Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Deep Throat Revealed

Memories.

Today's big news is that the identity of the Watergate scandal's biggest mystery man has been revealed.

Deep Throat, the secret source whose insider guidance was vital to The Washington Post's groundbreaking coverage of the Watergate scandal, was a pillar of the FBI named W. Mark Felt, The Post confirmed yesterday.

As the number two man at the bureau during a period when the FBI was battling for its independence against the administration of President Richard M. Nixon, Felt had the means and the motive to help uncover the web of internal spies, secret surveillance, dirty tricks and coverups that led to Nixon's unprecedented resignation on Aug. 9, 1974, and to prison sentences for some of Nixon's highest-ranking aides.

Felt's identity as Washington's most celebrated secret source has been an object of speculation for more than 30 years until yesterday, when his role was revealed in a Vanity Fair magazine article. Even Nixon was caught on tape speculating that Felt was "an informer" as early as February 1973, at a time when Deep Throat was actively supplying confirmation and context for some of The Post's most explosive Watergate stories.

For me this recalls the end of the first chapter of my interest in politics, which had begun with the McGovern campaign in '72.

Perhaps it was just teenage rebellion against my parents (both Republicans at the time). Perhaps it was the reaction of a newly self-aware person to the fact that his country was fighting an insane war and that, if it continued, it could well kill me. Perhaps it was my innate reaction to Nixon as a not nice person. Frankly I don't recall.

What I do recall is watching the Watergate hearings, and the sense of vindication I felt when Nixon resigned. "Don't blame me, I voted for McGovern" my bumper-sticker would have said, if I'd had a car, if I'd been old enough to vote in the first place.

Imagine, a time when just lying and covering up criminal activity were enough for a national scandal. Such innocent times.

Nowadays even the commission of crimes like torture, lying to Congress, and even starting an illegal war killing tens of thousands raises no more than a collective shrug.

And with the press dominated by their corporate ownership, the same corporations which own this President and this Congress, I expect no more than a collective yawn.

As well as the latest on Michael Jackson/Terri Schiavo/Robert Blake/Missing White Women/whatever the distraction du jour.

Deep throat, I miss you already.

Monday, May 30, 2005

National Fair Redistricting Bill Introduced

As any frequent reader will be aware, I've long been in favor of re-vamping the current politicized redistricting methods used here in California, as well as across the nation. In fact, though I disagree, one of the most common arguments I hear against fair redistricting here in California (yeah Wu Ming, I'm talkin' to you ;-) is that it disadvantages Democrats on the national level, i.e. with states like Texas bending its boundaries to suit GOPers, why should true blue California put its Democratic dominance at risk?

So I was very pleased to read from, first in the New York Times and (after a quick Google) at Carpetbagger, that a national fair redistricting bill had been presented to congress. Carpetbagger quotes from Roll Call (subscription only):

On the heels of the bitter Texas redistricting battle, a leading conservative House Democrat is going to war over the issue, introducing a bill to prohibit politicians from creating Congressional boundaries and to prevent mid-decade redrawing.

Rep. John Tanner (Tenn.), a leading Blue Dog Democrat who saw several of his Texas colleagues lose in November because of redistricting, will launch his legislation this week. The veteran Member is seeking to create national standards for redistricting that include the creation of nonpartisan commissions in each state to redraw Congressional district lines just once every 10 years.

Tanner said he's bringing his bill forward now because redistricting has become an overly political process, leading to a system that favors the extreme party wings and locks out input from average Americans. Majority parties in individual states can dictate election outcomes and set up a system in which Congressional districts no longer contain diversity — ideological and otherwise, he said.

"Politics has hijacked our democracy," Tanner said in an interview. "It's become an inside ball game — basically, the people be damned."
Sadly, even congressman Tanner believes his bill will be a non-starter in the Republican dominated House:
Tanner acknowledged that the bill faces little chance of passage this Congress, saying: "This leadership in the House will not let it see the light of day. They will probably try to choke it on the front end."
My hope is that fair-minded people from both the right and left will join me in calling, writing and emailing our representatives in favor of this startling bit of Congressional common sense. (Easy gateway located here).

Regardless of your political persuasion, gerrymandered Congressional districts work ONLY for the benefit of the politician, not the voter.

(Update: I realize a post calling for non-partisan participation which is immediately preceded by one calling for Bush's impeachment may not be the most effective political approach, but hey, I never claimed to be a politician).

Impeach George W. Bush

In an open letter Constitutional lawyer John C. Bonifaz lays out the case against Bush.

With Republicans dominating Congress, no-one beleives articles of impeachment have a chance in hell, but for the record read Mr. Bonifaz' suggested language:

Whereas considerable evidence has emerged that George W. Bush, President of the United States, has engaged in a conspiracy to deceive and mislead the United States Congress and the American people as to the basis for taking the nation into war against Iraq, that George W. Bush, President of the United States, has manipulated intelligence so as to allege falsely a national security threat posed to the United States by Iraq, and that George W. Bush, President of the United States, has committed a felony by submitting a false report to the United States Congress on the reasons for launching a first-strike invasion of Iraq: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Committee on the Judiciary is directed to investigate and report to the House of Representatives whether sufficient grounds exist to impeach George W. Bush, President of the United States. Upon completion of such investigation, that Committee shall report thereto, including, if the Committee so determines, articles of impeachment. [Emphasis mine]
Note that each allegation verges on common knowledge, and is far more reprehensible than the conduct of any recent president including Richard Nixon whose Watergate coverup sins were small potatos compared to the murder wrought in the name of national defense by this president.

I'm confounded as to which is worse, that the Congress will continue to shrug its constitutional duties, or that the media and the public will quietly accept such failure

Friday, May 27, 2005

Memorial Day

Your CaliBlogger is taking a much needed break this weekend and is taking advantage of the Memorial Day holiday to visit his folks in Palm Desert. My drive was uneventful and the dreaded Coachella Valley windmills were hidden by the dark (I NEVER make this drive -210 East, 57 South,10East- until late at night, it's the only sane thing to do).

But nevermind that. I just wanted to encourage both of my readers to take a moment and ponder, pray for, or give silence to (as you prefer, I'm severely ecumenical about such things) the meaning of the holiday:

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service.
And I would ask as well that you give a moment for those who are still at risk and dying because of BushCorp™ folly, both US and Iraqi.

Be careful out there.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

On American Gulags

I was blessed to be born in a beautiful city, in the richest state of the greatest nation on the planet.

And while San Diego, still beautiful if near bankruptcy, and California, still struggling to revive its once glorious educational system, no longer have quite the gleam of my youthful remembrance, still, the hardest loss is the dream that was the United States of America.

As President Bush has so frequently said, everything changed on 9/11. And on that day we began paying the price for the mediocrity of our leadership. But it was perhaps inevitably so. Though blessed by great forefathers, like so many children of the great, we latter Americans fall far short of the acheivements and ideals of our elders.

Today's Amnesty International report decrying various, undeniable US human rights abuses comes as no surprise, we've all been watching the news gather. What I find so disheartening is that it also destroys the last vestiges of the hope of American exceptionalism, that somehow, WE ARE DIFFERENT.

But no, when pressed, as with all regimes, past and present, the US behaves no differently than the merest flyspeck of states: round up the usual suspects, individual rights be damned.

