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29.Sept.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Health Care Questions, and One Rejected Answer Permalink to this item

Our governor is to be commended for convening a health care summit, even if his decision to do it in secret is not particularly defensible. (Just because that strategy worked for Dick Cheney and the energy companies is not a good enough reason.) And opening it up to all ideas is good... except for this:

He reportedly told the participants that "nearly any idea was open for discussion, though he pre-emptively rejected a single-payer, universal health care system..."

Because... why would that be, exactly? There are many people who have made good arguments for that system. How is it that Otter imagines he knows enough to exclude one of the most promising solutions?

28.Sept.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Let's Make the Army Even Bigger! Permalink to this item

The idea of reducing the number and scope of wars we undertake is apparently just too unthinkable; now that the "surge" has extended our military past the point of sustainability, we'll need, oh, about that 30 or 40,000 more troops in the Army, long-term. How low will the standards have to go to keep recruiting "on track"? They've already increased the number of recruits without high school diplomas, those scoring low on an aptitude test, and ones needing "moral waivers" for "low-level criminal convictions."

The students who are better at calculating risk/return ratios have all moved on to the mercernary forces, by far the #2 partner in the "coalition of the billing," its members mostly happy to trade time in harm's way for considerably larger chunks of the "reconstruction" money than the regular Army folks are being paid.

27.Sept.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Faith-Based Dishonesty Permalink to this item

The "Crossroads" of science and religion sounded like an interesting film for Richard Dawkins to be in, but he's not so sanguine about the new title, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." Or about the new angle, flogging the canard that "freedom of thought and freedom of inquiry have been expelled from publicly-funded high schools, universities and research institutions." That would be the freedom of imagination to label regions of ignorance with "then a miracle happens."

That used to be a droll one-panel cartoon, poking fun at the ever-shrinking venue left for God to act in the world, as science whittles away the darkness. Now it's a "theory" for the Creationist set, "explaining".... well, what could it possibly explain, anyway? Therein lies the rub. As Cornelia Dean states succinctly in the New York Times article, "There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth."

Speaking of Really, Really Important Issues for the Campaigns Permalink to this item

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney continues to stake out as much moral "high ground" as he can find, summoning outrage at how "out of touch" the Democratic candidates are, for... wanting their children to learn tolerance. The candidates weren't "uncomfortable" enough for Romney at the idea of 2nd graders hearing a story about same-sex marriage.

No Light, Just Tunnel Permalink to this item

Chris Floyd's posts on his Empire Burlesque blog are about the most depressing opinions on our political scene on offer, even as they seem a disturbingly accurate account of the "high crimes and low comedy in the Bush Imperium." The bipartisan guarantee of more war in Iraq was written in mid-August, but hasn't gone stale, as the "major" candidates all seem to be lining up to guarantee no forseeable end to our imperial adventure in the mideast. Hillary's joined the "it's all Iraq's fault now" group.

"The ruination that Bush and his willing executioners in Congress have brought to Iraq may be irreparable. As for "destabilizing the region," the war crime has already done that. (Indeed, it was one of the aims of the invasion, as its architects and champions once boasted. "Creative destruction" was the phrase used by the very serious Michael Leeden, I believe.) There will be an inevitable escalation of the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia that is now going on the country; but that will happen no matter what. Sectarian violence will also continue to spiral no matter what, with one possible exception: if the Americans leave the country and are no longer there arming the factions, stirring them up, setting one against the other, and killing and imprisoning civilians, thereby radicalizing more and more Iraqis every day. The only possible chance Iraq has to see a lessening of sectar ian violence lies in the complete withdrawal of American troops."

26.Sept.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Holier Than Thou Permalink to this item

Michael Gerson's description of Hillary Clinton's religiosity paints her as a principled, liberal Protestant. What's not to love? And thanks for the reminder of the once dominant cultural influence and the many successes of "this high-minded theological liberalism."

The knock on the tradition, from Gerson's point of view is fascinating: the "debilitating weaknesses" of "a preference for democratic socialism, a soft spot for Marxist strongmen, a flitting fascination with trendy causes and a theological shallowness that caused millions to flee the pews."

While flying to and from Wisconsin, I read most of the way through Richard Dawkins' year-old book, The God Delusion, which makes the concept of "theological shallowness" a bit of an oxymoron. Earlier, Gerson referred to the discomfort some candidates have with "affirming their deepest beliefs," so this "depth" metaphor means something to him as a "stray Evangelical" (in his self-description). It's just not clear what, exactly. Strongest? Most fundamental? Most important? Is a personal God and one's relationship to It more important in deep theology than in shallow theology, for which action in the world has a greater importance?

Gerson seems to find only two dimensions of religious interest: moralism, and social liberalism. These map more or less directly to political conservatism and liberality in his mind, and he sees Clinton's straddling the two as a strength, even as he can't imagine how "pro-life" could ever be a "moral" position.

If Giuliani gets the Republican nod, Gerson expects Clinton to have the holier-than-thou ground, otherwise ceded to the pro-lifier candidate. If Romney is the Red nominee, expect to see a battle about just how "deep" his religious bona fides are, and whether or not he's just another Massachusetts liberal going to a different church on Sunday.

Best of the Best Permalink to this item

Unbound by the high standards of journalistic excellence of the other local newspaper, the Boise Weekly was free to come up with a more topical "Best of" page, the 2007 Larry Craig Editors' Picks.

"The palpable, unending dread of this seemingly unkillable story is pure Waiting for Godot. The confused explanations and explanations of the explanations are Catch 22 incarnate. And yet, LC himself won't drive that final stake through the heart of his sad, undead career, despite the fact that he has to wake up every morning in a state where he can now be pretty confident that everyone (with the possible exceptions of deaf-dumb-and-blind pinball wizards and maybe a few fire lookouts), and a vast majority of American citizens in general, know about this and don't believe him...."

