Friday, March 31, 2006

Dean on Wiretaps

Not Howard, but John Dean, that is.

WASHINGTON - Nixon White House counselor John Dean asserted Friday that
President Bush's domestic spying exceeds the wrongdoing that toppled his former boss from power, and Sen. Orrin Hatch snapped that Democrats were trying to "score political points" with a motion to censure Bush.

It is a great, constructive addition to our national dialogue when politicians accuse other politicians of being politicians. I wish they did it more often.

Testifying to a Senate committee on Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold's resolution to censure Bush, Dean said the president "needs to be told he cannot simply ignore a law with no consequences."

"To me, this is not really and should not be a partisan question," Dean told the panel. "I think it's a question of institutional pride of this body, of the Congress of the United States."

Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said Feingold's resolution has no merit. "But it provides a forum for the discussion of issues which really ought to be considered in greater depth than they have been," Specter said at the session's open.

Great idea, Arlen! Maybe President Bush will read in Roll Call about the great discussion you're having, and decide to censure himself.

Feingold told the panel that censure is not only an appropriate response, but Congress' duty. "If we in the Congress don't stand up for ourselves and the American people, we become complicit in the lawbreaking," Feingold said. "The resolution of censure is the appropriate response."

Exactly. If the Senate is going to just let this one slide with mere "discussion," then it will have effectively relinquished its power to check the Executive branch. At which point Bush might as well just pull a Caligula and make his horse a senator.

But Hatch, R-Utah, said that passing a censure resolution would do more harm than good. "Wartime is not a time to weaken the commander-in-chief," he said.

Here we go with the wartime bullshit again. How does exercising constitutionally-mandated checks and balances weaken a President's wartime position? That assertion is materially preposterous. And even GOP hawks acknowledge that this "war" is open-ended and will go on indefinitely; thus Hatch is saying that censure of ANY offenses perpetrated by the executive, no matter how egregious, are off the table until we "win" this. People who refer to assholes like Hatch as "fascists" sound a lot less shrill when you consider what he's actually advocating here.

"Censure is destructive," Sen Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., said. "Censure breaks us apart at a time when we need to be brought together."

Wrong!!! Even if everyone didn't "agree" on the issue of wiretapping in general or censure in particular, a strong message sent by the Senate to the executive would only strengthen our democracy and our nation. And doing one's constitutional duty is sometimes hard, dirty work. It'll only be divisive if you make it so.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Ah, Ziggy - Will You Ever Win?


I haven't yet picked up this book, but Abra pointed out to me that its copyright is 1995. I wonder how topical our discussion can be regarding a book over 10 years old.

From what I've read about it on, it shouldn't matter. From the reviews, this should be a great book club book. "A scattershot, argumentative tract against current immigration policy and practice," Library Journal calls it. "An alarmist, slashing anti-immigration manifesto likely to stir debate," says Publisher's Weekly. "A polemic guaranteed to rally the faithful and offend most others." We'll see about that.

One thing's for sure: if the author goes into the Strategic Logic of immigration, or even casually references Israel, we're sure to have spirited debate.

It's my understanding that immigration law hasn't significantly changed in the last 10 years, and it sounds like his little manifesto takes a more general philosophical approach re: immigration. I think it's a good selection.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

This is Bullshit

From Jeff Jarvis at Buzzmachine:

The FCC has outlawed the single most essential word in political discourse and protest: bullshit.

In its latest batch of nannyisms, the FCC declared shit and all its variants, including bullshit, not merely indecent which is where the case law stood after the Supreme Court washed the seven dirty words out of George Carlin's mouth in 1978 — but also now profane. Since outmoded broadcast censorship legislation was passed in 1927, giving the government this constitutionally dubious authority, the FCC had not once found any word to be profane until 2004, when it ruled against Bono's joyful utterance of "fucking" at the Golden Globes. Now "shit" et al join this devil's dictionary. And the FCC warns that they are not merely profane but "presumptively profane," which means that except in "rare" and "unusual circumstances," to speak these words on the air will guarantee you a penalty.

Can we please abolish the FCC, or at least it's censorship power. This has become ridiculous since Janet Jackson.

How hard is this, if you don't like it, change the fuckin' channel. If enough people agree with you, the market will respond with clean programming (oh wait, already happenend). If your worried about your kids turn on the disney channel or radio, Nickalodian (sp?), hallmark, etc, etc. Stop censoring what I get to see or hear.

I think it is a travesty that Howard Stern was forced to satallite. Although I never listen to him, I think the FCC treated him poorly. The point is, it was my choice not to listen, not some nanny in Washington who thinks I am old enough to hear or see.

A Smackdown on Fukuyama

Charles Krauthammer takes exception to Fukuyama's characterization of his statements that led to Fukuyama's break with the neocons.

Update: Apparently there are others who are not fans of Fukuyama. Just keep following the links.

I have to say that I am not sure what to think of Fukuyama. I tried to read the Last Man and the End of History a couple of years ago. I couldn't get through it. The combination of what to me was gobblygook (I have not taken any philosophy classes so he lost me in all the diaelectics) and that he was blinding wrong based on the passage of time (post 9/11)prevented me from getting through it.

But I don't WANT to die

The Kang & Kodos Readers Brigade

I wanted to post a few thoughts on the topic of suicide, and whether giving up your life for the good of others is of moral equivalency to someone who has "just had enough with everything" and hangs himself, as my great-grandfather did. My first dilemma comes from my Christian faith. There are a great many things in the Bible that I wish (in my worst moments) weren't there, including Jesus' statement that whoever wants to save his life will lose it. I might even wonder out loud why more Christians aren't giving up their lives, with this apparently strong necessity, as opposed to Muslims who, as far as I can tell, can make it into heaven even if they don't give up their lives. I also tend to see a sort of psychological issue at play, in that I meet agnostics and atheists who seem more willing to give their lives up than I do, even though I have an eternal hope that they don't. I wonder if there exists a potential pool of would-be suicide bombers in every society, and that certain societies are better able to draw them out. That is, I might disagree with Pape's thesis that suicide bombing is an effect of a democratic and stronger government occupying a certain nation, and suggest instead that certain people are psychologically suited to suicide bombing, and some cultural leaders (Palestinian, Japanese in WWII, the Tamils) are just better at finding such people and utlizing them.

Sounds Reasonable

This is appropriate since our next book is on immigration.

I have not spent a lot of time reading or thinking about immigration, but the senate proposal makes a lot of sense to me. There are millions of illegals in this country and I don't think we can or want to kick them all out. Lets make them legal so that they have the protection of labor laws and the legal system while also making sure they pay taxes. Lets get them on track to gain citizenship. I think France and Germany show that the worst possible idea is to have the workers, but alienate them from the general society.

