Saturday, December 15, 2007

A joke of an endorsement

By Edward Copeland

The Des Moines Register, Iowa's largest newspaper and the people who brought you two of the most worthless and dull presidential debates this past week (with the added bonus of saying the loony Alan Keyes could show up for the GOP forum but Dennis Kucinich was a no go for the Dems), cast their lot with Hillary Nothing-But-Ambition Clinton as the Democrat "most ready to lead." In their editorial, they even spell out how, if you are going by qualifications, Biden, Dodd and Richardson's accomplishments all trump Hillary's, but still they go with the one certain to lose. They say:

The job requires a president who not only understands the changes needed to move the country forward but also possesses the discipline and skill to navigate the reality of the resistant Washington power structure to get things done.

Really? What has Hillary done to show she knows how to get things done? Teaming up with Censorin' Joe Lieberman on issues such as flag burning and Iran? Refusing to ever admit her support for the Iraq war was a mistake?

On the GOP side of things, the Register goes with McCain, who is barely a blip in Iowa. At least picking him though could be called taking a principled stand. Hillary's selection does not. Both editorials read like such weaselly documents you'd think Mark Penn or Howard Wolfson wrote them, making sure to say nice things about just about every candidate. I'm surprised they didn't find a way to give a shoutout to Tom Tancredo.

Meanwhile, in Boston, the state next door to New Hampshire, the Globe sees things differently, at least on the Democratic side.

Senators Barack Obama and John McCain have been endorsed by The Boston Globe editorial board ahead of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary on Jan. 8in New Hampshire. The board wrote that Obama, the Illinois Democrat, fulfills America's need for "a president with an intuitive sense of the wider world,'' and that McCain, the Arizona Republican, ''has done more than his share to transcend partisanship and promote an honest discussion of the problems facing the United States.''

Cheers to the Boston Globe and boo-hiss to the Des Moines Register.

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To war or not to war

By Carol Gee

"Pheromones Identified that Trigger Aggression between Male Mice." This is the headline just in from the NIH News. The National Institutes of Health are in the business of basic research. I would call the findings just announced as very basic (emphasis mine). To quote:

A family of proteins commonly found in mouse urine is able to trigger fighting between male mice, a study in the Dec. 6, 2007, issue of Nature has found. The study, which is the first to identify protein pheromones responsible for the aggression response in mice, was funded in part by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), one of the National Institutes of Health. Pheromones are chemical cues that are released into the air, secreted from glands, or excreted in urine and picked up by animals of the same species, initiating various social and reproductive behaviors.

"Although the pheromones identified in this research are not produced by humans, the regions of the brain that are tied to behavior are the same for mice and people. Consequently, this research may one day contribute to our understanding of the neural pathways that play a role in human behavior," says James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIDCD. "Much is known about how pheromones work in the insect world, but we know very little about how these chemicals can influence behavior in mammals and other vertebrates."

. . . [Stowers] "a bar code of individuality for each mouse. And we don't know whether the proteins are actually coding for aggression per se, or whether they're serving as a general cue of individuality for a male."

If the latter is the case, it could help explain why, unlike the males, female mice don't show aggression when with a male. In addition to investigating this question further, the team plans to explore how receptor neurons sift through all of the cues in the environment to detect the relevant cues to influence behavior and how those sensory neurons are connected to the rest of the brain. They also hope to learn more about the neural pathway itself — whether one pathway in the brain is dedicated to one behavior, or whether there are general pathways that can lead to a range of behaviors, which may be modulated by a specific pheromone.

. . . The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases.

I am a elder female mouse, non-aggressive, though my readers at the opposite end of the political spectrum might disagree. Since I was in high school I have been fascinated with why men go to war. I read cheap novels and short stories about dogfights in the sky. I also read "From Here to Eternity," by James Jones (1951); "The Naked and the Dead," by Norman Mailer (1948), and "The Cruel Sea," by Nicholas Monsarrat (1951). And I remain fascinated; so far I have written 446 S/SW posts containing the word "war".

The question about human pheromones is very pertinent here, according to Science News Online and, of course, Wikipedia. As a mental health practitioner, over the years it became much more clear to me how much of human behavior is deeply entrenched in biology. That awareness makes me feel both discouraged and encouraged about the discovery of aggression pheromones in male mice.

Discouragement arises at the possibility that humans may be hard-wired with aggression proclivities. Today's news from the Middle East would certainly argue for that position. However, unless built-in aggression is nature's form of population control in the face of limited natural resources, I just cannot allow myself to believe that we are destined to be at war forever on this teeny little planet.

Recent news from The Financial Times, about an agreement on how to proceed with global cooperation to mitigate threatening climate change, is very encouraging. I feel relieved because I believe that information is power. And I feel more encouraged when I remember that one of our most endearing human qualities is to respond to "our better angels" within. Have a good weekend.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Impeach!

By Capt. Fogg

Is this the same Republican Party that once spent 60 million dollars of our money investigating a 20 year old real estate deal ( and found nothing,) attempted to make an impeachable scandal out of firing a travel agent and actually did impeach a president for denying an act that was neither a crime nor connected to any charges against him?

Is this the same United States of America that a generation ago ran a president out of office for interfering with a burglary investigation, that ran a vice president out of office for using his office for personal gain?

No it isn't. It's a country so terrified that men with beards will take over our country and lay waste to Festus, Missouri and Keokuk Iowa that we will allow the closest thing to a fascist leader we have ever had to tell the courts to ignore the destruction of evidence in open defiance of a court order. It's a country so insane with irrational and baseless fear that it's willing to do without the law and depend on the honesty of crooks and liars any time the president says BOO!

We're not obligated to obey the law, said the Bush administration to U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy last night, and you'd better not question anything we do either because your laws get in the way of our secret investigations. How much more clear can they make it that we are in such terrible danger that a dictatorship is the only solution and how much more clear can it be that the war on the courts waged by the Neocon insurgents has no other purpose than to allow them to rule unopposed?

Yes, impeachment will be difficult, since they can and will destroy any records or other evidence they like without even bothering to deny it as has been demonstrated, nor will they recognize the authority of any other branch of government to question them, but I fear that impeachment remains the only legal way to remove these pirates from office and I fear that even that may be too little and too late. No outside group of religious nuts will bring down the United States or do us serious damage. No foreign entity can conquer us or will be able to trade our freedom for tyranny. Only we can do that and we will do that unless the remaining support for this illegal government gives way to recognition that the only thing we have to fear is Bush and his lawless government.

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Are we safer now?

By Libby Spencer

I don't know. Maybe I just have fake terrorist threat fatigue but don't you think this latest conviction on conspiracy to commit terrorism is just a little bit oversold as "one of the most realistic terrorism threats on U.S. soil since Sept. 11." Maybe I'm missing something here, but it appears this terrorist group consists of four guys, three of whom spent most of their time in prison plotting this attack and one of whom has been judged mentally unfit to stand trial and is now under psychiatric care.

The plan was pretty scary, but I see no indication that they managed to accumulate any guns, much less build a bomb. The worst thing they did was write a really threatening manifesto and rob a few gas stations.

