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, May 31, 2006

Fun stuff

The Ironic Times is especially good this week -- here are two highlights:

Bush Dismisses Gore's Global Warming Movie as Mere Speculation
Will instead see The Da Vinci Code.
and
GM Offers Some Buyers of Largest Gas Guzzlers Special Deal on Gas, "Capping" Price at $1.99 Per Gallon
Instant nominee for Most Environmentally Insane Idea of the Year award.

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No Go Zones Mean No Academic Freedom

It was reported this morning in the Orlando Sentinel that the Florida State Legislature has passed an anti-terrorism bill that would prevent the faculty and students of public universities and community colleges from traveling to countries on the US State Department's Terrorism Watch List with either state or non-state(read private) funds. The countries banned are Cuba, Sudan,Iran, North Korea, and Syria. It has the support of Jeb Bush. No surprise there.

This would, in effect, bar professors and students from conducting research in these countries. I don't need to say more about the stupidity of such a move as everyone here understands. So much for academic freedom. Let's hope it doesn't become a trend.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

This Private Revolution

This year, both major Democratic candidates for Governor of California, Phil Angelides and Steve Westly, have pledged to sign the gay marriage bill that Arnold vetoed last year (AB 849, the deliciously titled, "Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act"). The reason is not hard to fathom. In California, registered Democrats surveyed in a recent Field Poll reported 50% approval for same-sex marriage, even when offered the option of civil unions instead (only 28%). Opposition to gay marriage will lose you the Democratic primary in California.

Five years ago, this would have been unthinkable. Indeed, back in 2000, California voters approved Proposition 22 (the "Knight Initiative") by 61.4% to 38.6% to prevent California from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. While Californian voters still oppose gay marriage, the divide has become much closer: opposition to gay marriage is 50% to 44% among all registered voters. And on other issues, support for gay rights is high: 67% of all California adults believe gays should be able to serve in the military, and 55% support gay adoption. Also, several ballot initiatives that would have banned gay marriage in California failed to gather enough signatures this year.

But what I find most fascinating is this: of all the groupings other than raw ideology and political party affiliation, the one factor that mattered more than age, race, or religion was that those who reported personally knowing gays and lesbians were twice as likely to support gay marriage as those who did not. 64% of Californians now say they know homosexuals (up from 49% in 1977) and of those, half were close friends or family.

If you want to know why the tide is turning, a footnote to the poll says it all: 3% of the respondents identified themselves as gay or lesbian. Statewide, that would be over a million Californians. There are even six openly gay members of the California State Legislature too, including the authors of the Assembly and Senate versions of the gay marriage bill. And their courage in going public may be the real reason the bill managed to get the minimum 41 votes needed to pass. The right-wing "Christian Examiner" described the heated debate in the Assembly over that bill this way:

Other comments by supporting legislators clearly indicated that the vote was not about representing their constituents, but about supporting their friends in the Legislature. Many of the members referred to their friends, “Jackie” (Goldberg), or “Sheila” (Kuehl), or “Mark” (Leno), etc., naming three of the six California homosexual legislators, and stating how they couldn’t look their “friends” in the eye unless they voted to give them the same rights and privileges that they, as heterosexuals, enjoy.


From Ellen to "Brokeback Mountain," the emergence of a public gay culture obvious. But for every celebrity who has come out publicly, thousands have done so privately with their family and friends. For every raucous gay bar in West Hollywood, there are a hundred private parties at which gay and straight people mingle freely. The greatest gay pride parade is the quiet procession of gays and lesbians who have come out over the past forty years. Coming out is a profound political act. And this private revolution is changing the world.

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Is Our ID System Outdated?

It was reported today that CSU Stanislaus has had a security glitch that put the names, birthdates, SSNs and other such data on Google. According to the report it isn't the first time this has happened. (As an aside, the article says that the school stopped using SSNs for student IDS last year. I thought that using SSNs for ID purposes like insurance cards, drivers' licenses, and student IDs was illegal? Do state institutions get a pass on that one?)

In light of last week's news that a computer had been stolen containing unprotected ID info for veterans and their dependents, and in light of the number of undocumented immigrants who seem to have no trouble getting false SSNs (or those of the deceased), I have to ask a simple question: Is a social security really an effective ID system?

It is a 9 digit number, the first 3 of which indicate the state you were born in and the other 6 being random. Perhaps Bell Curve can tell us the number of possible permutations. But I am beginning to think that having a thumb print scan may not be such a bad idea. I wouldn't go for the total biometric idea, but I sense that we may have to come up with something new.

What do the Citizens think? What new type of ID system should we employ? Is the SSN system outmoded?

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Oh, the smackdown.

The wonderful, wonderful smackdown.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

FBI Investigates Speaker of the House

Want to know why Hastert was upset that the FBI broke into congressional offices last week? Had nothing to do with his (nonexistent) respect for the constitution. Has everything to do with corruption.

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CAHSEE Returns

California's Supreme Court reinstated California's High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) today, overruling Alameda Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman who had granted an injunction aginst the exam on May 12, citing concerns for poor and minority students. The case has been referred to a State Appellate Court for further review and it is not entirely clear what will happen to those who have not yet passed.