I think we should have nearly unlimited legal immigration (with background checks, no criminals). If the best and the brightest from around the world (engineers and scientists from China, India, Europe) want to come to the US, we are better off for it. Let them all in. The less educated from Mexico and Latin America are extremely hard workers. I see no difference between them and the first generation of Irish, Italian, etc. that came a hundred years ago. We need to make sure they are assimilated (on its face I would support English as the national language, if you come to this country you have to learn it to function, although I could be convinced otherwise if there were good arguments I have not heard).

I don't think we can nor should we try and stop illegal immigration. I don't think we are going to build a 2000 mile fence on the border of Mexico and have a soldier every 50 yards. The resources required would be astronomical.

The bigger point as I made above is that I don't think we should try and stop the immigration. The country is much better off for it. (sorry if this isn't very coherent, this is my first real stab at the subject. I haven't thought much about it before).

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Fuck South Dakota

Bending the Badlands over!

Friday, March 24, 2006

The First...

...and, hopefully, last, Pro-Life Monument:

"Monument to Pro-Life: The Birth of Sean Preston," believed Pro-Life's first monument to the 'act of giving birth,' is purportedly an idealized depiction of Britney in delivery. Natural aspects of Spears' pregnancy, like lactiferous breasts and protruding naval, compliment a posterior view that depicts widened hips for birthing and reveals the crowning of baby Sean's head.

The monument also acknowledges the pop-diva's pin-up past by showing Spears seductively posed on all fours atop a bearskin rug with back arched, pelvis thrust upward, as she clutches the bear's ears with 'water-retentive' hands.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


I too am nostalgic for the days of the Country Club Republican, or at least its former incarnation. These guys have even given golf a bad name.

As Abramoff's exploits show, golf is an ideal fulcrum for the GOP's cozy relationship with its moneyed backers. If you're a donor or lobbyist, a day of golf is an ideal chance for a long, leisurely stroll in the company of a politician. For a politician, it's a fine opportunity to hit up supplicants for campaign cash or other favors.

The Republican obsession with golf reveals the party's phony posturing as the champion of average Americans. All the hand-wringing among Democrats about why liberals don't go to NASCAR races or duck hunts misses the fact that Tom DeLay and Bill Frist don't go to monster-truck night with the guys from Deliverance either. They hit the links at exclusive country clubs with rich donors and corporate lobbyists. That's who they are.

According to Roll Call, Indiana Republican Dan Burton had ignored a specific warning not to miss the vote, which Republicans barely squeezed out, 24-23. A "freshly-sunburned Burton" returned to the Hill the next day to read that he might have sabotaged his chance to assume the committee's chairmanship next year.

Not long after Sept. 11, members of Congress were told of intelligence about a three-man al-Qaida sniper team that was training to assassinate U.S. politicians on a golf course. But even this chilling warning doesn't seem to have diminished Republican zeal for a day on the rolling greens.

This last part sounds a bit far fetched to me. Either al Qaeda let that phony plan slip because they knew US intelligence was listening, or there was something lost in the translation. Still, you've gotta give the GOP credit for sticking to their guns. If we cancel our tee times, the terrorists have already won.

3/20/06 Pub Quiz

1) In the Year 2525 10 points
2) Geography of NFL Stadiums 12 points
3) 80's movie quotes 13 points
4) Bizarro World
5) Dead or Canadian- M or J? 10 points
6) Pictures 15 points
7) General Knowledge 24 points

The 2 man Vote Quimby! finished in the middle of the pack, fifth of ten teams.


I understand that a retired major general can't really say that the President is the real problem, but I still think all this Rumsfeld bashing on the part of the pro-war crowd is kind of silly. Sure, he should have been fired a long time ago, along with everyone else in the administration, but we've reached the point where continued calls for them to straighten up and fly right just seem like a waste of time and column inches. Beyond that, the military top brass should have realized by now that they are the last people Bush, et al., listen to when it comes to military matters.

Still, I'm 100% behind the suggestion that Lieberman replace Rumsfeld as SecDef, as that seems like the best chance we have of getting him out of the Senate.

A Top-Down Review for the Pentagon

NYT, March 19, 2006

DURING World War II, American soldiers en route to Britain before D-Day were given a pamphlet on how to behave while awaiting the invasion. The most important quote in it was this: "It is impolite to criticize your host; it is militarily stupid to criticize your allies."

By that rule, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is not competent to lead our armed forces. First, his failure to build coalitions with our allies from what he dismissively called "old Europe" has imposed far greater demands and risks on our soldiers in Iraq than necessary. Second, he alienated his allies in our own military, ignoring the advice of seasoned officers and denying subordinates any chance for input.

In sum, he has shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically, and is far more than anyone else responsible for what has happened to our important mission in Iraq. Mr. Rumsfeld must step down.

In the five years Mr. Rumsfeld has presided over the Pentagon, I have seen a climate of groupthink become dominant and a growing reluctance by experienced military men and civilians to challenge the notions of the senior leadership.

I thought we had a glimmer of hope last November when Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, faced off with Mr. Rumsfeld on the question of how our soldiers should react if they witnessed illegal treatment of prisoners by Iraqi authorities. (General Pace's view was that our soldiers should intervene, while Mr. Rumsfeld's position was that they should simply report the incident to superiors.)

Unfortunately, the general subsequently backed down and supported the secretary's call to have the rules clarified, giving the impression that our senior man in uniform is just as intimidated by Secretary Rumsfeld as was his predecessor, Gen. Richard Myers.
Mr. Rumsfeld has put the Pentagon at the mercy of his ego, his cold warrior's view of the world and his unrealistic confidence in technology to replace manpower. As a result, the Army finds itself severely undermanned — cut to 10 active divisions but asked by the administration to support a foreign policy that requires at least 12 or 14.

Only Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff when President Bush was elected, had the courage to challenge the downsizing plans. So Mr. Rumsfeld retaliated by naming General Shinseki's successor more than a year before his scheduled retirement, effectively undercutting his authority. The rest of the senior brass got the message, and nobody has complained since.

Now the Pentagon's new Quadrennial Defense Review shows that Mr. Rumsfeld also fails to understand the nature of protracted counterinsurgency warfare in Iraq and the demands it places on ground forces. The document, amazingly, does not call for enlarging the Army; rather, it increases only our Special Operations forces, by a token 15 percent, maybe 1,500 troops.