The fate of the story (if not Craig's political fate, which has been signed, sealed, and awaits delivery) now hinges upon today's decision by a Minnesota judge, (dis)allowing him to withdraw his guilty plea. We're waiting on pins and needles, and we'll all find out at the same time, when the cub reporters go for the telephones with the "stop the presses" news.

from Hygolet's website I used 3 different airport restrooms this weekend during our trip back to Wisconsin, and I have to tell you that in each instance I was looking at stall dimensions, and the helpless victim of my imagination. It must be my mechanical engineering background... at any rate, all of the ones I went into seemed to have sturdy partitions with the bottom edge lower-than-ever, and most discouraging for the prospect of inter-stall liaisons. Thank goodness.

During my research, I also noticed a remarkable innovation at O'Hare: automatic ass-gasket dispensers (motto: "makes everyone happy"). (While you're checking that out—I know you will—don't miss the universal language of the hygoMat™ Flash Demo.)

Do Lemming Leaders Exhort Followers to "Stay the Course"? Permalink to this item

These would be the mythical, suicidal lemmings, rather than the actual lemmings, who are reportedly not so crazy, although they do share some traits ("solitary and generally intolerant of one another") with conservatives.

The wildly successful catchphrase (as seen juxtaposed with the "cut and run" alternative) is getting long in the tooth, but the idea of following a storied General (or story-book President) wherever he tells us we must go is still playing to appreciative audiences across the land. The challenge to Petraeus and the administration's selected reading of the facts was a godsend to the Stay-the-Course crowd, the perfect distraction from the administration's inability to reconsider its failures. Patriots, rally 'round! Senator Robert Menenedez reminds us of the issues we're being distracted from.

"(W)e should keep in our minds that 130,000 sons and daughters of America remain in the crossfire, with no prospects for coming home. That our military continues to be stretched thin to the point that it can't adequately respond to other threats that may arise. That our national guard remains overused and overburdened to the point that it can't properly respond to disasters here in the homeland.

"That the terror training ground in Iraq remains fertile, and one day those trainees could be on our soil. That Osama bin Laden is back in business and continues to roam free in a safe zone along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border...."

25.Sept.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Grand Old Party for White People Permalink to this item

When I saw the headline of Bob Herbert's latest column, I wondered which ugly side of the G.O.P. he might be talking about. The racist one, as it happens: the one that rallied around "state's rights" in Philadelphia, Mississipppi, around Clarence Thomas as a being qualified to serve on the Supreme Court, and most recently around keeping the mostly black citizens of Washington D.C. of being able to vote for a Representative in Congress.

The top four G.O.P. candidates all bailed out of the Presidential Forum on PBS to be hosted by Tavis Smiley. They can't be bothered. They've already written off the black vote.

Cheap shots all around Permalink to this item

Rep. Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee is perky, blonde, good-looking, and smug as can be when David Shuster gives her the straight line, "Do you want to take this opportunity to condemn what Rush Limbaugh said about Chuck Hagel?"

It was an easy opening, but of course she didn't want to do that, in spite of it being the usual hate speech from Limbaugh (or sorry, from a caller of Limbaugh's, he was just relaying it) and it being not funny, nor clever.

"Ha ha ha," she said, "you know, what I want to do is talk about The New York Times."

Shuster's punchline: "When was the last time a New York Times ad ever killed somebody?"

Oh yeah, that.

21.Sept.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

La Migra in Blaine County Permalink to this item

Front page news, immigration raids in Bellevue, Hailey and Ketchum (better known to the rest of the country as "the Sun Valley area") and no one at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency feeling the need to return phone calls. A county detective was willing to say that the roundup is after "undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions or prior deportations or those who have remained in the country after being asked to leave."

Pretty much anyone with a Hispanic surname is fair game? One woman said agents told her they were looking for a sexual predator with a Hispanic surname.

Did they have warrants? We don't know from the newspaper story. The ACLU reminds us that you don't need to let them in if they don't have a warrant. Do try to keep everyone in the household cool when they pound on the door at 6am hard enough to make the walls shake, your teenager answers the door and six agents with guns, Tasers and flashlight barge in.

Ah, excuse me, do you guys, like, uh, have a warrant?

If not, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave.

The Statesman's reader board is not showing a lot of sympathy. rw says "enter the country legally and then leave when your Visa expires and you don't have to worry about ICE agents knocking on your door and being deported... Its that simple."

That's good to know, I'm glad the ICE can be trusted to always find the right house and everything.

Rumsfeld, Pro and Con Permalink to this item

The Director of the Hoover Institution says the man has three decades of experience in public service, "especially in recent years as it relates to this question of ideology and terror." The man who conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment says it's "unacceptable to have someone who represents the values that Rumsfeld has portrayed, in an academic setting."

And the petition signed by at least 2,425 professors, staff members, students and alumni says "We view the appointment as fundamentally incompatible with the ethical values of truthfulness, tolerance, disinterested enquiry, respect for national and international laws and care for the opinions, property and lives of others to which Stanford is inalienably committed."

20.Sept.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Warner's Role in Killing Webb's Amendment Permalink to this item

Digby connnects some of the dots on a key Republican Senator in defeating Jim Webb's amendment to support our troops by limiting their deployment as a function of how much time they get at home. Virginia's other Senator, John Warner, is often making news as a moderate, but for some key votes, he as been solidly behind the Executive Branch usurping the power of the Congress. The "Destroy Habeas Corpus Act," for one important example before this latest one.

You'd never know it from what they're keeping busy with this week, but the federal government's fiscal year ends with this month, as in a week from Sunday. All the budgets for next year are supposed to be in place by October 1 (but hardly ever are). So after the political grandstanding, they'll get around to as many continuing resolutions as it takes to finish the finance bills. Maybe some time before Thanksgiving, but count on buying your own turkey.

Digby, and Mark Kleiman have a straightforward strategy for the Democrats to represent the will of the people in this matter: hold as many cloture votes (or hey, make the Republicans actually do the filibuster) as needed to get enough of the minority to support our troops.