A withered conundrum is this: how can a free nation combat an enemy without curbing its own freedoms, without echoing practices it would abhor in others?

The New York Times' Bob Herbert gives a sad accounting:

A recent report from Physicians for Human Rights is the first to comprehensively examine the use of psychological torture by Americans against detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The employment of psychological torture, the report says, was a direct result of decisions developed by civilian and military leaders to "take the gloves off" during interrogations and "break" prisoners through the use of techniques like "sensory deprivation, isolation, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, the use of military working dogs to instill fear, cultural and sexual humiliation, mock executions, and the threat of violence or death toward detainees or their loved ones."

"Although the evidence is far from complete," the report says, "what is known warrants the inference that psychological torture was central to the interrogation process and reinforced through conditions of confinement."

In other words, this insidious and deeply inhumane practice was not the work of a few bad apples. As we have seen from many other investigations, the abuses flowed inexorably from policies promulgated at the highest levels of government. [Emphasis mine]
Sadly, the United States has failed to answer that question affirmatively.

And that realization of our country's ordinariness I find a cause for despair.

The status quo cannot stand, and this is the test: will Americans finally demand those responsible for the atrocities at Guantanamo, in Iraq, in Afghanistan finally be held to account?

If not I fear we will be relegated by history to the dustbin of failed experiments.

And we will deserve no better.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Filibuster compromise

I'm reminded of a passage from Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. The day job of one of the evil Black Ajah is as a negotiator, which job, done successfully, she viewed as involving the even spreading of pain. As she very much enjoyed spreading pain she was extremely good at her profession.

So, one sign of successful compromise is that no-one, especially at the extremes, is especially pleased with the result, except, perhaps, that there IS a result.

So it is with the filibuster compromise. Liberals will rightly bemoan the appointment of 3 very poor appellate court choices, while the reactionary right will lament the lost opportunity for carte blanche judicial appointments.

And while the result of the compromise is hardly unambiguous (Dems can filibuster under extraordinary circumstances?!) still, the judicial filibuster has been preserved for the moment for use in the really big show, the expected summertime Supreme Court vacancy.

Which reason is why the worst losers are BushCorp™, Frist and the rest of the Dobson right. Even more than a fight between liberals and conservatives, this is a fight between the wingnuts and what passes for the moderate wing of the Republican party. Sens. McCain et al. have sent a shot across the bow of the wingnut faction.

So, welcome to the first volleys of Campaign 2008.

The Black Ajah would be pleased.

Newsflash: Congress not entirely in thrall of religious right

By passing the Castle-DeGette bill removing restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, the House demonstrated that it is not yet entirely insane. Good for them.

BushCorp™ scientist-in-chief George Bush has threatened to veto the law.

"This bill would take us across a critical ethical line by creating new incentives for the ongoing destruction of emerging human life," Bush said. "Crossing this line would be a great mistake."

On the House floor, Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) likened embryonic research to "killing some in the hopes of saving others."

Killing "some"? Killing what? Let us be clear. Yes embryos are destroyed in the process, but be clear, these embryos are not the cute little mini-humans of the famous Life magazine series:

The embryos being destroyed are called blastocyts. They consist of about 120 cells, and look like this:

So yes, I'm in favor of killing, murdering, assassinating any number of microscopic organisms if it means saving the lives of one of these:

Monday, May 23, 2005

Why I'm going to miss the New York Times Op-eds

Last week the Times announced that beginning in September it will start charging for online access to its editorial and op-ed columns. And although I sympathize with the paper's need to shore up revenues lost by its ever-shrinking dead-tree version, I believe that rather than charging for a here-to-fore free service, the Times would be better served by a better targeted advertising scheme. Be that as it may, I do not intend to pay to read someone else's opinions, no matter how well written.

Still, three op-eds from today's paper demonstrate why a subscription might be tempting.

By Bob Herbert, The Rumsfield Stain (and doesn't the title just say it all?) discusses the spectacular failures of Donald Rumsfeld's current stint as SecDef:

"In Iraq, more than 1,600 American troops have died and many thousands have been maimed in a war that Mr. Rumsfeld mishandled from the beginning and still has no idea how to win.

Potential recruits are staying away from the armed forces in droves… Parents from coast to coast are going out of their way to dissuade their children from joining the military.

The military spent decades rebuilding its reputation and regaining the respect of the vast majority of the American people after the debacle in Vietnam. Under Mr. Rumsfeld, that hard-won achievement is being reversed.

The insurgency in Iraq appeared to take Mr. Rumsfeld completely by surprise. He expected to win the war in a walk. Or, perhaps, a strut.

But Rummy's worst leadership failure is still just coming to light:

As if all this were not enough, there is also the grotesque and deeply shameful issue that will always be a part of Mr. Rumsfeld's legacy - the manner in which American troops have treated prisoners under their control in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. There is no longer any doubt that large numbers of troops responsible for guarding and interrogating detainees somehow loosed their moorings to humanity, and began behaving as sadists, perverts and criminals.

The catalog of confirmed atrocities is huge. Consider just one paragraph from a long and horrifying story on Friday by Tim Golden of The Times about the torture and brutal deaths of two Afghan inmates at the hands of U.S. troops:

"In sworn statements to Army investigators, soldiers describe one female interrogator with a taste for humiliation stepping on the neck of one prostrate detainee and kicking another in the genitals. They tell of a shackled prisoner being forced to roll back and forth on the floor of a cell, kissing the boots of his two interrogators as he went. Yet another prisoner is made to pick plastic bottle caps out of a drum mixed with excrement and water as part of a strategy to soften him up for questioning."

These were among the milder abuses to come to light. The continuum of bad behavior that has been a hallmark of the so-called war on terror extends from this kind of activity to incidents of extreme torture and death.

His colleague having summed up the Rumsfeld legacy, economist Paul Krugman follows by deflating the wingnut lie that Americans want to see our social safety nets dismantled:

After November's election, the victors claimed a mandate to unravel the welfare state. But the national election was about who would best defend us from gay married terrorists. At the state level, where elections were fought on bread-and-butter issues, voters sent a message that they wanted a stronger, not weaker, social safety net.

I'm not just talking about the shift in partisan alignment, in which Democrats made modest gains in state legislatures, and achieved a few startling successes. I'm also talking about specific issues, like the lopsided votes in both Florida and Nevada for constitutional amendments raising the minimum wage.

Oh my god, Americans have just turned into a nation of whiners. Why, oh why, when the economy's so good (that's what BushCorp™ and the Wall Street Journal say anyway) are so many Americans so nervous?

There's a very good reason voters, when given a chance to make a clear choice, increasingly support a stronger, not a weaker, social safety net: they need that net more than ever. Over the past 25 years the lives of working Americans have become ever less secure. Jobs come without health insurance; 401(k)'s vanish; corporations default on their pension obligations; workers lose their jobs more often, and unemployment lasts much longer than it used to.

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed what the pollsters called an "angry electorate." By huge margins, voters think that politicians are paying too little attention to their concerns, especially health care, jobs and gas prices.

