Friday, July 30, 2004

Fear of Fraud

It's election night, and early returns suggest trouble for the incumbent. Then, mysteriously, the vote count stops and observers from the challenger's campaign see employees of a voting-machine company, one wearing a badge that identifies him as a county official, typing instructions at computers with access to the vote-tabulating software.
When the count resumes, the incumbent pulls ahead. The challenger demands an investigation. But there are no ballots to recount, and election officials allied with the incumbent refuse to release data that could shed light on whether there was tampering with the electronic records.
This isn't a paranoid fantasy. It's a true account of a recent election in Riverside County, Calif., reported by Andrew Gumbel of the British newspaper The Independent. Mr. Gumbel's full-length report, printed in Los Angeles City Beat, makes hair-raising reading not just because it reinforces concerns about touch-screen voting, but also because it shows how easily officials can stonewall after a suspect election.
Some states, worried about the potential for abuse with voting machines that leave no paper trail, have banned their use this November. But Florida, which may well decide the presidential race, is not among those states, and last month state officials rejected a request to allow independent audits of the machines' integrity. A spokesman for Gov. Jeb Bush accused those seeking audits of trying to "undermine voters' confidence," and declared, "The governor has every confidence in the Department of State and the Division of Elections...."
After first denying any systematic problem, state officials declared it an innocent mistake. They told Accenture to match a list of registered voters to a list of felons, flagging anyone whose name, date of birth and race was the same on both lists. They didn't realize, they said, that this would automatically miss felons who identified themselves as Hispanic because that category exists on voter rolls but not in state criminal records.
But employees of a company that prepared earlier felon lists say that they repeatedly warned state election officials about that very problem.
Let's not be coy. Jeb Bush says he won't allow an independent examination of voting machines because he has "every confidence" in his handpicked election officials. Yet those officials have a history of slipshod performance on other matters related to voting and somehow their errors always end up favoring Republicans. Why should anyone trust their verdict on the integrity of voting machines, when another convenient mistake could deliver a Republican victory in a high-stakes national election?
This shouldn't be a partisan issue. Think about what a tainted election would do to America's sense of itself, and its role in the world. In the face of official stonewalling, doubters probably wouldn't be able to prove one way or the other whether the vote count was distorted - but if the result looked suspicious, most of the world and many Americans would believe the worst. I'll write soon about what can be done in the few weeks that remain, but here's a first step: if Governor Bush cares at all about the future of the nation, as well as his family's political fortunes, he will allow that independent audit.

Fear of Death Wins Minds and Votes, Study Finds

President Bush may be tapping into solid human psychology when he invokes the Sept. 11 attacks while campaigning for the next election, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.
Talking about death can raise people's need for psychological security, the researchers report in studies to be published in the December issue of the journal Psychological Science and the September issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin....
For their first study, Solomon, Greenberg and colleagues asked students to think about either their own death or a neutral topic.
They then read the campaign statements of three hypothetical candidates for governor, each with a different leadership style. One was charismatic, said Solomon.
"That was a person who declared our country to be great and the people in it to be special," Solomon, who worked on the study, said in a telephone interview.
The others were task-oriented -- focusing on the job to be done -- or relationship-oriented -- with a "let's get it done together" style, Solomon said.
The students who thought about death were much more likely to choose the charismatic leader, they found. Only four out of about 100 chose that imaginary leader when thinking about exams, but 30 did after thinking about death.
Greenberg, Solomon and colleagues then decided to test the idea further and set up four separate studies at different universities.
"In one we asked half the people to think about the September 11 attacks, or to think about watching TV," Solomon said. "What we found was staggering."
When asked to think about television, the 100 or so volunteers did not approve of Bush or his policies in Iraq. But when asked to think about Sept. 11 first and then asked about their attitudes to Bush, another 100 volunteers had very different reactions.
"They had a very strong approval of President Bush and his policy in Iraq," Solomon said.
Solomon, a social psychologist who specializes in terrorism, said it was very rare for a person's opinions to differ so strongly depending on the situation.
Another study focused directly on Bush and his Democratic challenger, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.
The volunteers were aged from 18 into their 50s and described themselves as ranging from liberal to deeply conservative. No matter what a person's political conviction, thinking about death made them tend to favor Bush, Solomon said. Otherwise, they preferred Kerry.
"I think this should concern anybody," Solomon said. "If I was speaking lightly, I would say that people in their, quote, right minds, unquote, don't care much for President Bush and his policies in Iraq."

Some Republicans Defect to Kerry's Camp

Ohio resident Bob Stewart says of President Bush: "He's been a world-class polarizer. I don't know if I can stomach four more years with him as president. He misled us into the war in Iraq and has mismanaged everything since."
A raging Democrat? No, Stewart is a Republican, one of an unknown number of such voters who plan to back John Kerry, out of despair over the war in Iraq and disappointment over budget deficits and social policies....
Stewart, 44, an insurance agent from Anderson Township near Cincinnati, voted for Bush in 2000 and is a registered Republican.
"I just have a gut feeling that Kerry can be trusted to make the right courageous decisions and will make a good president. He showed that with his heroism in Vietnam," he says.
Bush is "supposed to be a conservative and yet he's run up the biggest federal deficit in history. One thing that really turned me (away from Bush) as a lifelong Catholic ... was to see Bush go to the Vatican and try to get the pope to come down hard on Kerry for his stand on abortion. That is absolutely appalling."
In Michigan, Dan Martin has run for local office as a Republican. He says his biggest disappointment is that Bush's reputation as a "compassionate, conservative" governor of Texas hasn't proven true in the White House.
"The foreign policy is a mess. The offensive in Iraq is reckless and built on bad decision making. On the domestic front I understand that terrorism has struck and he's occupied but any real progress on a domestic agenda has ground to a halt," added Martin, 32, a customer service manager at a health maintenance organization who lives in Rochester Hills.
In Tennessee, Brian Boland, a young music company manager shopping at a market near Nashville, said: "I've always voted Republican and my folks will just kill me if they find out I'm switching to Kerry this year (should've gone anon. - ed.) ... but I am just frustrated with the way Bush has mishandled everything. All the untruths."
His wife said she too was switching. The Republicans carried Tennessee in 2000, even though it was the home state of Democratic nominee Al Gore.
At the same market Ron King, a black Vietnam Veteran, said: "I always voted Republican before but I'm against Bush ever since I found out that he doesn't love this country. His so-called military record is a sham. And the worst part is that he lies so much. He lied about weapons of mass destruction."
Lloyd Huff, 64, retired director of the Dayton Research Institute in Ohio, says he has "voted for a Republican in every presidential election I can remember" but it will be Kerry this time because "the Bush administration has been the most deceitful, duplicitous, secretive administration this country has ever had."
"Going to war in Iraq was a horrible, horrible mistake," he said. He accused Bush of "an arrogant, swaggering cowboy mentality ... he has done more than anyone to inflame the Muslim world by his words and actions."

I'm starting to feel vaguely hopeful.... Perhaps I won't have to decide whether to flee the country in November.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Bush's jobs policy revealed

A campaign worker for President Bush said on Thursday American workers unhappy with low-quality jobs should find new ones -- or pop a Prozac to make themselves feel better.
"Why don't they get new jobs if they're unhappy -- or go on Prozac?" said Susan Sheybani, an assistant to Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt.

Well, there you go then. Now I know what to do for the next four years if he's re-(s)elected.

Blurring the line between reality and satire again

Jesus' General may be a rather unreliable source, since he tends to be rather tongue-in-cheek. But I saw mention of this one other place, where it also seemed maybe for real, maybe not: Jerry Falwell may be delivering the Republican National Convention opening prayer. He's got a lovely selection of quotes from pastor there, to truly capture the spirit of the Convention we can look forward to.
I'm not sure how seriously to take this. I don't know the nature of this "AMERICAblog" he links to, and for its part, it claims the ultimate source is Jerry Falwell himself, rather than the GOP. It seems too ridiculous to be true—isn't it?

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


OK, I know everyone else is already on the Obama bandwagon now, but just in case anyone out there isn't already aware of him, check out his speech from the Democratic National Convention tonight. I'm collecting links in different formats, for the benefit of those of us who might have the nerve to use something other than Windows.

