The Truth in Iraq

Juan Cole is one of the most widely read bloggers on the web, focusing on the Middle East, which is his specialty. He is a history professor at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He speaks with some authority on events in Iraq (for his creditials, click here). As such, he has listed the top ten myths about Iraq. They are worth reading to get a better understanding of what is (and isn't) happening over there.


A Comedic Loss

I just found out today that a comedian I really like, Mitch Hedberg, died back in March (how observant am I?). Here's some favorite lines by him:

The depressing thing about tennis is that no matter how much you play, you'll never be as good as a wall. I played a wall once, they're f**cking relentless.

You know, people think I'm into sports just because I'm a man. I'm not into sports. I mean, I like Gatorade, but that's about as far as it goes. By the way, you don't have to be sweaty and holding a basketball to enjoy a Gatorade. You could just be a thirsty dude. Gatorade forgets about this demographic. I'm thirsty for absolutely no reason. Other than the fact that liquid has not touched my lips for some time. Can I have a Gatorade too, or does that lightning bolt mean "No"?

Swiss cheese is the only cheese you can bite and miss. "Hey Mitch - does that sandwich have cheese on it?" "Every now and then!" I got some swiss air on that bite.

I think Pringles' initial intention was to make tennis balls. But on the day that the rubber was supposed to show up, a big truckload of potatoes arrived. But Pringles was a laid-back company. They said "F**k it. Cut 'em up!"

I recently took up ice sculpting. Last night I made an ice cube. This morning I made 12, I was prolific.

My belt holds my pants up, but the belt loops hold my belt up. I don't really know what's happening down there. Who is the real hero?

When I was a kid, I used to lie awake in my twin-sized bed wonderin' where my brother was...

A snake bite emergency repair kit is a body bag.

I went to the park and saw this kid flying a kite. The kid was really excited. I don't know why; that's what they're supposed to do. Now if he had had a chair on the other end of that string, I would have been impressed. Imagine trying to fly a chair. You'd have to run like a motherf**ker.

I don't own a cell phone or a pager. I just hang around everyone I know, all the time. If someone needs to get a hold of me, they just say, "Mitch," and I say, "What?" and turn my head slightly.

I hate turtlenecks. I have such a weak neck. Plus if you wear a turtleneck it's like being strangled by a really weak guy ... all day. And if you wear a turtleneck and a backpack it's like a weak midget trying to bring you down.

I bought myself a parrot. The parrot talked. But it did not say, "I'm hungry,"... so it died.

In England, Smokey the Bear is not the forest fire prevention representative. They have Smackie the Frog. It's just like a bear, but it's a frog. I think it's a better system; I think we should adopt it. Because bears can be mean, but frogs are always cool. Never has there been a frog hopping toward me, and I thought, "Man, I'd better play dead. Here comes that frog..." You never say, "Here comes that frog" in a nervous manner. It's always optimistic, like, "Hey, here comes that frog, all right. Maybe he will settle near me so I can pet him, and stick him in a mayonnaise jar, with a stick and a leaf, to recreate what he's used to. And I'd certainly have to punch some holes in the lid, because he's damn sure used to air. Then I can observe him, and he won't be doing much in his 16-ounce world."


Republican Economics

Via Brad DeLong:

The Tax-Cut Zombies - New York Times : Since the 1970's, conservatives have used two theories to justify cutting taxes. One theory, supply-side economics, has always been hokum for the yokels. Conservative insiders adopted the supply-siders as mascots because they were useful to the cause, but never took them seriously.

The insiders' theory - what we might call the true tax-cut theory - was memorably described by David Stockman, Ronald Reagan's budget director, as "starving the beast." Proponents of this theory argue that conservatives should seek tax cuts not because they won't create budget deficits, but because they will. Starve-the-beasters believe that budget deficits will lead to spending cuts that will eventually achieve their true aim: shrinking the government's role back to what it was under Calvin Coolidge.

True to form, the insiders aren't buying the supply-siders' claim that a partial recovery in federal tax receipts from their plunge between 2000 and 2003 shows that all's well on the fiscal front. (Revenue remains lower, and the federal budget deeper in deficit, than anyone expected a few years ago.) Instead, conservative heavyweights are using the budget deficit to call for cuts in key government programs. For example, in 2001 Alan Greenspan urged Congress to cut taxes to avoid running an excessively large budget surplus. Now he issues dire warnings about "fiscal instability." But rather than urging Congress to reverse the tax cuts he helped sell, he talks of the need to cut future Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Yet at this point starve-the-beast theory looks as silly as supply-side economics. Although a disciplined conservative movement has controlled Congress and the White House for five years - and presided over record deficits - public opposition has prevented any significant cuts in the big social-insurance programs that dominate domestic spending.

In fact, two years ago the Bush administration actually pushed through a major expansion in Medicare. True, the prescription drug bill clearly wasn't written by liberals. To a significant extent it's a giveaway to drug companies rather than a benefit for retirees. But all that corporate welfare makes the program more expensive, not less.

Conservative intellectuals had high hopes that this year President Bush would make up for this betrayal of their doctrine by dealing a death blow to Social Security as we know it. Indeed, he tried. His proposed "reform" would, over time, have essentially phased out the program. And he seemed to have everything going for him: momentum from an election victory, control of Congress and a highly sympathetic punditocracy. Yet the drive for privatization quickly degenerated from a juggernaut into a farce.

Medicaid, whose recipients are less likely to vote than the average person getting Social Security or Medicare, is the softest target among major federal social-insurance programs. But even members of Congress, it seems, have consciences. (Well, some of them.) It took intense arm-twisting from the Republican leadership, and that tie-breaking vote by Mr. Cheney, to ram through even modest cuts in aid to the neediest.

In other words, the starve-the-beast theory - like missile defense - has been tested under the most favorable possible circumstances, and failed. So there is no longer any coherent justification for further tax cuts. Yet... even as Congressional leaders struggled to pass a tiny package of mean-spirited spending cuts, they pushed forward with a much larger package of tax cuts. The benefits of those cuts, as always, will go disproportionately to the wealthy.

Here's how I see it: Republicans have turned into tax-cut zombies. They can't remember why they originally wanted to cut taxes, they can't explain how they plan to make up for the lost revenue, and they don't care. Instead, they just keep shambling forward, always hungry for more.


Need a Gift Suggestion?

I just received my copy of the movie Serenity in the mail. It was a fantastic film and a worthy sequel to the tv show, Firefly. My great hope is that enough DVD's will sell to prompt Universal to make another one. Joss Whedon has indicated he has more to tell, and dammit! I want to see it! So, go get yourself a copy and one for a friend. You won't be dissapointed.

Science Breakthrough of the Year 2005

The journal Science has given the honor this year to: Evolution in Action. This seems timely considering the recent Dover decision, but it is in fact based on considerable strides made in understanding mechanisms of evolution. In particular, the complete sequence of the chimpanzee genome yielded insights into the molecular changes important to evolution, and field studies have expanded our knowledge in the processes of speciation, which are generally hard to come buy. This of course doesn't count the hundredes of other papers published this year, further advancing our understanding of evolution and the diversity of life. To read through the paper, click here. They also have a video that talks with the major scientists involved with this year's studies; very interesting. Click here to watch it.