Mr. Rumsfeld has also failed in terms of operations in Iraq. He rejected the so-called Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force and sent just enough tech-enhanced troops to complete what we called Phase III of the war — ground combat against the uniformed Iraqis. He ignored competent advisers like Gen. Anthony Zinni and others who predicted that the Iraqi Army and security forces might melt away after the state apparatus self-destructed, leading to chaos.
It is all too clear that General Shinseki was right: several hundred thousand men would have made a big difference then, as we began Phase IV, or country reconstruction. There was never a question that we would make quick work of the Iraqi Army.

The true professional always looks to the "What's next?" phase. Unfortunately, the supreme commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, either didn't heed that rule or succumbed to Secretary Rumsfeld's bullying. We won't know which until some bright historian writes the true story of Mr. Rumsfeld and the generals he took to war, an Iraq version of the Vietnam War classic "Dereliction of Duty" by H. R. McMaster.

Last, you don't expect a secretary of defense to be criticized for tactical ineptness. Normally, tactics are the domain of the soldier on the ground. But in this case we all felt what L. Paul Bremer, the former viceroy in Iraq, has called the "8,000-mile screwdriver" reaching from the Pentagon. Commanders in the field had their discretionary financing for things like rebuilding hospitals and providing police uniforms randomly cut; money to pay Iraqi construction firms to build barracks was withheld; contracts we made for purchasing military equipment for the new Iraqi Army were rewritten back in Washington.

Donald Rumsfeld demands more than loyalty. He wants fealty. And he has hired men who give it. Consider the new secretary of the Army, Francis Harvey, who when faced with the compelling need to increase the service's size has refused to do so. He is instead relying on the shell game of hiring civilians to do jobs that had previously been done by soldiers, and thus keeping the force strength static on paper. This tactic may help for a bit, but it will likely fall apart in the next budget cycle, with those positions swiftly eliminated.

So, what to do?

First, President Bush should accept the offer to resign that Mr. Rumsfeld says he has tendered more than once, and hire a man who will listen to and support the magnificent soldiers on the ground. Perhaps a proven Democrat like Senator Joseph Lieberman could repair fissures that have arisen both between parties and between uniformed men and the Pentagon big shots.

More vital in the longer term, Congress must assert itself. Too much power has shifted to the executive branch, not just in terms of waging war but also in planning the military of the future. Congress should remember it still has the power of the purse; it should call our generals, colonels, captains and sergeants to testify frequently, so that their opinions and needs are known to the men they lead. Then when they are asked if they have enough troops — and no soldier has ever had enough of anything, more is always better — the reply is public.

Our most important, and sometimes most severe, judges are our subordinates. That is a fact I discovered early in my military career. It is, unfortunately, a lesson Donald Rumsfeld seems incapable of learning.

Paul D. Eaton, a retired Army major general, was in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003 to 2004.

Monday, March 20, 2006


If you can't use detainees for paintball target practice, then what fun is starting wars?

In the windowless, jet-black garage-size room, some soldiers beat prisoners with rifle butts, yelled and spit in their faces and, in a nearby area, used detainees for target practice in a game of jailer paintball. Their intention was to extract information to help hunt down Iraq's most-wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

al-Zarqawi: the ultimate Paintball opponent!

Placards posted by soldiers at the detention area advised, "NO BLOOD, NO FOUL." The slogan, as one Defense Department official explained, reflected an adage adopted by Task Force 6-26: "If you don't make them bleed, they can't prosecute for it."

Once again, our stellar Defense Department has found a loophole in the Geneva Conventions!

The story of detainee abuse in Iraq is a familiar one.

Well, sure - if you read the New York Times!!!! If you get your information from NRO or Paintball Magazine or any of several other credible news sources, you'd know that Iraqi orphanage construction is up 1,420%, yoga classes are being taught at Gitmo, and Dick Cheney recently received a large fruit basket and a 2006 Anne Geddes calendar as a gift from the people of Iraq. It's amazing what those elite New York liberals call "news."

Speaking of the Vice President, here's something to keep in mind if you ever end up sitting next to him in an Energy Task Force meeting, at a GOP fundraiser, or on Meet The Press:

Top this one, creationists.

I'd like to see the Kansas Board of Education explain this in their Intelligent Design curriculum.


Scientists peering back to the oldest light in the universe have new evidence to support the concept of inflation. The concept poses the universe expanded many trillion times its size in less than a trillionth of a second at the outset of the big bang.

This finding, made with NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), is based on three years of continuous observations of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the afterglow light produced when the universe was less than a million years old.

WMAP polarization data allow scientists to discriminate between competing models of inflation for the first time. This is a milestone in cosmology. "We can now distinguish between different versions of what happened within the first trillionth of a second of the universe," said WMAP Principal Investigator Charles Bennett of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "The longer WMAP observes, the more it reveals about how our universe grew from microscopic quantum fluctuations to the vast expanses of stars and galaxies we see today."

Previous WMAP results focused on the temperature variations of this light, which provided an accurate age of the universe and insights into its geometry and composition. The new WMAP observations give not only a more detailed temperature map, but also the first full-sky map of the polarization of the CMB. This major breakthrough will enable scientists to obtain much deeper insight into what happened within the first trillionth of a second of the universe. The WMAP results have been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal and are posted at

Big bang physics describes how matter and energy developed over the last 13.7 billion years. WMAP's observation of the blanket of cool microwave radiation that permeates the universe shows patterns that mark the seeds of what grew into stars and galaxies. The patterns are tiny temperature differences within this extraordinarily uniform light. WMAP discerns temperature fluctuations at levels finer than a millionth of a degree.

WMAP can resolve features in the cosmic microwave background based on polarization, or the way light is changed by the environment through which it passes. For example, sunlight reflecting off of a shiny object is polarized. Comparing the brightness of broad features to compact features in the microwave background, or afterglow light, helps tell the story of the infant universe. One long-held prediction was the brightness would be the same for features of all sizes. In contrast, the simplest versions of inflation predict the relative brightness decreases as the features get small, a trend seen in the new data.

"This is brand new territory," said WMAP team member Lyman Page of Princeton University in Princeton, N.J. "The polarization data will become stronger as WMAP continues to observe the microwave background. WMAP's new results heighten the urgency of seeking out inflation's gravitational wave sign. If gravitational waves are seen in future measurements, that would be solid evidence for inflation."

With a richer temperature map and the new polarization map, WMAP data favor the simplest versions of inflation. Generically, inflation posits that, at the outset of the big bang, quantum fluctuations - short-lived bursts of energy at the subatomic level - were converted by the rapid inflationary expansion into fluctuations of matter that ultimately enabled stars and galaxies to form. The simplest versions of inflation predict that the largest-sized fluctuations will also be the strongest. The new results from WMAP favor this signature.

