Monday, July 31, 2006

POLITICS - Federal Government According to "King George"

"Who Needs Congress or Courts With Bush in Charge?" by Ann Woolner, Bloomberg

Congress passes a law that says the U.S. won't torture people. The president says OK, we won't -- unless we really need to, thus adopting an exception Congress had specifically and vociferously rejected.

Congress passes the Sarbanes-Oxley law to reform business practices. In signing it, the president issues a statement to cut back on protection for corporate whistle-blowers.

Congress passes a law telling the administration to inform it on specific matters. The president issues statements saying he won't disclose anything he doesn't think he should.

So Congress tells him to notify it when he decides to ignore a law. He repeats that he will disclose only what he thinks he should, claiming, as he always does, constitutional authority to resist.

As of July 11, President George W. Bush had said no (or, not unless I want to) to 807 provisions enacted by Congress that he signed into law, according to Christopher Kelley, a political science professor at the University of Miami, Ohio.

That number compares to some 600 provisions challenged by all of Bush's predecessors combined, says Kelley. He has been studying presidential signing statements for a decade, and his work is backed up by other scholars.

Now comes a bipartisan American Bar Association task force, which concluded this week that presidential signing statements such as Bush's are "contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional separation of powers.''

Equal Branches (reformatted):

  • The Congress writes the laws
  • The president executes them
  • The courts decide whether they violate the Constitution

When a president claims he can rewrite a law before executing it, he is acting as all three branches.

In essences, if not fact, Bush says because of the one Constitutional clause that gives the President the job of protecting America, he has the right to ignore all other parts of the Constitution. Including the Bill of Rights. As if any one part of our Constitution overrides another.

There is no way I can know what my readers were taught in school, but the equal Constitutional powers of the 3 branches of our federal government stated above was what I was taught and firmly believe.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

POLITICS - "GOP Trump Card" A Horror Story, Coming to Your Neighborhood

Staring: Newt Gingrich, Condoleezza Rice, and Donny Rumsfeld
Directed by G.W. Bush

"World War III: The GOP's Ultimate Trump Card?" by Randolph T. Holhut, OpEd News

We know that the Republican Party, the party of incompetence and corruption, is in big trouble heading into November's congressional elections.

We also know that fear is the only card the GOP has left to play.

That's why it makes perfect sense for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other right-wing luminaries to be saying right now that the United States is currently engaged in World War III.

It's not just hot air, though. They are floating a trial balloon for something that should send a chill down everyone's spine - transforming the current so-called war on terror from a limited war into a total reorientation of our society, economy and politics toward a total, all-out global war.

Gingrich recently told The Seattle Times that he wants President Bush to recognize that this nation is in a new world war and to say so.

Public opinion, Gingrich said, will change "the minute you use the language of World War III." He said the message then becomes, "OK, if we're in the third world war, which side do you think should win?"

Pre-show tickets now on sale at your local GOP offices. Price, your vote for GOP candidates next election.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

POLITICS - U.S. Wrong-Headed Mideast Policy

"U.S. Mideast Policy: No Dialogue?" Institute for Public Accuracy

In February this year, three former U.S. diplomats toured the Mideast as part of an independent delegation and met with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, President Emile Lahoud of Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah, various Hamas officials and Amr Mousa, secretary general of the Arab League.

The above is a link-list of former U.S. diplomats who made this tour.

The Middle East has always been a problem, at least for decades, but it is going to hell-in-a-handbasket of late. We need better policy makers in Washington DC, NOW.

POLITICS - Yet Another Example of "Success" in the New Afghanistan's "Democracy"

"Women Back under Wraps with Taliban Vice Squad" by Christina Lamb, Common Dreams

Afghanistan's notorious Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which was set up by the Taliban to enforce bans on women doing anything from working to wearing nail varnish or laughing out loud, is to be recreated by the Government in Kabul.

The decision has provoked an outcry among women and human rights activists who fear a return to the days when religious police patrolled the streets, beating or arresting any woman who was not properly covered by a burka or accompanied by a male relative. re-establish the department, and the measure will go to Afghanistan's parliament when it reconvenes. The conservative complexion of the assembly makes it likely to be passed.

"This is a very bad idea at a bad time," said Sam Zia-Zarifi, the Asia research director of Human Rights Watch. "We're close to the edge in Afghanistan. It really could all go wrong and it is alarming that the United Nations and Western governments are not speaking out on this issue."

President Hamid Karzai's cabinet has approved the proposal to will be an organization which will work on promoting morality in society as it exists in any other Islamic country."

Nematullah Shahrani, the religious affairs minister who will oversee the department, claims it will focus on alcohol, drugs, crime and corruption. But critics say that Afghanistan's criminal laws already address these issues and claim that once the department has been re-established, it will be easy to misuse.

Yes, another Bush policy is triumphant. We are bring Democracy to another Muslim nation. NOT

This just shows the Bush policy-makers have no clue when it comes to Muslim nations and people.

POLITICS - Aha, Yes, Another Fine Example of Bush's Promised Ethical Government

"Interior Report: Indian trust officials violated ethics rules in contract awards" by Edward T. Pound, US News & World Report

In a blistering report, the Interior Department's top investigator says that senior officials who manage $3.2 billion in Indian trust funds pressured subordinates to award lucrative contracts to executives with whom the officials enjoyed close social ties.

According to the report, officials in the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST), based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, often partied with executives of an Albuquerque accounting firm, Chavarria, Dunne & Lamey LLC. The officials and executives played golf together and exchanged gifts of meals and drinks over an eight-year period. During this time, the report says, the Chavarria firm won $6.6 million in sole source contracts.

"In summary, the report presents information that establishes that the conduct of four OST officials ....created an appearance of preferential treatment" for the Chavarria firm, Devaney says. Their actions, he went on to say, violate ethics rules and an internal OST memo that directs personnel to maintain "arms length dealings" with contractors.

Federal prosecutors in New Mexico reviewed the report, and declined to prosecute.

According to the report, OST issued a $150,000 sole source contract to the Chavarria firm in October 1998 to perform trust fund accounting and consulting work. The special trustee's office modified the contract over 50 times, "increasing the value of the award to over $6.6 million, all without competition," the report says.

Investigators said that between October 1998, when the initial contract was awarded, and February 2005, Erwin and the Lords brothers "socialized on numerous occasions" with the Chavarria executives and other contractors. Their report explains, "This included golfing at exclusive resorts together ... dining at upscale restaurants together, entertaining one another at their personal residences, and attending happy hours together on a regular basis."

It says that in September 2002, OST issued a memo directing personnel to maintain arms length relationships with contractors. However, it went on, "the socializing did not cease after the guidance was in place." OST officials and Chavarria executives particularly loved to play golf, sometimes at exclusive resorts, the report says. "These golf outings occurred during both official travel related to contract work and during non-duty hours," the report explains. "The golfing took place at exclusive resorts, private golf clubs, a local country club, and public golf courses spanning seven states ..."

So, we have another confirmation of the Bush definition of ethics and ethical government.
Ethical Government = Whatever Busine$$ Says

Friday, July 21, 2006

MIDDLE EAST - Lands of the Scorpion

"...Because It's The Middle East" by Bob Schieffer, Face the Nation

When the war broke out in the Middle East, I thought about the old story of the frog and the scorpion who were trying to cross a river there.

The scorpion couldn't swim and the frog was lost, so the scorpion proposed a deal: Give me a ride on your back and I'll show you the way.

The frog agreed and the trip went fine until they got to the middle of the river and the scorpion stung the frog. As they were sinking, the frog asked in his dying breath, "why would you do that?"

To which the scorpion replied, "because it is the Middle East."