At Least We're Enjoying the Ride Permalink to this item

While everyone's paying attention to the U.S. military, the real attack on our world dominance may be on our currency rather than our soliders. The shift from the Almighty Dollar as the world's "reserve currency" to the Newly Mighty Euro is underway, and before it gets much farther, the Jig may be Up. Ronald Reagan's Assistant Treasury Secretary Paul Craig Roberts thinks that America's status as world hegemon is slipping away, not with the sound of airplanes crashing, but with the whisper of outsourced jobs, and deepening and unsupported debt.

Which countries corporations use to find their labor is a matter of indifference. It's a choice of logistics, language, tax advantages, and of course, finding the cheapest labor rates. The Board of Directors, and the C.E.O.s are going to get their stipends and fat salaries and golden parachutes regardless, and as they work for themselves (and trickle enough return to keep shareholders from revolting), they don't have to care where the middle and sub-middle classes are headed.

"(O)ffshoring is not trade, free or otherwise. It is labor arbitrage. By replacing US labor with foreign labor in the production of goods and services for U.S. markets, US firms are destroying the ladders of upward mobility in the U.S.... The U.S. is on a path to economic Armageddon. Shorn of industry, dependent on offshored manufactured goods and services, and deprived of the dollar as reserve currency, the US will become a third world country."

Connecting the World, One Couch at a Time Permalink to this item

First I heard of "couch surfing" as an active, rather than a passive pursuit was the NYT feature of it today. That should give a boost, even as its reported 300,000+ surfers don't sound like they need one, really. The mission statistics show positive experiences outnumbering negative ones 499 to 1.

Supporting the Troops Permalink to this item

The majority of the Senate was willing to vote on Jim Webb's proposal to let our troops spend as much time at home as at war, and we suppose (but can't know) that a similar majority would have ratified the initiative had there been an "up or down vote," as the Republicans used to call for when they couldn't get one. It takes 60 to tango in the Senate these days, otherwise they all pretend there'll be a filibuster, and so they just drop it and go on to something else.

There are other proposals, like another go at Russ Feingold's attempt at Congress' Constitutional control of cutting financing. No one expects that to reach the supermajority threshold, either.

What the Senate could agree on is a condemnation of's ad about Petraeus, "and all attacks on members of the military" by almost a 3:1 margin (and including Jim Webb in the Yeas). I rather agree that the MoveOn ad was over the top, but I also agree with the executive director of's Political Action Committee, Eli Parser, when he says that "the president (having) more interest in political attacks than developing an exit strategy to get our troops out of Iraq and end this awful war" is "disgusting."

So we'll follow our Commander in Chief and his trusty sidekick, Tonto, wherever they lead us, for as long as the madness persists. That will be through January, 2009, to be sure, but the next Presidential campaign will not be decided by Super-Minority the way the Senate's issues are. Unless a miracle happens, Mr. Bush's war will be a ticket for President for the Democratic nominee.

19.Sept.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Hukabee's the One Permalink to this item

The "pro-family conservatives" seem to be left without a top-tier Republican candidate who cares about their agenda, but Mike Huckabee is there to pick up the slack, as "the most articulate and disarming" of the second tier, according to Bryan Fischer's report of the Monday "Values Voter" debate.

Huckabee says he's "blue collar," comes from "Main Street," wants to save the Republic (rather than the Republican Party) and with a career as an evangelical preacher as training for politics, what's not to love?

Libertarians aren't moral enough, anyone in favor of immigration is right out, and those cowardly, fearful top-tier candidates? Fuhgeddaboutit. "They each were asked difficult questions which none of them were there to answer," as the Values Voters apparently hung them from an empty podium.

It may not have a lot to do with the actual presidential campaign, but it's certainly an interesting look into Fischer's mind and his political values.

On the Rehabilitative Power of Impeachment Permalink to this item

Bill Cope: "(S)peaking as a dedicated Democrat, I don't want future Democratic presidents exercising Bush hand-me-down imperial powers any more than I want future Republican presidents doing it. This goes beyond party loyalties. This has to do with the legacy—be it tarnished or bright—we will bequeath our descendants."

Piecewise Withdrawal Permalink to this item

Geoffrey Wheatcroft says enough with the "special relationship" blather already, and provides a succinct history of U.S.–British relations that's not as friendly as Tony Blair, John McCain and others have been so fond of misremembering.

"Some of us take modest patriotic pride recalling the day that our brave lads burned the White House. And when he sings The Star-Spangled Banner, can Senator McCain have forgotten that it was a British rocket's red glare?"

Beyond the historical braggadaccio however, is the current withdrawal of the British Army from Basra, downsizing their participation in the coalition willing to prop up Mr. Bush's terrible war and occupation.

The more immediate question for the occupation is whether Iraq can make good on its desire to expel Blackwater, however, the pre-eminent member of the "coalition of the billing" as Jeremy Scahill termed it in the analysis piece on last night's Newshour. Blackwater is "the official mercenary company of the U.S. occupation," by his assessment, and "telling Blackwater they have to leave the country is essentially saying, 'We're going to expel the bodyguards of the senior U.S. officials.'"

The spokesman for the mercernary trade group ("International Peace Operations Association") "explained" how companies and individuals who work for them might be held accountable, given that none of them seem to fall under Iraqi law, or U.S. law. While "you can actually bring individuals back to the United States for trial," that hasn't happened to anyone yet. The best Doug Brooks could say is that "the private security companies are involved in a proportionately smaller number of incidents than the military is." Not a lot of a comfort if you make the wrong move near one of the convoys they're defending.

18.Sept.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

To "the Honorable" Inspector General Permalink to this item

Henry Waxman would like to invite you, Mr. Krongard, to a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on October 16, to see if you have an explanation for "a dysfunctional office environment in which you routinely berate and belittle personnel, show contempt for the abilities of career government professionals, and cause staff to fear coming to work." Or for blocking the investigation of fraud and corruption in the construction of the Iraq Embassy. Stuff like that. Y'all come?

