Friday, October 06, 2006

Theories Abound as Oil Prices Fluctuate

This is only one of the theories broached in the article
Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. has asked his former partners at Goldman Sachs to dump gasoline futures to drive down pump prices and boost GOP prospects in November.

Goldman runs the most important commodity index, which serves as the basis for about $60 billion in investment funds. And the firm has been selling gasoline holdings. "Goldman has been liquidating its gasoline position, and that's put a lot of pressure on prices," said Citigroup Inc. oil analyst Doug Leggate. "It's a very large part of why gasoline has fallen."
Other theories include the debts that the Saudis owe the Bush family, but not mentioned in my quick galnce over is the fact that the US govt has not been buying stores for its winter oil subsidies for the poor and elderly, which it usually does at this time, for cost-savings reasons. This can have a huge impact in a commodity market where the price is defined by the price of the last barrel of oil currently in demand.

In a market system, all prices are pegged the same, so the first sold costs as much as the last, so if the last exceeds supplies all the prices rise precipitously. Hence the influence a relatively small amount of oil demand can have on a market system. Of course, as any economist knows... you must pay the piper in the end, but as far as the Bush crime family is concerned, better you pay them (more) after November than before.

Olbermann: It is not the Democrats whose inaction in the face of the enemy you fear

Mr. President, these new lies go to the heart of what it is that you truly wish to preserve.

It is not our freedom, nor our country — your actions against the Constitution give irrefutable proof of that.

You want to preserve a political party's power. And obviously you'll sell this country out, to do it.

These are lies about the Democrats piled atop lies about Iraq which were piled atop lies about your preparations for Al-Qaeda.

To you, perhaps, they feel like the weight of a million centuries.

As crushing. As immovable.

They are not.

If you add more lies to them, you cannot free yourself, and us, from them.

But if you stop — if you stop fabricating quotes, and building straw-men, and inspiring those around you to do the same — you may yet liberate yourself and this nation.

Please, sir, do not throw this country's principles away because your lies have made it such that you can no longer differentiate between the terrorists and the critics.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


This is a crack-up, Al Sharpton on Ned Lamont, Lieberman and the future of the Democratic Party:
“Ned Lamont is an unlikely vehicle. It’s always unlikely people who turn history. It must be God has a funny sense of humor. In my imagination, I see the meeting in heaven when they say it’s time to really deal with this war: ‘We need a messenger to send to the Democratic Party.’ And an angel says, ‘I got this guy in Connecticut, a real goofy, rich Greenwich, Connecticut, white guy who in Harlem would be like Gomer Pyle. Let’s make him the candidate.’ I can see everyone falling down laughing. And look where we are this morning. I tell you one thing: I don’t think Joe Lieberman is laughing. No matter how this night ends, he ain’t laughing. They’re gonna have to rethink the whole centrist strategy. Democrats everywhere are going to have to rethink their strategy. It’s just amazing.”

Al’s growing more expansive about the coalition that formed around Ned, of antiwar liberals, scared soccer moms, disaffected union members, and mobilized blacks—how they’re not only going to put Ned over the top here but they’re also going to change the direction of Democratic politics. “This is the beginning of the end of the right-wing takeover of the Democratic party,” he says. “This is a whole different kind of people comin’ together out of mutual interest and mutual respect. And the people that have the courage to stand up are gonna be the ones that usher in a new movement. Sometimes in life, you gotta make the decision to do what you think is right, and out of it something grows. I think Ned Lamont made the right decision.”
PS: the title of this post is the title of the excepted article, which refers to the kiss that Bush gave Lieberman after his 2005 State of the Union address. I guess it could also stand for Lieberman's 'embrace' of neoconservatism. It is in no way a comment on Sharpton's analysis, which I think is spot on.

Wouldn't it be ironic, after the divisiveness of the Vietnam war - which split the Democratic party - if a second divisive 'war of choice' were to lead the Democrats back to their roots and help them find their voice again, pushing them to articulate liberalism as an attractive governing philosophy in a way that it has not been for 35 years? I think this war of Bush's might just push the Democrats - despite themselves - to actually fight back! And it is long past time.

Bush owes us an apology

...In four simple words last Friday, the President brought into sharp focus what has been only vaguely clear these past five-and-a-half years - the way the terrain at night is perceptible only during an angry flash of lightning, and then, a second later, all again is dark.

It's unacceptable to think," he said.

It is never unacceptable to think.

And when a President says thinking is unacceptable, even on one topic, even in the heat of the moment, even in the turning of a phrase extracted from its context, he takes us toward a new and fearful path -- one heretofore the realm of science fiction authors and apocalyptic visionaries.

That flash of lightning freezes at the distant horizon, and we can just make out a world in which authority can actually suggest it has become unacceptable to think.

Thus the lightning flash reveals not merely a President we have already seen, the one who believes he has a monopoly on current truth.

It now shows us a President who has decided that of all our commanders-in-chief, ever, he alone has had the knowledge necessary to alter and re-shape our inalienable rights.

This is a frightening, and a dangerous, delusion, Mr. President....

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Major Problems At Polls Feared

More news about a situation brought to you by the gang that can't shoot straight
An overhaul in how states and localities record votes and administer elections since the Florida recount battle six years ago has created conditions that could trigger a repeat -- this time on a national scale -- of last week's Election Day debacle in the Maryland suburbs, election experts said.... But in Maryland last Tuesday, a combination of human blunders and technological glitches caused long lines and delays in vote-counting. The problems, which followed ones earlier this year in Ohio, Illinois and several other states, have contributed to doubts among some experts about whether the new systems are reliable and whether election officials are adequately prepared to use them.

In a polarized political climate, in which elections are routinely marked by litigation and allegations of incompetent administration or outright tampering, some worry that voting problems could cast a Florida-style shadow over this fall's midterm elections.

"We could see that control of Congress is going to be decided by races in recount situations that might not be determined for several weeks," said Paul S. DeGregorio, chairman of the federal Election Assistance Commission, although he added that he does not expect problems of this magnitude....
The world's only superpower and we can't even reliably count ballots?!?

UPDATE: And why is it our government can't count ballots? Is it just sheer stupidity? Or does one party - say the party that controls all three branches of government - benefit from some level of election indeterminancy?

Clearly, the Rethuglicans have many more resources for fighting court ballots over disputed elections - they have the money, the lawyers, and - as we saw in 2000 - they have stacked the judiciary with judges willing to play a partisan role. Why can't our government count ballots? Because in part - as the past six years have shown - the party that controls every branch of our federal government is NOT THAT INTERESTED in being able to count those ballots. They think of 'democracy' as a ritual not a process - something to be endured, not encouraged. Like the Bolsheviks before them, the Busheviks are only interested in putting on a show of democracy, not in abiding by democratic principles. Power is what they reverence, not the will of the people.

Ties to GOP Trumped Know-How Among Staff Sent to Rebuild Iraq

...The CPA had the power to enact laws, print currency, collect taxes, deploy police and spend Iraq's oil revenue. It had more than 1,500 employees in Baghdad at its height, working under America's viceroy in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, but never released a public roster of its entire staff.

Interviews with scores of former CPA personnel over the past two years depict an organization that was dominated -- and ultimately hobbled -- by administration ideologues.

"We didn't tap -- and it should have started from the White House on down -- just didn't tap the right people to do this job," said Frederick Smith, who served as the deputy director of the CPA's Washington office. "It was a tough, tough job. Instead we got people who went out there because of their political leanings."...
Sound familiar? It should, it is the same reason OUR government can't do the simple things any government does, with Katrina being the most obvious example.

Bushevism = Ideological Cronyism ueber Alles!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bloggermann: This hole in the ground

...However, of all the things those of us who were here five years ago could have forecast -- of all the nightmares that unfolded before our eyes, and the others that unfolded only in our minds -- none of us could have predicted this.

Five years later this space is still empty.

Five years later there is no memorial to the dead.

Five years later there is no building rising to show with proud defiance that we would not have our America wrung from us, by cowards and criminals.