Inflation theory predicts that these same fluctuations also produced primordial gravitational waves whose distortion of space-time leaves a signature in the CMB polarization. This will be an important goal of future CMB measurements which, if found, would provide a stunning confirmation of inflation.

"Inflation was an amazing concept when it was first proposed 25 years ago, and now we can support it with real data," said WMAP team member Gary Hinshaw of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

WMAP, a partnership between Goddard and Princeton, was launched on June 30, 2001. The WMAP team includes researchers in U.S. and Canadian universities and institutes. For images and information on the Web about WMAP, visit:

Friday, March 17, 2006

More on Enron

I'm a sucker for juicy details relating to the Lay/Skilling trial. From this afternoon's Wall St Journal Marketbeat :

Daniel Gross, who writes Slate's Moneybox column, smacks down Daniel Petrocelli, lawyer to former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling. The columnist took issue with Mr. Petrocelli writing to Fortune to complain about reporters Peter Elking and Bethany McLean, saying that no one else covering the Enron trial "cashed in" as much on the "rush to judgment of Mr. Skilling and Mr. [Ken] Lay." Mr. Gross retorts, "No one? Um, how about Petrocelli? Elkind, McLean, and Joe Nocera … probably wound up with several hundred thousand dollars each for their efforts to provide a non-fiction chronicle of the Enron saga. Petrocelli, by contrast, will likely take home several million for his efforts to provide a largely fictional chronicle of the Enron saga."

Move Along People, No Links to WMD or Al-qaida Here

The US government has started to release documents captured in Iraq during the invasion that have not been translated and evaluated yet.

Here, for instance, are the marching orders for Directorate 8, the Mukhabarat's "Technical Affairs" department: "The Eight Directorate is responsible for development of materials needed for covert offensive operations. It contains advanced laboratories for testing and production of weapons, poisons and explosives."

It goes on. Directorate 9, we discover, "is one of the most important directorates in the Mukhabarat. Most of its work is outside Iraq in coordination with other directorates, focusing on operations of sabotage and assassination."

The document also discusses the Mukhabarat's Office 16, set up to train "agents for clandestine operations abroad." The document helpfully adds that "special six-week courses in the use of of terror techniques are provided at a camp in Radwaniyhah."

I hope the msm covers these documents at least as zealously as the covered the fake National Guard memos about Bush, since these are real and all. My guess is that these will not be played up much because it doesn't fit the current meme that Bush lied etc., etc.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Not-So Suddenly Seymour

Seymour Hersh got it right again.


Democratic blogger Josh Marshall (Talking Points Memo) makes his case against impeaching George W. Bush.

Republicans Favor Massive Future Tax Increases

"Oh Lovey Dear, would you please postpone the consequences of my fiscal irresponsibility until many years from now?":

Before approving the bill, Republicans rejected by a 55-44 vote an amendment by Max Baucus, D-Montana, to mandate a Treasury study on the economic consequences of foreigners holding an increasing portion of the U.S. debt.

I don't mean to dishonor the memory of Thurston Howell III. In fact, I'm feeling pretty nostalgic for the days of the Country Club Republican.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Gilligan Defense

Good stuff for anyone following the Enron trial:


Controversial ‘Gilligan Defense’ Makes Debut at Enron Trial

In what many experts are calling a high stakes legal strategy, former Enron CEO Ken Lay testified at his trial today that a coconut fell on his head while he was running the Texas energy company, causing amnesia that wiped out all memory of anything that happened during his tenure there.

While most trial watchers expected Mr. Lay’s defense team to use inventive tactics to secure an acquittal for the embattled former CEO, few expected the coconut-falling-on-head explanation for Mr. Lay’s claim that he was out of the loop for the entirety of Enron’s multibillion-dollar fall from grace.

As the trial resumed this morning, Mr. Lay’s defense attorney used a diagram, a pointer, and a coconut itself to dramatize the incident in what legal experts are already calling “The Gilligan Defense.”

“As you can see, a coconut that Mr. Lay kept on a high shelf of his office bookcase rolled off the shelf, landing squarely on his head, and causing total amnesia,” said Mr. Lay’s attorney to a stunned courtroom.

Moments after the coconut landed on the former CEO’s head, Mr. Lay claimed that Andrew Fastow, Enron’s former chief financial officer, ran into Mr. Lay’s office, concerned, and asked, “Are you all right, little buddy?”

But under cross examination, Mr. Lay’s story appeared to fray somewhat, especially when the prosecutor asked, “If you had total amnesia, how could you remember that a coconut fell on your head?”

“Oops,” Mr. Lay replied.

Elsewhere, President Bush expressed confidence about Iraq’s future, and added that he thought that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston would get back together.

Keepin' up the Skeer

Some potentially good news in the NY Times today. Some signs of the pressure is working against Iran.

Just weeks ago, the Iranian government's combative approach toward building a nuclear program produced rare public displays of unity here. Now, while the top leaders remain resolute in their course, cracks are opening both inside and outside the circles of power over the issue. ...
One senior Iranian official, who asked to remain anonymous because of the delicate nature of the issue, said: "I tell you, if what they were doing was working, we would say, 'Good.' " But, he added: "For 27 years after the revolution, America wanted to get Iran to the Security Council and America failed. In less than six months, Ahmadinejad did that."

One month ago, the same official had said with a laugh that those who thought the hard-line approach was a bad choice were staying silent because it appeared to be succeeding. ...

Reformers, whose political clout as a movement vanished after the last election, have also begun to speak out. And people with close ties to the government said high-ranking clerics had begun to give criticism of Iran's position to Ayatollah Khamenei, which the political elite sees as a seismic jolt.

I really hope something comes of this, but I am skeptical. The reformers really have no power and I don't see their influence growing fast enough to reform before Iran gets the bomb. We have heard comforting words and signs of moderation from Iran occasionaly over the last 10 yrs, only to see a quick retreat and dissappointment. One step forward, 3 steps back.

We now have to keep the pressure on Iran. We must be willing to make good on our words that we won't accept Iran with the bomb.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Pi Pub quiz

Happy pi day everybody!
mmmmm pi.
Tonight's rounds:
1) Viva Porro et Proceda 11 points
2) Occasionally, I'll be quirky 10 points
3) Match- the Ides of March 15 points
4) Bizarro World 16 points
5) Dead or Canadian- Franky or Marty 10 points
6) Pictures 14 points
7) General Knowledge 24 points

The 3 man Floor Pi missed missed first place by virtue of a tie breaker. D'oh!

