Thursday, July 31, 2008

POLITICS - More McBush


YES! McBush 2008.... NOT

POLITICS - McBush, Dumb, Really Dumb

Harry Hope, alt.politics.usa

On Sunday, ABC host George Stephanopoulos asked McCain how he would get the oil companies to pass savings along to the consumer (something every decent economist says would not happen).

McCain's answer:

"We would make them shamed into it."

That's his whole plan - to make the oil companies feel just terrible about their profits.

Gosh, as if that has not been happening to-date, and we all know how effective shaming Big Oil has been so far.

SECURITY - To defeat Al Qaeda

Military force was rarely the primary reason a terrorist group ended, and few groups within this time frame achieved victory.

"How Terrorist Groups End" (Research Brief) Rand Corporation

Implications for Countering al Qa'ida

The United States cannot conduct an effective counterterrorism campaign against al Qa'ida or other terrorist groups without understanding how such groups end. While it is clear that U.S. policymakers will need to turn to a range of policy instruments to conduct such campaigns — including careful police and intelligence work, military force, political negotiations, and economic sanctions — what is less clear is how they should prioritize U.S. efforts.

A recent RAND research effort sheds light on this issue by investigating how terrorist groups have ended in the past. By analyzing a comprehensive roster of terrorist groups that existed worldwide between 1968 and 2006, the authors found that most groups ended because of operations carried out by local police or intelligence agencies or because they negotiated a settlement with their governments. Military force was rarely the primary reason a terrorist group ended, and few groups within this time frame achieved victory.

These findings suggest that the U.S. approach to countering al Qa'ida has focused far too much on the use of military force. Instead, policing and intelligence should be the backbone of U.S. efforts.

First Systematic Examination of the End of Terrorist Groups

This was the first systematic look at how terrorist groups end. The authors compiled and analyzed a data set of all terrorist groups between 1968 and 2006, drawn from a terrorism-incident database that RAND and the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism jointly oversee. The authors used that data to identify the primary reason for the end of groups and to statistically analyze how economic conditions, regime type, size, ideology, and group goals affected their survival. They then conducted comparative case studies of specific terrorist groups to understand how they ended.

Of the 648 groups that were active at some point between 1968 and 2006, a total of 268 ended during that period. Another 136 groups splintered, and 244 remained active. As depicted in the figure, the authors found that most ended for one of two reasons: They were penetrated and eliminated by local police and intelligence agencies (40 percent), or they reached a peaceful political accommodation with their government (43 percent). Most terrorist groups that ended because of politics sought narrow policy goals. The narrower the goals, the more likely the group was to achieve them through political accommodation — and thus the more likely the government and terrorists were to reach a negotiated settlement.

In 10 percent of cases, terrorist groups ended because they achieved victory. Military force led to the end of terrorist groups in 7 percent of cases. The authors found that militaries tended to be most effective when used against terrorist groups engaged in insurgencies in which the groups were large, well armed, and well organized. But against most terrorist groups, military force was usually too blunt an instrument.

The analysis also found that

  • religiously motivated terrorist groups took longer to eliminate than other groups but rarely achieved their objectives; no religiously motivated group achieved victory during the period studied.

  • size significantly determined a group's fate. Groups exceeding 10,000 members were victorious more than 25 percent of the time, while victory was rare for groups below 1,000 members.

  • terrorist groups from upper-income countries are much more likely to be left-wing or nationalist and much less likely to be motivated by religion.

Police-Oriented Counterterrorism Rather Than a “War on Terrorism”

What does this mean for counterterrorism efforts against al Qa'ida? After September 11, 2001, U.S. strategy against al Qa'ida concentrated on the use of military force. Although the United States has employed nonmilitary instruments — cutting off terrorist financing or providing foreign assistance, for example — U.S. policymakers continue to refer to the strategy as a “war on terrorism.”

But military force has not undermined al Qa'ida. As of 2008, al Qa'ida has remained a strong and competent organization. Its goal is intact: to establish a pan-Islamic caliphate in the Middle East by uniting Muslims to fight infidels and overthrow West-friendly regimes. It continues to employ terrorism and has been involved in more terrorist attacks around the world in the years since September 11, 2001, than in prior years, though engaging in no successful attacks of a comparable magnitude to the attacks on New York and Washington.

Al Qa'ida's resilience should trigger a fundamental rethinking of U.S. strategy. Its goal of a pan-Islamic caliphate leaves little room for a negotiated political settlement with governments in the Middle East. A more effective U.S. approach would involve a two-front strategy:

  • Make policing and intelligence the backbone of U.S. efforts. Al Qa'ida consists of a network of individuals who need to be tracked and arrested. This requires careful involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as their cooperation with foreign police and intelligence agencies.

  • Minimize the use of U.S. military force. In most operations against al Qa'ida, local military forces frequently have more legitimacy to operate and a better understanding of the operating environment than U.S. forces have. This means a light U.S. military footprint or none at all.

Key to this strategy is replacing the war-on-terrorism orientation with the kind of counterterrorism approach that is employed by most governments facing significant terrorist threats today. Calling the efforts a war on terrorism raises public expectations — both in the United States and elsewhere — that there is a battlefield solution. It also tends to legitimize the terrorists' view that they are conducting a jihad (holy war) against the United States and elevates them to the status of holy warriors. Terrorists should be perceived as criminals, not holy warriors.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

POLITICS - Bush Administration = Clueless Clowns

"Study proposes revamping US security system" by Barry Schweid, AP

In a report aimed at the next president, security specialists are proposing a vast overhaul of the U.S. security system, declaring it problem-plagued.

The report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, said frequent feuding and jurisdictional disputes among Cabinet secretaries and other agency heads force the president to spend too much time settling internal fights.

Time and money are wasted on duplicative and inefficient actions, slowing down government responses to crises, the report said.

The president and his top advisers focus on day-to-day crisis management rather than long-term planning, "allowing problems to escape presidential attention until they worsen and reach the crisis level," said the report, to be issued later in the week.

The study, mandated by Congress, was undertaken by the Project on National Security Reform. The research was conducted by more than 300 national security experts from think tanks, universities, federal agencies, law firms and corporations.

A final version with recommended reforms, including a proposal for new security legislation, is expected to be issued in October.

"We will approach whoever is elected before the inauguration and will be having discussions with campaign staffs between now and the election," James R. Locher III, executive director of the project, said in an interview.

"We will draft presidential directives that can be imposed by the new president immediately," Locher said.

Thomas J. Pickering, a former career diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement that the findings would be valuable to the next president and to Congress.

"Our national security system is broken and needs fixing," he said.

"Agencies need to cooperate rather than compete with each other as they work to protect the United States from a broad range of new dangers never imagined" when the national security system was initiated in 1947, Pickering said.

Pickering, former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, and former CIA director John McLaughlin were among 23 former senior officials who oversaw the project and gave the findings their approval.

Congress was not spared criticism.

"Protection of turf and power occurs in the committees of both houses of Congress," the report said.

And national security is adversely affected by congressional committees with overlapping jurisdictions, the report said.

"Congress can now look at the parts," Locher said. "It does not have the ability to look at government as a whole in terms of national security."

Monday, July 28, 2008

POLITICS - Lier, Lier, Pants on Fire

"Why John McCain's 'Surge' Success Story Is A Lie" by Joseph Palermo, History News Network

It really makes the Iraq debate easy for John McCain when he throws around words like "win" and "victory" and "prevail" and "success" without really defining what they mean. A short time ago he was calling for American troops to remain in Iraq forever and that Obama was "naive" for suggesting otherwise. Now that the Iraqi government has indicated its desire for the American troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2010, McCain has gone dovish crediting his own insight for the "surge" that "won" the war. He even hinted today that American troops might be able to come home after all.

But McCain's stance totally contradicts the substance of the "status of force" agreement the Bush Administration has been trying to ram down the Iraqi government's throat, which would codify a permanent American military presence in Iraq. General David Petraeus told Barack Obama during his recent trip to Iraq that he opposes a "timetable" for the withdrawal of American troops because he wants to maintain "flexibility." I guess Petraeus didn't get the memo from the George W. Bush-John McCain camp.

The editors of the New York Times opinion page asked McCain to rework his most recent submission. They demanded that he at least define what he means by "winning" in Iraq and what such a "victory" would look like on the ground. It is a welcome, if belated, arrival into the "reality-based community" on the part of the Times. (Of course, they still have David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, and William Kristol).

McCain is going to have some major editing work to do. He must not only declare that the "surge" was a great success, but he has to argue that it was such a magnificent "victory" that an American troop reduction might be in order (this comes after McCain denounced Obama repeatedly for making this same argument).

When McCain isn't talking about non-existent countries like "Czechoslovakia," or non-existent frontiers, like the "Iraq-Pakistan border," he's smugly dressing down Obama on foreign relations. The Rightwing is whining about the positive press coverage Obama is getting on his trip, but if Obama referred to "Czechoslovakia" or to the "Iraq-Pakistan border" the media would have plunged his campaign into deep doo doo.