Barack Obama
Washington Post RealMedia some other format?
C-Span RealMedia
Bill Clinton
C-Span RealMedia
Jimmy Carter
C-Span RealMedia
Ron Reagan Jr.
C-Span RealMedia
Teresa Heinz-Kerry
C-Span RealMedia
Tammy Baldwin
C-Span RealMedia RealMedia interview
C-Span Tuesday
RealMedia 1 RealMedia 2 RealMedia 3

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

PATRIOT Act in action

Federal charges were filed against Adam McGaughey, creator of the popular website - a fan website devoted to the MGM-owned television show Stargate SG-1. The charges allege that the website engaged in Criminal Copyright Infringement and Trafficking in Counterfeit Services. The charges were the culmination of a three-year FBI investigation, set in motion by a complaint from the Motion Picture Association (MPAA) regarding the content of the website....
Adam was first tipped off about the investigation when the FBI raided his and his fiancee's apartment in May of 2002 and seized thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment. Adam later received a copy of the affidavit filed in support of the search warrant, and was shocked to discover that this document, prepared by the FBI, contained significant amounts of erroneous and misleading information. For example, two social security numbers were listed for Adam, one of which is not his. References were made to a cease and desist letter sent by the MPAA to an email address that did not exist. His online friendship with other Stargate fans across the globe was portrayed as an international conspiracy against the MPAA. And perhaps most disturbing of all, it was later revealed that the FBI invoked a provision of the USA Patriot Act to obtain financial records from his ISP. The FBI's abuse of its powers did not stop there. When they seized Adam's computer equipment, he was given written documentation stating that it would be returned within 60 days. The equipment that they did return did not arrive until more than 8 months later, and only then after much prodding from his lawyer. Much of it was damaged beyond repair - one laptop had a shattered LCD screen, an empty tape backup drive was ripped apart for no apparent reason, his fiancee's iBook was badly damaged when it was pried apart with a screwdriver. The FBI's computer crimes staff is either incompetent (at least when it comes to Macintosh computer equipment) or else they just don't give a damn.

From comments at the Slashdot article where I picked up on this, it sounds as though the presumed defendant-to-be may not be such a nice & innocent guy as he makes himself out to be. He might have been providing some copyright-infringing downloads, or not. But either way, a terrorist against whom we must invoke the PATRIOT Act? I hardly think so.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Ann Coulter raises my bar

You know how I'm kind of trying (albeit weakly) to go for a "right-wing style"? And I express concern that "it may take me a while to become as extreme in my style as I'm shooting for"? Ann Coulter seems to be trying real hard to raise the bar for that style.

Here at the Spawn of Satan convention in Boston, conservatives are deploying a series of covert signals to identify one another, much like gay men do. My allies are the ones wearing crosses or American flags. The people sporting shirts emblazoned with the "F-word" are my opponents. Also, as always, the pretty girls and cops are on my side, most of them barely able to conceal their eye-rolling....
As for the pretty girls, I can only guess that it's because liberal boys never try to make a move on you without the U.N. Security Council's approval. Plus, it's no fun riding around in those dinky little hybrid cars. My pretty-girl allies stick out like a sore thumb amongst the corn-fed, no make-up, natural fiber, no-bra needing, sandal-wearing, hirsute, somewhat fragrant hippie-chick pie wagons they call "women" at the Democratic National Convention.

As Dave Barry would say, "I am not making this up."

Angry Bear sums up nicely

Two excellent recent summaries by the Angry Bear:

The Further Triumph of Trickle-down Economics

Jerry Bailey is precisely the kind of taxpayer President Bush had hoped to bestow his tax cuts on: an entrepreneur brew-pub owner, a job provider, not overly rich by Washington area standards but well off enough to pay a hefty sum to the federal government each year.
But after three tax cuts in three years, the part-owner of Loudoun County's Old Dominion Brewing Co. is not exactly celebrating his gains. Sure, his federal tax bill was trimmed, by a healthy $5,600, according to a rough calculation by Clint Stretch, director of tax policy at the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche LLP.
But other factors having nothing to do with federal taxes have clouded Bailey's situation. This year, the property tax bill on his Bethesda home will reach $6,725, a $950 increase over his payment four years ago. The annual cost of his 56-mile-a-day commute has jumped more than $300 since 2001, and the long, slow decline of business profits these past four years has left Bailey far behind, no matter what his federal tax payment may be.
"I'm not paying any taxes at all because we're not making any money," Bailey said with a sigh. "I loved paying taxes. It meant we were doing all right...."
But many Americans feel they have lost ground since 2001, and a solid 71 percent are convinced they have received no tax cuts at all. A poll by CBS News and the New York Times in March found that only 22 percent believe the policies of the Bush administration made their taxes go down; 25 percent said their taxes actually went up.

You found your way here somehow, right? Ergo, I probably don't need to spell out the point of this item for you, n'est çe pas?

Friday, July 23, 2004

The Triumph of Trickle-down Economics

States Cut Health Insurance for 145,000 Kids

Some 145,000 poor children were dropped from a U.S. federal-state health insurance plan in the second half of 2003, with more than half the cuts made by Texas, a health-care research foundation said on Friday.
"The drop in (the) State Children's Health Insurance Program is a major setback when millions of uninsured children are eligible but not yet enrolled," said Diane Rowland, executive director of the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured.
Net enrollment in the program, which mainly benefits working families, fell last year for the first time since it was launched in 1998, the Washington, D.C.-based Kaiser Commission said in a report....
A total of 11 states sliced enrollment, with "noteworthy" cuts made in Florida, Colorado and South Carolina, the report said.
The number of needy children who got this health insurance peaked in June 2003 at 3.964 million. Though 37 states added children to the program in the second half of last year, the total number still fell by 37,000 children, the report added.
In some cases, the number of children fell because they were shifted to Medicaid, which provides health care for more impoverished children and adults, the report noted.
Still, that was not the case in some of the states that clipped enrollment, including Texas. That state stopped covering "a broad range of services," including glasses, eye and teeth exams, and services by chiropractors, hospices and skilled nursing centers, the report said.

Is "trickle-down" just a fancy way of talking about what always rolls downhill?

Pentagon Finds Bush's Military Payroll Records

Payroll records related to President Bush's service in the Air National Guard three decades ago that the Pentagon said earlier this month were accidentally destroyed now have been located, defense officials said on Friday.
Bush's whereabouts during his service as a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard in the United States during the Vietnam War have become an election-year issue, with some Democrats accusing him of shirking his duty.
Defense Finance and Accounting Service spokesman Bryan Hubbard said the microfilm payroll records were found in Denver, and blamed a clerical error for the Pentagon's previous failure to find the records.

No word yet on what the records show. But I'm sure we should find out soon, assuming there isn't a second oopsie, and that this wasn't all a ploy to give "them" enough time to doctor the records.

Bush Tells Blacks, 'I'm Here to Ask for Your Vote'

President Bush told African-Americans on Friday he wanted their vote and acknowledged his Republican Party had "a lot of work to do" to win the support of blacks, who rejected Bush in 2000 by a margin of more than 9 to 1.
Two weeks after he rebuffed an invitation to speak at a gathering of the nation's oldest civil rights organization, the NAACP, Bush struck a chord with some blacks when he urged them not to allow the Democratic Party to take their support for granted in the November presidential election.
But he appeared to face a tougher sell when he asked members of National Urban League, a group focused on civil rights and economic issues affecting blacks, to consider whether his policies might better serve their interests than those of the Democratic Party.
"I'm here to ask for your vote," he told the attendees, who numbered about 1,200. "I know, I know, I know," he said, when the blunt appeal appeared to catch many off guard.
"The Republican Party's got a lot of work to do. I understand that," Bush said.

But apparently, for some reason, he can't even get some actual, live black people to sit with him for a picture this time.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Just one of the guys, right?

THE PRESIDENT: ...So, anyway, raising taxes. And so let me say something to you, so you hear -- in the campaign, you'll hear, we're going only to tax the rich. That's what you'll hear. Now, this is from a fellow who has promised about $2 trillion of new spending thus far. And only taxing the rich, first of all, creates a huge tax gap, which means buyer beware. You see, if you can't raise enough by taxing the rich, guess who gets to pay next? Yes, the not-rich. (Laughter.) That's all of us.

Yep, he's just one of the regular, bottom-tax-bracket kind of guys, isn't he, the little darling?

[local businessman] MR. BLOOMHALL: Well, we've got 124 employees worldwide. They're the best and the brightest, because as we can save taxes and reinvest it in our business, in capital, in the equipment to automate our manufacturing line, in science -- we hire PhD's, real good-paying jobs -- and we can grow jobs and investment in our country better than the government can by collecting taxes. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I didn't tell him to say that. (Laughter and applause.) But I couldn't have said it any better myself. John said, investment. One of the things in the tax relief plan that we passed, it says to small businesses, we'll encourage you to invest by allowing you what they call bonus depreciation. These are fancy tax words. I'm trying to simplify it. It says, you invest in planned equipment, you get a tax break for doing so.

So, Mr. Bloomhall, if we were to REALLY slash your taxes, how well do you suppose your business would be faring without roads, without water & sewage, without police protection? How many jobs do you think you'd be creating then, even for "the best and the brightest"? (I beg to differ, I'm not working for him.)
There's more to taxation benefiting job creation than just the people that work directly for the government. Dumbass. Dumbasses.

Are you going to invest, you think, this year?
MR. BLOOMHALL: Yes, we're investing about $1.3 million this year.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. What do you -- when you say, invest, what does that mean? Are you buying things?
MR. BLOOMHALL: Primarily capital investment in our plant and equipment.
THE PRESIDENT: Like what kind of plant and equipment?
MR. BLOOMHALL: Automation equipment so that our employees are not doing the manual jobs, they're doing the thinking jobs. They create greater value to us, we can pay them more, and everybody wins.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. Now, this is a very interesting lesson here—

Cut his mike! Yes, it is a very interesting lesson. The automation equipment means the employees won't be doing the manual jobs. That means he won't be needing so many workers, to turn out the same amount of product. Invest in the machinery once, and all it needs thereafter is electricity and a little bit of maintenance now and then. More money goes into Mr. Bloomhall's pockets, less into his workers' (though they may be averaging more per capita, once the manual worker 'dead weight' is trimmed'), the rich get richer, the workers get poorer and feel lucky for it because at least they have jobs.

