Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Hidden Dangers in Iraq

I have been talking to some of my colleagues from the region. And they all sing the same tune, whether they be Kurdish, Arab, or Iraqi. Iraq, they say will split into 3 sectors: Kurdistan to the North, The Shiites to the south, and the Sunnis in the big oil-less middle. Today, one of my colleagues brought me this article from the San Jose Mercury News, "Kurds in Iraq prepare to form a state in the north". This article basically talks about the strength of ethnic identities in Iraq and how the militias are posing as the Iraqi army for now, but will be ready to move once the U.S. military is out of the way.

This reminds me of the former Yugoslavia. It was a collection of ethnic groups that had been held together by the force of a single dictator. Once Tito was gone, Yugoslavia was only able to hold together for a few years before it disintegrated into a civil war that for the moment has resulted in 3 countries, and perhaps more if Montenegro and Kosovo go. But the analogy ends there. There was no oil to fight over and there was no Iran sitting next door, ready to move in.

It appears that all the groups have agreed to appease the Americans to get us out. Then, they will begin hacking at each other. Iran is poised to participate. Currently, there are reports in Arab media about silent militias supplied by Iran in Iraq. They are quietly waiting for us to leave.

The Arabs believe that this fragmenting of Iraq was part of the American strategy all along. I disagree. I fail to see much benefit to the U.S. While the U.S. may get preference with Kurdish Oil, we wouldn't with Shiite oil from the South. My guess is that the Shiites will be under the heavy influence of Iran. In fact, Iranian influence may well insure that the southern oil ends up in China.

We know that Iran is close to having the bomb if it doesn’t already. And what a target they have with 150,000 U.S. troops sitting in Iraq!

The Turks may be able to live with a Kurdistan so long as its territorial integrity is not threatened. It has loosened some of limitations on its ethnic Kurds to placate the EU, and perhaps to ease some of the ethnic tensions should a Kurdistan arise from Iraq. They will get plenty of help from the U.S.

My hunch is that the U.S. has been quietly using Turkish air bases for its Iraq activities and that the U.S. has plans to attack Iran in which Turkish air bases will be used. It isn't in Turkish interests to hamper the U.S. If you view Turkey’s profile you will see it is the 3rd largest recipient of U.S. military hardware (although these numbers seem to contradict those that I took from the Military Census and posted yesterday in my comments. The statistical criteria may be different.). The Clinton Administration was especially generous with Turkey. Of course, having a plan and using it are two different things.

Then there are the effects that a fragmented Iraq would have on Syria, Israel, and the rest. The neo-cons opened a can of worms in Iraq that I am certain they hadn’t bargained for. They still thought it was 1991 and we’d have unified Iraqis throwing roses at us.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

Will the Abramoff Case Open the Flood Gates?

Hi Gang,

The Washington Post had a very interesting story about the indicted Republican lobbyist and fundraiser Jack Abramoff. If you can't log on to the story directly, just register with the Washington Post for free. It's more private the accidentally visiting the NSA's website for 10 seconds! Typical of modern journalism, this story buries the lead. The real meat of the article is on page five under the subheading "pressure to plead." There are rumors flying around Washington that he is going to start cooperating with prosecutors in exchange for a leniency. Former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY) said he has spoken with Ambramoff's attorneys and his impression is that this is bigger than ABSCAM in which a half a dozen House Reps and a Senator were convicted of taking bribes from disguised FBI agents. Most of the implicated lawmakers are Republicans. The only Democrat mentioned in the story is Senate Minority Leader Ried (D-NV). The closest links with Abramoff are with senior Republicans in Congress and in the executive branch.

I am tempted to just summarize the entire article but you're better off just reading the Post's original. I'll finish by just saying that if Abramoff "rolls over" on high profile Republicans it could be a huge boost for the Democrats in 2006. If nothing else it will create more open seats.

Are we about to see a perfect storm of scandal? Will Abramoff's corruption scandal brings down enough Republicans so that the Democrats get control of at least one house of Congress in 2006 which enables full investigations of everything from Cheney's secret meetings with Enron during the California electricity crisis to the NSA domestic spying case? I won't deny that is my fervent hope!

Time will tell.

Impeach Bush!


More Spying On Americans

Hi Everyone,

Anyone web savvy enough to log on to this blog probably knows what "cookies" are. They aren't uncommon. Their effects can range from helpful to annoying to outright invasions of privacy. The AP is reporting now that the NSA's website placed persistent cookies on the computers of all visitors enabling them to track all subsequent web activity of that computer. The NSA claims this was a mistake and that they didn't understand that the software they were using implanted such cookies. Great. These guys are some of the top mathematics, computer science and high tech communications experts in the world and they expect us to believe they didn't understand their web software?? In the context of normalcy, I might believe them. But in the context of all the recent revelations about their outrageous abuse of power, I do not.

Even if this is just a mistake, it shows a shocking lack of concern for basic privacy rules. This is a direct result of Bush's climate of arrogance. This is a symptom of the hubris of unchecked power! As symptoms go it is a relatively minor one when placed against other abuses by the NSA and other agencies. But it is yet more evidence of the need to reign in an out of control executive branch.

Impeach Bush!


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

National Security State

We've been discussing threats to our democracy largely due to the antics of the Bush administration. I have been encouraging a real discussion about real American values. And one of the things that I have been thinking about is the role of the military in a democratic society. James Madison once said, "Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad." He also said, "If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy."

Prior to WWII the US never kept a large, professional standing army. We usually had a relatively small force ready to go and mechanisms such as the draft that could be used to dramatically increase manpower when we needed it. These were citizen soldiers But since the end of WWII, not only have we dramatically increased the size of our standing military, we have fully professionalized our forces. See the table below. You will notice that we never returned to Pre WWII levels of military force. There were good reasons for that (most which I needed not explain here), the most important being the start of the Cold War. I had a beautiful table all created, but couldn't up load it. So forgive the uneven spacing.

Active Duty Military Personnel, 1789-2004
Year -----# of personnel----- Event
1807 -------5,323
1814 -------46,858 ----------War of 1812
1821 -------10,587
1845 -------20,726
1848 ------60,308 ----------Mexican War
1853 ------20,667
1860 ------27,958
1865 ------1,062,848 -------Civil War
1896 -----41,680
1898----- 235,785 ----------Spanish American War
1910 -----139,344
1918 -----2,897,167---------WWI
1923 -----247,011
1935 -----251,799
1945 -----12,123,455 --------WWII
1950 -----1,460,261
1952 -----3,635,912---------Korean War
1959 -----2,504,310
1968 -----3,547,902-------- Vietnam War
1975 -----2,129,000
1988 ----2,138,000 --------Approx. Fall of the Berlin Wall
1991 -----1,985,600 ---------Persian Gulf War
1992 -----1,807,200
1993 -----1,705,100
1995 -----1,518,000
1997 -----1,439,000
2000 ----1,385,000
2003 ----1,434,000 ---------Iraq War
2004 ----1,426,800

Compiled from various year reports of the Statistical Abstract of the United States, US Census Bureau, section 11
Concept taken from William E. Hundson's, American Democracy in Peril: Seven Challenges to America's Future, 3rd ed. Chatham House Publishers, 2001

What is the most interesting thing about this table is what it doesn't tell you. Along with this military build up has come a whole support apparatus comprised of what Eisenhower coined the "military industrial complex" and an unwieldy intelligence system. It has also caused Americans to accept limits on their liberties while the government has increased its power over the citizenry. The National Security Act of 1947 that established the CIA (built from the remains of the Office for Strategic Services- OSS) specifically forbade the agency from conducting counter intelligence operations. In effect, it forbade the CIA from interfering with domestic policies. The domestic side was the FBI. The FBI was charged to watch "dissidents" and other dangerous elements in the U.S. The NSA was charged with listening to everyone (except Americans), everywhere and then to pass that information on to the proper agency. This is why, by the way, there was a Chinese wall build between intelligence agencies.

The Atomic Energy Commission was build up in the Cold War years to develop nuclear weapons, but eventually got involved with business to start building civilian nuclear reactors. All types of nuclear work were deemed necessary for "national security". The National Science Foundation was meant to conduct defense related research. Congress justified its every action by using defense. We had the National Defense Education Act, the National Defense Highway Act, etc. So in many ways, we owe our current standard of living to wars. Wars spur government investment. Foreign language professionals have been telling the government for years that we need to increase funding to foreign language education in this country. No one listened until people started getting shot in Iraq. Suddenly, foreign languages are up there with math and science as a national priority.

All of this is to say that the U.S. has basically been militarized since the end of WWII. With the end of the Cold War, we searched for new threats rather than demilitarize. By that time, the militarization of the nation had been so ingrained, the economy so tied up in the military industrial complex, that demilitarization was unthinkable. The peace dividend never materialized.