It is disingenuous and self-serving for McCain to begin all of his discussions about Iraq with the January 2007 "surge." In doing so, he is airbrushing out the inconvenient history of the war.

Let's review.

In January 2007, when George W. Bush decided to pour more American soldiers into Iraq and escalate the U.S. troop commitment there he was responding to domestic politics. The Democrats were about to take over both houses of Congress and the Baker-Hamilton Commission Report had issued an indictment of the administration's lack of a diplomatic track in ending the conflict. Defiant, petulant, and immature as ever, Bush launched what his handlers called a "surge" to lock in the policy as the Democrats took their places on Capitol Hill and to show his Uncle Jim and his Daddy that he didn't need or want their advice.

By January 2007, the occupation in Iraq had long been a strategic and humanitarian disaster. There was already widespread "low intensity" ethnic cleansing, and with the February 22, 2006 destruction of the Shia Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra there was unleashed a sectarian bloodbath that transformed the country. The Shia government, which controlled the Interior Ministry and much of the security apparatus, went on a rampage and shielded freelance death squads and militias that reaped their revenge on Sunni communities throughout the country. In a short period, the ancient city of Baghdad went from being mostly Sunni to being mostly Shia. There were 2 million people who fled the country and another 2 million internally displaced people. It wasn't very long ago Iraqis were torturing each other with Black & Decker power drills. I doubt if the underlying current of hate and the cycle of revenge have dissipated. But after the dust settled there was relative calm. It had nothing to do with the "surge."

Any "success" that McCain or Bush or Kenneth Pollack or Michael O'Hanlon or Michael Gordon or David Petraeus and all the rest of the war-hawks talk about is delusional because it is proclaimed by willfully ignoring the humanitarian costs; the price in blood and treasure the Iraqis have paid, and to a far lesser extent, the Americans too. McCain is celebrating a Pyrrhic victory. The United States destroyed Iraq in order to save it. Just take a look at Falluja, or Baghdad with its hideous blast walls and check points. That place will never be the same. In a just world the United States would pay reparations to Iraq for a hundred years. (Don't take my word for it, read Patrick Cockburn's Muqtada, and Jonathan Steele's Defeat.)

Let's review some more.

First, the Senate Intelligence Committee's "Phase II" investigation of the lead-up to the war confirms that the Bush Administration used deception, lies, and misleading statements to hoodwink the public and the Congress into buying the idea that attacking Iraq served American national security interests. The Bush Administration lied this nation into war. Its principal mouthpieces and behind-the-scenes operators should be held accountable for their crimes, which include perjury, obstruction of justice, and abuse of power. (In addition to the international war crimes of aggressive war and torture.) It was a disgrace that will forever besmirch the reputation of this nation. I don't see any "victory" there.

Second, this war has cost our nation at least $750 billion (and counting) and the entire financial burden has been thrown on to the national debt. We'll be paying this thing back, with interest, to the same Wall Street elites that we are currently bailing out as part of a "remedy" for the mortgage meltdown. The 30,000 maimed American soldiers must be taken care of, and their health costs will soar with the cost of everything else. The PTSD cases alone will cost this country dearly in ways that we cannot even anticipate at this time. No "victory" there.

Third, all this talk of "success" in Iraq masks what the original aim of the war was supposed to be: Disarming the regime of Saddam Hussein of its "weapons of mass destruction." There was nothing to "disarm" because the Iraqi government had no weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations weapons inspectors only cost about $50 million per annum and they should have been allowed to do their jobs. Even if they were still in Iraq hunting for WMD right now it would have cost only about $300 million and the U.S. would have partners sharing the financial burden. The things we could have done with all that money we've wasted in Iraq. Bush then changed the objective of the war to an elaborate nation building exercise, an endeavor we still have not accomplished and probably never will. Democracy does not come out of a barrel of a gun. I see nothing "victorious" here.

Fourth, about 1,200 private corporations have been shamelessly profiteering off the Iraq war from day one. Halliburton's graft crimes are legion, and we won't find out the extent of the shoddy services KBR provided our soldiers, or how many Iraqi civilians Blackwater killed, until a new Attorney General is sworn in, and maybe not even then. "Win?" I guess you could say the profiteers "won."

With tens of thousands of innocent civilians killed and maimed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere; and with commentators like John Bolton, Benny Morris, and Charles Krauthammer demanding the United States or Israel attack Iran, thereby expanding the killing fields; and with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) working hand-in-glove with resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda elements in the northwestern border region and in Kashmir; and with the Bush Administration's failed saber rattling, warmongering, and unilateralist bluster -- Can we now safely conclude, at this late date, that Bush's foreign policy has been a catastrophe for the world and the single biggest recruiting tool for international terrorists?

It doesn't smell like "victory" to me.

This is just an example of GOP not wanting to admit that they (and their Glorious Leader) don't really know the Middle East and that their plans did not work as envisioned. The fact (captured documents) that their invasion of Iraq breathed new life into Al Qaida.

ECONOMY - Our Wrecked Retirement Plans

"How Wall Street Wrecked Your Retirement" by Nicholas von Hoffman, The Nation

People are discovering they have been forced into a system in which others have gambled with their retirement savings and lost it.

Our disfunctional financial system hit a new low last week when Citigroup, the hopeless wreck of Wall Street, announced it had lost $2.5 billion in the past three months -- a cheer went up, and so did the Dow. Only $2.5 billion; people were afraid the losses would be much higher. Happy days are here again.

There are no happy days for the millions of Americans who have been trying to put away some money for their retirement in tax-sheltered entities like IRAs, Roth Accounts and 401(k)s. For them, the market's downward slope has been harrowing and frightening. When will the steady erosion of their savings end? And when it does, what will be left of their future financial security?

Many of the millions suffering through these worrisome months didn't buy a house they could not afford, didn't speculate on their homes, didn't let greedy impulses lead them to the edge of foreclosure or bankruptcy. Nevertheless, the excesses of their neighbors and the criminal folly of American finance is destroying their plans for retirement. It is dragging down much of the value of their homes, on which they have never missed a payment, homes on which they were counting on selling at retirement to help finance their last years in comfort.

For years, the privatization propagandists have been telling people that when the time comes, Social Security will not be there for them. Now many are learning that it's their private savings that may not be there. They are discovering they have been forced into a system in which other people have, in effect, been allowed to gamble with their retirement savings and have lost it.

The way the private, you're-on-your-own retirement system was supposed to work had individuals, during their younger, working years, investing in stock through tax-sheltered accounts. Almost nobody who is not breaking the law can choose among individual stocks and make money, so future retirees have been encouraged to buy mutual funds run by professional managers, who are supposed to be able to pick the winners.

Most of them aren't much better at doing that than are their customers, but in a rising market, a chicken pecking at stock tables can pick winners. In boom times, it doesn't matter that the future retiree must choose among thousands of mutual funds, many of which carry ruinously high fees. The damage to people's savings goes unnoticed until the market begins to go down.

Even as the market falls, future retirees are told not to panic, to keep their money where it is, because in the long run the value of their accounts will go up and they will have many a happy sunset year traveling the globe and showering their grandchildren with presents.

As the retirement date comes near, they are advised to begin selling stocks and buying fixed-income securities -- as bonds are sometimes called -- because these pay the interest they earn on a fixed schedule, providing a regular income.

For this to work, stock prices must be high when the holdings are sold and the bonds purchased must pay high rates of interest. But what happens when the stock market is in a nosedive and interest rates are half of the inflation rate, as is the case right now? Panic and worry, no golden years of travel, no presents for the grandchildren. The energy that was to be expended on leisure activities is spent instead trying to figure out how to make ends meet.

The bright spot is Social Security. That check does come with the regularity of the calendar, whether the market is up or down, whether interest rates be high or low and if, as is the case now, the Greenspan-Bush inflation is destroying family budgets. Social Security adjusts for the rising prices.

But Social Security is too narrow a ledge to stand on through the years between retirement and death. It was designed as the base on which other retirement savings were to be built.

Those savings -- the house and the tax-sheltered retirement accounts -- are shriveling up and blowing away. The persons for whom Americans' savings have been a reliable source of income are the brokers, the lawyers, the account administrators, the whole tribe of Wall Street fee farmers. They get other people's retirement money regardless of the direction the market may be moving in.

You can't call it a broken system because it was a bad one from the start. It is failing, just as its critics said it would. And what lies ahead for those whose retirement savings are gone may be a very unpleasant old age.

In my personal case, I have an IRA since the mid 60' (my largest), and both NY Stock Exchange and NASDAQ are only a few thousand dollars from their level when I first invested. Which means I'm within shooting-distance of loosing most of the gains I had previously, AND I'm within 4yrs of my planned retirement. I will have to rethink that.