The earlier injunction was wrong, and I was irked by the attitude of the Superintendent of San Bernardino City Unified, Arturo Delgado, as quoted in earlier LA Times article about it. He expressed his relief at the initial injunction against the exam two weeks ago saying, "I don't want to see any student leave our system after a full 13 years and not have a diploma, especially if we've said they are capable of doing the work year in, year out."

Of course nobody wants to see that, but the answer is better education, not lower standards. About 10% of CA seniors (~47,000) did not pass the exam yet, but they can take remedial classes over the summer, and they may retake the test a total of six times (or repeat only the part--English or Math--that they previously failed). The mathematics section does not go beyond Algebra I. The English section does not go beyond relevant curriculum for grade 10. Nobody likes tests, but this one is a minimal test, and sympathetic administrators should not be allowed to hand students a diploma when those students cannot do basic skills. It doesn't matter that they've been in the system for 13 years. You don't get a diploma for attendance.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Postcards from the Edge

The asteroid (99942) Apophis will not hit Earth. New measurements announced by the IAU last week (5/16/06) confirm that the 2029 encounter (earlier rated as a 1-in-37 chance) will be a miss. More important, the new observations show that a collision in 2036 can also be ruled out (the 300 mile course correction in the new 2029 estimate extrapolates to millions of miles of difference by 2036). Once rated at 4 on the Torino impact hazard scale (the only object ever rated that high), its rating is now back to 1. (Note: 1 is still slightly elevated risk, since 0 is normal, but the risk is very, very low.)

Apophis is 300 meters across. By comparison, the 1908 Tunguska event in Siberia is believed to have been caused by a bolide only 60 meters across, largely made of ice, which exploded in the atmosphere before it could reach the ground. Were Apophis to collide with Earth the impact would likely be a 900 Megaton explosion, equivalent to sixty-thousand Hiroshima-type bombs. Apophis will pass Earth at a distance of under 20,000 miles--closer than our own geosyncrhonous communications satellites.

More good news: we will have another near miss by the asteroid 2004 VD17 in 2102. The only other asteroid to have been rated over 1 on the Torino impact hazard scale, new measurements this week (5/20/06) have reduced the chance of collision with 2004 VD17 to 1-in-7500. Although it should pass Earth even closer than Apophis, scientists are confident enough of its orbit that its Torino rating now has been reduced to back 1. 2004 VD17 is about 600 meters across. Were it to collide with Earth, the potential impact would be 14 Gigatons.


Then there's (4179) Toutatis. It is 5 kilometers long (but relatively oblong). It passes by the Earth-Moon system every four years, and has been observed to fly by as close as two Lunar radii. An impact would be equivalent to several hundred Gigatons (more than all the world's nuclear arsenals exploded simultaneously). And Toutatis is only half as big as the monster that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Fortunately, Toutatis' Torino rating remains 0 as there is no chance of actual impact in the forseeable future. But Toutatis is a warning: there are others like it we have not yet discovered. There are estimated to be about 1100 or 1300 NEO asteroids of Toutatis' size or larger, of which (thanks largely to NASA) we know about 70%-80% now.

While NASA and other groups--mostly volunteers--continue to scan the skies for future Near Earth Object (NEO) threats, the European Space Agency (ESA) has decided to test a possible solution: ESA is planning a NEO deflection mission, aptly named Don Quijote. The larger half of the mission, 1-ton Hidalgo, will smash into a 300-600 meter asteroid at 20,000 mph (current candidate asteroids are 2002 AT4 and [10302] 1989 ML). Its companion spacecaft Sancho will arrive at the asteroid a few months prior, place plenty of seismometers, and then in the words of ESA it will, "retreat to a safe distance to observe the impact without taking unnecessary risk (with an attitude appropriate to its name)." Contractor selection and final target selection will occur by next year, but no date has been set for the mission.

So this has been a good week for the asteroid hunters. If Hurricane Katrina has shown us anything, it is that--even when forseeable--mitigation measures for low-probability, high-risk events are notoriously hard to plan and budget. And perhaps most worrisome now is the eruption of Mt. Ranier in Washington State. Last eruption was in the early 1800s, last big eruption 1000 years ago, and the potential victims are the approximately 200,000 people who live where the lava flowed during the last big eruption. Another eruption is a dead certainty... just like major earthquakes in California.

But on the issue of impacts, I am pleased to say Congress has begun to step up to the plate. In December of last year, Congress finally fully funded the $7 Million NEO survey program to track asteroids 100 meters or larger. If they maintain this funding, the goal of 90% detection of all such asteroids believed to exist in the solar system should be achieved in 15 years. If the NEO survey program is successful, the risk of impact will either be reduced by a factor of 1000, or we'll find out we'd better do something fast.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is so good today that I just have to link to him. Please read his two posts -- ths first about "incivility" at graduation speeches and the second, much scarier, about imprisoning journalists. Wow.

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Privacy

So now it seems the government is snooping on the entire internet. I'm no expert, but from the article it looks like everything you do on the internet goes through an NSA computer. They can read your e-mail, find out what web sites you've visited, etc. Is it constitutional? Is it legal? I don't know. But it sure is creepy, and I wouldn't want ANYONE to read my e-mails except for me and the person I'm sending it to. So if you're like me, you might want to consider encrypting your e-mails. It's easier than you might think, and if you follow me below the fold, I'll give you a primer.

