December 29, 2005

Who says you have to have a link to a news story in every blog post?

Even on a political blog, I don’t think that’s 100 percent true, 100 percent of the time.

If blogs are indeed a form of online commentary, why can’t you write them like newspaper op-eds, unless you want to comment on a particular quote or statement. Even then, given fair use, if you’re just quoting a sentence or two from a news story, particularly if it in turn is a direct quote of a political figure made in a public event, you don’t need a URL for that, in my opinion.

On the other hand, coming from print journalism, I wouldn’t mind seeing URLs used in newspaper columns. And graphic illustrations, when appropriate and not just op-ed “bling.”

Are blogs creating too much “dittoism”?

I would argue that’s definitely the case on the right-hand end of the political spectrum (not counting far-right, racist, etc. blogs, news feeds, etc.), and that it’s becoming more that way on the mainstream liberal/left-of-center area of the mainstream political spectrum.

I think true left-liberals, serious one as well as nutter ones, are resisting that trend, though. And that’s part of why I call myself a progressive, not a liberal. (I do consider myself to have some left-liberal tendencies, especially in economics and foreign affairs.)

It’s also why I consider myself a skeptical progressive, and that in turn is why I made the post immediately beneath this one.

Wouldn’t it be ironic at the least, and tragic at the worst, if many of the very same people who tout how the Internet has expanded our intellectual freedom voluntarily make themselves into an ever-more-conformist herd of sheeple?

Read the news first, then blogs

That’s one of my 2006 New Year’s resolutions.

You can go to news feed websites such as Raw Story, which link to stories that are likely to be of interest to liberals in general and Bush Administration critics in particular, before you go to Kos, Eschaton, MyDD or other partisan blogs.

Decide for yourself what the news says, before letting the mainstream media, or blogs of either the left or right, further filter it.

December 28, 2005

Ted Rall gets it, Kevin Drum doesn’t

Before Christmas, Washington Monthly’s Kevin Drum once again descended into his nice-guy soft liberal squishiness.

This time it was over the National Security Agency’s warrantless spying on Americans. While saying it certainly appeared to be illegal, Drum went squishy as to whether it was unconstitutional or not, apparently taking a “police-state light” interpretation of the Fourth Amendment.

Fortunately, people like Ted Rallget it.

Rall lists just who’s been getting spied upon. What’s not to get about the unconstitutionality of actions like this?
So I was barely surprised to hear the big news that Bush had ordered the National Security Agency, FBI and CIA to tap the phones and emails of such dangerously subversive radical Islamist anti-American terrorist groups as Greenpeace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the American Indian Movement and the Catholic Workers, without bothering to apply for a warrant. “The Catholic Workers advocated peace with a Christian and semi-communistic ideology,” an agent wrote in an FBI dossier, a man sadly unaware of the passings of J. Edgar Hoover and the Soviet Union.

Apparently, that’s “just” illegal to people like Drum.

Rall notes that, unfortunately, we never fully rolled back the Nixonian imperial presidency.
The return of brazen Nixon-style domestic eavesdropping --it undoubtedly occurred under presidents from Ford to Clinton, though on a smaller, more discreet scale--indicates that the White House is flipping ahead to the next page in its Hitler playbook, the part about exploiting a state of perpetual war to stifle internal dissent on a vast scale.

In reality, it’s arguable that such authority was never intended for the president by the authors of our constitution.
Actually, as Peter Irons documents in his outstanding “War Powers: How the Imperial Presidency Hijacked the Constitution,” the Founding Fathers never intended for the "commander in chief" to have any powers beyond ordering troops to repel an invasion force. As everyone understood in 1787, the title was strictly ceremonial. A president can't declare war, much less violate our privacy, based on his commander-in-chief ”authority.”

Hell, yes, it’s unconstitutional, no matter what quasi-liberal squishy defenders of the theory, at least, of the imperial presidency would say.

December 26, 2005

O'Reilly and the pseudo-War on Christmas

The spirit of Christmas, like the celebration of any other holiday, is always an inside job.

That’s why I find this recent political spin from Bill O’Reilly and the “we distort, you deride” folks at Fox News, and their fellow travelers, to be laughable until I look past that to the hypocritical. (The Fox network had a “holiday” party, not a “Christmas” party; apparently that didn’t stop O’Reilly from going.)

But let’s take just a bit of a further look at some of the claims by O’Reilly and his fellow travelers, above all their attack-dog comments about stores that say “Happy Holidays” and not “Merry Christmas.”

First of all, if you’re really pinning your pining for the “true meaning of Christmas” on the overworked, underpaid lips of some Target or Wal-Mart clerk, whose corporate bosses’ idea of rosy-red Christmas cheer is the red on your credit card statement, well, you probably couldn’t find the true meaning of Christmas or any religious or secular moment if it bit you or if you grabbed it with both hands.

The Jesus of the Bible chased the moneylenders out of the Temple rather than citing their extortionism, or the greed behind it, as example of communal social and moral values. He also pointed to a God who forbade his people from charging usurious interest, which is certainly what you get when you don’t pay off your credit card bill ASAP.

This same Jesus was also of the spirit that your Yes should be Yes and your words trusted enough that you can say that, which the Plano School District can tell you has escaped O’Reilly.

And, that very same Jesus also told his followers to “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s.” That would suggest that the Republican Congressmen whom O’Reilly served have missed the boat by politicizing an nonexistent “attack on Christmas” in the first place. That would be the same set of Republicans who had no problem “protecting” Christmas while at the same time denying “protection” to Hanukkah on the floor of the House of Representatives Dec. 14.

As far as what that Target or WallyWorld greeter says, the corporate masters will have him or her say whatever most fattens the corporate bottom line. If the Bentonville lackeys of the Walton second generation thought that the phrase “Splendiferous Saturnalia” would sell more made-in-China tchotchkes, the word would be on the lips of every greeter from Lancaster, Texas through Lancaster, Pa., to Lancaster, England.

In any case, contrary to the febrile imaginings of O’Reilly, there is no quasi-Bilderberger confab of American retail executives, no coffee klatch vote to ram “Happy Holidays” down American throats. As this nation is still theoretically well over 80 percent Christian, it can’t be that type of conspiracy.

Beyond that, if you really want to worry about ethical uprightness at the nearest retail store, my personal first suggestion would be, “If it’s made in China, don’t buy it. You don’t know who made it and under what conditions.”

Besides, as Ron Carlson makes clear this week in his church column — this is America, the land of millions of choices. That includes the choice to be responsible for many things, including one’s own happiness and one’s own inner mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.

If you hear some Wal-Mart drone bee say “Happy Holidays,” and you don’t like it, you’re free to counter with “Merry Christmas.” Or to complain to the boss. Or to go to Target.

Many Christian denominations didn’t even celebrate Christmas a century ago. Some still don’t celebrate it today.

Whether it was over concern that the observance was still too “popish,” or a desire to do the equivalent of praying in their closets in secret, they’ve probably kept more of the Christmas spirit of their belief burning inside than many other people have outside.

Finally, to riff on the book of Acts, and update the words of the Pharisee Gamaliel: “If this Christmas thing is really religious and not about partisan political point-making or crass capitalist commercialism, it will succeed. If not, it will fail.”

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or … Splendiferous Saturnalia.

December 20, 2005

Behe, Dembski, ID get a royal smackdown

Judge says Behe doesn’t even understand his own theory

How could Judge John Jones say such a thing (page 46, footnote 7)?

“Outright lies under oath”? How could the good Christian creationist Intelligent Design former Dover, Pa., board members do such a thing?

Oh, let’s count the ways:
1. Ideological jealousy
2. Fundamentalist fervor, or, if you will, a crusading mentality
3. A quasi-theocratic mindset
4. Lack of education themselves
5. Willful ignorance of what their own educations and the world around have availed them
6. A planned pattern of deception for the half-decade since the Discovery Institute pulled the “wedge strategy” from its website.

I’m sure you could list more.

As other bloggers have noted, this is a slam-dunk victory for proper science education in public schools and a crushing defeat for IDers. Plus, since the Edward decision, as Judge Jones noted, nationalized Supreme Court rulings on scientific creationism, if his ruling stands, it will do the same nationally for ID.

And, by pointing out the family antecedents of ID in scientific creationism, from IDers’ own paper trail, Jones has also established precedent against what’s next up IDers sleeves. As part of that, Jones’ long memorandum carefully notes the political and social activity of the old Dover school board as part of its deception.

Jones carefully points out how the old Dover board and its IDer backers deliberately distorted the scientific use of the word “theory,” how the book Pandas changed “creationism” to “ID” right after the Edwards decision and more.

He also notes how IDers science claims don’t stack up, either. (All quotes below are referenced by page number in the PDF.)
We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. (64) …

It is notable that defense experts’ own mission, which mirrors that of the
IDM itself, is to change the ground rules of science to allow supernatural causation of the natural world, which the Supreme Court in Edwards and the court in McLean correctly recognized as an inherently religious concept. (67)

It doesn’t get much more emphatic than that.