POLITICS - Barack Obama in Baghdad

Barack Obama Mets Troops and State Department Workers in Baghdad

Friday, July 25, 2008

IRAQ - More From Inside, Obama

"Visitor" McClatchy News

Was I the only one who had any expectations regarding Barak Obama's visit to Baghdad?

It seems so.

"What difference will it make what the name of the president is? The overall policy will be the same." That was one friend's opinion.

"The president is only a small part of the decision making process in America. So why should I expect anything good coming out of it?" That was another friend. I was getting really discouraged. I was waiting for this believer in change to actually give a hint of change – but he was too much the politician – He said absolutely nothing to the Iraqi people. Nothing.

He wasn't here for us.

He didn't show any interest in our one thousand and one questions.

I had thought maybe a visit a university to feel out le crème de la crème of the youth of Iraq. No.

Maybe a real press conference where his wit in answering direct questions would be put to the test. No.

OK – some words of encouragement to the families of the slain, at least!

But nothing came. Nothing at all.

It was very clear that the old rules of the political game have not been touched by Mr. Obama's magical wand for change.

A man who is a change in U.S. politics all by himself said nothing to me, an Iraqi Citizen, and I was disappointed.

Mr. Candidate, our destinies have been linked, not by our choice but through the decision of others, for richer, for poorer and you had not one word for me.

ECONOMY - Gas Price Ripple Effect, State Level

Here are excerpts from two articles that demonstrate the ripple effect of the high price of gas at the state government level.

"Legislation Needed to Protect School Districts from High Fuel Costs" by Rep. Jerry McNerney (Calif D), The Hill

Schools, just like families and businesses across the country, are being squeezed by high gas prices. That’s why yesterday, along with my colleague Rep. Zack Space (OH-18), I introduced legislation to address the impact high gas prices have on the ability of school districts to transport our children to and from school.

More and more, the astronomical cost of diesel fuel for school buses has cut into school budgets, forcing school districts to reduce service, start charging or increase fees for bus service, or cut back on other programs.

In my district, some schools are facing a 40 percent increase in their fuel budgets over last year. In order to cope with that increased cost, some districts have reduced the amount of time bus drivers are permitted to wait for a child. One district has increased by 35 percent the fee it already charges parents for their children to ride the bus to school. And districts several are facing potential service cuts, especially in rural areas where buses travel lengthy routes and are already packed with students.

"Gas prices hit MT Highway Patrol" Montana's News Station

Rising fuel prices are forcing first responders to look for new ways to save money and gas.

The Montana Highway Patrol says in the last few years they have been getting rid of their V-8 Ford Crown Victoria cruisers and replacing them with V-6 Chevy Impalas to save on gas.

MHP officials say that they're looking at what other state patrol agencies around the country are doing in an effort to get new ideas for fuel saving strategies.

Last year the Missoula Highway Patrol District drove just over 640,000 miles and officials say that while the smaller cars are good for gas mileage, they make it more difficult to fit in all the equipment need for patrol duties.

And McBush's only answer is to open more off-shore drilling, even though the "extra" oil will not be available for 7 to 10yrs by oil company estimates.

POLITICS - GOP's Whining McBush

"Campaign Exhibition Games" by Bob Franken, The Hill


Which is it? Is it Barack Obama's kick-ass, ass-kicking campaign or the big "Kick Me" sign John McCain is wearing? Either way, McCain is reduced to grumbling that the only press he's getting these days is bad press. And isn't that ironic?

Remember this is the same McCain who used to get such adoring coverage himself on the "Straight Talk Express" that he referred to the media as his "base."

Now here he is, to use his buddy Phil Gramm's word, "whining" that Obama has stolen his reporter groupies … right off his bus.

POLITICS - The Crystal Ball

"Bush Will Issue a Mass Pardon" by Brent Budowsky, The Hill

Before leaving office George W. Bush will issue a mass pardon, the largest collection of presidential pardons in American history. Bush will pardon himself, Vice President Cheney, and a long list of officials involved in torture, eavesdropping, destruction of evidence, the CIA leak case and a range of potential crimes.

As George Bush signs the pardons and boards the helicopter to depart Washington as his presidency finally ends, even then, he and those pardoned will worry about the statute of limitations.

There is an important point to this, often not recognized in official Washington during the Bush years, where the unthinkable becomes a way of life, and acts have been done that have never been done by an American president or administration.

Torture violates international law, domestic law, statutory law, customary law, American law, European law — the list goes on.

Eavesdropping without court order violates a statute, FISA, that includes severe criminal penalties. If the courts ultimately conclude that these laws were broken, as I predict they ultimately will, considering the number of individual violations, and the penalties for each violation, the potential sentencing liability for anyone convicted would be huge.

On the destruction of evidence, disappearing e-mails, claims of executive privilege that I predict will be clearly rejected by the Supreme Court after Bush has departed, arguably false testimony to Congress, attempts to cover up actions that violate the law, the list, again, goes on.

There will be a huge legal debate about the ability of a president to issue pardons so sweeping in their language that they cover all these potential areas of legal liability, and very possibly, it cannot be done.

As we approach the election, leaks will increase as they did prior to the 2006 election, from within the administration, about these matters and others. Legal scholars will debate the legality of a mass pardon.

Congress should pursue every pending and possible legal challenge to claims of executive privilege so completely untenable under the law that even some conservative Supreme Court justices will refuse to uphold them, as conservative justices joined liberals ruling against Richard M. Nixon.

I predict a series of historic Supreme Court cases that will defeat most of the Bush executive privilege claims and permanently end attempts for royalist interpretations of the law that the Bush years embody.

The fact that Bush attempted to seize power in ways that negate the legislative and judicial branches of government, and the fact that Congress was not heroic in defending its rightful place in the separation of powers, do not change the fact that what is illegal is illegal.

This is not merely a liberal issue. There are many authentic conservatives, true Barry Goldwater Republicans, genuine libertarians, honorable strict constructionist conservative jurists and legal scholars who agree entirely that on occasions George Bush has attempted and at times executed seizures of executive power that violate the American Constitution and American statutes.

Get ready for mass pardons.

Get ready for the long-held precedents of American law to be ultimately if belatedly upheld as spurious claims of executive privilege, to be be rejected even by some conservative justices of the Supreme Court.

Get ready for a long-overdue debate that has barely begun and will be triggered by the mass pardons that will be the last sorry act of the presidency of George W. Bush.

Because it will be legally almost impossible to issue mass pardons so sweeping and universal they would cover every possible offense, get ready for the words "statute of limitations" to enter our public dialogue by January of 2009 as a new president assumes office and the Bush years, finally, are over.

I'm not so sure. Consider this Administration's attitude for the last 7+ years. They are NEVER wrong, they act as God's anointed, and nay-sayers are servants of Satan (aka Terrorists).

In their blindness, I would NOT be surprised they do very little in this area.

WORLD - Thais, Laotians, and America

"Asia Rising: Thoughts from Thailand and Laos" by Kathy Kemper, The Hill

I'm taking a breathtaking tour of Southeast Asia en route to Beijing for the upcoming Olympic Games. The Thais and Laotians are in awe of the United States. They want to emulate us in all respects — fashion, movies, trade, you name it — and be a player on the global stage. They may not support the war in Iraq or other foreign policies of ours, but they look to us for leadership.

That's why they care so much about our elections — their economic future, in large part, rests on what our next president does or doesn't do. Everyone here knows who Obama and McCain are. When we go out to eat, our waiters ask in halting English — but English nonetheless — what we think about the candidates. They like Obama, but worry that he's inexperienced. They like McCain, and it seems like they feel some sort of kinship with him because he has spent so much time in this part of the world.

What I find interesting is how the Thais and Laotians embrace America's core values even though most of them have never traveled more than a few miles from where they live. In particular, they're big proponents of free trade. They might not know the term "free trade," but they boast about their exports — the Thais about precious stones and rubber, the Laotians about hydropower and timber.

It's to the Asians' credit that they haven't gotten caught up in all the anti-Bush hysteria that has swept Europe the past few years. They recognize that America's not about a given administration, but rather about the values and work ethic that it promotes.

We need to start focusing on them — in particular, we need to start learning Eastern languages and understanding Eastern religions. Asia's where the money is (in no small part because it's home to the world's two powerhouses, India and China), and it's where America can forge alliances based on the shifting landscape of global power.

LITE SIDE - British Media Comedy

Things Bond Would Never Say &
TV Shows That Never Made it to Air

ENERGY - One BIG Source of Solar Power

"Ginormous Sahara solar could power Europe" by Bob Morris

What may have at first seemed an outlandish plan could become reality. It’s a $71bn plan to create massive solar farms in the Sahara and send the power to Europe. Not only would it help power Europe, it would also provide huge income for those Sahara countries (who would also get lots of power too.)

