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."

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A glimmer of hope?

The former President of Iran, Mohammed Khatami, is going to visit the U.S. The state department has granted him a visa, and former President Jimmy Carter has agreed to be the host. No word yet on timing.


The Greening of California

This afternoon, Gov. Schwarzenegger and the CA Democratic leadership of the legistlature agreed to a plan that would introduce caps of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2012, then institute a carbon-trading regime, and reduce all emissions by 25% by 2020. It's far-thinking and not immediate, but it's the greenest legislation in the USA. And a sharp break with the Bush administration. It's an exciting first step for the country, and should make such legislation more viable on Capitol Hill - or at least make Democrats embrace it nationally, possibly.

It also probably hands Arnold the election (less than 10 weeks away), muting criticism from environmentalists, one of the last angry groups. This follows a string of compromises with Democrats. They agreed to raise the minimum wage to $8 by 2008 (75 cents on 1/1/07, then another 50 cents on 1/1/08). They agreed to pass a prescription drug discount package similar to the ones defeated (and that Arnold campaigned against) on the November 2005 ballot. All that and no new taxes too? Going to be hard to convince independent voters (1/3 of the electorate out here) that they should vote for Angelides just 'cause he's a Democrat. Why? Gay marriage? Let's face it, if this were a Democratic governor, all liberals would be cheering and applauding, while the Republicans would be red-faced and calling us commies. How much can we downplay this without being hypocrites? I'm delighted that this has happened, and I suppose I have to give Arnie credit for it. I'm still unlikely to vote for him, but Angelides has got to start saying something, or I might just get so confused that RBR will have to drive out here and slap me around.

The election is on 11/7/06. Expect to see a proposed constitutional amendment permitting naturalized citizens to become President introduced in Congress the following week, to be quickly passed by the (outgoing) Republican majority and Dems who can't figure out which way it plays vis-a-vis the immigration debate.


No Separate Peace

There is no military solution known for terrorism. The military can destroy terrorists where they operate openly (as they once did in Afghanistan, and currently do in Lebanon). The military can isolate and invade their state sponsors (as the Bush Doctrine might have applied to Sudan, Iran, North Korea, or Syria--if Bush really believed his own doctrine). The military can secure our borders (providing increased "homeland security" for air, land, and sea attacks).

When it comes to stopping homegrown madmen like the 7/7 London Bombers however, or eradicating organizations with broad popular support like Hizbollah, or subduing organizations with narrower--even opposing--bases of support like those in Northern Ireland once had, and those in Iraq have now, all attempts at a military solution have failed. The proof is plain for all to see: Al Qaeda remains a deadly threat and Osama bin Laden remains free; Hizbollah rises again in Lebanon and the violence rises in Iraq.

The Bush Administration does not understand that 9/11 changed everything. They keep trying the same easy answers; they still think that the old ways will work--that if we just hit 'em hard enough, the terrorists will fall. But we are trying to box with someone who knows jiu-jitsu; the terrorists have learned how to use our strengths and our anger against us.

The global war on terror has failed. Now it's time to do the hard work of building a secure peace. This will required a sustained effort of international cooperation, economic development, and law enforcement. The path to war has been swift, yet the road to a secure peace will be long and difficult, for terrorism knows no borders and peace and prosperity will never again be secure until they are shared by all.

The true lesson of 9/11 is that when it comes to terrorists, we cannot win a military victory and we cannot make a separate peace. I hope a Democrat will say that in 2008.


Monday, August 28, 2006

The Meaning of Pluto

Pluto was always a little different. It was smaller and slower than the other planets, and its orbit was awkward too. Little Pluto never did conform to the tidy rules of the Victorian orrery. The discovery of its partner in 1978 did little to help; Pluto proved smaller than anyone had imagined and as Charon's diameter was over half that of Pluto, their relationship was scandalously non-traditional. That an atmosphere was found in 1988 seemed to matter little, and the two moonlets found in 2005, Nyx and Hydra, merely added to the head-scratching. Even the most tolerant astronomers had to admit Pluto was a special planet, with special needs.

