Thursday, December 29, 2005

The GOP crime linup - Names and pictures

Salon has a good listing of some of the many GOP individuals currently in real hot water with the law. Go look.

I like the description of what GOP stands for - "Greed over Principle." Seems fitting.

Will Iraq survive as a nation?

Bush speaks as though the measure of success of the American invasion of Iraq will be the acceptance of a Constitution, the resulting new Iraqi government, and the training of a unified Iraqi army and police force to provide stability and maintain the government and the unified and democratic nation of Iraq.

This is a sharply reduced set of goals from the original ones of removing Saddam, finding and defusing the nuclear weapons and eliminating the chemical and biological ones Bush was sure were there. OK. So he did get Saddam out. The resulting mess Jerry Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority made of the situation in Iraq need not be discussed here. Suffice to say the goals now considered as being success in Iraq are a lot different from the original ones Bush used to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Knight Ridder's reporter in Kirkurk, Tom Lesseter, is not nearly as optimistic even of the current Bush goals. Lesseter is reporting how the Kurds in the north have been filling the Northern Iraqi army with members of the Peshmerga (Kurdish militia) in anticipation of the ultimate breakup of Iraq into three parts. At that time, many Kurds expect to take over the Iraqi army in the north and use it to reconquer Kirkurk and perhaps half of Mosul (the second largest city in Iraq.) That military force will then be used to defend the new borders of an independent Kurdistan.

His Kurdish sources also expect the Shiites in the south to take the same action there, establishing a Shiite nation. This will also give those two groups most of the oil in Iraq, leaving the Sunnis in the center of what is now Iraq with essentially none of the oil wealth. The only thing the Sunnis bring to the table after the American troops leave Iraq is an offer to agree to peace and no disruption of Kurdistan and Shiite Iraq.

This rather closely matches the way the recent Iraqi election turned out. Each group overwhelmingly voted for their own tribal leaders. That is rather like Roman elections during the Roman Republic.

My guess is that the Sunni Arabs plan to keep blowing people and things up until they can get the Kurds and Shiite governments to buy them off somehow. They will certainly get support from the Sunni Arabs outside of Iraq.

Bush, of course, hopes to be out of office before the current Iraq breaks up into three new passport-issuing governments with whatever violence that involves.

Ephron speculates on Bush's emotional health

From Nora Ephron's post on The Huffington Post:
The point is that it seems possible to me that when George Bush gave up alcohol in 1986, he dealt with the depression that often accompanies sobriety by becoming an obsessive exerciser. And that's what he's essentially done ever since. He's never held anything that could be confused with a job. Owning a basesball team is not a job. Even being governor of Texas takes only a couple of months a year, it turns out. So he was free to exercise.

But at some point this year, something happened and the exercise regimen stopped working. Bush started becoming depressed. My theory is that a certain amount of panic ensued, and more exercise was prescribed: hence, the afternoon on the bicycle in Maryland, and the reluctance to disturb an already disturbed, irritable man. (Interestingly, the incident happened just after the President returned from a four-day trip to Europe, which had not only required him to work several hours each day but undoubtedly interrupted his exercise routine.) Then came the vacation in August, the odd, sequestered vacation, a perfect time for the President's doctor to try medication, or change medication, or adjust medication. Then Katrina and the emergence in the fall of an unenergetic, irritable, muted, unfocussed President, the man you see today.
Bush still has three years to confirm or disconfirm this speculation.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Pro-Choice, not Pro-Abortion.

This is from Brewer's New Tavern, a blog that I quit to start this one. Thought I would repost it. It is my position on abortion.

December 27, 2004
I found this on Steve Gilliards' blog.

Democrats support women being able to choose when to have children, ensuring that all children are wanted and cared for. The ability to choose means that

1) women get to choose when and with whom they have sexual relations,

2) are able to choose from a full array of birth control options to avoid becoming pregnant if they do not want become pregnant, and

3) as a last resort access to a safe and legal abortion only up to viability or to protect the life of the woman.

Our position is properly called pro-choice, because it is about having the ability to make the choices necessary to control when and how to have children.

It is not pro-abortion, because if the first two parts of choice are guaranteed then the number of abortions will be reduced dramatically.

As I have learned since then most abortions occur because women have become pregnant too young or when in poor economic situations. Teen mothers do not do a good job of raising children, and do not improve their own economic status well either. A child needs a mother who is in a good enough economic situation to be able to continue her own needed education and still properly care for the child.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Roman Catholic Church reconsiders Limbo

The Roman Catholic Church holds that every person born is guilty of Original Sin, but that baptism relieves him or her of that sin so that upon death he or she can go to Heaven. Otherwise, everyone is doomed to go to Hell.

So what happens to a baby who dies before being baptized? Down to Hell with all the other sinners? This was St. Augustine's position, but the Catholic Church informally eased off that view and said informally that such a child went to Limbo, where he or she did not suffer the torment of the damned but also did not dwell in the presence of the Lord.

The Church is reconsidering that opinion. The following is from the New York Times.
December 28, 2005
Letter From Rome
Limbo, an Afterlife Tradition, May Be Doomed by the Vatican

ROME, Dec. 27 - It may seem half a shame to get rid of a church tradition, however cruel and antiquated, if it can inspire poetry like "The Inferno" or spooky lines like these from Seamus Heaney: "Fishermen at Ballyshannon/Netted an infant last night/Along with the salmon."

But limbo, that netherworld of unbaptized babies and worthy pagans, is very much on the way out - another lesson that while belief in God may not change, the things people believe about him most certainly do.

This month, 30 top theologians from around the world met at the Vatican to discuss, among other quandaries, the problem of what happens to babies who die without baptism. They do not like the word for it, but what they were really doing, as theological advisers to Pope Benedict XVI, was finally disposing of limbo - a concept that was never official church doctrine but has been an enduring medieval theory of a blissful state among the departed, somehow different from both heaven and hell.

Unlike purgatory, a sort of waiting room to heaven for those with some venial faults, the theory of limbo consigned children outside of heaven on account of original sin alone. As a concept, limbo has long been out of favor anyway, as theologically questionable and unnecessarily harsh. It is hard to imagine depriving innocents of heaven. These days it prompts more snickers than anything, as evidenced by the titter of press coverage here along the lines of "Limbo Consigned to Hell."

But it remains an interesting relic, strangely relevant to what the Roman Catholic Church has been and what it wants to be. The theory of limbo bumps up against one of the most contentious issues for the church: abortion. If fetuses are human beings, what happens to their souls if they are aborted? It raises questions of how broadly the church - and its new leader - view the idea of salvation.

And it has some real-life consequences. The church is growing most in poor places like Africa and Asia where infant mortality remains high. While the concerns of the experts reconsidering limbo are more theological, it does not hurt the church's future if an African mother who has lost a baby can receive more hopeful news from her priest in 2005 than, say, an Italian mother did 100 years ago.

"You look at the proper theology, but if there is more consolation, all the better," said the Rev. Luis Ladaria, the Spanish Jesuit who is secretary general of the International Theological Commission, the official body working on limbo. Unlike many issues - the recent emotional debate over homosexuality in the priesthood, for example - limbo seems to garner unanimity that it should exit the church's stage, even if, at the moment, the exact doctrine that will replace it is unclear.

"Limbo has never been a definitive truth of the faith," Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Benedict XVI earlier this year, said in an interview in 1984, during his long term as Pope John Paul II's doctrinal watchdog. "Personally, I would let it drop, since it has always been only a theological hypothesis."

As pope, Benedict has said nothing on the subject, though many experts - but not all, it should be noted - say the controversy over limbo began with one of Benedict's spiritual heroes: St. Augustine.

The theology is complicated, but the bottom line is that Augustine, believing in mankind's original sin, persuaded a church council in 418 to reject any notion of an "intermediary place" between heaven and hell. He held that baptism was necessary for salvation, and that unbaptized babies would actually go to hell, though in his later writings he conceded that it would entail the mildest of conditions.

It was "a pretty grim doctrine," said the Rev. Gerald O'Collins, an Australian Jesuit and co-author of "A Concise Dictionary of Theology" (Paulist Press: 2000). "You're either in hell or you're not."

In the Middle Ages, theologians, notably St. Thomas Aquinas, postulated a slightly cheerier idea: limbo, from the Latin "limbus," meaning a hem or a boundary. Here innocents would live forever in what Thomas called "natural happiness," if not in heaven.

This was the Limbo of the Babies. There was also a temporary Limbo of the Fathers, where Dante located, among others, Virgil, his guide through hell; Moses; Socrates; Plato; even the gentlemanly Muslim warrior Saladin (to whom Saddam Hussein, incidentally, often compared himself).

Though limbo had no firm scriptural basis, and so was never official church doctrine, it remained a major part of church tradition - as well as one defining image of Catholicism - as either a neat theological compromise or as a bit mean, depending on whom one asked.

It remained strong in 1905, when Pope Pius X stated plainly, "Children who die without baptism go into limbo, where they do not enjoy God, but they do not suffer either."