Of course, if you try to redefine science, you might think you have a chance of winning.
The Wedge Document states in its “Five Year Strategic Plan Summary” that the IDM’s goal is to replace science as currently practiced with “theistic and Christian science.” (69)

But, of course, that doesn’t work, either.
Notably, every major scientific association that has taken a position on the issue of whether ID is science has concluded that ID is not, and cannot be considered as such. (69)

Of course, this nuttery did lead leading IDer Michael Behe to make a buffoon of himself on the witness stand.
First, defense expert Professor Fuller agreed that ID aspires to “change the ground rules” of science and lead defense expert Professor Behe admitted that his broadened definition of science, which encompasses ID, would also embrace astrology. (68)

Plus, vaunted intellectuals Behe and Dembski show they don’t even grasp one of the most elemental principals of logic: You can’t prove a negative.
ID proponents primarily argue for design through negative arguments against evolution. … However, we believe that arguments against evolution are not arguments for design. Expert testimony revealed that just because scientists cannot explain today how biological systems evolved does not mean that they cannot, and will not, be able to explain them tomorrow. (71)

As referenced, the concept of irreducible complexity is ID’s alleged scientific centerpiece. Irreducible complexity is a negative argument against evolution, not proof of design, a point conceded by defense expert Professor
Minnich. (71-72)

Uhh, wouldn’t this be “ID of the gaps”?

In addition, Judge Jones points out that Behe doesn’t even have a good handle on his own theory, let alone what is allegedly wrong with the theory of evolution.
Professor Behe admitted in “Reply to My Critics” that
there was a defect in his view of irreducible complexity because, while it purports to be a challenge to natural selection, it does not actually address “the task facing natural selection.” (73)

It’s now official. ID has zero credibility.

And in case IDers don’t get that fact, for good measure, Jones refers to the “breathtaking inanity” of the board’s policy.

December 19, 2005

Ex-presidents silent so far on domestic spying

Hear that deafening sound outside Fort Meade, Md.?

It’s the sound of ex-presidents protesting George W. Bush’s National Security Agency spying on Americans.

Will that change?

Likely not.

Here’s why.

Gerald Ford tried to stonewall Frank Church’s Senate Intelligence Committee and Otis Pike’s House Select Committee, not to mention the far more explosive House Government Information Subcommittee of Bella Abzug. Remember that these hearings occurred not only after Watergate but after the stench of Ford’s pardon of Nixon, and yet a theoretically “weakened” Ford still did some hard-core stonewalling. Read “The Puzzle Palace”, by James Bamford, pages 375-88, including Rumsfeld’s involvement during his first tour as Secretary of Defense.

Jimmy Carter? He did push for, and sign into law, the Foreign Intelligence Security Act in 1978. There’s a possibility he will speak in public, rather than just trying to call W on the carpet in private. We shall see.

George H.W.? Please. He certainly won’t say anything in public, and as ex-head of the CIA, probably has no private qualms about this one, either. So, scratch that.

Clinton? As I’ve posted before in comments, he doubled the number of FISA requests before Bush doubled them again. Now, I’m not saying he did anything illegal, and I do take note this initial doubling occurred after the the 1993 WTC attack, but in his/Hillary’s national health care meetings showed, he’s not necessarily the world’s greatest friend of government openness. (You’ll also note that neither one of the Clintons appear to have huge qualms about the Patriot Act.)

In part, this will be a battle of executive privilege questions, which is why even Carter may not speak out in public. We shall see.

Rumsfeld, NSA and illegality — not a first

From page 385 of James Bamford's "The Puzzle Palace," re Operation Shamrock:
President Ford notified Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General Levi that, because the (Congressional) subpoenas also called for records "containing the most sensitive national security information," they should "decline to comply."

The following day Rumsfiled instructed the NSA employee ... the subpoenas were not to be complied with. Then, for the first time in history, the concept of executive privilege was extended to a private corporation: Western Union.

And we weren't even in a war at this time. So, we should trust Bush and his Defense Secretary, one Donald Rumsfeld, for what reason?

December 18, 2005

Clinton had a hand in FISA request jump

The increase in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Orders has been going up for nearly 15 years.

The requests have doubled since Bush became president BUTthey also doubled under Clinton's presidency.

Now, there's no indication Clinton ever authorized anything to be done without warrant, or anything as focused inside America as Bush did.

And, if "things changed after 9/11," they had started to change after the earlier 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. I can understand part of the reason for the increase.

I’m not claming “moral equivalence.”

Nonetheless, Clinton did start the process of ramping up FISA requests.

See here.

And, we don’t know, as Bush claimed, just what briefing Congress got on this. Possibly nothing, in line with Bush’s lie that it got the same intelligence as he did on Iraq. But maybe, just maybe, people on the Senate and House intelligence committees did get at least a partial briefing, and enough that somebody could have said, “Hey!”

December 17, 2005

Who says opposition to campaign reform isn’t bipartisan?

It sure looks like Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is on the same page as President Bush in wanting to emasculate McCain-Feingold.

Quoth Reid:
He is “very pleased the president acted today upon my two recommendations for Commissioners on the Federal Election Commission,” Walther and (Robert D.) Lenhard (who was part of a legal team that challenged the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

Couldn’t be all of those Abramoff (I’m sorry, Abramoff-directed) campaign donations, could it now?

President Bush is a criminal; oops, he might have the NSA tracking my keystrokes

President Bush uses the National Security Agency to spy on Americans ( detailed here) — without warrants, no less — and is clearly a criminal.

Where’s this rubber hit the road with extra burnout for me?

Maybe I was the one being spied on.

I’m a skeptic about life in general and things like conspiracy theories in general, hence the name of my blog.

But this is different.

I participated in antiwar rallies in two cities in 2003 — Dallas, where I live, in February, and Los Angeles, in the week of the invasion, in March while on vacation.

There’s strike one against me.

I may (or may not) have e-mailed John Bolton in his position as Undersecretary of State, via an action alert by the ACLU or some other organization to which I belong. If I did, there’s strike two.

In 1991, after Lithuania declared its independence from the disnintegrating Soviet Union the year before, I wrote a strong letter to President George H.W. Bush, chiding him for the United States not being the first, or even the second, country to officially recognize Lithuania. In that letter, I even went so far as to call him a “son of a bitch.” (True, we had never officially recognized the 1940 Soviet takeover, but Bush still was quite tardy on officially recognizing the country’s de facto, not de jure, independence.)

Who knows what federal intelligence files copies of that letter may still occupy? If they’re still out there, that’s a possible strike three.

So, in other words, I may have been spied upon.

And I'm pissed off.

I agree with Steve Clemons. Make this information public.

On the “relax” side, I haven’t made any international phone calls other than to Parks Canada for information about Banff; ditto on international e-mails, and I haven’t received anything internationally except Nigerian 419 spam.

Small comfort.

Update:
There’s a bit of irony here, too.

I recently ordered, via interlibrary loan (oops, that damned Patriot Act) The Puzzle Palace, about the history and workings of the NSA, and it arrived at my library Thursday.

From the Amazon review:
Bamford backs his serious historical and technical material (this is a carefully researched work of nonfiction) with warnings about how easily the NSA's technology could work against the democracies of the world. Bamford quotes U.S. Senator Frank Church: "If this government ever became a tyranny ... the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government ... is within the reach of the government to know." This is scary stuff.

A poster on Kos reminded me of the rest of the Church quote:
“I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency [NSA] and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

And you thought U.S. Indians had problems?

Two girls born for every boy —literally on a Chippewa reserve in Ontario, just across from Port Huron, Mich., is a problem.

It appears to be petrochemical contamination, but which petrochemical(s)?

It’s a reminder that, while both internally and abroad, our country can be and has been pretty shitty at times, we’re not the only ones.

No early trial for DeLay; say good-bye to Majority Leader spot

State judge Pat Priest will not separate the conspiracy charge, dismissed by him and on appeal by Ronnie Earle, from the actual money laundering charge.

I don’t see how Denny Hastert can push the new House GOP leadership elections into February, and even the most partisan hackery won’t let him push the reconvening of the House back that far.

The Germans DID know about el-Masri

In fact, they had their own file on him in Bavarian state intelligence.

As I blogged a couple of weeks ago, I expected something like this to be the case from the fact that Germany admitted it had sat on the U.S. informing them about el-Masri’s kidnapping for more than a year.

I don’t mean to say that all European governments are hypocritical on “do as I say, not as I do,” no more than all American liberals are. But, this doesn’t really surprise me, either.

Iraq: Another analogy besides Vietnam

How about Mexico, circa 1846? Or the Spanish-American War?

That’s the thesis of Harold Bloom in a thought-provoking interview in The Guardian.
One rightly expects Whitman to explain our Evening Land to us, because his imagination is America's. A Free-Soiler, he opposed the Mexican war, as Emerson did. Do not our two Iraq invasions increasingly resemble the Mexican and Spanish-American conflicts?

Read the rest of this interview for a fascinating insight from American and British literature, primarily poetic, by Bloom into a declining empire, or, as he calls it, a “parody” of Rome.

December 16, 2005

Abramoff donations vs. Abramoff-directed ones

I’ve seen a number of opinionators, including one linked on Raw Story and a number of Kos diarists, try to parse this difference as proof that the Abramoff scandal is all about Republicans.

Actually, I have a different idea, which says this conventional “Democratic talking point” version of the distinction between Abramoff and Abramoff-directed client donations is all wet.