A Response to the Hysterical Sen. Feingold et al

Look, I'm not a lawyer and I don't pretend to play one on TV. Furthermore, I don't care about this issue. Maybe I am a naive citizen and am sticking my head in the sand, but I can't get upset by this issue. Maybe I'll learn something 50 yrs from now to show me how wrong I am, but I doubt it. I haven't spent a lot of time reading about this issue because it doesn't upset me. One clue to me that this isn't a big deal is that after the program was revealed, the members of congress that got briefed all said it was a good program and should continue.

That being said, from what I did read the controlling case law seems to be United States v. Truong in 1980.

Cribbed from powerline, a righty blog that is a good summary of a lot of what I read:

The case involved a criminal prosecution arising out of the defendant’s spying on behalf of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The case presented the issue of the executive branch’s inherent power to conduct warrantless surveillance for national security purposes:

The defendants raise a substantial challenge to their convictions by arguing that the surveillance conducted by the FBI violated the Fourth Amendment and that all the evidence uncovered through that surveillance must consequently be suppressed. As has been stated, the government did not seek a warrant for the eavesdropping on Truong’s phone conversations or the bugging of his apartment. Instead, it relied upon a “foreign intelligence” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. In the area of foreign intelligence, the government contends, the President may authorize surveillance without seeking a judicial warrant because of his constitutional prerogatives in the area of foreign affairs.
The court agreed with the government’s position:

For several reasons, the needs of the executive are so compelling in the area of foreign intelligence, unlike the area of domestic security, that a uniform warrant requirement would, following [United States v. United States District Court, 407 U.S. 297 (1972)], “unduly frustrate” the President in carrying out his foreign affairs responsibilities. First of all, attempts to counter foreign threats to the national security require the utmost stealth, speed and secrecy. A warrant requirement would add a procedural hurdle that would reduce the flexibility of executive foreign intelligence activities, in some cases delay executive response to foreign intelligence threats, and increase the chance of leaks regarding sensitive executive operations.
The court held that warrantless searches for foreign intelligence purposes are constitutional, as long as the “object of the search or the surveillance is a foreign power, its agent or collaborators,” and the search is conducted “primarily” for foreign intelligence reasons.

Cass Sunstein, a liberal law professor, also believes the president has the authority.

This is enough for me to believe that if Bush isn't on solid legal ground, it is at worst a gray area. If congress really thinks Bush overstepped his authority, why hasn't it filed with the supreme court to shut the program down, instead of having one preening wannabe presidential candidate senator grandstanding?.

As far as too the question of why to ignore FISA, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales addressed this in remarks at the Georgtown Law Center in January. Some key excerpts:

[F]rom the outset, the Justice Department thoroughly examined this program against al Qaeda, and concluded that the President is acting within his power in authorizing it. These activities are lawful. The Justice Department is not alone in reaching that conclusion. Career lawyers at the NSA and the NSA’s Inspector General have been intimately involved in reviewing the program and ensuring its legality.
The terrorist surveillance program is firmly grounded in the President’s constitutional authorities. *** It has long been recognized that the President’s constitutional powers include the authority to conduct warrantless surveillance aimed at detecting and preventing armed attacks on the United States. Presidents have uniformly relied on their inherent power to gather foreign intelligence for reasons both diplomatic and military, and the federal courts have consistently upheld this longstanding practice.

If this is the case in ordinary times, it is even more so in the present circumstances of our armed conflict with al Qaeda and its allies.

...The President’s authority to take military action—including the use of communications intelligence targeted at the enemy—does not come merely from his inherent constitutional powers. It comes directly from Congress as well.

...[A]s long as electronic communications have existed, the United States has conducted surveillance of those communications during wartime—all without judicial warrant. In the Civil War, for example, telegraph wiretapping was common, and provided important intelligence for both sides. In World War I, President Wilson ordered the interception of all cable communications between the United States and Europe; he inferred the authority to do so from the Constitution and from a general congressional authorization to use military force that did not mention anything about such surveillance. So too in World War II; the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt authorized the interception of all communications traffic into and out of the United States. The terrorist surveillance program, of course, is far more focused, since it involves only the interception of international communications that are linked to al Qaeda or its allies.

...The FISA Court of Review, the special court of appeals charged with hearing appeals of decisions by the FISA court, stated in 2002 that, quote, “[w]e take for granted that the President does have that [inherent] authority” and, “assuming that is so, FISA could not encroach on the President’s constitutional power.” We do not have to decide whether, when we are at war and there is a vital need for the terrorist surveillance program, FISA unconstitutionally encroaches – or places an unconstitutional constraint upon – the President's Article II powers. We can avoid that tough question because Congress gave the President the Force Resolution, and that statute removes any possible tension between what Congress said in 1978 in FISA and the President's constitutional authority today.

....You may have heard about the provision of FISA that allows the President to conduct warrantless surveillance for 15 days following a declaration of war. That provision shows that Congress knew that warrantless surveillance would be essential in wartime. But no one could reasonably suggest that all such critical military surveillance in a time of war would end after only 15 days.
Instead, the legislative history of this provision makes it clear that Congress elected NOT TO DECIDE how surveillance might need to be conducted in the event of a particular armed conflict. Congress expected that it would revisit the issue in light of events and likely would enact a special authorization during that 15-day period. That is exactly what happened three days after the attacks of 9/11, when Congress passed the Force Resolution, permitting the President to exercise “all necessary and appropriate” incidents of military force.

Thus, it is simply not the case that Congress in 1978 anticipated all the ways that the President might need to act in times of armed conflict to protect the United States. FISA, by its own terms, was not intended to be the last word on these critical issues.

So Congress may need to pass new laws, but that doesn't mean current law is being broken.

The question of not getting retroactive warrents comes down to resources. Why waste tons of time. Here is the process as described by Gonzales:

Some have pointed to the provision in FISA that allows for so-called “emergency authorizations” of surveillance for 72 hours without a court order. There’s a serious misconception about these emergency authorizations. People should know that we do not approve emergency authorizations without knowing that we will receive court approval within 72 hours. FISA requires the Attorney General to determine IN ADVANCE that a FISA application for that particular intercept will be fully supported and will be approved by the court before an emergency authorization may be granted. That review process can take precious time.
Thus, to initiate surveillance under a FISA emergency authorization, it is not enough to rely on the best judgment of our intelligence officers alone. Those intelligence officers would have to get the sign-off of lawyers at the NSA that all provisions of FISA have been satisfied, then lawyers in the Department of Justice would have to be similarly satisfied, and finally as Attorney General, I would have to be satisfied that the search meets the requirements of FISA. And we would have to be prepared to follow up with a full FISA application within the 72 hours.