But ideas began to change with the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960's, in which the church held that everyone - baptized Christians or not - could be eligible for salvation through the mystery of Christ's redemptive power. Pope John Paul II continued the decline of limbo, omitting the term from the most recent catechism and last year, not long before his death, asking the theological commission to officially consider the question of unbaptized babies.

John Paul, who brought the issue of abortion to the fore of the church's concerns, appeared interested for a special reason: the fate of aborted fetuses. In his 1995 encyclical, he wrote to women who had abortions, "You will also be able to ask forgiveness of your child, who is now living in the Lord." He did not say if they were in heaven or limbo.

The mystery of God, and man's ignorance before it, is, according to Father Ladaria, the starting point for the commission's work. To some observers of the church, which holds the pope's judgment infallible on certain matters, the questioning of limbo is a rare, welcome admission of error.

This will attract attention "as something that does look like an ability to pull back," said James J. O'Donnell, the provost of Georgetown University and a professor of classics. It is, he said, essentially saying, "Let's progress back to ignorance rather than remain mired in assertion that brings with it perhaps more complication and more trouble than it is worth."

Mr. O'Donnell, author of "Augustine: A New Biography" (HarperCollins: 2005), said it might also be interesting to see limbo killed off under the rule of Benedict.

Benedict, he noted, is also an Augustine scholar, and the issue of unbaptized babies aside, Augustine was a man who generally argued for a broader view of who should be allowed in the church.

Over the years before he became pope, Cardinal Ratzinger propounded several doctrines that had the "appearance, and sometimes more than the appearance, of exclusivity and separatism" of Catholics over other faiths, Mr. O'Donnell said. Getting rid of limbo, he said, could be read as a sign of Benedict's endorsing a greater inclusivity into God's plan.

"Even though Augustine himself would not be particularly tolerant of a doctrine that is kinder to unbaptized children, you could still say that a move in that direction would have an Augustinian quality to it," he said.

It is often said the church moves in centuries, not days or even years. So Father Ladaria looked up to heaven when asked when the final report on limbo might be finished. Probably no less than a year, he said, when the commission meets here again.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Why the "Republican Revolution" is unique.

This is from Dave Johnson at Seeing the Forest:

Elected Democrats and moderate Republicans keep letting far-Right conspirators off the hook, and failing to expose the true nature of their activities to the public. Perhaps this is because they honestly did not and do not recognize them for what they are. Some of Nixon's cronies went to jail -- none of Reagan/Bush I's. Worse, the Carter and Clinton administrations did not ask for a full accounting of the transgressions -- political and financial -- of the prior administrations. In a way, this signaled to the public to expect such activities as part of "business as usual." By allowing the Right to publicly get away with an "everybody does it" excuse, the legitimacy of our democratic form of government was eroded.

... I think it is hard now to avoid seeing the true nature of the group that has taken over the Republican Party. The record is certainly clear, their intentions are clear, their activities are clear, and it's time to take a stand. After seizing control of the country by the narrowest of margins in 2000 the Republicans have illegally excluded Democrats and the public from almost all aspects of management of the government. They have positioned ideological agents throughout the departments, agencies and the courts. In one of their first acts in power they allowed companies like Enron to "harvest" the people of California and Oregon, and appointed FERC members would not do their job to stop this. Their tax cuts, that went to only a few, have bankrupted the country and spent our Social Security retirement money. They have handed out our country's natural resources, and given the right to pollute our air and water for profit to a few rich cronies. They have launched aggressive war in an imperialistic scheme to bring the Middle East's oil supplies under their control.

... We have to realize that we are dealing with an organized revolutionary conspiracy to seize power, enrich the few, and subject us to an ideological/theocratic/imperialist dictatorship. They often describe THEMSELVES as being modeled on the old Communist Party and their methods for infiltrating and seizing power.

"You cannot cripple an opponent by outwitting him in a political debate," he explains in The Art of Political War. "You can do it only by following Lenin's injunction: 'In political conflicts, the goal is not to refute your opponent's argument, but to wipe him from the face of the earth.'"This is an emergency and we must recognize it as such. These people will go to all costs to succeed, including fomenting civil war.With today's NSA spying in mind, this from written a year-and-a-half-ago:

Let's look at it this way for a minute. Suppose that the intentions of the Bush people are entirely on the up-and-up. But looking at the way they have eroded accountability, oversight, and constitutional protections, suppose some OTHER people, with less-than-honorable intentions, examine these openings and see this as an opportunity to step in and seize power. The mechanisms for this are all in place, including the mechanisms to squash opposition and dissent. The Patriot Act, for example, allows the government to spy on anyone the President designates as an "enemy." And new technologies enable comprehensive tracking of a person's every action. We already have a precedent of Congress looking the other way and avoiding their oversight responsibilities no matter how extreme the transgression. We already have the precedent of the Justice Department covering up instead of investigating crimes. We already have the precedent of the Courts overruling law in favor of ideology.
In my readings during the 60's and early 70's I quickly realized that nations which allowed the Communist Party to take part in government quickly found themselves becoming Communist dictatorships. It wasn't so much the Communist ideology as it was the utter disrespect Communists held for their opponents and for democratic methods of government. They don't negotiate with their opponents. They work to crush them.

We are seeing these same attitudes from the Bush administration and from a Republican Party rapidly moving to towards the authoritarian right. It isn't so much the ineffective methods they have taken towards fighting terrorism [Iraq is about long term administrative methods of control of the Middle East and the only thing that makes the ME important, its oil supplies, not about fighting Terrorism.]

The war in Iraq in the short term is a prop used by the Bush administration to excuse the fact that the Bush administration is placing ideological controllers throughout the federal government, expanding methods of controlling people and gathering information on them to enhance that control [Look at the no-Fly list. What criteria gets you on that list, and how do you get off of it if you are not Ted Kennedy?]

Look at the payoffs to corporations, beginning with the refusal to investigate the rape of the California electric power purchasers when it was clear that Enron was manipulating the market. If Enron had not self-destructed, the Bush administration was willing to let it go on for years. Look at the tax cuts for multimillionaires while cutting Medicaid to children and cutting food stamps.

The theory of the separation of powers in the government expects the Congress to perform oversight over the Executive Branch when the Executive fails to act as it should. But with this all sitting right in front of everyone, the Republican Congress refuses to perform any oversight functions over the Executive Branch. They haven't looked at teh FEMA response to Katrina yet, either. Why?

The fact that the Abramoff investigation will possibly pull in 20 or more Legislators for accepting bribes suggests why. Congress and Congressional (Republican)Leadership has been bought off, while the Democrats have been removed from any effective control of Congressional action.

I don't think the "Republican Revolution" can last. It eats its seed corn. America became a great nation by being a democratic nation sitting in the middle of the largest single free market [in terms of land area] in the world at the key moment that the Industrial Revolution was expanding out of Great Britain. But now the easy gains of early industrialism are over in America, just as international competition has gotten much stiffer. The fear of failure is leading the Republicans to tighten of administrative and bureaucratic control of teh economy and to the reduction of effective democracy.

The Republican-led desire of Americans to take greater control of the economy and the nation may well be a reaction to the loss of economic power America has experienced since about 1960. A lot of teh rest of the world has learned to productive power of industrialism and made them more competitive with America. Face it. Toyota will soon replace General Moters as the largest car manufacturer in the world.

The Republican reaction is to be afraid. Fear leads companies to merge and tighten administrative controls at the expense of letting markets work, and leads governments to tighten autocratic controls at the expense of democracy. The problem with this is that it centralizes decision-making in a few people who are separated from the problems they are trying to solve by numerous layers of bureaucracy. It also raises the stakes of most decisions, making it more risky to experiment. That is almost the textbook definition of "conservative." China, Russia and most of South America are experimenting with moving the opposite direction, towards more free markets and less autocratic government.

Eliminating effective democracy and giving economic power over to primarily large corporations while neutering the power of labor just as the rest of the world finds effective Industrial and post-industrial economics has already crippled American economic competitiveness. Our Universities are facing rapidly growing competition around the world. All we really have today internationally is military power and the world class financial markets in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

We can hope that America will wise up soon and reject greater administrative control of the economy (less centralization and more free markets) and reject fear-based autocratic government. The wider recognition of the excesses in spying on Americans and the recognition that we are fighting a war in Iraq merely to allay our own fears, without doing anything to the real enemies we need to fight, may be hints that we have started to move the correct direction.

I hope so.

The Myth of the liberal media created through poor research.

eRipost dissects an alleged study of liberal bias in the media and demonstrates that the research doesn't measure what it purports to measure. That is, in techinical research method terms, the study is not valid with respect to what is claims to be trying to study.

Hope you had a good Xmas.

It is more fun with children around.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Whose money gives you your political opinions?

In the free market of polical ideas, who is paying to give you the ideas that drive our lives? Michael Kinsley describes the ways money sets up the ideas that drive our lives.

Political crises vs. Real crises.

The Bush administration is learning that while political crises can be dealt with by lying until the urgency of the crisis drops out of the media, real crises do not disappear after time. They keep coming back.

