Saturday, January 31, 2004

Whitewash

It's generally agreed in Britain that the Hutton Report is the biggest application of whitewash since the Titanic hearings in 1912, which is saying a good deal. Eminent military historian Max Hastings joins the attack in the Guardian:

The longer I think about Hutton, the angrier I get. It is hard to dissent from his conclusions about the BBC's failures. Yet the damage done by his grotesquely lopsided report vastly outweighs the gravity of the offence. The corporation, guilty of lapses of journalistic judgment, has been treated as if its reporter had committed perjury in a court of law. Lord Hutton seems to expect from working journalists the standards of proof he would demand from witnesses on oath.
Lord Hutton seems unable to grasp a simple truth: all journalism is conducted against a background of official obfuscation and deceit, which does much to explain our blunders and omissions. It seems remarkable not how much journalists get wrong - a great deal - but that we are able to retrieve from the Whitehall swamp fragments of truth, and to present the waterlogged and bedraggled exhibits to readers and listeners.

I say this with regret. I am more instinctively supportive of institutions, less iconoclastic, than most of the people who write for the Guardian, never mind read it. I am a small "c" conservative, who started out as a newspaper editor 18 years ago much influenced by a remark Robin Day once made to me: "Even when I am giving politicians a hard time on camera," he said, "I try to remember that they are trying to do something very difficult - govern the country."

Yet over the years that followed, I came to believe that for working journalists the late Nicholas Tomalin's words, offered before I took off for Vietnam for the first time back in 1970, are more relevant: "they lie", he said. "Never forget that they lie, they lie, they lie."

Indeed they do. It's important reading; check it out.

Friday, January 30, 2004

The Rich Don't Have to Pay

The redoubtable Bob Herbert dissects Halliburton's happy habit of screwing the American taxpayers while, guess what, paying almost no American taxes.

War-torn Iraq has been a gold mine for Halliburton, yet another treasure trove of U.S. taxpayer dollars for a company that has no peer in the fine art of extracting riches from the government.

But if you go through some of Halliburton's filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission over the past several years, as I have, you'll see a company that goes to great lengths - literally to the ends of the earth - to escape paying its fair share of taxes to the government that has been so good to it.

Annual reports filed with the S.E.C. since the mid-90's - when Dick Cheney took over as chief executive and wrote the game plan for garnering government goodies - showed Halliburton subsidiaries incorporated in such places as the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, Liechtenstein, and Vanuatu.

Vanuatu? Who knew?

Vanuatu is a mountainous group of islands in the South Pacific. Its people support themselves mostly by fishing and subsistence farming. "Additional revenues," according to the Columbia Encyclopedia, "derive from a growing tourist industry and the development of Vila [the capital] as a corporate tax shelter."

Halliburton, in an S.E.C. filing in 2000, duly noted that it had a subsidiary incorporated in Vanuatu called Kinhill Kramer (Vanuatu) Ltd.

The company adamantly denies that its offshore subsidiaries are used to shift income out of the U.S. But it's indisputable that somebody is doing a dandy job of limiting Halliburton's tax liability. When I asked how much Halliburton paid in federal income taxes last year, a company spokeswoman, Wendy Hall, said, "After foreign tax credit utilization, we paid just over $15 million to the I.R.S. for our 2002 tax liability."

That is effectively no money at all to an empire like Halliburton. Less than pocket change. Dick Cheney must be having a good laugh over the way his old company, following his road map, is taking the U.S. for such a ride.

General Clark has said that this is the most crooked administration since Nixon's. I would argue that it's considerably more crooked - more in Harding or Grant territory.

The Pentagon is currently examining allegations that the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root overcharged the government by $61 million for gasoline imported into Iraq from Kuwait. Last week the company acknowledged that at least one employee had participated in a $6.3 million kickback deal with a Kuwaiti company. That money has reportedly been repaid to the government.

What we have here is a private profit-making multinational company with no particular allegiance (other than contractual) to the U.S. government. Nevertheless, through its powerful allies in the government, Halliburton enjoys extraordinary influence over national defense policies and has its own key to the national treasury.

If it's at all grateful, it hasn't shown it. The U.S. is at war. The government is running record deficits. Money is tight everywhere. But Halliburton won't even kick in its fair share. It continues to benefit from the nation's largesse, while scouring the world for places to shelter as much of its American riches as possible.

Remember Dick Cheney smirking at Joe Lieberman during the vice presidential debate in 2000 as he implied that while Lieberman was living off government largesse he was a successful businessman? Successful my ass. As Scott Evil would sneeze, "RRRRRRIIIIIPOFFFFFF!"

In Admiral Gehman's Court

The decision of whether or not to fly the Hubble Servicing Mission will rest with retired Admiral Hal Gehman, the former head of CAIB.

The administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Sean O'Keefe, asked Admiral Gehman to step in after Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, took issue with Mr. O'Keefe's decision to cancel a servicing mission to the telescope.

"My view is when someone is told they need major surgery, any prudent person would get a second opinion," Ms. Mikulski said in a statement. "That's what I told Administrator O'Keefe, and that's what he has agreed to do."

The Hubble scientific operations are based at the Space Telescope Scientist Institute at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The telescope is operated and managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center in nearby Greenbelt, Md.

Just days before, in a letter on Monday to Ms. Mikulski, Mr. O'Keefe said he would stand by his decision because a Hubble mission posed extra risks to astronauts. But after a discussion with the senator, Mr. O'Keefe agreed to ask Admiral Gehman for an opinion.

It will be interesting to see what Admiral Gehman has to say about this. Let's get one thing straight: the shuttle is safe. NASA is, and has been, the problem. The losses of Challenger and Columbia not only were preventable, they telegraphed themselves for months beforehand - in Challenger's case, in solid booster O-rings that were coming back badly eroded and were ignored, and in Columbia's, in foam flying off the external tank left bipod ramp, which it had done on several previous missions, in one case leaving a huge divot in a solid booster skirt (incredibly, no one apparently wondered to themself what would happen if the foam hit the tile-covered aluminum orbiter instead of a steel booster casing). A mission to Hubble can be safely flown - and should be.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Risk?

Sean O'Keefe, the NASA administrator who has seen fit to can no one responsible for the Columbia tragedy, has reaffirmed his inane decision to cancel the Hubble servicing mission in a letter to Senator Barbara Mikulski (D Maryland) because it is, in his words, too risky.

In a Jan. 26 letter to Ms. Mikulski, a copy of which was provided to The New York Times, Mr. O'Keefe said he would stand by his decision. He also said he would not appoint a panel to review it.

"In the end, I cannot delegate my ultimate responsibility for decisions related to the safety of human spaceflight to any panel of experts, no matter how distinguished," he wrote.

What, exactly, is too risky about this? Until the space station was built a few years ago, no shuttle flight had a "safe haven" to fly to. O'Keefe argues that the shuttle mission to the Hubble is just insanely dangerous because it can't reach the space station from that orbit. Now surely every shuttle will be fitted with repair materials from now on for tile and leading edge damage. In fact, the area of foam that struck Columbia's leading edge is no longer going to be applied to the external tanks (it's worth noting that foam had been shed from that area on several previous missions and was ignored until it brought down Columbia. NASA is really hot on safety after the fact, unfortunately). If O'Keefe is truly frightened by this prospect, then one possible solution would be to have another shuttle ready to go in case of damage to the one flying to Hubble, in order to rescue the crew if necessary.

The loss of Columbia and her crew was a tragedy, and arguably an unnecessary one. But to accept no risk at all is not what made this country what it is. We are currently throwing away the lives of more than seven soldiers every week in Iraq for a cause no more noble than enriching the President's friends. To risk seven astronauts to keep this major scientific instrument working is, in my view, a worthwhile chance. If O'Keefe has been this castrated, he needs to go away and let someone with courage and vision head up NASA. Because one thing's for sure, Sean - going to the Moon is a hell of lot more dangerous than servicing Hubble.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

But Can Kerry Win in November?

John Kerry has won the New Hampshire primary convincingly, with Howard Dean second, and Wes Clark and John Edwards pretty much tied for third. The question Democrats need to ask is the same one that has to be asked about Dean; can Kerry win in November? Anyone else remember what happened to the last Massachusetts Democrat we nominated?

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Worst Cars of All Time?

Forbes has a new list of the "worst cars ever" and as usual the Ford Pinto leads the list. The weird fact about the Pinto is that more Mavericks and Mustangs blew up in rear end collisions than Pintos, but Pintos were the only car you ever heard about catching fire. I'd also disagree about their putting the Pontiac Fiero on the list. I owned one for ten years. Once I had the right tires on it, it drove great, and for a car that size it was safe. I broadsided a chick in a Toyota who ran a stop sign in front of me. Her car looked like a banana. I drove my Fiero home, and for a week after until I could get it into the body shop. My only gripe about the Fiero was that, in spite of the fact that it was built out of stock parts, the dealer acted like it was a Ferrari when it came into the shop and charged accordingly.