Instead, the difference between the two is that of Abramoff playing two political games at the same time.

On his personal donations, by giving only to Republicans, Abramoff was playing to the hilt his role as good boy K Street Project lobbyist. Nothing should surprise anyone there, given that the man is a former Tom DeLay aide. (But, see a partial exception to this in the next paragraph.)

But, in directing his Indian tribal clients, and others, to donate to both parties (and allowing his personal skybox to be used by members of both parties in Congress, or members of their staff, Abramoff was playing pre-1994, pre-K power politics.

In other words, this system of Abramoff distinguishing between his own donations and directed donations was his attempt to have his cake and eat it, too.

I don’t know why North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan gave back his Abramoff-connected money. (Remember, he also used the Abramoff skybox, so for the last time, let’s have “Democrats are always right and never even ethically challenged” folks shut up.)

I suspect this is behind Harry Reid both taking a healthy chunk of Abramoff-connected money, and now rejecting repeated appeals to give it back. Nevada’s not known for its political niceness, and despite his Mormon heritage, Reid is not a total choir boy either.

Now, by the letter of the law, Abramoff money may have a taint that Abramoff-directed money doesn’t.

But in the sphere of public opinion, such niceties aren’t parsed.

And to the degree that the sometimes sordid world of high-dollar gaming is involved, maybe such niceties shouldn’t be parsed.

As I’ve said before, bottom line in this issue for me, in one sense, is not Jack Abramoff, criminal convictions, or anything of the sort.

As the lawsuit against the Department of Interior by a number of American Indian tribes for a century-plus of fiduciary mismanagement points out on a parallel front, this issue is ultimately about Indian rights and agreements.

And to the degree that Democrats as well as Republicans have failed on that, they are ethically challenged.

Sadly, too, many tribes see gaming as a quick fix. In small tribes of just a few hundred enrolled members, I wonder whether it won’t instead be a breeding ground for vicious long-term jealousies.

December 15, 2005

Hottest Northern Hemisphere ever

And the second hottest year on record. 1998 was hotter only because of a strong El Niño.

That’s the word from British climatologists.
Their data show that the average temperature during 2005 in the northern hemisphere is 0.65 Celsius above the average for 1961-1990, a conventional baseline against which scientists compare temperatures.

I’ll do the conversion to Fahrenheit for you.

That’s 1.17 degrees above the 1961-90 average.

I’m offering what I consider a moderate to conservative guesstimate.

With increasing industrialization of China and India at a rapid rate, plus Western nations probably doing no better than late 1990s, not early 1990s, emissions levels of CO2 in the future, that we will increase our temperature by the same amount by 2020.

Think about it. As it warms up more in boreal regions, more methane and other greenhouse gases get released from permafrost. Then, warmer air can hold more water vapor. Water vapor, like methane, is a more efficient greenhouse gas than CO2.

And, as more northerly portions of the Northern Hemisphere heat up even faster, I’m willing to bet mid-latitude United States areas like, say, Ohio, have a good chance of increasing a full 2 degrees Fahrenheit by 2020.

Will we go past a tipping point? Will my prediction above be too conservative? I wouldn’t totally bet against it.

If I don’t convince you, perhaps this graph will.

Argentine president tells IMF to go fuck itself

And about time, too.
(Argentine) President Nestor Kirchner, who at rallies and speeches this year has called IMF officials “rude” and demanding, said at a press conference in Buenos Aires the government will make the payment after three years of economic growth bolstered foreign currency reserves. The economy grew 9.2 percent in the third quarter on a surge in public spending, the government said today.

Kirchner, 55, vowed to take the decision on several occasions this year to ensure the administration isn't dependent on policies endorsed by the Washington-based lender, including spending caps and higher utility rates. The announcement comes two days after neighboring Brazil said it would repay its $15.5 billion IMF debt.

I’m not an economist, so I don’t know if a weaker dollar has anything to do with how quickly Argentina was able to do this. But, the feelings about the IMF are surely coupled with further anger about the Bush Administration’s ham-handedness toward-left leaning governments in Latin America, which pretty much covers, or could cover after Bolivia’s presidential election, everything south of Columbia. Here’s more from Kirchner:
Kirchner said today the IMF advice and loans in the 1990s helped lead to the country to “failure” and said the fund has neglected to help since the default when they most need the help. He said the IMF’s demands acted as constraints that impeded the economic recovery, and he criticized the fund for not providing financing for the government's debt restructuring this year.

No, but I bet it was more than willing to provide funding for private American and European companies to try to privatize government services there.

And, Kirchner and fellow Argentinians aren’t alone in their anger. Or in their resolve to be free from the vampirism of the IMF.
Kirchner, 55, vowed to take the decision on several occasions this year to ensure the administration isn't dependent on policies endorsed by the Washington-based lender, including spending caps and higher utility rates. The announcement comes two days after neighboring Brazil said it would repay its $15.5 billion IMF debt.

Western-oriented economists claim Argentina is only making things worse:
For Argentina, whose default on $95 billion of bonds in 2001 sent the economy into its deepest recession on record, repaying the IMF will only increase its financing costs, said Claudio Loser, a former director of the Western Hemisphere Department for the International Monetary Fund who now works as an economic consultant in Washington. …

Argentina's dollar-denominated bonds yield on average 5 percentage points more than comparable maturity U.S. Treasuries, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.

“It's going to end up costing Argentina a lot more money because they will have to seek other forms of financing that are more expensive,” Loser said.

Uhh, Mr. Loser, they’ve already got other, non-IMF help:
Kirchner also thanked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for his assistance, prompting applause from government officials listening to the speech at the presidential palace. Venezuela this year has purchased almost $1 billion of Argentine bonds.

Let’s see. Chavez can do this because he’s flush with oil money. He’s flush with oil money because, in part, our invasion of Iraq has actually driven down Iraqi oil production, thus driving up world oil prices. Our failure to have a national energy policy based on conservation and development of alternate sources has contributed to this.

Just another bit of stellar work by Bush, Cheney and the rest of the oil-wise CEOs.

December 13, 2005

News radio sells out

A Madison, Wis., radio station, is selling corporate radio rights to its newsroom.

First, I’m soooo shocked (NOT) that this is a ClearChannel station. My shock is made somewhat real that a station in Madison, a theoretical bastion of progressivism, is doing this.

Second, if this is simply the first station to implement a corporate-wide policy, just how fast will people run away from this in terms of listenership? We can only hope.

Dorgan does the right thing

Sen. Byron Dorgan, perhaps a bit tardily, is doing the right thing and returning $67,000 in Jack Abramoff campaign contributions.


(Dorgan, D-ND) said Tuesday that while he never met Abramoff and didn't take any actions at the lobbyist's behest, he nonetheless wants to return the money to avoid any appearance that tribal money was directed to him by the controversial lobbyist.

Just to refresh our memory, here was Dorgan’s connection to Abramoff:

AP reported in three stories over the last month that Dorgan did not disclose during the probe that he took actions favorable to Abramoff's tribal clients, often around the time he collected donations from Abramoff's firm or clients.

For instance, Dorgan:

— Used Abramoff's arena skybox in March 2001 to raise money, letting one of Abramoff's tribes foot the bill. The senator says he didn't know at the time that Abramoff leased the box. He recently reimbursed that money.

— Persuaded Congress in the fall 2003 to press government regulators to decide, after decades of delay, whether the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts deserved federal recognition. Dorgan met with the tribe's representatives and collected at least $11,500 in political donations from the Abramoff partner representing the Mashpee around the time of the help.

— Collected $20,000 from Abramoff's firm and tribes about the time he wrote a letter in 2002 urging the Senate Appropriations Committee to fund a school construction program that Abramoff's clients and other tribes wanted. The letter mentioned one of Abramoff's tribes.

In a sidebar — Sen. Dorgan, if it’s legal, rather than giving the money back to Abramoff, why not do some real good with it and give it the the Sioux and other Indian tribes in your state?

And, to show people like Josh Marshall that, just because I say that the Abramoff scandal, at least as far as continuing to feed false impressions, isn’t just about Republicans, let’s take a look at the other side of the aisle in the Senate:

The office of Sen. Conrad Burns R-Mont., another lawmaker named in the AP stories, said Tuesday he has no plans to return the $150,000 he got from Abramoff sources because he already has spent the money.

I’m sure Burns has more than $150,000 on hand; this is just bullshit.

Indeed, Open Secrets reports Burns has $3 million in the bank.

And, on the Democratic side, now that Dorgan has seen the light, will Harry Reid also do the right thing?

Ronnie Earle DOES have a lump of coal for Tom DeLay

It's a little bonus subpoena of the campaign contribution records of Bret Wilkes, the bagman of resigned-in-disgrace, about-to-be-sentenced, and playing-state’s-evidence California GOP Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham.

Here’s a complete list of Wilkes Corp/ADCS recipients, almost entirely Republicans; DeLay ranks No. 3.

In addition to the campaign contributions, DeLay was one of a number of Congressmen taking free rides on Wilkes’ time-shared private plane.

If you’ve followed much of this story, you may remember that Cunningham agreed to roll over for the feds as part of his plea. Now, of course, Earle’s case is state-level, but investigations like this often pursue parallel paths, with information, the need for information, and prosecutorial back-scratching coming to the fore.