But what caused Pluto to be cast out was not that it was special, but rather that it turned out to be not so special after all. Starting with 1992 QB1, astronomers discovered thousands of bodies in Pluto's neighborhood. Astronomers began to wonder if Pluto, like Ceres before it, should be demoted to the status of merely the largest asteroid in its belt. But it wasn't until 2003 UB313 ("Xena") came knocking at the door that astronomers realized they had to face the question they had avoided for 75 years: did Pluto really belong in the planetary club? One aberration might be overlooked, but must they now admit all of Pluto's strange brothers and sisters too?

The issue aroused passion in the general public, and it is not hard to see why. Some people saw Pluto as the outsider that just wanted to belong; others saw Pluto as a runt that had no business sitting at the table with its betters. Some welcomed the notion of co-orbital and double planetary systems, celebrating a new-found diversity in stellar systems; others saw the notion of honoring such queer arrangements as a threat to the sacred institution of planethood. In the end, it was the backlash against the bold decision of a few unelected astronomers to recognize at least three new planets, and potentially scores more, that led to the expulsion of Pluto altogether.

Unlike the treatment given to Ceres 150 years ago, however, astronomers did not demote Pluto completely. In place of true planethood, the IAU has created a new status of "dwarf planet" for Pluto. Separate, but not equal. There's a lesson in there somewhere.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

California Gubernatorial Election 2006 or All Politics is Local

Of course, many of us on this blog are Californians, at least by residence. The campaign is between the incumbent Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Phil Angelides (D). I have expressed my strong disaste for Angelides, despite my being a lifelong Democrat. If Arnie were running as an independent, I would vote for him. Today, the LA Times reported that among registered Dems who are likely voters, Angelides support is only 63%.

Why is Angelides struggling? First - no message. His campaign website lists platitudes, like "strengthen health care." That and $2.50 will buy you a latte. Jeez.

Second, being the anti-Arnold isn't worth all that much, when he's been busy mending fences and sounding moderate. Even for gay marriage, he went out of his way to veto on technical grounds rather than endorsing a hetero-only view of marriage. Of course, that veto is why he won renomination by the Republicans. Otherwise he would have faced and lost a primary challenge. And Angelides would be sliding into office. Arnie has disappointed me by failing to do things I want, but other than the gay marriage veto, has done very little I oppose in the past year.

Third, he and LA Mayor Villaraigosa are known not to be friendly. Villaraigosa is depending on Arnie to sign the bill giving Villaraigosa a big hand in governing the LAUSD (school district). Arnie has agreed, and they are seen on TV together. Angelides has 'no public position' on the matter, meaning he would work against it for the benefit of the teacher's union -- which Villaraigosa is taking on, rather boldly. I voted for Villaraigosa reluctantly, but I'm a big fan now that he's shown real guts and commitment to this city, something I doubted. Reforming LAUSD is so important, I hesitate to overturn the applecart with a hostile machine politician.

Fourth, Angelides has spent $0 so far as I can tell on ads. I saw an Arnie ad last night touting his only actual accomplishment, NO NEW TAXES. It's believable, he's done it. Angelides has proposed new taxes. If that's the only difference between them, Angelides is going down.

Fifth, Arnie has opposed right wingnuts on immigration, which is an issue that Angelides could have used to rouse the Latino population.

So what can Angelides do? Answer: get a real message.

Right now he's talking about "saving the middle class rather than the privileged few." Well, that's more progressive than he sounded in the Democratic primary, which is a mistake. How about talking about public transportation, fuel efficiency, and fixing the health insurance crisis in CA?

Any advice for Phil Angelides on this blog? For those who want to see Arnie out of office, what can Angelides emphasize in his campaign to convince his own party that he's worth voting for?


Friday, August 25, 2006

Voting Under the Influence

It's bad enough just to be photographed with George Bush these days. It's worse to get a DUI too. And to have to admit to it on your campaign website. Such is the fate, now, of Mike McGavick, running for Senator Cantwell (D) seat in Washington State. And the DUI is not the only mea culpa there. He claims he was not forced into it by threats it would be revealed by the press or Democrats. Hmmmm....


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

More Lieberman News

In the Connecticut Democratic primary, turnout was exceedingly high. Nearly 60% of registered Dems turned out for the vote. That is a good sign for many reasons, including making it very clear that Lieberman was NOT defeated by a small liberal activist fringe, but by the largest turnout of Democrats in the state's history.