Lou Dobbs is a Doofus

We already knew that, of course. I was watching ol' Lou on CNN last night when he played a clip of Senator Kennedy lambasting Bush's ridiculous tax cut and then Lou commented gravely, "That's class warfare." Funny how it's always class warfare when someone stands up for the poor and middle class, but it's OK when the rich reap all the benefits of living here.

Monday, January 26, 2004

SCLM - Amazing

David Neiwert over at Orcinus takes a close look at how the So-Called Liberal Media have been twisting Wesley Clark's comments about Dubya's AWOL status from the Texas Air National Guard in a way totally indistinguishable from the way Fox would handle it. David does the press' job for them in analysing what really happened, and guess what, Dubya was indeed AWOL and arguably a deserter.

Well, the core of the matter is fairly simple, and boils down to two facts that are simply not in dispute:

Bush blew off his physical in the spring of 1972, thereby ignoring a direct order from his superiors.

Bush then definitely performed no drills at all for any unit of the National Guard between early May 1972 and late November 1972 at the earliest. This is a period of nearly seven months.

In fact, David goes on to quote from the UCMJ. Let's see the Bushies squirm away from these bald words:

Read, for example, the specifics of intent under UCMJ Article 85, the code referring to desertion:

2) Desertion with intent to avoid hazardous duty or to shirk important service.

(a) That the accused quit his or her unit, organization, or other place of duty;

(b) That the accused did so with the intent to avoid a certain duty or shirk a certain service;

(c) That the duty to be performed was hazardous or the service important;

(d) That the accused knew that he or she would be required for such duty or service; and

(e) That the accused remained absent until the date alleged.

This is a long and detailed piece. Please check it out.

Kiss Your Job Goodbye

Bob Herbert takes on the scourge of middle class jobs being shipped overseas. Too bad it took threats to their own jobs to make the middle class sit up and begin to take notice; they slept through years of working class jobs being sent overseas to people who will work for a bowl of rice. Now their own jobs are on the way out.

You want a national security issue? Trust me, this threat to the long-term U.S. economy is a big one. Why it's not a thunderous issue in the presidential campaign is beyond me.

Intel has its headquarters in Silicon Valley. A Mercury News interviewer asked Mr. Barrett what the Valley will look like in three years. Mr. Barrett said the prospects for job growth were not good. "Companies can still form in Silicon Valley and be competitive around the world," he said. "It's just that they are not going to create jobs in Silicon Valley."

He was then asked, "Aren't we talking about an entire generation of lowered expectations in the United States for what an individual entering the job market will be facing?"

"It's tough to come to another conclusion than that," said Mr. Barrett. "If you see this increased competition for jobs, the immediate response to competition is lower prices and that's lower wage rates."

We can grapple with this problem now, and try to develop workable solutions. Or we can ignore this fire in the basement of the national economy until it rages out of our control.

I've seen some lefty bloggers argue that this isn't a problem and that there will be a levelling up as jobs move overseas. Wrong-o, idiots: wake up before you're working for a bowl of rice. If it comes down to us or them, I pick us. Every time. Let India create its own damned jobs.

It's Easy for the Rich and Their Lackeys to Whine About "Class Resentment"

William Safire trots out the typical right wing whine of "class warfare" in his column in the NYT this morning...

Kennedy's Charles River Gang gave the previously independent-minded Kerry (his initials happily J.F.K.) a stridently populist economic line: that average, hard-working, patriotic Americans are being ripped off by a plundering bunch of robber barons represented by George W. Bush, who has sold out to the predatory "special interests."

What's especially ironic is that it's the truth: this country is run by and for the rich and to hell with everyone else. Yes, Bill, there is class warfare, and the middle class and poor have been its victims ever since the ascendency of Chairman Ron.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Save the Hubble

Online petition here. Sign, and please forward to your friends.

A New Opportunity

NASA's Opportunity rover has joined its sister Spirit on Mars after a successful landing this morning and has already begun sending back pictures and information about its landing site. Although Opportunity landed at a higher elevation than ever attempted before on Mars, the landing proved uneventful and soft.

The first crop of black-and-white pictures showed what appeared to be a plain of dark soil so fine it was imprinted with the trails of the airbags that cushioned Opportunity's landing. In the distance, blocky slabs of lighter rock poked up through the soil.

"I'm flabbergasted. I'm astonished. I'm blown away," Steve Squyres, principal investigator for rover science, said early Sunday during a news briefing at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Opportunity has touched down in a bizarre, alien landscape."

Squyres said the slabs were "the first bedrock outcrop ever found on Mars," and he speculated that the rover may have landed within a crater because of the look of the skyline. The first color image from Opportunity showed that the soil was a dark gray-red, with the airbag imprints showing up in a brighter red. That "suggests that there may be some kind of layering," Squyres said.

"This is exactly what it looked like in my wildest dreams," he said.

Meanwhile, work continues to get rover Spirit up and running again. The rover appears to be having trouble with a flash memory card.

Mission members were able to stop the rover from rebooting its computer — which it had done roughly 130 times — and bypass the computer chips that make up its flash memory. Instead, Spirit will use its random access memory, which is somewhat less efficient than the flash memory.

"It's like [a patient saying] ‘Doctor, doctor, it hurts when I do this,’” explained Firouz Naderi, Mars program manager at JPL. “And the doctor says, well, don’t do this for a while, until we figure out what's wrong.”

Naderi said the mission team was able to reproduce the flash memory problem in laboratory tests back on Earth.

Engineers also succeeded in commanding the robot to sleep after it stayed up two nights in a row when it should have been turned off to conserve power.

NASA scientists are hopeful that the problem can be worked around and the rover returned to its work of exploration.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Get Your Howl Here!

Unsurprisingly, there's a site collecting all sorts of wacky and crazed remixes of Howlin' Howard Dean's speech in Iowa on Monday. Check 'em out here!

Kay Splits: WMDs Never Existed, He Says

David Kay, head of the Iraq Survey Group that has been assigned to head up the search for Weapons of Mass Disappearance, has wisely resigned from his thankless job:

Resigning from his post after nine fruitless months in charge of the Iraq Survey Group he said he did not think there had been a large-scale weapons programme inside Iraq since 1991.

David Kay, a hardline CIA official close to the Republicans also criticised President George Bush for failing to give him adequate support.
...
Mr Kay said of Iraqi weapons "I don't think they existed.

"What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the Gulf War and I don't think there was a large-scale production programme in the 90s."

His suggestion that Saddam had no illegal weapons means Saddam was involved in a gigantic bluff to shore up his international prestige

Mr Kay added that the hunt would become even more difficult once the US has handed over power to Iraqis in June. His departure had been anticipated, but will be seen as indication that the search for WMD may turn out to be futile.

This, of course, just after Bunker Boy went on NPR and announced that those wacky weapons are just lying around out there waiting to be found.

The emperor is naked, friends. Let's send his ass back to Crawford in November. Too bad we can't do anything about all of the dead soldiers murdered in vain by that bastard.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Plame Case Before Grand Jury?

Looks like the penny may be ready to drop in the Valerie Plame case. Let's hope Karl Rove has his prison clothes packed and ready to go.

But true to form, the Bush administration continues to be extremely tight-lipped about the investigation -- even internally. "No one knows what the hell is going on," says someone who could be a witness, "because the administration people are all terrified and the lawyers aren't sharing anything with each other either."

Heh. Good.

Krugman on E-voting

Paul Krugman takes on the guaranteed republic-destroying issue of electronic voting in his column in the NYT today. Various bloggers (Avedon Carol of The Sideshow prominent among them) have been assiduous in following the developments; finally, mainstream pundits are beginning to notice as well.

Now imagine this: in November the candidate trailing in the polls wins an upset victory — but all of the districts where he does much better than expected use touch-screen voting machines. Meanwhile, leaked internal e-mail from the companies that make these machines suggests widespread error, and possibly fraud. What would this do to the nation?

Unfortunately, this story is completely plausible. (In fact, you can tell a similar story about some of the results in the 2002 midterm elections, especially in Georgia.) Fortune magazine rightly declared paperless voting the worst technology of 2003, but it's not just a bad technology — it's a threat to the republic.

First of all, the technology has simply failed in several recent elections. In a special election in Broward County, Fla., 134 voters were disenfranchised because the electronic voting machines showed no votes, and there was no way to determine those voters' intent. (The election was decided by only 12 votes.) In Fairfax County, Va., electronic machines crashed repeatedly and balked at registering votes. In the 2002 primary, machines in several Florida districts reported no votes for governor.

And how many failures weren't caught? Internal e-mail from Diebold, the most prominent maker of electronic voting machines (though not those in the Florida and Virginia debacles), reveals that programmers were frantic over the system's unreliability. One reads, "I have been waiting for someone to give me an explanation as to why Precinct 216 gave Al Gore a minus 16022 when it was uploaded." Another reads, "For a demonstration I suggest you fake it."