Our Founders believed that a large standing army was a threat to democracy. All one has to do is start looking at the number of military coups around the world to understand the Founders' concerns. In addition, resources that go to the military establishment don't go back into other "soft" issues like education, health care, social security. In fact, we borrow from theses programs, especially the latter to help pay for the military establishment. We have become what Harold Lasswell termed the "Garrison State" back in 1930. He believed that the perpetual state of crisis created a society where secrecy, dishonesty, mobilization, procedural shortcuts, increased power to military dominated leadership, and repression were all acceptable. And the worst thing of all is that when the power to squash others is there, it will be used- often for unjustifiable reasons. Why negotiate when you can blow half a country away with a single bomb? Why rely on diplomacy when you can point a gun and get what you want? None of these things are conducive to democracy at home or to relations abroad. We have created a new cycle of violence for ourselves. We have the weapons, we use the weapons, we create more instability so that we need to spend more on a military to defend us. We too, will spend ourselves into the ground as did the former USSR. The difference is, the USSR had a real enemy. We are only fighting our own shadow.


What Does Article II Actually Say?

Hi All,

The President argues that he can do pretty much what ever he likes during times of war (the duration of which is, by the way, for him alone to determine). He claims this power based mainly on Article II of the US Constitution. Over the recent Christmas weekend, some Republican relatives of mine very readily accepted this explanation - without ever having actually read Article II.

Bush says it is obvious that Article II places exclusive Presidential authority in areas of national security. He argues that even Congressional limits through laws such as FISA and the Patriot Act (such as they are) are unconstitutional limits on executive authority granted by Article II. So what does it actually say? Is it a glorification of unchecked executive power?

There are three paragraphs to Article II, section 2. Two of them refer clearly to limits on executive authority by the Senate! The third mentions the President's role as "commander in chief." It conspicuously avoids saying that the President has the sole authority to say that a state of war exists. It also does not give the President sole authority over the rules and regulations binding the military!

Article I outlines the powers of Congress. Pay particular attention to section 8. In that section Congress has rather sweeping powers to interfere in exactly those areas of government Bush now claims are the exclusive domain of the executive.

To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations; To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water; ...To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof. (Article I, section 2, paragraphs 10, 11 and 18)

In other words, there is a strong argument that Article I of the Constitution explicitly grants Congress NOT THE PRESIDENT the supreme authority in actions like the "War on Terror." And what if it is an actual war? Then Congress is the sole authority on that declaration according to Article I, section 2, paragraph 11.

Bush says he has unlimited power in times of war and with regard to the military. Yet, the Founding Fathers stated clearly in the first article of the Constitution that this is not the case!



Dirty Tricks in Congress

RBR recently inquired about Senate rules regarding Quorum calls. LTG Responded that with unanimous agreement, anything is possible in the Senate. Well, apparently unanimous agreement isn't necessary for many things and parliamentary rules are easily ignored. The Christian Science Monitor is reporting that Republicans are changing conference legislation in closed door meetings that often exclude Democrats. Then, Republicans force votes on these "adjusted" bills within hours of their having been printed, thus no one has time to read them. That is partly how they rammed through the Patriot Act. And it means that the real results of this year's budget that cuts student loan programs by $12.5 bil, shifts R&D funding away from universities, and cuts both Medicare and Medicaid programs won't even be evident until it is put into effect. Who knows what is lurking in that 3-ream-tall pile of paper.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Tis the Season to Oppress Your Fellow Man Part II

In an earlier post, I expressed my outrage that a gang of "Christian" thugs beat a Kansas professor for having planned, and subsequently cancelled, a course on "Intelligent Design" as myth. This sparked responses from LTG and our new friend Bob that I believe were dangerously close to the old line about rape victims bringing it on themselves by dressing "provocatively." There were also subtle implications that I was exaggerating the extent of Christian fundamentalist violence against intellectuals and other people on God's own shit list (as interpreted by the self-appointed guardians of "faith"). At the time I was just ticked off and not really think enough about it to dig up some support for my assertions. But I've since come across a story on Daily Kos about a recent resurgence of violence against women's health clinics that provide abortion services. Here is a link to a list of acts of violence by Christian Fundamentalist terrorist groups right here in the US. It's a long list. I bring this up because there may be some (particularly outside the United States) who may not realize the extent of political violence by the right wing in this country. Notice, this is only violence against abortion clinics. I'm sure there are equally extensive lists of acts of violence against homosexuals. I doubt there is a complete list of religiously motivated assaults and murders.

These groups have no ties to Green Peace or PETA who are under warrantless "sneak and peak" surveillance and harrassment by the FBI and other government agencies. They do have ties to Operation rescue and the Christian coalition. Yet there has been no news lately of warrantless surveillance of these groups who are closely linked to the White House. One of the problems with executive power unrestrained by the rule of law is that it will be applied selectively and inconsistently. There are clearly two levels of political freedom in this country. One for secular groups who must assiduously avoid even the hint of remote links to violence and one for religious groups who may shelter wanted murderers with impunity. I'm thinking of Eric Rudolph case. Rudolph was later given major accommodation by the Bush/Ashcroft Department of Justice to avoid the death penalty. Compare government prosecution of Rudolph with their attitude towards Padilla. Or this professor in Florida? Is there a double standard here?

When I say there is an organized conspiracy of self-declared Christians willing to abuse the power of the state and engage in violence to oppress secular people in this country, I'm not being paranoid. This is the reality of Bush's America.

Impeach Bush!


Sunday, December 25, 2005

Inadmissable Evidence

Last week, Britain’s House of Lords ruled that evidence obtained through torture is inadmissible in a court of law. (RBR, I didn’t know the House of Lords is considered a court. But apparently it is. Can you explain?) According to last week’s Economist, This follows rulings to the same effect from France, Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands. According to the Economist, there was a 1974 decision from the First Circuit Court of Appeals that said, “It is unthinkable that a statement obtained b torture . . . should be admitted at the government’s behest in order to bolster its case.” Currently, testimony given under duress can be, and usually is challenged in court, but not excluded under the rules of evidence. This needs to change.

While I am pleased that Congress has agreed to anti-torture language in our military manuals, we need to go further. Congress needs to pass legislation making testimony obtained through torture inadmissible. Waiting for the courts to do the job will take too long.


Friday, December 23, 2005

Another Bush Lie: On April 20, 2004 he claimed that Government Would Only Use Wiretaps With Court Orders

A friend of mine sent me an audio link to this big lie by Bush. Here he is in 2004 talking about wiretaps, which I verified from the White House web site:

"Secondly, there are such things as roving wiretaps. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution."

Outright lies. Bush was, at that time, violating all those guarantees and wiretapping without warrants. Because he doesn't value the Constitution at all!

Find it at:

Bush must be impeached.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Quorum of One?

According to various news reports, the House and Senate passed a five-week extension of the Patriot Act with very few congressmen present.

The extension was approved by voice vote in sparsely attended sessions in the two chambers. With most lawmakers having already left town for their holiday vacations, just one senator, John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, was on hand. Mr. Warner presided over a session that lasted four minutes.

Could somebody please explain how this is possible? Just one Senator present? I mean, how does one even second a motion?



I saw Syriana last night. I came way somewhat angry and disheartened. They film is interesting in that it tells various sides of the story of oil.

You know, the display of Arab wealth in the film was so ostentateous as to be childish and the display of American wealth was so arrogant as to be evil. Combine the two and you get one big "fuck you" to the average person. Anyone who attempts to change the status quo gets burnt. It is about greed, alliances of convenience, anf complete disregard for the greater whole. It was only a film. But like most good films, it is a commentary on the real world.

The only honest person in the whole thing was the young sucide bomber. In fact, you find himself sort of cheering him on a little until you realize that it is a waste. His act will change nothing.

Considering what we have been talking about on this blog for nearly 2 weeks, I have little if any faith that our leaders care. They pass budgets that steal from the poor and give to the rich. They add riders into legislation that have little to do with the legislation itself in a n attempt to gain political points. They lie, cheat, break the law at will and never suffer the consequences. I agree with RBR . . . we have become so average. It wasn't 9/11 that did this to us. We did it to ourselves. This averageness has been headed our way since the 1960s.

Has anyone else seen it? Any comments about it or the ideas it is meant to highlight?


Veto This

So is the President losing his political credibility on top of every other kind of credibility? He threatened to veto the ban on torture. Now he accepts it. He threatened to veto any short-term extension of the patriot act. Now he embraces it. He said he'd stand by Harriet Miers, but withdrew her name. Like all bullies, he crumbles. I doubt Democrats take his veto threats seriously anymore, nor do Republicans count on them. So last night the Democrats killed ANWR drilling and the patriot act extension, and Frist caved. So did Bush. I suspect we will see a major standoff in the near future, because Bush will have to try to rescue his credibility - perhaps with Alito? - and the Democrats will be happy to play chicken because they don't believe Bush's threats.