Don't let Iraq have the national credit card, now!

Presidential Determination
No. 2004-40


SUBJECT: Eligibility of Iraq to Receive Defense Articles

and Services Under the Foreign Assistance Act of

1961, as Amended, and the Arms Export Control Act,

as Amended

Pursuant to the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, including section 503(a) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended, and section 3(a)(1) of the Arms Export Control Act, as amended, I hereby find that the furnishing of defense articles and services to Iraq will strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace.

You are authorized and directed to report this finding to the Congress and to publish it in the Federal Register.


In other words, they can go ahead and buy a lot more of our dangerous goodies now.
Added: Reuters caught the story here.

E-Voting machine faults ignored

Florida elections officials knew before they bought the first touch screen voting machine that the devices had a history of problems.
The machines recorded cases in which no vote was cast, known as undervotes, at a higher rate than some other machines.
But election officials bought them anyway, partly because they didn't think undervotes would become a major problem.
Now, undervotes are at the center of the latest controversy surrounding Florida's troubled elections process....
But a leading expert on voting machines says undervotes are nothing to worry about.
"A small but significant number of voters in every election intentionally undervote," said Dan Tokaji, an Ohio State College (Diebold Election Systems is located in Ohio. -ed.) law professor and the author of a recent report to the Election Assistance Commission on touch screen machines. "Why would somebody do that? I'm not sure if anyone has a clear answer to that question."
Still, undervoting seems peculiar in elections with only one issue on a ballot. Why would anyone take the time to go to a polling place, get a ballot and not vote? Yet that's exactly what happened in March. In Pinellas, for example, 211 voters cast blank ballots in the March primary in precincts that had just one race.

Just for kicks

Head down to the bottom of the page, where it says "Caption Contest," and enjoy.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Kabul 'bounty hunter' accuses US

Remember those US citizens caught in Kabul holding people imprisoned, claiming that the prisoners were terrorists & Taliban?

A US citizen arrested in Kabul over an alleged freelance counter-terrorism operation says he was working with the knowledge of the US defence secretary.
Speaking before the start of his trial, Jonathan K Idema said he had been abandoned by the US government.
Mr Idema was arrested with two others Americans for allegedly running a private jail.
But the US State Department said they were mercenaries operating outside Washington's command.
Mr Idema claims to have helped prevent several attempted terrorist attacks and said he had regular e-mail, phone and fax contact with Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office and other senior Pentagon officials.
Among the charges he is expected to face in the trial, which is under way in a Kabul courtroom, is hostage taking.

Time to play name-that-quote: "If you are captured, the secretary will disavow all knowledge."

House Votes To Limit Options Rule

Voting across party lines, the House yesterday soundly approved a measure that would override accounting standards-setters and require companies to expense stock options only for their five top executives.
The House passed the bill, pushed aggressively by high-tech companies that rely on issuing options to executives and employees, by a vote of 312 to 111 after two hours of sometimes contentious debate. The House bill would derail a broader proposal by the Financial Accounting Standards Board, an independent group that is moving to force companies to treat stock options for all of their employees as an expense.
The House measure directs regulators to study the consequences of expensing stock options, which give workers a chance to buy company shares at a set price and within a particular time frame. It also instructs companies to use a method for valuing stock options that critics argue is prone to manipulation.

Another one from the Concentration of Wealth department.

Now, Diaper Technology Takes On a Desert

Plans for the Jumeira Islands development, a luxury residential project being built here, include acres of lush landscaping. But how can such greenery bloom in the sandy soil of this arid desert climate? To address that problem, developers are turning to an unlikely solution: the technology used in disposable diapers.
Disposable diapers are made of superabsorbent polymers, or hydrogels, that retain moisture. In the early 1980's, chemical manufacturers discovered that the same technology, with modifications, could be applied to products designed to improve soil irrigation. At that time, the discovery was hailed as a possible aid to poor farmers in the developing world who were seeking to grow crops in dry climates. But it never caught on; the products were too expensive, and their effectiveness was not proved.
But manufacturers are now finding their market growing, as worldwide demand increases for ways to stretch scarce water supplies.

Just interesting to notice, this sounds an awful lot like the "dew collectors" used in Frank Herbert's Dune, written and published back in the 1970s.

New Bush campaign slogan:

"Bush: He's not as bad as people think."

Yes, sir, this [Hinesville, GA] is Bush country: Real pit barbecues, yellow ribbons on church doors, wild boar in the woods. Fort Stewart 10 minutes away. And one preteen party loyalist greeting guests for his mother's Party for the President, on National Party for the President Day, a boy with impeccable manners who, when peppered with questions by the adults in the living room, blurts out things such as "Condi Rice speaks, like, three languages!"
So why does hostess Michele Bourque sound as defensive as if she were living in Berkeley?
"There's just so much negativity around," she says, explaining her decision to host this party. "There's not a lot of positive affirmation about why George W. Bush should be president. We just want to let people know, he's not as bad as people think."...
"Kerry, Kerry, Kerry," says one of the guests, Stacie Young. "These young guys in the squad say, 'I'm voting for Kerry,'" she says, meaning the guys who serve with her husband. "And I say, 'Why would you do that? Vote for your kids! Vote for your security!'"

Voting for security, and for your kids, to my mind, and apparently to a number of these soldiers, means voting NOT FOR BUSH. If this lady can't even consider the possibility that Bush is not, by definition, your security and your kids' benefit....

To her husband, John, a sergeant who fought with the 11th Engineers, the view of Iraq in the media is unrecognizable. In the stories he tells at the party, Iraq is a place where soldiers throw candies to children and drink sweet tea. It's where he saw a sergeant get shot in the neck to save his platoon, where for the first time he felt a sense of purpose. Where "we felt like celebrities, we would march around and the people would chant, 'Saddam bad, Bush good.'"

Gee, imagine that. People who've been conditioned for two decades that people who speak out against a dictator "disappear", chanting how they love the "liberator." Obviously a completely spontaneous and honest outpouring of love for Our Glorious Leader.

Hearing on Antidepressants Canceled

A high-profile congressional hearing into the safety of antidepressant medicines was abruptly canceled on Sunday afternoon by a House panel whose chairman is weighing a top job at a trade group representing the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.
Rep. James C. Greenwood (R-Pa.) is reported to be considering an offer to become president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, whose members include most of the pharmaceutical companies that were to send representatives to testify at the hearing.
In a statement -- an e-mail attachment titled "retirement.doc" -- the moderate Republican said he has been reviewing an opportunity and will shortly announce his decision. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) told reporters that Greenwood will be leaving Congress but did not say what his new job would be.
The outgoing president of the biotech trade organization, Carl B. Feldbaum, said the group has not talked with Greenwood about the antidepressant issue.
Patients rights advocates voiced outrage at the turn of events. "What this shows is that things are so corrupt," said Vera Hassner Sharav, a patient rights advocate, after learning that the hearing had been canceled. Sharav said that in calling a hearing into the issue, Greenwood had exploited the families harmed by the medicines. "We now suspect the whole investigation was done to up his price," she said.

Hm. Another odd coincidence. Right?

Can't Be Too Careful With Those Democracies

President Bush, chatting with reporters Monday about Iran's alleged aid to the 9/11 terrorists, said: "I have long expressed my concerns about Iran. After all, it's a totalitarian society where free people are not allowed to, you know, exercise the -- their rights as human beings."
Hmm . . . But here's Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, telling a colleague of ours in February 2003: "The axis of evil was a valid comment, [but ] I would note there's one dramatic difference between Iran and the other two axes of evil, and that would be it's a democracy. [And] you approach a democracy differently."
So it's a totalitarian democracy?

Those Republicans sure love that Fourth Amendment

New York to Appeal Ruling Limiting Searches of Protesters

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday that the city would appeal a federal court ruling restricting searches and other police tactics during protests at the Republican National Convention next month.
City officials could not say if they would seek an expedited appeal to ensure a decision before the convention, or which elements of the ruling would be appealed. The ruling, by Judge Robert W. Sweet of Federal District Court in Manhattan, bars general searches of protesters' bags at the convention and the use of closed four-sided pens to contain the demonstrators, but Mr. Bloomberg's comments indicated that it was the Police Department's ability to conduct general searches that was most at issue.
He told reporters at a news conference that he objected to limiting "the ability to search backpacks, not just for this event but for New Year's Eve and other times," and faulted the prohibition of searches "at big gatherings where common sense says if somebody wanted to be a terrorist they might very well show up."

Can't have people actually exercizing those Bill of Rights rights during a political event, can we?

