Friday, April 30, 2004

US Atrocities in the War
Stevie T asks in the comments what I think about the pictures. I assume he means the pictures showing crude mistreatment of Iraqis in prison, recently aired on 60 Minutes. Providing this thread for you to discuss/vent about it if you're so inclined.

I have to admit I am reluctant to pile on this story, which is why I haven't posted anything. I choose to believe that almost all of the US soldiers there are as honorable as you can hope, follow the rules of warfare and human decency, and just want to do their jobs and get out alive and intact. They have already had to endure the justly incensed glare of an occupied nation, ineptly mismanaged by the bungling planners in the White House and the Pentagon. Now, thanks to this incident, troops have to endure the more personal glare of a humiliated and angry nation who, in one story, thanks to a handful of American terrorists in uniform, have had their worst fears come true, and their harshest charges vindicated, about America.

I hate this story most because it's unfair to draw any general conclusions from it. I don't think it's right to let this reflect on the majority of the soldiers there, but inevitably it will. Outrageous acts like that want to become lessons about something, and I feel for everyone there--soldiers and Iraqis alike--for the lessons that will be drawn from it. These atrocities will, without question, make all of their lives more difficult.

The story that really should come out of all this I think, which is getting lots of play in the blogosphere, and none that I've heard in the mainstream media, is the role that paid mercenaries have played causing trouble in this war, and in this incident particularly. Apparently the main offenders here were not rank-and-file soldiers, but hired guns accountable to no one, and hated by everyone (the 4 that were brutalized earlier in Fallujah...). Kos is all over this story here and here. It's one of those "why-isn't-everyone-reporting-this"? screamers.

{UPDATE: Seymour Hersh, in The New Yorker, paints a picture that undercuts my belief in the limited scope of this problem}
The President Assumes all Americans to be White
From the briefing with the Canadian Prime Minister this morning:

"There's a lot of people in the world who don't believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren't necessarily -- are a different color than white can self-govern."
So, it's us vs. them. Muslims and non-whites are them. And, wait, someone remind me again how he managed this switcheroo, so that it's those of us who are against the war that are, now, racists and anti-muslim?
Robert Reich on Education for All
Only 2 months ago, we started a lottery here in the Volunteer State. The proceeds are required by our constitution to benefit education, and there was general agreement on the priority of college scholarships, but arguments were thick in the days leading up to its implementation over how exactly the money would be distributed. There was a shocking level of resistance to using lottery money for need-based scholarships, and we decided instead on a system that is almost entirely "merit-based." As a result, we are, indeed, going to keep some smart, capable kids in state (it will even benefit private schools like Belmont), but other kids who qualify for acceptance to a University may still be denied the scholarship monies if their test scores and grades aren't high enough to meet the lottery-scolarship threshold.

It's a parallel to the trend I clumsily wrote about earlier, as government uses funding for highly important programs as incentive for performance, rather than as part of a measure of how much need there is for it. If the lottery money was ear-marked for giving kids a free vacation to Daytona Beach or a backpacking month in Spain, then I'd agree that using it as a reward for performance makes plenty sense. But college education is virtually essential these days isn't it?

On a related note, and the reason for this post, yesterday Robert Reich commented on this growing chasm in scholarship money for low-middle-income families, and identifies a primary culprit. If you pay for, or participate in, higher education, or this.

"Private universities are paying out about $4 in scholarships for every $10 they take in as tuition revenue, but two-thirds of this aid is based on test scores and grades—not on need. Public universities are following the same trend.

The reason is, universities are competing for academic stars. Competitive rankings in college guides are based largely on the grades and test scores of entering freshmen. High rankings help universities attract more and better applicants—and more donations. So, increasingly, universities are using merit scholarships to lure high school seniors with the highest grades and test scores. This means less scholarship aid for qualified applicants who need the money in order to attend.
At a time when the gap between America's have-mores and have-lesses is wider than it's been in a century, and when college is the gateway to upward mobility, we should be making it easier for kids of modest means to get a university degree. Instead, it's becoming harder. And that's a national shame."
I agree.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Two-Headed Testimony
Article 19 has obtained a link to video of the private meeting between Bush-Cheney and the 9/11 Commission, in which Vice-President Cheney offers an apology at the urging of Bush himself. Ok, really it's just a cartoon, but pretty funny. Click here to watch ReDefeatBush Theater's version of the festivities.

One thing of note: apparently at the actual questioning of Bush-Cheney today, the whole lot of them, the 10 commissioners, Bush-Cheney, Counsel Gonzalez, a commission staff member or 2, and 2 secret white house counsel staffers the White House refused to identify (for now), all piled into the oval office and sat around in cushy chairs and couches instead of in an official conference room that would have tables to make convenient pesky things like notes, files, etc.. so in this cartoon version, the setting is even more formal than the actual event managed to be.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Building that Bridge to the....19th Century
Our favorite non-Democrat Democrat Zell Miller has introduced legislation calling for the repeal of the 17th Amendment.
"The Constitution called for voters to directly elect members to the U.S. House but empowered state legislatures to pick senators. The aim was to create a bicameral Congress that sought to balance not only the influence of small and large states but also the influence of state and federal governments.

Miller said that balance was destroyed in 1913 with the ratification of the 17th Amendment. He has introduced a resolution, which he acknowledges has no chance of passage, to repeal the 17th Amendment and again let state legislatures pick senators."
Great, so the morons nobody knows anything about in our state legislature are going to pick their favorite person to be our Senator. Sure, if that meant we would all pay more attention to state legislators, it could have an up-side, but if the responsibility of picking a US Senator would be so important to us that we would cast local elections based on it, then why not just let us vote on it directly? Oh wait, we do! Let's keep it that way.

Any historians out there care to educate me on the rationale/context for the 17th Amendment? I may have slept through that class, but just assumed it was a step forward for Democracy.
The Cruellest Month
How bad has April been for the war in Iraq, now a year removed from Bush's announcement that major combat operations have ended? How about this quiz: What was Lt. Col. Jeff Poffenbarger referring to when he made the following statement?
"'We've done more in eight weeks than the did in eight months," Poffenbarger said. "So there's been a change in the intensity level of the war."
What has been done more? If you said "craniotomies" (removing part of the skull to access a severely injured brain), you're correct. And as high as the death toll has been (last night, Nightline devoted an entire show just to reading the names of those Americans killed in combat), comparing to other wars, the number should be even higher. Our doctors and their technology are saving people that never would have been saved, even 12 years ago. In one of the more shocking statements I've ever heard a doctor make, Lt. Col. Robert Carroll, in that same article, even says: "We're saving more people than should be saved, probably."

Bill Maher has annoyed me in the past by saying that given 2 candidates for President, on balance he would go for military experience as his top priority. This was his rationale for choosing Kerry or Clark, and was his reason for choosing Bush I (not sure if he picked Dole over Clinton). With the horrors of this April bearing down, I'm starting to have some appreciation for that position. I just can't believe this unnecessary war would have been fought if the major decision makers (the ones listened to anyway) hadn't all bypassed military service. President Colin Powell would never have fought this war. I wish Kerry would emphasize this even more--that he has experienced war up close, and would do everything in his power to keep our soldiers (and our doctors) from its wake.

Major combat operations, indeed.
Thoughts about South Park
If you're a fan of South Park, you may enjoy this piece in today's NYT, "What? Morals in 'South Park'?" The show's treatment of religion, morality, and the models of behavior kids see everywhere they look, probably deserve closer thought--if you want to spend time thinking about South Park at all. But this is a decent start, mostly inspired by a recent episode in which Cartman pesters his jewish friend Kyle into seeing his new favorite movie, The Passion of the Christ. Kyle wants his synagogue to apologize, now that he sees what they did to Jesus, while Cartman transforms into Hitler and rouses the community--who sees him only as a benign, prodigy James Dobson kind of "inspirer"--against the Jews. Guess which kid gets more flak?
"...the real strength of "South Park" is that it flatters freethinkers by mocking Christians and Jews, including Jesus himself (a resident), along with the stand-out holy figures Buddha, Muhammad, Krishna and Laotzu. (They form a clique called Super Best Friends.)

But that stylized freethinking carries, of course, some dogma of its own. True, the boys of "South Park" — Cartman and Kyle, together with a schmo called Stan Marsh and some hangers-on — are unaffected by whatever spiritual troubles used to depress the "Peanuts" gang.

They have a more specific problem: American hypocrisy, the combination of greed and sanctimony that lets religion and would-be spirituality provide cover for rapacity. Where the "Peanuts" children were sad, the kids in "South Park" are furious and vengeful.