Bush must be impeached.


Measuring Success in Stability and Support Operations

This is in partial answer to LTG's post below.

One historical comparison to the U.S. situation in Iraq might be the British situation in Northern Ireland (N.I.). In both cases, a military force was sent in to support a government against insurgent/terrorist attack. In both cases, disarmament of local militias and holding elections was considered a sign of success. In both cases, religious violence played a major role, although resistance to what was perceived as an "occupation" was itself an obstacle to peace. Some of the differences, of course, are that Iraq was a much larger operation in a much larger nation over a much shorter timeframe, and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) began with the invasion and overthrow of a sovereign nation.

Forces: Iraq, 138,000 U.S. "baseline"; N.I., 8,000 U.K. + 7,500 N.I. Police
Population: Iraq, 26 Million; N.I., 1.7 Million
Duration: Iraq, 2.5 years; N.I., 36 years

It should be noted that U.K. troops increased over the first few years, so the figure of 10,000 is just an average estimate; the police figures also varied. I have included the N.I. police (Royal Ulster Constabulary) in one graph, while in the last graph I have included only the British Army. You can decide which comparison you feel is more appropriate... the trends are similar enough for my purposes.

The take-home message: you can tell when a stability and support operation (SASO) is succeeding because the casualties decrease with time. Pretty obvious, really. (This is certainly not necessarily true of a major combat operation [MCO] however, as LTG has shown elegantly in his charts.)

[Iraq data from as compiled from Official U.S. Department of Defense statistics. Graph (c) Dr. Strangelove.]

[Northern Ireland data from Official Police Service of Northern Ireland (formerly Royal Ulster Constabulary) Statistics. Graphs (c) Dr. Strangelove.]


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

What do casualties tell us?

This is a followup to the post about war dead in Iraq. This chart plots Iraqi and Vietnam war dead for the duration of the combat. It's an odd comparison because they began in different ways, but the startling point is the shape of the curve for Vietnam.

This next graph shows the war dead for the Finns in the Winter War against the USSR, which they won by producing a stalemate. Note a very different shape.

Now consider this famous graph, which is not the same as those above, but shows, I believe, a decrease in casualties associated with defeat.

Do any of these graphs tell us a relationship between victory and casualties? What do the Citizens think?


Legal Questions

Hey Law Talking Guy,

I have some questions for you.

1) Is it true that if we immediately scrapped the Patriot Act today, that law enforcement agencies would be prevented from ever investigating credit card purchases or library records of suspects?

2) Is it true that under pre-2001 law, domestic surveillance required a lengthy legal approval process before surveillance could begin?

3) More currently...what is the significance of the latest ruling in the Padilla case?



Question for Bush Supporters

To any Bush supporters who happen by. We all want to defeat Al Qaida. The question I ask you is why would you object to Al Qaida actually taking over and running the USA?

I would like to think we agree that Al Qaida is bad because they don't respect human rights, don't respect political dissent, don't compromise with political opponents even when they represent an enormous share of the population, and when they got in power governed without regard to local laws and constitutions claiming authority instead from divine sources which only they could properly interpret.

I look at Bush and I wonder who the bigger threat is. Al Qaida is (even with a dirty bomb or small nuke) at worst a hurricane. An earthquake. A bad disaster. What Bush is doing is the unmaking of America.

I'm NOT saying we should stop trying to catch these guys. That's the straw man Bush has thrown up in his own defense. I AM suggesting - no demanding - that we fight these SOBs in accordance with our own laws and values. I fear that not only is Bush not fighting Al Qaida in accordance with our own laws, he is turning these extra legal approaches against Americans who have nothing to do with Al Qaida or terrorism. How can you support what this man is doing?


Speaking of Outsourcing

The question I keep coming back to is why is the FISA procedure so inconvenient? The answer I keep arriving at is that FISA's "probable cause" threshold is the problem - not the time issue.

This administration has a history of close cooperation with conservative interest groups and PACs when they are on the campaign trail. They also work closely with these groups when forming and implementing policy. Is there really any reason to believe they aren't working with them now? Imagine a conservative interest group with a particular specialization in "monitoring" academics who's politics are insufficiently pro-American/Pro-Israel. Such a group exists. It's called "Campus Watch" and they see their mission as stamping out left-wing bias on campus. Here is the link to their survey of colleges and universities. Clicking on the links to different universities' names gives you a list of "articles" that have been approved by Campus Watch.

Now imagine that Campus Watch finds a professor who talks a lot about his Arab background and various political activities he engaged in back home in wherever. Imagine that's all they've got (a rumor from a conservative self-appointed watchdog group). Imagine they want to tap this guys phone on the assumption that if he's a Middle East Studies professor and he's an Arab and he's politically active, then he MUST be a terrorist. Just paranoid ramblings? Check this out!

Ever since I first heard about Campus Watch I've been worried that they would cooperate with an unrestrained Bush administration to illegally monitor and harass professors with whom they disagree. The pieces are now in place. Campus Watch is watching you like a hawk. The NSA, Military Intelligence and FBI are conducting secret investigations of US citizens that don't meet probable cause standards. The only thing missing is a clear link between the two. Is that what Bush is hiding by not going to FISA?

Bush says that even having hearings "helps the terrorists." He clearly does not want this looked into. Should we ASSUME he's avoiding oversight because of genuine concern for a smooth running operation? I have just one thing to say about that...Yellowcake.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

FISA Judge Resigns In Protest

Hi Folks,

I found this on Daily Kos. Apparently a FISA judge (Clinton appointment to the bench, Rehnquist appointed him to FISA) has quit in protest of what Bush is/has been doing. Daily Kos reports that the judge quit in part because he was concerned that the Bush administration has been bringing information gathered from executive-only wire taps in order to get warrants for other taps through FISA - in effect laundering the illegally obtained information.

Could this be evidence of obstruction of justice?

Things are starting to get out of control from the White House POV. Not only is the New York Times digging but now every newspaper in the country smells a story. I suspect that sooner or later, it will be revealed that the Bush administration was spying on journalists and then LOOK OUT.

FYI: Daily Kos has a lot of updates on this story. And many of the people who blog there are well connected in the Democratic party. It's a good place to go to get the pulse of Democratic activists.


Thirty Billion

Says Rumsfeld: "Shit. I spend $30 billion in Iraq and all I got was this stupid religious government.

From the NY

"BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 19 - Early voting results announced by Iraqi electoral officials on Monday, with nearly two-thirds of the ballots counted, indicated that religious groups, particularly the main Shiite coalition, had taken a commanding lead. The secular coalition led by Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister, had won only meager support in crucial provinces where it had expected to do well, including Baghdad."

Looks like Bush will get along beautifully with the new Iraqi government.


A Rare Victory for Education

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III--an appointee of George W. Bush--ruled in strong, unequivocal language, that the Dover, PA school board acted unconstitutionally when it compelled teachers to teach intelligent design and, "to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution." (The voters in Dover have already thrown out all the school board members who tried to insinuate "intelligent design" into the curriculum, but the trial had concluded before the November election.)

Judge Jones anticipated some of the criticism that evangelicals will throw at him, and he responded with a pre-emptive attack. He wrote that this decision was not the "product of an activist judge." Instead, he threw the charge of 'activism' squarely where it belonged: "This case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on I.D., who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy."

Judge Jones went on to mock the Dover board's pretext of a secular purpose for introducing intelligent design into science classes, saying, "it is ironic that several of these [members of the Dover school board] who so staunchly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the policy."

The LA Times has an excellent summary of the case and the decision. This is a major defeat for the nascent "intelligent design" movement (a repackaging of discredited creationism). In this era of right-wing "religious correctness," Judge Jones' ruling constitutes a rare victory for education and science.


Is Law Talking Guy a Prophesy Talking Guy?

Should LTG change his name? Here is a story from today's New York Times. It turns out that while the military intelligence was keeping America safe from Quakers, the FBI was going after vegans and Catholic labor organizations. The claim is that these groups are at least indirectly related to violent eco-terrorist, anti-globalization and "semi-communistic" groups. So far there are no reports that the FBI is investigating right wing groups with similarly indirect connections to violence such as the Christian Coalition which almost certainly has overlapping membership with violent anti-abortion groups.

The report even says that the FBI has infiltrated PETA and Greenpeace! Right. PETA is a threat American lives. Give me a frickin' break here! They literally wouldn't hurt a fly!