Indeed, it's very possible that the Georgia senate race in 2002 was stolen. Democrat Max Cleland went into Election Day with a substantial lead in the polls - and lost. It's indeed notable that exit polling has simply stopped working over the past few years. Thank God people are starting to sit up and take notice.

So what should be done? Representative Rush Holt has introduced a bill calling for each machine to produce a paper record that the voter verifies. The paper record would then be secured for any future audit. The bill requires that such verified voting be ready in time for the 2004 election — and that districts that can't meet the deadline use paper ballots instead. And it also requires surprise audits in each state.

I can't see any possible objection to this bill. Ignore the inevitable charges of "conspiracy theory." (Although some conspiracies are real: as yesterday's Boston Globe reports, "Republican staff members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee infiltrated opposition computer files for a year, monitoring secret strategy memos and periodically passing on copies to the media.") To support verified voting, you don't personally have to believe that voting machine manufacturers have tampered or will tamper with elections. How can anyone object to measures that will place the vote above suspicion?

Of course with the Repugs in charge in Congress, Representative Holt's bill has the same chance of passage as an icicle in hell. Only Repugs benefit from vote stealing, and they're not going to do anything to interfere with the gravy train.

Also in the NYT this morning, the lead editorial deals with the Pentagram's plan to steal military votes.

There is every reason to believe that if federal elections can be tampered with, they will be, particularly when a single hacker, working alone, might be able to use an online voting system to steal a presidential election. The authors of this week's report concede that there is no way of knowing how likely it is that the Pentagon's voting system would be compromised. What is clear, however, is that until the vulnerabilities they identified are eliminated, the risks are too great.

No kidding. Paper ballots, anyone?

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Clark in Second in NH!

Mark Kleiman has been posting on an almost daily basis the latest polling data on the Democratic candidates. Today's polling info from New Hampshire shows John Kerry in the lead, Wesley Clark in second, and Dean slipping down to third. A second place finish for Clark would position him well for the next batch of primaries.

Bush's Plan - My Comments

Bush's plan is a total joke for a number of reasons. I'll deal briefly with two.

On Tuesday, I was actually at the Cape. I looked up at a Saturn V rocket and it hit me. If President Stupid wants to go to the moon, much less Mars, you need a rocket like that. And there are no plans at NASA for building any boosters at all. I'll say it again, no booster plans at all. What NASA is looking at is what they call a "CEV" or "Crew Exploration Vehicle," which is basically a space capsule launched by an expendable booster like Atlas V or Delta IV. It can get into low earth orbit. That's as far as it can go. It can do nothing other than carry astronauts, probably four or five. It can neither reboost nor adequately supply the space station. It cannot get out of Earth orbit. It is ridiculous that something with these limited capabilities is being considered as a "replacement" for the shuttle, when all it is is Gemini technology on a (very) slightly larger scale.

Secondly, has it occurred to anyone with half a brain that when the shuttles are forcibly retired in 2010, the "CEV" or "Spam in a Can" will be several years from first flight? In a day when, if the Repugs stay in office, the deficits are estimated to be in the $700 billion a year category, there will be no moon mission or Mars mission - the space program will be very easy to shut down and probably will be.

Those nitwit enthusiasts like some of the cretins over at NASA Watch need to wake the hell up. This isn't a new opportunity - it's a death sentence, and Hubble was only the first victim.

Hubble Comments

People have been sending comments about President "The Earth was Created 6000 Years Ago" Stupid's plan to cancel the planned Hubble servicing mission - for which $200 million worth of equipment already exists. Needless to say, there's not much support for the plan there, and a lot of people would probably go for my plan to haul Sean O'Keefe into space and shove his ass out the airlock nude. Some of the comments:

The cancellation of Hubble is a loss not only for the science community and the nation, but the world. Hubble has provided 1/3 of all NASA discoveries, which is considerable when one contemplates Hubble's mere 12 years in orbit. The future discoveries lost are incalculable. What is particularly disturbing is the decision was made in autonomy by the NASA Administrator, who may have been unduly influenced by Presidential politics and budget constraints.

That's an incredible statistic and worth noting - 1/3 of all of NASA's discoveries made by one satellite, one satellite that Bushie wants to dump into the ocean. What a moron.

The rationalization for the cancellation of SM4 for safety in part because it could not reach ISS for crew safety or orbiter repair doesn't seem to hold a lot of water. Every orbiter, regardless of its destination, will need to have autonomous repair capability (as well as self inspection capabilities and NIMA imaging inspection). Orbiters post-ISS undocking or in a low abort-to-orbit are in no better or worse shape than an SM4 orbiter and CAIB seems to be pretty clear that camping out on ISS is a resort (last or otherwise), not a solution.

This isn't my area but I'm not clear where the additional safety issues arise. Certainly the science yet to be done by HST can be measured realistically against the science on ISS so the value of SM4 as worthwhile (versus the risk of any flight) can be objectively assessed. The Aerospace Corp. studies show that the improved statistical reliability of HST as a result of SM4 is crystal clear. For a program that has turned an entire field of science on its ear, I believe that safety and risk should be measured by the meterstick of why we do these kinds of missions in the first place. I think the Astronaut Office would agree.

O'Keefe needs to go. I challenge everyone to let your congressperson know how you feel about this. And I challenge the Democratic candidates to make it clear that Job One upon their election is restoration of the Hubble Servicing Mission.

Bunker Boy is a Moron

Our bunker-dwelling Vice President-Appointee continues to stupidly claim that Weapons of Mass Disappearance will yet be found in Iraq. His certainty is either inane or suggestive that the Administration has realized that fake or planted weapons are necessary to save their bacon in November, assuming they don't steal the election thanks to e-voting.

"It’s going to take some additional, considerable period of time in order to look in all the cubby holes and the ammo dumps and all the places in Iraq where you might expect to find something like that,” Cheney said in an interview with National Public Radio. “It doesn’t take a large storage space to store deadly toxins, or even just the capacity to produce it.”

Cheney also said that he’s confident that there was a relationship between al-Qaida and ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration, however, has said in the past that there is no evidence that Saddam was behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

And if you believe any of this, Tricky Dick II has a bunker he'd love to sell you.

Spirit - Software by Microsoft?

You have to wonder, as NASA's Spirit Mars rover stopped sending useful data yesterday and started to send random strings of ones and zeroes. Since the rover still has power and a working radio, scientists are hopeful they will be able to fix the problem, but frankly this does not bode well for the mission.

What the Repugs Really Want

Robert Kuttner has a good piece over at The American Prospect Online on what the Repugs really want for Amerika's future: a one-party state. Anyone who doubts that that is their goal just hasn't been listening, and if you haven't been listening, Kuttner lays it out a lot better than I could have:

We are at risk of becoming an autocracy in three key respects. First, Republican parliamentary gimmickry has emasculated legislative opposition in the House of Representatives (the Senate has other problems). House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas has both intimidated moderate Republicans and reduced the minority party to window dressing, rather like the token opposition parties in Mexico during the six-decade dominance of the PRI.

Second, electoral rules have been rigged to make it increasingly difficult for the incumbent party to be ejected by the voters, absent a Depression-scale disaster, Watergate-class scandal or Teddy Roosevelt-style ruling party split. After two decades of bipartisan collusion in the creation of safe House seats, there are now perhaps just 25 truly contestable House seats in any given election year (and that's before the recent Republican super gerrymandering). What once was a slender and precarious majority -- 229 Republicans to 205 Democrats (including Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who votes with Democrats) -- now looks like a Republican lock. In the Senate, the dynamics are different but equally daunting for Democrats. As the Florida debacle of 2000 showed, the Republicans are also able to hold down the number of opposition votes, with complicity from Republican courts. Reform legislation, the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA), may actually facilitate Republican intimidation of minority voters and reduce Democratic turnout. And the latest money-and-politics regime, nominally a reform, may give the right more of a financial advantage than ever.

Third, the federal courts, which have slowed some executive-branch efforts to destroy liberties, will be a complete rubber stamp if the right wins one more presidential election.

Taken together, these several forces could well enable the Republicans to become the permanent party of autocratic government for at least a generation.

That's Kuttner's intro. Please, please read the whole thing, and pass along to your friends.

The Latin Americanization of the United States

There's a lot of great stuff over at Orcinus at the moment, but David Neiwert has an especially good piece on the role Bush's immigration "reforms" are playing in what the late Democratic Senator Frank Church called "the Latin Americanization of the United States," i.e. the driving-down of our wages and standard of living to Mexican levels or worse. It's a long and detailed piece that brings in many interesting links, and I'll just give a taste of it here:

If the current generation of Democrats does not recognize it, and fails to begin shouting it from the rooftops, then I genuinely fear that Frank Church's darkest premonitions will finally be realized. It simply boggles my mind that, over the past generation, progressives have allowed working-class people to increasingly identify with conservative Republicans. The GOP has mainly achieved this through a combination of demagoguery and jingoism, appealing to people's baser instincts, particularly the desperate selfishness that in fact is forcibly part of life in the sinking classes. In the process, they have convinced working people to slit their own throats -- and ultimately everyone else's too.