No wonder. They're surrounded by frauds."
Buying into most episodes of South Park requires accepting the idea that pre-adolescents have their own immediate concerns (getting candy, watching Terance and Philip, not being disrespected, etc.) unrelated to those that would be imposed on them by their parents/teachers; and that the way adults interfere with those concerns exposes their own duplicity, laziness and greed, leaving the kids unable to take seriously the ideas and institutions those same adults speak up for. Growing up appears to them to be the process of learning how to act like you believe in things you don't really. Because that doesn't especially appeal to them, and doesn't fit their style, they end up learning more substantive lessons, in the end (well not Cartman), their own way.

Also, if you like ass jokes, that helps.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Land of the Free..
Unflattering depictions of the ruler were probably against the law in Saddam's Iraq, but I didn't know that creative dissent (in your own journal!) could get you in hot water here. I guess the difference we're supposed to appreciate is that this 15-year-old wasn't tortured and killed, or even imprisoned, only punished in school and visited by the secret service.

I suppose this descends from Columbine and "no-tolerance" threat policies in school, but I still wonder what kind of message about freedom of dissent we send to kids this way. Seems like it could make teaching the bill of rights feel...ironic when it comes to the point about freedom to criticize your own leader, and freedom of artistic expression.

I know there's at least one public school teacher out there. Would this be the kind of thing you'd feel obligated to turn over to school officials?
Good News-Bad News in PA today?
Polls are showing a tie going into today's Republican Senate primary in PA between right-wing nut-job Pat Toomey and Arlen "single-bullet" Specter. Word on the street is that turnout is low so far, which should benefit the extremist, Toomey.

So the good news is that the Democrat, Joe Hoeffel, could have an easier job winning moderate voters against Toomey than against the old veteran Specter, and could win the seat. The bad news is that if he doesn't win, the Senate will get more right-wing.

This will be something to watch today.
{UPDATE: Specter wins by a hair....}

Monday, April 26, 2004

Child Welfare and the Ways of the Mafia
Seems to me there are 2 ways to administrate when trying to mandate high standards of accomplishment in an absolutely essential arena. One model shows its concern and involvement with time, resources and commitment, determination to get the right people in place to lead, and to hold those people, not the program, accountable for failures. The other I like to think of as administration the mafia way: to demand high standards by threatening the program with starvation, and to teach leadership by desperation, handing down unaffordable fines that make the already near-impossible task more difficult. This way has the added benefit for the ruthless administrator of, if not a high-performing program that reflects well on him, at least a lot of extra cash for use on his own projects.

I only know about the mafia from movies and the Sopranos, but one of their favorite tactics is to find some desperate schmo, give him what he needs (personal safety, a loan, drugs, gambling action, husband rubbed out, etc...), and then demand unreasonable return, so that they can impose all the more penalties.

Admittedly the first, saner model is a little tougher to employ when the leaders you must find a way to hold accountable are freely elected Governors, so the Bush administration has shown a proclivity toward the mafia way of doing business--first in education, where impossible standards mean all schools fail; the ultimate goal is gutting public education and implementing a system of privatization (read, profit); and apparently it's the preferred method in dealing with those pesky child welfare services.

That's right, from the leader that teaches us that "C-student" is the making of an American President, comes word that all 50 states fail the Bush grade in providing child services (be proud fellow Tennesseans, we actually are one of 16 states that fail each of the seven standards!). Don't get me wrong, I'm glad we're demanding much of the states in something so important, and if they all deserve failing grades, then so be it. But we deal with failing programs by taking their money?? Does that make any sense?
"Penalties are estimated at $18.2 million for California, $3.6 million for Florida, $3.5 million for Texas, $3 million for Pennsylvania, $2.5 million each for Ohio and Michigan, and $2.3 million for New York.

Mary J. Nelson, president of the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators, expressed concern about penalties.

'States need to invest more money in foster care and child protection,' Ms. Nelson said. 'So the idea of having fewer resources does not strike me or most states as particularly helpful.'

States will be re-evaluated periodically. Federal officials said they would suspend the penalties if states developed plans of correction and made substantial progress.

'The goal here is not to impose financial penalties,' [Asst. HHS Secretary] Dr. Horn said. 'The goal is to improve child welfare.'
Many states said they did not have enough caseworkers to investigate reports of abuse or to monitor children in foster care. They have difficulty recruiting and retaining workers because salaries are often low. But some states, grappling with what they describe as their worst fiscal problems in more than 50 years, have cut spending for some child welfare services."
But when John Kerry tries the same method when it comes to funding the Bush war...penalizing bad planning and poor performance by voting against the 87 billion...he's against the troops. Does this mean Bush and HHS Sercretary Thompson are against children?

Sunday, April 25, 2004

I don't know which part of this is worse, that the President's campaign operatives seem content to exploit the threat and horror of terrorism today in ways that seem unimaginable, or that they might hate women so much that they actually believe this to be true, even the female strategists, like Karen Hughes, who put the Bush-Cheney '04 spin on today's pro-choice rally in Washington:
"'I think that after September 11, the American people are valuing life more and we need policies to value the dignity and worth of every life,' she said. 'President Bush has worked to say, let's be reasonable, let's work to value life, let's reduce the number of abortions, let's increase adoptions. And I think those are the kinds of policies the American people can support, particularly at a time when we're facing an enemy and, really, the fundamental issue between us and the terror network we fight is that we value every life.'"
So, as Dailykos' DHinMI points out, not only are teachers terrorists, pro-choice women are terrorists now too. Aren't Republicans the ones that are always whining about foolish moral equivalency arguments?

Saturday, April 24, 2004

The Geniuses at Burger King
Clever new online strategy? Or just plain weird...

Friday, April 23, 2004

Comic Relief
Sorry, the last several posts have been just plain depressing (if you haven't already read them, sorry for giving it away). So, there's only one thing that can help bring the mood back: when bunnies dramatize The Exorcist in 30 seconds. (via making light)
Re-thinking Draft Strategies
No, not whether the San Diego Chargers will take Eli Manning.

About a year ago I thought the strategy by Charlie Rangel and other Democrats to propose a return to the draft might be a good thing, not because we should have one, but because the thought that conscription could become a reality, that the costs of war might be spread across race and class more equitably, might snap people to their senses when it comes to war-talk.

For me, it was just an idle threat to make a point. But, I've never heard so much serious talk about actually reinstituting it as I am now. What are the other options when it comes to continuing to fight a neverending war? Everyone should have to look through all 361 pictures referenced in the post below before agreeing to a step like that.

One thing seems for sure: if Bush actually brings back a draft, after winning a second term, and sends tens, even hundreds of thousands more kids to clean up the horrible mess he's made in Iraq and Afghanistan, all because of a bogeyman threat (wmd's), he should leave office as the most hated President in our history.

Hopefully not, but we might need this soon:
Gimme an F!
Gimme an I!
Gimme an S!
Gimme an H!

Thursday, April 22, 2004

The Cost of War
The controversial photo gallery spreading like wildfire across the Internet, with pictures of coffins returning from Iraq, can be seen at a mirror site here. They're moving, must be seen, and show nothing but honor among the young--very young--men and women charged with this chilling task. There's no reason why the Pentagon should be so opposed to their release. Unless they would prefer we think of war more like a video game, with no real human cost.

How determined are they to keep photos like these out of the public eye? The woman who took them has been fired. So too, strangely, has her husband.

{UPDATE: This puts this story in an interesting light. The fired photographer and Cheney/Halliburton share an unhappy past.}

{OOPS: Ok, view those photos carefully, since apparently some aren't war dead.}
Updated Polls
The poll post is updated to include some new national and state polls {UPDATE: As soon as I posted this, I saw new polls from FL and IA. So I edited this post to reflect.}

Given what happened last year, I'm not sure why I keep watching national polls, not because there's so much time left, but because they don't matter. Only the state results carry weight. If we assume victory in any state with a 5 or more percentage point advantage for one candidate right now, the electoral vote looks like this (with 270 needed to become Pres.): Kerry - 176, Bush - 126

If we use common sense on the presumably lopsided states that I haven't seen polls for (Bush: Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska, Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Alaska; Kerry: Vermont, Delaware, DC, Hawaii), the total is: Bush 206, Kerry 189.

Despite only small leads in the most recent polls in these states, Bush is likely to claim Ark, TN, VA, OK and LA, and Kerry is likely to claim Wisconsin. That makes it 252-199 for Bush.