Economic, military and natural disaster crises cannot be dealt with by lies. They require good government.

Good government cannot be based on lies. Elections can, but good government cannot.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Laffer Curve is a lie

Bonddad over at My Left Wing tears the NRO and its use of the Laffer curve a new one.

"Proof" that reductions in taxes increase revenues is based primarily on the same kind of Intelligence data as used by the Bush administration to promote the Iraq War. The graphic of the Laffer Curve Bonddad is discussing is found at The primary arguments are here:

First, there is no way to derive this curve from any existing data set. Compare this to other bedrocks of economic thinking "supply and demand, marginal cost equals marginal revenue" which can be derived from data readily available to analysis. If you can't get a curve from existing data, maybe it doesn't exist.

Secondly, Republicans always assume that current tax rates are to the right of the curve's apex. Therefore, the only direction for tax rates is down. It never occurs to anybody that rates are to the left and therefore a tax cut will decrease government revenues. My first point makes the second point that much more dangerous. There is no way someone who disagrees with the curve to empirically prove that a tax cut will decrease revenue [Since it cannot be derived from real data]. In addition, because there is no way to empirically discount the tax cut argument, the tax increase argument is easily attacked, discounted and placed at an extreme political disadvantage.

[The idea that] tax cuts pay for themselves is a great sales pitch, easily sold via 30-second sound bites.

In short, the laffer curve is a brilliant self-reinforcing delusion. Because it can't be proven with existing evidence, those who disagree with the curve's conclusions are placed at a political disadvantage. And those who push the policies backed-up by this curve have an easy sales pitch.

[Emphasis is mine.]

Bonddad goes further. Go read it. Only the economically and statistically illiterate can disagree with him.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

What's wrong with movies these days?

Hollywood is getting disturbed. Sales are down again for the third year in a row. That's 12.6% since 2002. This is the first such extended slump in 40 years. Why?

OK. I have my opinion. Look at how many remakes and sequels of the better films from yesterday that are being put out. Most may have been good the first time, but there aren't that many remakes that are up to the standards of the originals. Right now, for example there are "Cheaper by the Dozen 2", "King Kong", Your, Mine and Ours", and I think "Fun with Dick and Jane" is a remake. "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" is worse than a remake. It is a sequel to a remake. Doesn't Hollywood have any writers?

Not if it is true that they want younger writers and stop hiring them when they pass age 40.

I really think Hollywood has gone down a cul-de-sac. They think they are selling a series of images, so they spend more and more money to achieve greater "reality." They think that well-known stars sell movies, so they pay well-known stars more and more money. They also suspect that they can distribute the movies differently so as to get reach different and better audiences. So they spend more money on distribution in different channels that may or may not work. The end result of this is movies that cost a lot more than movies used to. That means that each movie has to bring in more revenue to cover the expenses before any profit is made.

So how do you make movies that can pull in all that revenue? You have to stick to tried and true sellers. You don't spend money on unknown actors. You don't spend money on writers. You don't experiment with new ideas for movies. All of these are places you try to cut costs. So to be safe you do remakes and sequels.

The result? Those of us who used to be regular movie-goers are flat bored to death with the pablum we are being offered. We've seen all the average movies on TV and are looking for something new and better. That means no remakes or sequels. The only movies worth watching anymore are the indys that are hard to find out about.

We want to see good movies that are well-written and well-produced. Most of us do not need the most elaborate computer graphics and the greatest realism. This is acting for Christ's sake! Good professional actors working from an interesting script do not require extreme movie realism. They create it by delivering their lines well. These don't cost what the Hollywood blockbusters cost, and these can make money with a lot smaller audience.

So is Hollywood ready to get this message? You tell me. This is from the Christian science Monitor:
One of the most telling developments, say analysts, will be the impact of a new idea by film Steven Soderbergh and producer Mark Cuban. The two have struck a deal to release films in three formats - theaters, DVD, and television - all on the same date. The first of them is scheduled in the next two weeks.

"Soderbergh and Cuban are projecting that the current model of theater-release, then a delay for DVD, and another delay before showing on TV is history," says Mr. Lehman. "How consumers respond to this experiment will be very telling."
They're still going to be making more expensive films with young hack writers and trying to sell to bigger audiences by more elaborate distribution models.

Good bloody luck!

Here are some explanations of how Bush misled the country.

First is a paper by James P. Pfiffner in the Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 34. No. 1 (March 2004), pp.4-25. It is found here and Entitled Did President Bush Mislead the Country in his Arguments for War with Iraq?

Second is The Lie Factory found in Mother Jones by By Robert Dreyfuss and Jason Vest in the January/February 2004 Issue.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Who is the real Jesus Christ?

The fundamentalist "Christian" view of who the Jesus Christ they purport to worship was is rather badly skewed by the fact that there is no documentaion of who Christ was that is contempory with his life. There was apparently a man, Jesus, and there is clearly a massive myth of "Jesus the Christ." How do we separate the two and does that separation actually add to the the worship of "Jesus the Christ?" In short, who was the historial Jesus?

Good qustion, and really hard to answer with any degree of certainty. From Jesus: The Man, The Myth
The pursuit of this “de-mythologized” Jesus is known in academic circles as the “quest for the historical Jesus.”

The quest for the historical Jesus was born out of Enlightenment sensibilities and freedoms that liberated the Bible from the Church and made it available to nonreligious bodies for interpretation and study. Scientific inquiry knew no limits, and quickly the miraculous and mythical elements of the Christian texts came under strict scrutiny.
The "Quest for the historical Jesus" within Christianity is the absolute opposite of Fundamentalist Christianity.

Fundamentalist Christianity takes the historial Bible as the absolute word of God and purports to give us the so-called word of God from that Bible. The quest for the historical Jesus uses modern post Enlightment methods of historical inquiry and attempt to separate what the historial Jesus actually taught and what the early Christians added to the canon of the Bible added to and used to modifiy his teachings. Truthdig provides a brief description of the modern research into the New Testament of the Bible.

One result of this historial inquiry has been the development of the reactionary "Christian Fundamentalism" beginning in the late 19th century.
The following is from the Truthdig article:
Fundamentalism has a voracious evangelical appetite. It is not enough that its adherents be convinced themselves that they are correct; they must convince the world to believe the same way as they do. Not only must they convince the world, they must transform the world, and those that oppose their transformation are no less than evil incarnate because they are opposing the true will of God (as it has been revealed to fundamentalists). Traditional, liberal and even progressive elements in the religion don’t even have an oar in the water when it comes to resisting the overwhelming current that is fundamentalism. This is true in Islam as well as in Christianity.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Intelligent Design is thinly disguised religious doctrine

Federal Judge John Jones shot down the decision of the Dover School Board to require the teaching of Intelligent Design in 9th grade science classes.

Judge Jones' logic is that since ID requires that there be an intelligent designer who works through supernatural laws which cannot be described by science, it is therefore nothing more than thinly disguised religion.

The Supreme Court has previously determined that teaching Creationism in a science class is a violation of the Constitutional prohibition of government establishing a religion. The Judge determined that the arguments used to establish ID were identical to those that were previously used to establish Creationism.

Science rejects all supernatural causes in favor of causes which can be rationally described and explained by human beings. ID (and Creationism) explicitly require that a supernatural being (the Intelligent Designer) exist to cause the different species. Such a supernatural being cannot be described or explained by science, so ID and Creationism are inherently not scientific. Therefore no explanation of events based on ID or Creationism can possibly be scientific.

Since the (Republican) school board (in a highly Republican School District) which adopted the teaching of ID was voted out in the most recent election and replaced by a slate of Democrats who ran as opposed to the teaching if ID, it is very unlikely that Judge Jones' decision will be appealed.

A further description of the decision is found here.

The Washington Post today provides further information on the decision by Judge Jones.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Bush says Congress got the same intelligence he did before the Iraq War; Bush lies.

George Bush has been repeatedly saying that Congress had the same access to classified Intelligence before the War in Iraq that he did. He uses this to blame the Democrats as being equally guilty as he was for invading Iraq.

So Sen. Diane Feinstein asked The Congressional Research Service to see if that was true. Report.

The short answer is that Bush is lying. For the long answer, go read the report.

John Bolton; Failed Ambassador to the UN.

When Bush failed to get John Bolton confirmed as UN Ambassador and sent him anyway as the beneficiary of an unprecedented recess appointment last August, it was predicted that Bolton would not be a good appointment to that position. The facts have shown that he has failed to live up to even that low expectation.

Bolton has tied up the UN in unnecessary and unproductive conflict over the budget, hogtied his own staff so that they cannot function effectively, provided a leak to British papers that submarined sensitive negotiations that the Secretary of State, Condi Rice, was conducting, And essentially failed to accomplish anything on his own rather outrageous agenda while preventing much of the UN from accomplishing much around him. Expectations for his tenure were very low, and he has failed to even achieve them.

Did I mention that Bolton is a Dick Cheney protege?

