traffic that help set traffic signals to best direct it. Mass transit requires a human operator but in many cases is mostly run by a computer, and the human takes over when necessary. I don't doubt that it would be possible to devise a traffic engineering system in which you could get in your car, punch in (or pronounce) where you want to go and then take a catnap. The problem I see with that is that it would require 100% participation. If you didn't have it then you would still have some unpredictable human drivers (likely including some drunk drivers, chronic leadfoots, hot-tempered road rage candidates and some plain old bad drivers) mixing in with your computer flow. And when all of a sudden the guy next to you swerves into your lane, I doubt if most people would be comfortable with the explanation that 'the computer did everything it could to maneuver the car to avoid a collision,' especially if the collision happened anyway while you were dozing off. And getting 100% participation in such a system would require a major change in the American psyche, people turning over their personal freedom to decide where they want to drive to a computer controlled (presumably) by the state. Somehow I don't see that happening.

Robots? There are already a variety of robots, including some commercially available that can carry out a number of household tasks. The Japanese, who are pioneers in the field, have even developed robots that can perform virtually all household tasks and communicate with their owners, and have also developed simpler robots that look and sound like humans (for some reason they always build them to look like a young oriental woman though.) I don't doubt that by the mid-21st century we will have fully functional robots in most homes to conduct ordinary household chores. I might caution though that if you've seen the movie, I, Robot (based on a futuristic Isaac Asimov novel by the same name from, yes, the 1960's) you may wonder whether you'd want one-- and the movie makes a pretty good case as to why you wouldn't want that computer run traffic system as well.

My own belief then is that the future is getting here, right on (or maybe even ahead of) schedule. It may not be fast enough for some people, but it is coming plenty fast enough for me.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tragic story reminds us that women risk their lives daily to give birth

The death of Kerry Martin, the wife of state treasurer Dean Martin during what was supposed to be routine childbirth, and the death tonight of her newborn son has shocked and saddened many in the state. Our condolences go out to the Martin family.

It is also a time to reflect on the dangers of childbirth. During the middle ages childbirth was one of the most common causes of death for women. In fact, the gender balance was kept roughly even because about as many women died in childbirth as men died in war and occupational accidents combined. Even during the nineteenth century and the early part of the last one, death during childbirth was still a leading killer of women.

Modern medicine has made death during childbirth much rarer, but it still happens. The most recent statistic I could find was that the rate of childbirth death in the United States was 13 women per 100,000 births.

However, let's put that number in some perspective.

The occupational death rate for all occupations in America is 3.9 per 100,000. Office workers, who are mostly women, have the lowest rate, 0.4 per 100,000 annually source

From the same source, firefighters die at a rate of 10.6 per 100,000 per year. Construction workers overall have a death rate of 11.0 per 100,000 though some subcategories in construction (such as electrical workers) are higher. Police and sheriff's officers risk death at a rate of 18.2 per 100,000 (source.)

What this means is that women going through childbirth are risking their lives at a rate that is comparable at least to firefighters, construction workers and police officers (and keep in mind that the 13 per 100,000 is only the death rate of women who go through childbirth, and would be significantly higher if we factored in those who die during pregnancy due to complications from pregnancy.)

That isn't to say that women shouldn't choose to bear children (if none of them did then the human race would become extinct in short order) but it is worth remembering at this sad time that for a woman childbirth represents her putting her life on the line (literally) and we should respect it at least as much as we respect firefighters, police officers and construction workers who at least get a paycheck for what they do.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rush needs a king-sized sheet. With eyeholes.

Rush Limbaugh today called Sonia Sotomayor a 'racist.'

Yeah, Limbaugh. I guess he would know a bit about racism if he could listen to his own show.

Let's look a bit at what Rush has said, shall we?

As we well know, in 2003 Limbaugh got himself kicked off 'Monday Night Football' for saying that the media 'overrated' Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb because 'they want to see a black quarterback succeed.' Never mind that this bit of idiocy came fifteen years after Doug Williams had led the Washington Redskins to a 42-10 rout over Denver in Super Bowl XXII and ended with an exclamation point any debate about whether black quarterbacks could succeed in the NFL, except apparently for racists like Limbaugh.

Rush apparently hadn't learned from the McNabb comment, because on Monday, February 5, 2007 (the day after Indianapolis beat Chicago in the Super Bowl) he made virtually identical comments, saying that the media had dumped all over Bears quarterback Rex Grossman the week before because 'they wanted a white quarterback to fail.' Never mind of course that the media had described Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning in glowing terms the week before, or the fact that Manning is every bit as white as Grossman, or that the performances of the two in the Super Bowl showed that the media was absolutely right, it's obvious that Rush looked at the media coverage of the bumbling Grossman and decided that they were singling him out for being white.

Last year during the campaign, Rush loved playing a song by satirist Paul Shanklin about Barack Obama called "Barack the Magic Negro." You may recall that Chip Saltsman was forced to withdraw his candidacy for head of the RNC not long after that because he sent out a CD with that very same song on it, and he got called on it's content. He continued to harp on the theme that Barack Obama would never have gotten where he was without being black (when did being black suddenly start to help you get elected to high office? There are still enough racists around that it's a definite handicap for many candidates, though fortunately their numbers have declined to the point where it is even possible for someone like Obama to get elected.) I am a liberal Democrat and I cast my vote very happily for Barack Obama last November, but I find it offensive that Rush is telling me that the only reason was because he was black (I guess presuming that if the Democrats had nominated someone else then all us liberals would suddenly have switched to vote for Republicans.) Dream on, Rush.