The internet standard right know is PGP, which stands for "Pretty Good Privacy". Don't be fooled, though! Despite its modest name, no known cryptographic methods can crack it. Other methods are available, but since this is the most commonly used, you might want to start with it. Here's where you can get it:

  • Windows users will want to get gpg4win, which is a nice graphical version. Setup should be relatively straightforward.
  • Mac users will probably need two downloads: Mac GPG and, if you intend to use it with Mac's Mail app, GPG Mail. Again, both are pretty straightforward.

If you want to use straightforward RSA instead, this website is a great start. You need a Unix-based system, however (like Mac OS X). I personally have an RSA pair and will get PGP soon.

Again, I recommend everyone do this. If you don't mind the government reading your e-mail, fine. But since you can do something about it, why not?

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Palestinian Civil War?

Gun fire has been exchanged in Gaza between Palestinian police (who answer to the President who is from Fatah) and armed Hamas members. This has been building for a while.

At this stage, there are more questions than answers. Will this escalate? Is Fatah being encouraged by the US? Is it a problem to overthrow a democratically elected fascist government?

We should pay attention to this story more than recent horse injuries may permit.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Language Policy Debate

As promised, I wanted to post a more detailed explanation of language policy. This is going to be very long. I am sorry for that, but I couldn't avoid it. And I will be oversimplifying.

There are three main issues when we talk about language policy: the propagation of the majority language, the place of foreign languages in a society, and the protection of minority (i.e. regional) languages. As you can tell from my previous posts, you can't talk about strategic language policy and planning without getting into cultural assimilation, discrimination, civil rights, and ultimately human rights.

The most interesting book I found on the subject was Fran├žois Grin's Language Policy and the EU Charter for Regional or Minority Language Rights. So I am drawing heavily here from his work and in a way, turning it around. This book takes a policy analysis approach to understanding language policy and uses the charter as a case study, which he meticulously dissects. The EU charter was aimed at protecting regional languages. But I am going to use those concepts to talk about building a general language policy.

Language policy, like most policy-making, is supposed to be a systemic, rational, theory-based effort to modify the linguistic environment. Good policy always has as its main objective the improvement of the overall welfare of a society. We know the objective of bad policy, which is usually self-serving to its creators. Language policy is, therefore, public policy. It seeks to take a cold look at reality and then to shape that reality.



Policy makers operating in a democratic system, cannot and should not impose preferences on people but they should provide for people's preferences to be heard through some democratic process. Even if a policy can't directly improve welfare, it can do so indirectly by creating, maintaining, and developing the necessary conditions. So if you take the protection of minority languages, with the goal of maintaining the linguistic diversity of a nation or region (in Grin's case, of the EU), then you have to develop policies that foster the development of regional languages. This also means that you accept a certain degree of state intervention, otherwise, as LTG and RBR point out, you leave everything up to market forces.

Proponents of this idea assume that welfare is more improved by market forces than state forces. And the question you ask is whether or not state intervention can ensure the "right" amount of language diversity. LTG's concern focuses on market failures (insufficient information, high transaction costs, imperfections in market structure, the existence of public goods, the fact that some markets can't exist, externalities, and as of late, repudiation of the assumption of rationality) If language diversity or the lack thereof is good and a market failure occurs, then state intervention is acceptable. So in LTG's thinking, you need to have an official language to propagate it, the implication being that it is under threat somehow. But what is missing in the "official language" debate is some hardcore policy analysis and formulation. What is the strategy behind this sudden desire to adopt an "official language" at the federal level? This is my biggest problem with most of what Congress has done. There seems little consideration of the consequences, and no real explanation of any serious goal behind such a move.

You have to think about these policies with a methodology of objective evaluation. Is the goal of an "official Language" to protect English from being overrun by foreign languages? Is it to move toward an English-only system? If that is the case, what protections for regional languages like Cajun or Hawaiian will you put into place? How will you treat new, non-English speaking immigrants? Is your goal it to build national unity? If so, is language really the best avenue for achieving that? Do we have studies that we can use to measure language learning in this country? What do these types of studies tell us? Do we even understand what our immigrant population looks and acts like? (I don't think we do, by the way.) Have we talked to that community to get their views on the issue? What happens when neurological science tells us that after a certain age, the brain's ability to take in a second language is significantly diminished? Will we have the courage to promote a policy that may be unpopular on its surface, but is supported theoretically by the research if that means achieving our stated goal? Will various stakeholders be served by the policy? What options do we have and what are the merits of each option?

None of that has been done in this debate about "official languages". I agree with LTG that we need to have some sort of solid language policy in this country. I don't think "official language" is the correct policy on its own nor do I think it is even worthy of the word policy because it isn't formulated or based on any policy analysis or process. It is, in my view, a soundbite.

We have never developed a coherent language policy or strategy in this country outside of the Pentagon. We have a combination of negative rights, rights that limit the actions of the state against the individual (you can't arrest someone for speaking a foreign language) and positive rights where the state intervenes to ensure rights(the law requires provision be made for a lawyer and interpreter to make sure the state isn't abusing its power). Negative rights are often supported by an underlying layer of positive rights.