See the story at The American Prospect.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Bob Novak speaks out on Plame-gate

This is from the Raleigh News Observer:

Bush can settle CIA leak riddle, Novak says

Rob Christensen, Barbara Barrett, Jane Stancill and Dan Kane, Staff Writers

Newspaper columnist Robert Novak is still not naming his source in the Valerie Plame affair, but he says he is pretty sure the name is no mystery to President Bush. "I'm confident the president knows who the source is," Novak told a luncheon audience at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh on Tuesday. "I'd be amazed if he doesn't."

"So I say, 'Don't bug me. Don't bug Bob Woodward. Bug the president as to whether he should reveal who the source is.' "

It was Novak who first revealed that Plame, the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, worked for the CIA. Wilson had angered the Bush administration when he accused it of twisting intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat before the war.

Disclosing the identity of a CIA agent is illegal; the disclosure set off a furor in Washington, resulting in an ongoing investigation by a special prosecutor and the indictment and resignation of Lewis Libby, the chief aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Woodward, a Washington Post editor, recently disclosed that he, too, had been told by an administration figure about Plame's secret identity -- probably, he said, by the same source who told Novak.

Novak said his role in the Plame affair "snowballed out of proportion" as a result of a "campaign by the left."

But he also blamed "extremely bad management of the issue by the White House. Once you give an issue to a special prosecutor, you lose control of it."

This is the essence of what Fitzgerald is investigating. Once Fitzgerald knows and can prove legally who the actual leaker was, the entire issue of whether a crime was committed very likely becomes clear.

Bush could clear the entire thing up with a phone call. So is he covering his own ass or protecting someone?

Probably both, since by now if a crime was committed and he knows who did it and has not told Fitzgerald, that is obstruction of justice. Clearly that fits within the rubric of "High Crimes and Misdemeanors."

[Thanks to Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo.]

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

School kids world wide to get $100 computers

This is neat. MIT developers have demonstrated a prototype laptop computer that operates by handcrank and is expected to work on open source software like Linux.

If American software people think they have competition from Indian and Chinese programmers, wait until every kid in the world has his own 500 MHz computer that he can use anywhere.

The story is from PC World.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The battle between Microsoft and Google is coming

The next major market "distruption" in computer programs is coming. MicroSoft recognizes it and is getting ready to adapt to the new business environment. Instead of bundled programs MicroSoft will shift towards internet services.
Internet services represent a more open, competitive model. "Software itself is going to be free, and you get paid for services that are supported either by ads or by subscription charges," said Mitchell Kapor, the founder of Lotus Development who is president of the Open Source Applications Foundation, which develops free software for personal information like calendars and contacts. "For Microsoft, this is a bigger challenge than the rise of the Internet itself in 1995."
Go read the article at CNet. It is a glimpse of the future of computers and the internet.

Oh, and MicroSoft will not be going away.

The U.S. has secret laws. Kafka lives.

Secret Laws which the American people cannot access, and which you cannot read if you are accused of something.

Scared yet? I am.

The source story is at

Kevin Drum briefly discusses the the secret laws here and more recently here.

Truly Kafkaesque.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A review of Syriana

Digby provides a review of the movie "Syriana." He also offers his opinion on why we are really in Iraq and why we will be involved heavily in the Middle East for the foreseeable future even if we have to get out of Iraq.

Go read it.

Statements in Bush's speech hard to verify

Yesterday Bush gave the second of four speeches designed to give Americans an idea on what the plan for winning in Iraq is. So far, there has been little specific about how victory will be achieved.

However, Bush did give numerous vignettes that he said demonstrated progress in the war. Unfortunately, they were in cities and areas in Iraq that are too dangerous for American reporters to visit and verify. Dan Froomking of the Washington Post did pull together some facts which he wove into an informative column.

It appears to me that as usual the Bush speechwriters are cherry-picking all the positive items that appear to support their view while giving no context and ignoring anything that does not support their view. This isn't just bias. This is pure unadulterated propaganda. Josef Goebbels would have been proud.

The current civil war in Iraq

An argument for "staying the course in Iraq" has been that if we leave there will be civil war. But there already is a civil war going on there. Our invasion set it off. Steven D at Booman Tribune has this to say:
The mannner in which the elections have been conducted, with results that favor Shiites at the expense of Sunnis has only deepened their resentment. The participation of Kurdish and Shia soldiers in the "Iraqi Army" in our operations (like Fallujah) against Sunni communities which we have identified as hotbeds of the insurgency, has led to a bitterness that will last for generations to come. Add to that our detention and torture of innocent civilians (primarily Sunnis), our training and equipping of Shia (and probably Kurdish) death squads, and our passive indifference to the tortures and massacres perpetrated against Sunni citizens by the putative Iraqi government (controlled by Shia politicians).

These suicide bomb attacks against Shia communities have been going on for some time now. They will continue whether we go or stay, just as the actions by Shia militias, and by "official" Iraqi Army and police units, in retaliation against Sunni communities, will also continue. We have been the catalyst for the outbreak of an ethnic conflict that will rival anything the world has witnessed in the Balkans or in Africa over the past several decades. It will worsen whether we are present as an active participant in the process, as we are now, or whether we leave. Indeed, the longer we stay, the worse it may get, as our forces are a magnet for all those in the Arab world who wish to join this Sunni jihad in Iraq.
There is nothing that our presence can do to remedy this process. We are a major source of the problem there.

So what's the solution?

Beats me. We walked into Iraq blind, deaf and dumb, and it seems that the Bush admininstration has continued in that manner to this day. We are now deep in the tar pit, and there do not seem to be any good options. So we will have to choose a poor one and try to make it work. It needs to include us getting out, though.

DeLay problems extend to the Marianas Islands

Reports on the Abramoff investigation have expanded to describe what DeLay operatives have done to illegally influence elections in the Marianas Islands, an American territory. The activities of Mike Scanlon, at that time on DeLay's Congressional office payroll, are integral to the reported activities. Since Scanlon has agreed to testify for the Department of Justice, Tom is clearly in more hot water.

Even worse for Tom is the likelihood that Abramoff is about to flip and start testifying for the DoJ along with Scanlon.

The Weblog of the DCCC, The Stakeholder reports the story. They support it with references to Mark Shields (The real scandal of Tom DeLay [CNN]), Marie Cocco (DeLay's worst: A dirty drama of bondage [Newsday]), and Marty Schladen (DeLay disputes charges of abuse in Saipan [The Galveston Daily News].)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Republican conduct illegal phone jamming to win election

James Tobin, former New England Chair of Bush-Cheney '04 and former Northeast field director for the RNC and the NRSC in 2002, is currently on trial for organizing a successful effort to jam Democratic and union phone banks on election day 2002 in New Hampshire. A report on TPMCafe indicates that the trial is not going well for Tobin.

What the testimony demonstrates is that the Republicans condone using illegal methods to prevent Democrats from voting.

Blogger Betsy Devine reports on what she saw yesterday as she attended Tobin's trial.

The UNMOVIC inspections in Iraq threatened Bush's invasion.

In the months leading to the American invasion of Iraq UNMOVIC (the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection team)was conducting unrestricted inspections of likely sites for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. UN resolution 1441 mandating the inspections was passed November 8, 2002, and the first inspection occurred 19 days later on November 27th. From Alternet:
On February 14th, UNMOVIC reported to the UN that 200 chemical and 100 biological samples had been analyzed and concluded that "the results to date have been consistent with Iraq's declaration." Inspections were conducted without notice and full cooperation -- "industrial sites, ammunition depots, research centers, universities, presidential sites, mobile laboratories, private houses, missile production facilities, military camps and agricultural sites .... At certain sites, ground-penetrating radar was used to look for underground structures or buried equipment." In a word -- thorough.
The author concludes that with these solid and reliable inspections of all the most likely sites in Iraq that the Iraqis had actually complied with agreements that ended the Persian Gulf War. Every day that passed the inspections clearly were undercutting the need to go to war in Iraq.

So what was the Bush administration reaction to such good news? They cut off the inspections by speeding up the invasion itself. They didn't want proof that Saddam had complied with the requirements to divest the weapons of mass destruction. They wanted to invade Iraq for any reason that could be cobbled together.

We have yet to get any admission for what the real reasons Bush and Cheney wanted to invade Iraq. Everything so far is just speculation. So we don't know the real reasons for the war, but we damned sure are learning the real costs.

RNC Mehlman asks the wrong question

[From the NY Sun]
Mr. Mehlman [Chairman of the Republican National Committee] also defended Mr. Bush's Iraq policy, which Democrats have attacked as unrealistic. "Are the Democrat attacks designed to help us win the war on terror, or are they designed to help them win the next election?" Mr. Mehlman asked.
The proper question to ask is if the war in Iraq has been fought by the Bush administration to win the next election or to actually defend America?

I see no realistic connection between invading Iraq and protecting America other than possibly gaining control of where the oil in Iraq is shipped.

Yes, I totally discount the allegations that terrorism against America has been or is likely to be initiated in Iraq. That was and is nothing more than a rhetorical device used by Republicans to connect the premptive invasion of Iraq to the events of 9/11.