This is, I think, the significant part of what Howard Dean was talking about when he discussed gaining votes among "guys with Confederate flags on their pickups." If Democrats fail to make middle- and working-class citizens recognize that conservatism, as practiced by the Bush administration, is directly inimical to their own self-interest, then we are all in serious trouble -- for years to come.

Bingo. Every Democrat running for the nomination needs to read this and learn from it.

Maureen Pans Caligula's Speech

The always unpredictable Maureen Dowd found the State of the Union address just as inane as most intelligent Americans did.

You wonder how many votes he scared off with that testosterone festival: the taunting message, the self-righteous geographic litany of support? The Philippines. Thailand. Italy. Spain. Poland. Denmark. Bulgaria. Ukraine. Romania. The Netherlands. Norway. El Salvador.

Can you believe President Bush is still pushing the cockamamie claim that we went to war in Iraq with a real coalition rather than a gaggle of poodles and lackeys?

His State of the Union address took his swaggering sheriff routine to new heights. "America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country," he vowed.

Translation: Hey, we don't need no stinking piece of paper to bring it on in other countries. If it feels good, we'll do it, and we'll decide later why we did it. You lookin' at me?

No kidding. Hell, we don't need permission to invade Poland! Oh wait, that was another tinpot dictator.

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are better at looking cool. But their dissing the U.N. — that palace of permission slips — and their doctrine of pre-emption are just as hot, and so was Mr. Bush's cocky implicit defense of the idea that if you whack one Middle East dictator, the rest will fall in line. "Nine months of intense negotiations involving the United States and Great Britain succeeded with Libya, while 12 years of diplomacy with Iraq did not," he said. "For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible, and no one can now doubt the word of America."

Maybe he's right, but what about Bill Clinton's line that unless we want to occupy every country in the world, maybe our policy should also concentrate on making friends instead of targets? The president and vice president like to present a calm, experienced demeanor, but their foreign policy is right out of the let's-out-crazy-the-bad-guys style of Mel Gibson's cop in "Lethal Weapon" movies.

For proof of how intemperate their policy has been, compare this year's State of the Union with last year's. Last year it was all about Iraq's frightening weapons. This year the only reference was to "dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations."

Would Americans have supported a war to go get "program activities?" What is a program activity? Where is the White House speechwriters' ombudsman?

There never was one, Maureen. Not in this White House.

President Stupid Addresses the Nation

President Caligula's State of the Union speech was more cretinous and stupid than is usual even for him, and some astute readers of the New York Times have some perceptive comments in the paper this morning:

It's interesting to note that in George W. Bush's State of the Union address there was no mention of "Osama bin Laden"; "Mullah Omar" of the Taliban, who is still at large; "Israel"; "Palestine"; "fiscal responsibility"; "balanced" or "balanced budget"; "debt"; "environment" or "environmental"; "Democrat" or "Democrats" (although he did use "bipartisan" once).

But he did use the words "America" or "American(s)" more than 60 times.

I will leave it to your readers to draw their own conclusions.

RANDALL HENSLEY
Wilton, Conn., Jan. 21, 2004

Typical Bush. I was surprised that the Repug side of the chamber didn't start chanting "Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!" myself.

The State of the Union address (front page, Jan. 21) consisted, in roughly equal measure, of triumphalism, Pollyannaism, false messianism and sanctimonious smugness.

Reduced to its essentials, this disingenuous exercise in self-congratulation offered the country a continuing diet of repression, reaction, religion and inequality at home, and imperialism, militarism, arrogance and high-handed adventurism abroad.

Both domestically and internationally, the present administration confuses leadership with issuing self-righteous decrees and bullying dissenting voices into submission. It takes misguided pride in the fact that it has thoroughly militarized our society and placed the country on a permanent war footing.

The chief losers in this process, unfortunately, are the American people.

JOHN S. KOPPEL
Bethesda, Md., Jan. 21, 2004

Yep.

Of course there were also a few idiots who thought Caligula did great (Preznit Give Me Turkee!, as Atrios puts it), but you can read their inane ramblings for yourself.

And Along Those Lines...

Anyone who reads my screeds knows my view of e-voting; it's an obvious recipe for election theft. No surprise that the Repug-infested military is roaring ahead with its own e-voting plan in spite of warnings that the system is prone to cyber attacks and other forms of corruption:

The Pentagon has defended its internet voting system after a critical report recommended it should be scrapped.
Four computer experts who reviewed the pilot project said the risks of online voting could not be eliminated.

"It has numerous other fundamental security problems that leave it vulnerable to a variety of well-known cyber attacks," said the report.

The Pentagon is standing by the system, which could be used in November's presidential elections.

No doubt they're standing by the system as there are rumors that disaffected soldiers stuck in Afghani and Iraqi hellholes might decide to cast a vote for Wes Clark or John Kerry should they be the Democratic nominee.

The findings of the four experts make uncomfortable reading for the Pentagon.

They concluded that internet voting offered far too many opportunities for hackers or even terrorists to interfere with fair and accurate voting.

They said ballots could be changed in ways which were impossible to detect, potential skewing the result in close contests.

More damaging, the experts questioned the whole premise of using the internet in the voting process.

"The flaws are unsolvable because they are fundamental to the architecture of the internet," says Dr Wagner.

"Using a voting system based upon the internet poses a serious and unacceptable risk for election fraud.

"It is simply not secure enough for something as serious as the election of a government official."

The report recommends that the Serve project be shut down and nothing like it be tried until "both the internet and the world's home computer infrastructure have been fundamentally redesigned, or some other unforeseen security breakthroughs appear."

Despite the criticisms, the Pentagon is standing by the project.

"We knew from the start that security would be the utmost concern," said Defense Department spokesman Glenn Flood.

"We've had things put in place that counteract the things they talked about."

Heh. Sure they have.

War Makes Strong

...was a favorite motto of the Nazi party and, apparently, of the new Army Chief of Staff, General Peter Schoonmaker:

General Peter Schoomaker said in an interview with AP news agency that the wars had allowed the army to instil its soldiers with a "warrior ethos".

But the general, who became chief of staff in August, denied warmongering saying the army must be ready to fight.

He also said he doubted recruiting more troops was a solution to army stress.

Perhaps the general could explain how we might have won World War II with fewer troops. And there is a big, big difference between having an army that's ready to fight and one that has, in Schoonmaker's words, a "warrior ethos." The Nazis and the Japanese had a warrior ethos. We had a reluctant but "can do" attitude, and that's one of the reasons we won that war. A military with a "warrior ethos" is dangerous. And General, you are a warmonger.

General Schoomaker said the attacks on America in September 2001 and subsequent events had given the US army a rare opportunity to change.

"There is a huge silver lining in this cloud," he said.

"War is a tremendous focus... Now we have this focusing opportunity, and we have the fact that [terrorists] have actually attacked our homeland, which gives it some oomph."

He said it was no use having an army that did nothing but train.

"There's got to be a certain appetite for what the hell we exist for," he said.

"I'm not warmongering, the fact is we're going to be called and really asked to do this stuff."

No use having an army that does nothing but train? What crap. That, my friends, is the most successful army of all.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

SAVE HUBBLE, Space O'Keefe and Bush

The true story behind Dubya's fake "Space Initiative" is coming clearer and clearer by the moment, and the price is more than space enthusiasts should be willing to pay. NASA is being gutted, and one of the victims is its most successful project, the Hubble Space Telescope. President Stupid and his minion Sean "Let's Leave the Idiots Who Incinerated Columbia Alone!" O'Keefe have announced that part of the money to be used for Bush's phony moon shot program is to come by abandoning future planned missions to repair and resupply Hubble.

Not only was a telescope being lost, but $200 million worth of instruments that had been built to be added in the later shuttle mission will also be left on the ground, Dr. Spergel said.

Dr. Garth Illingworth, an astronomer at the University of California at Santa Cruz who is also on the advisory committee, said, "I think this is a mistake," noting that the Hubble was still doing work at the forefront of science.

Dr. Tod Lauer, of the National Optical Astronomy Observatories in Tucson, said, "This is a pretty nasty turn of events, coming immediately on the heels of `W's' endorsement of space exploration."

This is, frankly, beyond monstrous. It is a program planned by people who believe that Earth is 6,000 years old and that science is bad, and it MUST BE STOPPED. Start writing. Bush's plan, like the stupid man himself, needs to go.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Off to Florida!

I will be in Florida Friday through next Wednesday. I may be able to post irregularly; we shall see.

Where's the Labour Party and Where Did Tony Blair Hide It?

Good piece by Jackie Ashley in The Guardian this a.m. regarding Tony Blair's support for Dubya's reelection - a ludicrous, insane betrayal of what the Labour Party once stood for.

