Monday, January 31, 2005

Blame it on Grover

The next time your house catches fire and the fire department takes forever to arrive, you can blame Grover Norquist and the other anti-tax lunatics. Because cities and localities are increasingly crippled by Norquist's mania for "drowning government in a bathtub," people's lives are endangered. In fact, people are dying.

In Massachusetts, only 54 percent of local fire departments were able to reach 90 percent of building fires within six minutes, a standard set in 2001 by the National Fire Protection Association. People waited 10 minutes for firefighters at 214 building fires in 2002, the last year that data was available, and there have been 2,786 such fires since 1990.

Nationwide, only 35 percent of departments were able to meet the six-minute goal in 2002, compared to 75 percent in 1986, when alarm times first began to be collected.

“Fire protection in America is a myth,” said Vincent Dunn, a retired New York City Deputy fire chief and author of books on fire safety.

“These two subjects are the dirty little secrets of the fire service: The response times outside the center cities are too great, and the personnel responding, inside and outside the center cities, are too few. No one wants to talk about that.”
...
The Globe found that more than 4,000 people died in fires — or about five per week — in which the fighters took more than six minutes to respond. The actual number could be higher, because fewer than half of structure fires are reported to the database, and reporting is voluntary.

Think about that next time you agree with Grover that taxes are Bad. It might be you burning to death.

Or your children.

Good News from Iraq

For once, good news in that a majority of Iraqis turned out to vote, and did so in more safety than had been expected. While at least 35 people appear to have been killed, most Iraqis voted safely. The security lockdown and possibly recent high profile arrests likely were instrumental in this result.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Outsourcing Marine One

We don't need no stinking American helicopter to fly the President:

In selecting Lockheed, which will receive $1.7 billion initially to begin the program, the Pentagon signaled a new openness to foreign partners on sensitive military tasks. By doing so, it also rewarded Britain and Italy, two of the United States’ staunchest allies in the Iraq War.

The helicopter fleet, which will be ready in 2009, will be built by a joint venture of Lockheed and AgustaWestland, a British-Italian venture that designed much of the helicopter and will make about a third of it.

John Young, the assistant Navy secretary who made the announcement, argued that politics played no role in the selection. But it was immediately denounced as “outrageously wrong” by Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, who lobbied strongly for Sikorsky to continue building the White House’s helicopters, a role that dates back to the Eisenhower era. Sikorsky, a subsidiary of United Technologies, is based in Connecticut.

New York’s Congressional delegation, by contrast, lined up with the Lockheed group, supporting it because some of the work will be done at a new Lockheed plant in upstate New York.

The $6.1 billion contract — $3.6 billion for the fleet of 23 helicopters and the rest for research and development — is far from the Pentagon’s largest. But it is full of symbolic value and was seen as a critical test of the Pentagon’s willingness to do business with foreign military companies.

It's also mindbending that all of 23 helicopters are going to cost $6.1 billion. Payola to keep Britain and Italy in the Coalition of the Deluded is pretty damned expensive (considering that this is an existing helicopter already in service with the Royal Navy and other European militaries, the money for R&D is obvious payola).

Read the whole thing. Not pretty.

Why be Surprised?

When the Republican Party has numbers of members who are holocaust deniers and doubters, it's no surprise that Dick Cheney would turn up at Auschwitz dressed for a football game.

Barefoot and Pregnant

This is where the anti-abortion movement is going; first ban legal abortion, then ban contraceptives. This is inevitable, and needs to be brought to the attention of every woman:

...a leading anti-abortion delegate said he opposes birth control, including the emergency contraceptive "morning-after pill."

"Anything designed to kill a child, which I define as a living organism with the DNA of Homo sapiens, is unacceptable," said Delegate Richard H. Black, Loudoun County Republican.

Mr. Black said, aside from the morality of the issue, he is concerned that birth control is contributing to a low birth rate in the United States and called contraceptives "baby pesticides."

In a world crawling with people - 4 or 5 billion over carrying capacity - to gripe about a low birth rate is just insane. But these people are crazy. No doubt Delegate Black is as enthusiastic about the war in Iraq and the death penalty as he is upset by "baby pesticides." This is where they want to go. If you're a woman, they want you barefoot and continuously pregnant. Digging a tunnel to the Ninth Century? You bet. (via the ever-watchful Avedon Carol)

Cold Time

This has historically been a harsh time of year for NASA. Instead of separately recalling each tragedy, let me share something I am sure any of those lost astronauts would have agreed with:

"We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last."

Men like Scott, quoted above, and Shackleton would have understood the astronauts....

Friday, January 28, 2005

Dobson's Fans are Pretty Stupid Too

Keith Olbermann discusses some of the email he received from supporters of Dr. James "SpongeBob is Queer" Dobson:

Firstly, you wouldn’t think a member of this group could misspell “Christian,” but sure enough, one of the missives had the word as “Christain” three times. I think just about every word you could imagine was butchered at some point (and we’re not talking typos here - we’re talking about repeated identical misspellings):

Spong, Spounge, Spnge - presumably meaning “Sponge.”

Dobsin, Dobsen, Debsin, Dubsen, Dobbins - presumably Dr. Dobson.

Sevility— I’m not sure about this one. This might be “civility,” or it might refer to the city in Spain.

The best of them was not a misspelling but a Freudian slip of biblical proportions. A correspondent, unhappy that I did not simply agree with her fire-and-brimstone forecast for me, wrote “I showed respect even though I disagreed with you and yet you have the audacity to call me intelligent.”

Well, you have me there, Ma’am. My mistake.

The real problem with Dobson’s campaign, which produced an e-mail volume far less than the average post-election blog, was that he publicly posted my internal e-mail address (the one used for interaction with my office co-workers), not the high-volume ones we established for viewer and reader reaction. This served merely to wear out a bunch of IT folks (and me) and had the cumulative effect of a group of clowns toilet-papering my office and then saying “You agree with us now, don’t you, that you are a heathen?” The volume served only to overshadow any validity that might have been included in their complaints
...
Still, if there was one disturbing element, it was the number of emails— maybe 20 percent—which invoked Dan Rather and “what we did to him.” There is evidently a mass misunderstanding of the history of Rather’s retirement from the CBS Evening News. He was not hit by vengeful lightning, although don’t go telling that to the religious right. That his retirement was being planned last summer is an irrelevancy to them.

Even in this, though, one emailer provided mirth. “We got Tom Brokaw at ABC,” he warned, “and we can get you.”

I’ll have to drop Tom a note.

Whew! Of course it's always important to remember that these people believe that the earth is flat, 6,000 years old, and that Jesus loves the rich and hates the poor. Hm.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Taking Care of the Natives

By blowing off reports of abuse and closing investigations, the military continues to send the message that the White Man's Burden continues in Iraq and our colonial troops had better keep those natives in line:

Only a handful of the 54 investigations of alleged detainee abuse and other illicit activities detailed in the documents led to recommended penalties as severe as a court-martial or discharge from military service. Most led to administrative fines or simply withered because investigators could not find victims or evidence.

What kind of abuse? Here:

In the case of Hadi Abdul Hasson, an Iraqi who died in U.S. custody at a prison near the southern port of Umm Qasr, Army criminal investigators were unable to locate meaningful prison or military records on his capture or fate.

"Due to inadequate recordkeeping, this office could only estimate that Mr. Hasson possibly died between April-September 2003," and so the case was closed, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command said in October. Hasson's death was evidently not noticed until mid-2004, when disclosures of detainee abuses at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad prompted a review of records and sparked many new abuse allegations by Iraqis.

This is an army that usually keeps track of every burp and fart, but when it's convenient, well, there was "inadequate recordkeeping." Or a handy shredder.

Here's a sweet little deal:

A January 2004 probe, for example, found that nine soldiers in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment based at Fort Carson, Colo., and deployed in Iraq "were possibly involved in a criminal conspiracy to rob Iraqi citizens of currency" at traffic-control points. Two members of the unit affirmed the plan in sworn statements and named its participants. But the investigation was terminated after the commander "indicated an intent to take action amounting to less than a court proceeding," the report said.

That unit commander should be shot. Unfortunately, we haven't shot anyone since World War II. This might be a good time to start again, to encourage the others, as Voltaire remarked dryly.

In one case, a platoon of infantry troops beat Iraqis and stole money, calling it a "Robin Hood tax," to support a fund used to buy soda, food, beer, whiskey and gin for the platoon. In another case, two soldiers burst into a civilian's home, stating they were looking for weapons, and stole cash and jewelry. In another, two other soldiers pushed an Iraqi man into the back of their five-ton truck, drove him to an isolated area, stole his watch and money, and punched him in the face.
...
An officer in the 20th Field Artillery Battalion deployed in Taji, for example, was given an unspecified nonjudicial punishment and fined $2,500 after he admitted to threatening to kill an Iraqi, firing a pistol next to the man's head, placing the man's head in a barrel, and watching as members of his unit pummeled the man's chest and face.