We do not require foreign language education and we have never thought much about "official" languages. We have benefited from the policies of other nations, such as Europe, that require foreign language education from young ages. Since "they all speak English" why bother learning their languages, right? When we needed people to help us listen in on or communicate with our "enemy" , thanks to our large immigrant population, we always found speakers (native or heritage) of the needed language. There are over 300 languages spoken in the U.S. about half of which are indigenous. Some 52indigenouss languages are now extinct. So there was never any active attempt to halt the use of foreign languages in our governmental systems but no desire to discourage them either. It was up to market forces or natural selection to determine the fate of a language. This is starting to change. In the next 10 years foreign language learning will be required in our public schools. And we will adopt policies to promote this just as we have with math and science. It's already started. Why? Because suddenly the military cares, which is what usually happens to motivate major policy shifts in this country.

Conversely, there will be even greater national attention on teaching English. Because guess what? It ain't just about the language, it is about proficiency in the language. This means the ability to take in information, understand it, and critically analyze it on the fly. Since most people can't critically analyze in their native language, how can they be expected to do it in a foreign language? If you can't multiply and divide, how can you do algebra or calculus? So along with the basics of a language, you have to learn how to think critically. This means there will have to be a greater emphasis on communication and critical thinking in English. And, as all of us who speak foreign languages can attest, it takes years and a lot of hard work and dedication to master reading, writing, and speaking a language. There aren't any short-term fixes or silver bullets here.

ESL is a whole specialized field now. And it is growing. California has been on the front lines of that movement for years. And foreign students, often with little formal education at home, cannot be expected to master English overnight, especially if they live in communities where there is a lack of opportunity, motivation, or desire, the three requirements for the survival of a language. And an English-as-official-language policy alone in these communities won't change that because the problems are linked to poverty, Iiteracy, health, etc. In addition, you have to treat the whole person. The immigrant brings with him baggage from home that has to be respected and addressed. So any policy would have to be paired with programs in a given community to address underlying causes.

Does having an "official language" make it easier to justify the massive resources currently devoted to ESL education? Yes, which is why the state of California along with 27 other states and the Virgin Islands have declared English as their official language. 5 states and territories of the US are officially bilingual, the Marina islands is trilingual, and for kicks, Pennsylvania was bilingual until the 1950's when German was removed as an official language. For a more detailed look at this go to Wikipedia. To become a naturalized US citizen (on the books anyway) you have to demonstrate the ability to read, write, and speak English. Any amnesty program would further dilute that requirement. I just want to add that legislating English as an official language is one thing when it is a law unto itself, it is another when it is attached to an immigration bill.

Currently, there is a movement throughout government to inventory and professionalize our "language assets". We can no longer rely solely on immigrant and heritage communities to do the work of government and intelligence. Government is partnering with universities to fund language institutes. One big recipient is Brigham Young University. Mormons are the one group who bother to consistently learn foreign languages and serve in the armed forces. They are required by their religion, to do a one year "mission" overseas. So they get ample language training. This incidentally, is another aspect of our "policy" and our culture really; foreign language learning is primarily centered on military need (or in this case, religious zeal), not academic or personal edification. Having one group so overly represented in this domain should worry everyone. In addition, there is new interest in government on regional languages and dialects. Terrorists don't speak in Modern Standard Arabic. They speak in Tagalong, Pashto, Hausa, etc. The more obscure the language or dialect, the more interest there is. Linguists are the next big thing. And frankly, we don't have that many Hausa speakers available to us now. That said, you can see that here, there is a coherent policy to achieve a goal.

As for "minority languages" we have taken the tact that resources be made available to people as a service, but that English is the dominate language. We have tacitly accepted that it is more important that people have knowledge than English. I'd rather you know the laws of the road because you read them in Spanish that no knowledge at all and that you cause accidents. We never paid much attention to the fate of Native American Languages or the loss of Hawaiian languages. (Actually, an interesting study would be to compare the development of policies to protect endangered species with developing policies to protect endangered languages.) That was a fringe issue for bleeding heart- multiculturalists. There have been debates about Ebonics, studies done on how the non-standard dialect of many African Americans (i.e. poor English) prevents them from getting loans, jobs, building permits, voting ballots, etc. But these never forced any real, grounded policy formation except in one place: bilingual education. And that has been limited to southern border states (CA, TX, AZ, NM, etc) and those places like New York and Boston that have huge immigrant populations. And even then, the policies have been more experimental than fixed. We are still arguing over bilingual education with studies providing ammunition for both sides of the debate.

So that gives you some idea of the width and breadth of language policy and its implications. For the U.S, adopting an "official language" is the very tip of a huge iceberg.

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Friday, May 19, 2006

The Term Limit Shuffle

It's getting out of hand in California. Term limits were never a good idea, and now the unintended consequences have become laughable.

Here's the two step:
State Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi is running for Lieutenant Governor
Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante is running for State Insurance Commissioner

Here's the three step:
Attorney General Bill Lockyer is Running for Treasurer
Treasurer Phil Angelides is Running for Governor
and former Governor Jerry Brown is running for Attorney General (he's been termed out of the Mayorship of Oakland.)