With Earle appealing the district court decision to throw out the conspiracy count against DeLay, we have a full month, surely, for more financial links between DeLay and various shady lobbyists to start popping up.

So, despite Denny Hastert’s plan to keep the House out of session until the end of January, to postpone a leadership vote as long as possible, this can be nothing but bad news for the Hammer.

Now, the next big question is — do the House GOP long knives finally start coming out? Perhaps not so fast.

Roy Blunt Jr., who might be expected to be most likely to shiv DeLay, got money both from Wilkes and the MZM PAC. A complete list shows MZM PAC recipients are almost all Republicans.

NB: This should show people like Josh Marshall and Kos diarists that I’m not ignorant, that I don’t appreciate the seriousness of some of these financial shakedowns and slush funds, and that, in cases where Republicans are just about entirely at fault, that I won’t hesitate to point that out.

See this Daily Kos diary for a bigger overview on how Wilkes got to be who he is.

But, remember, this is the Wilkes case. Not the Abramoff case. The two are intertwining more and more, but the Indian gaming part of the Abramoff schtick is still a separate, and sadly, at least somewhat bipartisan, issue.

Exxon claims moon is made of green cheese, too

Jamie Spellings, head of ExxonMobil’s corporate planning division, was honest about demand but not supply on a webcast today. Spelling projected world energy demand would go up 60 percent by 2025, but claimed that OPEC members would be able to boost production by 40 percent. Spellings said technology and efficiency savings are already factored in the demand projections.

Do people at Exxon really believe OPEC can ramp it up 40 percent? Are they smoking crack at the same table as the House of Saud?

Blogs and blogrolls

If you want one with a good sampling of top-hit and underrecognized political blogs, with a healthy, heavy dose of science blogs, here’s Bora’s. Or P.Z. Myers’.

As for me, I have just a few blogs linked — P.Z.’s among them. Why?

At one time, early in this game, I used to lust after blogging connections, getting hits, being recognized, etc. Now, I first of all recognize that this is just another case of me being a day late and a dollar short.

More importantly, I see it as what the Tao Te Ching or the Book of Ecclesiastes, in their separate and inimitable ways, would point out as a lack of detachment.

Beyond that, the blogs that I do list are convenient portals to top news stories that I may not immediately catch, and am not going to cram my e-mail with RSS feeds to try to catch.

If I disagree with any of the political blogs enough, I can replace its link with something like Raw Story.

Abramoff - not just a Republican thing

Of course, I'm in the definite minority of independent-minded, gadfly-like independent progressives to point that out.

But this nice Washington Post graphic presents my case very well.

It makes a number of points.

First, note that Democrats got 35 percent of the Abramoff pie. Throw out the big spike in 2002, and it’s nearly 38 percent for other years.

Second, look at the lower left bar graph. Of Abramoff’s giving to national political committees, the Democrats got nearly 42 percent of the total.

Third, look at the horizontal bar graph, bottom center. The second-largest recipient, three of the top 10 and six of the top 15 are Democrats.

Fourth, lobbyists buy access. Remember that during the entire time frame of timeline, the Republicans controlled the House. Except for a little more than a year after Jim Jeffords’ defection out of the Republican party. You buy access with the majority party.

I don’t know if the same would have happened with a Democratic majority, even given Abramoff’s connection to Tom DeLay. Is it possible, though? Certainly.

At the least, if the minority — especially in the Senate — were as weak as it claims, Abramoff’s sharing the wealth would have been less bipartisan.

The House and Senate rankings of his chief recipients from both parties underscore the fact that Abramoff was buying access.

Fifth, look at the top timeline, the one that has Abramoff’s contributors beneath the peak. Look just below the peak in the timeline of Abramoff’s tribal donors. Besides Abramoff’s well-known connections with Louisiana’s Coushattas and the Texas Tiguas he was bending over, you have two New Mexico pueblos with gaming.

I’m not a prude on gambling, but I think this does show some of its corrosive power, especially when handled like it is in America. Frankly, if we would legalize it everywhere, it would probably lose some of its allure. At the same time, a lot of Indian tribes who have succumbed to that allure would find themselves financially high and dry. That still might be better than pitting tribe against tribe, bribing politicians with executive branch connections or needy pockets to muscle the Department of the Interior and worse.

And, you would eliminate the temptation to this corruption.

At the same time, contra Josh Marshall, posters on Kos, and such, I’m not claiming that Democrats are equally guilty as Republicans. But to partisans who have trouble not seeing multiple offenders, who can’t see beyond polarities, dualities or blacks and whites, I am saying that Democrats appear to have their share of guilt.

December 11, 2005

In memoriam: Pryor, McCarthy

I’m not quite old enough to have heard Richard Pryor on his first, early 1970s comedy albums. I first became familiar with him in the 1976 movie Silver Streak. But, after that, I was hooked.

With Pryor, whether talking about “niggers,” or using other “seven-letter word” language, he wasn’t talking blue, or at least, he wasn’t talking blue just to go blue. He had a legitimate reason for everything. And he was good.

His influence extended beyond just black comedians, too. As The Dallas Morning News noted in its editorial, Robin Williams must be seen as tracing his comedy bloodline back to Pryor. And, through him, perhaps Jim Carrey.

While his blackness was an essential element of much of his comedy, much else in his routine went outside of racial issues — or outside of sexual issues, for that matter. While Pryor was a black comedian, he should also be seen as a comedian who happened to be black.

As an atheist, I can’t say that he’s “in a better place” now. He’s gone; rent a movie or comedy routine of his and remember.

===========

“Clean Gene.” A nickname with quaint reekings of a bygone era.

As an Iraq war proponent from the time the Bush Administration started proposing it in 2002, McCarthy is an intellectual and political hero of mine.

But, what good did Eugene McCarthy really do? It took more than seven years from his “Children’s Crusade” knocking LBJ off the ballot for us to finally get our last troops out of Vietnam. If LBJ had been, somehow, re-elected himself, he probably would have said, “The hell with being called soft on Communism, I know this isn’t right,” and gotten the best deal we could and in quicker time. I don’t doubt that Lyndon never would have expanded the war to Cambodia, either.

So, arguably, McCarthy may have made things worse. (But, it’s not so likely that LBJ could have beaten Nixon. On the other hand, that campaign would have been a paranoia-fest for the ages.)

However, idealism isn’t necessarily about making things better or worse. It’s about being right or wrong.

Unfortunately, McCarthy spoiled his image in later years. Whether it was being the Harold Stassen of the last third of the 20th century, or endorsing Reagan in 1980, he seemed to move beyond idiosyncratic, past contrarian, and into full-blown obstrepiousness.

Nonetheless, his inner light — and perhaps his inner demon, or daimon — guided him on.

===========

And, has it really been 25 years since John Lennon was killed? Wow. I was a senior in high school.

December 08, 2005

Torture, renditions and European goverments: One quick, big question

To put it in Nixonian style: "What did European governments know about American renditions and the renditions' connections to their countries, and when did they know it"?

This is important for both a moral and a political reason.

First, the political point. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will have no qualms about dragging lapdog Great Britain, or possibly backdoor-conniving Germany, through the mud if they continue to push this issue. So, their governments (and the Tory opposition in the UK), as well as the leadership in Eire, etc., had better be prepared to answer this.

Second, the moral point. If they did know, well, guilt by association, let alone enabling, is on the law books of every civilized country.

December 07, 2005

Gilchrist shows Dems, too want immigration controls

Jim Gilchrist's 25 percent showing in CA-48 shows that Democrats, too, want immigration answers.

And, unlike Andrew in this same thread area, I do get it that many Democrats are frustrated on this issue, too.

I believe we need to combine a mix of a higher min wage plus better workforce conditions in agriculture and meatpacking (two heavily illegal-dominated areas), so as to make these jobs more attractive to residents and citizens. with strong, even draconian, prevention and enforcement.

An actual fence on the border? Yes.

With concertina? Yes.

More drone planes? Yes.

More watch tower stands? Yes.

Doubling, tripling, or quadrupling Border Patrol agents? Yes?

Ditto for search dogs? Yes.

Denuding the border of vegetation for easier tracking? Yes.

Folks, Mexico's official foreign policy is to export population growth. And, a fair amount of illegal immigration that is Hispanic is because Mexico can't or won't control it's southern border. Plus, as recently reported in the mainstream media (see link below), we're at the highest five-year immigration rate in our country's history.

Enough.

Immigration advocates of various sources shoot down alleged myths out there, but many of the "myths" are just alleged. If not fully true, they have enough basis in reality to not be called myth.

This website lists five alleged myths about illegal immigration.
MYTH 1. Migration is Caused by Lack of Economic Development in Migrants’ Home Countries
· International migrants do not originate in the world’s poorest nations, but in those that are developing and growing dynamically. The largest single source of U.S. immigrants, Mexico, is not a poor nation by global standards. Mexico has a one-trillion dollar economy, a per capita income of almost $9,000 (compared to $9,700 in Russia), a fully industrialized economy, a high level of urbanization, and an advanced life expectancy.