Five years later this country's wound is still open.

Five years later this country's mass grave is still unmarked.

Five years later this is still just a background for a photo-op.

It is beyond shameful....

...The only positive on 9/11 and the days and weeks that so slowly and painfully followed it was the unanimous humanity, here, and throughout the country. The government, the President in particular, was given every possible measure of support.

Those who did not belong to his party -- tabled that.

Those who doubted the mechanics of his election -- ignored that.

Those who wondered of his qualifications -- forgot that.

History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government by its critics. It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation's wounds, but to take political advantage.

Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.

The President -- and those around him -- did that.

They promised bi-partisanship, and then showed that to them, "bi-partisanship" meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow, or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused, as appeasers, as those who, in the Vice President's words yesterday, "validate the strategy of the terrorists."

They promised protection, and then showed that to them "protection" meant going to war against a despot whose hand they had once shaken, a despot who we now learn from our own Senate Intelligence Committee, hated al-Qaida as much as we did.

The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war, on the false premise that it had 'something to do' with 9/11 is "lying by implication."

The impolite phrase is "impeachable offense."...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Update: Disney/ABC's 'Stab in the Back'

This propaganda is being shown not only in this country but in Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Removing any doubt about what Disney/ABC hope to accomplish - in short rewriting the history of 9/11 to try and shoft the blame for one of the worst failures in U.S. government history from W. 'My Pet Goat' Bush to Clinton - is the following tidbit regarding the marketing of 'Triumph of the Swill' in our fellow Anglophone countries:

Daily Kos diarist STOP George has uploaded one of the foreign trailers for the Disney/ABC conservative fan fiction to YouTube, and the advertisement makes it very clear just what sort of Limbaugh-style political porn this thing was intended to be. Featured prominently? The words: "OFFICIAL TRUE STORY".

Friday, September 08, 2006

Combat the Big Lie!

Sign the petition with a personalized message!

Disney/ABC's 'Stab in the Back'

Rewriting history is what "The path to 9/11" is all about. But Disney/ABC are rewriting it in a certain way conforming to a particular script. That script is a tried and true one, the one Hitler and his fascist minions called the 'stab in the back.'

The term comes from German mythology about how the almost invulnerable hero Siegfried was killed by a perfidious public-friend-but-secret-enemy Hagen. Siegfried (like Achilles in Greek myth - the 'Achilles heel') was invulnerable except in one spot on is back. Hagen discovered this and treacherously stabbed him in the back, killing him.

Hitler used the myth to scapegoat the Jewish people for the German loss in WWI. He claimed that the German army was never defeated but instead 'stabbed in the back' by German citizens of Jewish ancestry and/or religion. It was patently false, but in true 'Big Lie' fashion, it appealed not to reason but to emotion. What would people rather believe: that the most revered and honored institution of the German Empire - the Army - had been defeated or instead that the army had been betrayed by an unpopular minority? The Big Lie worked just as it was intended: it was 'red meat' for the true believers, it clouded any undertanding about the true causes of defeat among the apolitical majority, and was absorbed into the impressionable youth who were too young to know any better.

A more emotionally palatable fictional narrative became more real than fact for large segments of the population. Defeat of the German war machine became a symbol of its near infallibility and the need to resurrect it while 'dealing harshly' with those who dissent.

The same scenario is now unfolding with Bush, Disney/ABC and 9/11. The truth of 9/11 is that Bush and his administration simply did not take non-state terrorism seriously. It was merely 'swatting at flies' as Bush himself put it. He had bigger things on his agenda: Iraq. But Bush's failure of omniscience - and his total disregard for his constitutionally sworn duties - is hard to square with the belief of his all-knowing persona as projected by the WH press office or with the typically American belief that government officials always do what they think is best for the nation rather than say, merely a segment of the nation (oil & military industries foremost among them). Wouldn't it be far easier to swallow that Bush was hoodwinked (just like the rest of us) by the enemy within? And the ground for substituting Liberals for Jews has already been well prepared by the likes of Rush and Coulter

(I'm curious, why - when all we hear from the WH is how 'no one took Mein Kampf seriously no one seems to take the hate from Coulter et. al. seriously?).

Hence the creation of a fictional history to embed a false - but emotionally more satisfying - narrative. America was betrayed not by a lackadaisical president whose imperial ambitions did not admit of engaging in anything as menial as 'swatting flies,' but rather by a pusilanimous, dithering liberal administration who couldn't stand tall in defense of America. Our Armed Forces and spy networks were not defeated as much as they were prevented from winning. We're still #1 - as long as we don't make the mistake of electing liberals.

The take home message from Disney/ABC: Clinton and liberals stabbed Bush, the CIA, and the US in the back. Yes it is 'factually inaccurate' - pure fiction in the key points - but that will not rob it of its influence and power once it gets out there. We need to stop the lies before they seep into our children's subconsciousness - it is no accident that Disney/ABC sought to enlist Scholastic books and school districts to promote their lies. Don't let this become another Rambo (the liberal politicians didn't let us win!) or Clint's 'make my day' (the liberal politicians didn't let us win!).

Contact your ABC affiliate and politely inform them that you have read about the gross lies and distortions displayed in the 'docudrama' and that you will you contact your channels local sponsors informing them that you will no longer patronize their products/services if this fascist (in the true sense of the word: and ideology of anti-liberal, militaristic corporatism) propaganda goes on the air. Do your bit to save our Republic! See how it is done here and here, with more general info here and here. Finally here are a bunch of great resources here.

Good luck and Godspeed!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The myth of fair elections in America

One person, one vote. Count the totals. The one with the most wins. The beauty of democracy is its simplicity and its inherent fairness. It equalises everyone, even as it empowers everyone. What could go wrong? In America, it turns out, quite a lot.

Everyone remembers the debacle in Florida, 2000. The recounts, the law suits and the eventual deciding of a presidential election - not by the voters - but by the Supreme Court. The memory still causes a collective shudder to America's body politic.

Which makes the fact that America's system of voting is now even more suspect, more complicated, and more open to abuse than ever before so utterly shocking. Across the country a bewildering series of scandals or dubious practises are proliferating beyond control. The prospect of a 'second Florida' is now more likely not less. There are many - and not all of them are conspiracy theorists - who believed it may have happened in Ohio in 2004.

This week the venerable New York Times was the latest of many organisations and institutions to declare that America's democratic system is simply starting to fail. Not in terms of its democratic ideals, or some takeover by a Neocon cabal, but by a simple collapse in its ability to count everyone's votes accurately and fairly. The Times is editorialising on a shocking government report into electoral rules in Ohio's biggest county, Cuyahoga, which contains the city of Cleveland. It details a litany of errors and a large discrepancy between the paper record of a ballot and the result recorded by the new Diebold electronic voting machines the county has just installed....

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Donald Rumsfeld's Dance With the Nazis (Set Frank Rich Free!)

That's Frank Rich, who penned a must read that now you can read thanks to Mother Jones:
...In his speech last week, Mr. Rumsfeld paraphrased Winston Churchill: Appeasing tyrants is “a bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last.” He can quote Churchill all he wants, but if he wants to self-righteously use that argument to smear others, the record shows that Mr. Rumsfeld cozied up to the crocodile of Baghdad as smarmily as anyone. To borrow the defense secretary’s own formulation, he suffers from moral confusion about Saddam.

Mr. Rumsfeld also suffers from intellectual confusion about terrorism. He might not have appeased Al Qaeda but he certainly enabled it. Like Chamberlain, he didn’t recognize the severity of the looming threat until it was too late. Had he done so, maybe his boss would not have blown off intelligence about imminent Qaeda attacks while on siesta in Crawford....

Body politic a dead giveaway

Interesting brief article on politicians' attempts to manipulate body language - and how their body language also betrays them:
President Bush's exaggerated "power walk" is put on in an attempt to impress. The knuckle-dragging swing of the arms, the languid simian gait and the palms facing backwards are all part of showing who's boss.

