Saturday, May 31, 2008

Kick It Day

Tomorrow is Kick It Day. It falls on the first Sunday of June, and the day is dedicated to relaxing. You probably never heard of this holiday because a friend of a friend of mine made it up. I fall for all the harebrained ideas of all my friends (as long as the idea isn't illegal), so tomorrow I will watch TV and sleep.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Loyalty

Which is more important? Loyalty or honesty?

The release of the bombshell book What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception by former press secretary Scott McClellan is causing Bush's inner circle to freak out.

McClellan's scathing memoir offers many revelations: Bush relied on propaganda to sell the war, the liberal media was too easy on the Bush administration, and Bush authorized the leak of Valerie Wilson's identity.

In response to these accusations, Karl Rove compared McClellan to a left-wing blogger. This must be a new technique for Rove -- disarming his opponent with an unexpected compliment.

But most White House supporters are resorting to personal attacks. Dana Perino called McClellan "disgruntled." Fran Townsend slammed him with "self-serving, disingenuous, and unprofessional." Pat Buchanan called the memoir an "act of disloyalty."

Disloyalty -- a scathing label either spoken or implied -- at least in the Republican lexicon. The Republican brand of loyalty is what holds them together and has made them strong. However, don't be fooled into thinking that their loyalty is to a cause or an idea. Their loyalty is to the party, the candidates, and their careers.

Because those in power always value loyalty over honesty. A loyal follower is a team-player and an asset. An honest person might become a trouble-maker or a whistle-blower like Scott McClellan.

McClellan told AP News "I felt it was important to step back from my personal affection for the president and take a good hard look at the truth. The truth isn't always pleasant."

And I think the American public always has a right to know the truth from the people who serve them. Honesty should be expected. Loyalty to the people, the constitution and its principles should be demanded. That's the brand of loyalty we need.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ambien President

Last week the McCain campaign allowed a few privileged souls to have a look at the candidate's medical records. I think his supporters want us to believe that he's pretty healthy for an old guy...

However, as I perused some analysis of these records, I was alarmed as soon as I saw the word "Ambien." I've known people who have used this drug, and they all have stories to tell. For those who don't know about this prescription medication, it is for short-term treatment of insomnia. It's effective, but if the person using the drug tries to stay awake, his or her behavior may be "altered" to say the least.

My friend's father was under the influence of Ambien when, at 2 am, he went outside to water (actually soak) the front lawn wearing only underwear and a winter jacket... and blasting Van Halen so the whole neighborhood could hear. When his family tried to coax him inside, he simply screamed "I'm going to have a greener lawn than all of you!"

Sounds crazy, doesn't it? But many people have had similar issues while taking the drug. Sleep-eating is one acknowledged side-effect. However, even scarier is sleep-driving. In 2006, Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy smashed his Ford Mustang into a barrier near Capitol Hill. He said that he had been disoriented by two prescription medications he had taken -- one of which was Ambien.

So... not to drag out an old question... but who do you want answering the phone at 3am? I assume you don't want a President disoriented by a "central nervous system depressant." I'm not the only one concerned that McCain's Ambien use could be a security threat. Doctors of course say "Used appropriately, Ambien is a relatively safe medication." And of course, McCain's staff will know when he takes it, I hope?

Anyway, why is it that we legalize shit like Ambien, and we're still debating medical marijuana? Because it will cut into big pharma's profits I assume.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bisphenol A and You

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical building block that is used primarily to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins. It is used in many common items including plastic bottles, the liners in metal food cans, and dental fillings... and more than likely, it can also be found in you. BPA has been detected in the urine of 93% of the the U.S. population over six years of age.

In animals, BPA is an endocrine disrupter: an exogenous substance that acts like hormones in the endocrine system and disrupts the physiologic function of endogenous hormones. The theory of endocrine disruption posits that low-dose exposure to chemicals that interact with hormone receptors may alter human development. The timing of the exposure is also important because different hormone pathways are active during different stages of development.

A major concern in the scientific community is that exposure to endocrine disruptors in the womb or early in life is associated with neurodevelopmental disorders including reduced IQ, ADHD, and autism.

Now there is evidence that BPA might make people more susceptible to obesity, so now we know the average American will finally wake up and take notice!

Bill Moyer's Journal recently investigated the safety of BPA and the rather weak regulatory efforts of the EPA. I highly recommend watching the report or reading the transcript. The investigation highlights the battle between the EPA and the American Chemistry Council (ACC), a powerful trade and lobbying association.
...one EPA biologist, L. Earl Gray, Jr., charged the industry with flooding the EPA with studies. David Rosner, professor of history and public health at Columbia University, explained why, telling the paper chemical makers have "… learned that if you play on the uncertainty of danger, you're going to be able to stop regulatory action…"
Susanne Rust, a journalist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and also a graduate student in Biological Anthropology, examined the science involved in the BPA debate:
NARRATOR: In all, Rust evaluated 258 studies done over two decades involving lab animals with spines, the type scientists consider most relevant to human beings.

SUZANNE RUST: Right away, you could see that 80% of these studies all found that this chemical caused harm.

NARRATOR: More than half the studies, 168 of them, evaluated Bisphenol A at low doses. The vast majority of those - 132 of the 168 - showed harm to lab animals. And, Rust would report, "nearly three-fourths of the studies that found the chemical had no harmful effects were funded by industry." Rust's overall conclusion: an overwhelming majority of the studies found BPA to be harmful in lab animals - causing breast and testicular cancer, diabetes, hyperactivity, obesity, low sperm counts, miscarriage and other reproductive failures. Studies paid for by the chemical industry were much less likely to find damaging effects or disease.