Think about it. Sahara = lots of SUN = lots of solar power.

POLITICS - Mortgage Meltdown is More Than About Money

"Boston Papers on Woman Who Killed Herself -- On Verge of Losing Home" by Greg Mitchell, Editor & Publisher


For many months, E&P has been reporting on the surge in suicides among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now another grim phenomenon is rearing its head: the suicide of homeowners who have lost, or are about to lose, their homes in the mortgage crisis. Scattered reports are now appearing from around the country.

Police in Taunton, Mass., reported that Carlene Balderrama, 53, a wife and mother, shot herself to death Tuesday afternoon -- 90 minutes before her foreclosed home was scheduled to be sold at auction. Balderrama faxed a letter to her mortgage company at 2:30 p.m., saying that "By the time you foreclose on my house I'll be dead."

The Boston Globe and Boston Herald have followed this closely. The Globe reports today: "The mortgage company notified police who found her body at 3:30 p.m. The auction had been scheduled to start at 5 p.m., when bidders showed up at the house and found it surrounded by police cruisers. But, unbeknownst to buyers and to Balderrama, the auction had been postponed by the time she grabbed her husband's high-powered rifle, [Police Chief] O'Berg said.

POLITICS - Northwest Style, Transportation

"Senator Patty Murray applauds Sound Transit for putting Phase 2 on the ballot" by Andrew, Northwest Progressive Institute

Just in from Washington, D.C.:

  • The Sound Transit Board has decisively resolved to include a new transit measure on the ballot this fall. I applaud the decision to give voters a voice in this process.

  • With gas prices sky high and transit ridership on the rise throughout the Puget Sound, expanding our transit options is more important than ever. Our region and state must continue to look for innovative ways to expand transportation options for families, help reduce our carbon footprint and grow our region's economy for years to come. Expanding Sound Transit is key to that effort.
    Senator Murray has long been a tireless champion for Washington State in our nation's capitol. It was thanks to her efforts that the Bush administration approved hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for Central Link and is requesting money from Congress for University Link.

Senator Murray understands - unlike some people in Olympia - that our region's transportation system must include a vibrant transit network of high speed light rail, commuter rail, and buses that provides choices for commuters.

We at NPI are grateful to Senator Patty Murray for her support of Sound Transit and her enthusiasm for this package. We will do everything we can to move our region forward and win the voters' approval of Phase 2 this November.

Now that's how ALL politicians should handle things. Give "the people" a chance for input.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

AFRICA - Technology Boom?

"Nairobi's light-tech revolution" by Shashank Bengali, McClatchy News


I had to chuckle when I saw this headline on a Sunday New York Times story about technological innovation in Kenya. Nairobi the next Palo Alto? Relatively few Kenyans have Internet access, and the bloggers, computer programmers and self-proclaimed tech geeks I've met in Nairobi complain of slow, expensive Internet connections (although these reportedly are getting better) and thick bureaucracies that stifle innovation.

But as the hub of East Africa Nairobi does not lack for sharp, tech-savvy minds, and this story points out some of the more innovative projects under way here. The overwhelming majority of them are relatively low-tech -- or, more accurately, light-tech. Programmers are devising cheap, simple applications for cell phones, which sell for as little as $30 here and are far more commonly used than email, land lines and even bank accounts.

POLITICS - McBush's More Oil Express

"The Straight Talk Express Needs a Teamster at the Wheel" by Carl Pope, Sierra Club

Back in 2001, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters joined the Bush Administration in advocating drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It was a major blow to the progressive movement. But the most vocal advocate of the move, a Teamster leader in Alaska named Jerry Hood, was ousted by the membership several years ago. And yesterday, in a speech here, Teamster President James P. Hoffa put his union solidly back on the side of the premise that the future of both America's economy and its environment lies in a new, clean economy. Hoffa told union members that more drilling would do nothing to ease pain at the pump, and called instead for an investment in a clean energy economy that will create new jobs.

Hoffa announced that his union no longer supports drilling the Refuge, and went on to make this remarkable statement, referring to the last eight years:

"The environment has paid an even heavier price. Global warming is for real. Air pollution is killing people and making our children sick. And you know what? We share some of the blame. In the past, we were forced to make a false choice. The choice was: Good Jobs or a Clean Environment. We were told no pollution meant no jobs. If we wanted clean air, the economy would suffer and jobs would be sent overseas. Well guess what? We let the big corporations pollute and the jobs went overseas anyway. We didn't enforce environmental regulations and the economy still went in the toilet. The middle class got decimated and the environment is on the brink of disaster. Well I say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! No more false divides. The future, if we are to prosper as a nation, will lie in a green economy...."

Meanwhile, in almost pathetic proof that the Bible is right when it says "as ye sow, so shall ye reap," John McCain had to cancel a planned trip to Louisiana, where he was going to sing the virtues of off-shore oil drilling. McCain's staff tried to pass off the cancellation as all about the weather, but there was more going in the Gulf. A collision between a tanker and a barge had just spilled 419,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil into the Mississippi River, causing a slick approximately 12 miles long that closed a 29-mile stretch of river. The visuals would, shall we say, not have resembled a Ronald Reagan "Morning in America" event.

It's clear that McCain understands that abandoning his long opposition to offshore oil drilling was an act of craven self-abasement designed to put him back in the good graces of the Republican Party's oil wing. He now admits that leasing will have no real impact on the price of gas, but he claims that it's still a good idea because it will have a "psychological" benefit. So having to cancel a trip to avoid giving the national press corps the opportunity to do split screens -- McCain shilling for oil on one side, a ravaged Mississippi on the other -- might in some odd way be a relief, psychologically speaking. But it won't help his campaign.

For a sense of just how absurd McCain's position is -- take a look at cartoonist Mark Fiore's latest

THE LAW - Secrecy vs Confidential Sources

"Bill Gertz Explains Importance of Confidential Sources" by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News

In advance of his obligatory appearance in a California court on July 24 regarding possible violations of grand jury secrecy, Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz filed a sworn declaration (pdf) describing the importance of confidential government sources and their role in his work “related to the growing threat from the People’s Republic of China.”

“Confidential sources provide information necessary to the reporter’s function of keeping the public informed of events of national interest,” he explained. “Without the information provided by confidential sources, these events — or important aspects of these events — would remain shielded from public and congressional scrutiny and oversight.”

“In my experience U.S. government employees are willing to provide sensitive government information only to those reporters and journalists whom they trust,” Mr. Gertz wrote. “A reporter who is forced to disclose the identity of a U.S. government employee who had confidentially provided information for a news story would irreparably damage his and others’ ability to cover similar stories in the future.”

“From a broader perspective, if compelled disclosure of the identities of confidential sources becomes commonplace, it would have a very damaging chilling effect on potential sources throughout government at all levels, in the business community, and across a wide spectrum of public and private organizations whose operations and activities affect the American public,” the Gertz declaration said.

But Tai Mak, one of the defendants in the criminal case reported in the 2006 story by Mr. Gertz that led to his pending subpoena, said the court should aggressively pursue its investigation of the apparent violation of grand jury secrecy.

Tai Mak, who has pleaded guilty to export control violations, urged the court not to quash the subpoena against Mr. Gertz.

“The improper leak of Grand Jury material puts extremely important constitutional and other substantial rights at stake,” the Tai Mak brief (pdf) stated. “It is necessary and appropriate that the parties, the Court, and the public, be apprised of all the facts and circumstances that are relevant to the protection of those rights.”

The old issue. Are news reporters protectors of the people against government abuse and illegal acts? Can the perform such a function if they can be prosecuted over where they get the information they report?

POLITICS - Of Spin That Is

"Evidence-based bombing" by Scott Ritter, Guardian UK


It looks as if Israel may, in fact, have had reason to believe that Syria was constructing, with the aid and assistance of North Korea, a facility capable of housing a nuclear reactor. The United States Central Intelligence Agency recently released a series of images, believed to have been made from a videotape obtained from Israeli intelligence, which provide convincing, if not incontrovertible, evidence that the "unused military building" under construction in eastern Syria was, in fact, intended to be used as a nuclear reactor. Syria continues to deny such allegations as false.

On the surface, the revelations seem to bolster justification not only for the Israeli air strike of September 6 2007, which destroyed the facility weeks or months before it is assessed to have been ready for operations, but also the hard-line stance taken by the administration of President George W Bush toward both Syria and North Korea regarding their alleged covert nuclear cooperation. In the aftermath of the Israeli air strike, Syria razed the destroyed facility and built a new one in its stead, ensuring that no follow-up investigation would be able to ascertain precisely what had transpired there.

Largely overlooked in the wake of the US revelations is the fact that, even if the US intelligence is accurate (and there is no reason to doubt, at this stage, that it is not), Syria had committed no crime, and Israel had no legal justification to carry out its attack. Syria is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and under the provisions of the comprehensive safeguards agreement, is required to provide information on the construction of any facility involved in nuclear activity "as early as possible before nuclear material is introduced to a new facility". There is no evidence that Syria had made any effort to introduce nuclear material to the facility under construction.

