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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Snow Job in the White House

With Tony Snow, recently appointed as the new White House spokeman, joining John Snow in the inner sanctum of the Bush junta, it's safe to say that Bush hasn't seen this much snow since he was doing lines off the backs of hookers back in the early 80s. With this move, Fox News has lost whatever shred of dignity and perceived objectivity it had even among the poor deluded right wing nut jobs who still think there was some connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq. How can anyone look at this Faux News revolving door between "objective mainstream media journalist" and "partisan shill" and argue liberal bias in the media? Snow just traded his and his "news network" respect at the door.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Mollohan Cocktail

There's been some troubling discussion lately (starting, I think, with Saturday's front-page NYT article) about Rep. Alan Mollohan's finances. Mollohan is the ranking Democrat on the "Ethics" "Committee" (quotes for "Ethics" thanks to both Mollohan's apparent transgressions and to the GOP's inclusion of members on the "Committee" who gave money to Tom DeLay's legal defense fund; quotes for "Committee" because it doesn't bother meeting and appears totally dysfunctional).

I'm pressed for time and so can't write much. But I will say this:
  1. The facts look bad. From what I've heard and read, they involve earmarks that went to nonprofits whose execs donated heavily to Mollohan's campaign and some of whom are in business with Mollohan and his wife

  2. Mollohan should step down from the "Committee" at least temporarily (and probably permanently). It's absurd that he's the Dems' leading man on the "Ethics" "Committee". Failing to take a strong stand on this issue---as Pelosi has indeed failed to do---makes the Dems look every bit as hypocrital as the GOP (see Delay, Ney, Cunningham, Doolittle, etc) on this one case. If the Dems mean anything by their quite appropriate criticisms of the GOP's culture of corruption, then they'd better put their Mollohan where their mouths are. Moreover, taking a strong stand here would be good politics: Pelosi et al could say, "Hey, we don't take this garbage from our members---why should the American people take it from the GOP?" Mollohan is one guy. Cut him loose for the moment, and for the duration if the US Attorney's investigation turns up solid evidence of wrongdoing.

  3. I was quite proud to hear both Al Franken and Melanie Sloan of CREW make all of these points on the Al Franken Show today (see CREW's statement on the matter for more; as a comparison, I wonder how many GOP pundits and GOP-aligned groups like CREW have pushed for Bob Ney to resign?)

Monday, April 10, 2006

George W and the Ooblek

It truly pains me to get namby-pamby with BAMBY.

He swallows, hook line and sinker, the vilest bunk from the crew bound for the clinker. Cutting taxes for the rich helps the poor. Hate drilling in the Arctic? Don't be a Saudi-loving boor! No child left behind, but as for program funding let's agree to go blind. If you disagree with the president, it is with the terrorists you share a mind.

How can this bunch, so famous for screaming down is up, be wrong? The leak secured us and it was Wilson's claims that shot long. For you can easily see, Iraq posed all the threats W promised there'd be. The terrorists are on their knees and democracy is sprouting like a ripe weed.

America has no need for cheap migrant labor. We can preach morality and hate thy neighbor. The nation's parks aren't for nature. Hate the game, not the player.

So if we all throw up our hands, and toss sanity to the breeze, we can all say and do what we please. We can selectively leak and lie when we want. It doesn't matter when the president is an ignorant dilettante.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Washington Post -- Part of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

Today's lead Washington Post editorial regarding the alleged "leak" scandal states as follows: "The material that Mr. Bush ordered declassified established, as have several subsequent investigations, that Mr. Wilson was the one guilty of twisting the truth. In fact, his report supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium."

This same point was argued by Bu$h Ate My Baby many months ago, but would not be conceded by his esteemed posting colleagues. Yet now it is accepted as established fact by the Washington Post, which either means that the Washington Post can be as bamboozled and hoodwinked as yours truly, or maybe, just maybe, Mr. Wilson is in fact the one who should be doing some apologizing. Fat chance he or any of his water carriers will do so, but it's a nice thought.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Email I Sent to A Friend Today

If you have a chance you should read this post over at Jack Balkin's blog, titled Reductio Ad Dictatoreum.

I have a vivid memory of having a debate with you on the day that Jose Padilla's enemy-combatant status was disclosed in the NYT. As I recall, I argued that the powers the President was claiming were at base dictatorial: once arrogated, these powers would make the President able to simply declare that a person no longer has any rights whatsoever. My recollection is that you said something to the effect of "Let's wait and see." (If I'm mischaracterizing, then I apologize.)