Wave Power

Slowly and quietly there has been a movement toward alternative energy sources besides solar and wind. It hasn't received a lot of attention yet, but that may change soon. Discover magazine had a short article about a device that uses the motion of the ocean to generate electricity. Called Pelamis (after a type of sea snake), it is showing much promise.

Bright red and roughly 450 feet long, this sinuous piece of hardware lets the heaves and sways of the ocean drive pistons which in turn power generators. The electricy flows via cables (which also help anchor it) to the shore. Pelamis is made by Ocean Power Delivery of Scotland and already has trial runs operating off Portugal, and soon off Oregon, Washington, Maine, and Hawaii. The long term feasibility of Pelamis looks very good.


Daily Humor

Great Floor Speech

Here's an excellent speech by Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) today on the House floor concerning Republican tactics:

As we gather here today, the Sunday before Christmas and Chanukah, it is the process and the way the Republican leadership are running this House that I strongly object to. These last few days, in fact the entire year, I think is a great example of how not to run a government.

Sometime today we expect to consider and vote on the Defense appropriations bill. No one will have time to read and examine the final product. We will not know what last-minute goodies are tucked into the bill. Mr. Speaker, we read news reports that drilling in the Arctic will be in the bill, but we do not know if ANWR is included because we have not yet seen it. And what drilling in Alaska's wilderness has to do with the Pentagon is beyond my comprehension, but there are some in the Republican leadership who do not care about the regular process and want to tuck this in the Defense bill because they know it cannot be enacted on its own. [...]

Mr. Speaker, whether you are a liberal, a conservative, or whether you want more government or less, I think most of us would agree that whatever government we have must be competent and responsive to the people. Now, the Republicans control all of government. They control the House of Representatives, they control the Senate, and they control the White House. It is clear that they are unable to be effective stewards of our government.

Now, putting aside the corruption scandals that hang like a dark cloud over the Congress and the White House, what we see is an inability to govern. When Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast, the Federal Government responded miserably. The President put a political appointee in charge of FEMA who was incompetent. The President took responsibility, but ultimately the incompetence and cronyism of his administration led to a disaster that included the loss of many lives.

On the war in Iraq: no weapons of mass destruction, no ties between the Iraqi government and al Qaeda, and no imminent threat to the security of the United States of America; yet we rushed into war. Whether the intelligence was manipulated or not, clearly this government did not do its job. It failed, and over 2,100 Americans are now dead.

But now we are in Iraq, Mr. Speaker. We were there with no post-invasion plan, we are there with no-bid contracts that have led to massive corruption and fraud, our soldiers lack the most basic protective equipment, and with a chain of command that resulted in grave abuses of human rights by some of our own uniformed men and women and some of our Iraqi allies. Ultimately, the President again took responsibility. But, Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, I am tired of the speeches. I, like so many others, want genuine reform and change. I want accountability.

This all brings me to this Congress. There is a reason why this Congress has only a 25 percent approval rating. It is because you are doing a lousy job. You are trashing the rules and regular order. The selling of legislation to the highest bidder, the hard-ball tactics against your own Members to win votes, your lack of oversight and demand for accountability from this administration, all that and more is catching up to you. People are watching. People do care. They believe that you cannot competently run this government, and they want the government back.

The mess that we have before us cannot be blamed on Democrats. After all, as I have said, Republicans control everything. You cannot blame this on Bill Clinton, even though some of you try, because he has been gone now for a full 5 years. This is your fault. The battles going on behind closed doors are between your right wing and your far right wing. For those of us in the minority, and many on your side who want good government, this is a frustrating period.

Mr. Speaker, nobody denies that leadership of Congress is a hard task, but either you live up to the responsibilities or you acknowledge it is time for a change. After this sorry year, it is time for a change.


What Did They Really Know?

Via Daily Kos:

Seems like it was just yesterday, Bush was saying:

Some of the most irresponsible comments - about manipulating intelligence - have come from politicians who saw the same intelligence I saw and then voted to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein, These charges are pure politics."

Whoops! It was yesterday! Ha ha ha ha ha!

What a difference a day makes, eh? Because today from Knight Ridder, we have:

WASHINGTON - President Bush and top administration officials have access to a much broader range of intelligence reports than members of Congress do, a nonpartisan congressional research agency said in a report Thursday, raising questions about recent assertions by the president.
The Congressional Research Service, by contrast, said: "The president, and a small number of presidentially designated Cabinet-level officials, including the vice president ... have access to a far greater overall volume of intelligence and to more sensitive intelligence information, including information regarding intelligence sources and methods."
The CRS report identified nine key U.S. intelligence "products" that aren't generally shared with Congress. These include the President's Daily Brief, a compilation of analyses that's given only to the president and a handful of top aides, and a daily digest on terrorism-related matters.

Surprisingly, the White House refused to comment on the issue.

We can only hope some fightin' Dems come out tomorrow with plenty to say.


It's Not All Bad News

Tired of the cynisism and angst in the news. Check out this site for a pick-me-up. It only reports the good news out there.



Following up my last post, I'd be interested to hear other people's opinions on the state of education. What's wrong, possible solutions, or just random thoughts.


Why I'm Not a Businessman

Once in while I'll see my students playing a computer game called RuneScape. It's a virtual world where they can play against there friends, battling fantastic beasts and collecting treasure. There are many other online games such as this and apparently some enterprising people are profiting from it. As Lior Strahilevitz states at the UC Law School Blog:

"Essentially, large numbers of Chinese workers are employed playing video games in virtual worlds for twelve hours a day, earning gold, weapons, and armor, which they then sell to Westerners who want virtual gold, weapons, and armor but have more real-world income than time or skill for gaming. If the Times has it right, then this has become a major industry in China."

In case this isn't clear, let me explain. Part of these games is having your online characters accumulate money, weapons, items etc.... So the Chinese, in this case, are setting up online characters who have all of these things in abundance and then selling them to Americans who don't have enough time in the day to find it all themselves.

This type of business would never have occurred to me. I'm always amazed at the means people will use to make money and it is one of the concerns I have for my students now and in the future. Many students want to be lawyers or business executives or athletes because they think it will earn them enormous sums of money. A major challenge is to convince students that the joys in life are not necessarily related to how much money you make. Good family and friends, intellectual challenges and lifelong education, fun and spontaneous hobbies, and contributions to your community are much more fulfilling. In a world dominated by economics, this will be a difficult obstacle to overcome.

More Opinions

If anyone who reads this knows me personally and would like to contribute to this blog, let me know. I don't get to post as often as I would like so more perspectives would be welcome. Just fire me an email if you are interested.

A Call to Action

President Bill Clinton is making a surprise appearance at the world climate conference in Montreal. This is causing some consternation among the Bush crowd, since he will undoubtedly call for more progressive action on the US's part to curb emissions. So far, the Bush administration is refusing to even discuss possible strategies for curbing our carbon output. Despite the overwhelming evidence and scientific consensus, they don't believe there is anything to worry about. I've said it before and I'm repeat myself now: the long-term historical opinion of the Bush presidency is going to be very low.