The only good news in this is that the ACLU has been filing freedom of information act requests on these investigations for over a year and is beginning to compile a list of groups under investigation. Let the law suits commence. Let's see if even this Republican dominated Supreme Court agrees with George Rex that he has unlimited executive power.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Bush Spied on Kerry Campaign

Bush has now done the unbelievable. He now insists he will continue to break the law and spy on anyone he thinks is an enemy of the state (he won't tell us how he makes that decision, but you can guess he's no more honest than Nixon, and probably a great deal less). Now he claims that whoever told the public what he was up to committed a shameful act. Outrageous!!! Reporting the truth about big brother spying is patriotism. And here's another thing, it is now practically guaranteed that he spied on the Kerry campaign illegally. All you have to do is look at how amorphously the Bush/Cheney team describes "national security" and "enemies of the state."

Cheney said just over a year ago that voting for Kerry was dangerous to national security:
"It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States. (Sept. 7, 2004)" And, of course, anyone who criticizes the war effort is undermining the war effort.

Last month, Bush said of those who claimed he lied about the war, "The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges. These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will."

Therefore, the clear deduction is that Cheney and Bush believe that spying on the Kerry campaign was justified by national security. If they admit to legally keeping files on anti-war groups, as they do, what are they doing illegally? My friends, this is the scandal that will soon break, that Bush was spying on the Kerry campaign... all for the good of the country, to prevent the "wrong choice" that would be "devastating from the standpoint of the United States." This is a very simple matter of connecting the dots.

Bush must be impeached.


Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Terrorists Win

Well, it looks like the terrorist got what they wanted. They have turned us into a police state. When your government can skirt required limits and then defend having done so with a straight face, our "way of life" has been destroyed.


Bush TV Spot From Oval Office

I just got done watching Bush on TV. It was clear to me that this was planned as part of his "Plan for Victory" tour. He didn't mention the domestic spying at all. Instead he talked about the election in Iraq and how great things are going there. He made vague allusions to intelligence failures as if people were still trying to make up their minds about what to think about that (talk about " a day late a dollar short?").

He also wrongly characterized all calls for withdrawal as defeatist (an easy charge to make with Howard Dean being so defeatist). He ignored the more damning criticism that we can only begin to improve the political situation in Iraq by getting out of the way of domestic politics there. I understand why he ignored the hard argument but that doesn't mean I'll give him a pass on it.

Overall, I found this to be an above average version of his regular talking points stump speech. But it was still just his regular dog and pony show. I doubt it will go down in history as a turning point. Like most of his efforts to reach out, it was not designed to convince opponents or fence sitters so much as provide talking points to his supporters and use the bully pulpit to define the debate. I doubt it will shift poll numbers this time.

The news on Monday will still be the domestic spying issue rather than the election in Iraq and that's bad for Bush. Bush's people have set up the last several weeks worth of public events etc to lead up to a triumphal weekend of cheering about the election in Iraq. But he's now having to at least share headlines with accusations of outright tyranny and abuse of power. This weekend was supposed to be the first bit of good news for the Bushies in nearly a year but hasn't worked out so well for them.

Did anyone else see the TV spot tonight?


Why Unrestrained Executive Power is a Problem

Hi Folks,

Some people out there might be thinking that this secret spying issue is just a red herring. This is America after all and the government is only using these powers to go after suspected terrorists. If you aren't a pro-Al Qaida activist you don't have to worry. Right? Wrong! Friday's news included this revelation from MSNBC that the Defense Department has been spying on anti-war and pacifist groups in the United States including Quaker groups. That's right, the current administration thinks the Quakers are a threat a national security. The Quakers are in cahoots with Osama Bin Laden!? It's too absurd to even take seriously except that the DOD is spying on these citizens and in the context of Bush's doctrine of limitless executive power, this is as serious as a heart attack. And this isn't an isolated case of a legal group being put on a shit list by accident. NBC news sources show over 4 dozen cases like this including surveillance of a March 2005 anti-war protest in Los Angeles.

The data base includes references to monitored groups "exercising constitutional rights." Well gee. I'm glad we have the DOD's official OKEEDOKEE on this stuff. I was concerned. A benevolent tyrant is still a tyrant. A tyrant with self restraint is an unrestrained tyrant in the final analysis. The "Founding Fathers" had no illusions about the ability of people with limitless power to restrain themselves.

Anyone who just dismisses this as "business as usual" is wrong on so many levels it boggles the mind. They are the root of the problem. There will always be people who want a tyranny in place. They only succeed when people who should know better don't object.


Saturday, December 17, 2005

Bush Claims Authority But What's the Law?

Hi All,

President Bush claims that he has the authority under law and under the constitution to order wire taps on executive authority alone. That is he claims that he does not need judicial approval in the form of warrants to listen in on the phone calls, emails etc of U.S. citizens residing in the United States. He bases these claims on three things: his Constitutional Authority of as Commander in Chief, the Joint Resolution that authorized use of force against Afghanistan after 9/11 and the Patriot Act. The first two are stretches of reason that have already been ruled on at least in part by the Courts (they ruled against Bush I believe - LTG can you verify?) But what does the Patriot act actually say? I'll leave the deeper analysis to our friendly neighborhood Law Talking Guy. Here are the relevant passages that I could find in my amateur survey of the law:

From the Patriot Act: Title II, Section 215 Access to Certain Business Records for Foreign Intelligence and International Terrorism Investigations:

`(a)(1) The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or a designee of the Director (whose rank shall be no lower than Assistant Special Agent in Charge) may make an application for an order requiring the production of any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution.

`(2) An investigation conducted under this section shall--

`(A) be conducted under guidelines approved by the Attorney General under Executive Order 12333 (or a successor order); and
`(B) not be conducted of a United States person solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

`(b) Each application under this section--

`(1) shall be made to--
`(A) a judge of the court established by section 103(a); or
`(B) a United States Magistrate Judge under chapter 43 of title 28, United States Code, who is publicly designated by the Chief Justice of the United States to have the power to hear applications and grant orders for the production of tangible things under this section on behalf of a judge of that court; and
`(2) shall specify that the records concerned are sought for an authorized investigation conducted in accordance with subsection (a)(2) to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.

`(c)(1) Upon an application made pursuant to this section, the judge shall enter an ex parte order as requested, or as modified, approving the release of records if the judge finds that the application meets the requirements of this section.

`(2) An order under this subsection shall not disclose that it is issued for purposes of an investigation described in subsection (a).

`(d) No person shall disclose to any other person (other than those persons necessary to produce the tangible things under this section) that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has sought or obtained tangible things under this section.

`(e) A person who, in good faith, produces tangible things under an order pursuant to this section shall not be liable to any other person for such production. Such production shall not be deemed to constitute a waiver of any privilege in any other proceeding or context.

NOTE: This allows APPLICATION for such authority. Applications are to be made to judicial authority (see paragraph (b)(1)). If LTG corrects me I'll not argue but it seems to me that this does not enable direct executive authority to authorize such actions. It only allows the executive to apply.

As for Congressional Oversight. The President claims to have kept Congress informed. However, Democratic leaders are saying they were not informed. Only Bill Frist was informed. Here is what the law says about that:

Title II, Section 502 Congressional Oversight:

`(a) On a semiannual basis, the Attorney General shall fully inform the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the House of Representatives and the Select Committee on Intelligence of the Senate concerning all requests for the production of tangible things under section 402.

`(b) On a semiannual basis, the Attorney General shall provide to the Committees on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives and the Senate a report setting forth with respect to the preceding 6-month period--

`(1) the total number of applications made for orders approving requests for the production of tangible things under section 402; and
`(2) the total number of such orders either granted, modified, or denied.'.

What do our legal experts think of all this? Have I accurately identified the parts of the Patriot Act upon which the White House rests its argument? Please enlighten us oh great and wise Law Talking Guy!


The Graph Bush Doesn't Want You to See

Nobody doubts that our troops in Iraq are doing the best they can. But despite their best efforts, despite growing expertise in the field, and despite billions of dollars in expenditures, insurgent/terrorist violence against our forces is only getting worse.

Bush asks us to "stay the course," but this strategy is failing to provide security to our troops and to the Iraqi people. Representative Murtha has it right: the problem is neither lack of will nor resources, but rather that our occupation force has become an obstacle to its own success. Our troops have accomplished a great deal in Iraq, but we have long past the limit of what we can achieve by military means. We are getting no closer to final victory by continuing it, and there is no reason to believe this will change.

It is time to bring our soldiers home.