And there's a bunch of State Senators doing the do-si-do with members of the State Assembly. It's time to end the madness, time to revert to the current Federal system and end term limits on all but the Governor himself.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

A Doubleplusgood Amendment!

The text of the Inhofe amendment (SA 4604, reproduced below in part) attached today to the Senate version of the immigration bill (S. 2611) declares English to be our national language:

The Government of the United States shall preserve and enhance the role of English as the national language of the United States of America. Unless specifically stated in applicable law, no person has a right, entitlement, or claim to have the Government of the United States or any of its officials or representatives act, communicate, perform or provide services, or provide materials in any language other than English.


How heartwarming it is that the Senate has chosen to score a few precious political points by making just that much harder for those who don't speak English so well to have access to their government! True, most people in the world live in multi-lingual nations... but not us, no sir! I guess since we haven't really been particularly welcoming to immigrants lately anyway (just ask anyone who has had to deal with the INS!) it makes sense that the Senate has finally decided just to put all of our friends and family from around the world on notice: we're not even going to try anymore.

Fortunately there is no attendant legislation to create an "American Academy" to preserve and enhance the English language. (Besides, one wonders how they would deal with all those other "flavours" of English...) And at least it's not Newspeak... yet.

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Save a Life, Learn About HPV

This morning, NPR ran an health story about a potential vaccination for
HPV
. I want to take a little blog space to talk about HPV because it is a widespread disease that is affecting many women but isn't usually publicized very much.

The Human papillomavirus (HPV) comes in about 100 different forms, of which 30 are sexually transmitted. Transmission can be as simple as skin-to-skin contact. It results in genital warts in men and women that can appear inside as well as outside the body. There are often no symptoms and the incubation period can be as short as 3 months or even longer. The virus can remain dormant for years before turning up again. It can go away on its own and then come back randomly. In fact, the warts your get on your hands or feet are a from of HPV, although those are not, obviously sexually transmitted.

Women usually discover they have HPV when they show an irregular pap smear. This is usually the high risk type of HPV that can lead to cervical cancer. About 14,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year and over 5,000 women die annually of cervical cancer in the United States.

Three are 5.5 million new cases of sexually transmitted HPV infections are reported every year in men and women. At least 20 million people in this country are already infected. Three out of four Americans between the ages of 15 and 49 have been infected with genital HPV in their lifetime. For more information, I encourage you to visit here or here.

The latest news is that the FDA is reviewing a potential vaccine for HPV, or at least for the most dangerous forms of HPV. The vaccine is showing little or no side effects and so far seems to be good for up to 5 years. They will be deciding if the vaccine should be given to all children. Christian groups are opposed to making such a vaccine mandatory, although they aren't opposed to the vaccine in general. Sorry guys, some things just have to be mandatory. And the very fact that we have to consider what religious groups have to say about a medical issue such as this ticks me off. It is a public health issue, not a moral issue.

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Culture of Corruption Update

In their effort to replace the disgraced Republican Congressman, Duke Cunningham, the Republicans have chosen Brian Bilbray. They want to say that Bilbray will put all the lies and corruption behind the party. They claim that Cunningham was just one of those "few bad apples." But get this, it now turns out that Bilbray claimed to live with his elderly mother in Carlsbad, CA for his entrance form for the congressional election but for tax purposes claimed to live in Alexandria, Virginia...AND Imperial Beach, California (which is 47 miles from Carlsbad and NOT inside the boundaries of the 50th district).

Two questions come immediately to mind. How can Bilbray claim to live in the 50th while claiming his Alexandria, VA property as his primary residence for taxes? Also, How can Bilbray claim TWO residences as his primary residence for taxes (neither of which is in the district in which he claims to reside for political purposes)?

Are things so bad in the GOP that they can't even find one candidate to run for office in San Diego County who isn't currently committing perjury and tax fraud?

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

News flash: the President is losing support

You know things are getting bad for the President when the guy who wrote this:

It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can't get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.
is now writing this:
He had his chance...and he blew it. He should have given the speech I told him to. As soon as he started talking about guest worker programs and the impossibility of deporting 11 million illegals, it was all over. President Bush keeps trying to find the middle ground, on this and many other issues. But sometimes, there isn't a viable middle ground. This is one of those instances.

President Bush is being destroyed by vicious people who hate him. So far, he hasn't seemed to notice. Apparently, he doesn't think he needs any allies. He certainly didn't win any with tonight's speech.
But John, maybe you just need to give this speech a century or so, so that people can appreciate it for its true artistic merit!

Seriously, there seems to be a vast and swift migration of lifelong Republicans away from the president and even the party. RbR, any of that in your family?

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Friday, May 12, 2006

A new low

No, I'm not referring to Bush's new poll low, although I could be. I'm referring to this article, in which Newt Gingrich criticizes the NSA spying program.

How bad does an administration have to get before Newt Gingrich looks reasonable to me? Oh, but I forgot, the reason this president is so bad is because he's too liberal.

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Qwest for Justice?

