Friday, May 29, 2009

IRAQ - From Someone Who Was THERE

Former military interrogator says
torture cost hundreds "if not thousands"
of American lives

This from someone who was there, on the ground doing the job, not sitting in Washington DC spinning scare tactics to justify their reign of power.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

HEALTHCARE - Single-Payer

"Single-Payer: Is Nationalized Health Coverage the Way to Go?" Bill Moyers Journal 5/21/2009

This week, the JOURNAL examined the political and logistical feasibility of single-payer universal health insurance, which has broad public support but has been conspicuously absent from the health care debate in Washington and the mainstream media.

Bill Moyers asked Dr. David Himmelstein, co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, to explain what single-payer means. He said:

“It’s what we used to call national health insurance, so government collects the money for health care from taxes. You don’t pay premiums – instead, you pay taxes, [which] pays all the bills. Hospitals remain privately owned and operated. Doctors remain mostly in private practice. But their bills go to the government insurance program, just as they do today with Medicare, but we’d be able to streamline the payment system if we had only one payer instead of Medicare being one among many. So a hospital would get paid like a fire department does today: you have one check a month that pays for the entire operation, and that means you can eliminate the huge billing apparatus of the hospitals and the doctors’ offices where we’re employing many people to do our billing.”

Advocate Donna Smith told Moyers why she supports single-payer universal health insurance over the present system or the public-private hybrid model proposed by the Obama administration:

“It’s a great idea from the left, which is public financing, combined with a great idea from the right, which is private delivery. And you put it together in one system that takes out the waste and the abuse that’s really happening, which is where all the money really goes in health insurance. Up to 30 percent of the costs have nothing to do with healthcare at all and everything to do with fueling the health insurance needs... We've got to have a national health program, we just have to do it. It's the only way we fix this mess. It's spun out of control, it's gonna bury us financially, it's gonna mortgage our children, and it kills people.”

Some are skeptical that the federal government is capable of responsibly running a national health insurance program. In the WALL STREET JOURNAL, columnist John Steele Gordon wrote:

“It might be a good idea to look at the government’s track record in running economic enterprises. It is terrible... Other than the source of its premiums, Medicare is no different, economically, than a regular health insurance company. But unlike, say, UnitedHealthcare, it is a bureaucracy-beclotted nightmare, riven with waste and fraud... Because of the need to be re-elected, politicians are always likely to have a short-term bias. What looks good now is more important to politicians than long-term consequences even when those consequences can be easily foreseen... And politicians tend to favor parochial interests over sound economic sense... The inescapable fact is that only the profit motive and competition keep enterprises lean, efficient, innovative and customer-oriented.”

What do you think?

  • Should the U.S. pursue single-payer universal health coverage? Why or why not?

  • Is single-payer universal health insurance politically feasible? Explain.

  • Are there any alternative models for health care that are being left out of the discussion or that you support?

Look carefully at John Steele Gordon's comment. This is the "focusing on money" argument, instead of focusing on "people need affordable health care."

If you get sick and NEED health care badly, do you open your wallet and see if you have enough to pay for it, then decide whether to go or not?

Needless to say, I think that Single-Payer Healthcare is the only solution we have.

POLITICS - Being Presidential

"The Difference Between Being President and Being Presidential" Common Sense World 5/21/2009

President Obama spoke this morning to discuss major policy initiatives regarding the handling of terror suspects at Gitmo, national security, and the need for transparency and the rule of law in government. It was a fantastic speech in both content and tenor, fairly discussing the actions and goals of the previous administration and contrasting those with his own administration’s actions and goals in dealing with the same problems. (If you didn’t get to hear it or see it, you can read the full text here.)

Obama rightly debased the rationale of the previous administration for many of the actions they took over the last 8 years, but he did so in a way that was not (to me at least) designed to inflame partisan passions. Rather, he presented this information as a way to cause us to reflect on what America is supposed to be, how it was designed by our framers, and how it can be so easily derailed by weak minded officials faced with problems too big for them to handle and hard nosed ideologues whose only goal is to exert unopposable power without regard to moral and legal right and wrong. Obama also spread the blame for the savage departure from American values and ideals of the last 8 years to all politicians left and right-for the truth of the matter is that we, the American people, were let down on all sides by cowardly politicians and even more cowardly bullies. For 8 years, our elected officials threw out their responsibilities of due diligence and oversight in favor of political posturing. The actions, and inactions, of those who held elective office during the Bush administration and helped create the national nightmare or did nothing to prevent the fall into the abyss, has caused this country great harm both domestically and abroad. The blame is shouldered equally, and recent partisan bickering only further cements this as fact, for those who protest to their own defense most loudly are likely also those whose actions may seem most detestable.

“Unfortunately, faced with an uncertain threat, our government made a series of hasty decisions. And I believe that those decisions were motivated by a sincere desire to protect the American people. But I also believe that - too often - our government made decisions based upon fear rather than foresight, and all too often trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions. Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, we too often set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. And in this season of fear, too many of us - Democrats and Republicans; politicians, journalists and citizens - fell silent.

In other words, we went off course. And this is not my assessment alone. It was an assessment that was shared by the American people, who nominated candidates for President from both major parties who, despite our many differences, called for a new approach - one that rejected torture, and recognized the imperative of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.” (Obama-5-21-09)

Obama has a tough road ahead. Calls from the left scream for investigations and “truth” commissions. Calls from the right demand an “end to persecution.” This balance is hard to manage while retaining the desire to right the wrongs of American governance. But again, Obama takes the right path, for he is the president, not the judge and jury of this nation. While recognizing the wrongs committed in our names, he also understands that to rectify those wrongs requires a return to rationality and legal principals that this country was founded on. It is not for the president to declare guilt or innocence or to demand trials for grievous wrongs done in the name of “freedom.” That is why we have a Justice Department and a court system and a Congress with investigatory powers. By promoting direct legal action, Obama would be unnecessarily politicizing what is in effect a legal matter, albeit one that goes to the heart of what it means to be America.

“That is what I mean when I say that we need to focus on the future. I recognize that many still have a strong desire to focus on the past. When it comes to the actions of the last eight years, some Americans are angry; others want to re-fight debates that have been settled, most clearly at the ballot box in November. And I know that these debates lead directly to a call for a fuller accounting, perhaps through an Independent Commission.I have opposed the creation of such a Commission because I believe that our existing democratic institutions are strong enough to deliver accountability. The Congress can review abuses of our values, and there are ongoing inquiries by the Congress into matters like enhanced interrogation techniques. The Department of Justice and our courts can work through and punish any violations of our laws.

I understand that it is no secret that there is a tendency in Washington to spend our time pointing fingers at one another. And our media culture feeds the impulses that lead to a good fight. Nothing will contribute more to that than an extended re-litigation of the last eight years. Already, we have seen how that kind of effort only leads those in Washington to different sides laying blame, and can distract us from focusing our time, our effort, and our politics on the challenges of the future.

We see that, above all, in how the recent debate has been obscured by two opposite and absolutist ends. On one side of the spectrum, there are those who make little allowance for the unique challenges posed by terrorism, and who would almost never put national security over transparency. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words: “anything goes.” Their arguments suggest that the ends of fighting terrorism can be used to justify any means, and that the President should have blanket authority to do whatever he wants - provided that it is a President with whom they agree.

Both sides may be sincere in their views, but neither side is right. The American people are not absolutist, and they don’t elect us to impose a rigid ideology on our problems. They know that we need not sacrifice our security for our values, nor sacrifice our values for our security, so long as we approach difficult questions with honesty, and care, and a dose of common sense. That, after all, is the unique genius of America. That is the challenge laid down by our Constitution. That has been the source of our strength through the ages. That is what makes the United States of America different as a nation.” (Obama 5-21-09)

At the end of the day, it’s not just what he says that marks this president as a class above his predecessor, but the way he says it, and the way he understands his role in American government. Obama embodies the difference between being president and being presidential- a difference as marked as that between being the class leader and the class bully. Perhaps the juxtaposition of these two quotes is the best illustration of all.