Don't get me wrong, it's good to get them off the streets. They're obviously violent men who don't belong free in civil society, and it's heartening to see our law enforcement cooperate well to put them back behind bars. But it does us no great service to hype this as the greatest threat ever. The recent shootings by lone gunmen at the Omaha mall and in Colorado did more damage than this hapless group of wannabes did.

This is what makes trading our civil rights for a false sense of security so ridiculous. The government's massive surveillance programs weren't responsible for the capture of these would be terrorists. Good old fashioned police work was. Neither did those databases protect those who died in the shootings. If we're to learn anything here, I think the lesson is that the world is full of disturbed and violent people and no one can protect us from them all.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Bill Clinton: It's the experience, stupid

By Creature

Bill Clinton appeared on Charlie Rose last night [video pending] and, like any good surrogate would, he hammered Obama on the "experience" front (the final message Hillary would like Iowans to hear over and over again).

I actually think the experience hit on Obama is a legitimate one (though I do question how much actual experience Hillary brings to the table). Seeing as how I lean Obama (and to a lesser degree Edwards), I buy Obama's answer to the experience question: that you can have all the experience in the world, but sometimes judgment, good judgment--judgment not based on the political winds of the time, trumps experience. Hillary's experience, and her politically motivated judgment, got us into Iraq. Obama was at least prescient enough to be against the whole boondoggle from the word go. Bill answered that contrast last night, but I take issue with his analogy. From E&P:

[Clinton] also hit back at the charge that experienced politicians had helped get us into the Iraq war, saying that this was "like saying that because 100 percent of the malpractice cases are committed by doctors, the next time I need surgery I'll get a chef or a plumber to do it."

No, Bill, all malpractice cases may be committed by doctors, but some doctors have never committed malpractice. There are plenty of politicians who did not commit Iraq malpractice and I would turn to one of them, long before I turn to Hillary, whose experience did nothing to shape her judgment, except insofar as to read the political tea leaves which told her, wrongly, that she needed to be on the hawk side with respect to Iraq.

Now, I don't want this post to devolve into an anti-Hillary, anti-Bill screed--the right is already having a field day with this interview, but Bill raises one more point worthy of mention. Again, from E&P:

"I guess I'm old fashioned," [Clinton] said, in wanting a president who had actually done things for people. He said some people could "risk" taking someone who had served just a year in the Senate if they chose.

When Rose said that all this seemed to add up to Clinton hinting that people would be "rolling the dice" if they picked Obama, the former president replied: "It's less predictable, isn't it?"

Yes, an Obama presidency would be "less predictable," but that's exactly what I'm looking for. We can "predict" that Hillary's presidency would be more hawkish, more poll-driven, more cautious, less audacious, more polarizing, and, well, more of the same.

This week is the last for any real political maneuvering before the voting finally begins, and this Charlie Rose interview is going to play out in a big way. Marc Ambinder has more, including the inside word that the Clinton people themselves thought Bill was going a bit too far.

Update: Obama answers back.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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The ice is now broken

By Carl


On at least one front, progressive politics is
beginning to pay off:

In a 44-36 vote, the Democrat-run state assembly replaced the death sentence with life in prison without parole.

The bill is expected to be signed into law by Democratic Governor Jon Corzine - an opponent of the death penalty.

The move would make New Jersey the first US state to abolish capital punishment since the US Supreme Court reinstated executions in 1976.


Couple this with the recent decision by the United States Supreme Court to hear challenges to
lethal injections as a form of execution, as well as many governors suspending death penalty sentences because of uncertainty over cruel and unusual, and we've got the makings of overturning an hideous decision by the highest court of this land to allow the government to serve in God's stead.

New Jersey joins thirteen other states now in banning the death penalty. Thirty-six more have some form of execution on the books and, of course, execution is still a possible Federal penalty, meaning many cases that rightly should be tried in state courts are being prosecuted at the Federal level, thus unnecessarily tying up courts that have better things to do than play God.

2006 saw the lowest execution rates in the US in ten years, and this year looks like it will be even lower.

I understand the position of people who believe in the death penalty. They believe that death = justice, an eye for an eye, but I believe that only God can truly look into someone's heart and make the determination as to whether they deserve to die or to suffer eternal punishment. No one believes that someone who has raped and killed a child (one of the Jersey prisoners this affects was Jessie Timmendequas, whose hideous crime instituted Megan's Law across the land) should be let lose, but what about a case like Robert Marshall, who was accused and convicted in his wife's murder and spent 18 years on death row in New Jersey, only to be freed in 2004 when evidence exonerating him was uncovered?

How would the state have presumed "justice" there? A monetary payout to his family?

Would Marshall have been anymore "brought back" than Megan Kanka by that "justice"?

We have not the capacity to look into God's mind and discover who truly is evil and who truly is good (and for that matter, I have my doubts about God's own nature in this matter). Until we can truly do that, and uncover who really is guilty and who is not, we cannot kill. Period.

After all, if anyone deserves to die, it would be a country's leader who has killed thousands of that country's youth as a result of his deliberation and intentional lies.

But no one has put George W Bush on death row...

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Friday, December 14, 2007

It will take years to recover

By Carol Gee

Stories related to disastrous natural or environmental events often use the phrase, "It will take years to recover." When used as an Internet search term the words yield seeming accidents or acts of nature. They said it after oil spills such as the recent Black Sea event and the South Korea environmental disaster. President Bush himself and many others said it would take years to recover after Hurricane Katrina.

The Reaction I have is similar to the people contemplating ruined beaches and endangered wildlife. It is a mixture of anger, sadness, revulsion, regret, frustration and anxiety.

Ironically it will take years to recover from the disastrous Bush years. As each day's new Bush scandal headline appears, my reaction and those of my fellow bloggers at our website of the same name mirrors rising disgust. The phrase was brought to my mind by a casual reference in Capt.Fogg's recent blog comment from which I quote:

I've heard a number of economists say privately that it will be many many years before the world recovers from George W. Bush - even if his successor is better - and we are far from certain of that.


Profligate: It will take years to recover from the loss of billions of dollars unaccounted for during the war in Iraq. The billions of dollars expended in that unjustified and protracted war of aggression-turned-civil could have prevented the decimation of our nation's military readiness. It will take years to recover a balanced budget in the wake of unprecedented deficits. It will take years to recover a decent balance of domestic vs. military spending.

Unruly and aggressive: It will take years to recover from the retreat from the rule of law undertaken under the guise of "protecting the country." It will take years to recover from the damage done to the reputation of U.S. leadership's role around the world. It will take years to recover the momentum for peace between Israel and Palestine after so many years of abdication of responsibility of being the honest broker no other nation could be.

Irresponsible: It will take years to recover from the ground lost to the changes already happening within a very real threat of global warming. The ice melts and polar bear and penguin populations decline. And the national representatives gathered on the island of Bali try to figure out how to finally get the U.S. on board with the rest of the world. It will take years to recover the lost opportunities when our nation failed to move in the direction of renewable energy, with its promise of economic growth. Any disengagement from an angry and troubled group of radicals becomes more and more difficult as we remain oil dependent on the Middle East.