One of those who administered the beating told investigators that the officer "had given us a talk about how some circumstances bring about extra force." Another said the officer told them after it was over: "This night stays within" the unit. "We all gave a hooah" before parting, the soldier said.
...
Another case involved a 73-year-old Iraqi woman who was captured by members of the Delta Force special unit and alleged that she was robbed of money and jewels before being confined for days without food or water — all in an effort to force her to give the location of her husband and son. Delta Force's Task Force 20 was assigned to capture senior Iraqi officials.

She said she was also stripped and humiliated by a man who "straddled her . . . and attempted to ride her like a horse" before hitting her with a stick and placing it in her anus. The case, which attracted the attention of senior Iraqi officials and led to an inquiry by an unnamed member of the White House staff, was closed without a conclusion.

Remember, support our troops. Hm. Too bad no one takes care of the bad apples...to encourage the others.


The Chimp Speaks

No shortage of lese majeste here, my friends. The Chimp had a press conference yesterday, and was in his usual presenile dementia form.

He said that if he had told the reporters in the room a few years before that the Iraqi people would be voting, "you would look at me like some of you still look at me, with a kind of blank expression."

Gee, Dubya, the blank expression has a lot more to do with the fact that you came out all cheery on a day when 37 Americans came home in body bags.

Though the tone of the news conference was at times light and bantering, in response to a question later Mr. Bush did address the helicopter crash: "Obviously any time we lose life it is a sad moment," he said.

As long as it isn't a Bush life. Don't see the stupid drunken twins in uniform, do we? Along those lines:

Bush said he was leading the nation toward an honorable goal in Iraq and across the world. “I firmly planted the flag of liberty,” he said.

Did you, now.

Working Towards the Fuehrer

Here's the story of a policeman who would have done very well in Germany in say, 1934:

The Denver Police Department is investigating a sergeant who allegedly threatened to arrest the 26-year-old for displaying the bumper sticker, which read ''F--- Bush.''

Bates said she was told by the sergeant Tuesday that her bumper sticker was illegal because it was profane. She said he told her he'd arrest her if she didn't remove it.

But City Attorney Cole Finegan said he doesn't believe there's any city ordinance against displaying a profane bumper sticker.

That's a pretty mild telling of the story. There's more: turns out that someone else was Working Towards the Fuehrer too:

The ''F--- Bush'' bumper sticker on 26-year-old Shasta Bates' pickup truck offended a shopping center patron who saw it Monday on Bate's parked vehicle and flagged down Sgt. Michael Karasek, who was patrolling the area.

''He (Karasek) told her that this was a warning and that the next time he saw her truck, she was going to be arrested if she didn't remove the sticker,'' said 25-year-old Alinna Figueroa, assistant manager of a store at the shopping center where the officer confronted Bates.

Sweet! We have informers now too. Heil!

Iraq

Iraq and the Iraqis are not worth the life of one American soldier, marine, airman, or sailor. That said, we threw away 37 of them yesterday.

Who will be the last man to die for this mistake?

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Missed the Clue Bus

As Jo Fish points out, this cretin apparently missed the clue bus:

Justin Moidel, 17, who lives in the Pittsburgh area, attended the swearing-in with friends, but after venturing outside the security gates for food, the group ditched plans to return for the parade because of the angry protesters and daunting lines at the weapons check.

"I liked being part of history, and the passage of power," said Moidel, who said he considers himself a conservative Democrat. "But the long lines and being protested against. . . . There was one lady who yelled at me, 'Are you prepared to die?' I guess she thinks Bush is an aggressive leader who will get us into war."

Gee, ya think?!!!!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Bloggers Begin to Notice the Stupidity of the Hubble Murder

If Dubya thought no one was going to notice when he pulled the plug on any Hubble repair mission, robotic or shuttle, he was wrong. Even bloggers, who often are only peripherally interested in space, are beginning to notice. Here's Mark Kleiman:

Sometimes I think that the Republican right is so convinced by its own "government-is-the-problem" rhetoric that it instinctively tries to kill any public program that demonstrably isn't stupid.

By any reasonable standard, the Hubble Space Telescope has been astonishingly cost-effective. Spending a billion bucks to fix it rather than letting it die would seem like a laydown decision.

But apparently the Bush budget will omit that money from the NASA request, leaving the Hubble to its fate.

It's possible that this is the old budgetary wheeze called the "Statue of Liberty play": if you ask the Park Service to say what it would do to absorb a 1% budget cut, it proposes shutting down the Statue of Liberty, relying on the political infeasibility of that option to protect all its other programs.

Maybe Bush, under pressure to make the deficit in his budget as submitted look as small as possible, figures that he can easily push the blame for that billion-dollar addition onto the Congress, and there's no real intention to kill the program.

Still, I'd hate to bet on that. And notice that this version, which accuses Bush of a deliberate act of dishonesty, is the most generous possible interpretation of what the Clown Act is up to; all the others are worse. It's entirely possible that our technologically illiterate President really believes in all that "Mission to Mars" b.s., and is willing to sacrifice genuine science to pay for it.

In fact I don't believe for a minute that Bush believes his own BS. I have a very good friend who works for NASA who was in town over Christmas. I asked him what people at NASA thought about Bush's grandiose plans. His reply? It's a cover for killing the shuttle, and once the shuttle is gone, the manned space program follows.

David Brooks: The Bobo in Winter

David Brooks is a particularly unintelligent columnist, although every once in awhile he rises above himself and puts out a piece well worth reading, like his column in the NYT today. David thinks that President Dubya needs to devote himself to that great American dream; social mobility. Trouble is, that's not something the Repugs believe in. They're way too busy trying to create an American aristocracy complete with tax free inheritance. To his credit, Brooks realizes something is going badly wrong:

Today, for example, we may still believe American society is uniquely dynamic, but we're deceiving ourselves. European societies, which seem more class riven and less open, have just as much social mobility as the United States does.

And there are some indications that it is becoming harder and harder for people to climb the ladder of success. The Economist magazine gathered much of the recent research on social mobility in America. The magazine concluded that the meritocracy is faltering: "Would-be Horatio Algers are finding it no easier to climb from rags to riches, while the children of the privileged have a greater chance of staying at the top of the social heap."

Economists and sociologists do not all agree, but it does seem there is at least slightly less movement across income quintiles than there was a few decades ago. Sons' income levels correlate more closely to those of their fathers. The income levels of brothers also correlate more closely. That suggests that the family you were born into matters more and more to how you will fare in life. That's a problem because we are not supposed to have a hereditary class structure in this country.

But we're developing one. In the information age, education matters more. In an age in which education matters more, family matters more, because as James Coleman established decades ago, family status shapes educational achievement.

At the top end of society we have a mass upper-middle class. This is made up of highly educated people who move into highly educated neighborhoods and raise their kids in good schools with the children of other highly educated parents. These kids develop wonderful skills, get into good colleges (the median family income of a Harvard student is now $150,000), then go out and have their own children, who develop the same sorts of wonderful skills and who repeat the cycle all over again.

In this way these highly educated elites produce a paradox - a hereditary meritocratic class.

It becomes harder for middle-class kids to compete against members of the hypercharged educated class. Indeed, the middle-class areas become more socially isolated from the highly educated areas.

Indeed, Brooks is right. These people do not tend to mix, and people just are not rising the way they once did. If your parents are poor and you live in a neighborhood with junky schools, you're either not going to get into college or you're going to get into an equally junky one. Your chances of rising out of your class are pretty low.

But what to do? Um, according to Brooks, create a fair playing field. I agree, David, but King George II and the wealthy parasites who back him aren't likely to listen. They're far too busy trying to stack things their way. They're rich, and they intend to stay that way, forever. How long before they begin giving themselves titles?

Gay Bashing Groups Threaten Bush Over Social Security

The latest tactic of the "Christian" gay bashers, abandoned rather suddenly by Dubya after his election was assured, is not to get smart and realize that the Repugs have been using them for 25 years, but to threaten to oppose Bush's phony Social Security reform unless he starts gay-bashing again.

In a confidential letter to Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's top political adviser, the group said it was disappointed with the White House's decision to put Social Security and other economic issues ahead of its paramount interest: opposition to same-sex marriage.

The letter, dated Jan. 18, pointed out that many social conservatives who voted for Mr. Bush because of his stance on social issues lack equivalent enthusiasm for changing the retirement system or other tax issues. And to pass to pass any sweeping changes, members of the group argue, Mr. Bush will need the support of every element of his coalition.