Changed days. The big appeal of the Clinton Democrats, after all, was that they were winners, riding the wave of the future. To lose was a cardinal sin. Remarkably quickly, Blair swivelled his attention to the source of power, the Bush Republicans. In Europe, the French left had also lost, and Blair found the German SDP under Schröder a little too old-fashioned for his real instincts. Germany and France were resolutely un-American and set on the idea of a federal Europe. So in Europe, too, Blair sought new allies - the pro-US eastern Europeans, and the rightwing Aznar in Spain, and more controversially, Berlusconi in Italy. The Iraq war only exposed the shift in the prime minister's thinking more brutally. If the American right was the real power on the planet, then Blair was with them; and every old alliance would have to take its chance.

Which takes us to where we are now. Does it really matter? After all, it is hardly Blair's fault that Gore lost, sort of, to Bush. Leaders have to deal with leaders. And whoever is in the White House, the heart of British politics remains domestic - tax, redistribution, public services.

But it does matter. Blair is now left crossing his fingers or praying for a US president who is against Kyoto, who has been bad on trade issues, who remains a "big oil" hawk, who despises the EU, who has implemented massive tax cuts for the rich and who has channelled spending into another huge military build-up. For all the fine words, his impact on the Middle East peace process has been zero. With the possible exception of a programme to fight Aids in Africa, there is no progressive issue in the world where he isn't on the wrong side.

No kidding. Britons, recapture your Labour Party. Turn Blair and his crypto-Tories out. Elsewise you're looking at a future of more kowtowing to Washington - and more British kids coming home in body bags.

Richard Cohen on Clark

Richard Cohen has an interesting piece on Wesley Clark in the Washington Post today. I've argued that Clark is Bush's worst nightmare, and Cohen appears to agree:

...the Clark I saw in New Hampshire and Texas has come a long way from the Clark I saw months ago. At the earlier event, people fell asleep. No more. On his campaign plane, he seemed relaxed -- and so, importantly, did his staff. I could dig up only one story about him losing his temper, but it was not recent and not important. You and I should be as disciplined.

At the fundraiser here, Clark stood before a huge American flag like George C. Scott in "Patton." And when he talked about Bush and the war in Iraq, it was not as some Democrat who could be caricatured as a peacenik, but as a warrior who felt that the president had fought the wrong war at the wrong time -- and then pranced all over a flight deck reserved for Clark's genuine heroes, "the men and women who serve."

Karl Rove, call your office.

Yeah, Karl, get your resume ready. Or better yet your prison clothes.

Maureen Dowd is a Cretin

Yes, we already knew that, but her sneering criticism of Howard Dean's marriage is just insanely over the top. Who in the hell is she to judge?

Even by the transcendentally wacky standard for political unions set by Bill and Hillary Clinton, the Deans have an unusual relationship.

She is a ghost in his political career. She has never even been to Iowa, and most reporters who have covered Howard Dean's quest here the last two years would not recognize her if she walked in the door, which she is not likely to do, since she prefers examining patients to being cross-examined by voters and reporters.

The first hard evidence most people had that Howard Dean was actually married came with a startling picture of his wife on the front page of Tuesday's Times, accompanying a Jodi Wilgoren profile.

In worn jeans and old sneakers, the shy and retiring Dr. Judith Steinberg Dean looked like a crunchy Vermont hippie, blithely uncoiffed, unadorned, unstyled and unconcerned about not being at her husband's side — the anti-Laura. You could easily imagine the din of Rush Limbaugh and Co. demonizing her as a counterculture fem-lib role model for the blue states.

Jesus, what crap. So she's not a flipping throw-rug like the average Repug wife. BFD.

Yawn

As expected, the Dubya space announcement presented grandious visions and no money to actually do anything. The best comment I've seen so far is from John Pike. I rarely agree with Pike, but he hit the nail right on the head:

"The trivial budget increases they're proposing are only going to produce artwork," he said. "Basically, they looked at piloted space and said, `Let's shut it down and let's have a hedge against the possibility that the Chinese will go to the Moon. That's it. There's nothing to replace shuttle and station except artwork."

Which is exactly true.

Lots of links and information over at NASA Watch, which will be an important site for keeping track of this news. Also important links there re the Spirit rover mission.

Spirit Moves Out!

Rover Spirit moved off of its landing platform today and rolled out onto the Martian surface, a maneuver somewhat more difficult than planned since the main roll-off ramp was blocked by an uncooperative airbag and the rover had to turn in place and roll off via an alternative path. After more testing to make sure all systems are operating correctly, the rover will commence a three-month exploration of the Gusev crater area. On January 24, twin rover Opportunity is scheduled to land elsewhere on Mars.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Americans: Bad Judges of People

Americans evidently have no ability whatsoever to judge other people, especially evident when you read crap like this:

Two-thirds of Americans think President Bush has the right personal qualities for the presidency, yet nearly half or more think the Democratic Party would do a better job on major domestic issues, according to a new poll.

Insert monkey hoots here. The Germans loved Hitler, too.

O'Neill's "Courage" Shrinks

Hopefully Ron Suskind either kept good notes or, better yet, taped Paul O'Neill's interviews for his new book, because now that Paul has been reached by the forces of evil, he's backtracking like crazy.

"People are trying to make a case that I said the president was planning war in Iraq early in the administration," O'Neill said.

"Actually, there was a continuation of work that had been going on in the Clinton administration with the notion that there needed to be regime change in Iraq."

The idea that Bush "came into office with a predisposition to invade Iraq, I think, is a total misunderstanding of the situation," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon.

Rrriiiight. As I said a couple days ago, there's a difference between Clinton Administration contingency planning and Dubya sitting down with his cabinet and telling them, "Let's find a way to do this."

Laughable

The Europeans have a, shall we say, somewhat different view of crime and punishment than we do. This is one of the most asinine things I've read from over there in a long time, regarding the suicide of British serial killer Dr. Harold Shipman:

But the mental state of someone without hope of release must be almost impossible to predict. There can be nothing more soul-destroying than total and utter hopelessness. In many respects, a natural life tariff is little more than a living death sentence.

Wow, too bad! Or as they say in the UK, hard cheese, old chap! Maybe Dr. Shipman should have thought this "soul-destroying" penalty over before he murdered over 200 people.

Smoke and Mirrors

Dubya will proclaim today his phony initiative - and that's exactly what it is - to "return to the Moon and go to Mars." This will involve raising NASA's budget - brace yourself - by all of $1 billion over five years.

Uh-huh! as the Sims say when they're impressed. Looking closer, it's smoke and mirrors. NASA needs more money to maintain its current activities and continue shuttle upgrades, which is where the extra $1 billion will go. For the rest, Bush will announce that we'll be back on the Moon in 20 years and on Mars in 30, which is laughable.

If it takes 20 years to get back to the Moon, folks, we're going to have ask the enemy for permission, because the lovable Chinese may be there first.

We're Broke, BUT....

...there's always money for Emperor Caligula to fritter away on crap like this:

For months, administration officials have worked with conservative groups on the proposal, which would provide at least $1.5 billion for training to help couples develop interpersonal skills that sustain "healthy marriages."

A-flipping-mazing. I pointed out to my partner the other day that of all of her siblings - there are six in total - we have the closest, sanest relationship. The straights are all to various degrees dysfunctional. But we're the ones who can't get married.

Funny.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

One Thing's for Sure....

Operation Iraqi "Freedom" has been a great thing for American helicopter manufacturers, who will soon be basking in fat Caligula Admin contracts to replace all the overpriced junk that's been shot down by cheap missiles....

It's a Two-Man Race

Although he entered the race late, retired General Wesley Clark is now the only Democratic alternative to Howard Dean, according to a new poll:

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean still leads retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, according to a recent national poll, and two-thirds of Democrats say either man would be good for the party as the nominee.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll interviewed 1,003 adult Americans last weekend, including 410 registered voters who described themselves as Democrats, to gather opinions on the presidential candidates and the issues they face.

Dean was the favorite of 26 percent of Democrats polled, and Clark was 6 percentage points behind.

As more Democrats start paying attention to the race, I expect Clark to pull even and then ahead. We'll see!

Monday, January 12, 2004

One Righty Defense

Righty bloggers are falling all over themselves trying to minimize the O'Neill revelations by suggesting that they are sour grapes, old news, etc. One of the dumbest defenses is the claim that "all administrations have contingency planning in place." Well, this is true, but there is a grave difference between War Plan Crimson and War Plan Orange (the US military used to color-code their contingency war plans; Crimson envisioned war between the US and Britain and Orange was a contingency plan for a war against Japan) and trying to dredge up an excuse to jump Iraq - a country by 2000 completely and totally incapable of threatening the US and barely able to threaten its very well armed neighbors. This is what O'Neill said:

"From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,” O’Neill said on “60 Minutes.”

O’Neill said he had qualms about what he felt was the pre-emptive nature of the war planning. “For me, the notion of pre-emption, that the U.S. has the unilateral right to do whatever we decide to do, is a really huge leap,” he told CBS.

That is not contingency planning - that's planning and executing a war of aggression and is illegal under international law. In 1946 we hanged people for this. Now we're doing it.

And One More Thing

And I bet they prosecute THIS investigation with a great deal more vigor than they have the Valerie Plame "outing."