The actual application of the parable is that in the Middle East the extremists, on all sides of the issues, "sting" any hope for peace. No matter what "they" say, they act like scorpions. They cannot seem to help it.

POLITICS - Godfather Bush Stops Investigation

"Cover-Up Exposed?" by Dan Froomkin, Washington Post

Amid all the other news yesterday, the attorney general's startling revelation that President Bush personally blocked a Justice Department investigation into the administration's controversial secret domestic spying programs hasn't gotten the attention it deserves.

Bush's move -- denying the requisite security clearances to attorneys from the department's ethics office -- is unprecedented in that office's history. It also comes in stark contrast to the enthusiastic way in which security clearances were dished out to a different group of attorneys: Those charged with finding out who leaked information about the program to the press.

It is not common for a president to personally intervene to stop an investigation of his own administration. The most notorious case, of course, was the Saturday Night Massacre of 1973, during which President Richard Nixon ordered the firing of Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor who had been appointed to investigate the Watergate scandal. Among the many major differences, however: In that case, Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus resigned rather than follow Nixon's order.

It's called "protecting your tokus" using the excuse of "National Security." A dictator's favorite tool.

POLITICS - GOP Congress Never Learns Form Mistakes

Here we go again.

"Oman Trade Pact Permits Foreign Ownership of U.S. Nat’l Security Assets" by David Sirota, Sortablog

In an explosive report tonight, top House Democrats discovered provisions in the controversial Oman Free Trade Agreement that would permit foreign ownership of U.S. ports and other key national security assets. Three Democrats and one Republican held an emergency press conference today to expose the provisions just before the House is scheduled to vote on the Oman pact on Thursday. As Reuters reports, "Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat who serves on the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, said the pact would allow companies such as Dubai Ports World to acquire U.S. port operations by establishing a shell company in Oman." Those provisions might also allow foreign ownership of other key national security assets, considering just after the recent Dubai Ports controversy, that country went ahead with plans to purchase a major U.S. defense contractor.

Last month, lawmakers from both parties in the U.S. Senate joined hands to pass the Oman Free Trade Agreement - which is being pushed aggressively by the Bush administration and its largest corporate donors. Lawmakers ignored major labor, human rights and environmental objections to the pact put forward by more than 400 union, religious and consumer groups. Among those voting for the pact in the Senate were Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT), two Senators facing tough re-election bids who could face renewed criticism in their home states that they have sold out their constituents.

Didn't we go through this just awhile back? Didn't a hew-and-cry go up on allowing foreign governments, and their agencies, access and control in the areas of "Homeland" security?

I am still of the opinion that when it comes to security issues like ports, only fully American owned and operated companies should be authorized.

OPINION - View From Germany, Lebanon

"Opinion: US Resorting to Heartless Tactics in the Middle East" 7/20/2006 by Peter Philipp, Deutsche Welle

After a week of massive airstrikes by the Israeli air force on Lebanon, Washington has said it will deploy US marines to the region. Not, like in 1957 and 1982, to restore peace and order in Lebanon, but rather to evacuate US citizens.

Peace and order have to wait. US President George W. Bush has made that more than clear. He is not willing to support immediate measures to end the war. He doesn't want to send his secretary of state on her way to the region for a few more days. In Washington, that will have to take "about another week."

Another week like the last one? With hundreds of civilian casualties, hundreds of thousands of refugees and billions in damage to the Lebanese infrastructure? It is absurd and inhuman to constitute a new order in Lebanon based on this suffering and misery of innocent people.

The US president apparently has a very limited perception. It seems the government in Jerusalem insinuated to him that it needs this one week to vitally weaken Hezbollah now and in the long term. The White House gives Jerusalem the go-ahead -- no matter how high the price.

Europe just does not understand Bush. He has only 3 dictums for his Presidency:
  • His way or no way
  • He is never wrong, no matter what the evidence says
  • If there is a 1% chance that "they" are dangerous, bomb the s**t out of them

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

POLITICS - Anger In the Wind

"Conservative Anger Grows Over Bush's Foreign Policy" by Michael Abramowitz, Washington Post

At a moment when his conservative coalition is already under strain over domestic policy, President Bush is facing a new and swiftly building backlash on the right over his handling of foreign affairs.

Conservative intellectuals and commentators who once lauded Bush for what they saw as a willingness to aggressively confront threats and advance U.S. interests said in interviews that they perceive timidity and confusion about long-standing problems including Iran and North Korea, as well as urgent new ones such as the latest crisis between Israel and Hezbollah.

"It is Topic A of every single conversation," said Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank that has had strong influence in staffing the administration and shaping its ideas. "I don't have a friend in the administration, on Capitol Hill or any part of the conservative foreign policy establishment who is not beside themselves with fury at the administration."

Conservatives complain that the United States is hunkered down in Iraq without enough troops or a strategy to crush the insurgency. They see autocrats in Egypt and Russia cracking down on dissenters with scant comment from Washington, North Korea firing missiles without consequence, and Iran playing for time to develop nuclear weapons while the Bush administration engages in fruitless diplomacy with European allies. They believe that a perception that the administration is weak and without options is emboldening Syria and Iran and the Hezbollah radicals they help sponsor in Lebanon.

Then again, the implication (if true) of this conservative anger is that America is not bombing, and otherwise killing our enemies, enough. But just how dangerous is this world-view. War before peace?

POLITICS - Fiscal Responsibility

"Guess who's more fiscally conservative?" by Froma Harrop, Rhode Island Journal

Back in 1949, the great Minnesota liberal Hubert Humphrey was pointedly asked on Meet the Press whether progressives like himself cared about holding down the costs of government. Humphrey answered yes, but "economy in government to me doesn't necessarily mean spending little. It means spending what you have and spending it well. . . ."

Fast-forward to a new study by the National Taxpayers Union Foundation. The group found that in 2005, House Democrats and Republicans voted to raise government outlays by nearly equal amounts, and that in the Senate, Republicans spent only somewhat less. The foundation's verdict was basically fie on both houses of Congress, and on both parties, too.

The problem with such surveys is that they don't address Humphrey's point -- that it's not simply a matter of how much politicians spend but also how well they spend it. The person who spends $40,000 on education may be a more prudent financial guardian than someone who leaves $20,000 at a casino.

As for White House comparisons, there's no contest. The current Republican administration leaves its Democratic predecessor in the dust for both amounts spent and money wasted. Bush is the biggest spender since Lyndon Johnson, according to the Cato Institute. In domestic discretionary spending (which doesn't include defense or entitlements), Bush has Johnson beat. By contrast, Bill Clinton stands as a paragon of restraint. Domestic discretionary spending jumped an average 8 percent a year in Bush's first term, versus only 2.5 percent a year in Clinton's eight years.

Many conservatives are amazed that Democrats haven't made more hay of their superior record in containing the size of government. The Democrats' dilemma is that they are not philosophically opposed to expanded government, even if in practice they have shown far more spending discipline.

Democrats really ought to brag about their Clintonian track record. Not only did they keep government growth in check, but they paid its bills the old-fashioned way, with tax revenues. That's what fiscal rectitude is all about. And it shines next to the Bush administration's disgraceful habit of borrowing on the backs of future generations.

Even more important, Democrats have spent the taxpayers' money with greater care. The reason, in part, is that Democrats don't maintain a childlike faith in the good intentions and can-do of the private sector. They believe in regulating these guys -- and that government can do some things better than can business.

Duh! No kidding, "paid its bills the old-fashioned way, with tax revenues," and "don't maintain a childlike faith in the good intentions and can-do of the private sector." The only "good" intentions of the private sector is to line their pockets and can-screw everybody else.