  • “I’m the decider, and I decide what’s best.” George W. Bush

  • “In our system of checks and balances, someone must always watch over the watchers - especially when it comes to sensitive information.” - Barack Obama

It’s nice to have a real leader back at the helm.

ON THE LITE SIDE - Kites No Longer Just for Kids

Stunt Kites

SATIRE - Warmongers Among Us

From Pickled Politics, UK


WAR - The Real Cost

"Map the Fallen" Sean Askay

Click pic for direct link to article

This Memorial Day (5/25/2009) I would like to share with you a personal project of mine that uses Google Earth to honor the more than 5,700 American and Coalition servicemen and women that have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have created a map for Google Earth that will connect you with each of their stories—you can see photos, learn about how they died, visit memorial websites with comments from friends and families, and explore the places they called home and where they died.

The map requires you have Google Earth 5 installed (download link provided).

INSTRUCTIONS: (missing in article)

  1. After installing/updating to Google Earth 5, run it

  2. From the article page, use the "click here" to open the map

  3. WARNING: You MUST use the normal IE save-file, NOT a Download Manager plug-in

  4. Google Earth will actually download and install the map; be sure you save it, by default it goes to your My Places

The way this map works is that it is loaded each time you open Google Earth, like any other location you have saved.

Then, when you click on a figure, a box comes up with all the public information available about that person – like where that person was killed, his/her age and links to pages about that service-person.

POLITICS - California's Prop 8

"California's Proposition 8 decision on the wrong side of history" by Jason Black, Northwest Progressive Institute 5/27/2009

Yesterday's big news, of course, is that the California Supreme Court upheld the odious proposition 8, which stripped gay and lesbian couples of the right to marry. Much has been written dissecting the court's opinion.

I won't cover that ground in this post. I just want to say that in this, California is on the obvious wrong side of history.

Broadly interpreted, human history is the process of recognition, by degrees, that people are more the same than they are different, and that they all deserve the same rights. Jefferson summed it up famously, thus:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The edit is mine, to point out that even those uncommonly enlightened men who framed our Constitution couldn't see the full extent of their own vision.

Over the twenty two decades since the ratification of our constitution, we've come a long way towards truly fulfilling that vision.

Black people are counted as both human beings and citizens now. They can vote, own property, start businesses, and hold elected office.

Women, so long denied their voice, have had the vote for nearly a century now.

The law recognizes the complete invalidity of the "separate but equal" doctrine which kept public schools and facilities segregated for so long after the Civil War.

You can't discriminate (not legally, anyway), in employment and housing on the basis of race, gender, age, religion, disability, veteran status, and a host of other factors, including sexual orientation.

Taking a long view of human history, and even the comparatively brief view over American history, one cannot but come to the realization that in any argument over rights, the side arguing to deny a certain class of people their rights, invariably ends up being the losing side of that battle.

Every time.

Sometimes this process takes a long time. Sometimes the pendulum swings back and forth a few times before the issue is settled.

Yet, while miscegenation laws which forbade people of different skin colors from marrying were struck down in 1967, the love between same-sex couples is still not treated equally. Richard and Mildred Loving fought for the validity of their love regardless of skin type. In California, gay and lesbian couples are still fighting for the validity of their love regardless of body type.

Yesterday, the California Supreme Court let that pendulum swing back a bit, towards the losing side. Yesterday was a sad day for all who believe in the fundamental equality of all human beings in all things.

I recognize and appreciate the Court's efforts to limit the scope of their ruling and the adverse effects on gay and lesbian couples. The Court took pains to leave intact the substantive rights of gay and lesbian couples, but it denied them the legal use of the word "marriage".

It may just be a word, a label, but words matter. Without the label, all the substantive rights in the world don't add up to real marriage equality.

There's no two ways about it. Proposition 8 is on the wrong side of history. It's time Californians wake up to that fact and do something about it.

My stance, I cannot think of anything that is more a Human Right than the relationship of consenting adults.

Think about this, would you want the government (local, state, federal) deciding if your personal relationships were valid or not? Really?

POLITICS - Attacking Sotomayor

Who is More Stupid? Women or Puerto Ricans?
Rachel Maddow Show

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Pay particular attention to the Mark McKinnon interview in this video.

ON THE LITE SIDE - From The Onion, America's "Finest" News Source

"Obama's New Fuel Efficiency Plan"

Last week, President Obama announced a plan to lower automobile emissions by requiring new cars to average 35.5 miles per gallon. How can Detroit rise to meet the challenge?

  • Launch massive campaign urging drivers to draft a few feet behind one another on the highway to minimize drag

  • Will no longer sell or lease to anyone weighing more than 150 pounds

  • Remove least fuel-efficient tire from every car

  • Gradually decrease the length of a mile

  • Slap a sticker that says "35.5" on all new cars

  • Bulldoze nation's uphill gradients

  • Talk Obama down to 34 miles per gallon by offering to throw in a copy of The Audacity Of Hope with each auto purchase

  • Copy the Japanese, probably.

"Report: Increasing Number Of Educators Found To Be Suffering From Teaching Disabilities"

A shocking report released by the U.S. Department of Education this week revealed that a growing number of the nation's educators struggle on a daily basis with some form of teaching disability.

The study, which surveyed 2,500 elementary and high school level instructors across the country, found that nearly one out of every five exhibited behaviors typically associated with a teaching impairment. Among them: trouble paying attention in school, lack of interest or motivation during class, and severe emotional issues.

"For teaching-disabled and at-risk educators, just coming to school every day is a challenge," said Dr. Robert Hughes, a behavioral psychologist and lead author of the study. "Even simple tasks, like remaining alert and engaged during lessons, can be a struggle. Unfortunately, unless we take immediate action, these under-performers will only continue to fall further behind."

"Our teachers are in trouble," Hughes continued. "Some can't even teach at a basic sixth-grade level."

As noted in the report, hundreds of schools have already begun setting up special classrooms in which the teaching- disabled can receive the extra attention they require, teach at their own unique pace, and be paired up with patient students who can help to keep them on track.

According to school administrators, new programs like these encourage marginalized and disenfranchised teachers by rewarding them for showing up to school prepared and taking an active part in classroom discussions. Many also have counselors on hand to intervene when an instructor grows frustrated or throws a tantrum and storms out of the room.

In the new "Teachers First!" program at Wesley Academy in Chicago, educators who were once labeled "lost causes" and left to flounder in the system for years on end are now diagnosed with specific teaching disorders, given extra time to grade difficult assignments, and, in the case of particularly troubled teachers, moved back a grade.

"We're much more sensitive now to the factors that influence their behavior: abusive home lives, drug and alcohol problems, or often, the fact that they never should have been put in regular classrooms to begin with," Wesley principal Donald Zicree said. "A lot of these poor men and women have been told they can't teach for so long that many start to believe it after a while."

"Rather than punishing our teachers or kicking them out, we give them a gold star every time they do something right," Zicree continued. "If they write the correct answer to a math problem on the board, they get a gold star. If they volunteer to read aloud during English class, they get a gold star. You'd be amazed what a little positive reinforcement can do. Some of our teachers† have even stopped drinking in their cars during lunch."

According to Zicree, school officials aren't the only ones excited by the difference the new programs are making. Many educators have also responded favorably, realizing that they no longer have to act out or create disruptions in order to get the attention they so desperately crave.

For a few, like Michael Sturges, a 10th-grade history teacher at Wagar High School in Council Grove, KS, being put in a special classroom has reawakened a love for teaching he hasn't felt in years.

"Now that I know I have a teaching disability I don't beat myself up so much when I have a bad day or can't grasp the material we're working with," said Sturges, 38, who has pinned a number of perfectly graded assignments up on his wall. "I used to think teaching and stuff was pretty lame, but now—I dunno—I guess it's all right. If anything, being in school now might help me to get a decent job when I'm older."

Added Sturges, "You know, something that pays more than $24,000 a year."