MARK KATCHES:That's where this story took on a whole different dynamic. Because you were able to show, conclusively, through that analysis of all those studies, that hundreds of researchers across the world had found problems with Bisphenol A. And yet, nobody had done anything, and only a few studies had found that it was safe. And most of those studies were funded by the chemical industry themselves. And, and that's when you knew you had something really, really special to tell to readers.
And so, I repeat that really special message to my blog readers. We can't assume that plastics are safe just because our government lets us use them. Only recently, after two decades of studies, has the House Energy and Commerce Committe investigated the chemical industry's influence on the FDA's regulation of BPA.

Canada's government has announced its intention to ban the sale of plastic baby bottles containing BPA, and the California State Senate voted to forbid the use of BPA in childcare products. However, until these items are banned everywhere, you can still take matters into your own hands and find plenty of BPA-free products online.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

World's Worst Teacher

The mother of an autistic boy says her son's teacher let his classmates vote him out of class. Should this woman be allowed to teach?
Melissa Barton said she is considering legal action after her son's kindergarten teacher led his classmates to vote him out of class.

After each classmate was allowed to say what they didn't like about Barton's 5-year-old son, Alex, his Morningside Elementary teacher Wendy Portillo said they were going to take a vote, Barton said.

By a 14 to 2 margin, the students voted Alex -- who is in the process of being diagnosed with autism -- out of the class.
Wow. An adult leads a bunch of five year olds in the psychological lynching of a disabled boy.

Ms. Portillo, you are a bully and should not be allowed to teach! Even If you have a problem with a child in your class, it is your job to get him under control through proper, mature, and sensitive means. Instead, you lead the whole classroom in a lesson on how to bully a weaker child. You emotionally abused him and every single child in the room that day.

Alex's mother claims he screams every time he is brought near the school. Is this enough evidence that you have psychologically scarred him?

Ms. Portillo, what makes matters worse is that you knew Alex most likely had a disability affecting his ability to communicate and socialize, and yet you still put him through this outrageous form of public humiliation. You allowed mere children to make the decision to exclude Alex from education. Education is something every child has a right to in this country, and you were trusted with this responsibility.

And while I'm dishing out shame, a fair amount also goes to the Florida state attorney's office which concluded the matter did not meet the criteria for emotional child abuse! Insanity. Just think about your child going through such humiliation, and then try to tell me it's not abuse!

Hat tip to the Thinking In Metaphors blog that has an excellent legal analysis of the case.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day


I am thankful for the brave service of men and women who gave their lives for their country.

Osama, uhm, Obama

Liz Trotta, a Fox News contributor and former New York bureau chief of The Washington Times, was blabbering on about Hillary Clinton yesterday and then made this gaffe:



Yes, you heard it. She just joked about "knocking off" Barack Obama -- a democratically elected senator and Presidential candidate -- and then the Fox talking heads all laugh as if somebody just farted.

It's probably not treason, but it should be.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Bye-Bye Billions

The bill for the Iraq war is accumulating at the rate of almost $5,000 every second. Where is this money going? Everywhere it's not suppose to go.

Recent reports from the inspector general of the Defense Department indicate that nearly $15 billion in Iraq funds have been lost or stolen. Now Pentagon auditors are trying to figure out where the money went and what the U.S. got in return. You can read their report here(pdf).

In recent congressional testimony, Arthur Brennan, a former State Department official, reported how Iraq's ministry of health had steered as much as $1 billion in medical supplies onto the black market and then pocketed the profits, and it's likely some of that money is financing insurgent groups such as the Mahdi army, the militia loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Last month, 60 Minutes reported how Iraq's top anti-corruption official, Judge Radhi al Radhi, launched investigations against 20 current and former ministers, alienating the political establishment to the point that parliament tried to fire him.

Well-documented cases of war profiteering also account for lost dollars:
In October 2005, with federal agents tailing them, three war contractors slipped through London's posh Cumberland hotel before meeting in a quiet lounge. For the rest of that afternoon, the men sipped cognac and whiskey and discussed the bribes that had greased contracts to supply U.S. troops in Iraq.

Former KBR procurement manager Stephen Seamans, who was wearing a wire strapped on by a Rock Island agent, wondered aloud whether to return $65,000 in kickbacks he got from his two companions, executives from the Saudi conglomerate Tamimi Global Co.

One of the men, Tamimi operations director Shabbir Khan, urged him to hide the money by concocting phony business records.

"Just do the paperwork," Khan said.
Or don't do the paperwork. One of the major discoveries in the department of defense investigation is that paper trails are not complete.

Here is the lesson of reconstruction: a weak government, a thriving black market, and unscrupulous private contractors lead to fraud and corruption. Fraud and corruption lines the pockets of elite politicians and businessmen, but it also robs ordinary citizens of basic services like hospitals, roads, and clean water. It destroys any possible trust in government for both the Iraqis and the Americans.

Friday, May 23, 2008

RFK Remarks

I'm certainly not keeping a blow-by-blow blog of the election, but Hillary Clinton's bizarre statements today deserve a few comments.