Partisan: It will take years for Congress to recover the courage to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities, after a protracted period of fear-mongering by the Bush administration. It will take years to recover the will to cooperate across party lines to work out bipartisan solutions to the country's major problems. It will take years to recover the will to tackle reforms to immigration, health care, consumer protection, corporate greed, safe credit, education and all the other issues that have languished these past 7 years.

Dishonest: It will take years to recover our ability to somewhat trust our government. There is widespread mistrust of what our current president says, what he and his administration discloses or hides, and a failure to hold officials accountable for performance. Incompetence, misbehavior or illegal actions are denied and widespread cover-ups are attempted. People who behave with honesty can see their careers ruined by retribution.

An oil spill is what it is. And the clean-up needs to start soon because it will take years to recover.

cross-posted at South by Southwest

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Top Ten Cloves: Reasons Mitchell Baseball Steroid Investigation is unlike CIA Torture Tapes Case

News Item: All-Star Roster Shows Up on Mitchell Report

By J. Thomas Duffy

10. Everyone is pretty sure that White House Council Harriet Meirs didn't know baseball players were taking steroids.

9. So far, no one has asked current or former baseball executive to investigate CIA erasing torture tapes.


8. No evidence -- yet -- White House told baseball players to take steroids.

7. No record of Al Qaeda, or other terrorists, taking steroids.

6. Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) said she didn't write a letter to MLB asking them to not let baseball players take steroids.

5. No reports of Major League Baseball dragging their steroid users off to black site prisons in foreign countries.

4. Brigadier General Thomas W. Hartmann not prepared to say if a terrorist hits a home run, that it is, indeed, a home run.

3. No known videotape of baseball players, or terrorists, being "steroidboarded."

2. No memo found yet of President Bush telling baseball players to "leave no marks", so that, if there's no sign of steroid use, it didn't happen.

1. Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) wouldn't be able to say that "hitting a home run is like swimming."

**********

Juiced-Up Links

The Mitchell Report

TPM's Timeline of the CIA's Torture Tapes

The Mitchell Report - Highlights of the Mitchell Report, released Thursday

The Mitchell Report: Naming Names

Steroid Report Implicates Top Players

Clemens, Pettitte named in baseball steroid report

Mitchell report: Baseball slow to react to players' steroid use

Garlic Coverage of Baseball Steroid Scandal















(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Humour-roids

By Carl

I'm going to flash my libertarian side here for a moment:

re:
Steroids and Sports

So what? If an asshole is dumb enough to poison his body for the fleeting fame that a record holds, or the small promise of a megamillion contract if he performs that much better than everyone else, let him I say.

Baseball’s obligation to athletes in terms of doping should be this: show them video and photographs of Lyle Alzado and Ken Caminiti just before each of them died of cancer, likely induced by steroid use.

You want to cut 40 years off your life? Be our guest! Nobody's stopping you and if they are, there are clearly ways around it, as Lance Armstrong's case shows. Or Alex Rodriguez. I'd rather see you be up front and honest about it, and let kids know that what they are seeing, like in professional wrestling, is an unattainable sham. It will likely stop many of them from trying it, since who takes wrestling seriously, even among kids?

Likewise, if EVERYONE has access to ‘roids, suddenly those “remarkable accomplishments” of Bonds et al become pedestrian. We'll yawn when the first 100 home run season comes to pass, because we'll know that it was dope-induced. Indeed, sport itself will lose an awful lot of its power over society. Athletes will become celebrities in the way that Hulk Hogan or The Rock are: if they have no other talent, they won't be admired at all.

And I'm fine with that...why?

Here's why: the owners ought to pay a very very harsh fine to the Players’ Association for this. Why?

After 1994’s strike, baseball was desperate for good news. Voila, miracle of miracles, McGwire and Sosa have their tete a tete HR derby. Ripken has his Ironman streak (possibly not roided, but I wouldn’t put it past Cal).

BASEBALL’S OWNERS PROFITED MIGHTILY FROM THE USE OF STEROIDS, and for them to suddenly get all red-faced and tut-tuttish about their use is hypocrisy on the order of magnitude of the Bush administration (which many of them supported). They paid these contracts with the incentive clauses and then pretended that the players were pure as snow, meanwhile knowing the guys were juicing.

Steroids put baseball back on the map, and these guys ought to be ashamed for themselves.

There's a real simple solution to this problem, as well as the obscene amounts of money both owners and players make: limit the profits an individual team can make.

We've done this in other areas, and it worked like a charm. Take the utilities of electricity or telephone. In exchange for limiting competition in those fields, we allowed local utilities to set whatever prices they wanted to. The catch? They were limited by statute in the amount of net profit they could earn, and were required to spend the largest share of their revenue on their customers and the infrastructure.

The result? It didn't take nine days to reverse a blackout, like it did in Astoria, Queens in 2006. The regional blackouts of 1965 and 2003 in the northeast covered approximately the same region of land. In 1964, the lights were back on the next day. In 2003, it took up to ten days to restore power on the grid. Why? Because the utilities had a golden opportunity to up their customer service expenditures AND raise their rates (which as I recall, they did).

The most reliable piece of equipment until the telecom deregulations of the 1980s was the phone. No, we didn't have the fancy features that they had in Europe, but in Europe, you couldn't be guaranteed a call would go through, either.

Here in the States, not only did it go through, but the clarity was unparalleled, something you noticed anytime you had to call internationally.

Too, sports have traditionally be given anti-trust exemptions, much like utilities had. It's time now to lock those down properly, and take the money out of the game. Imagine ticket prices actually returning to normal.

(Parenthetical side note: check out this comment I found on
Google News. Does the name look familiar?

Comment by Marc Mukasey, Bracewell + Giuliani
Comment by Marc Mukasey, leader, White Collar Criminal Defense and Special Investigations, Bracewell + Giuliani - 15 hours ago

The report is a wake-up call, but not an indictment because the proof is too flimsy and overly dependant on one person. The single best recommendation is that baseball create a Department of Investigations with an independent head who reports to the MLB president. That would work wonders to maintain the integrity of the game.


As in stepson of our Attorney General...working for Rudy Giuliani...partnering with Rudy Giuliani...

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Support for Homeless Veterans Needed

By Carol Gee






210 East Broad Street, Suite 202 Telephone: (703) 237-8980
Falls Church, VA 22046 Fax: (703) 237-8976

December 11, 2007

For Immediate Release: Contact: Andy Koelz 800-528-5385

NATIONAL VETERANS’ RIGHTS GROUP TO HOLD TEN CITY RALLIES IN SUPPORT OF VETERANS

Falls Church, VA-- Beginning in December 2007 and running through February 2008, the president of the Circle of Friends will again lead a circuit of rallies across America to raise support for the homeless veterans on our streets. The rallies will feature a color guard, speakers, an open bar, and recognition of veterans who are in attendance. Invited speakers include 2008 Presidential candidates or their representatives. A complete schedule of rallies can be found at the end of this press release.

According to the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), there are approximately 300,000 homeless veterans on our streets any given night. About 3,000 of the valiant troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are now homeless veterans. The VA only funds 12,000 beds a years for these homeless veterans.