POLITICS - Cheney's Speech, Self-Serving and False

Keith Olbermann Special Comment

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

POLITICS - Rush Cheney Show

"The Rush and Cheney Show Accelerates Military Desertion of the GOP" by Jon Soltz, Huffington Post

For decades, the conventional wisdom was that the Republican Party was the party of the military. And while no party has or ever will monopolize military support, certainly Republicans had a good amount of support from some big names - from Eisenhower to Powell.

In recent years, however, as Republicans have abandoned ideals that make our military strong - no nation building using our Armed Forces, looking for strong alliances to join us in action, operating on a moral high ground when we do use force, and commitment to a strong enough and large enough force - we've seen big names head towards supporting Democrats - from General Wesley Clark and Major General Paul Eaton to General John Shalikashvili, General Joseph Hoar, and General Hugh Shelton. Oh, and Colin Powell.

That shift towards Democrats, and especially President Obama and Hillary Clinton during the primary, is about to be fast tracked, as Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney take control of Republican messaging, ideals, practices, and policies.

Ideals that include torturing detainees, hoping for a "24-like" moment that neatly helps dismantle terrorist networks, instead of giving them their best recruiting tool. It goes against everything we learn in the Army Field Manual (which forbids torture), and what we know works on the ground. For example, when we urgently needed information about insurgents in Iraq, we didn't bring in a local leader and torture him, no matter what. Doing so would have only inflamed things and made it impossible for us to effectively operate in an area again.

Practices based on use of force first, like Newt Gingrich's odd contention that if he was President, he'd go into North Korea and bomb away to destroy their missiles, unphased by what that would actually mean.

And, policies like favoring big contracts for high-end weapons systems and air power, over a military with a strong ground component - championed by Donald Rumsfeld. Policy still backed by those who would put more money into experimental weapons systems over growing the size of our enlisted forces, which would only hamstring our ability to effectively operate.

For all I disagree on with Senator John McCain, he may have been the Republicans best hope at stemming the trend, by at least voicing opposition to torture, and standing firm on Pentagon waste and bloated contracts, worried more about practical equipment that could help our troops in the field. Now, with Senator McCain vanquished within his own party by those who weaseled their way out of service in Vietnam, no one seems to be in the way of taking the Republican Party full-tilt to the anti-military-ideals fringe.

It's hard to remember, but when General Wesley Clark retired, and was rumored to be interested in politics leading to 2004, there was some buzz wondering if he would be a Democrat or Republican. It says a lot, because even though he supported Democrats privately while serving, there still was a sliver of space for someone like General Clark in the Republican Party, making such speculation not too outlandish.

It reminds me of recent news involving another General.

Last year, those on the right loved General David Petraeus. You couldn't debate anyone on the neocon side without them trying to hide behind the General. There were even rumors swirling that Republicans would recruit him to be their nominee in 2012. Then, supporters of Governor Palin championed her nomination in four years, but they thought General Petraeus would make a fine subordinate to the Governor in a Dream Ticket to take on President Obama.

Well, don't look now, but our friend Sam Stein at reported here:

General David Petraeus said this past weekend that President Obama's decision to close down Gitmo and end harsh interrogation techniques would benefit the United States in the broader war on terror.

General Petraeus goes on to say that he believes we need to stay within the Geneva Convention, and that closing Gitmo "sends an important message to the world, as does the commitment of the United States to observe the Geneva Convention when it comes to the treatment of detainees."

Of course, this flies in the face of the Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney crowd - those who believe that we're safer when we do things that serve as great recruiting tools for al Qaeda.

There's no doubt that General Petraeus would be a powerful nominee for Republicans in 2012. One has to wonder, however, if with Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh calling the shots, the GOP is a Dream Party for him.

As a 22yr Navy Vet (retired), Viet Nam era, ex-Republican, I totally agree. The GOP has NEVER REALLY supported "the troops," they just give lip-service.

What the GOP really supports is the infamous Military Industrial Complex (aka Big Money). Then, what can you expect from a party with the "money above all else" mindset.

POLITICS - Sotomayor Pick

"Sotomayor Pick a Product of Lessons From Past Battles" by PETER BAKER and ADAM NAGOURNEY, New York Times


President Obama’s aides were laying down the law. They had invited liberal activists to the White House two weeks ago to discuss his coming Supreme Court selection, but they were not asking for candidates.

Instead, they told the activists not to lobby for their favorites in the news media or talk down candidates they opposed. The message, as one surprised visitor heard it, was “get on board or get out of the way.”

In the months leading up to Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s selection this week, the White House methodically labored to apply lessons from years of nomination battles to control the process and avoid the pitfalls of the past, like appearing to respond to pressure from the party’s base or allowing candidates to be chewed up by friendly fire.

The selection process for Mr. Obama’s first Supreme Court nomination brought together a group that had been thinking about this moment for a long time, from a president who taught constitutional law to a vice president who voted on the confirmation of every member of the current court. Sitting in the room were advisers like Ronald A. Klain and Cynthia Hogan, who have been involved in nomination fights going back to Clarence Thomas.

Even before Justice David H. Souter publicly announced nearly four weeks ago that he was retiring, Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff who lived through two nominations during Bill Clinton’s presidency, commissioned a strategy memorandum from Mr. Klain intended to dictate the process. Secrecy was paramount. As the decision neared, aides disguised meetings on the subject even on the president’s internal schedule by blocking out time under the label “Chief of Staff Strategy.”

From the beginning, Mr. Obama had been focused on Judge Sotomayor, a federal appeals court judge from New York, officials said Wednesday. She had a compelling life story, Ivy League credentials and a track record on the bench. She was a Latina. She was a woman. She checked “each of the grids,” as Mr. Obama’s team later put it. And by the time the opportunity arrived, it became her nomination to lose.

Over the course of the last four weeks, Mr. Obama nursed doubts about Judge Sotomayor and entertained alternatives, aides said. He called around, asking allies about her reputation for brusqueness. At times, he grew increasingly enamored of other candidates, particularly Judge Diane P. Wood, whom he knew from Chicago. But by the time Judge Sotomayor left the White House last Thursday after what Mr. Obama told aides was a “dense discussion” of constitutional law, he was pretty much sold.

“You had to knock her off the pedestal,” Mr. Emanuel said, “and nobody did.”

The selection process got its start in the weeks after Mr. Obama’s election last fall when he gathered advisers in a conference room in downtown Chicago one day. The court was on his mind.

“Just because we don’t have a vacancy right now doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work on it,” he told the group, according to participants. “The day we get a vacancy, we want to have a short list of people ready.”

Mr. Obama already had one in mind and threw out several names, including Judge Sotomayor, aides said. His new White House counsel, Gregory B. Craig, got to work assembling more names.

Another example of what is different from the Bush Administration. Good, think ahead, planning.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

POLITICS - The Gitmo Scare

"Closing Gitmo: We have nothing to fear but fear-mongering itself" Opinion, Philadelphia Daily News

AS WE THINK of the military personnel who lost their lives for this country, thoughts of war cannot be far behind. We've been thinking of war - not in Iraq or Afghanistan, but in London during the blitz of World War II.

With that city under siege with sustained bombings - the Nazis bombed the city 57 consecutive nights, killing over 20,000 in the city - the British went about their daily business, if not always with calm, then certainly with resolve, and with a commitment to that old-fashioned idea: civil defense. Contrast that image with today's panicked Americans prepping their bomb shelters in the event that a few hundred suspected terrorists are transferred from Guantanamo to maximum-security prisons in the United States. That's the image that Gitmo-mongerers - Democrats and Republicans alike - are embroidering in response to President Obama's request for money to close the detention center. Congress rejected his request for $81 million last week.

If you believe everyone from Dick Cheney to Harry Reid, the detainees - there are 50 approved for transfer, with more whose fates must be determined - all have swine flu and pockets full of anthrax ready to infect our population by mere contact with our atmosphere. And while Reid may have sounded just foolish by claiming that you can't transfer prisoners without releasing them, Cheney has sounded like Rudy Giuliani's more-unbalanced brother by claiming that Obama is compromising the safety of Americans by closing Guantanamo - especially when he doesn't mention that the Bush administration actually released mote than 500 Gitmo detainees.