The ACLU Stands Up For Larry Craig Permalink to this item

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of our embattled singing Senator, arguing that "solicitation for private sex, regardless if it occurs in a bar or a restroom, is protected speech under the First Amendment," and so he should be permitted to withdraw his guilty plea. Public solicitation is OK, as long as the sex isn't public. (Or paid for, I suppose?)

From a Constitutional point of view, one could hold up a sign in the airport saying something like, I don't know, "WANT SEX? ASK ME HOW." Why beat around the bush?

Ok, one could be a bit of a nuisance, loitering in a restroom and asking each customer coming in if they were interested in a little private rendezvous, but there must be some other ordinance covering that. The quiet toe-tapping and hand-waving that Craig exchanged with the undercover cop was hardly a nuisance to anyone but the "interested" parties. Never should have been arrested.

"Since the law the state has applied to this defendant makes it a crime to use offensive language, and since the use of offensive language alone cannot be made a crime, the law is unconstitutionally overbroad on its face. The Minnesota Supreme Court said as much almost 30 years ago."

Except for the uneasy minds of the Republican Senate leadership (for the rest of this term), and the voters of Idaho (for any possibility of a future elected position), that might be case closed.

Excess Gas Permalink to this item

At our house, we use natural gas to heat our water, and with cool and rainy fall(-ish) weather coming in, we'll be relighting the pilot light on the furnace as well. We burn up a couple thousand cubic meters a year. Seems like a lot, but not in comparison to how much natural gas is "flared" into CO2 because it's in the way of oil. The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that enough gas to heat about 90 million homes such as ours is wasted every year. Trouble is, the oil wells it comes out of are not in convenient places to capture and transport the gas; it's "uneconomic."

17.Sept.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Free for All! Permalink to this item

At "midnight Tuesday night" (presumably EDT, so, in just 17½ hours), the NYT is turning off its paywall, making its columnists' work and the newspaper’s archives from 1851-1922 and 1987-present available without charge.

We were part of the 227,000 people willing to pay $50/year from the inception, so made our contribution to a successful two-year experiment. On the one hand, it would be nice ot have the hundred bucks back; on the other, I think we got pretty good value for the expenditure. Now, it's all gravy...

Brain v. Brain Permalink to this item

When we weren't trusting anyone over 30, there was no World Wide Web to debunk our misapprehensions (or to further bunk them, as the case may be). Now that 30 sounds awfully young to us, and as a generation we've provided ample reason not to be trusted, a new generation is not keen on being made a scapegoat.

It's not clear how old a "senior researcher" at would be (or that it matters!), but Mike Males gets a shot at myth-busting in The New York Times, with his op-ed contribution, "This Is Your (Father’s) Brain on Drugs."

"The supposedly immature brain development that renders teenagers naturally risk-prone mysteriously fails to affect teenagers from more affluent backgrounds, or from Europe or Japan (where youth poverty rates and dangers are low), who routinely display risks lower than adults do. Rather, 'science’s discovery' of the problematic 'teenage brain' is just the latest in a long, disgraceful history of alliances between officials, interest groups, sensational media, and a small number of scientists who serve their needs. The ability of authorities to scapegoat unpopular, powerless groups in society instead of facing difficult social problems—in this case, rising middle-aged drug and crime epidemics and the effects of poverty on youth risk—endangers Americans by preventing realistic solutions to serious crises."

Is Bryan Fischer Evil? Permalink to this item

In Rocky Barker's front page feature about the surprising alliance between some evangelicals and environmentalists the pastor of Boise Vineyard Christian Fellowship, Tri Robinson, is featured. He's been the prime mover in bringing his flock to the cause.

After the jump, Barker collects some opinion from "prominent Idaho evangelist" Bryan Fischer, without mentioning a couple of salient facts. Fischer's Idaho Values Alliance (which Barker misnamed "Network") appears to be an alliance between Bryan, his god, and no else who will lend their name directly to his issues. It would be more accurate to call Fischer a prominent Idaho fundamentalist and political gadfly.

Bryan used to be the pastor of a local church, but his congregation voted him out. (Idaho might vote him out too, if only there were some means for us to do so, but instead we have him as the go-to fundamentalist nut-job, able to give the contrary opinion to most any newspaper story. That's handy for a reporter's Rolodex.)

Fischer's complaint that the alliance with environmentalists threatens to "compromise biblical principles" is a lonely voice in the wilderness, based on his misreading of the Bible, that "God granted man authority over the Earth to do with it what he pleases," according to Barker. In contrast, "Robinson emphasizes God's call to care for his creation until Jesus returns." Fischer's further complaint that environmentalists' "solutions are relentlessly political" is disingenuous, given his own political activism. He just doesn't like those politics. And he probably is no fan of earthly authority: his accountability moment led him to being kicked out of his leadership position.

Here is the nut of the issue: if your god tells you "all this is yours to do with however you please," anything is permissible. It's Biblical! But in the reality-based planet on which we live, actions have consequences here-and-now, rather than by-and-by. We need to be accountable to each other, not just an imagined deity. Fischer failed the test, and his carping against a positive, progressive alliance between those who are called to stewardship above exploitation does not bring us closer to each other, nor does it bring us closer to any god.

14.Sept.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Prescience of Dick Cheney Permalink to this item

The haunting memory just keeps haunting, thanks to the indelible memory of YouTube:

"Once you got to Iraq and took it over, you took down Saddam Hussein's government, then what're you gonna put in its place? That's a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government in Iraq, you can easily see pieces of Iraq fly off... It's a quagmire..."

Somewhere between 1994 and 2001, Dick Cheney seems to have lost the proper functioning of both his heart and his mind, and we and the Iraqi people are paying a heavy price for his dementia. We've committed the bulk of our most-powerful-in-history military to the quagmire that our best and brightest can see no end of. As we self-destruct, our leaders exhort us to "show no weakness!" lest the enemy somehow think they've gained an advantage on us.

The President speaks to us, in multiply forked tongues, and we have to wonder, is anyone still listening?

