Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Relativity and Time Dilation

Just kidding... sort of.

I really thought I'd spend some good on-line time during my two weeks vacation - reading the news and blogging about everything and anything. Hasn't happened. My blogging desire was there - no doubt - but so many other things came along to fill up the time. Last minute Christmas shopping, wrapping presents, drinking eggnog, family, reading (ah... the joy!!), a little television, baking, cooking. Everything but blogging.

Somehow, in the swirl of the holidays and family and other crises (maybe I'll blog about that later), getting on-line and getting my thoughts and opinions written just seemed to take a back seat.

I hope those few regular readers will forgive me a little indulgence.

In that same vein, I'm off to a New Years Eve party this evening with my wife. The weather is supposed to be cold and clear. It will be a nice way to end the year and start the new one.

Happy New Years to all of you who drop by here. Health and happiness to you all!

Sunday, December 28, 2003

A Steak in the Heart

Normally a "stake in the heart" gets you thinking about vampires and young, vulnerable women in low-cut lingerie screaming in old, black and white horror movies. Lately, though, the horror has been at the thought of BSE infected beef making its way into the American food system.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy is a brain wasting disease in cows that can, on rare occasions, be passed on to humans in the variant Creutzfeld-Jacobs disease (vCJD). This disease basically eats holes in your brain - causing it to appear, in later autopsies to appear like Swiss cheese - until you lose all sense of self. And then you die. Nice, huh?

But we were told our meat supply was safe.

Earlier this week, when BSE, better known as "Mad Cow Disease," was discovered in a single cow in Washington state, the government at first said that the animal had been restricted in its eventual distribution; that it had all been recalled. And yet, many in the blogosphere had wondered whether the Bush administration - already shown to be rabidly averse to telling the truth about anything - might be understating the case. After all, only one tenth of one percent of beef is inspected... if one case had been found, how many others might be out there awaiting discovery? But no, the president was still eating beef in the White House.

Again, we were told our meat supply was safe.

Now we know that the original story was not complete. Of course, these stories take time to develop. The FDA had to try to trace the beef back to its source. But the cattle and beef industry had long ago decided that laws requiring traceabilty back to birth herds were too cumbersome and restrictive. So there was no easy way to determine where this one cow - then said to be a heifer (no offspring) - had come from. Then they said it was from Canada. Now we know that this cow had had at least two calves and its meat had been distributed far beyond what was originally stated.

And still we are told that our meat supply is safe.

I've always had great confidence in government agencies like the FDA. Sure they were over extended (much like our military), but they'd always done a masterful job of keeping our food supply among the safest in the world. But this maladministration has shown itself to be not beyond trying to spin even scientific evidence to fit its predetermined agenda - witness the disappearance of global warming from its reports and web sites, despite the fact that it has become "truth" in the scientific sense.

So, I have to wonder, what of the safety of our food supply under Shrubby and company? Surely everything they eat is well tested. The same with the new aristocracy of the well-moneyed. Why should they concern themselves overly with the slop left for the peasants? Keep the rest of us - including those overseas - from questioning the one thing that would likely get us all up in arms - food - and we will all remain, literally, fat, dumb and happy.

Until we begin to see cases of vCJD among the general public. And then it will be too late.

Is this just paranoia? It's hard to say from this point. It could be a general unease about such a horrible disease. It could be BushCo's past record of dissembling and outright lying. It could be the two glasses of wine I had with dinner. Regardless... you just have to wonder.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Merry Christmas/Happy NODWISH


Whoever happens to do a little blogabout today, I hope that you are well, safe and happy in your holiday celebrations.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

1,000 Visitors!

Sometime last night I got my 1,000th visitor to "The Fulcrum!"

It took a while to get there - since the end of July when I added a site meter - but there it is. Thanks to everyone who's visited and especially to those who've left their comments; like applause to an actor, it's what has kept me blogging all this (short) time.

I hope I've at least gotten some of you to think about things in a different way or to see a slightly different viewpoint. I know that I've learned lots from all of you.

What a great NODWISH present!

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

More Flying

Here's a photo of the helicopter I used to fly. It's not much to look at; the usual military olive drab, no weapons of any sort, it was underpowered and demanded a deft touch to keep out of trouble. But I loved every minute I spent with it strapped to my back!


U.S. Army OH-58 Kiowa observation helicopter.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Shopping Alert Level Orange

On my way back from Canada yesterday, the border guards had us open the back of our SUV to have a look inside. "Odd," I thought, "they don't usually do that." It wasn't until much later, when we'd lost the Canadian radio station we were listening to, did my wife and I discover that we'd come back to the US during an "Orange" threat level. But there was no more than that, just a quick look in the back window, the usual innocuous questions, and we were waved through. There didn't seem to be more than the usual number of cars pulled over for further inspection. But there it was; Orange Alert.

When I got home, we turned on the news to see if there had been something in particular that had caused the change - but all we saw was the mayor of New York City doing his, apparently standard, civic duty: Christmas shopping. Tom Ridge and Rummy have their vacations interrupted, they talk about al Qaeda pilots potentially flying for foreign airlines, and attacks as big as 9/11 - but their only advice to us is to shop, to go about our business. Apparently they have it all under control.

Of course, they still don't know where Osam bin Laden is. They won't say exactly what kinds of threats they are taking care of for us. But they do know that we should be shopping. We're no longer concerned citizens, no longer voters in a democracy; no, we are now strictly consumers. The engine of our economy. To be protected - to a certain point. To work as hard as we can - as long as we're needed.

But under no circumstances are we to be told any real information.

If you haven't listened to the Bare Naked Ladies latest CD (this really isn't off topic) you should. There's a great song on it called "Shopping." It was written with their typically wry humor specifically about Shrubby's exhortation since 9/11 that "everything will be alright, when we go shopping."

So, I'm back. Back to earthquakes in California. Back to Libya being our friend (didn't we just celebrate 10 years since Lockerbie?). Back to an Orange alert.

Back to shopping.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Minimal Blogging

We're heading up to Canada tomorrow morning - way too early for a weekend - to visit my wife's parents. There'll be no blogging until I get back; probably Sunday evening or Monday. The good thing is that today was my last day of work for the rest of the year. Until January 5, in fact!!

Everyone out there have a great weekend!!

See you when I get back!

P.S. In celebration of getting upgraded and to counter all the Friday Cat Blogging, here's a picture of my wife's Yellow Lab, Baylea, during warmer days here.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

The Wrights and Me

It's been 11 years since I last strapped myself into a helicopter; but I can close my eyes and it all comes back to me.

The smell of jet fuel and of hydraulic fluid. The smell of the plastic and metal inside the cockpit. I can still feel the smooth leather of my flight gloves, worn so often that they fit more like my skin than a piece of clothing. With my eyes closed I can reach out and know just where certain instruments and radios would have been, switches and knobs and circuit breakers. My hands know where to go to start the engine, to lightly hold the controls.

If I sit very still, I can hear how the turbine engine used to spin up in a high-pitched whine before roaring to life when I opened the throttle. And I can remember the exact cadence the aircraft used to bounce while the blades spun up to idle.The smell of burned jet fuel brings a smile to my face.

Finally - and most heart wrenching of all, even after so many years - my limbs and my brain still remember the tiny, coordinated movements it took to make the small helicopter I used to fly lift gently from the ground. I remember what it felt like to hang there, suspended below the main rotor, totally in control of a machine trying desperately to go in a hundred different directions; held there in one piece seemingly by main force of will. My will.

With the merest thought (or so it seemed after 1,200 hours of flight time) I could make 3,500 lbs of metal and plastic dance.
When most people think of flying their impressions are born of trips on an airliner; lumbering up through the clouds into the blazing blue and white of the stratosphere. When I think of flying, I see everything in shades of green. My favorite time to fly was at night; little or no moon was best - with just the stars bouncing their feeble light off the landscape and into those incredible, almost magical, bits of technology we used to call merely "goggles."

These were, of course, Night Vision Goggles; NVGs we used to also call them. Fabulous little tubes stuffed with high-tech stuck to the front of our flight helmets that turned night into a green-tinted ghost of day. With them on, I could fly, not through the clouds, but through the trees. Rotors spinning only feet or inches away from branches and leaves, rock and earth. My adrenaline would be pumping, sharpening my reflexes and my sight; my head would turn from side to side while my eyes picked out the least dangerous way.

And I was completely and absolutely alive.

Unless you've flown - and despite all the various kinds of pilots out there, there aren't really that many of us - you will never know that feeling. It's a feeling that I think about every day. Many times a day. Nothing can take its place, nothing will make it go away. (I won't go into all the reason here that I haven't flown in so long - although I will say that within the next year or so I will start again.)

This feeling, this love, for it is that, is what connects me to the Wright Brothers. And to every person who has ever left the solid earth in controlled, powered flight since that day, 100 years ago. More than any other group of people (save astronauts, gods to us mere demi-gods), pilots feel a sense of brotherhood. These are bonds formed between even people who have never met; forged in rigorous training, in self-discipline in the pure joy of flight. And that brotherhood, that camaraderie extends, in an unbroken line, from Wilbur and Orville to me.