The burden for supporting homeless veterans comes to rest on the approximately 250 not-for-profit transitional facilities in our country. Only about 50 of these receive any kind of VA funding, and even then, this funding is inadequate. Closer to home, the VA funds only 56 beds for homeless veterans for the entire state of Iowa.

“We want to help everyone we can, but we have to start with the core,” said MAJ Brian Hampton USAR (ret), President of the Circle of Friends for American Veterans.

The Circle of Friends for American Veterans, a 501-c(3) non-profit organization since 1993, is considered the foremost grass-roots advocacy organization for homeless veterans in America. The Circle of Friends lobbies Congress on behalf of homeless veterans across America. Thus far their efforts have succeeded in raising well over a million dollars in earmarked appropriations. These efforts virtually doubled the bed capacity for the only facility for homeless veterans in the Washington DC area, the Southeast Veterans Service Center.

During the ten city rallies, the president of the Circle of Friends, among other things, will raise support for the “Veterans’ Bill of Rights” drafted by the organization. One of the provisions in the Bill of Rights includes increasing the per diem VA support for all these transitional facilities from $30 a day per bed (a modest amount!) up to $60 a day (from 1/10th of 1% of the VA budget to 2/10ths of 1%).

Another provision of the Veterans Bill of Rights requests adequate counseling for Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD), a leading cause of homelessness for returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Only half of the VA medical centers provide such counseling now. According to the Government Accountability Office, six of the seven centers are not prepared for the case load.

Members of Congress and local politicians have, in the past, come forward at the rallies to offer their support for our country’s homeless veterans. At these rallies, the Circle of Friends promulgates the Veterans’ Bill of Rights and challenges all Members of Congress to affirm their support for it.

Thus far, the organization has garnered support from 25 members Congress representing both Houses of Congress and both major political parties. Presidential candidates of both political parties are also invited to attend the rallies or send a representative. One goal of the rallies is to obtain support from Presidential candidates. The Veterans’ Bill of Rights continues to move forward with resounding community and political support. Major Hampton will travel more than 25,000 miles across America during the 2007-2008 series of rallies, in the process of obtaining support for veterans nationwide.

Once the Circle of Friends has secured the support of several hundred Members of Congress, they will go to the Congress with all the names and tell them it is time to support their words with actions by passing legislation with adequate appropriations.

Additional information on the Circle of Friends can be found at www.vetsvision.org. For further details, please phone 1-800-528-5385 or e-mail info@vetsvision.org.

Tour Schedule:

Cedar Rapids, Iowa…………………..……………………………..…………………Thursday, December 27th at 7:00PM
Knights of Columbus Council 909 - 716 A Avenue NE, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Des Moines, Iowa……………………………………………………...……………….Saturday, December 29th at 7:00PM
Holiday Inn Des Moines – Downtown on 1050 6th Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa

Manchester, New Hampshire…………………………………..…….…………………….Friday, January 4th at 7:00PM
The Alpine Club – 175 Putnam Street, Manchester, New Hampshire

Las Vegas, Nevada………………………………………………..…….……………….Wednesday, January 9th at 7:00PM
American Legion Post #8 - 733 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Las Vegas, Nevada

Detroit, Michigan……………..……………………………….………………….……………Friday, January 11th at 7:00PM
Michigan Veterans Foundation - 2770 Park Avenue, Detroit, Michigan

Charleston, South Carolina……………………………….…………….………………Tuesday, January 15th at 7:00PM
William Aiken House – The American Theater – 454 King Street, Charleston, South Carolina

Columbia, South Carolina……………………………………..……………………….Thursday, January 17th at 7:00PM
American Legion Post #6 - 200 Pickens Street, Columbia, South Carolina

Tampa, Florida…………………………….…………..………………….…………………Thursday, January 24th at 7:00PM
Elks Lodge – 3616 West Gandy Boulevard, Tampa, Florida

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania…………………………………..……..…………………Thursday, January 31st at 7:00PM
The National Liberty Museum – 321 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Arlington, Virginia……………………………….…………………………………….……….Friday, February 8th at 7:00PM
Site to Be Determined

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition

By Capt. Fogg

He pulled out his gun and then he said,
If you make a crooked move, you both fall dead.

. . . He loved the women and he hated the law
and he just wouldn't take nobody's jaw.

Doc Watson, Otto Wood the Bandit

___________

When I first heard that a Texan by the name of Joe Horn had shot and killed two men he saw exiting his neighbor's house carrying a bag, my reaction was that he was a long way outside the "castle doctrine" law that allows one to defend one's life with deadly force without the requirement to wait until an intruder shoots you or to first attempt to flee.

At least in Florida, my state of residence, this law does not allow one to shoot someone to protect property or to shoot someone in the back as he runs away.
Air America spent a lot of time yesterday discussing this case and listening to the callers, two things struck me forcibly: In Texas it's legal to kill somebody over a watch or a toaster, even if he's no threat and is running away, and that public sentiment seems to back the idea that anyone can shoot anyone observed to be engaging in criminal activity even long after the crime has been committed.

Just how far down the freeway of fear have we traveled that one reads comments in
The New York Times like these:

His actions were absolutely and inflariously [sic] justified. It was his Christian duty to protect and defend his neighbor.
Anyone who breaks into someone's home with the intent to steal, rape or whatever is a worthless human being and deserves to be shot.
so as far as i [sic] am concerned, the thieves gave up their right to life when they broke into someone elses [sic] home.

The idea that theft is a capital offense and that any witness has the right to enforce capital punishment without even a casual nod to due process or Jesus is something that would have been radical in the illegal mining camp of Deadwood in 1875. Do I have to admit, after half a century of believing in the basic decency of most people, that all that now separates my fellow Americans from unprincipled savages is the threat of violence at the hands of the law?

Of course, the years of Republican fearmongering have had an effect. Of course years of Reganite insistence that Government has no answers to any problem have had an effect. Years of declining violent crime rates have done nothing to convince much of the rabble that civilization itself is not the culprit and that the wages of lawbreaking is and should be instant death by the hands of any vigilante or self appointed deputy with the few hundred bucks it takes to buy a decent firearm. Of course, this case has been further inflamed by the fact that the burglars were illegal aliens and you'll read that fact cited in may of the arguments that such people have no rights at all much less the right to remain alive.

As for now, I still cling to my childish naivete, but I'm coming close to the point where I will have to declare that I live in a nation of vicious, bloodthirsty, bigoted, and stupid cowards more like a baboon troop than a nation.

(Cross-posted from
The Impolitic.)

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The real Mike Huckabee

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(Take our online presidential poll. See right sidebar.)

It's said that the NFL is a league of copycats, with teams copying each others' perceived strategies for success, but the NFL doesn't have a thing on the national political press in the U.S., that loose-knit community of me-too buffoons where imitation long ago replaced original thought.

This is true of both issues and people, and it is often driven by the right-wing smear machine. For example, there is no imminent social security crisis, but the right's privatization agenda requires the existence of a fake crisis, and so the machine pumps out its lies and misrepresentations, which are then dutifully reported by the press -- and by some of the biggest names in the press, like Tim Russert.

Another significant problem is that press tends to make snap assessments of issues and people, and then to stick to those assessments for far too long, only reforming them when compelled to do so by the massive weight of the evidence built up against those initial assessments.