Also, the Democrats in CT are trying to kick him off the ballot. I don't know all the rules, but it seems that there are rules to prevent a loser in a primary from running as an independent, on the theory that he is a member of a party and that party has a candidate. Probably will fail.


Monday, August 21, 2006

Court Hands Bush Defeat Again

Hi All,

A federal judge just dismissed the main terror charge against Jose Padilla and ordered the administration to chose one of the two remaining charges and drop the other.

This is good for America. The handling of the Padilla case has been one of the worst abuses of police/executive power in decades. This is yet another in a long string of cases in which the Bush vision of unlimited executive power is being checked by the Courts.


Bush Is Losing It

Here is a cut-and-paste from the official transcript of this morning's dubious press conference with GWBush:

"I have suggested, however, that resentment and the lack of hope create the breeding grounds for terrorists who are willing to use suiciders to kill to achieve an objective. I have made that case. And one way to defeat that -- defeat resentment is with hope. And the best way to do hope is through a form of government. " (GWBush, 8/21/06, emphasis added).

Replace the words "terrorists" and "suiciders" with "criminals" and "violence" and GWBush just became a New Deal Democrat. A big-L Liberal. And that explains a lot, really. The huge government spending, the massive make-work projects in Iraq, the wartime presidency, etc. The neoconservative philosophy is really a New Deal for the Middle East - and they can't see it, or see why it's so at odds with their domestic laissez-hurricane policies.


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Primary Madness Continues

A foreigner could be forgiven for being mystified by the punishment clause in the new primary election rules promulgated by the Democratic party central committee:

Any Presidential candidate who campaigns in a state that does not abide by the new calendar will be stripped at the party convention of delegates won in that state.
The trouble is that the dates of the party primaries are established by the states, often by state officials rather than party officials. This odd entanglement may arise in part from the lack of formal recognition of political parties in our constitution.

So far as the new schedule goes, the Iowa and New Hampshire races remain where they are, but Nevada now has been sandwiched between them, and South Carolina has been added shortly afterward. The need for the punishment clause is that New Hampshire does not want to go along. New Hampshire law requires that there be no race within 7 days of their own, which the Nevada and South Carolina contests would now violate. Of course, New Hampshire really does not have many delegates--the reason people campaign there is for momentum--so a number of candidates may well accept the penalty to campaign in hopes of acquiring the win. Bayh of Indiana has already said he will campaign in New Hamphsire regardless, and Kerry and Edwards have made similar noises. So the change in rules may change little: just one more step in the dance between the state and national committees.

My biggest complaint is that all these contests are set for January! As states jockey for influence, their primary contests keep creeping earlier, but an eleven month election season already far too long for anyone to maintain momentum. I wonder if the lengthening season has anything to do with the tendency toward 50/50 splits in the Presidential vote?


Friday, August 18, 2006

I can make you talk

After unchecked executive power, the next issue we must tackle is torture. The US government is conducting torture in Guantanamo and around the world. There is no longer any doubt. It is too well documented. The only way Bush can deny it without lying is by claiming (as they do) that psychological torture is not torture, and that things like waterboarding (making people almost drown), making people stand for hours on end, "stress positions," and sleep deprivation (to name a few) are "not torture." Baloney. Torture is the deliberate application of pain of all kinds to break the prisoner's will to resist. Its uses are: (1) punishment in itself; (2) to terrorize a population; (3) to elicit false confessions to justify further imprisonment or toturre; (4) as interrogation. Only the fourth rationale survives today at all. As interrogation, it differs from all other methods of interrogation in that it does not use the actual time-tested methods of acquiring good information, such as deception, trickery, developing some rapport, good-cop/bad-cop, or a carrot-and-stick approach. Its goal is to break the victim, not persuade her to talk.

The assumption that many have is that torture is immoral, but effective. It is not viewed as effective generally by professional interrogators. The results of torture are either failure (if the victim does not break) or the generally worthless information from a broken victim who says whatever she thinks the torturer wants to hear. This is not news. Around A.D. 400, the Romans knew that: "the strong will resist and the weak will say anything to end the pain." (credited to Ulpian. I have been unable to locate the Latin text online after about 15 minutes of half-assed searching. note: this is even before Justinian's reforms). It has been properly observed that torture is very satisfying to angry and frustrated officials, police, and interrogators, but is a poor way of producing true information. Historically, the torture has used to extract false confessions. It is good at that. The government has no credible evidence of any information gained from torture at Guantanamo. None. Porter Goss has claimed "documented successes" but refuses to release the documents. This administration has so little credibility on any issue, it would be foolish to credit this.