Then, when General Colin Powell, after weighing carefully the reactions of the two candidates to the economic crisis, endorsed Obama, Rush said it is all about race. This is a sad, sad commentary that he sees a black man endorse another black man and assumes that it is because of skin color (sorry, but according to the polls, the big reshuffle of the deck last election came right then, following the failure of Lehman Brothers bank and the events that followed; if Powell was convinced that week to pick Obama over McCain then he was just one of millions of Americans.) For that matter, one out of every eight Americans is black. So to assume that every time one black person does something for another black person the only reason is because the person is black is as ridiculous as it is insulting.

Those are Rush quotes that I remember.

Some undated ones, but beauts are at this link.

The worst one is:

You know who deserves a posthumous Medal of Honor? James Earl Ray [the confessed assassin of Martin Luther King]. We miss you, James. Godspeed.

You know, for Rush to call anyone racist, I'd say it would be like the pot calling the kettle black, but in this case the pot is lily white, and could easily be covered by a sheet.

Ebullient about Sonia!

President Obama has made his first Supreme Court pick, Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor. And it's a great choice.

The one point that Republicans have is that her compelling personal story-- raised by a single mother in a tenement in the Bronx and doing well enough in school to earn her own way into Princeton University-- is irrelevant to how qualified she is as a judge.

So let's focus on how qualified she is as a judge. The answer is very. Academically, there is no question about her intellect. Sotomayor graduated Summa cum Laude, at the top of her class at Princeton. Then she went on to Yale Law School and earned her law degree.

After school she earned a reputation as a tough and effective prosecutor, which led to her appointment to the federal bench eighteen years ago by President George H.W. Bush. Later she was appointed to the second circuit court by President Clinton, and has served on that court-- one step below the Supreme Court for more than a decade.

Conservatives tried to kneecap Sotomayor early on in the process. They sent hitman Jeffrey Rosen, who wrote a scathing critique, all based on 'anonymous sources.' Those anonymous sources questioned her intelligence, apparently following after Karl Rove's tactics of attacking someone's strength first. Only Rosen failed miserably, since he couldn't find anyone willing to put their name on the record so it ends up looking like a bunch of unsubstantiated innuendo. For all you can tell, Rosen's 'anonymous source' might have been himself.

They will bring up Sotomayor's comments in the past suggesting that judicial decisions should also be made with a view as to their impact on those directly affected and on others. This is a good thing however. As a baseball fan, I am grateful that Sotomayor considered the interests of fans and of the public when she issued a ruling in 1995 to force players and owners back to the negotiating table. Baseball, as I've noted on several occasions, still has not recovered as "America's pastime" (in third place in most measures of fan popularity behind football and basketball, and not all that far ahead of NASCAR.) Sotomayor is the reason why baseball resumed in 1995 at all, and in retrospect it is clear that she made the right decision.

They will likely bring up the case of Ricci vs. DiStefano, the New Haven, CT case in which the results of a test were thrown out by the city. Conservatives are criticizing Sotomayor for being a member of a three judge panel which sided with the city and ruled against the plaintiff. However, the fact that the case even worked its way up to the second circuit should be proof that it was never the slam-dunk case conservatives seem to believe to begin with, so if she doesn't agree with them then she is not the first. I doubt it will be a unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court either (though it will be interesting to see how David Souter casts his vote on the case.) If Sotomayor and her colleagues on the panel can be faulted it is for not being more explicit in their opinion, but not forgoing a lengthy opinion in a case which is decided by a panel is by no means unusual (and the justice who penned the opinion in the case was one of the other panel members anyway.)

As far as her position on the court, keep in mind that Souter is considered part of the court's liberal wing anyway. We have essentially a 4-1-4 split on the court-- four liberals, four conservatives and Anthony Kennedy the guy everyone is trying to convince. The only way that Sotomayor really helps the liberal wing is that we are replacing Souter, a guy who hated every minute of his work on the Supreme Court, with a justice who is enthusiastic about the opportunity and at 54 will probably be on the court for a long time. The two justices with serious health issues, Justices Stevens and Ginsburg, remain on the court.

In fact, while Sotomayor is certainly liberal on many issues, she isn't necessarily always liberal. In her only ruling on abortion in fact, she backed the Bush administration's anti-abortion stance in dismissing the suit on the part of abortion rights groups to force the administration to reverse the so-called 'Mexico City rule' and provide funds for foreign organizations that counseled abortion. Sotomayor ruled on the case in 2002 that the government had the freedom to direct U.S. funds to or not to foreign interests. In another ruling that is at odds with liberal orthodoxy she struck down a law used by the city of White Plains, NY to ban religious displays in a city park. So clearly she will have a few surprises in store, though I expect that she will probably be about as liberal as David Souter was (a justice who surprised his Republican backers twenty years ago.)

On the other hand, I don't want a pure doctrinaire liberal either. I want someone who thinks things through and one hallmark of that is occasional unpredictability. All in all, I am very happy with President Obama's choice.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Now we learn the real reason Dick Cheney is all over TV

Much has been written about how no one seems to be calling the shots at the GOP. Michael Steele, whose job it is supposed to be, has in his short tenure as chair of the RNC had to backtrack at least twice, once having to apologize for telling the truth about Rush Limbaugh and once for making a comment that the base interpreted as being suspiciously pro-choice.