"We couldn't help but notice the contrast between how the president is approaching the difficult issue of Social Security privatization where the public is deeply divided and the marriage issue where public opinion is overwhelmingly on his side," the letter said. "Is he prepared to spend significant political capital on privatization but reluctant to devote the same energy to preserving traditional marriage? If so it would create outrage with countless voters who stood with him just a few weeks ago, including an unprecedented number of African-Americans, Latinos and Catholics who broke with tradition and supported the president solely because of this issue."

The letter continued, "When the administration adopts a defeatist attitude on an issue that is at the top of our agenda, it becomes impossible for us to unite our movement on an issue such as Social Security privatization where there are already deep misgivings."

The letter also expressed alarm at recent comments President Bush made to The Washington Post, including his statement that "nothing will happen" on the marriage amendment for now because many senators did not see the need for it.

"We trust that you can imagine our deep disappointment at the defeatist position President Bush demonstrated" in the interview, the group wrote. "He even declined to answer a simple question about whether he would use his bully pulpit to overcome this Senate foot-dragging."

The letter also noted that in an interview before the election Mr. Bush "appeared to endorse civil unions" for same-sex couples.

Hard cheese, old chaps! To his credit, Bush apparently has no discriminatory tendencies in his personal life, and he's hardly going to waste his "political capital" on a mindless time-waster like the gay marriage ban.

Monday, January 24, 2005

The Other Social Security Shoe Drops: Pay for it with Regressive Taxation

What a surprise that the ugly spectre of a Value Added Tax - a regressive national sales tax, unaccountably popular in Europe - pops up as the Repugs continue their policy of demolishing Social Security. The current payroll tax system is already pretty regressive, but a VAT would be worse - a lot worse.

President Bush's drive to overhaul Social Security should lead to consideration of a value-added tax or other ways to fund the entitlement program, the chairman of the House tax-writing committee said yesterday.

Congress also should consider basing benefits on such factors as race, sex and the job a retiree once held, said Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif.

What in the world is Thomas talking about? Should we pay women less because they live longer or make them pay more? What about the many blacks who don't live long enough to collect? It's better to keep the system as is than it is to open these cans of worms, but the secret behind Thomas' blather is to turn people against one another. And also to force women to work longer, as he blithely says later in the article. But as for taxes:

Thomas dismissed the idea of raising the limit on payroll-tax deductions from the current $90,000, which would make wealthier people pay more into the system. "Why even bother looking at the payroll tax? That was a solution in the 1940s and the 1950s," he said, when the rate was 2 percent of income.

All Thomas is interested in is making the tax more regressive, as you can see from his remark above. This isn't a solution, it's more Repug class warfare on the middle and working classes.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

$300 Million Missing; Does Anyone Care?

Yesterday I pointed out a NYT article indicating that $300 million in cash has been stolen in transit from Iraq to Jordan. Incredibly, no follow up in the press today, and even bloggers seem disinterested. OK, whatever.

Abu Gonzales the Fixer

Turns out that Alberto Gonzales isn't just a torture expert, he's good to have around when you've been called to do your civic duty on a jury:

But Gonzales's most surprising answer may have come on a different subject: his role in helping President Bush escape jury duty in a drunken-driving case involving a dancer at an Austin strip club in 1996. The judge and other lawyers in the case last week disputed a written account of the matter provided by Gonzales to the Senate Judiciary Committee. "It's a complete misrepresentation," said David Wahlberg, lawyer for the dancer, about Gonzales's account.

Bush's summons to serve as a juror in the drunken-driving case was, in retrospect, a fateful moment in his political career: by getting excused from jury duty he was able to avoid questions that would have required him to disclose his own 1976 arrest and conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) in Kennebunkport, Maine—an incident that didn't become public until the closing days of the 2000 campaign. (Bush, who had publicly declared his willingness to serve, had left blank on his jury questionnaire whether he had ever been "accused" in a criminal case.) Asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy to describe "in detail" the only court appearance he ever made on behalf of Bush, Gonzales—who was then chief counsel to the Texas governor—wrote that he had accompanied Bush the day he went to court "prepared to serve on a jury." While there, Gonzales wrote, he "observed" the defense lawyer make a motion to strike Bush from the jury panel "to which the prosecutor did not object." Asked by the judge whether he had "any views on this," Gonzales recalled, he said he did not.

While Gonzales's account tracks with the official court transcript, it leaves out a key part of what happened that day, according to Travis County Judge David Crain. In separate interviews, Crain—along with Wahlberg and prosecutor John Lastovica—told NEWSWEEK that, before the case began, Gonzales asked to have an off-the-record conference in the judge's chambers. Gonzales then asked Crain to "consider" striking Bush from the jury, making the novel "conflict of interest" argument that the Texas governor might one day be asked to pardon the defendant (who worked at an Austin nightclub called Sugar's), the judge said. "He [Gonzales] raised the issue," Crain said. Crain said he found Gonzales's argument surprising, since it was "extremely unlikely" that a drunken-driving conviction would ever lead to a pardon petition to Bush. But "out of deference" to the governor, Crain said, the other lawyers went along. Wahlberg said he agreed to make the motion striking Bush because he didn't want the hard-line governor on his jury anyway. But there was little doubt among the participants as to what was going on. "In public, they were making a big show of how he was prepared to serve," said Crain. "In the back room, they were trying to get him off."

Just think. It's Abu's fault that this sorry son of a bitch is President. Wonderful.

Bush's Praetorians

In spite of the fact that it's illegal, the military was, no surprise, standing by to make certain that their president was inaugurated Thursday:

These commandos, operating under a secret counterterrorism program code-named Power Geyser, were mentioned publicly for the first time this week on a Web site for a new book, "Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operation in the 9/11 World," (Steerforth Press). The book was written by William M. Arkin, a former intelligence analyst for the Army.

The precise number of these Special Operations forces in Washington this week is highly classified, but military officials say the number is very small. The special-missions units belong to the Joint Special Operations Command, a secretive command based at Fort Bragg, N.C., whose elements include the Army unit Delta Force.

In the past, the command has also provided support to domestic law enforcement agencies during high-risk events like the Olympics and political party conventions, according to the Web site of GlobalSecurity.org, a research organization in Alexandria, Va.

The role of the armed forces in the United States has been a contentious issue for more than a century. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which restricts military forces from performing domestic law enforcement duties, like policing, was enacted after the Civil War in response to the perceived misuse of federal troops who were policing in the South.

Over the years, the law has been amended to allow the military to lend equipment to federal, state and local authorities; assist federal agencies in drug interdiction; protect national parks; and execute quarantine and certain health laws. About 5,000 federal troops supported civilian agencies at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City three years ago.

Since Sept. 11, however, military and law enforcement agencies have worked much more closely not only to help detect and defeat any possible attack, including from unconventional weapons, but also to assure the continuity of the federal government in case of cataclysmic disaster.

You know, cataclysmic disaster. Like if the Democrats win or someone throws a tomato at the naked emperor.

Every day we increasingly kiss our republic goodbye. And most people don't even seem to notice.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

In Which Bush Friend's Pocket Did This Go?

$300 million, speciously intended for "weapons" the Iraqi army does not need, have vanished between Iraq and Lebanon somewhere. What a surprise. Which Friend of George did these funds end up with? Allawi? Chalabi? Someone on this side of the pond?

Earlier this month, according to Iraqi officials, $300 million in American bills was taken out of Iraq's Central Bank, put into boxes and quietly put on a charter jet bound for Lebanon.

The money was to be used to buy tanks and other weapons from international arms dealers, the officials say, as part of an accelerated effort to assemble an armored division for the fledgling Iraqi Army. But exactly where the money went, and to whom, and for precisely what, remains a mystery, at least to Iraqis who say they have been trying to find out.

The $300 million deal appears to have been arranged outside the American-designed financial controls intended to help Iraq - which defaulted on its external debt in the 1990's - legally import goods. By most accounts here, there was no public bidding for the arms contracts, nor was the deal approved by the entire 33-member Iraqi cabinet.

First of all, the reason for the mission is entirely phony and specious. The Iraqi military has plenty of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and other vehicles and weapons that may require repairs and modernization, but which it is not necessary to replace. Why, after all, give the Iraqi military entirely new, modern weapons not necessary for defensive purposes...unless, of course, you have plans to use them in Iran or elsewhere. Well, wouldn't THAT be a surprise? Secondly, you don't trust bastards like this with cash. The Bushies claim it was the only way to legally buy the weapons. I don't believe that. We could have bought the weapons ourselves and given them to the Iraqi army. This is a deal that from day one was obviously intended to land $300 million in someone's pocket.