If you've ever taken the controls of an aircraft, you know what I mean. If you never have you are poorer for that.

Bring Your Hardhat

If you visit here regularly - not that there are that many of you - you'll notice some changes happening. I'm making some minor adjustments to my blog; making sure that it stays "clean" and visually appealing.

I haven't decided whether to upgrade my account to allow me to upload pictures and graphics, so for now it's going to stay pretty basic. If anyone sees this blog doing anything odd, please let me know - I'm viewing it with both IE and Netscape (and probably pretty soon with one or more Mac-only browsers as well) and it looks okay; but you never know.

So, watch the dust and all the heavy equipment; and continue to visit and comment.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Sock Puppet Speaks

I got to see a little bit of Diane Sawyer's interview with aWol this morning. Three things struck me about his "performance."

1.That damned smirk; when it wasn't actually on his face it seemed he was having a hard time keeping it in check. Either he can't control himself or he really is an arrogant, uncaring bastard.
2. He sounds like there's a little tape recorder inside him, or a pull string on his back; he keeps repeating the same thing over and over - in exactly the same tone of voice, in the same order and seemingly without knowing what was coming out of his mouth. Saddam was bad, the world's better off without him, rape rooms. And it's his always including the "rape rooms" accusation that is the scariest - like it's the one thing he can definitely remember.
3. He admitted he lied. Not quite so baldly, but Diane asked him about the WMD claims and tried to get Shrubbie to distinguish between Hussein actually having had WMDs and there being the threat that he might acquire them. Bush said something that just chilled me:"What's the difference?" Now, either he really doesn't know the difference - a possibility I'm increasing likely to believe - or he does and is unwilling, in the context of the reason for invasion, to admit to there being a difference. I'm not sure which is worse.
Of the three, the last is the most serious in terms of implications for the future of our country. But the other two, to me, indicate that we really are, all partisan BS aside, saddled with an incurious, unintelligent, born with a silver spoon mamma's boy. He barely hides his contempt for the average person - not only in his smirking demeanor but in the policies he allows to be promulgated in his name. And he is so unintelligent that he can only parrot those key phrases that are placed in his head by his handlers; any attempt to speak off-the-cuff are consistently disastrous and only serve to make him look even less intelligent.

I came away from the segment of interview that I watched more convinced than ever that this man has been an absolute disaster for the US and that there is nothing more important than ensuring that he is voted out - along with his coterie of ass-kissers, boot-lickers, handlers, snake oil salesmen and puppet-masters - next year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Star Spangled Wingnuttery

Would you eat ice cream with names like these?

I Hate the French Vanilla
Nutty Environmentalist
Iraqi Road
Smaller Gevernmint
Gun Nut
A small ice cream manufacturer in Washington, DC makes these flavors. The last of which, "Gun Nut" was developed in "concert" with Ted Nugent and the company, Star Spangled Ice Cream Co. promises to donated a dollar for every quart sold to the Gun Owners Foundation Gun Safety Project. Some proceeds from the other flavors are donated to charities that help soldiers.

Now these are all worthy things to give to. But the flavor names; even if the company claims that they are targeted at Adults (which I don't know if they do), ice cream is eaten by kids primarily. What kind of ideas are they promoting to the next generation? Well, the company's web site carries the tag line: "Ice cream with a conservative flavor" (no link-love from me on this one). So that would be: hate people who give you good advice, rape and pillage the environment, government can do no good, guns are sacred.

Well, we are talking serious wingnuts here.

Have another ice cream cone.

My head hurts.

A Quick Bite of Apple

Just this (from the WSJ):

In a sign of strong demand for online music and related gadgets this holiday season, Apple Computer Inc. says it has sold more than 25 million songs through its iTunes Music Store, and some retailers are having a hard time keeping Apple's hot iPod portable music player stocked on store shelves.
While others are still trying, Apple has done what other on-line music stores and computer makers have failed to do: make buying music on-line easy and fun while giving the music buyer very good rights-to-use. It also didn't hurt that Apple made a version of its iTunes jukebox-and-music store-in-one for Windows. Not only does this enable Windows users to access the music store, but it also shows off Apples excellent software and graphic design as well.

Apple also made their iPod mp3 player Windows compatible. These are truly drool-worthy gadgets; with the largest capacity player holding 40 Gb or 10,000 songs in a very small package.

Ah... every day brings another reason I'm so glad to be using a Mac. Now if only I could use one at work!

Koufax Awards

I wasn't really familiar with the Koufax Awards over at Wampum so I was quite surprised when I received an e-mail from Dwight Merideth of Wampum. He let me know that I'd been nominated for Best New Blog and that he needed some representative posts.

When I went to Wampum to see who had nominated me, there was a name and an e-mail (but no web site) of the person who nominated me. I didn't recognize either bits of identification; so all I can say is thank you to Rod. I have no illusions about getting the nod for this award as I'm up against some really good blogs, but I have to admit that it was great being nominated.

Additionally, The Liberal Coalition was nominated for Best Group Blog.

So, while I really have no hope of winning this, it was very cool to get the nomination. Sort of makes all this writing seem just a little more worthwhile if someone I don't know thinks this blog is worth the award.

Now... Where Was I?

I took a bit of an unplanned break from blogging this past weekend. Other than my Sunday morning post about the capture of Saddam I just didn't get the chance to do any serious writing.

My wife and I had a great time at our company NODWISH party on Friday night, Saturday was spent in a mostly fruitless search of the mall for good NODWISH presents, and then Sunday... Sunday. Sunday we got about 14 - 16 inches of snow and it was one of those days where it was just much more fun to do a lot of nothing than it would have been to do anything in particular.

Anyway, Monday I spent catching up at work from being sort of unmotivated last week.

So.

Back to hopefully more blogging for a while. At least until this weekend when we'll be heading to Canada to visit my wife's parents. I probably won't get to do any blogging there; they have a computer, but it's old and slow and connected via 56k modem. I think I'll skip it.

Time to go have a look around the world and around my blogroll to see what's happening. Time to get motivated and inspired.

Time to blog!

Sunday, December 14, 2003

"We Got Him!"

All the majors are reporting that Saddam Hussein has been captured in a basement on a small farm outside of Tikrit.

This is excellent news. Iraqis who were fearful of participating in the new government because they were afraid of Hussein coming back to power will no longer have that to fear. Those who were fighting the "coalition" because they wanted to reinstall Hussein at some future point no longer have that possibility; those who fought just because they didn't want to be on the wrong side when he returned are also free of that threat.

It remains to see how BushCo treats this momentous event. If they have learned anything from their experiences in the Middle East - doubtful from their actions so far - they will treat Hussein with dignity and ensure that he is not roughed up by soldiers nor paraded before Iraqis in a humiliating way. Then they must - against all desire, I'm sure - put him before The Hague to be tried by an international court with as little American "taint" (to the Arab street) as possible.

A plan of action like that would go a long way to restoring all the good that could have come from aWol's excellent adventure. To do otherwise would be a further disaster.

Just a Reminder

If you're a non-Liberal Coalition member and you're reading this, I'd like to ask you to do me a favor.

It's very easy; no shopping through an Amazon link, no donations to anyone. I'd just ask you to check out a fellow member's blog: It's Craptastic! and his entry "What is the Point?" If you like the entry, please write a short post with a link to that entry so that it will be counted as a vote in the New Weblog Showcase at Truth Laid Bear. This post is just one vote out from first place - he could use the help.

Thank you for your support.

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Friday, December 12, 2003

The Big Dog is in the House!

Okay, not that Big Dog...

If you like the commentary and the doggerel of Steven Bates over at the Yellow Doggerel Democrat, then this is great news.

Steven has joined the Liberal Coalition as a part-time contributor!

He will bring a lot of class to what is surely a motley band of blogging liberals. Seriously though, make sure to check in with the Coalition as we have a growing group of very talented writers with some divergent and often pointed views all of which serve to further the liberal and progressive voice on the web.

We look forward to having the YDD joining our adventure.

What Planet Is the Wall Street Journal On?

Here's the headline from one of the WSJ opinion pieces today:

Keeping the Bush Boom Alive
Bush boom?

Did I miss something?

WTF?

Halliburton Gouging the Government

Please, tell me it isn't so! [mock horror]

I blogged about this more than a month ago but it seems the Pentagon and congress is just now figuring it all out(WSJ link, subscription required).

The Pentagon has launched a sweeping investigation of Halliburton Co. activities in Iraq and found evidence of "substantial overcharging" in $1.2 billion of fuel sales by the company once run by Vice President Dick Cheney.

An audit of fuel costs, which still isn't complete, found that the company may have overcharged by as much as $61 million for gasoline in Iraq, a claim that Halliburton denies.
While these allegations have been out in the open for quite a while, with the Pentagon and congress involved, the story may just get more traction in the press and in the public mind. Some of the Democratic presidential hopefuls are already making political hay from this - hopefully to good effect.