The major purpose of the invasion of Iraq was to give Republicans the edge in the elections of 2002 and 2004. It worked.

Republican fears and priorities

Rep. Tom Tancredo considers
the struggle to secure our nation's borders, and the struggle to preserve our national identity, against the tide of illegal immigrants flooding the United States.
extremely important. What does he mean by that? Is "preserve our national identity" a code phrase for "keep America white and Christian."?

Apparently independent voters, women in particular, and nearly all Latino voters think so. I certainly do.

[From Hotline.]

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

How much of the disaster in Iraq is planned?

I don't usually give the Moscow Times any more credence than I do the Washington Times or Fox News, but this is an interesting take on the assassination squads in Iraq. Death Mask: The Deliberate Disintegration of Iraq .

While I normally don't expect anything resembling competence out of the Bushies outside of winning elections and propaganda, they certainly have a lot of experienced people from Reagan's wars in Central America to depend on. This is not at all beyond belief. Not with Cheney and Rumsfeld running the government and Bush listening to God tell him how great he is as he rides his bicycle.

Monday, December 05, 2005

I very much agree with Kevin Drum

Kevin says:
It's almost a perfect metaphor for the way George Bush has run this war from the beginning. It's never been about winning so much as it's been about looking like we're winning. And that's why we aren't.
Go read his comment and see if you don't agree about "it."

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Congressional Earmarks; Invitation to corruption

How did Randy "Duke" Cunningham deliver the contracts to his bribers? I'm sure some was based on phone calls to various people in executive departments and personal conversations, but that is the primitive method. The modern method is called congressional earmarks.

From the San Diego Union-Tribune:
Earmarks are typically small provisions that members of Congress insert into a bill to fund programs that often benefit their districts or supporters.
This was something that the Democrats used to do before the Republicans took over the House in 1994, and the Republicans promised to rein in the practice. Instead, they have expanded the practice to more than three times the previous level. Consider how this and other techniques have aided Randy Cunningham to obtain $2.4 million in bribes:
lawmakers are able to influence spending in many ways.

Committee and subcommittee chairs, eager to expand their turf, often urge rank-and-file members to request earmarks for local projects. They also pressure federal agencies to buy certain goods and services.

The problem is compounded when secrecy is involved, experts say. Congress approves billions of dollars in secret intelligence and defense spending each year. The companies that Cunningham has admitted aiding – Washington-based MZM Inc. and Poway-based ADCS Inc. – in return for cash and gifts did defense and intelligence work.

"As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, he would have been privy to the most sensitive information about intelligence contracting and he would have been in a position to improperly assist his benefactors," said Steven Aftergood, who heads the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists.

"He would be in a position to tip off bidders for impending contracts. He might also be able to tailor or to influence the development of a program in such a way as to make it conform to what a particular vendor has to offer."

The process could have worked the same with Cunningham's other key assignment on the defense appropriations subcommittee. Both panels have launched reviews of Cunningham's committee work.

"Ninety-nine percent of what goes on is setting things up," said Dan Guttman, an expert on government contracting who teaches at Johns Hopkins University. "You wire things not by telling the person making the selection, 'Pick this company,' but by telling the person, 'These are the criteria.' " [...]
Budget experts note that, if not for the bribery, many of the favors Cunningham did for the two companies could have been considered part of business as usual on Capitol Hill. Cunningham publicly acknowledged helping MZM and ADCS land government work before he was charged with any crimes.

Lawmakers are eager to take credit for helping hometown businesses grow or securing money for projects. Most consider it a part of what they were sent here to do – represent their districts and states. An analysis by the Democratic staff of the House Appropriations Committee contends that earmarking of defense spending has more than tripled since fiscal year 1995. (Overall, defense spending has increased dramatically since the 2001 terrorist attacks and the beginning of the Iraq war.)

A Republican spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee did not return a call for comment.

Ornstein and other critics argue that the practice of earmarking has become little more than a way to boost lawmakers' re-election prospects, reward contributors and, for some, secure lucrative employment later with the businesses or lobbying firms they help.

It also allows party leaders to maintain discipline and pass controversial bills that are loaded with money for local projects.

"It has exploded since Republicans took control," said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. "It's shameless. . . . It's really out of control."

"Members are getting hooked on earmarks quickly. They are led to believe that that is the way you get re-elected. The leadership pretends that they're going to get earmarks under control. But they love them because once they get the members hooked, they can lead them around by the nose," Flake said.
So earmarks are a way that individual Congressmen have to influence federal government spending and contracts to be done in their own districts. But having that power, they can shake down companies and individuals for campaign contributions in order for them to get preferences and controversial bills that fund local projects.

Note that the Republican leadership has used this to keep individual Republican Congressmen in line. If the leadership doesn't approve of your behavior, you cease to get the power to earmark funds. As long as you stay in line, you get as much federal money as you can grab.

My first thought was that this could be controlled by simply making each Congressman's earmarks public before the next election, as well as the campaign contributions. But Republican Rep. Cunningham's earmarks were frequently to contracts in classified Department of Defense and Intelligence Community budgets.

Controlling earmarks to classified budgets would have to be done by Congressional leadership in a classified procedure. The problem is, that I don't trust the majority party to be honest. (Regardless of Party.)

That might be resolved by having a bipartisan committee like the Ethics committee (With equal party voting membership) review all earmarks and getting full information on all personal funds and campaign funds received by each congressman earmarking funds in a classified budget.

In any case, earmarking funds is one of the many techniques available to majority party leadership to maintain party discipline. It's not necessarily bad. That depends on the morality of the majority Party leadership. That leadership is elected by the members of the Majority Party, so they represent the morality of the entire party.

Randy "Duke" Cunningham clearly does not reflect well on the Republican Party.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Objective evidence of 2004 vote fraud.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has published a report on the many discrepanies in the 2004 Presidential election.

SBC Yahoo provides excerpts from the GAO report:
Nearly a year ago, senior Judiciary Committee Democrat John Conyers (D-MI) asked the GAO to investigate electronic voting machines as they were used during the November 2, 2004 presidential election. The request came amidst widespread complaints in Ohio and elsewhere that often shocking irregularities defined their performance.

According to CNN, the U.S.House Judiciary Committee received "more than 57,000 complaints" following Bush's alleged re-election. Many such concerns were memorialized under oath in a series of sworn statements and affidavits in public hearings and investigations conducted in Ohio by the Free Press and other election protection organizations.

The non-partisan GAO report has now found that, "some of [the] concerns about electronic voting machines have been realized and have caused problems with recent elections, resulting in the loss and miscount of votes."

The United States is the only major democracy that allows private partisan corporations to secretly count and tabulate the votes with proprietary non-transparent software. Rev. Jesse Jackson among others, has asserted that "public elections must not be conducted on privately-owned machines." The CEO of one of the most crucial suppliers of electronic voting machines, Warren O'Dell of Diebold, pledged before the 2004 campaign to deliver Ohio and thus the presidency to George W. Bush.

Bush's official margin of victory in Ohio was just 118,775 votes out of more than 5.6 million cast. Election protection advocates argue that O'Dell's statement still stands as a clear sign of an effort, apparently successful, to steal the White House.

Among other things, the GAO confirms that:

1. Some electronic voting machines "did not encrypt cast ballots or system audit logs, and it was possible to alter both without being detected." In other words, the GAO now confirms that electronic voting machines provided an open door to flip an entire vote count. More than 800,000 votes were cast in Ohio on electronic voting machines, some seven times Bush's official margin of victory.

2. "It was possible to alter the files that define how a ballot looks and works so that the votes for one candidate could be recorded for a different candidate." Numerous sworn statements and affidavits assert that this did happen in Ohio 2004.

3. "Vendors installed uncertified versions of voting system software at the local level." 3. Falsifying election results without leaving any evidence of such an action by using altered memory cards can easily be done, according to the GAO.

4. The GAO also confirms that access to the voting network was easily compromised because not all digital recording electronic voting systems (DREs) had supervisory functions password-protected, so access to one machine provided access to the whole network. This critical finding confirms that rigging the 2004 vote did not require a "widespread conspiracy" but rather the cooperation of a very small number of operatives with the power to tap into the networked machines and thus change large numbers of votes at will. With 800,000 votes cast on electronic machines in Ohio, flipping the number needed to give Bush 118,775 could be easily done by just one programmer.

5. Access to the voting network was also compromised by repeated use of the same user IDs combined with easily guessed passwords. So even relatively amateur hackers could have gained access to and altered the Ohio vote tallies.

6. The locks protecting access to the system were easily picked and keys were simple to copy, meaning, again, getting into the system was an easy matter.

7. One DRE model was shown to have been networked in such a rudimentary fashion that a power failure on one machine would cause the entire network to fail, re-emphasizing the fragility of the system on which the Presidency of the United States was decided.

8. GAO identified further problems with the security protocols and background screening practices for vendor personnel, confirming still more easy access to the system.

In essence, the GAO study makes it clear that no bank, grocery store or mom & pop chop shop would dare operate its business on a computer system as flimsy, fragile and easily manipulated as the one on which the 2004 election turned.