According to a senior Iraqi financial official with knowledge of the deal, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, the $300 million was then transferred to the Warqa Bank, a private Iraqi financial institution with a capitalization of about $7 million. That bank, the Iraqi official said, does not have the ability to transfer money electronically to another account in another country. An equivalent amount of cash was then taken from the vault of the Central Bank of Iraq, taken to the airport, loaded on an airplane and sent to Lebanon.

"The government here knows it is coming to an end," the official said. "This is what governments do when they are coming to an end."

Now remember, this is not an abstract $300 million. This is YOUR money. You know, the money we don't have to feed the poor or create a national healthcare system or make sure social security is safe or to ensure that our troops have proper equipment and armor. This is your money gone down a rathole - gone into some Friend of George's Swiss bank account.

More Bullshit from Bush

Since the Hubble Space Telescope proves every day that the earth is not flat and that the cosmos were not created from nothingness 6,000 years ago, as George Bush and the "Christians" around him believe, it must die.

The White House has eliminated funding for a mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope from its 2006 budget request and directed NASA to focus solely on deorbiting the popular spacecraft at the end of its life, according to government and industry sources.

NASA is debating when and how to announce the change of plans. Sources told Space News that outgoing NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe likely will make the announcement Feb. 7 during the public presentation of the space agency’s 2006 budget request.

Just effing great. Let's see how Keith Cowing at NASA Watch spins this.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Still Smoking Dope After All These Years?

So George W. Bush wants to spread democracy world wide. Heh. Him and what army? (complete text of address here)

A few notable segments. First, where was Bush during the 90s?

After the shipwreck of communism came years of relative quiet, years of repose, years of sabbatical -- and then there came a day of fire.

Guess he missed the troubles in the former Yugoslavia et al. But of course, like too many Americans, Bush only notices the outer world when it attacks the US.

Bush's history is weak too:

From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this Earth has rights, and dignity and matchless value because they bear the image of the maker of heaven and Earth.

Yes, our founders felt people had certain inalienable rights, just so long as they were white, male, and owned property (including other human beings). Women, blacks, Native Americans, the poor need not apply. Remember, the American Revolution was fought for three reasons: to avoid paying for our own defense, to steal the rest of the continent from the Indians (promised by the British to them), and to preserve slavery (ended in the UK in 1773 and obviously on the way out in the Empire by that time, though it had to wait until after the Napoleonic wars). Anything else is window dressing.

More bad history:

Across the generations, we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave.

Tell the Filipinos that, Mr. President. They remember what American "liberation" meant - years of war and butchery. Tell the Central Americans who lived under US-protected banana republics, kept in power by the constant intervention of the Marines. Tell those who suffered under the death squads in Nicaragua. Go tell the Iranians, whose government we deposed to put our puppet shah back in power. Yes, we have ideals. Our lasting shame is that we have not lived up to them.

All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.

Tell that to the Sudanese, sir. Tell it to Aung San Suu Kyi, still under house arrest in Burma. Go, George, tell the Saudis how they must continue suffering while their playboy princes blow the country's oil wealth in a few years on drink and dissapation. We ignore and excuse oppressors every day, and we will continue doing so, and everybody knows that. And we will continue paying the awful price in innocent dead.

What a pile of unmitigated gall and crap.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Four More Years

Four more years of misrule. Of purposeless war. Of the wealthy and big corporations looting the treasury. Of "Christian" fundamentalists attempting to march back to the ninth century. Four more years of Caligula. All we can do is pray.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Norquist Watch

Yep, Grover is still a lunatic. Nicholas Confessore had the uneviable job of interviewing "Barf Bag" for the NYT Magazine....

His particular genius is for persuading one organization to reach beyond its own agenda to help out another -- for getting, say, the cultural traditionalists at the Eagle Forum to join the business libertarians at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in opposing fuel-economy standards for automobiles by convincing the traditionalists that, as Norquist once explained to me, ''it's backdoor family planning. You can't have nine kids in the little teeny cars. And what are you going to do when you go on a family vacation?''

Kind of funny for an unmarried man, possibly a closet gay, to gripe about people not being able to punch out unlimited numbers of brats due to the size of their car, isn't it?

In the years since Bush's defeat, Norquist's way of thinking about taxes -- that they should be cut whenever and wherever possible -- has become the central tenet of American conservatism. Currently, the Pledge has been signed by 222 members of the House and 46 Senators, which includes pretty much every Republican in both chambers. It has also been signed by Bush's son President George W. Bush, who has not only kept his pledge but also made cutting taxes the signal domestic accomplishment of his first term. Taxes are likely to be at the heart of Bush's second-term agenda, too: not long after Election Day, Bush announced that the tax code had become ''complicated and outdated'' and ''a drag on our economy'' and that it was time, once again, for tax reform. Earlier this year, Bush named members to a bipartisan commission to get the ball rolling. ''All options,'' a Treasury Department official warned, ''are on the table.''

Of course when Grover talks about cutting taxes, he inevitably means taxes for rich people. To maintain some level of government service, taxes on the poor - regressive taxes like sales taxes and various "fees" - keep going up while the parasites cavort. It happened here in Ohio. The sales tax went up, various fees have gone up, and now they're talking about adding on a "parking fee" at our state parks, instead of taking people like Les Wexner, turning him upside down, and shaking until his ill-gotten gain comes flying out. Nick Confessore, to his credit, sees through Grover's smoke screen:

During the latter half of the 20th century, most Democrats and Republicans accepted -- at least in theory -- the notion that taxation should be as broad-based as possible; no one swathe of the public, and no one sector of the economy, should absorb too much of the cost of government, both because it was unfair and because it was inefficient. The 1986 act brought the federal tax code closer to that vision by cutting loopholes and, as a consequence, expanding the pool of taxpayers. But Republicans today have something else in mind. By their lights, the old consensus is not only outdated, but egregiously so, even offensively so. Bush's call for reform gives them a chance to replace it with something else.

And in many respects, the replacement is already well under way. After four rounds of largely Republican-inspired tax legislation, today's code is a profoundly different instrument than the one that existed when Bush first took office. And though the White House has never publicly laid out a common rationale for its policies, Bush's changes -- which have cut income taxes on high earners, reduced rates on capital gains and dividend income, temporarily eliminated the estate tax and allowed businesses to write off the cost of new capital purchases more quickly -- depart drastically from the old model of reform. Bush's cuts have greatly reduced the costs formerly borne by corporations and the wealthy, leaving the tax code considerably less progressive than it once was.

Evidently Grover does not learn from history, or he'd realize that this kind of thing has a nasty tendency to lead to firing squads and/or guillotines.

How you view this arrangement depends a lot on whether you buy the assumption that letting the wealthy off the hook will eventually benefit everyone else. Early one recent Saturday morning, I paid a visit to John Podesta, the last chief of staff to serve under Clinton, at his home in Washington. He greeted me at the door in sweat pants and a T-shirt, and we sat down at his kitchen table to talk taxes. Podesta has a lean, shrewd face, a twinkle in his eye and a reputation as one of the party's canniest operatives; these days, he heads the Center for American Progress, which he founded a little more than a year ago to incubate new policies and approaches among left-of-center types.

Podesta has little faith in the conservatives' trickle-down approach. He also says it is bad economic policy -- ''fatally flawed,'' as he put it. ''We're already seeing the current account deficit increase by $600 billion a year,'' he continued. ''People are mortgaged to the hilt. The middle class is now being fundamentally squeezed. They've gotten no benefit from the tax reduction. G.D.P. growth is going almost all to corporate profits. And we're creating an overall economic circumstance in which the dollar is certain to drop, interest rates are certain to rise and growth over the long term looks kind of sketchy.''

To understand why the G.O.P. has pursued such a policy, Podesta argues, you have to look at the political dividends, not the economic ones. ''What are the structural elements of what they are trying to do with the tax code?'' he began, busying himself at a small coffee machine. ''I would say there are three. One is to eliminate taxation on wealth and investment. Second is to create a revenue stream that aims at a government the size of which we haven't seen almost since before the Depression.'' Already, he points out, the government takes in far less than it spends, forcing the Bush administration to borrow billions of dollars to cover the revenue lost from cutting taxes. ''Three is that if you build in taxation only on wage income, you have massive resistance by the middle class to letting those taxes rise. So you've kind of locked in three structural components that end up being highly beneficial to wealthy people, and I think, from a conservative governance point of view, create not just restraint on the growth of government, but essentially pressure to downsize the government.''

In other words, the rich get richer, and you end up eating dog food and shivering on top of a heat grate on the sidewalk.

Check it out.