Consider the current GOP presidential field: For far too long, Rudy Giuliani was the hero of 9/11. Only recently has the press begun to consider him for what he is: a corrupt, egotistical, authoritarian asshole. For far too long, John McCain was the straight-talking maverick. The press still likes him, more or less, but he's now seen as the warmonger he really is. For far too long, Fred Thompson was the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Now he's presented, more implicitly than explicitly, as a lazy, pointless candidate.

What prompted these narrative shifts? With Giuliani, it was the accumulation of reports of his massive assholery. With McCain, it was his delusional pro-war happy talk, along with a campaign in disarray. With Thompson, it was, well, Fred Thompson, the man himself -- once he entered the race, the disconnect between the candidate and the characters he plays on TV and in the movies was simply too obvious to ignore, even by the press. One exception here is Mitt Romney. He has been labelled a flip-flopper and a slick, micro-managing candidate, but for the most part he has managed to avoid seriously damaging press coverage. I still think he has a good shot at the nomination -- I would even call him the favourite -- but his weakness, in the eyes of GOP primary voters, are well-known and very much a part of the media narrative: his Mormonism, his liberal past, his unprincipled stands on key issues. Maybe there isn't much more there. If that's the case, he may succeed just because the negatives have already been factored in.

This leaves Mike Huckabee. What to make of the upstart ex-governor of Arkansas, the fundamentalist preacher on the rise throughout the country, Romney's main challenger on the social conservative right? His rise up through the ranks is explained in large part, I think, by the fact that no one knows much about him and by the fact that he seems to be a sort of cuddly conservative, a decent, non-threatening guy who comes across well both to voters and to the press. His appeal to the Christianists is clear -- for more, see here -- but there is a good deal more to the Huckabee phenomenon than that.

Consider Frank Rich's latest column in the Times, where Huckabee is described, amazingly, as the Republicans' Obama. Rich rejects the "prevailing Huckabee narrative" that "maintains that he's benefiting strictly from the loyalty of the religious right." In its place, he posits this:

Like Senator Obama, Mr. Huckabee is the youngest in his party's field. (At 52, he's also younger than every Democratic contender except Mr. Obama, who is 46.) Both men have a history of speaking across party and racial lines. Both men possess that rarest of commodities in American public life: wit. Most important, both men aspire (not always successfully) to avoid the hyper-partisanship of the Clinton-Bush era.

Though their views on issues are often antithetical, Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Obama may be united in catching the wave of an emerging zeitgeist that is larger than either party’s ideology.

Unlike his chief GOP rivals, Huckabee is decent and humane, Rich argues. Just take his positions on race and immigration: "The real reason for Mr. Huckabee's ascendance may be that his message is simply more uplifting — and, in the ethical rather than theological sense, more Christian — than that of rivals whose main calling cards of fear, torture and nativism have become more strident with every debate."

There's some truth there, but Rich's assessment of Huckabee is just as selective as the one he is rejecting. Yes, Huckabee may not be a xenophobic race-baiter, and elements of his message may be "uplifting" in an Obama-like way -- Rich also misrepresents Obama; his attacks on Hillary have hardly been uplifting, nor has his use of GOP-favoured talking points about his own party -- but vague positions on two issues, race and immigration, however admirable, do not even come close to capturing the essence of the man or the candidate.

For more on this, see "Huck's Sins," an issue-by-issue examination of the real Huckabee by Eve Fairbanks at TNR. For all the nice things he has to say about race and immigration, and as uplifting as he may appear to be, Huckabee is also the man who was bought off by the tobacco industry to slam Hillary's health care proposals, who committed various ethics violations while governor of Arkansas, who proposed putting AIDS patients in quarantine, who supports the Scientologist "fair tax," and who is basically the know-nothing candidate on foreign policy -- and so much more, including the appalling Wayne Dumond fiasco.

The real Huckabee is nothing like Frank Rich's Huckabee, the Huckabee of the prevailing media narrative. But that may change as more and more comes out about the past and present of a man who is a lot different than his image in the press.

A new, more honest narrative may soon emerge, giving the copycats something new to copy.

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Shamed by Peru

By Capt. Fogg

It's been a couple of days, but it's not that there's nothing to write about; it's just that what used to be a buffet of outrages has become a suffocating cesspool of corruption, just too foul to approach. Things that used to shake a nation like ours seem only part of the background stench and hardly stand out as individual points of corruption any more. One remembers Richard Milhous Nixon, the man whose treachery caused him to flee Washington, as just another cheap crook and not much at all compared with the swashbucklers and scofflaws who now inhabit the White House and the Justice Department and the Courts -- and nearly every other position of authority.

Yesterday, Alberto Fujimori, the former president of Peru was
sentenced to 6 years in jail for abusing his presidential powers by ordering a warrantless search of the apartment of the wife of a corrupt official. He faces further charges that could add another 30 years to his tab, stemming from the deaths of suspected "terrorists" and the kidnapping of a journalist.

It wouldn't happen here. Kidnapping journalists and others, holding people incommunicado for years without charges, sometimes torturing them, perhaps allowing them to die in confinement -- these things are standard procedures in Bushamerica, as are warrantless wiretappings, searches and other illegal intrusions into everyone's affairs. And of Course, Fujimori never started a war under false pretenses in which hundreds of thousands died, millions were rendered homeless and a country was reduced to ruins. Peru takes action, the United States or America puts on their iPods and mumbles about Jesus and homosexuals and looks to people like Mike Huckabee and his imaginary friend for leadership.

Ex-President Jimmy Carter gave a
speech back in May of 1974 after having read transcripts of Nixon's tapes:

"The Constitution charges us with a direct responsibility for determining what our government is and ought to be," he said. "I have read parts of the embarrassing transcripts, and I've seen the proud statement of a former Attorney General who protected his boss and now brags of the fact that he tiptoed through a minefield and came out... quote, clean, unquote. You know, I can't imagine somebody like Thomas Jefferson tiptoeing through a minefield on the technicalities of the law and then bragging about being clean afterwards...

I don't have to use my imagination to picture the Bush administration safely cruising that same minefield with total disregard for any consequences in their armored tank called the Patriot Act. The law is what they want it to be; justice is what they say it is and the people do nothing but argue about Christmas and heretics and what the Wal-Mart greeters are saying this year. How sad it is that the country that once had some legitimate claim to holding up the torch of liberty for the world to see has to look to Peru as a lesson in the limits of government power.

(Cross-posted from
Human Voices.)

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This is going to hurt. A lot.

By Carl


If you're old enough to remember the Carter administration (1977-1981), then you'll remember the ugly phenomenon, unprecedented in a free-market economy, of stagflation.

Loosely defined, stagflation is when the economy is stagnant (i.e. a recession, in which economic activity slows) coupled with hyperinflation (when prices skyrocket through the roof).

The Carter stagflation hit when OPEC decided to play games with the price of oil. Since America was far and away the single largest consumer of OPEC oil, this was targeted directly at us, likely as a result of several foreign policy factors (Iran being number one among them).

Now that oil is flirting with its all-time record highs, as adjusted for inflation, as improbable as it may seem, we look likely headed down the
stagflation path once again.