"This is not how normal people walk," Dr Collett told the annual British Association Festival of Science in Norwich. "[It is] to convey an impression of his masculinity and therefore his power."

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Keith Olbermann on Rumsfeld, govt infallibility and fascism

The man who sees absolutes, where all other men see nuances and shades of meaning, is either a prophet, or a quack.

Donald H. Rumsfeld is not a prophet.

Mr. Rumsfeld's remarkable speech to the American Legion yesterday demands the deep analysis--and the sober contemplation--of every American.

For it did not merely serve to impugn the morality or intelligence -- indeed, the loyalty -- of the majority of Americans who oppose the transient occupants of the highest offices in the land. Worse, still, it credits those same transient occupants -- our employees -- with a total omniscience; a total omniscience which neither common sense, nor this administration's track record at home or abroad, suggests they deserve.

Dissent and disagreement with government is the life's blood of human freedom; and not merely because it is the first roadblock against the kind of tyranny the men Mr. Rumsfeld likes to think of as "his" troops still fight, this very evening, in Iraq.

It is also essential. Because just every once in awhile it is right and the power to which it speaks, is wrong.

In a small irony, however, Mr. Rumsfeld's speechwriter was adroit in invoking the memory of the appeasement of the Nazis. For in their time, there was another government faced with true peril--with a growing evil--powerful and remorseless.

That government, like Mr. Rumsfeld's, had a monopoly on all the facts. It, too, had the "secret information." It alone had the true picture of the threat. It too dismissed and insulted its critics in terms like Mr. Rumsfeld's -- questioning their intellect and their morality.

That government was England's, in the 1930's.

It knew Hitler posed no true threat to Europe, let alone England.

It knew Germany was not re-arming, in violation of all treaties and accords.

It knew that the hard evidence it received, which contradicted its own policies, its own conclusions -- its own omniscience -- needed to be dismissed.

The English government of Neville Chamberlain already knew the truth.

Most relevant of all -- it "knew" that its staunchest critics needed to be marginalized and isolated. In fact, it portrayed the foremost of them as a blood-thirsty war-monger who was, if not truly senile, at best morally or intellectually confused.

That critic's name was Winston Churchill.

Sadly, we have no Winston Churchills evident among us this evening. We have only Donald Rumsfelds, demonizing disagreement, the way Neville Chamberlain demonized Winston Churchill.

History -- and 163 million pounds of Luftwaffe bombs over England -- have taught us that all Mr. Chamberlain had was his certainty -- and his own confusion. A confusion that suggested that the office can not only make the man, but that the office can also make the facts.

Thus, did Mr. Rumsfeld make an apt historical analogy.

Excepting the fact, that he has the battery plugged in backwards.

His government, absolute -- and exclusive -- in its knowledge, is not the modern version of the one which stood up to the Nazis.

It is the modern version of the government of Neville Chamberlain.

But back to today's Omniscient ones.

That, about which Mr. Rumsfeld is confused is simply this: This is a Democracy. Still. Sometimes just barely.

And, as such, all voices count -- not just his.

Had he or his president perhaps proven any of their prior claims of omniscience -- about Osama Bin Laden's plans five years ago, about Saddam Hussein's weapons four years ago, about Hurricane Katrina's impact one year ago -- we all might be able to swallow hard, and accept their "omniscience" as a bearable, even useful recipe, of fact, plus ego.

But, to date, this government has proved little besides its own arrogance, and its own hubris.

Mr. Rumsfeld is also personally confused, morally or intellectually, about his own standing in this matter. From Iraq to Katrina, to the entire "Fog of Fear" which continues to envelop this nation, he, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and their cronies have -- inadvertently or intentionally -- profited and benefited, both personally, and politically.

And yet he can stand up, in public, and question the morality and the intellect of those of us who dare ask just for the receipt for the Emporer's New Clothes?

In what country was Mr. Rumsfeld raised? As a child, of whose heroism did he read? On what side of the battle for freedom did he dream one day to fight? With what country has he confused the United States of America?

The confusion we -- as its citizens-- must now address, is stark and forbidding.

But variations of it have faced our forefathers, when men like Nixon and McCarthy and Curtis LeMay have darkened our skies and obscured our flag. Note -- with hope in your heart -- that those earlier Americans always found their way to the light, and we can, too.

The confusion is about whether this Secretary of Defense, and this administration, are in fact now accomplishing what they claim the terrorists seek: The destruction of our freedoms, the very ones for which the same veterans Mr. Rumsfeld addressed yesterday in Salt Lake City, so valiantly fought.

And about Mr. Rumsfeld's other main assertion, that this country faces a "new type of fascism."

As he was correct to remind us how a government that knew everything could get everything wrong, so too was he right when he said that -- though probably not in the way he thought he meant it.

This country faces a new type of fascism - indeed.

Although I presumptuously use his sign-off each night, in feeble tribute, I have utterly no claim to the words of the exemplary journalist Edward R. Murrow.

But never in the trial of a thousand years of writing could I come close to matching how he phrased a warning to an earlier generation of us, at a time when other politicians thought they (and they alone) knew everything, and branded those who disagreed: "confused" or "immoral."

Thus, forgive me, for reading Murrow, in full:

"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty," he said, in 1954. "We must remember always that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.

"We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular."

And so good night, and good luck.

Spinning the bullets

This is a good article, read the whole thing (but at minimum, click on the links in cluded below) at:
Spinning the bullets the Guardian Unlimited: News blog

...You can find the roots of [the refusal to accept the reasons behind the bad coverage from Iraq] in the sincere belief among many American conservatives that the media should be used as a partisan tool to advance their political ends - an attitude encapsulated in the infamous Nixon-era memo by late Supreme Court judge Lewis Powell, seen by many as the seed from which the modern conservative media backlash has grown....

...The fact that Washington seems to believe its own propaganda, blaming the media for all this seems astonishing. But as US social theorist Eric Hoffer pointed out, propaganda doesn't so much deceive people, as help them to deceive themselves.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Disaster capitalism: how to make money out of misery

Katrina is a classic example of what you get when you put people (Rethuglicans) whao are ideologically opposed to the government in charge of the government - dithering, delay and disfunction:
The first step was the government's abdication of its core responsibility to protect the population from disasters. Under the Bush administration, whole sectors of the government, most notably the Department of Homeland Security, have been turned into glorified temp agencies, with essential functions contracted out to private companies. The theory is that entrepreneurs, driven by the profit motive, are always more efficient (please suspend hysterical laughter).

We saw the results in New Orleans one year ago: Washington was frighteningly weak and inept, in part because its emergency management experts had fled to the private sector and its technology and infrastructure had become positively retro. At least by comparison, the private sector looked modern and competent.

But the honeymoon doesn't last long. "Where has all the money gone?" ask desperate people from Baghdad to New Orleans, from Kabul to tsunami-struck Sri Lanka. One place a great deal of it has gone is into major capital expenditure for these private contractors. Largely under the public radar, billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on the construction of a privatised disaster-response infrastructure: the Shaw Group's new state-of-the-art Baton Rouge headquarters, Bechtel's battalions of earthmoving equipment, Blackwater USA's 6,000-acre campus in North Carolina (complete with paramilitary training camp and 6,000-foot runway).

I call it the Disaster Capitalism Complex. Whatever you might need in a serious crunch, these contractors can provide it: generators, watertanks, cots, port-a-potties, mobile homes, communications systems, helicopters, medicine, men with guns.

This state-within-a-state has been built almost exclusively with money from public contracts, including the training of its staff (overwhelmingly former civil servants, politicians and soldiers). Yet it is all privately owned; taxpayers have absolutely no control over it or claim to it....

Monday, August 21, 2006

Bush's 'malaise moment'

But in Bush-speak is it not a malaise (as it came to be called when Carter sought to shift blame) but rather a "straining [of] the psyche of our country."

Translation: the American people are to blame if Bush's policies fail.