[All figures are from U.S. Department of Defense. Most recent reported deaths included are for November 2005; most recent reported wounded included are for October, 2005. Graph (c) Dr. Strangelove]


Friday, December 16, 2005

The President Must Be Impeached

There is no longer any doubt that this President should be impeached and removed from office. The New York Times has published a story it withheld for a full year that the President deliberately authorized criminal activity - illegal spying on US citizens without warrants - in its "war on terrorism." It should more properly be called the "War on freedom." I am outraged. Absolutely outraged! Torture, spying, and lying. He is now trying to spin the anti-torture bill he signed as only prohibiting "severe" torture. These are all high crimes and misdemeanors. What sort of craven fascists are Republicans that they stand by and let this happen? And condemn those who defend freedom as traitors? Why does George Bush hate freedom? That's the question. Terrorists can destroy buildings and lives, but it takes a tyrant like Bush to destroy our constitution and our liberty. This is not trivial and it is not a hysterical reaction. The President has said that he can spy on you, learn everything about you, tell anyone he likes, then make you "disappear" - whenever he likes, without any checks at all. He says that's his right. King John lost that power eight centuries ago.

Quite simply, the President Bush should be impeached, removed from office, and handed over to the Hague in chains for what he has done in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and in secret prisons around the world. Along with Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney, Chertoff, Gonzales, Yoo, and the other co-conspirators.

As Patrick Henry so passionately said in 1775, "Is peace so precious, or life so dear, as to be purchased at the price of chains of slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God!" Amen. I am in earnest when I say that the time may soon be coming when we will all face a choice to bear witness to liberty with our bodies in the streets, or say good-bye to freedom for a generation or more. I pray I will be ready. Meanwhile, I hope that a few good men in the Senate can hold the President in check until we can vote out his minions.


Rebuking Iran

The following is a statement released today from the Frank T. Griswold, Presiding Bishop and Primate, Episcopal Church, USA. We need to hear this sort of thing from all churches, including the Vatican, and our own political leaders.

"In this season of Advent, we Christians are called to reflect and prepare ourselves for the coming of the Prince of Peace. We are mindful that bearing one another's burdens and sharing one another's suffering are integral to our way of life. Therefore it is with particular pain that we read the recent statement of the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, declaring that the Holocaust is a myth. His words remind us anew of the evil of bigotry and the suffering of our Jewish sisters and brothers. The Holocaust was no myth but an event of unconscionable inhumanity. We remember those Christians who stood with the Jews of Europe, and we pray for forgiveness for the many more who did not. As a church we condemn words that distort history and encourage vilification and hatred. Instead we seek words of healing that respect the humanity we share as children of God and open the way to a world reconciled in peace."


No Diploma for You!

California decided to develop and implement the CHSEE, the California High School Exit Exam. Classes have been taking the test since 2004, but weren’t required to pass it. However, the first class that will be required to pass the CHSEE in order to get their diploma is the class of 2006.

Today, it is reported that educators are asking for that requirement to be postponed. They are concerned that too many students will fail it. In fact, it is projected that 100,000 seniors will fail. Why are districts so worried? They are worried about what will happen to these diplomaless kids on the job market. I kid you not.

Having worked in the testing business and for a teacher’s union, I know that these types of exit exams are basic skills exams. 100,000 students can’t handle basic skills, and it’s the fact that they won’t have a diploma that worries these “educators”! Spare me.

At a certain point, people just have to fail- period. If the education system has failed these students, that is one thing. But having taught in public schools, I can tell you that a lot of the time, it is the kids that fail to try. There are millions of resources, many opportunities, and many programs to help these kids. They have taken this test for 2 years. I think they get up to 3 chances to pass it. If they can’t pass it, then they don’t get a diploma- period. If you keep handing out diplomas to people who don’t merit them, then the diploma is meaningless. It isn’t worth much now as it is. These students will simply have to study and take a GED. I hope the state superintendent holds firm. And I hope educators will wake up and see what the real concern should be.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

McCain wins

The White House has finally agreed to accept wording banning torture. Last night the House endorsed McCain's wording overwhelmingly in a 308-122 vote. Could this be because of some silent European pressure? I think having to defend himself on TV is getting harder with the torture question still hanging. I also think that this poor poll numbers have had an effect. And I notice they have hid Cheney again. With midterm elections looming, Bush needs all the help he can get.

McCain has managed to make the administration take action to back up its rhetoric.


Monday, December 12, 2005

Let's Run for Congress

I think I want to run for Congress. I want the pension plan. Apparently, you get to keep it no matter what. This is sort of old news, but U.S. Rep Randy "Duke" Cunningham ( Why do all these guys have silly nicknames tossed in with their real names?) will keep all his Navy and Congressional pensions despite being kicked out of Congress for corruption. While I don't object to him keeping his Navy pension, I do object to his keeping his Congressional pension.

If he had been dishonorably discharged from military service, he would loose all of his pensions. In effect, he was dishonorable discharged from Congress, but he getst to keep his pensions. That just doesn't seem right.


Aussie Aussie Aussie Oy Oy Oy

Hi Folks,

Well, it seems that the US is not the sole repository for ignorant right wing rednecks and nationalists. Australia's largest city has been rocked by riots as gangs of mainly young white males attacking Middle Eastern looking passerby, torching cars, destroying property and fighting with the police. Their excuse was the rumor that two beach life guards had been attacked by "Lebanese" young men. Monday (today? Tomorrow? Who knows), Middle Eastern youths responded with similar riots of their own.

Australia has a far right wing party, Pauline Hanson's "One Nation" party, that has had some alarming electoral success at the local and state level.

Australia has something in common with the US. A right wing leader of a formerly classical liberal party, who has propped up his electoral chances with naked appeals to nationalism and fear of terrorism. Americans will do well to take these riots as a warning of what can happen here if we don't have a return to normalcy. Thankfully, polls indicate that such a return to normalcy is in the air.

Of course, after years of listening to European and Australian left wingers wax indignant about the narrow victories and dramatic obnoxiousness of the American right, I think it is appropriate now for the American left and center to indulge in a little finger pointing. But just a little. Then we should get down to figuring out how to avoid such a thing happening here in the future.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

Must-read material

Dispatch from the War on Christmas



Friday, December 09, 2005

QUIET, I'm trying to aim for my foot.

So, The Governator is, apparently, a ballot box office flop. His polling numbers are in the garbage. So, this is an ideal time for Democrats in CA to find a charismatic leader with BIG IDEAS to retake the Governor's mansion and start rebuilding this state.

Instead, we have Phil Angelides. Phil Angelides, the State Treasurer (elected) and longtime Democratic party stalwart, has garnered all the important endorsements, save the only one he wouldn't want: Gray Davis. He has, on board, both Senators (Boxer and Feinstein), Nancy Pelosi, Magic Johnson, and the Speaker of the CA Assembly. The question is why? Sure, there' s nothing wrong with him. He's a quiet man with glasses, a wife and three daughters in their twenties, and got a B.A. in government from Harvard. He took over the CA Democratic party as chair in 1991, and is credited by some has producing the turnaround in fortune. With all that star power, if he doesn't win the primary, the person who does will emerge from a fractured party.

But Governor? He has no particular stands on any issues. He won't particularly appeal to hispanic voters. He's kind of nerdly. His five issues are depressingly mealy-mouthed. Increasing educational opportunities. Increasing health care. Protecting the environment. Not a word about fixing major structural problems in CA government. Frankly, I can't think of a better candidate for Schwarzenegger to point to and say: that man will not carry out any reforms at all. Stick with me and give me a legislature I can work with. I'll get something done.


Tis the Season to Oppress Your Fellow Man

The forces of Theo-fascism are on the march again. The so called "War on Christmas" is being waged mainly by Christians who object to sharing the season with non-Christians of any type. They demand that stores restore overt references to Christmas. They even successfully boycotted Ford Motor Co. until that company agreed to pull its ads from magazines with largely Gay readership. In other news, a professor in Kansas was beaten by theocratic thugs for planning (but not actually teaching) a course on intelligent design and creationism as comparative mythology.

People wonder why I'm hostile towards religion. The answer is that religion has been hostile towards people like me for far longer than we've been a position to even complain about it. And now - even here in America - people are pushing to restore the complete tyranny of the mind through religion.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Primary Reform

Making the most of my temporary web access... The LA Times reports that the Democratic party leadership is strongly considering adding "additional contests" between the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary. It's not clear whether these would be caucuses or primaries, or whether any delegates would be at stake--nor is it clear what the Republicans will do. Still, I applaud this discussion hope they improve the current system.

We could use some primary reform! Last year, the schedule was compressed so much in February and March that the Presidential nomination contest still was over by the time CA voted in late March. (California's primary has now been moved back to June, since moving it earlier made no difference.) After that rush, we then had to endure months and months of a marathon campaign between Bush and Kerry.

And the regional balance is questionable too... several Democratic candidates won different state primaries--Clark won Oklahoma (albeit by a hair), Edwards won one of the Carolinas (I forget which), Dean won Vermont (duh)--but Kerry won Iowa's caucus first and that pretty much what sealed the deal. Imagine if South Carolina or Vermont had been first? Or California?