While the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the global watchdog responsible for the implementation of nuclear safeguards inspections, has pushed for the universal adherence to a more stringent safeguards standard known as the "additional protocol of inspections", such a measure is purely voluntary, and Syria has refused to sign up to any such expansion of IAEA inspection activity until such time as Israel signs the NPT and subjects its nuclear activities to full safeguards inspections. While vexing, the Syrian position is totally in keeping with its treaty obligations, and so it is Syria, not Israel, that was in full conformity with international law at the time of Israel's September 6 2007 attack.

Humm.... war mongering spin. What has Tricky-Dick Cheney been up to lately? Sounds like one of his ploys.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


"Nevada GOP Cancels Convention, Opts for Conference Call" by Brad Haynes, Wall Street Journal

Citing a lack of interest, the Nevada Republican Party has called off its state convention and will instead pick its delegates to the national convention by private conference call.

The state party broke up its original convention in April when supporters of Ron Paul hijacked the proceedings and tried to elect delegates for their candidate to the national GOP convention in September. Party officials tried to reconvene on July 26, but they needed a quorum of 675 and received only 300 RSVPs, according to local reports.

“With so many people concerned about the economy, it simply wouldn’t be fair for us to ask delegates from all over the state to spend money to attend a convention if we know that a quorum won’t be present,” state party Chairwoman Sue Lowden said in a release.

The news provides further evidence of a fractured and unenthusiastic Republican Party in some parts of the country. Last week, the GOP nominee in a North Carolina congressional race suspended his campaign while he confronted fissures in his own party. Polling suggests a significant “enthusiasm gap” on the part of Republican voters this year, which has left the party’s candidate, Sen. John McCain, trailing Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama in the presidential contest.

Paul’s outsider candidacy, meanwhile, attracted an unexpected seam of support in the party as he stressed strident libertarian themes in his run for the Republican nomination. Although the Texas representative has dropped out of the presidential race, his standard-bearers in Nevada continue to press his cause, hoping to shift the Republican Party toward the libertarian positions he advocated in his campaign.

Lets all hear it.... Ahhhh, so sorry GOP............ NOT

POLITICS - The "Liberal" Media Lie

"Evolution and Flip Flopping: The Media's Double Standard in Covering McCain and Obama" by Ann Davidow, BuzzFlash

McCain evolves, Obama flip flops. And so the double standard continues in this most curious of campaign seasons. Senator McCain can change positions and muddle through confusing reconstructions. He can reach out to weird religious figures like the Reverends Parsley and Hagee and employ the services of "economic guru" Phil Gramm. Or he can disavow the zany prelates and Gramm when they become too cumbersome. Whatever or whomever he chooses to embrace, or not, is all just part of an ever-evolving McCain campaign. But if Obama re-evaluates a position or reconsiders previous attachments he is attacked for being disloyal, weak and lacking judgment.

McCain amuses audiences by telling them that, as a POW, he used either the Green Bay Packer or the Pittsburgh Steeler defensive lines to fool his captors into believing they were his Air Force crew - - that habit he has of saying whatever seems to suit a particular group at a particular location. His recent claim that he "knows how to win wars" slips into the public information mill with hardly a murmur or proof of any kind, although campaign surrogates are working to re-define ‘what he actually meant.'

He has backtracked on opinions regarding immigration and the president's tax cuts and dissembled about his lack of support for the recent bill to provide educational benefits for veterans who opted out of the service after completing their tours instead of resigning. When congressional support proved too great and the president signed the legislation, he praised McCain for his support of the bill. As has become painfully obvious, truth isn't all that important to the president and his party. Anything that sounds good will do.

McCain stands firm, however, against abortion, and for the appointment of "strict-constructionist" judges, believes competition is the cornerstone of a strong economy, and that "market forces" will carry the day. He tends to repeat things that, however insubstantial, strike a responsive chord among attendees at those embarrassing town hall meetings of which he is so fond. He says he'd like to engage Obama at a series of such events, but he should be grateful that his opponent has been largely unavailable since the contrast between the two men on such occasions would not favor McCain.

Yet he exudes for many the persona of an honorable man who is strong on national security and knows stuff. Why this is true, given his repeated gaffes regarding foreign entities and peoples, is a mystery. Still, Republicans get away with accusing Obama of being naïve, indecisive and weak on defense. Having offered to accompany him to Iraq and take him around, McCain now criticizes Obama for going on such a trip, and his campaign is furious that network anchors will accompany him on his travels. Deprived of the opportunity to play older, experienced mentor to the young naïf, McCain is all huffy about the media blitz that seems likely to engulf Obama, and some of his supporters have begun ranting about how the media better give McCain adequate attention. Harrumph!

Suddenly, the Bush White House is, wonder of wonders, sending a representative to Teheran. It's as if someone at the center of their delusional-foreign-policy-compound said ‘hey let's give a shout out' to those terrorists in Iran and see what happens. And while McCain still insists that Iraq is the focus of our efforts to win the war on terrorism, Afghanistan is beginning to up-stage Iraq in the minds of most foreign-policy experts.

Meanwhile Phil Gramm has announced he is stepping down as co-chair of the McCain campaign because he has become a distraction; he accuses Democrats of preferring to attack him rather than debate McCain. But Michelle Obama is fair game, and her "being proud of her country for the first time..." remark is played endlessly in commercials accompanied by bits from adoring patriots who have always been proud of their country.

One can always support, love and defend this country, but never to have questioned our government's behavior or been ashamed of the racist undercurrent that has played a major role in our political life is to deny the downside of our history and keeps us from finding solutions going forward.

As the McCain camp steadily "evolves" into irrelevant positions and relies on personal attacks, Obama "flip flops" his way towards a better understanding of the realities we face on the world stage and tries not to respond in kind - - so much for definitions.

Bold emphasis in article

"McCain Keeps Mentioning Country That Hasn't Existed Since 1992" by Jake Tapper, ABC News


In early 2000, then-Gov. George W. Bush told Roger Simon, then with U.S. News & World Report, that he was befuddled by how soft the media was on Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

"I don't think there is any plot; I hope there isn't," Bush said. "But it's an amazing phenomenon, I'll tell you that. It's like the flap over the foreign-leader deal. A guy gets up and quizzes me -- it's my fault for trying to answer -- but John McCain says something about the 'ambassador to Czechoslovakia.' Well, I know there is no Czechoslovakia (there's a Czech Republic and a Slovakia), but yet it didn't make the nightly national news. I'm not going to gripe about it, but the media question is starting to pop up."

Apparently that Czechoslovakia lesson never took, because McCain keeps making that mistake, eight years later.

"I was concerned about a couple of steps that the Russian government took in the last several days," McCain said this week. "One was reducing the energy supplies to Czechoslovakia. Apparently that is in reaction to the Czech's agreement with us concerning missile defense, and again some of the Russian now announcement they are now retargeting new targets, something they abandoned at the end of the Cold War, is also a concern."

Bold emphasis mine

More examples of the GOP "liberal media" lie.

Also, we really need another nitwit in the Whitehouse.... NOT.

Friday, July 18, 2008

POLITICS - Us vs Big Money


I trust no one is surprised that America's Health Insurance Plans are responding to the formation of the Health Care for America Now Coalition by announcing an incredibly expensive effort to raise "an activist army at least 100,000 strong" to argue that the status quo is pretty good, and folks should be careful not to move too fast. "What do we want? This! When do we want it? Now!" There'll also be a "nationwide listening tour, advertising and an intense recruitment effort aimed at signing up Americans who are satisfied with their private insurance coverage."

For now, the language is all very constructive, and depending on what the final plans look like, it may even stay that way. We're in a period where the various armies are massing on the Potomac and showing how big they are. SEIU is promising $75 million, HCAN has $40 million, the insurers are going to basically hire 100,000 "activists," the pharmaceutical industry will doubtlessly make their threats, and so on. It's definitely a different situation then 1994, when it was only the insurers and manufactures and pharmaceutical, but health care is a multi-trillion industry, and most all of those dollars are somebody's profit stream. They will try and protect those profit streams. But as of yet, no one knows quite the best way to do it. insurers don't know if they should move to full opposition and risk being cut out of the bill or be constructive and try and shape the legislation. Reformers don't know if they should go to war against special interests or stay quiet and wait to follow the presidents lead. So everyone is waving their bank statements around and threatening to do something, sometime.

WAIT! The status quo IS pretty good, for the Healthcare Industry that is.