Afghan Refugees Forced to Flee in Push by Pakistani Army

I didn't mention this here, since it was during my latest long-term hiatus, but a few weeks ago, there was something going around about our liaisons with Pakistan and/or Afghanistan telling their government people that we'd really like to see some HVTs (High Value Targets) captured or killed before November, especially Osama bin Laden, and doing it around the time of the Democratic National Convention would be nice. (I'll dig out a link later tonight.)

Well, the DNC is next week, and look what I found in the news today:

Thousands of Afghan refugees have been forced from their homes in the border areas of Pakistan as the Pakistani Army, backed by United States intelligence and surveillance, has intensified its operations against supporters of Al Qaeda taking shelter in the mountainous region.
Some 25,000 people have poured into Afghanistan in the last few weeks from the tribal agency of South Waziristan where Pakistani forces, with American help, are battling a major concentration of foreign fighters and sympathetic local tribesmen, refugee officials said.
The Pakistani army, at the behest of the United States, has pushed into the normally autonomous tribal areas over the last five months, in an attempt to capture or kill an estimated 500 foreign fighters, and search for the Al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, often rumored to be sheltering in the area.
Wow, the amazing world of coincidence.

Flag Burning Ban Wins Approval From Senate Judiciary

A proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw the burning of the American flag won the approval Tuesday of a Senate Judiciary Committee split largely along party lines.
Raised by some Republicans as a mark of patriotism this election year, the measure passed on a 11-7 vote and was sent to the full Senate for final congressional approval. While the Senate has repeatedly rejected such measures in the past, both sides predict a razor-close vote this time.
The Judiciary Committee's vote came a week after a divided Senate blocked a White House-backed bid to amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, another issue Democrats have accused Republicans of pushing merely to rally their conservative base for the November elections.

In other words: "Damn, the gay marriage thing didn't divide the nation enough! It even kind of embarassed our control of the Senate. Quick! To the Flagmobile!"

Our confused President

"I know you're busy," one of [Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy] Rice's crew members told Bush, who had just left an Oval Office meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
"Not busy enough to say hello to the champ," Bush said.

Does he ever realize that he's saying the exact opposite of what he means? Or did he really decide he couldn't possibly say hello to Rice?

Ignorance is strength, therefore....

"Postponing an election in the aftermath of a terrorist attack would demonstrate weakness, not strength, and would be interpreted as a victory for the terrorists," the resolution [stating that election day should never be postponed due to terrorism] says.

Great idea, but just a little quibble with the way people seem to be thinking these days, and how it's expressed in such bills as this: When can we quit worrying about whether we seem weak or strong, and go back to considering what's wrong or right to do? This near-obsession with "strength", and especially the appearance of strength, seems unhealthy to me. Almost like the country were compensating for something, like, say, not being right about various things.

What has this world come to?

And won't somebody think of the children?
They're actually letting people sell sex toys in Texas, and call them sex toys:

A Texas woman charged with violating obscenity laws for selling a sexual toy and explaining to her customer how to use it has had the case against her dismissed, court officials said on Monday.
Joanne Webb, a mother of three and a former schoolteacher in the town of Burleson near Forth Worth, was facing up to a year in jail after she sold a vibrator at a private party to two undercover police officers posing as a married couple.
The case received national attention because it touched off a debate on whether a person should be jailed for selling vibrators to adults.
I think we need a Federal Sex Toy Amendment passed by our Republican friends in the Senate, if you know who I mean, pronto.

Nice footnote, too:

According to reports in local media and residents of Burleson close to the issue who asked not to be identified, a few prominent citizens with strong Christian beliefs were angered by Webb and her activities. They asked police to investigate.
I didn't remember the commandment about "Thou shalt rat out thy neighbour's every naughty doing."

Bush Quote of the Day

"I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn't do my job."
-- statement attributed to President Bush in the Lancaster (Pa.) New Era from a private meeting with Amish families on July 9. The White House said Bush said no such thing.

Two more, both from the Washington Post's White House Briefing:

"Coleman compared Bush's allegiance to Cheney, who some have called a drag on the ticket, with Abraham Lincoln's faith in Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant.
"'He was rough at times. He didn't look so hot in his uniform. He sometimes used a cuss word,' Coleman said of Grant. But he said Lincoln countered critics with, 'He fights.'"
Attorney General John D. Ashcroft "compared Bush to Abraham Lincoln and introduced him as 'a leader who has called us to an understanding of freedom, not as America's gift to the world, but as the Almighty's gift to humanity.'"
I guess this must be the Bush campaign meme du jour, Bush and Lincoln. Whatever happened to Churchill?

Fresh Halliburton news

Just heard that Halliburton is being subpoenaed about its Cayman Islands division's dealing with Iran, in light of Iran coming up in connection with September 11 recently. Don't have a link yet, heard it on radio; I'll edit a link in here when I find one online.

Here's some linky goodness: Halliburton Subpoenaed Over Unit's Iran Work

Monday, July 19, 2004

I think I've hit the big time!

Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post:

Ah, but the earnest chin-pullers are not amused. Cheney's demonstration of earthy authenticity (You know what he means. -ed.) in a chamber in which authenticity of any kind is to be valued has occasioned anguished meditations on the loss of civility in American politics. Liberals in particular have expressed deep concern about this breach of decorum.
Odd. The day before first reports of Cheney's alleged indiscretion, his Democratic predecessor, Al Gore, delivered a public speech in which he spoke of the administration's establishing a "Bush gulag" around the world and using "digital brown shirts" to intimidate the media. The former vice president of the United States compared the current president to both Hitler and Stalin in the same speech -- a first not just in hyperbole but in calumny -- and nary a complaint is heard about a breach of civility.

I think he's writing about me, no doubt about it.

When Elections Threaten Democracy

A caller on the BBC radio service bragged about how he walked up to an election registration center here and, without showing any identification, received a voter card. He claimed to have immediately shuttled to another registration site where he was swiftly awarded another card, again without question. A local newspaper article told of people selling their voter registration cards — not card — to political parties for $150 a piece. When I visit one of these sites, an old man shoves me aside and asks me where the free food is. After a confusing exchange, I decipher the miscommunication: he believes his voter registration card is a coupon for free wheat. "Voting," he asks, visibly irritated. "For what? What's an election?"

Great to see what a great job we're doing instilling democracy over there, isn't it? Love that follow-through.

The Rude Pundit's advice to Kerry

I just wanna say, yeah, it's some decent ideas and all that, but, I dunno, it's just not rude like the Rude Pundit ought to be.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Nothing to see here, move along...

No, really. I mean it. A rather slow news day. About the only thing worth commenting on would be the revelation of what kind of a fellow we've replaced Saddam with. But of course, you've already heard about that, right?
That is all.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Cheney explained?

I've been wondering if Vice-President (President of Vice?) Cheney's use of "go fuck yourself!" on the Senate floor might have been brought on by listening to Eric Idle's 'FCC Song' one too many times. An excerpt:

So fuck you Dick-head Mr. Cheney too,
Fuck you and fuck everything you do.
Your pacemaker must be a fake,
you haven't got a heart,
As far as I'm concerned you're just a pasty-faced old fart.

Might explain a lot, mightn't it?


An online conversation from Tuesday the 13th:

(00:36:17) John: Have you been using Blogger recently? (00:36:29) Sporkey: no (00:37:41) John: Sez here, "Google said it formed a partnership in May with Picasa, which is based in Pasadena, Calif. That deal allowed users of Google's Blogger service, a site where people can publish personal journals, to post photos using Picasa's software." I wonder if that means Picasa's software is on the server, and any blogger can use it, or if it means you have to buy Picasa, and then you can use it. (00:38:47) Sporkey: don't know (00:39:28) John: I haven't noticed anything on Blogger that would seem to be for posting photos. I definitely like that they've added built-in comments.

And lo and behold, when I got home last night, there was a new interface on Blogger, with a tab that lets you compose without messing with the raw HTML (which I'll probably never use), and—wait for it!—an "Upload Image/File" button. So, I'm going to try that out now, with the side benefit of giving myself an XML logo to put up with the site feed over to the right. (You do know about the site feed, right?)

That should be it right above, I think, if I've guessed their intent correctly. Otherwise, you might get nothing there. If it does work, then it goes into the template as well.

Added: Well, I guess it isn't working after all. And now, if I click that button which brought up a dialogue for uploading an image before, instead I get a window saying you can't upload directly, unless you have one of the special packages or something. So I guess I'll have to give up on doing it that way, for now.

The Angry Bear Is Angry (at Rick Santorum)

The post is kind of scary. U.S. Senator Santorum is making some rather extreme radical conservative hyperbole. But the first comment beneath the post is downright terrifying. When I read it, my blood ran cold, because it just might be true. Go read it....


Do we really, in this 21st century, have people deciding governmental policy based on fear that September 11 was just a foretaste of the United States getting the Sodom & Gommorah treatment? I am terribly disturbed by this idea.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Butler Report by-blow

Among Blair's most egregious errors was to claim that Iraq could launch a WMD attack on "Europe" "within 45 minutes." That was always ridiculous, and it was was [sic] based on a misunderstanding by Blair, a misunderstanding that is inexcusable. His military told him that Iraq could mobilize its WMD on the battlefield in 45 minutes. Blair somehow interpreted that to mean that the Iraqis could mount it on missiles in 45 minutes. Even then the Iraqis could not have hit Europe.

