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A Bunch of Hot Air

Politics, mostly national, some AZ, and whatever else hits my fancy.

Updated: 2015-09-16T22:04:24.279-07:00


Channeling Nixon?


Can anyone point out to me any qualitative difference between these two statements?

Former President Richard Nixon, about Watergate:

"When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

Former Secretary of State within the George W. Bush administration Condoleezza Rice, regarding waterboarding:

"By definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Conventions Against Torture."

Specter of Irrelevance


Anyone reading this will have already heard Arlen Specter, Senator-PA, has announced a change in party affiliation, changing the 'R' after his name to a 'D'. While many Democrats are excited over this, I find myself with some mixed feelings.

The underlying assumption seems to be the switch, combined with Al Franken eventually being seated, will give Democrats the much vaunted 60th-seat, thus bringing an end to filibusters, and thereby ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity, a cure for cancer and aging, unlimited sources of clean energy and so on.

Reality says otherwise. No matter how much the Republican party may have "left" him by continuing to move to the right, Specter will unquestionably be one of the most conservative members of the Democratic caucus. He's already said he won't be an "automatic" 60th vote, and there is no reason to doubt his word on the matter. It's likely Dems will see Specter vote somewhat more often for cloture than he would have if he had remained in the Republican caucus, but how much more often remains to be seen.

If anything, Specter might be in a similar position to Ben Nelson of Nebraska, where he use the threat of withholding his vote to get changes to various bills he might want, but which don't really mesh with a progressive agenda.

On the other hand, it's quite likely Dems could do better if they were simply patient - Specter was motivated to switch affiliation because it became increasingly apparent he would not win a 2010 Republican primary against Pat Toomey. In the 2004 primary Specter narrowly edged Toomey, the definition of a hard-core conservative, but since then many of the voters who helped him squeak by have re-registered as Democrats. However, if Toomey does, indeed, win the Republican nomination, any Dem with a pulse would defeat him in the general ... so why not wait and get a candidate more in line with the full agenda?

In the near term, I suspect the ultimate effect of the swap will be minimal, other than further emphasizing (if any further emphasis was needed) how truly extreme the core of the Republican party has become. Any larger might have to wait until after the 2010 elections - if that vote were held now, Dems would be favored to collect 3-5 more Senate seats in addition to Specter's (which was already among those most likely to switch parties), which truly would give Democrats a filibuster-proof majority, and would consign Republicans to even greater irrelevance.

Kill the Lawyers, redux


The Arizona Daily Star ran an Associated Press update today quoting White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel as saying the administration was not intending to prosecute any Bush administration officials for the acts of torture they officially sanctioned.

Not surprisingly, this position was happily accepted by Republicans. Quoting the article:

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the idea of “criminalizing legal advice after one administration is out of the office is a very bad precedent. ... I think it would be disaster to go back and try to prosecute a lawyer for giving legal advice that you disagreed with to a former president.”

The problem with this is it creates a backdoor by which the administrative branch can claim unlimited power. Want to spy on any US citizen without a warrant? Simply have a friendly OLC lawyer devise some half-assed argument supporting it. Want to drop a nuke on Canada because you can't stand the way they keeping adding 'eh?' to the end of every sentence? Call in the OLC! Nothing is so far out there we can't find some flimsy justification for it.

So what if, after the fact, the legal reasoning is found to be childish, amateurish, completely lacking of any professional standard - you got done what you wanted to get done. It's time to focus on the future, not look backwards to the past.

Supposedly, lawyers have professional standards, and if those standards are not met, or it is, at best, questionable those standards are met, then it is entrely appropriate to prosecute the lawyers who give such poor advice. The fact we are talking about lawyers making legal decisions which impact policy decisions for our entire nation makes this more imperative, not less.

If no other Bush administration official is prosecuted for these atrocities, at an absolute minimum the lawyers who provided the flimsy cover of legality which Bush, Cheney et. al. used as justification for their heinous acts must be. Otherwise, we are can no longer claim to be a nation of laws, only a nation of legal justifications.

Kill the Lawyers


The Obama administration has released the memos the preceding administration used to justify it's torture regimen, and not surprisingly they are as ugly as one could expect. The callous disregard for human dignity can really only be appreciated by reading them first hand. The documents are linked to by a number of commentators, including x4mr here. For those interested in more legal analysis, I point you to Glenn Greenwald(here and here) and Anonymous Liberal (here and here).

Greenwald and AL have an exchange of posts discussing the discussing the decision to guarantee no prosecution of the individuals who committed these acts if they relied in "good-faith" on the legal advice provided them. Greenwald makes the case we are obligated to bring them to trial, AL argues as a practical matter any such trial is likely unwinnable, and thus would be counter-effective. From my position, while I understand Greenwald's reasoning and desires, I find myself persuaded to AL's point of view. (And, as has been noted, for those who went beyond what was authorized, or are found to not have acted in"good faith" ... well ... prosecution is too good for them).

However, as AL in particular notes, there is one set of individuals who simply must be prosecuted - the lawyers responsible for creating the flimsy cover which "justified" the abuse, beginning with Jay Bybee and, especially, John Yoo.