Moreover, the Constitution does not just outlaw torture. It outlaws forced confession (5th amendment) and any cruel and unusual punishment (8th amendment). These provisions are not limited by any text or principle, and apply everywhere, at all times. People accused of terrorism, murder, rape, treason, or other really bad things are not excepted. As Senator McCain, a torture victim himself, has forcefully put it, the issue is not about who they are, but who we are. I would add that the issue is also whether we really believe in the rule of law.

I recommend to you all a book by Alfred McCoy, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror.” He outlines not only the evidence we have of torture, but the historical experience of its failure. His unusual conclusion is that torture is effective as an interrogation technique only when applied on a mass scale. He notes that the French used torture effectively to win the battle of Algiers the late 1950s, and that the French estimated that nearly 40% of the male population of the central city (the Casbah) was subjected to torture during the "battle." The revulsion and anger this caused led to French loss of the war two years later.

I know we have been over this on the blog before, but we have to keep addressing the issue. It is, as I said, the most important moral and political question of our time.


Constitution Lives Again

As most of you probably have heard by now, a U.S. District Court (Judge Diggs – E.D. Mich.) has, in a strongly worded opinion, struck down as unconstitutional the NSA secret warrantless wiretapping program. More importantly, the Court heaped scorn, plus 150 years of Supreme Court precedent, on the notion that the Executive Branch has reserve inherent powers to violate any other provision of the law in "wartime." "There are no Kings in America," she wrote, and "all power derives from the Constitution."

(The only fault I find with the opinion is political – she fails to address the fears of terrorism sufficiently).


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Ceres, Charon, and 2003 UB313

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) released a draft resolution today on the definition of a planet. The seven-member panel agreed unanimously (some say miraculously so) on the following verbage:

A planet is a celestial body that (a) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (b) is in orbit around a star, and is neither a star nor a satellite of a planet.[*]

*For two or more objects comprising a multiple object system... a secondary object satisfying these conditions is also designated a planet if the system barycentre resides outside the primary.
If this definition is adopted, there would be twelve (12) planets in the solar system: the familiar nine plus Ceres (the largest of the Asteroids), 2003 UB313 (provisional designation for the larger-than-pluto object announced last year sometimes referred to as "Xena" or "Lila"), and perhaps most surprisingly Charon (Pluto's first "moon" discovered in 1978 would be elevated to make Pluto-Charon the first double-planet system--with additional two small moons.) The 26th General Assembly of the IAU will consider this question at its meeting in Prague on August 24th, 2006.

It should be noted that the world Ceres (pardon the pun) was originally designated a planet when it was discovered in 1801; it was demoted about fifty years later when it became clear that there were millions of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter. A few years ago, with the discovery of thousands of trans-Neptunian objects (also called Kuiper Belt Objects), Pluto looked ready to suffer the same fate. Instead, the IAU working group decided that it was an error to require that planets have unique orbital characteristics.

I applaud this move because it applies a quantitative test and also recognizes that the solar system is not an empty Copernican orrery of concentric circles but rather a complex mish-mash of millions of bodies on all kinds of orbits. We know now that even the classical planets share their orbits: Jupiter shares its path with two clumps of "Trojan" asteroids, and it is a curious fact that the Moon's orbit is always concave to the Sun, which exerts twice the gravitational force on the Moon as the Earth. (But the barycenter of the Moon's orbit lies within the Earth, so it still counts as a satellite.)

Science should not stand still, and should be willing to change outmoded definitions regardless of their popularity. Now we just need to get a decent name for 2003 UB313 and its satellite.


Republicans and Race: They Still Don't Get It

Check out this story that is circulating around. It seems that Republican Senator George Allen of Virginia repeatedly called a campaign worker from the Webb campaign of Indian decent, "Macacca or whatever your name is."