In a foreshadowing of the political uproar likely to erupt around the Halliburton allegations, Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean accused President Bush of standing by as "campaign contributors ... continue to overcharge the American taxpayers." Halliburton gave $708,770 in political contributions between 1999 and 2002, 95% of it to Republicans, according to the contributions monitoring group OpenSecrets.org. Of that, $17,677 went to support President Bush.

Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, another presidential contender, said "Vice President Cheney's former employer ... proceeded to bilk the American taxpayer for tens of millions of dollars."
It is issues like this that those hoping to oust aWol from the Whitehouse have got to use, to get into the voters' minds. The deep rooted cronyism and wide ranging corporate connections inside the administration, the constant lies about everything from WMDs in Iraq to just how great the so-called Medicare drug coverage will be for seniors. These are issues that will resonate with voters, but they have to be put out there by the candidates in a forceful manner. The usual soft peddling will not work - the right has become too loud, too shrill for that to work.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Blogabout

The farmer, at Corrente, has had enough of the Democrats' love of circular firing squads. Haven't we all?

Republican "astroturf" has got NTodd up in arms at Dohiyi Mir. Just above this post is an appeal from Dean's campaign to help negate said astroturf. Check it out.

Speedkill's Jeff has a hard time swallowing the fact that Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are training US soldiers on tactics to use to put down the revolt in Iraq. These happen to be the same tactics IDF are using on the Palestinians. Seems to have worked for them, no?

And finally (I really should get back to work) is the by-now almost-famous "Stranger's Law" from blah3:

"As a discussion of US politics grows longer, the probability of a liberal or progressive being called a 'Bush-Hater' approaches one. Once this occurs, that thread is over, and whoever called someone a Bush Hater has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress."

And renato's corollary (from the discussion thread):

"As a discussion of US domestic and foreign policy grows longer, the probability of a right-winger saying, '9/11 changed everything!' or otherwise using 9/11 as an excuse for the US to do anything it damn well pleases including killing thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, approaches one. Once this occurs, that thread is over, and whoever used 9/11 as an excuse for the Bush regime's innumerable lies, civil rights violations, and war crimes has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress."
And so ends my first - but not last Blogabout!

Atrios is On Fire!

If you haven't read Atrios' rant from yesterday, go now. Read it. Spread it around.

Just a sample:

...and another thing. Stop ceding the goddamn debate. Who here thinks Howard Dean can beat Bush? Why Ted, you ignorant slut, Fred Flintstone could take Bush with Barney Rubble as his campaign manager. Wesley Clark should stop saying that he needs to be the nominee because someone needs to be able to match Bush at foreign policy. What Clark should say is that Joey Tribiani could match Bush at foreign policy, though he, Clark, has the most experience. Stop acknowledging that Bush is strong on anything. He's a big loser. He's a miserable failure. He's lost 3 million jobs. He got us into a screwed up war. Our soldiers are being killed by terrorists. The Middle East is a mess. Afghanistan is a mess. OBL is alive. Hussein is alive.
Now get out of here! Go read the whole thing.

Rude, Crude and Socially Unacceptable

It seems that BushCo just can't help themselves. Is there such a thing as being congenitally rude?

The administration continued its apparent policy of pissing off anyone and everyone they can yesterday when the Pentagon announced that countries who didn't or won't send troops or lots of cash to Iraq are ineligible to bid on reconstruction contracts there. Even the Wall Street Journal, normally prostrate before aWol have had to admit that this is not the best move:

The Bush administration says it wants help in Iraq, but somehow it can't stop infuriating the countries that could shoulder more of the load.
To add insult to injury, the same day that the bidding policy was announced, Shrubby-boy was on the phone to some of the same countries his administration had just told to go pound sand asking for them to cancel the debts owed them by Iraq.

Apparently the leaders of these countries, Russia, France, Germany and Canada, among others were none too pleased about the situation.

President Bush heard the complaints first hand when he called the leaders of France, Germany and Russia to ask them to forgive Iraq's official debt. Speaking privately, officials said that the timing and tone was disastrous and certain to make it much harder to pry troops, aid or debt-forgiveness out of furious allies. But they said that the president had decided that the policy would stand.
Foreign leaders were not the only ones steamed by the decision, apparently plenty of Washington insiders were incensed as well.

This administration has hurt the US in so many ways. Their fiscal insanity has resulted in long term deficits that will take generations to pay down - if they can ever be completely paid off. Their divisive social policies have further opened the divide between the rich and the poor. An unprovoked war has forever stained the relatively unsullied history of our foreign policy and threatened to stretch our great military beyond the breaking point. The bullying way that they have ridden roughshod over our allies and international treaties and norms has fostered an anti-Americanism that threatens to linger long after Bush is a forgotten, doddering old man and that will endanger us at home and abroad for decades if not generations.

Whoever replaces him will have his work cut out for him. We can only hope that the replacement happens next year when the damage can more easily be repaired and before too many more Americans are killed or maimed in an unjust and illegal pre-emptive war.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

My Life Should be on Cable

I'm not sure why, but here's my results from the "What is Your Life Rated" quiz.


My life is rated NC-17.
What is your life rated?

Put the kids to bed...

The Cause of the Decline of American Morality

Every once in a while, the Right lets its true self show. It's not always pretty, in fact it's downright nasty at times.

I found this letter to the editor in the Opinion Pages this morning, and had to read it three times to make sure that I understood the point that the writer was trying to get across. I didn't have to re-read it because it was unclear, but because I couldn't believe that a modern, civilized person would make such a point. The letter was under the heading, "The Denial of Freedom to be Discriminatory," see if this makes your head hurt as much as it did mine:

Patrick Guerriero is certainly right that the Constitution was "designed to protect and ensure equal treatment for all Americans" ("'Til Death Do Us Part," editorial page, Dec. 4). But surely that referred to the principle of equal treatment as a matter of government policy. The reason that the social issues, such as gay marriage, are becoming so intractable is that equal treatment has been misread to require that individuals, too, be nondiscriminating. If they own businesses or apartment buildings, for example, they are no longer allowed to exclude those of whom they disapprove. Since it is through the personal freedom to make such discriminatory choices that morality-based institutions like marriage are formed, defined and enforced, the denial of such freedom has led inevitably to the confused moral morass we see today.

The reason we are now faced with having to decide as a matter of national policy what constitutes marriage, is that we have lost the freedom to make personal decisions on the subject. It is unclear if Mr. Guerriero considers our nation's Founders "real conservatives," but it is certain that all of them would be turning in their graves to hear that their Constitution requires acceptance of gay marriage.

Steve Wunsch
New York
Just focusing on the passage I've bolded above (I wanted to re-post the entire letter so I couldn't be accused of a lack of context), if I read Mr. Wunsch correctly, the reason for our supposed moral decrepitude is that we are no longer allowed to discriminate against people we don't like (especially if we have a business). And that such discrimination is the basis of morality-based institutions? Could I possible have read that correctly?

Of course this kind of thinking shouldn't surprise us - and yet it continually does - because the Right's not-so-hidden secret is that they have to appeal to the mouth-breathing hordes of racists and fundamentalists which comprise their base. Every once in a while, one of them figures out how to take pen (or keyboard) in hand and exposes that base for what it really is.

Bait and Switch - Part 3,457

Actually I'm not sure exactly how many times this administration has used the old bait n' switch, but I do know that the press has touted the bait and buried the switch every single time.

This time it's funds for AIDS and poverty. While able to find over $100 billion (and counting) for his boondoggle in Iraq, aWol can't see his way to ask for the money to fully fund his widely touted "Millennium Challenge Account."

Here's what the Wall Street Journal had to say this morning:

With the federal budget stretched to pay for the war in Iraq, tax cuts and homeland security projects, the White House has warned cabinet departments that the president's fiscal 2005 budget proposal will include $2.5 billion in new money for his Millennium Challenge Account -- an initiative to reward well-run nations in Africa and elsewhere -- and $1.1 billion in increased spending for international AIDS projects, according to people familiar with the president's proposals.

Combined with appropriations still awaiting final congressional action for fiscal 2004, those amounts represent just 18% of the $30 billion in spending increases that the administration has promised would take place by 2008. Should Congress fund Mr. Bush's request, it would effectively put off the vast majority of the promised spending until after next year's presidential election.
Just like the federal deficit, BushCo is effectively putting off paying the bills until "later." Whenever later happens to be. Our grandchildren will get to pay off the huge debts racked up by tax cuts and spending increases on corporate interests. So to will our children and grandchildren be forced to finally - and realistically - deal with AIDS and poverty.

"Seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many," Mr. Bush said in the State of the Union address.
Like other potentially historic opportunities presented to Bush, he has squandered this one.

"They aren't quite willing to put the money out there to match the rhetoric of the president's speech," said Steve Radelet, formerly the top Africa hand in both the Clinton and Bush Treasury departments.
Bait and switch has become the modus operandi of this administration. Trumpeting the first and burying the second has become the modus operandi of the press.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

NTodd Seen With Bill Clinton

Maybe the title caught your attention - good!