That leaves Florida, Oregon, Iowa, New Mexico, Maine, Ohio and Michigan uncounted. Under this scenario, Kerry must win Ohio and Florida and Michigan, and either Iowa or Oregon to become President. To avoid this tough mandate to win Ohio, Kerry needs to fight back in PA, where he's getting his butt kicked and Nader's polling 8 percent.

The polls in those last seven states are very close, 1 or 2 points. But if they fall the way they slightly lean now, Bush wins, 291-243 (with ME uncounted, no poll). The national polls really don't tell the story, except to say that it's close.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Bush v. Kerry
TalkLeft--a blog worth visiting every day--presents yet another telling comparison between the 2 Presidential candidates: the trials and tribulations of their respective asses.
"John Kerry suffered multiple shrapnel wounds to his buttocks when an enemy mine detonated near his swift boat. Despite the wounds and intense sniper fire from both riverbanks, Kerry rescued a fellow soldier who had fallen overboard and earned a Bronze Star for his valor.

George Bush developed a hemorrhoid while flying a Texas Air National Guard jet to protect the shores of South Padre Island."
Quote of the Day
"I don't think censorship is a bad word, but it has become a bad word because everybody associates it with some kind of restriction on liberty."
--Pat Boone
War Detainees
The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday about the standing of detainees in Guantanamo, who are being held indefinitely, without being able to consult a lawyer.
"At issue is a basic protection of U.S. law: a prisoner's ability to ask a judge to determine whether he has been wrongly jailed. This writ of habeas corpus was part of early American common law and became a federal statute in 1867.

The administration says that as foreigners held outside the USA, the detainees should not have access to U.S. courts. (The United States has operated the base under a lease with Cuba since 1903.)

U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson began his arguments by saying, 'The United States is at war,' an echo of the administration's refrain that in wartime, the president must take extraordinary measures to protect the nation. Olson, whose wife, Barbara, died on a hijacked jet on Sept. 11, 2001, cited a 1950 Supreme Court ruling in which German nationals who were seized by U.S. troops during World War II were denied access to federal courts. He likened the Guantanamo base to a U.S.-run prison in Germany and said the court should not distinguish between foreigners still held in Afghanistan and those on the U.S. base."
I listened to much of the oral argument on C-Span last night and am troubled by the willingness of all parties to gloss over what seems to me a central concern: exactly what kind of "war" is this? And against whom? The fact that words and definitions can be gathered, circumscribed through history and common usage, does not mean that the phenomena they aim to represent (the bloody, tense political and military reality in this case) can be similarly gathered (In fact I think that just the opposite is true, but nevermind that here).

"War" is a word that justly applies to our present situation, both in Afghanistan and Iraq. That doesn't mean that every historical/legislative/judicial/cliched application of the word anticipated a scenario like either of our present engagements. And it is, to me, exactly the difference--the edges that seep out from under simple attempts to harness these conflicts(like "We are at war")--that warrants consideration in the case of these detainees.

If our opponent had a flag, national boundaries, a leader or institution authorized to surrender or sign a treaty of peace, then it might make perfect sense to me to hold combatants, or even people we thought were likely combatants, until such time as the conflict is resolved. But Bush et al have announced war on "terrorism," which, as Bob Kerrey rightly points out, is a method of waging conflict, not an opponent itself. In traditional warfare, identifying the detainee's association with the enemy is not generally in question, right? The argument is over whether the conflict has ended, and on what terms. The detainee has no say in that in conventional war, and so there is no reason to hear from them. The treaties/agreements entered by the leaders solve that issue. But here, the case for their association with an enemy itself requires an argument, indeed is the primary argument, let alone the issue of whether the threat posed by that enemy continues.

Terrorism will remain a potential danger to the US for as long as people hate us who feel no other recourse, have no interest in staying alive themselves, and insist on pursuing some confrontation, and for as long as we remain as freely accessible here and around the world as we are. And so, in the absence of an enemy who can be gathered with a name, the question of rights to hold detainees is not "are we in danger?" (we are and will be) but "are YOU a danger?" We are not holding them in waiting for the conflict to end, or the danger to disappear, in a traditional setting in which "who are we fighting?" and "on whose behalf are they fighting?" are understood. We are holding them by way of an argument about who they are, individually. I am not suggesting the detainees in question are necessarily to be believed in addressing that question, but I am suggesting that they deserve to be heard.

The "war on terror" has been configured in such a way that ensures its perpetuity as an applicable label. It can be called on. It's name, as a "war," can be invoked at any time, so too then all the arguments and contingencies that surround that concept. So only an act of will by the US, not by the "enemy," will declare the end of this war. I believe one of our first acts should be to recognize this difference, and to let that difference have its say in the way we approach all the concerns, at home and abroad, that accompany wartime.

I admit I don't know all the legal ins and outs here. I understand that the question is really who--if anyone--has the standing to make the case that this is different from standard warfare detainment. My main response is, why have we not, as a matter of common sense in this case as the detaining body, acknowledged its difference, and set our policies for this "war" accordingly, and not put them in the position of having no avenue for legal redress?

You can hear the Supreme Court argument here (scroll down to "Rasul v. Bush"). You can read the briefs on this page.

Eugene Volokh uses standard slippery slope blather in ignoring the difference this conflict poses here. David Cole in the NYT, thinks the fact that these are foreign detainees, not citizens, shouldn't matter. The Christian Science Monitor makes the case that whatever the outcome, the empowerment of one branch--either judicial review of the actions of commander in chief, or executive freedom to imprison whomever it likes for as long as it likes--could pose serious problems for the other.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

10 bucks says John Hostettler probably parks in handicap spots with impunity too. It's the same kind of self-important arrogance that would lead someone like him to think they can take a handgun on an airplane (good grief...) just because he's a congressman.

But if the constitution doesn't apply to the President, no reason why legislators should have to think about regular-people laws.

It's ok, though. Surely, no congressman would be so arrogantly negligent in their private life as to actually hurt someone, right?
The White House on the Oil/Election Deal
If you're a fan of the McClellan squirm, read yesterday's press gaggle on the Saudi/Bush deal to lower oil prices in time for the election, in Talking Points Memo. It's a classic.
Clean Air??
The whole transcript from NBC's Dateline (via Washington Monthly) is fascinating detail about a creative, aggressive EPA chief doing his job. But his feelings about the Bush Administration leave me wondering what's going to be said about him the tradition of Clarke, O'Neill, et al, comes Bruce Buckheit:
Phillips: “What's the biggest enforcement challenge right now when it comes to air pollution?”

Buckheit: “The Bush Administration. An opportunity to reduce pollution just as we saw in Tampa is being foregone.”

Phillips: “Are you saying this administration just doesn't care about air pollution?”

Buckheit: “Yes. I'm saying this administration has decided to put the economic interests of the coal fired power plants ahead of the public interests in reducing air pollution.”

Phillips: “That's a pretty serious allegation.”

Buckheit: “Well, I was the head of the air enforcement division up until a couple weeks ago and I watched it happen.”
If you're Kerry, how do you sift through and prioritize all the specific mis-deeds of the opponent? There seems to be a new charge every week.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Kerry on Meet the Press
I'll skip a long post with quotes on this one, but Deb asked about Kerry on Meet the Press. Not that you should want to read it (an hour long), but if you do, the transcript is here.

I don't know what you're supposed to do with the mess that is Israel-Palestine, so I don't like criticizing or praising someone else's opinion about it much (I know, I know, my own ignorance doesn't usually stop me), but I thought it odd that Kerry chose to endorse Bush's recent pro-Sharon stances. The Tom Paine blog takes the Senator to task for it here.
The simple beauty of a good old fashioned student protest
Flipping through Tom Tomorrow's blog last night, I ran across an inside account, blogged live, of a moderately successful administration building takeover by University of Illinois students last week. For some time, students, faculty and community leaders have fought to have the "Chief" mascot removed from athletic events, and after the issue was removed from the Board of Trust agenda, students decided to take some action. From this page, you can follow the ">>" symbol to read the progression of posts throughout the protest.

The most interesting thing about this is that the protestor doing the blogging, who claims not to have organized or planned this exercise, clearly has some experience planning (at the very least) a takeover of this particular building. He teaches it as a part of his philosophy intro class (if you follow the link, make sure you scroll down to see the building diagrams).
"My lesson plan follows.