Revealing

Julian Borger has a revealing piece in the Guardian today, as Utah Repugs reveal their lack of critical thought:

Asked about their decision to re-elect the president, a lot of Utah Mormons, like Christian conservatives in general, will say they knew in their gut he was a man of God, on whom they could rely.

But when it comes to policies many of them are queasy. "I voted for Bush. I thought Kerry was dishonest. He was evil almost," said Julie Smith, out shopping in the prosperous and devout suburb of Bountiful, just outside Salt Lake City. "I like Bush because he's a good man and I think he's got wonderful ideas, but I don't think it's worked out the way he thought it would."

It's frightening to see that there are religious conservatives who automatically vote Repug in spite of what their brain is trying to tell them.

Like Ms Smith, Mr Mayberry likes the fact that "he professes his faith openly". He says he appreciates the Bush tax cuts, which he says give the people rather than the government the final say on how individuals' hard-earned money is spent.

He is enthusiastic about the partial privatisation of the US federal pension scheme, which is likely to be a centrepiece in the inaugural address and in the second term agenda.

But as Mr Mayberry talks about the future, it is clear that his enthusiasm is tinged with worry. The tax cuts and pension reform will cost trillions of dollars and the Bush administration has already run up a record deficit. For Mr Mayberry, and for a majority of Americans, fixing the deficit should come first. "I understand international economics just enough for it to scare the hell out of me," he said. "My priority right now is eliminate the deficit before eliminate tax. Before the compounding effect gets us all."

He also admits that he was unnerved by the US failure to find any of the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, despite the confident assurances of the administration. "That was disturbing. I expect integrity on that level. Either our administration lied to us, or someone lied to them," he said.

And yet they remain convinced that John Kerry is "evil." Incredible.

The Weirdness of Condi

With all the controversy about Condi "Oil Tanker" Rice's role as National Security Advisor, people just keep forgetting that this woman is deeply, dangerously weird. Don't want to take my word for it? How about former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. This is September 16, 2001, at Camp David:

Across the room, Ashcroft started playing the piano. Rice wandered over.

"Do you know any hymns?"

"Do I know any hymns," Ashcroft said in stagy surprise. And started pounding out "Amazing Grace."

Rice sang - she has a lovely voice. For the next hour they both sang as Ashcroft played. (from page 190, The Price of Loyalty by Ron Suskind)

This is a woman who, as far as I can tell, has never had a human relationship with anyone, male or female. Now maybe she's one of those rare people who entirely live the life of the mind. Or maybe she's a sociopath. She's certainly either a liar or a fool who refuses to recognize the use her intelligence has been put to by the evil bastard she serves:

"I personally believe, this is my personal view, that your loyalty to the mission you were given, to sell this war, overwhelmed your respect for the truth," Ms. Boxer said, noting that she was one of the minority of Senators to vote against authorizing the use of force in Iraq.

"Senator, I have to say that I never, ever lost respect for the truth in the service of anything," Ms. Rice responded, her voice sharpening. "It is not my nature. It is not my character. And I would hope that we can have this conversation and discuss what happened before, and what went on before and what I said, without impugning my credibility or my integrity."

What credibility or integrity?

Unfortunately she is likely to be confirmed. I suspect she will be as poor a Secretary of State as she has been a National Security Advisor.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Archaeology Update

Scientists meeting over the weekend at Oxford have urged an important piece of "rescue archaeology;" excavating the Villa of Papyri at Herculaneum before Vesuvius erupts again and possibly buries it too deeply to get at or otherwise destroys it. The prize? The possibility of finding lost works by Euripides, Aristotle, and perhaps the missing volumes of Livy's History of Rome.

It is not an easy decision. Some experts feel that buried books at Herculaneum should be left unexposed to daylight until we have the technology to preserve them for ever. Others say we should use current technology before they get buried even deeper by an eruption of Vesuvius, now overdue. One option is to tunnel into the lost library of the Villa of Papyri under the modern town of Ercolano which now lies on top of it. The balance of expert opinion seems to be that there is a chance of finding the library. The opportunity to unearth such priceless treasures is too good to ignore. We must know the past before we can understand the future.

Indeed. Let's hope the inspiration and funding are found for this important excavation.

But Will the Tail Fall Off?

Airbus unveiled their new giant deathtrap today, the A380, a "super jumbo" that in its initial iteration - there will likely be larger models - can carry up to 550 unfortunates in all the comfort of a sardine tin.

I have a rather low opinion of Airbus. A friend of mine, an aeronautical engineer who works at NASA Dryden does too. Referring to the American Airlines Airbus crash in New York in 2001, he said, flatly, "The tail should not have fallen off no matter what the copilot did." Others agree. Here's Peter Garrison, a columnist for Flying Magazine:

Ever heard of Sten Molin? He was the pilot whose overaggressive use of the rudder pedals of an American Airlines Airbus brought the airplane down on Long Island late in 2001 with the loss of 265 lives. His name was in all the papers. The National Transportation Safety Board said it was his fault.

Close reading of the NTSB report, released in late December 2004, reveals, however, that Molin was merely a convenient fall guy. The real cause of the accident was a conspiracy of ignorance persistently tolerated by the Federal Aviation Administration, the airlines and the airplane manufacturers. The pilot was the last link in a chain of causes that made him as much the innocent victim as anyone else who died in that airplane.

Molin, whom colleagues described as a smooth, accurate and above-average pilot, was just doing what he had been trained to do, and under circumstances in which he and all other pilots believed that nothing they did could possibly hurt the airplane. That a few not-very-hard kicks on the Airbus' unusually sensitive rudder pedals could actually break the vertical fin off the plane, dooming it to certain loss of control, was a fact that only some aeronautical engineers, and a few oddly reticent bureaucrats at the FAA, understood.

The Federal Aviation Regulations prescribe the strength of every part of an airplane. Some requirements are based on turbulence, others on maneuvers that the pilot can perform. Because the strains that maneuvers impose on an airplane increase as the plane's speed increases, engineers select a certain speed, called the maneuvering speed, as an upper boundary. Before the Airbus accident, nearly all pilots believed that as long as an airplane was flying at or below the maneuvering speed, nothing they could do would break it.

That belief was universal in part because it was so logical. After all, what would be the point of publishing a "maneuvering speed" if it were not a safe speed for maneuvering? Besides, the FAA explicitly supported it. The government's own Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge says "any combination of flight control usage (below the maneuvering speed), including full deflection of the controls ... should not create an excessive air load."

Airlines and manufacturers had developed training curricula designed to encourage pilots, who normally fly with a velvet touch to keep passengers comfortable, to use all the controls uninhibitedly in certain emergencies. Sometime before the Airbus crash, when an instructor pilot asked Molin why he had used the rudder so vigorously during a simulated wake turbulence encounter, Molin had cited an American Airlines pilot-education program that specifically encouraged doing so.

Molin's Airbus was below the maneuvering speed when it broke apart. Its fin came off because he stepped on the rudder pedals alternately, in quick succession, in an attempt to steady the aircraft after it had been jolted by the wake of another airliner.

Strangely, federal regulations require the vertical fin to be strong enough to withstand full deflection of the rudder -- the movable rear portion of the surface -- only when the airplane is flying straight ahead, but not when it's "yawed" -- that is, pointed a few degrees to one side or the other. The effect of alternating rudder inputs is just that -- to yaw the airplane. Yet no pilot's handbook, no simulator curriculum and no FAA publication mentioned the possible dire consequences before the Airbus crash.

Indeed, and the NTSB report, which I have read, crucifies Sten Molin (safely dead and unable to complain) at the expense of Airbus Industrie, which constructed an airplane that would fall apart at low speeds with less than full rudder deflection. What crap. Fly them if you like. I don't.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Real Ugliness

P.J. O'Rourke is never funny, and appears to be not particularly intelligent. But his "alternative inaugural address" is just bloody ugliness. A sample:

We are all sinners. But jerks revel in their sins. You can tell by their reaction to the Ten Commandments. Post those Ten Commandments in a courthouse or a statehouse, in a public school or a public park, and the jerks go crazy. Why is that? Christians believe in the Ten Commandments. So do Muslims. Jews, too, obviously. Show the Ten Commandments to Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians, or to people with just good will and common sense and nobody says, "Whoa! That's all wrong!"

But jerks take issue with every one of the Ten Commandments. Jerks are particularly offended by the first two Commandments. Of course people of faith, decent people, differ on interpretations of the first two Commandments. For example, we don't all agree about the meaning of "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image." However, we do all
agree about "Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them" when them is Freud, Marx, and Dan Rather.

"Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain." How many times, over the last few months, have we heard, "Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod, I can't believe George Bush won"?