POLITICS - U.S. Air Force Priorities

"Counterterrorism funds for 'Comfort capsules'? " by Joe Sudbay

Okay, this does make one wonder about the priorities of the leadership of the United States Air Force. A new term for your lexicon -- "comfort capsules":

  • The Air Force's top leadership sought for three years to spend counterterrorism funds on "comfort capsules" to be installed on military planes that ferry senior officers and civilian leaders around the world, with at least four top generals involved in design details such as the color of the capsules' carpet and leather chairs, according to internal e-mails and budget documents.

  • Production of the first capsule -- consisting of two sealed rooms that can fit into the fuselage of a large military aircraft -- has already begun.

  • Air Force officials say the government needs the new capsules to ensure that leaders can talk, work and rest comfortably in the air. But the top brass's preoccupation with creating new luxury in wartime has alienated lower-ranking Air Force officers familiar with the effort, as well as congressional staff members and a nonprofit group that calls the program a waste of money.

  • Air Force documents spell out how each of the capsules is to be "aesthetically pleasing and furnished to reflect the rank of the senior leaders using the capsule," with beds, a couch, a table, a 37-inch flat-screen monitor with stereo speakers, and a full-length mirror.

Trying to figure out how "aesthetically pleasing" and "37-inch flat screens monitors with stereo speakers" and "full-length mirrors" help in the fight against terror.

What do you expect. Did you note the "digs" for the top generals of WWII? Look at what the U.S. President flies around in. After all, our top leaders just cannot be allowed to use the same facilities as the peons. Especially if it's the peons who pay for it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

POLITICS - We Forgot, the Anthrax Scare

"Seven years on, no answer from White House on anthrax attacks" by Eric Brewer, RawStory

It's been almost seven years since — in the weeks immediately following 9/11 — anthrax powder sent through the mail killed five people, threatened the lives of two Democratic senators, terrorized the entire nation, and helped prod a panicky Congress into passing the so-called Patriot Act.

In the intervening years, not only has the killer remained free, but missteps in the investigation have had major negative consequences. Just last month, in fact, the Department of Justice agreed to pay $4.6 million to former bioweapons expert Stephen Hatfill to settle a lawsuit Hatfill brought against the Justice Department, the FBI, and former Attorney General John Ashcroft for destroying his reputation and career by publicly implicating him in the case. And Glenn Greenwald has pointed out that in 2001, ABC News was fed false information by several "well-placed sources" (presumably officials in the Bush administration) suggesting an Iraq-anthrax link. That imaginary link was widely cited by pro-war cheerleaders.

At Monday's White House briefing, I asked if President Bush was satisfied with the progress of the investigation into the attacks. Press Secretary Dana Perino told me that she didn't even "know if he has had an update on it."

Here is our exchange:

Q Is the president satisfied with the progress of the investigation into the anthrax attacks?

MS. PERINO: I don't know if he has had an update on it. But obviously this is something that the FBI is doing. We don't do the investigation from the White House.

Q Well, is he following the progress?

MS. PERINO: You know, I'm sure he -- he gets updated by Director Mueller once a week on a variety of issues. And if that comes up, I'm sure he gets an update.

Q You don't know if he's satisfied with the progress?

MS. PERINO: I don't.

One reason I thought the White House might need to be reminded of this issue is because as recently as last January, in his 2008 State of the Union address, the President appeared to have completely forgotten about the attacks, stating, "We are grateful that there has not been another attack on our soil since 9/11." The anthrax letters, of course, were postmarked on September 18 and October 9, 2001, one to four weeks after 9/11. In his radio address to the nation on November 3, 2001, Bush called them "a second wave of terrorist attacks," and promised that "we will solve these crimes, and we will punish those responsible."

But just a few months later, the White House was already stalling. Asked about the pace of the investigation on February 25, 2002, then-Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said, "The President would like to get this, obviously, resolved as quickly as is possible. The pace of justice is a methodical one...the President believes the FBI is doing a good, solid job."

The question didn't come up again at a White House briefing until more than three years later, when a reporter asked Scott McClellan, "Why have we not found the person or persons responsible for the anthrax attacks of 2001?" Scott's reply: "That's a matter that remains a priority. It remains under investigation. The FBI continues to pursue it."

So it's incredible that now, after three more years, all the White House spokesperson has to say is, "If that comes up, I'm sure he gets an update." Not "he believes the FBI is doing a good job." Not even "that matter remains a priority." Just "if it comes up, he gets an update."

That's simply unacceptable. Why isn't THE PRESIDENT bringing it up? And almost as bad, why hasn't the establishment media pressed the administration harder on this issue? Especially after this story by David Willman in the L.A. Times revealed that Justice Department officials kept the investigation focused on Hatfill for almost five years, even though investigators never found any evidence linking him to the attacks, and that many experts who have been involved in the case now believe that it will never be solved.

When the Ramsey family was cleared in the JonBenet case, the media went wild. I can only suppose that one more Bush failure is no longer considered newsworthy.

Bush, "What, me worry?"

POLITICS - Bush's HHS Thugs

"HHS Moves to Define Contraception as Abortion" by Cristina Page, Huffington Post

In a spectacular act of complicity with the religious right, the Department of Health and Human Services Monday released a proposal that allows any federal grant recipient to obstruct a woman's access to contraception. In order to do this, the Department is attempting to redefine many forms of contraception, the birth control 40% of Americans use, as abortion. Doing so protects extremists under the Weldon and Church amendments. Those laws prohibit federal grant recipients from requiring employees to help provide or refer for abortion services. In the "Definitions" section of the HHS proposal it states,

  • "Abortion: An abortion is the termination of a pregnancy. There are two commonly held views on the question of when a pregnancy begins. Some consider a pregnancy to begin at conception (that is, the fertilization of the egg by the sperm), while others consider it to begin with implantation (when the embryo implants in the lining of the uterus). A 2001 Zogby International American Values poll revealed that 49% of Americans believe that human life begins at conception. Presumably many who hold this belief think that any action that destroys human life after conception is the termination of a pregnancy, and so would be included in their definition of the term "abortion." Those who believe pregnancy begins at implantation believe the term "abortion" only includes the destruction of a human being after it has implanted in the lining of the uterus."

The proposal continues,

  • "Both definitions of pregnancy inform medical practice. Some medical authorities, like the American Medical Association and the British Medical Association, have defined the term "established pregnancy" as occurring after implantation. Other medical authorities present different definitions. Stedman's Medical Dictionary, for example, defines pregnancy as "[t]he state of a female after conception and until the termination of the gestation." Dorland's Medical Dictionary defines pregnancy, in relevant part, as "the condition of having a developing embryo or fetus in the body, after union of an oocyte and spermatozoon."

Up until now, the federal government followed the definition of pregnancy accepted by the American Medical Association and our nation's pregnancy experts, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which is: pregnancy begins at implantation. With this proposal, however, HHS is dismissing medical experts and opting instead to accept a definition of pregnancy based on polling data. It now claims that pregnancy begins at some biologically unknowable moment (there's no test to determine if a woman's egg has been fertilized). Under these new standards there would be no way for a woman to prove she's not pregnant. Thus, any woman could be denied contraception under HHS' new science.

The other rarely discussed issue here is whether hormonal contraception even does what the religious right claims. There is no scientific evidence that hormonal methods of birth control can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. This argument is the basis upon which the religious right hopes to include the 40% of the birth control methods Americans use, such as the pill, the patch, the shot, the ring, the IUD, and emergency contraception, under the classification "abortion." Even the "pro-life" movement's most respected physicians cautioned the movement about making these claims. In 1999, the physicians -- who, like the movement at large, define pregnancy as beginning at fertilization-- released an open letter to community stating:

  • "Recently, some special interest groups have claimed, without providing any scientific rationale, that some methods of contraception may have an abortifacient effect...The 'hormonal contraception is abortifacient' theory is not established fact. It is speculation, and the discussion presented here suggests it is error...if a family, weighing all the factors affecting their own circumstances, decides to use this modality, we are confident that they are not using an abortifacient."

As the HHS proposal proves, the absence of fact or evidence does not slow anti-abortion movement attempts to classify hormonal contraception as abortion. With HHS' proposal they have struck gold. Anyone working for a federal clinic, or a health center that receives federal funding -- even in the form of Medicaid -- and would like to prevent a woman from accessing most prescription birth control methods has federal protection to do so. As the HHS proposal details,

  • "Because the statutes that would be enforced through this regulation seek, in part, to protect individuals and institutions from suffering discrimination on the basis of conscience, the conscience of the individual or institution should be paramount in determining what constitutes abortion, within the bounds of reason. As discussed above, both definitions of pregnancy are reasonable and used within the scientific and medical community. The Department proposes, then, to allow individuals and institutions to adhere to their own views and adopt a definition of abortion that encompasses both views of abortion."
(emphasis mine)

So HHS proposes that anyone can enforce his or her own definition of abortion "within the bounds of reason." And, it would seem the bounds are pretty far flung. Most dangerously, perhaps, this new rule establishes a legal precedent that may eventually be used as a basis for banning the most popular forms of birth control along with what is, in fact, abortion.