Limbaugh is a guy who many people see as the public face of the Republican Party, and the radio loudmouth has certainly not helped Republicans with their image problem, suggesting that the latest attempt by GOP leaders to reach out was motivated by the Presidential ambitions of Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney and suggesting that their 'listening tour' was a joke and that they should have just preached more conservatism. Apparently it still isn't sinking in to conservatives that their day in the sun is over and that the minority of Americans today that calls itself "conservative" is, based on demographic trends, only likely to decline some more.

Even when Republicans recruit a popular moderate who can appeal beyond their base (Charlie Crist of Florida for Senate, for example) the base foams at the mouth (like the blog which is spearheading a drive to dry up donations to the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee because they support Crist or the Club for Growth's President Chris Chocola, who was defeated for re-election to congress by a Democrat in 2006 precisely because he was too conservative for his district and who has now opened an attack on Crist.)

So who steps in and fills the void? Well, as a Democrat all I can say is it's someone who I practically would pick first if I were to choose the new face of the GOP: Dick Cheney.

Yup, Bush's Vice President, and a Vice President who left office even less popular than Bush did. Who better to continue to remind voters of what they voted against the past two elections than the dour Cheney, hammering away at the same old, worn out arguments he's been making for years? Cheney is no longer in an undisclosed underground location, giving interviews and appearing as a guest on all sorts of TV news shows and this week even giving what was the de facto Republican response to President Obama's speech on torture and the Guantanimo detainees. I'm sure that the GOP leadership if they could pick someone to respond, would have picked practically anyone else but Dick Cheney, but he in effect pre-empted any kind of a Republican response by timing his own speech almost perfectly to dovetail with the President's speech.

As a Democrat, I can only say that I hope Dick Cheney stays as the face of the Republican party for a long time. Continuing to pound the drums for war, torture and a deregulated, trickle down economy. The old twentieth century policies that failed so spectacularly to start off the twenty-first.

But Republicans can take a glimmer of hope. Today we learned what really drives the man. He's fishing for a book deal.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney "is actively shopping a memoir about his life in politics and service in four presidential administrations, a work that would add to what is already an unusually dense collection of post-Bush-presidency memoirs that will offer a collective rebuttal to the many harshly critical works released while the writers were in office and beyond," the New York Times reports.

"A person familiar with discussions Mr. Cheney has had with publishers said he was seeking more than $2 million for his advance. That sum may prove hard to get in this economic climate, especially given his generally low approval ratings, which publishers view as a potential -- but not certain -- harbinger for sales."

Yup, that's what this is all about. Cheney wants to make a buck. Considering how much damage Cheney and his friends did to the image of the Republican brand over the past eight years, if I were in charge of the GOP I'd seriously consider paying Cheney $2 million just to crawl back into his bunker and go away.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

You'd think that for millions of dollars in no-bid contracts they'd at least do a really good job

Well, apparently not.

Pasta or chicken?

As in, what meal would you like on your flight back to the United States?

That's what Eric Peters was told would be his choice if he questioned the shoddy electrical wiring he found in buildings wired by Houston-based KBR, Inc., on bases in Iraq. Peters, licensed as a master electrician in nine states, worked for KBR in Iraq from February to April of this year.

Peters, along with Jim Childs, a former project manager in Iraq for the Army Corps of Engineers, and Charles Smith, the former head of the Army Field Support Command, testified today at the Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing regarding tens of millions of dollars in government bonus money paid to KBR, a contractor whose faulty work is said to have led to the electrocutions of American soldiers

Of course as we know, KBR (Kellogg, Brown and Root) is a subsidiary of Halliburton, and we well know how Halliburton got all those no-bid contracts.

But to hear that they may have (despite all that money) cut corners on costs and that because of it some American servicemembers may have died needlessly is terrible, and I hope this gets fully investigated.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Obama is right-- it's time for Israel to help create a Palestinian state

We are hearing a lot about President Obama's meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, a rabid right winger who was forced out of power in a corruption scandal some years ago (in Israel even Richard Nixon would have been allowed to run again after taking some time off) has pledged to (among other things) expand West Bank settlements, destroy Hamas and take a hard line against Palestinians. One thing he has scrupulously avoided saying is 'two state solution,' even though his predecessors (most notably Yitzhak Rabin) firmly committed towards pursuing the creation of a Palestinian state.

Let's hope that behind the scenes President Obama (who wants to see a fully independent Palestinian state up and running before he leaves the White House) wins the argument that he is surely having with Bibi.

And I am saying this as someone who has consistently defended the right of Israel to defend itself when attacked. It is certainly true that Israel has fought seven wars in its sixty years, and it is no secret that there are some in the middle east (including some Palestinians) who are implacably set on its destruction and the destruction of its citizens, and who will never be anything else. There are those in Israel who have feared, with some justification, that an independent Palestinian state would simply function as a base from which terrorists and armies could launch attacks against Israel. Nevertheless the best chance that Israel has to survive is to support the independence of Palestine (more on that below.)

The paranoid view that a lot of Israelis (especially those who support Netanyahu) have is best expressed in a column in Ha'aretz by Yehuda ben-Meir:

The sad truth is that the State of Israel will face a confrontation with the Obama administration, irrespective of the public outcome of the meeting between the U.S. president and Israel's prime minister....