Flag Burning

A ban on flag burning ammendment is making its way into the Senate (co-sponsored by Hillary Clinton). Personally, I think this rates in importance with banning gay marriage. Surely we have greater issues to deal with. Sean Carroll of Cosmic Variance points towards an excellent quote from Justice William Brennan:

We can imagine no more appropriate response to burning a flag than waving one’s own, no better way to counter a flag burner’s message than by saluting the flag that burns, no surer means of preserving the dignity even of the flag that burned than by — as one witness here did — according its remains a respectful burial. We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents.

Hillary is making some ridiculous decisions to look like more of a moderate. In the end, she's losing credibility as someone who we'd really want to vote for in a presidential election. I want someone who sticks with their beliefs, regardless of whether it's popular or not.


Potential New Mammal

What might be a new mammal species was caught in a couple of images by the WWF in Borneo.

Front view of new species.  Image: Stephan Wulffraat, WWF

Another reason why forest conservation is a serious issue. We still don't know everything that is out there.


Why Citizen's Must Stay Informed

Via Daily Kos:

The remarkable Dana Priest delivers this horrifying story of the war on terror gone wrong:

In May 2004, the White House dispatched the U.S. ambassador in Germany to pay an unusual visit to that country's interior minister. Ambassador Daniel R. Coats carried instructions from the State Department transmitted via the CIA's Berlin station because they were too sensitive and highly classified for regular diplomatic channels, according to several people with knowledge of the conversation.

Coats informed the German minister that the CIA had wrongfully imprisoned one of its citizens, Khaled Masri, for five months, and would soon release him, the sources said. There was also a request: that the German government not disclose what it had been told even if Masri went public. The U.S. officials feared exposure of a covert action program designed to capture terrorism suspects abroad and transfer them among countries, and possible legal challenges to the CIA from Masri and others with similar allegations.

The Masri case, with new details gleaned from interviews with current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials, offers a rare study of how pressure on the CIA to apprehend al Qaeda members after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has led in some instances to detention based on thin or speculative evidence. The case also shows how complicated it can be to correct errors in a system built and operated in secret.

There is a very strong reason why the Founding Fathers were so adamant about the need for due process and the inclusion of the writ of habeas corpus in the Constitution. A state apparatus with no check or review will do things that are beyond the pale. As Justice Brandeis stated in his famous dissent in Olmstead:

Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government's purposes are beneficent . . . The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.

Olmstead v. U.S., 277 U.S. 438, 479 (Brandeis dissenting (1928)

And so it is in the War on Terror. Extraordinary rendition. Torture. Prohibition of due process and judicial review. Avoidance of the Geneva Conventions. Declaration of a heretofore unknown status - unlawful combatants. All these things have been done by and continue to be done by the Bush Administration.

Priest writes:

Unlike the military's prison for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- where 180 prisoners have been freed after a review of their cases -- there is no tribunal or judge to check the evidence against those picked up by the CIA. The same bureaucracy that decides to capture and transfer a suspect for interrogation-- a process called "rendition" -- is also responsible for policing itself for errors.

The CIA inspector general is investigating a growing number of what it calls "erroneous renditions," according to several former and current intelligence officials. One official said about three dozen names fall in that category; others believe it is fewer. The list includes several people whose identities were offered by al Qaeda figures during CIA interrogations, officials said. One turned out to be an innocent college professor who had given the al Qaeda member a bad grade, one official said.

"They picked up the wrong people, who had no information. In many, many cases there was only some vague association" with terrorism, one CIA officer said.

And how many of these "wrong people" were or will be tortured? If Dick Cheney has his way, many of them.


Mixed Messages

Blogging has been sporadic due to work, grad school, parent-teacher conferences, workshops etc.... Things have calmed down and I hope to blog about some things that I find of interest. However, something I read today caught my eye. As the U.S.'s 1000th execution is about to take place in North Carolina, President Bush reinterated his strong support of the death penalty. This is the same man (and party, and also includes many Democrats) who support a culture of life (i.e. anti-abortion). Does there seem to be some inconsistency here?



If you want to find out where you can recycle rechargeable batteries from cell phones and other devices, check out www.call2recycle.org. A much better alternative than tossing them in the local landfill.



Why are officials in the U.S. Government so afraid of being responsible? Via 1115.org:

Jordan suffers a brutal terrorist attack and what happens?

Eleven top Jordanian officials, including the kingdom’s national security adviser, resigned Tuesday in the wake of last week’s triple hotel bombings, state-run TV announced.

The United States suffers a brutal terrorist attack and intelligence failures on a massive scale and what happens?

  • Presidential Medal of Freedom to former CIA Director George Tenet
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom to former CPA head Paul Bremer
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom to former CENTCOM commander Tommy Franks
  • Promotion to Secretary of State for former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice
  • Promotion to National Security Advisor for former deputy National Security AdvisorStephen Hadley
  • 11.14.2005

    School Levy

    Feel free to ignore this post unless you live in the North Kitsap School District. An election is being held on February 7th to renew the School Support levy. The key term here is "renew"; it is not a new tax. This levy is responsible for 19% of the district's annual revenue. It is used to support teacher/staff salaries, instructional support programs, student transportation, maintenance, and clubs/activities. I cannot begin to tell you what a blow it will be to the district if this does not pass. On a personal level, my wife's meager salary will drop several thousand dollars. I'm post updates over the next couple of months. If you know people who live in the area, point this out to them. You can get more info at http://www.nksd.wednet.edu.


    Astronomy Picture of the Day has a wonderful panoramic shot of Mars from the rover Spirit. Click here to check it out.

    I also picked up a book called Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet by Steve Squyres. He is the principal scientific investigator from the mission. Dr. Squyres is the perfect example of a passionate scientist. He practically exudes excitement about the study of Mars. I'm hoping to get to listen to him personally in February when he gives a presentation at the University of Washington. Anyway, check both out; they're excellent.


    How the Senate Voted

    A couple of votes last week by the Senate irked me. Both were amendments to S 1042, a military spending bill. The first concerned the Armed Forces Network, the radio station heard by troops worldwide. The amendment would have required the network to provide balanced political coverage. Currently, all troops hear are Rush Limbaugh and James Dobson. They should also get a chance to hear from the other side, from people like Al Franken (who's also a hell of lot funnier than the other two). The vote was 44-54.

    The second amendment of S 1042 would have transferred 50 million from National Missile Defense to the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which secures loose nuclear weapons and material. This one I can't fathom(actually I can; economic interests won out). What are the greater odds: terrorists get their hands on an intercontinental ballistic missile or weapons grade material that they can create a small bomb with? This vote lost 37-60.

    I can at least say that my two Senators from Washington voted appropriately (from my position) on both ammendments. The Republicans (and certain Democrats) are increasingly making me ill.

    Stephen Hawking

    If you live in the Seattle area, Stephen Hawking is giving a presentation called New Perspectives on the Origin of the Universe. Starts at 8 pm at the Paramount Theatre. Tickets can be purchased at TicketMaster.

    Dr. Stephen W. Hawking


    Gravitational Tractor

    Imagine, if you will, a fairly large asteroid (>200 m) on a collision course with Earth. What do we do? Scientists could try to land a space tug on the surface and push the asteroid out if its devastating trajectory (assuming we have enough forewarning). We could launch an armada of nuclear warheads and hope that they are enough to break the asteroid into many small pieces, to burn up in re-entry. We could pull an Armageddon and land some crazy astronaut on the surface to drill and drop in a nuke to split the asteroid from the inside. Or, we could just curl up in a ball and weep. Edward Lu and Stanley Love have another idea: the gravitational tractor.