NY Times reports that Qwest was the only telecommunications company to refuse to cooperate with the NSA's request for the calling records for millions of Americans. Qwest's ex-CEO Joseph Naccio said "no" when NSA admitted they had no warrant, and according to Naccio's lawyer, there was a, "disinclination on the part of the authorities to use any legal process."

We now have confirmation that the NSA asked for data on "virtually all" calls, despite Bush's equivocations. And since Naccio had been forced out in 2003 (after Qwest had been forced to "restate" and retract $1.1 Billion in nonexistent transactions), the NSA has had three years to mine the data.

So the NSA used patterns of calling to find "suspicious" people, wiretapped those people--and then for all we know, Bush labeled them "enemy combatants" and the CIA kidnapped them and "extraordinarily rendered" these "ghost detainees" to other countries. All without any court approval or oversight, of course--just Bush's word. And LTG is right when he points out (in earlier posts and comments) that Bush's word is worthless.

To get the Patriot Act renewed, Bush lied in 2004 and said he would never wiretap without a court order. Whenever someone leaks these secret programs to the press, the Bush administration hastily calls a press conference to deny the charges, attack the leakers, and say that in any case this is the end of it... and then along comes another whopper. Surprise!

LTG asks, "what next?" Let's hope what happens next is that the Democrats recapture the house and start investigating what's been going on behind closed doors. I shudder to think what dirty secrets might be "next." We know the NSA kept records on anti-war groups, even the quakers. Was LTG right, when he wrote in 12/19/2005 that it would eventually come out that the Bush administration used its unprecedented program of domestic surveillance for its own political purposes?

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

435+ 2 = Electoral Fun

There is a curious bill that the House is expected to pass shortly after it makes it through committee, which is also expected. It will expand the House to 437 members, with one real voting member for DC and another for Utah - which was denied an additional seat under reapportionment by the thinnest of margins in 2000. Apparently the Utah seat is expected to be an "at large" seat for a while, so that the lone Democrat from Utah will not be gerrymandered away. It's a very odd bit of political logrolling.

First, it's not clear whether this is constitutional. Can DC be given a vote by a law, w/o a constitutional amendment? Its electoral votes came in 1961 with the 23rd amendment.

Also, does the weird at-large idea for Utah violate equal protection in some way by itself? More broadly, does any law adding a specific seat for a specific state violate the constitutional requirement for representation based on population? Surely a Republican majority cannot vote 10 extra seats for Texas just 'cause. Amendment XIV "Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed." [Note: the prior version of this sentence read "Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons."]

What about the electoral college? This bill would necessarily increase the EC to 539. See Article II, "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress." Clearly, if Utah gets another rep, it gets another EV [Note: DC already gets 3 EV, 2 for the non-existent senators and 1 for the non-existent rep. Getting a real rep wouldn't change that].

This does not seem very well thought out, or at least not well explained.
Would it not be better to expand the number of reps to 500, or more, and do it all according to the census data, plus give DC a vote? That would also diminish the undemocratic nature of the electoral college as an added bonus.

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It's Our Government!

"It's our government, our government!" he said, turning red in the face and waving a copy of USA Today. "It's not one party's government, it's America's government!"- New York Times quoting Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont. He was fired up over a report in today's USA Today about a massive database being built by the NSA on domestic phone calls. Daily Kos quotes potential CIA Chief Hayden as saying that when headed the NSA, he sat down with phone company executives to discuss the program.


According to CNN Leahy held up a copy of the paper and went on to say, "Are you telling me that tens of millions of Americans are involved with al Qaeda?" Leahy asked. "These are tens of millions of Americans who are not suspected of anything ... Where does it stop? Somebody ought to tell the truth and answer questions. They haven't. The press has done our work for us and we should be ashamed. Shame on us for being so far behind and being so willing to rubber stamp anything this administration does. We ought to fold our tents."

I am glad to see some outrage, especially when it comes on the heels of yesterday's news that the Justice Department was halting the inquiry into the eavesdropping and wiretaps conducted by the NSA.

What is most interesting is that when you read the USA Today piece, you suddenly realize that it all sounds so familiar. Remember when NSA wanted internet search firms Yahoo, Google, etc. to hand over internet surfing records?

I'll close with this interesting quote from the story, " The NSA's explanation did little to satisfy Qwest's lawyers. "They told (Qwest) they didn't want to do that because FISA might not agree with them," one person recalled. For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest's suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general's office. A second person confirmed this version of events."

Well, well, well . . . it's toltally constitutional, but a court (charged with these sorts of things) might not think so. I'm switching my phone service.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Sometimes you don't need to write much.

Teacher Says She Was Fired Over in Vitro

She was a teacher at a Catholic school. I have nothing to add.

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Why There is an Illegal Immigration Problem

The number of illegal immigrants to the USA has soared. Why? The only conclusion is that the GOP wants them here.

In 1999, the Clinton administration issued 417 fines to employers for hiring illegal/undocumented workers. Not a large number, to be sure. But for 2004, the number was just three. The amount of time devote to worksite investigation is about 1/3 of what it was. Worksite arrests in total are down from 2,100 to less than 400. You can check out the GAO report of 8/31/2005 for this information (pp.33-36).

So we have a deliberate effort by the Bush administration to stop enforcing immigration laws against businesses.