It's hard to describe what living in those times was like. The prime rate was up around 20%, while inflation ran at a then-unheard of (in America) rate of 15% (some studies indicate inflation may actually have reached higher levels in the past, like during the Civil War, but there's no clear measure of these incidents).

So the government was borrowing money at credit card rates, while families were seeing their incomes deteriorate at about one and a half percent a month, meaning if you made $30,000 a year, which was a really comfortable salary in 1979, by the end of that year, effectively you were making $25,000, but still paying taxes at the $30,000 rate, I should add. Further, banks stopped lending money at points in the incident, because if prime lending rates were 15%, say, but inflation was 16%, they were actually losing money in the deal.

Let's look at the current situation, tho: the housing market has cooled off and begun to drop nationwide. Housing prices have traditionally been the source of "wealth" in America, a fairly nebulous term that really means, "in a pinch, can I sell my home for more than I paid and pay down my credit cards?"

So long as the answer was "yes," people felt secure and kept on buying. Now the answer is "Eh. Not so much!"

This morning, we've seen clear signs that the economy is in serious trouble. While the Producer Price Index, the average cost to produce a good and bring it to market, shot up 3.2% on an annual basis in November, retail sales were up only 1.2%.

Which means that the entire increase in retail sales can be attributed ONLY to inflation (and the PPI doesn't include direct energy costs!), meaning the consumer economy dropped by about 2% in November. People bought 2% less in November. Period.

The consumer markets make up about 70% of the gross domestic product (the entire economic activity of a nation), so we'll call this a drop of about 1.75% in the economy.

In other words, a recession. A contraction. Not a good thing.

In current economic theory, you fight inflation by raising interest rates. This tightens available credit, forcing companies to put off infrastructure investment, and also means people like you and me pay more interest on our credit cards.

But the Fed has had to lower interest rates in response to the crippling sub-prime mortgage crisis, which has rippled now into prime mortgages. Anyone who believed this crisis was contained in the sub-prime markets is an idiot, including Ben Bernanke.

No rational borrower in his right mind is going to see Ditech.com offering 0% adjustable rate mortgages and not bite their banker's ass about paying 5%, even on a fixed rate loan! Hell, I bitched about paying 1.9%!

This clearly ripples through the credit markets, and is a far larger problem than we've been led to believe.

And don't think this is only an American problem. England's Northern Rock bank debacle shows that it's at least hitting the EU, and many central bank heads believe that we might see the
first global stagflation in history.

You wanted to be a war president, Herr Bush? You will be, in 2008. A global stagflation will mean more poverty, more starvation, more angry young men and women in the streets of poor countries with weak tyrannical leaders.

The pieces are in place, ladies and gentlemen, for a true World War III. And we have only ourselves and our greedy overlords to thank.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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Craziest Republican of the Day: Steve King

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Yet more right-wing cultural warmongering during the holiday season:

Rep. Steve King recently (R-IA) introduced legislation recognizing the "importance of Christmas and the Christian faith," despite previously opposing resolutions recognizing the Muslim celebration of Ramadan and the Hindu Diwali.

A spokesman for King told ThinkProgress that the congressman simply "thought it was important to honor Christmas" by introducing the bill. Yet [yesterday] on Fox News, King went further, decrying an "assault on Christmas" from "secularists" who want to "eradicate Christ from Christmas." Ignoring the Constitution, King claimed America is really a "Christian nation."

"And let's worship Christ and let's celebrate Christmas," he added, as if somehow the overwhelming majority of Americans are not worshipping Christ and not celebrating Christmas.

If America is a religious nation at all, it is a deistic one, not a Christian one, at least not a Christian one in the sense that many on the theocratic right think it is, and certainly not a Christianist one.

Regardless, there is certainly no "assault on Christmas," and certainly no war.

Just who are these "secularists," these "naysayers"? Those who hold -- with the Founders, I might add -- that there is, and must continue to be, a constitutional separation of church and state? Those who respect, and wish to acknowledge the existence of, other faiths? Those who do not wish to see America become a Christianist theocracy?

Or, rather, are they just another Enemy dreamed up by the right to wage a culture war most Americans don't want waged, a war to divide Americans and to score political points off the wreckage?

I mean, take me, for example.

I'm a liberal, a Democrat, and a secularist. I do not believe in God, any God, any gods, and there is a great deal about organized religion, including Christianity, that I find objectionable, to put it mildly.

And yet I am not necessarily anti-religious. I am enough of an agnostic not to turn my secularism into ideology, and enough of a liberal, that most of all, not to want to intrude upon the private lives of others -- just so long as others accept the basic tenets and requirements of liberal society.

And I celebrate Christmas. For reasons of tradition, not faith, but this is still an important time of the year for me. The religious elements of Christmas may be of little concern to me, but there is obviously a great deal more to Christmas than what allegedly happened according to the Christian Gospels.

Even so, I do not wage war on those who celebrate Christmas for reasons of faith. And I am hardly an exception. There may be some secularists who oppose Christmas altogether, but most do not. Many of us celebrate it, in fact, even as we show respect for other traditions, other faiths, at this festive time of year.

So where, then, is the alleged "assault" coming from? Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists?

No, certainly not -- not in America, where a general culture of toleration prevails, not the culture of culture wars promoted on the right. Honestly, are there so many non-Christians marching in protest of Christmas? No.

If anything, most non-Christians, like many Christians, have come to view this time of year in more ecumenical terms, hence the recent elevation of Hannukah and other non-Christian celebrations to a more prominent status than they might otherwise enjoy, even within their own faiths, the purpose being to include as many faiths and believers as possible, not to exclude those who are not Christian.

That many on the right seek to wage cultural war at this time of year tells us a great deal about what the right is all about. It is about an America that is, essentially, un-American.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"I doubt I'd be standing here if I hadn't quit drinking whiskey, and beer and wine and all that."

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So said President Bush to ABC's Martha Raddatz yesterday.

And, to be fair, good for him. He beat a serious addiction. He was an alcohol abuser and possibly also a marijuana and cocaine user, but he got his life together and moved on.

(So, at least, we are told. The truth may be quite different.)

But be honest, don't you wish he hadn't quit drinking the whisky? Not that I wish him poor health, but if only that beverage, or one like it, had kept him from running for political office.

Imagine what a better world it would be if he weren't "standing here," giving interviews and taking reporters on tours of the White House almost seven years into one of the most truly horrendous presidencies in his country's history.

Yes, John, just imagine...

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When you have something to say...

By Carol Gee

People will come. In addition to public opinion polls, the mainstream media takes the size of a presidential candidate's audience into account as they gauge who is currently ahead in the horse race. (image: Barack Obama on Flickr)

"Our Moment is now," declared presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois), as he and Oprah Winfrey drew the largest crowds of the 2008 campaign over the weekend. Both Obama and Winfrey have a way of connecting to large audiences. "Ms. Oprah Winfrey," as she was named on Obama's website, was initially a bit nervous but quickly found her voice. The Senator seemed very comfortable and sure of what he wanted to say, even the spontaneous parts. The Washington Post reported:

An overwhelmingly African American audience took center stage in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination here Sunday, as Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), joined by television talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, appealed to black voters to set aside their doubts and seize the opportunity to send him to the White House in 2008.