When asked about why she continues to run despite the long odds of winning the nomination, she gave this strange reply:
My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.
So it seems many people are interpreting this as, "I'm going to stay in the race because something horrible will happen to Obama and then I'll get the nomination." First of all, I don't believe that's what she meant. She's way too smart to be so stupid, and I accept the explanation offered by her advisors -- Clinton was only saying that this is not the first primary to carry on into June.

Anyway, if she's counting on something bad happening to Obama, then she might as well drop out now and take it easy. If he's out of the race, she'll obviously get the nomination whether or not she's still campaigning.

Meanwhile, I've been giving some thought to who should be Obama's VP. I think it should be Clinton... I mean Bill Clinton.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

That's What I Call Art!

In 2003, an unknown Bush administration official ordered historic diplomatic photographs removed from a State Department hall leading to the building's main cafeteria. They replaced them with huge color glossies documenting the diplomatic accomplishments of Bush, Cheney and Rice. Go figure. I didn't even know they made any accomplishments.

What were the original historic photos?
There was an original political cartoon from the Jefferson era showing Britain and France pick-pocketing the Americans; there were pictures of negotiations with Indian tribes over land; President Woodrow Wilson at Versailles; former secretary of state Elihu Root somewhere; Roosevelt and Churchill signing the Atlantic Charter; former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze in cowboy boots at Jackson Hole; a splendid shot of the old State Department building; and a photo of President Ronald Reagan at a meeting with a very young Colin L. Powell seated behind him.
But this is what makes true art: the Bush photos have recently been modified with some very cool mustaches. These artistic embellishments were quickly cleaned up, and the mustache artist is still unknown. I'm shocked that none of Bush's domestic surveillance programs caught the perpetrator!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

American Idol

I said I wouldn't, but I did. I watched the American Idol two hour finale tonight. Here are my thoughts: I hated the boxing metaphor, I didn't even remember half of the 12 finalists, I still love hearing Jason Castro sing "Hallelujah," I thought it was dumb that Donna Summer sang "Last Dance" at 30 minutes into a two hour show, I still think Paula is drunk, I thought it was a bit gay that all the guys sang "Heaven" together, Jimmy Kimmel's joke about Sanjaya was mean, I don't understand why they gave that Renaldo Lapuz guy more air time, George Michael sang a really dull song, I hope his new stuff is better, David Cook won. Does any of this really matter?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Another Attack

The New York Times recently investigated the Pentagon's Military Analysts Program and successfully sued the Department of Defense to gain access to 8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing years of private briefings, trips to Iraq and Guantánamo and an extensive Pentagon talking points operation. You can explore the documents yourself here.

One of the more noteworthy -- and, for me, infuriating -- discoveries is a December 12, 2006 clip of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggesting that America, having voted the Democrats back into both houses of Congress, could benefit from suffering another terrorist attack. You can listen to the hour long clip here, but this is one portion everybody should be talking about:
DELONG: Politically, what are the challenges because you're not going to have a lot of sympathetic ears up there.

RUMSFELD: That's what I was just going to say. This President's pretty much a victim of success. We haven't had an attack in five years. The perception of the threat is so low in this society that it's not surprising that the behavior pattern reflects a low threat assessment. The same thing's in Europe, there's a low threat perception. The correction for that, I suppose, is an attack. And when that happens, then everyone gets energized for another [inaudible] and it's a shame we don't have the maturity to recognize the seriousness of the threats...the lethality, the carnage, that can be imposed on our society is so real and so present and so serious that you'd think we'd be able to understand it, but as a society, the longer you get away from 9/11, the less...the less...

Yes, that's our former Defense Secretary fantasizing about another 9/11-style attack on the United States (the country he is suppose to be defending)... He's probably just upset because the American people have the temerity to ask for their civil rights back, the guts to vote for people who will represent their best interests, the balls to demand that the troops come home alive, and the wisdom to know torture is beneath American dignity.

Whatever the reason for Rumsfeld's disgusting antipathy towards the American people, some people think this slip-of-the-tongue is evidence of a 9/11 conspiracy theory.

Personally, I don't believe that 9/11 was a conspiracy of our own government to attack us. I'd like to believe they're not that smart. I'd like to believe that they can't keep secrets for long.

Then today I read an article in Radar Magazine about the secret government database code named "Main Core." The database contains a list of an estimated 8 million Americans, who, "often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived 'enemies of the state' almost instantaneously."

Radar Magazine describes the possible road map to martial law:
With the population gripped by fear and anger, authorities undertake unprecedented actions in the name of public safety. Officials at the Department of Homeland Security begin actively scrutinizing people who—for a tremendously broad set of reasons—have been flagged in Main Core as potential domestic threats. Some of these individuals might receive a letter or a phone call, others a request to register with local authorities. Still others might hear a knock on the door and find police or armed soldiers outside. In some instances, the authorities might just ask a few questions. Other suspects might be arrested and escorted to federal holding facilities, where they could be detained without counsel until the state of emergency is no longer in effect.
So now I understand Rumsfeld's craving for an attack. He wanted to test out his new toy! Of course, Rumsfeld has since resigned as Defense Secretary, but shouldn't somebody ask the current Presidential candidates if they will continue these domestic surveillance programs?

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Bargain War

Last weekend I watched Charlie Wilson's War -- a political movie based on the true story of the backroom negotiations of playboy Congressman Wilson's efforts to obtain Stinger missiles for Afghanistan to shoot down Soviet helicopters in the 1980s. With sex, drugs, and politics, the movie is anything but dull.