What I find amazing is the feigned lack of understating of what Allen was doing. People are treating it like a bizarre, random outburst that was unfortunately likely to be misunderstood. But what if he had refered to an African-American with the words, "Hey, look at Sambo or whatever his name is..." or a Hispanic "Jose..." or a German "Fritz..." or a Russian "Ivan..." or a woman "Baby..." or something like that??? Would there be any misunderstanding of Allen's state of mind?

What Allen was doing was making it perfectly clear to the rural Virginian audience (he was somehwere along the Virginia/Kentucky border) that he neither knew much about nor respected people of color - especially if they APPEARED to be recent immigrants (the campaign worker in question is a native Virginian and a US Citizen). Allen's non-apology apology (see article) is just an exclamation point after the fact.

This lays bare the underlying hatred and racism behind the current wave of rural nationalism and conservatism.

Vote Democratic in November 2006!


Monday, August 14, 2006

U.S. and Israel: Inconvenient Truth

When the bombing first started in Lebanon, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the invasion had been in the planning for a while. In a previous post, I also quoted Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage as saying "Hezbollah may be the A-team of terrorists and maybe Al Qaeda is actually the B-team. They're on the list and their time will come. There is no question about it. They have a blood debt to us and we're not going to forget it[referring to the 241 Marines killed back in the 1980's] . It's all in good time." Well, today The Guardian is reporting that the U.S. was working with Israel to plan the whole thing in order to go after Hezbollah. In case you doubt the Guardian, the New Yorker is also publishing Hersh's article in the situation. I haven't seen that version yet.

Sey goes further, and I am not surprised by this either having read his articles on U.S. plans for Iran, and says that officials in the U.S. say Hezbollah as a way to get at Iran. So why LTG doesn't like the proxy war theory, I am afraid that it has even have more support now than before.

This doesn't surprise me at all. But I think it is worth mentioning because it explains why the U.S. was slow to negotiate a cease fire and why the cease fire that was negotiated still allows Israel to attack.

BTW: It has come to a strange time when MS Word spell check can identify a misspelling of Hezbollah without by having taught it to do so.


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Long-Term Investments for Homeland Security

In a comment on an earlier post ("Where do we go from here?") Chris suggested that the real path to security is through longer term investments. He listed six ideas, of which three are consenus issues on this blog (more funding for education, health, and development of alternative energy sources); but I wanted to bring the other three to the fore because they are more controversial (I have quoted them verbatim but relabeled them with letters):

A. Drastically shorten all patent terms (stimulate competition and markets)
B. Subsidize the development of next generation infrastructure (fiber, true broadband, etc) ala the Federal highway system and rural electrification project
C. Tax more progressively - breaks to the top 0.01% aren't getting us anywhere.

These ideas might lead to good proposals for the Democrats to champion, and to that end I have a few questions for the Citizens about them. First, regarding proposal A, do the Citizens agree that shortening patent terms would stimulate competition? But might it also discourge innovation by reducing profitability? How do current patent terms compare with historical patent practice, and to what extent do patent protections apply internationally? (Does the recent collapse of the Doha round relate here?) Should the pharmaceutical industry be treated differently than others when it comes to generic versions of lifesaving drugs? Also, I understand that copyright terms seem to keep lengthening in the US--are copyrights and patents becoming harder to distinguish with the "information age" convergence of intellectual property and new technology? [my quick opinion: I am skeptical that shortening patent terms would be wise]

Second, regarding the "subsidization" of the next generation infrastructure... would this promote the common good, or merely wind up as tax breaks for already wealthy telecommunications companies? Would it require more regulation, and would that be a good or bad thing? Does "net neutrality" figure into this? What would be the best way for the government to encourage improved infrastructure (if it is the government's business at all) and where does this rank in priority with other public infrastructure investment opportunities (e.g. better roads)? [my quick opinion: I am inclined to let the market handle this for now]

Third, how "progressive" is our tax structure now, historically speaking and compared to other countries? There are a lot of anecdotes out there (e.g. confiscatory tax policies in Scandinavia) but does anyone have real data? We have discussed inequality of wealth before--is this something that could (or should) be addressed via tax structure? Is the corporate income tax messed up compared to the individual income tax? Would tax simplification be a way to make taxes more progressive, or would it inevitably make it regressive? What about the estate tax, or capital gains tax rates? Is there some better way of doing all this? [my quick opinion: I dislike use of the tax code for social engineering, and there are certainly a lot of loopholes or contingencies I would, therefore, remove--but I am not convinced that we ought to make the tax structure more progressive than it already is.]