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A Chorus of Disapproval

Even our staunchest ally can no longer abide the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Yesterday, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw likened the prison camp to a Soviet-style "gulag." Today, UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith called for the U.S. to close down our camp at Guantanamo. Goldsmith said its presence was "unacceptable" and it should be closed immediately, not just as a matter of principle or policy, but also in his personal opinion.

"The historic tradition of the United States as a beacon of freedom, liberty and of justice deserves the removal of this symbol."


He doubted the legality and fairness of the "enemy combatant" designations and added that his government was, "unable to accept that the US military tribunals proposed for those detained at Guantanamo Bay offered sufficient guarantees of a fair trial in accordance with international standards."

Although Downing Street remained mum on the comments of the ministers, both ministers have said they stand by their comments. Could this signal a change in the cozy relationship between Bush and Blair? Is the Labor Party finally realizing how little they got for their Faustian bargain with Bush?

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Universal Health Care II

So I was talking to several people yesterday, middle class people of all ages, and the innocent subject of health care came up... and suddenly it was like a floodgate was let loose. They felt helpless and very personally indignant. And everyone had their own horror stories. Here are some quotes (as best as I recall them) that stuck in my mind:

1. "My kidney biopsy cost me $9000, and I had insurance. Why do we even have insurance?"

2. "Sure, I have a prescription plan, but it cost me $225 to see the doctor every time I need to get the prescription. It's a joke."

3. "I'll start paying off my student loan as soon as I can finish paying off my bill for my broken shoulder."

4. "I can't switch insurance because the new company won't cover my existing condition. I think I'm going to just go without insurance next year. Hell, I can't afford the copay any more than I can afford the operation anyhow."

5. "I had good insurance one year, much better than my husband's... but when my child needed an operation, the insurance company said they would only honor my husband's insurance! They said their rule was that they only applied to the child the insurance policy of the parent whose birthdate was closest to January 1. I couldn't believe it. I raised hell but it was a "rule" they said. There was nothing they would do."

6. "The hospital billed me $18,000 for an overnight stay. Eighteen thousand dollars! Just for overnight. What could possibly be worth that?!"

7."I thought we were supposed to have the best system in the world. If you're rich, I guess."


I realized yesterday that we have got to fix this problem. It's reaching the breaking point. And a candidate with a good, strong plan for Universal Health Care could really ride it into the White House. I now agree with those who think it will be the defining issue of the 2008 campaign.

I'll leave it up to the citizens to suggest what they would do. All I'll say is that the "$100 gas rebate"-type solutions from the Republicans won't work for health care (or for gas) and everyone knows it. (If it were up to me, I'd have the government to offer a heavily subsidized health insurance plan that almost anyone could afford. Nobody would be forced to take it but the mere existence of such an option would force insurance companies to be more competitive. But I'm open to other ideas, like the Mass. plan.)

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Armenian Genocide

It is being reported today that Turkey is recalling its envoys to Canada and the France because they have decided to recognize the massacre of Armenian under the Ottoman Empire.

It goes without saying that this is a sensitive issue for Turks and Armenians alike. Without getting into the issue of whether or not the Armenian massacre should be recognized as a genocide or not, the more disturbing thing is the legislation currently sitting in the French National Assembly. The draft law would make denial of the Armenian genocide a crime subject to a one-year jail term and a 45,000 Euro fine.

It isn't unusual. People get jailed for denying the Holocaust as well, as was the case in Feb of British historian David Irving who is now sitting in an Austrian prison.

What do the Citizens think of such laws? Why are some genocides above denial while others go ignored?

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Victim Impact

One of the issues that has been in and out of the news for a while has been the issue of victim impact statements. Most recently, this has been in the news because of the Zacarias Moussaoui case. Victims and their families spend days airing their grief in the sentencing phase of the trial. Currently,sentencing is set to start in the case of the owner of the Rhode Island Night Club that caught on fire and caused the death of 100 and injured 200 back in 2003. The judge has told victims' families that they are not allowed to bring pictures of their loved ones to court and that they must limit their statements to no more than 5 minutes.

The role of victim impact statements has been subject of a contentious discussion among legal scholars. I would be interested in getting LTG's take on the matter.

Myself, I don't like victim impact statements. I believe that the courts are for justice to the law. When a crime is committed, the social contract of the whole of society has been breached and thus, we are all victims. This is why at criminal law we have prosecutors for the STATE who charge defendants, not private prosecutors as we do in tort claims. Victim impact statements seem to turn our criminal justice system (as opposed to the tort system) into an means of revenge rather than justice.

Having sobbing victims on the witness stand seems to harm the dignity and purpose of a court of law.

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The Decider Strikes Again!

Bush has appointed Air Force General and former NSA director, Michael Hayden to be the new Director of Central Intelligence. Bush just doesn't get it. There are a couple of reasons why I think Hayden is a bad choice here. One is that as a General, CIA staff may see him as continuing the trend of making CIA subservient to the Department of Defense - an obvious goal of the Neo-Con group around Rumsfeld and Cheney. If restoring morale to the CIA is a goal, this is the wrong way to do it. If abolishing the CIA and folding it into the NSA and the DIA is way to go, this is the guy to do it!