Balkin points out that yesterday's statement by AG Gonzales shows precisely the logical conclusion of the administration's inherent-authority theory justifying the various arrogations (enemy combatants, FISA-less domestic spying, etc).

Here is a particularly cogent excerpt:

...no law can keep the President from deciding to strip a U.S. citizen of ordinary Bill of Rights and statutory civil rights protections simply by asserting that the person is associated with Al Qaeda or with groups associated with Al Qaeda. To strip citizens of their rights in this fashion, the President does not have to prove his assertion to anyone. He need merely make it and then the person automatically loses his rights under the Constitution and statutory law.

Does this argument sound familiar? It should. It is the same argument that the President previously made to justify his ability to detain two U.S. citizens, Yasser Hamdi and Jose Padilla, in military prisons. Hamdi was captured in Afghanistan, but Padilla was detained in Chicago. Again, the President's argument doesn't distinguish between what he does overseas and what he does within the United States. As far as the President is concerned, if he thinks someone is associated with our enemies (or associated with someone associated with our enemies), he can, without offering any proof of this accusation to a disinterested third party, treat them as an enemy soldier. And, as we know, the laws of war permit enemy soldiers to be captured, detained, and even killed. So, at least in theory, if he could capture Padilla in Chicago, he could also shoot him there.

This theory, taken to its logical conclusions, gives the President the ability to treat anyone living in the United States, including particularly U.S. citizens, as wartime enemies without having to prove their disloyalty to anyone outside the executive branch. In so doing, it offers him what can only be called dictatorial powers-- that is, the power to suspend ordinary civil liberties protections on his say so. The limits on what the President may do under this theory are entirely political-- the question is whether the American people will stand for what the President has done if they discover what he has done in their name. But if the American people don't know what their executive is doing, they can hardly be in a position to object. And so the President has tried to keep secret exactly what he has done under the unreasonable and overreaching theory of Presidential power that his Administration has repeatedly asserted in its legal briefs and public statements.

Attorney General Gonzales' latest admission should hardly surprise us once we understand how much power the President actually thinks he has. Given that we will probably never know what the President has been doing in our name, we can only hope that he has not actually tried to exercise all the power he (wrongfully) thinks he possesses.

Four years thence, we have the President and his advisors asserting precisely the dictatorial powers about which I was worried. And here you have a leading scholar of constitutional law publicly declaring that the assertion of these powers is as great a threat from within to American democracy as there could be.

I'm not writing to say I told you so. Rather I'm writing to say that this terrible threat to freedom and American democracy will not stop unless "open-minded" people like you are willing to recognize it and say, "No more."

Today it is a few people with foreign-sounding names, some or all of whom may actually be terrorists.

Tomorrow it could be political opponents: I'll remind you that then-AG Ashcroft condemned the Administration's political critics in Senate testimony in 2001 (on Pearl Harbor Day, no less), saying that:

"To those who pit Americans against immigrants, citizens against non-citizens, to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve," Ashcroft told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil.

What happens if the President declares that these critics are, in fact, enemy combatants by dint of their "aid" to terrorists and the "ammunition" they give to America's enemies? On the underlying theory claimed to justify the Padilla detention.....Nothing.

It is quite ironic that the AG then stated

"Our efforts have been crafted carefully to avoid infringing on constitutional rights."

There are no consitutional rights under this Administration's reading of the Constiution.

It's time for everyone to recognize that fact.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Party now, pay later

As we celebrate the dispatch of another political fathead -- even after Jim Wright, Newt, Trent Lott, Bob Livingston, etc etc, the thrill is always sharp -- and dance around the May pole celebrating another bloodless bloodletting at the top, we should remember what our domestic discontents mean beyond the ponds.

The frauds and lies of DeLay's cronies in private life are not coincidental to their politics -- it's all of a whole. The rot that has allowed so-called fiscal conservatives to roll out budget sham after budget sham stinks up DC but also wafts into the global trade winds. The capricious warmongering, the tears for the poor and the loot for the rich, the purple prose of republican democracy splattered across an arrogant religiosity -- we sane Americans are not the only ones who notice.

Watching this American political theater of the grotesque are investors, bond holders, bond buyers and central bankers the world over. They all know that the American titan is leveraged to the hilt, dependent on Chinese communists and Arab monarchs to make the rent. How much longer will they sit idle on their stumbling investment?