Is that what the 45 minutes BS was all about? A simple failure to communicate & comprehend? What qualifies these people to run nations?!?

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Bank of America Profit Up 41 Percent

Bank of America Corp. (BAC.N: Quote, Profile, Research) , the No. 3 U.S. bank, on Wednesday said quarterly profit rose 41 percent, helped by the purchase of FleetBoston Financial Corp. and higher consumer and commercial lending.
The Charlotte, North Carolina-based company said second-quarter net income rose to $3.85 billion, or $1.86 per share, from $2.74 billion, or $1.80 per share, a year earlier.
Results included pre-tax charges of $125 million, or 4 cents per share, tied to the bank's $48 billion purchase of Fleet, which closed on April 1.
Analysts polled by Reuters Estimates on average forecast profit of $1.74 per share, excluding items. Profit included $795 million of one-time gains as the bank sold bonds, expecting interest rates to rise.

This is one of my economics things, a la Marshall Brain's Concentration of Wealth. Sure, the stock is up $1.74 a share. But every household in America (assuming for the moment that the vast majority of profit came from the United States; hey, look at their name, after all!) coughed up over $35 so they could make that profit. In just the second quarter. Over a year, that means we'd be giving up about $150 per household, just for Bank of America. And according to this, they're only the third largest bank in the U.S.
If you want to see more about why this kind of thing gets on my tits so, check out Marshall Brain's Concentration of Wealth, like I said (plug, plug).

Slim-Fast Sheds Whoopi Goldberg After Bush Riff

Comedian Whoopi Goldberg will no longer appear in ads for diet aid maker Slim-Fast following her lewd riff on President Bush's name at a fund-raiser last week, the company said on Wednesday.
Florida-based Slim-Fast said it was "disappointed" in Goldberg's remarks at last Thursday's $7.5 million star-studded fund-raiser at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
"Ads featuring Ms. Goldberg will no longer be on the air," Slim-Fast General Manager Terry Olson said in a statement, adding that the company regrets that Goldberg's remarks offended some customers.

Of course, we all know it's absolutely not in any way anything like censorship, right?

British Intelligence Warned Of Attacks in Baghdad

In February 2003, a month before the United States and coalition forces invaded Iraq, British intelligence received reports that Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi was establishing sleeper cells in Baghdad that would attack U.S. forces after they occupied the city, according a report on British prewar intelligence released yesterday in London.
In a prediction that has proved deadly accurate, the British Joint Intelligence Committee in March 2003 wrote, "These cells apparently intend to attack U.S. targets using car bombs and other weapons," according to yesterday's report by the Butler Commission. In the past year, Zarqawi has publicly claimed to have put together an Iraqi network that has committed dozens of bombings and killings, including the beheading of a Bulgarian truck driver that was revealed yesterday.
The March 12, 2003, JIC report also warned that "al Qaeda-associated terrorists continued to arrive in Baghdad in early March." Summarizing this information, the Butler panel noted that the JIC "did warn of the possibility of terrorist attacks on coalition forces in Baghdad."
A senior U.S. intelligence official said yesterday that the CIA was made aware of the reporting "simultaneously." The CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency passed on warnings to Bush administration policymakers that U.S. forces would probably be attacked by "stay behind" Iraqi forces and Islamic terrorists who would be drawn to Iraq by the invasion, officials said.

How could they have been told of this and still expected that open arms & flowers horsecrap?

Big news roundup

While I was sleeping:

  • Senate Vote Blocks Effort to Ban Gay-Marriage in Constitution
    The issue may still resurface in the House this year. A House panel was considering today a legislative proposal that its authors said could prevent federal judges from overturning the existing federal law defining marriage as being between a man and a woman, though critics said they doubted the new proposal could survive a court test.
    How the hell do you get a law forbidding judges from overturning another law? I mean, short of a Constitutional amendment, which is what just got voted down!?
  • Bush Touts Conservative Values in Milwaukee Suburbs
    Defending his decision to invade Iraq, Bush said, "Although we haven't found the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we removed a declared enemy of America who had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction." Saddam Hussein "could have passed that capability to terrorists."
    An hour into his tour Bush's convoy came to a halt in West Bend, Wis., where he shook hands and then bounded into Mick's Candyman. "I'm looking for a few calories," said Bush, with daughter Barbara in tow. Bush paid $5.28 for four caramel bear claws. Asked about his vow to quit sweets several months ago Bush said "well, not when your [sic] confronted with such excellent sweets."
    Yeah, he makes it sound so funny. Wasn't that the vow about not eating sweets while our soldiers are in danger over in Iraq? Nothing important, just a little something to make light of while another car bomb goes off, another Iraqi governor is assassinated, and you're feeling a little peckish.
    "Members of Congress should not vote to send troops into battle and then vote against funding them, and then brag about it," Bush said during Tuesday's trip to Marquette in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and to Duluth, Minn., two Midwest states that Bush lost to Gore in 2000.
    You mean like Bush is cutting all those veterans' benefits, and then boasting about how he's the soldiers' bestest friend? Oh, that's right, that's all different, because it's all better when you lie about it to their faces.
    Added: See also today's Daily Howler.
  • Bush Says His Re-Election Will Make America Safer
    President Bush asked Americans on Wednesday to give him four more years in November's election to finish the job in Iraq and Afghanistan and make the world a safer place....
    "I need four more years to complete the work. There's more to do to make America a safer place. There's more work to do to make the world a more peaceful place. We will finish the work of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq," Bush told a forum here.
    I guess he really is an optimist. He does think he can complete the subversion of democracy in just four years. I'm afraid I'm starting to lose my doubts on that point.
    Reflecting the tough stand he has taken in his war against international terrorism, he said he would not negotiate with Islamic militants, whom he called cold-blooded killers. "Therapy is not going to work with them," he said.
    Ha. Ha. Ha.
    If they don't respond to therapy, maybe you ought to file a lawsuit, Mr. Bush, since you keep telling us the intelligence was "actionable".
    "Although we haven't found the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq, and America is safer today because we did," Bush said.
    Yeah, yellow alerts, orange alerts, talk of postponing the election, watch out for people wearing "unseasonal clothing" over the Fourth of July weekend....
    Why, yes, of course I feel so much safer now.
  • EPA Staff Mulls Lawsuits Vs 22 Utilities -- EPA List
    A total of 22 U.S. electric utilities could be sued for harmful emissions from aging coal-fired plants if the Bush administration pursues cases recommended by Environmental Protection Agency staff, according to an internal EPA list obtained by Reuters on Wednesday.
    The EPA has forwarded 14 cases to the U.S. Justice Department, and could send another eight cases within 30 days, the list said.
    The Justice Department has not yet committed to pursue the cases, many of which have likely sat idle since 2001, when the Clinton-era department finished filing cases against nine utilities for violating the Clean Air Act. Many of the original cases are still unresolved....
    The Justice Department has not filed the cases in court, but the action indicates EPA enforcement staff's intent to pursue the cases....
    "A case-by-case approach is more costly and less effective in reducing emissions," said Frank Maisano at the group. "A cap-and-trade approach would get reductions from all sites rather than this notoriously slow lawsuit-driven approach."
    Hey, bright boy, here's a proposition for you: Maybe you could try just complying before they get around to slapping a lawsuit on you? That might be even faster!
    No pun intended, but I wouldn't hold my breath on these things going to court. I suspect it's just to give W and his boys something they can point to and say "See? Look what good I'm doing for the environment! Why, we're actually thinking about taking someone to court!
  • U.S. Hopes to End Dispute, Provide Some Stem Cells
    Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson wrote in a letter to lawmakers that the government stood firm on its policy that taxpayers who oppose destroying human embryos should not be forced to pay for it.
    Cool. Can I cite him on that when I ask for my Gulf War III tax refund, and my faith-based initiatives tax refund?
  • Jonathan Weisman Performs a Useful Service
    [Bush campaign policy director] Tim Adams, you will remember, is the guy who when asked why he hadn't mentioned that a low unemployment claims number was the result of a change in the timing of the auto model year changeover, responded with, "We're not an economic-reporting firm, we're a campaign." It violates truth-in-labeling laws to call it a policy shop. And there is not a single economist on board the Bush campaign whom Adams thinks important enough to get Weisman to print his or her name. The Bush campaign has no--or next to no--real economists visible....
    The stunning contrast between the enthusiasm with which economists--lots of economists--lots of very good economists--are donating their time to Kerry and the extraordinary silence on the Bush side is, to my way of thinking, the most interesting thing that emerges from Weisman's article. So, of course, it is not something he talks about. Weisman seems to think that there is something wrong with having lots of very smart and industrious people wanting to work for you for free: his lead paragraph closes by talking about how Kerry is finding it "difficult to manage" an "increasingly unwieldy policy apparatus...."
    John Kerry is not Bill Clinton, but John Kerry's economic policies could still be very good for America. It will be our job--Sarah Bianchi's and Jason Furman's, George Akerlof's and Lael Brainerd's, Harry Holzer's and David Cutler's, Alan Auerbach's and Ceci Rice's, Larry Katz's and Roger Altman's, Gene Sperling's and Alan Blinder's, Laura D'Andrea Tyson's and Bob Rubin's, and mine and all the rest of our's--to help him make it so. Who will George W. Bush have to help him? Tim Adams? John Snow?
    Why Are We Ruled by These Liars? (Budget Edition)
    The soft bigotry of low expectations strikes again. How Bush's administration seems fond of producing extra-pessimistic predictions, then when it's not quite as bad as that, but still worse than it had been, they can point out how the pResident's policies have "improved" things.
    Eschaton provides an interesting cross-reference for Brad's pretty graphs that I mentioned earlier.
  • Mary Beth Cahill to Ken Mehlman: Release the Bush Records
    A lovely letter to the Bush Cheney ’04 Campaign Manager, closing with these memorable lines:
    We also wanted to wish you a happy anniversary. As we are sure you and the attorneys representing the President, Vice-President and other White House officials are aware, today marks one year since Administration sources leaked the identity of a covert CIA agent to Bob Novak in an effort to retaliate against a critic of the Administration.
    In light of the fact that the Administration began gutting the laws protecting the nation’s forests yesterday, we hope you will accept the paper on which this letter is written as an anniversary gift. (The one year anniversary is known as the “paper anniversary.”)
    Warms my heart, it does.
  • House Panel Backs Bush Overtime Rules
    A divided U.S. House of Representatives committee on Wednesday backed the Bush administration's pending overtime rules for white-collar workers that a new report warned could cost at least six million Americans extra pay.
    On a party-line vote of 29-31, the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee defeated a Democratic amendment to a Labor Department spending bill aimed at blocking implementation of the overtime rules, set to take effect on Aug. 23.
    "This is simply an amendment that tries to protect the 40-hour work week," said Rep. David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who introduced the measure....
    "Under the new rules, workers who earn as little as $23,660 per year -- about $5,000 above the poverty line for a family of four -- can expect to see their jobs reclassified as ineligible for overtime pay," the report said.
    Line up for your pay cuts now.
  • Bush camp could gain from a postponement
    Electoral news from the Sunshine State and elsewhere indicates that [Chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission]Mr. Soaries and his commission haven't achieved much progress in their assigned task. Clearly they've had even bigger problems on their minds. Recently Mr. Soaries sent a letter to Tom Ridge, the Secretary of Homeland Security, expressing concern that no federal agency is empowered to cancel a national election in the event of a terrorist attack. According to Newsweek, Mr. Soaries asked Mr. Ridge to seek "emergency" legislation authorizing his bipartisan commission to make that decision.
    The reverend's qualifications for this heavy responsibility aren't immediately obvious. He is currently the pastor of a large Christian congregation, with a sideline in various other business enterprises. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2002 against Representative Rush Holt, the New Jersey Democrat who is seeking to require that computerized voting machines also create a paper record. (Yay for him!- ed.) He served as New Jersey's Secretary of State when Christie Whitman was Governor. He first won the admiration of Republican leaders when he co-chaired a group supporting the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas.
    Serving on the four-member commission with Mr. Soaries are a pair of little-known Democrats and a conservative Republican named Paul DeGregorio, whose qualifications are perhaps too obvious. A Missourian who has long been associated politically with Attorney General John Ashcroft, he formerly served as an election commissioner in St. Louis. In November 2000, at the urgent behest of the Bush-Cheney campaign, Mr. DeGregorio rushed southward to help oversee the post-election recount in Broward County, Fla.
    Somehow, I don't like where this is going. At all.
  • Outage reports spur national security debate
    It's the telecom equivalent of post-game analysis. When a landline phone network suffers a serious outage, the company involved has to tell federal regulators what happened and how it can be avoided next time.
    The Federal Communications Commission believes the public outage reports, required since the early 1990s, have helped to dramatically improve network quality. But the rule applies only to landline companies, an anachronistic loophole in this age of wireless phones and voice service from the cable company.
    So it would make sense to expand the rule to other communications companies, right?
    Not so fast.
    The FCC's proposal to make that change has met with strong opposition, not only from phone companies but also from the Department of Homeland Security, which contends that the outage reports could serve as blueprints for terrorists bent on wrecking U.S. communications systems.
    Homeland Security wants future reports to be filed with one of its own infrastructure-monitoring bodies, the Information Sharing and Analysis Center in the National Coordinating Center for Telecommunications, and kept from public analysis.
    That appears to put Homeland Security at odds with New York City's telecommunications department, the National League of Cities and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, which have endorsed the FCC's plan.
    Of course, Homeland Security's objections have been eagerly echoed by dozens of phone companies and industry groups that have multiple beefs with the outage reporting rules. The industry's main complaint is that the reports should be voluntary, not mandatory....
    "What 9/11 produced for them is a windfall opportunity to rebake all of their old bogus arguments as to why we shouldn't have any of these (outage reports)," Moir said. "They've morphed all of their comments into post-9/11-ese."
    Personal/professional note here: I know darn well they'd love to do away with those reporting requirements. Very often, when I've worked with a telco partner, I'd call up with a customer's problem, the telco partner worker would say, "we'll check it out," the problem *ahem* miraculously fixes itself, and the worker calls back and says they found no problems, and everything seems fine now.
    Thus, they don't have to make these reports, and they look better in the eyes of the regulatory bodies and reviews.
  • Odeon Orders Takedown Of Copycat Site
    "The Register reports that Odeon Cinemas, a British theater chain, has ordered a takedown of a copycat version of its site that was made by a disability activist. The original didn't work outside of IE on Windows and was in violation of the Disability Discrimination Act; the activist-recoded one worked on everything. Odeon has flip-flopped on the issue, too; they liked it when it was first up, and now they don't."
    By the way, I really hate sites that even claim to be IE only, much less the ones that actually are unreadable on other browsers. It's the Internet, not Bill Gates' personal playground, you hear?
  • Bishops' Attack on Pols Harms All U.S. Women
    Not listed here so much for the main thrust of the essay, as for this tidbit:
    The bishops' assault on pro-choice politicians--who say that abortion is a private and personal matter and not a matter for the state--fails to address the devastating consequences of government policies that adopt the church's religious position that life begins at conception. The case of Angela Carder is one example.
    In 1989 Carder, a Maryland resident, was 25 weeks pregnant, critically ill and in George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C. She and her family and her doctors all agreed to keep her alive for as long as possible. Echoing the Catholic argument that a fetus has a right to life, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia ordered that Carder undergo a Caesarean section to save the fetus. Over the objections of the pregnant woman, her family and her attending physicians, the surgery was performed. The fetus was born alive but survived for only two hours. Carder died two days later with the C-section listed as a contributing factor.
    After Angela Carder's death, her Catholic family appealed the court's decision because they did not want any other family to suffer the same kind of brutal intrusion. (Courts often decline to hear moot cases, such as when it is too late to intervene, but this case was considered an exception because the order could influence treatment of other pregnant women at the same at hospital.)
    The Carder family had extraordinary support for reversing the decision. The American Medical Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Public Health Association, American Society of Law and Medicine and the United Church of Christ Office for Church in Society were among 118 groups and individuals who joined friend-of-the court briefs urging that the lower court decision be overturned.
    Only two groups defended the court ordered surgery that resulted in Angela Carder's death.: the Chicago-based Americans United for Life, and the D.C.-based United States Catholic Conference--now known as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the group that issued the statement on communion.

Whew. Not much left now....

Justice Dept. Report Details Use of Patriot Act

OK, I said in the News Roundup that I might be getting back to this one, so here we are.

The Justice Department unveiled yesterday extensive new details of its use of the USA Patriot Act in a bid to shore up support for the embattled anti-terrorism law, asserting that it has helped thwart al Qaeda plots and led to scores of criminal convictions since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
According to a 29-page report to Congress released by Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, Justice Department terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against 310 people and have yielded 179 convictions or guilty pleas. The report says the Patriot Act was central to those cases.
The report also chronicles numerous instances in which the law has been used in traditional criminal investigations, from child pornography prosecutions to the rescue of a kidnapped 88-year-old woman. Ashcroft and other Bush administration officials had not previously revealed the extent to which law enforcement authorities were able to investigate such crimes under the expanded powers provided by the law....

The Justice Department report says that the Patriot Act was crucial in the prosecution of suspected members of al Qaeda cells in Lackawanna, N.Y., and Portland, Ore., and that it allowed authorities to more easily prosecute dozens of defendants for allegedly providing "material support" to terrorist groups. The report outlines lesser known prosecutions that it characterizes as related to terrorism, including cases involving the Islamic Resistance Movement, a Palestinian group also known as Hamas, and the rebel group FARC in Colombia.
The report provides as examples lengthy accounts of non-terrorism cases in which the Patriot Act played a central role, including investigations of a couple who allegedly defrauded widows and orphans, and of an Indiana man accused of filming the sexual abuse of his 13-year-old daughter. Sensenbrenner highlighted the case of the Wisconsin woman, 88, who was kidnapped in 2003. She was rescued after officials used the Patriot Act to obtain information from Internet service providers.
But Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the examples indicate that "the Patriot Act went too far too fast, and gave law enforcement officials too much power that had nothing to do with terrorism."