Iraq is now "an ally of the United States" that has "placed its trust in the United States"?! And of course the only message of the two long days of testimony from Crocker and Petraeus that matters is that conditions are "improving" and that "the troop surge is working." 'Nuff said!

"The local people (in Anbar province) were suffering under the Taliban-like rule of Al Qaeda," Bush said, continuing his mendacious confounding of our response to terrorism and the war of choice he and Cheney undertook. This is not the Al Qaeda of Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 attack. This is "Al Qaeda in Iraq," a new creation of the chaos and quagmire we sowed in that country, and of the worldwide Al Qaeda brand we have helped to create.

Judging by his speech, he had delegated all responsibility to managing the occupation to General Petraeus, and is not submitting himself to questioning to address the fundamental strategic question that is not Petraeus' job: is the occupation making us safer?

Now that we have extended troop deployments to (or possibly beyond) the limits of what we can sustain, we're going to bring some home, and magically, Bush finds himself the "uniter" he always said he was going to be: "The way forward I've described tonight makes it possible, for the first time in years, for people who have been on opposite sides of this difficult debate to come together."

He is further uniting the next President of the United States with his "vision" of a military presence in Iraq with no end in sight. Welcome to his nightmare.

12.Sept.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A Moment of Candor Permalink to this item

There must have been more than one in two long days of Congressional testimony... the jokes probably signal some of them. But the unexpected question of whether our continued occupation of Iraq is making us safer caught the General unprepared. Given a chance to reconsider, he produced the "correct" answer: oh sure, yeah, absolutely.

But that first answer, the unguarded and unscripted one, that was where the truth leaked out. He hadn't considered it, actually. Well, who can blame him, he's the head of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, not the head of Making-Safer Force-Homeland. (Who is in charge of that one, by the way?)

It's not a fair question for the General, nor the Ambassador. It is of course a question for the President, but we no longer look for Truth (never mind Wisdom) from that source. (Bush knows it as well as we do, which is why he's delegated integrity to someone with a uniform.) All we get is the wishful thinking of progress being made, the continued deceptions confounding terrorism and the unnecessary war we started, and more excuses for the continued commitment of our Department of Defense to occupying Iraq instead of actually providing for our own security.

Acting Presidential Permalink to this item

Bill Frist and Cokie Roberts talk with Charlie Rose about the Presidential campaign, among other things. Frist weighs in on his favorite candidate's chances:

"America is tarred of the extreme partisanship, and bickering—it's always probably been there in Washington, I was only there for 12 years, but now it's interfered with governing, with meaningful solutions to everyday problems, cost of health care, nobody's talkin' about it. Nobody's talking about it. And so people are tired of, that sort of, uh, I'll say 'partisanship,' but really sort of lack of civility there... If Fred can come in, and really rise above that, talk directly to regular old people out there, and you know it's a little bit about why he's announcing the way he is, trying to be unconventional, to be able to reach out and speak directly to people and people say, 'well, Leno, is that really speaking directly to people?' It'll reach a lot more people than the debate (jovial laughter with Cokie and Charlie)..."

If Thompson can "capture the hope" and "demonstrate he's a proven Conservative." "he'll go a long, long way."

Cokie says "there is a vacuum among the Republican candidates," which I guess is a nice way of saying they all suck. The big problem for the Base is that Rudy Guiliani is in the lead. Frist expects primary voters to base their choice on "Gay issues, Gun issues and Life issues," so can't imagine Guiliani getting the nomination. And he's from New York.

Cokie provides the key insight: "People are investing (Thompson) with all kinds of qualities he may or may not have." Just like we did with George W. Bush, eh.

As far as Thompson's "consistency of where he's been in the past," we wonder if "defense lawyer for hire" works as well as his Law and Order role of District Attorney, if the American consider his collecting billable hours defending abortion rights, or Libyan intelligence agents involved in the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

In Your Face Permalink to this item

The cure for excess partisanship at the Justice Department started with Alberto Gonzales' resignation, followed by... well we don't know, yet, but rumors of Ted Olson being first in line for our next Attorney General suggest the need for a second opinion. The "staunch partisan" who successfully argued Bush v. Gore and got 5 of the Supremes to hand George W. Bush his office? What a great choice he would be for the twilight days of the darkest Presidency in history.

11.Sept.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Think Different Permalink to this item

On the one hand it's blindingly obvious, but on the other hand, the particular neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism make for an interesting study. As reported in the MSM, brain pathways reflect the characteristics of the spectrum: tolerance for ambiguity and openness to new experiences, versus habitual behavior and preference for things as they are. We all have some of each; we're creatures of habit, just as we enjoy a certain amount of novelty. But ultimately, how we think becomes the structure of how we can think.

From the 2006 13-Nation Pew Global Attitudes Survey Regardless of our flexibility and habits, however, our minds show a disturbing tendency to believe what just isn't so. The persistence of myths can make even the denial of falsehoods reinforce them. Not a happy prospect for public policy if proof by repeated assertion from one source can be more convincing than credible evidence from multiple sources. We see it in action, however. Large numbers of Americans think that the terrorist attack on 9/11 was somehow direct justification of the war on Iraq. And the Pew Global Attitudes Project found last year that large majorities do not believe that Arabs carried out those attacks: 59% of Turks and Egyptians, 65% of Indonesians, 53% of Jordanians, 41% of Pakistanis, 56% of British Muslims.

This too escaped from Pandora's Box: our ability to persuade is coupled with our ability to deceive; others, and ourselves.

Group Think Permalink to this item

After an unprecedented campaign to discredit a four-star General, and news that the White House was going to script his long-awaited report to the Congress, it was perhaps essential for David Petraeus to start his testimony by claiming sole authorship. That came after Foreign Affairs committee chairman, Tom Lantos said "we cannot take any of this Administration's assertions about Iraq at face value anymore, and no amount of charts or statistics will improve its credibility."

"This is my testimony... I wrote this testimony myself."