    The idea is to have a space vehicle that hovers over the asteroid and uses gravity as a tow line to drag the asteroid to a safer orbit. No nukes, just a nuclear-electric propulsion system. The drawback? You need enough advance warning to launch and place the tractor in position. Still, a very cool idea and likely to see some advancement in the near future. I can even imagine using them to pull asteroids into a safe orbit to mine for various metals. If I get some time, I'll post about the Space Elevator or Australia's Solar Tower.

    Obama Taking the Lead

    Via Daily Kos:

    Sen. Barack Obama introduced a bill on Election Day which all here should take notice of and applaud.

    Here's part of his remarks introducing the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2005:

    It might surprise some of you to know, but even in this awesome age of technological advancement and easy access to information, there are folks who will stop at nothing to try to deceive people and keep them away from the polls. These deceptive practices all too often target and exploit vulnerable populations, like minorities, the disabled, or the poor.

    Think about the story of the 2004 presidential election when voters in Milwaukee received fliers from the non- existent ``Milwaukee Black Voters League,'' warning that voters risk imprisonment for voting if they were ever found guilty of any offense--even a traffic violation. In that same election, in a county in Ohio, some voters received mailings misinforming voters that anyone registered to vote by the Kerry Campaign or the NAACP would be barred from voting. Deceptive practices often rely on a few tried and true tricks. Voters are often warned that an unpaid parking ticket will lead to their arrest or that folks with family members who have been convicted of a crime are ineligible to vote. Of course, these warnings have no basis in fact, and they are made with one goal and one goal only to keep Americans away from the polls.

    I hope voters who go to the polls today are not victims of such malicious campaigns, but I know hoping is not enough. That is why I am introducing the Deceptive Election Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2005 to provide voters with real protection from deceptive practices that aim to keep them away from the polls on Election Day.

    The bill I am introducing today provides the clear statutory language and authority needed to get allegations of deceptive practices investigated. It establishes harsh penalties for those found to have perpetrated them. And the bill seeks to address the real harm of these crimes --voters who are discouraged from voting by misinformation -- by establishing a process for reaching out to these misinformed and intimidated voters with accurate and full information so they can cast their votes in time. Perhaps just as important, this bill creates strong penalties for deceptive election acts, so people who commit these crimes suffer more than just a slap on the hand.

    Email or call you Senators and ask them about their support for this bill.



    President today reaffirmed that the U.S. doesn't do torture. On the other hand, Cheney has been lobbying to give the CIA a torture exemption. How does Scott McClennan handle questions about this? In typical fashion: he doesn't.

    Q I'd like you to clear up, once and for all, the ambiguity about torture. Can we get a straight answer? The President says we don't do torture, but Cheney --

    MR. McCLELLAN: That's about as straight as it can be.

    Q Yes, but Cheney has gone to the Senate and asked for an exemption on --

    MR. McCLELLAN: No, he has not. Are you claiming he's asked for an exemption on torture? No, that's --

    Q He did not ask for that?

    MR. McCLELLAN: -- that is inaccurate.

    Q Are you denying everything that came from the Hill, in terms of torture?

    MR. McCLELLAN: No, you're mischaracterizing things. And I'm not going to get into discussions we have --

    Q Can you give me a straight answer for once?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Let me give it to you, just like the President has. We do not torture. He does not condone torture and he would never --

    Q I'm asking about exemptions.

    MR. McCLELLAN: Let me respond. And he would never authorize the use of torture. We have an obligation to do all that we can to protect the American people. We are engaged --

    Q That's not the answer I'm asking for --

    MR. McCLELLAN: It is an answer -- because the American people want to know that we are doing all within our power to prevent terrorist attacks from happening. There are people in this world who want to spread a hateful ideology that is based on killing innocent men, women and children. We saw what they can do on September 11th --

    Q He didn't ask for an exemption --

    MR. McCLELLAN: -- and we are going to --

    Q -- answer that one question. I'm asking, is the administration asking for an exemption?

    MR. McCLELLAN: I am answering your question. The President has made it very clear that we are going to do --

    Q You're not answering -- yes or no?

    MR. McCLELLAN: No, you don't want the American people to hear what the facts are, Helen, and I'm going to tell them the facts.

    Q -- the American people every day. I'm asking you, yes or no, did we ask for an exemption?

    MR. McCLELLAN: And let me respond. You've had your opportunity to ask the question. Now I'm going to respond to it.

    Q If you could answer in a straight way.

    MR. McCLELLAN: And I'm going to answer it, just like the President -- I just did, and the President has answered it numerous times.

    Q -- yes or no --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Our most important responsibility is to protect the American people. We are engaged in a global war against Islamic radicals who are intent on spreading a hateful ideology, and intent on killing innocent men, women and children.

    Q Did we ask for an exemption?

    MR. McCLELLAN: We are going to do what is necessary to protect the American people.

    Q Is that the answer?

    MR. McCLELLAN: We are also going to do so in a way that adheres to our laws and to our values. We have made that very clear. The President directed everybody within this government that we do not engage in torture. We will not torture. He made that very clear.

    Q Are you denying we asked for an exemption?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, we will continue to work with the Congress on the issue that you brought up. The way you characterize it, that we're asking for exemption from torture, is just flat-out false, because there are laws that are on the books that prohibit the use of torture. And we adhere to those laws.

    Q We did ask for an exemption; is that right? I mean, be simple -- this is a very simple question.

    MR. McCLELLAN: I just answered your question. The President answered it last week.

    Q What are we asking for?

    Q Would you characterize what we're asking for?

    MR. McCLELLAN: We're asking to do what is necessary to protect the American people in a way that is consistent with our laws and our treaty obligations. And that's what we --

    Q Why does the CIA need an exemption from the military?

    MR. McCLELLAN: David, let's talk about people that you're talking about who have been brought to justice and captured. You're talking about people like Khalid Shaykh Muhammad; people like Abu Zubaydah.

    Q I'm asking you --

    MR. McCLELLAN: No, this is facts about what you're talking about.

    Q Why does the CIA need an exemption from rules that would govern the conduct of our military in interrogation practices?

    MR. McCLELLAN: There are already laws and rules that are on the books, and we follow those laws and rules. What we need to make sure is that we are able to carry out the war on terrorism as effectively as possible, not only --

    Q What does that mean --

    MR. McCLELLAN: What I'm telling you right now -- not only to protect Americans from an attack, but to prevent an attack from happening in the first place. And, you bet, when we capture terrorist leaders, we are going to seek to find out information that will protect -- that prevent attacks from happening in the first place. But we have an obligation to do so. Our military knows this; all people within the United States government know this. We have an obligation to do so in a way that is consistent with our laws and values.

    Now, the people that you are bringing up -- you're talking about in the context, and I think it's important for the American people to know, are people like Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi Binalshibh -- these are -- these are dangerous killers.

    Q So they're all killers --

    Q Did you ask for an exemption on torture? That's a simple question, yes or no.

    MR. McCLELLAN: No. And we have not. That's what I told you at the beginning.

    Q You want to reserve the ability to use tougher tactics with those individuals who you mentioned.