Of course, I don't think I need to declare a "spoiler alert" before reminding everybody how the situation in Afghanistan played out after we left. The first Bush administration failed to calm the warring Afghan factions, and the resulting chaos contributed to the rise of the Taliban. The Taliban offered protection to Osama bin Laden and his extremist al-Qaeda organization.

The Hollywood film made this failure painfully clear. However, the film ignored or obscured other key facts. On ConsortiumNews.com, a former CIA analyst comments on the film:

But surely the most glaring omission in the film is the fateful trade-off accepted by President Ronald Reagan when he agreed not to complain about Pakistan’s efforts to acquire a nuclear weapons capability in exchange for Pakistani cooperation in helping the Afghan rebels.

On page 463 of his book, Crile characterizes this deal or understanding as “the dirty little secret of the Afghan war” –- General Zia al-Haq’s ability to extract not only “massive aid” from Washington but also to secure Reagan’s acquiescence in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program via a congressional waiver of U.S. nonproliferation laws in December 1981.

This bargain may have been dirty but it certainly was no secret. Indeed, Washington’s acquiescence via the congressional waiver was the subject of continuing press coverage throughout the 1980s.

As usual, the book reveals more than the movie, but here is the danger facing the world today: Pakistan faces a new wave of political uncertainty. This instability could enable terrorist groups to gain access to Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

And so that is one long-term consequence of our bargain war.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Talking about Appeasement

Just about everybody has seen this video of Chris Matthews shredding neocon radio personality Kevin James, but it's so funny I must remark on it:



So what happened here? I mean besides Chris Matthews humiliating this Kevin James kid who I had never heard of before. My take on this video is that somebody handed Kevin a 3x5 index card of "key terms," and he arrogantly went up against people who know much, much more than he does. Kevin needs to learn that Google, Wikipedia, and history books are his friends. It would have taken 2 minutes to research why Neville Chamberlain is considered an appeaser. In fact, the Munich Agreement is mentioned in the second paragraph of Neville Chamberlain's Wikipedia entry.

While on Wikipedia, Kevin could have also researched the word "appeasement":
Most commonly, appeasement is used for the policy of accepting the imposed conditions of an aggressor in lieu of armed resistance, usually at the sacrifice of principles. Usually it means giving in to demands of an aggressor in order to avoid war. Since World War II, the term has gained a negative connotation in the British government, in politics and in general, of weakness, cowardice and self-deception.
And then Kevin, if capable, could have pondered a bit... does this describe Barack Obama? Who has Obama appeased? Obama wants to talk to Iran instead of starting another knee-jerk war. Talking does not mean appeasement.

Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of conservatives, was considered by some to be an appeaser. He met with Gorbachev to negotiate a reduction in nuclear weapons... a reduction in both countries' arsenals. And while Reagan was at these summits with Gorbachev, he also convinced him to allow a little more Democracy in the old USSR. I'm not sure what exactly Reagan said, but it must have been one of those "ingenious arguments" that George W. Bush can't fathom.

In the past few years, there has been quite a devolution in diplomacy. I can summarize Bush's idea of negotiations: first, the other country must pre-concede to all our demands. Then, maybe we'll sit down to talk. Upon meeting with the other leaders, we'll tell them exactly which of their demands we will compromise on or ignore. Then, quite possibly, we'll bomb them anyway.

At the heart of this mentality is a craving for war which I will never understand.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Grand Finale

In the last three days President Bush has pulverized any shred of dignity left in his presidency. The first gaffe was in an exclusive interview with Politico. It's an interview that I can only describe as weird. Before journalist Mike Allen could get to more pressing issues like Jenna's wedding, American Idol, and baseball, there was this gem:
For the first time, Bush revealed a personal way in which he has tried to acknowledge the sacrifice of soldiers and their families.

“I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf,” he said. “I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.”
I don't get it. Our nation is in despair over the Iraq war, and Bush shows not one sign of guilt, remorse, reflection, or inner pain. He gave up golf because...? Because the dead soldiers gave up golf too? WTF? Then I read this blog post by Dan Froomkin, and I learn Bush's hollow and trivial sacrifice wasn't even real.

But wait, there is more. From the same Politico interview:
Bush said his doomsday scenario for a premature withdrawal “of course is that extremists throughout the Middle East would be emboldened, which would eventually lead to another attack on the United States."
Good God, he's actually using the "embolden our enemies" scare tactic again. The problem with this "reasoning" is that the war in Iraq and subsequent destruction of their country has inspired much more hatred and resentment among young Iraqis than withdrawal ever would.

At least I can count on Keith Olbermann to slam the president when he needs a good slamming:



The Politico interview was enough to fire me up, but today there is yet another story. President Bush addressed the Knesset (the legislature of Israel) and launched a false political attack complete with "Nazi appeaser" rhetoric. Senator John Kerry writes about this insulting and destructive attempt to use outright lies to try to smear Barack Obama's steadfast commitment to Israel.

First, it's absolutely shameless that an American President would use a speech in front of a foreign government to launch such a petty political attack. President Bush has abused the dignity of the office in ways that make especially ironic his long ago pledge to "restore dignity and integrity to the Oval office."

Perhaps worse -- he's not even right on the facts, and he knows it. Like Representatives Boehner and Cantor, President Bush just makes up policies to attack. Barack Obama opposes negotiating with terrorists. And always has. This is just another example of the disingenuous habit of this administration to create "some people" whom they can argue against, strawman arguments that they can use in their disgusting political attacks.