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." Let's be fair about this. We did see a lot of white, non-Hispanic Democrats in churches in 2004. But they were all running for president. And the churches were inner-city black churches. I happen to know that there are churches in the white, non-Hispanic suburbs where these Democrats live. Apparently jerks can't find them.

"Honor thy father and thy mother." Are telling lies about a bankrupt Social Security system and trying to block its privatization reform ways to do this?

"Thou shalt not kill." Why, in the opinion of jerks, is it wrong to kill a baby but all right to kill a baby that's so little he hasn't been born yet? And why do the same jerks who favor abortion oppose the death penalty? We can imagine people so full of loving kindness that they can accept neither the abortionist nor the executioner. We can even imagine people so cold-hearted that they embrace them both. But it takes a real jerk to argue in favor of killing perfect innocents and letting Terry Nichols live.

"Thou shalt not commit adultery." The jerks have begun praising marriage lately. But only if the bride and groom each have a beard.

So, who's the jerk?

And then there is the Tenth Commandment. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's." The Ten Commandments are God's basic rules about how we should live--a brief list of sacred obligations and solemn moral precepts. The first nine Commandments concern theological principles and social law. But then, right at the end, is "Don't envy your buddy's cow." How did that make the top ten? What's it doing there? Why would God, with just ten things to tell Moses, choose as one of those things jealousy about the starter mansion with in-ground pool next door?

Yet think how important the Tenth Commandment is to a community, to a nation, indeed to a presidential election. If you want a mule, if you want a pot roast, if you want a cleaning lady, don't be a jerk and whine about what the people
across the street have--go get your own.

The Tenth Commandment sends a message to all the jerks who want redistribution of wealth, higher taxes, more government programs, more government regulation, more government, less free enterprise, and less freedom. And the message is clear and concise: Go to hell.

Please do, P.J, but then you're going anyway. I should point out (it's incredible that I have to, but a lot of Americans seem to think that rich people get that way by osmosis or something) that the only reason we have wealthy parasites in this country is because we, the common people, labor in their companies, buy their shit, watch their TV shows and movies, attend their sporting events, and have been bamboozled into thinking that their taxes (90% under Eisenhower) should be lowered out of "fairness." It's not "jerkiness" to insist that some of the wealth be shared, it's justice. (via)

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Accountable? Moi?

President Caligula has announced that what he calls the "accountability moment" for the Iraq war has passed and, since the American people were stupid enough to put him back in office, no one, including him, will therefore be held accountable.

"We had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 elections," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. "The American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me."

What a moron, but we already knew that, didn't we? More stupid comments from the same session:

With his inauguration days away, Bush defended the administration's decision to force the District of Columbia to spend $12 million of its homeland security budget to provide tighter security for this week's festivities. He also warned that the ceremony could make the city "an attractive target for terrorists."

"By providing security, hopefully that will provide comfort to people who are coming from all around the country to come and stay in the hotels in Washington and to be able to watch the different festivities in Washington, and eat the food in Washington," Bush said. "I think it provides them great comfort to know that all levels of government are working closely to make this event as secure as possible."

Insert monkey hoots here.

"On a complicated matter such as removing a dictator from power and trying to help achieve democracy, sometimes the unexpected will happen, both good and bad," he said. "I am realistic about how quickly a society that has been dominated by a tyrant can become a democracy. . . . I am more patient than some."

And more stupid than most, but I digress.

On the domestic front, Bush said he would not lobby the Senate to pass a constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage.

While seeking reelection, Bush voiced strong support for such a ban, and many political analysts credit this position for inspiring record turnout among evangelical Christians, who are fighting same-sex marriage at every juncture. Groups such as the Family Research Council have made the marriage amendment their top priority for the next four years.

Yes, now that the rubes have been used for the election, dump them. When will the fundies figure out they're being manipulated? Admittedly, people who believe that the earth is flat and 6000 years old aren't real bright, so it may take a while....

"I did my best to reach out, and I will continue to do so as the president," Bush said. "It's important for people to know that I'm the president of everybody."

Not mine you aren't.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Doctors Take Hypocritical Oath

You have to wonder just how "smart" some medical doctors are. They have a ton of education, yet they can't figure out that their malpractice insurance premiums aren't rising because of "junk lawsuits," they're rising because insurance companies feel they aren't making enough money on their other investments. So here's a shithead who basically has shitcanned a pregnant patient because she wouldn't sign his little petition:

Jamie Chavez knew her Richland obstetrician felt strongly about limiting medical-malpractice awards. He bent her ear and offered pamphlets every time Chavez, pregnant with her first baby, visited him for prenatal care.

But she couldn't believe Dr. Mark Mulholland's reaction in November when she refused to sign a petition at the doctor's office for an initiative to limit jury awards in malpractice cases.

"I was kind of fired as a patient," she said.

Mulholland, whose malpractice-insurance premiums jumped 30 percent last year, said he told her he couldn't in good conscience provide medical care to someone with such contrary views on the issue.

"She basically expressed that people ought to be able to sue for everything they can," he recalled. "And that is just so philosophically different than how I feel, I didn't want to continue the doctor-patient relationship."

Chavez, an elementary-school special-education teacher, says she left Mulholland's office in tears, worried that she might not find a doctor she trusted to help her through pregnancy and delivery. "I was four months pregnant. I had no idea where to go."

What an ass. This "doctor" should not be allowed to practice. And evidently he and other doctors have not noticed this important fact: in states where "tort reform" has passed, guess what - insurance rates have not gone down. Duh! (via)

Social Insecurity in the UK

George W. Bush knows jack about history, and appears proud of his ignorance - a fairly typical American condition, unfortunately. Maybe someone should clue him in to what happened in the UK when they privatized their retirement system under Margaret Thatcher. Guess what - it's a disaster. Paul Krugman explains:

The details of British privatization differ from the likely Bush administration plan because the starting point was different. But there are basic similarities. Guaranteed benefits were cut; workers were expected to make up for these benefit cuts by earning high returns on their private accounts.

The selling of privatization also bore a striking resemblance to President Bush's crisis-mongering. Britain had a retirement system that was working quite well, but conservative politicians issued grim warnings about the distant future, insisting that privatization was the only answer.

The main difference from the current U.S. situation was that Britain was better prepared for the transition. Britain's system was backed by extensive assets, so the government didn't have to engage in a four-decade borrowing spree to finance the creation of private accounts. And the Thatcher government hadn't already driven the budget deep into deficit before privatization even began.

Even so, it all went wrong. "Britain's experiment with substituting private savings accounts for a portion of state benefits has been a failure," Ms. Cohen writes. "A shorthand explanation for what has gone wrong is that the costs and risks of running private investment accounts outweigh the value of the returns they are likely to earn."

Many Britons were sold badly designed retirement plans on false pretenses. Companies guilty of "mis-selling" were eventually forced to pay about $20 billion in compensation. Fraud aside, the fees paid to financial managers have been a major problem: "Reductions in yield resulting from providers' charges," the Pensions Commission says, "can absorb 20-30 percent of an individual's pension savings."

American privatizers extol the virtues of personal choice, and often accuse skeptics of being elitists who believe that the government makes better choices than individuals. Yet when one brings up Britain's experience, their story suddenly changes: they promise to hold costs down by tightly restricting the investments individuals can make, and by carefully regulating the money managers. So much for trusting the people.

Never mind; their promises aren't credible. Even if the initial legislation tightly regulated investments by private accounts, it would immediately be followed by intense lobbying to loosen the rules. This lobbying would come both from the usual ideologues and from financial companies eager for fees. In fact, the lobbying has already started: the financial services industry has contributed lavishly to next week's inaugural celebrations.

Meanwhile, there is a growing consensus in Britain that privatization must be partly reversed. The Confederation of British Industry - the equivalent of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce - has called for an increase in guaranteed benefits to retirees, even if taxes have to be raised to pay for that increase. And the chief executive of Britain's National Association of Pension Funds speaks with admiration about a foreign system that "delivers efficiencies of scale that most companies would die for."

The foreign country that, in the view of well-informed Britons, does it right is the United States. The system that delivers efficiencies to die for is Social Security.

Indeed. This is one we all have to oppose. And any Democrat who cooperates with the enemy on this should be anathema.

Standing by for Huygens

Over a light hour from Earth, the ESA Huygens probe by now has landed, in whatever condition, on Saturn's moon Titan. Early indications are that the probe was operating correctly. Hitchhiking on NASA's Cassini, the probe was released 20 days ago on a trajectory to take it to the giant moon, which scientists believe in some ways resembles Earth at an early stage of development. More here and here; keep watching the news for updates. UPDATE: The mission appears to have been largely successful and the data gathered by the probe is streaming back from the Cassini spacecraft. More, including regular updates, here. We should see the first photos from Titan later today!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Bush Lies

When Bush lies, people and programs die. Fred Clark over at Slacktivist has a great post discussing Bush's social security lies:

George W. Bush lied. And George W. Bush doesn't care that he lied. And he doesn't care that you know he lied because he knows that more people will believe his lies than not, which was what yesterday's forum on Social Security was all about.