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, obviously, you have a different view from the American people. I think the American people understand the importance of doing everything within our power and within our laws to protect the American people.

    Q Scott, are you saying that Cheney did not ask --

    Q What is it that you want the -- what is it that you want the CIA to be able to do that the U.S. Armed Forces are not allowed to do?

    MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into talking about national security matters, Bill. I don't do that, because this involves --

    Q This would be the exemption, in other words.

    MR. McCLELLAN: This involves information that relates to doing all we can to protect the American people. And if you have a different view -- obviously, some of you on this room -- in this room have a different view, some of you on the front row have a different view.

    Q We simply are asking a question.

    Q What is the Vice President -- what is the Vice President asking for?

    MR. McCLELLAN: It's spelled out in our statement of administration policy in terms of what our views are. That's very public information. In terms of our discussions with members of Congress --

    Q -- no, it's not --

    MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of our members -- like I said, there are already laws on the books that we have to adhere to and abide by, and we do. And we believe that those laws and those obligations address these issues.

    Q So then why is the Vice President continuing to lobby on this issue? If you're very happy with the laws on the books, what needs change?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you asked me -- you want to ask questions of the Vice President's office, feel free to do that. We've made our position very clear, and it's spelled out on our website for everybody to see.

    Q We don't need a website, we need you from the podium.

    MR. McCLELLAN: And what I just told you is what our view is.

    Q But Scott, do you see the contradiction --

    Yup, he's a straight shooter.


    Is Pat Robertson Completely Senile?

    The scary thing is, people listen to this guy.

    Via Washington Post:

    Pat Robertson on Sunday said that the tornado in Indiana and Kentucky was God’s way of expressing His anger at the actor Warren Beatty and his wife, Annette Bening for trying to disrupt yesterday’s speech by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at a campaign rally in San Diego. “By choosing to disrupt this national event, these Hollywood elites have clearly invited God’s wrath,” Robertson said on ‘The 700 Club’ on Sunday. “Is it any surprise that the Almighty chose to strike at a town on the opposite side of the country?”

    And you wonder why Democrats and moderate Republicans don't want ideologues part of the governmental process.


    Winter Wardrobe

    I need to add this shirt to my collection:

    Where's the Financial Responsibility?

    Republicans have been patting themselves on the back for a measure that cuts spending by 35-50 billion over the next 5 years. That sounds like a lot of money until you consider that Bush's tax cuts result in the loss of 70 billion in revenue through 2010 and that the government spends 2.5 trillion a year. It's not all Bush's fault; the House and Senate have avoided dealing with these issues directly themselves (with exceptions).

    Let's look at some facts. Unfunded liabilities (e.g. Social Security, Medicare) totaled 20.4 trillion in 2000. In 2004 they reached 43.3 trillion, largely due to tax cuts and Congress's increased spending (the number of pork projects in spending bills is up by the thousands under Bush. If I remember correctly, the Transportation Bill recently passed by Republicans had 13,000+ pork projects, including the infamous Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska). Spending has increased twice as much under Bush than it did under Clinton. Even if you remove defense and homeland security spending, it is still up 22%.

    Our gross national debt is over 8 trillion. Who holds that debt? A considerable portion comes from Japan and China. I don't know about you, but that makes me uncomfortable.

    We need some serious restrictions on spending in Congress. Senator Kent Conrad, D-N.D., is trying to reinstall Pay-Go (started under the first Bush), a program that caps discretionary spending and requires new spending to be offset with cuts elsewhere. We also need fiscally responsible policy/spending, like Jay Inslee's, D-WA, New Apollo Energy Bill.

    This is not to say that a lot of pork and spending isn't done by Democrats. And not all Republicans are spending maniacs. But I do see many more Democrats trying to find solutions to these problems. Or, at the very least Republicans need to start standing up to the Administration and their irresponsible policies (which is starting to happen more frequently).

    People need to start making noise about these issues before our country finds itself in a very difficult financial position.


    U.S. and Torture

    Via 1155.org:

    "Fact: at least 4 prisoners have been killed (tortured to death?) by the CIA and/or its subcontractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Fact: the Justice Department has declared its intention of bringing no charges against any CIA employee for said deaths.

    Fact: no one seemed to particularly care when this was announced. There was no outcry either in the blogosphere or in the traditional media.

    Fact stranger than fiction: Now everyone is outraged and agitated because it seems that the U.S. has:

    “been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement” , and because this “secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe”.

    Will someone other than Scott McClellan please explain to me why this is more outrageous than prisoners being killed by interrogators practicing interrogation techniques that are in gross violation of the Geneva convention? And the U.S. government deciding that there was no harm no foul. That no one even needs to get their knuckles rapped. Since when does torture trump murder on the moral outrage scale?

    Question: Would anyone care to speculate on the correct answer to this one? If x is the number of prisoners who were tortured to death in non-secret detention facilities where the deaths would come to light and inquiries would have to be held, and y is the number of prisoners tortured to death in secret detention facilities where such deaths will never come to light, which is likely to be greater, x or y?

    Fiction: The Bush administration will, in stark contrast to every previous action with respect to prisoner detention and interrogation, acknowledge what they did, and admit it was wrong, and apologize for bringing shame and dishonor to the American people. Everyone involved, including Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, will resign. One of these three will be unable to live with the guilt, and will commit suicide.

    Fact: The foreign governments that are alleged to be the host countries for these secret detention facilities have vociferously denied their existence.

    Fact or fiction: everyone concerned, except for Dana Priest of the Washington Post, is telling the truth."

    How can the US claim any type of moral superiority in the world when we act no better than the worst 3rd world dictator?


    Alito and Abortion

    Seems like all I have time for these days is to link to interesting or informative articles. A lot of talk is flying around Alito and whether or not he would overturn Roe v. Wade. Paul Kemp (a lawyer and author) read the particular case in question (Casey v. Planned Parenthood) and offers his legal perspective.

    "Abortion is a hot-button issue for many folks. So when the President nominated Alito to replace Sandra Day O'Conner on the Supreme Court, his written opinions relating to abortion naturally came under scrutiny. Since then, most of the left-leaning blogs/commentators I've heard/read, have prophesied in dire tones about how Alito would overturn Roe v. Wade (for those of you not in the U.S. -- Roe is the seminal case in abortion rights law) and thereby allow states to outlaw abortions altogether. To support this claim, they point to Alito's written dissent in Casey v. Planned Parenthood. I've read Alito's opinion in Casey and it doesn't support that claim. In fact, I find Alito's dissent persuasive, moreso than the majority opinion. I'll explain why.

    At issue in Casey was a Pennsylvania statute that regulated access to abortion. The statute required that, before undergoing the procedure, a woman receive certain information relating to the procedure and its effects, that she not receive the abortion until 24 hours after receiving that information, that minors obtain parental consent before undergoing the procedure (with provision for a judicial bypass), and that a married woman sign a statement that she has informed her husband of her intent to proceed with the abortion (or meeet one of the statutory exemptions from this requirement, such as, a reasonable fear of physical abuse, husband is not the father, etc.).