And some "people" are FOR McBush and his fellow Republican thugs? Of course, these "people" are just religious thugs, beat the general public into supporting their views.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

SCIENCE - Darwinism

"Let’s Get Rid of Darwinism" by Olivia Judson, New York Times

(The third part in a series celebrating Charles Darwin: Part-1, Part-2)


Charles Darwin was a giant. He did not merely write “On the Origin of Species” — one of the most important books ever written by anyone — in which he describes how evolution by natural selection works, and what some of its consequences and implications are. He also wrote — and this list is not exhaustive— a treatise on the formation of coral reefs that is still thought to be correct; a definitive monograph on barnacles, both extinct and extant; a book about how earthworms make soil; a now-classic text on carnivorous plants (the ones, like Venus fly-traps, that ensnare and digest insects); a book about the strange ways that orchids get themselves fertilized; and an account of the five years he spent aboard the ship HMS Beagle, which has become a classic of travel writing.

As if that wasn’t enough, he proposed sexual selection — the idea that decorations and ornaments, like peacocks’ tails, evolve because females in many species prefer to mate with the most beautiful males. Sexual selection has since become a major field of research in its own right.

In short, Darwin did more in one lifetime than most of us could hope to accomplish in two. But his giantism has had an odd and problematic consequence. It’s a tendency for everyone to refer back to him. “Why Darwin was wrong about X”; “Was Darwin wrong about Y?”; “What Darwin didn’t know about Z” — these are common headlines in newspapers and magazines, in both the biological and the general literature. Then there are the words: Darwinism (sometimes used with the prefix “neo”), Darwinist (ditto), Darwinian.

Why is this a problem? Because it’s all grossly misleading. It suggests that Darwin was the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega, of evolutionary biology, and that the subject hasn’t changed much in the 149 years since the publication of the “Origin.”

He wasn’t, and it has. Although several of his ideas — natural and sexual selection among them — remain cornerstones of modern evolutionary biology, the field as a whole has been transformed. If we were to go back in a time machine and fetch him to the present day, he’d find much of evolutionary biology unintelligible — at least until he’d had time to study genetics, statistics and computer science.

Oh, there would be so much to tell him! A full list would take me weeks to write out. But the obvious place to begin would be the discoveries of genetics, especially DNA. We’d have to explain that cells in each organism contain a code describing how to build that organism, written in chemical form — DNA — that evolutionary forces are constantly rewriting. Indeed, the study of DNA allows us to see the action of natural selection on a molecule-by-molecule basis. We can see the genes where natural selection acts to prevent evolutionary change, those where it drives change and those where it has no effect at all.


What would he make of it all?

I think his reaction would be a mix of satisfaction and astonishment. Satisfaction: that natural selection has turned out to be such a powerful idea, explaining such a wide range of phenomena. Astonishment: for the same reason. He would, I think, be fascinated by the weird natural history that has been discovered in the past 150 years — such as Wolbachia, bacteria that pervert the reproduction of insects for their own ends. (Wolbachia can have a number of effects, but one of the most common is to kill all a female’s sons. The reason is that sons don’t transmit Wolbachia, so from Wolbachia’s point of view, they are a waste of space.) I’m not sure he’d enjoy analyzing DNA sequences — he might find it a bit too abstracted from the living organism — but I think he’d be delighted to learn the results. I think he would be shocked by how much we know about the so-called model organisms — worms, toads, fruit flies, mice, humans and the bacterium E. Coli — and how little we know about everything else. And I think he’d be startled by the nature of scientific research — the scale of the enterprise, the cost, the pressures to publish and the degree of specialization that results. His brand of science — 20 years of thinking about a problem before publishing — could not be done today.

Note at the top, that this article is from a series in the New York Times. Readers may be interested in reading the whole series, including the rest of this article.

POLITICS - Movie Sets Rabid Conservatives Screaming

"Right-Wing Apoplectic Over Pixar’s WALL-E: ‘Malthusian Fear Mongering,’ ‘Fascistic Elements" Think Progress

This weekend, Pixar’s latest film “WALL-E” debuted at No. 1, earning $65 million at the box office. The film has been hailed by critics, scoring a whopping 97 percent “Fresh” rating on RottenTomatoes.

The film portrays a lonely robot’s quest for love, as he is left to clean up a trashed earth. Meanwhile, the over-indulged humans wait it out aboard gigantic spaceships run by a monolithic corporation-turned-government that “resemble spas for the fat and lazy.”

Somehow, this touching love story has outraged the radical right:

  • Shannen Coffin: From the first moment of the film, my kids were bombarded with leftist propaganda about the evils of mankind. It’s a shame, too, because the robot had promise. The story was just awful, however.

  • Greg Pollowitz: It was like a 90-minute lecture on the dangers of over consumption, big corporations, and the destruction of the environment. … Much to Disney’s chagrin, I will do my part to avoid future environmental armageddon by boycotting any and all WALL-E merchandise and I hope others join my crusade.

  • Glenn Beck: I can’t wait to teach my kids how we’ve destroyed the Earth. … Pixar is teaching. I can’t wArmageddonait. You know if your kid has ever come home and said, “Dad, how come we use so much styrofoam,” oh, this is the movie for you.

  • Dirty Harry: Have we lost Pixar? Have we lost the wonderful studio who brought us The Incredibles and Ratatouille to Bush Derangement Syndrome? Here you have a winning streak going back ten-years, enormous amounts of public goodwill, equal amounts of credibility as serious storytellers, and they stop things cold, yanking you out of the story with the liberal nonsense. Quite a disappointment.

  • Jonah Goldberg: I agree with the charges of hypocrisy. I agree that the Malthusian fear mongering was annoying.

Goldberg posted a lengthy letter from a reader decrying the film’s “fascistic elements,” which apparently include the movie’s discussion of the environment, a character “getting in touch with her emotional, passionate inner self,” and the use of the color red.

Now we can add a critically-acclaimed and universally-beloved cartoon character to Goldberg’s enormous list of evidence of “liberal fascism,” which already includes vegetarianism, love of animals, and Captain Planet.

Anyone have Rabies Vaccine handy? These "people" are foaming at the mouth.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

POLITICS - Anything to Get McBush Elected

"Bush to hasten Iraq troop withdrawal in bid to help McCain win White House" By Leonard Doyle, The Independent UK

President George Bush wants to speed up the withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq, a move that could help to quell the anti-war anxieties of voters before November's presidential election.

Drawing down large numbers of troops would enable the Republican candidate, John McCain, to say that his forceful military strategy for Iraq was correct. Alone among Republican and Democratic politicians, he consistently urged Mr Bush to take on the insurgents with extra forces. He is now attacking his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, for preaching policies of defeat by calling for a withdrawal in 16 months.

American commanders want to reduce their deployment in Iraq to ease the strain on the military and free up troops for Afghanistan where they are taking a beating from the Taliban and other militants.

Nine American soldiers were killed and 15 wounded yesterday in the bloodiest day in three years for US forces in Afghanistan. In a multi-pronged attack, revealing sophistication and daring, militants overran a remote US base near the Pakistan border on the front lines of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. It was the deadliest on US forces in the country since 16 combat troops were killed when their helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade in the same area in 2005.

Concerns are also growing that Mr Bush wants to release fighting forces before he leaves office in January, in the event of conflict with Iran.

By the times of Mr Bush's departure, three of the 15 combat brigades now in Iraq could have left the country, say government and military officials. That would still leave up to 130,000 frontline troops in the field – a reduction from the 170,000 deployed in the "surge" last year.

A rapid US withdrawal would mark a sharp turnaround in the fortunes of the Bush administration from only two years ago, amid the bloody slaughter of growing numbers of Iraqis and American soldiers. Anti-war feeling is at fever pitch in the US and the military is said to be near breaking point from its extended combat deployments.

This was the climate in which Mr Obama, a fierce opponent of the war, shot to prominence to seek and eventually win the Democratic presidential nomination. The Illinois Senator will head to Baghdad in a few weeks to take soundings from Iraqi leaders and US military commanders about a withdrawal. He is taking with him the Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a fierce critic of Mr Bush's policies in Iraq with him as he seeks to arrange the orderly removal of all US combat troops if he is elected president in November.

Mr Obama's plan is to remove one or two brigades every month, but he says that he will be guided by military commanders on the ground. Mr Hagel has sometimes been suggested as a possible vice-presidential running mate for Mr Obama, who needs to reach out to Republican voters if he is to expand the Democratic vote and win the White House. As the conditions in Iraq improve, the government and armed forces have shown an ability to combat insurgents that would have been unthinkable a short time ago. The number of attacks on American and other forces has dropped sharply and is now down to the levels of 2004 when the insurgency was gathering steam.

The faster pullout being considered by President Bush would free US troops for duties in Afghanistan where the Taliban and other insurgents are growing in confidence and strength. In the past three months more American soldiers died in Afghanistan than in Iraq as violence has declined.