Every time that bastard opens his mouth, a lie comes out. And the press bend over and let him get away with it. Why?

SimWar

Jesse over at Pandagon:

...none of them stood in front of the world and pointed to maps declaring depots of WMD and WMD-related materials that were about as accurate as a randomly generated SimCity map.

Hrm...SimWMD. Where's Will Wright when you need him?

As a big SimCity fan, I couldn't let that one go by.

"Bring 'em on"

So said President Caligula to the Iraqi resistence movement. Guess what? They did:

The video, narrated in fluent English by what sounded like an Iraqi educated in the United States or Britain, also mocked the U.S. president's challenge to rebels in the early days of the insurgency to 'bring it on'.

"George W. Bush; you have asked us to 'bring it on'. And so help me, (we will) like you never expected. Do you have another challenge?," asked the narrator before the video showed explosions around a U.S. military Humvee vehicle.

Bush should be sitting in the dock next to Slobo. No question.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Evangelicals = Hypocrites

Jesus hated hypocrisy. I don't think he's real fond of many of the evangelicals who claim to follow him now, because, according to an article in Christianity Today, they are bigger hypocrites than the Pharisees ever were:

Scandalous behavior is rapidly destroying American Christianity. By their daily activity, most "Christians" regularly commit treason. With their mouths they claim that Jesus is Lord, but with their actions they demonstrate allegiance to money, sex, and self-fulfillment.

The findings in numerous national polls conducted by highly respected pollsters like The Gallup Organization and The Barna Group are simply shocking. "Gallup and Barna," laments evangelical theologian Michael Horton, "hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general." Divorce is more common among "born-again" Christians than in the general American population. Only 6 percent of evangelicals tithe. White evangelicals are the most likely people to object to neighbors of another race. Josh McDowell has pointed out that the sexual promiscuity of evangelical youth is only a little less outrageous than that of their nonevangelical peers.

WWJD? Good question! Some details:

What is the divorce rate among evangelicals? According to a 1999 poll by Barna, exactly the same as the national average! According to that poll, 25 percent of evangelicals—just like 25 percent of the total population—have gone through a divorce. Does it make no difference to evangelicals that their Lord and Savior explicitly, clearly, repeatedly condemned divorce?
...
As we got richer and richer, evangelicals chose to spend more and more on themselves and give a smaller and smaller percentage to the church. Today, on average, evangelicals in the U.S. give about two-fifths of a tithe.

In 2002, Barna discovered that only 6 percent of born-again adults tithed—a 50 percent decline from 2000, when 12 percent did. And in 2002, just 9 percent of Barna's narrow class of evangelicals tithed.
...
Since 1993, about 2.4 million young people have signed a pledge to wait until marriage to engage in sexual intercourse. Are these young evangelicals keeping their pledges? In March 2004, researchers from Columbia University and Yale University reported on their findings. For seven years they studied 12 thousand teenagers who took the pledge. Sadly, they found that 88 percent of these pledgers reported having sexual intercourse before marriage; just 12 percent kept their promise. The researchers also found that the rates for having sexually transmitted diseases "were almost identical for the teenagers who took pledges and those who did not."
...
Citing a recent survey in Leadership magazine, Steve Gallagher says, "Tragically, the percentage of Christian men involved [in pornography] is not much different that that of the unsaved."
...
Coach Bill McCartney, the founder of the national evangelical men's movement called Promise Keepers, was one of the outstanding evangelical leaders in this change. McCartney went on a national speaking tour, regularly calling evangelicals to racial reconciliation. In his book Sold Out, McCartney recalls what happened. When he finished speaking, he reports, "There was no response—nothing. . . . In city after city, in church after church, it was the same story—wild enthusiasm while I was being introduced, followed by a morgue-like chill as I stepped away from the microphone." McCartney thinks a major reason attendance dropped dramatically in Promise Keepers' stadium events was their stand on racial reconciliation.

Phew! Talk about a valley of dry bones. And these are people who get on their high horse and tell the rest of us how to behave.

Check out the entire article. It's interesting and extensively footnoted. (via)









Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Homeland Security Money Pays for Caligula's Coronation

No surprise, Washington DC is being told to bend over and pay for the coronation of our esteemed President Caligula:

D.C. officials said yesterday that the Bush administration is refusing to reimburse the District for most of the costs associated with next week's inauguration, breaking with precedent and forcing the city to divert $11.9 million from homeland security projects.

Federal officials have told the District that it should cover the expenses by using some of the $240 million in federal homeland security grants it has received in the past three years -- money awarded to the city because it is among the places at highest risk of a terrorist attack.

It's incredible but true that the conservative hogs who are ponying up contributions of up to $250,000 for this bash - $40 million plus in total - are refusing to come up with money for security. A Republican congressman agrees:

A spokesman for Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, which oversees the District, agreed with the mayor's stance. He called the Bush administration's position "simply not acceptable."

"It's an unfunded mandate of the most odious kind. How can the District be asked to take funds from important homeland security projects to pay for this instead?" said Davis spokesman David Marin.

Easily, when you're dealing with Caligula. If President Caligula wasn't afraid of horses, presumably he'd put one in the Senate, just like his namesake.

A Suggestion for a Poll

It's incredible but true that both the Republican and Democratic parties appear to be mostly interested in protecting the wealthy and screwing everyone else. The Repug "Ownership Society" is shorthand for "you'll be a peon and we'll be your lords." The Democrats skulk around on the outskirts promising not to raise taxes and watching important programs get slashed. Meanwhile, the rich get richer, and richer, and richer, and everyone else is scrabbling frantically just to keep their heads above water.

Here's a suggestion for a poll. Let's ask the American people this simple question: what percentage of the national wealth do the top 10% own? My guess is most people will say anywhere from 10-30%. In fact, depending on which figures you accept, the top 10% own anywhere from 70 to 90% of everything. And yes, friends, these people need to be grabbed by the ankles, turned upside down, and shaken. If taxes on these people were half what they were in the Eisenhower administration - when the top rate was 90% - we'd solve our fiscal problems overnight. There's money. Too much of it is in the wrong hands.

Socialism? I don't think so. I do not believe it's healthy for a country that claims to be a democracy to have a division of wealth that most closely resembles ancient Egypt. I agree that people deserve to be rewarded for their hard work, but how much is enough?

Ask the question. Start people thinking.

Death Squads

A lot of bloggers were dismayed in April when Dubya selected John "Death Squads" Negroponte to be our next proconsul in Iraq. Here's what I wrote at the time:

Charming man. Charming. Perhaps Qusay's woodchipper is still lying around somewhere.

What a surprise to find out that death squads are now in the works for Iraq.

...NEWSWEEK has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. (Among the current administration officials who dealt with Central America back then is John Negroponte, who is today the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Under Reagan, he was ambassador to Honduras. There is no evidence, however, that Negroponte knew anything about the Salvadoran death squads or the Iran-Contra scandal at the time. The Iraq ambassador, in a phone call to NEWSWEEK on Jan. 10, said he was not involved in military strategy in Iraq. He called the insertion of his name into this report "utterly gratuitous.")

"Gratuitous" my ass.

Following that model, one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, according to military insiders familiar with the discussions. It remains unclear, however, whether this would be a policy of assassination or so-called "snatch" operations, in which the targets are sent to secret facilities for interrogation. The current thinking is that while U.S. Special Forces would lead operations in, say, Syria, activities inside Iraq itself would be carried out by Iraqi paramilitaries, officials tell NEWSWEEK.

Gosh, this all worked so well in central America, let's do it again! And once again the Bushies prove that those who do not learn from history - and they do not, not surprising for an administration whose President firmly believes that the earth is 6,000 years old - are condemned to repeat it.

But there's a difference this time - an important one. Angry central Americans never conducted terrorist operations in the US in reprisal. Angry Muslims, on the other hand, do.

Four Fired at CBS

What I want to know is this: when will news organizations start firing the intrepid reporters who repeated Bush's lies to get us into the war in Iraq? Well?

Friday, January 07, 2005

If Only

If there was any cosmic justice at all, Alberto Gonzales would now have a nose a meter long. The lies:

"This administration does not engage in torture and will not condone torture," Mr. Gonzales said during a daylong hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is considering his nomination to succeed John Ashcroft as attorney general.
...
He said that he was "deeply committed to ensuring that the United States government complies with all of its legal obligations as it fights the war on terror, whether those obligations arise from domestic or international law."