So you want to occupy Swanlund?
This is a practical lesson, so I'm not going to dwell on the justification of civil-disobedience. Suffice it to say that if you're going to break the law you'd better have a serious grievance and you'd better have sought redress within the law first.
Some questions you have to answer before going in:
--Are your demands are both explicit and workable?
--How long are you willing to stay?
--Who is making the decisions?
--Who is talking to the police?
--Who is your lawyer/bail bondsman?
--What are you going to eat?
--Who is talking to the press?

The list goes on. Don't think that there's such a thing as an over-planned action.

One more disclaimer: I'll only be talking about what goes on inside, but a successful action requires a lot of outside support. You need people providing security, talking to the press, talking to the public, picketting, and supporting the folks inside. Ideally, every disobedient will have their own support worker ready to feed cats, water plants, pay bail, and document any abuse by authorities."
Without knowing how he presents it, I guess I shouldn't criticize, but I have some questions about how, exactly, he fits that lesson into the course. I can think of interesting ways to frame it, and I do like the idea in general of college students learning that sort of thing in a class, but his insulting premise that " ought to provide philosophy students with a little bit of practical education," as if there is something inherently impractical about Socrates and Aristotle, makes me skeptical of his approach.

Other than an occasional and highly unnoticed public complaint here and there, my college life was especially protest-free, sadly...unless you count the Dukakis signs on my dorm-room door. At Belmont, that was plenty radical.
To the Left
First, voters on the left in Spain sent a message, then in France. Now South Korea, where the liberal Uri Party has taken dominant control of the legislature.
"South Korean voters swept the Uri Party allied to impeached President Roh Moon-hyun into power Thursday in key legislative elections. The vote handed control of the National Assembly to a party whose top leadership advocates rapprochement with North Korea and greater independence from the United States, Seoul's traditional ally.
With 94 percent of the ballots counted, the Uri Party more than tripled its representation in the 299-seat National Assembly to at least 150 seats, taking majority control from the establishment-dominated Grand National Party (GNP), which gained at least 122 seats, according to official tallies cited by South Korea's KBS news.

Thursday's elections were largely seen as a referendum on Roh's surprise impeachment last month -- an act applauded by South Koreans who still harbor memories of the Korean War, but viewed by younger voters, who now make up almost half the electorate, as a political coup against Roh's more liberal stances on North Korea, the U.S.-South Korean alliance and the direction of national economic policy."
Josh Marshall thinks this impeachment-election is something of a mirror to the post-impeachment electoral sentiment here in the US.
"There are at least a couple points of interest here. One is an uncanny parallel to recent events in the United States. An out-of-touch conservative opposition party impeaches a liberal president on the basis of essentially trumped up charges against the overwhelming wishes of the public. Conservative party then faces a fierce backlash at the polls as the electorate punishes them for an attempted constitutional coup and ignoring the popular will."
Fierce backlash? I wish. Maybe he forgot, or maybe I'm missing the point, but Democrats did not gain control of the House or Senate in 98 (while impeachment talk was in the air) or in 2000 (the first post impeachment congressional election), and there was certainly no anti-Republican backlash in the Presidential election, so it's hard to see the parallel. We can only hope that this November we follow a similar electoral trend to the rest of the world. Otherwise relations will only continue to grow more and more strained.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

What's a Picture with No Words Worth?
Mendelsohn wrote some famous "Songs without Words," that are interesting, but this is much cooler. Statement explaining the thoughts behind the project here. (Via Making Light)

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Article 19 Movie Review: Kill Bill, Vol. 2
*************** (15 out of 19)
I think I actually liked the first one better, but I seem to be the only one.

Friday, April 16, 2004

The view from across the pond
Ok just this one more thing today. The article is telling as well, but I can't pass up passing along the headline of the day. With pictures.
The President's Faith
Via Atrios (too swamped today to write down my own thoughts, but this is the best thing I read this morning), EJ Dionne has the big picture view of the way we entered the Iraq war, what makes it such a gamble, and why the Administration should be held to account for it if we continue crapping out.
"Bush's primary case for war was not that a free Iraq would be a beacon to the Muslim world but that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. If Bush had tried to sell this primarily as a war on behalf of a grand vision of Middle Eastern democracy, most Americans would have balked.

Still, give Bush the benefit of the doubt again. No matter what the president said before the war, spreading democracy is a good thing. But you had better make it work.

Unfortunately, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had his own pet theory. American military power is so impressive, he insisted, that we can now win wars with fewer troops -- far fewer than Colin Powell demanded in 1991 for throwing Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.
So Bush pursued one radical theory about planting democracy in Iraq and doubled our nation's bet by pursuing another radical theory that underestimated the number of troops we needed to create the order essential for democracy. Then he went more radical still. Unlike his father, this President Bush said we could do without many of our traditional allies or Arab support. And when Turkey denied our troops the chance to invade from Iraq's north -- those troops might have pacified the now violently unstable regions of the country -- Bush did not pause or delay. His invasion schedule would be the schedule.

Now Bush has the nerve to say that those Americans concerned that Iraq might turn into Vietnam are giving aid and comfort to the enemy. The Vietnam analogy, he said Tuesday, "sends the wrong message to our troops and sends the wrong message to the enemy."

No, Mr. President, what sends the wrong message is when our country doesn't put enough troops on the ground in the first place to do the job right. It doesn't help that you were unwilling to make clear in advance that bringing democracy to Iraq would involve a long struggle and a great expenditure of American treasure. It doesn't make our troops more secure for a president to divide the country by trashing his critics as unpatriotic. And it doesn't build support for a great experiment in democratization when the president fails to explain how he is going to win the thing."
As annoying as Bush's public professions of faith in God are to me, it is his faith in the wishful/hopeful speculation of his closest advisors that has put us in a really bad spot.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Local update
Since I introduced you to this story/outrage I might as well keep you up to date. The consitutional amendment regarding abortion that passed the Tennessee State Senate has, for the time being, been defeated in a House subcommittee, not because Democrats rallied against it, but because--thankfully--women outnumber men on the subcommittee by one.
"The vote in the subcommittee was 4 for and 5 against. All five voting against the resolution are women and Democrats. Of the four men who voted for it, three are Republicans and one a Democrat."
The sponsor is taking steps to bring it up in the full House, but he will need a 2/3 majority to bypass the committee. Of the 99 House members, 53 have expressed support, 27 opposition and the rest have stayed quiet.

If you are interested, you can thank the 5 women, who showed more courage than they should have had to, over email:
Lois DeBerry(who is the speaker pro temps)
Sherry Jones
Beverly Marrero
Mary Pruitt
Janis Sontany

If you want to send your thoughts to the Democratic man who is sponsoring this effort to change the constitution(Mike Turner) and the Democratic man who was one of the 4 who voted for(Dennis Ferguson), you can email them as well.
Cool Site, PLUS What's Happening to TV?
Ever read the quotes, or see the clips, on The Daily Show, or SNL, and wonder where they came from, or what they're referencing? This site is new to me. It answers those questions for those shows, and apparently others. It's FootnoteTV. This is the page for The Daily Show. Seems like you need to have seen the show to know why things are referenced, so you can't get the jokes here, but the background.

Speaking of TV. . . Other than SouthPark, The Simpsons, The Sopranos, and The Daily Show, I generally find TV to be a wasteland these days. I hear 24 is good, but never have seen it. Law and Order is an old favorite of mine but I've kind of tired of it so I don't watch that either. Everything else seems to be proving that unscripted shows can be even worse that scripted crap. Am I missing anything worthwhile? Or at least controversial? Judith tells me there's a new show she hates called "The Swan." I've never even heard of it so I must be out of the TV loop. Please help me.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Answering questions you don't like: a 2-step system

STEP ONE: Act like you didn't catch the obvious point of the question
"Q Mr. President, why are you and the Vice President insisting on appearing together before the 9/11 Commission? And, Mr. President, who will you be handing the Iraqi government over to on June 30th?

THE PRESIDENT: We will find that out soon. That's what Mr. Brahimi is doing; he's figuring out the nature of the entity we'll be handing sovereignty over. And, secondly, because the 9/11 Commission wants to ask us questions, that's why we're meeting. And I look forward to meeting with them and answering their questions."
Of course, the reporter wants to know why the President refuses to meet with them on his own, without Cheney's help, raising the shocking speculation that he does not himself know enough to answer most of the questions. But, oh-so-slyly, President Bush would have us believe he thought the question was: "why are you going to see the commission?" to which the literal, though rather rudimentary, answer indeed is: "because they want to ask questions." It's a classic, relegating the exchange to the "why did the chicken cross the road? to get to the other side" family of interrogations. Then if the reporter sneaks in a follow-up, as happened here (which probably got him uninvited to the next press conference in mid-2005), resort to:

STEP TWO: Employ the I-get-the-last-word strategy. This step involves reiterating your answer in the face of the questioner's attempt at clarification. This offers unambiguous, sweet defiance of his thinking he even had the right to ask anything at all. Not only does the President get to avoid the question, he sends a message to the others....don't even think about it.
"Q I was asking why you're appearing together, rather than separately, which was their request.