MYTH 2. Migration is Caused by Rapid Population Growth in Migrants’ Home Countries
· The fertility rate in Mexico is about 2.3 children per woman, which is only slightly above “replacement” level. The highest fertility levels are generally observed in the Arab world and Sub-Saharan Africa, but these regions contribute few migrants to global streams.

MYTH 3. Migrants Move Mainly in Response to Differences in Wages
· Households use international migration as a tool to overcome failed or missing markets for insurance, capital, and credit at home. For example, because Mexico has virtually no mortgage banking industry, a large share of the money earned by Mexican immigrants in the United States is channeled into the construction or purchase of homes in Mexico.

MYTH 4. Migrants Are Attracted to the United States by Generous Public Benefits
· Immigrants are less likely than natives to use public services. While 66 percent of Mexican immigrants report the withholding of Social Security taxes from their paychecks and 62 percent say that employers withhold income taxes, only 10 percent say they have ever sent a child to U.S. public schools, 7 percent indicate they have received Supplemental Security Income, and 5 percent or less report ever using food stamps, welfare, or unemployment compensation.

MYTH 5. Most Immigrants Intend to Settle Permanently in the United States
· Mexico-U.S. migration has historically been circular: 80 percent of Mexican immigrants report that they made no more than three trips to the United States and three quarters stayed less than two years.

No. 1 — Sorry, but Mexico IS below Russia. And Russia doesn’t border us. If it did, we would get more illegals from there than we already do.

No. 2 — I suspect that mestizo or Mexican Indian population growth rates are still well above this and sangre azuls may even be below replacement levels. (That, in turn, may be another reason Mexico’s political leadership wants to export the problem.)

No. 3 — Isn’t “failed or missing markets” a matter of wages? Hell, yes. As for the banking problems, fixing those would help somewhat, I’m sure, but still not cure the problem.

No. 4 — I don’t doubt this one; fear of arrest may be part of why that is so.

No. 5 — Lots of us wind up doing things we never intend. And, even if those statistics are true (true not only of those sampled, but that’s a scientifically valid sampling), it doesn’t justify illegals coming across.

So, let’s stop pretending that many people don’t have a populist point of view on this issue.

Update:I forgot to list the mythmaking of the whole ILW methodology of conflating information about legal and illegal immigrants, not to mention the conflict of interest of being a website for immigration lawyers.

Not even sworn into Congress yet, and the lies star

Congressman –Elect John Campbell of California and Orange County’s 48th District can’t even wait until election night is done to start the lying.

Getting less than 50 percent of the vote, with Minuteman Project co-founder Jim Gilchrist hauling in 25 percent, he had this to say about illegal aliens:
“it’s not the only issue, and I think that's the key message here.”

Well, the professional analysts beg to differ:
”Illegal immigration is the overwhelming issue in Orange County, and that’s why he was able to come out of nowhere, because it was the perfect issue for Gilchrist to run on,” political consultant Scott Hart told the Los Angeles Times.

Meanwhile, Democratic challenger Steve Young barely finished ahead of Gilchrist with 28 percent. Wonder how the lying spinning of Democratic types is going at places such as Kos, where Young’s possible win was being broached a day ago.

Even progressives can be clueless at times

At The American Prospect, Garance Franke-Ruta says we should have no problem with letting C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia septilogy (my neologism), or almost any of his books, be part of the public school curriculum.

Ironically, after criticizing blogger Lindsey Beyerstein (Majikthise) for allegedly setting up a straw man in her critique of Franke-Ruta’s story about has NARAL, Planned Parenthood, et al, are burying their heads on this issue of multiple abortions (scroll just down the page from the link above), Franke-Ruta does the same herself to Americans United for Separation of Church and State and other groups opposing a state of Florida effort to make LWW part of public school curriculum.
If schools are to ban literature because it deals with morality and spiritual or religious themes, they will rapidly find themselves banning all but the most banal contemporary writing, because the history of literature in English is often also the history of Anglophone thinking about religion and morality. What next, are the metaphysical poets to be banned? Or Milton? The Chronicles of Narnia may contain metaphors or allegories with religious significance, but to ban all literature that uses literary techniques is to fundamentally misunderstand what it's for.

There are so many ways to deconstruct this.

First, Milton is part of “the canon,” if I may refer to that. C.S. Lewis is not. In short, he’s not great literature. And, who are you going to bump to make room for him?

Second, if I really want ethics from “the canon,” without a specifically religious source, I’ll assign Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics to high schoolers.

But, those two points are just penny ante, compared to her political naivete.
Just because the movie is backed by a Bush contributor is no reason to deprive Florida schoolchildren of one of the few works of literature that has descended to them from their parents' childhoods.

First, getting past the point, again, that LWW is not literature, she ignores the background.

Children aren’t clamoring for it to be in the classroom at all. Politically active wingers are.

Second, if parents really like it that much, let them be good parents and read it to their children at home.

Third, kids may not recognize the clear allegory of LWW, but their parents, if they’re among the winger activists sure as hell will — and do. After all, that’s why they want the book in the classroom.

How she could miss that, I don't know.

Judy Miller getting some Pinch in the sack?

That’s one possible inference from a sure-to-sizzle Vanity Fair expose of her cozy relationships with New York Times publisher Pinch Sulzberger. Judging from the sampled comments in the E&P story, this one an’t and won’t do anything but produce a shitstorm of commentary from Pinch and Judy both. I wonder just who all leaked what to produce tidbits such as this:
(Seth) Mnookin pulls no punches in stating that over the years Miller “had built a reputation for sleeping with her sources,” had dated one of Sulzberger’s best friends, Steve Ratner, “and had even, for a time, shared a vacation home with Sulzberger,” whatever that means.

It’s in the January issue, at your newsstand in hardcopy Dec. 13. Yum, yum.

DeLay rides the Cunningham defense scandal gravy train

Tom DeLay was getting a cut of the Duke Cunningham defense contractor scandal pie, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
Poway military contractor Brent Wilkes – whom Justice Department officials identify as the co-conspirator … who gave more than $630,000 in cash and favors to former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham for help in landing millions of dollars in federal contracts … (gave) $30,000 to Tom DeLay, who flew on Wilkes’ jet several times and has been a frequent golfing buddy.

But Tom, Abramoff’s friends already had your flight expenses comped. Why did you need this? And the golfing buddy bit? How many “charitable tournaments” of DeLay’s were you in

December 06, 2005

Photo editing in the media — when is it photo editing and when is it manipulation?

I am the editor of a suburban Dallas weekly newspaper, part of a five-paper group. We have a full-time photo editor and some stringer photographers, but I do take some of my own pictures. I was at a stand-alone semiweekly (actually, part of a scattered rural newspaper group) and a quasi-alone weekly before that, so doing my own art isn’t new to me. I’ve got Photoshop on my office computer, and edit most of the photos I take myself as well as some others as needed under time pressure.

(If you’re not a halfway serious user of Photoshop, skip the rest of this post.)

Anyway, I had shot some wild art about a week before Thanksgiving. I was at our community library at about 8 p.m. and saw the young red oaks, just nicely in the process of changing color in our part of the world. One in particular looked photoworthy under the mercury vapor lamps, with poles only about 10 feet high.

So I drove back home to get my camera (tripod was already in my car) and shoot some “natural” light pics (natural as in no strobe).

When I was editing one of them the next day at the office, our photo editor sees me using the Selective Color command. (It’s under Edit à Adjustments.)

He accuses me of “photo manipulation.” Of course, that’s a cardinal sin. He then goes on to say the National Press Photographers Association (of which he may or may not be a paid member — the $99 a year is not a worthwhile investment for me) has ethics (no duh) and that I’m being unethical.

He also had the snarky comment that if you can’t edit it in the camera, you shouldn’t shoot it. (Bullshit, and more on that later, about shooting in the camera.)

We’ll, I’m slow to anger and rare to confrontational expression of anger. So I start cogitating on this for several days. And here’s my answer.

First of all, let me stipulate that I was using Selective Color to fine-tune, and not blow out any colors, saturation, contrast, etc. Now, here’s my response to our photo editor.

First, if you’re just using Levels and Curves, what if you fade them, and use any fade command besides Normal (such as Luminosity) for the fade? That’s manipulating color.

Second, as often needs to be done, what if you dodge an black person’s face. Especially with a newspaper printing on newsprint, not glossy, this has to be done. But, isn’t that manipulation?

Third, as an article in dpreview.com notes, what if I’m deliberately shooting with a Nikon instead of a Canon in certain situations, precisely because of differences between camera brands?

Fourth, different cameras have slightly different white balance settings for the same situation.

Fifth as far as saturation, sharpness and contrast controls in digital cameras, they vary from one to another even on defaults. For example, Canon says about my digital Rebel that the defaults are one setting about Adobe RGB.

Sixth, what if you use fill flash in daytime? True, that’s on the camera, but it’s not what the eye is seeing.

Seventh, what if you’re using filters? Skylight to kill haze? Polarizer for glare? (Lots of it off natural vegetation greens.) A neutral density to blur a waterfall or rapid? A warmer?

Eighth, and combining Nos. 5-7, I shot some fall color pics in Big Bend. On the north side of a mountain trail, I got some good oak pictures I deliberately underexposed two-thirds of a stop, with a fill flash, shooting at 200 ASA equivalent. The greener leaves in the background of this scrub oak darkened out nicely while the fill flash (via pop-up) brought out the front colors just right. My natural eye certainly didn’t see that.