You can read Brack Obama's, John McCain's, Hillary Clinton's, and Joseph Lieberman's reactions to Bush's remarks here. Some comments by Senator Joe Biden can be found here. Biden notes that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have both suggested that the United States ought to find a way to talk more with its enemies.

But there is another element of Bush's "negotiating with terrorists" remark that irks me:
Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along.
I guess to our dimwitted President, everybody must seem like a genius! What does he think of past leaders like Reagan, Nixon, and Kennedy who used all elements of American power - including tough, principled, and direct diplomacy - to pressure countries like Iran and Syria? And what does he think of his own grandfather, the late US senator Prescott Bush, who was a director and shareholder of companies that profited from their involvement with the financial backers of Nazi Germany? Was he an appeaser or just a profiteer?

So as more Republicans try to distance themselves from Bush (yeah, good luck with that), Bush continues with insulting, delusional and disgraceful words. Is this his grand finale? Probably not. He's got eight more months to outdo himself.

Tomorrow I'll try to lighten up.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bicycles for Hillary

As 11-year-old Dalton Hatfield set about selling his bicycle and video games, his parents thought he was doing his part to help pay for a family vacation. Instead, he gave that money to Hillary Clinton. And she took it.

Add one more reason why I don't like her. She takes $440 from a kid, and yet her average net worth soared from red ink to $30.7 million between 2000 and 2006, the fastest financial climb among members of Congress who arrived without assets. And she nearly brags about taking this kid's money. I think she's being a bit self-centered.

If she had ethical standards, she would give the money back and tell the boy to save it for college. However, if she does become POTUS (Ha!), maybe she can offer little Dalton Hatfield a seat on the supreme court.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Battle of Bumper Stickers

For the last several months I've been watching Bill Moyers Journal every Friday on PBS. In the world of journalism, he is a veteran. I watch his show and feel like I've turned the dial back 40 or 50 years to a calmer, more reasonable and more respectable news media. He's definitely not a hot-head like Bill O'Reilly. He's not obnoxiously argumentative like Sean Hannity. He's not even a funny man like Jon Stewart. Bill Moyers is simply a real journalist.

Last night Keith Olbermann interviewed Bill Moyers and the main topic was the mainstream media. Moyers talked about the dangers of the corporate media simplifying the deep and profound problems we face in the US. He called it a "battle of bumper stickers." However, he felt encouraged when the voters saw through the whole gas tax holiday issue, and he feels that the internet might be the antidote to the herd of the mainstream media:



His most recent book, Moyers on Democracy, is a collection of his speeches on what is happening with our country -- the assault on our Constitution, the undermining of our electoral process, the class war inherent in the growth of economic inequality, the dangers of an imperial executive branch, and the attack on the independence of the press. "The gravediggers of democracy will not have the last word.”

Monday, May 12, 2008

Proxy Wars

We all know about the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, but exactly how many wars is the US really fighting? And how many are in the making? A proxy war is the war that results when two powers use third parties as substitutes for fighting each other directly.

For example, when President Bush traveled to Israel last January, Israeli security officials were anxious to brief Bush on their latest intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program - and how it could be destroyed. The London Times states "Many Israelis are eager to know whether America would give their country the green light to attack, as it did last September when Israel struck a mysterious nuclear site in Syria." Is this the start of a proxy war?

And in Lebanon, the recent political battle has become a proxy war with the US, Saudi Arabia and France backing the Lebanese government, and Iran and Syria backing Hizballah. Both sides are fighting to shape the Middle East. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice strongly reaffirmed US support for the pro-Western government:
We will stand by the Lebanese government and peaceful citizens of Lebanon through this crisis and provide the support they need to weather this storm.
As if the Middle East wasn't enough, the US government now has a renewed interest in South America. If there is proof that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been offering arms and other help to FARC (which has been trying to topple the government of Colombia for nearly a half-century), then Venezuela could be considered a terrorist nation. Will the US back Columbia's "final offensive" against Venezuela?

In Bolivia, a crucial vote could pave the way for secession of the resource-rich Santa Cruz region. Other oil-rich provinces may also vote for greater autonomy. Bolivian President Evo Morales has accused the US of backing the secessionists. Apparently the US does not like Morales's socialist agenda and his close ties to Venezuela and Cuba. According to CounterPunch, "In an effort to rollback social and political change in Bolivia, the U.S has funneled millions of dollars to opposition groups through USAID and The National Endowment for Democracy. What’s more, USAID explicitly supports demands of the right wing for greater regional autonomy in the east."

Does the US step into these situations to spread happiness and democracy, and is it just a coincidence that all these regions have oil? Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my little list of probable proxy wars. Did I forget any?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Smoking Deadheads

That's the problem in this country. People are never satisfied with stuff the way it is. You gotta make it bigger and better and stronger and faster. Same way with pot. For years pot was just joints, and then bongs came out and bongs were ok too, but then bongs weren't good enough for some people. "Neeehhhhhh!" Remember that friend in high school wanted to make bongs out of everything. Making bongs out of apples and oranges and shit? Come in one day and find your friend going, "Hey! Look man, I made a bong outta my head! Put the pot in this ear and take it outta this one! Good! Take a hit! *snort*" Then they got one of those big giant bongs that you gotta start up like a motorcycle. "Put the pot in!" *motor starting* Kids are driving their bongs down FDR Drive. "Pull the bong over man, I wanna do a hit. Pull it over!"