Guantanamo is not just a prison for suspected terrorists - three of whom have actually been convicted over the last seven years. It's a prison that is keeping American ideals of justice and the rule of law behind bars. Closing this symbol of our compromised ideals is an important action that symbolizes our rejection of all that happened there - including enhanced interrogation and lack of due process. As Obama has pointed out, Guantanamo was more effective as a terrorist recruitment tool than as a prison.

The Obama administration does need to outline a plan for all the detainees, and we'd like to see an accounting of why such an effort has a price tag of $81 million.

But if our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are being fought to preserve and spread the notion of democracy, how can we ask our soldiers to believe in what they're fighting for if we don't believe it ourselves? (And if we don't believe that our own prisons are secure, why have we become the world leader in putting people behind bars?)

In a speech on Guantanamo last week, Obama acknowledged the "extremist ideology that threatens our people." The extremist ideology that worries us is not so much from the Middle East as from Washington.

POLITICS - A Good Argument

"America is better than torture" by Greg Sagan, Amarillo Globe

Over the past few weeks we have been bombarded with stories and arguments about America's use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" and torture.

These arguments reduce to the following categories:

First, are enhanced interrogation techniques legal?

Second, are enhanced interrogation techniques torture?

Third, can we torture our enemies if torture works?

Fourth, if we cannot torture our enemies on our own soil, then may we torture them on someone else's soil, either with our without the official participation of America's agents?

Finally, are we safer with torture than without?

Former Vice President Dick Cheney is making the rounds of everyone who will listen to press his claim that "enhanced interrogation techniques" work. Reports entering the mainstream media suggest that these techniques include waterboarding, sleep deprivation, long periods in so-called "stress positions," close confinement with insects, being slapped into a wall while bound, hooded and suspended by the neck, and simulated execution.

Mr. Cheney has even called on President Obama to do something former President Bush, apparently with Mr. Cheney's active support, would not do, which is to declassify CIA and other materials that speak to the efficacy of these techniques. Mr. Cheney is apparently convinced that these techniques "kept America safe."

This is an easy claim to make, and it's true so long as we ignore both Sept. 11, 2001 and the loss of more than 4,000 of our fighting men and women in Iraq since we invaded. Since the possibility of a terrorist attack using commercial airliners flown into buildings on American soil was known to our government at least one month earlier, one could plausibly argue that torture is still no substitute for paying attention to the intelligence gleaned from other methods. But the claim reminds me of the very old saw about the guy standing on a corner snapping his fingers. Someone comes up and asks him what he's doing, and he says, "Keeping the elephants away." The passer-by says, "You're crazy. There isn't an elephant within a thousand miles of here," to which the first guy says, "See? It works."

As to whether enhanced interrogation techniques, and especially waterboarding, are torture, it seems to me all we really have to do is consult history. Some of the methods that constitute "enhanced interrogation" have been with us since at least the Inquisition, and we all know what a crowd pleaser that was.

More recently, after World War II we considered those Japanese who waterboarded American prisoners to be war criminals. Either we were wrong about the Japanese then, or we are guilty of war crimes now. It would be nice if we could have it both ways, but we can't.

If ancient history doesn't convince us then all we need to do is answer this question: Would we consider such a technique torture if it were applied to one of our own service members by a foreign authority? If it's torture when they do it to us then it's still torture when we do it to them.

Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura had this to say about the reliability of waterboarding, to which he submitted while on active duty with the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War: "Give me one hour, a waterboard and Dick Cheney, and I'll have him confessing to the Sharon Tate murders."

The interesting thing to me is that all of these arguments are completely beside the point.

The real question, the most important question, the question almost no one is answering is whether America should torture anyone ever. Or, phrased more generally, the proposition is, if the good guys do the same things the bad guys do, are they still the good guys?

This is a moral test that America has failed already, and it's time to acknowledge that lapse and correct ourselves. The only thing that makes America worth defending, the only "moral authority" that makes the American fighting man readily fight our wars, defeat our enemies, and lay down his life for us all is the conviction that we are better than our foes. Once we descend to moral parity, or worse, compared to those with whom we war, our subtlest, least tangible, most powerful asset evaporates, and we are left with nothing to defend us but the magnitude of the damage we can do with our technologies of destruction.

America isn't land. It isn't wealth. It isn't a flag. It isn't the sum of our individual pretensions and boasts. America is an idea that even power has limits, that those limits are codified in our laws, and that anyone who violates those laws rates punishment that is neither cruel nor perverted.

Oh, and until we're actually convicted in a credible court after a fair trial, we're all innocent and must be treated that way.

Friday, May 22, 2009

ENTERTAINMENT - The Circus Tuned Into Art

This article is about Cirque du Soleil which has turned the ordinary circus into an art-form.

Many of you may have heard of Cirque (Wikipedia), or even seen a show, but all I have talked to about this have been overwhelmed by these shows. The very first show I went to in San Diego, I was in constant wonder for the whole show.

The individual acts, when analyzed, are standard circus BUT the presentation makes it a whole new experience. The choreography, music (live), makeup, everything!

'tis is NOT my grandfather's circus. There are a collection of videos that demonstrate what I mean, and here is just one example. Enjoy.

Cirque du Soleil's "KA" Rare and Unseen Footage
by cumbrowski

ENVIRONMENT - Climate Bill

"So How Good Is This Climate Bill, Anyhow?" by Carl Pope, Sierra Club

Don't feel bad if you're confused about the merits of the comprehensive climate bill reported out yesterday evening by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The array of reactions from environmental leaders and organizations is not the usual one: Some (such as NRDC and Environmental Defense Fund) have hailed it, while others (Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth) have opposed it. (The Sierra Club's reaction was "Bill Moves Us One Step Closer to Clean Energy Future;Key Elements Must Be Strengthened As Plan Moves Forward."

Let's look a little closer at its strengths (and weaknesses).

First, the bill establishes a strong long-term goal -- an 80 percent reduction in carbon pollution by 2050. It contains the strongest energy-efficiency language ever to emerge from a Congressional committee. It makes a huge commitment to protect tropical forests. And it puts the down payment on a number of other critically important initiatives: financing energy efficiency, protecting low-income consumers from energy-price spikes, helping developing countries and U.S. communities protect themselves from natural disasters resulting from climate change, and helping buffer America's wild heritage from the impacts of climate change.

But in its present form it, it won't do all that's needed. The oil, coal, and dirty-utility interests that have a huge block of seats on the Commerce Committee were able to prevent enactment of President Obama's much bolder vision. The bill does almost nothing for renewable electricity generation, gives about 85 percent of the revenues it generates to maintaining the status quo, and weakens the EPA's authority to clean up coal-fired power plants.

But even with those faults, it was a historic victory. We owe a deep debt of gratitude to its principal authors, Henry Waxman and Ed Markey. How can all of these seemingly contradictory things be true? Legislation, it has famously been said, is like sausage -- you don't want to watch it being made. And the House Energy and Commerce Committee is, for environmentalists, the ugliest part of the sausage-making process. Since 1980, no major piece of environmental legislation has emerged intact from this committee -- each has had to be repaired and mended either on the House floor, in the Senate, or in conference. Climate legislation will be no different.

Coal and oil will not quietly give up their monopoly power over our economy, their subsidies from the Treasury, or the loopholes that protect them from being held accountable for the damage they do to our health and environment. Their allies among the retrograde power companies, led by the Southern Company, aren't about to let clean energy compete with their current reliance on dirty power. The lust to siphon off billions of dollars in public revenues for a bailout of Big Carbon will be fierce.

Yes, they will try to kill the green-jobs recovery in its cradle, and yes, they will try to block our clean-energy future. This contest is not for the faint of heart. We need to take the foundation that Waxman and Markey have given us, and build on it -- but we need to insist that America ends up with a secure future. This bill needs to be like a house with a roof on it -- not the half-finished shell that Exxon-Mobil and Peabody Coal would like to place on President Obama's desk.

To arms!