Ninth, although digital sensors continue to improve on resolution quality in low light, they still don’t compare to the human eye. Even in daylight, pixel numbers don’t equal sensitivity.

Tenth, what if I’m using a generic flash on a name-brand camera? That will skew the camera’s white balance.

Eleventh, Photoshop and another middle or higher-end program, such as Paint Shop Pro, will handle colors differently.

Twelfth, every press is different, and gains color differently. Is adjusting pictures for that “manipulation”?

Thirteenth, what about an Unsharp Mask? What pixel radius and percentage is “acceptable” and what is “manipulation”?

Fourteenth, isn’t trying to draw rules too hard and fast making photography too much science and not enough art?

Fifteenth, photography is holistic. “Shooting” and “editing” are the total and combined act of photography. We edit not just by how we frame pictures, but even with old film cameras, by the use of filters, sun screens, fill flashes, f-stops, shutter speeds and more.

Bottom line — no cutting and pasting, cloning, or other manipulation of artifacts in a “raw” photograph. No unnatural use of colors.

Beyond that, any fine-tuning of colors, done to fine-tune, with the memory of what the picture looked like to the naked eye (if the photographer is also the photo editor) is acceptable in my book.

Lottery Christmas tree at state capital nixed

In Oklahoma, the State Capitol annually has a Christmas tree decorated and donated by an elementary school. This year, Woodward Elementary teachers and students got creative, making ornaments out of used lottery scratch-off tickets.

Oops. The tree drew objections, prompting its removal.

“I certainly think it inappropriately twists the meaning and the spirit of Christmas,” said Rep. Randy Terrill, a lottery opponent.

That’s opposed to the normal level of crass Christmas (Christian) capitalist commercialism, which, I guess, appropriately twists the meaning of Christmas, because we all know Jesus favored free enterprise.

McCain kneecaps Murtha, who DOES NOT SUPPORT a withdrawal.

John McCain will apparently stop at nothing to bolster the cause of fighting to the bitter end — if such an end could be found — in Iraq.

His latest? Sliming John Murtha.

So Murtha’s an old sentimental wimp.

However, he is not supporting a withdrawal from Iraq. His latest? See here for Murtha’s plans for redeployment.

On the one hand is the Dallas Morning News; on the other is a handful of warm shit. Can you tell which is which?

The Dallas Morning News has now officially shown itself to be as clueless about real working people as President George Bush was in 1992 about bar code scanners.

Dec. 6, the Snooze penned something it had been getting away from for a while, something for which the Dallas Observer rightly criticized it in the past: The “on the one hand, on the other hand”

This particular bit of mealy-mouthed drivel as about “Wal-Mart may be good, Wal-Mart may be bad.”

The editorial itself is lame enough, but here’s the kicker, literally the last word of the editorial”
And if you cash one of those minuscule Wal-Mart paychecks, quit your job. Paying the bills is no reason to support evil in our midst.

Apparently, Editorial Page Editor Keven Ann Willey and the rest of the Joe Barton-decimated crackerjack editorial board are too clueless to recognize that for many of its employees, Wal-Mart is their real world dream job.

WTF, are they going to go work at Family Dollar instead?

December 04, 2005

US: Excuse us, we didn’t really mean it; Germany: OK, we’ll look the other way

That’s the hot word on how the U.S. told Germany about the kidnapping and false imprisonment of German citizenKhaled el-Masri story says.

Of course, it’s nice to know that, after so fiercely opposing the war in Iraq on various grounds, the government of Gerhard Schroeder sat on this information for a full year.

Yes, al-Qaeda (this arrest was made related to al-Qaeda and operations in Afghanistan) was separate from the war in Iraq. But, as a result of the war and our own human rights abuses, we’ve taken a lot of grief from people in western Europe. Apparently they don’t have a lot of room to talk.

True, we don’t know what behind-the-scenes protest Schroeder’s government made to Washington, but it seems like Berlin was determined to sit on this issue for a variety of reasons. Perhaps Europeans are willing to let Americans do the dirty work on legitimate actions against al Qaeda and suffer the consequences as well.

Plus, what effect will this have, and its revelation at just this moment, on the CIA rendition flight stopovers in various European countries, above all, Germany?

For a basic summary of his kidnapping and imprisonment story, see here, including el-Masri’s claim he was visited by a German state security official while imprisoned in Afghanistan.

For a scientific sidebar about how hair analysis can uphold part of his claim, see here.

For a brief timeline of his time in Afghanistan, see here.

Discovery Institute channels BushCo for lies and spin

There’s more than one bit of deception in the Discovery Institute’s latest attempt to spin the Dover, Pa. school board suit over intelligent design

Example no. 1:
“The future of intelligent design, as far as I’m concerned, has very little to do with the outcome of the Dover case,” (John G. West, a political scientist and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute), said. “The future of intelligent design is tied up with academic endeavors. It rises or falls on the science.”

That’s a good first lie, or first part of a series. Discovery has always played down the religious background of ID when trying to “get the controversy taught” — the alleged controversy over the fallibility of the theory of evolution.

So, here’s lie no. 2:
Advocates of intelligent design perceived the risk as so great that the Discovery Institute said it had tried to dissuade the school board in Dover from going ahead and taking a stand in favor of intelligent design. The institute opposed the Dover board's action, it said, because it “politicized” what should be a scientific issue.

Really? I didn’t see Discovery complaining about “politicization” either the first or second time fundamentalists got elected to a majority of the Kansas Board of Education.

Nor did we see them complain about politicization when our nation’s non-scientist in chief said schools ought to teach “both sides.”

As one scientist says, why can’t they just be honest? A professor at Baptist stalwart Baylor University tells them just that:
Derek Davis, director of the J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor …, noted that the advocates of intelligent design claim they are not talking about God or religion. “But they are, and everybody knows they are,” Mr. Davis said. “I just think we ought to quit playing games. It’s a religious worldview that's being advanced.”

A wonderful idea, but Discovery’s only chance is bait-and-switch obfuscation and people like West know that. Else, why wouldn’t Discovery still post its wedge strategy on its website?

December 02, 2005

AP has NOT been “proved wrong” on Dorgan

Sen. Byron Dorgan is no babe in the woods on Jack Abramoff money, as this AP story says.

"Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), acknowledges he got Congress in fall 2003 to press government regulators to decide, after decades of delay, whether the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts deserved federal recognition."

Uh, last I checked, Massachusetts is not in North Dakota. It's not Sioux or other High Plains tribes.

What it is, though, is a New England tribe with gaming interests. In fact, the tribe was trying to get federal recognition to pursue a casino at the very time Dorgan got Abramoff money, as this Cape Cod Times story says.

And the AP story makes clear the tribe appreciated Dorgan's help:
But the Mashpee say the lobbying paid off because Dorgan's provision prompted Interior to speed its decision-making process. The tribe credits Dorgan and one of his colleagues, Sen. Conrad Burns (news, bio, voting record), R-Mont., another frequent recipient of Abramoff tribal donations, for the provision.

"Both Senator Burns and Senator Dorgan were helpful," Mashpee spokesman Scott Ferson said.

So, yes, let's be like Phoenix Woman over at Daily Kos and all give ourselves a pat on the back for proving the AP wrong.

Or, let's take a realistic approach and say that, while it certainly appears the Republicans were most tightly connected to Abramoff, it is quite possible one or more Democrats (Reid? -- about who I diaried over there two weeks ago as well as on this blog ) also have at least some degree of dirt on their skirts.

December 01, 2005

Morning Snooze still peddles BushCo party line on Iraq

The Dallas Morning News still says it’s morning in Iraqon the training of Iraqi replacement troops.

Here’s the nut graf, up front as the lede:
Analysts say U.S. trainers are making major progress in creating new Iraqi security forces, as President Bush asserted Wednesday, but the effort could shatter along religious and ethnic fault lines.

As I pointed out in an e-mail to reporter Richard Whittle, there’s two problems right off the bat with this.

First, a single person is an “analyst,” not “analysts.”

Second, McCaffrey’s a known and big suck-up.

Beyond that, he ignores the fact that Rummy is claiming we have trained 100,000 Iraqi troops and police — the same figure he threw out a year ago.

November 29, 2005

Democrats have no right to complain about Birnbaum piece on Congressional corruption

Over at Talking Points Memo a reader claims Washington Post reporter Jeff Birnbaum is biased against Democrats in his article on Congressional corruption because he doesn’t say it’s a Republican-only thing.


Wrong, Mr. TC. I previously blogged about Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s moral and political obtuseness in continuing to hang on to Jack Abramoff-connected money — money that he received in multiple donations.

Now we also have the revelation that Senate Democrat Byron Dorgan, ranking member of the Senate Interior Committee, has also received one Abramoff-connected donation, at least.

So, no TC (and Josh), Congressional Democrats don’t have a right to complain.

And they won’t have a right to complain until they adopt a Congressional accountability clause as part of a Democratic version of a Contract with America.