Somehow, NTodd over at Dohiyi Mir, is getting some "deep background" information that Al Gore's former boss, the Big Dog himself, will endorse Howard Dean soon. I had posted some time ago on somebody's comments that whoever was endorsed by Gore and (maybe or) Clinton would pretty much be able to sew up the nomination for the Democrats. I wish I had posted a copy here... I would have seemed so prescient.

So, NTodd, just who is your "deep throat?"

Whoever it is, I'm really hoping that NTodd is right and that we'll be hearing from Bill Clinton very soon, on a dais next to Dean.

Guilty Unless They Say So

In the down-side-up world of BushCo and Ashcroft, you are guilty until they say otherwise. Proof? Look no further than in the case of the former Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo's Camp X-ray, CPT James Yee.

Security at his re-entry point into the US was warned in advance to search him and his belongings carefully for unsecured classified documents. Something was found - supposedly - and CPT Yee was imprisoned for three months during the government's extensive investigation into the matter.

If there is one thing the government, and especially the military, take seriously, it's security. That doesn't mean they always do it well, but they do take it seriously. When I was still in the Army and had a Secret clearance, we had instruction yearly, I think, on ensuring the security of classified knowledge, papers and equipment. So I'm sure that the investigators looking into CPT Yee's transgressions were thorough.

So, was he tried on espionage charges? Was he tried on breach of security charges? No.

The government's case in Yee's court martial centered on charges of keeping pornography on his government issued computer and adultery.

Both of these are, indeed, infractions against the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). However, the definition of pornography is pretty broad; my guess is that it could have been no worse than you could download from Webshots to use as the wallpaper for your desktop. I have no proof of that, but given the rest of the government's actions, it wouldn't surprise me. And as for the adultery charge:

Army officials said there had been about 60 cases of adultery prosecuted in the last two years, always as part of some larger set of criminal charges, like rape. The military, in guidelines to commanders, suggests that adultery is principally a problem when it affects discipline and order as in cases where it involves people who are in a subordinate-commander relationship.
The emphasis above is mine and, as you might guess, CPT Yee and the lieutenant with whom he had an affair were not in a subordinate-commander relationship.

So, why prosecute CPT Yee? Maybe this gives a clue:

The military does not contend that either of those offenses is related to any security breaches but that they were violations discovered in the course of the investigation. But Captain Yee's civilian defense lawyer, Eugene R. Fidell, has said the charges were added vindictively as part of an effort to cover up the military's mistake and overreaction.
If they want you to be guilty, you will be guilty. Of something.

Collective Responsibility

Clonecone at It's Craptastic! provides a heartfelt and moving glimpse of how the loss of a single soldier from a small town should have us all contemplating our own culpability in what is done in our name. He's also my vote in this weeks New Weblog Showcase at Truth Laid Bear.

As members of a democracy - one still thriving almost despite ourselves - we have not only rights but also duties and responsibilities. No matter who you voted for the last time the polls were open (or even if you didn't' vote), our government represents all of us; you and me. As citizens we have the responsibility to ensure that our representatives hear from us, hear how we feel about what they do in our names.

Clonecone's post, "What is the Point?" makes this exact point in terms of the loss of a single soldier's life and the impact it has on him, even though he never knew Iowa National Guard Spc. Aaron J. Sissel.

Even though Clonecone didn't know him, even though I didn't know him, and I'm pretty sure that nobody reading this knew him, we all are responsible for his fate. No matter how small a part any one of us played in the death of this young man, an iota of responsibility in such a fate is almost too much to bear.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Conflicted Shopping

This weekend I finally got started on my Christmas shopping - NODWISH shopping per MercuryX23.

I love Christmas. I'm not at all religious, but I love the idea of a season devoted to doing nice things for people, giving gifts, spending time with family and/or friends. So my wife and I braved the cold yesterday and headed out to the mall.

As we walked around, chatting about who was on our list and what we thought they might like, we, of course, also talked about our budget for this year. Unfortunately, because we bought a new house this year (and this new house was bigger than our small, two-bedroom apartment and we had to furnish it), our budget is a little smaller than last year's. So there is definite pressure to keep the cost of individual gifts down as well as to limit the number of people who actually make the list.

That got me to thinking about how a family with a couple of kids and only one income or two smaller incomes might try to get through the same conundrum. Unfortunately, I know that they will be tempted - and in fact will likely give in to that temptation - to shop at Wal*Mart. I've posted about my feelings for Wal*Mart before, and I have a link in my sidebar "Boycott Wal*Mart." I know how it feels to be in that position. I know the pressure parents feel to provide the best Christmas they can for their children. I also know that they are in a trap. Not much money to spend on Christmas, no place to go to save money and get as much as they can for the kids except the execrable grey, big-box store.

What it gets them in the end, the reason it's a trap can be found in two great articles I found via Pen-Elayne. Both from the New York Times, one article talks about how the Ohio Art Co., maker of everyone's favorite toy - Etch-A-Sketch - had to move production to China in order to cut costs. Why was pressure on costs so high? They wanted to keep their product on the shelves of the largest toy seller in the country.

Toys R' Us? Nope.

Wal*Mart.

The other article discusses how the Chinese workers making Etch-A-Sketch are paid below the legal minimum wage in China (23 cents a day) and get below the legal overtime wages during their up-to 84 hour work weeks.

So what is the pressure that forces American companies to shut down production and lay off thousands of workers and forces Chinese assembly plants to treat their workers even worse than normal? This paragraph says a lot:

The toy survived into the electronic age because of nostalgia and clever promotions. But its appeal has continued, in part, because it keeps getting cheaper to own. It sold for $3.99 when it was introduced. If it had kept pace with the consumer price index over its 43 years, it would retail for $23.69 today instead of $9.99.
Wal*Mart: The retailer that goes back to its suppliers every year and asks "how much cheaper can I get your product this year?" The company that does not care that raw materials to make the product have gone up. The company that does not care that health care costs for the people that make the product have gone up. The company that only wants to "roll back" the prices every year. The company that offers "low prices, every day."

So the family that cannot afford to shop elsewhere is, unknowingly, contributing to the growing population of families unable to afford to shop anywhere else. Contributing, in fact, to the growing population of families that cannot shop at all for Christmas.

So as we made our way home with our bags, to our warm new house, my wife and I were happy that we were able to get gifts for our friends and family. We were happy that we were able to figure out a way to keep within our budget, without contributing to the further Walmart-ization of the U.S. We were glad that we weren't presented with such a choice.

Monday, Monday...

I was totally cut off from any news - good or bad - this weekend. No, I didn't lose power in the big Nor'easter this weekend, although thousands did. No, my cable wasn't down. I even got my newspapers this weekend on schedule.

My wife and I had some friends over on Saturday evening for dessert, drinks and some holiday cheer so Friday and Saturday were spent preparing; cleaning, baking, arranging, more baking, and Sunday was spent sleeping in and Christmas shopping. With all of that going on I didn't' have a chance to sit down to see what was happening, to take a quick spin around my blogroll. So I'm feeling a little out of touch this morning.

After months of perusing the news so assiduously, it actually was sort of nice not worrying about the next disaster or foul-up from BushCo.

After months of perusing the news so assiduously, it actually was sort of strange not knowing what the hell was going on in the world.

So it's back to work, back to the news, back to the real world!

Back to my diet.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Small Lies and Big

Remember the flap over the centerpiece turkey that aWol hoisted for his 2.5 hour photo-op in Baghdad? I know, it seems so long ago... something so small was stagemanaged by Rove to ensure the best possible photographs got back to Bush's sleeping public.

I remembered this incident this morning while listening to NPR on the way to work. Seems Bush has decided to rescind steel tariffs just a month after they were ruled illegal by the WTO. It would seem a simple enough matter to rescind the tariffs and let the country know that it was done with the best interests of the entire country in mind - and then lay out those reasons and interests, right?

Wrong.

Poor Scott Card gets sent out to the press pool with (supposedly) aWol's words on paper; the tariffs were rescinded because they'd done their stated purpose and now all is well with the steel industry. Thank you very much, vote for me in Ohio!

This administration has to put some kind of spin on everything they do. No statement can contain the complete truth. No utterance can be taken at face value. Not the small turkey, nor the large.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

We're Looking For a Few Good Liberals!

NTodd over at Dohiyi Mir decided earlier this week that there were several Liberal bloggers who were starting to coalesce into a tentative community of sorts. We visited each others' blogs pretty regularly and posted comments and linked to each other. It wasn't an exclusive kind of thing - we all have large blogrolls that overlap but also have some pretty wide differences. Anyway, NTodd decided that perhaps we should formalize this nascent community...

And so the Liberal Coalition was born.

Today marks the birth, if you will, of this new blog community. Like any new village, we are few in number and anxious to grow. If you think you might be interested in joining us as we begin our adventure in the blogosphere, rummage around our blogs (to the right --->), see if we are the kind of nutjobs you'd like to hang around with, and send NTodd or any one of us an e-mail. You might be our kind of liberal!

Long live the Liberal Coalition!