What was the problem with just smoking a joint, eating a couple of Twinkies, and going to sleep? Was that a problem? They say marijuana leads to other drugs. No it doesn't, it leads to fucking carpentry. That's the problem, folks. People getting high going, "Wow man, this box would make an excellent bong! *snort* This guy's head would make an excellent bong! *snort*" Relax! That's why I stopped doing drugs in the first place. Not because I didn't like 'em, but because I didn't want to build anything, ok?
--Denis Leary
Well, that was so funny when Denis Leary joked about it years ago, but when you read it in the headlines, it's not so funny: 3 accused of using corpse head to smoke pot.
The Kingwood teenager's story of decapitating a corpse and using the head to smoke marijuana was so outlandish that at first Houston Police Department senior police officer Jim Adkins did not believe it.
One of the teenagers made the confession while being questioned during a vehicle burglary investigation. What a brilliant kid, huh? Distracting the police with stories of corpse abuse! I bet the authorities forgot all about the vehicle investigation. Well, no actually, they've all been charged in that crime too.

The last paragraph of the news article also reveals that all three teens were home-schooled. Maybe if they had attended a real high school somebody would have taught them where to buy a safe and effective ceramic skull bong?

Seriously, I have to say I'm a bit skeptical about this story. Even if the boys obtained a human skull, I'm not sure how they would turn it into a bong... maybe with some kind of lining and lots of rubber cement. But this doesn't even take into account the decomposition of a child's body buried in a wooden coffin for 80 years.

Finally, I'm kind of wondering... let's say I actually wanted my skull to be used as a bong when I'm dead... should I write that on my organ donor card?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Against Mothers

The Washington Post headline read Republicans Vote Against Moms; No Word Yet on Puppies, Kittens. And I thought wow, can Republicans really be that stupid? Well, yes, they are stupid, but no, not quite that stupid.

The WaPo article stated:

On Wednesday afternoon, the House had just voted, 412 to 0, to pass H. Res. 1113, "Celebrating the role of mothers in the United States and supporting the goals and ideals of Mother's Day," when Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), rose in protest.

"Mr. Speaker, I move to reconsider the vote," he announced.

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), who has two young daughters, moved to table Tiahrt's request, setting up a revote. This time, 178 Republicans cast their votes against mothers.

Well, that last statement is not accurate. The 178 nay votes were for a Table Motion to Reconsider H RES 1113. A motion to reconsider is a parliamentary practice that gives the House (or Senate) one opportunity to review its action on a motion, amendment, or measure. The actual H. Res. 1113 passed with 412 ayes and 0 nays.

There is a bigger story here, however. Republicans have been using these tactics all week to bring the House to a standstill because they don't want foreclosure-crisis and war-funding bills to pass.

So, yes, I conclude the House Republicans are stupid. They dug us into this hole in terms of economic, energy, and foreign policy, and now they simply have nothing to offer except pulling this shit and wasting valuable time and tax dollars. The party that claims that government doesn't work is determined to make it fail.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Beating Big Brother to the Punch

Last night Stephen Colbert interviewed his favorite terrorist, Hasan Elahi. In 2002, Elahi, a US citizen, found out he was probably on the terrorist watch list when he was detained by the FBI on suspicion of hoarding explosives. He did not have explosives, but the FBI refused to give him a written letter clearing him of suspicion, and instead asked him to "check in with them periodically." Elahi beat Big Brother to the punch by launching his web site Tracking Transience which follows his every move.



The US terrorist watch lists contain over 700,000 names including some very unlikely suspects like Nelson Mandela and Edward Kennedy. The ACLU states "This is not just a problem of numbers. The numbers are merely a symptom. What's needed is fairness. If the government is going to rely on these kinds of lists, they need checks and balances to ensure that innocent people are protected."

Cooking Robot

I've been taking cooking classes this year, but why am I bothering? Nobody told me there is a robot that can do it! This YouTube video shows a humanoid robot progressively learning to cook by generalizing skills to various situations. I notice it doesn't break eggs, so I doubt it can separate egg yolks... a task that I am miserable at.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Obliteration

I'm worried about how both John McCain and Hillary Clinton have become increasingly cavalier towards the possibility of war with Iran. Last year we saw McCain singing "bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran," and two weeks ago, Clinton made a threat to totally obliterate Iran.

Former military intelligence analyst William M. Arkin comments why the Iran consensus grows more dangerous:

As I've noted, the three candidates share a consensus, backed by the national security community, that Iran is the new strategic threat. It is radical, anti-American, anti-Israel, terrorist-supporting, nuclear-armed and provocative.

But just because this is the consensus view does not mean it is right. The danger, regardless of who is the next president, is that officials have already begun military preparations, and shaping public opinion, to build momentum for the inevitable.

Arkin goes on to explain how in 1990, Bush the elder never made any explicit threats of nuclear retaliation toward Saddam Hussein. The policy was one of "calculated ambiguity":

So some kind of grave threat had to be transmitted to the Iraqis clearly -- but without provoking Saddam, while also soothing an alarmed public and international community. The administration found diplomatic communications channels (including the Japanese government) to quietly pass on to Saddam the gravity of their concern in an attempt to make the Iraqi dictator think that every U.S. military option remained open. At the same time, prominent articles appeared in the news media attempting to carefully explain U.S. government thinking on the impracticality or inadvisability of using nuclear weapons.