(For more on why Wall Street's flying high while your life still sucks see the Times editorial here. Its main point is that the economic factors Wall Street corporate "persons" like to see have little or no relationship to the financial requirements of actual flesh and blood humans, a point I make here)

Finally, like a sip or port after a fine meal, Bruce Wagner pens a marvelous epyllion to the vapidity of Los Angeles politics and politicians. And although I don't entirely agree with his conclusions, I none-the-less delight in the manner with which he unfolds them, to wit:

Jim Hahn and most Los Angeles mayors are like that ghostly caretaker in "The Shining." Whenever there's a new mayor, the old one says to him, just as the ghost caretaker said to Jack Nicholson in the lavatory: "You are the caretaker. You have always been the caretaker."

I read somewhere that Jim Hahn said he is planning on running again or doing something absolutely psychotic like that, but no one knows how he would even do that or why he would, and as I am writing this I am even forgetting who he is and I am trying to remember who Antonio Villaraigosa is - I keep giving him the name "Vargas" in my mind, like the illustrator who used to do those pin-up paintings for Playboy, Alberto Vargas - but now I am remembering that he's the new mayor, I either dreamed that or it's true, and all any of us can do is hope that he will do something terrible or scandalous or flat-out crazy so we may always remember who he is and not think we are seeing his picture in a group photo in "The Shining" or starting to read about him in a newspaper that no longer exists and is crumbling in our hands before we can even finish.

Man I'm gonna miss this stuff.

[x-posted at Daily Kos]

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Universal Health Coverage: In Our Genes?

In today's NYT, Doctor and author Robin Cook argues that advances in genomic medicine will eventually demand the end of private health insurance. His argument is that as we increasingly succeed in using our understanding of human genes as a predictor of illness, the statistical models used by insurance companies to assign risk will become meaningless, or rather, too meaningful:

"Another, and possibly more important, negative consequence of this new ability to predict illness is the potential for discrimination in one form or another if confidential health information is released. Unfortunately the chances of such a breach of privacy occurring, despite lip service by politicians to prevent it legislatively, are probably inevitable. Not only is microarray technology easily accessible, but for-profit private insurance companies have strong incentives to use it to protect their bottom lines by denying service, claims or even coverage.

In this dawning era of genomic medicine, the result may be that the concept of private health insurance, which is based on actuarially pooling risk within specified, fragmented groups, will become obsolete since risk cannot be pooled if it can be determined for individual policyholders. Genetically determined predilection for disease will become the modern equivalent of the "pre-existing condition" that private insurers have stringently avoided."


And if everyone has a genetic pre-disposition for something, then private insurers would have to cover the insured ONLY for conditions they're unlikely to contract. (And don't think it mightn't come to that.)

But with the end of pooling risk within defined groups, there is only one solution to the problem of paying for health care in the United States: to pool risk for the entire nation…Although I never thought I'd advocate a government-sponsored, obviously non-profit, tax-supported, universal access, single-payer plan, I've changed my mind: the sooner we move to such a system, the better off we will be. Only with universal health care will we be able to pool risk for the entire country and share what nature has dealt us; only then will there be no motivation for anyone or any organization to ferret out an individual's confidential, genetic makeup.


So, in addition to being more cost-effective, fairer, and something a nation which thinks itself great should clearly provide its citizens, universal health coverage is an imperative of, if not genetics, genetic science.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Tazer coverup in Missouri

Apparently the "Show Me" state's motto doesn't apply to the Joplin MO Police Department. It's decided to change its policy to disallow information requests regarding officer involved shootings, classifying them now as a confidential personnel matter. I wonder why they changed their mind?

The reports had not been considered confidential as recently as about seven months ago. The Police Department had in October 2004 given the Globe its records about the use of Tasers in the wake of a house explosion that could have been triggered by use of a Taser.

The Globe's review of those reports showed that one officer, Charles Ward, accounted for 28 percent of the department's Taser deployments since the force adopted the weapon. From May 1, 2003, to Sept. 30, 2004, Joplin officers fired Tasers at suspects 88 times. Ward used the weapon 25 of the 88 times, more than any other officer.

In recent weeks, the Globe learned and reported that Ward and Officer Ron Buchanan were disciplined after questioning, handcuffing, and arresting an 11-year-old boy at his elementary school in November 2004.
It's so pleasant to see another state following Florida's lead in criminalizing pre-teens.

Quite clearly the Joplin PD wanted to keep the records secret because Officer Ward is no doubt up for a distinguished service award and they didn't want to spoil the surprise.

The phone number for the Joplin Police Department is 417-623-3131, or send them an email. Please feel free to let them know just how much you appreciate their efforts.

[x-posted at Daily Kos]

Meanwhile

In his continuing efforts to bring about the decline and fall of the American Empire, BushCorp™ chairman and chief science officer George "the jury's still out on evolution" Bush, has declared that he'll veto any legislation funding increased exploration of stem cells.

"I made it very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life — I'm against that," Bush told reporters in the Oval Office. "And therefore, if the bill does that, I will veto it."
Since the blastocysts destroyed to generate stem cells have the same level of consciousness as is found in a typical potato, Bush is also vowing to ban fries, whether the French, or even Freedom variety.

In a related story, South Korean scientists have announced that they've discovered an improved method for growing the potentially miracle-inducing stem cells:
THIS WEEK SOUTH Korean scientists announced an impressive breakthrough in the promising but still nascent field of "therapeutic cloning." Using donated human eggs and skin tissue from multiple patients suffering from various diseases or injuries, they were able to generate genetically individualized stem cell lines for each of the patients. These lines are capable of generating the specific types of cells that may be used in promising therapies for devastating conditions.
Which all goes to demonstrate that in its futile efforts to keep the US from falling into also ran status, BushCorp™ has been killing the wrong brown people.

And, apropos of nothing: OMG clones?! Best we grant Dear Leader unlimited power so he can fight this phantom menace!

Friday, May 20, 2005

They hate us for our freedom...to torture

In an astonishing report, the New York Times today frontpages a detailed account of two Afghani deaths at the hands of the US military:

Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.

The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.

"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"

At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.

Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time. [Emphasis mine]
Unlike Newsweek, the NYT is not relying on unnamed sources.
The story of Mr. Dilawar's brutal death at the Bagram Collection Point - and that of another detainee, Habibullah, who died there six days earlier in December 2002 - emerge from a nearly 2,000-page confidential file of the Army's criminal investigation into the case, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times. The report is a harrowing account of individual sadism and official malfeasance:

Like a narrative counterpart to the digital images from Abu Ghraib, the Bagram file depicts young, poorly trained soldiers in repeated incidents of abuse. The harsh treatment, which has resulted in criminal charges against seven soldiers, went well beyond the two deaths.

In some instances, testimony shows, it was directed or carried out by interrogators to extract information. In others, it was punishment meted out by military police guards. Sometimes, the torment seems to have been driven by little more than boredom or cruelty, or both.
...
Although incidents of prisoner abuse at Bagram in 2002, including some details of the two men's deaths, have been previously reported, American officials have characterized them as isolated problems that were thoroughly investigated. And many of the officers and soldiers interviewed in the Dilawar investigation said the large majority of detainees at Bagram were compliant and reasonably well treated.

"What we have learned through the course of all these investigations is that there were people who clearly violated anyone's standard for humane treatment," said the Pentagon's chief spokesman, Larry Di Rita. "We're finding some cases that were not close calls."