POLITICS - An Apt Phrase

"Friends Don't Let Friends Ruin Lebanon" by John Nichols

John's post begins with:

Congressional "Friends of Israel" are busy making noises about the "need" for the United States to provide that Middle Eastern land with full support as it assaults its neighbors.

But no genuine friend of Israel can be happy with what is being done in that country's name by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his misguided followers.

If we (American) are really, really good friends of Israel, we should be talking to them nose-to-nose about stopping this. And if necessary, take away the "keys" before we allow them to "drive drunk."

YOUNG OPINION - Two From High Schools

"We Don't Believe in Politics" by Camila Domonoske, Harrisonburg HS, Harrisonburg, VA

That's the biggest challenge facing American teenagers today--not war, poverty, debt, abortion or civil rights. It's the fact that we don't believe that the current political system can solve any of those problems. Most teenagers in America care deeply about the future of our country, but all the passion in the world will not help us unless we learn either to work within or to change the current power structure.

We are in many ways like every generation before us. We want jobs, security, a better world for our children someday, stability, justice and freedom. Our concerns mirror the concerns of the general population. However, unlike the older public, halfheartedly involved in democracy, we don't realize the purpose in any involvement at all--and this may destroy everything we wish for.

We don't trust our government. Citizens three times our age could agree that our current leaders hardly inspire faith, but they have long memories and have seen government work. Teenagers today can remember maybe a decade of politics, older youth maybe fifteen years, and most of what we remember are lies, scandals and war. At least Nixon was going to be impeached; we have seen little or no accountability, and few can blame us for our lack of faith.

We don't believe in the power of the ballot. Many of us still plan on voting, but we don't think it'll matter. I live in a red state. When I vote, it will be for the symbolic power of the action, not because I truly believe my voice will change anything. Other young people have simply given up on voting all together.

We aren't that partisan. There are powerful exceptions, and many students are passionately and absolutely supportive of a party. However, most of us either don't know what side we'd like to support or else have moderate and mixed perspectives. As the nation becomes politically more and more divided, and Republicans and Democrats more belligerently sectarian, teens grow less inclined to join fully a party they only partially support.

We don't count on protests to create justice. During the civil rights movement, vast protests represented the conscience of America and sparked change--or so history classes tell us. What great protests have today's teens seen? When hundreds of thousands march to protest war, America invades Iraq anyway. Massive marches for gay rights aim to create a change in social prejudices, and rejoice when the wording of an archaic law is changed. When we are told of vast, effective protests of the '60s, and then view the limited success of political demonstrations today, our disillusionment is hardly incomprehensible.

We don't expect journalists to solve anything. Despite popular opinion, studies show we do consume the media. It's just that nothing we see inspires us with confidence. Older generations saw Watergate; we saw mass media supporting the Administration's claim that Iraq had WMDs. We don't believe that a free press will create a just democracy, which might help explain why a third of us think the First Amendment goes too far.

We don't trust our current government, but we don't believe that our vote can change it. We don't full-heartedly support either political party, and so we are further alienated from today's factional political atmosphere. We don't believe that protests or the media can create change. In short, today's teens have given up on traditional ways to participate in politics.

What do we believe in? We believe in technology, that newer, cleaner machines will help save the environment. We believe in education, and that investing in college will help us find better-paying jobs--which we'll need because we sure don't place our trust in Social Security. We believe that, as we are less racist and sexist than our parents, so too our children will be less biased than we are. We believe the world will continue to get worse but that our lives will continue to get better. We believe, in an abstract way, in justice, peace and freedom, but we mostly fail to see our connection to those ideals. Teenagers today aren't "apathetic"--most of us just don't see the point of politics.

Every other issue facing our generation pales before this one, simply because so much depends on it. As a generation, we've given up on the ability of politics to create change. Our great challenge will be to either engage with the current political system, or to help transform it into one that we trust. Either way, something has to change; if teenagers can't figure out how to participate meaningfully in politics, we will have lost our voice, our impact and our power.

What is sad is the big difference from my generation (Generation-60s) where we did believe we could change things. Personally, I still think we can, even if that's being idealistic.

"A Generation of Peace" by Zaid Jilani, Kennesaw Mountain HS, Kennesaw, GA

"There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war." --Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "Beyond Vietnam"

We Americans are blessed. The winds of war rarely reach our shores. Separated by two massive oceans from most world conflicts, we are able to sleep easily at night--knowing that smart bombs will not disintegrate our families overnight and that our children can get up in the morning and go to school without armed escorts.

September 11 was an exception to this rule of safety. The war came home. I remember sitting in my eighth-grade classroom, watching my teacher break down in tears as she told us of the terrorist attack. I had never seen her cry before.

In art class, I watched the Twin Towers collapse again and again on the various news networks. I heard the horrifying screams of the onlookers. One of my classmates remarked on the terrorists who committed the attack, "They'll just say they did it 'for Allah.' "

Already the flames of mankind's worst emotion--hatred--were being built up, even in my middle school classrooms. The next day a girl exclaimed, "We'll bomb them back!" And so we did. The B-52s and Tomahawk cruise missiles and Apache attack helicopters entered Afghanistan and destroyed the Taliban government, which was left after twenty years of foreign occupation and civil war that claimed more than a million Afghan lives.

During the war millions of Afghans fled into Pakistan, my parents' home country. No one stopped to question the wisdom of replying to horrific violence with more horrific violence. No American newscasters mentioned the words "peaceful resolution." The cycle of violence simply continued, leaving thousands of shattered bodies across the battlefields of the twenty-first century.

Our military machine turned next to Iraq. But this time the world reacted differently. On February 15, 2003, more than 10 million people demonstrated worldwide with a single message: No War. Strict conservative Muslim women wearing their hijabs marched alongside feminist activists wearing as little as possible. The world was united, and the largest mass movement in history was born.

The movement ultimately failed to stop the war against the descendants of Mesopotamia, but it did something much more important: It sparked an idea that maybe, just maybe, the world was beginning to say no to war altogether--to say no to the very concept of the leaders of Group A and the leaders of Group B suggesting to their subjects that they engage in the process of murdering each other with all manner of destructive weapons.

The peace movement has changed my consciousness. I believe that my generation must come face to face with the question of war. It is as Robert McNamara states in the documentary Fog of War: "I think the human race needs to think about killing. How much evil must we do in order to do good?"

My generation must look at the standardized and systematic process of killing known as war and say, "No more." We cannot tolerate that our nation, the United States of America, accounts for one-third of all military expenditures worldwide. We cannot tolerate spending more than $250 billion--the cost of our invasion and occupation of Iraq thus far--on war when the same amount of money, according to the National Priorities Project, could have inoculated every child on earth against the most lethal of common diseases for at least the next eighty years.

We cannot tolerate a government regime that willfully ignores President Eisenhower's warning of the "unwarranted influence of the military-industrial complex," which has created a permanent industry of war in the United States. We cannot tolerate the behavior of sending our nation's poorest citizens--caught up by the "economic draft"--to other poor nations to kill its citizens so that our multinational corporations can seize those nations' resources for geopolitical power.

We cannot tolerate allowing our policies to breed hatred across the world, laying the seeds for a thousand more like the Al Qaeda organization--people who have nothing to live for but everything to die for. We cannot tolerate war. Dr. King said it best: "It is no longer the choice between violence and nonviolence. It is the choice between nonviolence and nonexistence."

I dream one day our children will look into our history books and see the evils of our wars: Indian removal, Auschwitz, Hiroshima and the other great atrocities of human militarism. But I dream they will turn the pages and look to my generation, who ended the horror and chose nonviolence over nonexistence. They will be awed by my generation, the Generation of Peace. It is up to us to create such a future.

Zaid reminds me of how I felt as a high schooler when the news of JFK's assassination was announced while I was in class. He is also idealistic which, hopefully, the young will always be.