A typical FISA application involves a substantial process in its own right: The work of several lawyers; the preparation of a legal brief and supporting declarations; the approval of a Cabinet-level officer; a certification from the National Security Adviser, the Director of the FBI, or another designated Senate-confirmed officer; and, finally, of course, the approval of an Article III judge.

The point of the surveillance is to prevent attacks, not to bring court cases. This is a national security issue, not a law enforcement question. Again, difference in perspective.

This is an extremely long post, but I think it shows that there is a lot of room for interpretation into the law. I bet that a lot of you could find opinions that have different conclusions to what I have poste. That just proves the point that it is not cut and dried that FISA is the governing law in this program.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Swiftboating Feingold

Cheney: "The outrageous proposition that we ought to protect our enemies' ability to communicate as it plots against America poses a key test of our Democratic leaders. Do they support the extreme and counterproductive antics of a few or do they support a lawful program vital to the security of this nation?"

Where in the Censure, or anywhere in the muted, reasonable opposition to Bush's secret wiretapping program, is the "outrageous proposition" he cites ever mentioned? This is dirty muckraking from one of the masters.

Frist: "Senator Feingold's time would be better spent putting forth constructive ideas rather than using cheap political tricks that compromise America's national security by sending a dangerous signal of disunity around the globe."

Even allowing that introducing a measure of Censure on the Senate floor is a "cheap political trick" and not Sen. Feingold's duty or at least his democratic prerogative, how does it compromise our national security? How can the "disunity" that happens when our elected citizens debate in the marketplace of ideas be dangerous?

If Sen. Frist's dissent-free version of democracy is what we are fighting to protect, then the terrorists have already won.

To My Republican Friends:

If you believed that lying under oath about an extramarital affair was sufficient to warrant impeachment, you're probably FURIOUS that the most serious action on the table to punish President Bush for his open, repeated violations of FISA and the 4th Amendment is Senator Feingold's Censure Resolution.

I know, I know--you're crying out for justice, and the best the Senate Democrats can come up with is censure. It's a ridiculous state of affairs, I grant you, but politics is the art of compromise, after all.

I therefore ask you to set aside your righteous indignation, call Senators Durbin and Obama, and ask them to support this admittedly lenient remedy.

It may not feel like it now, but someday your rage at this betrayal of the public trust--this attack on a strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution--will subside, and on that day you will feel better knowing that you contributed to a resolution (however imperfect) of this serious problem; that you joined your fellow Law And Order Republicans in sending a shot across the bow of any would-be future Executive Branch tyrant who might attempt to usurp the power granted to the other branches by the Founding Fathers.

Durbin, Richard- (D - IL)
(202) 224-2152
Web Form:

Obama, Barack- (D - IL)
Class III
(202) 224-2854


Friday, March 10, 2006

A Must-See

If you haven't seen the live-action intro to the Simpsons yet, you're missing out.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

My Nomination for April's Meeting

From Altercation's Book Suggestion of the Week:

Eyal Press, Absolute Convictions: My Father, A City and the Conflict That Divided America, (Holt). Here, Press describes the factory closings during the '70s that devastated Buffalo's economy just as he and his family were settling there.

Like that of many newcomers to the city, my father's experience of the hard times that befell Buffalo in the 1970s was mostly secondhand. He didn't know many people who worked in the steel mills and the auto plants. The professional association he eventually joined was the American Medical Association, not the AFL-CIO. Although he crossed paths with plenty of poor people in the city's hospitals, and although we ourselves were hardly living lavish existence at the time, the fear and insecurity that hovered over many families in the city did not lurk over us.

Even so, it was impossible to be in Buffalo at the time and not feel that something was profoundly awry, that something in the American Dream, which was supposed to guarantee opportunity to anybody who worked hard and strived to get ahead, had soured. As it turns out, the factory workers in Buffalo who started to view this dream as a mirage were not alone. The year my parents and I arrived in America, 1973, marked the beginning of what the economists Bennett Harrison and Barry Bluestone later termed the Great U-Turn. In the decades to come, several million manufacturing jobs disappeared from the United States, wages fell, the middle class shrank, and the U.S. economy more and more closely resembled an hourglass, with inequality rising and more and more people concentrated at either the bottom or the top. The jobs vanishing from Buffalo would eventually return but, as throughout the country, many of the new jobs would be part-time and lower paid. A new category, the working poor, would arise, and the era when a family supported by one breadwinner was a realistic vision for most Americans drew to a close. These were national as well as local trends. With or without feminism, they would help to render the traditional nuclear family (Mom tidying up the house, Dad at work, the kids in school) obsolete.

It was the perfect recipe, in theory, for a resurgence of the sort of class politics that had crystallized during earlier periods of economic duress. The Great Depression had prepared the way for the rise of organized labor and Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Forty years earlier, during the 1890s, the plight of small farmers and mounting anger at big business had sparked the rise of the populist movement. "We have millionaires by the thousands and mendicants by the millions," Eugene Debs declared on a visit to Buffalo in 1896, just as the movement was gathering force. "A land where wealth accumulates and men decay." A quarter century later, in the 1920 presidential election, one in ten Buffalonians cast their ballot for Debs, the jailed socialist candidate.

There would be a resurgence of populism at the end of the twentieth century as well, only this time it would take radically different form. As the chasm between rich and poor widened, conservative activists would hone a language that linked the insecurity many Americans felt to the depredations of an immoral elite: not the economic elite nineteenth-century populists had inveighed against but a cultural elite. Not to financiers and robber barons but liberals, homosexuals, and feminists. Not the people who had moved Buffalo's factories to the Sun Belt and decimated its unions, but the ones who supported abortion rights and could be blamed for the nation's moral and spiritual decline."

Here he describes a video of a rescue that has just taken place at his father's office and explains how, in a blue-collar city where social activism once meant participation in the labor movement, the focus of rage among working-class people had shifted by the late 1980s to social issues like abortion (thanks in no small part to the conservative strategists who began courting this constituency a decade earlier).

"At first glance, the class identity of these people might have seemed murky: were they down-on-their-luck factory workers or pampered suburbanites? Viewed through the prism of the nation's culture wars, however, their status is clear. 'The clinics are run for profit - we're a nickel-and-dime organization,' a spokeswoman for the protesters had told The Buffalo News in 1985. This was the new language of populism in America, pitting ordinary, churchgoing Americans against a corrupt secular elite. By the time the video at my father's office was shot, class in America no longer existed in popular consciousness as a signifier of how much money people made. Instead, it had been redefined as a function of education and cultural background. If you believed that the Bible was the word of God and that traditional values were under assault, you belonged among the subjugated masses. If you believed in evolution and read The New York Times, you were privileged. If you attended church on Sunday and were convinced that the people running Hollywood, the courts, and the media were bringing America to ruin, you were marginalized. If you thought there were bigger problems out there than homosexuality and abortion, you were a snooty elite. In blue-collar Buffalo, a place where factory workers once attended night classes on the class struggle - but where, as elsewhere, churches increasingly played the role unions once had - this was how the social pyramid was increasingly imagined and seen."
For more, go here.