Yet the Bagram file includes ample testimony that harsh treatment by some interrogators was routine and that guards could strike shackled detainees with virtual impunity. Prisoners considered important or troublesome were also handcuffed and chained to the ceilings and doors of their cells, sometimes for long periods, an action Army prosecutors recently classified as criminal assault. [Emphasis mine]
Not surprisingly, the administration response has been underwhelming.
President Bush was "alarmed by the reports of prisoner abuse" and wants them thoroughly investigated, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said, adding that seven people are being investigated in connection with abuse at Bagram Air Base.

"What the military and what the president supported is investigations, holding people to account," Duffy said. "We've taken steps, we've taken new policies to ensure that this doesn't happen again, and we're holding people to account." [Emphasis mine]
Holding whom to account? Clearly such widespread abuse in places as distant as Bagram, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo speaks to a pattern rife within the military culture itself.

The few bad apples dodge is clearly coming to be seen as just that, a dodge.

Whether American credibility and international standing are damaged beyond repair remains to be seen. But clearly, efforts to merely pick off the low-hanging fruit by prosecuting only the young and undertrained soldiers of Abu Ghraib and Bagram will not be sufficient to clean the suppurating wound their actions represent.

The full NYT story is here. This is Pulitzer prize type stuff. Longish, but highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Pre-kindergartner packs heat

From Yahoo news:

AUSTIN, Texas - A pre-kindergarten student brought a handgun to school, where it was seized by a fifth-grader and turned over to the principal, school district officials said Tuesday.

The 5-year-old reportedly displayed the loaded weapon outside the Blanton Elementary School cafeteria where students were gathered before class. The fifth-grader recognized it was real and took it to the principal.
Wimpy liberal types might claim this an example of the gun-culture disease that's rampant in America. Not me though:
[I]nvestigators do not believe the 5-year-old intended to harm any students.

...Their conclusion is the child was not really aware how serious his actions were.
Really, give the kid a break, he was probably just confused and thought he was living in Florida and needed the protection.

Put up or shut up on the WoT

As reported in the WaPo, the capture of escaped anti-Castro terrorist,Luis Posada, poses an interesting question for BushCorp™: Does the War on Terror extend to all who use such tactics, or only those who use terror against nations we deem friendly?

Venezuelan officials demanded that Posada be extradited for a new trial on charges related to a 1976 bombing of a civilian airliner that killed 73 Cubans and Venezuelans over the Bahamas. And in Cuba, where 1 million people marched through Havana demanding Posada's arrest hours before he was taken into custody, top allies of Castro pressured the Bush administration.

"Now Mr. Bush has to prove he is sincere about terrorism," Parliament speaker Ricardo Alarcon told the Associated Press. "What the United States has to do now is clear: If there is a request for his extradition it has to attend to it according to its own laws."
Further complicating the issue is the politcally sensitive Cuban community in the uber-swing state of Florida which typically vehemenently opposes any move which might be seen as legitimizing Castro's rule. As has been observed, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom-fighter.

That this is a serious dilemma is indicative of BushCorp™'s failure to define it's War on Terror. Starting 9/12, the admin. sought to paint the significance of the 9/11 attacks with the broadest strokes possible in order to justify virtually any military escapade.

Posada represents an opportunity for BushCorp™ to, for once, do the right thing:
Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Program of the International Relations Center, writes that "the Bush administration should set ideologies aside and view the Posada case as a golden opportunity."

It is an opportunity for the US government to dispel widely expressed suspicions around the world that its war on terrorism has ulterior motives, and to stand on the principle that terrorism is a threat to humanity from across the political spectrum. It is also an opportunity to apply international law above geopolitical interests.
But given BushCorp™'s usual disdain for any law it finds inconvenient, and international law in particular, I suspect Mr. Posada's shadow will never darken the doorway of a Venezuelan courthouse.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Recruiting Sanity in Seattle

In what promises to become an increasingly contentious issue, the Parent-Teacher Association of Seattle's Garfield High School voted 25-5 in favor of a resolution denouncing military recruiting in public schools. From the Christian Science Monitor:

The school is perhaps one of the first in the nation to debate and vote against military recruiting on high school campuses - a topic already simmering at the college level. In fact, the Supreme Court recently agreed to decide whether the federal government can withhold funds from colleges that bar military recruiters.

High schools are struggling with a similar issue as the No Child Left Behind Act requires that schools receiving federal funding must release the names of its students to recruiters. Some feel that's an invasion of privacy prompted by a war effort that has largely divided the American public. Others say barring recruiters is an infringement of free speech - and a snub to the military, particularly in a time of war.
With military recruiters failing to meet goals and coming under fire for misrepresenting offers, such moves may become increasingly common.

Such local actions also call increased attention to one heretofore little discussed section of Bushcorp™'s vaunted No Child Left Behind Act: section 9528.

PublicEducation.org has an excellent summary of 9528 issues, but key are the provisions which 1) require all schools receiving federal funding to provide the military with students' contact information and 2) requiring parents to "opt out" of such disclosures.

Section 9528 is yet another example of congressional mis-representation, and Bushcorp™ disingenuousness. For while NCLB's merits as an approach to helping educate children are debatable, I can see no arguement that making your child more readily available as cannon-fodder (pardon me, IED-fodder) will improve educational acheivement.

Further:
Requiring parents to “opt-out” of having student records disclosed to the military—that is, allowing school districts to disclose student information to the military unless parents provide the school with a written request that information not be disclosed---is much weaker than the “opt-in” provisions of FERPA—which prohibits a school district to disclose student directory or records information unless a parent gives permission to do so.
What is called for, therefore, is for parents and students themselves to draw attention to Bushcorp™'s back-handed recruiting tactics. We must make sure that every parent who doesn't wish to see their children die defending the price of oil knows their rights, lobbies their congress-critters to have this provision revoked, and at very least exercises their right to opt-out.

[x-posted at Daily Kos]

Supporting Democracy...When it's convenient

From the Washington Post:

Not all rebellions against tyranny are created equal, it seems.

When the people of Ukraine took to the streets to overturn a rigged election, U.S. officials hailed the Orange Revolution.

When the Lebanese public rose up against Syrian occupation, a U.S. State Department official dubbed the movement the Cedar Revolution.

But when popular protests in the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan were violently crushed over the weekend by the government of President Islam Karimov, the Bush White House responded not with a media-genic brand name but with a mild statement urging both sides to show restraint.
Of course no-one not blinded to BushCorp™'s routine brand of self-serving sloganeering is surprised by this turn of events. Calls for Democracy and Freedom apply solely when it suits Bush's perceived short term strategic interests.

Want to increase the availablilty of local markets to US interests? Up the Orange Revolution!

Want to discomfit a recalcitrant rogue nation? Syria out of Lebanon! Go Cedar Revolution!

Want to maintain a US military presence in an authoritarian regime? Want to maintain relations with your islamic fundamentalist petroleum pusher? BushCorp™'s near silence truly deafens.

The latest episode in Uzbekistan demonstrates yet again BushCorp™'s hypocrisy, and further underscores the reasons for the US' lack of credibility in much of the world.

It's the logical corollary to Bush's "with us or against us" rhetoric: if the US isn't with you, then it's against you. And that's a lesson the world has long since learned.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Saddam Oil Kickbacks: U.S. Biggest Offender

In news that will suprise only Republicans, the biggest offender in violating UN snactions against Saddam Hussein was, drumroll please, the US.