Friday, August 11, 2006

Bush is right

And Iraq is dangerous, and it's dangerous because terrorists want us to leave. And we're not leaving.

-- President Bush, October 2003

You know, I used to disagree with the President on this, but now I think he's right. It reminds me of recently, when I was chasing a rattlesnake and he kept biting me every time I poked him with a stick. And I thought to myself, "Sure, I could stop poking him with a stick, but that's exactly what he would want. So I can't do that." When I woke up in a hospital three days later I felt confident that I had done the right thing.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Lieberman's True Color: Red

Relevant to several previous posts... Lieberman today spoke today regarding Lamont's support for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Said Lieberman,

"If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England."
Wow... Lieberman is now getting his talking points straight out of Fox News!

First, all the terrorists were British citizens, and there is (as yet) no public evidence tying them to Al Qaeda or anyone else. We don't even know if they were Islamists. Second, this incident actually supports what Democrats have been saying: to fight terrorism right, we must invest in domestic security and international cooperation like this, rather than waste hundreds of billions of dollars to send hundreds of thousands of young men to make a new war in Iraq. Third, contrary to Republican pipe-dreams, Al Qaeda hopes we stay mired in Iraq; they would prefer we keep our troops there as sitting ducks rather than deploy our forces to greater effect.

Now that he no longer needs to pretend to be a Democrat, it looks like Lieberman's true colors are showing through. If I was on the fence about Lieberman before, I am certainly not now. He's got to go.


Scotland Yard Foils Terror Plot

You have probably heard by now that Scotland Yard foiled a terror plot to use "liquid explosives" to bring down several UK to US airliners. For most of us this will mean we can't take our shampoo, toiletries, and drinkable beverages etc onto the plane as we board or in our carry-on bags.

I'm waiting to find out if the Brits got these guys by using the kind of "total information awareness" fishing expedition style wire taps.

I also note with interest that our Homeland Security Agency's color coded alert system has proven it's uselessness. It seems like this is the first time we've gone to Orange Alert when there wasn't an election or major vote in Congress looming. Also, it's interesting that we go to higher alert AFTER they got the guys. Is this system only capable of "shutting the barn door after the horses got out?"

Thoughts? Updates?


Tuesday, August 08, 2006


I am very proud of everyone on this blog. We stayed out of the Lieberman-Lamont fray even though (to my knowledge) everyone here was hoping for a Lamont victory. Well, it happened. Joe Lieberman has conceded the Democratic primary victory to Ned Lamont ... and will now run as an independent. There will be an enormous amount of pressure on him to drop out of the race, but I can assure you that he will not. He has said it himself: he has loyalties greater than that to his party; namely, his loyalty to himself. He can't take the idea of being out of the Senate. I certainly hope no prominent Democrats come out to support him now -- if they do they should be (and will be) ridiculed.

It's not getting as much press, but it appears Cynthia McKinney (remember her?) has lost her primary as well. Good. We need to make a point that we will not accept unethical behavior in Congress.


Prudhoe accident and ANWAR drilling

So you probably have all heard about the massive spill near Prudhoe Bay recently and how this lead to the closing of BP's pipeline from that field. What do we make of all this? I'm sure Republicans will say this proves how much we need ANWAR. They will argue that drilling in ANWAR would take up the slack in the supply.

However, consider this. These accidents at Prudhoe are exactly what Environmentalists warn could happen at ANWAR and exactly what Republicans say could never happen because their friends in the Oil Industry are so careful and responsible.

Well, I just heard an Oil Industry spokesman admit on PBS's Newshour that the pipeline in question was allowed to corrode until it was 4/100 of an inch thick without the pipeline ever being fully inspected internally. This is a pipeline that was opened in 1977 and it has never been inspected fully - until after the massive spill in February.

Another policy disaster brought to you by Bush & C0. Yet another reason to vote Democrat in 2006!


Sunday, August 06, 2006

Where do we go from here?