Iraq never did use chemical weapons, and it did believe that America could strike with nuclear weapons if it did. But as Baker says in his memoir, "The Politics of Diplomacy," the president privately decided in December that U.S. forces would not retaliate with nuclear weapons even if the Iraqis used chemical munitions. "There was obviously no reason to inform the Iraqis of this," Baker says.

I think McCain and Clinton have abandoned the politics of diplomacy in favor of get tough posturing. When they threaten Iran, they are threatening the entire planet with World War III. Who are they going to bomb? Just Iran's military? No, they will obliterate innocent civilians because nuclear weapons do not discriminate.

Know your enemy, so here is a link with an accurate description of modern Iran. It is not quite the backward, fanatical, tyrannical outpost the politicians would like us to believe. Iran has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. Iran held spontaneous candlelight vigils in sympathy with Americans after Sept. 11. In Iran, over half of university students are now women. And, oddly enough, lots of Iranians like Americans. If anything, I hope those links obliterate some prejudices.




Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Culture Clash

Too often we measure the cost of the Iraq invasion in dollars and deaths, but we forget about the country's cultural heritage. In 2003, when the tanks rolled in, the U.S. protected one treasure only -- the oil wells. The statues, museums, parks and cemeteries were left unprotected to be damaged and looted.

John Curtis, an archeologist and historian, tells the story of Who Stole Iraq's Priceless Treasures:
The source of my dismay is evident: as an archeologist and historian, I’m aware of what is at stake. But why should anyone else care? Iraq is rightly referred to as the cradle of civilisation. It is where writing was invented, the first cities appeared, and Mesopotamia – the land between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates – was home to Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians. The Iraq Museum was one of the richest museums in the Middle East, if not the world, and housed a magnificent collection of treasures from ancient Mesopotamia.
The cradle of civilisation has been looted, but don't worry, the U.S. government has plans to build the American Dream in its place with the help of Ride and Show Engineering (RSE), a company founded by designers and engineers from the Walt Disney Company. Yep, say good-bye to Iraqi culture and history. Say hello to Disneyland!

Of course, I think the whole idea is obscene. Iraq is in the middle of a civil war, and we think they need more entertainment. Entertainment that is an integral part of war propaganda. Entertainment designed to cut youth off from their own reality. Entertainment to mold a pro-American view of the world. Entertainment to depoliticize. Hmm now that I think about it, that's exactly what pop culture has done in the U.S.

Let's not kid ourselves that this is all for the Iraqi people. It's mostly for the benefit of the American profiteers. Llewellyn Werner, one of the sponsors of the project, pitched his Disneyland idea in Baghdad:
After explaining skate…boarding, Werner tells the assembled Iraqi business and government men, “I’m a businessman. I’m not here because I think you’re nice people. I think there’s money to be made here.”
He sounds like a bit of a jerk to me, but at least he's being honest and not prattling on about democracy and justice.

Because, on the topic of justice, I'm not sure there is anything we can teach Iraq. We certainly don't set an example. In a recent LA Times article titled Blackwater shooting highlights a U.S., Iraq culture clash, the private military contractor can't understand why they can't pay off victims' families, and they conclude it's some weird cultural thing:
Deputy Chief of Mission Patricia A. Butenis told him that she was sorry for what had happened, Abdul-Razzaq recalled. She gave him a sealed envelope. It had his name written on it. Abdul-Razzaq pushed it away.

"I told her I refuse to receive any amount," the auto parts dealer said. "My father is a tribal sheik, and we're not used to taking any amount unless the concerned will come and confess and apologize. Then we will talk about compensation."
Confessions and apologies are not an odd request. Americans might be obsessed with money, but we still understand social justice. Iraqi culture is not incomprehensible, and we should stop acting like it is.

I wonder if Baghdad Disneyland will have "It's a Small World."

Saddam's Diaries

The Arab newspaper Al-Hayat has published what it says are excerpts of Saddam Hussein's diaries written while in captivity. BBC News reports that the five large hand-written volumes portray "a man who never seems to have stopped believing in himself as a historic leader."

I'll add these to my reading list as soon as they get translated to English.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Collateral Damage

I tried to overlook this story yesterday because it's just so sad and frustrating, but it's on my mind, and I can't ignore it.

Yesterday, in a poor Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, a U.S. air strike damaged a hospital. The target of the strike was actually a small shack next door. From AFP:

Doctors and hospital staff were livid they had been hit.

"They (the Americans) will say it was a weapons cache (they hit)," said the head of Baghdad's health department, Dr Ali Bistan. "But, in fact they want to destroy the infrastructure of the country."

He charged that the attack was aimed at preventing doctors and medicines reaching the hospital which is located inside an area of increased clashes between American troops and militiamen.

The corridors of the hospital were littered with glass splinters, twisted metal and hanging electrical wiring. Partitions in wards had collapsed.

The huge concrete blocks forming a protective wall against explosions had collapsed on parked vehicles, including up to 17 ambulances, disabling the emergency response teams.

The New York Times quotes a hospital official as saying, "Twenty-eight people were wounded in the strikes on the building and surrounding area." The NYT article goes on to give a different description of the targeted building:

The sign at the iron gate at the entrance to the building demolished by the American strike reads “Imam Hussein’s Resthouse.”

The Americans described the building in a statement as “a criminal element command and control center.”

“Intelligence reports indicate the command and control center was used by criminal elements to plan and coordinate attacks against Iraqi security and coalition forces and innocent Iraqi citizens,” the statement said.