Even a cursory reading of the memos makes it clear there was no attempt on the part of the OLC laywers to make a "good-faith" effort to provide well-reasoned, defensible legal advice on the issue. Rather, it's quite obvious the conclusion that torture would be determined to be legal was pre-determined, and the argument would be twisted to support the conclusion - no matter how much that argument had to be tortured in order to make it comply.

The tactics found to be allowable included (from Greenwald) "nudity, "dietary manipulation" involving "minimum caloric intake at commercial weight-loss programs," "corrective techniques" (facial and abdominal slapping), water dousing, "walling," stress positions and "wall standing" (to "induce muscle fatigue and the attendant discomfort"), cramped confinement, and sleep deprivation.", and amazingly in 2005 then OLC chief Steven Bradbury (in one of the memos) affirms the legality of the methods, despite acknowledging the U.S. had termed the use of some of them as "torture" when applied by other nations (Indonesia is mentioned in his memo).

Get Bybee, Yoo, Bradbury, et. al. up on charges and when they are convicted, their punishment should include being subjected to the same regimen of torture they found acceptable when applied to others. After a full cycle completes, we can ask them again about their views regarding the Constitutionality of such actions.

Maybe it's for the best


I had intended to make a post today lamenting the lingering, slow death of print journalism in this country. With the Seattle Post-Intelligencer publishing its final print edition today to go to a pure online format (a step taken late last year by the sorely under-rated Christian Science Monitor), and the Tucson Citizen closing up shop this weekend ... well, rumors of the death of newspapers may be exaggerated, but not by much. The patient is gout-ridden, racked by fever and cough, and clearly on the deathbed.

Instead, I find myself stunned at the reaction of various members of the Washington press corps to the exchange of words between Dick Cheney and White House press secretary Robin Gibbs.

For those who might possibly have missed it, Cheney was on the air last weekend busily deeming the Obama administration a failure, and ranting about how his decisions, particularly vis-a-vis Guantanamo, had weakened America's security. Considering he was in office when the greatest terrorist attack on American soil ocurred, one might recognize him as an expert on weak security ... but that's neither here nor there.

When asked about it during a press briefing yesterday, Gibbs responded "I guess Rush Limbaugh was busy, so they trotted out the next most popular member of the Republican cabal." He subsequently added shots about how Bush and Cheney had failed in their duty to bring swift justice to the 9/11 perpetrators, and the importance of not taking advice from Cheney on the economy.

The admittedly sarcastic tone Gibbs used was immediately sized upon by various reporters, who complained about the manner in which the former Vice President was being addressed. Those complaining included Chip Reid of CBS and Rick Klein of ABC.

Seriously??!! I mean, seriously?? For years these folks allowed Cheney to oversee the virtual destruction of our Bill of Rights as well as instigating a wide-spread regime of torture, just two name two of the hideous innovations he was instrumental in instroducing to our country, yet hardly a peep could be heard. If anyone deserves to be treated with a distinct lack of respect, Cheney is near the top of the list, yet apparently it's more important to defend his dignity than to defend our nation's integrity.

I'm embarassed for my former profession ... all-in-all, maybe it's for the best it's a dying field.

Update: Shortly after posting this, I saw via Tedski at R-cubed the Citizen has been granted at least a temporary stay of execution.

Pluripotent possibilities


There has been great resistance in this country to using stem cells derived from embryos for medical research, even though the alternative for those stem cells is to see them simply be destroyed. I've never understood this viewpoint (it would make sense to me if there was some possibility the embryos in question might actually be brought to term ... ), but that doesn't change the fact the resistance is there.

Embryonic stem cells are prized because of their pluripotency, which in theory might allow them to be used for a wide range of difficult-to-treat problems, most notably spinal injuries. Partly because of the sheer amount of time it takes to go through the research process, and partly because of delay caused by the Bush administration's lack of support for the research, it was only this past January that the FDA granted approval for the first human trials involving embryonic stem cells. It will be at least a couple more years before any definitive conclusions can be drawn from this initial trial.

Meanwhile, recent years have seen the development of an approach which attempts to circumvent the resistance to use of embryonic stem cells. Termed induced embyonic stem cells, the approach involves taking normally non-pluripotent cells and transforming them to be pluripotent. This has been done by introducing various types of viruses into the cells. After a period of roughly a month, some small percentage of these cells exhibit pluripotency, and these cells can be separated out and cultured to grow more.

Until now, however, there has been concern about any serious use of these cells because of the use of potentially harmful viruses to create them - no one has been sure elements of the virus are not left behind in the cells.

However, in potentially big news, a team of researchers from Canada and Scotland announced yesterday they have succeeded in creating induced pluripotent stem cells using a non-viral process. If the procedure works out, it could remove any need for embryos, and thereby remove the primary sticking point for most of those opposed to their use.

That doesn't mean research using embryonic stem cells should stop - it's possible this process won't work well, or won't create cells as useful as embryonic strains. Still, it would be nice if the reason for resistance could be removed, and the research could move forward unfettered.