Yes, this is the critical turning point when the failed politician points the finger of blame not at himself but at the public he has served so poorly. He tried blaming the terrorists, he tried blaming his predecessor, he tried blaming the messenger. And now (like Hitler in the bunker) he has run out of people to blame - so the blame falls upon the people themselves for failing Der Fuehrer.

Make no mistake about it, this is Bush's attempt to fob off blame for his failure as the fault of American citizens' collective loss of nerve, not flawed policies he built upon a house of cards composed of lies and neo-con fantasies.

'Straining the psyche' will go down in history as a moment - like Carter's 'crisis of confidence' malaise speech or Ford's WIN buttons - that crystalized the fact that this man has no clue what he is doing or what he is up against. And that means that the rest of us are up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

Friday, August 18, 2006



Mass murder in the skies: was the plot feasible?

So, did the latest 'terror scare' have a snowball's chance in hell of actually taking place? that is the question asked in the following very insightful post:
Binary liquid explosives are a sexy staple of Hollywood thrillers....

Now we have news of the recent, supposedly real-world, terrorist plot to destroy commercial airplanes by smuggling onboard the benign precursors to a deadly explosive, and mixing up a batch of liquid death in the lavatories. So, The Register has got to ask, were these guys for real, or have they, and the counterterrorist officials supposedly protecting us, been watching too many action movies?

We're told that the suspects were planning to use TATP, or triacetone triperoxide, a high explosive that supposedly can be made from common household chemicals unlikely to be caught by airport screeners. A little hair dye, drain cleaner, and paint thinner - all easily concealed in drinks bottles - and the forces of evil have effectively smuggled a deadly bomb onboard your plane.

Or at least that's what we're hearing, and loudly, through the mainstream media and its legions of so-called "terrorism experts." But what do these experts know about chemistry? Less than they know about lobbying for Homeland Security pork, which is what most of them do for a living. But they've seen the same movies that you and I have seen, and so the myth of binary liquid explosives dies hard....

It turns out actually mixing the chemicals is a several hours long process that requires delicate mixing (otherwise the mixture will go 'poof' without the force necessary to do much damage - except perhaps kill the person mixing) and abundant amounts of coolant:

After a few hours - assuming, by some miracle, that the fumes haven't overcome you or alerted passengers or the flight crew to your activities - you'll have a quantity of TATP with which to carry out your mission. Now all you need to do is dry it for an hour or two....

Certainly, if we can imagine a group of jihadists smuggling the necessary chemicals and equipment on board, and cooking up TATP in the lavatory, then we've passed from the realm of action blockbusters to that of situation comedy....

But the Hollywood myth of binary liquid explosives now moves governments and drives public policy. We have reacted to a movie plot. Liquids are now banned in aircraft cabins (while crystalline white powders would be banned instead, if anyone in charge were serious about security). Nearly everything must now go into the hold, where adequate amounts of explosives can easily be detonated from the cabin with cell phones, which are generally not banned....

It's a pity that our security rests in the hands of government officials who understand as little about terrorism as the Florida clowns who needed their informant to suggest attack scenarios, as the 21/7 London bombers who injured no one, as lunatic "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, as the Forest Gate nerve gas attackers who had no nerve gas, as the British nitwits who tried to acquire "red mercury," and as the recent binary liquid bomb attackers who had no binary liquid bombs....

Our official protectors and deciders trumpet the fools they catch because they haven't got a handle on the people we should really be afraid of. They make policy based on foibles and follies, and Hollywood plots.

Meanwhile, the real thing draws ever closer.

Of course, what the article doesn't address is WHY the ernest focus on the nitwits - in order to scare the bejesus out of the rest of us, of course. Because when people are afraid they don't ask questions and they rally around the authorities, no matter how incompetent those authorities (Bush and Blair) might be. In short, it is a cynical attempt to shore up declining polling numbers.

Thankfully, according to the polls, by now the public seems to have finally heard the cry 'wolf' one time too many.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Primeval Tide of Toxins

In many places — the atolls of the Pacific, the shrimp beds of the Eastern Seaboard, the fiords of Norway — some of the most advanced forms of ocean life are struggling to survive while the most primitive are thriving and spreading.

Fish, corals and marine mammals are dying while algae, bacteria and jellyfish are growing unchecked.

Where this pattern is most pronounced, scientists evoke a scenario of evolution running in reverse, returning to the primeval seas of hundreds of millions of years ago.

Jeremy B.C. Jackson, a marine ecologist and paleontologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, says we are witnessing "the rise of slime."

For many years, it was assumed that the oceans were too vast for humanity to damage in any lasting way. "Man marks the Earth with ruin," wrote the 19th century poet Lord Byron. "His control stops with the shore."

Even in modern times, when oil spills, chemical discharges and other industrial accidents heightened awareness of man's capacity to injure sea life, the damage was often regarded as temporary.

But over time, the accumulation of environmental pressures has altered the basic chemistry of the seas.

The causes are varied, but collectively they have made the ocean more hospitable to primitive organisms by putting too much food into the water.

Industrial society is overdosing the oceans with basic nutrients — the nitrogen, carbon, iron and phosphorous compounds that curl out of smokestacks and tailpipes, wash into the sea from fertilized lawns and cropland, seep out of septic tanks and gush from sewer pipes.

Modern industry and agriculture produce more fixed nitrogen — fertilizer, essentially — than all the Earth's natural processes. Million of tons of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide, produced by burning fossil fuels, enter the ocean every day.

These pollutants feed excessive growth of harmful algae and bacteria.

At the same time, overfishing and destruction of wetlands have diminished the competing sea life and natural buffers that once held the microbes and weeds in check.

The consequences are evident worldwide.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Iran: The Next War

Even before the bombs fell on Baghdad, a group of senior Pentagon officials were plotting to invade another country. Their covert campaign once again relied on false intelligence and shady allies. But this time, the target was Iran.

...In the Pentagon's view, according to one senior official there at the time, Iran was nothing but "a house of cards ready to be pushed over the precipice." So far, though, the White House had rejected the Pentagon's plan, favoring the State Department's more moderate position of diplomacy. Now, unwilling to play by the rules any longer, Franklin was taking the extraordinary—and illegal—step of passing on highly classified information to lobbyists for a foreign state. Unable to win the internal battle over Iran being waged within the administration, a member of Feith's secret unit in the Pentagon was effectively resorting to treason, recruiting AIPAC to use its enormous influence to pressure the president into adopting the draft directive and wage war against Iran.

It was a role that AIPAC was eager to play. Rosen, recognizing that Franklin could serve as a useful spy, immediately began plotting ways to plant him in the White House—specifically in the National Security Council, the epicenter of intelligence and national-security policy. By working there, Rosen told Franklin a few days later, he would be "by the elbow of the president."

Knowing that such a maneuver was well within AIPAC's capabilities, Franklin asked Rosen to "put in a good word" for him. Rosen agreed. "I'll do what I can," he said, adding that the breakfast meeting had been a real "eye-opener."

Working together, the two men hoped to sell the United States on yet another bloody war. A few miles away, digital recorders at the FBI's Language Services Section captured every word....

It's all about oil?

...We are trained to think of Middle Eastern conflicts as modern flare-ups of ancient tribal animosities. But to uncover why the flames won't die, the usual rule applies: follow the money.

Am I saying that Tehran, Riyadh and Houston oil chieftains conspired to ignite a war to boost their petroleum profits? I can't imagine it. But I do wonder whether Bush would let Olmert have an extra week of bombings, or the potentates of the Persian Gulf would allow Hamas and Hizbullah to continue their deadly fireworks if by doing so they would cause the price of crude to crash.

You know and I know that if this war took a bite out of Exxon or the House of Saud, a ceasefire would be imposed quicker than you can say "Let's drill in the Arctic."

Sunday, July 23, 2006

And wingnuts like to mock the French?