YOUNG OPINION - Two From Yale University

"Project Corpus Callosum" by Sarah Stillman

I never expected to find the secret of my generation's political salvation floating inside a clear glass jar of formaldehyde. Yet there it was, pickled and perched on a lectern before some 200 mesmerized Neuroscience 101 students: a corpus callosum that had been surgically removed from the brain of an epileptic patient. A bewildering network of almost 300 million interlacing nerve fibers, the corpus callosum is known for its role in connecting the "left brain" (the hemisphere of analytical, verbal and quantitative calculations) with the "right brain" (the hemisphere of intuitive, nonverbal and imaginative thought processes). As I listened to my professor describe the devastating effects of extracting the corpus callosum--for instance, one exasperated patient pulling up his pants with his left hand as he pulled them down with his right--it occurred to me that this might be the ideal metaphor to describe the split-brained status of my own activist generation.

On the one hand, young Americans today are angry, confused and acutely aware of our domestic and global state of emergency. As the Iraq debacle spirals out of control, the US Army desperately funnels millions into new advertising campaigns designed to lure disillusioned youth into its ranks. An unprecedented prison boom continues to lock some 100,000 of us (particularly young men of color) behind bars while the government slashes funding for educational scholarships and other alternatives to youthful incarceration. Those of us blessed with the good luck of making it to college, like me, will graduate with an average of $20,000 in loans to be repaid at the same time that real wages stagnate and healthcare costs soar.

On the other hand, despite this litany of social crises, student mobilizations seem to be the sole property of our French contemporaries, not to mention our parents, with their nostalgic reminiscences of '68. Contrary to popular belief, apathy is not our generation's major obstacle. Our left brains are working furiously to catalogue and explain innumerable injustices, while our right brains scream that we must respond creatively. Our real impediment, then, is that we are a generation with an atrophied corpus callosum, utterly confounded about how to bridge our intellectual realizations about social problems with our imaginative capacity to enact solutions.

Consider that many of us got our first taste of student activism in the mid-1990s, during the Golden Age of the Exposé. Back then, most Americans knew nothing of the WTO, the maquiladora, the School of the Americas or even the ozone layer. Our collective ignorance, though disheartening, smacked of opportunity. It provided young activists with a simple, three-step road map to productive social engagement: Uncover, educate and mobilize. Remember watching Kathie Lee Gifford weep saccharine tears on national TV upon the revelation that her Wal-Mart clothing line was made by child laborers in Honduras? Continuing a long tradition of muckraking, young rabble-rousers helped shine the public spotlight on all sorts of hidden injustices.

But the post-9/11 landscape changed all that. Now that the Bush Administration has seized its radicalism and thrown all apologies to the wind, most Americans are no longer surprised to hear that our government is busy with the dirty tasks of empire-building: Dropping bombs. Tapping phones. Drilling reserves. Building jails. What role does this unabashed approach to US hegemony leave for student activists who might once have grabbed a bullhorn and, in a moment of youthful courage or foolhardiness, shouted before a massive crowd of silent followers: "Wait a minute! The emperor has no clothes!"

As students of the post-9/11 generation trying to live up to the legacy of our parents' radicalism, we face an emperor who is not only naked but is proudly tipping his cowboy hat in the direction of Abu Ghraib and smirking, "And don't I look sexy?" Within a post-denial Administration, scandal refutation has been replaced by scandal saturation. The result mirrors a neurological phenomenon known as "impaired response habituation," whereby the basal region of the brain makes it difficult for highly repetitive stimulus to penetrate our consciousness. Can you blame America's youth movement for not knowing how to begin?

This, of course, is where our corpus callosum might come in handy. We must begin rebuilding the intricate connections between our collective left brain (where we house our analytical critique of twenty-first-century woes) and our collective right brain (where we harbor our dreams that another world is possible). Already, young people are building this cross-hemisphere bridge--performing guerrilla theater, conducting counter-recruiting workshops, creating community-policing initiatives, writing feminist blogs and building transnational ties with youth activists around the world. Before long, we will hit our stride with Project Corpus Callosum: a much-needed mission to restore the space within our collective conscience where our radical imaginations meet our commitment to everyday action.

"America's Most Trusted Source of News: Ourselves" by Nikolas Bowie

We live in a culture in which opinions are the dominant form of political currency. People rarely regard opinions as valid sources of information. The word is defined by its subjectivity. Yet as we ridicule opinions for their inherent partiality, we arbitrarily esteem the opinions of political analysts simply because they are accompanied by the glare of television cameras and the buzz of punditry. As a result, instead of critically discussing political issues among ourselves, we depend on the bipolar opinions of news analysts to defend our own ambiguity.

Civic participation in the United States is less contingent on whether we vote than whether we tune in, and learning the latest buzzwords is easier than challenging conventional opinions. It seems that we would rather win an argument with vague abstractions than feasible proposals.

But opinions cannot form solutions. Only ideas can. While opinions are dogmatic weapons that we use to attack opponents, ideas are the practical results of public deliberation. Today, citizens cannot challenge political analysts as they can meteorologists by looking out the window. City hall petitions are bureaucratic and uninviting, and there are no publicly financed group discussion programs to debate contemporary issues. Without an atmosphere of public discourse, analysts' opinions not only remain unilateral but also dangerously indisputable.

Political debates have become televised lexical crapshoots. The proceedings now more closely resemble caricatured skits than substantive discourse. Participants do not deliberate and form negotiated conclusions but instead act like well-dressed faucets, deluging their opponents with as many opinions as they can dispense. Even more frustrating are the analysis afterward, in which so-called experts scrutinize the sideshow. Throughout, there are no opportunities for public interaction.

Communities should instead rally around local and national debates as microphones of expression and as tools for constructing policy. Where are New Orleans residents in the national dialogue about the future of their city? Why must one mayor represent the voices of millions of people scattered around the country? Where are the voices of students in Washington's discussion over the future of education policy? What do failing high school students think about vouchers and standardized testing? I do not think many analysts have bothered to ask them.

Programs like the Urban Debate League that organize interscholastic debate competitions are educational and help involve local communities in the larger political process. Admittedly, debate can sometimes act as an ivory tower from which people spot problems that no one wants to address. But without such lookout posts, the public might never discover constructive ideas.

Other underutilized alternatives include small-group discussion programs that culminate in town-hall style debates with local or state representatives. Such programs would not teach participants to argue with one another but rather train them to value both the merits and flaws of their own views as they engage directly opposing positions. Critical thinking is a fundamental skill for collaboration and consensus.

Consensus does not mean ideological moderation or active complacency. Extremism and political activism each have their purpose. Ideologically extreme positions have included the right to vote and the weekend, while political activism compels bystanders to march when they would otherwise remain seated. Activism and immoderation continue to give voices to minorities, from black Americans to conservative professors. Both inspire change.

But change arises only when private opinions are made into public ones, and when the individual will is transformed into a general will. When extremism is synonymous with inflexibility, it will always remain opaque in the public imagination. When activists embrace principles at the expense of practicality, real change will never blossom. Until issues are dissected and examined before they are implemented; until disenfranchised members of society are given the opportunity to speak with their minds in addition to their votes; and until change is based on who has the best possible solution rather than who has the most political power, division will equal divisiveness, and moderate complacency will be the only practical recourse.

A functioning democracy requires input from all of its members, especially those not in direct control of policy. The institutionalization of debating societies within local communities could involve more citizens within the democratic process and diminish the nation's reliance on commentators whose limited perspectives reflect limited interests. Democracy in the United States would profit from a more equitable form of public deliberation. This is not just an opinion. It is an idea.