THE PRESIDENT: Because it's a good chance for both of us to answer questions that the 9/11 Commission is looking forward to asking us, and I'm looking forward to answering them."
Then, move on to another questioner. Return to step one.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Holy Toledo
Preds win again!! By the 3rd period, the vaunted Red Wings looked slow, tired, and frankly lost on the ice. We kicked their butts.

Vokoun stopped all 40 shots he faced. I'm still a little uncomfortable being with a throng of 17,000 white Southern rednecks all hollering "koun" together but the atmosphere is really unbelievable, the loudest and most intensely fun sporting event crowd I've probably ever attended.

Questions I'd Ask the President Tonight
1. Did Dr. Rice tell you about the terrorist cells inside the US prior to September 11, 2001, or did you otherwise know about them? If not, do you wish she had? And if so, what did you do about it?

2. Have any travel agencies or airlines approached you about being a spokesperson for their company, given your penchant for regular and lengthy vacations?

3. If the daily briefing from August 6 had indeed contained specific threat information (when, where, how), wouldn't you have expected the FBI to have already taken some action? Did you think it might say: "Mr. President, Osama bin Laden plans to hijack aircraft coming out of Boston on September 11; what should we do?" What did you do about the briefing you did get? Complain, ask for more info, get scared, etc...?

4. Did you know that Dr. Rice just waits to be told when something needs to be done, and assumes everyone at all times in government already does everything possible? Is this the role you envisioned for her? Who in the White House was authorized, pre-9/11, to tell agency heads what they should be addressing in terms of security?

5. Why wasn't a focus on "hijacking" on the part of bin Laden supporters specific enough for you to take some action. How specific did it need to be? If they had narrowed it down to September, would you have taken action? If they had narrowed it to airports in the Northeast, would that have been enough? Airports in Massachussetts? {UPDATE: Uggabugga has a graphic reflecting the new Presidential oath of office here.}

What questions would you ask?

Monday, April 12, 2004

You write the caption

Happy Easter (via Panda's Thumb)
Not to worry...whew
This must just be another case of Bush officials not communicating with each other. Yesterday on Meet the Press, Paul Bremer seemed to indicate, oddly enough, that there is no plan in place for the handover of Iraqi governance on June 30. On first hearing, it was, well, kind of scary:

"MR. RUSSERT: June 30: You're going to turn the keys over to the Iraqis. Who do you turn them over to?

AMB. BREMER: Well, that's a good question, and it's an important part of the ongoing crisis we have here now. We've always said that there are two dimensions to dealing with the problems of Iraq. One, of course, is the military dimension, which we're working on right now, but the other is to give a political perspective for the Iraqis to have more and more responsibility. We've been working on that for months. We are now working with the secretary-general of the U.N.'s special representative here, Mr. Brahimi, to figure out the best way to get a representative government in place before the end of June so it has a little practice and then turn over sovereignty to it on June 30. And I'm confident that working with him and with the Iraqi people, we, in fact, will get that. We'll get a representative government in place before June 30.
See? It kind of sounds like there's no plan, PLUS that he's setting up some poor UN guy to take the fall when we don't have a "representative government in place" that has, ahem, "a little practice." Even Washington Post columnist David Broder was a bit nervous about this answer. Later in the show, he piped up about it:
"That is not a good answer. And when we do not know--and not only don't we in the press know, not only does Tim Russert not know, but we've had the leading members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Lugar and Senator Biden, say, 'Nobody in the administration is talking to them about what we think will happen or what we want to happen in Iraq after June 30th.'"
I thought I had heard Bush himself having something to say on this issue, though, and I found it. I'm happy to report the good news: the President himself does have a clear plan. He must just not have let everyone else in on it yet, and you can hardly blame him for not putting Russert on the need-to-know list. From a conversation with reporters, one week ago:
"I believe we can transfer authority by June 30th. We're working toward that day. We're, obviously, constantly in touch with Jerry Bremer on the transfer of sovereignty. The United Nations is over there now. The United Nations representative is there now to work on the -- on a -- on to whom we transfer sovereignty. I mean, in other words, it's one thing to decide to transfer. We're now in the process of deciding what the entity will look like to whom we will transfer sovereignty."
So breathe easy. Everything is under control. The process of deciding what the entity will look like to whom we will transfer sovereignty is under way.

My guess is the entity is just hiding in hopes that the US will stay there and continue the bang-up job of governance we've been doing. It is a pretty tough act to follow, no? I'm not sure I'd want that job either.

Maybe the President himself will clarify the very few remaining details in a press conference tomorrow night. That could be interesting.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Preds win! Preds win! Preds win!

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Talking Points Memo
I can't express the frustration over Iraq any better than Josh Marshall has. It's brief and to the point.

How did it come to this? He's right--now, our troops are in an impossible situation.

If you want to know what it sounds like when government officials actually try their hand at a bit of honesty, try this BBC account of what Jack Straw has to say. That wasn't so hard was it? Just for kicks, compare that to Bush's weekly radio address today.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Tragic few days
If only reality would stop playing Lennon ("can't get much worse") to Rumsfeld's McCartney ("got to admit it's getting better...all the time"), we could maybe feel like we get an honest picture from our own government of what's happening in Iraq. They are trying to tell us that only a few militants/thugs/terrorists are causing problems across the country. But what's becoming more and more clear is that this is an uprising--organized, broad-based (Billmon frames the "ominous" scene of Sunni and Shi'a Muslims collaborating here), desperate and ruthless. In more than one major Iraqi city, we have lost control.
"U.S.-led troops fought fierce battles with Sunni and Shi'ite rebels Thursday and a spate of kidnappings snared foreigners as Iraq descended into bloody chaos not seen since Saddam Hussein's fall a year ago.

A previously unknown Iraqi group said it was holding three Japanese hostages and threatened to "burn them alive" unless Tokyo withdrew its troops from Iraq within three days.
The top U.S. general in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, acknowledged the southern towns of Najaf and Kut were in the hands of a militia loyal to radical Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

On the eve of the anniversary of Baghdad's capture, U.S.-led forces were locked in urban warfare in the central Sunni town of Falluja, the Shi'ite shrine city of Kerbala and Abu Ghraib on the western outskirts of the capital, witnesses said."
I have no doubt that we have the personnel and the might to kill our way out of the immediate problem. And now that we're in this corner, what other options are there? But how long before they figure out that technique ultimately causes more trouble than it solves in the long run? And that's to say nothing of the internal pressure that is sure to build in the next several weeks: I am sure that more than a few US soldiers and their families have been looking toward June 30 as a watershed, when the governance of Iraq is set to be turned over. Who was it that said to beware the light at the end of the tunnel, as it may be an oncoming train? It looks more and more like the threat to coalition forces will increase as the day approaches, not decrease; that the troop volume is more likely to go up than come down; that tours of duty will more likely lengthen, not shorten.

If the violence continues at this level up to and beyond that date, I really fear for the emotional well-being of the troops and their families. In interviews this week, Rumsfeld has been scrambling to control expectations of the handover date. In every one I've read he's made sure to point out that the US will still be responsible for security, and that--essentially--nothing will change. He added to that his command of current public opinion in a local TV interview in Hampton Roads, VA:
"Q:...40 percent of Americans now believe we should not be there. And I know you’re not one to subscribe to the latest polls. But there are people who feel like we shouldn’t be there. What if they use June 30th as the next benchmark to say, 'and Americans are still dying beyond June 30th,' I hope not, but chances are, it’ll keep happening.

Rumsfeld: Well, if you do something in life, somebody’s not going to like it. So you’ve got a choice. You either do nothing, in which case, it’s irrelevant, or you do something and it’s always going to be 1 percent, 5 percent, 10 percent, 20 percent who aren’t going to like it.

Q: Forty percent.

Rumsfeld: Fine. That’s fair enough."

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Rice testimony transcript
If you didn't see/hear Dr. Rice, you can read it. CNN has a rush transcript available here (scroll down to find the beginning). What did you think of her? My sense is that it was a big win for Bush, from the outset, because her testimony was much hyped and she was sure to be treated respectfully even when not actually answering any of the tough questions. So, essentially she got the last word among high-profile public testifiers.