November 28, 2005

Crap, like cream, floats to the top — the latest DeLay files

The name of Tom DeLay, along with wife Christine, is circulating along with Ohio’s Bob Ney as being officially under the gun in the Jack Abramoff lobbying corruption scandal. Here’s why Christine DeLay is drawing scrutiny:
Alexander Strategy Group is run by former DeLay senior staffers Edwin A. Buckham and Tony C. Rudy. Rudy served as DeLay's deputy chief of staff until 2001, when he took a job with Abramoff, and later moved on to join Buckham.

Investigators are looking into whether Rudy aided Abramoff's lobbying clients while he was working on the Hill, the sources said, and are reviewing payments from Abramoff clients and associates to Liberty Consulting, a political firm founded by Rudy's wife, Lisa. The Washington Post reported last month that Rudy, while on DeLay's staff, helped scuttle a bill opposed by eLottery Inc., an Abramoff client, and that Abramoff had eLottery pay a foundation to hire Liberty Consulting.

Richard Cullen, an attorney for the DeLays, said Christine DeLay was hired by Buckham, an old family friend, to determine the favorite charity of every member of Congress. She was paid $3,200 to $3,400 a month for three years, or about $115,000 total, he said.

But really, this is all a misunderstanding, her attorney says.

“It wasn't like she did this 9 to 5, but it was an ongoing project,” Cullen said. He said Christine DeLay’s work was commensurate with the project and had nothing to do with her husband or any official congressional business. “This was something that she found to be very interesting, very challenging and very worthwhile,” Cullen said.

Oh, I’m sure she found it interesting to get $3,000 a month for three-four hours a week of work, along with her husband getting free trips to Scotland and other trashy trinkets and sordid payoffs.

Woodward’s “confession” was just a lucky break

Howie Kurtz says that if Washington Post Executive Editor Len Downie hadn’t asked Bob Woodward to stop writing a book long enough to do a newspaper story on Plamegate, we still might not know that some White House insider had been leaking to him.
In fact, it was when Downie asked Woodward to work on the CIA leak case last month that the reporter acknowledged that a senior administration official had told him in 2003 that Valerie Plame, the wife of White House critic Joseph Wilson, worked for the CIA.

So, Downie is hoist by his own petard for letting Woody run around without a leash. No wonder (among other things Kurtz details) not everybody at the Post is in his corner.

And, here’s the $64 question: How long would Woodward have sat on the fact that he had received Plamegate leaks if Downie hadn’t asked him to do a newspaper story? Would Woody be popping up, so to speak, during Libby pretrial motions? During the start of his trial, if it goes there?

November 22, 2005

Bush knew no Hussein-al Qaeda connection 10 days after 9/11

Murray Wass has the details.

If anything, Hussein was on “our side” on this; Wass notes the only credible connection was that of the secularist Hussein monitoring al Qaeda.

Barak Obama still doesn’t get it

And why is he so great? Asking the obvious question

The day after Iraqi leaders called for us to fully withdraw with a timeline attached, Sen. Obama’s event horizon is still limited to a limited pullout.
”The strategic goals should be to allow for a limited drawdown of U.S. troops, coupled with shift to a more effective counter-insurgency strategy that puts the Iraqi security forces in the lead and intensifies our efforts to train Iraqi forces.”

And he made clear just what this meant:
”Notice that I say ‘reduce’ and not ‘fully withdraw,’” Obama said.

If he were white, would this middle-of-the-road, DLC-listening Senator get the press he does? Would he have gotten the Democratic nomination last year? The general election.

My answers:
1. No.
2. Probably
3. Yes, because of GOP ethics problems

November 21, 2005

Here’s an idea — let’s screw Iraq out of billions

Say, to the tune of $200 billion or so. Now, are Republicans — and a significant percentage of Democrats — going to stop lying that this war wasn’t about oil?
Iraqis face the dire prospect of losing up to $200bn (£116bn) of the wealth of their country if an American-inspired plan to hand over development of its oil reserves to US and British multinationals comes into force next year. A report produced by American and British pressure groups warns Iraq will be caught in an “old colonial trap” if it allows foreign companies to take a share of its vast energy reserves. The report is certain to reawaken fears that the real purpose of the 2003 war on Iraq was to ensure its oil came under Western control.

And this idea didn’t pop up out of nowhere.
Yesterday's report said the use of production sharing agreements (PSAs) was proposed by the US State Department before the invasion and adopted by the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Of course, our Vice President Dick — head of the Iraq invasion will claim it’s “unpatriotic” and “revisionist” to say this.

Should the Hammer be hearing footsteps?

Former Tom DeLay aide and Jack Abramoff lobbying partner Michael Scanlon has not only pled guilty to one conspiracy count, he rolled over for the government five months ago.. And this is going much wider then Ohio Rep. Bob Ney, who’s already been contacted in conjunction with the Indian tribe casino lobbying scandal that is the biggest thing to hit Washington since Watergate.
On Monday, the Justice Department's statement of facts that Scanlon signed went considerably beyond the earlier charging document, revealing that trips, tickets to sporting events and campaign contributions went to other public officials besides Ney in exchange for official acts.

Lemme see, we’ve got a month until Christmas. It would be nice for DeLay to get a honker-sized lump of coal in his stocking in exchange for his part in perpetuating the decades of grief American Indians have received.

Bloomberg says, “Worry like hell, Tom.”
“It’s likely that Abramoff has lots of dirt on Tom DeLay,” Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, said. “The further Abramoff sinks into trouble, the more likely he is to start pitching that dirt.”

And, let’s see him try to “partisan witchhunt” a federal charge.

Can’t Bush cut Dick off?

Other than the snarkiness of that head, it’s a legitimate question.

After Bush said, again, that people opposing the invasion of Iraq shouldn’t have their patriotism criticized, Cheney goes out and does that again Nov. 21.

Is this more “good cop, bad cop,” or is Cheney still that much of the OC rogue?

I lean toward the latter, compounded with a dash of Bush dysfunctionality, further general splitting between the two, and a limping White House losing more and more control of the game.

I salute the Congressional Lonely Three

That would be Congressmen Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, Jose Serrano of New York and Robert Wexler of New York. They are the only three who voted in favor of Duncan Hunter’s “let’s leave Iraq now” resolution. It took guts and integrity.

Half a thumb up to the six who voted “present” — Michael Capuano of Massachusetts, Bill Clay Jr. of Missouri, Maurice Hinchey of New York, Jim McDermott of Washington, Jerry Nadler of New York and Major Owens of New York.

That said, I am disturbed that more House Democrats who are in relatively safe seats and who have strongly questioned the war — George Miller of California, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, are you listening — didn't at least avail themselves of the "present" option.

I'll be posting more later on Democrats, militarization and culpability, as part of a review of Andrew Bacevich’s The New American Militarism.

November 20, 2005

What’s wrong with journalism today?

According to Arthur Silber, problem Numero Uno might be that many leading lights in the MSM regard themselves as high priests of an arcane cult of Access.

Extending his analogy further, we might talk of a hermeneutics, metaphysics and more of this new cult. As with the Aaronic priests penetrating the veil into The Most Holy Place, and not revealing that the “unnamed source” is an empty box, so too, this conclave won’t tell what really is — or isn’t — behind the screens of confidentiality.

Marty Kaplan’s comments on the Huffington Post are the perfect follow-up to this.

For example, he notes of this priesthood, “They make the rules up as they go along.” Well, sure. It’s the equivalent of a “new revelation.”

And that’s just the start of the analogy.
We also know now that the MSM is largely useless for adjudicating between conflicting claims and establishing what the facts are.

Well, like any religion, the mythos about the religious establishment, not the truth values of its pronouncements or actions, are the bottom line.

One thing neither one asks is whether the system of top granduate schools, such as Missouri, and even more Northwestern, and above all, Columbia, where you can now get a fricking Ph.D. in journalism, aren’t part of the problem. That, of course, would be compounded to the degree the highest of the high priests are asked to be guest lecturers, etc., at these seminaries of journalism.

And, does an increasing emphasis on a corporate bottom line add to this?

Well, if the priests are marketed as being essential to the system, yes.

November 17, 2005

Reid, other Democrats also feed at Abramoff hog trough

The AP reports that Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and two other Democratic Senators are in the same company as House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Interim Majority Leader Roy Blunt. The three Democrats are among Senators and Representatives to have received major campaign or PAC fund donations from Jack Abramoff.
Nearly three dozen members of Congress, including leaders from both parties, pressed the government to block a Louisiana Indian tribe from opening a casino while the lawmakers collected large donations from rival tribes and their lobbyist, Jack Abramoff.

Many intervened with letters to Interior Secretary Gale Norton within days of receiving money from tribes represented by Abramoff or using the lobbyist's restaurant for fundraising, an Associated Press review of campaign records, IRS records and congressional correspondence found.

And this wasn’t chump change that Democrats, as well as Republicans, got in exchange for their pen-pal campaigns with Norton.

Reid got $66,000 from Abramoff, for example.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid sent a letter to Norton on March 5, 2002, also signed by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. The next day, the Coushattas issued a $5,000 check to Reid's tax-exempt political group, the Searchlight Leadership Fund. A second Abramoff tribe sent another $5,000 to Reid's group. Reid ultimately received more than $66,000 in Abramoff-related donations between 2001 and 2004.