The GAO findings are particularly damning when set in the context of an election run in Ohio by a Secretary of State simultaneously working as co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign. Far from what election theft skeptics have long asserted, the GAO findings confirm that the electronic network on which 800,000 Ohio votes were cast was vulnerable enough to allow a a tiny handful of operatives -- or less -- to turn the whole vote count using personal computers operating on relatively simple software.

The GAO documentation flows alongside other crucial realities surrounding the 2004 vote count. For example:

The exit polls showed Kerry winning in Ohio, until an unexplained last minute shift gave the election to Bush. Similar definitive shifts also occurred in Iowa, Nevada and New Mexico, a virtual statistical impossibility.

A few weeks prior to the election, an unauthorized former ES&S voting machine company employee, was caught on the ballot-making machine in Auglaize County

Election officials in Mahoning County now concede that at least 18 machines visibly transferred votes for Kerry to Bush. Voters who pushed Kerry's name saw Bush's name light up, again and again, all day long. Officials claim the problems were quickly solved, but sworn statements and affidavits say otherwise. They confirm similar problems in Franklin County (Columbus). Kerry's margins in both counties were suspiciously low.

A voting machine in Mahoning County recorded a negative 25 million votes for Kerry. The problem was allegedly fixed.

In Gahanna Ward 1B, at a fundamentalist church, a so-called "electronic transfer glitch" gave Bush nearly 4000 extra votes when only 638 people voted at that polling place. The tally was allegedly corrected, but remains infamous as the "loaves and fishes" vote count.

In Franklin County, dozens of voters swore under oath that their vote for Kerry faded away on the DRE without a paper trail.

In Miami County, at 1:43am after Election Day, with the county's central tabulator reporting 100% of the vote - 19,000 more votes mysteriously arrived; 13,000 were for Bush at the same percentage as prior to the additional votes, a virtual statistical impossibility.

In Cleveland, large, entirely implausible vote totals turned up for obscure third party candidates in traditional Democratic African-American wards. Vote counts in neighboring wards showed virtually no votes for those candidates, with 90% going instead for Kerry.

Prior to one of Blackwell's illegitimate "show recounts," technicians from Triad voting machine company showed up unannounced at the Hocking County Board of Elections and removed the computer hard drive.

In response to official information requests, Shelby and other counties admit to having discarded key records and equipment before any recount could take place.

In a conference call with Rev. Jackson, Attorney Cliff Arnebeck, Attorney Bob Fitrakis and others, John Kerry confirmed that he lost every precinct in New Mexico that had a touchscreen voting machine. The losses had no correlation with ethnicity, social class or traditional party affiliation---only with the fact that touchscreen machines were used.

In a public letter, Rep. Conyers has stated that "by and large, when it comes to a voting machine, the average voter is getting a lemon - the Ford Pinto of voting technology. We must demand better."

But the GAO report now confirms that electronic voting machines as deployed in 2004 were in fact perfectly engineered to allow a very small number of partisans with minimal computer skills and equipment to shift enough votes to put George W. Bush back in the White House.

Given the growing body of evidence, it appears increasingly clear that's exactly what happened.

GAO Report
Revised 10/27/05-
This is enough evidence to require a public investigation of the election of 2004. Of course, it is unlikely to happen, any more than it happened for the election of 2000. Unless, of course, the Democrats take one of the Houses of Congress in the November 2006 election.

Of course, even Jimmy Carter thinks that Bush stole the election from Al Gore in 2000. (Raw Story)

Friday, December 02, 2005

Abramoff likely to flip; Congressmen cower in hiding.

Jack Abramoff is likely to join his ex-Partner, Scanlon, as a flipped witness testifying against people who did him favors in exchange for the benefits Abramoff provided.

Some of those benefits (besides free golfing trips to Scotland and campaign contributions) appear to include obtaining lucrative lobbying jobs for ex-Congressional staffers.

The Carpetbagger Report discusses this and relates it to the K-Street Project.

Texas redistricting violated Voting Rights Act

Justice Department lawyers concluded that the landmark Texas congressional redistricting plan spearheaded by Rep. Tom DeLay (R) violated the Voting Rights Act, according to a previously undisclosed memo obtained by The Washington Post. But senior officials overruled them and approved the plan.

The memo, unanimously endorsed by six lawyers and two analysts in the department's voting section, said the redistricting plan illegally diluted black and Hispanic voting power in two congressional districts. It also said the plan eliminated several other districts in which minorities had a substantial, though not necessarily decisive, influence in elections.
Sad, but not surprising.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Short takes on Abramoff's corruption

Robert Sheer's new blog, Truthdig, has a listing of verious things that have come out in the Abramoff scandal.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Bush describes how to win in Iraq

Well, Bush gave a speech today that tells how we are winning and will win in Iraq. It is all going well, so right after the election in December, he plans on lowering the number of troops in Iraq. Great! We are winning and can get out and turn it over to the Iraqis!

Except... well, it isn't that clear. Everything Bush promised is something he has no choice except to do. We don't have the troops to keep the current levels there, so we have to reduce them. And... well, here it is. These are the limitations on our presence in Iraq.

The plan for withdrawal is already in place. We currently have about 150,000 troops in anticipation of the elections in December, and that is some from the previous contingent held over while the new guys coming in are arriving early.

Approximately 40% of the troops in Iraq are National Guard, most on second tours. By law, those troops cannot be activated for more than two years out of five. That means they are effectively used up unless Congress changes the law. They are already claiming it has been a backdoor draft. No chance of a change in that law.

That means a legal requirement to pull out 60,000 of the 150,000 troops. The new maximum will be about 90,000. That's the drawdown.

Certifications for capable Iraqi troops to replace them will be issued, no matter what the actual status of their training and equipment. Those certifications cannot be effectively questioned. Only the trainers really know.

The troops that are coming out will be primarily combat troops. There are several reasons for this. First, National Guard troops are overwhelmingly combat troops. Second, the Iraqi troops do not have competent support troops behind them. Third, removing the American combat troops will lower the casualty rate. Support troops can be withdrawn in Iraq to the hardened bases from which they can support the Iraqi troops with less danger.

This will be the pattern of the withdrawal. It has nothing to do with Bush administration decisions. It is all forced on them.

Most of this will happen next Summer so that the failures and increased civil war that results does not have a chance to become obvious to the American public prior to the November 2006 election.

This is all obvious. Bush is reacting to his limitations, and will try to make it look good for the election next year. If Bush can get past the election in 2006, it is unlikely that he will be impeached or forced out of office in his last two years of office.

The experience of Reagan is a precedent for that. The increasingly senile Reagan was not forced out in his last two year's because it was too near the end of his term and the machinations required to remove him would upset the American public too much, especially since he was the first Republican President elected after Nixon was forced to resign.

More about the growing civil war in Iraq

The LA Times offers a look at the Shia death squads that are killing Sunnis. Interior Ministry police officers asociated with militia organtizations appear to be retaliating against Sunnis. The Sunnis have long targetted Shiite civilians. Investigation is on-going to see if any of the participating police officers were trained by American forces.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Republican corruption is logical outcome of the K-Street Project

The widespread political corruption in politics is NOT just "the normal result of money in politics." That's the current talking point from the Republican party. This corruption which just caught Randy "Duke" Cunningham, cost him his seat in Congress and may cost him ten years in prison is the direct result of Tom DeLay's K-Street Project.

So what is the K-Street Project? Go read Emptywheel at "The Next Hurrah" for a refresher course.

Emptywheel also refers back to an important article by Nicholas Confessore.

Bush admin not sure how to handle Col. Wilkerson

Former State Department Chief of Staff Col. Lawrence Wilkerson has the Bush administration very much off balance with his insider criticism of the White House decision processes. Read the article at Steve Clemons' Washington Note.

How did the U.S. get into the detainee abuse problem?

The detainee abuse and torture problem came out of Vice President Cheney's office. They believe that "the president of the United States is all-powerful" and the Geneva Conventions irrelevant." This is what former Powell chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson says. He also says that President Bush was "too aloof, too distant from the details of postwar planning. Underlings exploited Bush's detachment and made poor decisions>"

This fits with the idea that Bush enjoys electoral politics and getting elected, but has no interest in policy or actual governance.

The following is from Steve Clemons:
Wilkerson blamed Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and likeminded aides. He said Cheney must have sincerely believed that Iraq could be a spawning ground for new terror assaults, because "otherwise I have to declare him a moron, an idiot or a nefarious bastard."

On the question of detainees picked up in Afghanistan and other fronts in the war on terror, Wilkerson said Bush heard two sides of an impassioned argument within his administration. Abuse of prisoners, and even the deaths of some who had been interrogated in Afghanistan and elsewhere, have bruised the U.S. image abroad and undermined support for the Iraq war.

Cheney's office, Rumsfeld aides and others argued "that the president of the United States is all-powerful, that as commander in chief the president of the United States can do anything he damn well pleases," Wilkerson said.

On the other side were Powell, others at the State Department and top military brass, and occasionally Condoleezza Rice, who was then national security adviser, Wilkerson said.