POLITICS - Security Policy

"Obama Announces Review of Classification Policies" by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News

“We are launching a review of current policies by all of those agencies responsible for the classification of documents to determine where reforms are possible,” announced President Obama in a speech at the National Archives today.

While the President has spoken broadly before of the need for greater transparency, this is the new Administration’s first public approach to reform of the national security classification system. A focused review of individual agency classification policies, many of which have not been revised or updated for years, has the potential to eliminate obsolete classification requirements, and to minimize overclassification.

“I ran for President promising transparency, and I meant what I said,” Obama said. “That is why, whenever possible, we will make information available to the American people so that they can make informed judgments and hold us accountable. But I have never argued – and never will – that our most sensitive national security matters should be an open book.”

“I will never abandon – and I will vigorously defend – the necessity of classification to defend our troops at war; to protect sources and methods; and to safeguard confidential actions that keep the American people safe. And so, whenever we cannot release certain information to the public for valid national security reasons, I will insist that there is oversight of my actions – by Congress or by the courts.”

The President also indicated that an ongoing review of the use of the state secrets privilege was “nearing completion.”

“On all of these matters related to the disclosure of sensitive information, I wish I could say that there is a simple formula. But there is not. These are tough calls involving competing concerns, and they require a surgical approach.”

“But the common thread that runs through all of my decisions is simple: we will safeguard what we must to protect the American people, but we will also ensure the accountability and oversight that is the hallmark of our constitutional system. I will never hide the truth because it is uncomfortable. I will deal with Congress and the courts as co-equal branches of government. I will tell the American people what I know and don’t know, and when I release something publicly or keep something secret, I will tell you why,” he said.

See “Overcoming OverclassificationSecrecy News, 9/16/2008

ON THE LITE SIDE - San Diego Zoo, Somali Wild Ass

"Wild Horses!" by Lance Miller, San Diego Zoo Blogs

If you thought I was going to talk about the song from the Rolling Stones, you might be disappointed. I’m actually writing about a species that most people have either not heard of or know little about: the Somali wild ass. They are related to horses but really are wild asses.

Please allow me to introduce myself (you can see I like the Rolling Stones!). My name is Lance Miller, and I just joined the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research as the new research coordinator within the Behavioral Biology Division. I recently graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a doctorate in experimental psychology. Before returning to graduate school, I was a research manager at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, where I conducted behavioral research on all sorts of species from tigers to elephants to sea turtles. With my experience and education, I hope to learn more about Somali wild asses and help to conserve this very endangered species.

Only a few hundred Somali wild ass are left in the wild, and the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park has one of the only breeding herds in the country. So what am I studying?

Here are some of the questions that I’ll be answering:

1. How do Somali wild asses spend their time? Just like people spend a different amount of time eating, sleeping, playing, exercising, etc., we want to find out how these animals spend their time. Studying the animals’ behavior will allow us to enrich their lives in managed care.

2. What factors cause certain animals to spend time with some animals but not others? Do you have a best friend? Perhaps someone that you don’t enjoy spending a lot of time with? This is probably similar to the animals. Examining the amount of time certain animals spend close to one another will help us determine which animals are “friends” and which animals tend to stay further apart.

3. When do Somali wild asses grow up? Just like people, the Somali wild asses have different stages of development (infant, juvenile, adult, etc.). However, we do not know at what ages these changes take place. Studying the animals’ hormones and behavior will help us to answer this question.

By answering the three questions above we can determine when it is appropriate to have an adult male in the group for breeding, how many animals (male or female) should be grouped together, and at what age a female Somali wild ass can become a mother. The more we learn the more we can help conserve this rare animal.

Unfortunately for now, the Somali wild asses are currently in an exhibit that is not visible to the visiting public. But the good news is there are plans to build a new exhibit where these animals will be out for everyone to see! Check back later this summer for an update on my progress, and hopefully by the end of summer you will have a chance to see this amazing species out in their new exhibit at the Wild Animal Park!

POLITICS - The Security Debate

"Obama Would Move Some Detainees to U.S." by SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, New York Times

Despite stiff resistance from Congress, President Obama said Thursday that he intended to transfer some detainees from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to highly secure facilities inside the United States. He also proposed “prolonged detention” for terrorism suspects who cannot be tried, a problem he called “the toughest issue we face.”

In a speech at the National Archives here, Mr. Obama gave a full-throated defense of his antiterrorism policies and his commitment to closing the Guantánamo prison. With Republicans painting him as weak on terror, and Democrats increasingly nervous about transferring terrorism suspects to the United States, the White House sought to reclaim a debate over which even some of his allies said he had lost control.

“We are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security,” Mr. Obama declared, adding, “As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following fact: Nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal supermax prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists.”

In describing his plans for the roughly 240 terrorism suspects still held at Guantánamo Bay, Mr. Obama accused his predecessor, George W. Bush, of having embarked on “a misguided experiment” that resulted in “a mess.”

He said there would be no danger in transferring detainees to “highly secure prisons” in this country, and pledged to seek trials for many in civilian or military courts. But he also said he would move to “construct a legitimate legal framework” to justify the detention of dangerous terrorism suspects who could not be tried or released, a proposal that is creating unease among human rights advocates who are among his staunchest backers.

Mr. Obama did not deliver his message in a vacuum. Just minutes after his speech, cable news programs turned their focus to a competing address being delivered by his staunchest Republican foe, former Vice President Dick Cheney.

The dueling appearances amounted to real-time philosophical combat between competing national security visions, the debate Americans might have witnessed had Mr. Cheney run for president.

The setting of Mr. Obama’s address — the soaring marble and limestone rotunda of the Archives, where the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are kept — was intended to underscore his main theme: that as commander in chief he can uphold American values while also protecting the nation’s security.

“I believe with every fiber of my being,” Mr. Obama said, “that in the long run we cannot also keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values.”

But Mr. Cheney, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, a bastion of conservative thought, put forth another worldview, in which security is paramount.

“In the fight against terrorism,” the former vice president said, “there is no middle ground, and half measures keep you half exposed.”

The back-to-back speeches brought to life the broad and very difficult questions facing Mr. Obama as he tries to live up to his pledge to shut the Guantánamo prison by January and at the same time rewrite the legal framework established by Mr. Bush for imprisoning and trying terrorism suspects.

Among those questions is whether bringing to the United States those Guantánamo detainees who could not be released to their home countries would make Americans less secure. Mr. Obama quoted Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, in saying that “the idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees within the United States is not rational.”

But critics warn that housing dangerous terrorism suspects in United States prisons would make those facilities, and the communities surrounding them, vulnerable to attack; could allow militants a chance to plot strategy on American soil; and could open the way for militants to stay in the country, if they were acquitted at trial.

“I think the president will find, upon reflection,” Mr. Cheney warned Thursday, “that to bring the worst of the worst terrorists inside the United States would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come.”

A second issue is whether to try the detainees in American courts. Mr. Obama said Thursday that he would do so “whenever feasible,” citing the cases of two other terrorists — Ramzi Yousef, who tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993, and Zacarias Moussaoui, identified as the 20th Sept. 11 hijacker — who are serving life sentences in prison after being convicted in the United States.

But critics say there is a risk that classified information would be made public in such criminal trials, a danger that David B. Rivkin, an official in the Reagan Justice Department, calls “the conviction price.” Mr. Obama said that military commissions, which allow defendants fewer rights, would be the “appropriate venue” for the trials of at least some detainees.

Yet another question is what to do with the most problematic group of Guantánamo detainees: those who pose a national security threat but cannot be prosecuted, either for lack of evidence or because evidence is tainted.

The answer proposed by Mr. Obama would write an entirely new chapter in American law to permit “prolonged detention” — just as at Guantánamo, but with oversight by the courts and Congress. Human rights advocates express outrage at that approach, however, saying it would violate the very civil liberties Mr. Obama, a former lecturer on constitutional law, has vowed to protect.

“It is very troubling that he is intent on codifying in legislation the Bush policies of indefinite detention without charge,” Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said after the speech. “That simply flies in the face of established American legal principle.”