A Hair of the Dog that Blogs

Steve Bates over at "The Yellow Doggerel Democrat" has some great doggerel up today. As a southerner transplanted to western upstate New York, his rhyme - and the story behind it - makes me howl.

Go check out Vowel Movement.

Go Army, Beat Navy!

This weekend brings the next meeting in a long tradition; The Army - Navy Football Game.

As a West Point Graduate - but not-at-all a sports fan - I'll make every effort to catch the game; especially the beginning. The March-on; where cadets and Navy midshipmen will march onto the field and from there into the stands. The tradition is that neither school body will sit during the entire game. It's a great game, regardless of the outcome (although it's always better when Army wins) because of the history behind the game. And it has even more meaning to the thousands of graduates from both academies who will be watching because we know everything else that goes on behind the scenes.

These are not your regular NCAA teams, with players who most likely couldn't tell you what the inside of a regular classroom looks like. The cadets and midshipmen, while practicing and playing football, carry all of the military and academic burdens of their fellow students. For more on this, check out this very revealing article on Army Football players in today's NYT.

I never appreciated, as much as I should have, the history and pride of my alma mater for the first 10 or so years after my graduation. Going through the rigors of academy life and then 10 years of military service jaundiced my appreciation of what I had gone through. I'm starting to recover that appreciation and it shows up in strange - to me - ways; wanting to wear articles of clothing with the academy name or symbols on them, a thrill when I recognize a place or name related to the academy or my years there.

Anyway, this weekend, there will be soldiers and sailors all over the world who will make every effort to catch this game on TV or Armed Forces Radio. They will cheer on the team of their service academy, whether they've ever been there or not. And they will join a long, long line stretching back into history of soldiers and sailors who made the same effort. If you have the opportunity, you should make that effort as well. You will see the finest part of American youth taking part in a tradition that really and truly reflects so much of what makes this a great country and that is totally divorced from the vagaries and dangers that await them when they leave those hallowed fields.

Go Army!

Beat Navy!

History as the Right Would Have it Taught

I can't believe that this is a real news story, and yet, here it is. The lead paragraph:

A seventh-grade social studies teacher in Presque Isle (Maine - ed.) who said he was barred from teaching about non-Christian civilizations has sued his school district, claiming it violated his First Amendment right of free expression.
How could this outrage take place in this, the first decade of the twenty-first century? Exactly how you think; local fundamentalists have gotten themselves on the school board, which has the flexibility to modify the state curriculum. They have the support of some local ministers and threatened this teacher with the loss of his job if he kept trying to teach a more rounded history.

The school superintendent is not going to be any help - he may be part of the problem. Witness his reaction to all of this:

Superintendent Gehrig Johnson said on Tuesday that he had not seen the lawsuit, but he noted that the curriculum has been "developed by teachers across the district and adopted by the SAD 1 School Committee."

"Teachers are expected to follow the curriculum," he added.
Can you imagine how disadvantaged these kids will be when they leave this little enclave of the 16th century?

Story via Atrios.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

TTLB Ecosystem Vote

I always forget to check out what's new in the Ecosystem every week. So I'm sure I've missed linking to entries from blogs I like - or would like.

Anyway, this week I'm casting my vote by linking to a blog I just found this week, but have had fun reading. It's Mustang Bobby over at Bark Bark Woof Woof with his post: "More on Moore, Who is No More."

Please go check out this great post, and give Bobby his props on your blog.

Thank you for your support.

America is NOT a Christian Nation

I have started a post on this subject so many times - and discarded it every time. Now I don't have to. At least for a while.

Robert Carver, an historian from, of all places, Alabama has written a letter to the Illinois Leader, which professes on it's web site to be "Illinois' Conservative News Source."

Just a teaser:

As a historian, I am dismayed by the letters I see that proclaim that America was founded as a Christian nation. Ms. Wittman’s letter is typical of those who take quotes out of context and buttress their argument with quotes from those who had nothing to do with the writing of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
(via Tristero)
I'm not sure how long the letter will be left up, but you should go read it. It is excellent.

I only wish I'd written it.

C'est la vie.

China and Money and Asia - Oh My!

The New York Times gives even more reason to worry that aWol's tunnel vision on fighting "terra" has made the whole administration lose sight of the rest of the world. Looks like competition for oil is not the only thing we have to worry over China about.

Seems that as we focus on the Middle East and as BushCo talks only of the war on terror, China is stepping in where we are now afraid or too busy to go.

Karim Raslan, a Malaysian lawyer and writer who traveled to Washington recently on a Fulbright scholarship, put it this way. The American "obsession" with terror seems tedious to Asians, he said. "We've all got to live, we've all got to make money," said Mr. Raslan. "The Chinese want to make money and so do we."
China has lots of money to throw around in the region thanks to our penchant for wanting cheap goods - and hence our huge trade deficit.

Most disturbing for the United States, China's surging economy has much to offer America's most important Asian allies. Japan's rebound is being driven by a surge in exports to China. Australia's healthy economy is being kept that way by Chinese investments in liquid natural gas projects. China is now South Korea's largest trading partner.
Seems even our (formerly) staunchest allies are finding the flow of money from China too hard to resist. And what happens if - when - America remembers to pay attention to the Tiger of Asia? The prognoses are not hopeful:

"After Afghanistan, after Iraq, after bringing democracy to the Middle East, when the United States refocuses on Asia, it will find a much different China in a much different region," James J. Przystup, a research fellow at the National Defense University, wrote recently.

[snip]

...the more provocative Mr. Przystup counters, "Today, China is East Asia's great power."

Take The Pledge

In my sidebar, at right, under "Issues," you'll find a great new pledge. It was posted on Interesting Times and is meant to be posted and pledged on lots of liberal blogs and web sites.

Give Interesting Times a visit (link under the title "The Pledge." And if you agree with the pledge, post it yourself.

Pass the word.

China and Oil and The Middle East - Oh My!

A very worrying article in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) this morning on China's growing need for oil and how it could reshape the world-wide balance of power - especially in the Middle East - and how it could increase pollution concerns.

Some key paragraphs:

With its factories working overtime, and its consumers on course to buy almost two million cars this year, China is developing a world-class thirst for oil. And its hunt for steady supplies is reshaping the global energy market, the environment and world politics.

China -- which this year surpassed Japan as the No. 2 petroleum user after the U.S. -- is increasing its oil purchases even faster than it is pumping up its brawny economy. Imports for the first 10 months of 2003 are up 30% from the year-earlier period. The International Energy Agency expects imports to double to some four million barrels a day by 2010. By 2030, the IEA expects China to be importing about 10 million barrels a day, roughly what the U.S. brings in now. Domestic oil output, meanwhile, is flat.

From Houston to London to Moscow, oil companies are looking to secure market share in China, as China roams the world looking for oil fields to develop. Some fear that China, which doesn't have large strategic reserves of fuel, might grow so desperate for oil that it would battle the U.S. for influence in the Middle East or even trade weapons technology to terrorist states. Others are more optimistic, and think China will realize it has a vital interest in keeping the region stable.

[snip]

Meanwhile, China's mushrooming fleet of cars is adding to worries about this smokestack nation's impact on the environment. In the next decade, the number of cars on Chinese roads is expected to grow fivefold to 100 million, approaching half of the U.S. total, according to the Development Research Center, a government think tank. China is set to tighten its emission standards by 2005, and in 2008 it plans to introduce standards that could be even tougher than those in the U.S.

"If all our bicycles turn into our cars, that's a horrible figure," says Zhai Guangming, retired director of oil exploration at state-run China National Petroleum Corp. "It would scare the world."
Scariest of all was this historical comparison:

Still, many analysts are wary of a Beijing that could begin to feel boxed in by its energy needs. The study noted that China might emerge as a major arms supplier to the Saudis. Other analysts fear that China might be tempted to trade weapons technology for access to oil in countries such as Libya and Iran.

More than 60 years ago, another emerging Asian power felt squeezed on energy: Japan. The U.S. responded to Japanese aggression in East Asia by imposing a natural-resources embargo on Tokyo, which hit back by attacking Pearl Harbor.
I had thought of the problems with China's growing appetite for more Western amenities, especially cars, in terms of pollution. What had never occurred to me was what the need for all the gasoline to fuel all those cars would do to world petroleum markets. China's moves in the international sphere have never been transparent or particularly predictable. The thought of them competing for limited resources with the West and their historical tendency to deal with more unsavory powers and countries to get what they wanted is worrying, to say the very least. The thought of any of the more unstable countries in the Middle East with high-tech or nuclear Chinese weapons is too horrible to contemplate.

Yes, I know that Israel has nuclear weapons - and that doesn't help me sleep any better at night, either.

This situation needs close watching; with BushCo currently distracted by Iraq they've already shown they can't pay attention to more than one thing at a time - witness the backsliding in Afghanistan - I'm not confident this is getting the attention it deserves.

I hope I'm wrong.