The second reason is that Hayden was head of the NSA during Bush's unconstitutional and tyrannical NSA wire tapping program (which is still ongoing!!). Hayden has a demonstrated record of being willing to violate the law to aid the partisan goals of his political masters in the Bush administration. Hayden is likely to continue the pointless waste of resources on violating the rights of groups like the Quakers, P.E.T.A. and the A.C.L.U.

I urge the Senate to give this appointment a vigorous dose of oversight - something that has been shamefully lacking since Bush was elected.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Tenure of Porter Goss was a Failure

Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Porter Goss, 67, resigned today after serving less than two years.

When the former Republican Congressman was confirmed to his post on September 24, 2004, Republicans lauded the nomination, citing Goss' personal experience as a CIA operative (1962-71) and on the Congressional oversight committees. But others complained that such an overtly partisan nomination was--in the words of ex-President Carter's former CIA chief Stansfield Turner, "a terrible appointnemnt... the worst in the history of the job." Others still questioned his credentials, saying he had done little in his oversight role. But we were told we needed a strong leader to reform the CIA and Goss had the guts to do that. Upon his confirmation by the Senate, President Bush said of Goss,

"He is the right man to take on the essential mission of leading the CIA at this critical moment in our Nation's history as we face the challenges and the dangerous threats of this century. I look forward to his counsel as we implement intelligence reform, including the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission."


Well, now he's gone. Does anybody think the job at the CIA is done? Does anyone think their morale has been restored? Does anybody thing the intelligence reforms and recommendations of the 9/11 commission have been implemented? Certainly not the 9/11 Commission. In their damning report of 12/5/05, they decided they couldn't even grade Porter Goss' performance (they gave him an "Incomplete"--only one of two "I"s in the three dozen categories) because the reforms were proceeding too slowly.

INCOMPLETE. Reforms are underway at the CIA, especially of human intelligence operations. But their outcome is yet to be seen. If the CIA is to remain an effective arm of national power, Congress and CIA leadership need to be committed to accelerating the pace of reforms, and must address morale and personnel issues.


And when it came to information sharing between government agencies, and the incentives for doing so, the commission gave the intelligence community a "D".

The nomination of Porter Goss was a failure and his departure during this "critical moment" in history leaves the CIA rudderless and worse off than before, since Goss instituted a purge of top CIA officers, compounding the "morale and personnel issues" the 9/11 commission complained about. We need a strong CIA director who can act as a rudder. And the thing about being a rudder is you have to be willing to spend most of your time face-down in the muck to do your job.

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Bafflement

I am struck, yet again, at how f@%$ing dumb people can be. It has to be part of some plot to make sure a Democrat only serves 1 term in office. Either that, or they want to run the entire country into the ground.

Today the Washington Post carried this analysis of the recent decision to extend deep tax cuts on dvidends and capital gains. Basically, any cuts that were excluded from the agreement legslation will be put back in the next piece of legislation.

This runs on the heels of this whopper of a spending bill. I just don't get how they keep doing it. After all the bitching about pork fat and how wasteful it is, etc. they pass a $106 billion spending bill, $72 bil that goes to Iraq and $27 bil for Katrina. The rest that goes to pork and other sundry interests including sugar in Hawaii, farmers, and Northrop Grumman. And people wonder why I am so damn cynical!

This is also why I avoid the politics section of the Washington Post. I suffer from pre-hypertension as it is!

BUSH MUST BE IMPEACHED and his ilk removed from Congress.

Can we vote for President Bartlet?

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Chart Request

Here is the tax/income chart Bob and RbR requested (if I understood their request correctly). What I have plotted in this graph is the relative excess share of taxes paid by the upper percentiles, (Tax Share - Income Share)/(Income Share), where the "share" is a fraction or percentage of the whole. I have included data for the 25th percentile as well.



(Click to enlarge image.) I find this graph difficult to interpret. Perhaps the requestors have some insight?

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More Greenwald

I don't have the stomach to peruse the conservative blogs much. So it's nice when someone does it for me and writes up a summary.

[shudder]

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Monday, May 01, 2006

St. Colbert's Fire

I just mentioned this in a comment to Bell Curve's response, but it merits its own headline.

The Annual White House Correspondent's Dinner was on Saturday. Stephen Colbert roasted Bush to well done. To see a transcript you can go to Media Matters . There is a video clip there of Steve Bridges acting as Bush's twin. Or you can go to Daily Kos . In any case, it is worth a look! Daily Kos has links from the Democratic Underground to the video of Colbert!

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Three years.

I am sure I am violating some code of blogger ethics, but I'm going to reprint Josh Marshall's entire "Mission Accomplished" text from today:

Yes, three years ago today, President Bush declared Mission Accomplished in Iraq.

I think this will go down as the symbol of the Bush administration -- like Carter's malaise speech, Bush's father with the carton of milk, LBJ falling on his metaphorical sword in a nationally televised address. It captures everything. The arrogance. The dingbat personality cult. The fleeting triumph of Potemkin stagecraft over tangible accomplishment. The happy willingness to let others take care of the president's messes.

Today the president hailed yet another "turning point" in Iraq but warned of "more tough days ahead."

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