Settlement issues


I often hear the assertion Israel's West Bank settlements are illegal, and I expected to be able to find a clear statute, treaty or some such which the existence of the settlements unquestionably contravenes. However, after several days of research, and with the full understanding I am not a lawyer (nor do I play one on TV), while I still feel the weight of the arguments supports the claim the settlements are illegal, I am forced to concede there is more murkiness surrounding the issues than I expected.

What isn't murky is there will be no lasting peace in the region until those settlements are removed, and Israel's prospects for future security necessitate removing them.

For decades now most parties have agreed a "two-state" approach is the only one which can be successful, and for a separate Palestinian state to be feasible Israel would have to cede control of the West Bank to a new, independent, Palestinian nation. Despite this general acknowledgment, however, the number of Israeli settlers in West Bank territories has continued to grow, from 110,000 in the early 1990's to nearly 300,000 today ... without counting East Jerusalem (which I see as a separate issue).

Not surprisingly, Palestinians view this continuing influx of settlers as tantamount to explicit sabotage of any peace negotiations. The logic is not hard to follow - if all parties agree peace requires a separate Palestinian state, and that state will be founded in the West Bank, yet Israel continues to actively claim more land in the West Bank, Israel must not seriously desire peace.

A number of Israelis have suggested any serious effort to forcibly remove the settlements might well lead to an Israeli civil war, which is not a pleasant prospect. It is, however, a threat which Israel has to stop tap-dancing around and confront the issue. Making a clear, large, concerted effort to remove the settlements would do more to promote peace and security in the region than any number of bombs dropped in Lebanon or Gaza.

The vast majority of Israeli settlers are themselves religious extremists, who hold the entire country hostage to their demands that Arabs be evicted from the "Promised land". Moderate Israeli's, by-and-large, seem fed up and exasperated with them, yet little is done to rein them in. Until Israel gets serious about dealing with its own extremists, why should they expect Palestinians to be serious about dealing with theirs?

One step closer


Back a couple years ago, embryonic stem cell research was a hot topic, with many posts and comments flying about both for and against.

One ofthe specious arguments often used by those opposed to the funding of said research was statements along the lines of "not one cure has ever been found using embryonic stem cells" - a textbook example of lying by omission, as the statement itself is true, so far as it goes. What gets left out, of course, is that given how recent the discovery of how to reliably culture these cells was, and the need to to basic research, then animal research, then limited human trials before anything can be okayed for general use, of course no "cure" had been developed yet.

For some reason the topic has moved off the back burner, but last week the FDA approved the first human trials involving embryonic stem cells, to be implanted in a small number of paraplegics who have no use of their legs. The primary aim is simply to see if the cells are safe for human use, but there is hope some use of the lower extremities might be restored.

We're still years away, if ever, from seeing wide-spread results. However, if this first trial at least can show the cells are not actively harmful, it will open the door wide to FDA approval to future human trials for a variety of possible applications. It's just another step down a long road, but it's a big step.

New Math


There has, of course, been a great deal of dialog about the Israeli assault on Gaza, a great deal of valid concern over the Palestinian civilian casualties while Israel persists in emphasizing the uninhibited rocketing of it's civilians over a number of months, and its intent to continue the assault until that capability is ended or, at least, severely diminished.

In particular, x4mr has posts here, here, here and here where he and people I generally find myself in agreement with emphasize the cruelty of the shelling and the civilian deaths ... and they are, of course, entirely correct - those deaths are cruel, regrettable, should have been preventable ... and they are, of course, correct that Israel has done much to encourage Hamas to fire rockets into Israel, including blockading food and medical supplies, doing nothing to about illegal settlements on Palestinian land, and so on. The list is long.

I still find myself disagreeing with them.

Ultimately, the calculus they apply seems to lay the responsibility of every civilian casualty, every death in Gaza, directly at the feet of Israel. This math, however, seems insupportable to me. While people might disagree as to how much effort Israel is putting into limiting civilian casualties in Gaza, I don't think anyone disputes they are, at least, making some effort. On the other side, though, the Hamas strategy seems predicated on willfully and intentionally creating the maximum possible number of civilian deaths.

I.e., Hamas is willfully sacrificing as many of their own population as they possibly can in order to place their blood on the altar of world opinion, a point which should have been made clear to all when Hamas joined Israel in rejecting Egyptian calls for a truce. Israel wants no truce until Hamas is broken, or at least more damaged than it is so far. Hamas wants no truce until they have managed to get more Palestinian civilians killed ... the more, the better.

Now, in terms of a military approach this is the best strategy they have available to them - certainly, Hamas can't hope to win a straight up fight against Israel. However, given they are the ones making the strategic decision to do so, why is Hamas not being held at least equally complicit in their deaths, if not more so, than Israel?

Ultimately, of course, Hamas' rockets into Israel were meant to provoke exactly the response it has. If Israel wants permanent peace, they will have to find some way to break the cycle of violence and show they are serious about helping Palestinians create a homeland. A good start would be, once they are done with their assualt on Gaza, to put a similar amount of effort into removing the illegal settlements in the West Bank, by force if necessary - then dare Hamas, Hezbollah and other such groups to go to the general Palestinian process and ask them if they are willing to continue the struggle, or if somehow a homelnd centered on the West Bank can be enough.