The government in Afghanistan controls little more than Kabul. In the countryside, the Taliban and warlords gather together; the violence grows. What little prosperity Afghanistan has achieved has been largely through the cultivation of opium poppies, which the government has been forced to oppose.

The government in Iraq controls little more than Baghdad, and even that is a scene of daily carnage. In the other provinces, the insurgency runs amok. U.S. military forces are unable to staunch the bleeding; perceived now as a foreign occupation propping up an unpopular and ineffectual regime, they have become an insurmountable obstacle to their own success.

After nearly five years, we still have not captured Osama bin Laden. And though we have successfully deprived Al Qaeda of their training grounds in Afghanistan, a RAND position paper released last year reminds us that, "We have not silenced or blunted the appeal of al-Qaeda's ideology. We have not publicly turned or rehabilitated a single detainee... Arab and Muslim attitudes are more hostile now than four years ago."

So where do we go from here, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and in our work against Al Qaeda? This is something the Democratic party must answer. Bush has taken us from one quagmire to another and now we are stuck; we make no progress. There is no course to stay anymore. We need a way forward. We need leadership. Here are my thoughts:

1. It is time we set a clear date for withdrawal from Iraq--within a year. Our enemies have made Iraq a new front in the war on terror, and the time and place is of their choosing; they have picked the battlefield. We should be picking the battlefield, as we did when we invaded Afghanistan. To those who say the Iraq government will collapse without us, I say it is out of our hands anyhow. The fate of Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqis (and, alas, also the Iranians). We can still play a crucial role by providing more money. If we diverted a fraction of the cost of sustaining our troops to the Iraqi government, I cannot imagine we would do worse for our investment.

2. We must return to Afghanistan and finish the job. We abandoned it far too soon. Perhaps we need to start applying serious pressure to Pakistan as well; there are persistent rumors that it has become home to Al Qaeda's new headquarters. We need to build a real state before it fails again. Coalition forces in Afghanistan need more resources, more funding... and more troops, but not ours. Bush has so blackened our name in the Muslim world that to send out troops there is to doom them to resistance and failure.

3. We need to start restoring our reputation. Terrorism is a global problem that needs a global solution; it's time we regain our place in the international community. We begin to do this by closing Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib: by coming clean. Then we find some way to use what may be our greatest tool of diplomacy--our money--to do good deeds in the Arab world. If Hizbollah can win converts through charity, why can't we do the same? Or at least, why can't we offer an alternative? There must be some Arab NGOs we can work with. It's better than nothing.

4. We need to take real measures to beef up security here in the U.S. Not the false measures--sacrificing civil rights to no purpose--but real measures. We need security at our seaports and airports, our power plants and post offices. If we had poured a fraction of the money into the real war on terror--the home front--that we have wasted in Iraq, we could have much-improved, modernized infrastructure. The long lines at the airports are not merely an inconvenience, they are a serious risk--an inviting target for terrorists.

In the long run, the fight against Al-Qaeda is not a fight against Islamic Extremism. (They wish to make it so, but it is not.) It is a fight against globalized terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda (there will be others). When we must, we should not shirk our duty to invade and remake nations that harbor, grow, or fall to terrorists. But we must learn patience. The real test of our resolve comes when the shooting stops; it is then that we must truly "stay the course" to build the peace. In terms of the war against terrorism, Bush's abandonment of Afghanistan was an absolute disaster while Iraq is but a ghastly sideshow.

Where do we go from here? We have become lost. We must start again.


Friday, August 04, 2006

Coming or Returning?

Evangelical Christians across the U.S. are welcoming the conflict in the Middle East as a necessary precursor to the end of days, when Jesus Christ returns to Earth and sets up his kingdom in Jerusalem. Thousands gathered for a pro-Israel rally along with Senate Republican leadership. Of course, the Revelation of St. John does not suggest that the Jews will do all that well during the Rapture.

As for how the Israelis feel about this, I loved the reply of the Israeli Ambassador to the reporter's question. He said coyly, "When the messiah comes, we will ask him if he is coming or returning, and that will establish whether we will all be Jews or Christians. Until he comes, I don't worry myself about this."


"To Understand and Protect our Home Planet"

These were the first seven words of NASA's mission statement until February of this year, when the Bush Administration budget quietly deleted them.