"As the Iraqi security forces get stronger and get better, then we will be able to continue drawing down our troops in the future," the US Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, said last week.

General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, is reviewing troop levels and officials say that he is expected to take a more cautions approach and recommend smaller reductions in forces.

What?!!! Bush sneaky and underhanded?! Of course not. (Sarcasm off)

Looks like someone other than Americans see through this smokescreen.

POLITICS - Obama in UK

"The world is waiting to love America again" Editorial, The Observer UK

Barack Obama will arrive in Europe this week to a tumultuous reception. Europe - and the rest of the world - has watched in awe the amazing political theatre that has surrounded his bid to be America's first black President. Should he win in November Obama's priorities will be domestic ones but he also has a formidable opportunity to help recast America's relationship with the world. It is this relationship which took such a battering during the Bush presidency as anti-Americanism took root across the globe (though not, it has to be said, in large parts of Africa where the current American President did much of his best foreign work). The euphoria surrounding his presidential bid offers him a brilliant opportunity to repurpose the relationship between America and the world. And all of us would benefit.

Obama's visit will be brief. He is not scheduled to spend even a night in Britain and, one suspects, the Middle East stage of his trip will provoke greater interest in America. Yet as he flies in he can start the process of rebuilding the American brand, a brand left in tatters from a series of miscalculations - a bullying approach to international diplomacy, the shirking of environmental responsibility, the horrors of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and the CIA's secret rendition program chief among these.

If Bush seems to represent one stereotype of America (brash, uncaring), so Obama has come to define another. He is young - he turns 47 next month. He is an embodiment of racial diversity. The Illinois senator has that most desirable of political gifts: he makes his audience feel better about themselves.

An Obama presidency would certainly make many nations feel better about American leadership. He has expressed a willingness to listen more to allies and talk more to potential foes. He has taken domestic political fire for saying he would open a dialogue with Tehran. But he has also shown a reflex to make hawkish statements. His mixture of dialogue and firmness would make a refreshing change.

On Iraq, Obama has promised to bring the troops home sooner rather than later. In office, skeptics say, practical military considerations may overcome his instincts. The advice he is receiving on foreign affairs comes from notably hawkish Democrats. Still, it is safe to imagine, Obama will not deepen American involvement in Iraq, and his utterances so far at least suggest a refreshing lack of dogmatism. Elsewhere Obama's role could be hugely beneficial. As the son of a Kenyan, his voice will carry enormous weight in Africa in the battle against despotism and for responsible, transparent government. On climate change he could provide the leadership that the world sorely lacks and which Bush singularly failed to deliver.

And what of Britain? With Obama's election, the notion of a political 'special relationship' will fade. It has not been in our interest to maintain the pretense that America regards us as anything other than simply another partner in Europe. Free of the ideological baggage of past generations, Obama is likely to pursue a more honest relationship.

Of course, expectations have risen so high there are bound to be disappointments should Obama win the November election. Already there are mutterings on both sides of the Atlantic about his tacks from left to center, real or imagined. For now, though, we should welcome candidate Obama and celebrate his emergence as such a dynamic force. Change is the watchword of his candidacy. And the change in attitude to politics he has inspired, here and in America, has been astonishing.

POLITICS - McBush on Social Security, Opinion

"John McCain Thinks Social Security Is A 'Disgrace'" MojoBlog, Mother Jones

On Monday, during a town hall in Denver, John McCain proposed a radical "fix" for the way Social Security is funded. Responding to a questioner who claimed Social Security "will not be there" when current workers retire (which is wrong), McCain said this:

  • Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed.

As anyone who knows anything about Social Security understands, "paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers" is pretty much the functional definition of Social Security. Always has been. That's what John McCain is calling an "absolute disgrace."

There's more in the full post.

ECONOMY - Thinking of Retirement Soon?

"Can you still afford to retire? Better re-check your timetable" by Kathy Chu, USA Today

The economic downturn has thrown an extra problem at older Baby Boomers who had planned to retire over the next few years: They now have less money at their disposal than they had projected.
Retirement portfolios are shrinking. Home equity is plunging. And Social Security faces an uncertain future. This trifecta of grim news means that all but the wealthiest Baby Boomers may have to review — and possibly rethink — whether their retirement target dates are still realistic.

The bottom line is this: Unless you're flush with cash, if you don't need to retire, don't. The stock market is tanking, eating away at your hard-earned nest egg. If you tap into your portfolio now, you'll deplete it further.

You'll also have to brace for the risk of poor market performance in the first few years after you retire. Meager returns during the first five years of retirement can significantly raise the chance that you'll outlive your money, especially if you're withdrawing more than the portfolio is earning each year, according to an analysis by T. Rowe Price, an investment firm.

"Anyone will tell you that you are better off not starting to draw down on your portfolio when the market is already heading into a bad period," says Norman Boone of Mosaic Financial Partners, a financial planning firm.

There's more in the full article.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

AFRICA - July 4th Celebration

"A Kenyan-American July 4th" by Shashank Bengali, McClatchy News

The U.S. ambassador in Nairobi, Mike Ranneberger, hosted a party yesterday to commemorate American Independence Day. It was not your typical July 4th barbecue.

On the lush lawns of the Spanish-style ambassadorial residence in Muthaiga -- the toniest neighborhood in town -- several hundred business-attired U.S. Embassy staff, foreign diplomats, Kenyan politicians and other dignitaries were assembled. Waiters distributed canapés and drinks, including bottles of Budweiser and Miller Genuine Draft. A well known local boys' choir performed. Members of the U.S. armed services presented the colors as perhaps Kenya's most prominent pop singer, the Berklee College-trained Eric Wainana, sang the Star-Spangled Banner and the Kenyan national anthem with equal grace.

Raila Odinga, the new prime minister, was a big hit, turning up in a stars-and-stripes tie (which I presume he got on his recent trip to Washington). But an even bigger star arrived a few moments later: Sarah Obama (right), the paternal step-grandmother of a certain U.S. Senator, who traveled a long way from her far western village but looked none the worse for wear. Raila once famously said that he and Barack Obama were cousins, but I couldn't get close enough to the two of them to hear whether Mama Sarah confirmed this.

Long before Barack Obama contended for the White House, the Kenya-U.S. relationship was tight -- and lucrative for the Kenyan government, which gets about $1 billion in U.S. government aid. In his remarks, Ranneberger stressed the strength of this relationship and praised Kenyans for forming a coalition government to end, or at least paper over, the election violence. He quoted several Swahili proverbs ("Every door has its own key," was the only one I understood), while Raila took to the stage and quoted Thomas Jefferson ("endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights"). It was quite the lovefest.

Still, I was reminded why journalists don't often get invited to these things. Greeters distributed lapel pins with crisscrossed U.S. and Kenyan flags, and my Embassy friends encouraged me to wear mine to "be part of the team." In the buffet line a woman who works for a certain international institution in Kenya thought I was with the Embassy. She got several minutes into an obscenity-laced tirade about the corruption in the Kenyan government and the unfolding saga over a Cabinet minister's secret sale of a major downtown hotel to Libyan developers. Finally I had to tell the woman that I was actually a reporter. That conversation was over.

Hay, at least one place where Emperor Bush hasn't completely ruined American's reputation.

MEDIA - Fox News Would Make Joseph Goebbels Very Happy

"'This Is One Emergency We Can't Drill Our Way Out Of'" by Carl Pope, Sierra Club

That the core message of the advertising blitz that T. Boone Pickens announced yesterday in New York. Here's the ad itself. The ad buy will be huge -- $58 million -- and by the time I got here last night, people had already seen it on TV. Some of the media coverage of the Pickens plan has simply emphasized his move into wind, while some coverage has focused on his vision of using wind power to back out natural gas currently used for power, and then using the gas to replace imported oil. Overall, though, the coverage has been intense and overwhelmingly positive.

Pickens says that while oil prices may decline from their current level, they won't go below $100 a barrel -- which makes the idea of driving vehicles fueled by compressed natural gas, currently priced at the equivalent of about $2 a gallon, very attractive if the supply can be generated without spiking the price of natural gas. But since half of the gas we currently burn to heat and cool our houses is wasted, and since U.S. gas reserves and production are both increasing, the gas supply picture looks a good deal brighter than that for oil. And it's cleaner.

Although most of the coverage has been extensive, there is one remarkable exception. Fox News ran only a brief eight-line story that completely buried the Pickens plan and instead featured his prediction about the future price of oil. This is interesting because, in an earlier Fox interview with Pickens, they carefully edited out all of his views on the reality that we can't make a meaningful difference in our situation by more domestic drilling. If you watch only Fox News, you'll never know what the ex-oilman is really saying: That oil isn't the answer.

But, but.... we can't hurt our poor oil companies, says the GOP. (aka Giant Oil Promoters)