All the same, if the White House had written his script, how would we have been able to tell the difference? The new plan is to stay the occupational course, with minimal adjustment. After a nominal drawdown, we can look forward to returning to pre-surge troop levels, 18 months after the plus-up was undertaken. The "good" news is that "as a bottom-line up-front, the military objectives of the surge are, in large measure, being met."

The Fall 2007 roll-out looks a lot like previous years' models, with no questioning of the assumption that without our occupation, Iraq will fall into chaos (a short drop from where it is now, at least), so we must stay there. It won't be easy, or quick. It'll go on through the end of the Bush Administration, for sure. Between overplaying its hand, and the timidity of Democrats in Congress, our best of the best General, reeking with every bit as much integrity as Colin Powell brought to the United Nations, may have let the gas out of the anti-war movement with a whimper rather than a pop.

His side-kick, Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker opined that "a secure, stable, Democratic Iraq at peace with its neighbors is, in my view, attainable. The cumulative trajectory of political, economic, and diplomatic developments in Iraq is upwards, although the slope of that line is not steep. This process will not be quick. It will be uneven and punctuated by setbacks, as well as achievements, and it will require substantial U.S. resolve and commitment."

In reciting what the vast majority of the population had only known, the merciless rule of the Baath party and Sadaam Hussein, I looked for a contrast that the Iraqis might see between that and the occupation. Violence and intimidation, a pervasive climate of fear, lethal force and torture. Hussein was able to provide more electricity, and less mayhem, I think.

"Some gains in the economy" include, in some places, that "war damage is being cleared and buildings repaired, roads and sewers built, and commerce energized." The auction of cell phone spectrum conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers netted $3.75 billion, we're told, and we might imagine that the real currency will become almost as ephemeral as that "asset" that was auctioned.

So we look forward to fewer people being shot in the back of the head, a few of our brigades coming home without replacement, and more of the same for years to come.

On the Sixth Anniversary: Complacency Permalink to this item

Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton headed the 9/11 Commission, produced its report, and gave an assessment of our progress two years ago. Now, another assessment, with the same conclusion: We still lack a sense of urgency in the face of grave danger.

The "rising tide of radicalization and rage in the Muslim world" is a consequence of our actions, especially the war of choice we undertook against Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

"We are also failing in the struggle of ideas. We have not been persuasive in enlisting the energy and sympathy of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims against the extremist threat. That is not because of who we are: Polling data consistently show strong support in the Muslim world for American values, including our political system and respect for human rights, liberty and equality. Rather, U.S. policy choices have undermined support.

"No word is more poisonous to the reputation of the United States than Guantánamo. Fundamental justice requires a fair legal process before the U.S. government detains people for significant periods of time, and the president and Congress have not provided one. Guantánamo Bay should be closed now."

9.9.7 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Democrats Set Him Up Permalink to this item

Stanley Stolarski of Twin Falls cooks up the most astounding theory of Larry Craig's demise to date: it was the "leaders of the Democrat [sic] Party" and the dastardly ally they recruited, a police officer who was "likely a union member." And one in that "liberal state" of Minnesota no less.

Idahoans would be better off just staying in their home state, rather than risking liberal persecution outside our borders, from police officers skilled in tricking people into pleading guilty and collecting fines to fund their union.

Romney's Narrowing Stance Permalink to this item

The Boise LDS Temple, at sunset Viewed from the outside (the only view available to non-members, of course), the overwhelming impression I have of the Mormon religion is that it's practical. It's a cohesive social organization, ideally suited to claiming and developing territory on the frontier. Whatever motivated its inception, the persecution of its practitioners forced an evolution to what we see today. The members I've know all seem like nice people, even though they didn't care to have that much to do with me outside of well-structured circumstances, like organized sports.

Ex-Mormons who I've known reinforce the impression of the tight, and closed society, with a strong penalty of ostracism for those who find they can't abide the religion for one reason or another. Profession that theirs is the "one, true faith" seems more central than it did for the faith of my childhood, Roman Catholicism. Going to a Catholic grade school, we all knew that ours was the one, true faith, going back to Jesus and St. Peter after all, but we didn't necessarily need to make a big deal out of it. Fraternization was not a problem, even if marrying outside the Church was considered a gaffe, at least.

This cohesion is now a political issue to some extent, thanks to Mitt Romney's candidacy. His evolving (or perhaps revolving?) positions on those issues that mean the most to the Republicans who will decide whether or not he's their candidate next fall may have nothing to do with his religion, or they may have everything to do with it, I don't know. But his stance on gay rights and the litmus test of gay marriage sounds particularly unprincipled by Michael Luo's description in the NYT. When it was convenient, he was willing to wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Now that he's on the national stage, the winking is over, and he couldn't get enough distance between himself and Idaho's Senator fast enough once Larry Craig got the hint of "gay" upon him.

8.Sept.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Damn the Torpedoes Permalink to this item

John McCain spent most of his credibility sucking up to the Bush team after he'd been so sorely abused in the 2000 race, and then in the years following. He's now such a friend of Bush that he's thumping for surge like there's no tomorrow. Rather like the reverse of Chicken Little: "the surge is working! The surge is working! It is working!

Why bother even having Petraeus report on Monday, given how foregone all the conclusions are? Facts are certainly not going to stand in the way.

Illegal, or Just Secret? Permalink to this item

It took most of 5 years, but the Judicial Branch is finally getting around to stating the fairly obvious: key provisions of the so-called USA Patriot Act are unconstitutional.

National Security Letters issued without a court's approval, and coupled with a gag order preventing the recipient from telling anyone s/he's received a NSL, for example; that's out.

And the argument that the lawsuit to determine the legality of the spying by the National Security Agency should be dismissed because the program was so secret, that's out, too.

7.9.7 Permanent URL to this day's entry

"I Can't Recall" times 5 million Permalink to this item

The other NSA (the National Security Archive) is suing the Executive branch for its failure to properly preserve the electronic communication of the Bush administration. The suit claims that the emails "exist only on back-up tapes," but we have to wonder whether that's so. It could be that the tapes were never made, or were binned. It also calls on the defendants to "implement an adequate archival management system" as required by law. It seems the White House got rid of the old system in 2002, and never got around to setting up a new one.