In some form or another, the mission to "understand" our home planet had been part of NASA's mission statements since the beginning. The addition of a mission to "protect" our planet grew from a confluence of ideas: the new so-called "war" on terror, and concerns about global climate change. The latter was explicitly mentioned in many documents for years. The words were added by the previous NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe (a Bush appointee) in 2002, as part of an open, agency-wide process.

Why the change? The NY Times speculates that the phrase was a casualty of the public relations war between the Bush administration and the eminent Dr. Hansen--an outspoken critic of Bush administration climate policy whom a Bush appointee at NASA had tried to silence last year. Dr. Hansen had repeatedly referred to the mission statement as support for his efforts to focus attention on the issue of global climate change.

A NASA spokesman of course called that a "coincidence" and claimed instead that the change was enacted to bring the agency in line with Bush's goal of human spaceflight to Mars (announced 01/14/2004). Well, to that extent that the Bush administration is trying to shift NASA's focus away from understanding and protecting our planet, this is certainly correct. For example, NASA's current administrator Michael Griffin had initially promised that "not one thin dime" of scientific research would be sacrificed for the Mars missions... but now, $3 billion has been cut from space science programs. (According to NASA, these programs have merely been "delayed".)

But Bush is not serious about going to Mars anyway, as this nice graph illustrates. Bush's original estimate for the short term budget was $12 billion over five years, of which much would come from mothballing the Space Shuttle by 2010 (apparently ignoring any provision for a replacement) and of which the remainder would come from a modest 5% annual increase. To put that in perspective, the current NASA budget is hovering around $16 billion, which is only half (in real terms) of what it was during the Apollo project.

But the cost of going to Mars is far higher even in the short term. In addition to what has already been spent, NASA currently estimates the exploration program will need $30 billion over the next five years--and even at this pace, NASA estimates the earliest possible date for a manned Mars landing would be in 2030. Five percent increases won't do diddly to get us to Mars, and that's all irrelevant anyway since Bush has not even carried through on the increases. Last year was 3.8%, for example.

Bush has tried to suppress evidence of global climate change; he has overruled FDA committees to keep RU-486 bottled up; he used his first veto to interfere with life-saving research (which even many Republicans balked at); and now he's so deep into it that he's even mucking with the mission statements. This has got to stop. Vote Democrat and put a stop to Bush's war on science!


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Magna Carta, Schmagna Carta

Thanks to RBR for showing me that the Bush Administration has released its new proposed rules for its "trials" for the persons imprisoned at Guantanamo. To summarize, "Under the proposed procedures, defendants would lack rights to confront accusers, exclude hearsay accusations, or bar evidence obtained through rough or coercive interrogations. They would not be guaranteed a public or speedy trial and would lack the right to choose their military counsel, who in turn would not be guaranteed equal access to evidence held by prosecutors." (Washington Post).

The good news is that such rules are easy to implement - the last time we had such rules was in Salem in the 1690s. Hearsay and coercion were acceptable methods of obtaining evidence of sorcery, and those trials put an end to witchcraft for good (there's none now...).

Of course, unlike the Bush's proposed rules, the full text of the Salem trials are open to the public, for our edficiation. A good example of hearsay testimony at work:
"The Deposition of susannah shelldin aged about 18 years who testifieth and said that on this 2 June 1692 I saw the Apperishtion of Bridgit Bishop.and Immediatly appeared to little children and said that they ware Thomas Greens two twins and tould Bridget Bishop to hir face that she had murthered them in setting them into fits wher of they dyed ." Guilty 0f murder, no doubt.

If those are the rules, why bother to have a trial at all? Why is they in prison if they ain't guilty?


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Havana Death Watch

Unless you live under a rock, you may have noticed one of the few stories capable of displacing the war in Lebanon as the lead story...Fidel Castro has ceded power to his brother Raul Castro (nepotism apparently being a paramount Marxist principle). Fidel stepped down because of surgery for internal bleeding and officially the move is "provisional." However, the rumors are flying around that Fidel Castro is either already dead or very near death. And that this story about the surgery is just Soviet style obfuscation to allow time for the power transfer. Reports are that dancing has already begun in the streets of Miami.