Do The Citizens agree that we could use some change in the primary system? Do The Citizens have any suggestions on Primary reforms? I'll start off with a few suggestions:

(a) To condense the Presidential campaign season, let's shift all the primaries forward to May, June and July.

(b) To enhance the democratic process, let's get rid of caucuses and change all state contests to primaries. Political parties would still be free to have superdelegates and to interpret the results of contests and assign delegates as they like.

(c) To allow all Americans a more even chance at having a say in the presidency, let's have a bi- or multi-partisan committee determine all primary dates 8 or 10 years in advance, like the Olympics do--in this case, to give some relaxation time between recent politics and future contests. This will also ensure that all party primaries in a single state happen on the same day (saves election costs.) We can divide the states into regions (maybe the Federal circuit court districts) and have some form of randomized choosing from a balanced regional palate. Something like that... giving all states a chance to have the first say, while maintaining the rolling system (which allows for state-by-state campaigning, which I suspect is less expensive for newbies.)

(d) If any of this requires writing political parties into the U.S. constitution, so be it. Leaving slavery out didn't make that issue go away either.

(e) While we're at it, let's fix the public financing law. Last year, both Kerry and Bush opted out of it--showing how the law is rather useless.


Some megachurches are closing on Christmas. And Christmas is on a Sunday, to boot! Talk about an admission that what these "churches" offer is just like any other mall or social club. The reason for closing - that they won't get enough attendance - is shocking. First, it's amazing that if "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" (as these evangelicals like to mouth all the time) they would rather stay home and open presents. Second, it's clear that what they're really afraid of is either (a) insufficient donations to match the expense of one of those multimedia extravaganzas (b) having the place look empty. Third, it shows how much this is a cultural fad, not true spirituality.

FYI, full disclosure: I go to church on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day. Same on Easter (midnight service).

Here's what makes me happy. A church that closes for Christmas is a church that will, sooner or later, close for good. And take the Republican razor-thin majority along with it. What does it say that it's easier to pack in the faithful on Election Day than Christmas?


Patriot Act Test Case

Hi Gang,

The forces of theo-nationalism have suffered a defeat in what was hailed by former Attorney General Ashcroft (remember him?) as a test for the Patriot Act.

I'm not familiar with all the details of the case but from what I understand this guy was a loudmouth professor with a post-modernist, knee jerk, anti-western agenda. He's the kind of guy the ill informed assume typify social science. I find his ilk incredibly annoying. But being annoying and even offensive is not against the law.

A jury of 12 good people and true have acquitted this fellow on 8 out of 17 charges and were "hung" on the rest.

I have two questions:

(1) To our resident legal experts: Can you fill us in on the details and significance of this case?
(2) Do we think that a panel of judges would have acquitted this guy? In other words, is this case a vindication of the jury system?


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Government usury

This is a bit different from what we normally talk about. But tonight, I was looking at my "progess" in repaying my student loans. I have to tell you, it is demoralizing. I took my first student loan out in 1994. I managed to use deferments and such through 1996. I started repaying in late 1996 only to go back into deferment for 2 more years. During that time, I took out 2 more loans. Now, my annual income is less than the amount of the loans I took. I have been in full repayment since 1999. I have repaid $21,000 in interest and only $7,000 in principle. (I think the $2000 I put on my visa card last year at 2.99% was the fastest $2000 I ever paide on it. I may have to try doing more of that! ) Eighty percent of my current monthly payment goes to interest. The interest accumulates daily. So sending extra money in doesn't get you ahead. By the time you send the money and they process the payment, 8 days of new interest will have accumulated. Because I consolidated, I am stuck with an interstate of about 7%. I am not alone. There are many of us! I can commiserate with Developing Countries. I, me, I am ARGENTINA! And cry for me, damn it!

Here is the insidious part. Corporate interests (i.e. Sallie Mae) has blocked congressional attempts at
loosening the student loan refinancing laws.
As recently as last month, attempts to level the playing field for those of us with student loans were beat back. So everyone else gets 3% interest while we pay 7-8%!

Baby boomers can refinance their houses, and get tax breaks on the property tax while their children are saddled with a huge debt burden before even stepping foot in their first real jobs. I have always said that having a whole generation of your best and brightest burdened with debt is a disaster in the making.

Maybe it is a good thing that Congress is seeking to cut funding for student loans. If there is less money for student loans, perhaps more fair financing options will be available. Perhaps the likes of Sallie Mae, the now independent from the government, would not be able to practice such usury.

Adults, like myself, and some if not all of my fellow bloggers, who have these types of student loads should be allowed to refinance them. They are 30 year loans, like mortgages. The tax breaks for loan interest need to be raised, and these loans should not be held by private companies. Interest rates should be capped lower. The idea is not for lenders to make a huge profit , but to lend students money for higher education at a fair and reasonable rate.

In the meantime I welcome ideas on how we can get around this type of financial abuse. For now, I am going to visit my credit union to see if I can at least take a private loan at a lower rate and I will continue to lobby my employer to offer student loan repayments as a retention bonus. What do my fellow Citizen's think?


Monday, December 05, 2005

What Rice Means When She Says We Don't Torture

Hi All,

Condy Rice is running around Europe pushing the same old talking points and pretending they answer European concerns that US agents have used European territory to transport prisoners for the purposes of torturing them. Rice is pushing the unbelievable official position that while the US does not torture or tranport prisoners to countries that do, any investigation or ban of torture by the CIA is not only unnecessary but "aiding the terrorists." This is the astonishing position put forward by Dick Cheney in response to John McCain's calls for a total ban on torture by US forces. Now Rice is using the same talking points to respond to Europe.

And what does Rice mean when she says US forces don't torture? Well, here is what ABC news has discovered Rice and the Bush administration believe is OK.

What Rice and her boss don't seem to understand is that Europeans don't want to hear lame justifications for what the entire world believes constitutes torture. What they want is for the Bush adminsitration to either provide proof that they are not doing this or give a credible promise that they'll stop doing it. But that's not something the Bush administration is prepared to do (even when ordered by our own Courts!). So they respond to serious questions with Condy-sending talking points.



Saturday, December 03, 2005

Saving Face in The Arab World

This started as a response to LTG's previous post, "Squandering an Opportunity" and as I started thinking about things, I decided to invite a little controversy. What provoked my thinking is LTG's statement about the Iraqi government wanting us to stay so that we can fight the Sunni's for them. I think that is a valid argument and it made me think about U.S. relations throughout the region.

My comments here are based on 1) what happened with Saddam in the past; 2) what is going on between Syria and the UN right now; 3) my own personal experiences with Arabs; 4) my own studies of cross cultural communication and its effect on international policy making. I will be generalizing here and I know the danger that comes with this. And I know that many political scientists are skeptical of personality studies of world leaders and their effect on policy. But as a political scientist and an observer of and participant in decision-making, I think it is shortsighted to leave cultural and social factors aside. So for the sake of argument, stick with me

To put it in a nutshell, American policy makers and negotiators start with the premise that there is a problem to be solved and that there is a way to solve it. Arabs start with the premise that there is a problem to be solved, and probably no way to solve it that would benefit them personally as much as the status quo. In addition, saving face is the priority- keeping up appearances, appearing cooperative, unified, and harmonious in their negotiations. From the American perspective, then, Arabs don't appear to start from the base of honesty or integrity. They over personalize everything; they get offended in unpredictable way due to their hyper sensitivity; they rarely come with viable solutions but are quick to denounce the solutions of others; and they say one thing in public and the opposite one-on-one in private. It's all smoke in mirrors, creating confusion for the U.S. policymaker.

From the Arab perspectives, Americans are arrogant with their plans, pushy with their over-confidence, naive in their worldview, imprisoned by their goal-driven timetables, and quite impersonal. This is no doubt frustrating for both parities. As an American, I can tell you that when dealing with this type of thing in a work setting is emotionally and intellectually exhausting, and it feels like you're pushing a wet noodle up a very steep hill. No matter what you try to do to solve a problem, you are wrong. Sisyphus had it easy by comparison.

I lay all that out in the hope of perhaps explaining in some way the challenge U.S. policy makers faced in dealing with Iraq. One of Saddam's talents was his ability to play the U.S. He knew how to keep us anxious- alternating cooperation with resistance. He would welcome the inspectors one day, saying he had nothing to hide, but then to save face, he'd have to keep them locked out of certain places. (This isn't isolated to the Arab world either. The North Koreans play the same game.) He knew that Americans wanted to solve problems and get concessions, which required his cooperation. He knew how to take advantage of that. I can understand why at a certain point someone in the Beltway said, "Let's take this guy out and so he can't mess with us anymore!"