A report released last night by Democratic staff on a Senate investigations committee presents documentary evidence that the Bush administration was made aware of illegal oil sales and kickbacks paid to the Saddam Hussein regime but did nothing to stop them.

The scale of the shipments involved dwarfs those previously alleged by the Senate committee against UN staff and European politicians like the British MP, George Galloway, and the former French minister, Charles Pasqua.

In fact, the Senate report found that US oil purchases accounted for 52% of the kickbacks paid to the regime in return for sales of cheap oil - more than the rest of the world put together. [Emphasis mine]

"The United States was not only aware of Iraqi oil sales which violated UN sanctions and provided the bulk of the illicit money Saddam Hussein obtained from circumventing UN sanctions," the report said. "On occasion, the United States actually facilitated the illicit oil sales.
So, yet another chicken comes home to roost.

First there was the Downing street memo revealing that BushCorp™ was cooking the intelligence books to jury-rig a case for war in Iraq. Now we learn that at the same time it was turning a blind eye to illicit US-Iraqi oil sales that would dwarf Kofi Annan's most terrifying nightmares.

And speaking of the UN S.G. who's been hounded by US conservatives for his almost certainly negligible involvement in the related UN "Oil for Food" scandal (sic), will those same critics now demand Bush's resignation as well?

And my, oh my, what will the Russians say?

BushCorp™: redefining American hypocrisy.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Nevermind

It's now being reported that the Newsweek report of Koran flushing, which report has sparked riots in Afghanistan and Pakistan resulting in 15 deaths, may be mistaken:

Newsweek Washington Bureau Chief Daniel Klaidman said the magazine believes it erred in reporting the allegation that a prison guard tried to flush the Koran down a toilet and that military investigators had confirmed the accusation.
Oops.

A couple of thoughts.

First I note that the mistake newsweek cops to is not that the allegations were false, but that they hadn't been confirmed by the military. While damning, the mistake would be more damning still if the US military was a bit more credible in investigating itself. The recent Abu Ghraib whitewash doesn't give much reason for confidence.

Second, as a blogger I'd be remiss if I failed to note, especially in light of the recent spate of "blogger ethics" hand-wrining by the SCLM, as far as I'm aware, no case of bloggerly mis-reporting has resulted in anyone's death.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Base Closure Blues

Mrs. CaliBlogger and myself are taking a break from the big city this weekend. We're visting my folks in Palm Springs. And although I don't have much time, what with our active social schedule of hanging out at the pool drinking margaritas, I can't help but making a brief comment on yesterday's base closure announcements.

By and large California fared much better than many feared, anticipating a bit of retribution for our staunch blueness, as well as our production of two of BushCorp's most outspoken critics, House Minority Leader Pelosi and Senator Boxer.

In fact Connecticut, home to notorious collaborator Lieberman was among the hardest hit. It just goes to show what playing ball with the Bushies gets you.

Nothing.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Afghan Rising

Apparently our model for mid-east democracy building isn't going quite as smoothly as advertised.

Afghans enraged by the alleged desecration of Islam's holy book at a U.S. prison staged a third day of violent protests Thursday, burning an American flag in the capital and ransacking relief group offices to the south as demonstrations spread to neighboring Pakistan.

Gee, American abuses, ignorance and arrogance biting us in the ass. Again?

Another (not) news item

Encouraged by their own efforts to dispute the newsworthiness of such things as suicide bombings, GOPers are now seeking to add another item to the "not news" column.

From the AP:

Some news outlets in northeastern Pennsylvania have declined to report on an encounter between a married GOP congressman and a 29-year-old woman, with one managing editor telling readers he didn't think the matter was "my business. Or yours."

"Where is the connection between the politician's private moral life and his public performance?" Lawrence K. Beaupre, the managing editor of The Scranton Times and The Tribune, explained in a letter to readers Sunday.
Of course some might say that an extra-marital affair between a leader of the "family-values" party and a much younger woman might be a tad bit newsworthy. But no, it must be a result of that dadgum elite liberal media bias. I mean there's NO WAY the SCLM (so called liberal media) would plaster a Democratic politician's extra-marital affair all over the front pages, right?

Of course the story had just a bit more going for it than just an affair involving a married GOPer pol:
After obtaining a tip and a police report, the Times Leader newspaper of Wilkes-Barre reported that police had been dispatched to 64-year-old Rep. Don Sherwood (news, bio, voting record)'s Washington home last September after a woman dialed 911 from his bathroom.

The woman told police Sherwood had been giving her a back rub and abruptly began choking her. Sherwood denied assaulting the woman.
Assault? Erotic asphyxiation? Who knows?

News? According to GOPer publisher, apparently not.

One wonders where the Republican effort to de-newsify information that's awkward for them will lead us. Perhaps the failure of White House officials to notify the president that the Capitol might be under attack is an honest indicator of what GOPers perceive to be newsworthy.

We now return you to our coverage of the Michael Jackson trial.

The Prez' Bubble

With his legislative disdain for any program that doesn't benefit the rich and powerful, the Prez is well known to be out of touch with the concerns of regular Americans.

Now it seems he's even out of touch with his own government.

As you're no doubt already aware, yesterday a private plane accidently wandered into DC airspace, triggering a rather sloppy evacuation of the capitol.

So after the brouhaha over Bush's inaction in the minutes following the 9/11 attacks you'd think a system would be in place to enable more immediate action, right? Wrong.

In fact Bush's handlers didn't see fit to interrupt his bike ride to inform him of what was then believed to be an attack on the nation's capitol.

Even winger pundit Joe Scarborough is flabbergasted:

"I don't get it. All of America is glued to their TV sets . . . you've got people rushing out of government buildings all across Washington, D.C., and you don't notify the president of the United States? For an hour? Until after it's all over? Because, what, you don't want to disturb his bike ride in Maryland? I'm sorry, I just don't get it. . . .

"After I watched '[Fahrenheit] 9/11,' one of the parts that made me the angriest was the part about 'My Pet Goat.' I thought it was a cheap shot. I said, seven, eight, nine minutes, big deal. But here you have an attack going on -- or something most Americans thought was an attack -- for 15, 20, 30 minutes and the president of the United States not notified. Why?"
My guess? The Prez' aides didn't want to see a repeat of their boss' "deer in the headlights" performance a la the My Pet Goat incident.

So instead of giving him a chance to further demonstrate his incompetence, they simply refused to give him the news. Expect to hear White House reports that the Prez would've jumped immediately into action, had he only been informed. Darned presidential aides.

Probably a good career move, taking a publicity bullet for the boss like that.

I have to wonder though, if the people who know him best can't trust the Prez with such news, what does that say about his ability to run the country?

But you already know the answer to that.

Iraq by the numbers

Read the article.

And weep.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

John Bolton: neocon, swinger

Folks seem to be getting their panties in a twist over Larry Flynt's allegation that BushCorp nominee John Bolton frequented the infamous Plato's retreat:

Corroborated allegations that Mr. Bolton’s first wife, Christina Bolton, was forced to engage in group sex have not been refuted by the State Department despite inquires posed by Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt concerning the allegations. Mr. Flynt has obtained information from numerous sources that Mr. Bolton participated in paid visits to Plato’s Retreat, the popular swingers club that operated in New York City in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Personally I don't see what the big deal is. As far as I can tell, the sex was at least between humans. Which, as far as I can tell, seems to be a step up for a lot of wingers.