But it seems that it is the British, or more specifically, Blair's 'new Labourites' who are the spineless lickspittles of Europe:
You will have your own view - there's so much to choose from - on which part of the open-mic conversation between George W Bush and Tony Blair at the Yo Summit was the most toe-curling. One of my favourite excruciating moments is when Bush thanks Blair for sending him a Burberry sweater as a birthday gift. The American President sends up the British Prime Minister by mocking: 'I know you picked it out yourself.'

There's no question which exchange is most enjoyable for those with contempt for the Prime Minister. It is the moment that makes Mr Blair look like the poodle of popular caricature. Worse, he comes over as a poodle who can't even beg his master to toss him a dog biscuit. It is the same bit of the encounter that has caused the most wincing among the Prime Minister's friends.

When Tony Blair offers himself as a Middle East peace envoy, he is casually rebuffed by the American President between bites on a bread roll. Told by Bush that 'Condi is going', the normally fluent Blair is reduced to inarticulate jabbering. 'Well, it's only if, I mean, you know, if she's got a... or if she needs the ground prepared as it were... Because obviously if she goes out, she's got to succeed, if it were, whereas I can go out and just talk.' Yeah, just talk.

It was awful for Tony Blair to be caught asking for permission to go to the Middle East. It was dire to hear George Bush saying he wouldn't let the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom go out - not even on a pointless trip. It looks even more humiliating when the French Foreign Minister is going.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

U.S. Speeds Up Bomb Delivery for the Israelis - New York Times

U.S. Speeds Up Bomb Delivery for the Israelis - New York Times
So much for being an 'honest broker' of any cease fire talks. This is sure to do wonders for our position in Afghanistan and Iraq as well.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Must read parody

And like the Daily Show this parody provides a more accurate assessment of the Finals and the D-Wade cult than all the ink spilled in the MSM:

D-Wade: The Transcendent Super-human

Sunday, June 18, 2006


And that's the thing that bothers me about this series: No team depends on the refs quite like the Heat. When the refs are calling all the bumps on Shaq and protecting Wade on every drive, they're unstoppable. When they're calling everything fairly, they're eminently beatable. If they're not getting any calls, they're just about hopeless. I could see the refs swinging two games in Miami's favor during this series, possibly three. In fact, I'm already depressed about it and the series hasn't even started yet. [emphasis added]
Well, after watching the refs hand the game over to Miami but putting Dwyane W. - after an out of control drive against three players resulted in a predictably lame shot that missed - at the free throw line with 1.9 seconds left in a one point game I would have to agree with ESPN's Simmons: the NBA refs have been swinging games to Miami.

The worst of it is that Dwyane was not fouled - as replays clearly showed.

I say the above not being a fan of either team, but a fan of basketball. What we are seeing is no longer basketball - it has become choreographed, scripted, ridiculous. Room is still left for the players to play, but not all the way and not all the time. For example, not only did Dwyane get to decide the game at the FT line, but his FT attempts equalled the entire Dallas team. Not surprisingly Dwyane made more FTs this game than any other player in the entire 50 year history of the NBA Finals.

The refs swing games in subtle and not so subtle ways. For example, Dirk Nowitzki is punished by the opposition every time he touches the ball - actually before he touches the ball. Dirk is 'bodied-up' in the parlance - full body contact to push him and keep him off balance. This is routine - as is the lack of a call. Meanwhile, contrast that with the treatment of Dwyane - where merely a poor shot is oftentimes enough to warrent a whistle as in the case of the final shot of the game. I could go on, but why bother?

It is time for the people who value the sport to speak up. Wait for the sportswriters to do so and you will have a long wait. They know what side their bread is buttered on.

People will say 'but Dallas could have won if...' but isn't the point that both teams should have equal chances? You can play the same game saying 'Miami should have one if...' but they got and extra chance. That is why it is not fair. That is why the NBA and their refs and the favoritism that is rife is destroying any belief in spontaneity as opposed to scripted endings. One team should not have to win by four of more points - it should be fair.

Photo of 'foul' being called

Video of 'foul' - notice how quickly the ref signals for the foul, before Nowitzki even has an opportunity to push, which in any case he does not.

Another video showing the entire sequence including Dwyane Wade jumping in the air in the frontcourt, catching the ball and landing in the backcourt, then using his left forearm to knock Jason Terry (the Maverick with the high socks) out of bounds right in front of the ref before his out of control drive to the hoop.

Monday, June 12, 2006

NBA Finals - Rileyball: end of an era?

Following the Mavericks's blowout of the Heat on Sunday, Heat coach Pat Riley claimed it was due to the passion and the intensity of the Dallas players.
"This game was about another team's competitiveness and energy," the [Miami Heat] coach [Pat Riley] said. "Their energy and their effort far surpassed ours."

Sorry, try again.

Riley - whose post-Showtime reputation is one of a motivator first, defensive tactician second (especially on how to exploit the no-longer operative illegal defense rules) and offensive guru last - is as regular as Old Faithful when it comes to his diagnosis of his team's ills. Any of his teams. He sang the same song in LA. He sang it in NY. He sang it before and he is singing it again in Miami. For Riley it always comes down to who wants it more, who works harder, who is more motivated.

It is that sort of tunnel-vision that explains much about why Riley's team has not been competitive in these first few Finals games. Riley has failed the team as much if not more than any other person. He has failed them because he himself has failed to adapt to changing times.

'Rileyball' was an epithet given to the ugly shove'n'grab basketball that Riley promoted at the tail end of his run in LA and throughout his reign at NY and Miami. Its essence is to drain the air out of the ball by making the game a physical wrestling match, permitting the team with the biggest, most committed goons to bludgeon their way to victory.

Essential to this strategy is having a few stars (to, you know, actually put the ball into the basket) and surrounding them with flawed players who possessed the mindset of berserker warriors. The stars would score the ball through isolation and a two-on-two game while the supporting cast would provide the mania, occasionally chipping in with a spot-up bucket.

Not surprisingly, this led to the ugliest basketball this side of the shot-clock. Riley, being the pacesetter he was among the coaching fraternity had a great impact on how the game was played. This impact was heightened by his undeniable success, which was due in part to the good fortune he exercised in selecting the teams whose sideline he would grace and his unparalleled skill in exploiting the rules as they then existed - particularly the illegal defense rule, which he bent and broke on the defensive side (leading to several revisions of the rules) and just as importantly, which allowed him to reduce offense to isolations for his star players while hiding the deficiencies of the 'supporting cast.'

Now Riley was not alone in forging this unholy union between physical D and minimal O, but he was perhaps the most extreme exponent (even if not the most successful - witness Phil Jackson). Eventually, however, the league, facing declining attendence and televisual indifference, acted to restore the flow and beauty to what is intended to be a team game. As Boston sportsguru Bob Ryan put it:
Simply put, isolations had to go.

"My abiding sense," explains commissioner David Stern, "and Jerry's abiding sense [Jerry Colangelo, that is], was that isolation really was -- it seemed designed to hide the talents of a good percentage of our players and that we had to try to do something better than that. Hard defense -- good, smothering defense -- was OK from our perspective. If so, what was the offensive set? You put one guy in the corner and four guys, as I've said, in the parking lot, and that's NBA basketball?

The second problem: "There was a lot of slowing down players on the way to the basket, but not necessarily rising to the level of a foul," continued Stern. Hence the advent of ``points of emphasis" by the 2004-2005 season, which, according to Stern, ``began to allow players to move about without getting clipped on a regular basis so that there was no foul, but by the time they whorled their way to the basket it was as though they had been on a forced march."
Eliminating the 'illegal defense' and permitting zone defenses was a simple and ingenious method to restoring team offense. Why? Because teams with one or two stars could not simply hide their offensively inept teammates and in so doing make their counterparts vanish from the hardwood equation. All five players had to participate on offense or else allow the defense the luxury of any combination of doubleteams and zone defenses. Likewise, the crackdown on physical 'clipping' of players premits a freer flow of players on offense - thereby rewarding movement without the ball, something that had virtually vanished during the Rileyball era.