Monday, July 17, 2006

POLITICS - What's Really Behind Our "Wizard of Oz" Curtain

"The Real Agenda" New York Times Editorial

It is only now, nearly five years after Sept. 11, that the full picture of the Bush administration’s response to the terror attacks is becoming clear. Much of it, we can see now, had far less to do with fighting Osama bin Laden than with expanding presidential power.

Over and over again, the same pattern emerges: Given a choice between following the rules or carving out some unprecedented executive power, the White House always shrugged off the legal constraints. Even when the only challenge was to get required approval from an ever-cooperative Congress, the president and his staff preferred to go it alone. While no one questions the determination of the White House to fight terrorism, the methods this administration has used to do it have been shaped by another, perverse determination: never to consult, never to ask and always to fight against any constraint on the executive branch.

One result has been a frayed democratic fabric in a country founded on a constitutional system of checks and balances. Another has been a less effective war on terror.

And the discordant song plays on.

OPINION - From the UK, America Bankruptcy

"US 'could be going bankrupt'" by Edmund Conway, Telegraph UK

The United States is heading for bankruptcy, according to an extraordinary paper published by one of the key members of the country's central bank.

A ballooning budget deficit and a pensions and welfare timebomb could send the economic superpower into insolvency, according to research by Professor Laurence Kotlikoff for the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis, a leading constituent of the US Federal Reserve.

Prof Kotlikoff said that, by some measures, the US is already bankrupt. "To paraphrase the Oxford English Dictionary, is the United States at the end of its resources, exhausted, stripped bare, destitute, bereft, wanting in property, or wrecked in consequence of failure to pay its creditors," he asked.

According to his central analysis, "the US government is, indeed, bankrupt, insofar as it will be unable to pay its creditors, who, in this context, are current and future generations to whom it has explicitly or implicitly promised future net payments of various kinds''.

The budget deficit in the US is not massive. The Bush administration this week cut its forecasts for the fiscal shortfall this year by almost a third, saying it will come in at 2.3pc of gross domestic product. This is smaller than most European countries - including the UK - which have deficits north of 3pc of GDP.

Prof Kotlikoff, who teaches at Boston University, says: "The proper way to consider a country's solvency is to examine the lifetime fiscal burdens facing current and future generations. If these burdens exceed the resources of those generations, get close to doing so, or simply get so high as to preclude their full collection, the country's policy will be unsustainable and can constitute or lead to national bankruptcy.

"Does the United States fit this bill? No one knows for sure, but there are strong reasons to believe the United States may be going broke."

Experts have calculated that the country's long-term "fiscal gap" between all future government spending and all future receipts will widen immensely as the Baby Boomer generation retires, and as the amount the state will have to spend on healthcare and pensions soars. The total fiscal gap could be an almost incomprehensible $65.9 trillion, according to a study by Professors Gokhale and Smetters.

Prof Kotlikoff said: "This figure is more than five times US GDP and almost twice the size of national wealth.

The question for Americans is, do we just disregarded outside opinion? Could the view from the UK be better than ours?

POLITICS - Comment From San Diego, CA - Paul Broadway

Here we are in the hot summer of 2006.

We see Israel attacking Hamas and Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon.

We see the gaza border crossing closed to Egypt, causing several people to die of thirst.

We see Kim Jong Il rattling his rusty nuclear sword in order to get economic attention.

We see Iran doing everything in its power to light the ever-present powder keg of the mideast.

We see the Taliban making a comeback on the drug money that our country allowed by leaving a power vacuum in Afghanistan.

Oh, and now Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame are suing the Presidential administration over public disclosure of a CIA operative.

Anyone who believed in the evil, "New World Order" should take a really hard look at this little comedy of errors and laugh. Our government is letting everything go to hell in a handbasket and the American people are more concerned about putting fuel in their SUV, than a world war looming on the horizon. God, we are a shallow and selfish breed of human being. Well, the stock market is tanking big time, fuel prices are indeed on the rise.

Does anyone have the opinion that our government has anyone's best interest, except their own? I guess the cheerleaders have quit cheer-leading. The excuse makers have seen how ridiculous they appear, and the sheeple are all afraid of some poor Mexican coming over here and taking their job. America used to be a great nation, now we are nothing [but] a consumer's graveyard.

Paul Broadway

POLITICS - Another Example of Corporate Control of Our Federal Government

"Protecting workers' rights" by John Sweeney and Richard M. Rogers, Boston Globe

VANISHING retirement security. Rising healthcare costs. Gas prices north of $3 a gallon. Workers in every industry are feeling the crunch of an increasingly harsh economy. As if it weren't difficult enough for working families to make ends meet, the Bush administration's National Labor Relations Board is poised to issue a series of decisions that could take away the one avenue to economic security left for many of America's workers: the freedom to form and join unions.

Rulings by the Bush-appointed board in what are collectively known as the ``Kentucky River" cases could strip hundreds of thousands of workers of their union protection, while many more could be blocked from joining unions.

At the heart of the issue in the three cases is an effort to reclassify many workers, such as nurses, as supervisors. Unlike employees, supervisors do not have protected rights under federal law to form and join unions. Employers often try to classify workers that way to deny them their rights to union representation. Any skilled or experienced worker who sometimes directs or assigns the work of those less skilled and experienced is vulnerable under a broader interpretation of what it means to be a supervisor. For example, head or charge nurses, who direct less-experienced nurses and aides, could be deemed supervisors under the new rule.

The implications of losing union protection run deep for workers. For example, if workers lose their protections as employees under federal law, they may be fired or otherwise disciplined for union activity.

These decisions come at a critical time for America's workers. Big business has exploited the nation's weak labor laws, and its allies in Congress and the White House have done nothing to stop it. With the current composition of the Labor Relations Board heavily anti-worker, corporate America has become increasingly aggressive in its tactics to erode workers' rights further.

There's more in the article, which ends with....

In a democracy, the people have the right to be heard. With working families struggling to keep afloat in an economic climate that's becoming harsher by the day, their union protection is a beacon that helps guide them past rocky coasts. They're not going to sit quietly while the Bush administration engages in an all-out assault on one of the far-too-few protections they have left.

...and I add, "while big-business engages in its old, and continuous, all-out assault on workers' rights" while seeking ever increasing profits for their already bulging pockets.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

POLITICS - It's Conservatism, Stupid

"It's The Conservatism, Stupid" by Paul Waldman, TomPaine

Ask a conservative what the biggest problem in America is today, and you’ll get answers like overtaxation, a sexualized culture, lack of respect for authority, insufficient church-going or big government running amok. But if you then asked the conservative what the real source of the problem was—the beating heart pumping blood to each and all of these socio-politico-cultural wounds — you’d get the same answer: liberalism.

On the other hand, you could ask a liberal a hundred questions about the problems facing our country before you’d get to an answer that placed conservatism at the heart of the nation’s ills.

And conservatives learn these messages when still young. What does a “campus liberal” do? Well, it depends what his or her issue is: fighting sweatshop labor, or environmental degradation, or the Iraq war, or any of a dozen other problems about which liberals are concerned. What, on the other hand, does a “campus conservative” do? Fight liberals and liberalism.

You can hear it in the media as well. As any fan of Limbaugh, Hannity or O’Reilly hears every day, whatever the issue is, the problem is liberals. Conservatives write books saying liberals are The Party of Death , who are Trashing Democracy, Waging War Against Christianity , ,Screwing Up America, Corrupting Our Future—and on top of it all, our whole ideology is A Mental Disorder. Liberals, on the other hand, write books about why George W. Bush is a terrible president. (I plead guilty.)

What we haven’t yet seen from the left is a sustained critique, not just of a particular politician or a particular policy, but of the entire ideology and worldview of conservatism.