Quote of the year (so far)

Via Dave Sirota:

"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are [a] few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."
- President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 11/8/54
Of course Ike also warned of the developing military-industrial complex and we all know that went nowh.... er, nevermind.

Mess O Potamia*

Oh the news just gets better and better:

Insurgents struck in northern and central Iraq on Wednesday in a series of bloody attacks that killed at least 79 people in three cities, and wounded at least 120 others, according to figures provided by the police and hospital officials. The attacks were a further intensification of a two-week-old onslaught by Sunni Arab insurgents who appear intent on destabilizing Iraq's newly formed Shiite-majority government.

In the deadliest attack, at least 38 people were killed and more than 80 wounded when a bomber detonated his vehicle in the main street of Tikrit, the Sunni Arab hometown of Saddam Hussein, about 110 miles north of Baghdad.
Gosh, I hope John Tierney isn't upset that I'm talking about another non-newsworthy suicide attack, but I have to wonder when does "insurgency" becomes "rebellion" and lead to "civil war"?

Of course, according to BushCorp™ logic (sic) the increasing level of violence is merely a sign of the rebels', er, insurgents', er, terrorists' increasing level of desperation. I guess that when they overthrow the current regime we'll really have 'em where we want 'em.

We'll be able to resume the air campaign.

(*With all credit and due respect to Jon Stewart)

More Victims of the Rapture Right?

Officials investigating the murder-suicides of DA investigator David McGowan and his family have found one tantalizing clue as to his motive:

"Woe is me. I am looking forward to seeing you in the next life," are the lyrics to the Los Lonely Boys song "Heaven" that were found at the scene.
Now I'm not claiming that the lyrics or the attitude caused the acts of an obviously sick mind. But I find it disturbing that such beliefs can so easily be twisted to accomodate the kiler's inner demons.

Is it any wonder then, that we in the reality-based community sometimes cast a wary eye at the words and deeds of those in the Rapture Right?

Another Republican Animal Lover

Well sure, its easy to be against abortion if you only have sex with animals:

Last night, anti-abortion extremist Neal Horsley was a guest on The Alan Colmes Show, a FOX News radio program. The topic was an interesting one - whether or not an internet service provider should allow Horsley to post the names of abortion doctors on his website. Horsley does that as a way of targeting them and one doctor has been killed. In the course of the interview, however, Colmes asked Horsley about his background, including a statement that he had admitted to engaging in homosexual and bestiality sex.

At first, Horsley laughed and said, "Just because it's printed in the media, people jump to believe it."

"Is it true?" Colmes asked.

"Hey, Alan, if you want to accuse me of having sex when I was a fool, I did everything that crossed my mind that looked like I..."

AC: "You had sex with animals?"

NH: "Absolutely. I was a fool. When you grow up on a farm in Georgia, your first girlfriend is a mule."

AC: "I'm not so sure that that is so."

NH: "You didn't grow up on a farm in Georgia, did you?"

AC: "Are you suggesting that everybody who grows up on a farm in Georgia has a mule as a girlfriend?"

NH: It has historically been the case. You people are so far removed from the reality... Welcome to domestic life on the farm..."

Now I'm not going to suggest that all Republicans are closeted homosexual zoophiliacs. Perhaps it's just their leaders and role-models.

Oh well, at least this explains the right's faschination with Ann Colter, er Coulter.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

At least its not South Pacific.... again.

Parents in the oh so upper middle class neighborhood of La Canada (it's where JPL lives) were aghast to learn that the local High School's musical production would be, gasp, Batboy:

Last week, detractors and supporters of "Bat Boy: The Musical," now in rehearsal, packed a meeting of the La Cañada Unified School District board. Worried parents asked officials to cancel the production of the satiric comedy about a creature who is half-human, half-bat. A representative of the conservative group Focus on the Family flew in from Colorado to speak to the board, which met on the campus.
Yes indeedy, no issue is too small for the dreaded FotFers to poke their thin white noses into. And no wonder why:
A couple who asked that their daughter's name not be used said she read the script because she had considered trying out for the show.

"She told me, 'There is no way I would be in this play,' " the mother said, adding that she believed the play's themes ran counter to her daughter's values and the family's Christian faith.
Just goes to show that for some people "Christianity" is an easy excuse for opposing whatever they want to oppose. When in fact:
"It's very unusual for anyone to be up in arms over 'Bat Boy' in high school," Flemming said in an interview. There have been about a dozen high school productions, including one last year at Jesuit High School near Sacramento. There, Flemming said, the musical was used by teachers to prompt discussion about tolerance and dramatic theory.
Sure, the Soldiers of Jesus have the balls to deal with tough issues, something little Susie Evangelical apparently isn't prepared for. I'm only guessing here, but she's probably ok with the incest, rape and murder, you see that stuff on TV everyday (especially if you watch Fox), but tolerance? Now that's too much to ask.

And finally, on the FotF factor, a little joke from the play's author:
On his website, Brian Flemming, who wrote the musical with Keythe Farley, thanked the board for supporting the drama department's decision to stage the play. "Apparently the drama students at the meeting were quite eloquent in defense of the freak (Bat Boy, not Dobson)," Flemming wrote, referring to Focus on the Family leader James Dobson.
And speaking of Dobson, if you don't tolerate the intolerant, does that make you intolerant yourself?

No More Bad News

Though not the intent of his article, NYT Op-ed columnist John Tierney, has perhaps suggested a solution to his paper's declining circulation: cut down on reporting bad news.

Specifically, Mr. Tierney suggests that the press generally should stop covering the increasingly deadly and frequent suicide bombings currently rocking Iraq. His point is this, with the bombings becoming a daily event, they're no longer "news". And worse, by reporting about such events, journalists are playing into terrorist's hands.

He also complains that reporting on such stories takes valuable journalistic focus from all the other positive stories that could be written about Iraq. A charming thought no doubt hailing from those heady days in 2003 right after the initial invasion, when reporters could still venture outside the "green zone". Not quite so applicable these days, when the only news coming out of Iraq is whatever's spoon fed to the cloistered reporting pool there.

But be that as it may, Mr. Tierney suggests that the public might welcome a break in all that icky bad war news. Which thought seems to be an organizing principle for the RWCM (right wing corporate media: MSM is just too generous). Else the 24/7 coverage on non-stories like "runaway bride" is inexplicable.

Resignedly, Mr. Tierney does acknowledge press responsibility to cover "suicide bombings in the Middle East, especially when there's a spate as bad as in recent weeks." Um, yes, a spate, I guess that might be news.

But doggone it, it's taking valuable airtime away from Michael Jackson trial re-enactments.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Celeb Blog Kick-off Today

Very interesting start today for Huffington Post. My favorite post is John Cusack's brief glimpse at Hunter Thompson's funeral. But the real meat of the day was the headline about the Saudi oil field Doomsday Devices.

Whether true or not, the brouhaha to come over this story clearly demonstrates one undeniable fact: The oil sheiks have us by the short and curlies and they aren't ever letting go.

And every day this country refuses to seriously address its oil dependence problem only tightens their grip.

Best of luck to Arianna and company.

U.S. Forces Launch Offensive in West Iraq

Christ. My head's going to explode. How can I root for our troops to get the fuck out of the country, while at the same time I hope they blow the motherfuckers all the way to paradise? Inquiring minds (sic) want to know.