    In analyzing this issue, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals applied the standard applicable to abortion regulations as set down by the Supreme Court (Justice O'Conner, in fact)-- namely, whether the regulation at issue imposes an "undue burden" on a woman's freedom to decide whether to receive an abortion. The Third Circuit majority applied the undue burden test to each of the regulations set forth above and found that all of them were constitutional (i.e., they did NOT impose an undue burden) except the spousal notification requirement. Why? The majority reasoned that some subset of women who would otherwise obtain an abortion would not do so out of fear of various forms of retaliation (financial, physical, psychological, etc.) by their husbands if they, in fact, were forced to inform their husbands. Thus, the regulation imposed an undue burden on that subset of women. This focus on a subset of women was intentional by the court (in fact it was necessary if they were to reach their conclusion). In the majority's view, "where it is clear that a governmental regulation will restrict the ability of some women to choose an abortion, we believe that the issue of whether there is an undue burden turns on the degree of restriction that the affected women will experience."

    Alito filed a dissent in the case. He agreed with the majority's holding on the rest of the regulations (namely, that each was constitutional) but disagreed with the majority's holding that the spousal notification requirement was unconstitutional. Why? His opinion gets at the problem with the undue burden test as applied by the majority -- namely, the unit of analysis. Alito pointed to evidence introduced at trial that tended to show that of all abortions performed, married women account for only about thirty-percent. And that of that thirty percent, about ninety-five percent do, in fact, inform their husbands. And that of the five percent remaining, some percentage would qualify for one of the statutory exemptions to the spousal notice provision. That means that of all married women who want abortions, some percentage less than five percent will be deterred from getting an abortion they otherwise would get but for the spousal notification requirement.

    You see the unit of analysis problem here? The majority is applying the undue burden test not to all the women regulated by the statute (i.e., married women) but to a subset of those women, namely, those whose circumstances would make them want to avoid notifying their husbands. Alito, on the other hand, is analyzing the issue by looking at the universe of women regulated by the statute. In this case, I find Alito's reasoning much more persuasive. Why? Because if the analysis of undue burden focuses not on ALL those regulated by the statute (as Alito did in his opinion) but instead on a subset of those regulated by the statute (as the majority did), the outcome of the test is determined by the definition of the subset. Essentially, any judge that wanted a regulation to fail the undue burden test could say this: "Let's find a subset of the regulated persons for whom the regulation creates an undue burden, and then ask if the regulation creates an undue burden."

    The problem with that kind of analysis is obvious: the logic has no limit. It will always be true that some subset of regulated persons is unduly burdened by a given regulation. In fact, that kind of analysis leaves LOTS of room for judges to predetermine results by carefully selecting the subset the judge will use as his or her unit of analysis. Alito's analysis has the virtue of taking that choice out of the judges' hands -- ALL of those regulated by the statute are to be the unit of analysis.

    Anyway, this is not and is not meant to be an endorsement of Alito. I don't yet know enough about him. Nor is it an argument that Pennsylvania's law was good public policy. I merely wanted to vent a bit about the partisan misrepresentation that goes on all too frequently. I also wanted to point out that there was nothing in Alito's dissent in Casey that suggested to me an intent to overturn Roe or that otherwise indicated a judge run amok. Finally, I also wanted all of us to think about the appropriate role for a federal judge in a democracy.

    A postscript: I've seen similar misrepresentations on Alito's views of the Family Leave Act. Democratic partisans shout that Alito is "against the FMLA." But I believe Alito's opinion on FMLA was limited to the question of whether or not the federal government, through Congress, could impose the requirements of FMLA on state employees (i.e., those workers who are direct employees of a state). If true, this does not show hostility to FMLA. It simply suggests a great deference for state's rights and federalism(whether rightly or wrongly). Even in Alito's world, the FMLA would continue to apply to all private employers."


    A Real Energy Policy

    My local Congressman, Jay Inslee, has introduced an energy policy called the New Apollo Energy Act. It is the kind of visionary policy we really need right now. Look it over and then email your representative and ask them about it.

    As you may know, I recently introduced in the House of Representatives the New Apollo Energy Act, H.R. 2828, which seeks to solve, with more tangible long-term results, the problems that H.R. 3893 fails to address.

    The New Apollo Energy Act specifically addresses the shortcomings in our current energy policy, where an overwhelming percent of taxpayer dollars goes to oil and gas industries. New Apollo advances a vision for this country's energy future that relies on American technological prowess and can-do spirit, engaging an investment in clean energy that will create millions of domestic jobs - jobs that we are now losing to Japan, Germany and Denmark because the White House has avoided taking a stand on renewable energy policy. Washington State, with its hi-tech infrastructure and historic creativity, is poised to benefit from a clean energy investment. New Apollo envisions an energy policy where America leads the world in clean energy jobs and where an American President will not have to walk hand in hand with the Saudi royal family to lower our energy prices. New Apollo does this at no cost to the taxpayer, as the program is built to be self sufficient.

    Key features of the New Apollo Energy Act:

    *Clean Energy: New Apollo provides $49 billion in government loan guarantees for the construction of clean-energy generation facilities that will produce power from wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, oceans, coal with carbon-sequestration technology, and other sources. The legislation also commits $10.5 billion to research-and-development and investment tax credits for clean energy-producing operations. In addition, it includes a 10-year extension of the current tax credit for electricity generated from clean sources.

    * Oil Savings: The boosts for clean energy and efficiency will make it possible to meet New Apollo's call for notable reductions in daily domestic oil consumption -- cuts of 600,000 barrels a day by 2010, 1,700,000 barrels by 2015, and 3,000,000 barrels by 2020. These numbers are estimates of the amount of oil the United States would soon be importing daily from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the entire Middle East, respectively, without a change in current policy.

    * Fuel Efficiency: The best way to generate energy is to not waste it, so New Apollo includes incentives for American consumers to drive fuel-efficient vehicles, including tax credits for the purchase of hybrid, alternative-fuel, low-emission advanced diesel, and fuel-cell vehicles. It also provides $11.5 billion in tax credits for the automotive and aerospace industries to develop new fuel efficient automobiles and planes, retool existing plants, and construct new plants to manufacture energy efficient vehicles.

    * Global Warming and Greenhouse Gas Emissions: New Apollo enacts a proposal similar to the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act by capping our emissions of greenhouse gases while allowing companies to purchase and trade credits among themselves to ensure the most cost-effective reductions, and funding research to help industries make the shift to cleaner operations. The bill targets one of the biggest greenhouse-gas offenders -- coal -- by providing $7 billion in loan guarantees for the development of clean coal power plants.

    * Clean Energy Jobs: New Apollo will close the existing technology gap with foreign competitors by investing billions of dollars in new federal research into advanced clean technologies, and creating a government-funded risk pool to help struggling start-up clean-energy companies commercialize their products. One study by the Apollo Alliance has found that a substantial federal commitment to clean energy could yield up to 3.3 million jobs nationally.

    * Renewable Portfolio: New Apollo contains a Renewable Portfolio Standard requiring all utilities, by 2021, to produce 10 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources.

    * Energy Transmission: New Apollo creates national net-metering and interconnection standards that allow homeowners who generate clean energy to reduce their energy bills by feeding surplus electricity back into the grid. New Apollo additionally increases regulatory oversight of energy trading markets, which was a problem during Enron's manipulation of the West Coast energy crisis.

    New Apollo is revenue neutral, meaning it does not increase the federal deficit. It pays for itself by closing abusive corporate tax shelters and loopholes, and through auctioning off some of the allowances under the carbon dioxide trading program.