Apropos of Nothing

I know I'm kind of late to the party - so to speak - on this, but I'm totally hooked on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

This show on the Bravo network is just pure fun. My wife says that I have a "very high gay quotient," which may explain part of why I love this show so much. Now, before anyone questions that, she means that I'm very good at cooking and decorating and colors. I do most of the cooking in our house and was definitely the major "decorator" in what we've done so far in our new house - including putting together some floral arrangements, making a dried greenery swag for our front door and coordinating our Christmas decorations.

If you don't know the premise of the show; five gay men come to the rescue of one life-style challenged straight guy. They redo his home/apartment, give him a new look, new clothes, and teach him a little about cooking and being more in touch with his creative or romantic side. It's fun, funny and surprisingly touching. At the end, most of the straight guys wind up if not a little misty eyed, at least touched by the kindness shown to him by the Fab Five. I'm sure it passes over most people, but it's an object lesson in the kindness that people of all persuasions should show each other. In these days of such hatred and bigotry on the part of those opposed to gay unions and to gays in general, The Fab Five can teach us all a lesson in kindness and tolerance and love.

Anyway, if you haven't seen the show, find the Bravo network on your cable system and check them out on Tuesday evenings at 10:00pm (EST and PST). The Fab Five will have you laughing like crazy and, maybe, just perhaps, a little better dressed.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Everybody's Got to Believe in Something

I believe I'll have another beer.

No, really... Hesiod has a great list today of "The Things You Have to Believe to be a Republican."

Go check it out - and make sure to add to the list in his comments section.

Diebold Backs Down

I haven't posted much about all the problems and concerns with electronic voting machines; others on my blogroll have covered it much more effectively. However, the WSJ had an article today stating that Diebold had backed off of its threats to sue anyone posting some information critical of the company that had been leaked by an employee.

This is excellent news and I hope that all of those who had been hard on the trail of e-voting irregularities will take heart at this announcement.

Stretched Past the Breaking Point

In a relatively unprecedented move - not publicly announced by the administration - the Wall Street Journal says that the Army is going to allow three complete divisions and an armored cavalry regiment to fall to C-4 readiness levels; that is, unprepared to go to war. This is as clear a sign as it is possible to get from this secrecy shrouded administration that our armed forces are stretched beyond their ability to quickly recover from missions.

By allowing units to drop to a level at which they aren't ready for war, the Pentagon is taking a calculated gamble that it won't have to fight a sudden war with a major force like North Korea on very short notice. "You are taking the risk because you don't want to take risk in some place like Iraq," Mr. Goure said. "You want to make sure those people have absolutely everything that they need."

Said one senior Army official who had been briefed on the plans: "This is a huge culture shift for the Army. We don't underestimate how difficult this will be."
This will allow returning soldiers time to be with their families and to take care of personal business before having to "recover" to higher readiness levels. Making this kind of concession to real life is remarkable for BushCo; doing so without letting anyone know (why or the implications) is more typical.

And of course, this kind of story wouldn't be complete without at least a small helping of hypocrisy on the part of aWol:

Still, the move, which hasn't been publicly announced, could have political implications for President Bush. As a candidate during the 2000 election, he harshly criticized the Clinton administration for allowing two divisions just back from missions in the Balkans to fall to C-4 levels.

Monday, December 01, 2003

The Press is Embedded

The full title of this post should be "The Press is Embedded in Government's Ass."

I'm not typically a fan of Naomi Klein. She's usually too quick to jump to the absolute worst assumption about everything; alarmist would be almost too mild a word. Unfortunately, recent history has given me way too many reasons to believe most of what's in her recent piece in The Guardian.

With the activists recast as dangerous aliens, Miami became eligible for the open tap of public money irrigating the "war on terror". In fact, $8.5m spent on security during the FTAA meeting came out of the $87bn Bush extracted from Congress for Iraq last month.

But more was borrowed from the Iraq war than just money. Miami police also invited reporters to "embed" with them in armoured vehicles and helicopters. As in Iraq, most reporters embraced their role as pseudo soldiers with zeal, suiting up in combat helmets and flak jackets.

The resulting media coverage was the familiar wartime combination of dramatic images and non-information. We know, thanks to an "embed" from the Miami Herald, that Timoney was working so hard hunting down troublemakers that by 3:30pm on Thursday "he had eaten only a banana and a cookie since 6am".
If her predictions come true, we can just kiss the ideals of a free and independent press goodbye.

In Russian, the word pravda means "truth." In the Soviet Union, everyone always said that there's no truth in pravda. Of course it doesn't translate well like that, but think about it.

We should just put most reporters into one big reporting pool and call it Pravda.

A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing

Back to work today. Back to the daily grind; and yet, nothing to complain about, not when I think about what our troops are putting up with.

The majority of the press continues to slobber all over aWol for slinking into and out of Iraq for Thanksgiving. As I said before, it was the right thing to do, but already I've seen Bush gladhanding it with the troops way too many times this weekend. Contrast his super-double-top-secret-lights-out-middle-of-the-night photo-op with Hillary Clinton's pre-scheduled, daylight, multi-day, multi-location visit to both Iraq and Afghanistan. Who's the brave one, again?

And you have to wonder about the timing of the latest big attack on US forces, after Bush's visit and a weekend that proved deadly for "soft targets" of coalition intelligence officers, diplomats and aid workers. Could it be a message to BushCo?

My favorite administration moment from this past weekend came during an interview with Rummy. Asked if all the coordinated attacks would cause them to change policies he answered - of course - "no." While the question and answer were specifically around "policy," you just know that Rummy meant "no" about changing anything. No matter the mess that Iraq has become, no matter that Afghanistan has started falling back into Taliban rule in all but the major cities; no policies will change, no strategies will change, no tactics will change.

Nothing will change.

We'll keep (not)seeing troops arrive home in flag draped coffins or in wheelchairs.

We'll keep seeing tax breaks for the rich and for businesses linked to the administration.

We'll keep seeing the wanton dismantling of the societal safety nets built up over the past several generations.

In other words, Rummy was trying to tell us that things are going just swimmingly for those of us who really count, so really, why should they change anything?

Everything is going just fine. Really.

Up is down. War is Peace.

Slavery is Freedom.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Troops Get Turkey for Thanksgiving

You all know what I'm talking about...

It was a great photo-op; and it really was the right thing to do. I guess that's why it surprised me. Unfortunately we'll be seeing those pictures longer than we saw the flightsuit photos. Endlessly.

Being ex-military, I know how much that meant to the soldiers in Iraq.

Now, how about those funerals?

Happy Thanksgiving

Despite all the things that we on the Left have to complain about, to improve on in the desire to protect and improve our society and country, we should not, on this day, forget all the things we have to be thankful for. Most of us probably have family around, lots of food and drink on the table and the ability to not only know what is going on in our country and the world, but to comment freely on them.

So as we contemplate how we could make things better, let's not lose sight of just how good they are already.

I hope that everyone who regularly reads my contribution to the national dialogue - or anyone who just drops by - will have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving. If you're not from the US, I hope that your day and week are full of things that you are thankful for. Don't forget to take a few minutes to think about those people and things that make you happy, don't forget to let those people know how much they mean to you.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends in the blogosphere!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Market Driven Health Care

After passage of the soon-to-be disastrous Medicare bill, aWol is crowing about the Repug stranglehold on the law making apparatus. And, as always, the Wall Street Journal joins in.

One of today's opinion pieces makes the hard sell - again - for a health care system driven by... what else... the free market. The author, Regina Herzlinger, is not a doctor, not a health care professional of any kind. She's not even an HMO or insurance company flack. Ms. Herzlinger is a professor of business administration at Harvard. Surprised? No? Me neither.

I won't go into a lot of detail about the article - it is the usual pean to free markets. What I will do is say one thing about what I believe a true, free market for medical care will get us all.

Porsche vs Yugo.

I don't believe that access to medical care is a fungible, consumer good; it is not just another discretionary purchase. For those who need medical care, that service is not readily exchangeable for another set of goods or services: if a heart transplant patient can't afford the suite of devices and services that treatment requires, he cannot either shop for something a little cheaper or decide to put it off and buy that new pair of sneakers he's been eyeing instead.

And yet a market driven health care system would treat people like customers instead of like patients. The "system" would offer all the best treatments with all the latest drugs and devices and would price them according to demand (and the cost of provision). Just like cars. You want that heart transplant which requires the latest techniques and devices? You can have it - as long as you can afford it. Yes, sir, here's your Porsche! Otherwise, save your pennies or you can mosey on down to the Yugo dealer down the street. They'll give you some aspirin, maybe. Or some generic drug that's three generations removed from the current one.

Is that how we want to treat our fellow citizens who need help? Is that how we want to be treated when we are in need? According to the Rethuglicans, yes.

Turns out accessible health care falls into the same category as international treaties like the Montreal Protocol (see the post below). It helps out mostly poor people. And we know what kind of deal BushCo likes to give them.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

"More Poor People Dying? Cool." - g.W.b.

In the vein of never meeting an international treaty he liked, read up on just one that aWol is trying to break; The Montreal Protocol.

But Punta Arenas is full of poor, brown people, right?