So instead, we hit innocent Iraqi citizens? WTF? We're not winning hearts and minds here! And the official response was weak, cold, and dehumanizing:

When asked about the attack, Col. Gerald O’Hara, a spokesman for the multinational forces, said the Americans “take great care to prevent any collateral damage and will continue to do so.”

“We don’t target civilians and regret any casualties,” he added.

I hate the phrase "collateral damage." But whatever we call it, the daily violence continues.



Saturday, May 03, 2008

Bad Policy is Good Politics

A gaffe is when you tell people what you really think:



As if we didn't already know the war in Iraq is about oil, John McCain tells us we won't ever need a war like this again if we lose our dependence on foreign oil. Of course, he's contradicting his numerous previous remarks that we are in Iraq to fight terrorists.

For a long time now, politicians have been promising energy independence. Back during the 2004 election, Factcheck.org investigated the myths of energy independence. They asked Jerry Taylor, the Director of Natural Resource Studies at the Cato Institute about what's needed to achieve such independence:
Energy independence as a goal is meaningless because it is just not a reality at this point. The only way to start to achieve it would be to dramatically increase the cost of oil and significantly reduce Americans' consumption. This would require taxes beyond the imagination and no politician is going to propose this.
And so President Bush goes on championing the "ANWR Answer" (i.e. drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge). But (again quoting Factcheck.org) "according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, in 2003 the US has about 31 billion barrels of proven reserves -- or 2.7 percent of the world's oil supply. If we relied on domestic reserves, we'd have enough oil to last 4.5 years at the current rate of consumption, assuming no more is found. Furthermore, this total includes sections of the Gulf of Mexico currently off limits for drilling."

Furthermore, reducing dependence is not as simple as increasing domestic supply. Factcheck.org asked Carolyn Fischer, a fellow with the independent environmental group Resources for the Future about oil and the global market:
On both sides, this debate is a red herring because it's framing the debate around the concept that we just need enough oil to cover our own consumption. We are in a global market and if there is a shock to prices anywhere in the world, gas prices would still skyrocket here at home -- even if we were not importing any energy.
And so now, here we are in another election year with two of our presidential hopefuls demonstrating how little they understand about good energy policy. Hillary Clinton and John McCain are both proposing a gas tax holiday. This idea is ridiculous and counter to everything experts are saying. If we are going to use taxes to control our energy usage, then we need to raise taxes on what we want to discourage -- gasoline consumption -- and we want to lower taxes on the things we want to encourage -- renewable energy sources.

And let's not forget some of the other side-affects of eliminating the gas tax. We eliminate the tax which increases demand which sends more hard-earned money to the Middle East, which is terrible for our national security. Don't forget that 15 of the 19 terrorists on 9/11 came from Saudi Arabia. Their terrorist training was paid for by oil money!

Luckily, there is one candidate who recognizes bad policy. From the Washington Post, "in Indianapolis, Barack Obama portrayed Clinton's proposal for a gas-tax holiday this summer as an example of Washington at its worst, calling it the latest in a long line of 'phony ideas, calculated to win elections instead of actually solving problems.' "

I'm hopeful that the 2008 election will prove that good policy is good politics.

Friday Night

Updated 05/04/2008: Found the ball grabbing incident on YouTube.

Sorry, no posts yesterday. I spent hours in traffic getting to the Concord Pavilion (excuse me, Sleep Train Pavilion at Concord) to see Duran Duran. The show was as awesome as I expected. I have seen Duran Duran perform nine times in the last 21 years, but never before have I seen somebody jump up on stage and tackle Simon. It appeared the woman was trying to get his pants down but eventually settled on grabbing his balls before the security pulled her off. No video of the event has surfaced on YouTube yet, but here is a snippet of the show without any crotch grabbing:

Thursday, May 01, 2008

National Day of Reason

Today is The National Day of Prayer -- a day designated by the United States Congress as a day when all Christians are asked to come together and pray, especially for their country. President Bush gave his comments today:
On this day, Americans come together to thank our Creator for our nation's many blessings. We are a blessed nation. And on this day, we celebrate our freedoms, particularly the freedom to pray in public and the great diversity of faith found in America. I love being the President of a country where people feel free to worship as they see fit. And I remind our fellow citizens, if you choose to worship or not worship, and no matter how you worship, we're all equally American.
Hold on a minute there, Mr. President. Seems the NDP is not quite as inclusive as you'd like to believe:
In working directly with the National Day of Prayer (NDP) Task Force and agreeing to work as event coordinators, these military officials not only violated constitutional provisions governing the separation of church and state but they also signed an oath that states they "believe that the Holy Bible is the inerrant Word of The Living God" and that "Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only One by which I can obtain salvation and have an ongoing relationship with God," according to materials posted on NDP Task Force's website.
Read the online application form yourself. There are many funny statements there that applicants are asked to agree to, but here is a gem: "I commit that NDP activities I serve with will be conducted solely by Christians while those with differing beliefs are welcome to attend."

Many who value the separation of religion and government have responded by endorsing A National Day of Reason. From their web site:
This observance is held in parallel with the National Day of Prayer, on the first Thursday in May (1 May 2008). The goal of this effort is to celebrate reason - a concept all Americans can support - and to raise public awareness about the persistent threat to religious liberty posed by government intrusion into the private sphere of worship.
I think now more than ever we need a Day of Reason, but if I'm going to say a prayer for our country today, I will pray that the crooks and liars fall out of power in the U.S. government.