"These obligations include, of course, honoring the Geneva Conventions whenever they apply," he said.
...
"Do I regret the abuses at Abu Ghraib?" he asked. "Absolutely. I condemn them. Do I believe that they may have hurt us in winning the hearts and minds of Muslims around the world? Yes, and I do regret that."

The truth:

...a draft memorandum written by Mr. Gonzales, discussed why he believed Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan were not subject to the full protections of the Geneva Conventions and described some provisions of the agreement as "quaint" and "obsolete."
...
Democrats pressed Mr. Gonzales on the origins of the Bybee memo and questioned why it had taken the administration some two years to repudiate the opinion, which said that only physical pain "of an intensity akin to that which accompanies serious physical injury such as death or organ failure" constituted torture punishable by law.

"I don't recall today whether or not I was in agreement with all of the analysis," Mr. Gonzales said.

Anyone with half a brain was unimpressed, but quarter of a brain Repugs run the show and this butcher will be confirmed, to the continuing dishonor of the United States.

Indeed, Who Could Believe This?

Many years ago Robert Heinlein wrote a series of science fiction stories in which the US was consumed in what he called the "crazy years" - a period of theocratic government. Who would have thought that science fiction could become true? Paul Krugman is as bemused as the rest of us:

In my bad novel, a famous moralist who demanded national outrage over an affair and writes best-selling books about virtue will turn out to be hiding an expensive gambling habit. A talk radio host who advocates harsh penalties for drug violators will turn out to be hiding his own drug addiction.

In my bad novel, crusaders for moral values will be driven by strange obsessions. One senator's diatribe against gay marriage will link it to "man on dog" sex. Another will rant about the dangers of lesbians in high school bathrooms.

In my bad novel, the president will choose as head of homeland security a "good man" who turns out to have been the subject of an arrest warrant, who turned an apartment set aside for rescue workers into his personal love nest and who stalked at least one of his ex-lovers.

In my bad novel, a TV personality who claims to stand up for regular Americans against the elite will pay a large settlement in a sexual harassment case, in which he used his position of power to - on second thought, that story is too embarrassing even for a bad novel.

In my bad novel, apologists for the administration will charge foreign policy critics with anti-Semitism. But they will be silent when a prominent conservative declares that "Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular."

In my bad novel the administration will use the slogan "support the troops" to suppress criticism of its war policy. But it will ignore repeated complaints that the troops lack armor.

The secretary of defense - another "good man," according to the president - won't even bother signing letters to the families of soldiers killed in action.

Last but not least, in my bad novel the president, who portrays himself as the defender of good against evil, will preside over the widespread use of torture.

How did we find ourselves living in a bad novel? It was not ever thus. Hypocrites, cranks and scoundrels have always been with us, on both sides of the aisle. But 9/11 created an environment some liberals summarize with the acronym Iokiyar: it's O.K. if you're a Republican.

Yup. Too bad all those enthusiastic moralists who persecuted President Clinton for a consensual affair just can't find any outrage over our dead soldiers, the lies Bush tells with impunity, his love of the wealthy, and the incompetent morons he surrounds himself with. But America has always shown a vile preference for money and violence over sex. The sickness continues today.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

It's a Slam Dunk!

A leaked White House memo on Social Security sounds pretty familiar to those of us who remember the lunatic march to war in Iraq:

"We have it within our grasp to move away from dependency on government and toward giving greater power and responsibility to individuals,” said Wehner, the director of White House Strategic Initiatives. He called the Democratic Party the “party of obstruction and opposition. It is the Party of the Past.”

But the administration must “establish an important premise: the current system is heading toward an iceberg,” Wehner’s e-mail said.

Bush wants to let workers divert some of their payroll taxes into investment accounts similar to a 401(k) plan. That will require convincing the public of the need for immediate change.

“We need to establish in the public mind a key fiscal fact: right now we are on an unsustainable course,” the e-mail said. “That reality needs to be seared into the public consciousness; it is the precondition to authentic reform.”

So, the Bushies want to establish a "premise." Kind of like the "premise" that there were Weapons of Mass Destruction, eh?

The really scary thing is that the media are, just as they were over Iraq, aiding and abetting Bush. There is no "liberal" media, there are just a bunch of cowed nitwits reading Administration talking points. If you're looking for Woodward and Bernstein, they sold out a long time ago. The only courage left is in the blogs, with people like Atrios and Kevin Drum and Mark Kleiman and the rest. There, you'll find the truth about this horrible plan.

Must've Been Running Windows

Bill Gates get bitten in the ass by his own crappy product:

But while promoting what he calls the "digital lifestyle," Gates showed how vulnerable all consumers - even the world's richest man - are to hardware and software bugs.

During a demonstration of digital photography with a soon-to-be-released Nikon camera, a Windows Media Center PC froze and wouldn't respond to Gates' pushing of the remote control.

Later in the 90-minute presentation, a product manager demonstrated the ostensible user-friendliness of a video game expected to hit retail stores in April, Forza Motor Sport. But instead of configuring a custom-designed race car, the computer monitor displayed the dreaded "blue screen of death" and warned, "out of system memory."

The errors - which came during what's usually an ode to Microsoft's dominance of the software industry and its increasing control of consumer electronics - prompted the celebrity host, NBC comedian Conan O'Brien, to quip, "Who's in charge of Microsoft, anyway?"

Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Diagnosing Gollum

This is pretty funny if you're familiar with The Lord of the Rings:

Several differential diagnoses need to be considered, and we should exclude organic causes for his symptoms. A space occupying lesion such as a brain tumour is unlikely as his symptoms are long standing. Gollum's diet is extremely limited, consisting only of raw fish. Vitamin B-12 deficiency may cause irritability, delusions, and paranoia. His reduced appetite and loss of hair and weight may be associated with iron deficiency anaemia. He is hypervigilant and does not seem to need much sleep. This, accompanied by his bulging eyes and weight loss, suggests hyperthyroidism. Gollum's dislike of sunlight may be due to the photosensitivity of porphyria. Attacks may be induced by starvation and accompanied by paranoid psychosis.

Via

David's Back

The redoubtable David Neiwert comes back swinging from his Christmas hiatus. Thank God for that.

I've been talking for some time about the course that eliminationist rhetoric on the right would eventually take by the force of its own nature: pretty soon we'd go from talking about liberals as traitors to overtly wishing for violence to be visited upon them and discussing locking them up, followed in due course by such violence and incarceration becoming a reality.

Well, it is now becoming a commonly spoken sentiment on the right to wish for violence against liberals and to simultaneously suggest they and all "traitors" (including Muslim Americans) should be locked away. We're firmly into Phase II now.

Now, you won't hear this talk on the upper levels of the conservative movement. People like William Bennett will call for a "national renewal" aimed at enforcing a new moral code, while Ann Coulter will explain to her readership, a la the title of her most recent "bestseller", that the "preferable" way to address a liberal is with "a baseball bat." [Ha ha. Whatsa matter, you don't think that's funny? Someone should beat you up.]

And if you talk to supposedly "reasonable" conservatives, who will claim that talk like this remains relegated to the fringes and is just so much "hot talk." I've been hearing this for a long time, but I keep hearing more and more of the eliminationist talk.

You hear it when conservatives -- especially those red-state cultural conservatives from the working class who are most likely to vote against their own self-interest, and then blame liberals for how lousy their lives are -- get together among themselves for their communal liberal-bashing hatefests. They'll say it when they think no one else is listening. You can hear it from "fringe" radio figures like Michael Savage. Or you can read it in the unpublished letters to the editor that most publications choose not to run.

It's the natural outgrowth of the kind of rhetoric we've gotten from the national conservative punditry, manifesting itself on a less sophisticated but more direct and plain-spoken mode.

My very clear impression of the rank-and-file American right is that many if not most of them, at the behest of their leaders, now believe that opposing George W. Bush and the Iraq War, as well as his handling of the War on Terror, is an act of genuine treason worthy of the ultimate social condemnation, including incarceration and execution. They feel not only vindicated but profoundly empowered by the election result, empowered to silence their opposition, by force if need be.

These aren't just my impressions from hanging out in Deep Red Country. The evidence is abundant elsewhere as well. Consider, for instance, some of the letters to the editor received by Editor and Publisher after it published a piece by former USA Today publisher Al Neuharth (who is not exactly a liberal) questioning the administration's handling of Iraq.

These lunatics now believe they have a mandate; they are more dangerous than ever before. David is watching; too bad the rest of the media is off searching for the next Scott Peterson.

David also has a long and important post up about the Washington state election controversy. Check it out too.