It isn't pleasant, but anyone reading between the lines is beginning to understand that the Obama administration is becoming increasingly like the Carter administration. For 30 years, Israel has not had to deal with as difficult - sometimes even hostile - a U.S. administration as the Carter one. I can personally attest to the brutal style and blatant threats that characterized the relationship between Jimmy Carter and Menachem Begin. Indeed, Carter is someone whose beginnings can be seen in the way he has ended up.

OK, rebutting that will lead to why Israel must negotiate seriously and with the goal of an independent Palestinian state.

First off, let's even suppose that what Meir is claiming about Jimmy Carter were true. The fact is, Carter secured (however he did it) a lasting peace between Egypt and Israel. Egypt, with a much larger population base and army than Israel could ever hope to put in the field, was always Israel's most dangerous enemy. Fortunately for the Israelis the Egyptians fought poorly in each of the four wars between the two nations, but to assume that your opponent will always perform as poorly as they have in the past is foolish. In exchange for returning the occupied Sinai peninsula back to Egypt, Israel secured its first lasting peace with one of its neighbors. It is hard to argue that continuing to fight periodic wars with Egypt would have served Israeli interests at all. Having peace along its southwestern border has served Israel pretty well. Jordan later followed Egypt's lead, giving Israel peace along most of its eastern border as well. So his point about Carter is irrelevant-- what Carter did has been a real benefit to Israel. If he had to drag Begin kicking and screaming to the negotiating table, well then that's one of the best things Carter ever did-- and it's one of the best things that anyone ever did for Israel.

Second, let's consider the consequence of the fact that the Bush administration gave Israel carte blanche for eight years to do as it pleased. It would be almost impossible to argue that the last eight years have improved Israeli security. Israel has fought two wars against non-state organizations, Hezbollah in 2006 and Hamas last year, and both of them are still alive and kicking after surviving several weeks of Israeli assaults, and both have shown their ability to launch thousands of rockets deep inside Israel. Israel has not weakened Hezbollah at all and while they arguably weakened Hamas militarily they did nothing to weaken Hamas' hold on the Gaza strip.

In fact, the only real gain that Israel has made in improving their security is a consequence of something that they had no control over, the death of Yassir Arafat. In 2001 as Bush took office you may recall they were fighting a new 'intifada' in the West Bank. This began shortly after Arafat walked away from a Clinton negotiated peace deal with Ehud Barak that came tantalizingly close to fruition. A Palestinian friend of mine told me that the reason was because most Palestinians thought Arafat was a joke who had robbed the Palestinians of billions of dollars (and after he died it was found that what the people thought was true, and that in fact Arafat had accumulated a fortune in banks around the world-- money that could have only come from the Palestinian treasury since he had little other income.) As my friend told me, "Arafat has the authority to say 'yes'" In other words Palestinians would only support him as far as he was willing to condone whatever they did anyway. So having no ability to control his own 'supporters' the Israelis were justified in their concern that any agreement they reached with Yassir Arafat would probably be violated, whether by his own choice or because what his choice was didn't matter.

In contrast, current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has proven that he can adequately police the West Bank. During both the Hezbollah and Hamas wars it is noteworthy that there were no rockets fired from the west bank into Israel nor were there attacks there on Jewish settlers (though both Hezbollah and Hamas urged west bank Palestinians to rise up in support of their cause.) By keeping the west bank calm and quiet even during a war in which Israel was being attacked, Abbas has shown that he is exactly the partner that Israel needs for negotiations-- someone who can be trusted to keep and enforce his side of the agreement.

The alternative is endless war. The Palestinian issue isn't going anywhere as long as there is no Palestinian state. The broad agreement is already in place, via the Oslo accords and general consensus that the borders will likely follow the 1967 cease fire lines.

And in a turn about, it is now the Palestinians who have a leader who can be trusted, and the Israelis who (as one Israeli politician once said about the Palestinians) are taking the opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Education video right on the mark

Ted Prezelski at Rum, Romanism and Rebellion has posted a great new ad from the Arizona Economic Council about the cuts that Governor Brewer and the legislative Republicans are making in education:

Monday, May 18, 2009

Furor over pregnant 66 year old shows that sexism is still with us

Remember when Tony Randall became a father when he was in his seventies? Remember when Strom Thurmond became one when he was past ninety?

As I recall, there were congratulations all around. It was a great thing, or so everyone said, that such an old man could be a father.

So what about a sixty-six year old first time mother? Congrats all around like when these old guys became fathers? No, many people are claiming to be outraged by it. They are treating the story of British mom-to-be Elizabeth Adeney, a healthy sixty-six year old who became pregnant by in vitro fertilization, as some big scandal.

Do I detect a hint of sexism here? Yes, and it's none too subtle. When a ninety year old man can still make his organ work, he is lauded for his manhood. No one says a word about the fact that he probably won't be around to watch junior graduate from high school. Oh, granted there is some 'sweet young thang' involved, who it is assumed will look after the child after the old guy has departed.

But when a divorced woman, even a successful career woman who can certainly afford (and presumably will afford) to make sure that the child will be cared for in the event of her death, becomes pregnant all of a sudden she is called selfish and foolish.

Granted there are some health risks associated with a pregnancy later in life but as a doctor is quoted in the story I linked to, they are 'very treatable' health conditions.