Now, more Republicans than Democrats, especially higher up the leadership ranks, participated in this. But, with Reid himself signing off, it’s a lot harder for Democrats to raise this as a partisan issue. That means it’s much less likely that, outside any trials, Congress will take any official further looks at it.

Oh, let’s not have anybody try to defend Reid (and Ensign) on grounds that they were defending Nevada gaming. A number of California Indian tribes, much closer to Las Vegas and Reno than Louisiana is, already have casino gambling.

The one plus? It may put Norton under more pressure to straighten out the 100-year-old plus Bureau of Indian Affairs financial mismanagement problem before she gets criminal contempt charges, with trial, on top of the civil contempt citations she’s already gotten. It may not do that, but there’s always hope.

And, of course, the hidden story is related to that — the continued jerking that many tribes get at the hand of government agencies and elected officials.

Update: I also posted this at Daily Kos, where (as I halfway expected) it drew some degree of flak from the “run the Democrats up the flagpole and salute them” crowd. That's me the contrarian progressive as well as the skeptical one. Not all of the 70-plus comments (including my own) as of 5 p.m. are knee-jerk, but certainly some are.

Update 2, Nov. 21: Now that Abramoff lobbying partner Michael Scanlon has pled guilty to one conspiracy count and has revealed he has been cooperating with the government for five months, I don’t get why Reid doesn’t have a sense of urgency and seriousness about this. (And I would like to see knee-jerk Democrat Kos posters respond to this now.)

Update 3, Dec. 4: In response to a post by Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, I did yet more thinking about this, and what follows is taken from what I e-mailed him.

Reid has plenty of Indian casino gambling over his shoulder in California, as I noted above in the original post. Beyond that, he's got more of it in front of him in Arizona. Further away, but still closer than any of the Abramoff-connected tribes, there's a fair amount in New Mexico.

When Angelinos and San Diegans can gamble in the area around Palm Springs rather than Vegas, some rural Louisiana casino isn't going to be any serious ding on Nevada gaming. Besides, many Nevada houses have non-Indian casinos elsewhere -- such as Shreveport/Bossier City, speaking of Louisiana.







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Returning you back to our regular Tom DeLay programming

Looks like the Hammer is getting nailed again. How nice that Roy Blunt’s being invited to join the Ronnie Earle cocktail party, too.

How many lies can Woodward tell in one story?

Spot the lies and win a prize

Bob Woodward wants us to believe that he’s been out-Judying Judy Miller on the depth of his research into the leaking of Valerie Plame’s identity.

I don’t believe that, but I will believe he’s been out-Judying Judy on the amount of lies he can tell in one story.

Here’s one:
Woodward said yesterday that he was “quite aggressively reporting” a story related to the Plame case when he told Downie about his involvement as the term of Fitzgerald's grand jury was set to expire on Oct. 28.

Sure you were. Just as soon as Judy found her Washington bureau notes to give to Fitzgerald.

Here’s another:
In Woodward's case, he says he passed along a tip about Plame to Post reporter Walter Pincus in June 2003, but Pincus says he has no recollection of such a conversation.

There are several reasons Big Bobby W. would claim this that I can think of. One is to enhance the administration line that Plame’s name was floating all around the mediasphere. Another is that he was an active player in what I discussed earlier, the White House’s test-marketing of the strategy to out Plame. The third is that this was necessary bootlicking, either as a final payment for the books he’s already written or the down payment for one in the pipeline.

And a third:
Woodward said that the unnamed official told him about Plame “in an offhand, casual manner . . . almost gossip” and that “I didn’t attach any great significance to it.”

Sure, sure. Picture Stephen Hadley, if that’s who his source is, just walking up to Big Bobby W at some D.C. cocktail party and saying, “How about those Redskins? And, say, have you heard about this woman at the Agency named Valerie — husband of Joe Wilson?”

And a fourth:
“The net to readers is a voluminous amount of quality, balanced information that explains the hardest target in Washington,” Woodward said

Are you playing judge, jury and executioner, Big Bobby W, by deciding that what you write is “balanced” without letting anybody know what you’ve heard?

What next? “Energy,” the “balanced” inside look at the Cheney Energy Task Force?

No. 5, sort of, per Digby:
Dick Stauber, Matt Cooper’s lawyer, just made a very good point on Hardball.

Woodward’s souce apparently came forward and told the prosecutor about their conversation. Yet Woodward still says that he is under a confidentiality agreement and needs special permission to reveal what he knows. Stauber asks, “If coming forward and admitting something to a US Attorney isn't waiving confidentiality, then what is?”

It sounds like Woody’s telling another lie, but on the other hand, his source knows that grand jury confidentiality protects his name. Even lawyerly leakers don’t leak names from grand jury proceedings, just the information. So, it’s arguable Woody’s on solid ground here. Nonetheless, he could at least lean further on his source at this point, or have invited Howie Kurtz to start asking him questions to which he could give denials or non-denials.

And a sixth, unstated lie:
Rem Rieder, editor of American Journalism Review … said it was “kind of disingenuous” for Woodward to have made such comments without disclosing his involvement.

This is the lie of not disclosing the conflict of interest and possible bias on your Plame talk-show mau-mauing of BushCo critics. We can’t talk about your conflict of interest in Plame reporting because, per Lie No. 1, you haven’t done any yet.

November 16, 2005

Johnny the reporter can’t write

Here’s the latest evidence . Read the three grafs below, the first three grafs of the story, then I’ll comment.
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is nearly 150 years old and under fresh attack, but thanks to him scientists today understand the danger bird flu poses to humans, curators of a new Darwin exhibit say.

"Without his insights, we would fail to appreciate the dangerous potentials of rapid evolution in the avian flu virus," Michael Novacek, curator of paleontology at the museum, told a news conference on Tuesday.

The show chronicling the life of Darwin and his work opens on November 19 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York with original manuscripts, live Galapagos tortoises, orchids, personal effects and fossil specimens Darwin collected during his five-year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle.

OK, now. Note the phrase “the museum” in the second graf. You can’t simply call someplace “the museum” (or “the school” or “the” whatever) unless you’ve explicitly identified it as The Museum of X, The New School for Social Research, etc.

Ahh, we have it identified as the “American Museum of Natural History” — one graf after the initial reference to it.

Perhaps this is nitpicky, compared to the idea of the Judith Millers of the world being reporters, not stenographers.

But, the fact is, syndicated news reporters get worse all the time, and the pace has accelerated in the past few years, including on biggies such as “its” vs. “it’s” confusion.

Why can’t we insist that reporters become BOTH better journalists AND better writers?

Bob Woodward: political hack, White House fluffer

The halo continues to tarnish from Watergate breaker Bob Woodward, most notably with the fact that Plamegate special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald got his sworn testimony about further White House leaks of Plame’s name.

Here’s my two cents on it.

Leaks like this were part of a pattern of “softening the ground,” so to speak, as well as “testing the waters.” If the press would bite with only a minimum of due diligence as to whether the leaking of Valerie Plame’s name would actually damage CIA assets, then they would engage in more soft-shoe “softening the ground” leaks to set up the big play.

And Big Bobby was ready to play along
Woodward never mentioned this contact -- which was at the center of a criminal investigation and a high-stakes First Amendment legal battle between the prosecutor and two news organizations -- to his supervisors until last month.


Where have we heard Bob Woodward's “sudden memory recall” before? Could it be.....

"Oh, sorry, Patrick, I do remember that I have notes from that first interview after all, after you so graciously reminded me that my White House visit had been recorded on the log."

Maybe Miller was giving Woodward "private lessons" on the side, since she has a reputation of cozying up to the well-placed.

Third, note the shilling of Big Bobby W:
Woodward told Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald that the official casually told him in mid-June 2003 that Plame worked as a CIA analyst on weapons of mass destruction, and that he did not believe the information to be classified or sensitive, according to a statement Woodward released yesterday.

And shilling on top of shilling:
William Jeffress Jr., one of Libby's lawyers, said yesterday that Woodward's testimony undermines Fitzgerald's public claims about his client and raises questions about what else the prosecutor may not know.

Read the story for more fun tidbits, such as Big Bobby W’s claim he told Walter Pincus that he knew about Plame and what she did, which Pincus says is a laughable claim.

Further questions:

Did Big Bobby W. play an active role in the “soften the ground” phase of the White House’s pregame plan on outing Plame? In other words, did he tell other reporters and editoris, at the Post and elsewhere, that, “Here’s why Wilson went to Niger”? Beyond that, did he tell anybody, “As to the why, of the why Wilson went to Niger, did you know his wife might have been ‘in a position to know,’” letting his listeners read between the lines that she was with the Agency? What other role might he have played? Do we need to reread his books again?

Sounds plenty suspicious to me.

November 15, 2005

Why are we paying for Chalibi’s security while he’s here?

That’s what Huffington says we’re doing.
I arrived at Megu at 11:30 and was led past a phalanx of American security guards (provided, I was told, by the U.S. State Department), to a small, private room where Chalabi, his daughter Tamara (a Harvard PhD who lives in Baghdad and works closely with her father), and a half-dozen members of his entourage were seated.

Granted, the rest of the post is pretty interesting, and an astute analysis of where Chalabi is at right now. But the top point stuck out in my mind.

Let him pay his own damned security.