As he moves ahead, Mr. Obama must still persuade lawmakers to release the $80 million he has requested to close the Guantánamo prison. On a vote of 86 to 3 Thursday night, the Senate, like the House earlier, passed a war financing bill without that $80 million, which Congress has said it will not give him until he provides a more detailed plan. Thursday’s speech did not appear to change that.

“We’ve received today a broad vision from President Obama, and it’s important that he did that,” said the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada. “We’re all awaiting the details of this plan, and he’s going to come up with one.”

Mr. Obama ran for office on a promise of restoring America’s moral standing in the world by rejecting Mr. Bush’s policies. But as president he has found that doing so is fraught with political peril. He used Thursday’s speech to explain a string of controversial national security decisions, including the apparent contradiction between withholding photos showing abuse of detainees and the release of classified memorandums about interrogation.

The president said he was trying to strike a balance between transparency and national security.

“I ran for president promising transparency, and I meant what I said,” he declared, adding, “But I have never argued — and I never will — that our most sensitive national security matters are an open book.”

This is the old question, can we give up our American values, as represented in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, in the name of security?

Are we really so frightened?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

POLITICS - GOP Sinking, New Poll

"GOP Losses Span Nearly All Demographic Groups" by Jeffrey M. Jones, Gallup


Only frequent churchgoers show no decline in support since 2001

The decline in Republican Party affiliation among Americans in recent years is well documented, but a Gallup analysis now shows that this movement away from the GOP has occurred among nearly every major demographic subgroup. Since the first year of George W. Bush's presidency in 2001, the Republican Party has maintained its support only among frequent churchgoers, with conservatives and senior citizens showing minimal decline.

More details and graphs in full atricle.

Click for enlarged view

Monday, May 18, 2009

POLITICS - Gates, His Mindset

"A Single-Minded Focus on Dual Wars" by Greg Jaffe, Washington Post


On a rainy night in March, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to witness the military's ritual for welcoming home its war dead.

In a small building next to the tarmac, an officer briefed the defense secretary on the four deceased troops arriving that evening. They had been driving along a rutted road near Jalalabad, Afghanistan, when their Humvee hit a powerful roadside bomb.

Gates flashed with anger, according to people with him that day. He had spent most of his tenure in the Pentagon pushing to replace Humvees in Afghanistan and Iraq with Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, built to withstand such blasts. "Find out why they hadn't gotten their goddamn MRAPs yet," he snapped at his staff.

Clad in the black suit he had worn to work that morning in the Pentagon, Gates climbed into the cargo hold of the white 747 bearing the remains. From the ground, troops could see the defense secretary as he knelt, alone, by the flag-draped transfer cases. Five minutes passed.

Then Gates, a small man with white hair neatly combed across his head, appeared in the plane's door and summoned the chaplain and the honor guard to begin the 17-minute welcome-home ritual.

A few days later, he was asked at a Pentagon news conference if he would talk about his visit. He started to answer the question but stopped. "Actually, no," he said. "I will tell you it was very difficult."

Gates's experience at Dover offers a window into what is driving him as he seeks to remake Washington's biggest and most ponderous bureaucracy. For decades, the Pentagon's focus has been on building expensive, high-tech weapons programs for conventional wars. Gates has embarked on an ambitious effort to force the department to focus more of its energy on developing arms and equipment that can help troops on the ground as they battle insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

POLITICS - GOP, Sad Shriveled Prune of a Party

"The GOP’s Paranoid Foreign Policy" by Michael Freedman, Newsweek

Listening to the paranoid Republicans, you'd think that Barack Obama is working night and day to give away what's left of U.S. power. He's exposing America to a mortal threat from ... Nicaragua. Setting up the dollar to fall as the premier global currency. Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton recently said, in all seriousness, that "people close to" the Obama team are conspiring to cede U.S. sovereignty to a world government. Former GOP leader Newt Gingrich sees a "weird pattern" in which Obama administration lawyers have sought to defend the terrorists that Bush tried to put away. One GOP congressman after another complains that Obama himself is aiding the "enemies of America"—Hugo Chávez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—by talking to them, and is setting the country on the road to -European-style socialism.

Not so long ago, the GOP was dominated by seasoned foreign-policy thinkers like Brent Scowcroft and James Baker. Now the mainstream of the party has a paranoid world view that sees America's rivals plotting with ruthless efficiency against a weak-kneed president. Former vice president Dick Cheney recently said he no longer considered Colin Powell a GOP member, because in the presidential elections Powell endorsed Obama, someone who in Cheney's view is making the nation "less safe." Cheney cited as a real Republican the popular radio personality Rush Limbaugh, whose has this to say on foreign policy: "I'm telling you, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are disasters. Russia, China, Third World communist countries are all on the move—and we're doing nothing other than begging them to talk to us by telling them it's a new era of diplomacy." Leslie Gelb, a foreign-policy expert who has worked in two presidential administrations, calls the new GOP tone "worse than paranoid, it's cynical." That is, a desperate attempt to shore up a failing party by defining itself in sharper contrast to Obama.

The new GOP line represents the triumph, if one can call it that, of the party faction that has always been hostile to multilateralism, and to global institutions and treaties like the U.N. and the Geneva Conventions. This faction dates at least as far back as the 1940s, and over the years it has clashed repeatedly with the party's internationalist, business-oriented wing. Ronald Reagan managed to unite the factions, briefly. His successor, George H.W. Bush, was a multilateralist—a businessman and ambassador to the U.N. After September 11, the business—oriented wing was shunted aside.

The new Republican paranoia is thus a sign of decay. Moderate party members in the Northeast and Midwest have drifted away, and the number of people identifying themselves as Republicans dropped from 30 percent in 2004 to 25 percent in 2008, with a further fall in the first four months of 2009 to 23 percent, according to a Pew survey. "This leaves a vacuum, and this vacuum is filled with the Rush Limbaughs of the world and with Cheney as the remaining spokesman," says James Mann, whose books have chronicled GOP foreign-policy thinking.

Facing a world in which it is increasingly difficult for the U.S. to ignore allies and the U.N., the conservative Republicans insist more loudly that this is what must be done. The global nature of the financial crisis, climate change, terrorism and pandemic threats have convinced just about everyone else, including the dwindling breed of moderate Republicans, that America can't go it alone. "This nonsense that if we cooperate with the world and if we form alliances that somehow this is going to be subversive to our sovereign interests is crazy," says Chuck Hagel, the recently retired Republican senator who identifies himself with the more multilateralist side of the party. "It makes no sense." Today's conservatives still hail Reagan as a hero, while forgetting how aggressively he engaged with the Soviet Union to help end the Cold War.

As the Republicans grow more paranoid, they grow less popular. Obama is reaching out to the world, and after 100 days in office, his approval rating hit 73 percent, higher than the younger Bush or Clinton at that stage in their terms, with particularly high marks on foreign policy. More than half of Americans think Obama is striking the right balance between pushing U.S. interests and taking its allies interests into account, according to Pew. Fewer than a third disagree.

The GOP is in danger of losing its reputation, firm since the Richard Nixon era, as the party of national security. A few weeks ago, members of the Republicans' more internationalist wing, including Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, began a campaign to temper the party's image, but their one-page national-security plan said so little, it was hard to tell where they stood. Unless the GOP gets a grip on America's place in the world, its place in American politics will continue to slip.

Friday, May 15, 2009

ON THE LITE SIDE - More From Humor Times

"America Repels Alien Attack on Native Soil" Faux News

Invaders target nation's lawns, requiring "Shock and Awe" strategy, say experts

Humor Times special report

When pundits debate national security in the media these days, they're usually referring to threats posed by Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Korea. No doubt very important stuff, but every spring we face a growing insurgency right here at home: the massive invasion of unsightly weeds on the nation's lawns.

"I'm at my wits end," says Ernest Sanders of Atlanta, Georgia, who loves a uniform green lawn. "The weeds are the worst I've ever seen them, despite the gallons and gallons of weed killer I've saturated my yard with."

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture, annual turf and lawn maintenance altogether is a $30 billion industry. However, over 400 different species of weeds and insects are now resistant to some or all pesticides traditionally used to battle them.