As to raising the child, when he or she graduates from high school Ms. Adeney will be 84. It is certainly reasonable for a healthy sixty-six year old woman to expect to reach 84 (remember that women live seven years longer than men on the average to begin with.) And heck, look at how many kids now are being raised by grandparents or even great grandparents because their parents are either unable or unwilling to take care of them. Far from being called selfish, those grandparents are lauded for their selflessness. Now granted, Ms. Adeney recently became divorced. But there are many successful single parents out there so any argument that her lack of a partner will make child raising more difficult, while undoubtedly true, clearly does not count for much in the face of the factual evidence that single parents are raising children every day and the overwhelming majority of them are doing a good job of it.

I think it is great that technology has advanced to the point where a woman her age can become pregnant.

Now if we could just advance as a society at the same rate, we'd be telling her "you go, girl" instead of reserving those kinds of adulations for the Strom Thurmonds of the world.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Phony attack on Speaker Pelosi should be confronted

There are times when attacks by the Republican attack machine have their basis in reality, when some Democrat did something (s)he should not have done and the attack dogs sense blood in the water and go after it like ravenous sharks. Well, I guess I can't complain too much when that happens because I've been urging Democrats for years to play hardball politics the same way, and lately we've been a lot better at it. When that happens then you can blame the attack dogs, but you also have to blame the idiot that got caught with his or her pants down (whether figuratively or literally).

But there are also times when the attacks have no basis in reality, and are contrived and patched together as an attempt to invent a scandal and go after someone just so they can paint something on that person no matter how phony the attack is.

And so it is today that I am posting in defense of Speaker Pelosi. I might add that I've known who Nancy Pelosi was and known the Speaker to be a defender of human rights for many years before others even heard of her. Many years ago I signed an online petition on behalf of a Chinese dissident. About a year or two after that I and about fifty or a hundred other people who did not know each other received a series of mysterious emails from someone named, 'runner' tied to the approaching tenth anniversary of Tianenmen Square. Pelosi was one of those, as her congressional email address stuck out like a sore thumb in the list of apparently unrelated emails. Someone finally figured out that what drew us together was that we had all signed the same petition. Needless to say since then I've known who Nancy Pelosi is and I'm proud to stand with her in support of human rights.

The right is jumping all over a story that says that the Speaker (then minority leader) was briefed on waterboarding in 2002 and again in 2003 and did not object to it.

That is false however.

To begin with, at the time of the 2002 briefing on interrogation tactics waterboarding had been used on one Al-Qaeda prisoner and Pelosi and others were told specifically that it HAD NOT AND WOULD NOT be used. That's not just Pelosi's recollection , as she pointed out in remarks made yesterday but also the recollection of former Florida Senator Bob Graham who was also at the meeting. As for the 2003 briefing Pelosi pointed out that she was not present to raise an objection when others were told that it had been used as a tactic. The record bears that out:

Despite Boehner's comments, CIA records show Pelosi attended only one briefing — the one in the fall of 2002 where she says she was told that waterboarding had not been used. A chart released by the CIA detailing its briefings for lawmakers is vague on what transpired at that session. It says Pelosi and the top Intelligence Committee Republican, then-Rep. Porter J. Goss of Florida, were given a "description of the particular (enhanced interrogation techniques) that had been employed," without further details.

Remember that she claims (as does at least one other person who was present at the briefing) that she was told that waterboarding was not used at all in 2002. If the Speaker can be faulted at all it might be for not attending every single briefing but the truth is that Congress is a very busy place (especially for its leaders) so missing a briefing is hardly unusual.

More to the point though is the implication that because the Speaker never raised an objection (even if she had been there to raise one) that means she supported or at least condoned the tactic. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nancy Pelosi has consistently demanded that our intelligence officers comply with universally accepted (and agreed to by treaty) standards on the treatment of prisoners. She has never, repeat never accepted, condoned or failed to speak out against waterboarding or any other form of torture when she was given an opportunity to do so.

The purpose of this attack on the Speaker is to try and create, after the fact, some kind of defense for the indefensible. Now that it is time to really find out who authorized what and who told who what and when, the guilty parties are trying to smear their guilt around and all over those who have always been outspoken against what they are doing. Bending and twisting the facts or creating new ones are a desperate play by the right and it is important for those of us who want to see Congress get to the bottom of this to stand up now and defend the Speaker against these scurrilous attacks.

As I said at the outset, there are the attacks that seed themselves, by someone leaving a door open for the wolves. And then there are the attacks that are purely manufactured and this is one of those.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Republican Senator even hides what state he is from for a buck.

I was just reading a CNN article on judicial nominees linked here when an ad at the bottom caught my attention.

It said, "Arlen Specter: A Democrat" and then under it, it said, "We need every conservative vote. Elect a conservative. Donate now." Under that it had a link to David Vitter's website.

David Vitter? He's claiming he is an alternative to Arlen Specter in this ad. Then if you follow the link it goes to a page that has the title "David Vitter|Arlen Specter" and soliticits donations.

A key piece of information is missing though. Namely, what state he is from. Reading the whole ad, it was hard to not assume that David Vitter was running against Arlen Specter. Only he's not, because Specter represents Pennsylvania in the Senate and Vitter is an incumbent Republican Senator from Louisiana. On top of that, most observers don't think that Democrats in Louisiana (one of the few states that is still trending Republican) are likely to find anyone to give a very serious challenge to Vitter next year. But if I were a conservative who was mad as heck at Arlen Specter I would read that ad and assume that the money actually would go to elect a conservative instead of Arlen Specter, not go to re-elect a conservative who is already sitting on a seat that is likely as safe as any in the Senate next year.