But what, you may ask, has this to do with the 2006 Finals? Well, it is a funny thing, but coaches, like so many other professional fraternities, are slow to adapt new ways of doing things. The rule changes themselves, although they had some immediate impact with regard to the efficiency of particular players, have not truly been exploited in a systematic fashion that demonstrates what is now possible. That is, not until this year's Finals. It took a coach who is creative and visionary (Avery Johnson), supported by the right organization (Mark Cuban's Dallas Mavericks), to conclusively demonstrate that the future of the NBA lies in a team game - both on defense and offense - and that the deeper and more talented team will benefit from the renewed emphasis on movement, speed, skills (like passing and shooting) and honest-to-goodness teamwork.

Most coaches and teams have stuck to what they took to be the virtues of Rileyball, which is how Riley and his Frankenstein monster of a Rileyball team - the Miami Heat - were able to cruise to the Finals. Not that they didn't encounter a few bumps on the way, but for the most part their opponents stuck to the Rileyball script allowing the Heat - who had the biggest baddest Rileyball star ever in Shaquille O'Neal - to prevail.

Shaq - a star who is also a goon - is the personification of Rileyball and to what depths the play in the league had fallen. Although personally beyond reproach, his lack of professional discipline (witness his FT woes) and reliance upon his brute strength to make up for his never having refined a post game by developing a go-to shot were not a handicap to success. Why? Because in Rileyball strength trumps skill, size trumps speed and a few talented individuals can outplay a roster of well-rounded team players. Shaq has never had to develop a proper post game because he could alway simply knock over his man and dunk the ball, or at worst, clear his opponent away with one arm while flipping a half-hook up with his other. And if the shot didn't go, he would simply go get the rebound and try again. He could do this because opponents had to play him one-on-one, allowing his immense size dictate the outcome either initially or in the scrum for the ensuing rebound. Or, if they did decide to double, the defense had to leave someone wide open, since zones were forbidden. And Shaq has never felt compelled to overcome his problems at the free throw line, since his advantages were so overwhelming that he could afford to miss bundles of free throws and still contribute to his team's victory.

None of this is to say that Shaq has not worked hard at his craft (particularly when it came to anything that would allow him to dunk the ball more thunderously), but his lack of basic skills, his indifference to conditioning, his almost arrogant refusal to refine his post game, instead relying for the most part on innate size and relative quickness, and his success despite these factors are symbolic of the rot that had set in with the rise of Rileyball. A player such as Shaq could only dominate the game as long as his team could isolate him on offense close to the basket, where his overwhelming bulk could determine the outcome most of the time.

But that has changed now, even though most of the league still does not realize it. You can now punish teams that are predictable on offense by keying on those predictabilities. Shaq is used to getting the ball, holding it and deciding whether to go for the dunk or pass it to an open player. But without the old illegal defense rules teams no longer have to wait to double team him and if they do they can zone the rest of his teammates. Shaq can no longer simply hold the ball since the double teams will be all the quicker and the open shots will no longer be quite so open. By allowing for team defense the NBA has allowed coaches to try and force teams to play team offense. Rileyball, however, is not predicated on team offense. It depends on isolation, which can mask the deficiencies of an Antoine Walker, a Jason Williams or an Udonis Haslem.

Avery Johnson and the Dallas Mavericks are showing the basketball community that the rules have changed and that the old ways of doing things are no longer sufficient. No longer will it be enough to simply dump the ball into the post and wait for the double team - over and over and over again. No longer will it be sufficient to simply get the bigger, badder frontline thug and let them 'punish in the paint.' Offense needs diversity, passing, ball and player movement - otherwise doubleteams and zones will smother even the biggest, baddest big man of all time.

None of this is to say that Shaq's career is over. He is talented and will continue to contribute for years to come. But the time is coming to a close when he could simply dominate by leisurly brushing players aside, waiting for the pass and either dunking or passing out to a wide open teammate - time after time after time. It is sad in a way, because Shaq clearly is not prepared for the changes that are going to be required of him. He is going to need a go-to post move, one which he can use quickly and reliably time-in and time-out. He also needs to get over his mental block, swallow his pride and learn to shoot free throws, because he can no longer simply make up for misses by bulling over players in the post time and again. These are skills he clearly could develop, but has never had to. Will he in the time left to him?

Regardless of what Shaq decides in the future, however, it seems clear that Riley has not prepared him or his teammates for it. Riley himself seems unaware of how the NBA game has changed. In part, that is due to the inherent conservativism of his coaching brethren. But at the same time, coaches are quick to adopt what works, and if nothing else, Avery Johnson has shown - on the biggest stage of all - how to stop Rileyball dead in its tracks. While Riley rants on about 'competitiveness' and 'energy' and 'effort,' staples of the Rileyball mantra, the rest of the league is witnessing the game as it passes him by. The game has changed but Riley has not. There were no apparent adjustments for the Heat between games One and Two and, if Riley remains true to form, there won't be any during the last few games of the series either.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Wake up: the American Dream is over

Sad, but true. Those in the 'middle class' can continue to leverage themselves up with help from their parents (I don't know anyone in my age cohort who has bought a house without parental support). And of course double income households are a necessity now. But how long can such leveraging continue to prop up the current state of affairs? With debt at an all-time high? With the real estate bubble set to burst? And when it does a large segment of the 'middle class' will become part of the 'struggling-to-get-by class.'

Here is a sobering article (follow the link to read the whole thing) that essentially states the case as objectively from an outside perspective: in short, that the U.S. is becoming a North American Brazil - a land where the elite have rigged the game against the rest of us.

Wake up: the American Dream is over by Paul Harris of The Observer:

Over the past few decades there has been a fundamental shift in the structure of the American economy. The gap between rich and poor has widened and widened. As it does so, the ability to cross that gap gets smaller and smaller. This is far from business as usual but there seems little chance of it stopping, not least because it appears to be government policy....

And still the American government is set on tax breaks for the rich. Bush's first-term tax cuts notoriously benefited the upper strata of American taxpayers. So much so that even Warren Buffet, the second richest man in the world who benefited to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, has said the tax cuts 'scream of injustice'. As head of a hugely successful investment firm, it is hard to paint Buffet as a lefty liberal who hates Wall Street (though, bizarrely, some conservatives do try).

Dems need to be addressing the long-term perspective when they discuss economics - not just facts and figures but what kind of nation we want in the future. The options are out there: a land of opportunity or a country characterized by elitism and dashed dreams.

Still the tax cuts go on. This week one of the main political debates in Washington has been about scrapping the 'estate tax' whereby those who inherit large amounts from their relatives will be taxed on it. This overwhelmingly affects the wealthy. The estate tax is already set so high ($400m) that only one in 200 estates pay any tax at all when they are inherited....

Yet the White House and many politicians, overwhelmingly Republican, want to get rid of it. The lobbying campaign against it has been financed mostly by 18 business dynasties, including the family that owns WalMart. At the same time the Bush administration has sanctioned millions of dollars of cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and the education budget as part of a measure aimed at reducing the spiraling deficit. This is, frankly, obscene.

Race and immigration feed into this debate too, of course. Many Americans could care less about the working poor because they are seen as 'different': brown-skinned 'foreigners.' Racial and cultural divides are typically the point where elites seek to drive wedges between people who otherwise share similar interests. That is why the Dems need a realistic policy on immigration. While criminalization is not an option, rigorous enforcement - particularly of corporate violators - should precede the attempt to grant political rights in order to integrate the existing 'illegal' population. A 'guest-worker' solution is no solution at all, since it will only perpetuate an underclass of disenfranchised workers. We need to integrate - with full political rights - the entire American workforce, but politically this is only realistic if the laws on illegal immigration are meaningfully enforced.

The effect of all this has been to scotch that long-cherished notion of the American Dream: that honest toil is enough to reap the rewards and let even the poorest join the middle class, or maybe even strike it rich. A survey last year showed that such economic mobility (a measure of those people trying to make the Dream come true) was lower in America than Canada, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. In fact, the only country doing as bad as America was Britain....