The extent of the problem is "rather startling" says Robert Metcalf of the University of Illinois. "It makes you think we're doing something wrong."

Indeed. Something is wrong, and according to Sam Restinthall, a lawn care specialist in Los Angeles, California, it is that we have not committed ourselves fully to the fight.

"We need a real 'Shock and Awe' strategy, to rid our nation of these foreign invaders, once and for all," says Restinthall. "If the $8.9 billion we spend annually on lawn chemicals isn't doing the job, let's dump $20 billion on it. Talk about a great stimulus plan! We in the lawn care industry could use it, I'll tell ya," he said.

But radical capitalist-hating organic types say we shouldn't be "poisoning" our lawns. They say weeds won't thrive in rich soil, so people should work on making their soil healthy.

"Taller blades help shade the roots from the heat, so set the mower blade height to 3 inches, or more if your mower has a higher setting," says Charlotte Berkenshire, organic lawn care expert from Lubbock, Texas.

"Buy sugar. Apply it to your lawn at the rate 1 pound sugar per 250 sq. ft. of lawn. Water it in well. Your soil has beneficial microbes that work round the clock, all year round, enriching the soil. Fertilizers, weed killers etc, kill these microbes. Sugar keeps them alive," she says.

While that sounds sweet, Restinthall says it's "living in fantasy land." "She probably recommends smoking a big joint before mixing up the sugar water too," he warned, "and that, as we all know, may be pleasant on a sunny day, but it is illegal."

According to Monsanto, the nation's leading pesticide manufacturer, citizens should be buying their genetically modified "Happy Grass" product, and using five tons of Round-Up each year on an average size lawn.

"If you want a stress-free lawn, you've got to use 21st century science," said Ronald Dorkendurf, a consumer relations expert with Monsanto. "Our Happy Grass will grow green and strong, and is impervious to Round Up - so apply lots and lots of it. Nothing will live on your lawn but grass, it's so easy!"

When asked about the effect of all that pesticide on pets and children playing on the lawn, Dorkendurf said, "Everyone knows lawns are for looking at, not playing on. Get your kids back inside on their video games where they belong, and put that dog on a leash!"

Thursday, May 14, 2009

ECONOMY - Change in Regulation

"Obama Urges Rules on Investments Tied to Financial Crisis" by STEPHEN LABATON & JACKIE CALMES, New York Times


In its first detailed effort to overhaul financial regulations, the Obama administration on Wednesday sought new authority over the complex financial instruments, known as derivatives, that were a major cause of the financial crisis and have gone largely unregulated for decades.

The administration asked Congress to move quickly on legislation that would allow federal oversight of many kinds of exotic instruments, including credit-default swaps, the insurance contracts that caused the near-collapse of the American International Group.

The Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, said the measure should require swaps and other types of derivatives to be traded on exchanges or clearinghouses and backed by capital reserves, much like the capital cushions that banks must set aside in case a borrower defaults on a loan. Taken together, the rules would probably make it more expensive for issuers, dealers and buyers alike to participate in the derivatives markets.

The proposal will probably force many types of derivatives into the open, reducing the role of the so-called shadow banking system that has arisen around them.

“This financial crisis was caused in large part by significant gaps in the oversight of the markets,” Mr. Geithner said in a briefing. He said the proposal was intended to make the trading of derivatives more transparent and give regulators the ability to limit the amount of derivatives that any company can sell, or that any institution can hold.

The initiative was well received by senior Democrats in Congress with jurisdiction over the issue. The proposal had been expected, but some lawmakers, impatient with the pace of the new administration’s efforts, had begun moving ahead themselves.

Hinting at a lobbying campaign to come, Robert Pickel, the chief executive of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, a trade group, said his organization “looked forward to working with policy makers to ensure these reforms help preserve the widespread availability of swaps and other important risk management tools.”

But some in the financial industry say that regulation is inevitable. “Nobody is in a ‘just say no’ mode,” said Steven A. Elmendorf, a former aide to the House Democratic leadership who represents several major financial institutions and groups. “Everybody understands that we’ve been through a financial crisis and that change has to happen. And the only question is how the change happens.”

The administration is seeking the repeal of major portions of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, a law adopted in December 2000 that made sure that derivative instruments would remain largely unregulated.

The law came about after heavy lobbying from Wall Street and the financial industry, and was pushed hard by Democrats and Republicans alike. It was endorsed at the time by the Treasury secretary, Lawrence H. Summers, who is now President Obama’s top economic adviser.

At the time, the derivatives market was relatively small. But it soon exploded, and the face value of all derivatives contracts across the world — a measure that counts the value of a derivative’s underlying assets — outstanding at the end of last year totaled more than $680 trillion, according to the Bank for International Settlements in Switzerland. The market for credit-default swaps — a form of insurance that protects debtholders against default — stood around $38 trillion, according to the international swaps group. That represents the total amount of insurance that has been written on various kinds of debt, but the amount that would have to be paid out if the debt went into default is considerably less.

As the credit crisis has unfolded, trading in credit-default swaps has cooled, market participants said. The collapse of A.I.G. took a huge player out of the market and banks, hobbled by losses, have curbed their activities in the market. Still, derivatives trading desks have been profit centers at major banks recently.

The biggest banks and brokerage firms, including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, as well as major insurers, are all major players in derivatives.

Derivatives are hard to value. They are virtually hidden from investors, analysts and regulators, even though they are one of Wall Street’s biggest profit engines. They do not trade openly on public exchanges, and financial services firms disclose few details about them. The new rules are meant to change most, but not all, of that opacity.

Now, lets see if the industry REALLY supports the change or just say they are but work behind the scenes to block it.

POLITICS - Media Red Scare Index

"The Red Scare Index:29" by Karl Frisch, Media Matters 5/12/2009

Here is today's daily Red Scare Index -- our search of CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, MSNBC and CNBC for uses of the following terms: Socialism, Socialist, Socialists, Socialistic, Communism, Communist, Communists, Communistic, Marxism, Marxist, Marxists, Marxistic, Fascism, Fascist, Fascists and Fascistic.

Here are the numbers for yesterday, Monday, May 11, 2009:

Socialism, Socialist, Socialistic: 18
Communism, Communist, Communistic: 3
Marxism/Marxist: 1
Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 7

By Network:

  • CNN: 1

  • Socialism, Socialist/s, Socialistic: 1
    Communism, Communist/s, Communistic: 0
    Marxism, Marxist/s: 0
    Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 0

  • CNN Headline News: 0

  • Socialism, Socialist/s, Socialistic: 0
    Communism, Communist/s, Communistic: 0
    Marxism, Marxist/s: 0
    Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 0

  • Fox News Channel: 6

  • Socialism, Socialist/s, Socialistic: 4
    Communism, Communist/s, Communistic: 0
    Marxism, Marxist/s: 1
    Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 1

  • Fox Business Network: 18

  • Socialism, Socialist/s, Socialistic: 12
    Communism, Communist/s, Communistic: 2
    Marxism, Marxist/s: 0
    Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 4

  • MSNBC: 0

  • Socialism, Socialist/s, Socialistic: 0
    Communism, Communist/s, Communistic: 0
    Marxism, Marxist/s: 0
    Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 0

  • CNBC: 4

  • Socialism, Socialist/s, Socialistic: 1
    Communism, Communist/s, Communistic: 1
    Marxism, Marxist/s: 0
    Fascism, Fascist/s, Fascistic: 2

Ahhhh..... run for you lives! America in danger.... NOT!

Note that Fox (Conservative mouthpiece) tops the numbers.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

POLITICS - The Conservative Wonks With Nothing Better to do

"Right Wing Attacks President Obama for Star Trek Screening" by Tommy Christopher, Politics Daily

Mr. Sulu, ahead warp factor screed! Set phasers on rant!

Leading conservative website Redstate has launched another photon torpedo at the President, accusing him of...wait for it...watching a movie!

...what does one think when one reads Politico's latest little report that reveals that President Barack Obama has called the Star Trek folks up asking for his own special, private screening of the franchise re-boot?