Powell raised frequent and loud objections, his former aide said, once yelling into a telephone at Rumsfeld: "Donald, don't you understand what you are doing to our image?"

Wilkerson said Bush tried to work out a compromise in 2001 and 2002 that recognized that the war on terrorism was different from past wars and required greater flexibility in handling prisoners who don't belong to an enemy state or follow the rules themselves.

Bush's stated policy, which was heatedly criticized by civil liberties and legal groups at the time, was defensible, Wilkerson said. But it was undermined almost immediately in practice, he said.

In the field, the United States followed the policies of hardliners who wanted essentially unchecked ability to detain and harshly interrogate prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, Wilkerson said.
Essentially, Bush with his attitude of disinterest in policy and his resultant inability to control his subordinates stated his policy which was promptly ignored by Cheney's hardliners.

Delegation doesn't mean giving orders and then ignoring what the subordinates actually do. It means giving assignments and checking on the results and how they were achieved. That is MBA 101. Apparently G. W. Bush missed that class.

Howard Dean is doing a great job as DNC Chairman

I frankly did not think Howard Dean would be as good a Democratic National Committee Chairman as Martin Frost would have been. I have been very pleasantly surprised by Dean.

Dean is key to the organization of the National Democratic Party, and of National fundraising. He is also key to the relationship of the national Democratic strategy to State party organizations. But Dean is NOT the national Democratic Spokesperson.

Right now Reid, Pelosi, Kerry and Gore are the closest we have to a National Democratic Spokesperson. After the November 2006 election, I see that role shifting to whoever the leading candidates for the Presidential nomination, with Reid and Pelosi as close seconds. Dean will almost be in that group, but not quite.

This is beneficial to us right now because it means the Republicans don't have a single target to "Swiftboat." As long as the media can't work up a media narrative that there are two opposing groups here, we are in good shape. Such a narrative needs to be avoided. A little conflict is OK, it will get media attention, but the conflicting parties need to kiss and make up publicly upon resolution of the conflict - and the conflict must be resolved, and be seen by Democrats to be resolved fairly.

It can't be imposed from a grand imperial leader as the Republicans do. We are Democrats, not subordinated Republican automatons reacting to the the all-knowing leader and reading the talking points of the day.

This goes back to the essential need for an organizational system that is both perceived as fair and that resolves conflict within the party. That is Dean's job.

As I say, the 2006 election is the trial run of the new Democratic Party, which at it's critical organizational core, Dean is responsible for creating.

I think he understands this. But what do I know, from here in Boondocks, Texas?

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Bush White House is no longer in touch with reality

Sy Hersh is reporting on how George Bush is making decisions regarding the war in Iraq. It is entirely faith-based and is impervious to facts and disagreement. The following is the transcript of Wolf Blitzer interviewing Seymour M. "Sy" Hersh as reported in the Booman Tribune:

HERSH: Suffice to say this, that this president in private, at Camp David with his friends, the people that I'm sure call him George, is very serene about the war. He's upbeat. He thinks that he's going to be judged, maybe not in five years or ten years, maybe in 20 years. He's committed to the course. He believes in democracy.

HERSH: He believes that he's doing the right thing, and he's not going to stop until he gets -- either until he's out of office, or he falls apart, or he wins.

BLITZER: But this has become, your suggesting, a religious thing for him?

HERSH: Some people think it is. Other people think he's absolutely committed, as I say, to the idea of democracy. He's been sold on this notion.

He's a utopian, you could say, in a world where maybe he doesn't have all the facts and all the information he needs and isn't able to change.

I'll tell you, the people that talk to me now are essentially frightened because they're not sure how you get to this guy. [snip]

And if you're a general and you have a disagreement with this war, you cannot get that message into the White House. And that gets people unnerved.

BLITZER: Here's what you write. You write, "Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the president remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding."

Those are incredibly strong words, that the president basically doesn't want to hear alternative analysis of what is going on.

HERSH: You know, Wolf, there is people I've been talking to -- I've been a critic of the war very early in the New Yorker, and there were people talking to me in the last few months that have talked to me for four years that are suddenly saying something much more alarming.

They're beginning to talk about some of the things the president said to him about his feelings about manifest destiny, about a higher calling that he was talking about three, four years ago.

I don't want to sound like I'm off the wall here. But the issue is, is this president going to be capable of responding to reality? Is he going to be able -- is he going to be capable if he going to get a bad assessment, is he going to accept it as a bad assessment or is he simply going to see it as something else that is just a little bit in the way as he marches on in his crusade that may not be judged for 10 or 20 years.

He talks about being judged in 20 years to his friends. And so it's a little alarming because that means that my and my colleagues in the press corps, we can't get to him maybe with our views. You and you can't get to him maybe with your interviews.

How do you get to a guy to convince him that perhaps he's not going the right way?

Jack Murtha certainly didn't do it. As I wrote, they were enraged at Murtha in the White House.

And so we have an election coming up -- Yes. I've had people talk to me about maybe Congress is going to have to cut off the budget for this war if it gets to that point. I don't think they're ready to do it now.

But I'm talking about sort of a crisis of management. That you have a management that's seen by some of the people closely involved as not being able to function in terms of getting information it doesn't want to receive.
Essentially Sy Hersh is saying the U.S. is in a train that is going full speed on the wrong track, and the Engineer is blind drunk, has the door to the cab locked so no one else can get in to stop him, and he is speeding the train up to get to a utopian destination only he can see.

What services can a Congressman exchange for campaign contributions?

Mark Schmitt at TPM Cafe offers a description of some of the services that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, Rep. Bob Ney (R., Ohio), Rep. John Doolittle (R., Calif.) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R., Mont.) may have exchanged for campaign contributions, and an explanation of why it is hard to determine that they are selling their services.
As far as I can tell, in the whole web of corruption involving Abramoff, Scanlon, the tribes, David Safavian, etc, there's not one actual congressional vote or formally introduced piece of legislation to be found.

Instead, Ney and his colleagues operated by various methods that traditional approaches would never find, but which are plainly misuses of official power. They would try to slip provisions helping Abramoff's clients into the conference reports on legislation at the last minute, such as the provision helping the Tigua into the Help America Vote Act in 2002. It's often impossible to find the fingerprints on such provisions and they may well go unnoticed until after the bill has been signed. Or, they would use letters directed to subcabinet officials such as Interior Dept official Steven Griles. Although Griles seems to have been a cooperative ideological ally, even dispassionate civil servants jump at letters from members of Congress, even those that say no more than, "please look into this." And such letters are rarely public unless the member of Congress chooses to release them. As far as I know, a freedom of information act request to an agency asking for "all correspondence from Congressman X" is the only way to get them.

And then there is the most remarkable tactic of all, something like hiding in plain sight: Ney's insertion of statements into the Congressional Record attacking the then-owner of the SunCruz gambling boat company when Abramoff and his partners were trying to buy it. No one doing a traditional analysis of congressional power would pay a moment's notice to statements inserted in the Congressional Record, especially those not read on the floor. The Congressional Record is like a giant group blog, albeit of far less consequence. And yet, for someone relatively new to the U.S., as SunCruz owner Gus Boulis apparently was, the idea that the U.S. Congress seems to have officially condemned your business practices would probably be a hugely intimidating factor.
These are three ways a Congressman or Senator can sell the services of his office and normally not be caught. It is still selling the power of government for their personal gain.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The scam that got Sun Cruz Lines for Abramoff and Kidan

The sale of Sun Cruz Lines to Abramoff and Kidan was a result of the fact that Gus Boulis was not a U.S. citizen when he bought it. He was in negotiations with the Justice Department when Ohio Re. Bob Ney placed a statement in the Congressional record calling him a "Bad Apple." New was rewarded by Abramoff and Kidan by a $10,000 contribution in Ney's name to the National Republican Congressional Committee. This is from the article:
Washington prosecutors say the Republican lawmaker and others received "things of value" - golf trips, meals, campaign contributions - from lobbyists and their clients, mainly Indian tribes. South Florida prosecutors say Ney unduly influenced the $147.5 million SunCruz sale by using his congressional power to handicap Boulis in return for campaign donations from Abramoff, Kidan and others involved in the gambling cruise purchase.

Although Ney did not receive the $10,000 directly, investigators believe that SunCruz's donation in his name to the National Republican Congressional Committee amounts to an improper gift because the then-obscure Ohio congressman stood to gain in stature with the GOP congressional leadership, including House Republican leader Tom DeLay of Texas.

Ney, through a spokesman, denied any wrongdoing.

"We don't have any further comment on any aspect of the investigation other than to reiterate that Congressman Ney is cooperating fully with the Justice Department," Ney's spokesman, Brian Walsh, said Friday via e-mail.

SunCruz's contribution to the National Republican Congressional Committee in November 2000 was made seven months after Ney had condemned the company's founder, Boulis, in the Congressional Record just as he was trying to sell his fleet of ships to resolve a legal dispute with the Justice Department.

He was forced to sell because he was not a U.S. citizen when he acquired his fleet.