Now this is not some argument against capitalism. Inequality is inevitable. It is a good thing. People need incentives. People need competition. People need markets. Some people will always be poor. Others deserve to be rich. But at the moment it looks like the rules of the game are being fixed in America in favour of the wealthy....

Monday, June 05, 2006

Feingold and "firm principles"

Senator Russ Feingold's interview with Chris Cillizza and Dan Balz was posted on the WaPo today. In it Feingold hits on one issue that has haunted the Dems since Jimmy Carter - that they are a party of vaccilators - 'professional politicians' perpetually with their fingers in the air and with the moral backbone of an octopus.
Let's start with a broad question about the Democratic Party. There's all this talk about what ails the Democratic Party. What do you think the party's situation is these days and what needs to be done about it.


...There is this deep sense, especially in the base of the party, that we don't have firm principles or that if we have firm principles, we're not stating them firmly. And it is amazing to hear people, almost as if they've had the same script, saying we are tired of Democrats looking weak.

So that appears to be the conviction. I don't think people are as concerned about what the exact issues are as this feeling that we don't act like we are ready to govern this country both domestically and also especially ... standing up to the White House with regard to the mistakes and abuses of the post-9/11 era.

So that's what I hear. I'm convinced it is accurate.
I'm convinced that Russ is right on target on this issue. As a college instructor of political science who has worked on the campaign trail, I can't tell you how much people crave politicians to be straight with them. I've had it expressed to me many times by various people that they would prefer a candidate with strong, heartfelt convictions - even if some of those convictions differ from the voter's own - rather than a candidate who appears deceptive about their views, willing to to pander to everyone - in short, one who is indecisive, a 'waffler,' a 'flip-flopper.'

I've read on blogs where people wonder why Bush never gets tagged as a flip-flopper, most recently with regard to the turnabout in negotiations with Iran. Part of any full answer would naturally have to take into account the biases of the press, but even more importantly I think is the fact that Bush does articulate strongly held beliefs in strong language (regardless of what he really thinks on such issues). Given what we 'know' about Bush, any deviation from such beliefs then appears as a statesman-like act.

Contrast that with the caricature of the 'dithering Dems' that has grown up over the past 30 years and epitomized by Carter's malaise speech on the one hand and Kerry's 'I voted for it before I voted against it' on the other. This lack of fortitude is one of the reasons why people have doubts about the Dems when it comes to foreign policy. It is not just the policy themselves, but the behavior of the candidates that sets the tone, as documented by Josh Marshall in his Bitch-Slap theory of presidential politics (Someone who can't fight for himself certainly can't fight for you).

Chris Cillizza, who also wrote up a summary of the interview and of Feingold's career and prospects, notes up front that dithering indecisiveness is not something one has to worry about when it comes to Russ:
"Cautious" is not a word that comes to mind when writing about Russ Feingold.

The Wisconsin senator was the first member of his party to propose a timeline for withdrawing American troops from Iraq last fall, and when news broke about the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping campaign, Feingold introduced a resolution to censure the president for violating U.S. law.

Political suicide, says the Democratic political establishment. Phooey, responds Feingold.

"I've heard these pundits, they are people that are paid by Democrats, many of them were in the Clinton administration, these are paid political pundits and paid political consultants who make their living coming up [to] the Capitol and telling the Democratic leadership this is a loser," Feingold says. "It is bad advice. It is advice we got in 2002 and 2004. And we lost because we were perceived as unable to take the tough stands that are needed to change the course in the fight against terrorism."

That's Russ Feingold at his finest. An anti-politician contemplating a run for the highest political office in the country....
Whether a Democrat is liberal with a capital 'L' or moderate is not so much the issue here; after all, Dean was no flaming liberal but he was willing to fight back for his beliefs.

[Of course, Dean was later labeled as 'too liberal,' but as we know, that has more to do with his willingness to 'Crash the Gates' and stand up to the Dem Establishment than any actual issue of ideology. BTW both the interview and summary go into how Feingold's style differs from Dean's and what he learned from Dean's flame-out.]

What is more important is that a candidate can articulate their beliefs clearly and strongly. This is key for reaching people who are not ideological themselves but who are not comfortable with 'politics as usual' either. Reaching these voters by consistently standing for our core beliefs - whether considered liberal or simply common sense - is as important for rebranding the Dem party as building a 50 state organization.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

lies, damn lies and polls

You are excused if you have been confused by the polls showing X number of Americans willing to give away their rights to the faceless bureaucracy of the NSA (and their RNC masters) while another poll shows precisely opposite results. There are very good reasons why you should be confused. Let's look at why:

In the former case, a Washington Post/ABC News poll rushed out immediately in the aftermath of the public exposure of the Bush domestic spying program reported that 63% of Americans were okay with the violation of their Fourth Amemndment liberties while only 35% percent opposed being reduced to so many paramecium-under-glass for the White House microscope. The article reporting this 'finding was titled 'Poll: Most Americans Support NSA's Efforts.'

But then how do we square this with a Newsweek poll that reports that 53% see the spying as 'going too far' while only 41% support the Presidential snooping on the domestic affairs of his so-called fellow citizens?

Well, a poll is only as good as the question put to the individual whose input is sought. It turns out that the question that the Washington Post/ABC News asked was:
"What do you think is more important right now -- (for the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy); or (for the federal government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats)?
That sort of language can understandably slant a person's veiw of the question, since it poses it in terms of 'are you with the terrorists or are you with us?' The Newsweek poll, while it presumably did mention domestic spying as a potentially 'necessary tool to combat terrorism' was likely posed in not nearly so loaded a fashion. Hence the disparity between the polls. [Dan Froomkin suggests some poll questions that do not set up a false conflict between retaining Constitutional liberties and counterterrorism:
* Do you feel you know enough about how this program works to reach a definitive conclusion?

* Do you think the public should know more about this program and others like it?

* Should the government be able to launch programs like this in secret?

* Do you think President Bush should have asked for approval from the courts or Congress before taking this action?

* Do you trust the Bush administration not to abuse a program like this, when there is no independent oversight?]
Note that in neither case were the polls phrased in terms of violations of Constitutional liberties - which in fact is what we are talking about.

Which is why all this talk about polls is really a red herring. You don't just drop Constitution provisions on the basis of an overnight poll. They are intended to be something a bit more permanent that that. That is why we have a Constitution to begin with (at least that is my understanding, although it has come to my attention that the Busheviks find that kind of reasoning to be 'quaint'). Billmon makes the point eloquently:
The whole point of having civil liberties is that they are not supposed to be subject to a majority veto. Hobbes may not have believed in natural rights, but our founders did. And their opponents, the anti-Federalists, were even more zealous about restraining the powers of the federal superstate, which is why they forced the Federalists to write the Bill of Rights directly into the Constitution.

It defeats the purpose of having a 4th Amendment if its validity is entirely dependent on breaking 50% in the latest poll.
Now, of course, public opinion matters but we are a nation of laws, are we not? And the law and Constitution are unequivocal on the point of domestic spying: probable cause must be provided to a judge for any such surveillance to be legal.

What Bush has done is clearly illegal and a violation of his oath of office to uphold the Constitution, whether 'popular' or not. It would be just as illegal - no matter how popular - if he had all people of Dutch descent ("There's only two things I hate in this world. People who are intolerant of other people's cultures and the Dutch.") taken out and shot without due process of law.

Arbusto Dalenda Est

Update 5/14/05: Editor and Publisher tries to explain the difference in terms of the quick evolution of the issue. Wht WP/ABC poll was done before many people had even heard of the issue.
So what happened? Most likely views changed that much in one day after more negative media reports (including many from conservative commentators such as MSNBC's Joe Scarborough) surfaced. The Washington Post survey took place before many Americans had heard about, or thought about, the implications. The Newsweek Poll also reached twice as many Americans.