As everyone knows, conservatives have succeeded in making “liberal” an epithet, something they throw at their opponents—who try desperately to dodge the label. The demonization of “liberal” has been successful in part because conservatives have effectively created what social psychologists call a “schema” with decidedly negative features around the term.

The ideas liberals would like to pop right up in people’s heads when they hear the term liberal—“wants prosperity for everyone,” “supports universal health care” or “stands up to powerful interests”—are farther away from the (conservative) schema’s center.

This didn’t happen by accident. It is the result of a relentless campaign against liberalism by conservatives. And liberals need to do the same thing to conservatism.

His article then lists 3 failures of conservatism, each with an explanation:

  1. "Conservatism has failed"
  2. "Conservatism is the ideology of the past — a past we don’t want to return to"
  3. "Conservatives are cowards, and they hope you are, too"

I recommend reading the whole article.

POLITICS - Sieg Heil ! - The Thought SS

"FCC Combing Air Tapes for Dirty Words" by REUTERS, New York Times

In its continuing crackdown on on-air profanity, the FCC has requested numerous tapes from broadcasters that might include vulgar remarks from unruly spectators, coaches and athletes at live sporting events, industry sources said.

Tapes requested by the commission include live broadcasts of football games and NASCAR races where the participants or the crowds let loose with an expletive. While commission officials refused to talk about its requests, one broadcast company executive said the commission had asked for 30 tapes of live sports and news programs.

"It looks like they want to end live broadcast TV,'' said one executive, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. ''We already know that they aren't afraid to go after news."

While live programming always has been problematic for broadcasters, it has become even more difficult under tougher commission rules approved in 2004. The new rules found that virtually any use of certain expletives will be considered profane and indecent, even if it is a slip of the tongue. In a March decision, the FCC found that the CBS news program "The Early Show'' violated its indecency rules because of a profane slip-up but did not issue a fine because the incident occurred before the new rules were instituted.

Live sports -- amateur, college and professional -- have long been a broadcast programming staple. Broadcasters have spent enormous amounts of money and energy to come up with ways to give audiences a better feel for the action. As broadcasters vie for viewers, technical advances that include such things as on-field microphones and in-car cameras have become as important as the announcers.

OK, American Public, watch what you say during that exciting football, baseball, or soccer game. The "Thought SS" are listening.

As for broadcasters, you had better stop recording of audiences at all live events. Restrict broadcasts of live events to your commentators only. After all, you don't want to be hauled off to jail because an excited fan exercised his/her right to free speech and used an unapproved word.

These people need to get a life!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

POLITICS - A Better Solution, Medical Liability Reform

"Making Patient Safety the Centerpiece of Medical Liability Reform" by Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Barack Obama, New England Journal of Medicine

We have visited doctors and hospitals throughout the country and heard firsthand from those who face ever-escalating insurance costs. Indeed, in some specialties, high premiums are forcing physicians to give up performing certain high-risk procedures, leaving patients without access to a full range of medical services. But we have also talked with families who have experienced errors in their care, and it has become clear to us that if we are to find a fair and equitable solution to this complex problem, all parties — physicians, hospitals, insurers, and patients — must work together. Instead of focusing on the few areas of intense disagreement, such as the possibility of mandating caps on the financial damages awarded to patients, we believe that the discussion should center on a more fundamental issue: the need to improve patient safety.

We all know the statistic from the landmark 1999 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report that as many as 98,000 deaths in the United States each year result from medical errors.1 But the IOM also found that more than 90 percent of these deaths are the result of failed systems and procedures, not the negligence of physicians. Given this finding, we need to shift our response from placing blame on individual providers or health care organizations to developing systems for improving the quality of our patient-safety practices.2

These are just the opening paragraphs of the article. It includes provisions from the "National Medical Error Disclosure and Compensation (MEDiC) Bill" proposal.

I highly suggest reading the full article. This is a better solution than the GOP's cap-the-money proposals.

The GOP's problem, since they worship money (aka Greed), they are incapable of coming up with any solutions outside the context of money.

POLITICS - The Never-Ending "Family Values" LIE

"Congressional Republicans on verge of passing bill to promote online horse-race gambling in the name of 'family values'" by John in DC

Ah those Republican family values. This time, under the guise of passing an "anti-gambling" bill, the Republicans are really passing legislation that makes it legal to gamble on horse races online.

They are about to ban every other kind of online gambling in the same legislation BUT horse-racing. Why? Because the horse-racing lobbyists have been all over the Republicans. I've read the documentation, you should see the horse-racing lobbyists crowing about how they got the Republicans to carve them a nifty little exemption in this supposed "family values" bill.

  • Other critics complain that the bill doesn't cover all forms of gambling. They point to exemptions they say would allow online lotteries and Internet betting on horse racing to flourish while cracking down on other kinds of sports betting, casino games and card games like poker.
  • "If you're going to support legislation that is supposed to 'prohibit gambling,' you should not have carve-outs," said Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the conservative Traditional Values Coalition.

Perhaps the Bible says that all gambling is immoral EXCEPT horse-race gambling. Yeah, that must be it.

These bozos haven't even gotten to legislation dealing with $3.50 a gallon gas prices, with insurance reform, with drug pricing, with fixing the now-illegal military tribunals Bush was planning on using to try supposed terrorists. They haven't deal with our US ports that Bush is trying to sell to the Middle East. With our international cargo coming into the US that still isn't all being checked for nuclear bombs.

Instead, the Republicans are shoving through special interest legislation to promote horse-race gambling because they've been bought off by special gambling interests. And we all know how clean those folks are. The epitome of family values.

The real truth is the Bible says nothing about gambling.

POLITICS - Enough Said

"What else is Bush hiding from the American people?" by Michael Stickings, The Moderate Voice

And from their representatives in Congress. It seems that even Republican Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a defender of both the NSA's domestic surveillance program and the Treasury Department's financial tracking program, has some concerns:

  • In a sharply worded letter to President Bush in May, an important Congressional ally charged that the administration might have violated the law by failing to inform Congress of some secret intelligence programs and risked losing Republican support on national security matters.
  • The letter from Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan... did not specify the intelligence activities that he believed had been hidden from Congress.
  • But Mr. Hoekstra... clearly was referring to programs that have not been publicly revealed.

Here's more from the letter: "I have learned of some alleged intelligence community activities about which our committee has not been briefed. If these allegations are true, they may represent a breach of responsibility by the administration, a violation of the law, and, just as importantly, a direct affront to me and the members of this committee who have so ardently supported efforts to collect information on our enemies."

And: "The U.S. Congress simply should not have to play Twenty Questions to get the information that it deserves under our Constitution."

The bold emphasis is mine. Note: Peter Hoekstra (Rep MI)

Wait! Hasn't Bush said he has kept Congress informed? ....NOT

POLITICS - Korea, A Timely Question

"Bush on North Korea: Worse than you think" by Graham Allison, Los Angles Times

The president is downplaying the nuclear threat. But what happens if Pyongyang sells the bomb to terrorists?

At a news conference Friday, President Bush was asked why, given North Korea's increasing nuclear capability, its refusal to talk and its July 4 missile launches, Americans shouldn't conclude that the U.S. policy toward North Korea is a failed one.

"Because it takes time to get things done," Bush replied.

Taking a page from its post-9/11 strategy of avoiding discussion of the inability to capture Osama bin Laden, for the last year the Bush administration has assiduously avoided two words: North Korea.

Until Kim Jong Il forced himself back into the limelight, the administration had almost succeeded in erasing him from public consciousness. The White House's desire to change the subject is understandable. Since Bush entered the Oval Office in January 2001, Kim's estimated stockpile of plutonium has quintupled.