So what we have here is a conservative Republican, who is so sly he won't even say what state he is from, taking advantage of other conservative Republicans to raise money, money that will presumably then be unavailable for other conservative Republicans who are running in races where they probably need the money more than Vitter does (including Pat Toomey, a conservative Republican who actually is running in Pennsylvania against Arlen Specter.)

What will be funny is to find out if any conservatives actually fall for this little trick.

In over her head

Jan Brewer, you may recall, arranged for a lavish ceremony to celebrate when she became Governor following the departure of Janet Napolitano.

Shortly thereafter the budget, of a state that has starved itself of tax revenues by implementing years of massive and poorly thought out tax cuts, hit her squarely in the face.

So she put out a 'five point plan' to deal with the budget. It was short of specifics but broadly outlined her budgetary priorities.

Since then she has assumed the approximate shape of an armadillo hoping not to get run over by an SUV, saying nothing and doing less about the budget.

It is pretty clear by now that far from exhibiting leadership, this is a politician who got where she did by throwing bricks at others' ideas, but now that she has the trowel and the mortar in her hand, she knows not how to build the house herself.

It's time to clearly and unequivocably say about Governor Brewer: NOT. UP. TO. THE. JOB.

Monday, May 11, 2009

I guess he could always get on a small boat and try to sneak in from Ireland

The British have recently created a list of ten individuals who are persona-non-grata (a diplomatic term meaning not welcome) in England. Mostly the list includes various international terrorists but the name that is garnerning the most attention is American talk radio hatemonger Michael Weiner (radio name Michael Savage). If you've ever had the disgusting experience of hearing Savage on the radio then you were likely treated to a hateful, bigoted rant against whatever group he is angry at that day. Of course Savage is saying he is outraged by the British list and demands an apology and that his name be removed from the list.

Now, I could make the point that the British (like any nation) have every right to declare anyone who is not a British citizen unwelcome in Britain. I could make the case that he's getting a lot more coverage out of this than a late-night bigot with a loud mouth should get, and both those points would be true.

But I won't. I will only ask one very simple question:

Michael Savage believes that the United States not only has a right, but should enforce at all costs the denial of entry into the United States of undocumented Mexicans and others wanting to enter the U.S. so they can find a job. So is he saying that it is mandatory that the U.S. turn away undocumented Mexicans but not OK for the British to turn away an American bigot?

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The 'slippery slope' is what we've been on for decades. Chrysler reorganization really IS 'chapter 11.' And not just in legal terms.

Earlier this week, President Obama oversaw a marathon negotiating session which failed to produce an agreement to avert bankruptcy filing by Chrysler because a small number of preferred stockholders (according to reports, mainly hedge fund managers) held out. Following the all-night the administration annouced that the automaker was indeed going to enter bankruptcy. After that, the administration announced that the United Auto Workers (UAW) would command a majority stake in the company as it emerges from bankruptcy and that the hedge fund managers would in effect go to the back of the line to be paid from any assets sold off through the bankruptcy process.

My first reaction was that this arrangement tickled every progressive bone in my body. It was the fault of a few hedge fund managers after all, that the bankrupcty occurred in the first place. And hedge fund managers won't get much support from the public (I've not seen a survey on their popularity but I suspect that if there was one, hedge fund managers would likely score someplace between Dick Cheney and Bernard Madoff.) And giving the company to the union that represents the people who actually make the product, I mean what could be more progressive than that? The only thing that made it better to contemplate was to think of all the conservatives reading it and just putting their head in their hands and shaking it slowly back and forth. Sweet revenge for all the times I did that when the Bush administration did something by assertion that seemed way over the top.

On second thought though, there may be a reason why I had the same reaction then as conservatives have now. And it's a reason that should transcend partisanship, though we are where we are precisely because people with an agenda have used partisanship as one of several vehicles to drive that agenda. And that agenda is to empower the federal government, and in particular the executive branch, at the expense of the rule of law, civil rights and fundamental Constitutional rights.

To understand the danger, realize that whatever one may think of hedge fund managers, it is a long standing principle in contract law that the creditors of a company that is in bankrupcty court receive payment in a certain order. The hedge fund managers are what is known as preferred shareholders, meaning that legally they should be paid (which payment can be in shares of the new, post-bankruptcy company) before other shareholders (and certainly before the UAW.) That's not a matter of opinion, and I may consider it to be a grossly unfair arrangement (which I do) but it is nonetheless the law and it is not up to the President to rewrite the law and make changes in it. There is a way to make changes in the law, of course, which is to go through Congress, but Congress was not asked to vote on this.

And the fact of the matter is that if it is possible for the President to change the law by executive fiat and give a company to the union then what exactly prevents him or some future President from using exactly the same logic to seize your home and give it to the bricklayer, the gardener or the baby-sitter? The answer is that if this case is the precedent then there is nothing to prevent it.