Boy, was Biden ever right


During the vice presidential candidates debate last October, Joseph Biden referred to Dick as "the most dangerous Vice President in our country's history".

This past week or 10 days, as he looks forward to leaving office next month, Cheney has been appearing in different venues unapologetically defending his views and the actions of the Bush administration for the last eight years, pressing the notion of the "unitary executive". He claims it was wrong for the Supreme Court to allow Guantanamo detainees to be allowed to challenge their continuing detention without charge in US courtrooms (since the SC is the ultimate arbiter of such matters, this claim is wrong by definition). He claims the US has not tortured prisoners, while subsequently admitting to a major role in causing prisoners to be water-boarded.

One of his claims in the Wallace interview which has been the subject of outrage is the following:

"(The President) could launch a kind of devastating attack the world's never seen. He doesn't have to check with anybody. He doesn't have to call the Congress. He doesn't have to check with the courts. He has that authority because of the nature of the world we live in."

This looks worse than it is, since the preceding paragraph has generally been left out. Here is the comment again, in full:

"The president of the United States now for 50 years is followed at all times, 24 hours a day, by a military aide carrying a football that contains the nuclear codes that he would use and be authorized to use in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States.

He could launch a kind of devastating attack the world's never seen. He doesn't have to check with anybody. He doesn't have to call the Congress. He doesn't have to check with the courts. He has that authority because of the nature of the world we live in."

I think most people would agree that if our nation was hit with a massive nuclear attack there is not going to be time for Congress to meet before determining our response. However, this statement does do a lot to help explain Cheney's mindset - he's pushing the idea the nation has been in a constant state of emergency since 9/11, a state where the President essentially has ultimate power on all decisions.

This belief is, of course, horse shit.

The administration, largely at Cheney's urging, has consistently engaged in illegal activities, ranging from torture to illicit wiretaps. Cheney's recent appearances are almost brazenly daring his successor to do anything about these actions.

It's a challenge which must be accepted, or Biden will have been proven more correct than even he knew.

Perhaps now it will all become clear


When the Bush administration and numerous supporters found time to focus on things other than pursuing needless wars, placing political hacks into positions they were not vaguely qualified for and various ways to expand presidential fiat at the expense of civil liberties, they often complained about how Bush was not getting enough credit for the supposedly burgeoning economy.

For all the economic growth which took place during the Bush year's according to various economic measures, people consistently reported that, on the whole, they were dissatisfied with their lot. The Bushies never seemed to figure out why, even though economists such as Paul Krugman repeatedly explained to them all that extra money was either going to corporations or being amassed in the hands of a very limited few, and not, in fact, "trickling down" the the citizenry as a whole.

Today, the Associated Press had an article laying out the numbers about as clearly as they can be presented, comparing data from 3 million households a year in the years 2005-2007 to data collected during the 2000 census. The key findings in the article:

* Median household income dropped in 79 percent of the cities and towns. Incomes dropped in the wealthiest communities as well as the poorest. Charleston, Ill., home to Eastern Illinois University, saw the biggest drop - 31 percent - to a median household income of just under $21,000.

* Nationally, incomes dropped by 4.3 percent during the period, to $50,007.

*The poverty rate increased in 70 percent of the cities and towns. Athens, Ohio, home to Ohio University, had the highest poverty rate, at 52.3 percent, in the 2005-2007 period.

Nationally, the poverty rate increased from 12.4 percent to 13.3 percent since the start of the decade.

* The unemployment rate increased in 71 percent of the cities and towns. Muskegon, Mich., a city of about 40,000 near Lake Michigan, had the highest unemployment rate, at 22.1 percent.

Nationally, the unemployment rate increased from about 4 percent in 2000 to 6.6 percent in the 2005-2007 period.

* Median home values increased in 92 percent of the cities and towns studied - doubling and tripling in many cities, mainly in California. Nationally, the median home value increased 26 percent, to $181,800.

Let's see ... lower incomes, higher unmployment, greater poverty ... no, I can't possibly see why people would think the great Bush economy wasn't helping them. Of course, all those negatives were offset by large gains in home values.

How's that working out?

Earmark follies


Saw a very good article today discussing earmarks, and how they can be used as a form of institutionalized corruption. The specific earmark at the center of the article concerns differing forms of skin-decontamination, and how even though the army prefers a new lotion-based product, it has been forced, through earmarks over the past several years, to continue purchasing a powder-based product ... even though:

a) The army has no interest in the older product anymore because
b) The newer lotion is seven times more effective, and
c) It already has enough of the powder product stockpiled to last until at least 2012.

So don't get me wrong ... I think there are genuine, useful purposes for earmarks. For example, if money can be generated for a weapons system the military genuinely wants and is technically feasible, then fine. However, spending on products which are unnecessary and demonstrably worse than the competition, solely to bring revenue to local constituents and contributors represents everything which is bad about the earmark process, and is pure corruption at its finest ... to say nothing of the additional risk such incidents may impose upon our troops.