Attack the Messenger, Drown Out the Message

Needless to say, President Caligula's minions have turned their fury upon former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill for revealing that our idiot emperor not only has no clothes, but is also a warmonger:

The US Treasury Department has called for an investigation into whether a former Bush government member leaked secret documents in his new book.

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill appeared on a US news programme to promote his book in which documents marked "secret" were shown.

A Treasury department spokesman said it had asked its inspector general to see if disclosure laws were violated.

No word from President Caligula about the illegality - determined at Nuremberg where we hanged 12 bastards - of planning aggressive war.

More Madness from Norquist

I've argued before that Grover Norquist probably is clinically certifiable. Here's a close look at his madness in the Washington Post today:

Norquist, 47, is known for his weekly strategy sessions of conservatives, a Washington institution. But quietly, for the past five years, he also has been building a network of "mini-Grover" franchises. He has crisscrossed the country, hand-picking leaders, organizing meetings of right-wing advocates in 37 states. The network will meet its first test in the presidential race. On this evening at Harry's, several blocks from campaign headquarters in Arlington, Norquist presented his master contact list to Mehlman, mapped out and bound in a book.

"Fabulous, Grover. Awesome," Mehlman said, scanning the book like a hungry man reading a menu. "We're going to take that energy and harness it."

The binder was Norquist's gift to the presidential race. His aspirations, though, extend far beyond the White House. Congress, governorships, state legislatures, the media, the courts -- Norquist has a programming plan, and it is all Republican, all the time. Norquist closes his letters, "Onward." He takes the mission so seriously, he has named a successor in his will. Socially, he is often introduced as the head of the vast right-wing conspiracy. He accepts the title with a faint blush.

"Onward," huh? How about "Amerika Erwache" or just "Sieg Heil?"

He is often described as an eccentric. For a bedside table, Norquist uses a giant green canister for Kraft parmesan cheese. He displays what he hopes will be the world's largest collection of airsickness bags. At staff meetings, employees say, he holds court while variously sitting on a giant red plastic ball, eating tuna from a can, rubbing his feet against a massager and sniffing hand lotion as he kneads it into his fingers. He excuses himself to go to "the ladies room."

An eccentric, huh? He sounds like a closeted self-hating fag to me, a fairly typical Republican subtype.

For those who do not cooperate, Norquist plays enforcer. Democrats are "bad guys," but errant Republicans are "evil." When the House voted to pass school vouchers in September, Norquist growled, "Who voted wrong on that?" A Hill staff member distributed the Republican blacklist. On the Internet access tax vote, he targeted two Republican senators from Tennessee and Ohio: "We're trying to get [Lamar] Alexander and [George] Voinovich to behave. Any advice appreciated."

When Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (R) tried to pass a state tax increase, Norquist helped defeat it. "We're going to keep him on life support," he said. "We'll put him in a freezer, as an example." He gave the Alabama state party chairman an award for opposing the hike. Instead of a plaque, Norquist sent him a sword with a steel blade.

It's hard to pick who's more dangerous, Karl Rove or Norquist. Rove at least strikes me as being sane if misguided.

Democrats used to anger him, Norquist said. He's past angry now. "Do you get mad at cancer? We'll defeat and crush their institutions, and the trial lawyers will go sell pizza. We're not going to hang them. Most of the people on the left will be happy in Grover's world. I feel about the left the way [Donald H.] Rumsfeld felt about the Iraqis."

And after Norquist purges the United States, there is the rest of the world. He says this with the confidence of a man who uses a black laundry marker as a pen. He has helped start Wednesday meetings in Canada, New Zealand, England and Japan. He has learned to be patient: "I now understand you can't just explain to the idiots how to do it and to see it your way, because they're too foolish to see it."

Some people find Norquist funny. He's hilarious. Just like the loony Himmler and the limping Goebbels and all the other Nazi eccentrics were. People who talk about purges and refer to the opposition as "cancer" and any who opposes them as "idiots" are not funny. They're bloody dangerous.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

This is Odd

A lot of lefty bloggers are still screaming and yelling about Bush's space program proposal or writing about the football playoffs (!!!) and evidently haven't noticed that Paul O'Neill has given us our Watergate. Earth calling...wake up....

The Evil in Washington

TIME will print in their new issue an utterly damning article by John F. Dickerson regarding the Paul O'Neill revelations of Life in Mordor:

According to the book, ideology and electoral politics so dominated the domestic-policy process during his tenure that it was often impossible to have a rational exchange of ideas. The incurious President was so opaque on some important issues that top Cabinet officials were left guessing his mind even after face-to-face meetings. Cheney is portrayed as an unstoppable force, unbowed by inconvenient facts as he drives Administration policy toward his goals.

O'Neill's tone in the book is not angry or sour, though it prompted a tart response from the Administration. "We didn't listen to him when he was there," said a top aide. "Why should we now?"

There are a lot of people in the White House who need to end in a Federal prison. Get writing to your congressional representatives. Bush and the sons of a bitches around him need to GO.

What Did Your Paper Do?

The Republican-friendly Columbus Dispatch buried the Paul O'Neill revelations on page 8. How about your part of the SCLM?

Of course Watergate was just a squib until Woodward and Bernstein started connecting the dots....

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Impeach Bush

Among other things, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill says that President Caligula entered office intent on going to war in Iraq and has the documentation to prove it. Bush should be impeached. Who will be courageous enough to stand up in the well of the Senate or House and demand it?

“From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,” O’Neill said in the “60 Minutes” interview scheduled to air on Sunday. “For me, the notion of pre-emption, that the U.S. has the unilateral right to do whatever we decide to do, is a really huge leap.”

CBS released excerpts from the interview on Friday and Saturday.

The former treasury secretary and other White House insiders gave Suskind documents that in the first three months of 2001 revealed the Bush administration was examining military options for removing Saddam Hussein, CBS said.

“There are memos,” Suskind told CBS. “One of them marked ’secret’ says ’Plan for Post-Saddam Iraq.”’

Another Pentagon document entitled “Foreign suitors for Iraqi Oil Field Contracts” talks about contractors from 40 countries and which ones have interest in Iraq, Suskind said.

O’Neill was also quoted in the book as saying the president was determined to find a reason to go to war and he was surprised nobody on the National Security Council questioned why Iraq should be invaded.

“It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it,” said O’Neill. “The president saying ’Go find me a way to do this.”’

I'll say it again - who in Congress is enough of a patriot, loves his country enough to stand up and demand that this bastard be impeached, removed, and imprisoned?

Bush Already on Mars!

Check this out.

After Five Years in Sweden

A good friend of mine spent the last five years living in Sweden with his wife and their two small children. Upon his return, his reaction to the smoking remains of his country was disbelief. As he said to me, "What was radical and insane rhetoric five years ago now is acceptable and normal." Yep, sure is.

Even Cabinet Members Think Bush is a Moron

It's just not good when a former member of your administration says:

...O'Neill described his first Cabinet meeting with the president: "I went in with a long list of things to talk about and, I thought, to engage [him] on. And as the book said, I was surprised that it turned out to be me talking and the president just listening. . . . As I recall it was mostly a monologue."

It's past time for Disinterested Man to be shipped back to Crawford.

More on Space

This, in the Washington Post today, is interesting, in a way...

The proposed new crew exploration vehicle (CEV) would be designed to conduct a broad range of missions, including transporting crews to and from the international space station, landing on the moon, and eventually serving as part of a series of manned missions to Mars, according to an official. The spacecraft would represent a 21st-century version of the venerable Apollo rocket and capsule.

The irritating and nasty fact is, NASA was forced to throw away just this capacity thirty years ago when the Saturn V and Saturn IB rockets and associated Apollo space craft were discarded. As astronaut Pete Conrad put it in an interview several years ago, the facilities at the Kennedy Space Center - the two launch pads built, plus a third not finished, plus the four-bay VAB - were built to support launching up to 50 Saturn flights per year, for the follow-on projects NASA planned for - a space station, a moon base, and a Mars flight by the 1980s. This capacity was pissed away by Nixon (infected by anti-JFK pique) and his non-visionary successors and now will have to be reinvented. Let's not let this happen again.

Kevin Drum - Space Program Doofus?!

I really like Kevin Drum, but he's one of altogether too many lefties who reflexively hate the space program, apparently because the small amount of money it costs isn't being handed out on street corners to poor people (which would never happen if the space program disappeared, mind you), or because he believes that the money is loaded on the space shuttle, taken up, and gleefully tossed overboard by the crew instead of being spent down here to support - drum roll - HIGH PAYING AMERICAN AEROSPACE JOBS. You know, the kind illegal aliens can't fill.

We've been to the moon and there's nothing there. Unmanned missions can do exploration beyond earth orbit better than manned missions, and if we're looking for some big science projects to spend money on — something I'm usually in favor of — there are plenty of choices that would be more inspirational and more worthwhile than trying to recover the glory of the sixties with yet more manned space missions.