Three years ago, the mayor of Punta Arenas, Juan Enrique Morano Cornejo, succinctly summarized the effects on the hoi polloi of this kind of politicking. "Around here," he told me, "we call it the Ley del Gallinero" -- the law of the chicken coop. The law of the chicken coop turns out to be a lot like the law of gravity: Things fall downward, and for the chickens at the bottom of the coop, life is, well, kind of shitty.
Same kind of deal BushCo wants to give everyone: shitty.

Via Working for Change.

Cobalt Goes Missing in Iraq

If that headline doesn't grab you and send a shiver down your spine, you must be dead.

Read the full text in the NYT.

The lead graph:
A seeming lapse in surveillance by American forces has led to the looting of dangerously radioactive capsules from Saddam Hussein's main battlefield testing site in the desert outside Baghdad and the identification of at least one 30-year-old Iraqi villager, and possibly a village boy, as suffering from radiation sickness.
And the question everyone would like an answer to:
Under investigation is how American surveillance of the area, now under the control of the 82nd Airborne Division, failed to spot villagers entering the testing site with heavy vehicles to dismantle three of the poles, or towers, for scrap, leaving heavy tire tracks in the desert.
Possible answer:
Looting of military depots has been a persistent problem since the fall of Mr. Hussein, prompting suggestions that the 130,000 American troops in Iraq may be too stretched.
[UPDATE] I forgot to add that the Cobalt was all found but that several people in the local villages are thought to have radiation poisoning.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Freedom of the Press - Baghdad Style

Could this be the new model of a "free press" in the U.S.?

From CNN.com:

MOSUL, Iraq (CNN) -- The Iraqi Governing Council ordered the Arab language television network al Arabiya to shut down its operation in Baghdad on Monday, sending the Iraq Interior Ministry to the network's headquarters to "seize their uplink and transmission equipment until further notice."
I mean, we have been told that the U.S. is exporting democracy to Iraq, right? And while this was on CNN, the article was mostly about the incidents over the weekend (yes, I'm avoiding that for now...) it was rather a small part of the story. What I want to know is why this isn't seen as alarming to the media. Or at the very least, hypocritical given the whitewash of "exporting democracy" that the administration is slathering all over anything related to this adventure.

Now That's A New Drug I Need!

It turned out to be a case of misreading the lead paragraph in a Wall Street Journal story, but...

I thought the sentence read that a certain drug company was looking for FDA approval for "a new omnipotence drug." Of course that's not what it said at all. And, of course, the government would never let a drug like that out on the market even if they could invent one. And since the powerful are almost always the first ones with access to new treatments, I'm pretty sure in retrospect, that there was no such "omnipotence" drug.

I mean, really; do you think Bush has had access to such a thing?

But of course, reality intruded on my momentary lapse of reading comprehension. Thankfully I don't need the drug the article was really about!

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Compassionate Conservatism at Work

If you want to see just what an oxymoron "compassionate conservatism" is, check out today's editorial in the NYT by Nicholas Kristof.

He takes a look behind all the talking and negotiating ahead of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (F.T.A.A.) and exposes just one of the potential downfalls of poorly balancing the needs of people and the desires of big business. In this case, it's big pharmaceutical companies, but the message is the same regardless of the business:

Do we really want to place protecting the profits of a small group of already very profitable corporations over the lives of real, live people?

100,000 in 2005

A senior military official, speaking - of course - anonymously, said that there would likely be 100,000 troops in Iraq in 2005. This official was making assumptions about what the security situation would be like at that time and wasn't speaking for the president or any of his staff. However, that is a level which, by that time, would start causing serious problems with the National Guard and Reserves. The active component would be stretched seriously thin as well; that number is not significantly lower than the approximately 130,000 troops that are there now.

With all the effort going on now to train the Iraqis to take over security operations, and the administration consistently saying that our troop levels will depend on the security situation in Iraq, you'd think that BushCo would want a rosier picture painted to the public. 100,000 doesn't make me feel all warm and fuzzy about how secure things will be two years from now.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Wal*Mart - Again

From Damn Foreigner:

Fast Company has a great article discussing the implications for suppliers specifically and the economy generally in dealing with the colossus. The article, while pretty long, is a great primer for discovering the real costs to all of us of the Wal*Mart phenomenon.

A couple of excerpts to whet your curiosity:

Wal-Mart wields its power for just one purpose: to bring the lowest possible prices to its customers. At Wal-Mart, that goal is never reached. The retailer has a clear policy for suppliers: On basic products that don't change, the price Wal-Mart will pay, and will charge shoppers, must drop year after year. But what almost no one outside the world of Wal-Mart and its 21,000 suppliers knows is the high cost of those low prices. Wal-Mart has the power to squeeze profit-killing concessions from vendors. To survive in the face of its pricing demands, makers of everything from bras to bicycles to blue jeans have had to lay off employees and close U.S. plants in favor of outsourcing products from overseas.

[snip]

"People ask, 'How can it be bad for things to come into the U.S. cheaply? How can it be bad to have a bargain at Wal-Mart?' Sure, it's held inflation down, and it's great to have bargains," says Dobbins. "But you can't buy anything if you're not employed. We are shopping ourselves out of jobs."

[snip]

If Levi clothing is a runaway hit at Wal-Mart, that may indeed rescue Levi as a business. But what will have been rescued? The Signature line--it includes clothing for girls, boys, men, and women--is an odd departure for a company whose brand has long been an American icon. Some of the jeans have the look, the fingertip feel, of pricier Levis. But much of the clothing has the look and feel it must have, given its price (around $23 for adult pants): cheap. Cheap and disappointing to find labeled with Levi Strauss's name. And just five days before the cheery profit news, Levi had another announcement: It is closing its last two U.S. factories, both in San Antonio, and laying off more than 2,500 workers, or 21% of its workforce. A company that 22 years ago had 60 clothing plants in the United States--and that was known as one of the most socially responsible corporations on the planet--will, by 2004, not make any clothes at all. It will just import them.
(All emphasis is mine - Ed.)
And that's just the tip of this well researched iceberg of an article.

I think, though that for progressives of all stripes - and this will be my last quote from the article - the money quote, the one that should really make you think, has got to be this:

Wal-Mart has also lulled shoppers into ignoring the difference between the price of something and the cost. Its unending focus on price underscores something that Americans are only starting to realize about globalization: Ever-cheaper prices have consequences. Says Steve Dobbins, president of thread maker Carolina Mills: "We want clean air, clear water, good living conditions, the best health care in the world--yet we aren't willing to pay for anything manufactured under those restrictions."


A damning indictment, indeed.

Vague Memories of Dealy Plaza

I lived in Dallas several years ago and made the seemingly obligatory visit to The School Book Repository and its Sixth Floor Museum. I roamed the streets and grassy knoll of Dealy Plaza. It was an odd feeling, sort of like the feeling you get walking around the pyramids of Mexico or the battlefields of Chickamauga; a feeling of the weight of history on a place.

Unlike those other places, the traffic still flows through Dealy, drivers in their cars driving unnoticing over the small X's painted on the road where key points in that day's events - 40 years ago tomorrow - took place. Yet for all its "ordinariness," that weight is still there; above the street noise is a silence that is somehow louder than tires on asphalt or the roar of engines. It's hard to explain, but if you been to any site where history hangs in the air, you'll know what I mean.

When JFK was assassinated, I was not quite three years old. Yet, probably through some combination of actual memory of such a momentous event and the retelling of family stories, I seem to have vague memories of those days. What I think I remember is standing in front of the television - black and white - watching pictures of Kennedy's Caisson rolling up a street in Washington, D.C. I have no other memories so clear of that time, but there is a sense of confusion and sadness when I try to remember those days; when I try to see beyond the television images.

What informs the rest of my memories and thoughts on the assassination is what I've read on the subject, the investigative news specials, the Warren Commission reports, books. I've never subscribed to the more fantastic conspiracy theories that remain so popular and I've never had the desire to watch Oliver Stone's confabulation "JFK." But I do wonder. I wonder what the world would be like if Kennedy had lived; what would have been different. No-one can say, of course, with any degree of certainty. And I've always thought that "what-if" histories were a sort of mental self flagellation. But the thoughts are there, in the back of my mind.

What would have been different? What would have been the result if Camelot had been allowed to flourish?

The vision, the memories, the hopes for Camelot contrast so brightly against the despair so many feel today. The contrast of the idealistic, young, war hero Jack Kennedy - all his human foibles now known - with the shallow, corporatist, uncurious, duty shirking Bush is striking not just for it's dissonance. But also in how the two men affect(ed) those around them. In 1962 there were problems to be sure; but there was hope there was confidence that they could be solved: civil rights, the cold war and the growing troubles in South East Asia. Today there seems to be a growing malaise; of helplessness over problems seemingly too big for those in power to comprehend, much less to solve.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Administration Admits Iraq War Illegal

From Atrios: Richard Perle, no less, in a Guardian interview:

In a startling break with the official White House and Downing Street lines, Mr Perle told an audience in London: "I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing." [snip]

But Mr Perle, a key member of the defence policy board, which advises the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said that "international law ... would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone", and this would have been morally unacceptable.
The sheer chutzpah. Everyone opposed to the war has been saying this for months - and Perle just comes right out and admits it.