Just six days after the donation, Ney praised the new SunCruz co-owner Kidan in the same Congressional Record as a businessman with a "renowned reputation for honesty and integrity."
Scanlon was Abramoff's partner at this time and very likely will be able to testify as to what New was asked to do and what he received in return.

As a somewhat separate matter, Abramoff and Kidan are accused of forging a document that showed they were putting in some $37,000,000 towards the sale of the Sun Cruz Lines, which induced several banks to lend enough money to complete the sale. It is this fraud for which Abramoff has been indicted in Florida.

Who paid the killers of Gus Boulis?

Go read Talking Points Memo. Names that pop up include Abramoff, Kidan, Boulis, and House Rep. Bob Ney.

The story is far from complete right now.

How will Bush spin the withdrawal from Iraq?

The U.S, withdrawal will inevitably lead to a greater civil war than is currently the case. But it won't be reported as such until after the November 2006 election. Not with the reporters being targeted by insurgents and any imbedded reporters leaving with their units. What will happen between now and the November election? We will be pulling out as fast as possible, and there will be no significant reporting of the increased civil war.

Condi Rice has already stated that the Iraqi army is improving and that very soon the U.S. can start pulling out some battalions. That is a strong indication that there is very soon going to be a steady draw down from 150,000 troops in December to somewhere about 90,000 late next Summer.

The withdrawal of 60,000 out of the current 150,000 will be based first on the fact that 12,000 of the 150,000 currently there are the result of early deployment and delayed withdrawal because of the elections in December. The rest of the 60,000 will be because the Iraqi Army is allegedly becoming capable of handling the combat duties and replacing the American troops.

Mind you, the fact is and will be that the Iraqi Army is no better than when they recently stated only one battalion is capable of independent operations. They will be heavily supported by U.S. military all next year until the election. That fact will not appear in the news reports that state the Iraqis are taking over the combat duties from the Americans. But that will apear to meet the requirement Bush set to replace American troops with independent Iraqi troops.

Bush's metric is that as the Iraqi Army can handle the job, the U.S. Army will withdraw. Everything will be pushed and squeezed so that it looks like the Iraqis are carrying the load, but the U.S. troops will be right there to bail them out. That will be spun to say the Iraqis are doing it all themselves.

The image here will be of a successful Bush completing the job, not of Bush folding, cutting and running.

When Iraq collapses into civil war after the November 2006 election it will be spun as a result of the Democrats forcing us to pull too many troops out too soon and (if the Democrats gain control of one of the houses of Congress) it will be spun as the result of the Democrats not allowing the government to live up to the agreements to support the Iraqis.

The short result? We have destroyed our military ground forces in Iraq and have to get them out ASAP. We really have no choice, and will be paying for this adventure for at least a decade. The resulting failure and civil war in Iraq is going to be blamed on the Democrats.

Is oil really the reason we are in Iraq?

To some extent, yes. But the problem is not the Multinational corporations. The problem is American strategic considerations, both economic and international power politics.

The problem is Peak Oil and the competition with China (and possibly Japan) for imported oil. The second largest pool of oil in the world under Kuwait has just started to decline in the amount of oil it can pump. There are questions whether Saudi Arabia can increase production any more. In any case, they can't put out much more for certain. Iran has the second most total reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia and we are not exactly on the best of terms with them. We all know how the rapid Chinese economic development is sharply increasing their demand for oil and is expected to continue increasing it for the foreseeable future.

Supply is stagnate, demand is increasing and the two biggest demanding nations are the U.S. and China. China is going around the world locking up production contracts, and we know they recently tried to buy an American oil company with proven reserves in the Eastern hemisphere.

That really puts Iraq (with the next largest known reserves) in the crosshairs for both the U.S. and China.

This may be a large part of the (unstated) reasons we invaded Iraq when we did. Now put this together tje fact that the U.S. has to pull 60,000 troops out of Iraq in the next year because the National Guard providing 40% of the troops cannot by law be deployed for more than two years out of five. (That leaves 90,000) Put that together with the fact that the largest weakness of the Iraqis is lack of combat support, combat service support, Signal and Engineers. These are all long term developments that the Iraqis cannot at this time duplicate.

The bases we are building will be relatively secure for such American troops, allowing us to support the primarily infantry the Iraqis are training with our Transportation, Signal, Engineer, close air support, satellite Intel, and resupply and repair.

For the Shiites to go up against the Sunni insurgents, they will need the edge given by those support elements we supply. The Sunnis are primarily the previous Iraqi military with extensive prior combat experience, and more recently as insurgents They have operated on a pure meritocracy. Those who were successful are alive and those who failed died. The cream rise to the top under those circumstance. Politics aren't important. The Shiite military has not had such pressures on them and is not yet sufficiently trained and organized for combat to have weeded out the incompetent.

Yeah, I think that control of the Iraqi oil and keeping it from China, the Bush admin refusal to admit the whole thing was a fool's errand in the first place, and the requirements of the Shiite troops for American combat and combat service support will keep about 50,000 to 90,000 American troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

The multinational corporations will get profits from this, but the whole thing is not primarily for them. The key is the strategic need for oil by us and by China. This has both economic and international power elements.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Scanlon begins to talk in Abramoff investigation

Michael Scanlon, who was just convicted of one count of one count of bribery as part of a plea agreement has begun talking to the investigators. The extent of the Abramoff investigation is becoming more clear.

From the Wall Street Journal:
Prosecutors in the department's public integrity and fraud divisions -- separate units that report to the assistant attorney general for the criminal division -- are looking into Mr. Abramoff's interactions with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, Rep. Bob Ney (R., Ohio), Rep. John Doolittle (R., Calif.) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R., Mont.), according to several people close to the investigation.[...]

Prosecutors also are investigating at least 17 current and former congressional aides, about half of whom later took lobbying jobs with Mr. Abramoff, say lawyers and others involved in the case. Five of the former aides worked for Mr. DeLay, including Tony Rudy, Ed Buckham and Susan Hirschmann. The three were top aides to Mr. DeLay and are now Washington lobbyists.[...]

Mr. Scanlon pleaded guilty to a single bribery charge, admitting that he and Mr. Abramoff "engaged in a course of conduct through which one or both of them offered and provided things of value to public officials in exchange for a series of official acts," according to his plea agreement.

Mr. Scanlon said that beginning in January 2000 he and Mr. Abramoff offered Mr. Ney, a close ally of the House Republican leadership, meals, sports tickets, political contributions and a golfing trip to Scotland in exchange for a series of "official acts" that helped Mr. Abramoff and his clients.

The plea agreement, which refers to Mr. Abramoff as "Lobbyist A" and Mr. Ney as "Representative #1," states that the congressman put two statements in the House's official record in 2000 supporting one of Mr. Abramoff's business ventures. In June 2002, the lawmaker attempted to help Mr. Abramoff by trying to approve legislation that would have helped one of Mr. Abramoff's Indian-tribe clients win a license to operate a casino, according to the plea. That effort failed, and Mr. Ney says that he was duped by Mr. Abramoff.[...]

Mr. Abramoff hasn't been accused of any wrongdoing by the Justice Department. Earlier this year, he was indicted in Florida on fraud charges for his role in purchasing a fleet of casino boats that later went into bankruptcy proceedings. Mr. Abramoff was accused of falsifying financial information in order to secure the financing needed for the purchase. As part of his plea deal, Mr. Scanlon also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in the Florida case, the Associated Press reported.
It was this purchase of the Sun Cruz casino boats that connects Abramoff to the mob-style killing of Gus Boulis shortly after Boulis sold Sun Cruz to Abramoff and his partner Adam Kidan. Three mob-connected men have been arrested in Boulis' killing. This is the story from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
Boulis was ambushed as he drove his BMW in the 1900 block of Miami Road in Fort Lauderdale. A car darted in front of him and the driver slammed on the brakes, forcing him to stop. That's when a black Mustang pulled up beside him and someone inside fired several shots through the driver's window. The two cars then sped away.[...]

In court records publicly released Wednesday, Moscatiello incriminated his two co-defendants in the Boulis murder case, saying they both told him they carried out the hit on the business tycoon.[...]

Moscatiello, 67, said Fiorillo also told him that Ferrari ordered the hit after getting a call from New York businessman Adam Kidan, according to court filings. Kidan had been fighting with Boulis for control of SunCruz Casino[...]

Court records show that when Kidan ran SunCruz, the company paid $145,000 to Moscatiello's daughter and one of Moscatiello's companies, and an additional $95,000 to a company run by Ferrari. Kidan has said he hired the Moscatiellos for food and beverage consulting and Ferrari's company to guard his vessels.

Kidan has not been charged in Boulis' killing. Beyond Fiorillo's third-hand account of what Kidan allegedly said, the court documents reviewed Wednesday by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel made no direct link between Kidan and the slaying.
It isn't clear why Boulis was murdered, nor is there any indication that the murder is related to the Congressional investigations. However, it does show the types of people that Abramoff and Kidan have been involved with.

This is a continuing story. It will probably get a lot more interesting as it continues to be explored.