The J-Bomb

If Western Powers want Iran to stand down on uranium enrichment, then Israel should sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and free Vanunu.

While the world turns its eyes again to the Middle East and watches a buildup to a war created by the U.S. over a mythical atomic bomb, there is one country in the neighborhood that actually has hundreds of atomic weapons; "poor beleaguered Israel," as many writers (conservative and liberal alike) refer to the only atomic power in the Middle East.

Even mentioning Israel’s stock of weapons is a no-no in polite western societies. The U.S. has destroyed Iraq under the pretense of it attempting to make a nuclear weapon and it is on the verge of creating the same calamity in Iran. Ask a question about Israel’s nukes and the response is mute. In fact, most U.S. journalists won’t even entertain the thought of asking such a question.

In 1996, The Alternative, a magazine I published at the time, ran the following in-depth article about Israel’s nukes. It was written by investigative journalist Husayn Al-Kurdi is one of the most comprehensive works on the subject. It’s all here: the ties between apartheid South Africa and Israel in developing nuclear weapons; the imprisonment of Mordechai Vanunu, the whistleblower of Israel’s nuclear program; and the utter deceit by the U.S. to keep the subject under wraps. Even today, few U.S. citizens have any clue that Israel possesses hundreds of atomic weapons. With Iran currently in the U.S. crosshairs, this piece is even more relevant today than it was a decade ago.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Lt. Gen. William Odom, U.S. Army (Ret.), on Iraq and Vietnam

Odom draws some interesting parallels, and in some ways the Bush administration really does seem similar to that of LBJ, though without the serious approach to policy and the good intentions.

Iraq through the prism of Vietnam:

Was it really in the American interest to “contain China” in Vietnam? By 1965, Soviet leaders were also pursuing the containment of China, in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Did it, then, make sense for the United States to commit large military forces to the pursuit of Soviet objectives in Southeast Asia? Obviously not; the White House’s strategic rationale had no grounding in reality.

Not only Soviet leaders but Ho Chi Minh also wanted to contain China. A long-time loyalist to Moscow and early member of Lenin’s Communist International, he was never under China’s thumb. Yet he cooperated with Beijing to balance his dependency on Moscow, disallowing either to frustrate his aim, unifying all of Vietnam under his rule.

The Johnson Administration used an apparent North Vietnamese attack on U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin on the coast of North Vietnam in the spring of 1965 to persuade Congress to support the introduction of major U.S. ground forces in South Vietnam. We now know that U.S. special operations – incursions into North Vietnam by Navy Seals – played a role in prompting North Vietnamese gun boat actions that became the casus belli for President Johnson. Thus, a misleading interpretation of the known facts, i.e., the intelligence assessment of these events, became the critical factor in making it America’s war, not just Saigon’s war.


Iran had serious scores to settle with Iraq. In 1980, Saddam Hussein launched a bloody war that dragged on until 1988 without a decisive end. That President Bush would destroy Saddam's regime, saving Iran the trouble, was probably beyond its clerics’ wildest dreams.

He did the same for al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden must have been ecstatic. The U.S. invasion opened the way for al Qaeda cadres to enter Iraq by the scores. Killing Americans in Iraq is much easier than killing them in the United States after 9/11. Moreover, toppling secular Arab leaders – including Saddam – was, and remains, Osama bin Laden’s highest priority aim. America is farther down his list, seen as an intermediate objective in the long struggle to bring his version of radical Islamic rule to all Arab countries.

As it turned out, the alleged intelligence that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” and that Saddam aided al Qaeda was grossly wrong. That, of course, became a major international embarrassment, alienating many U.S. allies and aiding its enemies in their claims that America is an aggressor state that cannot be trusted.

Does all of this – confused war aims and phony intelligence – sound familiar? It should.

Abortion, etc.

This is an excerpt from an old Chris Matthews' interview with Pat Toomey, the president of the Club for Growth, and, apparently, erstwhile Republican candidate for Senate from PA.

Ironically, abortion seems to be an issue towards which the majority of Americans take a "nuanced" approach; people have varying levels of comfort regarding the appropriateness of aborting fetuses during the first, second or third trimesters, but most don't really seem to consider abortion to be murder.

However, most pro-life Republican politicians take an allegedly "absolutist" stance, even though many would allow exceptions in the case of rape and incest--which, of course, makes no sense if you believe abortion is murder ("health of the mother" exceptions would strike me as at least morally murky). As is clear from the link I posted, even the most extreme of the mainstream abortion opponents can't bring themselves to advocate murder-appropriate penalties for doctors and women who "murder" babies. Again, What's the deal with only a five year prison term for abortionists in South Dakota, and no penalty for the mothers? That's as good as admitting you're full of shit if you call abortion murder, because you're acknowledging gradations of evil when it comes to killing an innocent American human being (funny how all kinds of justifications spring to mind if you just remove the second modifier from that clause), and that is the slipperiest of all slippery slopes for the Christian right.

I suppose it's possible that the pro-life lobby would let the Republican Party off with merely "highly restrictive" laws in the red states if Roe were overturned. After all, humans are pragmatic by nature, even if that pragmatism leads to the inescapable conclusion that the absolutist murder rhetoric was nothing more than a political tool. But that doesn't seem likely to me, given the fervor of the movement, and that's where the problems really begin for the mainstream right.

After the defeat of Roe, then what? Just let the degenerate blue staters kill millions of babies a year? Lots of Idahoans would probably find that to be even a desirable outcome, but I give the pro-life movement more moral credit than that. Would they lobby for a constitutional amendment that would certainly fail, and reinforce the fact the most Americans disagree with them? The Republican mainstream knows that walking the walk on abortion would immediately make them electorally radioactive throughout much of the country, so would they want to be defined by this issue in they way they could hardly avoid defining themselves in the midst of such a campaign for national prohibition?

All of these possibilities could easily be a long way off, but I'm sure they are inspiring some serious soul searching among insightful conservatives now that things seem to be going their way.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Pub Quiz 3-7-06

Who's in?