I only wish I could say I was shocked.

Maybe BushCo was tired of inventing new reasons why they started this war. WMDs didn't work, freeing the Iraqis didn't really cut it, the "Reverse Domino Effect" didn't really work either. So they just said "fuck it. We did it because we could. "

Go read Atrios, then head over the Guardian to read the whole thing.

Disgusting.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Rights

Civil Rights.

Equal Rights.

Women's Rights.

Gay Rights.

Basic Rights.

Human Rights.

Yesterday the Massachusetts SJC handed down a decision that said to the State Legislature that there are no good reasons to deny gays the same rights, privileges and obligations as straights when it comes to civil recognition of marriage. No sooner had the ink dried on the decision than the wingnuts were on the airwaves. They renounced judicial activism, they demanded amendments to the state constitution. And the reverberations were felt in Washington just as quickly with all the usual morons calling for an amendment to the national constitution.

I wrote a couple of months ago about all the hoopla around the confirmation of Rev. Gene Robinson as the first openly gay Episcopal Bishop. And I stand behind what I wrote then.

But I have to say that the backlash to the Massachusetts ruling still stuns me in some ways. If you were to substitute the word "Black" or "Hispanic" or "Women" or "Jews" into the ruling, nobody would blink an eye (well... there are a few white-hooded rednecks who might, but ...). Why is it that gays remain the last group that can be so openly hated and repressed?

On the way to work this morning all I could think was that the wingnuts who are so worked up over the issue of civil unions/marriages for gays are the same ones (or their children - the nut doesn't fall far from the tree, and all that) who wanted African-Americans to stay in the back of the bus or wanted women to stay home and out of the workplace. How, in this more enlightened age, these ideas can continue to thrive in some places and in some segments of society escapes me.

Maybe I'm too idealistic. Maybe I think too much of humanity's capacity for reason, for understanding, for love of fellow man. I hope not.

But there seems to be reason to despair.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Yes, I'm a Poet

Well, there should be plenty of scoffing over that statement, but check out my honorable mention in Todd's haiku contest over at Dohiyi Mir!

While you're there, check out the rest of Todd's blog. He's got some great stuff!

Now, off with you, go get some culture!

$700,000.00

$200,000.00 at breakfast.

$200,000.00 at lunch.

$300,000.00 at dinner.

$700,000.00

That was Cheney's haul yesterday in New York state. 700 people paid $1,000.00 per plate to have a meal in the same, large room as the veep.

I think I expressed my disgust at this yesterday.

Can you imagine the discussion these big donors and the Vice President must have had about Medicare or Medicaid? Can't you just hear the impassioned pleas to spend more to help those without health insurance?

[Crickets Chirping...]

Right...

Monday, November 17, 2003

Cheney Sighting

Seems Rochester, NY is now considered a "secure, undisclosed location." While listening to the radio at lunch-time today, I was reminded that VP Dick will be at a fund raising luncheon today in Rochester. It's part of an all day fund raiser in New York state; breakfast, lunch and dinner in three different cities.

Not that BushCo doesn't already have more money than all their adversaries combined; you can have a meal with Dick today for $1,000.00 a plate.

$1,000.00.

You can bet that that amount of smack will get you a meal in the same room as the veep, but don't bet on it getting you any say in what's going down in Washington. A measly grand doesn't compare to what the big corporations are funneling to the repugs... not to mention the Pioneers or the Cowboys or whatever in the hell the big contributors are called.

$1,000.00.

How much good would that money do if donated to a local charity? Not that our compassionate-conservative leaders would ever want any of their supporters cash going to those damned poor people or those friggin' cripples. They'll never make enough of themselves to ever be a real donor.

$1,000.00.

Imagine what a family living on the wrong side of the poverty line could do with that money. It would likely put food on the table for a couple of months or more. Maybe they could get their kids to the doctors finally. Perhaps it would pay for a month or two of medical insurance. It might even be enough to get their old car repaired and get an up-to-date state inspection. Maybe they could have a real Christmas for a change this year.

$1,000.00.

To BushCo a thousand dollars is not even a rounding error in their campaign "war chest." To the people who can afford to drop a thousand bucks for lunch it's small change. To so many others it could mean not having to choose between buying groceries and being able to buy vital medication

If you were to put it that baldly to someone at this luncheon today, they would look at you like you'd just spit in their food...

Rush to the Airwaves

Just in case you've forgotten - or really tried to avoid thinking about it - Rush is back today.

I wonder what he'll be like after his little "retreat?" Will he be contrite and full of empathy for the addicts among us now?

Sure. And monkeys will fly out my ass...

Two More Blackhawks Down

I just couldn't bring myself to post anything about the Blackhawks that went down this past weekend. 17 more good soldiers gone. 2 more helicopters wrecked. Just that much further mired in the wasteland of Iraq.

I've gotten to the point that when it comes to discussing the casualties I don't even know what to say anymore. The outrage is still there; the feeling that the sacrifice is for nothing. Rather than learning from its mistakes and changing directions in Iraq, BushCo may be on the verge of a modified "cut and run." But to change directions, to learn would be to admit to the error in the first place. And one thing that the folks in Washington seem incapable of doing is admitting to error. There are no mistakes in this administration, never anything to learn from. Faith-based administration requires only adherence to the first principles.

But even as I watched the pictures of recovery crews lifting the mangled remains of aircraft, knowing that if metal was so badly twisted and torn that the bodies of the soldiers and pilots were much worse; I just felt heavy. Like nothing I could do or say would make a difference. Nothing that is within my power would keep more soldiers from dying in the heat and sand and dust of Iraq.

So... rather than learning and adapting to the situation, it seems that Bush is trying to rush through the transition of power to the Iraqis so that he can have his homecoming parade footage for his re-election campaign. But Saddam is still out there, taunting Shrub. Remnants of the Republican Guard are still lurking in the general population; armed with heavy weapons, mortars and anti-aircraft missiles. Foreign Arab jihadists are coming across the borders to join in on the fun. And the Iraqis on the street are starting to really fear the reemergence of Saddam and the Baathists.

And we sit here at home, starting another week, continuing the horrible count of young soldiers killed or maimed. While the architect of this mess sits in the chair of the most powerful person on earth, counting his reelection money, barely aware of the massacre taking place under his direction.

Something has to give.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Reading the Papers

It's too bad aWol doesn't read the papers, this might give him some second thoughts.

If you read it, make sure you have a tissue...

Friday, November 14, 2003

Taking a Hard Right Turn

It seems that I need more time to sit and think about my posts on this blog...

I've been mulling over a rather longish post about how politics have changed in the past several years. About where the Right is leading us all; they have nearly all the power in Washington (and yet claim to be under siege), they have basically been given a pass by the media (that's the infamous SCLM) and they seem intent on taking us somewhere. Somewhere dark. Somewhere where there are no protests - can you say "First Amendment Zones?"

I had all these thoughts and was in the first, mental steps of organizing them...

And then I found this.

David Neiwert at Orcinus says it perfectly. Without hyperbole, well supported with links and facts. This is no rant, but rather a cold-eyed look at the hard right turn our country is being forced to make. A small sample of David's style and substance:

"What is becoming increasingly clear is that conservatives are less and less inclined to rely on "intellectual" or political exchanges, and are turning more to an eliminationist strategy that seeks to demonize liberals and make them social outcasts -- and concomitantly, acceptable targets for violence because of the "damage" they cause the nation through their ostensible treason.
Those of us on the Left, especially those of us who write openly, publicly about our distrust of and unhappiness with this administration must surely hope that Neiwert is wrong about the ultimate result of this trend.

Return to War?

I haven't seen it on any of the blogs I read and I haven't seen any kind of official announcement either. But this morning on ABC News, the talking head said that a military official in Iraq had confirmed that there were more operations in and around Baghdad last night against units of the "Republican Guard."

I'll try to find out some more about this, but this is something that I don't believe has been stated so baldly before.

In the past it has been Baathists and resistance fighters and foreign fighters and terrorists. But for the administration to let something like this out, seems to me, to be a subtle but important change. There has been talk over the past week that the military might be moving back towards more combat operations, and the attacks and bombings in the Sunni Triangle have sure looked more like what went on before May 1, than after.

An interesting turn of events, no?

[UPDATE]

I also forgot to mention that Central Command is so concerned over the way things are going in Iraq that Gen. John Abizaid is moving his HQ back to Doha, Qatar from Tampa, FL.

[UPDATE 2]

ABC News is now saying that one of the attacks last night was on a former Republican Guard warehouse. Hmmmm... interesting change of words. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

While it is necessary, if our military is going to stay, for them to try and stop these attacks, it cannot be done at the expense of the battle for the "hearts and minds." Otherwise, no matter how badly we defeat the insurgents/resistance, we will lose this war.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Justice is Done

At long last, Chief Justice Roy Moore is done. The judge who refused to remove a huge, granite monument to the Ten Commandments has been removed from the bench by the Alabama state judicial panel.

Read about it here.