So yeah, it's about the same as it was last year, just talking about the good parts of it, and leaving out any details about the parts people seriously object to. Plus la change, plus la meme. (Pardon my French if I've missed accent marks or something.) Nothing about whether the library and bookstore records provisions have been used at all. But then, I'm still not sure whether it'd be better if they had put them to good use or never used them at all. Either way, though, I'd still dearly love to see that go.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Bush Administration Employment Forecasts

Needless to say, this forecast did not come to pass: we were already far below it at the moment of its release, and by June payroll employment was 1.2 million lower than the value of the forecast that the Bush administration had released only four months before, in February.
I can find nobody who can add--and have never found anybody who can add--who will defend this forecast in public, or even sketch out in public a scenario for how this forecast could have ever come to pass. It assumed, among other things, a total collapse in the rate of productivity growth in the first half of 2004--a collapse in productivity growth which would have had severe and adverse effects on stock prices, investment flows, and demand.

See Bradford DeLong's full post for the pretty graph nosediving.

Added: More pretty pictures, over at Political Animal, this time on comparisons of health care.

News roundup

  • Senate Republicans Split on Wording Gay-Marriage Ban
  • Afghans sell to the world online
    Boy, they're doing so much better now, aren't they?
  • Bush Again Tops Kerry on Terrorism, Poll Shows
    Also shows what a bunch of saps take polls.
  • Al Qaeda Messages Posted on U.S. Server
    Want to bet it was running a Micro$oft OS?
  • Man Accused of Infiltrating Computer at Verizon
    A Westchester County man illegally infiltrated an internal computer at Verizon more than 100 times this year, forcing the telecommunications company to spend at least $120,000 to retool its security system, prosecutors charged in a federal indictment yesterday.
    Maybe they should have spent money on getting a secure system BEFORE he broke into it? (I am NOT insinuating that this justifies the breakin. It justifies hiring competent employess, like myself.)
  • France raps 'US Aids blackmail'
    In a veiled attack on the US, France has criticised bilateral trade deals that force poor nations to give up rights to make cheaper anti-Aids drugs.
    President Chirac said such deals undermined an international accord that lets poor countries produce such drugs.
    In a statement to an Aids conference in Bangkok, he said such policy would be tantamount to "blackmail".
  • US 'needs terror policy debate'
    A senior US intelligence official has told the BBC that the American-led war in Iraq was "a gift of epic proportions to Osama Bin Laden".
    The official, identified as Anonymous, is preparing to publish a new book which says that the US is losing the battle against the al-Qaeda network.
    He told the BBC's Newsnight programme that the US needed to have a debate about its policies in the Middle East.
    He said the military option alone was "a bloody and unsuccessful tool".
  • Gay Marriage Vote Could Reignite 'Culture War'
  • Bush Criticizes Kerry Over Iraq Vote, Bush-Bashing
    "Gosh, now why would anyone want to criticize lil' ol' me?"
  • Mexico Attorney General Has Microchip Fitted in Arm
    Mexico's attorney general said on Monday he had had a microchip inserted under the skin of one of his arms to give him access to a new crime database and also enable him to be traced if he is ever abducted.
    Attorney General Rafael Macedo said a number of his staff had also been fitted with chips which will give them exclusive and secure access to a national, computerized database for crime investigators that went live on Monday.
    "It's an area of high security, it's necessary that we have access to this, through a chip, which what's more is unremovable," Macedo told reporters.
    "The system is here and I already have it. It's solely for access, for safety and so that I can be located at any moment wherever I am," he said, admitting the chip hurt "a little."
    That's kind of creepy.
  • Justice Dept. Report Details Use of Patriot Act
    I might be doing a lengthier analysis of this, once I finish reading it.
  • Discrimination on Wall St.? The Numbers Tell the Story
    Who'd'a thunk it?

Bush Document on War Data Is Held Back

The White House and the Central Intelligence Agency have refused to give the Senate Intelligence Committee a one-page summary of prewar intelligence in Iraq prepared for President Bush that contains few of the qualifiers and none of the dissents spelled out in longer intelligence reviews, according to Congressional officials.
Senate Democrats claim that the document could help clear up exactly what intelligence agencies told Mr. Bush about Iraq's illicit weapons. The administration and the C.I.A. say the White House is protected by executive privilege, and Republicans on the committee dismissed the Democrats' argument that the summary was significant.
The review, prepared for President Bush in October 2002, summarized the findings of a classified, 90-page National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq's illicit weapons. Congressional officials said that notes taken by Senate staffers who were permitted to review the document show that it eliminated references to dissent within the government about the National Intelligence Estimate's conclusions.

How long will it be before McClellan or W himself is on TV telling us how completely open and cooperative they're being, again?
Funny thing is, it sounds like this would actually absolve the President slightly, putting more of the blame on whoever produced that one page. I guess they're just too much in the habit of fighting the release of everything.
Or, more seriously, perhaps they figure if they put up a token fight against releasing it, it'll garner more attention, and boost their image more when they do, oh so reluctantly, finally release it?

Another reason not to vote for Bush

A victory by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in November would benefit industries that employ more people and stand to generate more jobs than a Bush re-election, according to an analysis by outplacement firm Challenger Gray and Christmas.
For example, Kerry policies aimed at boosting home ownership, improving public schools and easing the shortage of nurses would create jobs for home builders, teachers and hospital workers.
Health care, education, government, home building and insurance are the sectors likely to get the biggest boost from Kerry initiatives, the study found. Those fields already employ more people and have added double the number of new jobs in the past six months than industries that would benefit more from Bush policies.

Bush on Values & Responsibility

Bush gave a powerful speech in York, Pa., last week describing his "values." He declared: "The culture of America is changing from one that has said `If it feels good, do it, and if you've got a problem, blame somebody else' to a culture in which each of us understands we are responsible for the decisions we make in life."
That's a great idea. Applying it to the president means that he, not the CIA, is responsible for the case that was made for the war in Iraq. By the president's own logic, he can't blame a bunch of bureaucrats ("if you've got a problem, blame somebody else") for his administration's eagerness to offer the most lopsided picture possible of the threat Saddam posed.
"If it feels good, do it." Bush is absolutely right that this is an inadequate approach to the decisions we face in life. The "values" that lead Bush to reject this concept should pertain especially to decisions to start wars and to the methods used to sell them.

Bush Pushes for Ban on Gay Black Marriage Emancipation

Vote on Constitutional Amendment Could Come This Week

Associated Press
Sunday, July 11, 2004; Page A10

President Bush said yesterday that legalizing gay black marriage emancipation would redefine the most fundamental institution of civilization and that a constitutional amendment is needed to protect it.
A few activist judges and local officials have taken it on themselves to change the meaning of marriage slavery, Bush said in his weekly radio address.
Leading the chorus of support for an amendment, Bush said, "If courts create their own arbitrary definition of marriage slavery as a mere legal contract and cut marriage slavery off from its cultural, religious and natural roots, then the meaning of marriage is lost, and the institution is weakened."
His remarks follow the opening of Senate debate Friday on a constitutional amendment effectively banning gay black marriage emancipation.
Reflecting the election-year sensitivity of the issue, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said Republicans are using the constitutional amendment as a bulletin board for campaign sloganeering.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) accused the Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), of holding inconsistent positions.
Kerry and running mate Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) oppose gay black marriage emancipation but support civil unions manumission.
Bush singled out Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court, which called marriage slavery an evolving paradigm. "That sends a message to the next generation that marriage has no enduring meaning and that ages of moral teaching and human experience have nothing to teach us about this institution," he said.
The president urged the House and Senate to send to the states for ratification an amendment that defines marriage in the United States as a union of a man white and woman black as husband master and wife slave.
Senate Democrats signaled they will not throw barriers in front of the resolution, paving the way for a vote on the amendment as early as this Wednesday.
A constitutional amendment should never be undertaken lightly, Bush said, "yet to defend marriage slavery, our nation has no other choice."
The vote puts some Democrats and Republicans in a difficult position. One senator acknowledged the political risk in trying to walk a line supporting both traditional marriage slavery and gay black rights.
"I intend to be your champion on many issues in the future, if you want me," Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) said in remarks directed at gay and lesbian black voters. Smith is a leader in efforts to make attacks against homosexuals blacks a federal hate crime.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay black political organization, said the president and congressional allies "should focus on the priorities of the American people, not the agenda of their extremist base."

Or, in other words, when discussing Iraq and intelligence failures, "Look, over there! Bright shiny constitutional amendment! Ooo!"
See also the man-on-box-turtle article and picture.