Before conservatives think I'm with them on this though, I'd like to point out that this only continues a trend which has been ongoing for decades. With the singular exception of Jimmy Carter (during whose four years most of the civil protections from governmental overreach that we do have now were enacted) every President since Calvin Coolidge first appointed J. Edgar Hoover as FBI director in 1924 has pushed things in pretty much the same direction. Just to cite one recent example, some of you may remember the case of Jose Padilla, an American citizen who was accused of plotting to plant a 'dirty bomb' and held without being charged for years in a military prison in South Carolina. After losing several appeals over the whole issue of habeus corpus protection, the Bush administration finally found one judge who would rule in their favor. As soon as they did they immediately did file charges against Padilla (though they did not charge him with anything related to a 'dirty bomb') and eventually managed to get him convicted on a single count-- that he had been to Afghanistan for training--- even while failing to gain a conviction on more serious charges. They filed the charges when they did specifically to make sure that the case would not be appealed to the Supreme Court which might have sided with all the lower courts and overturned their 'precedent.'

Now, I'm sure some conservatives will argue that the Padilla case is somehow 'different' than the Chrysler case. But if fact it is not. Both involve the President asserting a new legal and Constitutional standard where there was not one before. And if you are a conservative that still thinks that Padilla precedent is a good thing, I'd ask you whether you still like the idea that the Obama administration now has the authority to detain, using secret evidence, any U.S. citizen they say is an 'enemy combatant' without charging them as a crime for as many years as they want to. Because they now do have that 'right' courtesy of the Bush administration.

And therein lies the rub. What has enabled a decades long assault on civil rights has been a mixture of always finding the right 'bogeyman' (nazis, communists, mobsters, left wing subversives, right wing militias, drug dealers, criminal gangs, foreign terrorists, child molesters, Wall street crooks-- all have had their turn to scare us into surrenduring some measure of civil liberty) and partisanship. Whether it was Democrats foolishly supporting Bill Clinton's post Oklahoma City domestic surveillance bill or Republicans supporting the Patriot Act and warrantless wiretaps during the Bush administration, no one has ever taken a moment to ask why the mountain of powers that have already been given to the Presidency isn't enough already.

And we have already forgotten that Clinton's raid on Waco was entirely legal-- because of Reagan's 'war on drugs' legislation that ensured that federal agents could just come in unannounced and start shooting if there were allegations that drugs were on the premises. Someone had made such an allegation (though it turned out be false) and that was all the legal justification that was needed to charge in with guns blazing away.

Instead of looking at this kind of stuff with a partisan hue, colored by the administration that is then in power (i.e. "Democrat good, Republican bad" or the reverse) maybe the right way to look at is is always to be skeptical.

The worst thing about any kind of expansion of Federal powers is that they will still be there for all future Presidents. And in this area, it seems that Democratic and Republican administrations have been literally pulling the rope together and all sending us sliding down the same slope, a slope that leads down to.... where? I don't know but I fear to contemplate it.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Don't rest, there is still work to be done

Quite a few years ago I played on a rugby team. We had several very good players (note that I was not one of them) but overall lost more games than we won. One time in October 1984 we entered a tournament in Albuquerque, and in an upset beat a couple of teams we weren't supposed to beat. So the championship game was against a team from Holloman Air Force Base, which had also pulled off a pair of big upsets to get there. The game was played in the Albuquerque Sports Stadium. We had beaten Holloman 42-6 just a couple of months earlier and before the game one of our very good players (who had a poisonous attitude however) said, "It's only Holloman" and we laid back a bit and went in with an attitude that we would beat them soundly again. Final score: Holloman 18, Socorro 10. I did learn something that day (everyone did) about overconfidence.

It's a great time to be a Democrat. We've won big in two elections in a row (so that the Bush-Cheney-Hastert-DeLay-Frist cabal that held all the reins of power just a scant three years ago seems like a bad dream from which we-- and the country-- are fully awakened.) Overall, things seem to be going well. President Obama's stimulus plan seems to be starting to take hold as the economy is, though slowly and fitfully, beginning to sputter to life. Such bills as sCHIPS and the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act have been signed into law by President Obama in an even more robust form than the similar bills that President Bush vetoed last year (who says you can't win by losing sometimes.) It looks highly likely that we will have significant health care reform, credit card reform and a national service plan enacted by next year. The outlook for an energy plan is not quite as clear, but even without one there is much in the stimulus and elsewhere that will move us towards a greener future. Even in the states there is progress on what used to be slam-dunk conservative issues, as New Mexico just in the past few months became the thirteenth state to abolish the death penalty and Maine today became the fifth state to legalize any marriage between two consenting adults. We are finally finding out what was done to prisoners 'in our name' and guidelines have been approved to prevent it from happening again. President Obama has stayed at about sixty percent approval since he took office, defying the trend that has hounded former Presidents once they get to and pass their 100th day.

The outlook for Republicans is just as bad. They have pushed moderates out of the party and the result is a party that seems to be running ever more to the right. They seem to be a party of fits and starts that can't figure out how to connect with the American people. As one astute commenter on a blog I frequent pointed out, where are the 'teabaggers' now? Some 'movement,' it's gone within a couple of weeks of their big coming out party. Republican party ID is near an all-time low as people who had assumed they were Republicans have simply left the party and become independents or in some cases even moved over all the way to the Democratic party.

I'm afraid I'm going to have to rain on our parade a bit though. I detect an attitude of "it's only Holloman" running through a lot of Democrats (not so much here in Arizona, where we well know what our task is next year-- elect a sane legislature-- but nationally I detect it.) The truth is that the GOP is still a very dangerous opponent and we had best not rest on our laurels.