1) Touch 'em all- 11 pts
2) She Blinded Me With Science- 11 pts
3) Match- American Idol- 12 pts
4) Bizarro World- 16 pts
5) Dead or Canadian- Os or Nas? 10 points
6) Picture Round 16 points
7) General Knowledge 24 points

Iran Commits Act of War

...Or, When Does the Bombing Begin, part III

This story from ABC:

U.S. military and intelligence officials tell ABC News that they have caught shipments of deadly new bombs at the Iran-Iraq border.
They are a very nasty piece of business, capable of penetrating U.S. troops' strongest armor.

What the United States says links them to Iran are tell-tale manufacturing signatures -- certain types of machine-shop welds and material indicating they are built by the same bomb factory.

"The signature is the same because they are exactly the same in production," said explosives expert Kevin Berry. "So it's the same make and model."

U.S. officials say roadside bomb attacks against American forces in Iraq have become much more deadly as more and more of the Iran-designed and -produced bombs have been smuggled in from the country since last October.

"I think the evidence is strong that the Iranian government is making these IEDs, and the Iranian government is sending them across the border and they are killing U.S. troops once they get there," said Richard Clarke, former White House counterterrorism chief and an ABC News consultant. "I think it's very hard to escape the conclusion that, in all probability, the Iranian government is knowingly killing U.S. troops."

I think it's just a matter of time until we are forced to deal with Iran.

The House of Cosbys


Monday, March 06, 2006

The Latest in the Abortion Wars

Thinking outside the box on the abortion debate:

There will always be abortions. But when you look at the trends—more foolproof contraception, more access to morning-after pills, earlier and fewer abortions—you can begin to envision a gradual, voluntary exodus from at least half the time frame protected by Roe. That's the half the public doesn't support. Maybe that six-month window made more sense in 1973 than it does today. Maybe, if we spend the next 10 years helping women avoid second-trimester abortions, we won't have to spend the next 20 or 40 years defending them. Maybe the best way to end the assault on Roe is to make it irrelevant.

Wishful thinking. I can imagine pro-choicers agreeing to more restrictive abortion laws much more easily than I can imagine pro-lifers agreeing to stop there. But irrespective of what I can imagine, so many of the players in the debate have invested all their moral capital into their positions, that finding a reasonable midddle ground would be like trying to fit a camel through a needle's eye.


Anyone out there know any decent VoIP providers for businesses? I work for a small non-profit that makes lots of calls to Africa and Europe, and the long distance bills are killing us. Thanks.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Health Care

Fantastic article on why the right is wrong on health care. Here's one of the key passages:

But perhaps the biggest objection to consumer-directed health reform is that its advocates have misdiagnosed the problem. They believe that Americans have too much health insurance; the 2004 Economic Report of the President condemned the fact that insurance currently pays for "many events that have little uncertainty, such as routine dental care, annual medical exams, and vaccinations," and for "relatively low-expense items, such as an office visit to the doctor for a sore throat." The implication is that health costs are too high because people who don't pay their own medical bills consume too much routine dental care and are too ready to visit the doctor about a sore throat. And that argument is all wrong. Excessive consumption of routine care, or small-expense items, can't be a major source of health care inefficiency, because such items don't account for a major share of medical costs.

Remember the 80–20 rule: the great bulk of medical expenses are accounted for by a small number of people requiring very expensive treatment. When you think of the problem of health care costs, you shouldn't envision visits to the family physician to talk about a sore throat; you should think about coronary bypass operations, dialysis, and chemotherapy. Nobody is proposing a consumer-directed health care plan that would force individuals to pay a large share of extreme medical expenses, such as the costs of chemotherapy, out of pocket. And that means that consumer-directed health care can't promote savings on the treatments that account for most of what we spend on health care.

The administration's plans for consumer-directed health care, then, are a diversion from meaningful health care reform, and will actually worsen our health care problems. In fact, some reformers privately hope that George W. Bush manages to get his health care plans passed, because they believe that they will hasten the collapse of employment-based coverage and pave the way for real reform. (The suffering along the way would be huge.)

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Iran's Best Friend

How very nice an achievement.

The Mora Memo

Article from the New Yorker that discusses how an internal effort to ban the abuse and torture of detainees was thwarted.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Average American Family Grew 2.3% Lazier Between 2001 and 2004

Meanwhile, the top 1% was apparently working harder than ever!

Average family income drops 2.3%

By Sue Kirchhoff, USA TODAY

The 2001 recession was shallow, but its effects were steep.

Average family incomes fell in the USA from 2001 to 2004, pulled down by a sluggish recovery from the downturn and the sharp stock market drop, the Federal Reserve said Thursday. The decline — the first since 1989-92 — was accompanied by the smallest increase in net worth in that period.

In its comprehensive Survey of Consumer Finances, released every three years, the Fed said the median net worth of the bottom 40% of families declined, while those at the top saw gains. The percentage of families investing in stocks fell 3.3 percentage points to 48.6% from 2001 to 2004, a level last reached some time between the 1995 and 1998 surveys.

Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's, says job growth and incomes have been picking up since the survey period. But the report provides more troubling evidence of a rising gap in wealth in the USA.

"The household balance sheet is in good shape, better shape today ... but it's not improved for everybody. It's improved for the people in the top distribution of income and wealth," he says.
From 2001 to 2004, average family income fell 2.3%, to an inflation-adjusted $70,700 from $72,400 in the 1998-2001 period. By contrast, from 1998 to 2001, average income jumped 17.3%. Median income — the midpoint of the income range — rose 1.6% to $43,200.

Fed economists said the figures were "strongly influenced" by a more-than-6% drop in median real wages during the period. Also, investment income was less than in the stock market boom years of the late 1990s. (Related: Full report)

Real net worth — the difference between family assets and liabilities — rose only slightly from 2001 to 2004. Median net worth rose only 1.5% to $93,100 during the period, vs. a 10.3% gain from 1998 to 2001. And liabilities rose faster than assets, due largely to a big rise in mortgage debt.

Though the economy was in recession in 2001, it steadily improved from 2002 to 2004 with low inflation and falling unemployment.

There was some good news in the report. Minorities, who have long lagged behind whites in income, saw healthier gains. Homeownership rates rose. Still, minority income remains much lower, about 60% of whites.

"The measured gains in wealth in the 2001-04 period pale in comparison with the increases of the preceding three years," wrote Fed economists Brian Bucks, Arthur Kennickell and Kevin Moore.

Zogby Poll


The wide-ranging poll also shows that 58% of those serving in country say the U.S. mission in Iraq is clear in their minds, while 42% said it is either somewhat or very unclear to them, that they have no understanding of it at all, or are unsure. While 85% said the U.S. mission is mainly “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9-11 attacks,” 77% said they also believe the main or a major reason for the war was “to stop Saddam from protecting al Qaeda in Iraq.”

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Reports of Surging Insurgency

as far back as 2003? Am I missing something here?