The United Arab Emirates and Qatar said they may buy euros with some of their combined $30 billion of foreign exchange reserves on expectations the currency will appreciate. The U.A.E., whose reserves rose almost 30 percent last year, may agree to buy more of the 12-nation currency at the central bank's May meeting, Sultan bin Nasser al-Suwaidi, the bank governor, told reporters in Abu Dhabi. The central bank governors of Kuwait and Qatar said they were reviewing the performance of the euro. (Bloomberg News)

Remember that talking about the positive performance of the euro is not so subtlespeak for discussing the inherent volatility underlying the dollar. When huge holders of U.S. currency and debt begin questioning their investments, we should all start to worry. Thanks to our current leadership, DeLay included, our solvency has been mortgaged for the sake of some get-rich-quick schemes for the already rich; for the sake of an empty war in the world's most potent powder keg of a region; for the sake of me, me, me over we. And now we have to worry about royals and commies pulling their financial support of us, the great battleship of democracy.

That said, the Hammer is hitting the slammer. Praise Allah and pass the eggrolls.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Grad Students Could Be Expelled For This

As a casual consumer of the popular press discussions of global warming issues, I've gotten the impression that people generally can be categorized as follows:
  1. Masses of people who are generally uninformed about the details, some of whom are willing to listen to all sides (I'd include myself in this group) and some of whom are unwilling to pay attention at all

  2. People who are convinced that global warming is a serious problem, some of whom are professional scientists and some of whom are very interested lay-people

  3. Republican partisans and energy-industry shills

Now, I would not say that all Republicans belong in category 3. Christie Whitman favored CO regulation, for instance (at least,before the president flip-flopped and embarassed her by showing just how little impact his EPA administrator really had). But from listening to and reading about Republicans like Senator James Imhofe (R-OK) and the energy-industry funded centers whose job seems to be to convince non-scientists (especially policymakers) that the scientists are all wrong, I get the sense that all too many Republicans have piled into category 3.

Enter George Will, who has a reputation for thinking deep thoughts (at least, when he tires of his search for septuasyllabic words). In yesterday's Washington Post, Will took a hatchet to the notion that global warming is a problem. His "argument" basically goes like this:

  1. "[S]cientists and their journalistic conduits" are telling everyone to "Be worried, be very worried" about global warming.

  2. Scientists and the media were really wrong in the 1970s, when they predicted and worried about a trend toward global cooling.

  3. Since "they" said something 30 years ago that was wrong (point 2), we shouldn't listen to them (point 1) today. (Not only that, we should belittle them, since Will can't seem to write a column without belittling at least someone.)

In making his case regarding point 2, Will quotes several words from several 70s sources. Some of these quotes are from "regular" media like the NYT, while others are attributed to scientific publications like Science.

Well, it turns out that in at least one of these cases, Will is....full of hot air. His first piece of 1970s "evidence" for his "argument" is this:

Science magazine(Dec. 10, 1976) warned of "extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation."
Pretty, damning, eh? Not really, actually.

Gilbert Martinez at Stanford Democrats did something that Will evidently couldn't be bothered to do: he read the article* and correctly reported its conclusions in context. Here's the full paragraph from which Will's quotation was drawn, as well as the succeeding one, which is relevant to another part of Will's column:
Future climate. Having presented evidence that major changes in past climate were associated with variations in the geometry of the earth's orbit, we should be able to predict the trend of future climate. Such forecasts must be qualified in two ways. First, they apply only to the natural component of future climatic trends - and not to anthropogenic effects such as those due to the burning of fossil fuels. Second, they describe only the long-term trends, because they are linked to orbital variations with periods of 20,000 years and longer. Climatic oscillations at higher frequencies are not predicted.

One approach to forecasting the natural long-term climate trend is to estimate the time constants of response necessary to explain the observed phase relationships between orbital variation and climatic change, and then to use those time constants in the exponential-response model. When such a model is applied to Vernekar's (39) astronomical projections, the results indicate that the long-term trend over the next 20,000 years is towards extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation and cooler climate (80). [CCM Notes: Emphasis added; also, I pulled this text from climate modeler William Michael Connelly's website.]

The bolded and italicized parts of this quotation show that the authors of this paper, J.D. Hays, John Imbrie, and N.J. Shackleton, explicitly qualified their conclusion by distinguishing natural cooling trends from possible human-caused effects on the climate of fossil-fuel burning.