Why are Kim's nuclear bombs a much graver threat than his missiles?

As a vehicle for delivering a nuclear weapon, an intercontinental ballistic missile has one fatal flaw: It leaves an unambiguous return address. Kim knows that were he to launch a nuclear-tipped ICBM against the United States, in the same hour, America's overwhelming nuclear response would ensure that no warhead was ever again launched from North Korea.

If a North Korean nuclear weapon does detonate in an American city, it will have come in a backpack across our porous borders (where 50% more illegal aliens entered the U.S. last year than in the year before 9/11), or in one of the 7 million cargo containers that arrive by ship and rail annually (only 3% of which are inspected), or in a boat that docks at one of the countless unmonitored marinas in the Northeast, Florida or California.

My reminder, Kim is a madman, period. He is also crafty. When it comes to who or what Americans should fear, it is Kim. Not Iran and neither was Saddam.

Monday, July 10, 2006

POLITICS - Finally, the Religious Left

"Religion Taking A Left Turn?" CBS News

Conservative Christians Watch Out: There's A Big Churchgoing Group Seeking Political Power

At a church in Washington, hundreds of committed Christians met recently and tried to map out a strategy to get their values into the political debate.

But these are not the conservative Christian values which have been so influential lately. This is the religious left.

"Jesus called us to love our neighbor, love our enemy, care for the poor, care for the outcast, and that's really the moral core of where we think the nation ought to go," Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches told CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell.

The National Council of Churches represents about 50 million Christians in America — the majority of them mainline Protestants.

"Jesus never said one word about homosexuality, never said one word about civil marriage or abortion," Edgar said.

He calls this movement the "center-left" — and it's seeking the same political muscle as the conservative Christians, a group with a strong power base in the huge Evangelical churches of the South.

But the left has its own Evangelical leaders, such as the Rev. Tony Campolo.

"We are furious that the religious right has made Jesus into a Republican. That's idolatry," Campolo said. "To recreate Jesus in your own image rather than allowing yourself to be created in Jesus' image is what's wrong with politics."

The Christian left is focusing on:
  • Fighting poverty
  • Protecting the environment
  • Ending the war in Iraq

"Right now the war in Iraq costs us $1 billion per week," said Rev. Jim Wallis, a Christian activist. "And we can't get $5 billion over ten years for child care in this country?"

"Nine million families are working full time," Wallis said. "Working hard full time, responsibly, and not making it."

Aha! Take a deep breath of this fresh air!

POLITICS - Another Assault on Our Rights - NET-Tapping

"FBI plans new Net-tapping push" by Declan McCullagh, CNET News

The FBI has drafted sweeping legislation that would require Internet service providers to create wiretapping hubs for police surveillance and force makers of networking gear to build in backdoors for eavesdropping.

FBI Agent Barry Smith distributed the proposal at a private meeting last Friday with industry representatives and indicated it would be introduced by Sen. Mike DeWine, an Ohio Republican, according to two sources familiar with the meeting.

The draft bill would place the FBI's Net-surveillance push on solid legal footing. At the moment, it's ensnared in a legal challenge from universities and some technology companies that claim the Federal Communications Commission's broadband surveillance directives exceed what Congress has authorized.

The FBI claims that expanding the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act is necessary to thwart criminals and terrorists who have turned to technologies like voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP.

Breaking the legislation down
The 27-page proposed CALEA amendments seen by CNET would:

  • Require any manufacturer of "routing" and "addressing" hardware to offer upgrades or other "modifications" that are needed to support Internet wiretapping. Current law does require that of telephone switch manufacturers--but not makers of routers and network address translation hardware like Cisco Systems and 2Wire.
  • Authorize the expansion of wiretapping requirements to "commercial" Internet services including instant messaging if the FCC deems it to be in the "public interest." That would likely sweep in services such as in-game chats offered by Microsoft's Xbox 360 gaming system as well.
  • Force Internet service providers to sift through their customers' communications to identify, for instance, only VoIP calls. (The language requires companies to adhere to "processing or filtering methods or procedures applied by a law enforcement agency.") That means police could simply ask broadband providers like AT&T, Comcast or Verizon for wiretap info--instead of having to figure out what VoIP service was being used.
  • Eliminate the current legal requirement saying the Justice Department must publish a public "notice of the actual number of communications interceptions" every year. That notice currently also must disclose the "maximum capacity" required to accommodate all of the legally authorized taps that government agencies will "conduct and use simultaneously."

Jim Harper, a policy analyst at the free-market Cato Institute and member of a Homeland Security advisory board, said the proposal would "have a negative impact on Internet users' privacy."

"People expect their information to be private unless the government meets certain legal standards," Harper said. "Right now the Department of Justice is pushing the wrong way on all this."

Bold emphases in last sentence from Jim Harper is my take on this issue. Again, when it comes to our rights, human and Constitutional, we should not (cannot) trust government. They will abuse such powers unless there are checks on them.

POLITICS - In the Wind

"George W. Bush Is Dead To Me Nation cringes as the worst president ever continues long, painful slog to the end" by Mark Morford, San Francisco Gate Columnist

It is like some sort of virus. It is like some sort of weird and painful rash on your face that makes you embarrassed to walk out the door and so you sit there day after day, waiting for it to go away, slathering on ointment and Bactine and scotch. And yet still it lingers.

Some days the pain is so searing and hot you want to cut off your own head with a nail file. Other days it is numb and pain-free and seemingly OK, to the point where you think it might finally be all gone and you allow yourself a hint of a whisper of a positive feeling, right up until you look in the mirror, and scream.

George W. Bush is just like that.

Everyone I know has had enough. Everyone I know is just about done. There is this threshold of happy deadened disgust, this point where the body simply resigns itself to the pain, a point where the disease, the poison has seeped so deeply into the bones that you just have to laugh and shrug it all off and go for a drink. Or 10.

I was having cocktails recently with a group of people, among whom were two lifetime Republicans, each in his 60s, corporate businessmen, one admittedly slightly more moderate than the other (to the point where, after once hearing a senator read off a long list of Bush's hideous environmental atrocities, actually let his conscience lead his choice and ended up voting for Kerry) but nevertheless both devoted members of the party.

Bush came up, as a topic, as a cancer, as a fetid miasma in the air. They were both shaking their heads. They were sighing heavily. They were both, in a word, disgusted. The more staunchly conservative of the two even went so far as to say he was so embarrassed and humiliated by this president, by this administration, so appalled at all the war atrocities and the wiretapping and the misuse of law, the fiscal irresponsibility and the abuse of the lower classes and the outright arrogance, that if the Dems could somehow produce a decent moderate candidate with a brain, he'd have zero problem switching allegiances and voting for him. Or her.

It may not sound like much. It may not seem like a major shift. But it is, in its way, sort of massive.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

POLITICS - GOP, Fascist in Power

"GOP takes scorched-earth attitude on domestic needs" by Margaret Krome, The Capital Times

Do we want our government to protect sick and elderly people or don't we? Do we want poor children fed, alternative energy supported, parks protected, or not? Is a war that has nothing to do with national security, except that it may endanger it, a sound justification for failing to fund veterans of previous wars?

It has become so predictable that the major media must have decided it's no longer newsworthy. In late June, Republicans on the U.S. Senate's Budget Committee passed another irresponsible bill. This one not only would continue the Republicans' steady deconstruction of the federal government of the past five years; it also proposes radical and dangerous changes in the way budgets get developed.

Budget Chairman Judd Gregg's bill has several dangerous flaws. First, it would result in sweeping cuts to domestic spending over many years. Instead of a program-by-program assessment of needs, it proposes dramatic across-the-board cuts in all domestic programs, except for Social Security. This bill proposes to meet the entire Republican-created deficit by cutting domestic spending on programs for veterans, the poor and unemployed, and Medicare. Needless to day, it would dramatically increase the number of uninsured and underinsured Americans.