Get that - we've been to the Moon and there's "nothing" there. Actually, there's quite a lot there, including useful mineral deposits, plenty of real estate for potential solar electricity generating, a shallow gravity well to launch future missions from, and, best of all, helium 3. Not that Kevin knows what helium 3 is or what it might be good for. Shame. Let's learn a little about helium 3:

Researchers and space enthusiasts see helium 3 as the perfect fuel source: extremely potent, nonpolluting, with virtually no radioactive by-product. Proponents claim it’s the fuel of the 21st century. The trouble is, hardly any of it is found on Earth. But there is plenty of it on the moon.
...
Scientists estimate there are about 1 million tons of helium 3 on the moon, enough to power the world for thousands of years. The equivalent of a single space shuttle load or roughly 25 tons could supply the entire United States' energy needs for a year, according to Apollo17 astronaut and FTI researcher Harrison Schmitt.
...
For solving long-term energy needs, proponents contend helium 3 is a better choice than first generation nuclear fuels like deuterium and tritium (isotopes of hydrogen), which are now being tested on a large scale worldwide in tokamak thermonuclear reactors. Such approaches, which generally use strong magnetic fields to contain the tremendously hot, electrically charged gas or plasma in which fusion occurs, have cost billions and yielded little. The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor or ITER tokamak, for example, won't produce a single watt of electricity for several years yet.

"I don't doubt it will eventually work," Kulcinski said. "But I have serious doubts it will ever provide an economic power source on Earth or in space." That's because reactors that exploit the fusion of deuterium and tritium release 80 percent of their energy in the form of radioactive neutrons, which exponentially increase production and safety costs.

In contrast, helium 3 fusion would produce little residual radioactivity. Helium 3, an isotope of the familiar helium used to inflate balloons and blimps, has a nucleus with two protons and one neutron. A nuclear reactor based on the fusion of helium 3 and deuterium, which has a single nuclear proton and neutron, would produce very few neutrons -- about 1 percent of the number generated by the deuterium-tritium reaction. "You could safely build a helium 3 plant in the middle of a big city," Kulcinski said.

This is clearly somewhat in the future, but it makes the Moon far more valuable than non-scientific types believe. The Chinese have already declared their interest in a manned Moon mission. We need to get back there first.

Or maybe Kevin wants his grandchildren to grow up learning the lyrics to "The East is Red."


The Insanity Continues

British troops joined Iraqi police in gunning down job-seeking protesters who supposedly - who can believe who here? - threw explosives. Sure they did. In another incident, American troops gunned down two Iraqi policemen. And the Black Hawk "crash" turns out to have been, yes, a shootdown. And it goes on and on.

You want more of this shit, you vote for Dubya in November.

Friday, January 09, 2004

'Bullets, bullets, bullets.'

Australian soldiers participating in a joint exercise with the Largest Military in the World were somewhat surprised recently, according to Colonel David Hackworth:

"We were loaded down with far more blank ammunition than we could fit in our ammunition pouches, but when we made 'contact' with the Yanks, we found that many of them had almost no blank training rounds," Aussie Pvt. Simon Parmiter said.

"On several occasions when we opened fire we received perhaps half a dozen shots in return before the riflemen started yelling, 'Bang, bang' back at us, while the SAW – Squad Automatic Weapon – gunners shouted, 'Bullets, bullets, bullets'," Parmiter continued.

"It was incredible – the best-equipped military in the world was reduced to yelling at us instead of firing."

"With the recent news that that unit will return to Iraq, I assume many of the chaps yelling, 'Bullets, bullets, bullets ... 'will soon find themselves in the real thing – hopefully with more realistic training behind them, but if the shortage of live ammunition is as bad as the shortage of blank ammo appears to be, one has to wonder."

Uh yes, one does. One in fact remembers the giant military of Ronnie Raygun that had plenty of gadgets but no spare parts. Colonel Hackworth checked into the story:

I posted a "help wanted" ad on my Hackworth.com web page, and within 24 hours had received more than 500 messages from serving Army troops in the United States preparing for deployment to hot battlefields like Iraq or Afghanistan, as well as from warriors all over the world, confirming that our soldiers don’t have sufficient stocks of live or blank training ammo to prepare adequately for combat.

Incredible. Not only do we send our soldiers over there with inadequate body armor, we send them over without sufficient live fire training. Does anyone in the US military or the Caligula Administration realize that eventually we're going to run into an enemy that shoots back?

A regular Army major just back from Iraq says: "President Bush told the armed forces, 'Help is on the way.' But in Iraq and now in the training business, I’ve seen very little help, but a whole lot of pork."

Business as usual in war for profit.



But Where's the Money?

Anyone who reads this even in a cursory fashion knows I support the space program. And I would love to go back to the Moon, and on to Mars. Supposedly President Caligula is about to announce such a venture. And, like his father's promise to do the same in 1989, I'm sure Dubya will be short on specifics, in particular how he plans to raise the money in a time of half trillion dollar deficits.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Hmmm

Has everyone seen the famous painting of Hitler in armor on a stallion? That's one way the Fuhrer liked to see himself. Well, now we have a charming painting of President Caligula holding the severed head of Osama bin Laden.

The painting, in which Bush is shown as a cavalry soldier, is titled "Have Faith."

A cavalry soldier huh? First an AWOL F-102 pilot, then Commander Codpiece, as Jo Fish calls him, posing on a carrier, now a cavalry trooper posing like Attila the flipping Hun. Rrrrrriiight.

Awwwww!

Hey, life is hard for the drunken Bush twins, according to a new book about the Paris Hiltons of the Imperial Family.

The book recalls the twins' run-ins with the law in underage drinking incidents. The girls regard their Secret Service agents as "their chauffeurs, bellhops and valets," the book says. It says "they persist in seeing themselves as victims of daddy's job."

Clearly two brats who were not spanked when necessary.

And Everything's Great in Iraq

Yep. A mortar attack that wounds 34 and kills one (the success of this attack makes me wonder if the targeting was coincidental or if Iraqi "collaborators" are working for the insurgents on the side), and now another Black Hawk down - possibly shot down - with all 8 soldiers on board killed. As Atrios says, Preznit Giv Me Turkee. UPDATE: 9 dead on the Black Hawk, a witness says a rocket hit it, and a C-5 transport makes an emergency landing after apparently being hit by a shoulder-launched SAM. Everything's GREAT! BRING 'EM ON!!!

Texans = 0 Defeat in War = 3

Kevin Phillips helpfully pointed out on NPR this morning that the war record of bellicose Texans who become President sucks dead wombats. We have LBJ and the sterling example of Viet Nam, Bush I guaranteeing that Iraq would remain a problem, and now President Caligula's quagmire. Phillips has a new book out slagging the Bush clan (should be easy, actually, considering their record of money laundering for the Nazis, October Surprises, and stolen elections); I'll buy it this weekend and report later.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

I Hate Lefties...

...who hate the space program. Matt Yglesias joins the ranks of nitwits who clearly would choose species extinction over survival (actually he claims he'd rather own a Formula One team. Uh, yeah, right.). I remember having a discussion - I think it was at Kevin Drum's site - with a cretin who claimed that he didn't care if the human race became extinct. Clearly a sociopath. Folks, we need to get off the planet and get out of the system or extinction is sooner rather than later. And in any case, any society needs to dream. Stop dreaming, you start dying (viz Russia, which is now steadily depopulating because people don't care to reproduce and/or drink themselves to death). Read the comments below Matt's post; most of them make the same point, and a few dimwits agree with him.

Clark Gender Gap

According to Mark Kleiman, the latest polling info shows General Wesley Clark pulling into range of Howard Dean, but showing no strength among female voters. Wake up, ladies. Howie may seem kinder and gentler, but he's unelectable.

Spirit Sends High Definition Photos

The Spirit rover has sent the most detailed pictures ever taken on Mars, and scientists have already found a mystery, unusual soil markings left where the rover's protective landing airbags retracted. The soil almost looks like mud, although that would seem to be impossible on Mars.

Space Station Continues Losing Pressure

A mysterious leak aboard the space station has continued to elude the station crew, Mission Commander Mike Foale and cosmonaut Alexander Kareli. The leak may be associated with the station's air scrubber. Thus far the situation is not dangerous, and the station has a Soyuz capsule the crew can use in the event they need to evacuate.

Dubya Panders to Hispanics

Once again the subject of illegal immigration is PC, as Dubya agrees to keep taking Mexico's excess population into the US to force down wages and benefits here instead of grabbing these people by the shirt and pants and heaving them back into Mexico. Thanks, Dubya. Too bad no one on the left or right has the guts to take this on.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

...And Kevin Drum Whacks Back

Kevin Drum takes on the latest neocon lunacy ("if you hate us, you're an anti-Semite!") as well:

It's pretty obvious that conservatives are nervous about any discussion of the neocon agenda and want to take it off the table by ridiculing it and pretending that it's just coded racism. Why? What are they afraid of?

Well, Kevin, they do have rather a lot to hide....

Phil's Back!