Of Will's seemingly impressive array of citations, one is theScience article just discussed, another comes from ScienceDigest, two come from the NYT, one from Newsweek,and one from the Christian Science Monitor. The one fromScience is the only one I've seen (and, knowing a bit aboutmathematical statistics myself, I would be impressed if, indeed,George Will had read and understood more than the summary of thispaper). Thus I can't vouch for the scientific-ness of the other articles, nor for whether Will has done his job and reported in at least a non-deceptive way what their authors said.

However, climate modeller William Michael Connelly writes (link originally from ThinkProgress):

The article was shamelessly misquoted to support the assertion that an "immenent" [sic] iceage was predicted. Actual reading of the article (an action not performed by those who cited it) shows that: it hedges its predictions by saying that these would be the tendencies in the absence of human perturbation of the climate system, that it predicts glacial conditions in 20,000 years time and that it predicts (again, assuming no human influence) a cooler trend over the next several thousand years (not glaciation within this timespan).

So now we have George Will quoting the shameless misquoters. For the non-technical reader of CCM, here's a baseball analogy to Will's deceptive/sloppy reporting here (I have no
idea which it is):

Actual facts of what happened in 1976: A pitcher throws a baseball in the general direction of a batter. The ball travels toward the batter. The batter swings the bat, hitting the ball, which changes direction and travels toward the outfield.

Scientist's results from a study designed to account for only the first part of what occurred in 1976 but that contemplates the second part: A ball was thrown toward a batter. Having been thrown with sufficient force, the ball's natural tendency would be to pass the batter - provided that the batter did not strike the ball, causing it to move away from the batter instead.

Hysterical sports journalist, late 1970s: New scientific evidence on baseballshows that pitched balls will no longer be hittable within 20 years!

Current scientist and/or sports journalist: Baseballs travel toward the outfield after being hit by batters.

George Will's hypothetical article involving selective quotation of 1976 scientific account:

Notwithstanding the hysterical heresies and surreptitiously pseudo-scientific silliness of present days, scenes played out peremptorily perchance as thusly lo 30 years whence: baseballs' "natural tendency would be to pass the batter."

Yet today, we find these supposedly sophisticated sophists verily contending that "Baseballs travel toward the outfield." Surely we must credit them nought.

Ok, that was gratuitous. But he deserves it.

Anyway, I don't know whether Will's conclusion is correct that we should ignore the uncertain - but potentially catastrophic - prospective costs of global warming because they have immediate, certain costs. That conclusion is inherently both normative and subjective. Normative because some people are more willing to bear catastrophic risks than others, and subjective because no one knows for sure the probability distribution over global warming's economic, environmental, health and social costs. Personally, I'm more willing than Will to buy insurance via smart climate regulations.

More relevantly to this post, though, I'm glad to distinguish myself from Will with a willingness to listen to today's scientists talk about today's science - rather than listening only to today's energy-industry apologists.

Will's column is a disgrace to his projected image as a no-nonsense realist who simply reports the hard facts as they are. At best, he has engaged in extremely sloppy journalism. At worst, he has deliberately misled his readers. He ought to be ashamed, and regardless of his intent, the Post should make him publish a column to explain what yesterday's column so artfully obfuscated.

*Note: you will need a JSTOR subscription to access this link.

Also: See this link at RealClimate for links to more about George Will on this issues, and about the "global cooling myth".

In praise of army hotness

The time-worn question of whose country has the hottest soldiers seems to be fully answered -- oy vey, has it ever.

But as you are ogling the Israeli Defense Force's finest, consider what it means when everyone -- hotties included -- has to serve in the military. Would we have gotten bogged down in Iraq?

Requiring military service is no guarantee of quagmire evasion -- consider Israel's bloody blunder into Lebanon. But when everyone's family is at risk of spilling blood abroad, would everyone be a little more engaged in the issues? Would we demand more explanations from our leaders when they rattle their sabers at shadows?

Would we be less inclined to intervene in those tragedies that history has begged us to step into?

Regardless of how you answer the above questions, there is no doubt that our military must look like our nation -- for fear that we begin a slippery slope tumble into Hessians/contractors fighting our wars for us. War is a nasty business, it should never be an easy option of simply writing a big check to get it launched. Our military must not simply echo the racial and religious composition of our country, but also its full economic and class range too. Wouldn't that make us, whether more trigger-wise or not, at the very least more American: more equal?

And let's face it, a little more hotness can't hurt.