Saddam was widely admired in the region for kicking sand in the face of the U.S., something other Arab countries didn't dare to do. So he was trapped in a way as well. He couldn't really cooperate to end sanctions because he had a reputation to protect. No matter how clear it was to the U.S. and the U.N what he needed to do to get the sanctions lifted, it was never clear to him, or so he pretended. In the end, it looked like he was always one step ahead of the U.S./ UN. while he waited out the sanctions and made overtures to the Europeans.

Now let's look at Syria. Syria was implicated in the assassination of Hariri. The UN launched an investigation, in which Syria refused to participate. Then this week, a key witness, Hassam Taher Hassam, comes out on Syrian state TV, and says he that the Hariri family offered him bribes by to give false testimony to the UN investigators. The Hariri family denies this, of course. Thus, Syria is now working hard to discredit the UN probe. It is a classic stalling stunt- similar to what we saw with Saddam and weapons inspectors. Syria has been found out and it has to save face. So did it force Mr. Taher Hassam to change his mind about his testimony? Wouldn't the same thing happen if we took witnesses off to Switzerland to interview? Wouldn't they just return home and have the thumb screws applied? How do you win against that? You don't. And we won't in Iraq either.

I agree with my fellow bloggers and the likes of Rep. Murtha. We have done our job in Iraq. We have delivered what we promised- a democratically elected government. We have made huge mistakes in Iraq and many bad decisions. But at this point, if the country is a mess, it isn't solely the fault of the U.S. military. Insurgents, and local warlords, both Iraqis and others have contributed a great deal. We've tried rebuilding pipelines only to have them exploded by insurgents. We've tried supplying hospitals only to have suicide bombers blow them up. We've constructed new, free market places for merchants only to have local sheiks charge exorbitant prices for the stalls. At a certain point, enough is enough. And I am sure that many of the things Bush said we have done, we have. The tools have been given to the Iraqis. And they seem ready take responsibility. Iraqi government officials and representatives meeting in Cairo in November asked for a timtable for US troop withdaw. I hope the call was sincere and not another face-saving device.


Friday, December 02, 2005

Squandering an Opportunity

The Washington Post reminds us today that the Democrats are splintering over Iraq. Refusal to coalesce around a single position, and to hammer it home, given the massive unpopularity of the President and his war now, is political idiocy. Here's the message, guys:

1. Bush misled this country into war.
a. Whether or not he believed Iraq had WMD, that was never his real goal. This lie must be exposed and punished. Bush and his administration must apologize for not being honest that the real goal was to experiment with creating a democracy in Iraq, and there was nothing urgent about war in March 2003.
b. The Iraq war has nothing to do with 9/11. It was the wrong war at the wrong time. We have spent $200 billion to capture Saddam Hussein when we should have been trying to seize Bin Laden.
c. Bush started this war with no plan except to be greeted by flowers as a liberator.
2. So long as he refuses to admit these lies and errors, we have to conclude that Bush lacks the judgment and character to lead. Democrats, the Congress, and the People have to step up and do what is right. This is not just "dwelling in the past." It is crucial to our security in the future to acknowledge and learn from our mistakes.
3. The war (as many on this blog say) is really over - this is an occupation. We are the trigger to violence, and our presence generates terrorists and terrorist sympathizers THAT WOULD NOT EXIST OTHERWISE. We are endangering our country and aiding the terrorists by continuing this occupation in Iraq.
4. The insurgency is not in its "last throes." Cheney has to admit he was wrong to say this. He has to admit that he was mistaken or, worse, trying to mislead the public. Until he admits this, it is clear that he lacks the good judgment and moral authority to lead. Again, punishing mistakes is crucial if we are to learn from them and prevent making the same foreign policy blunders again.
5. We need a firm timetable to withdraw.
a. This will remove forcible resistance to occupation and lessen casualties (why bother if we are leaving anyway?) .
b. Only a firm timetable for withdrawal will force the Iraqi Shi'ites and Kurds to make the serious political deal with the Sunnis that will make a stable government. The current Iraqi government would prefer to have the US commit to stay indefinitely and fight its war against Sunnis, than to have to make a deal to bring them into the government. They have no incentive to "stand up" as long as we have an open-ended commitment to stay if they don't.
c. We can't wait for "goals" to be "achieved" before we withdraw. Loosey-goosey language like that just means the Iraqi government will delay and play for time. We have to force the issue by making the Shi'ites and Kurds realize they have to run the show themselves.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Save us, Jeebus!

Well, you definitely need to check out this article:

Vatican letter says norms on priesthood must be 'faithfully observed'

The letter also made clear that, while the text does not apply to those already ordained, priests with homosexual tendencies should not have educational roles in seminaries.
Tell me how this is not going to lead to a witch hunt. His pants are too neatly ironed! He just bought new curtains! Don't let him near our youngsters! It would be funny if it weren't so sad.


Another Civil Rights Victory

NY times reports that South Africa's highest court has unanimously ruled in favor of gay marriage! They have stayed their ruling to give the legislature a year to comply (they are expected to do so) and if they fail to do so, South Africa's marriage laws will become gender neutral automatically. The list of countries where gay marriage is allowed--Canada, Spain, the Netherlands, and Belgium--will soon add South Africa to the roster. And we might as well add Massachusetts too. Let's call it 5.5 nations?

The tide is turning. So maybe I was wrong. Maybe the Democrats should come out clearly in favor of gay marriage.


War by Other Means

The violence continues in Iraq, but prosperity and democracy are indeed improving slowly. Alas, since the President understands only guns, everything looks like a firefight to him. It is time for our President to recognize "victory" in Iraq cannot be achieved by further U.S. military action. Our soldiers have done their jobs well. They should come home.

Did not our troops successfully topple the old regime and establish a new government, with free and fair elections? Is the insurgency really so powerful or the new Iraqi government really so weak that the new democracy will collapse if we leave? Does not our military occupation constitute an obstacle to peace, as it fuels the insurgency, spreads anti-American sentiment, and de-legitimizes the fledgling government? Does not the continuation of the violence despite our best efforts demonstrate the futility of attempting a conventional military solution? And have not the Iraqi people of all religions and ethnicites asked us to set a clear timetable and withdraw our forces?

We must defend Iraq and help the Iraqis achieve peace, prosperity, and the victory we all desire. But not all wars can be won with guns. Ending the mlitary occupation is a movement forward, not a retreat. In the highly unconventional struggle against Al Qaeda, we must be bold enough (to paraphrase Clausewitz) to pursue war by other means.


The first thousand days

The 1000th day of the Iraq War is coming soon: December 12, 2005.
American death toll to date: 2,113.
Wounded: 15,881.


No Strategy for WMD in Iraq

The new strategy for fighting the war in Iraq has been outlined by the White House in response to increasing calls.

It only mentions weapons of mass destruction (WMD) twice, even though that was the PRIMARY reason given why we went to war:

1. Victory will include: "An Iraq that is a partner in the global war on terror and the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction"
2. "If we and our Iraqi partners prevail in Iraq, we will have made America [safer...] by removing Saddam Hussein, a destabilizing force in a vital region, a ruthless dictator who had a history of pursuing and even using weapons of mass destruction[.]"

There is not a single word in the document about locating, securing, and destroying WMD in Iraq. Indeed, nothing in this document even resembles the initial justification and description of this war.

Can you imagine if Bush had said the following March 2003, all of which are now part of the official strategy:
1. "It is not realistic to expect a fully functioning democracy, able to defeat its enemies and peacefully reconcile generational grievances, to be in place less than three years after Saddam was finally removed from power"
2. "As the central front in the global war on terror, success in Iraq is an essential element in the long war against the ideology that breeds international terrorism. Unlike past wars, however, victory in Iraq will not come in the form of an enemy's surrender, or be signaled by a single particular event -- there will be no Battleship Missouri, no Appomattox. " (emphasis added)
3. "Our Strategy for Victory is Clear
We will help the Iraqi people build a new Iraq with a constitutional, representative government that respects civil rights and has security forces sufficient to maintain domestic order and keep Iraq from becoming a safe haven for terrorists. To achieve this end, we are pursuing an integrated strategy along three broad tracks, which together incorporate the efforts of the Iraqi government, the Coalition, cooperative countries in the region, the international community, and the United Nations."


Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Manipulated Media

Well, it seems the 64% that perceive that the Administration provides misleading information wasn't far from wrong. News reports are saying that the US military personnel wrote news articles highlighting the good work being done by US and Iraqi troops. They then paid Iraqis to pose as independent journalists and to get those stories published in Iraqi papers. It is a bizarre form of "PR laundering". Apparently they even bribed Iraqi editors with sums as high as $1500 to publish these stories.