    Other significant features in New Apollo:

    Reducing Petroleum Dependence:

    *An alternative fuel vehicle purchase requirement for government agencies.
    *Tax credits for the installation of alternative refueling properties.
    *Tax credits for the retail sale of alternative fuels.
    *A renewable fuels standard set at 8 billion gallons by 2013.
    *Modification of the tax credit for qualified electric vehicles.
    *Loans for schools to buy high-efficiency vehicles.
    *Ethanol-blended gasoline and bio-diesel government agency purchase requirements.

    Clean Energy Economy:

    *Federal support for the commercialization of carbon sequestration, coal gasification, and low emission coal technologies.

    *Tax credits for the installation of minimum emission coal technologies.
    *An order for the Secretary of Energy to create a credit for the creation of new electricity transmission lines to receive power from remote clean resources.

    *Tax credits for energy efficient recycling and remanufacturing units.
    *Requirement that the Secretary of Interior standardize right-of-way requirements for wind projects.
    *Requirement that government agencies reduce energy consumption and use clean energy.
    *Permanent extension of the Energy Savings Performance Contracts.
    *Tradable renewable resource credits for public utilities.
    *Establishment of a new energy commission to certify new technologies that qualify for credits under New Apollo.
    *Tax credits for distributed energy generation and demand management property in residences and businesses.
    *Tax credits for fly-wheel properties.
    *Requires new federal buildings to be constructed using the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design's (LEED) silver standard for energy efficiency.


    *$36 billion in new federal research authorizations for advanced clean technologies, fusion power, and technologies focusing on existing energy sources.

    *Federal support for the commercialization of clean technologies.
    *Improved coordination of technology transfer activities.
    *Establishment of a clean energy technology export program.
    *Renewable energy lending requirements for the Export-Import Bank.
    *Grants to improve mass transit programs.
    *Grants for sewer and water energy improvements.
    *Tax credits for the construction of energy efficient homes and commercial properties.

    Consumer Protections:

    *Funding for LIHEAP and weatherization projects.
    *Implementing energy efficiency standards for certain appliances, and provides tax credits for the production of energy efficient appliances.

    *Establishing a national energy efficient home mortgage association.
    *Requiring the President to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
    *Requiring the Secretary of Energy to issue Energy Star regulations for solar water heating devices.


    Sylvia Earle, the renowned marine biologist and explorer had a sobering discussion recently. Here is the take, as told over at Cosmic Variance:

    Yesterday a friend of mine told me a story that she was told by a friend of hers, well-known explorer Sylvia Earle. Apparently Earle found herself at a fancy White House dinner, seated next to Trent Lott of all people. Innocent that she is, Earle thought this would be a great opportunity to explain to him the various ways in which our activities are wreaking havoc with the environment, in the oceans as well as in the atmosphere. After listening patiently to her over the course of dinner, at the end Lott nodded his head and said, But you have to understand that the long-term fate of the Earth doesn’t really matter to us, since everything will be re-arranged when the Lord returns on Judgment Day.

    These are the people in charge of our country. Are you nervous yet?


    The Beauty of Language

    The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

    Here are this year's {2005} winners

    1. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until
    you realize it was your money to start with.

    2. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

    3. Bozone (n.) The substance surrounding stupid people that stops
    bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows
    little sign of breaking down in the near future.

    4. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of
    getting laid.

    5. Cashtration (n.) The act of buying a house, which renders the
    subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

    6. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

    7. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the
    person who doesn't get it.

    8. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

    9. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

    10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

    11. Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these
    really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's
    like, a serious bummer.

    12. Decafalon (n.) The grueling event of getting through the day
    consuming only things that are good for you.

    13. Glibido: All talk and no action.

    14. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when
    they come at you rapidly.

    15. Arachnoleptic fit (n.) The frantic dance performed just after
    you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

    16. Beelzebug (n.) Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into
    your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

    17. Caterpallor (n.) The color you turn after finding half a worm in
    the fruit you're eating.

    And the pick of the literature

    18. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole


    Bush Wouldn't Get Lucky Twice

    If a presidential election were held this year, Bush would lose according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll. Fifty-five percent of respondents would vote for a democrat. This isn't surprising considering how badly the Bush administration has bungled the job of governing. However, a larger issue is this: what did the 51% of Americans who voted for Bush a second time expect would happen? He did a shitty job in his first term. Did they think that all of a sudden he would metamorphosize into an uber-leader? As far as I'm concerned, if you voted for Bush in the second election, you have no right to complain. You buried your head in the sand, ignored the multiple lines of evidence that demonstrated the failure and ineptitude of his administration, and voted for him anyway. The result? Continued problems in Iraq; record levels of opium exportation from Afghanistan; abuse/misuse of science; irresponsible fiscal policies; terrible foreign relations; potential criminal acts among his staff; blatantly unqualified Supreme Court nominee, among many other issues. This doesn't even include the DeLay and Frist fiascos. There is no doubt that in 50 years time, history will have very little good to say about President Bush's two terms in office.

    On another topic, have you watched or read the daily press briefings from the White House. So far, I have never seen Scott Mclellan actually answer a straightforward question. It is literally sentence after sentence of bullshit. Ari Fleischer at least gave legitimate responses. How can you trust your government when they cannot provide honest answers to clear questions. Again, is it any wonder that Bush's approval rating is 38%?

    The Truth

    Al Franken's new book is out, The Truth (with jokes). Here's an inside look of what it's about:


    They told us that when we invaded, we'd be greeted with sweets and flowers. They left out the crucial modifier: "exploding."

    George W. Bush wants to amend our Constitution to make it illegal for gays to marry. But evidently, he has no problem with terrorists getting married. America can't afford a president who is soft on terrorist marriage. Because unlike gays, terrorists can breed.

    The FristCam Act of 2005 would place a video camera in every one of America's Intensive Care Units. The FristCams would pan the ICUs, and the Senate Majority Leader would give each patient a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down.

    Bin Laden must have been furious. Here he had gone to all this trouble to murder thousands of Americans, and Saddam—Saddam, the infidel!—was getting all the credit! Who was the head of al Qaeda?! Who was funding al Qaeda?! Somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border there was a very angry terrorist mastermind.

    From what I understand, if you cut out all the passages in the Bible where Jesus talks about the poor, about helping out the least among us, you'd have the perfect container to smuggle Rush Limbaugh's drugs in.

    The number Bush kept using, $11 trillion, represented the total shortfall from now until the year Infinity. If you think about it, $11 trillion over Infinity years is nothing. Over the first 11 trillion years, that's just one dollar a year. Easy. After that, it's over. You're done. What, exactly, is the problem?

    Good Stuff

    "They Tried To Teach My Baby Science"


    A Plan for Iraq

    Via Daily Kos:

    Bryan Lentz was the featured Fighting Dem this past Tuesday. Asked about Iraq, Lentz gave a great answer and I asked him to write it up for this site. Here it is:


    By Bryan Lentz

    As many of you already know, I am a candidate in Pennsylvania's Seventh congressional district, which encompasses Delaware County, and parts of Chester and Montgomery counties, in southeast Pennsylvania. There is no reason that suburban Philadelphia should be represented by an extremist, conservative congressmen like Curt Weldon, who among other things has voted to eviscerate workers' rights and who opposes stem cell research.