Below is the topic I've been anticipating from the testimony, because I think it points to a clear, acknowledged policy/administrative disagreement between the Clarke/Rice accounts, not just a difference of opinion about how urgent terrorism was to Clinton versus Bush. Clarke said principals didn't begin to meet regularly once threats increased in 2001, and says it could have helped as it did in 1999. Rice agrees that principals didn't meet in 2001 but insists it wouldn't have helped, and she believes it didn't in fact help in 1999. I think the most important bit of White House/security procedure that needs to be addressed is found in this rather mundane issue. This excerpt will be long, sorry. The bold text is my doing.

"FIELDING: Now, during this period of time, what -- and I'd like you to just respond to several points -- what involvement did you have in this alert? And how did it come about that the CSG was handling this thing as opposed to the principals?

Because candidly it's been suggested that the difference between the 1999 handling and this one was that you didn't have the principals dealing with it; therefore, it wasn't given the priority; therefore, the people weren't forced to do what they would otherwise have done, et cetera. You've heard the same things I've heard.

And would it have made a real difference in enhancing the exchange of intelligence, for instance, if it had been the principals?

I would like your comments, both on your involvement and your comments to that question. Thank you.

RICE: Of course. Let me start by talking about what we were doing and the structure we used. I've mentioned this.

The CSG, yes, was the counterterrorism group, was the nerve center, if you will. And that's been true through all crises. I think it was, in fact, a nerve center as well during the millennium, that they were the counterterrorism experts, they were able to get together. They got together frequently. They came up with taskings that needed to be done.

I would say that if you look at the list of taskings that they came up with, it reflected the fact that the threat information was from abroad. It was that the agencies like the Department of State needed to make clear to Americans traveling abroad that there was a danger, that embassies needed to be on alert, that our force protection needed to be strong for our military forces.

The Central Intelligence Agency was asked to do some things. It was very foreign policy or foreign threat-based as well. And of course, the warning to the FBI to go out and task their field agents.

The CSG was made up of not junior people, but the top level of counterterrorism experts. Now, they were in contact with their principals.

Dick Clarke was in contact with me quite frequently during this period of time. When the CSG would meet, he would come back usually through e-mail, sometimes personally, and say, here's what we've done. I would talk everyday, several times a day, with George Tenet about what the threat spike looked like.

In fact, George Tenet was meeting with the president during this period of time so the president was hearing directly about what was being done about the threats to -- the only really specific threats we had -- to Genoa, to the Persian Gulf, there was one to Israel. So the president was hearing what was being done.

The CSG was the nerve center. But I just don't believe that bringing the principals over to the White House every day and having their counterterrorism people have to come with them and be pulled away from what they were doing to disrupt was a good way to go about this. It wasn't an efficient way to go about it.
Then she goes on to explain why the success at thwarting the millenium plot in Los Angeles is not, in fact, an example of those meetings being a success, as Clarke claims it was.

I think it actually wasn't by chance, which was Washington's view of it. It was because a very alert customs agent named Diana Dean and her colleagues sniffed something about Ressam. They saw that something was wrong. They tried to apprehend him. He tried to run. They then apprehended him, found that there was bomb- making material and a map of Los Angeles.

Now, at that point, you have pretty clear indication that you've got a problem inside the United States.

I don't think it was shaking the trees that produced the breakthrough in the millennium plot. It was that you got a -- Dick Clarke would say a 'lucky break' -- I would say you got an alert customs agent who got it right.

And the interesting thing is that I've checked with Customs and according to their records, they weren't actually on alert at that point.

So I just don't buy the argument that we weren't shaking the trees enough and that something was going to fall out that gave us somehow that little piece of information that would have led to connecting all of those dots.

In any case, you cannot be dependent on the chance that something might come together. That's why the structural reforms are important.
But the central question, which was begged rather than answered by Dr. Rice, is why was the alert customs agent in fact alert leading up to 1/1/2000, when the FBI/CIA/FAA/INS agents were not alert (enough) leading up to 9/11/2001? The administrative difference suggested by Clarke in the millenium incident is not a belief in a "silver bullet" as she would have us believe. It is a belief in human nature. Passing down that beauracratic accountability with purpose is precisely what creates that level of alertness. But Condi says those meetings did not catch the plot, alert agents did. Ugh.

Whether purposefully or not, Dr. Rice misses the point. She says again and again that the threats were not specific enough to act; that we didn't know who, where or when. But that's precisely why Clarke's point is so compelling here. If you know that the threats are increasing and that a coming attack is more and more likely, then your primary job is to demand an answer to who, where and when. Constantly requiring information to be sent up, the kind of pressure that comes best from a boss that is faced with the same pressure, seems like an excellent way to answer those questions. In any case, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. The pudding in this instance is one defeated plot under one set of procedures, and one successful plot under a different set.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Tonight at 7 Eastern, 6 Central
Game 1 - Preds/Red Wings on ESPN.
Anything less than a total spanking is a respectable showing. Dad and I will be at games 3 and 4 so keep your eyes out on the tube. Even if you don't like sports on TV, there are altruistic reasons to root for the Preds. If we can make it to game 6, that's more money for the arena and downtown business, and less of a deficit for the city budget, which has taken a beating on arena expenses and is threatening to cut teachers to make the numbers work (not because of the arena especially, but revenue problems generally, but the arena contributes to the deficit). Essentially an extra game entices miller-lite-drinking, fight-loving, conservative-radio-listening yahoos to pay extra local taxes. And cheer about it.

Go Preds!
Melissa Rowland, the woman in Utah with mental health and chemical dependency problems--problems that have no doubt helped each other along--who was charged with murder for refusing a c-section, has entered a guilty plea for child endangerment.

"Prosecutors will recommend that Rowland receive concurrent terms of zero to five years in prison, court probation and admittance to a drug treatment program.
Salt Lake County prosecutor Langdon Fisher said the plea agreement was reached based on Rowland’s 'mental health history.' Prosecutors had originally dropped the child-endangerment charge and planned to use evidence that Rowland used cocaine to bolster the murder charge."
If we acknowledge that she had a mental health history that played a part in her reckless decision(s), then why aren't we sending her to receive treatment for that? Don't they have mental health institutions in Utah? I can only assume that this plea, in light of that acknowledgement, means her mental health problems swayed prosecutors only into believing they might not win, not into caring that it was a legitimate, contributing factor toward deadly decisions. In other words, her problems were an inconvenience for them, the same unhelpful attitude that already kept her from getting the help she needed when it might have mattered to her kids. If she's sane we'll send her to jail for 20 years, but if she's not, we'll send her to jail for 5??

But another sentence at the bottom of the article especially caught my eye :
"Legal experts said they do not know of any other instance in the United States in which a woman was charged with murder for refusing or delaying a C-section, though some women have been forced to undergo C-sections after their doctors obtained court orders."
If doctors can obtain court orders for c-sections in such cases, and if it was so dire in this case (obviously it was), why didn't they do that here? What is the obligation of the hospital that let her leave?

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

The budget is a disaster. Job growth is 2 years behind schedule. Our military is overused, insufficiently compensated and taking donations from home for basic equipment. Our ports aren't secure. The Medicare trust fund is leaking. Education mandates are under-funded. Pell grants and veterans benefits are being cut. And we remain the biggest target of a growing, emboldened, enraged terrorist network spreading all over the world, our intelligence agencies demonstrating little structural improvement since 9/11/01.

So what is John Ashcroft doing?

"32 prosecutors, investigators and a handful of FBI agents are spending millions of dollars to bring anti-obscenity cases to courthouses across the country for the first time in 10 years. Nothing is off limits, they warn, even soft-core cable programs such as HBO's long-running Real Sex or the adult movies widely offered in guestrooms of major hotel chains.

Department officials say they will send "ripples" through an industry that has proliferated on the Internet and grown into an estimated $10 billion-a-year colossus profiting Fortune 500 corporations such as Comcast, which offers hard-core movies on a pay-per-view channel.
Ashcroft, a religious man who does not drink alcohol or caffeine, smoke, gamble or dance, and has fought unrelenting criticism that he has trod roughshod on civil liberties in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, is taking on the porn industry at a time when many experts say Americans are wary about government intrusion into their lives.