Gee, was any of that stuff important? Just the invasion of Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 election campaigns, the outing of Valerie Plame, the Swift-Boating of John Kerry, the negotiations with Diebold for bringing Ohio's votes to Bush/Cheney... Maybe it would even help Alberto Gonzales' memory.

Our (soon to be) Late, Unlamented Senator Permalink to this item

Mark Solomon's home on Moscow Mountain provides the longer-term perspective of Larry Craig's time in the Senate, and what his departure will mean for the land, water, and forests that we love.

With Craig's resignation the Lords of Yesterday are left without senior senatorial errand boys. Their ability to control the West's future is seriously diminished. Newer western senators such as Mike Crapo understand the need to balance use of public lands with their protection, something the Lords' senators never did.

General Petraeus Reporting Permalink to this item

Which is not quite the same as providing a report. The reports that we do have—the National Intelligence Estimate, from the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. Embassy, and the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq—are all pretty negative. Or as Paul Krugman puts it, "the surge has reduced violence in Iraq—as long as you don’t count Sunnis killed by Sunnis, Shiites killed by Shiites, Iraqis killed by car bombs and people shot in the front of the head."

6.Sept.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Political Handicapping Permalink to this item

Randy Stapilus of Ridenbaugh Press offers up an entertaining political analysis of possible moves and countermoves in the Larry Craig affaire de toilette.

"Craig has been in the Senate almost 17 years, plenty long enough to know all about the dark side of the members there. If he decided to begin unearthing secrets - well, that’s not a place the Republican caucus wants to even think about."

The hard part is figuring out what he wants, and just how serious "political hardball" he's prepared to play to get it. "Clearing his name" is going to be somewhere between difficult and impossible, but if he wants to take someone or some others with him, he could probably get that done.

The Police State of Bathroom Etiquette Permalink to this item

Should consenting adults be allowed to do as they please in the privacy of their bathroom stalls? Not a question we thought about very much before last Monday's news, but now we wonder. Should police be trolling to see who knows the secret code to enable consensual lewd behavior? Dina Adham doesn't think so, and she puts her opinion under a pithy quote from H.L. Mencken for good measure.

That the media (and we media consumers) have been having a field day of "sensationalism and infotainment" can hardly be denied, but the prurience of this whole business is of course at the heart of the matter. If we weren't so fascinated by sex, and weren't so loaded up with enculturated inhibitions protecting our sexual beings, well, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Adham is behind the curve in understanding the circumstances, however; the bathroom was a notorious venue for hooking up, the back-and-forth signalling is well known by those who use it and Craig's claims of innocence are genuinely incredible in the context. Whether what he was trying to do should be a crime, or whether cops should be trying to catch such "criminals" by entrapping them are valid questions. The rules that have been established by the likes of the conservative Senator from Idaho say such things are "nasty" and "naughty," so more than anything else, he's been hoist on his own petard.

(In case you missed them, those were epithets Larry sent Bill Clinton's way duing the Monica Lewinsky scandal; for his part, Clinton was considerably more gracious now that it's Craigs turn in the unwelcome spotlight.)

Criminalizing High School Permalink to this item

While out at Centennial High today around lunchtime, an announcement blared over the parking lot, impressing students with the seriousness of their must-always-be-wearing photo ID badges. It's no joke to be taking someone else's badge, the gal said. "You will be charged with a felony."

A felony?! Never mind that just about none of the students are legally adults (especially in early September), but doesn't the threat of sending a high school student out to Pleasant Valley (or worse, an outsourced prison in Texas?) for the crime of taking a fellow student's name tag seem just a bit over the top?

I called the school after I got home and asked what's up with that. The handy police detective stationed at the school explained that taking something from someone's direct possession, regardless of the item's value, is grand theft, which is indeed a felony. (For adults, at least. Do we charge children with felonies now, or do we have to declare we're going to pretend someone is an adult first?)

So a nice moral distinction for high school hijinks; if you want to swipe something from someone as a prank, make sure you don't take it away from them directly, and make sure it's not something worth $1,000 or more, so you keep your theft petty. Of course, it's better not to take things from people at all, but you'd best be aware of the games adults are going to play on you if you don't toe their lines for behavior.

5.Sept.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Straining Credulity Permalink to this item

"You solicited me," Larry Craig insisted to the undercover cop who brought him in for Inappropriate Footsie and Hand-waving in the airport stalls, making it clear enough that he knows something about the game he's pretending he never heard of and can't imagine playing, in a restroom that was a notorious pitch. Was it the cop returning his gaze through the crack while the Senator was looking for an open seat? The foot moving up and down? We know it wasn't the presentation of the badge, as Larry never gave the Submissive signal.

He should have found himself a lawyer, but he evidently did not want to talk to anyone about the incident. His innocent visit to the loo was "misconstrued" as trolling for anonymous sex, but his attempt to handle the matter "quickly and expeditiously" led him to plead guilty. Almost two months after the incident. Still before he'd told any family, friends, staff, or counsel what had happened.

And now we hear his misdirected voicemail to "Billy," explaining how he's going to finesse his "intent to resignation" speech, without bothering to tell the Governor or other Republicans who were willing to stand up for him at the press conference.

He's had a nice career if you like what he's voted for (I almost never did), he's in line for a comfortable pension after most of 3 decades on the job, and he's already given us one "resignation." Do we really want this guy representing us in the United States Senate any more? What's next, his announcement that he's going to run for another term?

Count our governor, Butch Otter as one of the faked out faithful. Should he be interviewing replacements, or what? Numerous Idaho Republicans are peering through the crack to eye the open seat, and the Governor sounds like he might be trying to avoid pre-empting the Party's decision (never mind the People's?) about who to lift up, and name a "placeholder" instead of a "front-runner."