    Weldon is also a senior member of the Republican-led House Armed Services Committee and a key architect of the Bush administration's disastrous Iraq policy.

    Having served for a year in Iraq, where I oversaw civil reconstruction in and around the city of Mosul as a Major in the United States Army, I can offer a good deal of expertise on the war.

    I've spoken with friends and neighbors in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, where I live, and throughout the district. Some were in favor of the war before it began; others were opposed. But all agree that the Bush administration failed to gather solid pre-war intelligence and botched the post-war reconstruction effort. Sadly, we can't turn the clock back and reverse George Bush and Curt Weldon's incompetence. But we can do two things to inspire optimism in this wars two great constituencies; the American people and the Iraqi people:

    First, we can (and should) establish a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The president and his supporters have suggested that establishing a timeline would only embolden the enemy. This is false. Our current problem is not that we plan too much; it's that the Bush dministration has planned too little. History and experience make clear the price to be paid by such a failure.

    The current open ended, bottomless strategy has weakened morale among U.S. troops and U.S. citizens, made it more difficult for the National Guard and Reserve units to meet their enlistment targets, and engendered despair among ordinary Iraqis who see no end in sight to America's military presence in their country. This is bad for the war effort, and bad for homeland security, as we are unable to effectively deal with natural and man made disasters at home when Guard and Reserve units are spread thin.

    The Powell doctrine which grew out of our failure in Vietnam recognized that representative democracies cannot sustain open ended wars; their citizens will not tolerate them and they have devastating effects on a nations ability to maintain a robust national defense.

    By establishing clear obtainable objectives, meaningful benchmarks and a real timeline for withdrawal, we can boost the morale of American servicemen and servicewomen, help stave off the mounting crisis of confidence among the Iraqi people, and convince a skeptical American public that there is an end in sight.

    Second, we need to radically overhaul the reconstruction effort. Thus far, it has been an unmitigated failure. Today, roughly half of all Iraqi households are still without clean water, the average household is without electricity for 10 hours each day, and (outside of Baghdad) only 8 percent of households enjoy access to a sewage system. The reconstruction fiasco has created a drag on Iraq's economy - nearly 50 percent of the country is under-employed or unemployed - fertile ground for political instability, terrorism and a growing insurgency.

    Whether one was for or against the war in the first place we have an obligation now to ourselves and the Iraqi people to do finish this properly.

    I believe in the Iraqi people. I believe in their future. They're very much like us: they want good schools for their kids, safe streets, and normal lives. But they can't be expected to build a stable and democratic country or believe in their own futures until basic infrastructure needs have been met.

    We need to remove reconstruction command authority from civilians and place it directly in the hands of the military; and, we need to transfer as many of the reconstruction contracts as possible directly to Iraqi firms. Not one cent of the remaining taxpayer money that we sent to rebuild Iraq should go into the pockets of American firms profiting from this war. The American and multinational companies that are currently handling reconstruction in Iraq have all been awarded "cost-plus" contracts which assure them a profit and leave them no economic incentive to actually finish the jobs they've been hired to undertake. As a result, enormous sums of money have been diverted to security services for American contractors, and generous salaries for American businessmen working in Iraq.

    I have witnessed this madness first hand, and it has to stop. Iraqi firms have proven that they can get the job done quicker and cheaper. In Karbala and Kut, two Iraqi firms spent a total of $185 million to build twin water treatment facilities. By contrast, a partnership between two London-based and California-based companies spent $200 million to build just one water treatment plant.

    When we transfer reconstruction authority from civilian officials to American military officials, and when we put an end to cost-plus contracts by shifting the bulk of the reconstruction to Iraqi firms, we will effectively give a boost to the Iraqi economy and speed up the restoration of Iraq's infrastructure. The sooner we do these things, the sooner we can bring our soldiers home and refocus our national defense on the many other threats to our security that have nothing to do with Iraq.

    The Republicans will try to brand Democrats - and all other critics of the war effort - as "anti-war." It's a cheap trick that suits their purpose. Nobody wants to be "against" our servicemen and servicewomen.

    But this is not a question of being "pro-war" or "anti-war." It's about acting now to stop the spiral of failure that George Bush, Curt Weldon and the Republican party have created.

    We must succeed, and Democrats can stake out a firm position in favor of competency and success. And that's exactly what I am doing in this congressional race, and what I will do in Washington.


    A New Way to Learn

    The journal Nature has a great new feature. Every week they now provide a 20 minute podcast about the current week's issue. Dr. Chris Smith discusses some of the new research and interviews the actual scientists involved. You don't have to be an expert to understand what their saying; this is for the lay person. Just copy this url:


    into your preferred MP3 player (e.g. iTunes) and give it a listen.


    A Democracy Threatened?

    Over at the Chicago Law School Blog is a post concerning the state of India's democracy, and how close religious extremism was to threatening the pluralism implicit in India's constitution (as recent as 2002). It is also an essay of the success of democracy when the people are willing to take part. Excellent overall and there are more postings forthcoming, according to the author. To read, click here.


    Rights & Responsibilities

    I've been an atheist for quite a while now and have spent a lot of time thinking about what that means for my life. While I've come to my own personal conclusions, someone has conveniently provided an Atheistic Rights and Responsibilities list. Here it is:

    As an atheist you have a number of rights and responsibilities. These include (but are not limited to):

    1. Have no gods.
    2. Don't worship stuff.
    3. Be polite.
    4. Take a day off once in a while.
    5. Be nice to folks.
    6. Don't kill people.
    7. Don't fool around on your significant other.
    8. Don't steal stuff.
    9. Don't lie about stuff.
    10. Don't be greedy.

    Remember, theists will condemn you for living by this code because you are doing it of your own free will instead of because you're afraid that if you don't a supreme being will set you on fire.

    So, if you were wondering what it means to be an atheist, there you are. If you would like to declare it to the world, click here.


    Can You Guess What Happened?


    This is a classis case of the snake's eyes being bigger than its stomach (as my mom would say). This is the first time I've ever seen anything like this with a snake. I would think that a snake has some intuitive sense as to how large an animal it can consume. Did the sense break down or did the snake have an anatomical/physiological problem? Pretty gross either way.

    New Links

    I've added to my blog roll (on the right) for any interested readers. The Becker-Posner blog is an economic/law blog. Becker won the Nobel Prize in Economics and Posner is a judge. The Chicago Law School blog is run by the faculty and, not surprisingly, covers a range of legal issues. Crooked Timber concerns a variety of topics ranging from politics to news and science. All three blogs are intelligent and well written (much more so than mine, alas). 1115.org is mostly political (on the liberal side). Daily Kos is a very liberal political blog (If you're a conservative, this site isn't for you, unless you have a really open mind). Mind Hacks concerns psychology, an area I don't know a whole lot about so it seemed appropriate to have at least one site I can learn from. Lastly, Deep Sea News if you are interested in deep sea biology/marine biology (like the recent news of the giant squid).

    Also, I've vastly improved my life by downloading RSS Bandit, a newsreader that aggregates all my blogs in a single place (sort of like an Outlook system). So, if you read a lot of blogs and want to save on time, give it a shot. Works great.