The Bush administration is eager to shore up its conservative base with this issue. Ashcroft held private meetings with conservative groups a year and a half ago to assure them that anti-porn efforts are a priority."
I assume the Justice Department must have already convicted all other major federal criminals. They must be the greatest crime-fighting team we've ever seen to have worked through all other more threatening crime. Otherwise, do we really have resources to spend on this luxury??
going all to hell
Way back then:
MR. RUSSERT: If your analysis is not correct, and we’re not treated as liberators, but as conquerors, and the Iraqis begin to resist, particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly, and bloody battle with significant American casualties?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I don’t think it’s likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators. I’ve talked with a lot of Iraqis in the last several months myself, had them to the White House. The president and I have met with them, various groups and individuals, people who have devoted their lives from the outside to trying to change things inside Iraq. And like Kanan Makiya who’s a professor at Brandeis, but an Iraqi, he’s written great books about the subject, knows the country intimately, and is a part of the democratic opposition and resistance. The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want to the get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.
It seemed foolish then and of course much more so now. Less than 3 months away from the June 30 handover of Iraq to...uh...who? And we are facing the most fierce, most organized resistance since the "mission" was "accomplished." To make things worse, now they have a leader looking to be martyred:
"Supporters of maverick Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr controlled government, religious and security buildings in the holy city of Najaf early Tuesday evening, according to a coalition source in southern Iraq.

The source said al-Sadr's followers controlled the governor's office, police stations and the Imam Ali mosque, one of Shia Muslim's holiest shrines."
Hans Blix: "It's positive that Saddam and his bloody regime is gone, but when one weighs the costs, it's clearly the negative aspects that dominate,"

Paul Bremer: "We have problems, there's no hiding that. But basically Iraq is on track to realize the kind of Iraq that Iraqis want and Americans want, which is a democratic Iraq."

It's becoming more likely that troop levels will be increased not decreased, in a war we're being told is "on track" (after we were told it's over). And they wonder why Senator Kennedy is comparing it to Vietnam?
Why can't you be more like Nixon?
Falling firmly into the category "he-should-know," John Dean on Bill Moyer's NOW (scroll down a ways to find this interview in the transcript):
"I have no grudge against any of these people at all. I'm just I'm deeply disappointed in them. Deeply disappointed. And a bit frightened by them.

BILL MOYERS: You-- how so?

JOHN DEAN: That they absolutely won't, you know, what the world opinion is, is irrelevant to them. What the Americans' opinion, other than their base, is irrelevant.

They're on their own wavelength, and not listening. And they're men of zeal, while I think in their hearts they believe they're doing the right thing. This is the most dangerous kinda situation.

When you move in secrecy and you're not taking outside advice, when you get that bunker mentality, which I'm sure you saw in the Johnson administration, we saw in the Nixon White House. This is when you make bad decisions.
If not for the Clarke book, I wonder if this new book by John Dean, in which among other things he charges that Bush/Cheney should be impeached for lying to Congress about going to war, would be getting all the press. He claims the Bush administration has been dirtier, more secretive and more criminal than Nixon's.

Other than that he thinks they're alright guys.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Project Steve
Because mockery can sometimes be the best of all responses, I'm thrilled to read about Project Steve, which is over a year old, but new to me. When a group of creationists (The Discovery Institute) produced a list of 100 scientists who question evolution as a unifying principle of biology, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) responded with their own petition in strong support of evolution, numbering 431 scientists. 431-100 sounds less than overwhelming? Here's the catch: to demonstrate how far out of touch with the scientific community those DI 100 are, the NCSE limited their petition only to scientists named Steve or Stephanie. The Panda's Thumb is "reliv(ing) the joy."

"So how do you convey to the public that the vast, vast, vast majority of scientists support evolution, and only an insignificant minority oppose it? How do you demonstrate that anyone who claims that a 'growing number of scientists' question evolution is trying to mislead the public? How do you satisfy the urge of every mainstream biologist who wants to say, 'Shut up and get a Ph.D. in biology and do 20 years of research before you tell me that the uniting principle of our field is a fairy tale!' How do you create a list that will end, once and for all, the use of lists? And finally, how do you do all this without giving the creationists any grounds to claim we’re taking them seriously?

The answer? Project Steve.
The NCSE statement was initially sent to biology professors at research institutions. However, after that it began circulating through word of mouth, and because there wasn’t a rigorous screening process to get on the list, not every Steve is a biology professor. For example, Steve #400, Stephen Hawking, is not a biologist. But most are. At last count, about two-thirds of the Steves are biologists. This is in stark contrast to the DI 100, as exemplified by the 9 Steves. None of those 9 are biologists. So in reality, counting only biology professors, it’s more like 300 to 0. Is it unfair to only count biologists? Maybe, but it’s very revealing that the closer the subject of the degree is to evolutionary biology, the fewer proportion of dissenters are."
Science and scientists bored me silly until about 10 years ago, when I read Lewis Thomas and realized that some were far more interesting (and really funny) than I ever would have guessed. There is a wealth of compelling science writing that can engage non-scientists, (seemingly more and more all the this a trend of science, or just a trend of my reading?) shattering my old perception of their lot as mostly specialized, capable of using only a privileged language to make their point and refute someone else's. And they don't seem to face too much wrath from colleagues who don't approve of the pedestrian-level explanations that can so easily captivate my imagination.

And I understand that Bill Bryson's newest book is fabulous, but I'm holding out for the paperback. So even non-scientist writers now want to learn about, and write about science-related topics. Whether that constitutes an expression of science itself is a debate I will save for another day. In the meantime, here are my favorite science-topic books, written by scientists, that can be consumed by a non-scientist like me.
1. Stephen Jay Gould: The Mismeasure of Man
2. Lewis Thomas: The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher
3. Michael Pollan: The Botany of Desire: A Plant-eye's View of the World
4. Stephen Hawking: A Brief History of Time
5. Oliver Sacks: The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat
What should I add to my list?
So much effect so soon?
I'm no fan of smoking, but I have to admit to being skeptical of this, and with no good reason, except that it seems like too big a drop too soon after the smoking ban went into effect to take seriously. Either I don't understand smoking, or I don't understand heart attacks, or both. Maybe the Unabomber made me doubtful of all science-related publication coming out of Montana.

"A study published in today's British Medical Journal suggests that banning smoking in a community can result in an almost immediate drop-off in the number of heart attacks in that community.

The study, which was originally presented at the 52nd Annual College of Cardiology Scientific Session in 2003, examined the number of people in Helena, Mont., who were admitted to the hospital for a heart attack before, during and after a local ordinance banned smoking in public and workplaces. During the six months that the law was in effect -- June through November 2002 -- the number of heart attack admissions dropped by 40 percent compared to the same months the years before and after the law. There was no significant drop in admissions for people living outside Helena."
Helena has reversed its ban, by the way, pending review. So if the heart attack numbers go back up, then I'll have no choice but to believe this, right?

Sunday, April 04, 2004

First, comes defense of the Administration. Next...
Maybe this isn't going to be one more in a long line, but I can't help but think of Richard Clarke, Joseph Wilson, Paul O'Neill, David Kay, and all the rest who have felt the wrath of the Bush Administration once they told the truth {UPDATE: looks like we can add Jack Spadaro to the list. Who is Jack Spadaro?}. The President's senior advisor on science and technology issues, Dr. John Marburger, a lifelong Democrat, is defending the Bush record on science in the face of the charges by the Union of Concerned Scientists. At least he is for now.

"In February, the advocacy group, the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has long criticized administration policies on issues like biotechnology, global warming and nuclear power, released a 38-page report, finding, 'There is significant evidence that the scope and scale of the manipulation, suppression and misrepresentation of science by the Bush administration is unprecedented.'

The report was endorsed by 60 influential scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates and people who had served in past Republican administrations.

Yesterday, Dr. Marburger rejected almost every point. 'The accusations in the document are inaccurate, and certainly do not justify the sweeping conclusions of either the document or the accompanying statement,' he wrote."
But the legacy of this administration leaves me wondering what will happen if Dr. Marburger--or someone else in the office of science and technology--decides to write a book, or give an interview, when he leaves his post. Will we find out that he was just being a team player in this response? Will we hear an admission to the contrary of these assurances? And if we do, how long before we hear how partisan, disgruntled, unreliable, or even crazy Dr. Marburger is? I can't help but assume, at this point, that the truth in this case will show what we already know about the Bush administration's attitude to facts: they are paid little mind. And that the President's defenders are, ultimately, putting an overly optimistic face on a troublesome reality. Given the dismal record, why should we be anything but doubtful?

In either case, even if the science and environmental offices have gotten better at acknowledging facts on the surface (remember the EPA's global warming site?), and throwing money into research, those advances are not making their way into US policy, that's for sure.