"South Carolina, our moment is now," Obama said to an audience estimated by organizers as made up of 29,000 people at the
University of South Carolina's football stadium. "Don't let them tell you we've got to wait. Our moment is now."

Senator Obama spoke to The New York Times op-ed columnist Roger Cohen recently. What Obama had to say continues to be in very stark contrast to the way our current president speaks. Cohen titled his piece, "Obama's American Idea." To quote the senator's answer to Cohen's question about being tough enough for a dangerous world:

“Yes, I’m tough enough,” he responded during a half-hour conversation. “What I’ve always found is people who talk about how tough they are aren’t the tough ones. I’m less interested in beating my chest and rattling my saber and more in making decisions that build a safer and more secure world.”

Obama, speaking less than a month before the Iowa caucus on Jan. 3, continued: “We can and should lead the world, but we have to apply wisdom and judgment. Part of our capacity to lead is linked to our capacity to show restraint.”

That was striking: an enduring belief in U.S. leadership coupled with a commitment to, as he also put it, acting “with a sense of humility.” Skepticism about the American idea and American global stewardship has grown fast during the Bush years.

Leadership revisited -- In November the U.S News and world Report, in collaboration with the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, published its annual report on American leadership. (A previous S/SW post named the best leaders of 2005).

A "Special Report" 2007, named this year's group of best leaders. Elected officials named are relatively rare. Women are well represented. The list:

  • Lee Hamilton and James Baker, Cochairs -- Iraq Study Group
  • Kenneth Chenault -- CEO, American Express Co.
  • Kenneth Fisher -- Chairman and CEO, Fisher House Foundation
  • William H. Foege -- Senior Fellow, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Michael J. Fox -- Founder, Michael J. Fox Foundation
  • Mary Houghton and Ray Grzywinski -- Cofounders, ShoreBank Corp.
  • Andrea Jung -- Chairman and CEO, Avon Products, Inc.
  • Fred Krupp -- President, Environmental Defense
  • Nicholas Kristof -- Columnist, New York Times
  • Yo-Yo Ma -- Founder and Artistic Director, "Silk Road Project"
  • Nancy Pelosi -- Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger -- Governor of California
  • Ruth J. Simmons -- Brown University
  • Pat Summitt -- Women's Basketball Coach, Univ. of Tennessee
  • Shirley Tilghman -- President, Princeton
  • Harold Varmus -- CEO, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

The report presents extensive survey results on peoples' opinions about leadership, in addition to naming the best leaders. One of its most striking findings was that people feel that the military is currently the most respected institution for leadership. The medical community was next and the Supreme Court ranked third. To quote other interesting survey findings:

At least 50% of Americans identified the following as extremely or very important leadership traits for the next president to possess:
• Honesty and integrity
• Intelligence
• Ability to communicate well
• Willingness to work with people in both political parties
• Ability to bring the American people together

Blog readers and writers have shown a marked interest for several months in the issue of leadership. I have written previously and will write more in subsequent posts about the qualities of good leadership exhibited by other Democratic presidential candidates. The U.S. News article spoke to this. "A National Crisis of Confidence" was another U.S. News article on this topic:

Talk about a tough crowd. Americans have steadily lost confidence in their leaders since 2005—the year the government bungled its handling of Hurricane Katrina—according to the third annual Center for Public Leadership/U.S. News poll conducted this fall. More than three quarters of the respondents say they believe the country is going through a leadership crisis, up 7 percent from last year, a trend stretching across all demographic and political groups. Nearly 80 percent feel that unless it gets better leaders, the country will decline, while 51 percent believe that the United States is already falling behind other nations. And about two thirds say that today's leaders pale in comparison with those of 20 years ago.

When I have something to say about for whom I will be voting to be the next president and why, you will get my considered judgment and my best arguments for that choice. But be aware that I am having great difficulty in making up my mind. I may be tardy with my recommendation, and I may change my mind as I step into the voting booth. This style of decision-making is probably irrational and maddening to some people. However, my dilemma is a delicious one. The Democrats have put forward a great big group of fine possibilities from which we can choose the best leader.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Craziest Republican of the Day: Kit Bond

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(Take our online presidential poll. See right sidebar.)

Asked by Gwen Ifill on yesterday's NewsHour (PBS) whether waterboarding "constitutes torture," Missouri Senator Kit Bond offered this apalling analogy (via TP):

There are different ways of doing it. It's like swimming, freestyle, backstroke. The waterboarding could be used almost to define some of the techniques that our trainees are put through, but that's beside the point. It's not being used.

Bond noted that he would "certainly would not favor it in any circumstance" -- meaning, presumably, that he is against the use of waterboarding generally -- but comparing it to swimming only serves to diminish it, that is, to make it seem harmless, even fun, nothing like torture at all, which is precisely the argument made by those who are defending its use: it gets the job done, but it's not so bad -- which hardly makes any sense at all, when you think about it, because if it works at all, that is, if it breaks the person being interrogated, it must be pretty bad. Which is to not to say that it is effective, just that it must be torturously compelling.

Regardless, it is torture, and it is pretty awful. Bond can diminish it all he wants, but he doesn't know what he's talking about. Those who have actually been involved with it, those who have experienced it, conducted it, and witnessed it, know better.

But at least Bond seemed to come out against it. The Bush Administration has denied that the U.S. tortures, but it has sanctioned the use of warterboarding and other "enhanced" interrogation techniques (and it has denied that waterboarding is torture because it continues to deny that it tortures). Cheney has defended its use, all it is a "no-brainer," and he is hardly alone not only in defending it but in diminishing it, in making it seem harmless, or, rather, just harmful enough, something like the Goldilocks of enhanced interrogation (remember, they can't call it torture, lest they admit to being liars and torturers).

In a recent interview with ABC News's Brian Ross, former CIA agent John Kiriakou described the interrogation -- including the waterboarding -- of Abu Zubaydah. (See Andrew Sullivan's comments on the interview.) It may or may not have worked, and may or may not have been necessary, but the point is that the U.S. tortures. In an editorial in response to the interview, The Altanta Journal-Constitution explained what it means:

Two facts, neither of which is disputable:

1) CIA agents tortured suspected agents of al-Qaida, and they did so under the orders of top officials in the Bush administration, most likely including President Bush himself.

2) Under federal law, any U.S. official who engages in torture, or who approves or facilitates torture, is guilty of a felony. The law provides no exceptions.

Of course, there is no real news in any of that. Events of the last few days — an on-the-record confession by a CIA interrogator, acknowledging the torture; an admission by the CIA itself that the torture was approved by the White House and Justice Department, and that it destroyed videotaped evidence of the torture sessions — haven't changed much. They merely stripped away the flimsy gauze of deniability from what we knew was there all along but preferred not to acknowledge.

*****

ourselves as upholding. We lost almost 300,000 troops in World War II, a struggle for national survival against two powerful empires, yet we did not stoop to sanctioned torture. In the Cold War we faced nuclear oblivion at the hands of the Soviet Union, but again torture was not among the officially sanctioned weapons we deployed to preserve ourselves.