The bill would also create a draconian standard for Medicare's and Medicaid's budget process that the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities predicts would result in dissolving Medicaid as we know it within a few years and instead inadequately meet health care needs with state block grants. It would dramatically increase premiums, deductibles and co-payments that Medicare beneficiaries pay or create major cuts in what Medicare would cover.

Despite setting in place a budget system that would slash a wide spectrum of domestic spending, the Gregg bill exempts tax cuts from such fiscal accountability.

In addition, the bill would set in place a dangerously undemocratic budget process. It would create a commission to propose eliminating programs, and its decisions could be achieved by a simple majority. Congress could then address the commission's proposals through a fast-track process that would preclude amendments and would require only a simple, partisan majority to pass them.

This travesty of democratic process would be bad enough, but the Gregg bill goes further and sets in place a line-item veto that would give the president power to eliminate funding for individual programs. In fact, the president would have power to override congressional decisions, even if Congress had specifically voted to disapprove his veto.

Does anyone else think this president and this Congress have forgotten the genuine democratic premises that our nation just finished celebrating Tuesday? Do others recognize an unconscionable power grab when they see it?

Well, do you?

Fascism: any program for setting up a centralized autocratic national regime with severely nationalistic policies, exercising regimentation of industry, commerce, and finance, rigid censorship, and forcible suppression of opposition.

Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary

POLITICS - Conservative Thought

The following 6 "canons of conservative thought" are from the 1953 book "The Conservative Mind" by Russel Kirk, and can be said to still apply.

(1) Belief that a divine intent rules society as well as conscience, forging an eternal chain of right and duty which links great and obscure, living and dead. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.

This canon is essentially a statement that a religion, and its espoused morals, is for the public to impose on society in general. It does not believe that religion and morals are in the sphere of individual human (people's) rights. It ignores the question of just whose religion applies, it leads to the support of the imposition of "majority" religion on individuals, supported by state law. Religion is not in the sphere of general politics, but is in the sphere of individual politicians.

(2) Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of traditional life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems.

"Traditional life?" The same traditional life that thought slavery was OK, in the past? Or the same tradition that said the color of your skin, or your gender, determined what human and Constitutional rights applied to you?

(3) Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes. The only true equality is moral equality; all other attempts at leveling lead to despair, if enforced by positive legislation.

"Classes?" So it's OK for the "upper class" to use law to enhance their welfare while the same laws ensure that the "lower classes" do not get a fair and equal chance at "the pursuit of happiness?" If we consider ourselves a true democratic society, government has an obligation to ensure a "level playing field." Laws should not be allowed to give advantage to any set of citizens, in this pursuit, over other citizens. I emphases, pursuit of happiness, not the end result.

(4) Persuasion that property and freedom are inseparably connected, and that economic leveling is not economic progress. Separate property from private possession and liberty is erased.

The last sentence in #4 is correct, but "private possession" has little to do with "economic leveling." It's a false argument, wrong-headed. Again, the true issue is economic opportunity.

(5) Faith in prescription and distrust of 'sophisters and calculators.' Man must put a control upon his will and his appetite, for conservatives know man to be governed more by emotion than by reason. Tradition and sound prejudice provide checks upon man's anarchic impulse.

Note the last sentence in canon #5. So "tradition and sound prejudice" have always been a check on the unreasonable? Again; slavery, women's right to vote (women's rights in general), segregation, all examples of "tradition and sound prejudice" that had to be overcome.

(6) Recognition that change and reform are not identical, and that innovation is a devouring conflagration more often than it is a torch of progress. Society must alter, for slow change is the means of its conservation, like the human body's perpetual renewal; but Providence is the proper instrument for change, and the test of a statesman is his cognizance of the real tendency of Providential social forces.

"Change and reform are not identical," no kidding?! Their argument is let things harden into cement, and be hard to change, even when it's bad or unethical, all in the name of conservation. Also, "Providence" which is a belief that God is directing everything, a religious belief. So we are to impose their religious belief on the nation. Of course, there is no possibility they could be wrong on just what "Providence" is directing? No doubt, no re-evaluation?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

POLITICS - Biofuels

"Running on Top Soil - The Biofuel Illusion" by JULIA OLMSTEAD, Counterpunch

There's been a lot of talk lately about the promise of biofuels -- liquid fuels like ethanol and biodiesel made from plants -- to reduce our dependence on oil. Even President Bush beat the biofuel drum in his last State of the Union speech.

Fuel from plants? Sounds pretty good. But before you rush out to buy an E-85 pickup, consider:

  • The United States annually consumes more fossil and nuclear energy than all the energy produced in a year by the country's plant life, including forests and that used for food and fiber, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Energy and David Pimentel, a Cornell University researcher.
  • To produce enough corn-based ethanol to meet current U.S. demand for automotive gasoline, we would need to nearly double the amount of land used for harvested crops, plant all of it in corn, year after year, and not eat any of it. Even a greener fuel source like the switchgrass President Bush mentioned, which requires fewer petroleum-based inputs than corn and reduces topsoil losses by growing back each year, could provide only a small fraction of the energy we demand.

And the 2 reasons-to-doubt above are only the first. She lists more reasons to doubt, and some suggestions. Essentially she is saying the biofuels are not the silver-bullet to solving our fuel problems.

My input is what we really need to concentrate on is to push the American public into using more fuel efficient transportation. To not buy popular gas/biofuel guzzlers.

POLITICS - The One Percent Doctrine

The following is from a book "The One Percent Doctrine," by Ron Suskind, that was just published and is the subject of "Who's Counting: Cheney's One Percent Doctrine" by John Allen Paulos, ABC News

Suskind describes the Cheney doctrine as follows: "Even if there's just a 1 percent chance of the unimaginable coming due, act as if it is a certainty. It's not about 'our analysis,' as Cheney said. It's about 'our response.' … Justified or not, fact-based or not, 'our response' is what matters. As to 'evidence,' the bar was set so low that the word itself almost didn't apply."

The article states some of the reasoning behind the doctrine. Also, on a PBS Newshour interview, Suskind stated some of the reasoning but also stated the dangers of such a doctrine.

Although the arguments for the doctrine are sound, in my opinion, there are real dangers that Americans need to consider. Essentially the doctrine requires us to trust the government not to abuse the powers such a doctrine imply. This doctrine, according to Suskind, is the real reason why the war in Iraq was started in the first place. If there was even a hint (1%) that Saddam had WMD we act, hence the war.

The problem for Americans is to remember Vietnam, Nixon, and even the atomic bomb tests of the 50's, as just some examples. The American people were mislead in each of these examples. In effect, lied to by the government at the time. In the case of the atomic bomb tests, it was not our ignorance of the effects on people (American troops and others in the test area), it was the hiding of the danger after we knew. It was decades before those exposed at home were officially made aware of what they were exposed to.

Sadly, we should have learned not to wholly trust our government (local, state, federal). We need to monitor just what they are doing to ensure our human and Constitutional freedoms are protected.


  • Under this 1% doctrine, if there is 1% chance that an ordinary American citizen could be an Acadia supporter, the government should spy on him/her without a warrant (which has happened in another context and been exposed lately).
  • Really?
  • Would you support such actions?
  • Is just 1% chance worth giving up your Constitutional protection against unwarranted search and seizure?

Living in a democracy, with the freedoms we now have, is inherently dangerous. It is the price we should be willing to pay for our freedoms. Absolute protection is a illusion, a lie, and is the reasoning used by totalitarian governments worldwide (see North Kora).