I have some first-hand experience on this front. One of the software research projects I have worked with has been funded to the tune of several million dollars a year, despite the fact the army has no real interest in the project, which would serve no useful purpose even if it was viable. I have yet to see it achieve anything which has not already been done better and more cheaply by existing products/programs.

The military is well aware this is a waste of money, and also of the time of the personnel who are forced to oversee and evaluate the research in question. Still, each year the same U.S. Representative manages to earmark money to the same company, which returns the favor by contributing to his re-election coffers every year, and makes sure to praise him publicly at every opportunity.

Representative X will be attending their Holiday party later this month.

Charles Graner needs company


Salon has an article today discussing the circumstances of Charles Graner, who is about four years into a ten-year sentence for his role abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. He's spent about 2-1/2 of those years in solitary confinement, and is (according to the article) the only individual still serving time over the matter.

As the article points out, it has long since become abudently clear Graner and his compatriots (some of whom have served lesser time or had their sentences commuted) were acting on orders which emanated from some place high in the White House. Now, that doesn't make me feel all that sorry for Graner - any person who knew anything about morality and ethics knew what was being done was wrong by any standard, and "I was just following orders" has never been a valid defense - I do think he has some understandable reason to feel put-upon by the entire state of affairs.

As Graner's mother, Irma, says in the piece "They all did what they were told. And the ones that told them to do it escaped everything."

We have a responsibility as a country, as human beings, to change that, to make sure the ones who did the telling don't escape everything. Charles Graner deserves to do his time, or most of it ... but he deserves more companionship while he does.

When the chips are down ...


Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is being sued by a group of law students over the Justice Department hiring practices at the time he oversaw it. The matter at the core of the suit was the Department's rejection of a number of Ivy league-educated law school graduates who applied for positions within the Department largely on the grounds of their apparent political leanings rather than for any reason related to actual qualifications.

Instead, a number of applicants were chosen from 3rd and 4th-tier law schools largely on the basis of their conservative politics rather than their knowledge of the law.

Normally such a case would be defended by the Justice Department's civil division, and even though Gonzales is no longer a Federal employee it would be entirely appropriate for the division to represent him, given he is being sued for actions taken while he was head of the Department. However, instead Gonzales has asked for private counsel, and Justice has agreed to foot the bill, at up to $24,000 a month.

So I guess all those lawyers with proper political backgrounds are great for hiring when you are busy illegally politicizing the Justice Department, but when it comes time to actually be brought to court over the affair one wants those hoity-toity well-educated lawyers to handle your defense.

Secret Service likely to be busy


To no real surprise, it came out last week the secret service has already been investigating an increased number of threats against the new President-elect. Already two "plots" have been broken up, although they apparently amounted to a lot of ranting and hot air rather than anything serious.

Which isn't to say racists with guns doing a lot of ranting and raving isn't threatening in and of itself.

Also to no surprise, the Secret Service announced there was a noticeable spike in threats at the time Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin was traveling the country spewing bile trying to draw a false image of Obama "pallin' around" with terrorists. Anyone who thinks Palin wasn't purposefully trying to stir up violent reactions is kidding themselves. Of course, if anything disasterous had acctually occurred to Obama or his family, she'd have claimed to as distraught as anyone at her words being "misconstrued".

No, I don't think Palin was hoping Obama would be shot ... but I do think she was aware of what her words might spawn, and simply didn't care. If winning the election meant increasing the likelihood of some nutcase killing her opponent, well ... that was a risk she was willing for him to take.

Bailout Follies


To no one's surprise, after voting down the first bill and seeing the Senate put pressure on them by passing a bailout proposal, the House went along last Friday and passed a similar bill itself. Arizona's delegation, which had unanimously voted against the original bill split 4-4 the second time around (Giffords, Mitchell, Pastor, Shedagg were the yes votes).

I am not opposed to some form of throwing taxpayer money into the system. The situation is clearly dire, and by all accounts Federal reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, one of the chief originators of the bailout proposal, is an expert on the Great Depression ... so I accept the thesis something needed to be done, as galling as that is on many levels.

What I don't accept is that this was the only approach to be tried. While there has certainly been a great number of modifications added, the original framework - give $700 billion to the Treasury department to spend as it deems best - remains. As far as I can tell from what I have read, no other approach was ever considered at all, much less considered seriously.

Why not? Numerous other bright, well-respected economists have, since the original proposal came out, giving variations of the line "Well, it's better than nothing, but X would be a better approach". I am no economist, so take anything I say below with a large heaping spoonful of salt, but two other proposals which seemed reasonable to me included:

* Give money directly to the commercial banks. The idea was to encourage the commercial banks to lend money to each other again, thus unlocking the "credit crunch" which is supposedly breaking down the commercial gears.