Operation Golden Shower

The wisdom of the blogosphere yet again raises its very well-groomed head. At last, an Iraq exit strategy that everyone can love. DarkSyde's diary at Daily Kos:

Operation: Golden Shower, which doesn't get a single person killed. Instead of spending 100 billion for the privilege of being shot at and hated, we pull every GI out of Iraq except for pilots and crew of a small fleet of cheap propellor driven planes.

The Plan: Since Baghdad is the key to Iraq, all we have to really worry about is getting the Iraqi's in Baghdad to 'like us'. So every day we take about twenty planes and circle all over Baghdad with sacks of money and throw it out the window uniformly. We can use mostly one dollar bills, because that's enough for an Iraqi to live on for a few days, but mix in a few tens or twenties or even hundreds, just to add some excitement and fun. We can make it more fun by using the Cracker Jack marketing method of including some prizes with the money. Something like "This coupon entitles the bearer to a new US manufactured SUV or a four year degree at a major US University courtesy of the American Taxpayer."
Net dollar savings and no loss of life. Brilliant!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Evolution v. ID: The Mystery Unraveled!

There's been alot of jaw-boning about the credibility of Darwinian Evolutionary theory versus "Intelligent Design".

Stories of State School boards challenging the teaching of evolution have even made national headlines (though I personally question whether this is strictly "news". It's in Kansas after all).

Be that as it may, Dilbert© creator Scott Adams has a theory:

Sometimes my brain ties together things that are better left alone. Here are three things I've thought about recently:

  • Microchip designers often embed microscopic messages on the surface of the chip as a way of signing their work.

  • DNA has a lot of "junk" parts that don't seem to have any function.

  • A lot of people think evolution is obviously "designed" by someone.

  • I wonder if any cryptographers have looked at that junk DNA to see if it's a message from the designer. I'm guessing that it's a code that says something like, "I am Kaloopah, from the star system Nebulon IV. I have sent this evolution program into space as my eighth grade science project."

    Of course this doesn't address the "who created the creators?" thing, but Mr. Adams has an idea on that too:
    ...I suspect that the only way time can be infinite is if the past connects to the future like some huge Mobius strip-wormhole kind of deal. All you need to make this hypothetical system work is people like us who evolve and create new planets, who in turn evolve and create more new planets, until time loops back to our past and we get created again. In other words, we'd HAVE to evolve to the point where we could create a new planet or else we wouldn't exist in the present. Freaky, huh?
    Not convinced? Fine. But in Mr. Adams' defense I'll use one of the ID proponents' best reasoned arguments: Prove it ISN'T true.

    So there.

    Saturday, May 07, 2005

    Microsoft Switch

    Microsoft's renewed support for a Washington state gay rights bill from which it had earlier withdrawn its support represents, not only a victory for gays and progressives generally, but also shows the power the reality-based community can bring to bear.

    Too frequently in recent history both business and govenment have allowed themselves to be swayed by small but vocal and organized reactionary minorities, while progressive and moderate voices have been either disorganized or silent.

    But in this case the voices of the reality based community were neither, and the result is as we see it. Hope exists if the voices of the true majorities of this country speak up and speak together.

    Friday, May 06, 2005

    Monkey Trial Part II

    Never mind that in the year of our Lord 2005, the validity of evolutionary theory is being debated at all. Scopes II, being argued by the Kansas City school board, should be seen as a disaster for conservatives. From the WaPo article:

    In 1999, the Kansas State Board of Education, with a conservative majority _ which included Abrams _ deleted most references to evolution in the science standards. The next election led to a less conservative board, which adopted the current standards describing evolution as a key concept for students to learn before graduating high school.

    Last year, conservatives captured a majority again, and many scientists fear the board will adopt revisions supported by intelligent design advocates. [Emphasis mine]

    Were I a rational conservative I would be screaming like hell at these folks who are basically turning "conservative" into "flat-earther". As a progressive, I can only applaud the association.

    Thursday, May 05, 2005

    While you weren't watching

    You may have missed it, what with TV's wall to wall coverage of the MJ (I refuse to write the name) trial or the idiotic "Runaway Bride" coverage, but Congress last week fulfilled its arguably most important constitutional roll by passing a 2006 budget.

    Now politicians may complain about the press, but in this case the media have been especially co-operative in not exposing the travesties of the 2006 budget to the light of day.

    And why is the budget such a travesty? David Broder writes in today's Washington Post, on the US deficit:

    The budget envisages the national debt increasing by $683 billion next year; by $639 billion the second year; by $606 billion the third year; by $610 billion the fourth year; and by $605 billion the fifth year.
    On Social Security:
    What does the budget do for Social Security? It transfers the roughly $150 billion "surplus" in Social Security taxes over this year's Social Security payments to help pay the bills for this year's government spending and to finance the additional $106 billion in tax cuts the president wants to hand out. [Emphasis mine]
    Of course the press is perhaps to be forgiven their inattention given the bum's rush this $2.6 TRILLION spending bill ws given in congress.
    How much time did the House and Senate spend on the final budget plan? The agreement took up 36 closely printed pages of small type and columns of figures in the Congressional Record. It was finished on Thursday morning, April 28, and brought to the floor that afternoon -- thanks to a waiver of a House rule that such conference reports "lay over" three days so members can scrutinize them. The ostensible reason for the haste was that the Senate planned to take a week's vacation starting the next day, and the budget was already two weeks behind the statutory deadline.
    Yes indeedy, heaven forbid that congress put off a vacation for a day or two to fully consider its legislative duty. And besides, if their'd been time taken for real debate the press might have noticed (a guy can dream can't he?).

    To me, though, the most incredible part of this saga is the vote itself:
    This budget passed with only Republican votes, 52 to 47 in the Senate, and 214 to 211 in the House. And here's another thing you probably don't know. The 10 House members who missed the vote were seven Democrats and three Republicans. Four of the seven absentee Democrats are members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

    If all 10 had voted with their party, as was likely, this budget would have failed by a single vote. You have to wonder what important business kept these legislators away.
    The names of the absent congresscritters are: Clyburn (D-SC, Cunningham (R-CA, Doggett (D-TX), Filner (D-CA), Flake (R-AZ), Ford (D-TN), Jefferson (D-LA), Paul (R-TX), Rothman (D-NJ), Towns (D-NY).

    If one of the above happens to be your representative I urge you to contact them and ask.

    Wednesday, May 04, 2005

    Judge Rejects England Guilty Plea

    In a blow to BushCorp™'s efforts to scapegoat low level soldiers for the pervasive lawlessness encouraged by its pro-torture attitude, a military judge rejected Lynndie England's plea bargain agreement.

    Ms. England, the belle of Abu Ghraib, had agreed to plead guilty to seven of the nine charges against her in return for reduced sentencing. But the judge reviewing the case felt that the testimony given on her behalf more closely aligned with innocence, i.e. that given the prevailing attitude at Abu Ghraib Ms. England may have been acting in good faith and in accordance with a reasonable understanding of military procedure.

    The judge, Col. James L. Pohl, had expressed skepticism about England's plea since the proceeding began Monday. His decision to stop it followed testimony Wednesday morning from a former Abu Ghraib prison guard, Pvt. Charles Graner.