If you want to read the whole report, rebutting the UCS statement, go here.
Detroit Red Wings Here We Come
Nashville Predators in the playoffs! First time ever!

Saturday, April 03, 2004

More on CNN
Paul Krugman took CNN to task in his column yesterday, for the Letterman flap and other offenses:

"Look, I understand why major news organizations must act respectfully toward government officials. But officials shouldn't be sure — as Mr. Wilkinson obviously was — that they can make wild accusations without any fear that they will be challenged on the spot or held accountable later.

And administration officials shouldn't be able to spread stories without making themselves accountable. If an administration official is willing to say something on the record, that's a story, because he pays a price if his claims are false. But if unnamed "administration officials" spread rumors about administration critics, reporters have an obligation to check the facts before giving those rumors national exposure. And there's no excuse for disseminating unchecked rumors because they come from 'the White House,' then denying the White House connection when the rumors prove false. That's simply giving the administration a license to smear with impunity."
This is merely an anecdotal slice of the trend Doug was able to spot even without having to watch the flagging network. They're totally useless, the USA Today of broadcast "news."

Friday, April 02, 2004

Oh my gosh, could it really be McCain?
{UPDATE: When I have a decent post, I put it up in a diary on DailyKos, hoping to generate a tiny bit more traffic over here (so far it hasn't worked, but hey). Kos picked up my entry and has his own post here on the subject(I got a thank you which was nice). He includes some voting record info that's helpful/scary. And he adds his own perspective, which is basically that it doesn't matter what the VP's stance on issues is. As long as he doesn't get promoted due to tragedy he's probably right. If it was the only way to win, I'd be all for it, but the more I think of it, the more it strikes me as a desperate move.}

I can't figure out why this isn't big news. It's one thing to lay some criticism on Bush when you're a Republican known for an independent streak. And everyone knows the Arizona Senator is no fan of W. But to say this... (my bold):

"'I believe my party has gone astray,' McCain said, criticizing GOP stands on environmental and minority issues. 'I think the Democratic Party is a fine party, and I have no problems with it, in their views and their philosophy,' he said.
The Arizona Republican took on President Bush for failing to prepare Americans for a long involvement in Iraq, saying, 'You can't fly in on an aircraft carrier and declare victory and have the deaths continue. You can't do that.'"
The Herald reports that he continued to rule out a VP slot with Kerry, but could this be anything other than an audition? Edwards also said he wasn't interested, and nobody, rightfully, believed him. I don't see any reason to believe McCain either. Perhaps the context would shed a different light on his remarks, but there's no reason to say such sweeping, positive things about the other Party (things he obviously doesn't believe!) unless you're trying it on for size. If only he was pro-choice, I wouldn't even complain about him.

I think that's as nice a thing as I've ever said about a Republican.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

The Horrors of Home
I thought we were done with this, but no. Last night the Tennessee State Senate voted 23-6, 23 to 6, to amend the constitution making clear that abortions are not secured therein. So that, when the US Supreme Court finally hears their prayers and reverses Roe v. Wade, the state legislature can vote to ban all abortions. There is no exception for cases of rape, incest or the health of the mother.

Did I mention that the State Senate is controlled by Democrats??
"The measure moves to the House, where some Democrats hope abortion exceptions in those three instances can be added to the language of the proposed constitutional amendment."
Excuse me, Democrats, the majority Party, are hopeful that we can pass this constitutional amendment with those exceptions??
"'It's a loss today — a woman has absolutely no right,' said Senate Speaker Pro Tem JoAnn Graves, D-Gallatin"
Did I mention that JoAnn Graves voted for the amendment?? That's right! Step One: 'A woman has absolutely no right.' Step Two: I'll vote yes! Who are these people?? Why are they Democrats??

Luckily we have House leadership that, last time I heard, is against this idea. But will we be arguing only over the language? Rather than why this should be inserted in our constitution at all?

Look, I understand this can be a conservative state. I know how hard it was to try and create an income tax, even though it would be fairer and more stable. I understand why Democrats shied away from that due to political pressure from constituents, who just don't like taxes. The way the tax winds have been blowing here there's no way a Senator could have supported that and been reelected, and there's no way it would have passed. Whatever.

But reproductive rights is a central tenet of our existence as a political party! WE. VALUE. WOMEN. Period. Protecting them from being legislatively assaulted is why we bother sending Democrats to Capitol Hill to begin with! When we vote, we don't know what a State Senator's position is on funding for highways, or business tax incentives, funding for science research in state universities, or even their priorities for fixing TennCare. But we know that if we send a Democrat we can protect such basic things as privacy rights, civil rights, and reproductive rights.

What Democrats did in the Tennessee Senate yesterday was a disgrace. The vote wasn't even close. And instead of firming up their support in November elections by not looking "liberal," they have only angered and alienated the Democratic electorate (God I hope they have). The right-wing struck a blow not just for their own agenda, but for their hopes to take over the legislature in November.

And where the hell was the Tennessee Democratic Party during this?? Why is the only Democratic quote in the paper referring to women's rights from a woman who voted for the amendment??
Ask Party Chairman Randy Button. That's what I'm going to do.
More Like This
I didn't hear much of Air America yesterday, but I'm reading that Randi Rhodes, who apparently has been a radio host for a while (down here, who would know?), took Ralph Nader to task on her first AAR show. He got so frustrated he hung up. Here's a snippet from the transcript ckerr took the time to make and post in a DailyKos Diary. Read the whole thing if you're angry at Nader too:

"Randi: -- I'm angry at you! I'm a genuine person who's really mad at your candidacy!

Nader: Well, why are you denying millions of people the opportunity to vote for my candidacy --

Randi: Because. We. Can't. Afford. It.

Nader: -- how arrogant, how arrogant can you be? --

Randi: I'm not arrogant, I'm a patriot! I -- we can't afford you, and real patriots have to stand up and question your candidacy!

Nader: Wait a minute! wait a minute. Why are you denying millions of Americans an opportunity to have more choice --

Randi: Because.... how many ways to Sunday do I have to tell you. We can't afford you."
Nader: -- you've got a very bad interviewing technique --

Randi: -- uh uh uh. I am not --

Nader: -- and you're not going to get an audience by overtalking --

Randi: -- interviewing you --

Nader: Do not overtalk!

Randi: I am not ... interviewing you!

Nader: Do not overtalk!

Randi: I mad at you! Don't you understand the difference?

Nader: Fine, just close up and start screaming to your audience.

Randi: [laughs] Look. Don't tell me how to do radio; I've done it for twenty years. You screwed up the last election, and now you want to screw up this one, and I'm pissed!

Nader: (pause; speechless) You know, you ought to be ashamed of yourself because you --

Randi: But I'm not! You know you should --

Nader: -- you agree with me --

Randi: -- be ashamed of yourself! --

Nader: -- you agree with me on so many issues. You really ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Randi: I'm not ashamed of myself. I can't afford you!

Nader: (struggling for words) Nobody stands, nobody for stands, for workers and, and, and the poor people the way I do.

Randi: Ralph, sometimes I look at something, sometimes I look at a really fabulous, fabulous pair of shoes, but I can't afford em. I can't afford you! I'm not saying you're not fabulous. I can't afford you! Why you don't get this I don't know."
Tonight on Letterman?
The Letterman/CNN/White House story keeps getting stranger--I updated the post from yesterday with the new developments. He addressed it again last night, and could be Letterman is worth watching again tonight to see what he says.
Focus on Your Own Family
You've got to hand it to religious conservatives: they think ahead and plan for unsavory contingencies.

"A bill that would increase fines for broadcast indecency from $17,000 to $500,000 dollars has large broadcasting groups like Infinity, promoters of the Howard Stern program, concerned.

But the legislation, passed this month by the House and now in the Senate, also worries conservatives like Steve Lilienthal of the Free Congress Foundation Center for Privacy and Technology.

'It could potentially be a disserving precedent in that a change of administration or personnel at the FCC could very well take that action and apply . . . it against speech that conservatives view to be perfectly normal and acceptable political discourse,' Lilienthal said.

But Pat Trueman, who works with the Family Research Council, thinks those fears are unfounded.

'Indecency is prohibited by federal statute,' he explained, 'so if Hillary Clinton does become president, the FCC can't just begin outlawing hate speech.'"
You see, that's how it works though; we may have to let Howard Stern off the hook to preserve our own rights to hate Hillary Clinton at a later date. This is America after all. The Family Research Council...protecting hate speech since 1988.