Of course, it all makes one wonder how one of Star Trek's titular characters might view Obama's demands? One might imagine that the self-centered assumptions of privilege would not be looked upon as anything other than a gross example of the human failing of arrogance born of a too healthy dose of self-esteem.

Since Cubic Politics easily and thoroughly debunks this, while explaining how a Presidential screening of a Klan movie is OK but this isn't, I've only got one thing to add:Does President Obama stand accused of watching a movie called Spock Trek? Because that's really the only way you could imagine a description by a titular character. That is, unless you were using some other definition of titular, like the one that applies to the recent photos of Miss California.

This is, of course, how the game is played. Redstate wouldn't be doing their job if they just let the President watch a movie. This has become the equivalent of that " bed" fortune cookie game, except instead, you add "...and that's why Obama is an elitist / socialist/ horseperson of the Apocalypse."

I'm saving my real Star Trek outrage for those who truly deserve it. The film, which grossed $76.5 million through Sunday, has spurred a raft of Trek-related political articles that have earned my ire as surely as tribbles purr.

First, there was Salon's article comparing President Obama to Mr. Spock. I have no problem with the premise, even though I made the comparison six months ago! They do a good job drawing parallels, comparing Obama to Mr. Spock and James Bond (?), but their photoshop job looks less like a Vulcan, and more like the spawn of some "What happens at Starbase 69 stays at Starbase 69" union between a drunken Romulan and a leprechaun. Our own Caleb Howe did a far superior job.

You can also add Newsweek to the list of offenders who are ripping us off. They not only did the Spock comparison, but also a comparison of the Bush administration as Star Wars with the Obama administration as Star Trek. Not only do they erroneously cast W as Darth Vader (everyone knows that's Cheney's role), they also lack the Jedi photo-shopping skills necessary for such a piece, lazily opting for the side-by-side headshots.

I will say this, though, they bring up an interesting thought. If Cheney and Bush are heads of the deposed Galactic Empire, I suppose Barack Obama's Presidency shows us what it must have been like for Luke Skywalker after the 2nd Death Star was blown up. I'm sure there were lots of people, and Ewoks, who feared change, and had trouble getting behind the Skywalker administration. I'm sure Grand Moff Tarkin was all over the TV talking about how the Death Star kept everyone safe.

But I would say they should think of the Ewok who works 2 jobs just to feed his family, or the elderly Wookie couple who must choose between prescription medications and groceries, or the dashing smuggler who must bear the high cost of energy when refueling his Millennium Falcon.

But, but why does the Prez get a special screening? Why can't he just go to a local movie house like the rest of us?

Whoa! Secret Service all over the place (at taxpayer expense), news hounds by the gross, etc. Now that's the way we all want to watch a movie.... NOT!

More proof that conservatives have nothing better to do OR nothing in mind (like having the brain of a gnat).

Thursday, May 07, 2009

POLITICS - The "Other" Side Goofs

"Senate Democrats Deny Specter Committee Seniority" by Paul Kane, Washington Post


The Senate dealt a blow tonight to Sen. Arlen Specter's hold on seniority in several key committees, a week after the Pennsylvanian's party switch placed Democrats on the precipice of a 60-seat majority.

In a unanimous voice vote, the Senate approved a resolution that added Specter to the Democratic side of the dais on the five committees on which he serves, an expected move that gives Democrats larger margins on key panels such as Judiciary and Appropriations.

But Democrats placed Specter in one of the two most junior slots on each of the five committees for the remainder of this Congress, which goes through December 2010. Democrats have suggested that they will consider revisiting Specter's seniority claim at the committee level only after the midterm elections next year.

"This is all going to be negotiated next Congress," Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), said tonight.

Specter's office declined to comment.

Without any assurance of seniority, Specter loses a major weapon in his campaign to win reelection in 2010: the ability to claim that his nearly 30 years of Senate service places him in key positions to benefit his constituents.

Only proves that Democrats can be stupid too.

POLITICS - Prime Example of GOP Gibberish

"Mike Pence Descends Into Gibberish After Evolution Questions From Chris Matthews" by Rachel Weiner, Huffington Post


The conversation started off with a rather simple question. "Do you believe in evolution, sir?" Chris Matthews asked Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), a leading House conservative.

"Um... I, do I believe in evolution? Ah, I, I, ah... I embrace the, uh -- the, uh -- the view, ah, that God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that's in them..."

Matthews interrupted. "Right, but do you believe in evolution as a means to get there?"

The sparring continued for the next several minutes, as Matthews demanded the Republican congressman own up to his party's continued skepticism over theories and facts that have broad support from the scientific community, such as evolution and climate change.

Chris Matthews 'Destroys'
GOP Rep. Mike Pence On Evolution/Science Question


Hay! I have to give the prize to Mike Pence, for the fanciest dancing around a question I witnessed lately.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


"Thomas Jefferson's Bill for Religious Freedom (1779)"

The following transcription contains the complete text of Thomas Jefferson's Bill for Religious Freedom as he wrote it in 1779. The italicized and bolded words and phrases were deleted in the statute as passed by the Virginia Assembly.

Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow, involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that , Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time: That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness; and is withdrawing from the ministry chose temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing ally citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.

WE THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF VIRGINIA DO ENACT that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his belly or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

And though we well know that this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

POLITICS - Out of Office and They Still Try to Obfuscate

"Bush Officials Try to Alter Ethics Report" by Carrie Johnson, Washington Post

Excerpt, pg 1 of 2

Former Bush administration officials have launched a behind-the-scenes campaign to urge Justice Department leaders to soften an ethics report criticizing lawyers who blessed harsh detainee interrogation tactics, according to two sources familiar with the efforts.

Representatives for John C. Yoo and Jay S. Bybee, subjects of the ethics probe, have encouraged former Justice Department and White House officials to contact new officials at the department to point out the troubling precedent of imposing sanctions on legal advisers, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the process is not complete.

The effort began in recent weeks, the sources said, and it could not be determined how many former officials had reached out to their new counterparts.

A draft report of more than 200 pages, prepared in January before Bush's departure, recommends disciplinary action, rather than criminal prosecution, by state bar associations against Yoo and Bybee, former attorneys in the department's Office of Legal Counsel, for their work in preparing and signing the interrogation memos. State bar associations have the power to suspend a lawyer's license to practice or impose other penalties.

The memos offered support for waterboarding, slamming prisoners against a flexible wall and other techniques that critics have likened to torture. The documents were drafted between 2002 and 2005.

The investigation, now in its fifth year, could shed new light on the origins of the memos. Investigators rely in part on e-mail exchanges among Justice Department lawyers and attorneys at the CIA who sought advice about the legality of interrogation practices since been abandoned by the Obama administration.

Two of the authors, Bybee, now a federal appeals court judge, and Yoo, now a law professor in California, had a Monday deadline to respond to investigators.

Miguel Estrada, an attorney for Yoo, said, "As a condition of permitting me to represent Professor Yoo in this matter, the Department of Justice required me to sign a confidentiality agreement. As a result of that agreement, there's nothing I can say."

Maureen Mahoney, an attorney for Bybee, also cited the confidentiality requirement in declining to comment.

The legal analysis on interrogation prepared by a third former chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, Steven G. Bradbury, also was a subject of the ethics probe. But in an early draft, investigators did not make disciplinary recommendations about Bradbury.

In a separate effort to counterbalance the draft report, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey and Deputy Attorney General Mark R. Filip wrote a 14-page letter before they left office this year. They described the context surrounding the origins of the memos, written at a time when officials feared another terrorist strike on American soil.

Both Mukasey and Filip were dissatisfied with the quality of the legal analysis in the wide-ranging draft report, sources said. Among other things, the draft report cited passages from a 2004 CIA inspector general's investigation and cast doubt on the effectiveness of the questioning techniques, which sources characterized as far afield from the narrow legal questions surrounding the lawyers' activities. The letter from Mukasey and Filip has not been publicly released, but it may emerge when the investigative report is issued.