4.Sept.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Psych! Permalink to this item

Ok, this'll get him back on the front page: if Larry Craig can undo his guilty plea to disorderly conduct, maybe he won't resign from the Senate on Sept. 30th after all.

Could he possibly be so naïve as to imagine that the handful of colleagues making expressions of heartfelt support would be prepared to support him for Plan B?! I can't quite imagine Mitch McConnell saying "gosh, you're not guilty after all? C'mon back into the club!"

Counting the Days, Nervously Permalink to this item

Scott Ritter, on Truthdig: Why Cheney Really Is That Bad:

"The vice president is the single greatest threat to American and international security in the world today. Not Osama Bin Laden. Not the ghost of Saddam Hussein. Not Ahmadinejad or Kim Jung Il. Not al-Qaida, the Taliban, or Jose Padilla himself. Not even George W. Bush can lay claim to this title. It is Dick Cheney’s alone. Operating in a never-never land of constitutional ambiguity which exists between the office of the president and the Congress of the United States, Cheney’s office has made its impact felt on the policies of the United States of America as had no vice president’s office before him."

Ray McGovern figures that Rove's (and Snow's) departure is bad news because Rove provided a counterbalance to Cheney's attitude for still more war.

"Despite the administration's warlike record, many Americans may still cling to the belief that attacking Iran won't happen because it would be crazy; that Bush is a lame-duck president who wouldn't dare undertake a new reckless adventure when the last one went so badly. But—with this administration—rationality has not exactly been a strong suit."

Just Like the Big Boys Permalink to this item

While the stars of the pro tennis world were laboring in Flushing Meadows yesterday, we local recreational types were wrapping up the Eagle Tennis Tournament. We didn't have 128 player draws, but neither did we have 2 weeks to stretch things out. The singles semifinals at 8am had deliciously cool conditions, but those didn't last long. The 10am doubles semifinals (and my partner and I) were done in about an hour, which made for a nice, long mid-day break for me. The doubles final was delayed by another match, and so it was about 5pm and the hottest part of a hot day before my opponent and I faced off for the singles final in the 3.5 draw. My good fortune was that it was "only" my third match of the day, whereas Jim Enzler had made it to the doubles final (and won!), so it was his fourth.

Which is tougher, a 5-set match for a 20-something, or back-to-back best-of-three doubles and then singles when you're in your 50s? The court temperature was easily into triple digits, providing the most substantial stress test I need to see for a while, even without having to have played that extra "warm up" match.

I'm not sure what my overall tie-break record is, but I suspect it's well below .500; seems like I've seen more comebacks from my competition than I've made myself. Yesterday's match may not show up as a comeback, since I won it in straight sets, but given that I was ready to propose flipping a coin rather than playing a third set that would've run till about 8 o'clock as I faced three set points at 6-3 in the second set tie-break, I'm going to count those 5 straight points that gave me set and match as a solid comeback. Punctuated with a clean, cross-court, forehand passing shot on my first match point, against a big guy at the net who hasn't lost a doubles match all year; very satisfying.

Learning From Our Mistakes Permalink to this item

A week after Idaho awoke to the "How can this be?" question about Senator Larry Craig, he finally moved below the fold of The Idaho Statesman, but not quite off the front page. The one mention this morning was a teaser to a a reprint of a remarkable letter to the editor of the Washington Post, from James McGreevey, the former governor of New Jersey, and now a seminary student.

The signal that almost got McGreevey arrested was the flash of his headlights. He was able to talk his way out of the jam with his former prosecutor's badge, and tells of advancing his political career by following public opinion, staying in the closet, and standing against same-sex marriage to "affirm his bona fides as a 'straight'." That worked until he was found out and, like Craig, resigned in disgrace.

"Only after the crisis that resulted in my resignation, when public opinion no longer mattered, did I realize the importance and legitimacy of same-sex marriage....

"I pray that the tide of American history continues to sweep toward the inevitable expansion of freedom that recognizes the worth and dignity of every individual -- and that mine is the last generation that is required to choose between affairs of the heart and elected office."

2.Sept.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Voice of Justice: Holier-than-thou Permalink to this item

Lest the impact of Patricia Justice of Meridian's letter to the editor be diminished, she pulled out the thesaurus to provide the horrid characteristics "typical of all Democrats." Standing up her pen for ID-01 Bill Sali's defense of Christian nationalism, her list includes arrogant, holier-than-thou, "hell-bent on losing the war on terrorism," "dominated by radical marxists," vicious, "extremely agitated to the point of maniacal hysteria," and willing to do anything to collect the votes of "felons, immigrants, the ignorant and the uniformed."

Unlike that "Republic" Party, always knowledgeable, calm, parental, and heaven-bent, the party of the truth and maturity.

There is of course an intelligent alternative to dogmatic insistence on one particular religion (much less one particular interpretation of a religion) as the basis for our government and society, and it was the wisdom of our forebears to establish such a form of government here. For those stuck on the "truth" of a favorite god, book, or denomination, consider a statement of moral values for a pluralistic society, based on two simple principles: "the basic principle of freedom, the right of all human beings to follow a life of their choosing as long as others are not harmed, and the basic principle of the inherent equal dignity of all human beings, which includes the right of all human beings to equal justice."

Cultural Hangover Permalink to this item

Seth Randal, the filmmaker who documented the 1950s sex scandal in Boise has an Op-Ed piece in today's New York Times, with BSU archivist Alan Virta, acquainting the general public with Idaho’s Original Same-Sex Scandal. Andrew Sullivan refers to Randal's film, The Fall of '55, and provides one of the keener insights of the past week's headline news out of Idaho:

Larry Craig is just one of the more public victims of the cultural atmosphere in this country that portrays homosexuality as disgusting and something of which to be ashamed. There are many, silent sufferers like him. You could see his shame in (Tuesday's) press conference, and that the specter of Boise, 1955 has hung over Larry Craig all his life.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Sunday, 22-May-2016 15:51:52 MDT