Bush's Pre-emptive Strategy Meets Some Untidy Reality

China has been the most outspoken proponent of this view, suggesting publicly that the administration cannot be trusted when it asserts that North Korea has secretly started up a second nuclear weapons program — one based on enriching uranium. Administration officials say the Chinese are exploiting the Iraq findings for political convenience, because finding a solution to the North Korean problem will be far simpler if the evidence of a uranium program can be ignored.
"It hurts us, there is no question," a senior aide to Mr. Bush conceded on Friday, as the Senate report was published. "We already have the Chinese saying to us, `If you missed this much in Iraq, how are we supposed to believe that the North Koreans are producing nuclear weapons?' It just increases the pressure on us to prove that we are right."

Gee, maybe you should show some interest in finding out whether you're right, instead of being dead set on proving you're right? Though I don't so much doubt that North Korea is up to something, really. But it's revealing about the prevalent mindset there. Not that I had much doubt about that, either.

DeLay's Corporate Fundraising Investigated

In May 2001, Enron's top lobbyists in Washington advised the company chairman that then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) was pressing for a $100,000 contribution to his political action committee, in addition to the $250,000 the company had already pledged to the Republican Party that year.
DeLay requested that the new donation come from "a combination of corporate and personal money from Enron's executives," with the understanding that it would be partly spent on "the redistricting effort in Texas," said the e-mail to Kenneth L. Lay from lobbyists Rick Shapiro and Linda Robertson.

Goes into a bit about the specifics of the redistricting effort, too. I'm not sure which bothers me more, the bad fundraising or the whole redistricting/gerrymandering thing.

Added: Paul Krugman weighs in.

GE Lobbyists Mold Tax Bill

No company in the nation had more to lose than General Electric Co. when the World Trade Organization decreed in 2002 that U.S. tax laws violated international treaties. The multinational conglomerate was saving hundreds of millions of dollars a year in taxes from the export subsidies that the United States had to discard.
But in a two-year campaign, fueled as much by brains as political brawn, GE has shaped the legislation that would replace the old export-promotion law in ways that would allow it to save as much, if not more, in taxes, according to both GE lobbyists and congressional aides. In pursuing its financial interest, the company may also have turned the U.S. corporate tax code away from domestic manufacturing and toward expansion of operations abroad.
"The bill is truly amazing," said Michael J. McIntyre, a tax law professor at Wayne State University and an expert on international corporate tax issues. "We had an incentive for exports that was illegal and had to be repealed. Now Congress takes the money saved by the repeal and uses it to reduce taxes on the income earned by U.S. companies in foreign countries, thereby making foreign investment more attractive than U.S. investment."...

A top target: the provision enacted in 1986 that created nine separate categories -- or baskets -- of overseas business activities. Companies earn credits for taxes they pay to foreign governments and can use them to offset U.S. taxes on overseas profits. But credits earned from one activity could not be used to reduce taxes owed from another business venture, nor could taxes paid in high-tax countries be used to reduce taxable income earned in tax havens abroad.
"The whole point of the baskets is to prevent that abuse," said McIntyre, the Wayne State professor.
GE pressed to reduce those nine categories of business activities to two, in the name of simplification. One of the baskets that would be eliminated is for financial services. That way, foreign tax credits from GE's many manufacturing activities could be used to reduce taxes owed on the profits from its lucrative financial services division, GE Capital....

GE was more successful in the House Ways and Means Committee. Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) backed the basket-streamlining provision, reasoning that the nine categories were created by a Democratic predecessor, Dan Rostenkowski (Ill.) solely to raise money for government. When the House bill passed last month, not only had the company won its foreign baskets provision, but it also secured a rich tax break on its aircraft leasing business. GE allies also slipped in a four-year suspension of customs duties on foreign-made steam generators and nuclear reactor vessel heads....

Between 1994 and 2001, the company's effective tax rate was above 30 percent in every year but one, according to Standard & Poor's. Last year, the firm's tax payments slid to 21.4 percent of profit even though the top corporate tax rate remained at 35 percent. If the new legislation is signed into law, GE's tax payments are likely to fall further, said Robert S. McIntyre of the liberal Citizens for Tax Justice.
"This is the definition of corporate welfare," McIntyre said. "To these guys, old tax breaks have become entitlements, even illegal ones."

An excellent article on how General Electric was able to manipulate the legislative process to get everything they wanted, and then some.

Added: I wonder if some of that might happen to be the same tax bill I mentioned last October? Wish I could remember more of that, or had quoted more, or had a NYT pass or whatever they use.

Bush Seeks Shift in Logging Rules

The Bush administration on Monday proposed scuttling a rule from the Clinton administration that put nearly 60 million acres of national forest largely off limits to logging, mining or other development in favor of a new system that would leave it to governors to seek greater - or fewer - strictures on road construction in forests.
The announcement abandoning the so-called roadless rule was made by Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman in Boise, Idaho, where opposition to the rule issued by President Bill Clinton as he was leaving office was most pronounced....

"This doesn't ensure that a single acre of roadless area gets protected," said Marty Hayden, legislative director for Earthjustice, one of several groups that are defending the Clinton rule in federal court.
"Everything could be up for grabs," Mr. Hayden said.
Ms. Veneman's announcement was a signature moment for the Bush administration's environmental policy.

Grading Mistakes Caused More Than 4,000 Would-Be Teachers to Fail a Licensing Exam

Mistakes in the scoring of an examination that 18 states use in licensing teachers caused more than 4,000 people who should have passed it to fail instead, the Educational Testing Service said yesterday. The errors may have prevented many from getting full-time jobs as teachers in the last year.
Robert A. Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, which looks skeptically on standardized testing, said the grading errors were only the latest instance of quality-control problems in the industry at a time when testing was growing sharply.
"This particular test is being used to determine who is a highly qualified teacher, which is a requirement under the federal No Child Left Behind law," Mr. Schaeffer said. "But there is no equivalent requirement that the test makers be highly qualified. There is more public oversight of the pet-food industry than there is for test makers."

Leave no child behind, but screw the rest of 'em? Even if it means screwing the children secondhand?
Oh well, at least they get their $115 test fee back.

Tommy's just a bit "sensitive"

The U.S. government will send only one-quarter as many people to the huge international AIDS conference starting Sunday in Bangkok as it sent to the last one in Barcelona.
The decision to cut attendance, which comes as the Bush administration is rolling out its five-year, $15 billion global AIDS treatment plan, was reached long after many government scientists had made plans to attend the conference, which is held every two years. Dozens of scientific presentations were withdrawn, about 50 will be published only as summaries and not presented publicly, and dozens of meetings -- many designed to train Third World AIDS researchers and foster international collaboration -- were canceled.
The move, which officials say is to save money, is interpreted by many AIDS experts as payback for the heckling of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson at the last AIDS conference and further evidence of a "go-it-alone" attitude in the administration's global AIDS program....

The decision to limit U.S. participation in the Bangkok conference is sending a message the rest of the AIDS world will not miss, said a senior CDC official who declined to be identified.
"It's a perception from the rest of the world that the U.S. wants to be engaged, but the U.S. wants to call the shots," the official said.
The decision has caused consternation at the CDC and the NIH and among AIDS scientists outside the government whose work is funded by those agencies. Almost nobody was willing to speak on the record because of fears of retaliation.
"What can I say? I can't say anything," an anguished NIH researcher said.
Calling the decision "inappropriate and misguided," one AIDS scientist said that for the NIH staff "it is quite demoralizing to get an abstract accepted in the field of your choice, and then not be able to present your findings because you're not allowed to go the meeting."
Jack Whitescarver, director of the NIH Office of AIDS Research, declined to be interviewed. The NIH released details of the cutbacks only in response to a Freedom of Information Act request....

Ronald O. Valdiserri, the epidemiologist leading the CDC's delegation, said 46 poster presentations and one lecture were withdrawn. Twenty-nine lectures will be delivered, although in many cases not by the primary investigator. Of the 148 CDC posters still on the schedule, 40 will be published only as summaries in the abstract book and not displayed. A satellite symposium on the use of rapid HIV tests was also canceled.
HHS officials tried to cancel a $250,000 CDC grant to the conference for scholarships for Third World AIDS researchers, said a person familiar with agency. When told the money could not be reclaimed, Thompson's office stipulated it go only to scientists in the countries getting aid under the PEPFAR program.
The NIH, which in the past gave grants to AIDS conferences, is not this year because "it chose not to," said Pierce, Thompson's spokesman.
A CDC official labeled as "bull" the HHS explanation that the cutbacks were primarily to save money.
"This is clearly the result of the booing of Secretary Thompson in Barcelona, which he took quite personally," this person said.
Two years ago, about 30 activists heckled the secretary with shouts of "Shame, shame!" "No more lies" and "Lies, lies!" -- making his 15-minute speech inaudible. Neither of the two speakers who followed -- Richard G.A. Feachem, director of the Global Fund, and Gro Harlem Brundtland, director general of the World Health Organization -- came to Thompson's defense or criticized the protesters.
Later that day, some of the hecklers met with Thompson, told him of their concerns and urged him not to take the catcalls personally. Several insiders said, however, that some people high in the HHS viewed the jeering as a serious affront to civility, U.S. generosity and the Bush administration.
Within weeks of the conference's end, word circulated that HHS participation might be different the next time.

Well, then. That'll teach 'em.