* Use the money to purchase actual foreclosed homes. The idea was that by purchasing these assets outright it turns the bad investments into good ones. The money eventually would make it's way back to the companies holding the mortgage notes. Hey, if trickle-down economics is supposed to be so great, what's wrong with a trickle-up approach? As an added bonus, families would get out from under mortgages they can't sustain.

Either of these approaches (and others I have seen as well) would be more palatable to me than throwing money directly at the Wall Street companies that got themselves in trouble in the first place.

I'd be more understanding if the entire affair had been proposed and voted on in a 48-hour period. As things went, however, there was time (maybe not plenty of time, but time) to consider alternatives ... but apparently this never occurred.

What does it say about the Bush administration that it's first response to a crisis is a proposal that basically says "Give the Secretary of the Treasury $700 billion no strings attached" and the response of the Democratic Congress is to attach a few strings and then go along? Nothing good about either.

Free speech != Freedom from taxation


Aliance Defense Fund, a Phoenix-based group, organized a form of clerical protest yesterday, encouraging a number of pastors across the country to use their sermons to explicitly express views as to how members of their congregation should vote in this year's presidential election.

The purpose of this organized demonstration is to bring a challenge to the 54-year old law which prohibits charitable and tax-exempt groups from openly supporting any candidate for public office. The hope is the government will bring a lawsuit against one or more of these pastors and their churches, a suit which the ADF hopes to win.

The Post article has several quotes from participants, including "The point is the IRS says you can't (openly support a political candidate during a sermon). I'm saying you're wrong."

The entire affair has been portrayed as a matter of "Free speech". However, you don't get free speech without also assuming some responsibility. In this case, the ADF and the 33 pastors who participated in the protest yesterday want the right to express themselves in the political arena without the associated responsibility of actually contributing money (taxes) to support the political structure.

Gosh -- I'd like to have all the privileges of being a citizen without paying any taxes too. Doesn't mean it's going to happen, or should.

There is no suppression of speech here. Any pastor and church which wishes to participate in the political process is free to do so at any time ... with the proviso they pay taxes on the income they receive (and, I believe, property they hold). There is no Constitutional right to tax-exemption. The courts have continuously held, in cases such as Branch Ministries v. Rossotti and United States v. Christian Echoes National Ministry such exeptions exist at the grace of Congress. What Congress provides, Congress may also restrict, or remove altogether.

The ADF should be granted what it wishes for -- all 33 ministries which participated yesterday should be immediately slapped with tax assessments for the full 2008 year on all taxable incomes and properties. When the suit is challenged, appealed, and lost, the ADF and all 33 ministries should be forced to pay the costs the government incurred in defending the the suit.

After all, with the bang-up job all those deregulated corporate financial geniuses have done, we're going to need every extra dollar we can find.

Who says Zimbabwe is a 3rd world nation


Reading the news this morning, I ran across this story on the reprehensible state of health care in Zimbabwe, where medicine is unavailable and the system is in such general collapse, the best advice local doctors could give was "don't get sick".

Of course, given a 2005 Harvard study found nearly half of all bankruptcies in the US have been triggered by health crises, even among the insured, that same advice could be given to our citizens as well.

Further, as the DNC recently helpfully pointed out, McCain has been among those consistently voting to make it more difficult to claim bankruptcy protection. I suppose if you are among those who lose count of how many houses your family owns, a major medical bill isn't such a concern.

Safety first


After being so disgusted at the way our Democratic Representatives and Senators rolled over for Telecom companies, I decided to take some time off. After a lengthy break, with Obama's veep announcement today and the national conventions fast approaching, it seemed like a good time to step back up to the plate.

Various news sources are reporting Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware will run on the ticket with Obama. Of the "safe" options, I think he's the best choice. He brings a sense of experience and gravitas to the position, and while Deleware is likely to vote Democrat no matter who the VP is, Biden's long-time service on the Foreign Relations committee and general recognition for his knowledge of foreign policy matters definitely helps shore up a perceived Obama weakness.

I can understand why, being the first major party Presidential nominee of non-white male extraction, Obama might feel he is already sufficiently challenging to the societal norms. Still, I would have liked to have seen Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius on the ticket. While she wouldn't help on foreign policy matters, she would shore up different areas, such as bringing actual governing experience to the slate, as well as possibly helping among women voters. She would also provide a decent chance of carrying Kansas, which in a close race could make all the difference.

If you are looking to make history, go big ... historical barriers are not often broken by those choosing to "play it safe".

Pathetic dogs


Congressional Democrats rolled over like abused dogs and exposed their cute, furry bellies to be stroked by the President today while signing off on a "compromise" wiretapping bill that gives the White House virtually everything it wants, including effective immunization from prosecution for telecom companies which blatantly and repeatedly violated individual personal privacy laws.

What's worse is there was no reason or need to make this horrid deal. None. Whatsoever. The previous (bad) temporary agreement expired in February, and its not like there have been huge issues since then, or even a lot of political pressure on Dems to come to an agreement, any agreement. The FISA law which has been in effect since the 70's has been more than sufficient. The next time I see masses of Americans rallying along the Mall in support of providing lawsuit immunization for big corporations will be the first.