The Washington Post/ABC survey was conducted Thursday, just after the NSA news broke via USA Today, and reached just 502 citizens. Newsweek polled 1007 Americans on both Thursday and Friday. It found that even 27% of Republicans voiced disapproval of the phone records program.
While true, I think this is a contributing factor not the entire explanation. In short, the wording of the WP/ABC poll is loaded.

Note, for example, how the secrecy aspect, which is so very important, is completely ignored in the poll question. It would be one thing for the question to be posed openly (even if slantedly) as in the poll, but for the spying be simply be done by fiat without our knowledge - and with the express intention of never informing us - puts the program in an entirely different sort of light. It is not just that 'personal liberties' are 'intruded on' with our consent: it is the fact that the very basis for constitutional liberties has - secretly and without our consent - been declared obsolete.

Researchers have found that individuals given identical situations to analyze in a polling question will give different answers depending on how the question is presented. As a hypothetical example, if you ask people whether they would undertake a rescue mission to save 25 people from a sinking boat at the risk of losing a helicopter crew of 10 they are much more likely to do so if you tell them the odds of success are 30% than if you tell them the odds of failure are 70%. Researchers have found that although mathematically the situations presented are identical, framing the question differently can produce polar opposite results.

UPDATE 5/15/06: we hear this today from USA Today:
A majority of Americans disapprove of a massive Pentagon database containing the records of billions of phone calls made by ordinary citizens, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. About two-thirds are concerned that the program may signal other, not-yet-disclosed efforts to gather information on the general public....

By 51%-43%, those polled disapprove of the program, disclosed Thursday in USA TODAY....

Most of those who approve of the program say it violates some civil liberties but is acceptable because "investigating terrorism is the more important goal."...

About two-thirds say they're concerned that the federal government might be gathering other information about the public, such as bank records and data on Internet use, or listening in on domestic phone conversations without obtaining a warrant.

Two-thirds are concerned that the database will identify innocent Americans as possible terrorism suspects....

The findings differ from an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken Thursday night of 502 adults. In that survey, 63% called the program an acceptable way to investigate terrorism. The findings may differ because questions in the two polls were worded differently. [emphasis added]

Are we all 'sex offenders' now?

New forms of surveillance and control are usually first introduced to control the weak, defenseless and despised of a society before being employed more generally. The poor, the young, the sick, the aged, the immigrants and the criminals stock the laboratory for social control. But none are as loathed and subject to control as those that are classified as 'sex offenders.'

Given the breathtaking audacity of the current regime, have we already passed beyond the 'experimental stage' to the implementation of total information awareness of every citizen? Has each of us already had our privacy stripped away and in essence been reduced to the status of a 'sex offender?'

Washington Post:
...Eric Haskett was merely taking a nap in a car when he roused suspicion in a rural Frederick County neighborhood. A neighbor traced Haskett's license plate to an address once used by a registered sex offender....

...After allaying the concerns of several law enforcement officials over the past few weeks, Haskett also asked them what he could do to clear his name.

"They said the best bet is to leave the area," Haskett said.

Haskett has no criminal record and has not been accused of wrongdoing, according to public court records and law enforcement officials. The confusion arose after he rented a room in a house on Liberty Road where convicted sex offender Donald M. Sanders had also rented a room; the sex offender registry listed only the house address, not room numbers.

Sanders moved out about the time Haskett moved in, and the two men had no other connection, according to interviews with them, their landlord and law enforcement officials.

Special Agent Michelle Crnkovich, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Baltimore office, said agents interviewed Haskett and determined that the incident was a mix-up. Cpl. Jennifer Bailey of the Frederick County Sheriff's Office said her agency also looked into the matter. And so did Sgt. Palmer Grotte of the Maryland State Police, who said he received an e-mail that started the incident. It is not clear how neighbors obtained information about Haskett from his car's license plates -- information that is protected by privacy laws. [emphasis added]
Privacy laws? Are they kidding? That is so pre-9/11!

Barry Leahy, who rented the rooms to Sanders and Haskett, said the incident points out the potential abuses of sex offender registries.

"I see that convicted sexual offenders should be available on a police list. I can't see that people should have access to that list and hold that against him," Leahy, 54, said. "There's too much of this throwing stuff around on the Internet."... [emphasis added]
Oh well, just an innocent individual whose life has been destroyed. No big deal. After all, the amateur snoop who stirred up the lynch mob had the best of intentions:
...Stefani Shuster, who acknowledged in a telephone interview that she wrote the e-mail that put the events in motion, said she had the best intentions.

"I have a family to protect,"...
And as we all know, anything you do to 'protect' your family is A-OK, right? Snooping, violating privacy laws, destroying other people's lives - all fair game, you just have to say the magic words: 'I thought I was protecting my family' - and everything is permitted. Kinda like 'National Security' for the Deputy Fife in all of us.

So what does this tragic tale tell us? It demonstrates how easily our reputation can be ripped from us - by just a few hayseeds on the Internet - when we have no privacy. So imagine, if you can, what is being harvested by our government in the name of 'national security?'

Of course some would say that we all just need to get used to the 'new normal,' as Mrs. Alan Greenspan phrased it during her lecture the other night on NBC. Of course the TV was only flashing pictures of people taking off their shoes at the airport, not of the government logging all our private phone calls, mapping out our 'social networks,' and on that basis deciding who is a 'Kool kid' and who gets an IRS audit. And don't forget, using spy satellites on Americans is also now part of the 'new normal' as well. Sunbathing in your backyard? Big brother is watching!

D.C.-style smear jobs are terrible, but what if that could be done retail? Just imagine the smears that could be manufactured if some petty bureaucrat - or some politico appointee - had access to every detail of your life (with BTK representing the further extreme). Of course, as long as you keep your 'attitude up' (i.e., don't piss off the Kommisar) everything should be hunky dory. But stray just a little... remember, Haskett's 'crime' was napping in his car. Who knows what might lead your neighbor to report you as an 'offender' under the new world order of the GWOT?

So remember 'the new normal' when reading subversive websites like this - 'they' know what (and when) you are reading because by now you have little more privacy under this regime than a sex offender.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

German 'Robin Hoods' give poor a taste of the high life News:
A GANG of anarchist Robin Hood-style thieves, who dress as superheroes and steal expensive food from exclusive restaurants and delicatessens to give to the poor, are being hunted by police in the German city of Hamburg.

The gang members seemingly take delight in injecting humour into their raids, which rely on sheer numbers and the confusion caused by their presence. After they plundered Kobe beef fillets, champagne and smoked salmon from a gourmet store on the exclusive Elbastrasse, they presented the cashier with a bouquet of flowers before making their getaway....

Hillary loses her shine

Guardian Unlimited:
...To put it bluntly Hillary is the Establishment candidate par excellence. This explains that while the polls show Hillary cruising to the nomination, they also show that most Americans don't think she can then win the White House. This isn't because ordinary Democrats are actively trying to commit electoral suicide (though the effect may be the same) it is just that there are many things that help you win the party nomination and only one of them is persuading voters of your attractiveness. The others involve playing politics and creating webs of patronage. And Hillary and her team are past masters of those games.

Of course, Hillary will still face a fight. Many grassroots activists (some of whom call themselves the 'netroots' due to their use of the internet during Howard Dean's 2004 campaign) will back a non-Hillary candidate. A strong name from the left of the party will be Russ Feingold, an anti-war Senator already generating a buzz. Another from the right of the party will be Mark Warner, a former Virginia governor who many believe offers the best chance to win back independent and southern voters to the Democrats' side.

But what is interesting here is that the fight in the Democrat party will not therefore really be about ideology. It will instead be about power and whether it comes from the top down or bottom up. It is a fight of the netroots versus the Establishment, of the anti-Hillary candidate (whether left or right) versus the Hillary political machine....

In the end it all depends on who you listen to: the political classes with their own tied up professional interests in the Hillary juggernaut, or people like Abby and Cathy, long-time Democrats feeling utterly left behind by a party leadership determined to select a candidate that America clearly does not want. Personally, I would listen to the folks on the ground every time.

NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls
The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.

The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime....

"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.

For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others....