But this time, under far less threat, we broke our own laws and voluntarily forfeited the moral high ground that is so important if we are to prevail in this struggle. Fear drove us to sacrifice long-term advantage in return for illusory, short-term security, and that doesn't speak well for us as a people.

No, it doesn't. (Although the AJC whitewashes U.S. conduct during the Cold War.) And it puts the U.S. right alongside some of history's most abhorrent regimes.

This is what America has become under George W. Bush.

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How dry I am...

By Carl

Within our lifetimes, much of the west coast will be uninhabitable desert.

Don't believe me?:

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - By 2040, climate change will have melted the glaciers of Glacier National Park in Montana and the spring snowpack in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, scientists said on Tuesday.

"People talk about a tipping point, but we've been there and done that," said Tim Barnett, a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California and speaker at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.[...]

Barnett studies snowpack at high altitudes in the Western United States and estimates the region's snow accumulation decreased an average of 20 percent between 1950 and 1999.[...]

About 50 percent of the fresh water consumed by people worldwide comes from mountains, so the rate at which snowpack is disappearing is worrying, said Daniel Fagre, an ecologist who works for the U.S. Geological Survey in Glacier National Park in Montana.

This "50%" includes most of Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as most of New Mexico and Arizona.

The example being shown us by Atlanta,
which can trace its problems to an extended drought, pale in comparison to this situation. This same drought could dry Durham up by February.

But droughts can be cured. A good long soaking rain, a few weeks of contunual rain showers, hell, a blizzard, any of these could replenish Atlanta's and Durham's water supply fairly quickly.

This would not happen in the West. You can't replace glacier melt quickly, and rain...well, there aren't a lot of deserts out in that part of the world because it gets a lot of rain. The topography is such that the water gets drawn out of the ground and transported over the Rockies, which is Colorado has such lush valleys.

Ironically, if we had fixed our dependence on oil decades ago, as prescient President Jimmy Carter had wanted to, we'd have the perfect delivery system that could shunt water from places with abundance to places that needed it: oil and natural gas pipelines.

After all, it would have cost a lot of money to dig those up, so likely they would have been cleaned and left to rust.

Now, we'll have to figure out strategies for transporting water to places that need it because they've been impacted by global warming due to....transporting commodities, in large part.

Irony, thy name art "human".

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The military and the tyrant: Reflections on the referendum in Venezuela

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From Newsweek (via Ed Morrissey):

Most of Latin America's leaders breathed a sigh of relief earlier this week, after Venezuelan voters rejected President Hugo Chávez's constitutional amendment referendum. In private they were undoubtedly relieved that Chávez lost, and in public they expressed delight that he accepted defeat and did not steal the election. But by midweek enough information had emerged to conclude that Chávez did, in fact, try to overturn the results. As reported in El Nacional, and confirmed to me by an intelligence source, the Venezuelan military high command virtually threatened him with a coup d'état if he insisted on doing so. Finally, after a late-night phone call from Raúl Isaías Baduel, a budding opposition leader and former Chávez comrade in arms, the president conceded—but with one condition: he demanded his margin of defeat be reduced to a bare minimum in official tallies, so he could save face and appear as a magnanimous democrat in the eyes of the world. So after this purportedly narrow loss Chávez did not even request a recount, and nearly every Latin American colleague of Chávez's congratulated him for his "democratic" behavior.

This from Jorge Castañeda, former Mexican foreign minister and now a global distinguished professor at New York University, likely a reputable source.

For my comments on Chavez's ruler-for-life referendum, see here (before) and here (after). Here's how I put it in the former: "The entire process has been rigged, and the referendum is no exception. If he can't win through intimidation, he will find some other way. Whatever the polls say, Chavez's power grab is pretty much a sure thing."

It may still be a sure thing -- he will try again and he may well succeed.

(Ed predicts he will target the military: "He will have to find some way to diminish the military command to reduce their threat to his regime, so expect some show trials and mass purges in the next couple of years. Once he has reduced the military threat to his regime, the next vote will go Hugo's way, regardless of the will of the Venezuelan electorate.")

As for this past referendum, I thought he would win -- or rig it to win. My error, it would seem, was not taking into account the will of the Venezuelan military. It may have been motivated more by self-preservation than by a commitment to democracy, but at least its last-minute stand against Chavez's encroaching tyranny enabled the will of the Venezuelan people to prevail.

For the time being.

**********

At TNR, Georgetown professor Michael Shifter is more optimistic, interpreteting the "stunning" referendum result as "the beginning of the end" for Chavez:

Chávez's loss reveals his domestic vulnerability and the limits of his aggressive petrodiplomacy. True, he will continue to seek to expand his influence in Latin America, even beyond such close allies as Cuba, Nicaragua, and Bolivia. He will lose his ideal foil when Bush leaves office in January 2009, but he will continue his belligerent verbal assaults on the United States and will move to strengthen links with anti-US regimes like Iran. None of that is likely to change. After all, Chávez remains on a mission that is essentially about extending power, but after last Sunday's setback , it is unlikely that Chávez, for all his political talents, will succeed in reversing his regime's decay.

Yet this conclusion seems to be at odds with much of the rest of Shifter's piece, including this:

The loss, his first in nearly nine years in power, must have been tough for Chávez, but he shouldn't be underestimated. To his credit, he quickly acknowledged defeat, thereby fending off international opprobrium for a regime already under intense scrutiny. His claim to enhanced legitimacy -- in a democracy, you win some and you lose some -- might gain Chávez some favor with foreign governments troubled by his authoritarian moves. Most importantly, Chávez's existent power was not on the line in this vote. Despite emerging fissures, he still controls all key institions -- the courts, the National Assembly, the armed forces -- and will continue to do so. The Constitution of 1999, which Chávez designed, gives him enormous powers and allows him to remain in office until 2013. Time is on his side, and he has plenty of money to spend.

Indeed, Chávez may have been gracious in defeat, but he certainly hasn't given up. He invoked the phrase that catapulted him to political stardom after his failed coup attempt in 1992, saying "We couldn't do it, for now." It seems he will use other means -- such as his broad decree powers or another constitutional assembly -- to relentlessly pursue his plan of 21st Century Socialism, including indefinite reelection. Moderation or backtracking is out of character and should not be expected. Chávez is a consummate military man who thrives on combat and disdains the give-and-take of democratic politics. He is a shrewd political operator who tends to strike back quickly (rhetorically, at least) when he feels vulnerable. As in the past, he could well turn the loss to his advantage and emerge even stronger.

And therein lies the key point: Chavez may have lost this battle, but he remains in power and in control of much of the country. The referendum was not a vote on his tyranny but rather on allowing him to extend his tyranny -- and, indeed, he remains a tyrant.

He came close to overturning the outcome of the vote but apparently had the good sense not to. That doesn't mean he accepted the outcome of the vote, just that he decided for tactical reasons to take the fight elsewhere.

Temporarily aligned against him, however much at cross-purposes, are the military high command and various and largely impotent opposition groups, and perhaps also a large chunk of the Venezuelan people, and he will take the fight to them in other, non-electoral arenas.

There is hardly any reason to be optimistic. The end has not begun.

And he will try again, later.

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