I assume telecom lobbyists made enough monetary promises to buy what they needed. Sometimes I wonder why we even bother.



McClatchy is out with part two of its series on US abuses of prisoners, this time focusing on events at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, incidents which have been overshadowed by Guantanamo, but which McClatchy says may have been worse.

Two prisoners at Bagram were beaten to death. One of them suffered ... well ...

I played soccer somewhat seriously for more than 25 years before retiring from the game six or seven years ago. I have had multiple surgeries to both ankles and knees. Dozens of stitches to them. My shins have been smacked so often I have lost all feeling in them - I can (and have) had gashes to the bone there and had no idea until someone pointed out I was bleeding. I have at least some small idea of of the type of beating one's legs can take.

Nothing like this though ...

According to the article detainee Dilawar died at Bagram on Dec. 10 2002. The army medical examiner reported he had been repeatedly struck on his leg to the point the tissues in it were "falling apart" and had "basically been pulpified".

Of course, we don't torture prisoners. The administration says so.

The paragraph toward the end of the story has this boiler-plate statement from the Pentagon:

"The Department of Defense policy is clear — we treat all detainees humanely. The United States operates safe, humane and professional detention operations for unlawful enemy combatants at war with this country."

I'll laugh ... after I am done vomiting.

Much, much too late


As everyone knows by now, the Supreme Court finally got around this past week to telling the administration "hey, you can't just torture prisoners indefinitely ... at some point you have to, you know, actually provide a reason for imprisoning them."Dear leader declared from Italy that while he might disagree with the decision he would abide by it. I am not sure why he should all of a sudden feel bound to abide by our Constitution, a flimsy piece of paper has not stopped him before. Of course, in the same set of comments where he graciously agreed he might be bound by the ruling he also suggested his administration would immediately start looking for ways to legislate around it.I'd admire his stick-to-it attitude much more if it was dedicated to something like a reasonable national health care policy, a responsible approach to resolving issues along our border with Mexico, lowering the national debt or developing a coherent energy policy rather than finding excuses to detain people indefinitely so we can torture them whenever it suits our whim.Even if dear leader goes against form and does actually obey the Court's decision, it's too late, the damage has been done.Without question some number of the prisoners are bad, evil individuals who deserve to be locked away for life. However, it's also indisputable some number are guilty of nothing other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most fall somewhere in between. One question would be should we resort to torture even with the "worst of the worst" (answer: no, we should be better than that), and another has been how many even merit that appellation. The administration has in the past claimed all of them do, that it has infallibly managed to send only those guilty of the worst crimes, or, at least, planning to commit the worst forms of misdeeds, to Guantanamo.Of course, this has been provably wrong for some time, as some number of detainees have already been determined to not be guilty of what they were accused of and released ... generally after spending months or years in a prison where they were regularly abused.McClatchy Newspapers published the first part of what will be a five-part series today detailing the findings of its eight-month investigation into the prisoners at Guantanamo. McClatchy has been, throughout, the best source of truly investigative reporting regarding the war and its motives, and this piece is yet another must-read. As it makes clear, administration officials have known for years that many, perhaps most, of the prisoners kept in Guantanamo had no reason to be there and were not sources of operational intelligence. However, in an administration which could not bring itself to admitting it was anything less than infallible, releasing these prisoners, or even moving them to another location where they might be treated humanely, was never an option to consider.Instead, we set up a system where individuals have been held for reasons they were not told based on evidence they could not see provided by individuals they could not know about. Kafka would be so proud.Darth Scalia has already predicted this ruling will lead to more deaths. Of course, this claim will never be able to be proven either way. What is provable is our nation has resorted to torturing innocent individuals. We have violated nearly every human right imaginable, all purportedly for the "best" of reasons.The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Hopefully this latest ruling will help take their first steps d[...]

Unmentioned history


Barack Obama has clinched the Democratic nomination, and the NY Times is reporting Hillary Clinton will officially throw her support behind him this Friday. A black man as the Presidential nominee of a major U.S. Political party is unquestionably an historically significant event, and there has been much ink spilled and syllables uttered discussing the importance of his victory.

Even internationally this seems to be the case ... while listening to an international call-in show on NPR people from all over the world were commenting on how closely people in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, wherever had been following the race, and how significant Obama's victory was.

All of which is true ...

Had Clinton won the nomination it would have been nearly as historic. I say "nearly" because we have already seen women as the leaders of other major Western powers, Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel coming immediately to mind. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any black man who has held a similar position among the generally considered major states.

... but ...

As important as Obama's victory might be in a historical sense, what is more import in my mind is the lack of race as a major issue of either his campaign or his opponent's.

That's not to say race was completely excluded. Obviously it came up a different times during the campaign. Equally obviously some number of people voted for Obama because he is black, and some number voted against him for the same reason. How many voted each way we will never know.

However, at no point in during the campaign was race ever a singular, major issue. Health care was ... Iraq policy ... Experience vs. change ... any number of other topics ... but Obama did not ultimately win (or lose) the race because of his skin color, just as Clinton did not either win (or lose) the race because of her gender. The vast majority of voters, those who voted for him and those who voted against didn't see Obama as black, or colored, or a man of color, or even a man.