    Graner, a civilian corrections officer before joining the military, said that the widely circulated photo of England holding a naked prisoner on a leash was not abuse, but rather a standard method guards use to control unruly prisoners. He said taking photos to "document" prison incidents is also an approved technique. [Emphasis mine]
    Judge Pohl, has, in effect, opened the possibility that, for the troops on the ground in Abu Ghraib, the behavior seen in the famous photos might have been reasonable in light of the, um, relaxed, attitudes toward torture evidenced up and down the chain of command, up to and including the White House.

    I can hear the wingnut diatribes already. Heavens! Judicial activists have even invaded the military!

    This is a story to watch.

    Tuesday, May 03, 2005

    Just Say No

    Winger pundits and even some well intentioned moderates have been griping of late because the Democratic party has been unwilling to do anything but say no to the Prez' efforts to dismantle, er, "reform" Social Security.

    First, of course, the assertion is untrue. Democrats have floated a variety of ideas to strengthen the US' most successful government program ever: raising the income cap above $90,000, raising the interest rate paid on the Social Security Treasury Bonds, rolling back BushCorp™'s tax cuts for Paris Hilton and friends, that sort of thing.

    But even assuming that Democrats are currently the party of "no", why is that such a bad thing?

    It seems to me that stepping up to Chairman Chimpy and saying no is exactly what this country needs.

    The Chairman, the joke goes, was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. And that's just how he behaves. Born to a wealthy and powerful family, coddled through college, the National Guard, in business, the Chairman acts as though he's never been told no in his entire life. Talk about the law of unintended consequences. The whole "build your child's self-esteem regardless of his actual achievements" philosophy is usually attributed to we muddle-headed liberals. But its most notorious example sits behind the desk in an Oval office that seems to be sagging dramatically to the right.

    Chairman Chimpy is the poster child for unearned self-esteem.

    And so, when he proposes "fixes" which harm the middle-class ("progressive" indexing) or destroy the system he disingenuously claims he wants to save (privatization), the best, most important thing that a patriotic Democrat can do is say "No".

    It's like training a dog or a drug addict.

    That's a good boy.

    Monday, May 02, 2005

    BushCorp™ Adventurism Reduces Military Readiness

    It must signify some weakness of character, but I still register shock when a government official acknowledges a fact that is patently obvious to anyone paying the least attention.

    From the LA Times:

    WASHINGTON — The strains imposed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made it far more difficult for the U.S. military to beat back new acts of aggression, launch a pre-emptive strike or prevent conflict in another part of the world, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff concluded in a classified analysis presented to Congress today.

    In a sober assessment of the Pentagon's ability to deal with global threats, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers concluded that the American military is at greater risk this year than last year of being unable to properly execute the missions for which it must prepare around the globe.

    The assessment stated that the military is at "significant risk" of being unable to prevail against enemies abroad in the manner that Pentagon war plans mandate.
    Imagine that, over-extending US forces with our unneccesary excursion into Iraq has reduced US military readiness for places where it might actually be needed. Yes, even with a military budget equalling that of the rest of the world combined, U.S. military strength is still limited. Duh.

    So, not only has the ChickenHawk's grand scheme alienated the rest of the world, increased terrorism and cost the lives of tens of thousands of people (I'm inclined to stop differentiating between an innocent American life and an innocent other life), America's military readiness as a whole has been compromised.

    Now this news may not be wholly bad as it might serve to discourage similar adventures in the future. But the last I looked, the world truly is not a safe, and U.S. military might conceivably be necessary. This is just more evidence that BushCorp™'s illegally engaged and stupidly conducted invasion of Iraq further endangers the homeland it was sworn to protect.

    p.s. Do you feel a draft?

    Sunday, May 01, 2005

    Another Republican Investment Debacle

    Apparently Republican money mis-management doesn't just happen on the municipal and national levels, it happens at the state level as well.

    Q: What's stupider than investing $50 million in state pension funds in rare coins?
    A: Losing 121 of them.

    From the Toledo Blade:

    COLUMBUS - The number of missing rare coins purchased with state money controlled by local Republican fund-raiser Tom Noe now totals 121, documents obtained by The Blade show.
    ...
    The 119 missing coins are in addition to two coins worth $300,000 owned by the state that were lost in the mail in 2003, confirmed Jeremy Jackson, press secretary for the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.

    The state doesn't know what happened to any of the coins, Mr. Jackson said.

    The Blade first reported April 3 that since 1998 the bureau has invested $50 million in rare coin funds controlled by Mr. Noe, a local coin dealer and frequent contributor to local, state, and national Republican campaign committees.
    I just wish that when Republicans start talking about government being the problem, not the solution, they would make clear they're talking about Republican-run government.

    Mrs.CaliBlogger's Back at Home!

    After a few very scary days Holly's back at home and is doing very well indeed. Our lives this past week have been a nightmare of horrors, and will likely make a great story some day.

    But right now it's too soon for me to gather my thoughts on this in coherent form.

    In the mean time I'll be returning to the vastly simpler world of politics.

    Just a few quick thoughts on the past week.

    Arnie's reforms.
    The governator's recent set-backs seem to have demonstrated the dangers of running for office under false-pretences. He ran as a moderate, but as some previous Republicans (Pete Wilson comes to mind), felt compelled to make a stubborn right when in office.

    California, its population, and its legislature are still heavily Democratic. Arnold attempted and end-run by going directly to the people using ballot propositions. And while this worked with non hot-button issues like Indian gaming and (here in California) stem-cell research, Arnold's 2005 agenda was mistaken from the beginning.

    His ham-fisted approach was never going to fly when taking on the pension issues for some of the most powerful (and well-regarded) groups in the state: nurses, teachers, fire-fighters and police. For many Californians the movie-hero's attacks against these real-life heros would never fly.

    And not surprisingly Arnold's initial stubborn insistence on trying for re-districting by 2006 has apparently doomed this much needed reform to failure. Here I believe Arnold's political inexperience truly betrayed him.

    As the Prez has demonstrated, the easiest way to get difficult legislation passed is to put it's effective date at a point in the future where current politicians are unlikely to feel its effects. Had Arnold pushed for reforms to begin with the 2010 census he might, and may still, have better luck.

    San Diego Mayor Murphy's resignation.
    Before moving to Pasadena I lived most of my life in San Diego, and so have taken a bit of interest in the pension debacle facing my hometown (a nice rundown here). Some thoughts.

    One of the problems with paradise is that no-one really pays much attention until stuff goes wrong. That and Republican San Diego's continued faith in unregulated capitalism. So stuff simmers under the surface until it blows up. No-one questioned J. David Dominelli's ponzi-scheme while he was paying 50% interest and donating enormous sums to local charities to bolster his image until too late.

    And so it is with the current pension problem. In paradise only cranks complain, and so growing problems go unheeded by all but a few. And especially in a town where the media is as Republican as the government, no-one seems to have noticed the enormous deficits caused by San Diego's investment policies when the dot-com bubble burst. (No surprise BushCorp™ skipped San Diego on the Bamboozlepalooza tour. Even in heavily Republican San Diego the Prez may be unable to round even a few gullible souls to help him shill for Social Security privatization.)

    Mayor Murphy has apparently had the wisdom to recognize the Peter-principal as it applies to himself and resigned. He's to be congratulated for this. And after the requisite finger-pointing and name-calling I earnestly hope my old home town can get its ducks aligned.