The things reported in the articles were true. But it was an underhanded way of handling PR. There are several problems with this. 1) it demeans the very story that they military wants to get out there- the good work that the troops are doing. 2) It demeans the work itself. 3) With information like this, Iraqis will no longer trust their own media (gee, sort of like we question ours) and 4) they will start with new accusations that the Americans are controlling their supposedly free press. In addition, these stories leak into US media. Thus, you ignore policies that are supposed to prevent propaganda-bleed.

The other aspect of this that bugs me is that the Bush Administration has not had the best record with the media anywhere. They paid consultant-reporters to put happy stories in our papers. They sent out infomercials to local stations that resembled news stories. They had stealth journalists in the briefing room, etc. This story breaks on the day that Bush is using the media to make his "war strategy" arguments.

Aside from the ethical issues, the danger comes when an administration, already detached from reality, starts believing in its own propaganda.


One of These Things Is Not Like The Others...

Hi All,

Republicans are fond of saying that to be "conservative" is to be "mainstream." They like to argue that Democrats and "liberals" (by which they mean leftists) in particular are "out of touch." But who is really out of touch? Here are some poll numbers from

When the Harris poll asked people if they thought the Bush administration generally provided accurate information or misleading information to further their own ends, 64% of all respondents said they thought the Bush administration provided misleading information. However, 68% of Republicans think the Bush administration is being accurate. This is compared to 21% of independents who think Bush is being accurate and 7% of Democrats who believe that. Who is "out of touch?"

A recent CBS poll asked people if they though Bush had similar priorities for the country as they did. 65% of respondents said that Bush had different priorities than they did. But 69% of Republicans like Bush's priorities. In contrast only 11% of Democrats and 25% of Independents agree with Bush's priorities. Who is "out of touch?"

I could go on and on. With regard to abortion, 54% of Americans consider themselves pro-choice. Another poll showed that 56% of Americans want the Supreme Court to either make abortions easier to get or keep the status quo. Yet, the Republicans are pushing an anti-choice agenda and calling it "mainstream."

Bush is a big part of this. But Republicans as a group are increasingly detached from political reality in America. Democrats need to take advantage of this. This doesn't mean advocating some sort of massive increase in the welfare state (which would be equally out of touch). It means advocating a pro-choice/status quo position on abortion and developing a plan to get out of Iraq (I like Dr. Strangelove's plan). They should probably also advocate balancing the budget and make a big stink about corruption regarding Halliburton and Cheney's energy policy meeting.


Monday, November 28, 2005

Open Thread

Hope everyone had an enjoyable Thanksgiving.

Topice for discussion: what is the dumbest Supreme Court case ever? I nominate Nix v. Hedden.


What Should We Do About Iraq?

The war in Iraq has become one of the defining issues of American politics. Bush's current policy is to stay in Iraq until either the Iraqi government announces they are ready to take over or all the violence ends. Folly though it may be, Bush's policy sounds simple and strong--and so until the opposition can unite behind a clear, alternative policy on Iraq, Bush will continue to be able to defame his critics as cowards, liars, and opportunists, and to distort their criticism as a call for retreat or as no meaningful alternative at all. Until the Democrats can offer a competing Iraq policy, they will remain critics instead of leaders... and if Bush decides to leave early or otherwise alter his policy, he will just steal his critics' thunder instead of proving them right.

So what should this policy be? Should we set a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq? Should it be a phased timetable, or should it be a simple deadline? Should we start now, sometime next year, or later? Should we set quantitative milestones instead of specific dates for a withdrawal? Should we try to bring in the international community in some way that we have not already done?

Much of the debate centers on the question of what would happen if we were to pull out... and what will happen if we do not. If we leave, will all hell break loose? Will the Iraqi government collapse from civil war? Will the insurgents win? Would an American retreat instead strengthen the Iraqi government's legtimacy with its own people? Would the withdrawal of the occupying forces deprive the insurgency of its rallying point... and hence its support? And if we stay, will we eventually stamp out the insurgency, or will our provocative presence merely ensure that the violence never ends? What do The Citizens think?

I'll start off the discussion with my own proposal: we set a clear date of April 10th and call all U.S. forces from Iraq home by that date. (The festive holiday celebrating the birth of Mohammed will be officially observed on the next day--April 11, 2006--so it seems an auspicious time for Iraq to make a new beginning.) Here is my reasoning.

1. I believe the U.S. presence has become an agitating force in Iraq. So long as we are there, the violence will never end and the Iraqi government will never be seen as legitimate by the Iraqi people. In fact, if we stay long enough, we will completely de-legitimize the current government and the insurgency may have time to provide a viable alternative, and there may erupt a real civil war. Continuing the occupation is a dead-end. We cannot fix all that is wrong in Iraq. The Iraqis have to do it themselves.

2. Yes, there probably will be greater violence after we leave. Things probably will get worse before they get better. But I do not believe a full scale civil war will erupt. I believe the Iraqi government will win out. The insurgency is fractured and its ranks swell with foreign nationals. It also resorts to kidnapping, terrorism, and other criminal behavior. While this has given them the ability to continue the fight against us, it has also assured that once the rallying point for their hatred is gone, they will be not be perceived as a viable alternative to the current government. The only real horse to back in Iraq right now is the Iraqi government, and I think most Iraqis will realize that. A steady infusion of cash from the West should seal the deal.

3. Some say we should use milestones instead of a timetable, but I believe using milestones is a mistake because it effectively hands control of our exit strategy to the insurgents. It will also be seen as wishy-washy, since there is always wiggle room with milestones. We will not be believed.

4. Some argue for a phased withdrawal, but I believe that by dragging it out over months, it really would look like a protracted retreat as we suffer mounting losses by our increasingly outnumbered troops. By setting a handover date and sticking to it--instead of just signing the papers and sneaking out of the country a day early like Paul Bremer did--we show that we are not afraid of the insurgents. It is a sign of strength and confidence in the Iraqi government.

5. Full withdrawal by a set date is a clear, simple alternative policy. It has immediate benefits (troops come home!) and enables us to save a lot of money, too.

It's time to take our hands off the bike and let the Iraqi people show that they can ride--we can't be parents forever. It's time to show faith in the democratic process we have set up; it's time to show that we believe the Iraqi government is strong enough and legitimate enough to successfully take on the insurgents. And it's time to show that the U.S. is not going to let car-bombs dicate our policy anymore.

We've kicked out Saddam and set up a democracy, and to say we must stay longer in vain hope of "finishing the job" is entirely the wrong message. Our job is done. It is time to go home.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

None of Us Are Safe

After three and a half years of being held incommunicado in a naval brig (much of the time in solitary confinement), Mr. Jose Padilla has finally been charged with a crime. Although Bush declared him to be an "enemy combatant," Mr. Padilla was not an armed foreigner taken into custody by American soldiers on the battlefield. Jose Padilla was an unarmed American citizen, arrested without incident on American soil (Chicago) by FBI agents using a court-issued "material witness" warrant.

When pressed by the court, government lawyers had the audacity to say that the entire world was a battlefield in the war against terror. (So basically anyone could be arrested as an enemy combatant!) Back in June, 2002, then-Atty. Gen Ashcroft told us Padilla was trying to build a "dirty bomb." But the indictment they finally brought against him makes no mention of that. The only reason he was finally indicted is that a case brought on Padilla's behalf was about to go before the Supreme Court.

Indeed, the government now argues that the lawsuit brought on Padilla's behalf is irrelevant. Padilla's lawyer, however, says she is stunned that the government would have the audacity to say three and a half years of Kafka-esque incarceration was "irrelevant" to her client... or to the nation. The Supreme Court ducked this case last year--annulling the Second Circuit's ruling against the government on the technicality that it was brought in the wrong jurisdiction--and they may well duck it again now that Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales has given them this way out.

But if they care for the Constitutiona at all, the Supreme Court has got to speak on this matter! If the President can do this to Padilla, none of us are safe, and the protections in the Bill of Rights are meaningless. And given what we now know about Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and the secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe, would anyone be surprised if we found out Mr. Padilla was tortured too?


Is this progress?

Vatican may admit 'transitory' gays into priesthood

If you have not had sex with a man for the past three years, you can become a priest! You still have to be a man, of course.

Make your own jokes in the comments.


Intolerance is Next to Godliness in Benedict's Dictionary

NY Times reports that a new Vatican document, whose contents have been slowly leaking to the press, has now been officially released. It bans from the clergy in clear and precise language all those, "who are actively homosexual, have deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called 'gay culture.'" [emphasis added]

MSNBC has also reported over the past several months that despite the increasing Catholic flock, the number of Catholic priests has shrunk over 26% since 1980. Following its continuing refusal to ordain women, this new official hostility toward homosexuals (and anyone sympathetic toward gays!) is yet another example of the Catholic church shooting itself in the foot. If they keep this up, there will be nobody left in the seminaries except the really dedicated pedophiles.