They saw him as a candidate ... one with positions they liked or didn't, but a candidate rather than a black candidate. Enough saw him as the best candidate he now has the opportunity to be president. He won based on his positions, his eloquence, his ability to convince voters to support him.

Which is how it should be, of course... but I confess I am surprised I lived to see the day.

Sympathy for some, not for others


So Clinton staff and supporters are, not surprisingly, complaining about the decision on how to seat delegates from Michigan and Florida ... and I guess that's their job, since the decision essentially removes any last hopes Clinton had to win the Democratic nomination. Until Clinton actually concedes, her staff and supporters should be pressing hard for anything that might advance the cause of their candidate, as long as it doesn't reflect negatively on her opponent.

Regarding the states themselves, I have some sympathy for Florida's plight. It's my understanding Republicans in the state were the major force behind moving the primary date up, and that while numerous Democrats did vote in favor of moving the date, even had they voted against it wouldn't have made a difference. By state law, all candidates had their names on the ballot, and while I do believe the final gap in the state would have been considerably narrow had the candidates actively campaigned there (Clinton finished with 50%, Obama with 33%), at least the case could be made it was a level playing field - no one campaigned, and all names were on the ballot.

Michigan is a different matter ... the Democratic governor and legislature pushed for the early date, in contravention of clear party rules, rules they were informed would be enforced prior to their ever moving the date. They moved the date anyway, then are shocked ... shocked ... that the consequences they were told would ensue were actually applied.

If the voters and delegates of Michigan are upset about this (and they should be) then the proper direction to express their ire is toward Governor Granholm and the state officials who voted to change the date even after they were told any delegates would not be seated.

Trying to claim all the Michigan delegates should be seated, with the results standing as they were, a position pushed by various Clinton staffers and supporters, is not just laughable, but derisively laughable. If anyone actually made that case in front of me, I would consider them not even worth listening to. They wouldn't even be wrong. Obama and Edwards did the "right" thing by having their names taken off the ballot (something Florida law prevented) while Clinton chose to leave her name on. To think being the only real option on the ballot other than "Uncommitted" didn't have a major effect on the tally is ridiculous. To further claim Clinton should get the 54% of delegates she won while Obama should get none (since his name wasn't on the ballot) is ridiculous.

The last primaries are Tuesday. Once those are done, there will be serious pressure placed on any unpledged superdelegate (including Arizona's CD8 rep) to pick a side and announce it by the end of the week, or start of next week at the earliest ... at which point in time everyone needs to pull together and focus on McCain. Even if Dems win more seats in the House and Senate (which looks likely), it will be hard to achieve much on Iraq, spying on citizens, torture, bad health care policy or anything else Republicans favor and Democrats oppose while a Republian wields the veto stamp.

End game


For the last month or six weeks Obama has been playing a winning Rook-and-pawn end game against Clinton, and while his technique hasn't been flawless, it has been sufficient to steadily grind towards the win, despite stiff, solid defense from his opponent.

With the results from Oregon and Kentucky, and counting pledge super-delegates, Obama crept past the majority needed to claim the race, assuming no last minute surprises vis-a-vis Florida and Michigan, or a wave of super-delegates switching back to Clinton. It's not all over until the opponent resigns, but the final stage of the game is clearly at hand now.

This has brought out a spate of articles I have read in a number of places recently about the bitterness Clinton supporters feel about the result, and how many are considering not voting at all, or even voting for McCain in the general election ... to which I have just one comment.

Get over it.

First, lets be fair to Clinton herself, who has consistently urger her backers to support Obama should he win the nomination (Obama has done the same in reverse). No, this is a matter of supporters, the vast majority female, who are expressing their disappointment at how the country "wasn't ready" for a female candidate, and how "betrayed" they feel by women who somehow had the temerity to think someone might not be the best candidate just because they were of the same gender.

I don't dispute Clinton had some extra hurdles to clear by dint of her sex, but it's not like being black wasn't a drawback in some areas for Obama (take a gander at the voting patterns in West Virginia and Kentucky, for example).

I found particularly amusing the hypocrisy of the woman who spoke about people not realizing how damaging it was when Obama portrayed Clinton as representative of "the old way of politics", how that created bitterness in strong Clinton supporters, and in the same breath noted she was unlikely to vote for Obama because the White House "wasn't a place to learn on the job". Surely no Obama supporter could take those words to be derisive.

As someone noted in one of the articles, the end of a long, hard-fought race is not the time to gather the most accurate polling date. People are understandably disappointed at seeing all their efforts and hopes come to an end, Clinton more so than anyone ... I still expect, in the end, most of these folks will come to terms with matters and realize another four years of Bush policies will do nothing to help this country, and end up voting for Obama, even if they don't do so enthusiastically.

However, it does point out the importance of wrapping this up once the final primaries are done in June, and not waiting for the convention to finalize matters. Get the super-delegates committed in June, and there is enough time for the mourning/healing process to run it's course. Wait until September, and their may not be.