There were some unique factors at work in the last two elections that we can't assume will be repeated. The biggest one was simply that Americans were fed up and tired of eight years of failure and incompetence by the Bush administration. As long as George W. Bush was the President Democrats had the perfect foil. But Bush is gone now, along with the rest of that cabal I named that held power before. A second factor this last time around was the we had the most charismatic and telegenic Democratic candidate since at least JFK (and yes, that includes Bill Clinton) and Republicans nominated a guy who matched Bob Dole in the charisma department. President Obama will be running again in 2012 but it's safe to say that the GOP will have probably turned the page from John McCain. Third, we outhustled, outorganized and outraised the GOP (the last largely because the Obama campaign did not accept public financing and the accompanying limits.) The GOP has always held an edge in fundraising until recently so at the very least we can expect that to be much more competitive the next few election cycles. And John McCain depended on just reactivating the Bush ground game from 2004 and got smoked on the ground. Some of the files he was using hadn't even been updated since 2004. I expect that by 2010 and certainly by 2012 the Republicans will be up to speed on their ground game. We can still win it, just as we can still outhustle and outfundraise them, but it won't be a one-sided win if we do.

Now, I still believe that Republicans can only win if Democrats fail to do what we need to in order to win, but we have to be on guard against complacency, or we may be scratching our own heads in a few years asking how the mandate we had and the concentration of power that the voters had given us, had evaporated into thin air (which Republicans today ask themselves when they go back and read posts from three years back.)

Now is the time to go all out and build towards putting the next election away.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

GOP: opposes photo radar. GOP executive director: caught by photo radar

Now we know why some Arizona Republicans are so up in arms about photo radar:

they don't want to get caught

The executive director of the Arizona Republican Party was charged with reckless driving and criminal speeding Wednesday after a photo radar camera caught him driving 109 mph on Loop 101.

Brett Mecum was arrested by Department of Public Safety officers around 10:30 a.m. at party headquarters in Phoenix in connection with an April 10 incident.

DPS Spokesman Bart Graves said Mecum was driving a blue 2008 Ford Mustang eastbound on the 101 near 59th Avenue. The camera caught him going 44 mph over the posted speed limit of 65.

To be honest I actually agree with some of the Republicans about the photo radar cameras, as far as there being little control over the data that is collected, but if their motivation for being against them is so they can personally drive 109 mph without getting caught, then I part ways with them.

Monday, May 04, 2009

One loose cannon deserves another

This is the kind of moment in which Rush Limbaugh makes it clear to all how big of a buffoon he is.

Republicans, led by Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney held a townhall meeting this week in northern Virginia, an area that has trended strongly towards Democrats, as part of a new effort to 'rebrand' the GOP. Not that they are really proposing any new policies, so it is just a repackaging tour for the same old crap but at least they are trying to put a different face on the party.

Rush Limbaugh went ballistic on them, accusing them of "hating" and "depising" Sarah Palin, which is why they didn't invite her.

Leaving aside the obvious fact that if they want to present a new face of the GOP then inviting last year's disaster is hardly the face they want, I wonder whether Rush's real pique is that they didn't invite him (I mean, he's the effective leader of the Republican party, and he didn't even warrant an invitation.) Palin just was the first name that came up when he was casting around for someone to yell at them for not inviting. "I'm angry because they didn't invite her" is code-speak for "I'm angry because they didn't invite me."

And the truth is, Palin showed herself to be something of a loose cannon both during last year's campaign and in the days and weeks afterward. Maybe Rush can relate to that.

In fact, the best line Limbaugh threw out there during his fit of apoplexy was this: He accused Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney of not inviting Palin because they have their own "Presidential perspirations."

Yes, you read that right. Now I'm sure that Mitt perspired a lot when he was running all over the country last year in his desperate bid to catch McCain, and Jeb Bush probably broke a sweat last year when he realized how hard it will be for him to climb out from under the ten ton weight of his brother's legacy of failure, but Limbaugh could have just mailed them each a can of Right Guard if he had a problem with that, instead of putting it on air.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

We don't know who the nominee is yet but the 'party of no' is already against him or her.

If I read this article right, It won't matter who the President picks as a replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

Phone lines around Washington began burning this morning as conservative organizations kicked off preparations for the fight over President Obama's eventual Supreme Court nominee.

Associate Justice David Souter's decision to step down at the end of this term has awakened a long-dormant network of conservative organizations that will do their best to augment — and at times pressure — Senate Republican efforts to frame Obama's eventual choice....

Groups like the American Center for Law & Justice, the Coalition for a Fair Judiciary and the Committee for Justice will all prepare background research on potential nominees, setting up the eventual, inevitable attacks on the nominee as a left-wing extremist....

Interpretation: It won't matter who Obama picks. You will hear the same attacks anyway, just because it is an Obama pick.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Is the next item on Glenn Beck's agenda a pogrom?

In case you don't know who Glenn Beck is (he's FOX News' latest talking clonehead) maybe what he said this morning will remind you of the kind of ignoramus that passes for an intellectual on the right.

After bashing the federal government for being 'too intrusive' he said, "Let my town decide if we want to be a 'Christian town' or not without the federal government telling us we can't make that decision ourselves."

Let's stop and remember though. At the time of the founding of our country there were many towns in Europe that proudly did proclaim themselves a 'Christian town.'

That proclaimation usually came shortly before they burned all the Jews' houses and ran the survivors out of town.
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