Phil Carter is back from vacation and blogging up a storm. Phil gives the neocons a well-deserved kick in the crotch as they attempt to label neocon hatred as "anti-Semitism," and try to pin that tag on (half-Jewish!) General Wesley Clark!

...Gen. Clark has evidenced a particular sensitivity to Jews and other persecuted peoples (e.g. the Kosovar Albanians) while in uniform. (Arguably, the Kosovo War was about exorcising U.S. and European demons for failing to act during the Holocaust.) Maybe that's because he's half Jewish? Gen. Clark's original last name was Kanne -- his father Benjamin Kanne was Jewish, and he subsequently was raised as a Protestant who converted to Catholicism in Vietnam. I don't think Clark is truly the self-loathing type, and I don't think he's an anti-Semite. But this is convenient mud for conservatives who want to tar two men before the Democratic party.

Conservatives are getting crazier every day. You'd swear it's in the water or something.

Repugs Nuts!

Richard Cohen argues that the anti tax wing of the Republican party, led by the visibly clinically insane Grover Norquist (who, to Terry Gross' disbelief, compared the estate tax to the Holocaust on her NPR show Fresh Air), are nuts. Heck, Richard, we already knew that!

It's hard to overstate Norquist's importance in contemporary Washington. He is head of Americans for Tax Reform, is an intimate of Karl Rove, the president's chief political aide, and has easy access to the White House. He presides over a weekly meeting of important Republican activists and lobbyists where the agenda -- at least Norquist's -- is to ensure that taxes are reduced to a bare minimum, the government is starved and everyone, the rich and the poor, is taxed the same, which is to say almost not at all.

The Bush administration has mindlessly applied this doctrine. It has three times reduced taxes -- mostly on the rich -- careening the federal budget from a surplus to a deficit without end. The rich, who can afford their schools or health care, will not suffer. But the poor and the middle class will hurt plenty -- and state and local taxes, often the most regressive, will go up.

To my mind, the Holocaust should be compared only to itself. I make some allowance for, say, Rwanda or the massacre of Muslims at Srebrenica or the gulag of Stalin's Soviet Union. But when it comes to legalized murder by a state, almost nothing can approach it -- not in its size, not in its breadth and not in its virtually incomprehensible bestiality. The morality of the Holocaust, I would argue, is somehow different from that of the estate tax.

For some time now, the estate tax has been a demagogue's delight. Republicans, including George Bush, like to call it the "death tax." It is said to have produced the demise of the cherished family farm -- although the government can offer not a single example. It is, however, the tax most hated by those who hate taxes the most.

Inexplicably, Norquist's "Holocaust" has somehow left quite a few survivors. Among the 10 richest Americans, for instance, are five Waltons -- heirs to the fortune left by the storied Sam, the founder of Wal-Mart. Forbes magazine says they are each worth $20.5 billion. The rest of Forbes's list of the 400 richest Americans is peopled by other heirs, although some got only a billion or two.

In fact, the moral equivalency Norquist concocts is his own -- and it speaks volumes about the morality of anti-tax Republicans. To them, the rich owe nothing -- just like the poor, they would say. (The difference between rich and poor escapes them.) This is unbridled selfishness in the guise of ideology and makes wealth the moral equivalent of ethnicity or religion or even sexual preference. To Norquist, distinguishing between rich and poor is like making a selection at Auschwitz. It not only trivializes the Holocaust, it collapses all moral distinctions.

Cohen concludes, aptly, "At his next meeting of GOP activists, someone ought to ask him if he's out of his mind. If no one does, it's because they all are." No kidding. It's worth noting that under the notable socialist regime of Dwight Eisenhower the top tax rate was 90%. Guess what - we still had plenty of wealthy parasites. I'm all for a return to those happier days, and you should be too.

Short Pete Rose

Pete Rose is not sorry he bet on baseball. Pete Rose is sorry he's not in the Hall of Fame. Let's keep his sorry ass the hell out of Cooperstown.

Free Trade is a Chimera

Senator Charles Schumer of New York and former Reagan Administration Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Paul Craig Roberts argue today in the NYT that free trade ain't what it's been cracked up to be. Indeed. How can American workers expect to support their lifestyle - and just incidentally the American economy itself which relies upon their consumption - while competing with peasants?

Two recent examples illustrate this concern. Over the next three years, a major New York securities firm plans to replace its team of 800 American software engineers, who each earns about $150,000 per year, with an equally competent team in India earning an average of only $20,000. Second, within five years the number of radiologists in this country is expected to decline significantly because M.R.I. data can be sent over the Internet to Asian radiologists capable of diagnosing the problem at a small fraction of the cost.

These anecdotes suggest a seismic shift in the world economy brought on by three major developments. First, new political stability is allowing capital and technology to flow far more freely around the world. Second, strong educational systems are producing tens of millions of intelligent, motivated workers in the developing world, particularly in India and China, who are as capable as the most highly educated workers in the developed world but available to work at a tiny fraction of the cost. Last, inexpensive, high-bandwidth communications make it feasible for large work forces to be located and effectively managed anywhere.

We are concerned that the United States may be entering a new economic era in which American workers will face direct global competition at almost every job level — from the machinist to the software engineer to the Wall Street analyst. Any worker whose job does not require daily face-to-face interaction is now in jeopardy of being replaced by a lower-paid, equally skilled worker thousands of miles away. American jobs are being lost not to competition from foreign companies, but to multinational corporations, often with American roots, that are cutting costs by shifting operations to low-wage countries.

Unfortunately the two conclude that "old fashioned protectionist measures are not the answer." Gentlemen, politically correct throwing of cotton wool and rose petals at the problem is what's not the answer. Tariffs may well be the answer. But the debate must start now before we're all flipping hamburgers at one another.

Economically a Third World Country?

Paul Krugman today discusses warnings by former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin that the US economy is tripping merrily down the same path once trod by Argentina.

Those of us who have suggested that the irresponsibility of recent American policy may produce a similar disaster have been dismissed as shrill, even hysterical. (Hey, the market's up, isn't it?) But few would describe Robert Rubin, the legendary former Treasury secretary, as hysterical: his ability to stay calm in the face of crises, and reassure the markets, was his greatest asset. And Mr. Rubin has formally joined the coalition of the shrill.

In a paper presented over the weekend at the meeting of the American Economic Association, Mr. Rubin and his co-authors — Peter Orszag of the Brookings Institution and Allan Sinai of Decision Economics — argue along lines that will be familiar to regular readers of this column. The United States, they point out, is currently running very large budget and trade deficits. Official projections that this deficit will decline over time aren't based on "credible assumptions." Realistic projections show a huge buildup of debt over the next decade, which will accelerate once the baby boomers retire in large numbers.

All of this is conventional stuff, if anathema to administration apologists, who insist, in flat defiance of the facts, that they have a "plan" to cut the deficit in half. What's new is what Mr. Rubin and his co-authors say about the consequences. Rather than focusing on the gradual harm inflicted by deficits, they highlight the potential for catastrophe.

"Substantial ongoing deficits," they warn, "may severely and adversely affect expectations and confidence, which in turn can generate a self-reinforcing negative cycle among the underlying fiscal deficit, financial markets, and the real economy. . . . The potential costs and fallout from such fiscal and financial disarray provide perhaps the strongest motivation for avoiding substantial, ongoing budget deficits." In other words, do cry for us, Argentina: we may be heading down the same road.

The economic irresponsibility of the Republicans is simply mindboggling. The brainlessness of the American public in continuing to largely accept President Stupid's brand of misrule is similarly mindboggling. The Democratic candidates have a hard job ahead of them; they must first convince Americans of the horror lying ahead, then, if they can get elected - if they can derail Howard "Loose Cannon" Dean - they have to fix the monstrous problems Bush's wealth-pandering has left them with. It's going to be a bloody hard row to hoe.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Stolen Laptop

Some cretin stole Avedon Carol's laptop. Amazing. Go over to the The Sideshow and click "donate." It's a worthy cause!

Spirit on Mars

Lots of great info and links over at NASA Watch re the Spirit mission. Even a 3D panorama, if you've saved your red and blue glasses from your last 3D book or film visit. Also a panorama in Quicktime VR. Check 'em out!

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Spirit Arrives on Mars

NASA's Spirit Mars rover has arrived safely and has already sent back pictures of its landing area. Scientists will use the pictures to plan the course of the rover, which should begin moving around the Martian surface after undergoing about a week of post-landing checks. A second rover, Opportunity, is scheduled to arrive on Mars on January 24.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Pat Robertson is an Idiot

OK, we already knew that. He's a "man of God" who worships power and Mammon and is buddies with assorted unsavory dictators. Here are his latest words of "Godly" wisdom regarding our President-Appointee:

"The Lord has just blessed him," Robertson said of Bush. "I mean, he could make terrible mistakes and comes out of it. It doesn't make any difference what he does, good or bad, God picks him up because he's a man of prayer and God's blessing him."

So Dubya can do anything - anything - because God blesses him. All I can say to that is, God help us.